That’s how many times he pitched FullContact to investors and VCs before he finally got a “yes.” Of course, after that yes, came many more and since then, the company has been an unstoppable force in the Denver and Boulder startup scene.
When I read that FullContact was a TechStars graduate in 2011, I automatically assumed that the company had formed briefly before their stint in the three month startup accelerator, since that seems to be the case fairly frequently. However, upon speaking with Ben Deda, VP of Business Development for FullContact, I learned that, in fact, the company has existed since 2010, but it wasn’t always called FullContact.
While it may not seem like a big distinction to outsiders, in the world of startups, there’s a big difference between turning one and being over two years old. FullContact’s story is one of tenacity and persisting even when one person (or 126 people) says no. It’s about following a dream and seeing it through until you’ve achieved what you set out to do, no matter how many hurdles stand in your way.
Hurdle 1: Making the Product
FullContact started in a basement, much like many other startups, and it didn’t really leave the literal and figurative basement for almost a year. The founders, Bart Lorang, Dan Lynn and Travis Todd saw the need for a product that would aggregate contact information harnessing all of the information stored in the cloud and the inspiration for the service came from personal experience.
“We really just started with the pain point that Bart had. He said, ‘I have all of these contacts everywhere and I can never find the right piece of information. I think it’s in my email, but really it’s on Facebook or in Twitter or it’s in LinkedIn… If I just kept all of my contact information in one place that would be awesome.’”
The initial product saw some success right after they launched the product, but when business slowed, they realized they needed funding so that they could hire a proper staff and stay on top of new users, bugs and the product itself.
Hurdle 2: Finding Funding
And so the hunt for investors and venture capital began. Bart, Dan and Travis sent emails, met with interested investors, devoured any information on funding and suggestions and feedback provided by peers and mentors in the startup space.
The result in the beginning was a lot of rejection, a lot of input and a lot of work on their part. But that didn’t stop the team from pressing on. They submitted to be a part of TechStars using with this video:
After submitting their application, the trio continued to soak up as much information and connect themselves as much as they possibly could to the startup community. Then they got the word: They’d been accepted to TechStars.
Upon acceptance to TechStars, FullContact signed two investors and began the ramp up to honing their product to present to more investors.
Hurdle 3: Refining the Product
When the team started working with TechStars, they weren’t actually called FullContact. They were actually bringing two products with two different names to the program. That idea got nixed right away and they were told to focus on one concept. “David Cohen is the one who actually kind of coined the name. ‘It’s pretty simple what you guys do. You turn a partial contact into a full contact,’” explains Deda.
With funding coming in, the team was able to hire the staff it needed and start work on getting the final project, an API for use on a wide variety of email platforms, ready for their future customers. But they weren’t getting the customer signup levels that they wanted.
“We would get a lot of interest, but we were also getting a lot of push back. People were like, ‘You cost too much. You charge more for your API than I charge my customers,’” says Ben.
So the team came to a decision. Lower the margins and increase the volume. While they were at SXSW, they made the executive decision to lower the price point for their API. Once they did that and focused their marketing efforts on the right customer, smaller businesses with a shorter business cycle.
With that, the business took off and after $7 million in series B funding backed by the Foundry Group, FullContact is proof positive that hard work and a refusal to quit trying really do pay off in a big way.
Overcoming Your Hurdles: Ben’s Advice to Startups
When asked what advice he would give to startups, Ben could not emphasize enough how important it is to be willing to change. “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he says. “AB test everything. Absolutely everything. Whether or not that’s your pricing, whether or not that’s your marketing. Always see if you can be doing something better. Don’t be afraid to make those tweaks.”
One of the great things about startups is that they’re small enough that you can still be flexible and make changes on the fly if need be. Of course, continue to focus on end goals, but never get so focused in on one path that you can’t see other possible options to make your company a success.
Because FullContact kept an open mind and changed the way they presented their products over the course of the last few years, they’ve been able to connect better with their customers and they’ve found the success that they knew was possible if they just stuck with it.