Niche.co is on track to hit the $1 million revenue mark later this month, co-founder Rob Fishman told Capital.
The company, a sort of mini-William Morris for social media’s most influential stars, passed $750,000 in revenue in February, less than a year out of the starting gate.
What Niche does, it almost seems impossible hasn’t been done before: Connecting such social-media celebrities as Charlotte, N.C. teen Nash Grier, who has more followers on looping-video service Vine than, for instance, either Ellen Degeneres or Justin Bieber, to big brands.
The company’s first client, CBS Films, was teamed up with Curtis Lepore, who has just shy of 4 million followers on Vine, and eight other social media stars; Niche flew them out to Las Vegas in October to cover and produce a Vine about the premiere of Last Vegas, which starred Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman.
Fishman and co-founder Darren Lachtman created the company in June of 2013 but only began offering their services to the public in November of 2013. It was then the duo and C.T.O. Brian Bason announced the company raised $550,000 in seed funding, led by David Tisch, managing director of TechStars and founder and managing partner of boutique seed-stage capital firm Box Group, with PolicyMic co-founder Chris Altchek, Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg, MediaLink C.E.O. Michael Kassan and John Alderman.
Now Niche.co has a total of 10 employees based out of its New York and San Francisco offices and plans to continue scaling the business in terms of brand partnerships and number of employees.
“What’s been exciting for me … is we started running these campaigns before there was a business,” said Fishman, who left his post as social media editor at The Huffington Post to start KingFish Labs in 2011, which was then acquired by Buzzfeed in 2012. “We’ve built a business and we’re going to use the technology to scale up. The exciting piece is having a steadying and growing steam of business as we’re building the technology. We’ve taken a pretty different approach and we know now there’s a large and growing demand for what we’re offering and we need to offer it at scale.”
Niche compensates all is social media stars, though it’s not always with cash. Creators like Lepore or Grier, who has a total cross-platform reach of more than 12 million, work for Niche on a freelance basis and either receive cash, gift cards or sometimes benefit by simply being a part of a high-profile event.
Through Niche, brands are given an alternative to the run-of-the-mill sponsored post that also gives them access to massive built-in fan bases. And according to Fishman, typically one in four followers or fans engage with any given post.
In the early stages of the company, Niche’s services, including finding the perfect creator to meet a brand’s needs, have been largely done manually by the staff. But over the past five months, in an effort to began scaling the company, Fishman and his team have been working to make the technology close to fully automated. For example, brands will have access to a directory of creators which in addition to specifying each creators’ reach on social media will also include their interests and locations.
“Everything that we’ve been doing in a manual fashion is in the process of being not totally automated, but close to that,” Fishman said. “It’s going to be a self-serve market place where creators can get 12 new offers on the phones [from brands] and they can pick the ones they want. All of the learning that’s happened in the first five months is going to baked into that tech platform.”
But as Fishman has quickly learned companies are still holding onto that need to “hear a person’s voice at the other end of the phone.”
“We’re servicing the high end of the market right now but we’re going to keep going down the tail there and really starting to service the smaler apps and smaller brands who are looking to spend marketing dollars,” Fishman continued. “To me it’s a question of scaling up the technical infrastuture but no matter how self served, [companies] always want to hear a voice We’ll be preserving the human element on running these campaigns as we develop.”
Niche now has a steadily growing client base of over 50 brands, all of which will begin to pay a monthly base fee for access to the technology. Brands include Lyft, Lerer Ventures-backed companies NowThis News and Thrillist Media, Bark Box, NFL, Universal Studios, CBS Films, The Awl Network and Sony Music Group.
Additional fees for creating and proliferating a campaign are specific to each brand and each of the companies’ individual needs and desires for the brand.
“Our campaigns are tailored very closely to what they’re asking for,” Fishman said. “Campaigns are running 15,000 and up a month. Our team is working with data … to formulate these campaigns and make sure they deliver success, the campaigns are definitely not a one-size fits all and that is being built into the technology ….”
Going forward, Fishman says the company doesn’t have plans for an exit though he sees revenue continuing to grow steadily month-over-month.
“We’re building the business without any end in sight,” he said. “The goal is to scale up operations, service more creators and retain more brand clients.”
As for adding to the intial round of funding that they only opened to friends and family:
“We decided against taking institutional money in the fall,” he said. “If and when we do raise another round of capital, we’ll be speaking with any partners who can get behind the concept in the same way that David [Tisch] and Box Group have supported us so far.”
And Tisch, who grew up in the same hometown as Fishman and said he has known of Fishman longer than he has known him, said he plans to continue to invest in Niche.
“Do I hope Niche exits one day? Yes,” Tisch told Capital. “Do I see that happening within an 18-month road map? Not really. It’s a very early company, and they have a lot more of a future ahead of them. We [at Box Group] are big fans of the company and we’re going to continue to support them.”