A Fayetteville startup headed by noted entrepreneur John James that raised millions in venture capital has mysteriously disappeared.
Computer software startup Engine has gone dark. The company is no longer accessible through its website — a visit to engineecommerce.com gets a “404: The site you were looking for couldn’t be found” message — and several company employees now list themselves as former employees on LinkedIn.
What happened to Engine is unclear. James, the company co-founder and CEO, has not responded to requests for comment. However, a source familiar with Engine who declined to be quoted directly told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal the company had a funding round fall through just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Laying off all of its roughly 25 employees was the company’s only option.
Engine began working with a few pilot customers in early 2017. Its cloud-based e-commerce software platform focused on optimizing customer acquisition and conversion rates.
In October 2018, Engine closed on a $3.5 million fundraising round. James declined to disclose the investors at the time. Earlier that year, Engine raised $1 million in venture capital. Among the company’s initial investors was Claiborne Deming, a philanthropist and chairman of the board of Murphy Oil Corp., where he was president and CEO from 1994 to 2008.
James said at the time of the $3.5 million investment, the company planned to use the capital infusion to build out its sales and engineering teams. There were 18 open positions to fill, James said, which would double the company’s number of full-time employees. In anticipation of the growth, Engine relocated its Fayetteville office from 245 E. Township St. to the Park Centre office building at 4375 N. Vantage Drive. The company signed a lease to occupy the entire second floor of the four-story building, doubling its workspace.
James is one of the most successful venture capitalists in the state’s history, having raised more than $100 million for a variety of enterprises. He is perhaps best known as founder and CEO of Country Outfitter/Acumen Brands, which made its name as one of the nation’s largest online retailers of cowboy boots.
After leaving Acumen Brands in 2015, James started Hayseed Ventures, a startup studio focused on customer acquisition and based in Fayetteville. Hayseed invested in more than a dozen startups including Menguin, a tuxedo rental website previously headquartered in Fayetteville that was bought by Men’s Warehouse founder George Zimmerman for $25 million.