5 Chicago tech leaders share what changed when their companies scaled

by Michael Hines
February 7, 2019

Growth is the goal of every tech company. But aside from a need for more desks and an increased customer list, what growth looks like — and the impact it makes internally — varies depending on the company and the industry it’s in. For some companies, growth mode brings about changes in recruiting strategies, while for others it impacts their approach to working with customers and even the products they create.

We recently spoke with five senior Chicago tech leaders to learn more about what changed — and what stayed the same — when their companies entered growth mode.

 

ActiveCampaign Chicago tech jobs

ActiveCampaign’s cloud-based marketing automation software is used by more than 60,000 small and mid-size businesses around the world to connect and engage with customers. ActiveCampaign launched in 2003, and CEO and founder Jason VandeBoom has seen the marketing technology industry change drastically in that time with the rise of cloud-based software. VandeBoom said this industry shift caused the company to shift its platform’s foundation to better meet the evolving needs of customers.

 

What was your company like when it first launched?

We started as a consultancy, helping small businesses better connect with their customers. As we continued to repeat tasks over and over, we realized we could package up our solutions and sell them as software. At the time, that meant on-premise software, meaning businesses would buy the software and download it locally on their computers.

The shift opened up a huge opportunity for ActiveCampaign and has resulted in rapid growth.

 

How has the industry’s evolution caused your company to change?

We transitioned ActiveCampaign to a SaaS business in 2013, but the democratization of delivering software-as-a-service meant a drastic increase in products available in the martech landscape. These broader industry changes led us to shift from a traditional marketing automation platform to a platform built on automation that helps businesses orchestrate their customer experiences across a variety of tools, letting businesses connect the tools they want instead of relying on an all-in-one solution. The shift opened up a huge opportunity for ActiveCampaign and has resulted in rapid growth.

 

SMS Assist Chicago tech jobs

SMS Assist’s cloud-based and mobile platform helps companies simplify building maintenance and repair strategies. President and CFO Marc Shiffman, who joined the company nine years ago, said the biggest changes in the facilities maintenance industry in that time have been driven in large part by SMS Assist itself.

 

What was your company like when it first launched?

I was employee number 25 working from a 9,000-square-foot office in River North. Today, we have close to 1,000 employees between our downtown Chicago office, our newly opened Naperville location and a development office in Changsha, China.

We started as a traditional floor care company that primarily serviced small-box retailers. Since then, we’ve introduced a disruptive cloud-based solution that we use to provide services to roughly 186,000 locations in all 50 states, with more than 45 service lines in total. Despite this growth, our employees’ entrepreneurial spirit and passion for helping our customers has never faltered. In fact, it’s stronger than ever.

We created a highly disruptive business model that changed the industry’s landscape.

 

How has the industry’s evolution caused your company to change?

SMS Assist has been the catalyst for so much of the change we’ve seen in the industry. Facilities maintenance was a very low-tech field, but by applying cloud-based technology, we created a highly disruptive business model that changed the industry’s landscape. We also discovered that the power of SMS Assist’s technology wasn’t just for small-box retailers. We’ve expanded into a number of industries, like residential, convenience stores, banking and food service. As a result of this demand, we’ve not only brought on a ton of new expertise and talent, but we’ve also challenged ourselves to continue being at the forefront of shaping an increasingly technology-focused industry.

 

Syndigo Chicago tech jobs

Syndigo’s content management platform gives companies in a variety of industries a single place to collect, store, syndicate, manage and publish product content, nutrition information and digital media.

Syndigo only recently formed after Gladson, a Chicago-based provider of digital asset and product information management solutions, moved to unite the five companies it acquired in the past year under one brand. SVP of Corporate Development and Solutions Delivery Chris Barnes shared what prompted the rebrand and the early impact it’s had.

 

What was your company like when it first launched?

Each individual organization all had a unique identity, culture and perception in the industry. Each one was successful in their own space and wanted to expand to other industry verticals and content capabilities but struggled to do it alone. Many of us had even tried partnering together to figure out the problem, but the one consistent theme across all six companies was having the customer at the center of all decisions — we knew we could never lose sight of that.

All these companies have come together as part of our thesis and the market demand to consolidate the amount of content management solution companies brands and retailers have to work with. Having the financial sponsorship from our two private equity firms, The Jordan Company and Wicks Capital Group, affords us the opportunity to have an aggressive mergers and acquisitions strategy.

Having the customer at the center of all decisions continues to be our main focus.

 

How has the industry’s evolution caused your company to change?

Having the customer at the center of all decisions continues to be our main focus. They can now have access to the product content solutions they need through one innovative organization. We’ve also been given the great opportunity to shed any misperceptions and build on our core values. The rebrand gives us the opportunity to offer our clients who worked across multiple solutions in the past all their content management needs under one roof. It allows us to become more intimate with clients and provide them an even higher level of service. We have built on the high energy cultures, celebrations and spirit of collaboration, and rolled out cross-training and growth opportunities across all our offices for the over 300 high-caliber, talented individuals that make up Syndigo.

 

Zoro Chicago tech jobs

Zoro is an e-commerce company that specializes in industrial tools, equipment and supplies. The company boasts a headcount of over 300 people and its website includes over 2 million items. While the company has grown substantially since its founding, Senior Director of HR Adam Henry said what the company looks for in candidates hasn’t changed.

 

What was your company like when it first launched?

We had only a handful of people in a much smaller space, but it was a team of people who knew how to get stuff done and wear multiple hats. We took a lot of pride in hiring curious learners with an entrepreneurial mindset who were not afraid to roll up their sleeves and explore areas outside of their own. The chemistry of the team helped pave the way for our early success, and much of what we looked for then still rings true today.

Now having nearly 350 team members, we still embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and seek out people who are not afraid of challenges outside of their comfort zones. Working cross-functionally allows you to understand how the company really fits together, where our opportunities are, and how to leverage our own strengths as a team in order to advance the business and truly innovate.

We still embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and seek out people who are not afraid of challenges outside of their comfort zones.

 

How has the industry’s evolution caused your company to change?

The advancement of technology and competition within our industry has led us to need to move faster and faster. Having a website that meets the needs of our customers and loads faster than ever, while maintaining a strong user experience across multiple platforms, is critical. Secondly, in growth mode in an ultra-competitive tech industry job market, we need to turn around our selection process as quickly as possible. If we find great candidates, we don’t spend a ton of time keeping them in a state of ambiguity. We want to get them in front of the right people, align and then make a quick hiring decision — the sooner we can add great talent, the sooner they start contributing to the team.

Finally, we tend not to get stuck in the think tank. We’re OK making decisions without having every single piece of information and detail laid out, provided they support the strategy of the company. If we’re going to fail at something, we fail fast, learn from it and get back out there with something new to test.

 

Evive Chicago tech jobs

Evive’s platform uses big data and predictive analytics to help companies ensure their employees understand — and make use of — their benefits. Evive was founded in 2007, and as the company has matured so to have its customers, which now need solutions to be implemented quicker than ever. Co-founder and Executive Chairman Peter Saravis said this has led to an evolution in the company’s recruiting strategy, which in turn has helped drive more growth.

 

What was your company like when it first launched?

Evive was just a handful of people who had a shared vision: We kept hearing that health care was becoming more consumer friendly — but there was nothing consumer friendly about it. We wanted to change that. Our goal was to bring new value to employers and their large, diverse workforces. We each brought our own set of complementary skills to the job, and most importantly, we shared a strong work ethic with an emphasis on integrity and transparency. While it was a small enterprise, we had a big vision, helped each other out, and did what was needed to do to deliver on the promise to customers.

 

How has the industry’s evolution caused your company to change?

Our clients, who are large and complex organizations, need more immediate access to expertise and quicker turnaround on solutions than in the past. That evolution led us to bring in more subject-matter experts and specialists who can be close to the client, listening intently to their needs and quickly responding with the right solutions. It feels gratifying to be able to not only deliver the solutions we envision, but also to be asked by our clients how to deliver innovation and incremental value. The trust they’ve put in us as we’ve grown has allowed us to pioneer with them in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we first started this business.

 

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