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May 5, 2021

Landing BIG customers while being a small startup - story of Telesign by Stacy Stubblefield.

Landing BIG customers while being a small startup - story of Telesign by Stacy Stubblefield.

Stacy Stubblefield, Co-Founder and CIO at TeleSign that was acquired by BICS in 2017 talks about them lending their first large customers and that leading to a chain reaction that brought even more large customers. We spoke about marketing your startup by implying what large customer you are working with but not disclosing their name and how it can affect your sales. We also spoke about acquisition of TeleSign and how they got there.

Stacy's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacystubblefield/

TeleSign: https://www.telesign.com/

What kind of questions should you ask your future pre-seed investor? All in this episode of Fundraising Radio: https://www.fundraisingradio.com/Scott-Krivokopich/


Today's guest speaker has Theseus double field Co, founder and C. I. O. at TeleSign that race 78Million dollars in funding, and was acquired by in 2017.

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in this episode,

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we'll talk about this acquisition,

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how they got there and mainly how they managed to acquired their very 1st,

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large customers and how and lead to chain reaction where the 1st,

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acquisition of a big customer lead to the acquisition of a bigger customer and so,

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on so forth,

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so today we'll talk about this and be happy,

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handing off TeleSign.

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So, Stacey, let's kick it off by giving us some background on yourself and on TeleSign.

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Sure, hi, thank you for having me here. Super excited to be a part of this. Okay, so just a little bit of background on myself and on TeleSign TeleSign for anyone who isn't familiar, does 2 factor authentication via text message.

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And basically what that means is any time you're logging into a website or a mobile app somewhere, and you need to receive a text message with a pin code. We actually provide that service and we started providing it way back in.

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Uh, 2005, so many, many years ago and my background, I actually started that company out of an incubator, right?

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After college I went to us University of Southern California was a business major graduated, and then joined to this incubator.

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And so that's really where TeleSign started and I should mention I have a couple of CO founders on this business as well. So it wasn't just me.

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Uh, starting it off. Nice. So, 1st question is actually what was your role as a, I think chief information officer, right?

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There was actually chief innovation officer at innovation officer. Okay. Do you think looking like.

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So, my day to day, actually, that role was pretty.

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Sorry sorry? Are you hearing are you hearing this? Because I had to change my I had to close my outlook because there were.

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Too many people coming. Oh, no, no, I have not heard it, but I'll make a note to remove this particular part of that. Do not work.

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Perfect. Okay. Okay. So my role actually, as chief innovation officer didn't begin until we were acquired and that's when that role started.

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So, back in the day, when we 1st started TeleSign, my role was very much in the well, I should say, I mean, when we started the company, we didn't really have very defined roles. There was only 3 of us. And so we would just do what needed to get done. Right?

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But we sort of.

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Moved into our own, our own strengths and my strength has always been.

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On the technical side, technical and product side and then business strategies that's really where I spent a lot of my time. So really deeply understanding.

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Um, our clients and our clients needs for, you know, to to build out the products and then also understanding the technical landscape, especially as it relates to telecommunications.

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And the problems, the problems there, and sort of how we could help people solve those problems.

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Nice and, yeah, I mean, when you have 3 people on the team, everyone is doing everything so it's where do you have some specific roles there? All right so.

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1 more question that I completely forgot to ask you, which is.

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Coming out of an incubator so, can you tell us a little bit more about this? So we're going to. qbtr is usually the incubator itself stars the company and then the spin off happens. If the company, it looks promising. Can you tell us a lot more about that process? How did this happen? How did they spin off go.

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Yeah, yeah, it's a great question. And back in the day, when we started in 2005 incubators were very different than they are today. So right now, incubators I feel like it's it's like a science right? People really have it down in 2005 it was very unstructured.

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Very disorganized, you know, it was really fun, you know, to be really honest with, you.

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And so, the way that it happened was we started working on TeleSign that was 1 of the 1st projects. We started working on at the incubator.

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And we didn't spend it out of the incubator until 2010. so it took us a good 5 years to really grow that business and send it out. And the way that it works. When we spun it out, we had already at that point, seen a lot of growth and a lot of.

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A lot of big clients start to join us and that's when we really.

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Knew that it was time to send it out. And so we brought on we actually brought in an outside CEO at that point, just to sort of help us.

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Uh, organize the business, if you will, and make it look like a real business and and scale it.

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Nice love it. And yeah, let's let's talk about this major subject after these opposite, which is acquiring those big customers. Can you tell us a little more about that? You know, how did you manage to record the very 1st, big customer of yours?

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Yeah, the 1st, big customer, it was not easy. I have to say, like, at the very, you know, when you're a small company, it's hard to get people to take a chance on you.

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Especially when it, especially when you're talking to huge companies who, if you sort of understand the mindset of people at huge companies.

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They, you know, a lot of the mindset is like, I don't want to get fired. Right? And like.

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Taking a chance on a small company that doesn't work out is a good way to get fired. So.

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So you have to make sure so basically what we did, it's kind of a long story. But basically, what we did was, we were reaching out to a bunch of companies, we were setting up meetings and our reach outs were.

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Largely email based, so frankly, we were spanning a bunch of big companies figuring out.

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The best targets were at those companies and figuring out the email formula, like 1st name dot last name that whatever, and just sending a bunch of emails and.

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I mean, we also did cold calls. We also said, like, you know, just mailing people we would back was the 1 of my Co founders actually got a cease and desist from 1 of the companies to give you.

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Yeah, it was it was that intense, right? We didn't give up, but.

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Yeah, and we did get the attention of some big companies when we would talk to them and they would be interested. And then they'd figure out how small the business was. And then they just didn't want to take a chance.

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And so basically, when it came down to was we found we started talking to Craigslist and.

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I just had a big problem with people post thing.

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Affiliate spam, which I don't know if you're familiar with it or not doesn't really matter, but they just had a bunch of basically fake post things that they need to.

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And it was like, a really big problem, and they would take basically any solution at that point. And crisis is great because even though they're a household name, everybody knows who they are. They are the type of company that is willing to.

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You know, take a chance and give someone a, the opportunity to help them solve their problem, regardless of the size of the company. And so we started working with them very closely and really understanding their fraud.

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The people who were behind the fraud, the motivations and started spending a lot of time on black hat, message boards, and listening to the fraudsters reading, how they were.

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Causing problems and whatever their methods just learn. That's fine. And anyway, so that's how that's how we started working with priceless and got our, our 1st client.

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Nice so, 1st of all congrats is great. You know.

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Just keep going, but let's talk a little more about this part where you are just.

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Spamming people cold calling them, which requires a lot of bravery, to be honest. I have no idea how you managed to do this, because it's rough, especially cold calling a big company. Can you tell us a little bit more about this process?

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You know, what was the major thing that you learned from spamming? All those big companies? What do you think gave you the best results there?

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I think, yeah, I think that spamming was the best of all of our and that what gave us the best results was really.

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Honing in on the message and making it as personalized as possible. And I don't just mean, like, putting the person's 1st name or whatever in the email. But like.

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Really understanding what their problems are. So, for instance, we would.

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We learn that sort of, about the black hat message boards through Craigslist, for example.

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Um, but after we found them, we found that they were talking on those metaphors about a bunch of other companies, and the ways that they would scan those companies. And so we would go in and screenshot that and send it to the company and be like, this is what was happening.

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This is what these people are doing and this is how we can help you. And so it was really like, really understanding the clients and the problems that they were having and explaining distinctly like, you can't.

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You know, right like a dissertation, like, it has to be quick and pointed.

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You know, it's for people to even read it in the 1st place, but.

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Once they read it if you're telling them you're solving your problem that they have, people tend to be pretty open.

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100% yeah,

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just some life hack that personally used a bunch of times in my previous work sending out a bunch of emails with just 1 question you figure out what the problem for a person is or for the company you formulate a question that they have to respond to,

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with that exact problem that you're solving and just send out 200 emails the response rate is absolutely huge.

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And then you're like, hey, by the way we're actually solving this problem, and then the compensation. So some life hack that we recommend everyone to use help me bunch in the past. So hopefully is going to help you as well moving on to next question cold calling.

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That's something that is very rough for a lot of founders, cold calling as the last resort.

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So can't sell us a little more about how that process was going, where you actually just where you're making research on the person on LinkedIn, and then following up with them on the phone or how did that go.

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it's a good question so actually,

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most of this was done by my Co founders,

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I'm not the sales person,

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so much basically what they would do is figure out the right person at the company to talk to you,

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you know,

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several people who had the job titles or work in the departments.

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Either be a LinkedIn or via other types of research online maybe going directly to the website and.

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See, who works there or whatever they would figure out who they wanted to talk to.

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And then they would call in and many times, literally use the company directory. Like, if you can go in and figure out, you know, press star, press pound or whatever that you need to do.

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You get the company directory, and then you can find the person.

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And then go directly. Yeah. And then get routed directly to them. Sometimes we would do it at night. So we would never no, 1 was going to pick up no operator. Something like that.

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Safely just hunt them down, you know, this is insane. You need to be real brave to call people like that deserves some respect. That's for sure.

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I mean, do you have any results based on cold calling? Have you seen any good feedback from that work? People did not like that too much.

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It was just depends on the person, you know, you have to catch them at the right time. Some people are open to that and others and.

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You know, I do believe we had some good conversations that way, but it really depends on the person. And at what point you catch them.

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Right. So let's talk just a little more about the domino effect alpha quadrant 1, big customer, and which opens the door to the next big customer. So, after you got Craigslist as your 1st.

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Institutional customer, how did you utilize that to talk to the other customers who are just blessing an email saying, like, hey, we've got Craig's list using our solution.

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You should use it to, or was it some approach that involve some some actual thought not just coming up with it in 5 seconds for the most part.

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So, for our security company, we couldn't actually blast an email that said that, because we're yeah, we couldn't we couldn't put it in writing that that type of information, but what we could do.

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Was say that we were working with.

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Large companies helping them solve X, Y, Z problem and then sort of speak to how that was be solved. And we did, we did use that. We would say stuff like we're working with.

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You know, 1 of the largest online classifieds, websites, that type of thing. And so it's not a hands full.

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And people would get the idea, and once you have that credibility, once people know that you're helping a company that clearly, you know, is sort of, on the front lines, at least back in the day with fraud.

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Now, there's a lot of other types of brought a lot of other types of companies that are on the front lines. But back in the day, they really were then it lends a lot of credibility to your message. And to the fact that you can actually helps all the big problem.

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Nice whole of it a good approach.

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Good way to to pass the message without actually closing the name of the company. So let's talk about acquisition part of it before we move on to the acquisition of TeleSign on our preach recall you mentioned that tell us and actually required 1 stop themselves.

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So, tell us a little bit more about that acquisition. How did it happen? Why did you decide to acquire another company.

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Yeah, so that acquisition happens because we had.

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We had already been talking about doing an acquisition because we wanted to get access.

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Sister in basically, telecommunications infrastructure without going too much in the detail we just needed more access into the infrastructure. And so, and to actually acquire that ourselves would have been a really.

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Big pain, frankly, I would have taken years to deal.

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And so we were talking about how can we get this without spending years and years.

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And we started looking around at every year. We used to attend this conference called Mobile World Congress. I don't know if you guys are familiar but it's a huge conference. That happens. That used to happen once a year in. Barcelona would still be happening.

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If you know how to come along.

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And and it had like, 100,000 attendees, huge, huge conference with a bunch of these.

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And so we would go and just sort of look around and meet everyone there and talk to the big companies. Small companies.

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And during that process, we actually onboarded a vendor that we met there and there were small company based out of Belgrade, Serbia and we really liked working with them. We thought they were great and they had this access that we needed.

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And so we were sort of using them for a variety of things, including that access.

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Just started talking with them more and more of that closer and closer, and they dropped at 1 point during our conversations that they were looking to sell the company. The owner was looking to sell the company.

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And so it was pretty like, serendipitous, like, you know, um.

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Uh, because we weren't really doing a formal hunt at that point and so we started talking to them more and more.

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And basically came to terms, then decided to do the acquisition we needed to raise around to, to make the acquisition. And so, and that's what we did. So it ended up being like, this very like, we didn't run, like, a formal process to find a company.

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It was very much just like right place right time.

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Type of situation. Yeah. Like most companies get acquired by another startups. That's I see it more and more happening and yeah. It's just again not working. That's why I always emphasized the importance of not working.

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If that smaller company was not at that event.

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Nothing would have happened, so yeah, definitely. Go to the events network talk to people you never know how long it's gonna take for, for this connection to pay off, but eventually most of those connections actually do pay off in 1 way or another so definitely.

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Take some time to network, put effort into this, and hopefully it's getting paid evidence. The evidence layer down the road. So let's talk.

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About fundraising, because now it's fund reason really got to touch on that subject as well. So TeleSign raised over.

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No, it's actually erase exactly 78Million dollars, right? That's right.

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So, you raised 78Million dollars that's a ton of money. Congrats. Good work. I love seeing those numbers on the company. Can you tell us what do you think was the major mistake in that fundraising process?

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So, you know, looking back at all those years, while you are running TeleSign, what would you change in that company? From the fundraising perspective?

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Yeah, that's a really good question. So, from the fundraising perspective, I would say at 1st, we, we were very much bootstrapping the company and I would I would not change that at all. And then, when we raised a round, it was to make this acquisition.

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So, we had a very defined reason for making for doing the fundraising. So I also want to change that. I think that it worked out really well.

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But then, when we took those Series B, we did that really have a defined, like, reason or target for taking that series. B. it was pretty much just because money was cheap and easy at the time.

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And we figured we'd eventually make another acquisition or something.

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And looking back, I probably would not have done that round just because we never ended up using it, you know.

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Um, and it ended up being essentially just a cost.

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To the company, in the end, so there was, I'd say the main learning out of that is, you know, if you're going to raise money, have a good use for it. Yeah.

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So have a good a good target for how you're going to spend those funds very important. Yep, exactly. Every time you are thinking, does times you fundraise.

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Double and triple check that you really do have to fundraise because I keep repeating these 2 founders and some founders just don't get it. Venture capital is actually the most expensive capital that's available out there in the world.

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I think it's literally the most expensive capital out there, so definitely double check that you need to have the VC funding if not do everything you can to avoid that funding because it's very frequently not not worth it.

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So, going back to the happy ending, TeleSign eventually was acquired. Can you tell us a little more about that? How did your acquisition happen?

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Sure, so the acquisition happens because this is also that the company that acquired us was a vendor to us as well. Should we.

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Yeah, we did a lot of our networking via vendors, which again, it might be specific to that industry because we just have to have like a 1Million vendors in the industry.

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Um, but anyway, it's the way that it happened was, we.

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Started so we had done in 2017 when we were acquired, we had been in business for 12 years, which is a very long time to the business and we had raised around in 2008 wealth and so, those investors were starting to look at potential assets. Right?

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Because when you have investors who need to exit, and we've been doing the business 12 years, we were, like, okay, it's probably time like, let's, let's move on with our lives.

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And so, and we also started to get approached around the same time. Because 1 of our major competitors had just been acquired. So you'll find that once 1 company gets acquired in an industry that it becomes kind of a hot industry for acquisitions.

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Because then all of the other competitors to acquire started thinking about doing a similar type of acquisition.

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And so we started getting some inbounds interest we started thinking about doing the exit.

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And so we actually ended up running a formal process to see who was out there who wanted to if anyone was interested. And, like, what are the numbers look like and what not? And so.

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Uh, so we hired bankers and we did the whole thing and we, we had some interesting offers and so that's how we.

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Uh, decided to go ahead and go for it.

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So, you've gone through a very formal process I love it. I will always love when founders approach it from the standpoint. Like, it's time we know that we're in good shape to get acquired. Let's do this. Let's not wait for this, you know.

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Great friend of ours from 5 years. 5, years ago. Come in and out for the acquisition. Let's just take the matters in our own hands and sell the company love when they have the control speaking of the company for quite some time.

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You've started a company about 16 years ago, which is quite a while ago. Can you tell us some major changes that you've seen in the startup ecosystem that you've seen happening during this 6 years?

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Yeah, I feel like, honestly, it feels like a totally different industry at this point. You know, when we started in 2005, like.

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It was not cool to be unpack. It was just there was no, it was not. It was not like it is today. Things were much less.

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Formal things were much less organized, very similar to the incubator that we started out of like, everything was just kind of.

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New and and difference and fun, and nobody had it down to a science and now.

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And also, I should say the Internet while it had been around for a while was still pretty young. There wasn't as much information out there. I mean, there was a lot of information, but not like it is today.

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And so now, I feel like people have access to a lot more information, a lot a lot more tools, clearly a lot more tools. I mean, was started in 2005 right? So, before that, you had to have your own servers if you wanted.

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So, which is, I mean, we literally did, we had our own servers, so very different time. So so I just think that things are a lot easier tools wise to put a new companies together. I think there's a lot more information out there.

00:22:08.153 --> 00:22:15.324
It's much more of a science at this point a lot more people are into it and moving into it so yeah, just very different over time.

00:22:18.773 --> 00:22:31.584
100%, I mean, I'm glad to see those changes that became really much easier to start a company in 2021 that it was 2005. I have no idea how people did back then and it sounds very. We're off to be honest people, 30 companies Pre 2000. I'm like.

00:22:32.963 --> 00:22:47.784
Okay, what do you do this? Right? Everything on paper is weird. I'm glad to see all those changing changes coming in and yeah. Speaking of changes. So what happened after you sold the company what are you working on now?

00:22:47.784 --> 00:22:54.594
Are you doing any angel investing for younger companies are doing any advisory role for them? Where, where are you working on right now?

00:22:56.939 --> 00:23:00.449
Yeah, I am so actually.

00:23:00.449 --> 00:23:12.598
It leaves the company until the end of 2020, and I'm still in an advisory role actually asked hold assign and then also working in an advisory capacity to a few other companies.

00:23:12.598 --> 00:23:15.659
Um, doing some angel investing for sure.

00:23:15.659 --> 00:23:24.114
Some interesting things have come along and then also working on a few new projects as well. So in completely different spaces.

00:23:24.114 --> 00:23:38.124
So, 1 in prop tech 1 in enterprise communications and 1 in hiring. So all a little bit different. I like to be busy. I get bored very easily and so looking to see what happens next.

00:23:39.534 --> 00:23:51.953
That's really cool. I love that. You've chosen 3 completely different verticals to work on. That is pretty cool. All right now that we've covered all of it moving on to you last 2 questions of today's episode. 1st being.

00:23:51.983 --> 00:24:00.233
What's your advice to founders who are listening to this right now who are trying to figure out how to raise that? Very, very 1st check in their company? What would you recommend them doing?

00:24:01.614 --> 00:24:15.233
I would recommend as we discussed you narrow 1st, making sure that you actually need the money. Like, you don't want to take money. If you don't need it is expensive capital. And you do have a lot of people then that you're answering to once you take money.

00:24:15.534 --> 00:24:18.203
So that's 1 thing I think the 2nd thing is.

00:24:18.479 --> 00:24:26.189
Sizing if you do want to raise, finds the types of VCs that are going to provide more than money, like, you need more.

00:24:26.189 --> 00:24:38.483
You need more money is great, but it's, it's much more helpful if they can provide introductions if they can help publicize you if they can give you sort of mentorship and information.

00:24:38.693 --> 00:24:44.394
I think that that's that's actually far more valuable than than any funds that you'll receive.

00:24:44.699 --> 00:24:57.538
And when it comes to tracking down and actually getting, you know, actually raising the money, you know, always try to have in mind the vc's perspective. Like, what do they want.

00:24:57.538 --> 00:25:09.328
Uh, what do they want from you and make sure that, you know, and they all have different thesis. They will want to see a very successful company after X. number of years. Just make sure that you're speaking to.

00:25:09.328 --> 00:25:13.253
I'm not making anything up like, I'm not telling you to to make stuff up.

00:25:13.284 --> 00:25:26.364
Right but just make sure that when you're presenting your idea and your business that you're presenting in such a way that they're going to find it compelling rather than you finding compelling. Right? Just keep their perspective in mind.

00:25:26.638 --> 00:25:29.669
Absolutely, yeah. Great advice. I mean.

00:25:32.453 --> 00:25:46.943
I want you to follow up with something bad. I forgot why I wanted to say so, moving on to the next question last question up to these episode. Apparently, it's the end of Friday. I'm getting tired. So moving on to the very last question of today's episode. So, Stacy is a cultivation.

00:25:47.003 --> 00:25:51.653
What do you want deletion to do as soon as the episode is over right now?

00:25:51.959 --> 00:26:02.578
That is a good question and I do not have a good answer for you. I don't I really don't. I mean, I just hope I don't have anything that I want you to deal.

00:26:02.578 --> 00:26:06.269
Specifically, so I just hope that whoever's listening to this.

00:26:06.269 --> 00:26:14.818
Goes and takes the next step that they need to take towards reaching their goal whatever that happens to be, you know.

00:26:14.818 --> 00:26:22.919
Uh, just just go for it and don't don't sit around and think about it. Just actually go for it. That's my my last thing.

00:26:22.919 --> 00:26:31.943
100% yeah, that is slightly vague, but still very good. Very good advice. I mean, that's the a lot of Foundry I see.

00:26:31.943 --> 00:26:46.673
I'm doing the same exact thing, and, you know oh, we're playing there so we're preparing that, or we're finalizing the designs come on. Just do it, so, yeah, that's going to be my call to action as well. Hello? stacy's call to action and also check out the description to this episode.

00:26:46.673 --> 00:26:53.814
I'm going to leave a few links in there. There has been building. Tuesdays is linked in. There's going to be a link to TeleSign. There's gonna be a link to.

00:26:57.148 --> 00:27:03.834
Something else I'll follow up with Stacy to make sure that I include a few more links on maybe relevant materials.

00:27:03.864 --> 00:27:04.134

00:27:04.134 --> 00:27:05.423
there's gonna be another link by the way,

00:27:05.604 --> 00:27:20.513
or send me a link to the episodes where I was asking ABC about the questions that founder should ask to make sure that they provide more than just money because every single venture capital assess where more than just money most of them

00:27:20.544 --> 00:27:23.124
are not so to make sure that they are.

00:27:23.753 --> 00:27:38.364
Doing actually what they promised to check out that episode. We cover all those questions in there. So do that check out the descriptions does episodes go do something as Stacy told you to and as usually have a good day.