20191007-wbr-pitchday

A group of investors serves as a panel at Pitch Day, a “Shark Tank”-style event in Jackson Hole where startups present their business model to investors and a live audience in the hope of winning cash prizes, business coaching and social cred. Authentag and Visably both presented their business models against what organizers said was the toughest competition in the history of the event. Mark Wilcox photo

A pair of startups at a “Shark Tank”-style entrepreneur event in Jackson called Pitch Day are attacking big pharmaceutical and marketing problems with their Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms.

The startups, Authentag and Visably, presented their businesses to investors, panelists and other audience members at the Center for the Arts last month. While neither of the SaaS startups won awards from the competition, their mere presence indicated a growing technology scene in the Tetons.

One Pitch Day panelist who invests in early-stage branded consumer companies and technologies said in a Silicon Couloir blog post that she’s judged many big-city entrepreneurship competitions and still came away impressed by what she saw in Jackson.

“Pitch Day was of the same caliber as competitions in major tech hubs,” the blog post paraphrased Deborah Benton, founding partner of Kaktus Capital, as saying.

Statisticians at Gartner predicted that SaaS companies’ revenue nationwide would grow by 92%, from $58.8 billion to $113.1 billion, between 2017 and 2021.

By comparison, the Jackson companies have projected going from ground zero to bringing in millions of dollars in revenue over the same period.

In a handout for Pitch Day attendees, marketing startup Visably forecasted $4.4 million in sales by 2021, despite not having its product launched yet and forecasting no sales for the remainder of 2019.

Pharmaceutical tracking company Authentag, on the other hand, said it has 200 companies already using its platform in 32 countries and expects revenue of $2.5 million by 2020 “growing to $22 million.” Authentag Chief Operating Officer Rob Torti said most of that growth will occur as upcoming regulations force the pharmaceutical industry to implement solutions like Authentag’s.

Following is a brief rundown of these small-town technology companies vying for market space in the growing SaaS arena.

Authentag: Pharmaceutical Tracking SaaS

Counterfeit medications are a big deal. For instance, big pharma company Pfizer pointed out in a paid op-ed in The Atlantic that between 100,000 and 1 million consumers die every year because of fake medicines that sometimes lack key active ingredients or contain pesticides, rat poison, highway paint and more things most would never consume knowingly.

That’s where Authentag comes in. The company is attempting to capitalize on upcoming federal regulation changes that require medicine providers to track the lineage of their prescriptions to prove their origins and efficacy.

Torti said in a phone interview that the tracking will not only make products safer, it will also save pharma companies potentially billions of dollars. Events like recalls currently cast a wide net because medicinal origins can sometimes be dicey to trace with current regulations and technology.

“We recognize that counterfeit products kill millions and cost billions of dollars to the world economy,” Torti and his company wrote for Pitch Day materials. “Creating ledgers of a unique product’s movements and ownership [with blockchain], we help industries combat counterfeits and reassure consumers of the true origin of their purchases.”

The company got its start in 2014 working with the Department of Defense to help track military assets. Torti said large percentages of military assets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars remain completely unaccounted for. So they earned a contract to track 7,500 bulletproof vests in a successful pilot project that let them approve the technology for all branches of the military.

But when it came time to roll out the technology on a wider scale, the funding of $8 million to $15 million that was approved had to pass through Congress, where budget discussions have been anything but friendly in Washington.

“We were awarded, but not funded,” Torti said, adding that it was a new category designation akin to a rough contract. “Congress couldn’t pass a budget. Essentially, all the contracts expired.”

With that frustration in the face of what was otherwise a successful track, Authentag made its exit from military, where new spending had been curtailed by politics. Instead, they went after an industry where new regulations would be friendly to their cause. Pharmaceuticals caught their eye.

“Pharm and health care has a regulatory forcing function from Congress and the Food and Drug Administration,” Torti said. “Congress is now our friend.”

The basic technology assigns unique identifiers to each medicine, medical device or bulletproof vest, et al, to create “a digital thread of history for every inventory item.”

That allows a company to follow the thread to origins of ingredients, batches and more that make it possible to pinpoint problems with a high degree of accuracy. But Authentag doesn’t represent the only shark swimming in the water as big pharm prepares for tracking regulations.

Torti said he expects the entire industry to coalesce around five to eight solutions over the coming year or so. Some of the companies with skin in the game have a huge footprint. Others are startups smaller than Authentag. But the market is real.

“There are about 4,000 companies that will need a solution in the next 12 months or so,” Torti said. “To me, those are really good odds that we’ll get something. If we capture 20-50 companies of that 4,000, that would be a home run for us, with recurring revenue locked in and embedded.”

Visably: Brand Intelligence for Marketers

Founder Chris Dickey of Visably created his software out of a need to reverse engineer the product discovery process for brands that could never hope to compete for non-branded keywords organically on first-page results. You know – the only results that end up getting significant traffic on search engines.

Dickey is also the owner and principal of public relations agency Purple Orange LLC, which he founded in 2009.

“The PR agency definitely allowed me to see this niche,” Dickey said in a phone interview. “Without 15 years in PR and marketing, I wouldn’t have discovered this thing.”

What he discovered is a tool that no one else has thought to create that uses a PR toolbox to influence organic search results. The frustration? Even though his PR firm was landing huge placements for clients, his clients still weren’t showing up in search results.

“We started integrating keyword research and reverse engineering the product discovery process,” he said. “We identify key categories for clients, figure out non-branded keywords to find the brand or service and basically go about flipping a page.”

The results of doing this process manually were “pretty amazing,” Dickey said, but it took a lot of time, effort and monitoring in-house.

“We needed a tool to scale the strategy,” he said. “I was shocked to learn there’s not a single platform or service that told you where your brand exists on a page.”

Since then, Dickey has bootstrapped the SaaS platform Visably will run on when it launches – likely this month – with about $70,000 of development.

According to Visably, SEO software is a hot market, with an annual growth rate of about 15% through 2022. In 2018, agencies and businesses spent about $46 billion on marketing data analytics.

“The global industry is thirsty for better data analytics to measure and track campaign success,” Dickey wrote in Pitch Day materials, adding that 77% of executive marketing pros said communications can do a better job of measuring impact.

Visably, Dickey said, goes beyond what the PR space can offer by examining the four types of media for shopping intent and how they influence ranking your website on the first page of search results: paid media, earned media, e-commerce and owned media. The goal, he said, is to simplify how a brand can work on search engine strategy to make it more earned and owned media that gets them to the top, rather than expensive paid and e-commerce routes.

“We look at everything,” Dickey said. “Organize it, make it easy for someone to execute strategies against. That’s what Visably is.”

The nascent software will allow organizations to view data in a number of ways. Then it will give a brand a score to create a baseline for improving visibility across the page and comparisons against competing brands. This all works together to create a new tracking metric Dickey is calling “search engine visibility” that allows you to see how well your brand is doing overall.

And Dickey’s tool will allow companies to recognize where their best media opportunities lie to get them to the top of results pages where everything matters.

“Consider that 90-plus percent of all users will select a link on the first page of results, and furthermore, that 65% of first-page clicks happen among the first three to four organic search results,” Dickey said in a LinkedIn post talking about his company’s launch recently. “You can begin to see how strategies that aim for anything less than first-page rankings are a waste of time and money.”

And Visably, Jimison said, offers a holistic vision for companies to do just that. But explaining this new frontier and accompanying SaaS doesn’t come super easy.

“It’s hard to do in eight minutes in front of a crowd,” he said.

Visably will launch in beta phase in October sometime, Dickey said, and he expects to attract 1,000 freemium users by year-end.

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