/ Entrepreneurship

The Evolution of PlanGrade

I have no doubt in my mind that the exposure and the confidence that StartFest gave us not only put us on the map with our acquirer but it also opened other doors for us and gave us really good options.

About five months ago, PlanGrade won $50,000 at the StartSLC Pitch Competition Finale. You could say a bit has changed with the company since then.

First, PlanGrade transformed from a side-project to an actual career for co-founders Chrstopher Reynoso and Riley Bingham. “The $50,000 was great for giving us enough runway to feel like we could quit our day jobs and be 100% committed to PlanGrade in a way that was difficult before,” Reynoso said. The $50,000 eased the transition and reduced the financial fear that comes with founding a startup. “Although our mentality was that we were 100% behind PlanGrade, our time was not before we got that $50,000,” Reynoso said.

Next, Reynoso and Bingham used their winnings to get PlanGrade up and running. “Luckily we had already completed a great deal of the development side of things by the time we were pitching in front of that crowd so our time with that $50,000 was mostly spent rolling out our product and finding the right way to prove our ability to satisfy the needs of small employers when it came to benefits compliance. The $50,000 was used to get a solid inbound marketing strategy in place that led us to the customers we acquired,” Reynoso said.

Then, they wisely used the resources that become available to them with the investment. Reynoso explains, “The other thing that $50,000 did, and we believe this had the greatest impact, was put us on the radar for 10 great VCs in the area. Suddenly we had a group of very intelligent, very experienced individuals who came across as committed and interested in what we were building.” The money won at the pitch competition turned out to be worth more than just 50K, when Reynoso and Bingham were able to tap into the invaluable expertise of the VCs who had awarded them the money. “We contacted and/or met with every one of those VCs, got great feedback as we fine-tuned our go-to-market strategy and felt like, even though they only had $5,000 each invested in us, it was enough to make them feel motivated to take a meeting with us and provide us with great feedback to get pointed in the right direction.”

With their $50,000 and advice from their VC’s, the co-founders had the confidence needed to approach other companies, strategic partners, and competitors, knowing that their product was worth noticing. So it wasn’t long before they were noticed by some great companies, including their acquirer.

That acquisition is the happy ending to the tale of PlanGrade. “Ultimately, we realized that although our product was great and that we were solving a real problem for people, an acquisition by someone that had a more complete product to offer to small businesses was the likely endgame” Reynoso said. So he and Bingham will be putting their skills to work helping their acquirer serve the small business community, navigating health/benefits compliance with SAAS. “We believe in the product our acquirer is building and the team they have assembled, and we believe that we will have the greatest impact on the greatest number of employers this way, solving not only painful regulatory compliance issues but other meaningful pain points for employers as well,” Reynoso said.

It’s a happy ending they were able to choose. The co-founders decided between a respected incubator and acquisition, ultimately feeling acquisition was the best choice, and Reynoso said they owe those options to their experience at StartSLC. “I have no doubt in my mind that the exposure and the confidence that StartFest gave us not only put us on the map with our acquirer but it also opened other doors for us and gave us really good options.”

Chances are, we’ll witness another startup’s story of success this September at StartFEST in Provo. 100 startups have begun competing for $150,000 in investment cash, and 10 will present during the festival’s final pitch competition on September 3. Anyone who attended StartSLC will tell you the pitch competition is not an event to be missed, so buy your tickets now.

Published 6/24/2015