‘Uber for marketing’ startup off to hot start

Startups that tap the so-called gig economy, including ride-hailing powerhouse Uber Technologies Inc., have mostly targeted consumers. But a former Salesforce.com employee has launched one aimed at businesses—and she's off to a solid start.

The firm is called Torchlite and it connects companies with freelancers who specialize in digital marketing. It's based on the idea that some firms don't have the money or know-how to hire good web designers, email marketers and others, and there are a number of untethered specialists willing to take on these "gigs" as needed.

CEO Susan Marshall, an alumna of Adobe Systems Inc., Apple Inc. and Salesforce, launched the firm in June. She said the company, which also provides software that tracks results, has been doubling revenue every month and is closing in on $1 million in bookings, or contractual revenue.

"At Salesforce, we saw that more and more companies needed help," said Marshall, a 48-year-old Indiana native. "They needed help implementing their technologies, they needed help coming up with strategies and they needed help executing—writing emails, blogging, posting, tweeting."

Torchlite works like this: A business looking to launch a digital marketing campaign signs up for a Torchlite subscription, which ranges from $1,500 to $5,000 a month depending on the project. The client's business likely has a small marketing staff of no such staff at all, Marshall said.

Torchlite then taps into its network of highly trained specialists, which it calls torchliters, to assemble a freelance team and manage the project through completion. The subscription includes access to software that shows how effective the marketing campaign was, Marshall said.

"We're tapping into this collaborative economy … where experts are really gravitating, and we're skimming off the best possible talent," Marshall said. "Then we're showing the businesses through our dashboard whether or not what they're doing is really having an impact on sales or customers."

Torchlite has seven employees and more than a dozen clients, Marshall said, including companies in financial services and online retail. It has about 150 freelancers on deck.

The gig economy has taken off in recent years with the proliferation of smartphones. Some of the companies that connect contractors to consumers on demand include Chicago-based Dolly Inc., which is for moving and hauling, and San Francisco-based Thumbtack Inc., which is for a professional jobs like painting and voice coaching. Another is Fort Wayne-based Cuttly Inc., which is for on-demand mowing.

Marshall grew up in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood of Indianapolis, graduated from Denison University in Ohio in 1989 and ventured to California for a job with Macromedia Inc., which was later acquired by Adobe. Her specialty was product marketing, which entails working closely with software developers on how software is presented to and used by consumers.

In the early 2000s, Marshall said she was among the legion of employees Apple CEO Steve Jobs hired to bolster his company's software offerings. At Apple, Marshall led product marketing and development for several offerings, including Final Cut Pro and iCloud.

She moved back to Indiana in 2007 for family reasons. She worked at question-and-answer startup ChaCha Search Inc. until 2010 and did a stint at ExactTarget (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) until June.

She said she's in the middle of raising seed-stage capital from local angel investors and is based at The Speak Easy, a members-only co-working space in South Broad Ripple. But Torchlite may be leaving there soon.

"We're outgrowing it though now, so we're looking for other locations downtown," Marshall said. "But it's been perfect for this incubation period."

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