(EDITOR’S NOTE: Chattanooga-based RootsRated announced the official launch of its new RootsRated Compass product earlier this month. This article discusses the four-year journey of the company and Fynn Glover, its Chief Executive Officer.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Have you ever visited a city for the first time, whether for business or pleasure, and wanted to know the best places for an outdoor experience? Chances are the answer is “yes” and, more important, you wanted to hear what local experts thought about the hiking, biking, climbing, riding, skiing or paddling venues.
Providing that reliable information for cities across the country is the mission of RootsRated, a Chattanooga-based start-up founded four years ago by Fynn Glover. The company bills itself as “a media platform that connects users with the best outdoor experiences, hand-picked by local outdoor retailers and their networks of local experts.”
East Tennessee is home to a number of start-ups and, while we had heard of RootsRated, it was only recently that we caught-up with the Chattanooga native who serves as Chief Executive Officer of the company.
Glover launched the enterprise in May of 2012 and had what he calls a “second birth” in January of 2014. Since the pivot that was made a little over two years ago, RootsRated has experienced good growth. Today, you can find information on outdoor experiences in 30 cities on the company’s webpage.
“The information available online about outdoor life was very fragmented,” Glover learned when he first conceived the idea for RootsRated. He documented that belief by traveling 16,000 miles and conducting 1,200 interviews with college students in late 2011 and early 2012. That self-funded travel was supported by Rock/Creek, a Chattanooga-based national retailer of outdoor gear and clothing.
Rock/Creek and Toad&Co, a California-based apparel brand, signed-on as investors in 2012 to help Glover launch RootsRated.
At the outset, the start-up was focused on outdoor retailers like River Sports Outfitters in Knoxville, helping them develop outdoor guides for their customers.
“Specialty retailers are networks of expertise within their communities, but they often don’t have the time to develop comprehensive content about the best outdoor experiences in their towns and cities,” Glover explained as he described the niche that RootsRated would fill.
By the end of 2013, the start-up was short on cash, and Glover found a way to capitalize on the rapidly growing movement that brands were beginning to make toward content.
“There was and remains a paradigm shift in the ways that brands are leveraging content creation and distribution across social platforms. In essence, brands were coming under increasing pressure to think and function as publishers,” he explained.
RootsRated built a national network of writers who provide reliable, accurate, timely content on outdoor venues in the markets that the company serves.
More recently, Glover says the company has found a way to monetize the content it develops with a new product called Compass. Launched this past January, Compass is a subscription-based content marketplace for brands in the outdoor and adventure travel industries. The platform enables brands to acquire experiential content from premium publishers and syndicate content across their platforms and through networks of publishing partners.
“It allows brands – apparel, equipment, states, resorts and even tourism agencies like Visit Knoxville – to serve as experiential storytellers,” Glover says.
Roughly six months into the newest product, RootsRated has 35 to 40 customers for Compass.
“We have all the makings of a promising software start-up,” Glover says, citing his board of directors, team of colleagues, and recently secured funding, thanks to the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund and Knoxville’s The Lighthouse Fund to name two investors.
“We now have to build a sustainable sales architecture,” he explains. “That’s where I’m spending a great deal of time.”