Series A: Holland hopes Populr shows Nashville techies can be 'global players'
By Milt Capps Updated June 12, 2013 11:35 a.m.
Updated 11:35 a.m. June 12, 2013: Holland told participants in the LaunchTN Southland conference today that Populr is now generating about $7K per month revenue with more than 100 subscribers. He reiterated plans for a $2MM A-round that will take the company beyond breakeven, which is in the vicinity of $100K monthly revenue.-Ed.
NICK HOLLAND's Populr micropublishing startup will soon pursue a $2 million series A capital raise.
That capital round will be merely the latest move in 33-year-old Holland's seemingly relentless effort to create wealth, expand his entrepreneurial knowledge and prove that a Nashville-based tech entrepreneur can become a "global player," without moving to the Coasts.
He's had opportunities to work in Silicon Valley, and he is determined to make his mark from a base in Music City, he said.
He recently confirmed that the A-round is likely to begin in 1Q, with completion in 2H 2013.
Ironically, as part of Holland's methodical credentialing of the startup, he said that while he's fairly confident he could raise A-funds from in-state investors, he'd like to have Silicon Valley, New York and/or Austin money involved, as well. Plans call for Holland to be in Austin tomorrow, he confirmed.
Populr, which now employs six people, is the assumed name adopted by Project10K Inc., a Delaware company, Holland confirmed. "10K", of course, is an allusion to an SEC annual report filing by a public company.
It is premature to speculate about an IPO, he said; however, he added that he "wholeheartedly" believes Populr is opening a category, and that its growth is likely to give the young company a full range of options, whether that's a stock-listing or long-term independent private operation, with a significant international component. (It has begun exploring potential partnerships in China and India, among other markets.)
Holland quickly acknowledged that his company is also likely to be a target for bidders within two years. Though there have been no proposals from strategic players, there have been "conversations," Holland confirmed.
It had 220 participants during its alpha phase; and, drawing on a list of roughly 1,400 would-be trialists, he has thus far moved nearly 700 subscribers into beta testing, another step toward proving that real customers will pay for Populr.
He expects Populr self-service to go live softly on or about Jan. 7, 2013, with formal announcement a week or so afterward.
Apart from its self-serve SaaS offering, Populr's enterprise model has already been adopted by customers in the healthcare services, nonprofit and financial sectors, said Holland. Customers include ESA Education, Beacon Technologies and a publicly held Tennessee healthcare-services company that Holland declined to name without permission. Other customers include Stratasan and Sagents, he said. Though focused on beta-testing, Populr has earned more than $30,000 in revenue, he said. He declined to offer a revenue projection for 2013.
Holland, a second-gen entrepreneur who has long expressed his desire that a "legacy" for Nashville will be one by-product of his work, readily acknowledges there are others in the market to learn from, leverage and otherwise keep an eye on -- including Yammer, Evernote, TACKK and About.me, to name a few.
Though Populr is in the locked-beta phase of its development, a walk-through demo that was provided VNC by Holland revealed that the platform's existing features are probably as at least as finely tuned as most full-blown commercial offerings of its type.
It allows secure group sharing of "published one-pagers" (POPs) and it leverages such social media as Facebook to facilitate access. The robustness under its hood is belied by the temporary splash page that now greets unregistered visitors. Also, its intended uses have broadened far beyond its initial sales/marketing positioning, to include communications, "just-in-time" (JIT) training, pre-Website mapping, analytics and more, Holland said.
Populr tracks responses to addressees who receive its POPs, and it accommodates embedded media (for example, YouTube and GoogleCharts), but it does not offer e-mail or e-commerce functionality. Holland contends Populr is a complement, rather than a competitor to offerings from such local local companies as campaign marketer Emma or content-management solutions providers Bondware and SiteMason.
Asked whether he plans to white-label Populr technology for use by other brands, Holland said the closest he'll come to subordinating his brand's profile is to let resellers offer services under their brands, with strong co-branding using the phrase Powered by Populr. Its API is complete and ready to receive content from orginators, including potential Fortune 500 brands that are far-along in considering it, said Holland.
Populr's seed investment came in 2011 via Bullpen Ventures, via a transaction that left Bullpen and its ally, Nashville Entrepreneur Center (NEC), with approximately 10 and 2 percent interest, respectively, in exchange for Bullpen's standard initial commitment of $25K equity investment and $25K convertible debt commitments.
Holland subsequently worked with Bullpen to enlist 15 investors in a $425K offering of convertible debt. Debt-takers included Solidus and Solidus-TNInvestco, as well as individuals who also brought savvy and networks to the table, Holland confirmed. The convertible holders can opt to convert to equity via the A-round.
Holland retains control of Populr at this point, and Populr co-founders Daniel Nelson and Jared Scheel each have minority stakes.
The Bullpen outing is not Holland's first rodeo: In 2003, Holland created Centresource interactive agency, in which he retains controlling interest. He said he had tried three times to advance Populr while working as CEO of Centresource, but found that the effort tended to cannibalize energies that should be going to Centresource -- and that effect could have served as a brake on the agency's growth. Creating a scaleable product that would create wealth without the engagement turbulence of a service business presented a level of challenge he had simply not contemplated at the outset, he explained.
He began preparing to seek funding for Populr in fall 2011, registered with the state in December 2011 and then formally announced his decision to become Bullpen's first portfolio company. He moved into the NEC for about 90 days.
He was emboldened, Holland made clear, by knowing that his primary asset was in good hands. Centresource, operating under now-CEO Evan Owens, employs 33 in headquarters in the Germantown neighborhood and expects to end 2012 at roughly $3.2MM revenue. Centresource, which years ago pivoted out of its original IT-services role, is soon likely to own a total 12,000 square feet of office space in adjoining properties on 4th/5th Avenues, he told VNC. A portion of that space is likely to be allocated to co-working space for other startups, he said. (Asked whether he plans to sell Centresource or buy other firms, as he previously said he contemplated in 2010-11, Holland said that after the agency hits $5MM annual revenue, M&A could be back on the table.)
Via Bullpen, Holland's Populr venture receives legal services from Sherrard & Roe. He also used Waddey & Patterson for intellectual property work, and Populr banks with Avenue Bank. KraftCPAs serves both Centresource and Populr, said Holland. Centresource banks with SunTrust and its attorneys are with Bass Berry & Sims.
Holland told VNC that he is actively engaged in conversations with additional potential heavy-hitter advisors to the company. VNC