Turn the Beat Around: From Lackluster Startup to Exploding Enterprise

Turn the Beat Around: From Lackluster Startup to Exploding Enterprise
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I met my future business partners at a pivotal point in my professional life—after working through the ranks of notable giants Amazon and Microsoft, I decided I wanted to carve my own name in the tech industry—not work promoting someone else’s. This is when I made the decision to enter the Techstars program—a worldwide network that helps early-stage entrepreneurs develop and grow their startup dreams. For Andrew Kinzer, Wes Hather, Gordon Hempton, and myself, that dream was a recruitment company called GroupTalent.

We launched GroupTalent officially in 2011, and spent a little over two years learning the hard way that startup life is very different from the kush life of well-oiled enterprises. With GroupTalent, we gave hitting the grindstone a whole new meaning, yet ultimately; we still had to make the tough choice of closing its doors in 2013. Dissolving a startup is much harder than walking away from a position at someone else’s company; it has your blood, sweat and tears poured into.

Through this growth period, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and like many things in life, as one-door closed, another one opened. For my co-founders and me, that door was Outreach, and we ran into it with such force we might as well blown the hinges off.

Here we are four years later, at the helm of a company that just closed $30 million is Series C funding—capping us off at $60 million total in venture capital. We rounded out last year with $10 million dollars in revenue to our name, and grew our company from five employees—to over 170 today.

Outreach Co-founders at the 2017 Entrepreneur Of The Year Pacific Northwest Region Awards Gala. From left to right: Andrew Kinzer, Manny Medina, Wes Hather, Gordon Hempton

Outreach Co-founders at the 2017 Entrepreneur Of The Year Pacific Northwest Region Awards Gala. From left to right: Andrew Kinzer, Manny Medina, Wes Hather, Gordon Hempton

Entrepreneur Of The Year PNW

While I would admit that at many times luck was on our side, I firmly believe success for Outreach has been the ideal combination of luck meeting opportunity. Faced with adversity from a not so successful startup and bouncing back again, I’ve learned it takes much more than luck to build your dreams into fruition. Here are my top three lessons.

GRIT

It’s easy to be motivated when the marketplace is bustling and there’s cash on-hand to make things happen, because as everyone in business knows, money talks. But the true test of character is when your pockets are turned inside out, and your customer pipeline is dry.

As Warren Buffet says, “When the tide goes out, you can tell who’s been skinny dipping.” And to me, this means that those who’s hearts aren’t in it, will be revealed, and those with true hunger and commitment will stay standing–honor intact.

Grit is a mixture of passion and perseverance, and it’s a powerful combination. For those inevitable hard times you’ll find yourself in throughout your career, you need to make sure you have the right team onboard to maneuver through it–only gritty teams will succeed. In GroupTalent’s case, we were lucky enough to all have the grit to weather setbacks and not lose faith. It’s what took us beyond our failing business model to a truly successful one in which we’re able to complete goals, prevail in the market, and in short, win.

Listen to Your Customers

There’s one surefire way to alienate customers in the business world, and that’s to not listen to them. For more than one reason, the customer knows best. With GroupTalent, we were trying to solve a marketing problem with a product—the epitome of trying to shove a circle into a square. It just doesn’t work. The golden moment for us was when we stopped trying to sell our prospective customers something they didn’t need, and started listening to what we could provide them with. In our case, they didn’t want our recruitment product; they wanted to know how we were so quickly, and accurately targeting them and being so successful in securing meetings. They were impressed not by what we were selling but how, and that “how” was the early stages of Outreach.

Outreach started as an in-house solution we’d built to automate our workflow, gather intelligence, and effectively engage with relevant leads in a timely manner. When request after request came our way to buy it, we realized sales tech was our ticket—that was the market need that we could successfully fulfill. And so we listened.

Long Leads

You’ve got the grit, you’ve got the right team, and you have the right answer to what customers want from you, but how do you ensure the longevity of your company? As a CEO and co-founder of my second company, I know it takes more than early interest to keep the lights on.

This is where long leads come in, and they may be the toughest part of a successful business equation, as they require the other two elements to be tightly wound—enough grit to stand up against those early naysayer that may not see the light at the end of the long tunnel you’re projecting, and you’ve got to have strong team members who will also unwaveringly support your stance.

At Outreach, this came with our early investment into security—which in a sales engagement platform, may not seem like the most obvious aspect. But with a tool that collects data intelligence for sales reps to tailor personalized pitches through the most appropriate channel, there’s a lot of information in the mix that all parties involved would like to keep the lid on. We made security a priority in the early days of Outreach for this very reason, incorporating it into our DNA despite our own investors second-guessing the decision.

Today, if you tap the sales tech marketplace and ask about Outreach—you’ll hear it’s the safest tool available. Long leads are your business’s lifeline, because if a bet seems obvious, guess what? Everyone is probably already doing it.

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