After raising over $100 million of venture capital in my career, I’ve come to realize that closing a funding round is rarely a cause for celebration. Despite their hype in the press, raising a round of capital simply means that the bar is raised, and there is an order of magnitude more work for the startup to accomplish.
In Arkansas, however, funding rounds are exceedingly rare events. So after raising a $4 million round of funding, the Engine team is celebrating today, albeit very briefly!
For Engine, the work in front of us is utterly herculean. We are building a next-generation e-commerce platform that enables brands to compete online in a post-Amazon world. The rise of digitally native vertical brands like Glossier, Dollar Shave Club, Bonobos, Casper, Warby Parker, Honest Company, Harry’s and others have proven that a better, more powerful e-commerce business model exists. Engine is the tool that will allow the rise of similar direct-to-consumer brands by enabling them to build a direct, personal relationship with their customers, bypassing traditional wholesale and retail channels entirely.
Our team has never been keen to attract attention nor solicit publicity for a funding round. In fact, when my previous company raised a $93 million round of capital — still one of the largest e-commerce fundings in history — we didn’t even issue a press release. In direct opposition to our private nature, we realize in order for Engine to be successful our story needs to be told proudly. Funding rounds are significant milestones required to build a transformational company. They represent significant progress validated by an outside vote of confidence.
For an Arkansas company, those votes of confidence are few and far between. Due to a chronic lack of local funding sources, only the best of the best are able to secure meaningful funding. We feel honored to be one of the chosen few. Engine intends to make the most of that privilege by building a transformational software platform that will power the next generation of direct-to-consumer e-commerce brands.
When my previous company raised a similarly sized round in 2010, it was the first round of venture capital raised in Arkansas in over a decade. While our local startup ecosystem has improved by leaps and bounds since that time, critical funding events are still few and far between. There have been far less than a dozen rounds of this size in Arkansas this decade. I’m hopeful that Engine will provide further proof that a world-class tech company can indeed be built in Northwest Arkansas, and that additional early-stage investment capital will flood into the area.
Building a great company with people you enjoy being around is one of life’s great pleasures. My co-founders Jim Kane and Blake Puryear are two of the best people I’ve ever known. At the beginning of the year, Engine only had 3 full-time employees. Today, we have nearly 30 employees split between our Fayetteville and Denver offices. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time, but the best is still in front of us. This funding round is just the beginning.
John James, M.D. is the co-founder and CEO of Engine. Email him at email@example.com to discuss how Engine can help you achieve your e-commerce goals.