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Bootstrapping to Inc. 500: Tallie CEO Chris Farrell (Part 7)

Posted on Monday, Sep 29th 2014

Sramana Mitra: Talk to me about your team. I know you started very lean. That’s how successful bootstrapped companies tend to operate. What do you operate with today?

Chris Farrell: Our first key hire was outside of tech. After that, we started with a user interface expert who’s now our VP of Product Marketing. He was instrumental in laying down the long-term vision and very helpful in successfully finding the next market opportunity in terms of growth and making the pivot. After that, we started to build mostly around developers and what we call product experts. We started out with a traditional model, which was to hire sales and support people. We realized that when we are selling to a professional audience, the professional audience wasn’t really keen on talking to a sales person. They wanted to have somebody who could give them a precise answer right away.

We ended up creating a product expert role, which replaced the traditional support role. We wanted to create an internal expectation that anybody in that role would truly be a product expert. So when a customer calls in, they would get an expert answer. That was going to be a significant brand differentiator for us. The product experts then become the proving ground for building the sales team. It also became the ground from which we can move to other roles in the organization, because they understood the problem and consumer very well. We’ve been very successful in that model in terms of growing and scaling the company outside of traditional areas of marketing, development, and design.

Sramana Mitra: What is the size of the organization? If in 2008, it was you and your co-founder. Then a UI expert came in. What was added after that? Give me a little bit of a chronological team-building roadmap.

Chris Farrell: In 2008 through 2010, we had very few employees. By 2010, we had hired our tenth employee and we were in our second office. In 2011, we grew to roughly 14 people. In 2012, we grew to 18. If we start to take a look at the number of people we’re hiring in various roles, at each step of growth, we remained about one-half developers and one-half others. The others were typically, between 2008 and 2012, customer support, design, and a little bit of administration. Throughout that period, we had between one and three salespeople. That was the mix.

In 2013 and 2014, we started to see growth perk up. We started investing heavily on the development side. In 2013, we had about 24 people. In 2014, we were up to 34. Throughout the process, we maintained revenues that would fluctuate between $125,000 per employee to $200,000 per employee.

Sramana Mitra: Very good metrics. Is there anything else that you would want to discuss?

Chris Farrell: The one thing that I would add is that accumulation of domain expertise is probably one of the single biggest factors in our growth. There’s always a rush to grow a company. As you consider times to add capital to the company, one of the pieces that we wanted to ensure we retain was the notion of true domain expertise in and around each department in the company. An example here is that the developers here today understand the problem we are trying to solve very deeply because we’ve had the benefit of working on the problem for several years. That has allowed us to build a high-quality product with great pace.

One of the things that we’re struggling with is whenever there’s a large capital infusion in an organization, there tends to be a burst in hiring. What we’re trying to do is determine how to balance the customer experience and internal knowledge with the influx of new talent as we take the company to the next level.

Sramana Mitra: What do you want to get to in terms of next level? Do you want to continue building a bootstrapped company? Are you thinking of capitalizing at some point? Do you want an exit? What is your thought process around all these?

Chris Farrell: It’s a big market and we think that the opportunity is very clear and present. We will be raising capital, most likely in the next 12 to 18 months.

Sramana Mitra: Thank you very much for your time.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Bootstrapping to Inc. 500: Tallie CEO Chris Farrell
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