TapInfluence Taps Into Silicon Valley to Find a New CEO

TapInfluence, a Boulder, CO-based marketing software startup, has hired a new chief executive from Silicon Valley. Promise Phelon, who previously worked at The Resumator and founded and was CEO of UpMo, is taking over the top spot, replacing co-founder and longtime CEO Rustin Banks. Banks will stay on as chief product officer and focus on developing software and strategy. He will remain a member of TapInfluence’s board.

TapInfluence makes software that brands and advertisers can use for content marketing campaigns. TapInfluence said its customers use it to identify online influencers with social media clout who can improve a brand’s image with a favorable mention or review. The startup said it has a network of thousands of “vetted influencers” who have developed audiences with desirable demographics on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, Vine, and Snapchat.

The software also handles content creation, workflow management, distribution, and analytics to track the success of campaigns and show return on investment. TapInfluence bills itself as being able to reach coveted consumers in a way that is automated and scalable, which is unlike the traditional approach of marketers and advertisers trying to find and personally recruit individual influencers.

TapInfluence was formed in 2009 and has raised $9 million in two institutional funding rounds, with the latest being a $5 million Series B round it raised in the summer of 2013. Its investors include Access Venture Partners and Grotech Ventures, which each have Colorado offices, and a handful of prominent local angel investors.

Banks said the transition isn’t a matter of TapInfluence needing to change direction or fix internal problems. It was more a matter of the company entering a new stage of its development, one that required a CEO with different skills and a track record.

“It’s really about two words: rapid growth,” Banks said. (You could probably throw in experience, too.)

“We looked around the room and said, ‘Look, we need a rapid growth CEO who’s done this before.’ I’m a first-time software entrepreneur and first-time CEO, so we decided to do a search for a new CEO,” Banks said.

TapInfluence declined to give details about its financial performance or total number of customers, but Banks said the company had 100 percent year-over-year revenue growth last year and has more than 100 clients in the Fortune 1000. The company’s market segments include consumer packaged goods, food, and health, and its customers include Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, Walmart, and Microsoft.

In the past few months, the startup also has entered partnerships with what it calls networks of online influencers in market segments such as fitness, or that reach multicultural audiences.

Phelon’s job will be to boost that growth. She comes to TapInfluence from The Resumator, a startup that makes cloud-based software for corporate recruiters and hiring managers. She was chief revenue officer and in charge of leading sales, marketing, business development, and customer relations. In the past year, The Resumator raised a $15 million Series C round and started working with popular job search sites including Simply Hired and Glassdoor.

TapInfluence co-founder and chief marketing officer Holly Hamann said Phelon’s experience and role in The Resumator’s growth is what drew TapInfluence’s attention. The startup will look to hit similar milestones soon, although Hamann said it is not yet looking to raise more money from VCs. The company’s view is that it could become a leader in content and social media marketing software, which is a rapidly changing niche that faces challenges such as a proliferating number of social media platforms, and which could see significant consolidation.

Phelon previously founded and led a startup named UpMo, which tried to create a “LinkedIn for enterprise” that employees could use to network within their large companies. In a blog post, Phelon said the company ultimately couldn’t find enough of a market, and it closed in 2013. She wrote that it left her with a few “calluses” but was part of a “phenomenal run.”

Even that experience should provide useful knowledge to help TapInfluence, Banks said. “The best CEOs are the ones who have experienced success and failure.”

Banks started TapInfluence while he was an engineer at Ball Aerospace, working on the project on nights and weekends. Since then, he has overseen TapInfluence’s growth, raised two rounds from institutional investors, and navigated a few changes in approach. Initially called The Blog Frog, the company first focused on creating software advertisers could use for content marketing campaigns in which they tried to reach the readers of female-focused blogs.

TapInfluence gained traction with advertisers and brands, but over time looked to expand beyond those so-called “mommy blogs.” Around 2013, the company decided its future was in making software that could streamline content marketing and emphasize finding “online influencers” with large followings or who had niche audiences with demographics that advertisers wanted to target. The company’s market also was rapidly evolving, with social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Vine gaining prominence and now overshadowing blogs.

Banks said that while he wouldn’t call taking a new role with the company he founded and led for five years bittersweet, it did require taking an unemotional look at the bigger picture.

“I think there’s always the danger of your ego creeping in in a situation like this, but pretty quickly you realize the most important thing is that the company wins and is successful, and that means handing over the reins to someone who can make that happen,” he said.

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