In April, the G2 Crowd research team has focused on small business—particularly the journeys of small businesses. To better understand the different paths these companies can take to grow, our team spoke with various small-business leaders about their histories. CRM software Nimble CEO Jon Ferrara spoke with us about his experiences at Nimble and GoldMine, and Nimble’s recent Series A funding.
Jon Ferrara has remained the CEO of Nimble, a social tool for customer relationship management (CRM), since founding the company in 2009. His original ideation of a cohesive relationship management software, GoldMine, dates back to the mid-1980s in a pre-Google Calendar, Outlook and marketing automation world.
After building this concept with co-founder Elan Susser, the two sold GoldMine in 1999, providing them both the experience, bandwidth and resources to pursue new ventures. Ten years post-acquisition, enter Nimble: a new CRM tool aimed to fit the evolving undercurrents of social media and the desire to see our digital worlds interconnect.
Presently a small-business that employs 25, Nimble moved into Series A funding on March 3, 2017. Investopedia explains this as, “the first round of financing given to a new business once seed capital has already been provided. Typically, this is when external investors are given company ownership for the first time.”
In Ferrara’s words, this moniker indicates the company has popped its head above water and proven it has the team, traction and grout to succeed.
Similar to GoldMine, Nimble was founded to resolve a software market that Ferrara felt failed to provide necessary tools for making professional communications a cohesive experience.
“I wanted something that enabled me to unify my contacts and conversations,” he said.
He found the current software offerings could help him consolidate the conversations, but provided no means to trace conversations back to contacts.
Ferrara’s funding case was unique in that he was able to use proceeds from GoldMine’s acquisition to get Nimble off the ground. After the product gained some traction, friends and family contributed to help move it into seed funding, or the round prior to Series A, wherein investors bet on an idea as opposed to a guarantee of success.
The process behind deciding to advance from one round of funding to the next varies for each small business. The folks at Nimble placed an emphasis on intentionally scaling when the product proved it could keep up with the changes.
“I think scaling too early is one of the deaths of a small business, and you need to really wait to scale until you have effectively built a product that is sticky and ready,” Ferrara said.
For Nimble, this means keeping a close watch on quantitative metrics that help apply numbers to growth over time. The team relies on dashboards to record data such as unique visitors, percent of visitors who convert to trial versus paid, and what percent of those paid users are being retained.
“You can easily see off of that dashboard that now is the time to really scale,” Ferrara said.
He refers to Nimble’s funding strategies as “scrappy,” warning other companies who desire growth to be diligent about how they allot their resources. Up until this point, Nimble has allocated no resources to marketing, hired no sales personnel and purposefully keeps its development team small.
These tactics are not an expectation for every small business, and certainly are not habits Ferrara condemns. Rather, he emphasises dispersing funds with discernment. Nimble’s intent is to scale up on tactics the team has found to work, such as influencer marketing and social content, but also to experiment with new ideas.
“We’re going to invest in our mobile applications, big data and AI, and also in our partnerships,” Ferrara said.
In addition to software strategies, Ferrara believes in investing in people as an integral tactic in successful business growth. He likens manning a company to coaching a sports team, in that recruiting efforts should not overlap with the playoff season. Managers should anticipate company needs ahead of time, so they’re not drafting a point guard days before the championship game.
Ferrara’s challenge in building up his small businesses has been introducing ideas to a market that he believes remained a few steps behind.
“One of the things I struggle with is I see things ahead of the market,” he said. “GoldMine was the first contact platform before Outlook existed. How do you go and sell a program like that?”
A then 29-year-old Ferrara, along with his partner, chose to zero in on their core prospect’s influencer. This, combined with guerilla PR and word-of-mouth advertisement, helped them scale GoldMine into a successful organization.
Nimble had a similar process. Ferrara and his team anticipated the changes in business caused by changes in a new, emerging social landscape, while utilizing the strategies and software already in place. To them, it made the most sense to incorporate their product with G-Suite and Office 365 to fortify clients’ connections with contacts already maintained in their work address books.
Ferrara and Susser originally began GoldMine out of an apartment in Los Angeles, eventually selling the product for $125 million. He advises young entrepreneurs, “balance the outgo to the income in a way that you’re never stuck, where you need money or you’re lacking the resources you need to do the job you need to do.”
In spite of his financial success, Ferrara’s retains Nimble’s emphasis on people and the connections formed between them.
“It’s not just prospects and customers who are going to help you grow your business,” he said. “At Nimble, we connect with editors, analysts, bloggers, influencers, third-party developers, investors, advisors and customers of various types.”
Per teachings from his wife—a horticulture therapist and sustainable landscape designer—Ferrara has grown to view a successful business like a healthy garden.
“I think there’s a parallel to how we grow our business, and ideally we do this in such a way where we are leaving a positive impact,” he said. “I believe service is the new sales and that if any entrepreneur enters into any connection with a prospect or customer or business partner, with not the intent to see how they can take advantage of them, but how can they serve that other person. Having that philosophy will change the way people see you and will increase your possibility of success.”