Chad Kreimendahl of Onspring Technologies shares what he’s learned about building a growing software business.
Chad Kreimendahl and Chris Pantaenius—the co-founders of Onspring Technologies—have created software that can do almost everything except clean your office’s break room.
Their cloud-based solution allows users to build customized reports and tracking systems for vendor relations, regulatory compliance, contract management, referrals and even vacation days. If data is involved, Onspring can help.
Pantaenius and Kreimendahl come from the world of enterprise software, where it’s not uncommon to see six- or seven-figure price tags.
Since 2013, when Onspring introduced its product to paying customers, sales have tripled every year. “And it looks like we’re going to triple again this year,” Kreimendahl said.
But a growing company presents its own challenges, and the Onspring team is always looking for ways to get better. That’s why Kreimendahl joined ScaleUP! Kansas City, an elite 16-week training program offered by the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Innovation Center and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Local business owners are exposed to training and mentoring that’s designed to help them increase their revenues. ScaleUP! Kansas City wants to help companies that are making between $150,000 and $500,000 in annual sales climb past the $1 million mark.
The program is about a year old, and Kreimendahl was one of the first entrepreneurs to take part. He talked about some of the most important lessons he’s learned about building a growing company.
Market Selectively, But Don’t Be Afraid to Spend
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ScaleUP! Kansas City helped Onspring take a fresh look at its marketing.
For example, Onspring’s software can be used in a wide range of industries. But the company can’t market it that way—Kreimendahl and Pantaenius had to find a specific audience to target, at least at first.
That way, they can spend their marketing dollars as effectively as possible. They only attend conferences and buy Google AdWords that will reach their desired audience.
“We market on what we know,” Kreimendahl said. “We’re familiar with audit management and vendor compliance.”
(Not that they’ll turn business away. They’ve had companies in the energy and rocket and spacecraft sectors contact them out of the blue.)
Another problem Onspring has tackled over the past year: lead generation. As in, they weren’t doing enough to keep their sales rep busy. The company went ahead and boosted the amount it spends on trade shows and digital marketing.
“Now we do tons of it,” Kreimendahl said. “Now we’re at the point where we need to hire more salespeople.”
The two co-founders are cautious about their spending. Onspring, after all, has always been a bootstrapped company. But marketing has definitely paid off, Kreimendahl said.
“We went from spending basically nothing on marketing, maybe a couple thousand dollars a year, to six figures a year on
marketing. And it’s paid for itself.”
Create a Process for Innovation
Onspring releases a major update of its software once a quarter, introducing a few features each time. In a typical month, the company will roll out a batch of smaller tweaks and fixes, too.
The constant evolution keeps Onspring competitive.
“Or else you die,” Kreimendahl said. “Somebody out there is thinking of a better way of doing it than you. We have to try to stay ahead.”
It’s important to note that Kreimendahl, Pantaenius and their team don’t wait for inspiration to strike.
Everybody at Onspring is trained to take note whenever a customer asks for a feature or complains about something. Those comments are then logged into the company’s system.
Once a month, Onspring holds a meeting where staffers will sit down and review all the ideas, ranking them by priority. A good idea is one that helps the company’s existing customers or wins new business, but a low-priority item can move up on the to-do list if it can be solved by a few minutes of coding.
Another key: They “eat their own dog food”—Onspring the business runs on Onspring software.
“We think that helps us build a better product,” Kreimendahl said. “We’re usually on a version that’s a month or two ahead of where customers will be.”
Remember: You Are Not a Special Butterfly
Kreimendahl was one of only a few tech entrepreneurs in his ScaleUP! cohort, which included a plumber, a hardwood flooring business and other service companies.
He discovered that, despite being in different industries, they actually had quite a bit in common.
“We all like to think we’re different and unique butterflies, or whatever people might say,” Kreimendahl said, “but there were plumbing businesses in there that had the same problems that I have.”
A couple of fellow ScaleUP! participants have become Onspring clients. Kreimendahl and other alumni eat lunch together when they can.
As a result, he now has a wider network of entrepreneurs to consult if he and Pantaenius face a problem they can’t figure out on their own.
“All of the problems that we were having were the exact same problems that everybody else was having,” Kreimendahl said. “Running a small business is basically the same set of troubles for everybody.”