By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer
May 07, 2013 - Advertising and communications firm interTrend is taking a different approach to business in the International City by investing in ideas that might not bring in the most tax revenue but would make cities like Long Beach “more interesting.”
Julia Huang is the CEO of interTrend, a firm focused on marketing to Asian communities. Her company launched Imprint Culture Lab six years ago as an added benefit to clients, hosting conferences with industry gurus for Fortune 500 companies like Toyota, Disney, AT&T and State Farm. Three years into the project, Huang and her former strategic director, Tanya Raukko, recognized that the company did not want to get involved in the conference business. Raukko came up with a plan for an investment enterprise, strategic consultancy and business incubator, and Imprint Venture Lab (IVL) was born.
IVL offers seed stage investments, Raukko, now managing partner of IVL, told the Business Journal. “We then take a very high, active role in incubating the companies, pretty much complementing the founder team and providing some back-end support such as financials, operations, strategy, marketing, distribution, depending on the needs of the company,” she said. “We allow them to really focus on the creative vision that they set out to accomplish.”
The first investment interTrend made through IVL was with Knockaround, a San Diego-based lifestyle sunglasses company launched by Adam Moyer. Moyer, who was in graduate school for art at University of California, San Diego, is originally from Indiana. He went from making $200 in a good month to now making about $50,000 per week. Jessica Alba and Snoop Lion have been photographed sporting Knockaround shades.
Following the success of the first investment, IVL launched a second round in 2011, funded by interTrend and its employees’ friends and families. The campaign resulted in the selection and partnership with three companies – one being in Long Beach. That company is HOLLR, a venture partner with Imprint led by CEO Justin Dionisio.
HOLLR, established in September 2011, operates in the Zaferia South Arts District of Long Beach near East Anaheim Street and Redondo Avenue. The company name came from an idea for a mobile app originally called HOLLR but is now called GO – a GPS-based mobile broadcasting platform. The goal of the app, according to Dionisio, was to “flip social media on its head” and “remove the person aspect altogether and make it about what was going on instead of who.” Dionisio had done work with interTrend on digital advertising campaigns, so when he presented his idea to IVL, Huang saw an investment opportunity in her own backyard.
Since then, HOLLR has released SOLAR, an addition to the iTunes store Weather App category. “I just had this idea one morning that I wanted to be able to sum up my day via a weather app,” Dionisio said. “A week later, we had SOLAR. Now SOLAR is trumping what GO ever did.” Downloads are at 1.5 million, he said, with an 89 percent return rate. That means nine out of 10 people who download the app come back to it. “It’s pretty crazy,” Dionisio said. “I started out as a graphic designer and this is where it’s taken me. . . . I would say we’re in the top 1 percent of apps in terms of functionality and design, and also engagement.”
Innovation is a theme Imprint focuses on, encourages and helps facilitate, Raukko said, particularly through the company’s culture lab. The culture lab remains as the content arm of Imprint, managing a blog and hosting events like the recent conference “Long Beach: Work In Progress” held April 26 at The Edison Theatre.
Speaking to the conference, Huang said, “For the longest time, as with any city, I think the developers and the government were interested in attracting corporations to come in because, rightfully so, if you can attract corporations you can attract workers and then the workers will shop. But I think what we can bring to the table – although we’re not huge corporations – is that Imprint or companies like Justin’s, make the city interesting. It’s not necessarily the big corporations that make it interesting. They may make it profitable, but the city might be boring as hell. When the city is boring as hell, people may come in and work here but they won’t want to live here. I think it’s important to attract business that could attract people who will work here and attract people who will want to live here. In order for people to live here, it has to be an interesting city. It can’t just be clean and safe. That’s the ticket to entry. It has to be fascinating. I think that is what we are trying to do, a little bit at a time.”
IVL is open to future investment from members of the community to support incubation of local start-ups, Raukko said. Learn more about current investments at www.imprintventurelab.com and future culture lab events at www.imprintculturelab.com.