By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
A little more than six years ago, Brandon Bruce co-founded Cirrus Insight with a college classmate.
Today, the California transplant and former Maryville College administrator is now one of the more recognized leaders in Knoxville’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. He’s served as an emcee at numerous local events including “Start-up Day” and last week’s “Innov865 Investor Series” forum. He was also the key driver of the region’s successful effort to establish a new global standard for simultaneous coding as measured by the Guinness Book of World Records
Bruce, who serves as Cirrus Insights’ Chief Operating Officer, shared some useful insights with close to 30 individuals who attended yesterday’s “Rise and Grind” event at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Business Incubator. The periodic meet-up is a joint effort of the UT Research Foundation, Three Roots Capital, and the Best Behavior Creative Club.
“We’re six years into a company we thought might go for three years,” Bruce said. Today, Cirrus Insight has about 60 employees, solid revenue (we won’t reveal the number), and new digs on the bottom floor of the two-story building that The Tombras Group recently vacated on Concord Street.
Among the characteristics we’ve come to appreciate about Bruce are his dry sense of humor, amazing candor, and strong commitment to this community. All were clearly on display during yesterday’s nearly 90-minute conversation with Chris Miller, Chief Financial Officer at Three Roots.
“When we started, we just started,” Bruce said, acknowledging a little later that he and Co-Founder Ryan Huff did not even have a business plan at the time. That came later when they were approached by their first investor.
“Ryan did the coding, and I did the sales,” Bruce explained. It was just the two of them for the first nine months. Huff had taken out a $50,000 personal loan to further develop the software, while Bruce developed a website. When a customer signed-up for the service before they were ready – Bruce admitted that he let it go live before he intended, the duo decided to go ahead and launch the product rather than wait several months to perfect the software.
“That got us ahead of the competition,” Bruce said, noting that it turned-out to be fortuitous.
Most of the growth of Cirrus Insight has come through revenues the company has generated from subscriptions to its email productivity platform. It has only raised about $1.25 million in outside funding through convertible notes and, while investors periodically knock on its door, Bruce says the Co-Founders are happy to grow at the current steady pace.
He did admit that funding growth organically means Cirrus Insight cannot afford to down rabbit holes too long like other companies can.
“Our advantage is we are focused on the one thing we do,” he said. With more than 5,000 customers and more than 150,000 users, the strategy is obviously working.
“We have the deepest integration with the Salesforce platform” of any of our competitors, Bruce added. “Companies coming to us have very specific needs we are serving.”
Cirrus Insight recently had two major announcements, both captured in this teknovation.biz article. The company rolled-out a version of its product that can be used by any Gmail user, even if they don’t have a Salesforce account. Just days before that announcement, Cirrus Insight added Attach.io for document management and tracking to its platform of productivity applications.
Being a champion of the local community, you would expect Bruce to be positive about the area, and he truly is. Noting that what he called the “public facing aspect of the company” – sales, marketing and support – is local, Bruce says he handles a number of calls from clients who are located in cities like Knoxville. He uses those conversations as a way to promote the area.
“I tell them about the research university just down the street, our lakes and mountains, and one of the world’s fastest computers,” Bruce said, adding that the community is now on a number of people’s radar with recent M&A activity like Discovery’s purchase of Scripps Networks Interactive and Cineworld’s acquisition of Regal Entertainment Group.