“No pressure… but get your job done quickly”
“Don’t worry about the quarter end… but we can’t have a another month like that”
“That bug can wait until tomorrow… actually… not really”
These are the jokes Larry, BrightGauge’s Director of Sales, and I make with each other constantly. I share them here because they underscore a big challenge a self funded business like ours has in the tech world: Maintaining the enjoyment of an independent business against the pressures of keeping that independence.
We’ve built BrightGauge from the ground up without raising any outside funding for three reason, (1) we were fortunate enough to be able to self-fund the early days (2) we have awesome customers who have paid for our service from day 1 and (3) most importantly, we love the independence of having to please only one group of people… customers. The benefits of this decision (and subsequent success of being cash flow positive) was eloquently described by Ben Horowitz a few years ago in his post Cash Flow and Destiny. Though Ben’s business was very much venture backed, his point still rings true that being cash flow positive provides the best opportunity to control your destiny as a company and a team. And I think he would agree that not having outside shareholders would provide a team even greater control of their destiny.
To us, that destiny (or vision) is to build high quality software product(s) while at the same time building a professional utopia for everyone on our team. This is in stark contrast to all (ok, most) venture backed companies who are forced to have one goal in mind, a 10x exit. With only an exit in mind, ventured backed companies must have a Go-Big or Go-Home work environment that easily facilitates burn out among their team and a strict at-all-costs focus on maximizing revenue (not even just cash in our tech world). Maintaining our independence keeps the dream alive that we can sustain our business and our employees for the long haul. Sounds beautiful right? There is a flip side…
Because we rely on customer funds (i.e. cash flow) to pay the bills and not VC money, we do not have as large of a piggy bank when compared to these well funded companies. We compete with companies who have a bigger development team, a substantially greater marketing budget, and a propensity to spend on lush office space and outlandish perks for employees (like nap pods… I wish we had some nap pods). We bump up against these companies every day when fighting for new customers and also hiring new team members, even in Miami and even in our niche market. It’s a never ending battle that keeps us working our asses off to hire the right folks who not only believe in the utopia we’re building but can work very hard to keep that independence. There’s not a lot of room for error.
That’s where the duality comes in. Everyone we hire has to be mature enough to know the difference between the feeling of “hey man, relax, we can get to it tomorrow” versus the opposite reaction of “hey, we’re not going to buy a ping pong table and we need to crank through this work so customers won’t dream of going anywhere else”. It’s a unique balance that’s very hard to put into words for new hires and recent hires (hence this blog which has taken me a week to write). We are super fortunate, though, that our senior team members “get it” and therefore this concept has been woven into our culture over the past few years, but we still have to work at it every day. They have helped us build an awesome environment which cares deeply about work/life balance BUT at the exact same time having everyone’s 150% commitment to do their part so we can continue building this utopian environment.
I imagine all self funded companies must be managing a similar duality and especially those in the tech world where venture funding (or shall I say over-funding) is abundant. So I have to end by saying thank you to Larry and the rest of the BrightGauge team who are in the relaxed, yet stressful, yet fun, but yet hard, grind every day. 🙂