Meet Your Maker: Durham’s The Looma Project Puts A Face To Your Product

A shopper selects a product featured in a video by Loop™ At-Shelf Maker Stories from The Looma Project.

If you’ve ever wondered who made the craft beer you’re enjoying during your Zoom happy hour, and why they made it, The Looma Project will not only tell you, but show you.

Loop™ At-Shelf Maker Stories by The Looma Project, led by Co-Founder and CEO Cole Johnson, brings shoppers into the world of the people who make their products.

“It’s a network of tablets we’ve installed—so these will be in grocery stores—that play short videos connecting producer and consumer with the hope of making the grocery experience more communal and farmers-market-esque,” said Johnson.

Johnson says Durham-based Looma is moving advertising away from traditional product-driven TV commercials to a more human-centric, story-driven form. A network of independent micro-documentary filmmakers produce the videos, led by Looma’s Executive Storyteller Ned Brown, who builds the story-strategy processes.

“Our ultimate aim is to really be the best in the world at what we call human-centric point-of-decision videos,” Johnson said. “It’s a small but rapidly growing niche. We think nearly every product should have a video about it, and nearly every video should feel human-centric and story-driven and not like a commercial.”

Looma considers 67 variables that they correlate to sales performance, Johnson says, when making a Loop video. These range from face-centricity (the percentage of the video when a face is in view) to interviewee likeability.

At the moment, many Loop videos feature alcohol products. Johnson says that’s because oftentimes the people who make adult beverages have a lot of charisma and interesting stories that come through in their work, while shoppers sometimes can feel daunted by choosing a wine, for example. Alcohol also has a high margin for grocery stores. But Looma is excited to expand to other products as well.

Now in 210 grocery stores—including those of partners like Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods and potential partners in Texas, Los Angeles and the Northeast—Looma gives retailers unique insights into what kind of people buy products and how the stories might influence spending habits. The company is in the process of building tools and analytics that help them optimize those metrics.

From the CUBE

Looma’s company of 19 (10 full-time and 9 part-time employees) grew out of Johnson’s idea while an undergrad at UNC. As a Chancellor’s Carolina Scholar, Johnson says he knew he wanted take the opportunity of a full-ride scholarship to start a business idea that he could pursue full-time after graduating debt-free.

He joined the CUBE, a UNC program that offers coaching and mentoring from seasoned entrepreneurs, co-working space, and seed funding for venture development. Johnson says he entered with the idea for a different organization, but halfway through his time there, the resident entrepreneur encouraged him to go further with the notion of connecting producer and consumer.

After graduating from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler in 2016, Johnson raised a seed round in January 2018 in the order of half a million dollars, with $375K coming from Cary’s Cofounders Capital. At the beginning of this month, Looma raised $1.1M from 41 investors, with plans to raise $1M more.

Looma is supplier-funded, with the company charging brands a campaign ad fee. Prices are determined seasonally with a beer campaign, for example, costing more in July than January.

Johnson says the company hopes to leverage Loop to build out an AI-assisted storytelling platform and expand distribution channels to e-commerce, partnering with online shopping platforms. Despite the potential for growth, Johnson says he is a “fan of focus,” and Loop is a big opportunity.

“The premise today is the same as it was pretty much on Day One,” Johnson said. “Our hope is to connect producer and consumer and to tell stories so people know what they do.”

About Elizabeth Moore 38 Articles
Elizabeth Moore tells the stories of the Triangle's tech startups as GrepBeat's summer intern. She is a rising junior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in journalism and Spanish. You can contact Elizabeth on Twitter (@elizltmoore) and LinkedIn.