It’s hard for me to believe that this month marks the 10th anniversary of the true starting point of Tagboard. I’ve given the very best of my years to building this company and I have so many great memories, but wow, 10 years is indeed a milestone. From late nights whiteboarding with my original co-founders Tim Shimotakahara and Sean Sperte in a borrowed conference room at a real estate office, to our first dollar of revenue ever, from a project we did for Audi. I remember saying yes to that project, with literally no idea how we were going to do it, but I just knew we could.
Fast forward to today and Tagboard has become an industry-leading, multi-million dollar SAAS business, enabling thousands of media producers across the globe with intuitive software, supported by a world-class team, to help tell many of the world’s most important stories across news, sports, and entertainment, creating billions of impressions every month. And we’ve done it all without taking any outside capital, since 2017, and without ever taking a single dollar from a VC.
A quick backstory:
As a founder, one of the hardest things you will ever do is raise money for your idea. We raised a seed round, grew fast, almost raised a Series-A a few times, and were almost acquired a few times (saving those details for a book someday). But timing and circumstances never quite panned out and so we adjusted course to maintain a trajectory that would keep Tagboard’s destiny in our own hands.
When I say “we”, I mean just that. I like to believe things happen for a reason, with luck and timing also playing a major part in business success; I say this because the “we” in Tagboard’s case encompasses now 10 years worth of incredible people who came in and out of this business to help us get to where we are today. Each leaving an indelible mark on who we are, and I’m so thankful for every single person (over 100) that have been a part of Tagboard in some way. These relationships were filled with excitement, energy, drive, scrappiness, and of course also challenges, anger, disappointment, and plenty of tears as we navigated the peaks and valleys of startup life.
I’ve never before publicly talked about one valley in particular. Long story short in 2017 we had a major investment fall through and we had ramped up hiring and expenses for the planned infusion. At the last moment the deal fell through. It was without question one of the worst days of my life, I had to lay off 60% of our workforce. Friends, colleagues, talented people, all who had put their trust in me as their leader. Even with that drastic of a move, survival wasn’t guaranteed and I think most would have bet against us given the facts.
It was right about that time when Nathan Peterson walked in the door at Tagboard as our head of marketing. We brought him in as a seasoned marketer from a mixture of corporate and startup worlds. I wasn’t sure at the time who he would become to me or the team, but I was convinced he was here for a reason.
We will forever have a good laugh about his first week, which was anything but funny at the time, as he walked in the door right in the middle of the week of our financial crisis. Hell of a way to start a new job, right? But he didn’t run.
It turned out Nathan’s last startup had run out of money before finding market fit and he was the last one out the door, spending daily meetings with VCs trying for last-ditch strategies, before laying off 40+ people and helping to sell the company’s parts for scrap. It turns out this experience was highly relevant to what we were going through and Nathan played a key role in helping us get through this crisis.
To add even more stress to the situation, my then right hand, our COO, left in the middle of this crisis for the greener pastures of a direct competitor. That decision however, turned out to be a key turning point and a blessing in disguise. I remember calling Nathan into my office to share the news, and was more than a bit worried about whether or not he was going to jump ship as well. He quickly let me know that he not only had intended to stay, but he came with a plan to help me and the team move forward, asking to take on more responsibility as a leader across the sales, marketing, and CSM function to run. Nathan was willing to go down with the ship right alongside me and that’s the kind of loyalty that you just don’t see. The plan we put in place was straightforward, “We are going to turn this into an enterprise SAAS business and right the ship”.
Alongside Nathan in the loyalty department, was our brilliant VP of Product, Tyler Singletary. Tyler joined this journey right around a month apart from Nathan. We recruited him to Tagboard for his in-depth industry knowledge and overall business acumen from his prior role as VP & GM of Klout. Tyler and Nathan made an incredible right and left hand to me helping get the business in order. Tyler is the methodical, data and process driven one and Nathan is the creative, instinct driven, bullish, optimistic voice who pushed on me and the team through every step of our journey to become something special.
It’s no coincidence that Nathan and Tyler rose together through the ranks of Tagboard, from SVP, to C-level execs sitting in all of my key meetings; together, along with an amazing team, we’ve accomplished a lot together:
A high-level timeline of key results:
- In 2017 we were able to obtain 43% growth in sales while we reduced our cost structure by 40% and shifting away from campaign/event-based business into a SAAS model
- In 2018, Nathan articulated and helped me lead a vision of doubling down on a fast-shifting production landscape, focusing our GTM on a cloud platform for producers, and rebranding to match the industries we serve
- 2019-2020 we brought multiple products to market to round out our offering as an intuitive cloud production platform to create interactive live programming, for any connected screen. We even had a growth year in the middle of the pandemic.
- Our revenue is 88.2% recurring (up from 41% in 2016)
- We serve over 400 of the world’s most prominent news, sports, and entertainment brands (see recent FORBES story about our MLB Partnership!)
- Our brand is positively associated across the industry for an incredible user experience and a world-class team
- Our company 409A valuation is over 4X what it was in 2016
An exciting announcement:
Anyone who has ever had a discussion with me about leadership knows that I’m a fierce believer in “hiring people smarter than yourself and getting out of their way”. As you can see from a bit of our story above, I’m thankful to have been able to put this into practice. And today I’m proud to take it even one step further. Nathan and I have built an amazing partnership throughout the ups and downs of this rollercoaster, and he has slowly been taking over more and more responsibility over the past few years. As such, I am excited to share that I’m taking things one step further and I’ve asked Nathan to take the role of President of Tagboard, leading our executive team and the day-to-day operations of the business as we take Tagboard to the next level. In his new role, he will report to me and our Board of Directors.
Though I won’t be focused on our day-to-day operations, I also won’t be going anywhere. Tagboard is my baby and I am excited to watch it grow as I focus my time on our investor and board activity.
I’ve dedicated 10 years of my life to this business, and remain the majority owner. Over the last two years, I started to really see my leadership team emerge with a future vision for Tagboard, execute flawlessly on that vision, and deliver powerful results, even despite one of the hardest years this world has seen. And the more responsibility and authority I delegated to the team, the more we have thrived. I am more confident now than I have ever been in Tagboard’s future.
It’s because of our success, that we are seeing a fair amount of inbound interest at the moment and so I will slowly and methodically be working with the executive team and board to find the right partner to pour fuel on Tagboard’s fire. With our key leadership team in place for the future and an industry-disrupting product, I’m excited to see where we go next. The future is bright and my heart is full of gratitude for Nathan, and the entire Tagboard team for what they have accomplished! I cannot wait to see what we can achieve together in this next chapter.
To make this news even more exciting, Nathan’s first act as President of Tagboard was to diversify our leadership team with a number of the brilliant minds who helped us get to where we are today. I won’t steal his thunder on the specifics, but I encourage you to read his blog about this announcement.