James Oliver, Jr. is back in the startup trenches. After a year of soul-searching, the Brooklyn native is fired up with a new business model that targets business customers who use WeMontage to display their products or branding. With the pivot to B2B, Atlanta based WeMontage is now marketing to a new consumer base, which includes firms who boost employee morale with photos from corporate events.
Oliver initially started his company seven years ago, after watching an episode of HGTV where they applied a beautiful photo collage to the wall of a new home. Curiosity struck and he spent the rest of that night configuring how to replicate the task. He went on to spend his savings on executing a custom-made website. This became the start of his journey with WeMontage that lets you turn your photos into a large collage on removable wallpaper.
Accepted into the nationally acclaimed gener8tor accelerator program in Madison, Wisconsin, Oliver spent 12 weeks preparing to bring his product to market and obtain investment. Simultaneously, he was hit with a huge life milestone. His expectant wife had to give birth to their twins earlier than planned. He spent months running between the program and the NICU that housed his premature babies. Of course, it was all worth it in the end as he not only secured funding from an investor on pitch day but also became the proud father to whom he calls the two cutest twins in the world. Additionally, Oliver’s also garnered numerous media and tv spots for his product.
Discovering another purpose in advocating for being a parent and entrepreneur, Oliver “birthed” a buzzy personal brand, ‘treplifedad. He self-published a book, The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get: You CAN Be a Successful Parentpreneur, on rising above the hurdles and challenges. Whether through WeMontage or being a “ParentPreneur,” Oliver seeks to bring more positivity and happiness to people in the world. Keep reading for Oliver’s takes on the recent relaunch, long-term goal for his company, and how his business is on a mission to disrupt the custom picture frame and canvas print industries.
What’s your current role?
Founder and CEO of WeMontage. Also co-founder of the world’s cutest twins – my most important role.
What services does WeMontage offer?
Who is your clientele or whom do you serve?
Historically, our clients were moms and grandmas. While we won’t abandon this group, we are changing our customer focus to businesses. Businesses spend 5x-10x more than consumers, and they use WeMontage to display their products in-house, and more interestingly, to boost employee morale with pics of employees at corporate events. With this change, I expect our new average revenue per order to be $500-$1,000.
Has WeMontage achieved any significant milestones?
Yes, we completed the gener8tor accelerator and raised $400,000. We’ve been featured on the TODAY Show three times, Good Morning America, Money Magazine, and more. I even appeared on CNBC’s version of Shark Tank, The West Texas Investors Club, which is now canceled. Don’t believe everything you see on reality TV.
What are the budget and resources needed to take WeMontage to the next level?
With the pending B2B focus, we need partnerships and distribution deals. For example, a partnership with WeWork would be ideal because they have members with businesses who rent space; those members could use WeMontage to decorate their space without damaging WeWork’s walls.
What’s your long-term vision or end goal for WeMontage?
Custom picture frames and canvas prints remain popular. But compared to what we do, they are extremely expensive and don’t always offer as much variety in terms of the number of images you can use. I intend to disrupt those industries and have their customers use WeMontage instead. The vision is to get to $20 million in sales within five years, then sell for $50 million.
What’s it been like pulling this all together?
I am blessed to get up every day and do what I enjoy – build something that thousands of people tell me they love. But it’s been incredibly hard, too, trying to raise young twins with all the non-stop demands of a startup. Being sufficiently present for the kids is something I have to constantly be mindful of.
You rarely see people talking about the unique challenge of being a “ParentPreneur,” which is why I’m now a “ParentPreneur” advocate and self-published a book to inspire the millions of “ParentPreneurs” around the world to be the best parent and entrepreneur they can be. The book is called, The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get: You CAN Be a Successful Parentpreneur. The book reviews have been great, people are truly inspired by it, and I’m honored to be a light for the world in that way.
I think I’m right in saying WeMontage closed in late 2017 and relaunched last month… what’s that journey been like?
Yes, with the previous B2C model customer acquisition was a problem and the average revenue per consumer was too low given the volume of sales. I now have a talented CTO on board as an equity partner, we have the code back up on a production server and are taking orders again, and we are focused on cleaning up technical debt. Once that’s done, we will revamp the website with more of a B2B feel.
What did you learn most on the gener8tor accelerator program?
I learned that I can overcome any obstacles. Two days before I started the accelerator, my twins were born three months prematurely and weighed only two pounds each. The accelerator was a two-hour drive from home and I was back and forth to the NICU and accelerator while grinding to build an MVP in time for demo day. Through the grace of God, I got through that experience and we built the MVP, raised capital, and my kids came home; they are six years old now and are doing great.
I know you raised some money, what was the fundraising process like?
You know, pitch pitch pitch. Rejection. Pitch pitch pitch. Crickets. Pitch pitch pitch. Money.
What differentiates WeMontage from competitors?
I basically created a new category for DIY photo wall art. There are lots of printers who use self-adhering wall materials, but they require you to send them your photos via email, then their designers create something for you, and you go back and forth with them until you have something you like.
In this age of customization, consumers want what they want, when they want it. And WeMontage makes that possible for them with our easy-to-use interface. People display images because they inspire them, make them happy, or give them a loving feeling. Our customers tell us they get more love, happiness, and inspiration from their images on a WeMontage, than from images in picture frames and canvas prints.
Aside from WeMontage what startup/tech projects have you worked on?
This is my only one. I have another idea I will tackle once I’m done with WeMontage, if it’s still viable at that time. Of course, it involves pictures.
*What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
Ever since I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, I had the entrepreneur hustle. Back then, I used to sell various products to friends and strangers. That entrepreneurial spirit continued when I got to Morehouse College, where I co-founded a production company and we did ground-breaking things with entertainment. I also attempted to launch a digital lifestyle magazine for Black golf enthusiasts in a pre-iPad era. So It’s been an evolutionary process for me to be what I naturally am: an entrepreneur.
*What tech/tools are important to you?
On the site, Intercom’s live chat feature has been extremely helpful with converting users to paid customers. I probably have a 50% chat-to-paid conversion ratio when someone sends me an in-app chat message. Get Drip has also been invaluable with converting website visitors into paid customers.
What are your best techie or creative skills?
I’m in the 99th percentile of persistent and resilient people on the planet. Everything I’ve read from Steve Jobs to Ben Horowitz says the primary difference between successful and unsuccessful people is: the successful ones don’t quit. So, I’m confident I will be successful.
How do you keep up with industry trends in tech or the startup ecosystem?
I read Hypepotamus, Brad Feld’s blog, and of course, UrbanGeekz.
Main Image: WeMontage founder James Oliver Jr.
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