Birmingham startup Linq experiences rapid growth

The trio behind Linq is, from left, CEO Elliott Potter, COO Jared Mattsson and CTO Patrick Sullivan. Photo by Cary Norton.

Elliott Potter had an idea that he thought was so good, he shouted it from the balcony. No really. He literally shouted it from a balcony.

In 2019, while working in Birmingham at the powerhouse tech-oriented delivery service Shipt, Potter and two of his colleagues — Jared Mattsson and Patrick Sullivan — developed a networking platform that allows users to digitally transfer the type of information usually found on a business card through a quick phone tap or scan of a QR code.

They dubbed the product Linq and introduced it at Birmingham’s Sloss Tech conference. During a Q&A session with keynote speaker Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, Potter was called to ask a question from his balcony seat. Before the microphone could reach him, Potter yelled, “When are you going to invest outside of Silicon Valley? We’d love to be the first company you invest in.”

To which Ohanian replied, “OK, pitch me Linq.” The crowd chuckled, then grew quiet. Ohanian reiterated, “I’m serious. Pitch me Linq.”

“So, from the balcony I kind of screamed this 30-second pitch,” Potter recalls. “After the conference we showed him the technology and he said, ‘You guys need to pursue this. I really think there is something here.’ That was all the motivation we needed to quit our jobs.”

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Fast forward two years (with an emphasis on fast), and Linq has received approximately $2.5 million in seed capital, started selling products worldwide online, moved into a 6,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Birmingham, and grown to 13 full-time employees (including several from Shipt), with plans to add an average of one or two more each week through 2022.

“This thing is going really fast,” says Potter, who serves as the company’s CEO. “We’re just kind of pushing the idea along.”

The idea actually generated from a different software product the trio created called Sidekiq, which was designed to help small businesses grow their number of Instagram followers. Whenever they were pitching the idea, inevitably they would hand out their business cards. It didn’t take long to realize the irony of promoting their modern technology with an aging form of communication.

“A typical business card didn’t feel like the best way to do this,” Potter says. “First, we’re starting a tech company and want to be tech-forward. But it’s also just an impractical way to get somebody to quickly take action. It’s more of a reference point for later that hopefully they’re not going to lose.

“When I traveled for Shipt, I had stacks of business cards lying in the bottom of my backpack. We just didn’t think it was a good way to represent us and what we were doing. We needed a different way to quickly give people our contact information so they could follow-up.”

Linq originally was developed simply to help them solve that problem. It allows users to download all their contact and website information into a digital card, bracelet or band, and then transfer that info onto a phone with a tap or scan. No app is needed.

“Eventually, people became more interested in that method of sharing information than they were of the idea we were trying to sell,” Potter says. “They’d go. ‘Love the Sidekiq idea, but how do I get one of these digital business cards?’

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe this (Linq) is the actual idea here.’ So, we opened up a platform to let users sign up, and overnight it took off much quicker than the product we were selling before. We realized the business value of what we had built extended beyond scratching our own itch.”

Matt Hottle was among those who witnessed Potter’s impromptu sales pitch at Tech Birmingham. Hottle is co-founder, along with Mickey Millsap, of Redhawk Advisory, an investment advisor that manages venture capital funds. One of those is the Alabama Futures Fund (AFF), which invests in technology companies that are based in Alabama or are willing to relocate to the state.

“We’re constantly looking at startups around us, and we got excited about (Linq),” Hottle says. “They had a good business strategy, and it’s a massive market. The application for them is both business-to-business and business-to-consumer.”

AFF led Linq’s initial round of funding. Earlier this year, California’s Mucker Capital, a boutique VC specializing in firms outside of Silicon Valley, kicked off a second round.

Shipt founder Bill Smith also provided funding during the
second round, illustrating what Potter says is Smith’s willingness
to foster a sense of entrepreneurship within his employees and encourage them to branch out with their own ideas and products.

“Bill put a lot of autonomy and trust in the employees. He empowered everybody to make decisions,” Potter says. “So, we all kind of had this sense of ownership and entrepreneurship, because we were already making decisions about the product. He trusted us enough to let us effectively learn how to run small organizations within Shipt.

“I really can’t overstate the importance of Shipt to all this. It was the foundation for how we run our company, who we run it with, and the ambition of our goals.”

Hottle says the connection with Shipt and Smith definitely did not go unnoticed when it came time for Linq to seek funding.

“Those guys saw firsthand at Shipt what it takes to build a company from zero dollars in revenue to a $550-million exit,” Hottle says, citing the amount Target Corp. paid to acquire Shipt in December 2017. “That’s a pretty singular experience, and one that’s incredibly valuable for a founder to apply to their own venture. They have really relevant, high-growth startup experience, and that in and of itself is very attractive.

“I also liked how these guys thought about this opportunity. They were audacious, with tenacity, which you really have to have to be a successful startup founder. You root for people who are willing to put themselves out there and take risks. That’s how you innovate. That’s how you succeed in a tough market.”

Potter certainly has ambitious goals for Linq. By the end of 2022, he says, he wants Linq to have created 100 new jobs in Birmingham, and for the product to be sold on every continent, “including Antarctica.”

“We want to be the standard for how modern professionals connect with one another,” Potter says. “We want our technology to be everywhere around the world.”

Which is something that would be well worth shouting from the mountaintop.

Cary Estes and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business
Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham. This story first appeared in the October 2021 issue of Business Alabama.

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