With experience in leading a SaaS startup and business consulting, successful young entrepreneur Nick Romano brings a unique perspective to his new role as CEO of customer success startup, Trustfuel. Romano scaled his former company SignUp4 from $250k in seed funding to a $22.4M sale to their largest competitor, all while maintaining impressive customer retention rates.
“I learned that customer success demands a proactive process that was capable of scaling with the business, and this is what we are building at Trustfuel,” says Romano. “A CEO has a number of jobs within a young startup. Executing on this vision within our product is my most important one.”
Founded in 2014, Trustfuel helps your company stay on top of your clients by giving you one easy-to-use platform — no more toggling between software and spreadsheets. Here, Romano gives us a glimpse into the future of Trustfuel, the lessons that helped him grow as a leader, and why you should always be ready to walk away from a deal.
How did you come across this opportunity?
After leaving SignUp4 and taking some time to recalibrate, I reached out to David Cummings about the mentorship program at the Atlanta Tech Village. I had planned to take a year or so to bounce around the Atlanta startup community helping and learning. During this time, I also became a mentor with Techstars here in Atlanta.
It was through this process that I eventually found my new home at Trustfuel. David Cummings had invested in Trustfuel and introduced me to David Klanac in a mentorship role. Meeting the team at Trustfuel was exciting. Their passion for customer success quickly convinced me this was a right opportunity. I began devoting more and more of my time to the project until one day David asked if I would come on board to help grow the business.
It is always difficult to join a young startup in a leadership capacity, but David and the team made it easy. In hindsight, it was a combination of luck and being available to help others that lead me to Trustfuel.
How essential is customer success to a business?
Customers are the lifeblood of any business. At SignUp4, we always took great pride in our renewal rates. Being an underfunded company forced us to hear the voice of the customer and evolve quickly.
My biggest tip to founders is to know who you are and who you want to be. Chasing every scrap of revenue out there is a very challenging way to build a company. Finding customers that share your vision is the easier path and tools like Trustfuel help organizations do just that.
What are some lessons you learned after selling your last business?
Wow, this is a good one for me, but I’m an extreme case. When we started SignUp4, one of my goals was to sell the business to a strategic buyer. I felt that accomplishing this goal was the embodiment of building a valuable company. Selling to CVent was exactly this scenario. What I did not understand (at least consciously) until after the sale was what happens on day 2. Layoffs (including me), numerous client conversations and sad employees. SignUp4 had done a 20x return for most investors, but in doing so, it had created pain for the employees who got us there. For me, the lesson is to think through day 2 before day 1. Once the transaction completes, you lose your leverage (particularly when selling to a competitor).
Another big lesson I learned is always be willing to leave the deal. All large transactions are extremely stressful and emotional. Deal fatigue is a real thing a solid investment banker and experienced counsel can help you navigate.
You built SignUp4 with limited capital. What roadblocks did you encounter during this time?
Having limited capital teaches you the value of money and customers. My philosophy was always to take calculated risks. Some of my decisions look brilliant in the rearview mirror. Others — well — let’s call them learning opportunities. The real trick is not to get down on your abilities. Our largest challenges with funding were related to marketing and sales activities.
During my time at SignUp4, north of 300 million dollars went to other startups in the space. This made the space very competitive. Not having raised funds naturally drove SignUp4 to seek a high level of differentiation. For me, the lesson is any startup can be successful in an underserved market segment if you can adapt to the market needs. This is precisely why I’m so very bullish on Trustfuel, today the customer success market is underserved and looking for adaptable products.
What are your short-term goals for Trustfuel as it grows, product development or otherwise?
Our goals for Trustfuel over the next 6 to 12 months are product development and customer acquisition. We’ve built a simple and effective customer success platform that our current customers love. In the next year, we’ll be working on more features that help CSMs scale their processes and efforts.
Atlanta Ventures is helping the business get off the ground. David Cummings has been a great supporter and mentor for our team. In 2017, we will seek to raise another round to expand our sales and marketing efforts. I’m extremely excited about what the Trustfuel team can accomplish!