Cathie Anderson

NBA teams bet this Chico startup can sell their brands to college students

Since Chico-based Pocket Points was first featured in Inside Business last August, the startup has won business from national advertisers such as Office Depot, Panda Express and NBA teams and has more than doubled its revenue.

The company developed a mobile phone app that allows students to earn points by locking their phones during class and use them for discounts around campus or even online. Co-founders Mitch Gardner and Rob Richardson launched the app in 2014 as students at Chico State. Its success was so phenomenal that angel investor Chris Friedland, the founder of build.com, approached them to make an investment, and last year Folsom-based venture capital firm Moneta Ventures sank $600,000 in the firm.

NBA teams around the nation signed deals with Pocket Points after seeing the results that their app scored for the Sacramento Kings in the 2015-16 season, Gardner said. The goal, of course, is to engender loyalty with young fans who will continue to attend games over a lifetime.

“One of the first games was Kings vs. Lakers, and I think we sold 300 tickets,” he said. “It depends on what the game is, but students could get anywhere for 40 to 60 percent off. … The Kings wanted to get young people going to the game. When we send people to the game, they know it’s coming from this coveted demographic of 18- to 23-year-olds. Not only do they go to the game and buy tickets, but they’re buying hot dogs and sodas.”

At the same time that national advertisers are seeing the value of Pocket Points, the app is maintaining and growing steady patronage from small businesses, more than 2,000 of them in both college towns and major cities, Gardner said. Revenue has leapt to $100,000-plus as the app has gone online in 85 markets. In addition to colleges, the Pocket Points staff also began offering the service to 30 high schools.

“At colleges … we’ll see 40 to 50 percent of students using our app, and at high schools, we’ve seen 90 to 95 percent of students using it,” Gardner said.

Oh, you Golden State blokes: After just two years in business, British designer Tom Cridland sells close to 40 percent of the chinos he produces to consumers in California. Why does he think his trousers have such appeal with Golden State blokes?

Cridland said the California lifestyle provided inspiration for his sustainably made, casual pants. In fact, he and his business partner and girlfriend, Debs Marx, visited California while researching the cut, fabric and craftsmanship of his chinos.

“California is a place that inspired me to persevere in starting my own clothing brand as opposed to having to pursue another line of work really,” said Cridland, who swung through Sacramento over the weekend. “I was only 23 when I started.”

On one trip to California, he struck up a conversation with someone who shared his admiration for Nigel Olsson, who is best known as the drummer for Elton John’s band for the last 40 years. The other Olsson fan told him: “You should drop him an email. He would probably really quite like your trousers.”

That fan happened to have Olsson’s email address and shared it with Cridland. When the then-23-year-old got back to his hotel that evening, he sent the email and thought, “Here goes nothing.” Imagine his surprise the next morning when he checked his email queue and saw a missive from Olsson waiting to be read. He loved the design and took Cridland up on his offer of a free pair. Olsson, a Southern California resident, has since purchased many others.

Olsson’s interest came at a crucial time for Cridland: “I was really at a point where I was wondering whether I would be able to continue working on this brand after the summer or whether, when I got back to London, I was going to have to abandon my dream and maybe do something else.”

Cridland’s sustainably made trousers, sweatshirts and T-shirts have since been seen on other famous bodies: Rod Stewart, Daniel Craig, Ben Stiller, Kendrick Lamar, Miley Cyrus and Clint Eastwood, to name a few. His company, established with a loan of 6,000 pounds sterling from the British government in 2014, grossed 1 million-plus pounds last year. His clothing sells online at tomcridland.com.

“We do really produce the trousers in a variety of colors, some of which not every bloke wants to wear – bright yellows and bright pinks, which I’m actually wearing right now,” Cridland said.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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