Email-signature startup joins Dorsey’s venture studio

When entrepreneur Dan Hanrahan joined ExactTarget in late 2012, he was almost certain that the savvy marketing-software firm had an efficient way of placing its own marketing messages in the emails of its roughly 2,000 employees.

But it didn't, Hanrahan said. "One of the first emails I got was from a marketer asking everyone to copy and paste a call to action for [an upcoming event] in their email signatures," he said.

"I said,' Oh my gosh, there's got to be a better way to do this.'"

Hanrahan thinks he's found a better way, and, oddly enough, former ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey is backing him. Dorsey leads a "startup studio" called High Alpha that creates and adopts tech startups, and Hanrahan's company, Sigstr, has joined that studio, officials said Wednesday.

"We think they're really on to something big," said High Alpha partner Eric Tobias. "They have created a unique platform for brand consistency and content delivery, which marketers are really interested in."

Indianapolis-based Sigstr sells software that gives companies a dashboard to manage their corporate email signatures, insert subtle marketing campaigns beneath them and take advantage of the scores of impressions made via email. Sigstr amassed eight employees and about 50 customers after less than a year in beta, officials said.

Sigstr is the first addition to the High Alpha portfolio since the studio launched in May. The arrangement involves Sigstr getting an equity investment, office space and other resources, and High Alpha getting a stake in a company it hopes will experience some sort of successful exit.

Tobias declined to say how much High Alpha invested, but public filings indicate Sigstr got $500,000. And the company on Aug. 3 moved into High Alpha office space at Circle Tower, 55 Monument Circle, in downtown Indianapolis. Among other things, High Alpha will help Sigstr recruit talent, enhance its product, set prices and meet potential customers.

"The experience of the High Alpha partners and the resources they surround us with mean we can move confidently and very quickly," Hanrahan said in an email to IBJ. "We work together out of the same office, and it feels like High Alpha is part of the Sigstr team."

Hanrahan, 36, said he started a company in 2007 called Last Piece Software, which merged with iGoDigital in 2009. He said he noticed the 60 employees there were sending 600,000 emails every year to customers, prospects and other stakeholders.

So to capitalize on that, he did what other companies have done—ask employees to copy and paste campaigns below their signatures. The problem with that, Hanrahan said, is that employees may forget to insert and remove the campaigns, and marketers have no way of measuring effectiveness.

ExactTarget acquired iGoDigital in October 2012, and Hanrahan saw the same challenges there. When he left in August 2013 to launch a startup, he had several ideas in mind, but ultimately Sigstr bubbled to the top in August 2014.

"The average employee spends 28 percent of their time in email … and the average employee sends 10,000 emails [a year]," Hanrahan said. "What do those 10,000 emails include? An email signature. We think they also should include a marketing message that's well-designed and subtle."

Hanrahan's background is in sales, not software engineering. He went to Bloomington after leaving ExactTarget, and, once he settled on starting Sigstr, he had boutique product-development firm SproutBox help construct the software.

Today, Sigstr's customers include Geofeedia, Angie's List, Roche Diagnostics and Indiana University. In addition to managing and updating email signatures, the Sigstr platform also allows marketers to see analytics about click-through rates and purchasing outcomes.

High Alpha, which employs 20, also has, TinderBox and in its portfolio. But that's because the High Alpha founders already had stakes in those companies before the studio opened.

For Sigstr and the other companies High Alpha may conceive or adopt, Tobias said, there will come a time when they become more independent. "We're here to provide the companies with the services they need when they need them, and as they grow and evolve those needs will change," he said.

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