The Maryland entrepreneur behind GiftCardRescue.com, which shut down suddenlyin July 2016, is taking some of the lessons he learned and applying them to a new venture.
Kwame Kuadey and his business partner Carrie Brenner have launched Thrive Co., a digital marketing agency based in Ellicott City. The business offers content marketing, social media management and paid advertising services to local small and mid-size businesses. It is the latest venture from Johns Hopkins alumnus Kuadey, who previously led a startup that saw swift growth and abrupt failure.
GiftCardRescue folded after eight years in business when Kuadey's investors abruptly froze its assets. It was a surprising end for the Columbia-based business that bought and sold unwanted gift cards, which had grown into a nearly $25 million operation. GiftCardRescue gained recognition following Kuadey's appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank” show, and landed multiple times on Inc. Magazine’s annual “Inc. 5000” list that ranks the fastest-growing U.S. companies based on revenue growth. Kuaday also earned accolades for leading the company, like EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2014.
At the time when GiftCardRescue went under, Kuadey admitted the experience was painful, but said he was grateful to have learned so much about running a business. He did not know what he would do next.
Now, he is eager to help other small and mid-size business owners grow their firms. He said Thrive Co. aims to solve some of pain points he experienced as a small business owner himself. He and Brenner, who also worked with Kuadey at GiftCardRescue, have bootstrapped this new company over the past year.
"While I was running GiftCardRescue, I also ran the entire marketing operation in house because of the frustrations I had trying to hire local digital marketing companies to help me," Kuadey said.
There were three main "points of frustration" that made Kuadey want to do his own marketing work. He plans to help address those frustrations for other small businesses through his new firm.
1. Failure to understand a client business — Kuadey said many of the digital marketing firms he tried to work with seemed in a rush to offer "canned solutions," without much consideration for GiftCardRescue's unique business model and the specific clientele his startup was targeting. Small businesses should have access to marketing services that can be tailored based on their specific needs, he said.
2. Underserving companies small marketing budgets — Kuadey said small businesses that have revenue between $250,000 and $1 million don’t typically have much to spend on marketing, which can make it difficult to win the time and attention of ad companies willing to work with them on a personalized marketing plan.
3. Not viewing clients as business partners — Kuadey remembers being frustrated that outside firms he tried to work with did not seem particularly "invested" in his company's success. He believes firms that partner with small businesses should demonstrate a vested interest in those businesses. "In marketing, when your clients win, you also win," Kuadey said.
Kuadey said he hopes Thrive Co. will differentiate itself in the marketing industry by building strong relationships with local clients and "meeting them where they are."
"We want to be understanding partners to local businesses," he said. "We have some empathy and understanding of the entrepreneurial process, we know how unpredictable things can be, because we’ve been there before."
The firm also plans to launch the 'Thrive Digital Marketing University,' a platform on which it will put out content to teach business owners how to do some basic marketing tasks themselves. He said digital marketing is a critical business-building strategy today, and there are lots of small business owners who could probably do more on their own if they had a better understanding of how to get started. He hopes this platform will help his firm build up trust with potential small business clients, so they may hire Thrive Co. for more advanced marketing services when they need them.
Kwame Kuadey is the CEO of a new digital marketing firm, called Thrive Co. He formerly led GiftCardRescue.com, which folded in 2016.
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