101 Days Later: The Early Story of Sorter.AI
Yesterday marked 100 days since Sorter AI won Techstars Startup Weekend. For our 100 day update my co-founder, Will Allred, wrote a great writeup on why our technology will matter to marketers and help consumers experience a more meaningful internet experience.
I want to follow on with something more basic: why and how we got to the genesis of Sorter to begin with. The abridged journey, if you will.
I cut my teeth at an early stage daily deal e-commerce startup where I was the first sales hire and grew total sales from $30k to $2.5MM across two brands. When the economy rebounded and the “deal space” consolidated, I began working at Springbot: a data-driven marketing automation platform for online stores.
I was an early hire on the sales team while the company was still in the ATDC incubator at Georgia Tech.
For the most part, selling Springbot was simple: our software promised to make marketing easier and more effective, thereby increasing a store’s sales. The culture was fun, we were building something great, and I learned a lot about management (shoutout to the ole bull Austin DeAngelis.)
Shortly after I started at Springbot, something unexpected happened:
In 2015 a historic women’s college in Virginia, Sweet Briar College, announced it was closing. Having attended the brother school, Hampden-Sydney College, I created a series of campaigns and fundraisers to raise awareness and funding to help #SaveSweetBriar.
I received national press for the HSC for SBC and Shop for Sweet Briar (an e-commerce shopping event) movements and saw an opportunity to use technology to optimize young alumni communication and fundraising.
In August of 2016, I left Springbot to pursue my first startup: a mobile alumni chat and donation app called Alum.
Compared to Springbot, selling software to schools was incredibly difficult.
What I learned is that there are five key traits that contribute to somebody’s personality.
They are known by the acronym OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.
Entrepreneurs rank very high on their openness to new ideas, so selling early-stage marketing software that helps their business made sense to them (their hesitation was usually price, due to the resource scarcity entrepreneur’s are used to.)
By contrast, most school administrators tend to rank lower on openness and therefore prefer to maintain the status quo — especially when it comes to implementing early stage software.
I envisioned a sorting layer that would sit between my CRM (sales/marketing prospect database) and e-mail cadence tools to sort the school administrators by who would rank higher on openness and agreeableness. As a solo entrepreneur, I wanted to engage that segment with more tailored messaging because they were more likely to become customers.
I wanted to build Sorter to solve my own need and grow my own startup.
After months of researching and marinating on the concept of behavioral and psychological sorting, I was convinced there was a compelling use case for the technology in many industries. The world of data had matured enough to make it possible.
Through a wild series of random interactions, conversations, and events I signed up to compete at Techstars Startup Weekend Atlanta 15 minutes before it started. It was there my path crossed with the gentleman sitting in the row in front of me, Will Allred, who is now my co-founder.
I’ll save the details of Startup Weekend for another time, but in short about 35 ideas were presented and the ones with the most general crowd support (Sorter barely scraped by) progressed forward. In the end this filtered down into 8 teams that ultimately competed.
I presented a vision for a world where digital experiences were designed to resonate with an audience at a 1:1 level, but in a way that would allow a marketer, developer, or designer to implement it easily and at scale. A digital world where the massive amounts of available data is sorted into compartmentalized groups and made immediately actionable for a marketer of any sophistication level.
Will Allred was living in the marketing agency world doing marketing strategy and execution. He understood the pain point I wanted to solve, and the elegant simplicity of the solution I envisioned. We partnered, built a team for Startup Weekend, and began painting the vision for where we saw Sorter going and how we wanted to get there: both during the weekend and after.
Sleepless nights and countless cans of of Revelator Cold Brew Fizz Coffee later, our team built an early MVP (minimally viable product), had letters of intent for pilot customers, investor interest, and a vision for a go-to-market strategy after Startup Weekend.
We won the competition and Sorter was born, now 101 days ago.
The groundswell from winning Techstars Startup Weekend was massive, with our pilot pipeline swelling immediately, multiple investor meetings booked, funding secured, and ultimately building and establishing our core team to take the product forward.
As we prepare for our next 100 days, Will and I often reflect back to the first night of Startup Weekend where we stayed until 3am setting the big vision (“the entire movie”) for how Sorter could enable a more beautiful digital world. The next night we stayed until 5am laying the groundwork to build toward that vision: starting with the first scene.
At the beginning of Startup Weekend they displayed a screen that said “This could be the weekend that changes your life.”
And we’re excited to see what happens next.
Read Will Allred’s blog: Understanding the Person Behind Personalization