Bend-based startup whurk has been chugging along in stealth mode, signing up its first clients and hiring a sales and executive team. But considering its founder’s brand-name resume, half-million in seed funding and an advisory board that includes some experienced tech and media veterans, this startup’s low profile likely won’t last long.
Rob Dumas recently started the company with an eye toward improving the numerous campus rep programs run by brands. From being one of the first employees of Monsterboard (i.e. Monster) to spending a decade in executive positions with Dice Holdings to joining the advisory board of Internmatch, Dumas has a long history of helping brands find talent.
With whurk, he aims to connect companies big and small with students who can help promote their products. Think of it as a task rabbit for college kids. BendTECH sat down with Dumas to learn more about the challenge brands have in hiring and managing a remote team of students, and whurk’s plans to make it much easier.
Leadership: Rob Dumas, founder and CEO; Colin Morrison, VP of product development (formerly with Navis)
Started: Nov. 2014
Employees: 4 (Dumas and Morrison; Business Development team: Adam Bledsoe and Rick Fox)
What exactly is whurk? It’s a platform that allows brands to create a promotional or data gathering campaign and then engage and manage college students on multiple campuses to perform the task. Students sign up, and receive a “whurkorder” and its related details from what the task entails to what the reward will be. It’s usually cash, but it may also be a gift card or free products. They use the platform to communicate with the brand regarding the research they’ve collected or the work they’ve completed. Meanwhile, the brands can choose the students they want to work with and use one interface to manage hundreds or thousands of them at campuses across the country.
What spurred the idea? While working with Internmatch, we ran across a lot of companies that wanted to hire college students to promote their products on various campuses. It was everything from cosmetics to beverages to clothing. But that kind of work is different from hiring an intern or full-time position. The students usually start off strong, they’ll do one or two events and then lose their enthusiasm. In terms of finding them, it’s hard to know who is qualified. Then managing the program is super time intensive — once you hit about 20 campuses, you need a full-time employee dedicated to overseeing that program. We identified all these weaknesses in the current process, and then created whurk to solve them.
Have you tested your model? We’ve already done campaigns for about six brands and we have a whurkforce of about 180 college students at 160 schools. The first campaigns we did were to help companies gather information — so having a student rep ask peers a few questions and reporting back that information. We filled our first work order in 11 minutes. Our first promotion campaign was with Silipint last month. Our whurkforce on campuses around the country received 32 Silipint shot glasses to distribute to the social chairs of fraternities and sororities.
How did it go? We started receiving feedback almost immediately. Students were posting pictures of their Silipints to social media and noting how they didn’t break. It was great marketing for Silipint.
Are you targeting big companies, smaller ones, startups? All of them. We’ve had a lot of interest from some really big brands. But we’re a great fit with startups. They have a certain cache with college students — they want to work for them. For example, there’s an amazing company which just launched this week. They produce skater style furniture that works great for dorm rooms. We’re planning to partner with them to introduce their brand to campus and ultimately drive sales.
How are you funded? I’ve raised $500,000 in a seed round, mostly to give our new sales team and other employees a bit of a runway. I bootstrapped the product development myself. So now it’s mostly marketing. We also have a really strong advisory board.
Who does that board include? We have Duncan McDonald, head of domestic marketing for IMAX; Ted Swindells, a San Franscisco venture capitalist who now calls Bend home and Drew Bledsoe, former NFL player and winery owner.
What the thinking behind the elephant logo? Some of the other companies I’ve worked with start out really flashy. We liked the idea of an elephant personality, a person or a company that is more calm and deliberate, but also really confident and powerful. Also, you don’t fuck with elephant.
What’s the next step? Right now we’ll continue marketing to brands and growing our whurkforce at colleges. We’re hiring in marketing and sales. But what we’ve really created is a platform for connecting organizations with people to quickly perform jobs or tasks in exchange for a reward. Our next market will be introducing whurk as a way to organize and manage large volunteer networks.