Kansas City, Mo.-based Infegy may be tiny -- just 14 employees worldwide -- but revenues are soaring, and the company's Social Radar software is now watching more than 40 million sites and 10 billion conversations, making it a powerhouse in the white-hot world of social media.
Infegy CEO and co-founder Justin Graves says that 2010 sales were 280 percent higher than 2009, and he expects 2011 to repeat that performance. The company has 10 employees in the U.S., and another four in England; the overseas team works entirely in presales and sales.
Infegy was founded in 2007 as a result of Graves' work in an advertising agency. (He'd previously worked as a programmer in the gaming industry.)
At the agency, Graves helped develop a system to monitor what a small group of websites were saying about certain client brands; that was the genesis of Social Radar, which looks to expand the monitoring and analysis to the entire web. The the ad agency became Infegy's first client.
Funding has been all private, from the founders' pockets -- and that leads to Graves' first piece of advice:
Tip #1: Where you lack capital, you have to make it up in dedication.
"I think for us, the starting key to success," Graves says, "is dedication. We didn't have a lot of capital, so we were trying to take on as many roles as possible.
"You have to be willing to do anything and everything. Sure, you have to take on the role of CEO, but you also have to be a developer, run servers, manage HR, and handle tax stuff. You can't be afraid to get your hands dirty.
"That was critical. As we expanded and got more people, I stayed involved. Though we have outside accountants and human resources help, I stay involved as the one person who knows every piece of everything."
Tip #2: Good sales people don't come cheap.
"We had to find people pretty quick to do sales," says Graves. "It was difficult. It's hard to find those people.
"We couldn't offer huge salaries, so we started them out on mostly commission, with a small base so that they could get some bills paid. The first few months are tricky, but we paid we pretty healthy commissions with no cap.
"Our best guy was making $130,000 after six months -- that was best we had seen. But then he got kind of comfortable, and stopped doing as much, and is no longer with us. For our full-time sales guys, the average is around $60,000 to $70,000.
"At the outset, you're doing a lot of education. You're trying to find leads yourself, because people aren't just knocking at your door. Fortunately, we found people who wanted a startup environment and wanted to help it grow."
Tip #3: Your geography and code can both hamstring your hiring.
"Our biggest challenge now is hiring people," Graves says. "We're looking for developers right now, but they're very hard to find around Kansas City, so we're trying to broaden our reach. We want people to be here in our office, so it's easiest if they already live here. It's been difficult.
"We have some huge tech companies here, but we use open source Linux and Python, and for that it's hard to get developers here. If you do Microsoft .NET stuff, they're all over the place.
"Early on, our biggest need was for sales, because I myself am pretty bad at sales; my background is programming technology. [Co-founder] Adam [Coomes] was better, but neither of us was great.
"So, you hire a couple of sales guys, then find that this project is getting pretty big, so we need to hire engineers who could fill some technical holes, or make our website look better. Who we need to hire and when has always been a function of what we need most desperately at any given time."
Tip #4: Your best source of help is your internal network.
"We mostly found people through networks of friends -- someone knows someone," Graves says. "We met some people on the way in business -- they're doing Infegy work, they have a buddy.
"One of the biggest strokes of luck early on was finding a mentor. I was certainly no master of business, and we needed a lot of advice; we needed someone who we could fire questions off to.
"We fired off some emails to VCs, and the only one who responded was James Clarke of Rock Hill Ventures. He said he knew we had something, but he didn't know what it was.
"Anyway, James was a humongous help. He helped us find our lawyer, our accountant, and helped us incorporate. He helped us find several of our first employees. He'd chat with us to make sure we weren’t doing anything crazy.
"We ended up granting him a bit of equity, but, for the most part, he did it just because he was being really nice. The equity grant was our idea. We asked him to think of a number, we did the same, and it ended up being the same number, with vesting over three years.
"James is still on our board of advisors. We've had other advisors, too, including a senior VP of SAP who's helping us figuring out pricing models, and Bo Fishback, who was with the Kauffman Foundation and has now started his own company, Zaarly."