In this episode of Growth Journeys, TCV General Partner Neil Tolaney speaks with João Pedro (JP) Resende, CEO of Hotmart about:
The challenges and opportunities of bootstrapping a business in Brazil without any outside capital
How Hotmart is empowering today’s creators to pursue and monetize their passions
The value that comes with building and nurturing an engaged creator community
… and lots more.
Back in 2011, when Hotmart was created, the content available on the internet was mostly free: there was no paywall on news portals, no paid communities, and no podcast subscriptions. But JP and his cofounder understood that, at some point, things would change – and they did. Today, with the media decentralization allowed by technology and social media, everybody can create their own niche channel, build an audience, and monetize it.
By the time Hotmart turned 10 years old in 2021, it had became one of the largest companies in the creator economy. They offer an all-in-one platform that includes a global payment system, members area, sales page builder, promoters and integration tools, plus reports and analytics. The company is a global player: it is based in Amsterdam and has employees in Brazil, Spain, Colombia, Mexico, the US, France, and the UK. They offer the whole ecosystem for content creators to turn their knowledge into digital products like online courses, ebooks, and podcasts. Hotmart has built and nurtured a community of creators, who live out their passions: more than 90% of them have never sold any digital product before joining Hotmart. Today, Hotmart has more than 35 million users, over 580 thousand registered products, and sales in more than 188 countries.
Tune in to hear the Hotmart story from CEO JP Resende.
Joining a founder-led fast-growth technology company as an outside CEO isn’t an easy task. While Steve Munford had prior experience in taking the helm at founder-led companies, he started his current role as CEO of global identity verification provider Trulioo just as countries were locking down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Further complicating his new role was that when Steve joined, Trulioo was embarking on an effort to scale go-to-market and product distribution across multiple geographies.
Indeed, as companies around the world were shifting to digital customer acquisition and virtual operations, their demand for digital identity verification was burgeoning across many sectors. Trulioo helps businesses navigate the complex challenges of instant digital identity verification to support compliance requirements, mitigate risk and deliver positive onboarding experiences that minimize end-user friction.
In today’s episode of Growth Journeys, Amol speaks with Steve about how he has approached global operations at Trulioo at a time of exponential growth. He takes us through Trulioo’s strategy for understanding the nuances of the various new end-markets that it serves as it scales, and how Trulioo’s customer base is integral to how the company prioritizes go-to-market channels. Steve also provides us his best practices for building trust, communication and preserving a culture across a rapidly growing multinational organization. Steve shares how Trulioo is leveraging its core mission of empowering all seven billion people on the planet to participate in the global economy as a north star for its growth journey.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
How Steve navigated stepping into the CEO role at a company that was previously founder-led
The benefits of building a diverse workforce when expanding a company into new markets across the globe
Using customer feedback to understand new markets, prioritize product iteration, and drive growth
How Trulioo’s mission of fostering global inclusion for everyone in the digital economy has helped guide the company’s culture, product, and growth journey
To learn more, settle back and press play.
Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Amol Helekar:Welcome to Growth Journeys, a podcast series from TCV focused on lessons from the field, from entrepreneurs in the TCV ecosystem. I’m here with Steve Munford, CEO of Trulioo, a global leader in identity verification. Trulioo is on a mission to advance financial inclusion by building a robust digital identity network. Given the rise of digital services usage globally, Steve joins us to discuss the critical role that identity verification plays in underpinning trust and safety in the digital economy. Welcome to Growth Journeys, Steve.
Steve Munford: Thanks, Amol. Great to be here.
Amol Helekar:Steve, Trulioo is an identity verification services provider. For the less tech savvy out there, what does Trulioo do? Why is it important?
Steve Munford: So probably the easiest way to explain it is – think about when you signed up for an online banking account or an online trading platform. When you do that, the company you’re trying to join their platform has to establish trust or has to establish your identity. It could be for a trust and safety use case. Maybe you’re going to go and stay in someone’s house or put something on a marketplace or it could be for a compliance use case. So, think about KYC, Know Your Customer, for the financial industry or any other regulated industry.
When you go on and try to open a new account, you’re going to submit a bunch of information on a form. You’re going to give that organization permission to do some sort of identity check on you. When you submit your information, likely, Trulioo is the layer in between that, that does the identity verification.
We’re that layer in between that establishes, is Amol a real person? Is he really a resident of a certain country? Does he have that specific address? Can I verify all attributes of Amol, so that that organization can begin that relationship? We’re an identity network that links together data and an individual’s attributes from over 195 countries that enables these digital platforms to onboard customers seamlessly without seeing them.
Amol Helekar:Thanks Steve. And what made you join Trulioo? You’ve seen the evolution of cybersecurity now to include identity verification, and it’s an area that is getting a lot of attention. What made you go on this journey?
Steve Munford: I spent my previous 20 years of my career in cybersecurity and the way I like to kind of frame that is I spent 20 years trying to stop bad things from happening on your computer. Identity, as we do, is all about enabling new users to join a platform and that’s a similar type of workflow where you’re trying to make a decision on an action.
But in this case, we’re enabling good things to happen, a new customer coming onto your platform, rather than focusing on stopping the bad things to happen. What really got me excited about Trulioo is this challenge. Doing identity verification in a single country’s hard, but the challenge of doing it on a global scale is incredibly hard.
Today, there’s a lot of piecemeal solutions, a lot of regional solutions, but what Trulioo had started to build, is this truly global platform that enables us to onboard customers globally now and that’s pretty exciting. This whole industry of identity verification is getting bigger and actually the problem’s even getting harder to solve.
Amol Helekar:I know it’s becoming an increasingly big issue for a lot of companies as they advance their global growth agendas and you’re playing a really important part of it. Steve, you’ve run large and small companies around the world, but what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in different geos, across cultures, customers, teams, and approaches?
Steve Munford: I’ve run a company in the UK, I’ve had significant presences in places like Germany or in Asia, and obviously in the U.S. and in Canada. Every country operates a bit differently. There’s cultural nuances between all those different places.
Today, I think almost every company is global and if you’re going to have a global company, you need to have a diverse workforce. You need to have offices, locations, workforces, all around the world. You have to have a leadership team that is truly multicultural, diverse, and is able to motivate and understand the nuances of the cultures.
The other thing that I would say is that, if you are a non U.S.-based company, you really have to figure out how you put two feet in the U.S. Being global, in many respects, is being American, and for a tech company as well. So two lessons is one, building that leadership team that is cross-cultural or diverse. Secondly is, when you’re not in the U.S., operating a company as if you are in the U.S., and making sure you have strong teams, offices, and presence there.
Amol Helekar:Got it. Well, it sounds like a really important challenge that a lot of companies are facing as their businesses go global as well. Another interesting thing Steve, is you’ve inherited founder led businesses now multiple times. How did you go about taking over those companies while maintaining and also shaping a culture to be able to take their business to the next level?
Steve Munford: Yeah, I really have had the pleasure of working with some phenomenal founders and helping take their businesses to new places and new phases of growth. And each case is different, but there are some commonalities.
When you come into a company that’s been founder led, the first thing you have to do is understand what that founder was great at, what their DNA is and what they have done to get the company to that stage. Because ultimately, you may be working alongside the founder for a bit, but ultimately, you’re taking over the leadership from that founder. So you first have to start by asking, what is going to be missing when that founder steps aside from the business?
Secondly, as a new person coming into the company, you may have a lot of ideas, what you need to do to grow and scale the company. But you can’t take for granted that you know everything that has been done in the company, or that there are things that aren’t being done for specific reasons. When you’re taking over for a founder, you really haven’t seen everything and you really need to learn about the nuances of the company, the culture, and why they’re doing certain things.
When I’ve come in, in most cases, I’ve had the luxury of watching, learning, digesting and then slowly evolving the business, the culture, building out the team in a thoughtful way that doesn’t break all the good stuff that’s happening, doesn’t break the wonderful culture that may have started, but adds to it, and then allows a company to go to the next stage.
Amol Helekar:Yeah, and I bet it’s an especially important thing to do when you have a company growing as fast as Trulioo. Really taking over a company that has the growth trajectory when you inherit it and also continuing to drive that as it builds more and more scale, which is a fascinating thing to do.
Steve Munford: In many respects you’re a partner to the founder and before you step into the company, if you’re able to spend a lot of time getting to know each other, understanding each other’s nuances, establishing how you’re going to interact and trust and how you, when you come into the business, you’re not going to slow it down, but you’re going to accelerate it. There’s a lot of work in building that partnership, a lot of work in developing that framework for open communication.
But you’re right, especially when the company’s doing well and the goal is not to slow it down, but to further accelerate it, you’ve really got to make sure that when you step in, you’re not doing any harm, but you’re kind of setting both you and the company up to go even faster.
Amol Helekar:I think in Trulioo’s case, it was an especially interesting situation in that, you took over Trulioo right after COVID hit last March. There was so much uncertainty and you probably had to rewrite a lot of traditional playbooks in taking over the company. How did you go about doing that and what kept you going?
Steve Munford: I had the luxury of meeting the founder of Trulioo a couple of years before I joined. I got to know him over time and understand him as an individual. We had lots of good discussions about what he believed the opportunity was for Trulioo, why he felt it was time to bring in an outside leader, and work through a lot of the planning ahead of it.
But you’re right, my first day in the office was just as COVID hit. It actually wasn’t in the office, it was in my basement. I jumped in assuming, like many people, that COVID was going to last a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months on the outset.
It was kind of a little bumpy at the beginning, but there were some benefits to it. The first one was, I set the goal for myself of meeting 50 people in the first 25 days at the company. When the company was operating over zoom, that was actually pretty easy to do. You would set up Zoom meetings and you were meeting people in Vancouver or in other locations around the world. It was really easy to connect with a lot of people, very, very quickly. That’s point one.
Two is, one of the things that we needed to do as a company is really expand globally. The company was very largely headquartered in Vancouver, and we needed to build a go-to-market and technical capacity, add leaders to the organization, add capacity to the organization, and put two feet in Europe. When you start to open up other offices, I found that because everyone is used to working in a single office, working together in person, the people in those new offices feel like they’re not included in all conversations, or all decision making.
When the world went all remote, opening up new offices or onboarding people in different geographies actually got a lot easier. We learned to work with each other across time zones. For a business, it was interesting because, we talked earlier about why is identity important? Well, if everything goes online, you have to have a layer of identity services to enable that to happen.
The world went online really quickly and so we saw an incredible demand in our business. We were actually running, once COVID hit, in helping to enable our customers to do new workflows online. A lot of new interest in our products and services came onboard. So, yeah, it was an interesting year.
Amol Helekar:You can say that again. And you know, one of the things we’ve talked about, Steve, is how Trulioo is a mission-driven company and really being able to drive financial inclusion all over the world.Could you talk a little bit about how Trulioo helps foster financial inclusion at a global scale?
Steve Munford: Our mission is financial inclusion. We believe ultimately if we are successful, all 7 billion people around the world will be able to participate in the global economy. That’s pretty empowering for people that are in developing countries or far remote locations, because they may have an identity that’s not available digitally.
If we can enable those folks to get online, twofold. One is, they can participate in the global economy, but two is, people offering services and products can reach them and onboard them as customers or employees or whatever they may want to do. We are a mission-driven company and ultimately I think our customers appreciate that because when we go out about helping them do their jobs, we’re coming at it from a place of purpose. And I think that really comes through.
Amol Helekar: It’s a very powerful mission, and one that we feel like we’re still in the very early innings of seeing that play out globally. It’s an exciting spot for the company to be in today.
Steve Munford: Yeah, I think overall the identity industry is in the early innings. Today much of the solutions out there, they only work in a single geography, siloed as they may just do one part of the digital onboarding process. A standalone document verification product, or a standalone fraud solution, or a standalone biometrics checking solution.
The reality is the world needs a platform. They need a platform that is global and a platform that allows you to do that end-to-end identity journey and be flexible depending on the industry, depending on the regulatory environment and depending on the specific goals of the business. That doesn’t exist today. I think we probably have the closest it comes to having a global platform today, but there’s a lot more we need to do. That’s the journey we’re on.
Amol Helekar:It’s a fascinating journey. Over the past couple of years, you’ve been on a really powerful growth journey with a lot of acceleration through the pandemic. From the series D funding round earlier this year, to your 10th year anniversary that you also celebrated this fall.How did you use your past experience to steer Trulioo through this period of hypergrowth?
Steve Munford: One of the keys to our success has been listening to our customers. We really have had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest brands across the verticals that we serve. These customers are incredibly sophisticated. They themselves have growth ambitions and plans that are incredibly ambitious. For us, having built that trusted relationship with these platforms, they guide us to where we need to go.
They guide us to the countries that they want to move into next. They guide us to how they see the identity landscape changing, or maybe where fraud is coming from, or where the regulatory environment is going. Through that dialogue, we’re able to really help prioritize our roadmap, prioritize where we need to innovate ourselves, prioritize areas that we should partner with.
That’s one piece. Second thing, I think how you survive during this time of hyper-growth and doing it during a time where we’re often not together is really establishing the culture of the company, establishing that communication.
Once COVID hit, we went to bi-weekly company meetings. We really stepped up how we were communicating with people. It required a lot of work, but in any business, if you’re going through hypergrowth, communication is key. Doing that when you’re largely doing it over Zoom or remotely, is even more key.
Amol Helekar:Thanks Steve. So, you’ve been the CEO of multiple companies, serving a lot of different types of customers in different segments of the software industry. What’s your most important lesson as a CEO?
Steve Munford: Maybe I’ll give you two. One is, the longer you’re at it, the more you realize it’s all about the team. Bringing on board the right team with the right culture and the right capabilities is incredibly important. Not just thinking about the team you need today, but the team you’re going to need in one, two, or three years. Ensuring that you’re bringing on the leaders that are able to scale and culturally you’re able to work with, and you believe are the leaders of the future of the company. Because changing out leaders, or not having enough bench strength can be a huge, huge inhibitor to growth.
The second point is, ultimately it’s all about great products and establishing product market fit. One of the things that I learned early on is, there’s a lot of false positives out there. You can win one large deal, or you can catch some kind of mistake by your competitor, and you’d be able to capitalize on some unique market opportunity. That doesn’t always mean you got product market fit. So, build great products, ensure you’ve got product market fit and build the right team, and that’s going to allow you to scale.
Amol Helekar:As you’ve put together the team at Trulioo, what are some of the key cultural traits that you’re emphasizing, both with your new executive hires and with the Trulioo team more broadly, as you continue to build the business as a really innovative product company and a company that’s capable of driving this market into the future?
Steve Munford: Certainly, you look for folks that have demonstrated the capacity and the desire to work at scale and work at speed. I think there is a pattern matching that goes on when you look at who you’re adding to the team. Have they done this type of thing before? And did they really like doing it? Because that in itself sets the standard for what “good” looks like and they set the pace and the ambition of the company. I think that’s one important part.
Culturally, there’s really three key values that we’ll talk about as a leadership team that I think are critical. Open communication. Second is operating with velocity. And thirdly is taking ownership for what you do.
As a CEO I have to communicate good or bad, everything in a very open, transparent way. The leadership team needs to do the same. If we can do that, then I think we start establishing trust and we avoid making bad decisions. Secondly, velocity, as a young company or a company that’s trying to be disruptive, is one of our key differentiators or reason that we should win, but if speed is without direction, you run around in circles.
With the executives, you want to make sure that they are very complete in their thinking. They can analyze problems. They can understand when to make a quick decision where they need to be more thoughtful, but ultimately, they can balance off that speed and direction and do both. I think that’s really critical because ultimately it is the leadership folks that set their priorities and set the direction.
Then lastly, taking ownership. We’ve all seen this before, is that the great executives like good or bad, they own their mistakes. They’ll actually share ownership of their success often. But they lead by example, and they take ownership for what they do, and they demand that level of accountability within their teams.
Amol Helekar:We can see that in spades in the type of products and the experience you’ve been able to drive within Trulioo and for your customers and that’s been so critical to Trulioo’s success over the past few years. Steve, thank you. This has been an educational and really inspiring discussion. It was great to have you on Growth Journeys and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with the audience out there. And thanks to all of you for listening.
Steve Munford: Thanks Amol, been a pleasure.
Scaling a company can sometimes feel like a high-speed dash to the top, making it easy to prioritize activities that yield immediate growth. But it can also take time to educate the industries that a company is transforming with tech, and even more time to build trust with prospective customers. These were headwinds facing Clio, today’s leader in cloud-based legal software, when it introduced the first ever SaaS legal practice management software for attorneys.
When Clio launched in 2008, digital transformation was already driving an increasing number of industries towards cloud adoption. Yet in the legal industry, the question wasn’t which product to use. Instead, it was whether attorneys could be convinced that cloud-based applications were usable and secure enough to become part of their core operations. To foster acceptance around the concept of cloud-based legal software, the Clio team knew they had to plan for the long game by investing significant time into educating its market.
In this episode of Growth Journeys, Clio CEO and Founder Jack Newton joins TCV Principal and Clio board member Amol Helekar to discuss why Clio invested in educating an industry that is known for slow adoption as they climbed to the top and became the market leader for cloud-based legal technology.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
Why Clio invested in actively educating its market, rather than waiting for the market to come to them
How a strong partnership strategy can become an impenetrable moat
Choosing a mission statement that can foster growth
How to draw clients, employees, and investors into your mission
Jack’s tips on fundraising later rounds
To learn more, settle back and press play.
Please find the transcript below, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Amol Helekar: Welcome to Growth Journeys, a podcast series from TCV focused on lessons from the field from entrepreneurs in TCV’s network. I’m Amol, a principal at TCV, and I’m here with Jack Newton, CEO and co-founder of Clio.
Jack has been instrumental in driving adoption for cloud-based technology in the legal industry. In 2008, he brought the first SaaS legal practice management application to market. Today, Clio is a market leader and the only end-to-end solution for law firms.
As an investor and advisor to early-stage startups, Jack is a nationally recognized speaker and author of the bestselling book: The Client Centered Law Firm. I’m really excited to chat with Jack about how to get a business off the ground in times of uncertainty, how to foster a strong community and how to galvanize the team around a joint mission. Thanks for joining me, Jack, and welcome to Growth Journeys.
Jack Newton: Thanks for having me, Amol, happy to be here.
Amol Helekar: Jack let’s rewind back to 2008. When you founded Clio, you were the first to market cloud-based legal practice management software at a time when businesses were really hunkering down. On top of this, you had a baby on the way, and were working with your co-founder, who is hundreds of miles away in Vancouver.
Talk about a challenge! Many would have shied away, and yet you saw an opportunity there. How did you do it and what kept you going?
Jack Newton: Yeah. Great question, Amol. And what we saw back in 2008 was obviously a really tough macro environment from a financial crisis perspective. Fundraising was extremely difficult, people were really hunkering down and battening down the hatches for the impact of the great recession.
But we also saw at this point in time, a unique opportunity to bring the cloud to legal. When Rian and I came up with the idea for Clio back in 2007, what we saw with the advent of the cloud was a really clear signal that this was a technology and an approach to delivering software that was going to transform virtually every industry in the world.
Amol Helekar: Yeah. And it’s been quite the journey ever since. You know, it’s one thing to identify a market opportunity, but it’s entirely different to convince skeptical customers that there’s a real need for your product. How did you win customers over?
Jack Newton: Yeah, I would say in the early days of launching Clio, we had some customers just rush to the product and give us feedback along the lines of: “I’ve been waiting for somebody to develop a solution like this for me. Thank you. I’m all in.” And they were our most enthusiastic early adopters and that was obviously a very low friction process.
But for a large majority of the early customers we started onboarding there was obvious advantages to the cloud from an affordability perspective, from a total cost of ownership perspective, from an ease-of-use perspective, all of those things were obvious advantages to the cloud. But what was less clear back in 2008, 2009, was whether it was ethically acceptable for lawyers to put their practice in the cloud and to put really sensitive client data in the cloud. They have a very high bar with regard to privacy and security that they need to meet when they adopt and deploy IT infrastructure into their practice.
What we realized pretty early on in that growth journey was we’re going to need to get ahead of that conversation. We’re actually going to need to lead that conversation and educate the space around the security and ethics of cloud computing as it relates to legal professionals. And that was a big lift. We put a lot of energy into thought leadership, into speaking on this across the country, putting on seminars and writing white papers and even advocating at the bar association level for ethics rulings relating to cloud computing. And in the end, we ended up being successful in educating the market on cloud computing and really helping drive cloud adoption in legal, which is traditionally a pretty slow adopter of new technology.
Amol Helekar: Yeah. And I know it takes a lot of effort to build that type of trust amongst your customer base. And you know, something that a lot of people talk about is building a community. How do you go about doing that? What are the steps and how do you maintain momentum?
Jack Newton: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think when you’re really trying to transform an industry and how it operates, what we realized pretty early on in Clio’s growth journey is that the product isn’t enough. Just having great technology is part of the solution, but it’s not enough to actually drive that true transformation in how an industry operates.
What we realized was we needed to spark a revolution in legal and a revolution in how lawyers thought about delivering legal services to their clients and how they embraced technology as a really foundational and integral part of the value they’re delivering to their clients.
And we’ve spent a decade building this movement around digital transformation in legal, and also around this concept of a client-centered law firm that is thinking about the way they deliver legal services in a completely different way.
This is something we also realize is bigger than any one company can do. We’ve built a huge integration network with over 200 integration partners that have built on top of the Clio platform. We’ve locked arms with bar associations from around the world to help bring the message around digital transformation and client-centered lawyering to lawyers as well.
Amol Helekar: A decade is a long time to build that type of community, but you guys have put a lot into it. Along the way, how did you know you were on the right track?
Jack Newton: I think one of the really early signals is that you’re seeing the snowball effect build from year to year. And I think one of the really important messages for our listeners today is that this doesn’t happen overnight. When you’re making the kinds of investments that we have been at Clio on thought leadership, on building this community, on building customers that will shout from the rooftops about your product, but also help enroll additional customers in the movement that you’re helping drive.
Partnerships are another example that take years to forge. But once you have those relationships built, you’re building a really defensible moat around your business.
Whether it’s through social channels, or other forms of engagement, you’re seeing evidence that the number of people that are enrolled in the movement and the community you’re trying to create is growing over time. And importantly, you’ve got a high net promoter score and they’re pulling more of their colleagues into the fold.
Amol Helekar: Yeah, that’s fascinating. I know one of the aspects of the community is the Clio Cloud conference, which is now the largest legal tech gathering in North America. What is the event all about and what made you invest the time and money to build it to where it is today?
Jack Newton: Yeah, it’s another great example of one of these investments that takes time to build. It’s the largest legal technology conference in North America. And it’s something we’ve put a huge amount of energy in over the last nine years to make successful.
And if we rewind all the way to the very first year we did the Clio Cloud Conference, it was very humble. It was just over 200 attendees and a very modest venue in Chicago, Illinois. We had 4,000 attendees at our virtual edition of the Clio Cloud Conference last year. We had over 2,500 attendees at the in-person Clio Cloud Conference in San Diego the year before that. And it’s an event that is just so energizing for both our attendees and our employees that attend this conference and just get so energized and excited by the opportunity to connect with both our customers and the prospects that attend this conference.
The way we frame this conference with attendees is really this conference is not about Clio. This conference is about innovation and thinking about what the next 10 years of innovation in legal will look like. It’s really a gathering of the best and brightest minds in legal coming together and what’s amazing for Clio is we’ve become an intrinsic part of that discussion. The conference is continuing to build year over year, and I can’t wait to get back to an in-person conference next year for our 10th year anniversary.
Amol Helekar: Yeah. Having attended the Clio Cloud Conference for the past few years now, I can attest to how inspiring it is for customers, employees, and investors too. Everything we’ve talked about is about community building, but it’s also part of your mission to transform the legal experience for all. What does that mission mean to you?
Jack Newton: The mission is really an important part of everything we do at Clio and it’s really become a north star for our company, our employees and our customers attached to our mission. That mission, which is to transform the legal experience for all, is number one, big and audacious.
At the heart of this is a massive access to justice gap. And one of the statistics that I was blown away by the first time I heard it, is that 77% of consumers that had a legal issue, did not see that legal issue resolved by a lawyer. And I describe this as the latent legal market. This is a vast market that is not currently being served by how legal services are delivered today. What I see as the opportunity is to better connect the millions of consumers that have legal issues with lawyers that can help them solve those legal issues.
Jack Newton: But to do that, we both need to create more efficiency and ease around accessing legal services in the first place. Most consumers are scared off by how lawyers price their services. They’re scared off by the idea of paying 400 plus dollars an hour to arrive at a solution to their legal problem. We believe what Clio, in particular, and what technology in general will enable law firms to do is to deliver their services in a much more efficient way. In a way that is more affordable and accessible by the average consumer, that automates big parts of what is done manually today.
And importantly is delivered over the internet. What we’ve seen over the course of Clio’s 10-plus years of growth is a very steady march away from on-premise law systems and bricks and mortar law firms toward a new cloud-based era where lawyers are delivering their legal services online and they’re delivering them in a client-centered way.
Ultimately, we believe being a cloud based and client centered law firm is what is going to unlock our ability to achieve this audacious mission to transform the legal experience for all.
It’s something that inspires not just “Clions,” which is our nickname for our employees, but also inspires our customers and inspires our broader integration partners. Because everyone understands that this mission is so deeply important and something that is going to be good for the public.
But it’s also, if we execute on this well, going to help make lawyers more successful. It’s going to help make lawyers feel like they’re truly bridging that access to justice gap that frustrates so many lawyers today.
It’s a big audacious mission. It’s exciting. It’s so multifaceted in terms of how we’re realizing it. But it is something that inspires our team on a daily basis.
Amol Helekar: Absolutely. And you know, some companies simply put a mission statement on their website, but Clio is really embracing yours. So how did you put that mission into practice across your business?
Jack Newton: I think when you arrive at a mission that is truly resonant with your team and you see the impact and inspiration it can drive in your team, you need to make it a part of your daily discourse. And that’s exactly what we’ve done at Clio.
We’re making decisions around how much this helps accelerate our ability to achieve our mission.
I believe that there’s also a huge role in the importance of the mission as it relates to recruiting. There’s an increasingly large percentage of the talent that’s out there today that is not just looking for pay and benefits as the important factors they’re looking at in the company they choose to work for.
We’re able to recruit the best talent on the planet in large part, thanks to a mission that is powerful and resonant. I really can’t understate how important that is to the overall success of a company, especially when you’re thinking in the long-term and thinking about building a multi-decade company.
Amol Helekar: I can tell you’re really passionate about it and how important it is to Clio’s success. You know, some people feel there’s a tradeoff between tackling the mission or driving growth. You’ve seen both tremendous growth and progress against achieving your mission. What’s your secret to achieving that?
Jack Newton: So, yeah, Amol completely agree. I think we’ve been really successful in pursuing both a mission that resonates and driving extraordinary growth and, and rather than being at odds with each other, I think in a lot of ways we’ve actually seen these be in service of one another. What we really talk about is, is our growth is what enables us to have broader impact and to achieve our mission.
The energy needs to go into finding how you can actually build, a bit of a flywheel where the progress you’re seeing on your mission and the team, and customers, and the broader movement that is helping attach to your mission is actually helping drive your overall flywheel of growth.
Amol Helekar: It’s something that Clio has put a lot of effort into and has been able to execute against. You know, over the years you’ve grown tremendously and successfully raised your series D and E rounds. Any advice you’d give to entrepreneurs who are fundraising?
Jack Newton: Yeah, absolutely Amol. One thing is you need to be executing really well and have a long-term vision that you’re talking about with investors and hopefully inspiring them in a way that they want to be part of that story and part of that mission and want to be partners with you in realizing that mission.
If you look at how lawyers practice today in the year 2021. In a lot of ways, it’s not that different from how they were practicing in the year, 1981. And when you’re looking at that scale of transformation, that scale of opportunity, it can be just such a gigantic opportunity that is hard for investors not to get excited about the opportunity.
The second piece, I think that is really exciting about the Clio opportunity in particular, but in general, something entrepreneurs can think about when they’re fundraising is, are you driving the kind of transformation in your industry that will actually expand the TAM of your customers? As a first step, can you expand the TAM of what your customers are able to address?
And with Clio, if we’re successful in our mission, we’re going to allow our customers to address that latent legal market which will vastly expand the TAM of the legal industry. Which in turn will expand our TAM as well. So that’s been one part of our story that I think is, is really powerful and exciting.
But Amol maybe you’re best positioned to comment on, on what attracted you to Clio in particular and what attracts you to companies in general. What advice do you have for other mission-driven founders and entrepreneurs?
Amol Helekar: I think to your point, investors are really recognizing how important it is for companies to have a strong vision and a culture that supports their growth agenda. So being mission-driven is not only great for the broader community. It also leads to stronger company culture, a deeper focus on the product and the customer experience and brand.
And ultimately this is in service of the company’s growth over time and can differentiate it in the market as it has for Clio. My advice to other entrepreneurs is to lean into their company’s mission statement and really incorporate that statement into the company’s products and growth strategies and to consider it central to their culture, rather than at odds with the growth agenda.
Jack Newton: I love that.
Amol Helekar: Jack, thank you. This has been an incredibly educational and inspiring discussion. It was great to have you on Growth Journeys today. And thanks to all of you out there for listening.
Jack Newton: Thanks for having me, Amol. It was a great conversation.
Revenue is the lifeblood of any business, yet sales planning in a fast-moving tech world is easier said than done. It includes art and science: to succeed, sales leaders need to be both, creative executers and analytical thinkers. New competitors can launch into your markets more easily than ever, while SaaS business models are making it harder to land and expand enterprise-wide contracts. In this timely episode of Growth Journeys, long-time B2B sales leader Mark Smith (NetScreen, Infoblox, Arista, Rubrik) shares veteran advice on sales planning with Kunal Mehta, a principal in TCV’s Portfolio Operations team. Key take-aways include basing near-term forecasts on long-term fundamentals and applying the power of propensity models to predict sales success. Mark and Kunal also explore the secrets of hiring and motivating successful salespeople, why technology is changing the sales cycle, and how to think about 2021:
Using shared data and definitions to integrate sales planning and execution
Leveraging sales recruiting for business development
Aligning engineering and marketing in support of sales plans
Why the pandemic is a tailwind for tech companies
How the SaaS model gave birth to customer success management
For all this and much more, settle back and press play.
Newsela’s founders were educators who imagined the equivalent of Spotify or Netflix for educational content in schools. They designed their SaaS offering for the practical realities of classroom instruction, seeded it with teachers across the country, and then leveraged teacher advocacy to win district-level contracts. When it looked like their high growth could be derailed by school closings during the pandemic, they pivoted to giving content away to demonstrate solidarity with their customers – and reached two-thirds of all schools in the country. Now Newsela is firmly entrenched in the new normal for K-12 education: laptops for every kid, bandwidth for every classroom, and customized, teacher-friendly content that helps dissolve differences in learning levels among students in the same grade. In this podcast, TCV’s Dave Eichler and Newsela co-founder and CEO Matthew Gross to unpack the secrets of the company’s success:
What separates Newsela from other ed tech companies, both during the pandemic and beyond.
How Newsela turned its users into a vast virtual marketing force.
How to succeed at giving away your product strategically – even if you could still charge for it.
Why playbooks are better than plans in a crisis.
How to overcome cultural and structural barriers to greater diversity in recruiting and hiring.
For all this and much more, settle back and press play.
By early 2020, 13-year-old Varsity Tutors was strongly positioned as the largest live learning platform in the U.S., dedicated to connecting students and professionals with personalized instruction.
Then the pandemic impacted demand, due to social distancing and parents balancing home-schooling children and working from home. After taking quick action to ensure business continuity, Varsity Tutors went back on offense, expanding its offerings to support customers who were adopting technology at a fast pace.
The company moved its core tutoring business entirely online, vastly increased small class offerings, and introduced new options such as free live large classes. Customers responded enthusiastically and Varsity Tutors kept innovating, with virtual summer camps, engaging content delivered by celebrities, and a new program, School@Home, that can fully replace conventional schooling — including accreditation consultation, so pupils can advance to the next grade. What began as a crisis had become a crucible of creativity.
In the latest episode of Growth Journeys, Heidi Robinson, Chief Product Officer at Varsity Tutors, and TCV Principal Beth Knuppel explore a range of topics that can spark ideas for product leaders everywhere:
How to successfully rally and redirect talent into new responsibilities.
How to “predict the weather” in times of high uncertainty, so you can develop the right products at the right time.
Why looking at your business-like Lego® blocks can unlock greater flexibility and adaptability.
Principles for successful product design and development in an increasingly virtual world.
Why using your own products is the best way to understand your customers.
For all this and much more, settle back and press play.
Barry McCarthy was CFO at Netflix and Spotify during periods of explosive growth, and he took both companies public – in different ways. Our latest episode of Growth Journeys pairs exceptional operator Barry McCarthy with veteran investor Woody Marshall, a Spotify board member and TCV General partner. Together they explore how “visionary” founders and CEOs need to be able to see the future while staying grounded in the present, and how strategic CFOs develop their own ability to see around corners and help the team navigate both choppy waters and growth opportunities in finance and operations. McCarthy and Marshall then apply these lessons to the timely topic of managing in a crisis, and the critically important relationship between CEOs and their boards of directors. Take-aways include:
Three fundamental leadership qualities exemplified by Reed Hastings and Daniel Ek.
How McCarthy learned to staff and task his team for challenges that were still months in the future.
How taking risks separates industry leaders from the pack.
Why Spotify went public with a direct listing – and why others are following its lead.
The single most important adjustment that leaders must make in a crisis.
The invisible but essential quality that binds CEOs and their boards of directors
For all this and more, settle back and press play.
At GoFundMe, 2020 started with the celebration of a new chapter, a ten-year milestone, and the welcoming of new CEO Tim Cadogan. When the coronavirus pandemic began to spread globally, Cadogan, then in his first week as CEO, acted decisively to safeguard employees by implementing work from home and galvanized the team to quickly innovate to support the GoFundMe community in its mission of inspiring hope and changing lives through giving. In this wide-ranging discussion, Cadogan and TCV General Partner Woody Marshall, a GoFundMe board member, discuss:
How GoFundMe’s global community has responded to the coronavirus pandemic and how the company has adapted to meet the surge of activity
How GoFundMe seeks to create a seamless fundraising experience by balancing efficiency and safety
How to learn a global business from top to bottom, build relationships, and earn trust – remotely – in a short period of time
Essential qualities of culture for mission-driven companies
The importance of honest and open communication within a company, with a board, and with a community
For all this and much more, settle back and press play.
Todd Piett joined a start-up called Rave Wireless to lead marketing and, on his way to becoming CEO in 2017, helped the company pivot from higher education communications to mobile safety applications. Now called Rave Mobile Safety, the company posted its tenth straight year of revenue growth in 2020, driven by innovative apps for smart 911 service, school panic buttons, and emergency alerts on corporate campuses. Todd is an articulate proponent of the principle that safety is a human right, which government and other large organizations have a duty to ensure. In this Growth Journeys podcast, Todd and TCV GP Kapil Venkatachalam discuss the evolution of “citizen safety,” how Rave successfully changed its business model, and how the company is innovating to bring modern communications to a traditional customer base. Other themes in the conversation include:
Why safety is at the core of many fundamental human rights
How technology has evolved to transform citizen safety systems
How safety apps differ from most others
Keeping a management team intact in a dynamic, high-growth environment
How schools are adapting Rave apps for COVID-19 challenges
For all this and more, settle back and click play.
Shanna Tellerman is a two-time Founder and CEO. Her current company, Modsy, is a virtual home interior design service that provides 3D photorealistic renderings of the home space, where all items within the design are 100% shoppable and users can purchase all in one place. In this Growth Journeys podcast, Shanna traces her evolution from math-loving fine arts major to entrepreneur by way of 3D technology and venture investing at Google. Tina Hoang-To, Executive Vice President at TCV, also has both CEO and venture experience, so this lively conversation is filled with lessons of:
Founding and leading businesses and raising capital
Building and scaling high-performing teams
Integrating technology and design
Succeeding as a working parent
Forging a successful partnership with investors
For all this and more, settle back and click play.
Tina Hoang-To: Welcome everyone to Growth Journeys, a
podcast series from TCV focused on lessons from entrepreneurs and founders in
the TCV ecosystem. I’m Tina Hoang-To, Executive Vice President at TCV, and I’m
here with Shanna Tellerman, Founder and CEO of Modsy, a leading virtual home
interior design service. Shanna and I met five years ago, when I was CEO of
Wedding Spot and she was a partner at Google Ventures. Then we traded sides. I
re-joined TCV as an investor last year and reconnected with Shanna. Fast
forward a few weeks later…TCV led the Series C in Modsy and I joined the board.
Shanna, looking forward to having you today to share your story. Welcome to
Shanna Tellerman: Thank
you. Excited to be here.
Tina Hoang-To: Shanna, let’s start from the
beginning. You have a pretty unique journey from having a fine arts major at
Carnegie Mellon to venture capitalist to CEO of Modsy. What changed for you in
those early years to put you on an entrepreneurial path?
Shanna Tellerman: I
definitely did not have any original intention of going into venture capital or
even technology. I was a big fan of both art and math and science, and I was
always looking for the place where these two things intersected. And I tried a
bunch of ways that felt kind of
superficial to me until during my time at Carnegie Mellon, I took this
class called Building Virtual Worlds, which was very early days virtual
reality. Crazy headsets. Low resolution. And that class was, for me, the
changing point in my life. I figured out that you can combine all of these
things into 3D and graphics and consumer experiences and pave the way to new
ideas working on this interdisciplinary team. And for me, it was like,
“Check, check, check.” It hit every box. I had so much fun. And it
veered me from going through this path of selling art in New York to “I am on a
path to starting companies, founding businesses, and working in technology.”
Tina Hoang-To: So
your first company was Sim Ops. Tell me the story behind that.
Shanna Tellerman: I
was in Carnegie Mellon in graduate school and I was working on a technology
that I just couldn’t imagine leaving behind and taking a job. And that technology was game technology
that was being used to train emergency responders. And we were working with emergency
responders all over the country
and actually all over the globe. I had a professor who recommended,
“Why don’t you start a business around this?” And I thought,
“Sure. Why not? How hard is that?” And there I was, three months
later, and he gave us a $10,000 loan and I had set up my very first business.
And we were taking the technology out of the university and essentially using
it to train emergency responders.
Tina Hoang-To: And what were some of the toughest
challenges you faced as a young, first-time CEO with Sim Ops?
Shanna Tellerman: I
think I faced almost every challenge that you can face as a first-time founder.
I joke but it’s kind of serious that I made every mistake you can make from the
way you structure the company to the way you divide up your equity. And the
good news was that you can make a lot of mistakes as long as you recover very
quickly and learn from them. And so I made all kinds of mistakes. The biggest
challenge that I faced as a young entrepreneur I think was having no credibility.
I had never worked. I had no experience. I had gone to graduate school. And I
both had no credibility plus no experience to say, “This is how things
should be done.” And so for me, I think – rightly so – investors who were looking at my business said,
“It’s interesting technology, but are you the right person to lead this
company?” And I came into work every day being like, “Am I right
person to lead this company? I don’t know.” And over the years building
out that confidence for myself but also for investors was probably the hardest
part of the journey.
Tina Hoang-To: So selling your company is a big
decision. How did you know M&A was the right path for Sim Ops and yourself
at that moment in time when you did sell the company?
Shanna Tellerman: Yeah.
I mean, the moment of an exit is the moment of many, many, moments prior,
right? And for me, the path of Sim Ops was a path of lots of learnings. I
started out of graduate school. I didn’t plan to become an entrepreneur. And
then we hit fundraising issues, technology and product fit challenges, me
moving to the West Coast, and then the downturn. A massive recession hit, and
we had to raise our Series A during that. And I probably pitched 60 to 70
investors and somehow did raise a Series A during this downturn when nobody
else was getting funded. So there we were a year later and Autodesk had been a
partner that we had been talking to for a long time, and they wanted to buy the
company, and I was thinking about, “Do I go out and raise a Series B or do
I take this path?” And for me, at that moment I was like, “I’m ready
for the next chapter. And that was a very, very tough road. And this is a
really great company to keep doing what we’re doing and to have it impact an
even broader set of people.” So for me, that was the right moment but it
was a tough choice.
Tina Hoang-To: You built Sim Ops and then you’re CEO
of Modsy. In between, I’m sure you’ve built a lot of confidence in operations.
Tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned along the way.
Shanna Tellerman: That’s
a great question. I actually believe first that you learn the most by mistakes.
So when you make a mistake and then you recover and you’re able to course-correct
from that mistake, to me it’s the center of confidence, because now you’re not
fearful when you’re making choices because you know that you’re going to make
bad choices. But as long as you can quickly react and maneuver from those
choices, you’re going to be okay. For me, that’s been one big piece at the
center. The second most important part for me of building confidence has been
learning to be really myself. I think that when you start a company especially
if you’re really young and you don’t know what you’re doing you like to put on
this pretense that, “I’m a manager. I’m a founder. I am somebody who can
run a business.” And most people don’t feel that level of confidence. And
ironically being completely transparent and vulnerable and sharing the things
you do know and don’t know build a tremendous amount of trust with your
employees and with your investors and with your partners. And you’re able to
build on that confidence of “These
are the things I actually do know. I know how to do them.” And then these ones
I don’t and I’m okay with that. And people are going to give me feedback and
I’m going to learn and I’m going to evolve. And then I get to be just myself.
Tina Hoang-To: What was your experience like once Sim
Ops was acquired by Autodesk? How was that
integration process? And I’m sure that’s a big transition to go from a really
small team to such a large organization.
Shanna Tellerman: The
experience for me going from acquisition to working at Autodesk was definitely a
night-and-day difference. We were, at that point, a 12-person company and I
went into Autodesk which was thousands of people, multiple offices, global
company. I had never worked for a company and I had never had a manager before
in my life. And so it was a transition at every single level of your work
experience. There was nothing that was the same anymore. The experience for me
though was amazing because, one, my first manager ever was actually an amazing
manager, somebody I still turn to today for advice. And the company was just
really full of incredibly intelligent, really humble people who were super-passionate
about the same kinds of things I was passionate about — like 3D and graphics
and this world of transformation into the cloud. And so the baseline of those
things that were aligned between me and them made it this incredible adventure —
many acquisitions don’t go that way. But
for me, I felt like I just got to absorb and I got to learn and I got to work
with great people. It was incredible.
So, Tina, I know you also went through the experience of an
exit. I’m so curious. It was probably a totally different experience for you.
What was it like? What were your lessons learned?
Tina Hoang-To: I think very similar to you. I think
at every point in time as a founder when you’re thinking about fundraising,
you’re also thinking about the strategic options, right? It’s a tough decision.
When you build your company it’s sort of your baby. So letting that go I think
was really hard for me. And very similar to you I thought “Hey, I’ve built
this, this far. There’s a new chapter that might be better partnered with
someone else.” And I think that was the right choice, and I still believe
it’s the right choice.
Shanna Tellerman: So,
Tina, I know that we also have the same common path that was a little unusual,
a little untraditional. You went from selling cars in college to becoming a CEO
and then back to being an investor. Tell me a little bit about how that path
Tina Hoang-To: Well, it’s a lot of lessons along the
way. But since you mentioned my car selling days, one of the biggest things
that I’ve learned throughout my career is that being good at sales is something
that got me very far. And I think that’s important to everybody in their
career. When I was CEO, I felt like every day I was playing a sales role. When
recruiting talent, you’re selling your culture and your mission. And then when
fundraising you’re selling the market opportunity and your growth trajectory.
And now as an investor, I’m still not done pitching. I’m pitching myself as a
board member. I’m pitching TCV’s brand, our domain expertise, and our track
record. To bring it back to something that I think all the listeners can relate
to, think about every annual review that you’ve had. You’re essentially
pitching your impact to the team and your work product. So my biggest advice
here is if you don’t feel like you’re good at selling, read some books. Go out
there and do some online classes, because I think that’s definitely going to
come in handy as you progress throughout your career.
So let’s talk
about Modsy. What is Modsy for those listeners who are not familiar with the
Shanna Tellerman: So Modsy is an online interior design
service where you get paired with a designer virtually, and then we use
specialized visualization technology to basically reconstruct your room into a
3D model and design it so you can see how everything will look in your space
and shop from real products, from real retailers. Everything integrated: You
can check out and buy from Modsy.
Hoang-To: How did you
come up with the idea?
Shanna Tellerman: The
story starts with myself. I am the Modsy customer. My husband and I moved into
a home in San Francisco and we went through that process of, “It’s time to
buy some furniture. It’s time to upgrade from our IKEA and hand-me-downs.”
And we got stuck almost immediately. We were looking at an awkward space. And
we had a sofa, but we couldn’t decide on the rug without deciding on the art.
And we couldn’t decide on the layout of the space. And without being able to
see what it would really look like and have design help to visualize and to
come up with a plan we did nothing for a year-plus and our space was sad. And
we came home to this kind of empty sad space. And for me, that led to this
moment where I was looking at a catalog and I looked at it and I was like,
“I wish I was having this experience looking at this beautiful image where
everything is designed and looks great, and they’re all products I can really
buy. I just wish it was in my own house.” And for me, that light bulb went
off because I had this background in 3D and graphics and spent time at
Autodesk. I knew what was coming and I knew that we could combine the ability
to visualize your unique space, fully designed, with real furniture you could
really buy, in a way that felt beautiful — like a catalog — but it was in
your house. And we could combine that with the ability to have a designer at a
very affordable rate, working with you to make the decisions. And that if I
provided that to the average consumer who today has no access to design
services without thousands and thousands of dollars, that we could open up a
huge market opportunity.
So the moment I had that idea I couldn’t drop it. I went
into work every day, and I was thinking about it, and prototyping it. And then
fast forward a few months later, and I had left Google Ventures, where I was
investing, and I was like, “I am starting Modsy.” And here we are,
five years later.
Tina Hoang-To: I can attest to the value proposition
since I was a customer of Modsy. You know this story, but you saved Nick and
I’s life when we moved into our new place in San Francisco, and we went through
the same thing. We tried out two interior designers. They came in, took a look
at the space, gave us an estimate of three to four months before we can
actually start buying furniture. And given I’m a very quick person to do
everything, that just didn’t work for me. Like, what are going to do for four
months without furniture in this wide-open space? So because of Modsy, we were
actually able to buy all our furniture in three weeks and be able to settle
into our new home.
Shanna Tellerman: It
Tina Hoang-To: Thanks, Shanna. What is the technology
behind Modsy and how’s it changed since you launched the company in 2015?
Shanna Tellerman: Technology
is definitely at the center of Modsy. It’s at the center of the vision because
the vision is about visualization and visualization technology powers that. So,
there’s two parts to this. One is the photo-realistic 3D renderings. From day
one, we knew we could enable that. But to enable that in a scalable and
affordable way that would allow us to provide the service at a very low cost,
we had to build our own proprietary tools and technology and we had to plug
into a couple of systems that were all cloud-based so the whole thing could
scale. And so that just took a lot of time. That one we had a pretty clear
The second part of our technology is taking photos of
somebody’s room and then reconstructing an accurate to-scale 3D model — ideally
with as little measurements, or no measurements, as possible — and then coming
out with that 3D model to be usable in the design process to be able to put the
furniture in. And so it had to be accurate. It had to have floors and walls and
windows. And then it had to be something that could render out
photo-realistically. And nothing in the world existed to do that.
There was reconstruction technology as a concept and there
are big cameras that do depth sensing that can measure and that can use laser
scanners — but that doesn’t exist in the normal consumer’s pocket. So we were
like, we need to take the normal phone in normal consumer’s pockets and we need
to apply the things that are only possible in these really sophisticated
cameras. And we had some guesses about how to do it, but nobody had ever done
it. So fast forward to today. Several years of R&D and various approaches
and a sort iterative approach to solving this problem one piece of the pipeline
along the way, we now have patented technology. We have taken an approach that
is unique to everybody in the world that is trying to solve this. We’re
probably the furthest ahead. We’re about to release something even cooler in
this space in the next couple of months. But it has been one of those things
where you know what you’re trying to do at the end, but your R&D path
uncovers new ways and new approaches continuously and along the way you have to
adapt that plan.
Tina Hoang-To: I remember as I was using Modsy for
the first time, the biggest value proposition for me is actually seeing things
fit in my space. And that was very hard for us. I mean, I can walk around with
a ruler and measure everything but being able to look at three different types
of layouts for a sofa and how it’s arranged in the space and click a button to
live-swap in each and every one of the sofas was just a tremendous value add
for us. So thanks for building that.
Shanna Tellerman: Awesome.
Tina Hoang-To: So Modsy has been growing, raising the
Series C, and nearly doubling its headcount in 2019. How have you navigated
through the challenges of scaling a team so quickly?
Shanna Tellerman: It’s
interesting. Not only are we scaling the team, we’ve also been transitioning
the locations and roles of our team. So a lot has changed all in one year. I am
not going to say this is easy. Any time you grow and you add a lot more people,
your culture does change. But what I’m constantly telling our team is that the
culture is what the people make it and that as we add new people, they both
adopt pieces of our culture, and they bring new culture in. I’ve seen our
culture, the core elements of our culture, where we lead with our heart and we
believe in making magic for our customers and we believe in hard work — those have stayed.
Those have always stayed true. But we’ve added all these new elements of our
culture, like you can work anywhere, you can work remotely, you can work from
home. We have a lot of customer-facing people who have a different view of the
world and there’s a different set of things that they’re interested in when we
give Monday morning updates, for example. So you need to adapt pieces of your
business and pieces of your culture. You also need to hear the feedback from
all the people who’ve joined. And simultaneously you constantly rethink the
tools and the structures especially when things like the location of the people
changes along the way.
Tina Hoang-To: Fundraising is often a big part of
being CEO. I know that. If anybody tells you that fundraising is fun, they’re
probably lying. What were you looking for when you were raising the Series C?
And what was most important to you?
Shanna Tellerman: This
one is easy. I was looking for Tina. In all seriousness, I really, really look
for investors that are partners – true partners – and to be a true partner
you have to be able to put yourselves in the shoes of each other once in a
while. And I feel like my experience being on the investing side was helpful in
that I can understand what an investor’s trying to get out of the relationship.
I understand the dynamics of a partnership, I understand the growth rate, I understand
the things that are exciting to an investor. Simultaneously as an entrepreneur
it’s really, really helpful when your investor understands how hard it is to
run a business, to build a business and that every day you’re in there and
you’re slaving away and you’re making these hard decisions and hard choices and
that there’s real work in that. And again, when you get those snapshots of a
company once every couple of months it’s easy to not remember that there’s a
lot of hard work that goes into it. And for me when I’ve ultimately talked to
investors and had the opportunity to bring great people onto the board, it’s
the people who just get it. They get that there’s a lot behind the scenes and
that that’s always part of the conversation. And as we chatted, it was so clear
that that was how you thought about the world and that’s always made it easy.
It’s made the relationship easy.
Tina Hoang-To: I think on the flip side, one of the
greatest things that you’ve given me is the opportunity to work with the team. Every
time we’re launching new products, Sam, CTO, is sending me the test pilot
launches, it gives me the opportunity to bring myself back to the days when I
was an operator and launching new products. And that’s been really exciting to
be a part of that journey with you.
Shanna Tellerman: Yeah.
Actually, we feel that you have had a unique ability to put yourself in the
shoes of our team and ask the questions or give the feedback in a way that feels
like you are part of the team, not sort of passing by giving us side comments
or sort of surface-level comments. It’s real feedback that we can really apply.
Tina Hoang-To: Shanna, you’re a CEO and founder but you’re
also a mother. How has motherhood changed how you work and how you are as a
Shanna Tellerman: So motherhood, for anybody who’s listening –
as a mother or father, is hard work. There’s no question. It definitely started
to divide my time. But I will say, it has been life-changing, game-changing.
Not just for me personally, but for our business. The thing everybody says is
true — which is, you get way more efficient with your time and you start
canceling all those silly meetings and those lunches or dinners that
didn’t really matter But for me, the best part of it was really I always have
carried around the stress of my company. It doesn’t matter whether I’m going to
dinner or a movie or on vacation, it’s a weight in life and I’m always thinking
about it and nothing I could do would break me out of it. My first company, my
second company, I could be in the most beautiful place in the world and I was
still thinking about my new business. We were hiking in New Zealand and I’m
thinking about my business. And I’m like, “This isn’t healthy,” but I
can’t break out. But then I had a baby. And when I go home and see Skye it’s
pure joy and the thoughts of our business melt away. And even if it’s only for
a few minutes, there’s these few moments where I’m like, “This is actually
more important than that.” And I never had that before, and it’s been
Tina Hoang-To: So I’ve been really fortunate to have great
mentors in my career and I think this is a very important part of development
as you progress. Who are some of the people in your life that have provided
mentorship to you?
Shanna Tellerman: It’s such an important question. Definitely,
I have had a series of mentors along the way from managers to advisors and
people in my life, my husband. But for me actually even more fundamental
to that was something I realized when I was an entrepreneur, but then realized
more profoundly when I was an investor, was that there really wasn’t this same kind
of network for women. And so I became really passionate about connecting women
together who were founders, investors, and operators because that’s the
ecosystem and just allowing us to build bridges and connections and
relationships with no business purpose to start out — knowing that it would
lead to great business results in the end. And so it started then when I was an
investor and we started doing this annual trip to Park City and skiing, and
it’s been just amazing to see this network grow and support each other. And all
these women are people I know I can just get on the phone and I can ask a quick
question. When I started my company they were my first calls — being like, “Will
you invest in my seed round?” That is the network that ends up becoming
such a powerful resource for me.
Tina Hoang-To: So we’re down to the last question
which I think will be helpful for most listeners who are in your shoes. As a
CEO and a former VC, what is one piece of advice for someone pitching to a VC
firm that you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t had that experience as a
Shanna Tellerman: I
get asked this question a lot. What did I take from being a VC and how do I
apply it to being an entrepreneur? And especially in fundraising and pitching,
what’s the secret sauce? For me, it’s actually my understanding that it is a
partnership and that the partnership collectively makes a decision. So you
might have a big champion who has brought you in and they’re super excited, and there might be a bunch of people at
the table really excited. But there might also be some people who are
not that excited about your business and that that is actually a pretty normal
part of a partnership discussion after a pitch. And for me, that’s allowed me
to take it way less personally — the pitch. It sounds funny but as an
entrepreneur you feel like this is my baby, this is my company, people are
giving me feedback they didn’t like me, they don’t like my business. But in
reality, there’s this collection of people looking at your business with their
collective history and experiences, and it is more common than not that some of
the people sitting around that table have some concerns and have some
reservations and bring it up. And then that discussion ensues, and it may be
swayed one way or the other. And you are a minor part of that equation. At the end
of the day, they’re making a collective partnership decision. And for me, that
just took a lot of the emotion out of the fundraise.
Tina Hoang-To: That’s a great point. When I was going
through a fundraising as well you get a lot of “no’s.” I think some people have
biases towards certain industries or certain products, etc. But one of the
greatest pieces of advice I was given was, it doesn’t matter how many “no’s”
you get. You really only need one “yes.”
Shanna Tellerman: So
Tina Hoang-To: And I think that turned everything
around for me, that it is okay to get turned down. Because if you look at the
data and the stats, the chances are you’re probably not going to get a “yes” in
your first try, so that’s really helpful advice.
Shanna Tellerman: Very
Tina Hoang-To: Shanna, these are really valuable
lessons you’ve shared. Thank you so much for joining us on Growth Journeys, and
thanks to all out there for listening.
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