SharpSpring Smart Growth

Gainesville-born SharpSpring has quickly risen from a small startup to a top-of-the-market publicly traded company. Check out their story below to learn about one of the nation’s premier revenue growth platforms and how they used local investment as a strategy for smart growth!

SharpSpring Smart Growth

Gainesville-born SharpSpring has quickly risen from a small startup to a top-of-the-market publicly traded company. Check out their story below to learn about one of the nation’s premier revenue growth platforms and how they used local investment as a strategy for smart growth!

Come get to know our friends at SharpSpring in person! The next Buzz mixer is July 15th, 6-8 PM, at Palomino.


The Birth of SharpSpring

In 2011, University of Florida Graduate Rick Carlson returned to Gainesville so he could raise his son closer to family.

The aspiring founder had an idea for quantifying marketing efforts and connecting them to sales.

From there, SharpSpring was born! But what is SharpSpring?

The Product

SharpSpring evolved from a sales and marketing automation platform to a complete revenue growth platform.

With sales and marketing automation, businesses can target prospective customers with automated messages across web (landing pages, blogs, and website), email, social, and even to send direct mail or prompt calls from the sales team.

Personalized content/communications are delivered automatically, according to sets of instructions called workflows, which are triggered by lead behaviors (e.g. visiting an important page, opening and clicking through an email), lead attributes (e.g. location, job title, lead score), or pre-set schedules.

SharpSpring took this technology even further in its quest to be the most comprehensive and affordable platform on the planet, by expanding its feature set and positioning itself as a revenue growth platform.

If the revenue growth platform concept is new to you, you’re not alone. Here’s a super simplified version of how it works:

Agencies and small-to-medium sized businesses can effectively run their entire sales and marketing functions in revenue growth platforms, including campaigns, social media, retargeting, sales engagement and more. It’s much easier and much less expensive to adopt these platforms instead of buying and integrating 12+ other tools.

SharpSpring’s features all use customer behavioral data and work together to fuel the customer experience throughout their lifecycle.

A Foot in the Door

While marketing automation was not new or a product unique to only SharpSpring when the company arrived on the scene, the team worked to get their foot in the door by focusing their software tool for marketing agencies to pull in new customers.  

And it worked.

SharpSpring incorporated in early 2012, with angel investor funds from the University of Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research. The company set up shop in the downtown Sun Center and hired three employees with FloridaWorks grant monies (funding allocated to provide on-the-job training to under or unemployed tech workers.) The lean trio predicted that if they carried forward correctly, the company would quickly grow to a 20-50 person team in the next couple years.

And they were right.

When Grooveshark shut down in 2015, CTO and Co-Founder Travis Whitton, a former Grooveshark employee, was able to help keep talent in Gainesville by rehoming many of his former coworkers.

“Grooveshark played such an important role in the early development of Gainesville’s tech community that we felt a strong desire to provide any displaced staff with an opportunity to continue their journey right here at home,” says Travis. “This transition happened right in the midst of establishing our core engineering team, and we were very lucky to have such a solid group of great people choose to sign on. Having worked together for many years, that familiarity really helped us hit the ground running at a critical time for the business and turned out to be a key to our subsequent success.”

Cue Rapid Growth

Within five years of opening its doors, SharpSpring was fast on its way to becoming one of the premier marketing automation services in the country.

[Editor’s note] The product was so well known that a friend of mine, a partner at a marketing agency, mentioned it to me in Billings Montana. When you’re known in a town where moose run down the street regularly and someone who doesn’t even work in marketing knows about you, I think you can honestly say you’ve got reach. (She also mentioned the very cool dog-friendly office).

And from there, the company skyrocketed.

-- 2017: SharpSpring had 1,100 digital agency customers, and 6,000 businesses on the platform.

--2018: SharpSpring was serving over 7,000 companies in seven different languages. The marketing automation platform raked in $4.2 million in the first quarter. By then, the SharpSpring team had outgrown three offices and had more-than tripled their original estimated employee count of 50 people. With 180 full-time workers, they were even quickly outgrowing their downtown space.

-- 2019: SharpSpring was awarded ‘Most Revolutionary Software Award on B2B technology’ by TrustRadius. The firm also acquired digital advertising platform Perfect Audience from Marin Software, introducing an entirely new suite of tools and revenue to the SharpSpring platform. Now marketers use one interface to create and optimize their ad campaigns across thousands of sites using Google, Facebook, Instagram, and leading ad exchanges and partner networks.

Today

The still growing company has settled into the 5001 building at Celebration Pointe, where they serve more than 2,000 marketing agencies and 10,000 businesses. Their 230 employees work a hybrid workweek, spending Tuesdays and Thursdays in the office, and then spend the remainder of the workweek operating remotely.

Those employees include sales and business development representatives, product managers, developers, and support engineers.

Nicole Levy has been with the company for six years and has experienced a significant portion of the company’s growth. “I started as a Marketing Manager and joined SharpSpring when we were only 40 people,” she says.

Today Nicole serves as SharpSpring’s Director of Strategic Projects overseeing company wide project management. She credits her success partially to drive, partially to the opportunity to step up, and partially to the amazing tech community SharpSpring was a part of. “The rapid growth we’ve experienced has allowed me to take on new challenges and afforded me professional growth,” she says. “Even though I was taking on new challenges, I was grateful to have a community of outstanding people who will take a coffee with you, answer questions, and help get you up to speed on anything you want to learn… there really were a lot of people in Gainesville who really helped me get where I am today.”

“Even though I was taking on new challenges, I was grateful to have a community of outstanding people who will take a coffee with you, answer questions, and help get you up to speed on anything you want to learn… there really were a lot of people in Gainesville who really helped me get where I am today.”

Smart Growth Strategy- Build the Community You Need

In late 2018, the Gainesville Area Innovation Network recognized that the rapidly growing innovation ecosystem had a myriad of amazing resources for local entrepreneurs, but few focused exclusively on the unique needs of an emerging breed of Silicon Valley, agile, high-growth oriented companies like SharpSpring. The group eventually refocused its mission, rebranding as startGNV <that’s us>, a nonprofit dedicated to growing the innovation ecosystem through the lens of startups and major tech companies.

“At SharpSpring, we knew the innovation ecosystem was on the verge of something special as we saw more incubators, more resources, and more companies pop up in Gainesville.” says Nicole and she jumped at the chance to serve on the new StartGNV board of directors.

SharpSpring CEO Rick Carlson also jumped in and directly collaborated in the startGNV Tech Talent Initiative. The project, a collaboration of local Talent and HR leaders from several of Gainesville’s largest startups, created a strategy for local talent attraction and retention, including a website to highlight startup and tech job opportunities and resources in Gainesville.

“One of the biggest things we need in GNV is access and retention of senior-level talent,” says Rick.

Working Together

According to theories of ecosystem advocates like Brad Feld and Ian Hathaway, one of the key attributes of successful innovation ecosystems is a spirit of community. Startup founders, workers, and mature company leaders need to interact regularly and develop relationships  through local gatherings.

“If we want companies to thrive we need talent, but we also need respective peers from different companies to know and mentor each other,” says Lindsey Day, startGNV Board Member and Chair of the Tech Talent Initiative. “SharpSpring has not only been a major investor and supporter in our initiatives to attract more senior-level talent, but also helping that talent connect through unique community events.”

SharpSpring was up for the challenge. In addition to regular community events like Battle of the Bands, the company also created Buzz- a monthly networking happy hour that connects professionals in the innovation ecosystem and encourages them to get to know each other and enjoy a couple of free drinks.

Elsbeth Russell, SharpSpring’s senior content marketing manager, remembers her first screen call for a role on the marketing team at SharpSpring. It went so well the HR team invited her to a Buzz event downtown at OAK – where she got to hang with the entire marketing team. She had her first real interview a few days later and started working at SharpSpring in October 2018.

“Buzz offered a really unique way for me to get to know the company before formally interviewing and made sure the awkward ice-breaking phase was over by my first day of work,” says Elsbeth Russell, SharpSpring’s senior content marketing manager. “At the time, it was one of the few startup networking events in Gainesville. I was new to the tech scene, having worked in publishing and non-profits previously, so I also got to know a lot of people from other companies.That really opened up my eyes to all the opportunities to partner with talented folks doing big things right here in Gainesville. The people are the best part of this community.”

Constant Growth

2021 has sparked a lot of exciting changes for SharpSpring. The biggest of which was in June, the online marketing leader Constant Contact formally announced a definitive agreement allowing the company to acquire SharpSpring Inc. for $240 million-- cash.

So what’s next for this Gainesville startup?

SharpSpring continues to soar onward and upward and plans their next chapter of growth. Join them for a drink at the next Buzz on July 15!