This little-known Arkansas founder raised $93 million and he’s speaking at Southland

By Sarah Lacy , written on April 18, 2014

From The News Desk

Sure, our Southland lineup is going to include a lot of startup legends out of places like Silicon Valley, New York, and Chicago. But we’re not just holding our first big conference in the South for the sake of the whiskey, fried food, and a killer music lineup. The goal is also to highlight uncommon entrepreneurial success stories from outside the normal tech echo chambers.

We’re going to do this with the startup competition (apply now!), but also on the main stage. I’m pleased to announce that John James, founder and CEO of Acumen Brands, will join our killer lineup that already includes Al Gore,  David Marcus, Christy Turlington Burns, Phil Libin, Aaron Levie, and many more.

You might not know James or even Acumen Brands, but General Atlantic does. It just lead a whopping $90 million round in the company last year. It was done about as quietly as $90 million can go into an Arkansas-based company, considering the sum total of venture capital the state got in the past decade, according to James, was $110 million.

I couldn't independently find numbers that went back quite that far, but MoneyTree's regional venture capital report showed Arkansas has raised less than $100 million over the last two years-- and that figure seems to include this deal.  Many quarters show zero activity. Exact numbers are always hard to track, but let's put it this way: $90 million is a shit load of venture capital for an Arkansas-based startup. A shit load.

The round mostly went to the group’s largest online commerce and content brand Country Outfitter-- not exactly a company the Valley would start but one square in the country music revival explosion. To wit: In just two years it’s amassed more than 10 million Facebook fans.

James reached out recently, mostly to express support and excitement about Southland. As he told me about what he and his partners have pulled off in a short period of time-- amid many other ecommerce flameouts from bigger tech ecosystems-- my jaw dropped further and further. I won’t spoil too much of the story here, but you can hear the whole thing at Southland in June.

Get your tickets to Southland here, or join our new Pando Membership beta and get an all-access pass for just $499.

For more on Southland, see all of our previous coverage here

[image via Country Outfitter]