This month we talked with Jay Love, CEO, and Steven Shattuck, VP of Marketing, from Bloomerang, a startup that works with companies in the non-profit sector to build relationships with existing and new donors.
Kylie: What is Bloomerang? What’s the story and history behind it?
Jay: I’ve been in the database and accounting technology industry since 1983 (this is the third company) and I also have a passion for the non-profit area. Bloomerang is a perfect match for me because it combines my passion for non-profits and I know the industry well.
The first company created a PC-based database program, which was very new at the time. The second company was with eTapestry, which was cloud-based. This third time (with Bloomerang) combined cloud-based technology with best practices from leading industry experts and it’s been amazing; we’ve been growing at 2-3 times the speed of the other two previous companies.
Steven: Just to add to that, everyone at Bloomerang has worked for Jay or has worked in the non-profit sector in the past so everyone is really bought into and passionate about Bloomerang’s mission. Employees have ownership, and everyone is invested. It’s a really cool place to work.
Kylie: How have you built up the company over the past two years? When did you gain momentum?
Jay: We started in September 2012, had our first release in February 2013, and then it took a few months for momentum to build. A year in we ended up with more leads than we could follow up on. Steven joined a year in too and he’s been really focused on building our inbound marketing campaign (we now get a bigger percentage of leads from that). Now, getting customer advocates has been key for us and a huge help in bringing in new people.
Kylie: I saw that over 50% of donors in the non-profit sector aren’t around the following year, which is an incredibly low retention rate. Why do you think that is?
Jay: Well our mission is to improve that retention rate of donors for non-profits. If you can believe it, it used to be 39% retention; that’s only just started to go back up. Part of the reason it was so low is people were so focused on bringing new donors in and not on building and continuing relationships with existing donors.
Our goal is to help non-profits build on those relationships. We actually pool all current customers retention rates and compare with the national average to see how our own customers retention rate is going.
Kylie: Is it better?
Jay: It is!
Kylie: That’s great! So we’ve been talking a lot about the non-profit space. Any advice for people looking to build a startup in that space?
Jay: Don’t get into the non-profit space unless you have a passion for it personally.
Steve: It’s been interesting to see that the less we talk about Bloomerang, the more interest there is in it. So I would suggest creating content that fundraisers, or non-profits in general, can use.
Build a reputation for being about educational content and becoming a thought leader and then you can say, by the way, “we have this amazing software” on the side. People may not have an interest in the product currently, but you can stay top of mind because you’re providing content rather than trying to just sell to them. Build up credibility and have the institutional knowledge about the sector.
Finally, we stay lean; that really helps.
Kylie: I just read an article that said non-profits should be run like startups. Any thoughts on that?
Jay: I think it’s good advice for any company really. Think about what you’ll find at successful startups. The best talent. A culture and environment that people are excited about. Being metric-driven and knowing from that what key factors to turn. So the key factors in a successful startup can be applied across the board to any company.
Kylie: You have the Bloomies which I saw on your website and loved: tell us, what are the Bloomies? How did they come about?
Jay: They’re very large underwear, of course!
Steven: Haha, too true. Really the Bloomies are my baby. I’m relatively new to the non-profit sector and it’s weird in that there’s this martyr mentality: people are underpaid, understaffed and overworked. People are always criticizing non-profits and are kinda hard on them; you hear a lot of negative comments. I wanted to create something that celebrates all of the good they do, because there’s a lot of good! People are talking about it and like to share the good they see.
We have a Bloomie winner every Friday (people can nominate which company they think is doing good and think deserves recognition), and we internally nominate what we come across, too. It’s definitely not only Bloomerang customers, in fact I think we’ve only had one Bloomerang customer. People learn what’s going on from the Bloomies too; it’s like a mini case study.
Kylie: I love it. Now, for the serious, pressing questions: Bill Gates just drank purified poop water. Would you?
Steven: If Bill Gates did it, I would too.
Jay: As long as it’s certified purified, I’d do it.
Kylie: Anything else you’d like to tell us, or mention?
Jay: We do have startup cred—we have a ping pong table. The secret to winning is don’t hit the sides because you can’t win that way. Because it’s so small. One day we’ll upgrade.
Steven: We’re also in the basement of a former military prison (we prefer to call it the mezzanine rather than the basement) and have Christmas lights on the pipes to help with the festive mood.
Kylie: These are all great things to know. Perhaps you can visit us though, rather than the other way around.
Jay: Definitely! Are you excited to have Harbaugh at Michigan?
Kylie: Yes indeed, much hype to be had! Hopefully it will mean better things for Michigan this next season.
Jay: Yes, I can imagine, although we’re slightly worried for our local Purdue team now…
Kylie: Muhaha I should hope so!