Lately, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to answer the question, “What’s your background?” In a word: startups. I didn’t intend it that way when I landed on the Presbyterian College campus. I was going to be an attorney. (don’t spit your drink everywhere) A few years and an MBA later, I got my first job at – you guessed it – a startup. That lasted 3 years and an IPO. But the culture changed when we went public, as it so often does, so I left there and went to – wait for it – another startup. That lasted almost 4 years and an acquisition, and I found myself working at a 40,000 employee, Fortune 100 company.
Corporate America vs. Small Businesses & Startups
It was there at FirstData that I realized that big corporate America was not for me. I enjoyed my work and my team there, but I never felt like I could move the needle, so to speak. I felt useless. So I left and co-founded CWNP. That lasted 13 years and another acquisition, and, during that 13-year run, I started 3 other companies. Those other three ventures were all related or complementary to CWNP. None of them survived the 2008-2009 meltdown, but the financial market was not solely to blame. Lots of lessons there about focus and intentionality.
A Startup Turnaround
In fact, CWNP itself almost didn’t survive that meltdown. My co-founder left. The other two principle shareholders left. Annual revenues went from $1.8M to $400k. Honestly, as everything melted down in 2009, I just wanted out. I wanted to quit. It was that bad. So, I called Charlie Paparelli, and asked for a meeting. I told Charlie, “I just want out.” We talked for an hour about where we were and how we got there. Finally, after a few moments of thoughtful silence, Charlie looked me in the eye, and said:
If you know Charlie, you know you don’t say “no” to Charlie. So, I walked out, and took Charlie’s advice. We were down to 4 employees (from 11). Revenue was down to $400k, and that revenue was not what the SaaS world lovingly refers to as “ARR”. I gathered the team and put it all on the line: “We’re it. It’s up to us. We have a nice business. Let’s save it.” We proceeded to pay off all our debt (tuition from some really stupid decisions), return to profitability, and 3 years later we were acquired.
So at this point, I’m at an IPO, two acquisitions, and a turnaround. What’s next? Another startup, of course.
Almost immediately after CWNP was acquired, I founded deductmor (#fintech for self-employed & freelancers) and won “Top 5” at the 2013 Startup Riot. Shortly after that, we pivoted deductmor to the B2B construction finance space, and then crashed and burned. Good idea, but not a good market.
Entrepreneur or Freelancer?
Since that failure, I’ve freelanced as a content & digital marketing consultant, and digital marketing instructor, and started Pitch Practice and Atlanta Tech Blogs. I’ve learned a lot about a lot in the last 3 years, but one thing stood out over all the others. Freelancing is great, but there’s no team. I missed the team. I missed collaborating, brainstorming, struggling, solving problems, and celebrating wins with a team.
A Startup That Builds Startups!
Last August, I started freelancing for KP Reddy, Hans Utz, and their new team at The Combine. The Combine partners with large corporations to bring their non-core intellectual property to market by by creating and running those ideas as startups. Today, my freelancing days come to an end, and I’m happy to update my LinkedIn profile. The Combine will launch six new startups this year. In fact, we just launched Konstru: 3D BIM collaboration software for structural engineers last Monday!
Oh, how I love a good startup. We’re hiring junior marketing talent and software developers, so please reach out to me via email if you or someone you know is awesome at creating great content or running digital marketing campaigns. If you work in or near corporate innovation, please reach out to me to have a short conversation about how The Combine can move R&D from your P&L to an asset on your balance sheet.