Sit down for an hour with RocketBolt’s Aaron Dinin and you’ll be thinking much deeper about today’s technological world.
The PhD in English literature as of May 2014 has spent nearly a decade exploring the relationship between our language, art and digital technology, penning a dissertation entitled “Hacking Literature Reading Analogue Texts in a Digital Age.”
That was all while teaching himself to code, winning development projects from the likes of ABC Extreme Makeover’s Chris Powell
, and more recently entering The Startup Factory
, building a company and earning investment from the college student-run Dorm Room Fund.
That announcement comes today, and though the investment is small—a $20,000 convertible note—it gives the Durham startup access to the high-profile investors at First Round Capital
(which seeded the fund), mentors from the nation’s top startup companies and a network of student-started portfolio companies around the nation. And the Dorm Room Fund hopes its first Triangle investment gives it more access to startups coming out of North Carolina universities.
Says former Dorm Room Fund partner Steph Weiner, who made a visit to the Triangle last year, leading to RocketBolt’s funding: “I was really impressed with the quality of companies. I got a tour of the UNC campus and 1789 (student incubation space) and it seemed like they were placing a big bet on their students.”
RocketBolt qualified for the funding because Dinin (a Duke graduate) was a PhD student at the University of Maryland, and Weiner was impressed by the way the company was tackling its very large market. Dinin’s cofounder Matt Hofstadt (pictured below) had spent years building and optimizing websites for both Main Street and Fortune 500 companies and had become an expert in helping companies generate sales through their websites. The pair got together to turn those insights into a software product.
RocketBolt helps companies identify the people on their website most likely to buy, and then target them with the right messaging. It recognizes that there is a brief window of time that people are engaged—within 30 minutes from the point of an action (i.e. a Facebook like or providing email address). During that time, they are 400 percent more likely to become a customer.
The startup develops profiles of customers based on their activities online, and uses machine learning to compare those profiles to a target customer profile. RocketBolt then determines the value of each customer. The most valuable rise to the top. The system provides sales reps with a real time feed of people engaging on the site and tools to get those visitors into the sales cycle.
For now, the target RocketBolt customers are SaaS companies with $10 million or more in revenue and 20-person or larger teams, with at least one person with the title ‘sales development rep.’ And most of these early users are in the Triangle.
RocketBolt is the second go-around for the pair. They initially went through DreamIt Ventures
with an idea to increase user engagement on websites, but it was too complex, Dinin says. Chris Heivly
and Dave Neal
from the Startup Factory offered to give them another try.
They graduated from TSF last fall with an early prototype of RocketBolt, a self-service tool targeted to much smaller businesses. But those companies didn’t understand the value of the back-end technology, Dinin says, so they moved up market and launched RocketBolt 2.0 for more sophisticated tech customers.
Local advisors like Henry Copeland
of BlogAds, Michael Olander Jr.
of MDO Holdings and angel Mark Easley
helped that process. The men also raised money from Washington D.C.-based Jonathon Perrelli
of Fortify Ventures
, Raj Bhaskar
of D.C.’s NextGen Angels
and John Wechsler
of Launch Fishers and Taxi Ventures
The Dorm Room Fund’s Philadelphia team (there are now teams in New York, San Francisco and Boston too) learned of the company when Weiner planned a visit to the Triangle to judge UNC’s Carolina Challenge and meet Duke University-founded startups. Founded in 2012 with $500,000 from First Round Capital, the fund’s mission is to identify and fund the most promising startups on universities around the nation and to prepare student investors to enter the startup or venture capital field. Weiner, for example, was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania when she became a fund partner—now she works for Bain Capital Ventures in New York City.
Weiner met with the men and invited them to Philadelphia to pitch. Two hours later, Dinin got the call that it would invest.
As part of the fund, Dinin will be invited to CEO retreats and dinners. This month, he visited New York and received introductions to venture capitalists through the First Round network. Those will be helpful as RocketBolt begins fundraising its next round.
“First Round is known for building a big network of companies that you can tap into and ask for help and advice,” Dinin says. “What it has done is give us access to those people.”