A year ago, Reveal Mobile CEO Brian Handly took the stage at 36/86 South in Nashville to pitch a startup with strong intellectual property and promise, but with just a few customers and a meager $3K in monthly revenue.
A lot has changed in a year, he reflected this morning at the 2017 edition at 36/86. On stage yesterday, he shared a 926% increase in revenue year-over-year and announced another $700,000 capital raise, validation from existing investors Bull City Venture Partners, Idea Fund Partners and Alerion that the mobile audience data and insights startup is on the right track.
That fast growth is a long time coming for Handly, a serial entrepreneur in Raleigh initially recruited in 2014 to run a Capitol Broadcasting Co. (ExitEvent’s parent company) spinout called StepLeader Digital. Six months into the job, sales began to dip for the apps and ad network the company developed on behalf of major U.S. broadcasters.
Rather than move on, Handly suggested the company keep innovating.
StepLeader eventually rebranded as Reveal Mobile after figuring out how to use Bluetooth low energy beacons installed in retail stores and restaurants around the U.S. to collect data from tens of millions of mobile phone users based on where they go with their phones and the apps they use. Combined with census and other data sources, Reveal could compile really specific customer profiles that match the people brands want to reach.
Reveal is essentially a two-sided marketplace. It relies on apps to help collect data from mobile phone users—its SDK is now implemented in 600 in North America. Many apps come through platforms like Frankly or Newscycle Solutions or through big corporations like Sinclair Broadcasting, which uses Reveal technology in its news apps.
Another source is mParticle, a marketplace for SDKs that many app publishers use to build out their apps.
On the other side are location-based mobile ad networks whose advertisers require data to ensure their campaigns are effective. Reveal Mobile sends networks like PlaceIQ and xAd the data they need to verify networks are actually driving traffic into a store or leading to other customer conversion.
And a just-launched Reveal offering called Social Direct gives brands and ad agencies a self-service option for acquiring Reveal’s data and then using it to target specific mobile phone users (through device IDs) with relevant ads on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
— ExitEvent (@exitevent) June 5, 2017
The platform, which comes with a license fee, was inspired by a customer meeting with Capitol Broadcasting’s WRAL sales team. An ad agency wanted to know why it should advertise a client on the WRAL mobile app instead of Facebook, which offers larger reach than WRAL.
That had become an increasingly familiar refrain, and Reveal had always said that a smaller publisher couldn’t compete if too large an audience was required. But that meeting prompted Handly and team to work on a solution. With two customers and interest building, he’s glad he did.
Social Direct extends an advertiser’s reach by tapping into the beacon network, providing device IDs that match a brand’s requirements and making it easy to download that list and upload it into Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any ad network.
For example, publishers can be sure they deliver an ad for a golf equipment store to an avid golfer who lives within a few miles of the store. Some of those ads could appear on the WRAL mobile app. Others could appear on social.
The whole process is significantly less expensive than paying the social media sites to find the audience, Handly says, and it extends the reach of publishers that don’t have that big of an audience.
Social Direct launched in April, helping Reveal Mobile revenue top $100,000 in May, up 33 percent month-over-month. It’s an offering that Handly expects will be increasingly popular—it’s easy and doesn’t require hand-holding by his team.
Listening to customers and staying nimble has been key for Reveal. The team is innovating in an industry where results are critical and advertising options are plentiful. Alongside a pair of business development staffers, Handly is still out selling big deals and getting feedback from customers to ensure his team provides the most accurate and effective data and offerings.
But growth is coming as results flood in.
The team of 11 has an office on Hillsborough Street, strategically across the street from the data science program at NC State. Handly has already hired one data scientist from the operational analytics master’s degree program, and typically employs interns every semester.
Continued innovation in data science will be critical. But so will be sales, Handly says.
Pitch events like 36/86 give startups a chance to tell their story and get feedback. They also help mark time.
As he prepped for this week’s pitch, Handly pulled up his four slides from the 2016 event and admits he laughed at the company he sold to investors back then.
A lot can happen in a year.