Presented by iSelect Fund
Founder Series: Adam Roth of Streamlink
Adam Roth is founder and CEO of Streamlink Software, an Ohio-based company in the iSelect portfolio. We talked to him on the career shift that led to starting Streamlink, how non-profits are like startups and what he views as his true success markers.
Creating Streamlink was a bit of a career shift for you; walk us through its inception.
I spent my whole career prior to starting Streamlink in the non-private sector. So I worked for charitable organizations, health and human service organizations, and in my time there I noticed that organizations struggled with managing their key assets like boards of directors, leadership volunteers, governance (which in a non-profit could be 40, 50, 100 people), and also managing their federal grants.
The impetus was [those] kinds of pains along with the ability to deliver software over the web, software as a service or web-based technologies coming together. In non-profits, unlike in for-profits, every dollar you bring in is typically tied to a requirement from the donor to be used for programs or services.
So while a non-profit could afford $5,000 a year to pay for software, they couldn’t afford $5,000 a year for software if that software, like the software we provide, provides off-site access, lots of different organizations involved, lots of different people coming in and sharing and moving information. Think about the infrastructure you’d have to have: servers and local area networks that are managed with passwords, and IT staff time all dedicated to that.
Non-profits traditionally can’t afford that, not because they wouldn’t want it, but because the income that comes in usually isn’t designated for that. The advent of all of that infrastructure being taken off the backs of non-profits and being placed in the cloud allows for the creation of new management systems and that’s where it took my experience working in the non-profit sector helped us come up with the idea to deliver these products.
At the same time, as a side note, working in non-profits means you have to be very entrepreneurial. It doesn’t mean you’re an entrepreneur putting your own capital at risk, but you have to be entrepreneurial in the sense that you have to constantly be reinventing the programs and services that you deliver because people want to fund you, but they don’t want to fund the same thing year after year.
They think you should establish how you pay for things out of operations and that can be difficult. So you’re constantly taking even good programs and having to reinvent them or shift the focus to go after a new target population or a new market and new way of doing business so the funders will continue to support you. So there’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in the non-profit world.
What has Streamlink’s growth looked like?
So we had one employee in 2009, and that grew to about 20 employees at the end of 2012. Now we’re at 45 people with us today. In terms of customers, we have 600 customers with us today on two products, the Amplifund and the BoardMax product. 2009 was the first year we had customers on our BoardMax product. Our Amplifund launched in 2011 and is continuing to grow from there.
Is there a specific type of non-profit sector that uses your product more?
On a financial basis, for our board management program (BoardMax) we tend to target organizations that have a $1 million a year operating budget, which, there are about 375,000 of those organizations in the country. Then we further segment that down to look at where we’ve had the most traction, which is higher education, foundations and health and human services with national organizations like our partnership with Catholic Charities of the USA.
On the grants management side, with our Amplifund product, we started selling to non-profits but we’ve kind of come upstream so now we sell to cities and counties and we’re even having conversations with states about utilizing Amplifund to provide a level of transparency around the complexity of managing federal funding—which has now undergone increased scrutiny due to both legislative and policy changes at the federal level. It’s driving adoption down.
If you think about it, if a non-profit gets a federal grant they don’t get that grant directly, the federal government gives that money to the state, the state gives it to the county, the county allocates it to the non-profit, and then the non-profit has to track and manage their performance and report back to the county and back up the chain.
The more visibility and ability to monitor and audit both the financial and programmatic achievements through the supply chain is really what we do. We help manage that process and help ensure compliance with the current audit requirements.
Talk a little about your experience with iSelect.
We connected to them originally through one of their principals reaching out to investors here in Ohio, Todd Federman with the North Coast Angel Fund. Todd’s been a great supporter over the years and was our original lead investor.
Todd introduced us to Carter [Williams] and took a look at the process. It’s a very detailed due diligence, they go through a lot of material, they review a lot of information.
Obviously they’re putting us out there to our network, so it’s not just like they’re investing their capital, they’re putting us out there to a broader network of folks, and I think that requires a different layer of diligence. So it’s certainly a significant amount of effort to get through that, but the process has been great.
They’ve been really supportive and it’s been easy to work with them. Overall it’s been really positive.
I think it’s interesting that they are looking to sell us as much as we are looking to sell ourselves in this, and so they come up with new ideas or new ways to sort of translate what we do to their audience and they’ve been really helpful that in terms of thinking up new ways in how we would positioning the company and I think all of that has been very helpful.
What’s been the most difficult part of the process since you’ve started?
Any time that you start something new, you’re going to come into challenges. I don’t know if I realized how hard it would be to do what we do here, I don’t know if I realized it was going to be as much effort to be successful.
Even if you’re doing well or we’re having a good month, quarter, year— it’s a lot of effort to get there. When you’re trying to create new markets, even if you believe you have the right solutions, how do you communicate that directly and manage that process? Really understanding all of that was all new to me.
I had some expectations coming into this, I thought that sales would kind of be like development is for non-profits and it’s not. Where we’ve been successful is when we’ve been able to, as a company, accept the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know and were willing to challenge ourselves to find new solutions, taking on external advice when necessary.
But I think the hardest part is not necessarily having all the right assumptions coming in the door.
What do you count as your most successful moment?
Getting those first big customers is always really helpful. When we first got the Cleveland Foundation here locally as a customer that was a great success.
American Heart Association was another early adopter, which was a big win for us. I think those are all successes, but honestly building something in Cleveland, and building a company that has a strong employee base, that relies on the company for livelihood and is part of the fabric of the community has been so rewarding.
It’s not necessarily getting the big check or getting the big win, although those are certainly there, I think it’s more about building something that’s sustainable—creating value for employees, creating value for shareholders. Seeing that success over time has been very rewarding.
And what is coming up for Streamlink in 2016?
We have a couple things that are going to be coming, though I can’t speak on that yet. We will certainly launching an improved version of our Amplifund grants management program in 2016.
And as the legislation and policy changes continue to drive the needs and the pain of potential customers, we see the market expanding dramatically. We’ve also launched a new website in 2016 with a ton of content, writing a lot about our markets and our challenges that our customers face, as well as the landscape of legislative policy and the economic landscape of our constituents.