Modern technology has made telecommuting and working remotely easier than ever before, opening the door for businesses to find and hire the best talent no matter where in the world they live. However, Chris Byers and Dustin Sapp will tell you that hiring the right people is only the first step; building an exceptional culture to support your remote team is equally important.
Byers and Sapp are CEO and COO of Formstack, an Indianapolis tech company that provides easy-to-use, online form-building software for 15,000 customers around the world. Although Formstack maintains an office of about 30 employees at its Indianapolis headquarters, the other 70% of its workforce live in 75 cities and seven countries around the globe. The team at Formstack has worked hard to create a culture that accounts for the unique benefits and challenges of remote work, empowering every employee to do their best work in spite of physical distance.
In our interview, Chris and Dustin share many of Formstack’s secrets for building world-class remote cultures. They explain the importance of fostering genuine relationships between team members, how to do this through face-to-face and virtual interactions, and why the team must always be aligned around the company’s vision. As an added bonus, we also discuss Formstack’s just-announced acquisition of Fast Forms for Salesforce and how the move will fuel Formstack’s continued growth in the future.
In this episode with Chris Byers and Dustin Sapp, you’ll learn:
- Why your company needs a dedicated team aligned around a core vision (10:55)
- How to build and maintain a highly effective remote work culture (19:11)
- Key reasons why your company should or shouldn’t go remote (28:00)
- Tips for overcoming the unique challenges faced by remote companies (29:43)
- The Formstack method for executing a smooth, drama-free acquisition (36:49)
- How high-growth companies can succeed and scale even without raising capital (48:13)
Please enjoy this conversation with Chris Byers and Dustin Sapp!
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“The idea of diversity is much different when you’re hiring remote.” — @dustin_sapp on @PowderkegHQ
“If you continue to persist, you can grow a meaningful business without having to raise capital.” — @rchrisbyers on @PowderkegHQ
“If you get the people part wrong, an acquisition is going to be a big waste of money.” — @dustin_sapp on @PowderkegHQ
Links and Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
Companies and Organizations:
Software and Apps:
Chris Byers (@rchrisbyers)
Dustin Sapp (@dustin_sapp)
Kristian Andersen (@kristianindy)
Bob Compton (LinkedIn)
Robert Harris (@ilaunchtech)
Mike Fitzgerald (LinkedIn)
Simon Sinek (@simonsinek)
Ade Olonoh (@adeolonoh)
Dee Guttikonda (@DGutikonda)
Keith Stoute (@keith_stoute)
What stood out most to you about what these entrepreneurs share in this podcast?
For me, it’s the tips for overcoming the unique challenges faced by remote companies.
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This episode of Powderkeg is brought to you by PERQ, a marketing technology company that connects consumers to brands. And what I love about perk is that perk is a lot like Indianapolis, the city where they’re headquartered. You see, Indy has all the opportunities that a big city offers with all the small town charm. So similarly, perk has big company stability, and all the excitement of a small growing tech startup, it’s really the best of both worlds. And perk is hiring for a bunch of positions. So if you’re interested, check out perk.com forward slash careers, that’s p r q.com. Forward slash careers, and see if there’s a fit for you or for a friend. Again, that’s perk.com forward slash careers. Matt Hunckler here, and welcome to another episode of powderkeg igniting startups. I’m your host, Matt Hunckler, founder and CEO of powderkeg. And I have the distinct privilege of having two guests today. One, the CEO of a company called Formstack, the other the CEO, oh, Chief Operating Officer of Formstack. Here today, and I’ve known both of these guys for a long time, they’ve been involved in the Indianapolis tech community, which is sort of where I got my start my career start, I’ve seen the impact that they’ve had on the community here with the businesses that they’ve been involved with. And I am really excited to have this conversation because Formstack is not your typical SAS tech company. They have grown in some very unique ways. And they also have some exciting news to share today with a an acquisition that we are announcing, literally today breaking that news here on the podcast. So I’m very interested to dive into that story, the lessons learned there, the struggles along the way, and then the opportunity that’s opening up for them. I’m gonna read the bios here, even though I know both these guys really well. I want to make sure that I stick to the script, because we’ve got tons of great stories that I’m sure we’ll dive into in the podcast. But I’m gonna stick to the script here as I introduce my first guest, Chris Byers. Chris, first of all, thanks for being here.
Absolutely. Good to be here.
Chris, you are the CEO of Formstack, which is Indianapolis based company offering an online form and data collection platform. Prior to Formstack, you co founded an international nonprofit that was built via remote relationships among partners in Europe, Africa and the United States. I want to make sure we talk about that, because that’s a really cool story. And we haven’t talked that much about that yet. Yeah, no, probably not. So I’m excited about that. And then we have Dustin Sapp who is calling in. Dustin, first of all, thank you for being here. Are you calling in from Colorado? Is that correct?
Yes, Colorado Springs,
there is awesome in Colorado Springs, and Dustin is the chief operating officer or CEO of Formstack. Dustin, I think I first met you, when you were getting a company called octave off the ground where you were formerly the CEO. Octave is another company, piece of software that we use here at powderkeg, in addition to Formstack. And that is a crazy growth story in and of itself. So we’d love to talk a little bit about the lessons you learned there and that you’re applying now, with Formstack. But you were responsible for leading and managing corporate strategy, growth, product innovation, of course, and you co founded the company. I remember, you know, literally being the lone coder on that for a while and testing early versions of what was right, what was then tinderbox, and we were an early adopter of way back in the day, and it’s so cool to see where it is today and the offices on the circle and the impact that you’ve made there. So I’m excited to talk to you guys to forces of nature, in one interview, working together to go Formstack thanks so much for being here, guys. Yeah, thanks for the so I don’t know this story very well. How did the two of you meet?
Yeah, I think this goes back to 2010. And I had was early on in my time at Formstack. I started in early 2010. So I’ve been there almost eight years now. And Dustin and I actually Dustin had built have an early version of octave and was getting started, I think had some customers and was beginning to see some opportunities to work together with Formstack. And so I’d been introduced through Christian Andersen, a great, great resource here and Andy and he came by the office and we started to talk about that.
I think Christian was episode one of the podcast. So he’s been on here before so for those of you that are listening and wanting more context with Christian and all of the knowledge in his reservoir of experiences, that is a good one to listen to. So that’s that’s really cool. What do you remember what that experience was like when you were talking with Dustin the first time and he’s showing off the early versions of what is now octave?
Yeah, I mean, I think in those days, we were the startup scene, as you know, was was much much earlier on and, and so it was just really good to connect real quickly with somebody locally who was in a startup and clearly I gained respect for Dustin quickly. He clearly knew what he was talking about and what he was building and part of that was having built a number of companies. In the past, and so, I think, also really cool to actually partner with a local company. We don’t do that as often as maybe we’d like because we tend to have historically smaller business customers than most local startups who tend to serve the enterprise. And so it’s good to see some opportunities to work together.
Yeah, definitely. Well, and you came into Formstack, having this prior prior experience building an international nonprofit, talk to me about that experience, how did you get involved with building a nonprofit? And then how did you bridge that into corporate entrepreneurship?
Yeah, so I had been in and kind of business in one fashion or another for a number of years ever since college, and so had actually left a job as kind of raising money for a health care company, we needed $100 million a year to build buildings and buy equipment and run operations. And so I’d go find that from banks and investors and otherwise. And my family and I actually took a two year journey, just totally off course. And we moved to London, and ended up starting a church there, started doing some consulting with some pastors in the UK and Europe, and then Africa, and what, but then one of the most interesting things as it applies to Formstack, is we were kind of growing a church online community. So as a group of people meeting just online, but one of the things we would do is use PPC ads to you know, say, Hey, are you discouraged or depressed? Or whatever? Do you need prayer, you know, click here. And it bring them into an experience where they could get prayer from someone. And so, you know, kind of this really unique introduction for me into inbound marketing, I wasn’t really thinking of it that way. But it was a great experience before you kind of before that Formstack experience. And then, on the other side of that some of the discussion I’m sure we’ll have later about our remote team was me getting introduced to people around the world from, you know, all walks of life. And so it has really helped inform the way I think about running the business today. That
I think that’s really cool context to come into the opportunity like Formstack. And clearly, your fingerprints are all over how this company has evolved since 2010. And it’s really cool to see how the team and the culture have evolved. And then the practice well, I know you’ve got some new features that you’ve launched recently that I’m excited to talk about as well. But first Dustin, I wanted to get some perspective from you. I know a little bit about your backstory, and some of the people you’ve worked with in the past some of your mentors like Bob Compton, who’s sort of a luminary tech figure here in the Midwest, but can you kind of give us some context for like what you were doing leading up to when you two first met in 2010?
Sure, sure. So I’ve spent my career starting and growing software companies started my first one, while attending rose Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. That’s actually where I met Bob, you mentioned him earlier. You know, I went into engineering, frankly, it’s purely a monetary decision. Growing up with a single social worker, Mother, I wanted to make sure that that I could provide appropriately if I ever grew a family. And in college, I kind of came to that realization that technology can be more than a means to an end. And you can actually impact lives and impact companies and do a lot of great things. So when I had the chance to meet Bob, I believe was my junior year of college, we pitched the concept to him. And he called me over Thanksgiving break and offered a check of a quarter million dollars if we were willing to work our butts off. And that was the start of my unintentional entrepreneurial career. We had a couple of partners, including Robert Harris, so I know you’ve worked with as well. And you know, we grew that company for a handful of years sold it to a valley company in 2004. Bob learned learned a lot about the what not to do and what to do and selling company and the types of things to watch out for. ended up leaving that business in about nine months started a company called Bob two with Bob, where we were a 5050 business partners go into voice technology company think Twilio, before Twilio was around we built that that same style of infrastructure. That company sold in 2010 started working on the concept of tender vim tinderbox now octave with Mike Fitzgerald and Christian Andersen in late 2009. And that was a whirlwind of a story we went from concept to revenue and about 100 days, which is even today is relatively unheard of. And you really started ramping up our customer base locally and then nationally and internationally work with great brands like GE and then Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor and other kind of large significant companies like Siemens and kind of had a blast growing and scaling that company. It doesn’t need to step back for some personal reasons in January and it needed to move my family out to Colorado and had no intention of joining another company. As you can tell by the background, my I’ve spent my entire adult career starting businesses. I’ve not joined a company since high school. So the the idea of kind of going and getting a job wasn’t one of those things that I was pursuing you’re interested in. As Chris mentioned, we we’ve known each other for a long time and going through some of my own personal journey I leaned on Chris quite a bit. And we’ve leaned on each other over the years during our companies floated this idea of joining Formstack and said, Hey, Chris, no, can’t do. I’m moving. We’re moving to Colorado. Like, where are you moving? Colorado Springs? Oh, did you know we already have two employees there. And by the way, we have this phenomenal remote work culture. come on board, let’s let’s scale and grow this business together. And as I dug deeper and deeper into Formstack, I was just blown away by kind of the health and the scale of the business. And this untold story, really, that folks assume for a second, this cute little software company on the north side of Indy. But it’s an amazing success story that, that, frankly, we’re starting to talk a little bit more about and be a little more braggadocious, when it comes to talking about where Formstack is today. And the kind of pillar can be in the indie community. And, frankly, all of the communities that we’re involved in around the world,
I’d love to get a little bit more perspective on the scale and impact of Formstack in a moment. But Dustin, I want to kick it back to you because you just kind of gave some really awesome broad brushstrokes of your career. And I’m curious out of all of those entrepreneurial experiences, is there? Is there one or two kind of bigger lessons that you learned? Maybe in each of the you don’t have to give me like the play by play? Because I know you’ve learned a ton in all of those experiences. But how much time do we have? Right? Exactly? Is there is there one sort of like transformative experience or bigger sort of like, Aha, like this is how this is how the matrix works. In terms of tech startups.
You know, there’s probably the biggest aha is that there is no big aha, that a lot of the stereotypes and a lot of the cliches that we say are there for a reason. Having done this now for, I guess, 18 years, you have seen a relatively significant shift in style of Team style of people kind of going from your baby boomers to Gen Xers to millennials, in what, what can make a company strong, what can make a company great, I’m really listening to Simon Sinek book now, about your why. And while that’s always been a concept, that’s true in businesses, it’s, it’s more appropriate in today’s culture in today’s lifestyle. And ultimately, if you’re able to build a team and a structure that is all rowing in one direction, and does all the leaves not in the leader, but in the overall vision of the business and kind of what we’re striving toward as a company, then you can get through all of the ups and downs that are guaranteed to exist in any business there is there is no Disney story, really, when it comes to growing businesses, there are major ups and their major downs and how you built that team. And the kind of trust you have in that team, the level of transparency you have really are going to be what they take your ability to make it through both of those not just making it through the lows, but the highest can kill you just as easily. And how you stay grounded and work through those is all dependent on that team structure that you’ve built, how clear you are with your vision with your values. It’s the stuff that I’m sure people talk about on this podcast every time you have a mom when he asks a similar question. And it’s, it’s true. That’s why you have to keep talking about it over and over again, and keep beating that drum.
I really appreciate you sharing that perspective. I know 18 years is a lot of time to be working on things that nothing is the same any day. There’s always some ambiguity in there. And I think that’s just great perspective to have that there is no one one big breakthrough thing. It’s a series of little breakthroughs and learning along the way. Yeah,
and, and what you learned 10 years ago isn’t gonna apply now, what worked for you five years ago isn’t gonna work now. And what you’ll find is, a lot of businesses, especially young businesses, will find an executive from a successful company or a prior founder, and they’ll try to bring him in and get the playbook that worked for them. And those best mentors are gonna be the ones that say, there is no playbook. And if you try to do what I did, it’s gonna you’re gonna fall flat on your face, and it’s gonna end in disaster. So let’s look at this scenario in this situation and figure out how to approach the problems. playbooks don’t work. And I think that’s probably the biggest misconception in entrepreneurialism is as long as I read my 15 self help books, and get three people to tell me how they did it. I’m gonna have success unless there’s a lot of garbage.
You heard it here first. load of garbage. That’s right. So Chris, what would you say is the why for Formstack?
We have, we have this kind of why statement is what we call it. It’s effectively a mission statement. But it’s removing complexity so you can get work done. So you know, over the years, we’ve gotten in the mode of let’s go in higher growth mode. And so let’s go target this product or something to get in the highest growth mode possible. And yet, every time we have pulled back to say, Why did something work or not work? It was all about we love this idea of removing complexity from people’s lives. We don’t want to build a product that people just live in all the time. That’s not what we’re trying to accomplish. We want you to get in solve a problem get out go Do your work. Like that’s, that’s fun for us. And it means we’re saving your time it means we’re sending in money. And so that’s kind of why we do what we do.
That’s awesome. I would say that, from my experiences using the product because we use Formstack. At powderkeg, you’re absolutely executing on that. Why appreciate it, it’s definitely my experience that it removes a ton of complexity from a lot of processes, it would just be a lot more complicated if I wasn’t using a tool like that, or I was using some substitute, like free tool like Google Forms or something like that, which just doesn’t get you to the removing complexity piece. Yeah. And
I think we probably share, I think, a similar background and not developers by background, and so often know what we want to get accomplished. It’s just Can I get a tool set that helps me get that job done? I don’t need someone else’s help, except for the fact that I just can’t code. So that’s a big deal. And so this, this is us trying to bridge that cap and give non technical people or less technical people the ability to solve their own problems?
Well, yeah, and it’s, it’s really a tool box, more than just a single tool. You know, there’s, there’s so many different things within Formstack that you can use. And maybe maybe it would be helpful just to kind of give a couple use cases of like how people are currently using Formstack. And it’s hard to define by just saying it’s form software. Right? It’s, it’s more than that, how are people currently using Formstack?
Yeah, I think, at the very basic, and I say basic people are, you know, Lead Capture is to a certain degree, a starter kind of task, except, you know, in our case, we’ve got customers who are very, very big brands using us to collect hundreds of 1000s of leads, they get those into their, you know, into Salesforce or whatever their CRM is. And in fact, along the way, they want to make sure, hey, I’ve spent $50,000, or $500,000, on a PPC campaign, I want to make sure all those UTM parameters are getting into the backend system. So I can see, was I effective in that, did I make money here or not. And so, you know, Lead Capture is a big deal, you’ll see a lot of people using Formstack to accomplish that. And then again, get it into the right back end system. In addition to that, you start to think about, for instance, an early version of we’ll call it workflows, so approval, so you need to maybe do a reimbursement request. And you want to make sure a manager approves that. So we kind of have built functionality. So you can approve, deny, and move that then down down the path. So against something begins to get automated. And then I think the other thing we see is a very broad use case. So people use us for HR processes, or they will use us to for an event registration, or they want to take a payment, maybe for the first time we’re not in their core system. And so they use one of our payment integrations. And so across, we’ve got something like 15,000 customers, and across that entire user base, lots and lots and lots of different use cases.
That’s awesome. 15,000 customers is a huge number. And it’s an awesome accomplishment to get to that number as a SaaS company. How, how are you guys delivering on that? Give me a sense of the size of the scale of the team. And then how that’s sort of split up. I know you have some headquarters here in Indianapolis, but you’ve got three in Colorado Springs, including Dustin now, where else are former stackers?
Yeah, so at this point, we’ve got about 120 form stackers. And they are spread across the across the world, the biggest bases right here in Indianapolis, we’ve got kind of in the mid 30s, here in Indy, but then 70% of the team is everywhere else. And that’s across seven countries and 75 cities. So people are as far west as California, as far east as Poland. As far north, as you know, a couple places in Canada, as far south as Argentina, we just added a team member on the island of Mauritius, off the coast of Africa. So it’s, it’s a pretty distributed team. And, and that does allow for, you know, for instance, Dustin, and I to get to still work together, because location just really doesn’t turn out to be that big of a deal. We do get together from time to time, but we can get on video and talk through things and collaborate, et cetera. And so we’ve built a pretty exceptional kind of remote team. And that way, I
want to talk to talk to you about how you do that, because we’re building our own remote team ourselves. So self serving, but obviously also our listeners would love to hear, but I’m curious. Dustin, is this the first remote team you’ve worked on?
As far as this level of remote? Absolutely. You know, we’ve I’ve always had remote folks on my teams, but it’s a different kind of culture. It’s not the boiler room get 100 people on 1000 square feet. And so it’s a different kind of energy that you have to work through. And so you’ve got to think through communication a little bit differently. You also have a different level of productivity, depending on the role in a very, in a very positive way when folks are able to kind of live and work in a comfortable way and kind of work at their level. And if you think about the kind of impact you can have it goes beyond just a single location or a single city With a relatively small team, massive enterprises get that opportunity. But to be able to do that of our size 120 is great for a software company. But it’s a relatively small company in the grand scheme of things. And it has an impact on 75 different communities. This is pretty amazing.
That is really amazing what what was most surprising to you about it doing remote at this scale?
The most surprising thing might have been when we had our all hands meeting in Chicago every year, the foresight gets everyone from around the world together in one location for a week. And actually, seeing everyone in one location, when you don’t necessarily walk into that office every day was was pretty eye opening, you see that? Oh, you’re six foot five, I wouldn’t have gathered that when I have a picture of you from here, when we talk on a regular basis. So some of those interpersonal things are, are pleasant surprises as you go through. But frankly, the way Formstack uses technology, whether that’s video, whether it’s slack, whether it’s our own product, to communicate how well the company communicates, frankly, I’m still a little baffled by
that’s cool. I, I love the idea of getting all 100 plus employees into one location to be face to face. Because they’re, I imagine there is value that you get face to face that you don’t quite get in this Skype scenario. Why? And when did you guys decide to do that sort of annual summit?
I mean, it all goes back to the fact that you can a few people have built remote teams over time, if you know the automatic story, the WordPress company, they’ve built 500 Plus, they may be up to 600 team members. And yet, as I’ve read and talk to people, they’re a very, very written culture. What I mean by that, you know, they do a lot of slack, writing a lot. And you know, they don’t actually use video, in fact, I was talking to somebody about how they do performance reviews, even and all written via Slack. So they don’t even get on the phone and do audio. But you can you can build a culture around that. But I am personally very relationally driven. And so I would not do well, if I had to sit by him behind my computer all the day, and never actually get to interact with people. And so we’ve always made relationships really important in terms of the organization. So for us, that meant we need to invest in getting people together once a year at least. But in addition to that, we asked teams to get together another time during the year. So you’ve got at least two points in time where you’re going to physically be together with people, and then hopefully through conferences, or maybe you do need to gather together, you know, on an ad hoc project, hopefully, three times a year, you’re getting to see people and so that came again, just from me being highly relational and, and me thinking about how do you build a good long term business around in a remote world. And I think having relationships becomes a great base for that. Because I think as we’ll all appreciate, we can screw a lot of things up if we have a great relationship with somebody because they say, oh, you know what I’m still cared about, they still want me to succeed. So that takes a lot of sense kind of into account.
Well, I imagine it’s not just the in, in person face to face stuff that’s building the relationships. There’s a lot of things happening virtually every day at Formstack. What are some of those things that you’ve kind of designed into the system? And then Dustin, I’ll turn to you after that and ask, you know, what are some of the things that you’ve found to be helpful as you’ve ramped up here on the team? As the CFO? Yeah, I
think we do a lot of video conversations. So I would venture that if in almost every case, most people are on video calls, maybe hours a day, especially if they’ve got larger teams. And so there’s just a lot of face to face interaction in that way. I know you did an interview with our founder day, Alana a couple of weeks ago on Facebook live out of remote, we built gel, which helps us communicate kind of do stand ups without having to physically do that stand up. So all of a sudden, you can kind of communicate information, that by the time you get to that video conversation, you can jump through all the update stuff and get to relationship and get to let’s talk strategy versus what are you doing today. And some of those things that you do pick up if you’re physically sitting next to each other. So I think a lot of video conversations, things like gel, we’ve got a lot of software that helps us along the way, a lot of Google Docs and things like that for collaboration. And then we try to intentionally do things like our all hands meeting, we get together once a month as an organization all on Zoom. And so you see all 100 Plus faces on their little windows and so you can’t see everybody really but you get to see their faces and so we make sure we’re doing that on a regular basis. We have how frequently we did that once a month. Okay, and then we also even have TF two is a an online game that lots of people can play. We’ll do that kind of weekly for remote team. What is TF two? Kind of online? and capture the flag esque game. So you can participate from anywhere. And all of a sudden, again, you get to have some of those experiences that in our office you might do via ping pong. But online, you can do via, you know, some cool games.
That’s awesome. anything unexpected Dustin that you didn’t expect to be as effective as it was, or any challenges adopting this remote work culture?
Yeah, there are definitely challenges. You know, when we talk about that bullpen style office environment, when a when a new deal closes, a new new customer comes on board, everybody knows about it immediately. everybody cheers you, you get the physical nature of celebration. And so you have to get to manufacture some of those elements in a in a more remote environment. You know, Chris mentioned a number of things they also do, we also do things like form FX fun, where they’ll do goofy little games once a month, and different people within the company will will sponsor those, really, all of those have done one way or gimmicks. Chris talked about the value relationships. And that’s been taken very seriously by the company. A lot of companies will outlay their kind of mission vision values. And, and most of the time, it’s lip service. Here, it’s fascinating how seriously the company takes the culture values that that we have, and in a very positive way, to the point where in sending an all company email, they’ll often put one of the culture values as the preface in the subject line, just to show why something’s been communicated. In those values, we bucketed them into two different categories, results matter. And relationships matter. So the fact that 50% of our culture values are specifically about relationships, really bleeds through to every member of the team. When I was first talking about coming on board with Chris, and we talked about this concept of all hands, one of the things he said to me was, listen, we’re gonna make this massive investment in all hands. And if all we do is get a little bit of vision communicated, but a whole lot of relationship building, then that’s a win, then it was it was worth every dollar we invested. And I didn’t tell him this in the back of my head, I rolled my eyes a little bit. Yes, sure. Sure. That’s what you mean, that’s a lot of money, we’re gonna get some sticking results out of that investment, and then participating in it. It’s absolutely true, the most valuable thing coming out of there is kind of taking that online relationship to the real world. And in building those bonds. with folks that are around the world, we did one that all hands, we did lightning talks for different countries that are represented where literally someone will take five minutes and explain it here that the interesting things about my culture and my country that you may think are a little weird being from a different place, or humorous, or what have you. It was probably one of the best sessions we had all week. And frankly, you learn how funny some of the folks are on the forum SEC team when they do a video of Canadian isms, comparing what you’d say in the US versus Canada, it was great time. And those relationships really get built in a positive way and that form sexually put their money where their mouth is.
But I think Dustin mentioned something about that investment in an all hands. You know, one of the things I always tell people is don’t do remote because you want to save money, it’s it’s not a good plan, you want to do it for the flexibility for the fact that you can hire people from wherever, whenever. And so for us, for every dollar we save and not having an office that supports 120 people, we invest that in things like all hands. And so it’s not about cost savings. And so we still use that money to create an environment it just is a different type of environment.
Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s clear, based on some of those examples. Yeah, sorry, Dustin.
Yeah, in many ways, frankly, we probably invest more dollars because of the remote culture than we would if we had everybody in a physical location. But beyond what Chris said about kind of the flexibility and being able to hide a lot of places, the idea of diversity is much different when you’re hiring in this kind of environment. In in the US and in Indiana, specifically, we look at about three different races. And we look at gender. And that’s how we think about diversity when we’re building a team. When you’re building globally, you realize that regardless of gender or race, if you live in Argentina, you have a much different upbringing, you have a much different view on life than you do if you live in the US your entire life. If you come from Poland, your skin color might be the same, but your background is extraordinarily different. And so we’ve been able to add a new layer to the way we consider diversity into the way we grow our team that only improves us and makes us stronger as a business. And with 15,000 customers spread across the world, allowing us to think a little bit more like our customer base really enabled us to have a stronger attitude when it goes to come into market.
It’s really cool to hear about it comes to go into market. Yeah, we know you met. I like all the benefits around the remote work culture. And we have some some folks in different cities in the US as well as over on the other side of the world in the Philippines. But I’m curious, because I’ve never been in the office of one. And Dustin I know you’ve got two other people they’re in Colorado Springs with you. Are you going into an office every day there? Or are you oftentimes working from home? If so, like, what are some of the things that you found to keep you as engaged as you would? Or maybe, as you pointed out earlier, more engaged than you would be in a boiler room style office as as you kind of put it?
Yeah. So I have the benefit of having a little bit more access, which I have now, I think, seven folks in Colorado Springs, it’ll be a couple of weeks now, because there’s been just a little more local hiring. So I’ve had that benefit. Now, in starting companies in the past, even with co founders, often you’re in an office have one. And that dynamic is different than today, when you have a plethora of co working spaces, those kinds of things. But I personally, I do a mix. Sometimes I’ll work out of the house, sometimes I’ll work in the springs. In that office, only one of those people are on my team. So my team is very remote as well. And spread out. So I do a lot of video calls. Also. I mean, Chris, you you actually lived that office of one environment for quite a while while leaving Formstack. So you’d have some good contacts there.
Yeah, I mean, for me, I did that for about two and a half years. I remember that. Yeah. Where were you based at the time in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City? That’s right. Yeah. So the great thing about it was I had an opportunity to support my wife and taking a job that was physically based in Oklahoma City. But there were there was a lot of learning there. I was moving at that time from a fully office based environment to something remote, remote CEO. Yeah, absolutely. And so yeah, I had a blog out there, it still still exists. I don’t know if the contents any good. So but the, I’m sure it’s good. But the good side was being able to be wherever I needed to be on the downside, you know, being on video all day, which is what I ended up with toward the end as the company grew just because that was the way I communicated with people that’s taxing. And it can, you know, you can wake up and say, Wow, this is a tough life to just not physically be around people, and be on video all day. And so one of the things I did was I got a co working space. And just because I wasn’t talking to people about my business as much as just going to lunch with them and hanging out with them. And so balanced out that being remote a little bit with just having physical interaction. But frankly, I moved back to Indianapolis, partly because the community was continuing to grow here. And it was a great place to be. And partly because we did have some people in the office here. And so I had a few more people that I didn’t have to get on video to talk with. And so I think that’s the other side for us is we think about remote. We’ve been flexible about it and not said, Oh, we are we are a 100% only remote organization. We’ve said, oh, you know, you got seven people in Colorado Springs, let’s get an office like there’s, there’s community there, that’s great that you can probably build on top of that. In India, we will continue to have an office, from time to time, I’m sure we’ll have cities where enough people pop up. And we say if you guys want to get a co working space together or build an office that’s possible to I don’t think it has to be it’s more about the flexibility and opportunities that exist versus saying we are again, we’re an only remote organization.
Yeah. But I like that perspective and context. I’m sure there’s a lot of lessons to be learned there. Were there any stumbling blocks along the way, like, maybe not permanent failures, but things you kind of had to be like, Oh, well, that’s not working. Let’s put in this new policy. And you know, whatever that that fix was maybe the result of the all hands in person was a result of not getting face to face enough. Yeah, what were some of those stumbling blocks.
But I think over time, you’ve seen people who started in the office, and then they moved to another city. And they were like, Oh, wow, I don’t like being remote. And and so they eventually left because they didn’t like that environment. And so we’ve had to learn to hire that way. And in fact, we stopped doing in person interviews and meant went completely to kind of an all video based interview because we wanted to make sure people would really fit that remote culture. And I think other things we’ve done, we still conceptually have an eight to five, nine to five kind of time that you should be in the office. But that starts to look really weird when of course, we want to plan a meeting at 10am. And we’re trying to somehow group together people in California and in Poland, like that’s a pretty tough challenge. And so actually don’t know that we’ve embraced that well, well enough, but we need to need to do that more. And by building we started using OKRs actually and Joe, but one of the values that that will provide is saying okay, we kind of know what the destination is we know what your goals are, and OKRs being objectives and key results. Yeah, just another, the Google kind of popularized way to generate and track goals. And so, you know, for us, we’ll eventually be able to go to a place I think, where we say, You know what, unless your job is just time specific. We’re not going to be that worried about it. We’re we just want to make sure you can get the job done. And so that’s probably the biggest thing that we’re still working through. Drew now is how do you? How do you embrace lots of different time zones, and you want to get things done in a certain timeframe. But you’ve got to work with people who are ahead of you and behind you and kind of need to balance that.
Are there other entrepreneurs or CEOs? You’ve learned from that? Do use a remote work culture. You mentioned automatic previously. Obviously, Basecamp is a remote work culture. Are there any guides along the way that you’ve had? Yeah,
actually, there was a guy who went and worked for automatic for a few years. And he wrote a book called a year without pants, good title. And so he did this amazing, like it was a day to day kind of journey through him going from I think, being a journalist to working at automatic. And so that was a great kind of experience. Yet, the the work that kind of writing that base camp has had has been helpful. I think, though, the other thing we need to learn from as take take Cummins here in Indiana, they’ve got 150 locations around the world. And so while they have lots of offices, they’ve also had to learn to talk with cultures and people in all different parts of the world. And so that’s actually someone I have not gotten introduced to there. But I think is a good next step is there’s a lot of companies who act like remote companies, but they never would have called themselves that. That’s just how they’ve operated big conglomerates, I guess. Yeah. And so I think that’s been helpful. And then in seeing some of that, it’s actually not well written about actually buffer writes a little bit about it. And Zapier writes a little bit about an add on their blogs. And so those are worthwhile reads. But then, when people are trying it, but not, it’s not been cut on it away, that’s as clear to find good guides.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I appreciate you guys being guides and sharing what you’re learning in the process here on the podcast. I know the culture in Formstack has kind of built around this remote culture. And among other things, we could probably dive into all those values. And you could recite them off the top of your head because you live them every day. But I’d rather dive into some of this new news that we’re sharing here today, for the first time, this acquisition that you guys have made, which will certainly have an impact on the culture. Talk to me about that. What What was the backstory to like, why you acquired this company? Why would you acquire a company when you’re doing so? Well, on your own? Can you give me a little context there? Yeah.
And I think I’ll set this up and let Dustin talk a little bit more about it. But I think one of the things that is important to realize as you’re growing a business is, I think I always thought, Oh, you’re gonna get a great product. And it’s going to get on this linear path and just grow over time. Or maybe it’s a hockey stick growth, whatever. But it’s going to be one product that does one thing really well. And yet, as I started interviewing people who grew businesses that got above $10 million, and got above $50 million, and $100 million, they’d say things like, oh, you know, what, that core business that you think that we were all about was actually flat, we built new products on top of that to sell. And we had segments of the business that were growing really fast. Not that this one big thing that you always think about is the one thing that drove us to $100 million. And so we started to have asked the question, how do we go from, you know, super clear focus on one thing to beginning to entertain more than that. And so as we started to look at our customer base, we saw lots and lots of them, were using our Salesforce integration, obviously a great platform. And so started to ask what what do we do with that? So I think Dustin will do well, to kind of take it from there and what we what we’ve ended up with,
great, Dustin, can you give us a little more context into going from a lot of our customers are using the Salesforce integration to let’s acquire a company. Sure,
sure. So one of the things with me joining the business was an opportunity to have a fresh perspective. And, you know, think about growth a little bit differently. Chris already had some ideas on how we could ratchet growth in certain areas in the business. But really taking that concept of growth in channels that we wouldn’t normally be growing at or we haven’t seen growth in historically was an area that I was going to be focusing on. And when he talked about the importance of why statement, it really played into this conversation. So Chris mentioned earlier, our goal is to remove complexity so you can get work done. Well as we kind of investigated how different customers were using that Salesforce integration, we have about 1000 of our customers using that today. What we found is that in a lot of cases, it wasn’t a sort of removing complexity for them, but they were having to implement some complex integrations in order that complex what they wanted to. So regardless of how we attacked the Salesforce ecosystem, we knew that we needed to have that white filter in place, whatever we bring to market, whether we take our existing integration and improve it build a brand new application on the AppExchange we knew we had to do that with a lens of removing complexity from our customers and and really making their lives better. So we really went through a building versus by scenario in those three different examples, we can take what we have make it better, we can build something fresh and new with with a fresh set of eyes on everything we’ve learned. Or we can look in the ecosystem and find what what business exists there today, that is the best at removing complexity for their customers lives. And we found this company fast forms, and they had actually already reached out late last year to learn a little bit about our journey. And knowing that while we compete a little bit, we didn’t have a native application on the AppExchange. And in talking with their founders and getting to know them, and, and experiencing their product, setting up their product for the first time really made me feel like some of those first times that I use Formstack. In the early days were what this is gonna make my life so much easier by implementing this product. And it was it was very clear off that first product demo that we needed to figure out a way a way to work together. And relatively quickly, we were able to come to that conclusion, they knew that Formstack gave them an opportunity to experience growth in a different way than what they’ve seen organically already. And that that teaming up together, the way we look at it is Formstack is the best, most robust, most sophisticated and easy to use data collection form solution and the broader market. They’re the same within the AppExchange. So being able to marry those things together and and really be the best in both environments was was a no brainer for us. So we’re excited to bring Dee and her team on board. We we will, as you mentioned, when this airs, when you’re posting this, we’ll be announcing more broadly, we’ll have a good presence at Dreamforce. And we know that we can make Salesforce a significant channel growth for us long term.
That’s awesome. And how big is the company that you’ve acquired? are eight people out of Toronto? That’s great. And talk to me about some of the due diligence and process behind that as someone who has never acquired a software company before. What are you weighing there? What are the decision points? And then, you know, obviously, you’re probably not going to go into detail on the deal terms. But as much insight as you can give us into that experience for those that might consider acquisition as a as a channel for growth and adding more revenue.
Sure. So typically, when you hear horror stories about acquisitions, it always seems to be around people. Almost always. It’s it’s cultures colliding and not getting along? Well. It’s a company acquiring for the tech firing all the people, you know, there are plenty of horror stories about acquisition. So for us, first and foremost, it was understanding the team understanding culturally, how will they integrate with us long term over time, making sure that the product is a solid product, and that it doesn’t have to be a perfect product, because those don’t exist, but we have to make sure that there’s value there. But more importantly, what our customers feel about the product, do they have the same feeling about the fast forest product as, as our customers feel about the Formstack product. So we just frankly spent a lot of time together, get to know each other learned. Learn a little more about how they foresaw growing their business, what they wanted in their own careers, in a sense, the same thing you would do in interviewing a key executive coming on to the team, you want to make sure you’re really well aligned, and envision and where you want to take things in the future. That that was the bulk of what we did, yes, you got to figure out guild terms. Yes, you got to figure out financials. But if you get the people part wrong, it’s it’s going to be a big waste of money and acquisitions are risky. And that is not a good way to mitigate your risk. So I’ve sold a company, my first company we sold where we didn’t really spend time learning about the people and understanding vision and strategy. And it was a colossal failure in many ways. So you learn a lot about that. And I encouraged DNP through the husband and wife team that started last ones. I encourage them to do as much digging on us. As we were digging on them, ask hard questions. Maybe I encouraged too much, because they did a really nice job digging into the team, but you got to make sure they’re excited about the future as well. You look at that kind of classic hype cycle, that peak of inflated expectations, and then you get down to the the trough of reality over time. We tried to minimize that as much as possible by making sure we had strong relationship investigation.
Yeah, I think due diligence to one of the things Dustin does extremely well, that I I’ll tend to if I encounter a problem, I’ll tend to be like, Okay, go in a hole and think really hard about the solution to the problem. He will say very quickly, let’s go talk to this person. Like they they’ve done this before, and especially here in Indianapolis, you know, people have acquired businesses much much larger than than we are and so I think finding, we call them mentors but you know, people who can help you along the way it was it was probably one of the biggest thing so it can give you real advice from real history. And so I think
that’s, that’s that’s good perspective to have. In terms of the questions that you guys were asking them, or questions they asked you were there ones in particular that were really good and insightful?
Yeah, I think probably plenty. Oh, go ahead.
Well, I was gonna say we sent them a laundry list. I mean, it was, it was it was a bit daunting and overwhelming. Chris over USA.
I mean, I think they, they did a great job of including their team in the process to ask us questions. And so, you know, they wanted to really understand where we were headed with the business, how they were going to be viewed in the business. And, and I think so setting those expectations was really important. I think it was good to hear, one of the things we’ve quickly learned is, as Dustin mentioned, they have a 4.9, kind of star rating on the, on the AppExchange. And we could see very quickly, they were doing things that we were not doing in our customer kind of experience with with customers that we need to learn from, and in fact, because they hadn’t grown to a certain size and started to think about efficiencies in certain areas, we can look to them and actually learn, oh, you know, what we should we should start to entertain chat again and customer support something we had done before, then we got rid of because have made more sense. But now we’re starting to say, oh, we should probably question that again. And so I think as they asked, Why do we Why do you do those things? Why do you do support this way? Or why do you do sales this way? It like illuminates a number of things that we’ve just kind of long forgotten as a decision. And so just a series of questions versus anything real specific. I think, in my case, Dustin, I don’t know thing. I don’t know if you’ve got anything else.
Yeah, I think that that freedom, early stage that they that they have right now, where you just you have to be scrappy, and everything you do, you know, my my youngest two kids are about five years apart. And in that five years, there’s a lot you forget about having a baby both good and bad. You you forget about the sleepless nights. So that’s a rude awakening. But then you also forget about when you go get that baby out of the crib, and they’re just their happiest can be right? So having that fresh, scrappy perspective early on where they’re challenging us in the same way we’re challenging them, also said a lot about how we’d be able to work together over time because it if we settle for complacency in our business, that, you know, a certain percentage of growth is good enough, then, you know, we’re doomed to atrophy and die long term. And that’s just the nature of software, businesses in general, but software especially, so being able to continue to inject that energy, and that that positive challenge on how do we take ourselves to that next level and drive that urgency? For even the diligence process, at least for me, it was refreshing, I think, for Chris as well. And for the team, we we had probably eight people involved in our side really digging in and understanding that there’s a there’s an urgent excitement that takes place there where you know, you can build some great things together.
When it’s really cool to see Formstack, you know, and when I first met you guys, even to today, I’d still say I would categorize you guys in the scrappy mentality in terms of like your approach to things meaning like you hustled to get things done, you’re you’re motivated, always looking to grow clearly, you know, with this acquisition, illustrating that point. One of the things I think is unique about Formstack, when you look at it compared to a lot of other SaaS companies is it didn’t go the what has now become more like the traditional route of raising round after round of capital to get that growth and grow. And instead, it’s been kind of a steady incline, at least from the outside perspective. And to my knowledge, you guys haven’t had a major fundraising strategy behind the growth that has occurred, it’s been come out of sales. Is that right?
Yeah, that’s right. So we raised seven $800,000, back in 2008 2009, and then have not raised since then. So we’ve in we’ll kind of tend to bounce back and forth between let’s get profitable, build up some cash, maybe we need to rethink the strategy or we need to rebuild something, whatever it happens to be build up some cash. And then all of a sudden, we’ve got that runway, and we can run a little bit harder and run into the red. And so we’ve just kind of bounced back and forth between that profitable and breakeven line. And you know, one of the best things that’s ever happened to us is that time has played out. And it turns out that if you continue to persist and continue to kind of go after the target, you can grow a meaningful business and you don’t always have to raise capital, we very well could still raise capital in the near future. And you know, in the coming years, there’s a great place for it. But there’s also a place where it’s dangerous and the dangerous place is I’m gonna put capital behind just a pure belief that I can get this done. And yet, realistically, you want to put capital behind Oh, I see. These unit metrics we’ll call them but I can see if I put $10,000 into sales or marketing that it produces x number of dollars. Listen, I’m getting repaid in a reasonable amount of time. It’s ultimately a math game in that sense. And so if you could do that raise capital go for it, it hopefully should all work out. But if you don’t know that, for sure continue to plod forward with building great assets that pay out over the long term. And for us, the bad news about an inbound marketing driven business, which is where we then is it takes a long, long, long time for something to pay out. So I write a piece of content, and it takes months and months to get traction and get SEO and or get covered by somebody. And yet, once it does, it’s an asset that just lives forever. Versus when you put a salesperson behind something. Of course, they can reach out and be effective, but it’s one time and then you’re done. And then you get to go repeat that process. And so the again, the downside is it can take a long time, the upside is you build assets that just keep repaying over and over and over again, that’s a
really good perspective to have. And I know there’s a ton of resources on the Formstack blog, people can check out the Formstack email@example.com, which I highly recommend doing. If you’re doing anything online. In terms of like collecting information, whether that’s internally as a team or externally to customers, or potential customers or leads, it is just a super easy tool to use. You do not have to be developer or you can be you know, technical nincompoop, like I am and get a lot done with Formstack. Definitely check that out. If people want to find you guys personally online, what’s the best social platform to go to? And what’s what’s your handle on that platform?
Yeah, I’m at our Chris Byers on Twitter, or I think the same thing on Instagram. I’m pretty terrible at updating things. Dustin, are you even on social media?
I’m not that old. Yes, but I’m not all that active. So Dustin, underscore SAP on Twitter and LinkedIn just doesn’t that
awesome. And we’ll make sure that’s all linked up in the show notes which you can firstname.lastname@example.org for this particular episode, including links to resources that we named, including some of the books we mentioned, some of the companies we mentioned, some of the other resources, as well as some of the guides we mentioned. I want to say thank you guys so much for being on the show sharing your entrepreneurial journey. And I’m eager to watch what happens as this magic continues to unfold with the acquisition, the new role, Dustin, congratulations again. And thanks very much. Yeah, thank you guys, both for being here.
Yeah, thanks for the invitation. Good to be here.
Thanks. I appreciate it.
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