2018 has been an exciting year of growth for Endeavor Atlanta. In our second year of operations we added 5 high-impact entrepreneurs to the portfolio, screened dozens of others and began building a strong community of scale-stage founders through quarterly breakfasts and monthly interviews. We thought it would be fun to grab our favorite snippets of information from each of our previous blogs and events and share them in a single post. Hope you enjoy!
Dave Keil (CEO of QASymphony) providing his advice to entrepreneurs that are scaling quickly and hitting an inflection point in their business (Full blog here):
“Three things are at the top of my list and I've learned a lot of this from having made these mistakes in my career. First: over-invest in A-players. The returns are always highly accretive to give a little more equity or pay a little more for the real top performers. Second, raise more capital than you think you need. And lastly, always have the discipline to keep "top-grading" your talent as the business goes from one phase to the next. An executive when the business is at $2M may be perfect, but may not be the right fit when you get to $10M. I think having the discipline to do that is tough but very important.”
Jeff Arnold (Co-Founder & CEO, Sharecare) on retaining talent (Full blog here):
“We employ over 750 nurses and have about 220 nurses in Maryland. Two years ago, the turnover rate was very high. Through some tactical changes, we reduced turnover by 43% last year. It was simple changes like getting them all on the same benefits package. Oftentimes it’s the little things that make the difference. When you reduce churn, it has massive positive financial ramifications on the business.”
Sharecare President, Dawn Whaley, on hiring talent as the organization scales:
“When you’re less than 100 employees, you can hire through your personal networks. Then you get to 100+ employees and you really rely on external recruiters to get any type of scale. At Sharecare we have now gone full circle. We’re at 2,400 employees and this is the first time in my career that I find we are too big for external recruiters, except for very special employment opportunities or executive hires. We have brought a team in house to do the recruiting.”
David Cummings (CEO of Atlanta Ventures) advice to entrepreneurs deciding to either bootstrap or raise money (Full blog here).
“A business is a system to put money to work and generate value. You shouldn’t raise money and then figure out how to generate value. I think bootstrapping is more conventional than people think. There are many more companies bootstrapping but don’t get recognized in today’s day and age. Here’s the way I look at it. If each dollar of investment turns into $5 of enterprise value then it absolutely makes sense to raise money. There are a small number of markets that are winner take all or winner take most. Uber needed to scale and needed money to do that, but most markets don’t operate this way. If you look at marketing automation there are tons of winners: Pardot, Hubspot, Marketo, Eloqua, Act-On, the list goes on and on. It wasn’t by any means a winner take most. As an entrepreneur you should recognize what type of market you’re in because in a winner take all market you either win the market or you lose. And losing it is worthless. Sometimes raising capital makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Stephen Pair (Co-Founder & CEO of BitPay) has raised over $72M to date. His advice to entrepreneurs on raising money (Full blog here):
Raising money is situational in my opinion. When we started BitPay we felt like this was a game changing technology and that there was a very good chance venture capital would flow into the space in a big way. We felt that if we did not take capital we would be putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage. So from day 1 we made sure we did the right things from a company formation and cap table perspective to make us an investable company. In our case the venture capitalists were just hungry to put money into this space and at the time there were very few companies that were truly investable.
It is very dependent on the type of company and industry you’re in. You very well may want to bootstrap and not take any money. You may be launching in a very mature market where you need to have some credibility in order to get venture backing. Whereas going into a new industry it’s more important that you can move fast and get innovative product out the door. Quite honestly, I don’t think there is one right answer about whether or not an entrepreneur should raise money. Using our recent Series B as an example, we decided to raise additional funds to put us in the best position to scale.
Managing Hyper Growth
George Azih (Co-founder & CEO of LeaseQuery) and Chris Ramsey (Co-Founder & SVP of Sales) on what they learned growing from 8 to 90+ employees in 18 months (Full blog here).
George: What we’ve learned is that as we grow, your problems grow with you. You have new challenges that arise. Once you cross over 50 employees, for example, you have to start dealing with Obamacare. There are different things that pop up that you would never expect. Especially HR related. Processes become super important. Fortunately, Chris is extremely process oriented because I’m not.
Chris: My biggest blind spot was around people skills. The ability to articulate a problem to your team or individual team members in the way they want it communicated. It takes time and effort to think about how an individual on your team is going to receive a piece of information. I think that’s been my biggest learning.
Boland Jones (Founder of PGi) on how entrepreneurs should think about growth.
“In the early stages of building a company, entrepreneurs are singularly focused on organic growth. They often don’t look up from their current product to truly understand what levers can be pulled to accelerate. There comes a point in a company’s journey when organic growth begins to stall and CEO’s stress to figure out what is next. This is a crucial point because executives often think they need to build a new product or enhance the current feature set in order to reignite the growth engine. What these companies don’t often think about is taking a bigger risk and exploring inorganic growth through M&A. Yes, this may be a bigger risk, but these are the types of decisions that can pay off immensely in the long run.”
Billboard Worthy Advice for Entrepreneurs
Lastly, we asked some of our entrepreneurs and board members if you could have a billboard with one piece of advice to entrepreneurs what would it be?
“The easiest part of starting a company is starting a company. Building software and launching something is easy. But you don’t have an actual company until you have a paying customer. Now that is the hard part. Getting your first dollar is the hardest part.” - George Azih, LeaseQuery
“Don’t build a product in search of a market. People tend to want to be an entrepreneur so they create problems out of thin air. This is what causes prolific pivots for startups. Plus if you’re not solving something that you had pain around or don’t believe in, are you truly going to stick it out when times get tough?” - Chris Ramsey, LeaseQuery
“I’d say make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. A lot of people love the idea of being an entrepreneur but aren’t quite familiar with the reality of being an entrepreneur. I didn’t necessarily get into this because I was infatuated with the idea of starting my own company. I really wanted to have bandwidth. I wanted the ability to create cool things and build a team of people that would work together to build it. That’s what drew me to it.” - Stephen Pair, BitPay
“Take the risk. Put yourself out there and just try it. There are so many entrepreneurs that I talk with that frankly were scared starting their business. It doesn’t always work out and it's not always pretty, but every single one of them says they learned a ton. Obviously the ones where it worked, it changed their lives. The ones where it didn’t work are always grateful they gave it a shot. You might fail and there is nothing wrong with failing. If you are a motivated self-starter that loves to learn and has a good attitude, you can find a job no problem. You don’t have to be a genius to be a successful entrepreneur, so give it a shot!” - David Cummings, Atlanta Ventures