Founder: Startup ALECIA maps capital raise, keeps IPO option in its sites
NASHVILLE media entrepreneur and CEO Alecia Vimala says she is preparing for a sizable equity-capital raise to scale-up her ALECIA-branded "shoppable entertainment" business, in hope of eventually realizing her "dream for the company": an initial public offering.
The Alecia.com website and mobile apps are formally to emerge from beta-stage Oct. 10. That's when the Android, iOS, Web and other streaming video components of the new digital network are become fully operational, said Vimala, who is majority owner of the company that is formally registered as Vimala LLC.
The company aims to operate in a manner "very much like Netflix or Hulu," said the 33-year-old founder.
ALECIA is to be a free, commerce-supported service that can become directly competitive with the major subscription-content services. Within three to five years, she said, she believes her company will be a true "market disruptor."
While viewing its lifestyle and original-series programming, viewers using any device will be enabled to shop for products or other offerings that appear within the streaming content, without having to click to go to separate website.
ALECIA viewers are never redirected and one shopping cart supports all purchases across the platform, she emphasized.
In roughly the past 18 months, the company raised $4.1MM in debt and equity capital, with Pathway Lending a key participant. Pathway is the Nashville-based nonprofit community development financial institution (CDFI).
She said that at points during its beta phase, the company was shipping about 20,000 product orders per month, with some profitable periods.
She said she projects reaching sustainable profitability in early 2019, and sees her apps supporting "millions of users" by 3Q19.
While launching in the U.S. is her immediate focus, Vimala said she has conducted beta tests abroad, and has logistics partners in-place for eventual entries to Canada, Australia and Europe.
The CEO said while she has thus far raised much of the funding she has needed within the state, when looking for the larger sums -- perhaps $10MM-$15MM -- she is likely to draw on institutional investors based in New York, San Francisco and-or Los Angeles "who really specialize in media and technology." She hasn't yet found "the right fit" with Tennessee VCs, she said.
She said her company has generated "several million" in revenue during its beta period. It has 43 payroll employees in downtown Nashville and -- after moving three times in a single year to accomodate growth -- is scouting for "permanent headquarters" in urban Nashville, in anticipation of reaching 100 employees within the next 12 months.
She emphasized that while her goal is to keep ALECIA headquarters in Nashville, the company will doubtless have offices in New York and Los Angeles.
She added that she believes her company can have real economic impact in Tennessee and, with that in mind, she is in ongoing discussions with state executives regarding resources available via the Tennessee Entertainment Commission, an affiliate of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Asked about advisors, she cited attorneys Kenneth Weinrib of NYC-based Franklin Weinrib Rudell & Vassallo; Paul Kruse of Bone McAllester Norton; and, Alex Davie of Riggs Davie.
She said the company's accounting is with Mike Vaden at Elliott Davis LLC in Nashville, and the company banks with Pinnacle Financial Partners, dealing mainly with Lynn Lassiter Kendrick and Joe Jeffries. The company's third-party logistics partner is Lebanon-Tenn.-based Remar Inc.
Vimala explained that in her earlier career supporting entertainment deal-making, she recognized that content providers were having trouble monetizing their output.
She tested product placement in lifestyle content via brief YouTube videos she produced at home. Eventually, using what she describes as her then-rudimentary app-development skills, she "Mcgyvered" the first version of an app. As she raised funding, she got pro developers and engineers involved and has been steadily improving the company's technology.
Provided she attracts the investment she seeks, Vimala said she's begun sorting-out what's needed in the way of C-level and director-level talent during the period of intense growth she sees ahead.
She's already recruited top talent to the full-time team, including NY-based Piper McCoy, a Sports and Entertainment marketing specialist.
She will soon also begin formalizing her advisory board. She currently has a robust, but less formal network of advisors.
She noted with evident pride that her father, Ravi Venkataraman, who lives in her hometown of Cookeville, Tenn., is one of her most valued advisors, adding that he would have been, even without the family tie.
Her father is CEO of IVRTrain Inc., a startup that uses Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) to create training applications for manufacturing operations.
Notably, the COO of IVRTrain is Jeff Brown, president and executive director of The Biz Foundry, a state-sponsored regional entrepreneur center in Cookeville.
According to her LinkedIn, prior to launching ALECIA, Vimala's experience included serving as CEO of DIMI Entertainment in Nashville, which packaged deals for motion picture development, production and financing.
She earned her MBA in Entrepreneurship and Negotiation at the Massey School of Business at Belmont University, where she also earned her bachelor's in music business.
Earlier, she studied marketing at Tennessee Technological University in her native Cookeville. VNC