Business Alum’s Startup Gets Huge Boost From Salesforce.com
Neil Crist ’99 Plans to Use Funds to Expand Venuelabs’ Services
It takes a lot of work to get a startup company off the ground—something Neil Crist ’99 knows a thing or two about. The PLU School of Business alum put his Finance and Entrepreneurship major to the test when he launched his Seattle startup, Venuelabs. However, finances might not be as tight for Crist and Venuelabs any more: The small tech company recently closed a deal with Internet giant Salesforce.com for a large venture fund.
“Being validated is one thing, but being validated by Salesforce.com, one of the smartest players in the industry, is a completely different level,” Crist said.
Crist, a guest speaker at last year’s PLU E-Business Day, has vast experience with the tech industry. Before founding Venuelabs, he worked as a senior product manager for high-level tech companies such as Jobster and Microsoft, which he credits for “giving him experience in roles so that he could one day strike out on his own.” In 2008, he did venture out on his own, co-founding and working as CEO of Venuelabs. His success with the company earned him a spot on Puget Sound Business Journal’s 2011 “40 Under 40” list, recognizing him as a business leader in the Seattle area.
Crist has built Venuelabs from the ground up, and now the small startup (it employs only 10 people) boasts big-name clients including Albertsons, Red Robin, Domino’s Pizza and Chevron. Venuelabs has created a niche for itself in the tech market, developing technology that allows large retailers to track social-media chatter about their individual stores.
“Consumers have completely changed the way they interact and engage with businesses,” said Crist. “Venuelabs has built the technology to listen to consumers and the experiences they share while inside the store.”
The tools Venuelabs now offers have helped large retailers capture local conversations about the stores with great success. “Venuelabs has changed the game for us,” said Tyler Pringle, Director of Digital and Social for American Golf. “It allows us to see intimately into the experience of our customers at each of our nearly 100 courses and properties.”
In a press statement, Salesforce.com, which is now helping to fund Venuelabs, said it intends to use its new $100 million investment, Salesforce Ventures, to support companies that are involved with building apps and producing “connected products”—so Venuelabs perfectly fits the bill. Crist calls the funds from Salesforce.com “a great source of validation that they [Venuelabs] are on the right track.”
During his time at PLU, Crist took part in many School of Business events, including Washington Family Business Awards and Young Entrepreneurs, and says these programs helped him “reach outside the classroom” while still in school. Crist also fondly remembers the contagious excitement of students and staff at PLU, and how that helped lift his aspirations.
With these new funds from Salesforce.com, Venuelabs plans to further expand its customer base and continue to develop and expand technology to a wider range of clients, Crist said, such as small businesses, universities and governments.