For RevUnit, the 'Hard' Makes Startup Life 'Great'

Bentonville digital marketing agency RevUnit just celebrated its first anniversary, and for co-founder and CEO Joe Saumweber, the toughest part of launching a startup venture is also the best part.

“The best part about starting up is we get to have our hands in everything,” he said. “The hardest part about starting up is that we wear all the hats. Where else can you balance the books, lead a brainstorm, meet with potential investors and write an offer letter all in the same day? It’s the hard that makes it great.”

Saumweber and co-founder Michael Paladino left Rockfish Interactive, the acclaimed digital agency based in Rogers, to launch RevUnit. What distinguishes his Innovate Arkansas client firm, Saumweber said, is its focus on building technology “that people love to interact with.”

“Whether that is an iPhone app, a kiosk, a point of sale system or website, we’re passionate about delivering experiences that people love to use,” he said. “To do that, you have to take a different approach. Our mantra is build small, learn fast and iterate often. The idea is to experiment and learn on as little time and budget as possible and validate the concept with real users before we commit significant resources to the project.”

Saumweber said this approach enables RevUnit to learn how to make the product better.

“It can be a little nerve-wracking to put rough concepts in front of people, but the insights are always worth it, and the product always improves,” he said.

Saumweber, 30, is a Chicago native who relocated to northwest Arkansas to work for Rockfish after attending Brigham Young University in Utah. Paladino, 34, is a University of Arkansas grad from Little Rock. Both are serial entrepreneurs, and both loved working for Rockfish. But they’ve always loved startups and believed they could apply the Rockfish approach to smaller companies.

“We wondered about taking our enterprise-level, digital experience and applying that to younger, high-potential companies that were in need of expertise,” Saumweber said. “We were excited to see how much productivity and quality we could squeeze out of our team when working for highly resource-constrained startups. What we found is that with the right process, we can produce a lot on very little. And interestingly enough, it wasn’t just startups who wanted this type of approach.”

So far, RevUnit’s clients include Btiques, another Innovate Arkansas firm and one of three winners from last fall’s inaugural ARK Challenge startup accelerator in Fayetteville; Mary Kay Cosmetics; and one of the “largest luxury auto-dealership groups in the U.S.,” Saumweber said.

Currently, RevUnit employs six full-time workers and relies on a handful of contractors as needed. Saumweber said the firm has some interesting, high-growth opportunities ahead of it, and the current challenge is to distinguish between the good ones, the better ones and the best ones. First, it must focus its energies in the right places, he said.

“No growth is better than organic growth with existing clients,” Saumweber said. “We’re excited to deepen our relationships and do more for those we’re already engaged with. In addition, we have our sites set on both Dallas and St. Louis as growth markets. We have strategic partners in both of these cities and would love to have outposts there in the very near future.”

While Saumweber envisions expansion ahead, RevUnit remains committed to northwest Arkansas.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of the startup community in northwest Arkansas,” he said. “There are some amazing, high-growth companies like Acumen and Collective Bias attracting much needed national attention. We also have some great foundational organizations like ARK Challenge, Innovate Arkansas and Startup Arkansas. So many talented people dedicated to the success of our region.”

But Saumweber believes the region has yet to realize its full potential.

“We need to find better ways to involve the big business in our region,” he said. “That can be a great symbiotic relationship with startups offering innovation and big business providing opportunity.”
Arkansas needs more graduates ready for the startup life, he said: young professionals with “broad capability across user experience and design, and developers who are well-versed in new technology like mobile development.”  

“There are great-paying jobs at exciting companies right here in northwest Arkansas for these skill sets.”

Saumweber hopes RevUnit can continue to provide more of them.