Shockoe Bottom startup wants to streamline the product drop


Co-founders Willis Lam and Steven Valdez are two members of the team behind DropAlley.io, an online platform that facilitates product drops. (Courtesy of DropAlley)

A Richmond-based startup is launching a new digital service intended to improve the online flash-sale experience.

DropAlley.io, which keeps an office in the Capital One 1717 Innovation Center in Shockoe Bottom, is developing an online marketplace for so-called product drops, a marketing ploy for online retailers akin to a flash sale. A product drop advertises the impending arrival of a limited-release item, using exclusivity to drive customer interest.

The site is currently in beta testing and seeking users as it works toward a public launch, which is expected by the first quarter of 2021. That testing includes pilot runs with different brands and sets of customers.

“Once we finish running a number of diverse pilot tests with different brands, different customers, and different geographies, will we feel like we are ready to ‘open up the gate,’” said CEO Steven Valdez, who founded the firm with Willis Lam, Matt Thomas and Joe Sadaka.

After vendors and brands set up their product drop events through DropAlley, they would then direct their customers to the sale via email blasts and social media.

Customers would head to the site and enter a waitlist for the product, which could be anything from shoes to a jacket or jeans. Customers who get selected from the list have the option to buy the item. Those customers then get the option to resell it automatically through DropAlley or utilize other features of the site.

DropAlley would make its money through a combination of transaction fees and add-on features, such as consumer trend analytics. It also is betting the coronavirus pandemic and its disruptions of the retail sector has created a larger market for its service, especially for small- and mid-sized brands that need to expand accessibility of their products.

The concept was born when the four founders realized that there was seemingly no one-stop shop for streetwear product drops on the internet.

“People in that culture are accustomed to the product drop concept but they didn’t have a streamlined, differentiated way to engage with that,” said Lam, the company’s chief revenue officer.

Their business model originally included an events element, but that was trashed in the course of market research, Valdez said.

The company was founded in May as a side gig for its co-founders. Valdez works as a program, project and portfolio manager at a financial institution he declined to disclose. CRO Matt Thomas has a day job as a facilities engineer for an undisclosed company. CTO Joe Sadaka is an Uber software engineer. Lam works as a business analyst for a bank in Richmond.

The four founders are self-funding the company, though they wouldn’t say how much has been spent to date. It has a staff of nine.

In other recent tech startup news, Bookclubz, a platform that allows book clubs to communicate, has seen an uptick in interest during the pandemic. And another startup has dived into the education world looking to capitalize on the trend of virtual learning.

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