I love the way Justin Miller
does things. He does them big. For instance, soon into the lifespan of his first venture, the dejaMi venue-based media sharing app, he decided that the way to get his app noticed among the plethora of media sharing apps that had suddenly hit the market was to make his beta test very public. What resulted was the two-day, 26-band dejaFest back in 2011
This was genius. This was old-school, dot-com era bravado in a region that was just at the dawn of rebuilding its startup population. What's more is that dejaFest wasn't just about the app, it was about revitalizing Raleigh and the Triangle and making it more than IBM, where Justin himself had come from, and maybe Red Hat, if people knew what that was.
And you know what happened?
It didn't work. It spectacularly didn't work.
Well, no. It worked for what it was intended to do. dejaFest went off with few hitches and rave reviews, bringing all kinds of new attention to dejaMi. But the onslaught in the app economy was just beginning and there was no escaping the gravity.
I'll admit, even I was skeptical of the discovery factor of dejaMi, though I never doubted Justin as an entrepreneur, or his model, or his skills at building a highly-usable, well-designed, class-act app. It was just that there was way too much noise and he didn't have the funding and the region didn't have the ecosystem to create enough signal in that quagmire.
Justin saw this too, but he didn't give up. Instead, he doubled down. Through the summer of 2012, Justin and co-founders Idan Koren and Andy Heymann hunkered down in his basement to rebuild the next version of dejaMi into the first version of WedPics. I got a close-up of this process through Justin contracting with one of my employees, and the fever pitch to build and release this app never stopped, even through getting booted from that basement and serendipitously landing at HQ Raleigh
, where the office is still located today.
Justin didn't so much raise a seed round as he built a seed round, pulling funds in from friends, family, partnerships, sponsorships, basically by any means necessary. When we had a chance to catch up at SEVC in Charlotte in March 2013, he was sort of raising institutional money but sort of didn't need to. At that point, out of beta and right on the verge of the 2013 wedding season, WedPics wasn't really on anyone's radar, although the adoption metrics he divulged during his presentation were already impressive.
At the end of that conversation, we had one of my favorite exchanges ever.
"How much are you looking for?"
"Yeah, you'll get that."
And he did. Coming out of SEVC (most of it already secured, I think I can divulge that now), WedPics raised an oversubscribed $1.1 million seed round
. Now everyone knew who they were, and that 2013 wedding season would be explosive. By the mid-point in August, WedPics was up to 2,200 weddings per weekend, most of the adoption coming virally (as opposed to via gigantic, head-achey music festivals).
"We knew we were onto something big with WedPics," says Miller, "because it wasn’t just another photo-sharing app in the sea of photo-sharing apps. This idea came with a brilliantly simple 'ah-ha' comparison or use case. It replaces the need for disposable cameras at weddings, and this immediately resonated with everyone."
In 2014, WedPics announced a $1.5 million Series A, with a 10x increase in users and content.
If you think there's something odd about a bunch of single young men -- and I might add tattooed single young men who eschew suits, ties, shaving, and sensible haircuts -- building the fastest-scaling app in the $100 billion wedding industry by repurposing a live show app from a basement in Raleigh, NC, you're not alone. And neither is the irony lost on Justin.
"The juxtaposition of our company make-up with the industry is incredible," he says, "and I truly believe our success can be attributed to the fact that we were able to break into this market with a completely different perspective. We’re a bunch of dudes that don’t -- or should I say ‘didn’t’ -- know the first thing about weddings, and this proved to be to our advantage. I like to think of it as the 'Wizard of Oz' effect -- perception in front of the curtain and behind the curtain."
In my last post on the Mostly Legal Marketing panel
, I mused that Eric Boggs and I had found our pursuit of rock-stardom in the relatively less sexy world of building products and companies. Justin markets like a rock star, whether it's music festivals or weddings. All it took was a pivot to a vertical that, while just as noisy and crowded, could still be dominated.
Then, as he is known to do, he went big.