What’s it like to launch a $150 million company at the age of 23? Ask Henry Schuck, founder and CEO of DiscoverOrg, which provides data solutions for the marketing and sales industry. Henry started the company in 2007, and it has since won 4 Codie Awards in one year, including Company of the Year, CEO of the Year, Marketing Team of the Year and Sales Team of the Year. Don’t let his youth fool you — he knows what he’s doing.
But he didn’t always believe that. We recently interviewed Henry on DemandGen Radio, and he shared with us the fears and challenges he had to overcome to lead this fast-growing company along the road to success.
David: How did it feel to be a first-time CEO at 23?
Henry: We are a 150 million ARR business today. At the beginning we didn’t think we were starting a large enterprise. We were just starting something that would pay our bills and give us something fun to do that would have growth potential. If you told us we’d be doing $150M in revenue in 10 years, we would have had no idea how we were going to get there.
David: That’s a lesson right there! At DemandGen, we didn’t either, but we knew our purpose and mission.
Henry: Being in Inc. Magazine and Fast Company are cool things we aspired to, but didn’t expect it until we got close. Once we got close to those goals, we committed to them. One of the big benefits is that even though I was 23, I had one experience to draw on. When I just finished my freshman year at University of Las Vegas, I was dead broke and I applied all over Las Vegas for jobs. I was hired at a little 2-person startup, iProfile, making $12 per hour. They were in the business of providing data to B2B marketing organizations.
While I was at iProfile, the business grew from 300K to $5M in revenue, but the company size didn’t really grow.We weren’t investing back into the business, and we didn’t see a path to building a real functioning company. A friend approached me about starting a new company, and we started collecting and building the data and platform that would enable us to launch Discover.Org.
David: The most successful people have the hustle; they’re willing to work hard. But you have to raise capital. What was meeting with investors like at that age?
Henry: Especially early on, I felt like I was playing a game and someone would figure out that the company was a mess internally. We were just hustling to collect data. In 2011, we were fourth fastest growing company in the Oregon/Southwest Washington area. I remember meeting other CEOs and thinking, “Wow, your company is growing and you’re great!” I felt like I was playing whack-a-mole. I thought everyone else was hitting all the buttons right with no problems, and I was different. I was struggling to figure out the salesperson profile, and struggling to get off blacklists for being too aggressive in our marketing. But I learned that regardless of how big or fast-growing a company is, there are problems associated with achieving success.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to feel actual pride in what we’ve built; I used to undercut the value of the company. Today we have 4,000 clients and 80,000 users around the globe. But I talk to customers and read reviews that are extremely positive, and it’s almost as though I don’t hear it. I only look for negative feedback.
David: That’s the skill of a leader. You look for where you can improve. Were you confident when you were raising money?
Henry: No, I wasn’t. I kept hearing, “What are you going to do after DiscoverOrg?” If you work for a company, no one asks you that. There’s this idea that startups are temporary endeavors, and your goal is to sell it and move on. So, when investors asked me what I wanted to do, instead of saying what I believed — that I wanted to lead it — I just took a step back. I sent a signal that I wasn’t passionate about it.
Luckily, we passed on the first few investors, and used a banker instead. He told me that investors want to hear about how passionate I am, because that’s what they look for in a CEO — someone who is smart, agile and wants to take the reigns.
David: Why do you think you sold yourself short initially?
Henry: Part of me felt that if they thought they wanted to hire a CEO, I didn’t want to make it difficult for them. We wanted their money. Also, I wasn’t sure I would be perfect for the role, because it was hard to understand what the company would need in the coming years. I wanted to work hard, take advice and receive counsel from smart people around me.
Because of my age, I didn’t have a playbook. I was figuring it out as I went along. Smart investors bring in experienced people beneath you — our investors brought in an experienced CFO who suggested simple things that made a huge impact on the business. For example, the length of agreement. Clients see the biggest ROI with our product about 18 months in, so he suggested we incentivize Sales to sell multi-year contracts.
David: How have you scaled your marketing and sales so successfully?
Henry: Our Sales and Marketing organizations and the way we go to market have changed dramatically. In 2011, we had two sales people aside from myself. Our closest competitor was Rain King. They had 15-20 sales people. One night I drove home thinking I had failed at building a sales team. But on my way back to the office from lunch one day not long after that, a young guy came by the office. He had no experience — he was a professional poker player and wanted to be in Sales. That guy is now our Chief Revenue Officer and manages a 50+ person team. A week after he was hired, our best sales person came into our office, and has become our #1 sales producer. Not only that, but he’s made me significantly better at selling. I’ve learned a lot from him.
That’s one of the unique things about Discover.Org. People around you are great at their craft and learning from each other constantly.
David: How have you raised money for the company? What did you learn?
Henry: We’ve been backed by private equity since 2014. I’ve interacted with about 100 investors. The biggest thing I’ve learned is they’re focused on the most obvious things: You have to be growing and profitable and retaining your customers. We became really good at sales, so the company was growing 100% per year, but as we continued to grow, we weren’t focusing on retaining existing customers. The worst that can happen is to have a really great product and fail to execute on customer success and renewal. If investors see a retention problem, they’ll assume it’s a product issue. So we brought retention efforts together under a single team that’s focused on driving renewal rates.
David: It’s 11 years since you started the company. What advice would you give your prior self?
Henry: My first thought is that I’d tell myself to not lack the confidence I need to be a great CEO; that the investors don’t know everything; that I have what it takes to be a CEO of a big company. But if I had told myself that, I may have lacked the fire in the belly to prove everyone wrong. So instead, I’d tell myself to be healthier, exercise more, and take time to be selfish along the way.
About DemandGen Radio
DemandGen’s PodCast Series features interviews with top industry experts, thought leaders, authors, marketing technology firms and senior marketing leaders from around the world about their methods and technologies for high-performance marketing. A replay of the full podcast with Henry Schuck can be found at www.DemandGenRadio.com.
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