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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 1 year ago

Expanding emails

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Safety Harbor's Happy Grasshopper is expected to grow 300% in 2017. The email content development and software company is considering outside investment.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Serial entrepreneur Dan Stewart says staying focused on the vision is his main job as CEO of Happy Grasshopper.

But it's not always easy to do.

When clients are satisfied with your work, they oftentimes want you to do more, and request you to increase your scope. Stewart says his biggest challenge is saying no to the opportunities that are outside of the company's mission to turn “contacts into contracts.”

Happy Grasshopper delivers software and content development assistance to its clients for a subscription fee, providing email templates customized to the business. The company sells to individual salespeople, sales teams and global organizations. Last year, the company launched hgTouch with Keller Williams, a tool for agents to send custom content.

There are a lot of businesses that want to give the customer exactly what they want — but in Stewart's mind, a lot of customers don't know what they want. Until you show them. “Be clear about what you want to accomplish,” he says. “It gets easier to say no to other distracting things.”

Though Happy Grasshopper has rejected expansion such as writing blog posts, that hasn't seemed to slow the company's growth. The 6-year-old company has experienced triple-digit revenue growth year over year and expects 300% revenue growth in 2017. It declined to elaborate on specific sales figures.

Happy Grasshopper has 25 employees in its Safety Harbor headquarters, one in Australia and three in Pakistan. It has seven sales employees, and it plans on hiring five more by the end of the year.
Next, Stewart would like to add text messaging to its offerings, and invest additional capital into the company's systems. That's one of the reasons why the company recently attended the Florida Venture Capital conference in Orlando. Stewart says he wants to be prepared to raise a small amount of funds in 2018 from a partner who can introduce him to new business.

The company hasn't spent much on marketing or advertising campaigns because the nature of the business made it easy to tell stories about its results. To start, Stewart attended industry trade shows and did lots of public-speaking engagements. The company is currently 100% focused on real estate, even though it has clients in more than 40 industries. “The results allowed us to grow,” Stewart says.

Company officials say the emails it provides to clients have a 96.7% delivery success rate, a 44.5% open rate and a 0.8% unsubscribe rate. The data allow the company to make sure it is developing the best content to convert leads into sales. “I believe good data leads to good solutions,” Stewart says.

Like many entrepreneurs, 46-year-old Stewart is a bootstrapper. The idea for the company was built from a series of other ideas — both pivots and failed businesses. The key is to test the idea efficiently and to fail quickly, Stewart says.

From 2005 to 2010, Stewart was a partner at a geotech-consulting firm. The sales cycle for contracts was typically two years, so keeping in touch with key players was integral. “We needed a software that we couldn't buy,” he says, so he hired developers and built it for the company.

When the customer relationship management system he built started to attract attention from other companies, Stewart decided to branch off into his own firm.

A big looming challenge now, says Stewart, is hiring the best, and the right, people. Happy Grasshopper puts together “really compelling ads that attract hundreds of applications,” Stewart says. The company then asks applicants to complete a personality assessment and a task via written instructions. After a phone screen, applicants are invited for a face-to-face interview, where Stewart explains it is not an environment for everyone. There's no micromanaging, and everyone is expected to contribute from day one.

It's all about sticking to the mission, he reiterates, and finding “people who want to make a contribution.”

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