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Conference App Bloodhound’s Genius Growth Strategy Attracts $3M Series A Led By Thiel’s FF Angel

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If you’re running a conference, would you rather pay for a flimsy one-off app, or get paid to use a data-driven one your attendees may already have? If you picked the latter, you udnerstand why Bloodhound is blowing up, and was able to raise around $3 million. Bloodhound’s ambitious vision to fundamentally change how buyers meet sellers even convinced Peter Thiel’s FF Angel to lead the Series A.

Bloodhound’s app makes events easier to organize, exhibit at, or attend. It offers conference maps, schedules and profiles of what you’ll find there, a business card or badge scanner so booths know who came by, and suggestions of who you should network with. Its hardcore dedication to product and the fact that it can reuse everything it builds puts it leagues ahead of apps hacked-together for one conference and that you’re expected to delete afterwards.

Bloodhound Attendees

But the real magic of Bloodhound is how it gets event organizers, exhibitors, and attendees to install it. First off, it’s totally free for organizers to use. They just upload some info and resources like a map to the self-serve platform. Minutes later they’ve got a personalized app within the Bloodhound app for attendees to download, and a special version that helps them track analytics about the success of their event. This is a big step up from paying to wait for some mobile designer to build an app for you.

Bloodhound is free for attendees too, and gets better as they use it. It watches what exhibitors they check out in the app or visit in person, and can recommend they connect with them or similar exhibitors at the next conference

Where Bloodhound makes its money and ties together its distribution strategy is event exhibitors. These are companies in the business a conference is centered around who are there to meet sales leads. They make money on these conferences, which is why many B2B companies spend 30% of their marketing budget on exhibiting. A chunk of that goes to renting clunky hardware that lets them scan conference badges or business cards of people who visit their booths. But that hardware is in a death spiral. Over the last few years, smartphones and their cameras have become powerful enough to do this scanning themselves.

Bloodhound Map

Bloodhound sells exhibitors an app that lets them scan the badges or business cards of people who come to their booth. It’s pricing is either a monthly subscription or pre-paid package for set number of scans. Any employee can use the app, rather than having to trade off using hardware scanners. Bloodhound’s big advantage, though, is that it owns the app that attendees use to navigate the conference and learn about who is there. That lets it show exhibitors people who didn’t visit but checked them out in the app. Bloodhound can then feed an exhibitor’s CRM system with extremely valuable contact info and links to social presences for these sales leads. To make sure they’re using Bloodhound instead of those backward hardware scanners, the startup pays out 30% of what it earns on exhibitors to the conference organizers

So it’s valuable for all three classes of people, and then there’s the viral loop that gets everyone at conferences promoting Bloodhound. Organizers earn money by pushing exhibitors to use Bloodhound, who gain sales lead info by encouraging attendees to download it. They in turn encourage fellow attendees to get Bloodhound so they can network, who request organizers of other conferences to use it so they don’t have to download another throwaway app.

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The strategy is working like a charm. 2000 events have registered to use Bloodhound since its launch in 2011, and by the end of 2012, the number it was signing was increasing 50% per month. It’s powered events in 75 countries for topics including healthcare, tech, and fashion all the way to Star Trek conventions, the Coin Laundry Association conference, and AVN — the premier pornography expo.

Co-founder and CEO Anthony Krumeich tells me he sees Bloodhound’s distribution strategy “a little like how Facebook grew college by college” . He also likened the startup to fellow Thiel investment Asana, a task management suite. Krumeich explains “We’re both about helping people accomplish their goals at work better in a way that’s focused on UX.”

Thiel and his investment vehicles are frequent supporter of startups with big, philosophical goals to change fundamental parts of life. In Bloodhound’s case, that means how businesses and customers connect. Along with Thiel’s FF Angel, investors in Bloodhound’s Series A include Subtraction Capital with Jason Portnoy who worked with Thiel at PayPal and Clarium Capital, Rothenberg Ventures who is following up its early investment in Bloodhound’s quiet seed round.

4KrumeichHeadshot DoneAngels in the Series A include Thiel Capital’s Phin Upham, Mayfield fund partner Mike Levinthal, and Connextions veteran Albert Prast. They join previous investors including 500 Startups, Badoo’s Ben Ling, and LeadsCon’s Jay Weintraub. Along with its $250,000 angel round from mid-2011 and about $1 million in seed funding six months ago, the roughly $3 million Series A brings Bloodhound up to $4.5 million in venture backing.

The money will go to building out the team from 14 to 22 with a focus on product, more innovative apps, and a bigger office. Bloodhound is on track to become cash-flow positive later this year, and Krumeich says it plans to raise a “massive round” at the start of next year. It’s aiming to wash away the old conference hardware and sign more of the world’s biggest events.

Bloodhound’s future depends on maintaining the trust of everyone involved in events because the app only succeeds if “they all work in concert”. If one group jumps ship, the others will leave with them. By focusing on trust, Krumeich hopes Bloodhound can exemplify a new style of business to business companies. He tells me, “Enterprise [has been] about being shady about your prices and not revealing information. The idea of openness in B2B is still a very novel thing.”