A great story is all in its telling.
No one’s more familiar with that concept than Carson Conant, founder and CEO of Mediafly. His Chicago-based company provides technology that empowers salespeople to replace boring powerpoint decks with the engaging content and vibrant stories behind whatever it is they’re trying to sell.
“Every salesperson has a story they’ve come up with,” Conant said. “They’ve had it stuck in their minds, but have had no way to unleash it.
“With Mediafly,” he added, “they’re able to show a rich story—with all of its color and splendor and capability—and put it in the hands of people who need to hear it most.”
But Conant isn’t the only authority on telling other people’s stories. He’s also damn good at telling his own. We sat down with Conant and Mediafly COO/CFO John Evarts (a master storyteller in his own right) to learn more about the company’s idiosyncratic evolution into itself.
Today, Mediafly stands at the threshold of attainable success. They’ve already raised over $10 million in funding from a potpourri of sources so motley it almost seems fictional. From bootstrapping and convertible debt all the way to a serendipitous $50,000 windfall for winning a competition they’d mostly forgotten they’d entered, Mediafly has taken anything but the traditional route.
“We’ve done things differently our whole lives,” Conant said. “We’ve raised money differently— we’ve grown differently.”
Whatever that difference is seems to be working. Their device-agnostic software, which enables sales and production teams to produce high-quality and entertaining content, has already landed about 25 major enterprise clients—some of whom are Fortune 500 juggernauts—and the team says they're primed to be the next Salesforce or Workday.
Conant and Evarts even hinted there’s a good chance of acquisition on the horizon.
“Could we be bought in two or three years? Sure, but the reality is we want to build a great company,” Evarts said. “If we start by building a great business by hiring great people, then ultimately the exit—whatever that means—will take care of itself.”
Conant added that the companies rolling out Mediafly get market share lifts, increased revenue, and see increased happiness in the employees.
“For a long time,” Conant said, “we had big visions of ourselves. We’ve always known we were something special, but I think it’s only just now that we’re realizing that we were right.”
A winding path to success
Mediafly’s road to success has perhaps been more scenic than most. Initially intent on building a podcast company, Conant founded Mediafly in 2006 after branching out from his family’s business, Nightingale-Conant. Fast forward a couple of years and Conant is now at the helm of a business he admits is much more sophisticated than the one he set off to create.
As it evolved from podcasting company to consumer app and finally to enterprise software, Mediafly’s story has seen its fair share of compelling chapters. Some are impressive—like the time they took a project a client couldn’t finish in 18 months and whipped it out in six weeks. Others speak toward the company’s tenacity (Conant said he was once known to cold call top-tier universities until a loose-lipped employee would divulge their best tech engineering student). Still others seem potentially catastrophic—like the time Conant vomited all over himself shortly after landing the small Midwestern startup’s first major enterprise deal.
“It turned out to be food poisoning, but I can only imagine what they were thinking,” he said.
But Conant and Evarts said each chapter — no matter how entertaining or perplexing or lucky — has helped them accelerate toward success.
The company said it has even twice turned its back on money-making corners of the business in favor of keeping its overall focus and strategy keen. One occurred during their initial pivot away from their moneymaking consumer app in favor of business-to-business; the other, while they began developing strategic partnerships with other businesses.
“Our willingness to give up half a million or more dollars each year in the name of focus has empowered our partners to do innovative things on Mediafly that we might not ever have thought of before,” Conant said.
The next chapter
When asked what he’d like to see in the next chapter of Mediafly’s story, Conant took a step back for broader reflection.
“I want to see Chicago start to propel the companies who are a couple of years away from a big win, because all that money and all those successful entrepreneurs will then flow back into Chicago,” he said.
“This generation of entrepreneur will fund the next generation of entrepreneur,” he said. “And what we’re finding is that, while they might not be glitzy and glamourous, there is a tremendous amount of wealth created by the last generation still being invested in Chicago today.”
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