Running, growing, pivoting and exiting a bootstrapped martech SaaS was both challenging and satisfying. After 25 years of that life, I have a lot to share about what works and what doesn’t. Beacon9 is the consulting vehicle for my co-founder (and wife) Anna Talerico and myself. This is my backstory as a capital efficient SaaS CEO.
After a year-and-a-half of buyer courtships and investment bankers, our company, ion interactive, was acquired in September 2017. That process, and everything I learned going through it as a SaaS CEO, are still fresh. Equally fresh are the lessons learned leading up to that. My hope is that sharing those experiences and perspectives will help other bootstrapped technology companies navigate and successfully exit on their terms.
Journey of Twists and Turns
ion’s journey turned out to be a twisting and turning one. We were the result of a (very) small-scale merger nearly twenty years ago. We started as a tech-enabled services company, pivoted to a services-enabled SaaS conversion optimization platform, and pivoted again to an interactive content SaaS platform. In hindsight, we were pretty damn fortunate to navigate through those pivots and sustain the company (without funding).
Capital Efficient SaaS CEO
A big part of my story is that “without funding” clause. My co-founders and I were bonafide control freaks and, for better and worse, we remained bootstrapped through all of our iterations. Perhaps we could have accelerated our growth with deeper pockets, but we chose to remain independent. I’m sure that thread will recur time and time again in my posts, as it was an ever present consideration in our decision making. Ultimately, in the year prior to our exit, we did take on some short-term venture debt, but never complicated the cap table.
Focus on Enterprise Value
The vast majority of what I plan to share ties back to enterprise value — both perceived and real. I’m optimistic that Anna and I can illustrate how everything connects… How vision and culture impact recruiting and retention… How recruiting and retention impact churn and product development… How churn and product development impact sales and marketing… How sales and marketing impact valuation and exit strategy, and so on and so forth. It all matters.
As ion’s CEO, I focused on being transparent and accessible internally, while being professional and responsive externally. The authenticity of those characteristics depended on systems, processes and procedures being established and followed throughout the company. I think you’ll see this operational thread weave through many of my posts.
In short, I’m going to share my perspectives as a capital efficient SaaS CEO and CMO — from startup, through a couple of pivots and an exit. I hope you enjoy the journey and perhaps glean some tidbits of good and bad that you can apply to your growing business.