Balto founder and CEO Marc Bernstein has built a SaaS platform designed to provide real-time guidance to contact center agents. He's scaling fast and having fun doing it, even after adding multiple investors to the mix and raising millions of dollars in capital.
The early days at Balto, Bernstein says, were like a fun, productive circus. Since there was little at stake — no investors to frustrate or customers to lose — so the sky was the limit. But as the company gained traction in the market and landed its first rounds of investor capital, things changed ... kind of.
"One of our investors came in to visit us at one point, When I think of the people that Balto, I think of happy warriors. And I love that quote — happy warriors — which is that we are on a warpath, and we're looking to win, and we're looking to be excellent. But we're goofy and we're having fun and we're having a great time in the office. And I think that that was really meaningful that didn't change at all," Bernstein says. "It was when we got to a larger scale, where you have to manage through managing others, like when we had multiple layers of management, that's where a little bit of the risk profile changed, and the way we would get things done changed."
He and his team built the necessary layers of management as the organization got bigger, the decision pace slowed somewhat as they played it a bit safer, and investor opinions had to be considered. But it wasn't like introducing a team of bosses to harsh the vibe.
"This is a great opportunity for us to perhaps dismantle this common thread that you hear all the time in the media, which is that you bring on investors and they want to run your business, and they want it their way, and they're going to fight you and make you do it their way," he says. "And I can tell you that Balto's experience with our investors has been phenomenal at every step — phenomenal in the ups, phenomenal in the downs, phenomenal in the easy decisions and the hard decisions, absolutely phenomenal."
He says much of the reason for that is they chose professional investors who keep cool heads. And as professional investors, they have dozens of investments, so the last thing they want to do is try to run dozens of businesses. So, they influence their portfolio companies by having their thoughts heard through boards that stay in communication with the CEO and help guide the leadership team's thinking.
"Our experience has been awesome," Bernstein says. "And it hasn't been something where I feel like I have to change how we're doing things. It's like more smart voices that are giving good input and helping us win. So, I think the concept a lot of folks have of investors being a source of conflict, that might be the case if you don't mesh with them and they're not respectful people or not professionals. But in the experience I've had with every single one of the VCs we brought on board, the experience has been fantastic."
Bernstein spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Conference about launching the company, how he's maintaining the culture as he's added layers to his management team, and how the typical characterization of investors as bosses is all wrong.