I’m Rob Bellenfant, CEO and founder of TechnologyAdvice. TechnologyAdvice is a B2B media company that markets for technology companies to help them find their ideal buyers. We do this by increasing audiences through our web properties, email newsletters, and phone conversations.
Last year we connected over a million technology buyers with some of the world’s best technology companies.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I started my first business pulling weeds for $0.01 each when I was eight. I saw that people in the neighborhood were paying landscapers to come and mow their lawns and figured I could do some of that work. Since I wasn’t big enough to push a mower yet, I pulled weeds. I had three clients: my parents, our next-door neighbors, and another house in the neighborhood.
Everyone’s going to make mistakes, but if you teach your employees to lead and coach others to lead, you can grow quicker and move faster than you ever imagined.
My first foray into digital marketing came in early high school. I made websites for local companies that didn’t yet have a web presence, and I started a company with two friends to do just that. It wasn’t long before we realized that the big money was in recurring revenue, so we started offering web hosting services on a private server.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
One of my hosting business partners left our company in high school, and the other bought me out of my stake in the company around graduation. With the money I earned from that business, I purchased five companies off of eBay in my freshman dorm room at The University of Tennessee. Four out of those five companies failed, and the fifth came very close.
That fifth company was a digital marketing company that came complete with a full customer list. What I didn’t know when I purchased the company was that the ad delivery system they used to serve clients was shutting down. So I had a full customer list, but no way to deliver their ads for them. I had to figure something out.
I started calling my customer list and offering them marketing services. In the beginning, we did nearly everything you can think of. TV spots, direct mail, digital marketing, and lead generation were all on the list. By the time I graduated from UT in 2009, I had several employees working full time at the company, which we called Thrive Marketing.
Eventually, we found an opportunity to specialize. We started working with a voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) vendor who needed lead generation services. We were really good at it, and we also realized that we could do the same for other VoIP vendors and sell the leads several times.
That realization was the beginning of TechnologyAdvice. We narrowed our focus to lead generation services for the next several years, expanding our reach through our web properties, email newsletters, and phone conversations to provide qualified and quality leads throughout the marketing funnel to technology vendors of all sizes.
In 2020, we acquired 2 companies with a combined total of 40 websites to our existing web presence. Those properties brought with them some amazing team members who have contributed deep marketing, sales, and technological expertise to our growing company. We have rebranded again into a full-service B2B media company. We use data-driven techniques, the best technology writing in the industry, and personal relationships to bring together technology companies and their ideal audiences.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
TechnologyAdvice has been profitable since day one. In 2020 we expanded from 35 to 135 team members, and we’re still growing. We recently announced a hybrid work policy to further support hiring the best sales, marketing, and technology professionals in the business—no matter their location.
To grow our company quickly and sustainably, we have several goals to achieve by the year 2030. These goals include selling metrics and growth metrics for our properties, but they also include giving back 50,000 hours and $2 million to our community. To accomplish these goals, we have built cascading priorities and performance metrics for the entire company.
We also are augmenting our business by building proprietary software tools to provide the best customer experience in the business. This software will make our processes faster and provide better service and higher returns to our clients.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We were very fortunate that we saw the VoIP opportunity and capitalized on it early. We took a pretty big chance there, but it worked out for us. Not all of our opportunities have been so successful. Back in 2016, we spent a lot of time and money chasing a new line of business that didn’t pan out. We overestimated the market for our product, and we got distracted from our core business.
What I learned from that is that you have to be willing to try new things, but don’t bet the farm on them. Use your resources to test and iterate quickly, and be ready to shut it down if it’s not working. The only bad mistake is the one that you let go on too long.
As TechnologyAdvice has grown, it’s become increasingly important for me—and all of the leadership—to delegate. We invest a lot of energy to find employees that match our values and bring important qualities to the table. We grew by 100 employees last year, but we hired less than 1% of applicants. We hire well, so we can trust our employees to work in the best interests of our company and our customers. Hire well and delegation becomes a lot easier.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We live on Slack. We use it to communicate with our employees and with our clients. We use it to reference pertinent information and to have a little bit of fun. Our teams use it to stay connected despite different locations, and we can communicate asynchronously with the tool, which protects our meeting time with customers and personal time for deep work.
We also use Salesforce for our CRM and WordPress to run our sites. Also, we build proprietary software for all of our internal processes. The proprietary tools have bought us back hours in process improvement and automation, so the investment was worth it.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Just this year, our people managers read the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, which inspired our 2021 mantra to “Challenge, Delegate, Expand.” We also implemented the Rockefeller Habits across the company to help us align around priorities and live the goal-setting life as company culture.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Find your community, try to connect with a mentor or group of mentors, and listen to your employees. It’s tempting to be the last word on every tiny decision in the business but to really grow you have to be able to trust your employees to act in the company’s best interest.
Everyone’s going to make mistakes, but if you teach your employees to lead and coach others to lead, you can grow quicker and move faster than you ever imagined. The control you give up will pay off in speed.
Where can we go to learn more?
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