Tales from the Trenches: The Challenges and Rewards of Starting a Company

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Take smart money, know when to pivot and delegate: our LA Founder Friday speaker shares the lessons she's learned along the way. 

By Amanda MacNaughton (Co-founder & Chief Marketing Officer, PromoJam Social Marketing Platform)

I always felt compelled to be an entrepreneur – it was coded into my DNA from the beginning. My mom said when I was a little girl, I would set up a folding table in front of the TV while the Home Shopping Network played in the background and take orders from imaginary customers. “Hello Mrs. Smith, how many diamonds would you like you buy?” – Note, I did not ask “if” they wanted to buy a diamond, but rather “how many” they wanted to purchase – always be closing the sale and assume you will succeed –intention and effort are a powerful combo. That psychology is essential to the survival and success of an entrepreneur, and has helped me throughout my career – especially in taking the plunge to start my own company.

My brother (and co-founder) Matt and I started PromoJam at the beginning of what is known today as the “Social Marketing Industry.” At the time (June 2009 to be exact), social media marketing was just starting to take shape. Twitter was becoming popular and Facebook was opening their walled garden to let those outside of Ivy League schools into their luscious lands of Likes, shares and digital temptation.

Businesses and big brands wanted to dip their toes in the digital stream, but were hesitant to do so because they didn’t have the tools or experience to manage their brand messaging or image in the new medium. Concurrently, consumer behavior was rapidly evolving, transforming the marketing landscape from a one-way push-marketing highway to a two-way street based on dialogue and engagement.

Being on the edge of this precipice, we saw a huge need to build a tool – or bridge if you will – to help businesses and brands better connect and interact with consumers on social networks. From this need, came the creation of PromoJam – a social marketing platform that helps businesses easily build completely branded social campaigns and promotions across multiple social networks both online and on the mobile phone, and track everything from one simple but sophisticated dashboard.

Today, our platform has reached hundreds of millions of social network users, has published millions of brand messages across social networks, and is used by many of the biggest brands and businesses in the world including NBCUniversal, The North Face, Virgin America, Warner Bros., RedBull, and Clear Channel Radio.

Although we have grown significantly in the past five years, we started small and learned many lessons along the way. When Matt and I started the business, we moved into an apartment together to save money and get the company off the ground. We raised an angel round of funding before leaving our jobs and then took the startup plunge to pursue our dreams and start a business.

In June 2009, we launched the first ever Tweet-to-Download application for Travis Barker and DJ AM – selling their mixtape for a tweet. It was the first of its kind – essentially turning a tweet into social currency, and it helped us pioneer a new way for brands, bands and their fans to engage with one another.

A big concept behind the creation of PromoJam was to create a “pay-it-forward” type of marketing mechanism, that allowed fans to share content and experiences with their friends on social in exchange for something they felt was valuable. 

We broke out in the music industry, powering promotions for the biggest names in entertainment - everyone from Rihanna to Pearl Jam, Justin Bieber to Alicia Keys. From there we built a CMS platform and expanded into multiple verticals – fashion, film, TV, consumer products and beyond.

PromoJam made money from day one, so we decided to bootstrap the business until we reached a critical point, where in order for us to grow at scale, we would need to fundraise. In March 2013 we closed our Series A Round, and used the funding to develop PromoJam into a complete SaaS (Software as a Service) technology platform for small, medium and enterprise businesses.

Owning my own company has been an exciting, inspiring, challenging and fruitful ride personally, spiritually and professionally. Here are a few key takeaways I learned along the way:

  • Be passionate about what you do so when times get tough you don’t give up, but rather try harder and find solutions in uncommon places. Running a company is not easy – there will be highs and lows, so make sure you truly believe in what you are doing and that intent – that drive - will give you strength and carry you through.
  • If you are fundraising, take more money than you think you need. I know, I know, everyone always tell you the opposite, but resources and runway are essential to building a scaling business.
  • Take smart money. It is best to take money from investors who understand your space and know how to help you scale your business. Find investors who can bring value to the table and help you grow, develop and scale at a steady rate.
  • Build a solid team. Team is everything. And delegate, delegate, delegate.
  • Be nimble, flexible and know when to pivot. Markets, customer needs and competition can and will change in a flash. Always be ready to accept this and prepared to make a calculated decision to protect and advance your company.
  • Be happy. Go home. Go to yoga. Get outside. Spend time with friends. Unplug from your business every now and then. As entrepreneurs, we focus everything on our company – sometimes to the detriment of our loved ones. Remember that life and happiness are about balance. If you can maintain a balanced and fruitful personal life, your business will benefit from it.

Want to hear more from Amanda? Register for Founder Friday LA happening this Friday, Nov. 15!

amandaAmanda is the Co-Founder and CMO of PromoJam. Amanda ran Public Relations for W Hotel’s entire West Coast division, built opened and operated the Los Angeles offices of THINK PR, and worked with premier companies across entertainment, fashion, consumer products and more. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaMalia.