Unconventional tops the list of adjectives that describe Steve Espinosa. Ridiculously smart, he tested out of high school at age 16 and started working. As a big, tattooed guy making bank as a Web designer, he figured he would date older girls, so he told a 19-year-old he was 21. After a few months he came clean, took her to prom and married her three years later when he was 19. They now have two little boys and twin baby girls.
Espinosa’s start-up, AppStack, automates the process of creating mobile websites for business owners and then drives customers to those sites. The company is funded by Google Ventures as well as Eric Schmidt’s investment firm, Tomorrow Ventures, and Dave McClure’s 500 Startups. While it has only been accepting customers since December, AppStack is already Google’s largest mobile advertising firm.
Espinosa calls it “dead simple.” AppStack’s automated process of setting up a mobile web presence and then driving nearby customers to it takes only a couple of minutes. It’s $80 a month, which includes $50 in Google advertising. The balance is AppStack’s fee for providing customers with a customized dashboard with which they can adjust ad spend, update content on their mobile site, and push out new deals to it.
How did Espinosa get the likes of Eric Schmidt and Dave McClure in his corner? On May 5, 2009, he responded to a tweet by the well-connected entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calacanis, who asked, in jest, if anybody wanted to take him to a Lakers playoff game. Espinosa jumped at the opportunity, bought the best tickets he could find on StubHub, and spent the next night with Calacanis drinking beer, watching the LA Lakers beat the Houston Rockets, and convincing Calacanis he was worth knowing.
A year later, Calacanis asked Espinosa if he wanted to pitch his idea--a website called Backyard that would let people search for local deals--to a group of high powered Silicon Valley VCs. “It was my first time pitching anybody [so] I was super nervous,” says Espinosa. “All these [other people were saying things like] ‘I went to MIT and I went to Stanford and I just got my business degree’ and I’m like ‘I went to Murietta Valley High School,’” he laughs.
He landed $70,000 that day from Calacanis, McClure, and Tomorrow Ventures and then went on to grow Backyard to 600,000 users and $60,000 in recurring monthly revenue within four months. In April of last year he sold the company to PixelFish for $4 million.
When Espinosa was looking for backers for AppStack, the big guns wanted in again. “[He is] super down to earth and he knows his tech and marketing stuff cold,” says McClure. “He’s a street-smart guy from the hood who gets technology, and how it can help make the lives of normal people better.”
Now the company is powering mobile presence for more than 4,000 SMBs, marketing to more than 50 verticals and is on pace for $115,000 recurring monthly revenue in June and $1 million in monthly recurring revenue by the end of the year.