The founders of Rocketing Systems (Company behind Buzzbassador) were running an online fashion website in the summer of 2018 when they decided to buy some Facebook ads to see if they could recruit influencers. It turned out they could—many people were willing to get a small commission by recommending the company’s products to family, friends and followers.
Soon the team had thousands of affiliates, and revenue growth was phenomenal. But that growth created new challenges.
“We implemented our brand ambassadors program in June. In July, we did $50,000 in our store; previously we had done $3,000,” said CEO Calvin Waddy. “It was an extreme increase in profit and sales, but what we realized is that as we were running the brand ambassador program, it became increasingly hard to manage.”
They were using spreadsheets to track thousands of ambassador codes, transactions, and payouts, but quickly realized that it was untenable. So they outsourced the coding of an internal application to help them manage their ambassadors. Over time, working with that first version of what would become Buzzbassador, they realized they had a product that other online retailers could benefit from as well.
Buzzbassador is an add-on for Shopify, a popular e-commerce platform for retailers. It automates the onboarding of brand ambassadors and influencers, informs them about the program, creates Shopify codes, and tracks sales. This summer, the team has rolled out a new “landing page” feature that makes it easy to create an affiliates-only page hidden from regular customers.
The Rocketing Systems team—CEO Calvin Waddy, CMO Shelby Baldwin and COO Brandon Johns—have something else in common. They were all Mississippi State University business students when they met by way of the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship & Outreach, or MSU eCenter. Through their work at the MSU eCenter, they gravitated together over building an e-commerce site and learning how to grow an influencer network.
As Buzzbassador began to look like a promising product in early 2019, they pivoted from e-commerce and did what startups do: They worked on their pitch.
“Our first pitch was Startup Summit in April 2019, the Mississippi State campus-wide pitch competition for student entrepreneurs,” Baldwin said. “We ended up winning our category and winning the overall competition. We walked away with $9,000 in pitch winnings, and that was a really exciting moment for us.”
The team didn’t even have a “minimum viable” product to show yet, so winning the contest validated their idea and gave them some money to spend developing it further.
Later in the summer, the MSU eCenter invited them to pitch at the Southeastern Conference competition, where startup teams from 13 large SEC universities competed for a conference-wide honor. Rocketing Systems won the grand prize.
“It was a really proud moment for us, and also a proud moment for the university. It was Mississippi State’s first time winning that title,” Baldwin said.
Around that same time, Rocketing Systems was part of Innovate Mississippi’s 2019 New Venture Challenge. In that one, they skipped the student category and took second place in the “post-revenue” category, pocketing a $2,000 cash prize.
The startup’s success in pitch competitions and steady growth for the Buzzbassador app has led to Rocketing Systems raising $336,000 in seed funding from the Bulldog Angel Network and the North Mississippi Angel Network in 2019 and 2020.
“The Mississippi State Entrepreneur Center has helped us out a ton,” said Waddy. “And the president of the Bulldog Network and the fund manager of the North Mississippi Angel Network are both amazing to work with. They let us spread our wings a little bit and they’re great mentors for us.”
This year, Rocketing Systems has seen particular success working with Shopify Plus merchants—larger merchants that generate higher levels of sales and revenue. Buzzbassador works great for smaller merchants, too, offering an “incubator program” to help retailers learn how to recruit influencers.
The team is rolling out new features for Buzzbassador in 2020, and they’ve planned their codebase so that Buzzbassador could move to e-commerce platforms that compete with Shopify in 2021 or later.
Right now, they say one goal is to build in-house coding capacity. They’ll likely hire a CTO, since the three of them are all business majors. They also need to get their whole team graduated—Brandon Johns expects to graduate with a degree in Business Management in December 2020; Baldwin and Waddy have graduated and are working full-time on the company.
Asked for any final words, Baldwin wanted to give a “huge shoutout” to Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development at Innovate Mississippi.
“Tasha is always sending us stuff to apply for and get involved in,” Baldwin said. “At Innovate Mississippi, they go above and beyond.”
Original story by Todd Stauffer for Innovate Mississippi