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“Completely scary and absolutely empowering”: One-year-old startup Brandcrush bags $1 million

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Brandcrush

Brandcrush co-founders Matthew Hurle and Teresa Aprile. Source: Supplied.

Marketing startup Brandcrush has raised $1 million in funding to scale its platform and push into the US, all just a year after it was founded.

Founded in September last year by Teresa Aprile and Matthew Hurle, Brandcrush connects businesses and their real estate with brands looking for experiential marketing space.

The platform is intended to help small businesses make more revenue “in a really harsh environment”, Aprile tells StartupSmart, while solving a problem for brands trying to create engaging real-world campaigns.

The funding comes from VC firm Rampersand and Luxury Escapes founder Adam Schwab. The startup is also in the final stages of completing Blackbird Ventures’ Startmate Accelerator, which has also contributed to the raise.

While Aprile doesn’t reveal specific figures, she suggests Brandcrush is experiencing the seasonal ups and downs expected in the industry, generally seeing revenues heading in the right direction, month-on-month.

Having launched the platform in January, the startup now has about 1,300 spaces up for grabs, and has facilitated about 650 activations.

Already, it’s working with the likes of Ferrero and Uncle Tobys, as well as Cadbury owner Mondelez, which activated a campaign across 87 Aussie cafes through the platform, reaching 160,000 consumers, Aprile says.

“That was impossible beforehand.”

Everyone’s an influencer

Having worked in marketing in Australia, the UK and New York, Aprile “always had this passion for real-world connections”, she says, seeing the benefits and “the cut through you could have”.

The experiential marketing space has traditionally been fragmented and logistics-intensive, and the results have been hard to measure, she says.

“We know we can grow that market significantly if we have the tools to make the experience seamless.”

Having witnessed the rise of social media influencers, the co-founder saw an opportunity to bring that influence into the physical world. A small business — be it a cafe, store or even yoga studio — can act as an influencer, she explains.

“They know their community very well, they would never promote something that wasn’t aligned with their own brand and what their customers are looking for.”

The team set out to develop a platform that made building an experiential marketing campaign as easy as booking a Facebook or Google Ad, she says.

“That’s the aim.”

“We’re not messing around”

The $1 million in funding will help fuel Brandcrush’s next phase of growth.

“Phase one was let’s prove that this thing works,” Aprile explains.

Now, it has spaces listed on the marketplace, including those where the brand can enter the space and activate it themselves, and those where the spaces do the activation for them.

That, and the ability to build out a whole campaign easily, is “the piece that makes it super-scalable”, she adds.

The investment itself is, first and foremost, “a validation of the idea, so that’s fabulous”, Aprile says.

But, also, the business is resource-intensive, and so to scale both sides of the marketplace will require new hires.

The team will also be looking to expand into the US market. Brandcrush has already made “a soft entry”, with a few brands already using the platform there.

“And that’s with a really skeleton crew,” Aprile says.

In 12 months’ time, the founder is hoping to have about 6,500 spaces listed on Brandcrush. Within a few years, by 2022, she’s looking at 160,000.

She’s also hoping to have a substantial footprint in Australia and the US by then, and will potentially be looking into the UK market as well.

“There is appetite in the UK, and I also know that market very well … those are probably the three markets we’re looking at,” she explains.

“We’re not messing around.”

“Completely scary and absolutely empowering”

Founding a business, securing customers, going through an accelerator and raising funding all within a year comes with “so many learnings”, Aprile says.

However, she does pick out a few tips for other aspiring startup founders.

First, she advises building relationships with people who have been there, done that.

“Surround yourself with people who have done it before, and who are respected in the startup community,” she says.

“They will help you avoid a number of mistakes.”

She particularly highlights Jane Martino, entrepreneur and executive director of ventures at Light Warrior Group, and entrepreneur Nicky Jackson, who both sit on the Brandcrush board.

The two “fantastic” women founders have supported Aprile both personally and professionally, she says.

“They also push you along the journey in moments when you’re finding you don’t have that runway — both that psychological and financial runway.”

Aprile also stresses there is some advice you should pay for — specifically, legal and financial advice.

“Do that. Don’t skimp on those things,” she warns.

Finally, while she admits she didn’t do particularly well herself, she advises founders to get the story of their startup right, especially when pitching for investment.

“In terms of the capital raise process, I was learning along the way,” she says.

But one thing she learnt was to “really focus on nailing your narrative before you start pitching”.

There’s a lot to learn along the startup journey, Aprile adds.

“You realise how much you can grow personally in a year, not just from a business perspective,” she says.

“There’s something completely scary and absolutely empowering about that in the same moment.”

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].

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