The season finale of Exit Stories is also Part II of an expansive interview with Bronto Co-Founder Chaz Felix, who built the Durham-based email marketing startup alongside Co-Founder (and GrepBeat Godfather) Joe Colopy until Bronto’s $200 million exit to Netsuite in 2015. Felix is a frequent presence in Colopy Ventures World HQ these days since he works alongside Exit Stories host Kevin Mosley (and the GrepBeat Godfather) as an Operating Partner with Jurassic Capital. Kevin is yet another Bronto alum.
If you missed the first episode of this two-parter, don’t fret—check it out here. The Bronto story will wrap up the season, so here is one final shoutout to this year’s Exit Stories sponsor, Vaco.
Here are some key takeaways from this episode:
- On maintaining your culture as you scale: One of Bronto’s biggest strengths was always its unique work culture. With benefits like sabbatical programs—a five-week period of paid time off every five years—and a stock option plan, leadership made sure that its “Brontos” were well taken care of. Another contributor to this work culture was each Bronto’s “stupid human trick,” where new employees performed a unique task of their choosing that ranged from juggling to eating an entire jar of “mayonnaise” (later confirmed to be a sweet treat). These traditions helped Bronto attract creative, ambitious people, Felix said. “It just reinforces the culture,” he said. “Joe and I played our roles as founders, but it went way beyond that where people had all sorts of traditions. And that’s because they were given an environment where that was accepted. Not only that, it was embraced and applauded.” [Editor’s Note: OK, it turns out this chunk ended up in the end of Part I, not in Part II. But you should listen to both parts anyway!]
- One day of setbacks will not kill a deal: When an excited Joe and Chaz flew out to California for what they thought would be a fairly straightforward completion of Bronto’s acquisition by Netsuite, that left them all the more devastated when it suddenly seemed that the negotiations had reached a deal-killing standstill. As the Bronto herd returned back to their hotels that night, they thought the deal was off for good, but as we know now, they were wrong. Setbacks and stalls should be expected in any deal, but if you come back to the “operating table,” as Felix described the experience, you might be able to bring it back to life. “Maybe there’s a flat-line patient or deal sitting there, eventually there’s some shocking back, where there’s a little bit of a pulse, and a little bit more of a pulse,” Felix described. “And the next day, we’re able to kind of work through enough of those differences to get to a point where the deal’s back on.” (33:20)
- Be transparent and show up for your people: All through Bronto’s lifetime, having an employee-oriented, family-style work culture was always a priority. As the two founders prepared to exit, this was no less the case. They ensured that no one would be let go and that employees would maintain their holdings in the company. Bronto leadership made FAQs and held info sessions to make sure employees knew exactly what they were in for. As is summed up in Bronto’s employee FAQ from right after the acquisition was announced, “Happy Brontos equal happy customers equals great success.” (38:25)
As Kevin and Chaz cover in the last section of the podcast, Bronto’s “Jurassic” legacy continues with Jurassic Capital, investor in startups like GrepBeat story subjects Corevist and Performance Culture. Read more about Jurassic Capital on its website.
Listen below to this week’s episode. See y’all next year!