Cameron Maddox said he and his fiancee were eating tacos on “$2 Taco Day,” taking advantage of a promotion from Two Brothers restaurant in Starkville, Miss., where the two were attending college. Munching away, they got to wondering what other area eateries offer similar deals. After some time on Google, they learned that there wasn’t an easy way to find discounts like that around town.
“Most of these restaurants didn’t have this information, except maybe on social media or inside the restaurant,” Maddox said. “So I reached out to Patrick Bell, now our CTO, and he assisted in actually building the prototype.” Dealio was a public website in its initial iteration. Anyone could access their curated information about local dining deals in Mississippi State University’s college town.
Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and many restaurants shut down or curtailed their services. Maddox said he shelved the project until around September 2020, when he ran into Jake Cox at the MSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Outreach, known as the E-Center. Cox had a similar idea for surfacing dining deals, and Maddox liked his thoughts about marketing such a platform. So, they got busy again with the business plan and, from October to December, grew to nearly 2,000 users in Starkville, Memphis, Tenn., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
As participants in the E-Center’s VentureCatalyst program, the Dealio team raised $7,500 to grow their company. Switching from a web-focused strategy to a text-messaging approach, Maddox says their competitive advantage is the ability to quickly launch in new communities and scale the number of deals they’re able to promote to their users. Revenue comes from a tiered membership system (premium users learn about more deals), and restaurants can promote their offers by advertising on the platform.
In early 2021, at E-Center Director Eric Hill‘s encouragement, the team turned to Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Seed Fund to raise more money. Maddox said that CEO Tony Jeff and the rest of the Innovate Mississippi team helped them professionalize their presentation, offered suggestions for better communicating their deal proposition, and even helped them with a one-page deal sheet.
This spring, the Mississippi Seed Fund offered a $10,000 proof-of-concept award to Dealio.
“$10,000 is a lot of money. Adding that to what we were able to get through the E-Center, it’s hugely helpful,” Maddox said.
Maddox says they plan to expand into three more college towns in the fall of 2021 and work to build their base of revenues so that at least one of the founders can go full-time with the company. The Dealio team hopes to prove their concept can scale so they can position themselves for an angel round of funding in late 2021.
Maddox says Dealio has a great startup team that really got “launched” by the MSU E-Center and propelled further by Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Seed Fund.
Eventually, Maddox believes the company will expand thanks to its approach to onboarding users and deal partners quickly. He envisions a future where the platform will launch in a new college town each week and larger metro areas monthly.
“But again, plans can change a lot,” Maddox acknowledges. “So for now, we’re keeping our heads out of the clouds and (our feet) more on the ground.”