InsideOut crafts the right pitch for tech company growth in St. Petersburg
September 5, 2017 | Tampa Bay Business Journal
There’s no doubt that Chad Nuss is a salesman.
Not only has Nuss co-founded InsideOut, a Tampa Bay company with a sales innovation lab where technology firms can try out different ways to market their products, but Nuss also is selling the merits of St. Petersburg to clients who visit the downtown St. Pete office.
“One of my goals is to have three of our clients open satellite offices here, so that we can show it’s not just about us, it’s about our community,” Nuss said.
Nuss, InsideOut’s chief revenue officer, and Christina Cherry, CEO, are Silicon Valley veterans who launched InsideOut close to 18 months ago with about 20 employees. The company now has more than 100 workers in two offices, with plans to hire 30 more workers by the end of the year and to expand into additional space at First Central Tower in downtown St. Petersburg. Revenue is approaching $10 million, Cherry said.
In addition to running his own fast-growth company, Nuss also is working with St. Petersburg economic development officials on the Grow Smarter initiative, a process to assess and enhance the city’s competitive position to support diverse economic growth now and in the future.
About 50 organizations are taking part in the Grow Smarter plan, said Chris Steinocher, president and CEO, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Many companies will come into a market and say ‘What can you do for me?’” Steinocher said. “Chad has said, ‘I’m glad you have a strategy, and I want to help you with that strategy.’”
InsideOut’s fast growth and practice of bringing representatives from national companies to St. Petersburg is a positive force for the community, said J.P. Dubuque, president of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp.
“We also expect that folks outside our market will see what we already know — St. Pete is a great location for business and career,” Dubuque said.
25% increase in leads
Improving the community is as important as growing InsideOut is to Nuss, who spent his career in technology in San Francisco and Silicon Valley before he moved to St. Petersburg.
Tech companies have innovation environments for product development and engineering — Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has Blue Sky and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has Garage — but they largely have ignored innovation in the way they sell their products, said Nuss.
InsideOut provides a laboratory for companies to try out alternative sales methods, and uses InsideOut employees to mirror its clients’ sales teams and contact client customers.
“When someone comes up with an idea, like ‘Let’s try this message or go after this target segment,’ it’s hard to achieve internally because you have to make your numbers,” Nuss said. “In a lab environment you can test, you can measure, you can validate all the ideas.”
If the ideas work out, InsideOut develops a playbook that spells out what it did and how it did it, so clients can implement the same practices. The company also has an academy to train clients’ salespeople for two weeks in St. Petersburg.
The company has clients such as Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ: ADP) and International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM).
IBM has an experiment a month, Nuss said. One recent project focused on how to generate leads on LinkedIn, based on the idea that sales prospects can be reached more effectively through social media than through the telephone.
“We ran an experiment and did a social selling playbook which we dropped into their environment and found an immediate increase in the number of leads, about 25 percent increase in the number of leads generated,” he said.
Big companies find it hard to innovate on their own, said Nuss. He has a degree in environmental science from University of California Santa Barbara, but the internet was coming into prominence when he graduated and he found work doing public relations for Apple Inc. and other tech companies.
He started and sold two companies in Silicon Valley, and was global vice president, revenue solutions, at one of the buyers, Rainmaker Systems, a B2B e-commerce company in San Francisco. That's when he met Cherry, who was vice president and general manager for global commerce services.
Cherry, a native of the United Kingdom with a master's degree in business administration from Oxford University, established InsideOut in 2015 in Sarasota, where the company currently leases about 5,000 square feet in the Cattleridge Financial Center.
Nuss, with tech contacts in California, continued to work in San Francisco at a satellite office for InsideOut, until quality of life issues led him to relocate his entire family to St. Petersburg about a year ago.
The two office sites allow InsideOut to tap two distinct workforce bases, he said.
InsideOut leases about 3,000 square feet on the ninth floor of First Central Tower at 360 Central Ave., purchased in 2014by a joint venture made up of Feldman Equities, Tower Realty Partners and Second City Real Estate.
With aggressive hiring plans, InsideOut just signed a lease for an additional 7,300 square feet on the third floor of the building. The empty space will be built out to reflect the company’s culture, Cherry said.
Cherry and Nuss used their own funds to launch InsideOut, and have no debt and no venture capital backing.
“In the venture capital environment, there are constraints to doing the right thing,” Cherry said. “We could grow rapidly and less risk-free with an investor but if we have enough confidence that we could do this, we are better off doing it on our own so we can remove the constraints that prevent you from doing what you want to do.”
InsideOut is profitable with a healthy cash flow, she said.
There’s recurring revenue from clients who try out different sales ideas each month. About 90 percent of the current clients are technology companies. To grow and diversify revenue, Nuss and Cherry are looking at serving other industries, such as sports organizations and medical device firms.
Nuss established the St. Pete Tech Initiatives Council, focused on incubation, growth and collaboration among high-tech CEOs in the downtown area. That caught the attention of economic developers, who sat down with Nuss on Aug. 31 to talk about the Grow Smarter initiative.
“We need to be pushing the initiatives for Grow Smarter, not Grow Smarter pushing initiatives to us,” Nuss said. “Many business owners believe the other way around, what’s the EDC doing for me and where are my tax incentives. I say those things, too, but I have a different philosophy about how to get those things. I think it’s incumbent on business owners in the community to really push that initiative forward.”
Steinocher of the chamber has met with Nuss and Cherry a couple of times.
“What I see in that group is tech-savvy entrepreneurs who have done this a few times already,” Steinocher said. “Their success and St. Pete’s success are connected.”
Nuss’ special perspective, as an entrepreneur in San Francisco, let him see innovation on a communitywide scale.
“He wants to bring some of those best practices here,” Dubuque said. “St. Pete already is a growing tech community. And he hopes to do what he can to allow that innovative spirit to flourish in St. Pete.”