Paul Palmieri has returned to the CEO role of a company building technology in Baltimore.
Palmieri, who cofounded and led Baltimore adtech darling Millennial Media through milestones including its 2012 IPO, recently became the CEO of Tradeswell after six years working full-time in venture capital. The new company, which has offices in Baltimore and San Francisco, is building technology that seeks to tackle the economic model of ecommerce. Palmieri said he looks at entrepreneurship through the lens of markets, and sees lots of unrealized opportunity in ecommerce.
“I believe this is the biggest problem we have set out to solve to date,” he said.
After leaving the CEO role of Millennial Media in 2014, Palmieri followed a successful entrepreneur’s path to venture capital, first with NEA, then by cofounding Grit Capital Partners. In 2019, with Grit, he began working with a team of four others with experience in ecommerce as an investor and mentor. Eventually he was “drafted,” he said, as cofounder and CEO of Tradeswell. He’s now full-time in the role, and will remain part-time as an investor.
The founding team also includes company president Haley Ulloa, who spearheaded the project that became the company; former Stanley Black & Decker online sales and marketing lead Geoff Kenawell; product expert Jesse Leikin; and former McCormick ecommerce lead Ron Puggi. The 17-member team includes veterans of Baltimore companies such as Flywheel Digital, which exited in 2018, and companies in Baltimore’s adtech ecosystem such as AOL/Ad.com/Millennial Media.
The company is disclosing this week that it raised $3.3 million in seed funding, which was raised over a two-week period in early June. The round was led by SignalFire, a seed-focused firm based in San Francisco whose CEO Chris Farmer worked with Millennial while at Bessemer Venture Partners. Joining the round were Grit; Construct Capital, the recently debuted, Chevy Chase-based venture firm founded by former NEA partner Dayna Grayson and early Uber employee Rachel Holt; and Alan MacIntosh and Mark McDowell of Canadian VC firm Real Ventures.
Through the lens of seeking market opportunities and then applying technology, Palmieri likens it to past experience. With Hunt Valley-based Tessco Technologies, he said, he worked to open up new ecommerce channels in the late 90s. With Verizon, it was unlocking market opportunity for developers charging for apps, which became a $4 billion business. And with Millennial Media, it was enabling apps to be downloaded for free, while allowing developers to make money via mobile advertising. After a public debut in 2012 that valued it at $1.8 billion, Millennial Media was acquired in 2015 by AOL, and today the technology is under Verizon Media Group.
Now, with ecommerce, he sees a market where solutions providers are often tailored to a specific function like retailing, forecasting or marketing. These “siloed” providers, Palmieri said, “have not only their hand but their arm and their elbow in the cookie jar and that is driving some of the challenges of ecommerce.”
“There were thousands of brands that did $10 million or more in ecommerce on Amazon alone last year,” he said. “Ultimately we believe this could be much, much bigger as long as the actual bottom line economics get solved as well.”
In making the jump back from venture capital back into CEO mode, Palmieri said the partners at Grit were all operators as well as investors and he was the lone holdout. In a Medium post, he detailed the journey back to the day-to-day role, which began with reaching out to folks in his network and how digging in with the team at Tradeswell led to the company.
“I needed to make sure that I could find a market that was big enough, a market that needed an economic platform and solution, and I really hadn’t found it until we began to collaborate with the team,” he said.
In the immediate term, Tradeswell is in building mode, and eyeing a move later this year from Brewers Hill HUB into office space in Natty Boh Tower. Palmieri described the company’s technology as a SaaS platform for companies selling on ecommerce “that is designed to put us in a position to be unbiased advocate for the brand,” and said more would be shared publicly in the coming months. Asked about entering a busy ecommerce space, Palmieri said the team is focused on building a “category-defining company.”
“What we’re looking to do is to make all the companies that operate in the ecommerce space better at what they do and more value in terms of the marketplace,” he said. Rather than competition, the team is focused on being “an incredibly collaborative company that partners with nearly everyone in the ecosystem.”
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