After leaving a career in the military, Air Force veteran April Caldwell’s dove into the small business world with the launch of her own gourmet popcorn company.
Part of the recipe for making such a business work, of course, is getting in front of the right customers. “Being a home-based popcorn [company], I fell into the cottage food laws…meaning I couldn’t sell my popcorn on store shelves and I couldn’t ship it if someone purchased online. So I was very limited with the types of places and things I could do to sell popcorn. That really left me with options like farmers markets and local events,” Caldwell told Hypepotamus.
She quickly got into the events circuit and tried to learn from other vendors about where the next opportunity would be to set up shop.
“I would talk to the vendors next to me and ask them: what’s the next cool event? or How how do I register? And they kind of looked at me cross-eyed because that didn’t exist. You just have to know the right people…you have to figure it out and earn your keep by being in the system long enough. And I thought that was going to break me as a small business owner.”
Small business vendors and artisans not only have to create their products; they have to find locations with good foot traffic and the right potential customers. Caldwell took matters into her own hands and started asking breweries and cideries if she could set up a table outside (because who doesn’t love a good beer with some popcorn?!).
“I thought there had to be some type of matchmaking system for vendors to find their ideal customers no matter what you’re selling, whether it’s popcorn or jewelry or beauty products.”
Such a system wasn’t out there, so Caldwell set out to bring it to life.
The result was fayVen, a startup idea born in Austin but scaled in Tampa, where Caldwell now lives.
fayVen’s website serves as a dual-sided marketplace for vendors looking for space and venues looking to host. Vendors or artisans register and venues create events that those vendors can apply to attend. In an Airbnb-like model, fayVen is ultimately facilitating the renting out of temporary retail space. The goal is to streamline the entire event process, from finding the space to securing payments.
The plan is to fully launch the site in April, said Caldwell.
The platform can also help vendors break into new geographies, test out new venue concepts, or develop opportunities to co-brand. “This is also really helpful in the military community as well,” Caldwell added. “We have a lot of people who are married to the military and they have to move with the military member. So if they own a business, they want to go out and meet people in person in the [new] community, and we want to make it easier for those people.”
While bootstrapped to date, Caldwell has been making her way through the Florida startup pitch competition circuit recently. She’s also plugged into the Tampa tech scene to help build out the technology side of the marketplace.
She said Hillsborough Community College’s entrepreneurship programs, Embarc Collective, Tampa Bay Wave, Florida Polytechnic, Florida Gulf Coast University, and other organizations for military veteran founders have been instrumental to the company to date.
The team is focused on growing in Central Florida, with plans to scale nationally. “Our ask right now is if you’re an event planner or you own a venue and you want to rent out either a corner of your store…or the sidewalk in front of your store, or even if you have a parking lot for a vendor pop up event…we want you to register.”