I founded 3Pillar Global, or Three Pillar Software as it was originally called, in 2006. I was the lone employee when I signed the paperwork incorporating the company, and that remained the case for the next few years. We jumped up to 6 employees in 2008.
Fifteen years later, we have a global footprint. More than 2000 team members across North America, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia Pacific call 3Pillar home. We are well north of $100MM in annual revenue, and we have big plans for the next few years.
If we look in the rearview, there are many lessons I’ve learned over the course of these last 15 years that I think would serve any entrepreneur well.
Before we dive into those lessons, let me be perfectly clear: building and scaling a business is insanely difficult. It takes all-out commitment, a little bit of luck, and an awful lot of talented, dedicated people all pulling in the same direction to have any chance to succeed. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been harrowing moments along the way. We were once 6 hours away from missing payroll. Early on, one of our three clients, which was responsible for 50% of our revenue, was acquired twice in a two-month period and ended our relationship. The good times have far outweighed the bad, however.
Without further ado, here are a few of the most important decisions I’ve made over the course of building 3Pillar into a $100MM+ company. Each has been instrumental in growing our revenue more than 9900% in the last 15 years.
Done Correctly, Building a Board Can be the Best Decision You Ever Make
I’ve written in the past about how crucial building a board was in the early days of 3Pillar. Surrounding myself with board members who had already tread the path I wanted to walk helped put the company on a solid foundation, and it helped me learn how to work on the business rather than in the business. When 3Pillar was in its infancy, I was still writing code 80 hours a week. It’s simply impossible to scale if you, as the company’s leader, are still responsible for performing billable work.
Learning how to manage and work with the board from early in the company’s history helped me mature as a CEO. It also forced me to get fluent in the language of business, learning about everything from gross margin and corporate tax rates to governance and equity. This knowledge and experience gave me much-needed confidence and know-how when we were talking with private equity funds about taking on funding, which typically comes with adding new board members from the PE fund(s) that invest.
Taking on Funding Can be a Great Way to Fuel Further Growth
We’ve been through 3 major funding rounds at 3Pillar. The first was with NewSpring Capital in 2013, the next came with CIP Capital in 2020, and just last week we announced a major investment from H.I.G.
Much like buying a house, there are times in business where certain growth opportunities require more capital than you have just sitting in the bank. NewSpring’s investment allowed us to expand our commercial machine with key hires, expand our geographic presence by opening an additional office in Romania, and strengthen our balance sheet. CIP Capital’s investment helped fuel a number of acquisitions that have supercharged our growth.
The institutional capital dance is a delicate one. There’s obviously a tradeoff between what the additional capital will free you up to do and what you end up “giving up” to investors, be it equity, board seats, etc. In both of my experiences taking on funding, what we’ve gained as a result of the additional capital has far outweighed what we’ve given up.
Marc Lederman at NewSpring was a valuable board member for years. His presence imposed a level of discipline we had not had as a startup. Likewise, Mike Grady of CIP Capital made a big contribution. His knowledge of our sector was invaluable in strategically navigating several acquisitions. And I look forward to having the opportunity to work with Matt Robinson at H.I.G. and leveraging their platform to really take our operational excellence to the next level.
Balance Organic Growth With Growth Through Acquisition
While organic growth should always be your goal, acquisitions can help accelerate your growth in a few ways: building scale, broadening the scope of your services, entering new geographic markets, and of course by getting the opportunity to build long-term relationships with the customers of the acquired company.
We’ve made a number of strategic acquisitions over the years, including a flurry of them within the last year and a half. Every acquisition we’ve made has checked one or more of the boxes above. One of our first acquisitions, Leverpoint, turned into our Romanian presence. We had so much success with our first location in Romania that we now have two more and are also hiring remote workers anywhere in Romania.
Other acquisitions have been more about broadening the services we offer, as was the case with our 2011 acquisition of a mobile app development company called PointAbout.
While acquisitions can be transformative, it is essential that you do not neglect organic growth. Organic growth allows culture to evolve and helps fuel healthy operations.
Be Deliberate About Building Your Culture
Culture happens. It either happens by accident, in which case there is very little definition and purpose to it, or you build it deliberately. For the first few years at 3Pillar, I let culture evolve naturally. In fact, a mentor of mine argued that culture cannot be built. He encouraged me not to even try. While he was right on many fronts, he was wrong on this one.
We’ve taken many steps to ensure that we’re shaping the culture at 3Pillar rather than throwing up our hands and hoping for the best. Here are some examples:
- We put our values front and center in every aspect of what we do — from guidelines and policies to compensation and even choosing investors.
- We run bi-annual rewards and recognition programs to honor those who actively live our values. Awardees become Values ambassadors to others in the organization and have traditionally been treated to a trip to the US for an annual summit.
- Our office spaces themselves are designed to promote teamwork and collaboration.
- We are deliberate about employee onboarding — whether new team members are organic hires or associated with an acquisition. We conduct training for every employee in the company on our Purpose, Values, Stakeholder Philosophy and of course the Product Mindset, which I so strongly believe is the mindset needed to succeed in the digital economy that I co-wrote a book about it.
- We also try to make sure there are ample opportunities to just step away from work for a few minutes, have fun, and loosen up. When Foosball Fridays became a custom in our US office a few years back, I not only encouraged it, I played. And not to brag, but my team often won.
Culture done right attracts like-minded people to a common purpose. Done well, culture creates an environment that allows you to out-execute your competition, which I believe fuels true competitive advantage.
Wrapping It Up – Way More We than Me
We’ve had quite the journey at 3Pillar over the last 15 years, and it’s absolutely the case that it has been way more about we than me. From the board members who were there at the very beginning to the investors that have helped spur our recent growth to the cast of now literally thousands of team members that have been a part of the culture, we couldn’t have grown as quickly as we have without any of those vital pieces.