In the economic volatility of the pandemic, we talk a lot about businesses downsizing or even shutting down their operations and it’s easy to think things are hopeless.
But what about the businesses who are seizing the opportunity to do big things…
Like launching the biggest software IPO in a decade?
That’s exactly what Henry Schuck, CEO & Co-Founder at ZoomInfo, did. And his story is not just a beacon of hope when we need it most, it’s a how-to guide for taking a company from $0 to $360 million.
Tell yourself the right story
Henry: We started building the business in law school.
In the early days, it was: How do I build an ideal customer profile? Who are my buyers? Who are the companies that I’m selling to? How do I write a compelling message to get them to agree to take an appointment with with me
In the first year we did $100,000 of subscription revenue. The next year we did 300,000. The next year, we did 800,000. The next year, we did $2.7 million.
But along the way, I moved, I finished law school, I took the Bar exam, and I moved to Portland. I was making $2,000 a month; most of my other people we hired were making more money than me.
“You just have to tell yourself the right story.”
That’s the biggest lesson I learned during that time.
So, I just told myself this story that I’m building a great business — it may not be great right now, but it will be soon.
And what’s the worst thing that can happen? If it doesn’t go very well, for me, I’ll just go be a lawyer. But I have some time here I can live off $24,000 a year and run that story out.
It really becomes a test of your will and dedication.
Can I just keep going and grinding when all of my friends in law school have $165,000 a year jobs at large law firms? They’re going out to steak dinners every night, buying nice houses and starting lives, while I was eating ramen in a small apartment in Portland.
I just had to drown that out the entire time.
The IPO is incredible professional validation. Because the business got a lot of notoriety. I’ve had financial success up until now, but the IPO was a piece of professional success and validation that you don’t otherwise get.
There are so many times in the middle of the growing years where you can take one of two paths.
You could say, “Good try, but $2,000 a year is not gonna work. I’m just gonna make $165,000 tomorrow, what am I doing?”
Or you could say, “It’s just not time yet. Keep going.”
Outbound isn’t dead
Henry: I remember when we were a very small company, people would tell us to only focus on inbound: “That is the new way, we’re just doing inbound. That’s it.”
I’d be sitting there worried that maybe my business actually doesn’t really work. Maybe I’m in the wrong space at the wrong time and everything is going to shift to inbound.
The truth of the matter is that inbound is a very important part of your channel — you need a good inbound channel. We generate 15,000 leads at the top of the funnel every month. It’s a critical component to our revenue strategy and makes up somewhere between 50 and 60% of the revenue.
But 40% of that revenue is from us going out and identifying the ideal customer profile and the ideal buyer profile of those companies, getting those companies and buyers on the phone and telling that we provide a platform that allows you to identify the right buyer, and do interruption marketing to get in front of them with your product or your service.
“Every major company in the world has a motion by which they call on their ideal customers and their ideal buyers. Plain and simple.”
Tell them what you’ve been building, what your founder brought to life and what your engineering team is slaving away every day away to build.
Tell them that you build something of value for them, because many of them are not just going to stumble on your website.
Henry: One of the lucky things that we stumbled upon is that we built the subscription business.
“Build on a subscription basis. If you have a customer for a year and treat them well and provide value, they’ll pay you again for the next year. You can continue to build upon that.”
I think that was a very important part of how we built the business.
Now, cloud technologies are so readily available that you can deliver your product or service through a browser.
So, if you’re building something of value, even in a professional services approach, be asking yourself:
How can I wrap up Software as a Service around this, deliver it on the web and build a subscription business with other people who look just like this client.
That is probably the best advice I can give.
There you have it folks — that’s how you take a business from $0 to $360 million, launch the biggest software IPO in a decade in a pandemic, and prove that there’s hope even during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.
Henry’s story is powerful and inspirational, but it’s also entirely practical and attainable.
You just need to ask yourself if you are telling the right story.
If you aren’t, then — pandemic or not — there is no better time to start than now.
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