Lumanu moves headquarters to California

Influencer marketing startup raises $1.7 million

Lumanu founders Tony Tran, left, and Paul Johnson.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:03 pm

Influencer marketing startup Lumanu Inc. has moved its headquarters from Milwaukee to Burlingame, California.

The company was founded in San Francisco in June 2016, but founders Tony Tran and Paul Johnson chose to stay in Milwaukee upon completion of the gener8tor program in fall 2016. Their decision to base the company in Milwaukee was a big win for the city’s burgeoning tech community at the time. Tran, an MIT graduate, was formerly an associate product manager at Google and business analyst at McKinsey & Co. He found out about gener8tor through Bright Cellars co-founder Joe Laurendi at MIT.

Tran and Johnson, who attended Northwestern University and has lived in Chicago throughout the existence of Lumanu, developed an algorithm that connects businesses and brands with influential social media users and bloggers who can help market their product. Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. was one of Lumanu’s first customers, and it has since added more than 100 brands including Rent the Runway and Benefit Cosmetics.

Lumanu also found investor interest in Milwaukee, closing a $1 million seed funding round in April 2018 with local help. In addition to its equity investment from gener8tor, Lumanu received funding from Milwaukee-based BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation Inc.; former Macy’s chief growth officer Peter Sachse and the Sheboygan-based Sachse Family Fund LLC; and financing and office space from lead investor Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s Cream City Venture Capital fund. Also investing in that round were San Francisco-based 500 Startups and Right Side Capital Management.

Lumanu’s largest office is still in Milwaukee, with four of its 11 employees working out of Cream City Labs at Northwestern Mutual, Tran said. The company also has a Chicago office, and is in the process of moving its Bay Area office to Oakland, he said.

Tran said he stayed in Milwaukee through about September of 2018, but decided to move back to the Bay Area because it was challenging to find technical talent in the Milwaukee market. Wisconsin state records indicate Lumanu began listing its principal office as Burlingame last month.

“You have to find a diamond in the rough because there’s not a built-in network of very easy recruiting in Milwaukee for engineers,” he said.

Tran said he knows Northwestern Mutual is working to recruit additional tech talent to Milwaukee, but the level of expertise doesn’t match his needs yet.

“It’s very risky for us to hire someone junior and try to ramp them up,” Tran said. “We decided at least for now…we wanted to double down our engineering workforce in areas that are strong like the Bay Area.”

Lumanu has had great luck finding and retaining talent in customer service and marketing in the Milwaukee area, and Tran praised the lower cost of living.

On March 22, Lumanu raised $1.8 million from 27 investors in a Series Seed round, with Northwestern Mutual Cream City Venture Capital and the Sachse Family Fund again investing. The startup also brought on a new local investor — Shebogyan Falls-based sausage maker Johnsonville LLC. Former Macy’s chief marketing officer and current National Retail Federation senior advisor Martine Reardon also invested in the round, the company announced.

Lumanu plans to use the funding to hire four to five salespeople and three to five product engineers this year, Tran said. In addition, the company plans to adapt its software to work with platforms like TikTok and add machine learning capabilities.

“One of the unique things about Lumanu is we were pretty lean for the longest time and we were actually profitable as of January this year,” Tran said. “There’s a point, especially in our industry, that things move so fast you really want to grow. You have to spend money to make money and that’s why we decided to raise this round even though we didn’t need it.”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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