Featured Founder: Alex Miningham of Proof Network Ventures
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Alex Miningham, CEO of Proof Network Ventures, a technology and data-driven solutions provider for the beverage alcohol industry.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
Since graduating business school in 2008, I’ve been head down building technology startups across a wide variety of sectors. I started my first company inDegree with my MIS professor in graduate school which ended up pivoting into a data enrichment company in the higher education space. Universities across the US were providing us with their raw alumni data, and our job was to run that data through our proprietary enrichment tool to generate more highly targeted lists that identified and prioritized the individuals that were most willing and able to donate back to the school. We were eventually acquired by HEPdata in 2013 as a bolt-on acquisition that helped them expand their reach within higher education.
Shortly after the acquisition as I was figuring out what to do next, I was approached to invest in a local brick and mortar airport parking business. After a summer of diligence, I decided to join and ultimately ended up taking a more hands-on role than originally planned. As I learned the nuances of the business, I saw an opportunity to bring it online which would allow us to scale faster and also eliminate most of the costly overhead such as physical land leases and passenger shuttle operations. With that vision in mind, I ultimately made the decision to raise some private equity to develop Discount Park and Ride, a reservation technology venture that brokered parking reservations via the web similar to what Travelocity and Orbitz does for hotels, flights and rental cars. We built it from the ground up and eventually scaled to 80 different parking partners across 23 different cities before being acquired by LocoMobi in 2016.
The acquisition by LocoMobi was an asset purchase for the technology which left our incredibly talented team looking for the next venture. Fortunately, we had built a really strong internal marketing department which gave us the confidence to start a digital agency called Foundry 119 which has since rebranded to Cast and Create. My role within the agency was primarily focused on cultivating new ideas and bringing those ideas to life through technology and data. Ultimately, I ended up spinning out 150Elm, a data science company that utilized AI and machine learning to build trends and insights off raw direct-to-consumer purchase data for wineries. We ended up striking a strategic data partnership with a mobile ecommerce software company that connected to beer, wine and liquor store point-of-sale systems to strengthen the data science work we were doing for our winery partners. Long story short, we ended up acquiring this company and subsequently rebranding the operation to Proof Network Ventures. Today, Proof Network Ventures is a SaaS based technology and data services company operating in the complex world of beverage alcohol.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
The US beverage alcohol industry is plagued by age-old regulation enacted after the end of prohibition back in 1933. These laws prevent brands from selling their products directly to a retailer and force them to sell only to distributors. Unfortunately, this has created 3 fragmented tiers of data whereby a brand has zero visibility into who their end-consumers actually are that are buying their products at the retail store.
The primary focus of Proof Network Ventures is to build retail-focused SaaS solutions that collect purchase data from online and in-store point-of-sale systems so that we can package it up with 3rd party demographic and psychographic data to build valuable consumer insights for beverage alcohol brands. These insights ultimately provide brands with valuable ammunition that allow them to build more efficient and effective advertising strategies.
The fact that we’re filling a huge void in the industry and also because we get to work with some fantastic multi-national brand partners such as Pernod Ricard, MillerCoors and Moet Hennessy, gets me excited to get into work every morning.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
I made one of the biggest mistakes a founder can make and decided to enter an industry without significant domain expertise. I quickly realized I was in over my head, regardless of the industry need for the services we were providing. Luckily, through our acquisition of Tipsi early on, we absorbed their founder as our President who’s one of the smartest people I’ve met in the space. Through osmosis, I feel like I’ve received a decade of industry knowledge over the course of the past 2 years.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Our vision for Proof Network Ventures is to become the authoritative leader for all data, insights and trends in the beverage alcohol industry. In order to accomplish that, we need to rapidly scale our SaaS products across more retail stores so that we increase the quantity of data in our ecosystem. Our path to scale relies heavily on M&A, which is evidenced by our recent acquisition of Drync, one of the largest competitors to our primary SaaS product, Tipsi. Over the course of the next 2 years, we’ll be actively looking for similar opportunistic acquisitions that help us achieve our long-term vision.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
Don’t be afraid to go all-in! Startups are hard work and require full mental dedication, particularly because you need to wear a lot of hats early on.