Bucktown startup Popular Pays receives $500k in funding to reward online micro-fame

September 17, 2014

It's said that the internet is a giant popularity contest. One startup headquartered near the Western Blue Line stop has run with that assumption and recently closed on $500K in funding.

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Popular pays integrates with Instagram and lets users with at least 500 followers get products ranging from coffee to concert tickets in exchange for posting. The more followers a user has, the more valuable rewards they can receive.

The concept was one of many hatched by cofounders Allan Holmes, Corbett Drummey, and Nathan Michael while they worked for Leo Burnett and were “itching to start something,” said Drummey. “He [Holmes] had a hundred good ideas – we kept a Google Doc full of them – but we landed on Pop Pays because it was one of the best and was easy to get up and running. And the idea didn't sprout fully formed. Nothing does; ideas evolve. I still remember Allan leaning on our fridge at a party in Logan Square in October '12 saying, 'The next party we throw....you should have to have 500 followers to get in.'”

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Acquiring funding proved more difficult. Drummey said it was a three-step process. “Ask everyone we knew with money if they'd invest. Get money in the door. Get more discerning about whom we ask."

Drummey reflects on his success with humility and humor. "We did so many wrong things when we started that I'm surprised we're around sometimes. I spent the first three solid days writing a business plan and about 25 hours that month revising it because I didn't realize that I should've made a short pitch deck to get meetings and do the rest in person. I should've focused a lot more on customers and traction in the early days.”

Now that Popular Pays is seeing traction, it plans to expand its local deals from seven cities to ten, and to collaborate with larger brands. “World domination, basically,” said Drummey. “Does any startup aim for anything different?”

Drummey said the company boasts a nine-person team, and its biggest challenge remains the human element. “The things that keep you up at night are always going to be related to people. Getting the team dynamic right is important and very difficult.”