Snapchat gurus get big bucks for US mission

After one accelerator programme, a spell in a start-up incubator and a tonne of two minute noodles, digital venture Mish Guru has a springboard of nearly half a million dollars to break into the US market.

It’s the place to be for founder Tom Harding and his team, because their software is designed to help businesses get bang for their marketing buck on Snapchat. And a big chunk of Snapchat’s hip, young user base is in the US—by late last year, 14 percent of mobile internet users were active Snapchat users, matched only the UK.

With work for music festivals like Rhythm and Vines, sports teams like the Breakers, Bigpipe Broadband and the band Jupiter Project on the company’s CV, Harding’s moved to the Big Apple to seize the growth opportunity.

“New Zealand has been the perfect test bed for us to build up case studies, iterate our product and hone in on our value proposition among brands and agencies,” he says.

“The US has both a large Snapchat user base as well as significantly larger number client opportunities in the brand and agency space. We want to be working with the world’s biggest brands and to achieve that we’ve realised that we need to be as close as possible to them.”

Sparkbox Venture Group led the seed round, which was joined by other local investors from the Ice Angels and Angel HQ. The funding totalled more than $440,000.

Sparkbox wanted to help Mish Guru capitalise on Snapchat’s global growth, and back a “young, dynamic” team, says investment lead Chintaka Ranatunga.

“They’re filling a very clear market niche for advertisers and ad agencies. There’s huge consumer uptake of Snapchat but there aren’t really any established tools that allow brands and agencies to leverage it.”

Image: Team Mish

And he was impressed with the team’s willingness to pivot from what he calls the single worst start-up idea in New Zealand—an app for 3D printed horse shoes.

“They’re the kind of team that will hop on a plane at a moment’s notice. I’m confident they’ll continue to develop [the offering].”

With so many touting themselves as social media gurus for hire, Harding agrees it was a risk to focus solely on Snapchat. But he sees opportunity to grow fast while specialist competition is scarce—and later to branch out.

“Where we make up for [the risk] is by having a single clear and compelling value proposition that is easy to market and understand. Longer term we see a much greater opportunity in the space of mobile based visual platforms that are targeting millennials, like [photo sharing app] Instagram and [live streaming app] Meerkat.”

With most snaps (photos and videos) disappearing in less than 10 seconds, it can be tricky for businesses to grab eyeballs. But big brands like Taco Bell, CNN, National Geographic and ESPN are among those clamouring for attention.

Mish Guru hopes to take businesses beyond the basics with its online tool, which automates content uploading and scheduling, gives companies stats on follower growth and how their content performs, and the ability to re-broadcast what users snap during events.

The Future Music festival recently used Mish Guru to rebroadcast user content and push behind the scenes video and artist interviews. The Breakers have been using the service to broadcast stories on game days.

The chance to target millennials has been in Mish Guru’s thinking since the platform took shape during the 2014 Lightning Lab accelerator. After the original app, the team worked on a Snapchat app that helped friends capture and share joint adventures or missions (hence ‘Mish’ for short), but morphed into a content management and performance tool when market validation revealed businesses were lacking these services. The venture has also been part of Creative HQ's incubation programme.

Staff numbers are growing alongside funds – the team includes software engineers, marketers, a banker and even a reformed lawyer, says Harding.

Harding is a digital entrepreneur with a pedigree, having won the Grand Prize in the University of Canterbury’s student entrepreneurship competition with an online doctor appointment booking tool. He and Mish Guru co-founder Ashok Fernandez have both previously worked for construction industry provider SiteSorted, while third co-founder Jacob Duval is a software engineer.

Harding hopes to set up a sales and marketing office in the US and to target growth there and in the UK.

He says US giants like social publishing app Buddy Media—acquired by Salesforce—and social media marketing company Wildfire, now part of Google, have set Mish Guru’s benchmark for growth.

“They’re two very successful companies that took their products and services to the world. Both were then able to convert their momentum into very sizeable exits.”

Mish Guru’s tips for winning at the business of Snapchat:

● Use Snapchat for storytelling ­ think beginning, middle and end. The brands that get the most out of it are the ones that are consistently able to tell exciting narratives.

● Snapchatters love an inside scoop, so giving exclusive looks at content that isn’t available anywhere else is a great way to drive growth through word of mouth.

● Cross promotion via other large Snapchat accounts is king, using influencers and other brands.

● Highly produced content only works if it’s well blended with authentic Snapchat content ­ think emoji, doodles and captions. 

● Live feeds reduce the overheads associated with generating content.