A Four51 evolution

four51Named after the temperature at which paper burns, Four51 was founded in 1999 by Gary Nemcek, Rich Landa, and Mark Johnson — three entrepreneurs who saw a future that was essentially paperless.

Ironically, the SaaS firm got its start by serving many large customers involved with the wholesale distribution of print, promotional and office supplies — Sir Speedy, Deluxe, Staples, UltraGraphics — by providing customized ordering and management systems under the product name CommerceTools.

Bootstrapped through the startup phase, the company found profitability shortly after a $5.5m capital bump in 2003 which came in part from local firm Space Center Ventures.  CommerceTools usage would eventually grow throughout the US, reach into 40 other countries over the years, and support a staff of 40.

But after a decade of driving growth one way, the trio sought a change of direction and formed an internal task force to navigate the unknown.

“We are certainly beyond startup, but created a new orientation to define and address a real problem that many businesses began facing lately.  After so many years of delivering, you get the confidence to create new systems,” says CEO Mark Johnson (left).

The result is Fantools, a B2C social/ mobile SaaS campaign management product that launched last year to tackle the proliferation of  promotional platforms like Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Groupon, and Yelp.   Distributed franchise organizations like Wendy’s FourCrown, Senor Wongs and Figaro’s Pizza were amongst the early adopters of Four51’s new venture, which has topped 500 new accounts this year, according to Johnson.

“Measured by revenue, CommerceTools exceeds FanTools today, but measured by number of customers, FanTools is rapidly gaining on CommerceTools,” he says when asked about the product mix.

“There’s 30 million registered businesses in the US that participate in online promotional marketing.  We’re want to disrupt that number.” As such, Four51 is forecasting a 50% increase in headcount this year, targeting 60 employees to accommodate the next leg of their journey.