Dallas Startup Haul Links Retailers to YouTube Marketers
Celebrity endorsements are a tried-and-true method for brands to get exposure. But, thanks to technology, even everyday Joes and Janes can become important ambassadors to retailers, and get paid to do it.
This marketing force is known as “haulers,” named for the shopping hauls that they show off on homemade YouTube videos. The queen bees of this set are two Tennessee sisters, Elle and Blair Fowler, who have turned their small-screen debuts into lucrative endorsement contracts, a book deal, and a signature makeup line.
Their success got Alexander Muse thinking of all of the other haulers—teenage girls, sports enthusiasts, amateur cooks—who have filled up bandwidth talking up their favorite new outfits, gear, or molecular gastronomy vacuum.
The longtime Dallas entrepreneur has founded a number of mobile and video startups, and the hauler phenomenon got him wondering about how well these haulers were doing in terms of their own profitability—and whether retailers and brands had tapped into these potential marketers.
“The top 150 haulers get 4 billion viewers but almost no money,” Muse says. “What if we could create a marketplace to enable the next several thousand haulers to succeed monetarily, to deal with advertisers, retailers, and brands?”
So began Haul, a sort of talent management agency that connects haulers, advertisers, and retailers in an online marketplace.
His Dallas startup launched in January with Muse and his co-founder, Robert Bennett. The company was accepted into the Venture Spur program in Dallas earlier this year and now employs seven. Muse says the startup plans to close on less than $1 million in funding from angel investors in Dallas and San Francisco by the end of the month.
Haul is one of three Dallas startups that have been invited to make their pitches at the Grow Conference in Vancouver today. We first met Muse and Haul last month when the startup became the first tenant in the Dallas Entrepreneurs Center, a new co-working/incubator.
Teenagers have been posting on YouTube since the channel’s debut on the Web, but it’s only been in recent years that retailers began to see the value in these unofficial advertisements. During the last economic recession, as companies slashed marketing budgets, haulers became invaluable spokespeople.
That’s because video has become the virtual fitting room. There are about 700,000 haul videos on YouTube today, up from 150,000 in 2010, according to a recent study by Google. Four out of 10 shoppers visited a store online or in person after watching one of its products on video and about 34 percent of apparel shoppers were more likely to purchase an item after viewing an online video ad, versus just 16 percent after watching an ad on TV.
Haul approached haulers already on YouTube and asked to represent them. The startup aggregates their YouTube channels, Instagram accounts, and other outlets, and provides video-editing tools for haulers to use. “We sign them to sponsors and get contracts from retailers,” Muse says.
Each hauler video features a full suite of e-commerce bells and whistles, with embedded UPC codes and a “Buy It Now” button.
It works the other way, too. Haul approaches retailers who have new product lines and are looking for exposure to their demographic. “Advertisers can do a filtered search—find a group of young women who live in a house between the ages of 15 and 18,” Muse says.
The startup is doing this all with an eye to create HaulTV, an online portal where viewers can search for haulers using specific products. This portal could then be connected with outlets like Netflix or AppleTV.
It’s not the only startup that’s zeroed in on haulers as a potentially lucrative market. Los Angeles-based HaulerDeals last year raised $1 million in seed funding from Intelligent Beauty, a parent company to a number of fashion-related e-commerce sites.
HaulerDeals features as many as 20 haulers with existing audiences on social media sites. They are mostly young women who have their own “boutiques,” showing how to apply their favorite new eye shadow or modeling how they paired a new series of necklaces with a particular blouse.
Muse says the market potential goes beyond young fashionistas. “Most haulers don’t know they are a hauler,” he says. “There are a lot of men who are haulers. Toys are the biggest haul category. There’s extreme sports, hunting, anything that relates to a product. Anything that is creating a marketplace.”