Text messenger

Bidr has developed technology that allows bidders to use their smartphones to bid in silent auctions.

If success in business is measured in victories at startup pitch competitions, local software company Bidr is off to a good start.

The budding Mount Pleasant-based software firm has earned more than $110,000 from two such contests this year, with most of the money coming from a $100,000 investment from Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and now a well-known venture capitalist.

Bidr also aced a pitch contest at Dig South, a tech conference held in Charleston earlier this spring.

Raising money is also the premise of Bidr’s product – the more money its clients make, the more it can rake in.

Bidr has developed a mobile-based fundraising system for nonprofits that can use it to sell tickets to their events. It also enables donors to use text messages to submit offers on silent auction items even if they aren’t present and before an event starts. The online tool also relays back to bidders, also via text, information about their bids.

Mindy Taylor, the firm’s chief evangelist, recently explained the advantages over the phone to a potential customer from Raleigh. In Taylor’s office, a poster board shows that texting a four-digit code to a specific phone number is all it takes “to start bidding.”

“And that’s the key really, is to get as many people bidding prior to the event as possible so that they register that payment information. ... Primarily that’s why a lot of people choose to use us for ticketing. ... We store their payment information and they can then use that for anything at the event,” she told the caller.

The company makes between 5 percent and 8 percent of what the fundraisers take in. That amount is tied to how big or small the event is.

Bidr’s clients also can use the company to follow up with bidders and other donors later through the nonprofit.

“We’re saying everybody has a cellphone in their pocket. ... We want to kind of capitalize on that,” CEO and founder Sam Staley said.

Staley moved to the Charleston area in 1993. Originally from Newnan, Ga., he earned a degree from The Citadel. Staley has worked with a software development company called Whitemark Media, where he was a designer for apps and the Web.

He came up with the idea to start Bidr last year after a fundraiser at his kids’ school. Staley built the product for James Island Elementary’s silent auction that was a part of its “Wig and Stache Bash.”

“What we’re trying to accomplish is solving that problem of nonprofits trying to fund their operations and make more money,” he said. “And it’s exciting to see it actually happening.”

The company also is aiming to tap into the world of tiny nonprofit fundraisers, Staley said.

“What’s even more interesting though is this unknown universe of ‘Uncle Jim’s golf tournament that died five years ago,’ ” Staley said. “And the swim team or the elementary school and all these smaller events that aren’t really that small.”

Bidr’s clients have ranged from Junior League events to the American Cancer Society to Big Brothers and Sisters. One customer is in Canada.

Bidr is looking to change how charitable groups drum up financial support.

“Our big focus is kind of getting these nonprofits away from that one- or two-event a year that funds their whole operations. ... We’re trying to move them more into just ongoing campaigns,” Staley said.

The company works out of the Mount Pleasant offices of GoTo, a video company founded by Harbor Entrepreneur Center co-founder Patrick Bryant, who’s also a partner in Bidr.

Staley said the recent six-figure investment from the AOL co-founder, who was in Charleston last month to shine a light on promising startups in five Southeast cities, has brought some attention to Bidr from other investors.

“With Steve Case comes a lot of recognition,” he said. They’ve experienced “a bump in interest” following that event, he said.

The money Bidr earned at the pitch contests will go, in part, to adding employees, exploring new ideas and expanding the business, along with marketing.

“We definitely want to grow the team,” Staley said. “We’ve got tons of ideas for how we want to continue that growth and do even cooler things to help these organizations make more money.”

Reach Allison Prang at 937-5705 or on Twitter @ AllisonPrang.