Back in 2008, Ryan Wuerch headed off to one of the poorest places on Earth, at the edge of the Congo, to help dig water wells with the nonprofit ICDI.
There, he saw two boys, ages 10 and 12, with a cart full of fire wood, an essential for cooking in an area that has sporadic electricity or none at all. The boys would spend one day walking to reach areas with firewood. On day two, they’d chop wood and load it. On day three, they’d walk it all the way back and sell it for $1.28 to people in town.
“It messed me up,” Wuerch told me from his office in the Hill Country Galleria. “Fast forward to now, and I’m very involved philanthropically.”
Wuerch, an accomplished founder who led tech companies to big exits, said that anecdote, along with plenty of other economic indicators that shows many people are scrapping by with minimal incomes while raising families, helped drive him to create Dosh.
“I’ve always tried to look from the outside in,” he said. “If you look at trends and human behavior, or even market behavior, you usually can find where things can either A.) Be done, or B.) Be done better.”
While still in beta, Dosh’s app lets users enter their credit card information and then they get cash back on purchases from businesses that partner with Dosh. On Thursday, the startup raised an additional $4.9 million, which closes their fourth seed round. The new round was led by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Goodwater Capital. Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Extol Capital and Austin’s Next Coast Ventures also participated in the round.
“They are going to fundamentally shift how billions of dollars in advertising will be spent.” Tom Ball, co-founder and managing partner of Next Coast Ventures, said in a prepared statement. “The rapid growth of customers and businesses integrating into the Dosh marketplace is a testament to what they’ve developed.”
Dosh has now raised $18.4 million since its 2015 founding, and it is pursuing a Series A fundraise at the start of 2018. It has more than 100,000 businesses and brands on its platform, including household names like Sam’s Club, Denny’s and Forever 21.
The startup has attracted some of the country’s top investors. Chi-Hua Chien, co-founder and managing partner at Goodwater Capital, for example, perviously worked at Kleiner Perkins and Accel Partners, helping lock in early investments in Facebook.
And the Austin Business Journal recently reported on Dosh’s hiring of former Indeed Chief of Staff, Product and Engineering Scott Bonneau as its chief technology officer; former RetailMeNot VP of Engineering Brian Showers as its VP of engineering; and former HomeAway Director of Engineering for Mobile Alex Devine as its senior director of infrastructure and architecture.
“The more merchants, the more cash back, and more cash back means more consumers share with their friends. It can be a network effect like nothing I’ve seen.”
Dosh’s rapid growth stems from the startup’s constant reminder that it exists to save consumers money, Wuerch told me. And that goes back to his experience working on water wells in the Congo and his sojourn to the Cascade Mountains in Washington where he developed five core values he sought to guide his work going forward.
The first appears to be the most important to Wuerch — do things with people you like, love and trust. After some turbulent times on his path to taking Motricity Inc. public in 2010 and a lot of financial success with several companies, Wuerch said it’s the tough times he and his friends and partners talk about — not the big success moments.
“Real stuff. Scars,” he said. “But we always made it out together and those are the fondest moments of my life… and it was always with someone I truly trusted.”
Another core value Wuerch said he committed to is helping people. And that’s were he sees Dosh fitting in. Although it looks like a sleek app for savvy shoppers, Wuerch talks about it more in terms of saving $40 a month for a single mom.
Wuerch’s approach, cemented through conversations with co-founder Ed Mock, was to find a way to channel a slice of the $200 billion U.S. advertising industry back into consumer hands. He said about $400 billion worth of coupons and offers are created each year, and about 1 percent of them are redeemed. So Dosh is trying to increase that percentage without requiring consumers to do much of anything beyond downloading the app and entering their information.
After users make purchases they get a notification of the cash back Dosh has found for them. And that type of small surprise sticks in consumers’ minds and helps lead consumers to suggest the app to friends, ultimately building Dosh’s network.
In 2018, Dosh is increasing its focus on merchants to put more of them on its platform and provide anonymized consumer information that will help them offer the right deals to the right personas at the right time.
“The more consumers, the more merchants,” he said. “The more merchants, the more cash back, and more cash back means more consumers share with their friends. It can be a network effect like nothing I’ve seen.”
Editor’s note: The statement by Tom Ball has been updated from an earlier draft version that had not been approved.