MBA grads off to quick start with RingoFire digital marketing
Brian Stearns and Cory Bridges forged a friendship and launched a business while studying how to start one in Clemson University’s MBAe program.
Today, the pair, and their start-up, RingoFire, appear to be on a fast track to delivering digital marketing solutions to small businesses in the Upstate, and beyond.
“We actually received emails from what turned out to be our first customers during one of our classes in the spring of 2016,” said Stearns, CEO of the Greenville start-up. “We both had full-time jobs, were in the MBAe program and came up with an idea of starting a digital marketing business when the idea took off.”
That idea was providing digital and social media marketing to small companies in the Greenville area. Stearns and Bridges, chief operating officer, nurtured the startup after-hours and on weekends in the spring and summer of 2016. A year later, their venture, which started with a $500 investment, employs nine, has 12 clients and is well into six figures of revenue generation.
RingoFire’s early success didn’t happen by chance. Stearns was employed full time in a marketing role and Bridges founded, and still runs, a recycling company. They both leveraged lessons learned in those roles and the retail connections from those positions to get RingoFire rolling.
As brand ambassadors for their growing customer base, the pair also wanted a brand for their business that was easily remembered. A lifelong fan of Johnny Cash, Stearns went with his variation of a song made famous by the legendary singer-songwriter – “Ring of Fire.”
Currently, the start-up’s customers are either a national brand or an up and coming business, like RingoFire.
“Many small businesses don’t understand the value of social media and digital marketing. One of the first things we do is educate our clients on the advantage of digital advertising over much more expensive traditional advertising,” said Stearns. “Most small business owners view social media as fun, but don’t realize its potential as an advertising channel,” Stearns said.
RingoFire represents local consumer goods businesses, as well as some national brands, in the hardware, technology, health care and entertainment sectors. About half are in the upstate, and include businesses started by some of their MBAe cohorts, while others are located in Detroit, Atlanta and Florida.
“We have a local retail customer that has been a long-standing community staple in Greenville, but they weren’t getting a lot of traffic,” Bridges said. “They invested a small amount in us and in about a month they couldn’t keep up with the volume of business. They were dumping money into traditional advertising and weren’t getting their brand out there. It’s gratifying to see this small business thrive, and how grateful they are for the role we played.”
Much of RingoFire’s energy is devoted to product launches and running the day-to-day functions of a small business’s social media presence, which includes posting, monitoring and responding to their various channels. “We take the daily work off the customer’s backs, so they can focus their energy on strategy,” Stearns said.
Both credited the MBA program for the mentoring that helped them address challenges they faced early on and the networking exposure that has contributed to their customer base.
“Having professors who themselves are entrepreneurs, is an invaluable resource and networking with cohorts has been a great catalyst for capturing new business. The MBAe experience was a great return on investment at many levels,” Bridges said.
Stearns and Bridges see RingoFire continuing to help small businesses take their products to market, but they also have visions of advancing their own brand of products into the consumer industry. Another focus may be the for-sale-by-owner and real estate agency sector.
“Bringing new products to market is our passion and an extension of that is expanding the RingoFire brand through consumer products,” said Stearns. “One of the biggest challenges in going to market is getting in front of the right people. And with our vendor relationships, some through major retailers, we have a competitive advantage. It’s a differentiator for RingoFire.”
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