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Nicklaus: Denim Social, nurtured by St. Louis' tech ecosystem, is poised for rapid growth

Nicklaus: Denim Social, nurtured by St. Louis' tech ecosystem, is poised for rapid growth

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Denim Social was present at the creation of what now constitutes St. Louis’ tech startup ecosystem.

The software company, then called Gremln, was among the first tenants in the original T-Rex technology incubator. It was an inaugural participant in the Capital Innovators accelerator program, and the first St. Louis investment made by financial-technology fund SixThirty. It was also an early investment for venture fund Cultivation Capital.

Now, after nearly a decade of being nurtured and molded by local investors and institutions, Denim Chief Executive Doug Wilber says the software company has reached a point where it could grow rapidly.

Its revenue jumped 60% last year, fueled by an acquisition and $4 million of new capital. Wilber said he expects to raise more money within a year and will add to the 20-person staff, about half of whom work at the downtown St. Louis headquarters.

Denim’s software helps banks, insurance companies and other regulated firms manage their employees’ social media posts. It’s a tough industry to break into: A handful of larger, better-funded software firms have the biggest banks locked into multiyear contracts.

Recently, Denim has won a couple of head-to-head competitions against those big rivals. “If we get an opportunity to compete, which is our biggest challenge right now, we tend to win more than our share,” Wilber said.

One selling point is that Denim is the only social media management platform endorsed by the American Bankers Association. Another is that its software includes a compliance function to make sure posts don’t run afoul of regulations.

Paul Lewis, chief marketing officer at Commerce Trust Co., said his company used to tell its financial advisers to avoid social media. It was too difficult to police whether an offhand remark about the stock market might violate some rule.

Now, using Denim’s software, 75 Commerce trust officers and advisers are posting regularly on LinkedIn. Each reaches hundreds or thousands of clients and potential clients.

“What excites us is that it allows us to streamline our advisers’ sharing of compliance-approved content with their own networks,” Lewis said. “I also like the fact that it’s easy to use.”

West Community Credit Union, based in O’Fallon, Missouri, recently signed its mortgage loan officers up with Denim. “We really want to grow our social media engagement,” said Koren Greubel, vice president of marketing, “but there are a significant number of regulations that tie in with any mortgage advertising.”

Benjamin F. Edwards & Co., a Clayton-based brokerage, found social media — and Denim — especially important during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We wanted to make it easy for advisers to stay connected with their clients,” said Doug Rubenstein, the firm’s chief operating officer. “With Denim Social, advisers could get subject matter up almost immediately. It was great for them to be able to stay connected when they weren’t meeting face to face.”

Wilber, a veteran payments industry executive, moved to St. Louis from Chicago seven years ago and became Denim’s CEO in 2018. He’s been impressed, he said, by the resources available to early-stage companies here, and Denim has taken advantage of many of them.

Wilber believes St. Louis’ roster of large companies, from Reinsurance Group of America to Mastercard to Edward Jones, make it an especially good place to launch a financial technology company. “We’re a poster child for what happens when you get a fintech embedded into the financial services community at a very early stage,” he said.

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