Wander CEO: How to Raise $1.2 Million for a Stealth LBS Startup

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Dinevore founder Jeremy Fisher recently scored $1.2 million in funding for Wander, a new, travel-centric web startup in stealth mode. Although only a few know what the product actually is (and Fisher is staying mum), the nascent company has generated a significant amount of buzz due to a cheeky marketing campaign.

Fisher has described Wander as a “a way to the see the world through other people’s eyes” in a way that is “adjacent” to both the curation and location space. He spoke with Street Fight in the TechStars office recently about the secret to marketing an unlaunched startup and succeeding in the wake of a failed product.

You’ve been very secretive about Wander — at least publicly. How do you go about raising money when you have a product no one knows about?
The first thing is we did create a viral launch page and put it out there. That got a lot of publicity. Then we did an early demo at a meetup and invited some investors to attend that to check out the product. That was the genesis of it.

The viral leaderboard was helpful for getting people’s attention, but people didn’t invest on the basis of that. People invested on the basis of the product that was behind it. The leaderboard helped validate that we understand certain things about distributing things on the web and viral things.

How so?
If you’re saying you’re going to make a consumer web product and it’s going to grow virally, but you’ve never made anything that has grown virally, people are not going to believe you. The leaderboard helped with that. It helped with the fact that we now have a pretty massive registration base going into launch.

Was that the plan from the beginning?
Coming into this on the back of Dinevore, our plan was to be thinking about distribution from the beginning.

It must be exciting to get to this point.
We described it in our blog post as a port of call. It’s not the destination but it’s a supply stop along the way.

Is the success of the marketing sort of a curse as well because now you have to deliver?
I don’t think it’s any different than any product. You have to deliver. Are the expectations higher? I think at the end of the day, if you don’t provide a compelling experience people aren’t going to use it regardless. I think the marketing campaign increases the likelihood of snarkiness, but if the product is compelling people are going to use it and if it’s not, they won’t. Our perspective was “Let’s get the word out there.” I think the more you hear about something the more likely you are to use it. You want to be ubiquitous and moving towards becoming a household name. You start off becoming a household name in a small circle and move out from there.

I can see that. There are 14 companies in [the TechStars office], and I’d imagine a lot of them would love to have the publicity.
What you don’t want to do is be Color.

True, but $1.2 million is hardly $41 million.
Yeah, I think we’re safe in that regard. I think there are a lot of people in here who are not looking for coverage now. I think some people’s opinion on that might change over time. I think some people are going to wish that they had.

What did you learn the first time around with Dinevore and how are you doing things differently?
My attitude was very much “If you build it, they will come.” I think that couldn’t be further from the reality of consumer products.

How do you get them to come?
I think it’s having a good historical perspective and understanding what’s been successful and why. If it’s a social product, it’s about making it sharable. That’s pretty key. You need to think about those things from the beginning. With Dinevore, I had the attitude that product marketing and product were two separate things, but I think they are actually the same thing. I used to think that if I did product marketing and it didn’t work, I wouldn’t have resources for the product. But I think that if you have a product and you haven’t done a good job of product marketing, you might as well not have a product. If nobody has heard of it, where are you now?

Do people respond to you better because you’ve done this before?
If you were to talk to my investors, I think they would say that they had the feeling that I took a lot of valuable lessons from Dinevore. I think it’s super helpful to have done this before. If you’ve done it before, and it was one of those “If you build it, they will come” successes, then you probably weren’t very deliberate about it. I’m not sure how much that sets you up to succeed the next time because that’s a rarity.

We try to be as deliberate as possible. There’s a lot of luck and a lot of serendipity involved, but how can you optimize to take advantage of that when it comes? How can you put your company in a place that it makes it more likely when that happens? So much of it is serendipitous and if you’re not out there all the time, you’re not maximizing your opportunities for serendipity. That’s what we try to do. We optimize for serendipity.

Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.