Haul Brings In Mark Cuban’s “Shark Tank” Startups as First Customers

10/2/13Follow @angelashah

A Dallas Internet startup has signed on one of Texas’s most high-profile entrepreneurs as one of its clients.

Haul, a sort of talent management agency that connects shopping haulers—typically young women who model clothes or demonstrate products in homemade YouTube videos—with advertisers and retailers in an online marketplace, is working with the Mark Cuban Companies, a portfolio of startups the famed Dallas entrepreneur has invested in from his appearances on the reality television show, “Shark Tank.”

The first set of hauler ads came online this week and featured KaZAAM, a balance bicycle aimed at 3- to 6-year-olds.

Haul is now working on video promotions for Cuban’s other “Shark Tank” investments including KissTixx, a lip balm that creates a chemical reaction when two wearers kiss, and LollaLand LollaCup, a sippy cup for infants and toddlers.

For each of the products, Haul builds an e-commerce platform to which haulers can upload their videos. The site contains promotion codes and “Buy This Now” buttons. Haul collects 50 percent of the purchase price from the Cuban-backed startup.

At Haul’s co-working space at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center, cartons of beauty and teeth-whitening products, as well as bicycles, are piling all around the startup’s staff of seven. “We need a warehouse,” says Alexander Muse, Haul’s co-founder and CEO. “We’re the most ridiculous guys at the DEC.”

Haul is nearing the end of a $750,000 fundraising round, attracting investors such as 500 Startups mentor Dave McClure. Haul has raised half of that amount so far.

The partnership with Cuban and his “Shark Tank” investments is a coup for any new startup, and especially so for Haul, a fellow Dallas startup enterprise, Muse says.

Since Yahoo bought Cuban’s startup, Broadcast.com, for an estimated $5 billion in 1999, Cuban has used his wealth to make a number of investments in companies, including Sharesleuth, a non-profit online watchdog journalism website. He also bought the Dallas Mavericks, the city’s NBA franchise, in 2000.

On “SharkTank,” which has aired since 2009, the billionaire entrepreneur has invested about $7.3 million in 35 companies, for an average stake of 30 percent. (Cuban laughed his way through fellow “Tank” judges Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary kissing to demonstrate the product, but found the business model sound enough that he invested $200,000 for a 40 percent stake.)

It’s not just consumer-product startups that find Haul’s online marketplace attractive. Muse says he has a deal with a national law firm based in Dallas to place its ads seeking plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of Yaz, a birth control pill. Haulers—and their viewers—are the exact demographic that the law firm is trying to reach.

“They’re spending $42 million on TV and have not had success reaching 15- to 35-year-olds,” says Muse, who is also an Xconomist. “We can give them 10 times the exposure that they were getting on TV.”

Muse, a longtime Dallas entrepreneur, founded Haul in January, along with Robert Bennett, after he had noticed shopping haulers and wondered how well they were doing in terms of their own profitability—and whether retailers and brands had tapped into these potential marketers. He had launched a number of mobile and video startups, so he decided to answer those questions for himself through Haul.

In terms of eyeballs, there is a big opportunity, Muse says. The top 150 haulers get 4 billion viewers but make almost no money from those views. So he decided to create a marketplace for the several thousand haulers just below them and connect them with advertisers, retailers, and brands.

Right now, Muse says he is only able to use 50 of his 809-strong hauler network. Haul just doesn’t have the staff to coordinate receiving shipments of hundreds of products, getting those to the right hauler, and then making sure the product gets to the buyer.

“The volumes aren’t yet high enough,” Muse says. “Once I start doing 1,000 units, we can afford to outsource this to a logistics company.”

It’s all a work-in-progress, a chaotic time that Muse clearly enjoys. “We’ve met the market and understand what the customer wants, what the hauler wants,” he says. “Now, how do we do this to scale?”

Muse says he expects to find that answer by December, just in time for the holiday gift-giving season.

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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