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May 20, 2014 | Tom Ballard

Vextras focused on being “Swiss Army Knife for online retailers”

VextrasBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Kyle Hungate says his goal for Vextras is to be the “Swiss Army Knife for online retailers” and, thanks to a new loan fund established by the UT Federal Credit Union (UTFCU), he believes he can get there faster.

The Dandridge resident established the company three years ago after spending the previous 13 years in a family-owned business.

“It was a traditional bricks and mortar office equipment and supplies company,” Hungate said. When the business began accepting orders online, it experienced the challenge of integrating the online system into its existing sales, accounting, inventory, and customer relationship management systems.

“This became a real pain point,” Hungate said. So, he decided to develop a way to automate the handoff between the eCommerce system and those used in the traditional business. Initially, he was focused on the family business.

“We started writing code to solve the problems with data transfer,” Hungate explained. “We decided we could make it scalable to other businesses.”

The initial idea turned into the new company named Vextras that describes itself as helping “streamline the most important areas of your online business. Take the guess-work out of making your Volusion store work in harmony with hundreds of cloud apps and services.”

Volusion refers to a popular software that many companies use for their online purchases.

Vextras developed five apps that it offers to link Volusion and other online apps with popular enterprise software. They are Boomerang, a rule-based email system; Briefcase, a tool that integrates Highrise CRM with Volusion; Kiwi, an app that connects Volusion to Xero accounting; Postmaster, a tool to automate the Volusion email marketing capabilities with MailChimp; and Zapier, an app that connects Volusion with hundreds of other apps.

For the first few years, Hungate personally financed the development of the company and its apps, shunning outside investment. That strategy served the company very well.

“We were growing at a pace that was controllable,” Hungate said. “We’re in the black.”

From its base in Dandridge, the company claims clients in six countries

When Vextras doubled its booked business in a recent two-month period, Hungate decided to reevaluate his view on outside capital. There was an opportunity to grow much faster by adding additional software development expertise.

“I was at the KEC (Knoxville Entrepreneur Center) one day talking with Jonathan Sexton,” Hungate said of that organization’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, whom he described as “a rare find.”

After explaining his growth opportunity and capital challenge, Sexton told Hungate about UTFCU’s new microloan fund named the “Line 12 Micro Fund.” It is targeted at start-ups and established small businesses like Vextras.

“Companies like Vextras are exactly the type that the ‘Line12 Fund’ was designed to work with,” Patrick said. “They have great potential, but could use some help via additional resources and capital to reach the next level.  We anticipate big things from Kyle and his team in the near future.”

With the UTFCU loan, Hungate believes Vextras will be able to accelerate its development “faster and better than anyone else” in its space.

“Time is our enemy,” he says in terms, adding, “The micro fund will give us the leverage we need.”


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