Startup Spotlight: Classy
Nov 15, 2018 -
Ever since Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy coined the phrase “You stay classy, San Diego” back in 2004, it has become San Diego staple. So it’s comes at no surprise that SaaS startup Classy, whose name was inspired by the film, has resonated within the San Diego community (and beyond). Today, Classy employs more than 200 people and serves more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations and social enterprises around the world. It has also recently celebrated $1 billion raised through its platform for nonprofit organizations.
Image credit: Classy/The San Diego Union Tribune
The San Diego Union Tribune recently interviewed Classy’s co-founder and CEO Scot Chisholm. Here’s what he had to say about his experience growing a tech company in San Diego:
What has been your experience leading a software company in San Diego, where — at least in the early days — you didn’t have many peers?
I won’t lie to you, it was lonely early on. There was no EvoNexus, no startup incubators, and there really wasn’t a community. There were pockets of companies all over San Diego, but nothing to bring them all together. It’s actually extraordinary what’s happened in the past seven years. Today the fibers are stronger in the startup community. And that’s important for raising money, growing, hiring, and getting advice and counsel.
In that environment, what strategies did you use to grow the company?
We felt we had to go out of San Diego to raise money and get software advice. Software-as-a-service was relatively new, and there wasn’t a lot of successful SaaS companies for us to lean on for advice. It was a prerequisite to be networked into the Bay Area. We knew no one, so I used to just go up there multiple times a month. I wouldn’t even have meetings, I would just hang out in the lobby of the Salesforce office hoping to meet people in our world and network with them. That actually led to a partnership with Salesforce, integration with their software, and two investments from Salesforce Ventures. That all came from just showing up.
What advice do you give other entrepreneurs who struggle raising money?
Traction is your best friend. Our business traction is what got us in the door with investors. Start with friends and family or angels, and make sure your story is tight and you’ve got real traction with revenue or growth before you approach institutional money.
Is it difficult to hire talent in San Diego?
For software, it’s difficult to hire for senior positions. This will get easier over time as software companies begin to succeed here, then their top employees will go on to the next startup. But for the early guys — especially for SaaS — it’s definitely been hard hiring those senior positions with software experience. About 20 percent of our staff was recruited from outside San Diego. For mid- to junior-level positions, we’ve done great in San Diego. UCSD has been really strong from a software engineering perspective, and they’ve been our anchor for a long time.
Since Classy was the first company you founded, what would you say was your hardest lesson learned as a new entrepreneur?
Hire earlier than you think you need people, especially for difficult positions. If you think you need to hire a senior position in two years, cut that timeline in half. Onboard people when you don’t need them, and by the time they’re ready, you need them. It’s not just senior positions, either. For example, an unbelievably important position in software is DevOps, which is super hard to find in San Diego. I wish I would have started that hunt two years before I needed it.
To read the full article, click here.
Image credit: Classy
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