Techstars Atlanta, the startup accelerator run in partnership with Cox Enterprises, has seen its first graduate successfully exit.
SAWA, a graphic design startup that went through Techstars Atlanta’s third cohort in 2018, has been acquired by email marketing platform Mailchimp. Francis Tao, SAWA’s founder and sole full-time employee, will join Atlanta-based Mailchimp to oversee the technology integration.
“It’s so fortunate that Sawa and Mailchimp met in this way because we hit it off instantly from both a product and culture perspective,” says Tao. “Sawa’s automated design technology perfectly aligns with Mailchimp’s priority to empower small businesses to punch above their weight with world-class marketing.”
A former communications and marketing manager in the non-profit world, Tao had become frustrated with the overwhelming design needs placed on him and his team. He was constantly going back to the graphic designers for additional assets, even when all he needed was a small design tweak or re-size.
“I couldn’t even fit all the needs I had into the staffing hours I could elicit,” Tao told Hypepotamus.
He founded SAWA in 2015 to lessen the burden on marketers and designers. The intelligent design platform uses artificial intelligence to learn your brand, create a profile, and automatically populate design assets, such as social media posts, email and website banners, email campaigns and more.
The platform integrated with Mailchimp last October, prior to the acquisition.
SAWA was largely bootstrapped until Tao entered the Techstars Atlanta program, which came with $120,000 of equity-based investment. By that time, the startup was already bringing in revenue, with more than 30 paying clients.
Tao was a bit of an anomaly for the accelerator program, which usually prefers founders to be technical or have a technical co-founder. Michael Cohn, then-Managing Director of Techstars Atlanta, says he immediately understood the pain point SAWA was tackling.
“As a former CMO, I understand the pain of bottlenecked creative resources. The first time I met Francis and received a demo of Sawa, I was amazed,” Cohn says. “Sawa’s ability to enable campaign managers and go-to-market leaders to create on-brand campaign graphics with just a few clicks is a product I had always wished for at my own company.”
Those involved with the Techstars Atlanta program say they see this as a positive proof point for the accelerator, which has only been around since 2016.
“This is a big win for everyone involved,” says Rachel Ford, who served as Director of the accelerator in 2018. “Francis’ vision now has immense reach to the broad customer base of Mailchimp. The alignment between company cultures is icing on the cake and we’re thrilled to see Francis continue to lead from within.”
“As for Techstars Atlanta, the entire family is excited to call SAWA the first exit of many as the community continues to grow,” Ford continues.
Kim Shriver, Cox Enterprise’s Atlanta Venture Ecosystem lead, says Cox also sees this as a successful outcome.
“This is a SAWA success story and also a success story for Atlanta’s growing venture ecosystem,” Shriver says.