Happy 3rd Birthday, TRU
The Summer of ‘17 was the hardest summer of my life. At the time, my business partner and I were on the verge of combustion. I had to visit family in the hospital. My uncle died. And to top it off, my close friend, mentor, and business advisor, Eric Maddison, was killed by a drunk driver who got on the freeway going the wrong direction.
To say I was up to my neck would be an understatement. I was sinking.
In business, I’d been trying for a few years to make it as an entrepreneur, but my business partner and I confronted each other on every decision. The business was paralyzed. It eventually came to an ugly head. To spare you from the details, let’s just say I needed a fresh start in a big way.
I announced that I was leaving my old company on September 4th, and spent the next three days building the foundation of what would become TRU Venture Marketing – with less than $700 in the bank, and more than that in credit card debt, starting TRU on my own was the biggest risk I’d taken in my life.
Because of my negative experience with the last company, I had a clear vision of what TRU should grow into, and more importantly, what it wouldn’t become. The goal was never to take over the world, rather, the mission was to provide a workplace for hungry and smart individuals to grow and learn as they helped bold companies affect change in the world.
I registered the domain Truvm.com, and built our initial website using admittedly corny NASA stock photography to keep things looking aspirational, created the basis of the Venture Marketing Creed, and called everyone in my network letting them know about the new company.
The problem was, that as a recent graduate and ALL of my cash held up in the last company, I had a shorter runway than most founders. I had 4 weeks before my rent for the next month was due, which would be a nail in the coffin to my entrepreneurial dreams. This translated to just 2 weeks to get my first client (that’s assuming I could get them to pay me in advance of work completed.)
Fortunately, things began picking up as planned. Calls to my network began paying off within a week. 120 West, another agency in Reno, run by Ira Gostin, became my first client (Ironically, it was Ira who helped convince me to leave Risable). Shortly after, I signed a deal with a chemical company based in Minden, Nevada. I made it through the first two weeks, and reported a month one profit.
After a few weeks, I got a cold call from the owners of Eva Gifting Assistant, who I’d been in chats with at Risable. I remember telling the founders that I wasn’t with the last company anymore, and that I didn’t even do PR – but they still somehow seemed interested. I pitched them on performance marketing services designed specifically for early stage startups and we put together a deal.
By February of 2018, just 6 months after starting TRU, things were too busy for me alone. By the end of that month, I was introduced to Sergio Sandoval and hired him as a contractor that week.
Together, over the next two years, we helped Eva Gifting grow from having under 100 customers to over 1500. During the first year, it was common for us to see growth levels surpass 200% per month. Because of our ads, (and a great leadership team at Eva) their yearly growth rate for 2018 was in the thousands.
Sergio became a full-time employee that year.
Around this same time, we also managed to start growing the rest of the TRU Venture Marketing book of business, working with organizations like the University of Nevada, Reno, and a number of other software companies. With success at other organizations we knew we were on to something.
As our clients grew, so did our need to expand our team. We began our search for the next AdVenturer in 2019, and reviewed dozens of applications before finding Brian Lester. Brian came into TRU, and all of a sudden, TRU felt less like two guys crushing through ad creative and websites, and more like a company. Brian brought with him a ton of experience managing digital campaigns for other software startups, and his value was immediately recognized. TRU would never have gotten where it is today without him joining the team.
By the end of 2019, with our biggest book of business yet, in preparation for what was expected to be our breakout year, we brought on one more team member – this time, a recent graduate. At the end of 2019, TRU welcomed Gabby Pellegrini to the team. She brought an artistic touch with her that helped our design and creative work pop, and is currently very quickly building her marketing toolset – even taking on many campaigns and projects on her own.
Through the start of 2020, things were going smoothly for TRU. In fact, in our first 2 years of operating, we never posted a monthly loss. Not even once. I was so paranoid from the last two businesses that I wouldn’t let it happen.
But all good streaks come to an end eventually – March of 2020 signaled the end of our hot-streak. By now, our book of business was made up predominantly of venture-funded startups. As coronavirus began to take its toll on the US economy, so did it affect our clients. In just two months, two of our biggest customers had funding freezes. Another shut down altogether. To top it off, we were coming out of a multi-month project with a University and didn’t yet have a replacement client. We were caught flat-footed.
Our flying carpet was ripped from underneath us. We were down almost 80% from the year before.
My mind went straight to where I was when starting TRU… but this time, I wasn’t alone. This time, I had the help of a team.
We came together in a huge way, and shifted all of our efforts to client retention and sales. And it worked. Since March, we’ve had two of our best months ever for new sales at TRU. Our business looks a bit different than it did a year ago, but after everything we’ve been through, we’re better because of it.
So here we are – three years into a wild, wild AdVenture. Our small team has generated tens of thousands of leads, and millions of dollars in sales in the SaaS space. We’ve helped lead amazing growth for small underdog startups, and most recently, overcome a global pandemic. We’ve been in battle together and survived.
I can’t express how grateful I am to lead this team, and can’t thank enough those who made this all possible. Here’s to the next 3 years.
Oh, and a quick shout out to all of the people below. Without all of you, we never would have made it to where we are.
Cody Goeken, Doug Erwin, Ira Gostin, Dave Hartman, Rabi Gupta, Satwick Saxena, Jake Pereira, Ryan Roslansky, Dennis Green, Don Yurick