And that's partially why he's in the Startup Factory to build his latest startup, a platform called Crowdfunde that deploys crowdfunding campaigns as a content marketing strategy for businesses. Smith has a long, compelling story; he needs a better, simpler and punchier pitch.
Smith (pictured right) was an M&M/Mars sales manager when he bought his first computer and taught himself to code. He built software products for the candy company before starting his first company in 1999. FoundObjects.com had exclusive rights to online sales of magnetic poetry kits, those sets of magnetic words that could be arranged on the door of a refrigerator (We all had them.) For nearly five years, he and his then wife ran the site, with annual sales topping $8 million.
It was there that Smith learned the power of search engine optimization, a skill set that made him attractive to Hillsborough pornography mogul, sex toy salesman, author and philanthropist Phil Harvey in 2003. For the next six years, Smith ran the e-commerce operations of Townsend Enterprises, which operated sex toy e-commerce site Adam & Eve and the adult sex education and toy site Sinclair Institute. He takes credit for growing annual online sales from $1 million a year to $6 million.
At Townsend, Smith got his initial diagnosis of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and became inspired (by Harvey) to give back. In 2010, in between chemotherapy treatments, he quit his job and biked 3,300 miles in 60 days, raising $30,000 to fund cancer research at Duke Hospital. He eventually took a director of marketing job at Atlantic BT while he explored crowdfunding as an opportunity for physicians and researchers to raise money to cure diseases.
In December 2013, Smith unveiled a site he built to crowdfund cancer research. Called CureCancerStarter, the site lets four hospitals, including UNC and Duke, offer patients and their families the opportunity to run crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for research.
But Smith had other ahas while he explored the idea of using a crowd of people to fund a project. Lacking in the dozens of crowdfunding websites that have popped up since the JOBS Act legalized the practice and the SEC promised rules to govern it, was a site that recognized the value of the content created by crowdfunding campaigners and offered it as a marketing tool for businesses.
The site isn't built yet, but it's already got a beta tester in Cary's Moon Audio, an online seller of high-end audio gear. Customers of Moon will be able to fund their audio projects using a Crowdfunde campaign.
"It's a Kickstarter environment inside their website, where high end audio people come in and share their crazy guy in a basement dreams," Smith says. He's brought on former Townsend colleague, SEO guru and Raleigh SEO Meetup organizer Phil Buckley (pictured left) to help him build the business. SEO will be a key advantage for the pair, Smith says.
And that's what drew Startup Factory's Chris Heivly to the pair. Heivly calls them "SEO and content marketing mavens and thought leaders regionally and nationally," and though the idea is still immature, he's intrigued.
Smith's key goals for the Startup Factory: crafting the elevator pitch, running a successful beta and launching the site.