Sho Rust Reflects on 1ST50K and the Last Year of Startup Development

March 23, 2020

$50,000 sounds like a lot of money (and it is), but how far does it take you when you’re building a business from scratch with a team of designers and software developers?

Sho Rust was an award recipient for 2019’s round of 1ST50K alongside Nathan Holmes with Pumptrakr1 (read about his experience in 1ST50K here).2 As Sho’s year of startup development in the 1ST50K program wraps up, he sat down and shared what the experience has been like and how his business has changed.

Codefi: What is the problem you're solving with your startup?
Sho Rust: A company either has the money and resources to create a brand in-house or seeks to hire from outside the company to build a brand system or workflow. Both are costly and forever challenging with an ever-changing brand landscape. We created Sho.AI3 to level the playing field in an increasingly complex world of brand management. Until now, proven brand systems are mostly cost-prohibitive. We saw this firsthand as brand specialists, creating brand systems deployed to over 1,000 applications. The need to automate and simplify this process was obvious.

What is the solution to that problem?
Sho.AI is the smart software solution that builds and maintains brand content and its deployment. Recognizing branding is no longer just a marketing function, the ability to deliver more human and intuitive experiences across all platforms is critical to the growth and success of any modern enterprise.

At Sho.AI, we believe every company, large or small, should have the opportunity to clearly communicate their brand to the world. Sho.AI does this effortlessly while controlling cost, allowing any business, regardless of size, to compete on a level playing field.

What tech stack are you using?
Here is where we get a little geeky. Sho.AI optimizes every brand at the component and system level to deliver the best in class performance using GatsbyJS,4 React,5 DynamoDB,6 Lambda,7 Auth0,8 and ClearBit.9

Sho.AI scrapes brand data (logos, colors, images, text) from websites, social media and more to jump-start your branding process, building your brand framework in minutes. With Sho.AI you start with a framework specific to your brand and industry with the option to start simple and grow.

While the proprietary Sho.AI algorithm capitalizes on automation, this is not a templated solution. Rather, your framework is customized to a strategy and message unique to your organization and industry.

What made you apply for 1ST50K?
We heard about 1ST50K and Codefi before we decided to make Cape our headquarters. Having programs like 1ST50K made Cape the right option to build a startup while keeping overhead low.

Sho Rust

Sho Rust

What other startup development programs did you participate in or work through prior to 1ST50K?

What have your objectives been during 1ST50K? Did they change? Do you feel that you accomplished those goals?
Absolutely, with the support of Chris Carnell10 and the entire team at Codefi/1ST50K, we’ve built and deployed our software. With beta completed, we are ready to scale the business here in Cape. Having weekly meetings has helped guide smart decisions throughout the year. And Chris is advising us through our first large fundraising round.

What's been the most surprising thing you've discovered while building your startup in the last year?
Tech startups are anything but predictable. Having built startups in the past, we expected a roller coaster, but in reality, it’s more like a cage fight. Grit is required to succeed. Having to take a punch here and there is inevitable, it’s more about if you continue to fight.

What are some of your takeaways from 1ST50K?
I believe 1ST50K was a pivotal point for our company. The process in itself including the application and pitch prepared us for future conversations. It has also been great to have the resources and support that 1ST50K has provided.

What keeps you going every day?
The strong support system and encouragement provided by friends, family and significant others have really provided the strength it takes to overcome the daily challenges in building a startup from scratch. The true fuel continues to be the passion we have for achieving our mission.

What is beneficial about building your startup in Southeast Missouri? What is detrimental?
The low overhead has been tremendously beneficial to the startup. We noticed that finding local customers in a rural area has been challenging, as the majority of our customers have been located in major cities. In an early enterprise tech startup, it would be beneficial to be able to talk to customers directly, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

How do you define success for your startup?
Our mission is to connect the world with brand clarity and beauty. More tangibly, we’d like to empower more than 1,000 brands with our software by the end of 2021. The ultimate success of our startup would be to create a fully autonomous Brand System that would behave like a personalized AI Marketing Team.

What advice would you give to the next cohort of 1ST50K recipients?
We’re a bit biased since we provide digital brand guidelines to companies in order to help structure their thoughts and vision, but we truly believe that having a clear and consistent vision that stretches across the entire team is what brings a dream to fruition.


Since 2015, more than $350,000 has been awarded to 1ST50K teams that have gone on to generate $5 million in revenue and created 30+ jobs. Applications open for the next round of 1ST50K on April 1. Is your startup a good fit for 1ST50K? Here’s what we look for:

  • Coachability of the team
  • Well-defined problem you’re trying to solve
  • Product-market fit
  • Scalability of the business model
  • Innovation of the product, technology or service
  • 1ST50K impact

Apply for 1ST50K

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