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How 6 Fast-Growth Software Companies Are Surviving in the Challenging SMB Market

September 12, 2016

When you think of online forms, file sharing, competitive intelligence, marketing automation, lead generation and social media management, you likely think of the giants. While the enterprise companies in those categories certainly have a foothold on the market, there is another breed of companies who offer the same services to the competitive and challenging SMB space and are growing rapidly due to their success.

I spoke with a variety of companies from California to New York City and from Indiana to Maine, to learn how they continue to serve their customers while sustaining a high-level of growth. Here are highlights from the stories of Formstack, SmartFile, Owler, ONTRAPORT, The List and Likeable Local.

Formstack was recently recognized as a fast growth private company with a three-year growth rate of 188 percent. It was also recognized locally by the Indianapolis Business Journal in its annual Fast 25 list. Despite a large percentage of Formstack’s workforce being remote, the company has created a culture that breeds hard work and innovation which in turn, breeds fast growth:

  • Communication is the number one priority. Remote teams will fall apart if they don’t take intentional measures to communicate well. Managers need to be sure employees feel empowered and trusted to complete projects, regardless of where they are in the world. Likewise, employees need to be sure their managers know if things are going well, going poorly, if they need help or if they feel out of the loop.
  • Your people are your most important asset. Formstack has invested in what they call a “Talent Team.” Looking at Formstack, you’d likely assume theirs is overstaffed. But Formstack stands by their commitment to top-notch recruiting, onboarding and long-term employee engagement in order to help their individual team members develop and execute winning strategies.
  • Transparency is essential in moving forward. This goes back to communication and that’s because communication really is the number one priority for a fast-growing SMB with a mostly-remote team. Formstack has adopted a practice in which everyone communicates their status — similar to a Facebook update. This gives the team full transparency on what everyone is working on, what roadblocks are, and what next steps are.

While the Formstack culture is at the heart of the company, Formstack’s business model is designed to serve other, fast-growing SMBs, as well. It provides solutions that help companies save time, automate processes and streamline workflows. Formstack has raised $3 million across two seed rounds in 2008 and 2009 from Gravity Venturesand a syndicate of angel investors.

SmartFile: Nimble product, growing workforce.

SmartFile, a secure file management and sharing platform, is another startup that is growing quickly SMB’s along the way. SmartFile is a solution aimed at helping SMBs save time by consolidating files into a unified management tool. The tool touts an intuitive platform, open API and custom customer solutions.

SmartFile’s tools, that replace tedious file sharing, yet are still accessible anywhere in the world, are actually perfect for companies like Formstack, that are growing fast and working with remote teams. By streamlining workflow and cutting hours off key employees’ to-do lists, SmartFile knows that for SMBs, more time equals more growth. SmartFile also cuts down on shadow IT, employees using unauthorized tech at work, because the consumer-grade experience gives employees everything they need in one place.

SmartFile’s product and workforce has allowed the company to expand in the past year. SmartFile recently raised $1.1 million in growth capital funds from VisionTech Angels and Elevate Ventures to further develop and market its scalable file management and governance solution.

The company plans to accelerate growth through hiring tech talent, product development and marketing initiatives in Indiana, and with today’s increased need for enterprise security and compliance, SmartFile is positioned for high-volume growth.

Owler: Crowdsourced data.

Previously known as InfoArmy, Owler is a crowdsourced platform designed to help its consumer base keep close tabs on the competition. Small businesses identify their industry and nearest competitors and receive weekly breakdowns of how they match up in areas such as revenue, publicity, and social reach.

Owler, which utilizes completely crowdsourced data, compiles instant insights on funding, acquisitions and leadership changes while helping SMBs differentiate themselves within their fields. The business model works since “the crowd” supplies the data.

To date, Owler has raised more than $19.3 million in venture funding and employs 90 people between its offices in San Mateo, California and Coimbatore, India. Owler recently surpassed more than 500,000 users, counting startups, mid-sized businesses and investment professionals among its clientele.

ONTRAPORT: Inspired by those they Serve.

ONTRAPORT is regularly recognized by Deloitte Fast 500, Great Places to Work, and Outside Magazine’s Best Workplaces for their continued success in the competitive SMB space.

Most recently, the company’s ONTRApages, an advanced web page builder that is free for everyone and exceptionally easy to use, was acknowledged as a 2016 Best Information Technology Software. In the midst of rapid growth, ONTRAPORT has upheld their standards for customer satisfaction while establishing an innovative company culture and a forward-thinking suite of products.

Over the years, ONTRAPORT has been inspired by the thousands of entrepreneurs they’ve worked with and the endless stories of good people doing great work. The company simplifies — and enhances — the lives of entrepreneurs and small business owners worldwide through software, education and services.

The List: Focus on innovation and culture.

Founded 21 years ago in Atlanta, The List is a B2B lead generation company that has emerged as a sales intelligence platform of choice among SMB development professionals in North America and the U.K. It opens a path to more than 120,000 marketing and advertising decision makers for its SMB clients through its sales intelligence products such as The List Online, Winmo and DailyVista.

The List Online marshals intelligence on advertisers, brands, and agencies, and Winmo is a platform introduced in 2015 that monitors its users’ prospecting activities as a means of assisting them in pinpointing their most promising sales opportunities. DailyVista, a digital news publication and sales resource, contains actionable sales intelligence geared toward ad tech and media sales professionals.

The List Online and Winmo have been honored by software website G2 Crowd as two of the best-performing sales intelligence platforms. Throughout the high growth, the company has kept a razor focus on innovation and culture. It has repeatedly been recognized as part of Atlanta’s Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.

Likeable Local: Obsession with scale.

Likeable Local, based in New York City and Portland, Maine, is the classic example of a high growth firm targeting SMBs. With four year growth of over 1,200 percent, and recently recognized as one of fastest growing 2,000 private businesses in the country, Likeable Local is determined to scale in the ever-challenged SMB market.

Founded in 2012 as a spinoff of Likeable Media, CEO Dave Kerpen built a SaaS product to replicate the work that his social media agency was doing for big brand clients — so instead of paying $30,000 per month for top notch designers and social creatives, small businesses could instead pay $300 per month for access to the software platform. The tool itself includes four key areas of social media management: listening, content creation and distribution, paid social advertising and landing pages.

Talent is hired and retained for their obsession with scale. All employees are given an Enneagram personality test and motivated accordingly in order to achieve best results. Said Kerpen, “You know what’s cooler than serving 1,200 customers? Serving 120,000 customers.”

Likeable Local has raised $2.7 million to date from 500 Startups and angels such as Thomas Dibenedetto (Boston Red Sox) and Roy Rodenstein ( acquired by AOL).

Growth mindset, service mentality.

While these six companies — Formstack, SmartFile, Owler, Ontraport, The List and Likeable Local — each do very different things, their core mission is the same: to serve SMB’s. They also have in common an obsession with talent, with remaining nimble, with efficiency in customer acquisition, and with focusing on scale. The SMB market can be extremely challenging to scale in, because of high churn and low dollar orders, but these six companies are off to a great start.