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Cheryl Contee on Selling Attentive.ly

August 20, 2021 |  

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Cheryl Contee co-founded Attentive.ly along with Rosalyn Lemieux. Together, the partners offered a Software as a Service (SaaS) app that helped non-for-profit organizations perform “social listening”. Their offering was used by organizations to identify and drive engagement among their influencers.

The business was a success from the start, but thirsty for cash, so when social media companies started to tighten down their privacy settings, Contee and Lemieux decided it was probably best that Attentive.ly find a new home inside a large organization.

The partners ran a process to find a buyer and ultimately sold to Blackbaud, a NASDAQ traded software and services business specializing in the non-profit world.

There’s lots to learn from Contee including how to:

  • Lower churn in your SaaS app.
  • Evaluate an M&A professional to sell your company.
  • Leverage the power of relationships to find an acquirer.
  • Get an acquirer to reveal their product roadmap.
  • Ensure an acquirer doesn’t decide to compete with you.
  • Think about the four types of financial outcomes from selling your business.
  • Avoid the biggest regret Contee has about her exit.

About Our Guest

Cheryl Contee is The Impact Seat’s Chief Innovation Officer and award-winning Founder & Chair of the mission-driven digital agency Do Big Things. Cheryl is the Amazon bestselling author of Mechanical Bull: How You Can Achieve Startup Success. Passionate about creating new tech and new narrative for a new era, Cheryl uses her vast experience in startup entrepreneurship and community engagement to lead our portfolio companies and fund investments to success.

Previously, Cheryl was CEO of Fission Strategy, which brought Silicon Valley startup culture to the world’s leading causes and campaigns. She’s the co-founder of Attentive.ly, the first tech startup with a black female founder to be acquired by a NASDAQ company, the National Board Chair for Netroots Nation, a Senior Advisor for Astia, and the first portfolio company board member of New Media Ventures.

 

Connect with Cheryl:
impactseat.com
dobigthings.today

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Transcript

Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. With most episodes lasting 60+ minutes, it can be difficult to catch some minor errors.

John Warrillow:

So what’s your biggest question when it comes to selling your company? When I ask that question of other entrepreneurs, I hear things like, how do I avoid an earn-out? When’s the best time to sell? How do I create a bidding war? These questions along with many others inspired me to write the book, The Art of Selling Your Business. It’s a field guide for punching above your weight when it comes to selling your business. I’ve taken all the best practices from the 300 plus interviews I’ve done for the show and distilled them down into an action plan for you. You can get it along with some gifts from my listeners when you go to BuiltToSell.com/Selling.

Coming up next is Cheryl Contee who built Attentive.ly with her partner, Rosalyn Lemieux. They were in the business of helping not-for-profit organizations better engage their social media influencers. Cool business, which they sold to Blackbaud, a NASDAQ traded company. This is an interesting story, and it’s got lots of layers to it. And I challenge you to think really openly about the topic and some of Cheryl’s experiences, which were really challenging for me to hear. Couple of things that I took away from this episode in particular was Cheryl’s experience about reducing churn in her software company. Also, how she evaluated M&A professionals, the process may surprise you somewhat. They also did a great job of getting this large NASDAQ traded listed company to reveal their product roadmap and Cheryl will explain how she did that. She’ll also talk to you about how she walked the fine line between showing them how buying her would make it faster and cheaper for them, but also didn’t awaken the giant and create a competitor out of her potential acquire. Lots of great insight here from Cheryl Contee. Enjoy.

Cheryl Contee, welcome to Build to Sell Radio.

Cheryl Contee:

Thank you, John. It’s great to be here.

John Warrillow:

Yeah. Attentive.ly. This was a cool company, is a cool company. It still exists of course. Tell me about what it is. Bear with me, I’m a social media neophyte, so you’re going to have to explain it to me in easy terms. Explain exactly what Attentive.ly does.

Cheryl Contee:

Sure. Well, I’ll give you the tech answer for that, the tech-

John Warrillow:

That will go over my head.

Cheryl Contee:

[crosstalk 00:03:06], then I’ll break it down. I’m going to break it down, Warrillow-

John Warrillow:

Okay. Thank you.

Cheryl Contee:

… for you and the audience. Okay. For like, what did I tell my mother that we’re doing.

John Warrillow:

Perfect. Perfect.

Cheryl Contee:

Attentive.ly is a social listening, marketing automation and influencer engagement software as a service, SaaS. A different way to break that down would be to say, look, on the internet now there are people who, like you, have built big followings and audiences, they have influence. And for the nonprofits, the causes and campaigns with whom we were working they weren’t really sure how to find those people, how to engage them, how to track those engagements, particularly those who might already be in their audience. One of the things that our tool did was take big donor lists or big supporter lists of major nonprofits or foundations, match them to social media profiles and then show them, hey, there are people already who love you-

John Warrillow:

Oh, that’s cool.

Cheryl Contee:

… who can support your work in a much bigger way than just giving you $25.

John Warrillow:

So the American Red Cross has a user base of like a million email addresses contacts that have donated for one reason or the other. And then you can say of these million, there are these like 364 over here that have a big following that are tweeting about you and posting about you all the time and so you should tap into their political capital, if you will, or their influence and engage them in a more fulsome way. Am I getting it generally?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, exactly. And then it did that, but also it could help you just find other people out there who are talking about your issue or talking about you and then help you sort of sort for, “Okay, where do they live? Do they live in an important battleground state like Texas or Ontario? Where do they live so that we can engage them so they can get people activated locally?”

John Warrillow:

Oh, cool. So now how would this… Again, I’m not a huge social media guru by any stretch of imagination, but I am aware of tools like HubSpot or Hootsuite and I think there’s a bunch of other ones where you can sort of… you can kind of manage your social channels. You can see who’s retweeting your stuff or liking your stuff. So how would this be say different than some of those platforms?

Cheryl Contee:

Absolutely. That’s a great question. And you’re more sophisticated than you’re letting on, because most people don’t know about those tools. In part, it was those tools are tailored for businesses, small to medium and in some cases large enterprise businesses. There was no one creating software like that, that was really tailored to the needs of the nonprofit sector, which just in the US alone is an $800 billion a year consumer of goods and services.

John Warrillow:

But they are notoriously cheap, right? Because there’s that ratio, I can’t remember what the ratio has been, like the number of dollars collected versus the number of dollars put back into the community. What is that called? It’s like the efficiency rating of the charity or whatever. It’s like anything… Go ahead.

Cheryl Contee:

It depends. Yeah. It depends on the charity or the organization. But some of these organizations are actually quite large and they do invest, especially these days in technology that helps them raise funds and engage, educate, mobilize, et cetera. And so, right, a lot of those products also were at a price point that was way far from what your average non-profit, even a successful large one could afford. So that was another thing that we did was let’s create this software that’s tailored for the needs of the nonprofit sector, causes and campaigns, but also at a price point that they can afford.

John Warrillow:

Can you give me like a very specific use case where the needs of a non not-for-profit organization would be different than a for-profit organization?

Cheryl Contee:

Sure.

John Warrillow:

Can you give me like a really specific use case?

Cheryl Contee:

I mean, just even simply, so we worked with one organization that was trying to stop or at least educate people on genocide in Yemen. Okay. That’s really different from selling bars of soap at Target. It’s just a different group of people that you’re talking about, a different way of talking about people, you’re mobilizing them to take a very different action. Conversion means a different thing in that context than selling a toothpaste.

John Warrillow:

Makes sense. Makes sense. Okay. So what was the business model? You mentioned it was a SaaS product. So you licensed this software and they paid you kind of on a recurring basis or how… What was the billing model?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, it was subscription, generally an annual subscription. We started… And pricing is, as folks know it, can be challenging and it was challenging for us to figure out, what is the pricing model that’s going to work not only for our customers, but also for us? Like we need revenue in order to keep people paid. And we started off, I think, monthly and then six monthly and then we said, look, we need to get people in for a year just so that we have enough working capital to sustain. And it actually turned out to be fine, asking people to pay for a year wasn’t necessarily… It was the same energy expended to get them to buy for a month. So it turned out to be fine.

John Warrillow:

Interesting. How did the annual subscriptions renew, like what rate of churn did you have in the monthly subscriptions versus the annual subscriptions?

Cheryl Contee:

It actually reduced the churn. Obviously to go to annual… I mean, of course we still… We’re challenged like any SaaS to encourage people to retain. And it was an educational sale. In the corporate arena, people have been doing influence and engagement for 10 or 15 years. Believe it or not, it’s still somewhat of a novel concept in the causes and campaigns sector. So a lot of times we were educating people on, “Hey, are you aware that there are influencers? Here’s how many people they can reach. You reach this group of people, these people, you can reach 2000 people with your Twitter account. These people can reach 20 million people, these 25 people who already know you and like you.” That really opened people’s eyes and helped them.

Now, the retention was a challenge in part for us because people would get in there and it was yet another tool, that they had to kind of figure out how to use and integrate into their workflow. We definitely invested a lot in customer success to help people kind of get those first campaigns launched, started, see the results. We also had a lot of partnerships with major CRMs in our space, customer relationship management software platforms in our space in order to integrate so that it was easier for folks, they’re already using a CRM, this is just another plugin that enhances that experience. And that was also strategic. We knew that… We suspected that it was likely someday that we would get acquired by one of those folks who just want to take us in-house and be exclusive. And we really worked to build those relationships over time with the leading CRMs in our space.

John Warrillow:

How did you think about partnering with those CRMs when presumably given the fact they had developers on staff, they could have built their own tool? Did you worry that was the kind of fox leading in the hen house or whatever that expression is, if you kind of partner with them that you run the risk of potentially triggering them to build out their own competitive solution? Was that part of your consideration?

Cheryl Contee:

Sure. Of course. It was something and certainly there was one major CRM who liked what we were doing and actually was run by a friend of mine, which made it even more galling, who built something not quite like what we had, but saw the concept, but we knew enough about the space to know, look, this is really hard to do. Most of them don’t understand kind of even just the concept of influencer engagement, let alone building a tool. Plus we also had really great relationships with some of the major social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, et cetera that actually helped us grease the wheels in terms of some of the API calls that we needed to do, which many of them don’t have actually.

John Warrillow:

Interesting. Was there… I mean, it sounds like first of all, great execution on your end, but was there anything really proprietary? Like was there an algorithm or something that would be very difficult to replicate that gave you kind of insulation, competitive insulation from the CRM guys doing it themselves? Was there anything that really made… You know what I’m getting at?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah. I would say it was partly all of the different pieces that we put together. Plus again the relationships that we had with the social networks in order to even be able to access that data, which again, many of those CRMs, even though they were much, much bigger than us didn’t necessarily have those relationships behind the scenes to… Occasionally we would have issues and we could go directly into contacts at Facebook and say, “Look, we know you don’t usually allow people to use this kind of API call, but what we’re trying to do in terms of saving the world, can you help us out? Is there something you can do? Can you talk to somebody?” And they would work it out with us often time.

John Warrillow:

Wow. I think of Facebook as this monolithic organization, like you don’t actually talk to anyone. Like, there’s actually nobody who works there, like a human being thing. So you literally had an email, like a direct email address of somebody that you could-

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah.

John Warrillow:

… reach out to and say, hey can you-

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. Friends, friends of mine.

John Warrillow:

… help us out? Oh, that’s cool.

Cheryl Contee:

Absolutely, friends of mine who worked internally. Yeah. I think a lot of people think that way and yet I live in Silicon Valley in the Bay Area in the US, so I know that… And I think a lot of people don’t realize that your Googles, your Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, et cetera, are actually what people are working on is very diverse and you have all of these little pockets and if you can build a relationship with the right group of people they’re actually great, but the challenge is those people are not accessible to everyday folk. Because I’ve been a technologist for a really long time and sort of got involved with some of these social networks even before it was cool I was able to build relationships early. Not everyone is able to do that. That said, if you go to the right conferences or events, if you figure out the right networking. Yeah. There’s lots of human beings who work there, who actually do want people to successful in using their tools.

John Warrillow:

That’s super helpful. Just making a note here. So tell me about your partner. I believe her name is Rosalyn Lemieux. I mean, how did you guys meet? How did you divvy up responsibilities, divvy up equity? Like how did this all kind of come together?

Cheryl Contee:

Oh, that’s a good question. Well, Ross and I… I was living in DC at the time and so was she, and so we were part of this kind of internet political mafia of early people who were really interested and saw the value of nonprofit plus technology, which used to be a very small group of people. Now, of course, there’s a lot of people who are interested in that. Thank goodness. But back in the day, that was actually a relatively small cohort of folks, so a lot of us knew each other. And I remember going to her organization, had this big party in DC and seeing her in a white leather jacket talking to the crowd and I was like, “She seems cool.” And long story short, I had been recruited out here to a large PR company to restart, kind of put the paddles on their digital campaign, their digital presence and it didn’t work out. They just weren’t serious about it.

I was working like literally 19 hour days and I even created towards the end of that, a plan, a mini business plan of like, look, if you give me the following staff and the following resources, I can bring in a million dollars of revenue by the end of that year. They thought that was hilarious. I had a promotion built in with good performance into my offer letter. I didn’t get that. But by then, the people who had recruited me had actually left. So I said, “Look, if you’re not going to promote me, and if you’re not actually going to support this work, I’m going to go.” I could see why they had imported me from DC because here in the Bay Area, there’s lots of great jobs, there’s lots of amazing things to get involved in and work in… Running the digital arm of a PR firm is like one of the least glamorous things you can do here. Okay.

So I was like, “Yo, I’m out.” So quit. Quit that day. The next day put out a message on Twitter that said, “Hey, I find myself available who wants to work with me?” And the power of a network actually got a lot of incoming from that including, someone close to Ross who said, “Hey, I feel like you two should work together. I feel like that be kind of an interesting combination.” We actually started working on a project together. And the magical moment for me was when I was describing a thing that we should do and build. And by the time I had finished talking, she had actually created it. I was like, “Oh, oh, it’s on, let’s do this baby.”

John Warrillow:

When you say she had created, you mean she had created in her mind, she had-

Cheryl Contee:

No. Physically. She had created a spreadsheet with a pivot table. Like literally, she had built it, the system that I was describing.

John Warrillow:

Wow!

Cheryl Contee:

Yes. It was magical, John. I was like, we are going to conquer the world. Let’s get this going.

John Warrillow:

So how-

Cheryl Contee:

And by the end of the year… Let me finish my story. By the end of that year, John… When we started, I said, look, I have $10,000 in the bank. Okay. That’s it. Black and poor. Okay. If we don’t have clients by the end of this month, I’m going to have to get a jobly job. And she had about 10 or $20,000 herself. By the end of that year, we had 10 employees and we had created that million dollars of revenue.

John Warrillow:

That’s incredible. So you each kicked in money or how did you divvy up the equity? Like, was there cash that you each put in or what was that like?

Cheryl Contee:

It was very much eat what you kill, especially in those early days of like, “Okay, we’ve got a client.” We were always 50, 50. We always kept things even split just seeing each other as peers and supporting each other.

John Warrillow:

Did you have a shotgun agreement like where if one of you wanted out, you could buy each other out? Was there any sort of legal contract?

Cheryl Contee:

That’s interesting, not really. I mean, we never even imagined. I mean, we were so like in a gang that I think we both understood that without each other this wasn’t probably going to work that we just… It’s a quote the movie, we completed each other. So yeah, I mean, if something had come to that, I think there’s probably something in the bylaws, but really I think we understood that this is the team, that we are an ecosystem together.

John Warrillow:

Got it. How did you make it a team beyond just the kind of Ross and Cheryl shows? So you guys started it, but you built it to be 10 employees within the first year. So how did you make that leap? Because I think a lot of listeners are listening, saying I still get asked by customers to be involved. Like I still get clients who want me to personally oversee their project or whatever. How did you make the leap from the kind of Ross and Cheryl show to two employees who are doing some of the work?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. It’s interesting to think back on that. I think especially in the tech world certainly people understand that there’s sort of the people who have the ideas, who the education, who have the relationships. And then there are the people who code or create the email. And they’re doing it, it’s a very collaborative and creative in a lot of ways pursuit. So I think from that standpoint I think people understood that, “Hey you want to build a website, we’re going to help you with the process, but we’re not going to do every single part of this.” There’s a whole group of people together, your team and our team together that’s going to make this work or it’s the same with a campaign, depending on the size of the campaign it was clear that Ross and I personally could not do all of the things, which is not humanly possible for us to build 20 different emails that go out at midnight, it wasn’t going to happen.

And so I think managing that expectation with the clients that I’m here with you, I’m intaking with you and diagnosing with you what you need, what your challenges are. I’m going to create solutions and then I’m going to inspire this amazing team, working with you to actually build that solution and win the day.

John Warrillow:

Yeah. So it’s interesting. I think six weeks ago I interviewed another social media agency owner, her name was Jodie Cook. She’s based in the UK. And one of the things that she did to get out or to sell was to document her standard operating procedures, her kind of processes she wanted the employees to follow. Was that something that you guys focused on as well, like actually putting in writing or video, how you wanted campaigns to be executed?

Cheryl Contee:

Oh, absolutely. Documentation, again for technologists is just something that we naturally do if you’re doing it right. So certainly documented, but also we invested in training our team. A lot of what we did if we had a retreat probably half of that retreat was just sharing skills, training each other, talking not just about the nuts and bolts, but the philosophy and a lot of what we focused on and what I focus on today with my firm, Do Big Things, is creating that culture of collaboration and support and trust where you don’t have to have all the answers. You can tap into other people’s knowledge and together synthesizing that is what’s going to create the magic.

John Warrillow:

That makes sense. How big did you get this company before you sold it? Either revenue or number of employees or… How big was it when you decided to sell it?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, so number of employees, we always tried to say stay nimble and strong. So we probably had no more than 12 employees, but certainly our revenue was quite a bit more than that annually.

John Warrillow:

Yep. What triggered you to want to sell? Was there some sort of straw that provoked the proverbial back of the the camel, so to speak?

Cheryl Contee:

Well, it was more of a convergence of forces, John. So we were at a point where we had kind of run out of runway or we could see where runway was going to end compared to revenues. And just to be clear, a lot of software startups it’s pretty normal for them to be in the red, operating in the red because people understand that you’re bringing in revenues, but it takes capital to actually build the product, to build the systems. Like it’s literally a physical thing behind the scenes. So we were forecasting the end of our runway and saying, “Huh, we could raise another round.” We had already had a series A. We could do another bridge loan or a convertible note or whatever, or this is an inflection point at which we could sell. It takes about the same amount of time and effort. And looking around some other folks were starting to exit in our space. We could see that things were changing with the social networks. There were a lot of… This was even before GDPR in the EU regulations around privacy.

And even before that we could see that the social networks were starting to clamp down on what kinds of information you could get about individual users and so the convergence of those factors said this software is going to work better inside a CRM where they’re going to have a little more access to people’s individual information. So just seemed like the right time just bringing all of that together. And I think it’s easy to miss that inflection point. I think so many folks just want to… they keep the hustle and the grind. They get addicted to that. They’re in denial about the market forces that are happening outside and they’re just sort of hoping that maybe it’ll work out, but I think we really tried to keep as cold and objective an eye as possible and thinking about… beyond our feelings about our baby, what’s best for the company and for our team.

John Warrillow:

Got it. And so if I’m understanding correctly the convergence of forces was number one, you’re running out of cash, you would have had to raise more money to continue the growth. Number two, legislation in Europe, GDPR was sort of the canary in the coal mine to say this whole privacy thing is going to become even bigger deal and then in addition to that, a lot of the social media platforms were starting to clamp down and so those three things were starting to like… The writing was on the wall, so to speak that this would be better in the CRM.

Cheryl Contee:

Absolutely. The writing was on the wall. We had really strong relationships and again, there was an energy in the space. It was clear that there were people looking at our space, some other folks were getting acquired or getting private equity deals and we’re like, “Okay, this seems like a good moment, a rich moment in which to strike.”

John Warrillow:

And so what did you do next?

Cheryl Contee:

Well, we started asking around. I’m very much a believer in the power of relationships and so we started asking some of those friends, like, “Okay, so who did you talk to? How did this work for you?” We got a little more educated in the process, but also we started to then talk to merger and acquisitions lawyers. We started talking to some bankers and basically interviewing them, which was a very interesting process. Even though we were not necessarily the biggest startup in our space, because of who we were, we were both female technologists, a black female founder on board, we were highly visible. Everybody was watching us. It was definitely difficult to fundraise in the early days. I mean, it was… I actually now advise a major fund that invests in female startups and they told me, look we worked really, really hard to weed out as much of the bias in our process as possible.

And we did a pretty good job in terms of getting black and brown female founders through our system and in front of angels, but what we found the problem was getting angels to write the checks. There’s a lot of talk and not a lot of check writing. And their average was, it takes us about seven introductions to angels to get a white female startup founder funded. It takes on average 50, five zero introductions to get a similar black or brown female funded. And that definitely rang true for me. I probably had to knock on at least that many doors to get our initial funding in-

John Warrillow:

To your series A?

Cheryl Contee:

No, to raise our seed, raise our… Those first couple of checks were very, very difficult. It does get easier or at least slightly easier over time to raise because ideally you have some traction, you have some stuff. Other people have given you money and so that’s reassuring to angels or VCs, but it was a little bit of a deja vu than when we got to the M&A process talking to these folks who we were going to be their clients. We were hiring them and really running up against some real racism and sexism just in kind of their approach to talking to us so that became to a certain extent, a filter of like… Well, here, I’ll just… When you’re bringing on an M&A person, they’re going to have conversations with acquirers where you’re not in the room. And so they have to kind of get you, they have to represent you, they have to almost be you in that space in order to help move the deal along. And so we really wanted to find that right match and it wasn’t easy.

John Warrillow:

So what was it that signified to you that this was not going to be a fit? What did they say or do or act, how do they act that would indicate to you this M&A professional that was going to take you to market was just not a good fit? Can you give me like a sort of tangible example?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, it’s hard because microaggressions, they’re called micro for a reason. It’s so subtle and no one’s going to come out and call you the N word these days. They’re just going to be really condescending or dismissive, or, diminishing of your performance. So we got some of that going on. We got people who felt some sort of need to flex in front of us like kind of trying to convince us how big and bad they were rather than really trying to get who we were and the types of people we were trying to sell to, our customers, but also ideal acquirers. Yeah, it was a really strange process of folks who undervalued what we were bringing to the table, or even as they were trying to pitch us kind of put us down in a way and were condescending.

John Warrillow:

So did you find someone that did get you in the end?

Cheryl Contee:

Interestingly, we had pitched Venture Atlanta, which is this big conference and an organization that’s kind of a clearing house for the venture capital and angel scene in Atlanta. So we had actually pitched in front of 600 people at the time, but while I was there, I actually went to some other sessions and I ended up going to this really great seminar that one of the panelists was, Trisha Salinero of Woodbridge Capital. And I just remember just the way that she talked about M&A, the way that she talked about supporting startups and founders. I just really dug her, just her vibe as a person and I’m very much a woo-woo intuition, instinct, vibe person, that’s me. My business partner was not, but I brought that to the table. And you know what, John? Neuroscience tells us now, contemporary neuroscience-

John Warrillow:

That the woo is a thing.

Cheryl Contee:

… tells us that your brain basically can synthesize literally millions of data inputs and it synthesizes that, and kind of cranks it in a black box and the output literally is that gut instinct, that intuition, that hunch, it’s literally the smartest part of you from an older part of your brain trying to tell you something.

John Warrillow:

Interesting.

Cheryl Contee:

So I really work with that. Like, that is a pretty important sort of navigating tool for me, even in business. And so I reached out to her and I was like, “Hey, we met a couple years ago. You might not remember at Venture Atlanta, here’s where we are. Would you like to talk?” And yeah, she was great and she totally got us. And she was like really outline the process, took us seriously, treated us like people who were smart. And yeah, from there we were able to negotiate a decent exit.

John Warrillow:

Got it. So Trisha is an M&A professional, is that-

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah.

John Warrillow:

… her training, that’s what she does?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. She is a leader of her organization which does M&A.

John Warrillow:

Okay. You engaged her and she shops the deal presumably. Did you go through the whole process of creating a deck that would describe the company and the whole thing she pitched it. First of all, let me ask a different question. I’m assuming the primary target for Trisha were these CRM companies that had the specialty in not-for-profits, was that her main…

Cheryl Contee:

Interestingly enough, just because she’s a pro, she had this complex matrix of here are all of these different sectors and different kinds of companies that might be interested in this. Obviously we had these relationships and we sensed it probably it might be that one of those might be our best shot, but we actually ended up… She really broadened the number of people just because of her greater knowledge of the space. And that’s also a thing that you want to look for in your M&A professional. They too are powered by relationships. Okay. And the quality and extent of their relationships and who they’re able to talk to within companies is going to in some cases make or break your deal. And so working with her, we were able to talk to some different people that we probably wouldn’t have even known about and some of those conversations got serious, but in the end it was one of our strategic partners and probably not necessarily the strategic partner with whom we had the strongest relationship.

I mean, we had a good relationship, but in contrast, Mailchimp in our early days had given us just like $15,000, no questions asked to just help build our API into their system. It was so crazy. But Blackbaud sort of got it and it was interesting because there was literally a hole in their roadmap that Attentive.ly fit right into. And right they had that build or buy decision. I think we made a compelling case for it’s going to cost you more to build this than it would to just buy it and just get going. The other persuasive thing for them was that in learning and working with us, and again this is part of how often acquisitions happen, you get to know each other. And one of the things that they observed in working with us was that about a third of our clients and customers were actually also Blackbaud customers. And so they’re like there’s something here, they’re like our customers seem to want this. We have an even stronger sales engine than these guys do. We think we can actually do pretty well if we just kind of bring this in.

John Warrillow:

That’s interesting. Did you guys have any sense of what you thought the company might be worth before you met with Trisha? Did you have a… I mean, you had raised funding, so you sort of had a sense of what it was pre…

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. We had evaluation, we had a sense of what would make our investors whole and feel good to them, what would give us some… make it feel like we were getting a return on our investment in building the company. Yeah. We had a number in mind for sure and we got pretty close to that number. And look, for most acquirers they are looking to acquire tech, talent or revenue. And if you’ve got two of those things, you’ve got something to sell. In our case, we may not have had obviously the revenue per se, but we had an amazing tech team and technology. We had an amazing team that was Cracker Jack and we had really great technology to offer. So that was the thing that we were selling.

John Warrillow:

But you had revenue, right? It wasn’t like you were pre money. You had revenue. It just wasn’t-

Cheryl Contee:

No we had revenue.

John Warrillow:

It was massive or whatever.

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. I mean, if someone’s buying you for the revenue, like you’re just making money, hand over fist, right? Like it’s just pouring in like by the bucket loads. And they’re like, “Great. We can add this to our bottom line.” Some companies are like that. A lot of times those are some kind of product that people just love and it’s cheap to make and it’s being sold for a lot or it’s a SaaS product that again is kind of like plug and play. People just buy it and there’s not much. So those do exist, but I would say it’s more often that people are selling their team which as you know software developers, engineers are hard to find-

John Warrillow:

True.

Cheryl Contee:

… and, or they’re selling the tech.

John Warrillow:

Yeah. And so in your case, did you have a sense… I mean, if we avoid talking about the revenue itself, because I think we haven’t said that publicly, did you get a sense of what you were hoping to get as a multiple of revenue? Like did you have like I want to get a two X or three X or four… What was your sort of aspiration?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. I’m not the numbers person, so I don’t remember all of the specific numbers, John but yeah, we had a sense of like, look if we’re doing 10 X revenues, this would be a good deal, but I would say for us at the point at which we were selling, we were really geared towards what are our debts? Where are we with our investors? What have people put in and what do we want? What would be a good story for them to tell? And then what’s left over for us? And are we going to feel good about that?

John Warrillow:

Right. And I should have asked earlier, but the people who invested in your series A, was this institutional money like VCs, or were more kind of friends and close family? Like what was… I guess, and I’ll tell you why I’m asking. I’m assuming that if it was sort of institutional VC money, they would be looking for that sort of unicorn exit and probably would have wanted you to hold for longer and sell for more. That’s why I’m asking. Who was in that sort of series A that wrote the initial checks?

Cheryl Contee:

Sure. Well, we relied mostly on angels and I think this is something in which in building the new economy in this new era, in which I think we all sense that we’re living in, the concept that you, quote, friends and family, who can give you hundreds of thousands of dollars. I mean, look as a black technologist, I make the most in my family or close to it. One of my uncles is an orthopedic surgeon. He’s probably a little ahead of me. Like if I had gone to my family mostly back in Baltimore and said, “Hey, I’ve got this marketing automation startup. It’s software as a service. It’s pretty high tech. We think we’re going to do…” Here’s what would have happened, John. A bunch of people in Baltimore would have owed me $20. Okay.

So the whole concept of friends and family is something that we just have to take off the table if we’re going to democratize access and bring in more great ideas, because there are great ideas out there that aren’t necessarily surrounded with people who have extra money left over in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to get that off the ground. And so investing in that pre-seed and seed stage is really going to help every economy grow.

John Warrillow:

So in your case, it was angel investors. How did you find those angels?

Cheryl Contee:

A lot of it was networking. Some of it was research using the internet to figure out, okay who’s interested in this kind of software? Have they invested in it before? But a lot of it was just gum shoe person on the street talking to… saying, “Hey, do you know anybody who’d be interested in this?” And getting some introductions and then talking to that person. But as I said I actually had to talk to a lot of people. And at the time we were running a multi-million dollar revenue company on the side, a different company. We had two companies at the time. I had some notoriety, I had run a pretty popular blog like an A list political blog. I’d been on TV, I’d been profiled in newspapers. I knew a lot of people. A lot of people knew me. I was used to getting my calls answered and emails replied to. And it was very difficult. I mean, it was tough and it took a long time.

I usually say the conventional wisdom is it takes six to 12 months to raise a round, no matter where you’re starting out. And if you are what we now call an excluded entrepreneur, it might take you longer. That said this was over 10 years ago that we were getting started. I will say, things are much, much better than they used to be. But the fact that my tech startup Attentive.ly was the first, as far as we know, with a black female founder on board in the US to be acquired by a NASDAQ traded company and that happened in 2016, that’s not great folks. We’re not doing great in terms of making sure that the cream is rising to the top and getting the support that it needs to really perform. Because here’s what we know now, John, every study out there and I challenge you to find one that doesn’t say this, every study says that diverse led firms are more innovative, they are more productive, they are more profitable.

So if all you care about is money, the only thing you want to do is make the most money, if you want an ROI, you need DEI diversity, equity and inclusion.

John Warrillow:

How important was it that you have a win because you’re clearly a leader in this space and you represent a lot of people that didn’t get the VC round, they didn’t get the angel money, they don’t have the friends and family around them and you by sheer tenacity and a lot of skill were able to? Did you feel a sense of like I got to get this right because there’s a lot of people that I’m standing on the shoulders of? Do you know-

Cheryl Contee:

Oh, there was huge-

John Warrillow:

Am I getting-

Cheryl Contee:

Absolutely. No, I think you’re reading me loud and clear, John that we were incredibly visible in the space. And we hadn’t really thought about it when we started the company. We had obviously a lot of friends. Again, we were part of a community and it’s only when we look back that the other folks who were creating startups that met in the nonprofit tech arena, most of those were white guys and it was like way easier for them to not only get money, but get more money than us.

John Warrillow:

How do you know though? Let me challenge you because… I mean, I’ve had lots of white guys on the show who said, “Man, raising money was tough. Raising money was tough. I got no a lot. I went to M&A folks who said, I won’t touch it unless it’s worth 10 million bucks.” There are a lot of people who would challenge that idea, that quote, raising money’s easy. So how do you know… We’ve all got our lived experience. I’ve never raised money, so it’s like… I’m trying to imagine. I’m sort of advocating for them as listeners right now and saying, but wait a minute, it was really hard for me too. How do you know it’s not just the nature of the beast, so to speak?

Cheryl Contee:

Sure. There’s a few reasons, I mean we know just looking at the numbers. Okay. Like if you look at the amount of money that in terms of venture capital of any kind that goes to female founders of any shade, it’s still in the 3 to 4%, which is insane, given that women buy 75 to 85% of everything. So it would seem to make sense that if you want to sell something that you actually have the perspective of the people that you’re trying to sell to on board, right? This isn’t rocket science folks. And then for money to black women, again, it’s much better than it used to be, but it’s still statistically zero. Okay. In the context of all of that money. Okay. It’s not because we’re not hard workers. Okay. You can see black and brown people working real hard wherever you go. Okay. It’s not that we’re not smart. It’s not that we’re hard workers. We just don’t always get the same chances.

Now I will say, and I have heard this before, John and I should probably change the way I talk about it because I think a lot of white men legitimately say, look, it wasn’t easy for me. Like this was actually really hard. And I believe you, no startup, no matter who you are, startups are really, really hard and in the US, 90% of startups fail in their first year. I mean, it is really a tough act to pull off. So imagine you’re listening and you’re like, “Oh man, I was sweating bullets. I was crawling on my knees. I got turned down a lot. It was tough.” Imagine that, but 10 times harder and 10 times less money.

John Warrillow:

I want to go back to my original question, because I think that provides great context. You raised some money from these angels, and you said when you’re putting a value on the company, part of your calculus was, I’ve got some debt I want to pay off, I want blah, blah. But part of the calculus was, I want to get a return for those people who believed in me, who invested, what kind of return were you hoping to deliver to them? Like if they put in a dollar, were you hoping to give them $2 back, $5 back, $10 back? What was the ROI that you were trying to aspire to give them? Does that make sense?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. Yeah. I think we were hoping to do something like two to five X their original investment, particularly those early investors who had really believed in us. That was really important to us. And I think we did well for them. And part of it again, because we were so visible in the space and because we were really early in terms of founders in our space who looked like us and we’re delivering a quality product. We wanted to encourage… We wanted to be a success story that encourage more people to quote, take a risk. I think that black and brown founders, female founders, people think that investing them is risk, that it’s higher risk. It’s actually lower risk. If you actually look at the numbers of success rates of those companies and efficient use of capital, they’re actually lower risk. And so we wanted to be that story and be able to do what I’m doing now and talk to John Warrillow of Built to Sell about this amazing success story.

John Warrillow:

You wanted to be a-

Cheryl Contee:

[crosstalk 00:49:23] people to open their minds. In order for people to open their minds.

John Warrillow:

You wanted to be… Yeah. I get it. I get it. For sure. So you thought a two to five X would have been a success for your investors and allow you to play that role of advocate and success story. I want to go back to Blackbaud because the ultimate acquire is a NASDAQ New York… a NASDAQ listed company called Blackbaud, which has… It does a lot of work in not-for-profit. I mean, that is their space. Can you describe them in a nutshell for people who don’t know that name?

Cheryl Contee:

Absolutely. So Blackbaud is one of the biggest purveyors of nonprofit software, nonprofit broadly speaking. You’re talking faith organizations, like major faith to smaller faith organizations, education K through 12, but also higher education. Advocacy organizations, any kind of organization you can think of that has a purpose, that is a nonprofit that is seeking to make the world a little less terrible in summary.

John Warrillow:

So CRM, they would have CRM as one of their core offerings in addition to billing platforms, I’m assuming and other-

Cheryl Contee:

Oh, multiple kinds of CRMs.

John Warrillow:

… types of software.

Cheryl Contee:

Multiple types of… Because depending on the sector within the micro sectors, different… A faith organizations need something different than higher ed, right?

John Warrillow:

True.

Cheryl Contee:

So, yeah. They have multiple. That said, they have their flagship products that are applicable to any non-profit and that they build modules on depending on what you need.

John Warrillow:

And you mentioned that they had in their product roadmap, which is kind of technology speak for their future plans of things they want to release. They had something similar to Attentive.ly on their product roadmap.

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, they absolutely did. Yeah. We talked at… I mean, they literally showed us the roadmap and they were like this.

John Warrillow:

This is you guys.

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. Like this is the thing and you have the thing that we actually want to build. I mean, that’s one of the ideal scenarios, right?

John Warrillow:

Yeah. For sure. And I want to dig in here because here’s… First of all, I want to know how did you get that out of them? Because that would seem to me to put them in a very vulnerable position, to be as transparent with you that like it’s on our product roadmap. I can imagine both you and Rosalyn kind of…

Cheryl Contee:

Oh, absolutely. We’re, yes.

John Warrillow:

Yes, this sounds good. So how did you get them to tell you that?

Cheryl Contee:

They to a certain extent volunteered the information and that wasn’t one of the early conversations. We were certainly a little further along in the software game they call deepening the relationship. So we were a little far along, but yeah. I mean, we asked them also straight up, like… Because every company has a roadmap, in every big company and that roadmap is usually fairly complex. It’s sophisticated. It can go out as long as five years or more. I mean, Facebook basically has a 10 year roadmap. So yeah, I think we-

John Warrillow:

But they’re not in the habit of sharing that with people outside their company, right? Like you guys obviously did a great job of somehow of walling them into a sense. They shared that with you, which is pretty cool.

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. Well, again, I’m very much a believer in the power of relationships and I think that people often believe that an acquisition is just like faceless company gobbling up a tiny company and that’s generally not how it works. The fastest most certain way to get acquired is to build that relationship. So another example would be CrowdTangle. So CrowdTangle we were early on in working with the founders of CrowdTangle.

John Warrillow:

I have no idea what CrowdTangle by the way.

Cheryl Contee:

So CrowdTangle is a software. It’s actually now part of Facebook’s Journalism Project, but basically it is software that analyzes social media activity and figures out who are the biggest influencers within and how is that moving over time?

John Warrillow:

Sounds like a competitor to Attentive.ly.

Cheryl Contee:

Not exactly, no. They were doing a different thing, but we were connected in that, in that we actually helped to build some of the early software and through that sweat equity we were a minority shareholders in that deal. And the founders they saw our exit and we actually ended up advising them a little bit behind the scenes Brandon Silverman is still there. What they were telling me was we have this great relationship with Facebook because otherwise they wouldn’t again, have been able to have software that did what it did. We have this great relationship and they keep trying to have this conversation with us and I was like, yeah, I think they’re trying to buy you. I think what they’re trying to say is that they want… And so sometimes it happens like that where you have this strong relationship and they approach you. Oftentimes that conversation is subtle at first, they’re kind of feeling you out because they don’t want to damage the relationship in any way or spook you or get you thinking about going to somebody else, but they ended up having a successful transaction in which I also participated via that.

So there’s lots of different ways, but relationships are really important. And to a certain extent we had already invested in building relationships within Blackbaud and then once we started the process of getting serious with them working on those relationships with the new people that we were talking to was also a high priority in gaining their trust, but also encouraging… figuring out if we could trust them.

John Warrillow:

What was Trisha’s reaction when Blackbaud said that your product is in their… or something like your product is in their product roadmap, how did Trisha react to that information?

Cheryl Contee:

It was good news. It was good news [inaudible 00:56:08]. I mean, it gave us a point… It just reinforced our argument that, look, it’s going to cost you more to build this than buy it. Like here’s where it is in your roadmap and you can buy this today. Like you can spend three years and a whole bunch of money and developer time and product manager time trying to build this thing without the relationships that we have with the social media platforms, or you can just buy us. You can just buy it and have it, and then start selling tomorrow.

John Warrillow:

And so you made the case that it would take longer. Did you also make the case… You said that… I wrote down the words, whole of money. Did you quantify for them what it would cost to write the number of lines of code that it would take to replicate-

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah, to a certain extent.

John Warrillow:

You quantify that?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. To a certain extent. Yeah. To a certain extent we certainly talked numbers and said, “Look, here’s how long it took us to build it. And how much money”-

John Warrillow:

So you said it cost us X amount?

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. It cost us X amount and we have relationships that you don’t have that makes this thing, that powers this thing. It’s going to take you a lot more time. The reason why large companies acquire smaller companies is that by the time you’re a certain size, it’s just hard to get things done quickly.

John Warrillow:

I love this idea of the build versus buy because I think that’s a conversation that happens. Usually the owner, the seller of the company is not in the room when the acquirer sort of closes the door and says, “Okay, should we just buy these folks or should we compete with them?” And I think the other side of this is that sometimes big companies, NASDAQ traded multi-billion dollar… companies like Blackbaud may use that tactic as a threat. In other words, they might say, “Look, your product is in our product roadmap.” Maybe they don’t come out say it, but the implication is like, if you don’t sell to us, we’re going to compete with you head on and put you out of business. That’s another sort of heavy handed way that sometimes acquirers would sort of, quote unquote, threaten you, and therefore try to get you to lower your expectations. Did you get any sense of that from them?

Cheryl Contee:

Oh, absolutely. Because they are making that decision in real time. I mean, that really is the decision and you’ve really got to get down to brass tacks when you’re talking about millions of dollars of money changing hands. So absolutely. They didn’t necessarily threaten us with like, “Hey, we’re going to build this and compete with you.” Although that does happen. When you look at Snapchat, right? Instagram/Facebook, tried really hard, very hard to buy Snapchat and they just wouldn’t sell, so they’re like, “Okay, well, we’re just going to have to supersize Instagram and change some of how that works to compete with Snapchat.” And they did very successfully.

John Warrillow:

But did you and Ross and Trisha have conversations that like, meaning, we need to be careful not to push these folks too hard because the last thing we want to do is end up competing with Blackbaud. Did that conversation happen behind closed doors with your team?

Cheryl Contee:

Not really. I mean, we knew enough about the challenge of building the product that we were like, there’s no way. There’s no way that they’re going to… It’s a fantasy if they think that they’re going to build this and compete with us-

John Warrillow:

What? These guys are a massive NASDAQ traded company. Why were you so confident that they would not be able to replicate what you had created? That’s really interesting to me? Why were you so confident?

Cheryl Contee:

Because it takes time to build software and internally in a large organization, it just takes forever to get things approved, to move things through the pipeline. It takes a lot more people. They just can’t move as fast. There’s people checking every dollar that you’re spending and let’s say… The legal people are like, why are you spending it this… We didn’t have to deal with any of that. Plus again we had relationships with software, with the social networks that they didn’t really have, which had been really key to our success. And so part of what we were selling were those relationships.

John Warrillow:

Yeah. But you were leaving. So how did they ensure they would monetize those relationships when you were kind of leaving the company when you sold it? What efforts did they make to ensure that relationship equity kind of accrued to them?

Cheryl Contee:

Well, generally speaking, almost always an acquirer wants to bring you onboard.

John Warrillow:

Sure.

Cheryl Contee:

And it definitely was a little bit of a point of contention because I didn’t want to go inside. I like to be free to roam, but-

John Warrillow:

Why doesn’t that surprise me?

Cheryl Contee:

But in my case we worked out a strategic partnership basically, a strategic retainer for about, I think a couple of years. So that helped bridge that gap. But the rest of the team also had some of these relationships. So they went in internally and really helped to cross pollinate some of our ideas and energy. And that’s often what acquirers are looking for.

John Warrillow:

Hindsight is 2020, if you could roll back the clock and start the process of selling Attentive.ly from scratch again, is there one thing you might do differently about the process?

Cheryl Contee:

If I could roll back, would’ve have asked for more money definitely.

John Warrillow:

From Blackbaud?

Cheryl Contee:

… as usual. Yeah, absolutely.

John Warrillow:

Did they ask you what do you want for it?

Cheryl Contee:

Oh yeah. I mean, that’s how it goes.

John Warrillow:

What did you say?

Cheryl Contee:

Not allowed to talk numbers. It’s in the contract, I’m afraid. But probably would have pushed for more money and negotiated harder. But we got a good deal. It was crap, cash, transaction, money changed hands and we cleared all our debts, our investors were taken care of, our goals were all met, but also we might’ve sold sooner. Honestly. I think we could have sold sooner, had a little less debt on the books and therefore would have recouped even more money for ourselves.

John Warrillow:

Were you able to get to that two to one ROI for, you mentioned you were hoping to get two to five times their investment or whatever, did you reach that threshold?

Cheryl Contee:

Again, not allowed to talk numbers, but what I will tell you is and I have a book called Mechanical Bull-

John Warrillow:

I want to [crosstalk 01:03:39].

Cheryl Contee:

How You Can Achieve Startup Success. And there is a chapter on acquisition, are you ready to sell? And then what happens after that? And what I usually tell people is that there are four types of acquisitions. There’s acquihire, where not a lot of money, but you get a new pool job with a fancy title and maybe some of your debts cleared. And basically that’s about preserving your dignity and hey, there is no price on dignity, it’s priceless. And then from there, there’s new car, new house, don’t have to work again for the rest of your life. And I would say if I weren’t in the Bay Area, we were probably somewhere in terms of what each of the founders took away, somewhere between new car, new house. And I think a lot of people think like you’re going to sell for a gazillion dollars and sometimes that does happen, but that’s actually a minority of exits. Most exits are in kind of that new car, acquihire through new house range, which is a success, you have built wealth that you didn’t have before. You have some security.

You also have an incredible success story if you’re going inside the company, you have a new fancy job title and a corner office and maybe stock options. Like baby, you have one. Okay. It’s all good.

John Warrillow:

Love that. I’ve never heard that before, but I’m going to steal that, dignity, another word’s, acquihire, car, house never work again. Great sort of way to segment it up. You mentioned that you’d wished if you could replay the clock, so to speak that you would have asked for more. Obviously we don’t and can’t talk about the actual number, but I’d be curious to know they asked you what do you want for Attentive.ly. Did you respond with a number, a range or dimmer completely and say, “Well, that’s not our job. You tell me what you think it’s worth.” Kind of thing. Like, how did you respond to that query?

Cheryl Contee:

Well, we actually had gone through two rounds if I’m just being completely frank. So we had in our first round in talking to people we had tossed out a number. People didn’t like that number. So then we lowered the number. We’re on sale. So at that new number, that was where we kind of talked. And then, yeah, it got to the point where they were like, “Okay, what’s the number?” We gave them a number and they said, okay, how about this number? Which was lower. And then we ended up being about in between that number. So yeah, it’s like weirdly more straightforward than… I imagine that cloud of numbers and equations, and then like, here’s the number. It actually was a very weirdly straight forward conversation at the very, very end.

John Warrillow:

Got it. So you sort of almost put a price on your business when you went out to the marketplace, you said, this is the number that… You didn’t get a lot of take at that, so you went at a lower number, they came in and you kind of… at a lower number still, but then you kind of met in the middle. Again, if we leave the number itself out of it, can you share like how big a gap it was between, maybe on a percentage basis, between the number you kind of… the second number you put out and then the number they came in, was it like 10% difference? Like a hundred… 50%? Percentage basis, what’s the rough…

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. And again, I think a lot of the companies were thinking like, what would it cost us to build it versus buy it? And sort of making that calculation in their head, which… Again, we were new at the selling our business game so we didn’t know that. We just knew like a number that we wanted that would be cool for us. So yeah, I would say it was maybe 25 to 30% lower, which turned out to be kind of the magic number.

John Warrillow:

Got it. That makes sense for sure. Did you buy yourself a trophy? Did you buy yourself the house or the car or the… I ask this question because I think it’s really important that as entrepreneurs we do have some physical display of this achievement. I interviewed a woman last week who always wanted a Rolex watch for some reason and she decided that this was going to be the time where she bought a watch. And so now every day, she kind of looks at her watch this she’s sort of reminded of this incredible achievement. Did you buy yourself any sort of trophy, anything that you use to kind of commemorate the achievement?

Cheryl Contee:

Well, they have these deal memos, mementos that are like a little like glass thing and so I got that. And weirdly having seen that in other people’s offices, that’s kind of a thing here in Silicon Valley-

John Warrillow:

Yeah. Like a tombstone. I think they refer to it like a-

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. That was kind of like, oh, that’s cool. So we got sent those and yeah… Well, here’s what was happening. July, 2016 we signed the papers for selling the business. August, 2016, my son, Cole, was born. And I like to joke that he’s my new startup. It’s got about an 18 to 20 year runway. I’m not really sure what my exit strategy is, let me know anybody if you’ve got one. Let’s just say I brought some dope ass baby gear. Okay.

John Warrillow:

Got it. Okay. So tombstone and the dope ass baby gear. I love it. Okay. That’s great. So tell us, I love the name of your book, Mechanical Bull and I incorrectly, when we were talking about it offline said, oh, it’s because the startup ride can be very difficult, violent at times. And you said yes, and… Tell me about the background of the name.

Cheryl Contee:

Absolutely. Well, it’s a wild ride, that’s why I named it Mechanical Bull and I’ve actually physically, both my business partner and I have physically been on mechanical bulls.

John Warrillow:

I’ve never had the courage.

Cheryl Contee:

[crosstalk 01:10:03] about. Oh yeah, it’s crazy. It’s such a crazy… It’s bigger. Like when you get on it, it’s like so much bigger and heavier and experience, which in a way is a nice metaphor for having a startup. But also if you’ve ever been in a room where there’s a mechanical bull, it’s usually in a bar atmosphere or a party, something like that. When a man rides, yeah it’s tough. And people are looking at his strength or stamina. Does he have any kind of strategy involved? Very different when a woman gets on board. She has to do all of that too in order to stay on, but what people are actually checking out are all the jigglies. Okay. And just like, is her titty going to pop out at any moment, is that going to happen? And then how are we all going to feel about it? So it really is…

I mean, that’s a very simplistic metaphor, but it is true that it’s a very different experience being a female entrepreneur and yeah, I don’t mean to diminish and I’m sorry if it sounds that way and I’m going to work on that, I don’t mean to diminish anyone else’s experience. Because I know it’s hard. It’s hard for everyone. It’s hard for guys to stay on a mechanical bull, they get knocked out pretty quick too.

John Warrillow:

They get knocked out… I would last like five seconds.

Cheryl Contee:

But yeah, the bruises are real on everyone, but it really… There’s just like an extra layer of crazy nonsense challenge that I think because men don’t go through it or white people don’t go through it, it’s hard for them to imagine that even something that was super challenging for them is like literally, and the numbers are there to prove it, literally five to 10 X harder.

John Warrillow:

It’s called Mechanical Bull. It’s got a wonderful cover. You won’t miss it if you Google it or put it on Amazon or if you’re watching on YouTube, Cheryl’s holding it up which is awesome. And the company is called, Do Big Things. That’s the new company. Just give us a snapshot of what Do Big Things does.

Cheryl Contee:

Yeah. So Mechanical Bull, it’s all about how you can achieve startup success. So that’s the tagline. And the reason I wrote it was because I was actually sitting with a friend not long after the acquisition who said, “Look, Cheryl, 17 more people have been to the moon than have done what you have done in America.” 17 Americans have been to the moon, one person has done what you have done in your body, right? You have an obligation to help open the door for others and help, again, democratize access to creating cool ideas, new solutions and building generational wealth. And so that’s why I wrote the book. It really is… Goes through the life cycle of a startup. It’s partly my journey, but there’s also the voices of lots of other founders, lots of investors who talk about what they are looking for or how they can help.

So yeah, I think it’s something that anybody can use. You know the old saying, Grace Kelly said… Not Grace Kelly. Ginger Rogers said, I do everything Fred Astaire does, but backwards and in heels. So if I can do it, okay, and it was backwards in heels over like a burning fire. If I can do it I show you how you can do it too. So then Do Big Things is a new company. It’s actually an evolution of the former company we actually merged with another company, our prior digital agency from which Attentive.ly sprang. And yeah, it’s been great to grow. In these times Do Big Things focuses on helping the world’s leading causes, campaigns, candidates, and corporations with mission driven initiatives to create change in this crazy world we’re living in today.

And I think that part of what makes us different is that we are women led, we are 50% people of color. For a lot of our clients, we represent culturally the types of people they are looking to engage and mobilize, either get out to vote or educate them on issues and get their support, whether it’s in fundraising or legislation or just the day-to-day, we do a lot of backend support for folks who need infrastructural development in order to then do that engagement and outreach. So it’s been really exciting. We’re growing, we’re about 35 ish people now. We’ll probably be 50 or more by the end of the next election cycle here in the US which is 2022.

John Warrillow:

Right. And-

Cheryl Contee:

And then in my spare time, yeah, in my spare time I’m also the Chief Innovation Officer at The Impact Seat and The Impact Seat is a venture firm that is looking for and invest in the startups that are creating innovative solutions that solve the problems that the world is facing today. So we do that through of course investments in diverse led startups because diverse companies win, but we also do that through philanthropy and advocacy.

John Warrillow:

And Cheryl if we had people who wanted to reach out to you directly is LinkedIn best, or what’s the best place to kind of connect?

Cheryl Contee:

LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I definitely see everyone’s LinkedIn messages, but you can also go to impactseat.com or dobigthings.today or .com for folks for whom .today is hard.

John Warrillow:

And the book is called Mechanical Bull. Cheryl Contee, thanks for doing this.

Cheryl Contee:

Thanks so much, John, it’s been a pleasure to be with you.

John Warrillow:

Hey, if you liked today’s episode, you’re going to love my new book, The Art of Selling Your Business. The book was inspired by the cohort of my guests over the years who’ve been able to negotiate an exit far better than the benchmark in their industry. Sometimes two or three times more than I would have expected. I was curious to understand the tactics and strategies of these entrepreneurs and what they do differently from average performers. The result is a playbook for punching above your weight when it comes to selling your business. To learn more, go to BuiltToSell.com/Selling, where we put together a collection of gifts for listeners who ordered the book. Just go to BuiltToSell.com/Selling.

Built to Sell Radio is produced by Haley Parkhill. Our audio and video engineer is Denis Labattaglia. If you like what you’ve just heard, subscribe to get a new episode delivered to your inbox each week. Just go to BuiltToSell.com.

Outro:

Thanks for listening to Built to Sell Radio with John Warrillow. For complete show notes with links to additional resources, visit BuiltToSell.com/Blog. John is the founder of The Value Builder System™. To find out how to improve the value of your business by 71%, visit ValueBuilderSystem.com. John is also the author of Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You, and The Automatic Customer: Creating a Subscription Business in any Industry. Connect with John at Facebook.com/BuiltToSell or on Twitter @JohnWarrillow, W-A-R-R-I-L-L-O-W. Thanks for listening.

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