Billy Joel, Kings of Leon
and Ken Block
, of rally car and motocross fame, all have a similar problem—managing and driving traffic to their merchandise stores online.
While it’s easier than ever to launch an e-commerce store using software like Shopify, PrestaShop and Magento, even the most recognizable celebrities struggle to market and drive sales to their brands. And that’s where SpotTrot
, a Charlottesville, Va. and Raleigh-based startup, has finally found its niche.
I say finally because SpotTrot's execs—co-founders Fenton Williams
and Ryan Gall
and Gall's brother Patrick Gall
(of Raleigh)—have been at it for several years
and with backing from Charlottesville native and chart-topping musician and singer-songwriter Dave Matthews
(Ryan Gall and Williams previously worked for Matthews' production company).
They initially launched a platform that allowed musicians to create branded mobile apps to engage with fans during concerts. While that was slow to take off, fans were using the apps to buy merchandise, so SpotTrot instead partnered with Live Nation
and its musician, celebrity and athlete customers to build and host their mobile e-commerce stores. But soon after that iteration launched, many professional sports teams began building out their own mobile stores and locking up licensing rights and the major e-commerce software companies built out mobile platforms, making it difficult for SpotTrot to grow as fast as it hoped.
There were some tough moments around that time, Patrick says. Though SpotTrot never lost customers in droves and maintained Live Nation as a partner, the more conversations the team had, the more they realized they'd lost the first mover's advantage in mobile e-commerce.
But it wasn't long before they found the niche—an opportunity to help athletes or celebrities launch or build their personal brands, and the apparel and products associated with them.
First up was action sports athlete and DC Shoes co-founder Block, who began using SpotTrot early last year to launch his new apparel brand Hoonigan
to his five million Facebook and the millions of YouTube viewers (An average Block video gets 20 million views). Sales have grown nearly 70 percent over the last year, and are expected to double again this year. According to Patrick, SpotTrot serves as Block's online marketing team, integrating his various technology platforms, managing the online store (SpotTrot syncs with e-commerce software platforms like Magento) and website and creating ads and marketing materials to drive traffic and purchases.
"People like that they can go to one vendor rather than piece together development and marketing," Patrick says. "Our ideal client is really blowing out their brand—has a site but is having an issue like scaling. So we can get through those issues but help grow the brand after we stabilize the site."
SpotTrot got a $500,000 cash infusion late last year from existing investors like Dave Matthews and a key new one, private jet industry mogul Kenny Dichter, whose latest company Wheels Up has clients like Erin Andrews, Kirk Herbstreit, Russell Wilson and golfer Rickie Fowler. Funding now totals just over $2 million. There’s a new president at the company—the former head of Live Nation’s merchandise division. Employees now total 10 in offices in both Charlottesville and Raleigh (in American Underground), and the team will soon add sales and marketing staff. SpotTrot has about 20 customers, but is just now ready to ramp up. Big targets are sports marketing companies that represent athletes and top talent agencies like IMG, WME and CAA (Creative Artists Agency). SpotTrot hopes to become a preferred vendor of those groups. The team will also attend The Agenda Show, a trade show where new brands and clothing lines are launched. And Dichter's connections will probably help too.
Here's Patrick's wish: "As these celebrities and athletes create apparel or fashion lines, we're hoping to use him as a linkage between us and them."