Neil Crist and the Founding of Venuelabs

Prior to November of 2011, Venuelabs as it is today did not exist. Instead, Neil Crist was leading the company, then called Valuevine, which provided businesses a software platform to easily push and schedule marketing promotions on multiple social media channels.

Prior to founding Venuelabs, Crist spent 3 years as the head of product management at Jobster, one of the first companies to leverage Facebook and social networks for businesses. This was Crist’s first foray into social media. After leaving Jobster to start his own consulting firm, he helped friends market their local businesses and began to see a common theme emerge. For each of his friends’ businesses, they were trying to manage multiple social media channels for marketing promotions. What if he could provide a software service that made this easier for companies?

And so in 2008, Crist decided to start Valuevine with his co-founders. One of their earliest customers, Emerald City Smoothie, had several franchise locations, each with its own social media presence. The leader of the company, who lived in Seattle, wished he had the ability to manage the social media presence of all locations from a central hub. This helped spark the decision to target franchise-type retail stores that had 20+ locations. Crist and team found that there were over 60,000 businesses in the US that fit the bill. To minimize customer acquisition costs, Valuevine decided to do all sales calls over the phone and Internet, and to not invest in a field sales team. The inside sales team called on all prospects to qualify leads, then flipped them over to account managers who would follow up with calls and demos over virtual meetings. Deals large and small were all closed from their office in Bellevue.

The company was doing a good job acquiring new customers, but one need that consistently popped up in customer feedback was the need to measure and understand the ROI from social media promotions. Valuevine offered a service to push out promotions, but did not have a tool to measure the qualitative impact of these promotions. And so in September of 2011, Crist and team decided to pivot the product and reinvent itself as a location-based analytics platform. A month later, the name Valuevine disappeared as the company re-entered the market as Venuelabs. Armed with a new name that represented the innovation coming out of the company (as well as the company offices, which are located in a former bio-tech office lab), Crist and team spent the next 11 months creating a new software service to better fit the needs of the marketplace.

Although the product changed, the target market and sales process remained the same. As the sales team refined its pitch, and prospects began to understand the importance of by-location social media monitoring, the company’s sales began to take off. It now counts Chevron, McDonald’s, and Mercedes-Benz amongst its customers. With a great base of customers and a growing team, keep an eye on Venuelabs as they move offices to the SODO neighborhood, and continue to scale to meet customer needs.


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