The MeNetwork putting $500k to work, launching in Omaha tomorrow

This past December I received a tip in my inbox from Vince Stanco, an investor and advisor of a startup with significant Omaha ties: "Tip: The MeNetwork lauched this past summer in Denver followed by San Francisco in early November. We will be launching in Omaha in January! Happy to enhance the tip. Give me

Screenshot of themenetwork.net

This past December I received a tip in my inbox from Vince Stanco, an investor and advisor of a startup with significant Omaha ties:

Tip: The MeNetwork lauched this past summer in Denver followed by San Francisco in early November. We will be launching in Omaha in January!

Happy to enhance the tip. Give me a ring.

Vince

Two weeks later, I met Stanco and Craig Page, the company’s COO, for coffee at a Starbucks, and within a matter of minutes they were giving me a demo of their product. “Text ‘SF Happy Hour’ to 63638” said Page. Seven seconds later, three text messages came my way, each giving me the name of a restaurant or bar in San Francisco with a deal and street address. For example:

“Happy hour Monday through Friday 4-6pm in the bar and lounge area. Enjoy 20% off the Wine Bar food menu, RN74, 301 Mission St, 415-543-7474”

As Stanco’s email mentioned above, they originally launched in Denver in early 2010 – the concept was invented by Michael “Spike” Stevens of Boulder, Colorado in late 2009, and was then co-founded by Stevens, Craig Page, Jeff Sanders and Mike Corbisiero. In October 2010, they launched in San Francisco. In both cities they’ve gained traction by partnering with the city’s tourism department or visitor bureau, who, in addition to handing out promotional cards with instructions and keywords to text message, serve as sales agents for The MeNework.

The startup’s core offering, text messaging (or SMS, short message service) as a marketing platform, is nothing new. Examples of other companies in the space include Tatango and TextMarks, both founded in 2007 with the former receiving angel funding that same year (according to Crunchbase).

“Our sweet spot is ability to pull advertising when they want it, versus proverbial spamming of the phone,” said Page in a phone interview last week. That ability, giving the merchant control of their advertising and only giving the consumer opt-in messages, is powered by their “Merchant Tool,” a backend dashboard which allows a merchant to set up and manage their campaigns. In our meeting, Page gave me a tour of the dashboard, but until they’ve further developed their product, they’re hesitating to release screenshots or a screencast. I will say, however, I was impressed with its clean interface and intuitiveness, and in Page’s demonstration, its quickness – entering in a campaign makes it live immediately, if you so wish. (Though a different product, The MeNetwork give merchants the ability to push text messages to consumers, as well)

A diagram breaking down The MeNetwork, from The MeNetwork on Facebook

Another point of The MeNetwork that is especially noteworthy is that the two gentleman who met me for coffee got to know each other in their previous careers at First Data. Over coffee, they expressed to me that after departing First Data they pursued other business ventures, but when the opportunity presented itself to invest in and become a critical part of a startup’s growth, they jumped at it.

Page and Stanco are two of 11 individuals that participated in a $500,000 friends and family (F&F) round this past November ($350,000 of which was raised in the Omaha area) – and Page noted: “Since inception, we’ve raised over half a million dollars.”

The startup’s revenue model revolves around monthly subscriptions (purchased in six to 12-month packages) from the merchants, which means the merchant has the ability to set up an unlimited amount of campaigns or keywords. “We’ve turned revenue, but I’m not going to say that it’s enormous,” said Page in the phone interview. “We’ve had multiple sales last month in Omaha, and we’re starting to see revenue come in out of the Denver deals.”

Last month they received a significant boost through a partnership with Wild Blue Yonder, the in-flight magazine of Frontier Airlines. The promotion had users text the airport code plus “wby” and in return they would receive an offer in that city.

Tomorrow, they’ll officially be launching in Omaha, which will bring their total to 30 cities (left, map from themenetwork.net), three of which provide campaigns above and beyond the Wild Blue Yonder promotion. Page also said their product works for more than just restaurants and bars. They’re also looking to sign up hotels, churches, schools, convention centers, sporting venues and car lots. “The product has an affect on any space for information or advertising…every venue out there today,” said Page.

After Omaha, Page said their next stops are in New Orleans and then Austin, Texas. So, it sounds like the Silicon Prairie will have another representative at South by Southwest Interactive this year, both with a product and people – Stevens and Sanders will be in attendance. I imagine that an “Austin Happy Hour” text to 63638 will be a good test of the product.

Learn more about The MeNetwork at themenetwork.net.

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