03 Jun InsideWis: If Wisconsin wants more ‘unicorns,’ it needs venture dollars in the stable
Wes Schroll holds no grudges against all the potential investors who said “no” to putting money into Fetch Rewards.
That’s good, because there were far more who said “no” than who said “yes,” especially in the company’s early days.
“As an entrepreneur, you’re going to get 19 no’s before one yes, if you’re lucky,” Schroll told attendees at the annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, held Thursday on a virtual platform. “You just need to have confidence in your idea.”
Fetch Rewards, which Schroll founded in 2012 while still a student at UW-Madison, is a consumer rewards platform that has grown exponentially of late in terms of investment dollars, users and partners. Because the value of the company has reached $1 billion and climbing, it is what the tech and startup world calls a “unicorn,” a term that speaks to the uniqueness of such rapid growth.
Total investment in Fetch Rewards is about $350 million so far. It has about 500 employees in 34 states today and expects to reach 750 by the end of the year. Madison and Chicago are two “hubs,” although a remote-first approach means its workers can be just about anywhere. Fetch Rewards has millions of users who gain dividends such as gift cards by sending their receipts – from major brands, restaurants and more – via a convenient mobile app.
Schroll noted that Wisconsin has a strong base of angel and venture investors at the “seed” stage, meaning the earliest investments. He noted investments from Wisconsin Investment Partners, BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation and Great Oaks Venture Capital, which isn’t based in Wisconsin but whose founders are state natives. He also credited the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for early support.
When it came to later rounds, however, it became much harder to find investment dollars close to home.