Growing up, I was fortunate enough to watch my dad start a company from our basement and grow it to several hundred employees. Like him, I studied engineering and fell in love with the problem-solving that came with it.
As my career eventually took me into the world of software-as-a-service (SaaS), I saw the problem facing companies in terms of managing contracts. This was a decisive moment: I could stay the course or take the leap and become an entrepreneur and see if this was a problem worth solving.
It turns out it was. We've grown over 1,500 percent in the past three years and raised over $160 million in funding.
Getting there required long hours and determination. I was fortunate enough to have a co-founder with whom I blended perfectly. We filled each other's gaps and complemented each other's skill sets. We started our company working in coffee shops, and by answering several crucial questions, we managed to generate momentum that continues to carry us today.
Throughout that process, I discovered a series of questions that guided us, and formed the basis of our success.
1. What is your North Star?
The first thing for any company is to define the problem you intend to solve and validate it with your ideal customer. Our initial hypothesis has always been that companies need help to store and understand their contracts without spending thousands of hours to collect data about each one. Once you deeply understand the issue, you can begin building a solution and learn how to differentiate yourself within the market.
2. Is your product viable?
Just because you see potential doesn't mean the ground is fertile for growing a company. While we knew every company on the planet uses contracts regardless of its business model, we knew little about our potential customers. Fortunately, mentors urged us to talk to general counsels (GCs) to see if they had the same problem we had with contracts and better understand how they work.
As we began speaking with them, we realized that we wouldn't go full-blown product development until we spoke with hundreds of GCs and knew them inside and out. It took a year, but these conversations built a lot of momentum. We designed prototypes and demonstrated them. Before long, these GCs wanted to buy our solution. We knew our product was viable.
3. Where are your revenue streams?
I knew from the start some channels weren't viable for us. General counsels aren't big on social media for content, so we need to find them and figure out how to get in the room with them. As a result, we have seen tremendous success from attending industry events. We attend conferences, sponsor them, set up a booth, and meet with our audience face-to-face. We also used a cold email approach, because GCs typically are not inundated with vendors in their inboxes.
Knowing where and how to find your customers is essential. Running a lean operation as we were at first means you need the most bang for your buck and get the return as fast as possible.
4. How do you raise capital?
When it comes to securing funding, you need to be fearless. Comb your network, talk to other founders, and ask for introductions to potential investors. If you can, ask friends and family to buy into your business. We were fortunate to have customers by the time we approached angel investors, which allowed us to build on our momentum. We grew and got results, leading to subsequent rounds of funding that only got bigger.
5. Who do you want on your team?
My co-founder and I filled our executive team with experts who are smarter than we are. To recruit great people, you need inspirational leaders in your company. Hire people you trust and like and who get results. I was fortunate that I always had someone from my network in mind for every role.
Every startup has a unique journey, and every founder has their methodology. Your playbook might be different from mine. But listening to and understanding your customers, being true to your mission, and surrounding yourself with great people who share your values will get you far.