Brian Handly thought he was joining a fast growth mobile technology company when he became StepLeader Digital’s CEO in 2012.
Three years later, he’s finally getting that opportunity.
A year after StepLeader began its pivot from a developer of mobile apps for local television stations to a mobile audience insights firm on the edge of the Internet of Things and Ad Tech movements, the Raleigh startup has raised an oversubscribed $750,000 round and lined up major customers for a first-to-market analytics software that lets app publishers (like local broadcasters) target mobile advertising to consumers. It’s sold under the new brand Reveal Mobile.
New to invest in Reveal Mobile are Durham’s IDEA Fund Partners and Alerion Ventures, a year-old fund in Charleston, S.C. In a news release issued today, Alerion’s Wiley Becker says that Reveal has a wide-open opportunity servicing the thousands of app publishers who don’t have access to the mobile audience data of major Internet companies.
“Reveal Mobile levels the playing field, allowing any publisher to compete,” says Becker, a former principal for Square 1 Ventures in Durham.
Three investors—ExitEvent parent Capitol Broadcasting, River Cities Capital Fund and Bull City Venture Partners—have reupped on the company, which just a year ago was losing customers and laying off most of its 32-person staff, an experience that caused uncertainty about the future and a lot of heartache.
Patents were filed late last year, with feedback from the IP attorney that he’d never seen a space as open as this one during patent research. Patents are pending to protect how beacons are recognized and classified, and how they are leveraged to collect data about mobile users and organize them into archetypes.
Tough in the whole transition was the slimming down required to allow for development and restructuring to happen. Handly had to let go a recent financial executive hire along with many other staffers to leave a small and nimble staff that could service existing customers and handle the new company’s data and infrastructure needs. He also needed a CTO, which he found in Dean, a SAS research and development manager, NC State statistics adjunct professor and author of a book on Big Data.
When SteapLeader spun out of Capitol Broadcasting in 2012, it employed 14. The number grew to 32, but by last fall, had dropped to 6.
“We’ve had some tough days, when it’s really hard to come in and be the cheerleader,” Handly recalled when we spoke last year.
But now, his team will grow.
At least three positions will be added this year in engineering, data science and business development. And they’ll be ready to bring to market, widely, a product that salespeople can use to easily deploy custom, personalized ad campaigns, backed by data.
“The smartphone has been out seven or eight years now and the industry is so good at product analytics, page views, crash support, ad impressions and click through rates, but so few people are actually trying to understand who is using the device,” says Handly. “That’s why I’m so stoked about it. This really is an opportunity.”