David Ciccarelli, "How to Scale the Unscalable Business"

How do you become the giant player in a fragmented business like that of finding voice-over talent? This is just one of the questions that intrigued me in this interview with David Ciccarelli, CEO & Co-Founder of Voices.com, a business he started and runs with his wife and co-founder Stephanie. If you’re raising money, this episode and “The Secrets of Fundraising” are must listen.

Click here to read full episode transcript.

 

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Episode highlights include:

  • Introduction to David Ciccarelli & Voices.com

  • “"What is the intersection of this? Art, science, technology, music, sound," and really had this desire to do something in that space…”

  • “That's been the same idea right from the very beginning to what we do now is, it's evolved to a global marketplace of over 500,000 users from all around the world…”

  • David Ciccarelli and His Wife Stephanie Are Co-Founders – How Do They Make It Work?

  • David Ciccarelli’s Parents Encouraged an Entrepreneurial Mindset

  • The Remarkable Funding History of Voices.com

  • The Three Crucial Questions You’ll Be Asked on Your Raise

  • GOLDEN TIP FOR FUNDRAISING! “Over the years, I'd developed a massive spreadsheet of 200 names of investors that had either shown interest, or I'd met at a conference, or something along these lines, of names of the firm, the city they were in, and the phone number and email on the contact, basic information. I created a one-pager, almost like a business model canvas-type idea, but really tight one-pager with some key stats, problem, solution, results.”

  • DON’T MISS THIS EITHER! “Now, you've previously made, I think, a really important point, and these are not cold emails. This isn't just, "I googled around."”

  • “I think one of the challenges that were currently faced is how to manage the growth efficiently…”

  • How Voices.com Built Its Dominance in a Fragmented Business

  • Jean Hammond’s “There’s No Second Thing” Story

  • “We describe that as leading and transforming the industry…. Being the place… where the world comes to find their voice.”

  • Starting a Business in the US vs. Starting One in Canada

  • What Has Made London, Ontario a Tech Hub?

  • Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs from David Ciccarelli


Transcript of "How to Scale the Unscalable Business"

GUEST: DAVID CICCARELL,CEO AND CO-FOUNDER of voices.com

SAL DAHER: Welcome to Angel Invest Boston, conversations with leading angels and founders in the Boston area. I am Sal Daher, and today I'm glad to welcome David Ciccarelli, CEO and founder of Voices.com.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Hey, Sal. Thanks for having me here. It's an honor to be on the show.

Introduction to David Ciccarelli & Voices.com

SAL DAHER: Well, David, it's really a treat. We connected because you're here, a Canadian company, a Canadian startup, but you're participating in an event held by the A-Lab at MIT, where you pose a business question to them involving data. If they find your question sufficiently interesting, they will attack it, and so this afternoon, you're going to be presenting that question to them, and I hope we'll get into this later on. For those who may not be familiar, Voices.com is the premier site for finding voice talent, that which I do not have, but if you need someone for a voiceover, like Don Pardo ... This is a little dated reference. Perhaps you don't even remember that.

DAVID CICCARELLI: I'm just smiling the whole time. I'm enjoying this.

SAL DAHER: You go to Voices.com, and this company interested me tremendously, because how do you differentiate yourself in a business that there are a gazillion little players doing this, and how do you stand out? But anyway, we'll get into that later on, but David, our podcast here is really, it's supposed to be about tech companies and so forth, but it's really just about human nature, and we have a standing question to all our guests, and that is, how did they figure out what it is that they wanted to be doing with their life? I know that you have a very unusual path. You started out as a sound person. Right? As a sound-

DAVID CICCARELLI: That's right.

SAL DAHER: ... producer and so forth, and then you went and started a company. Anyway, tell us about the moment when it clicked for you that, "This is what I'm, was meant to do."

DAVID CICCARELLI: After graduating from high school, actually, Mom and Dad gave all the kids the opportunity to travel the world. They said, "Before going to university or college, find somewhere in the world that you can do some good," and ... Right?

SAL DAHER: You were growing up where?

DAVID CICCARELLI: In Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is north of Duluth, as a reference point, so right at the top of Lake Superior, or the Great Lakes. I took out a globe, of course, and I found the absolute furthest away from home that I could, which was Perth, Western Australia. The organization was called Youth With A Mission, and it was really kind of a missionary-type organization, and spent a year there. Really, not only kind of learned a lot about the world and different cultures. It was 13 of us in this little flat, all in bunk beds from different countries, and it's kind of the United Nations in our little place there.

It also gave me a lot of time to think about kind of what to do with the rest of my life, and ponder, "Well, what are all the things that I've really enjoyed up until this moment? I've played piano, drums," and still attempt to, clearly, but also-

SAL DAHER: It's a reference to what he was doing just a few minutes ago-

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: ... in our, drums here in the studio.

IMG_1244.JPG

“"What is the intersection of this? Art, science, technology, music, sound," and really had this desire to do something in that space…”

DAVID CICCARELLI: Then also, really was always fascinated with sound. This was kind of the emergence of digital technology and the first kind of computer software recording tools that were available, and really kind of reflecting on that. I said, "What is the intersection of this? Art, science, technology, music, sound," and really had this desire to do something in that space, only to, upon return to Canada, discover that there was a program, an audio engineering program, and there was a school called the Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology. That's ultimately where I went to school. If there was a moment, I suppose, it was one of the many moments of sitting on a beach and just trying to figure this all out. That really kind of becomes the bit of the flame that's kind of burning within you, and you realize, "Okay, this thing's going to light. It's shining in me so much that I feel so kind of hot to pursue this. I've got to take a plunge."

SAL DAHER: Awesome. That's a great story. Calls to mind a little bit what happens in the Mormon Church. I have friends who are Mormons. They have this rite of passage that they send them out onto missions and so forth. The idea is for them to go out into the world to a place that's completely out of their comfort zone. Well, famously, Mitt Romney had his mission in France. God knows there's a lot of conversion that he did in France, but he was ... It's a wonderful thing to see, and I also like the fact that you're coming from a little town. There's a tremendous energy for people coming from a little place, seeing the world, and then saying, "Oh, I can find my place there in that world and can make my place and make my mark."

DAVID CICCARELLI: Now, I'm married, and have four kids, and I've always encouraged them, as my parents did with me, to keep your eyes and ears open. A common phrase in the car, we'll be driving, and we'll see a sign, or we'll see an animal or something, and I'm always saying, "Good eye. Good eye," just as like you can tell that they're constantly looking and absorbing the world, which if you can make sense of it, right, or see patterns, and then-

SAL DAHER: Yes.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... you develop this pattern recognition. "Oh-"

SAL DAHER: This is putting things together.

DAVID CICCARELLI: These are good lifelong skills to have that can be developed. Sometimes not necessarily in a classroom, but merely just being exposed to different people and culture around the world.

SAL DAHER: Okay, so Voices.com is the world's hub for voice talent, presumably in English, mostly in English.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Well, now, I started in English, of course, but now there's over 100 different languages represented from the voice actors.

SAL DAHER: Wow. Wow.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Someone says, "Oh, I speak Urdu," and the first time we were like, "Oh," and you add that into the database as a new language that can be spoken and available these talents are available for hire.

SAL DAHER: Wow. Yeah. Urdu. Arabic, confronting the Indian subcontinent, became Urdu.

DAVID CICCARELLI: There you go. I see-

SAL DAHER: Arabic-

DAVID CICCARELLI: I'm learning all the times-

SAL DAHER: ... confronting the African continent became Swahili.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Interesting.

SAL DAHER: Yeah. It was the Mogul conquerors in India. It was the language of the Mogul conquerors in India.

DAVID CICCARELLI: There you go.

SAL DAHER: I say that because my dad was sort of an amateur linguist, and he was always talking about different languages, and he had friends who spoke Urdu, and he tried to understand them, because he spoke Arabic, but anyway, Voices.com in London, Ontario. Tell me the founding story of that company.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah. It's interesting. It'll sound like a love story, but I assure you it's a tech startup story. When I finished this audio engineering school program, I opened up a small recording studio in London right downtown above this kind of famous landmark restaurant that I figured was good location. Right? Everyone would see it. It turned out I actually got an article in the newspaper on my birthday, of all days, and coincidentally, and that really kind of exposed me to the broader business community.

At that same time, Stephanie, who I mentioned is now my wife, at that point, she was in the music program at the university, and she was a classically trained singer. She would sing at weddings, and funerals, and special events, and her mom would often carpool her around the city, right, and to do auditions and performances. Her mom saw this newspaper article and said, "Hey, this fellow's opened up a recording studio. He looks pretty trustworthy. Why don't you give him a call?" Her mom cut this newspaper article out and left it on her bed, so Stephanie gives me a call and with the intention of recording a singing demo of her repertoire. So that she didn't have to go drive around, you could just hand out these CDs, if you will.

We hit it off doing that first recordings, but because of that same article, there was actually some other small businesses in town that wanted voiceovers. I clearly, from the education, I understand what that was, but I didn't know any other voice talent. They wanted a radio commercial and some phone system recordings, and they both wanted a female voice, so naturally, I was quite a nerd. I knew one girl in the city who I'd just met the previous day, so I give Stephanie a call and said, "Do you think you can come down to the studio and read this page of copy, and we'll split the money? I'll be the engineer, and you be the voice talent."

That was really how we began working together, and that really spawned on to us recognizing that, "Wow, we're in little London, Ontario, Canada, and clearly there is a demand for this. People are looking for this. Surely, there's a much bigger kind of market for this," so very organic story. We put together a terrible-looking website. It was really a brochure-style website that just listed the service, and that soon attracted other voice talent that said, "Oh, I see you have one female voice. Do you ever need a male voice? Do you need somebody who speaks French or Spanish? Do you need character voices?" This fellow in LA did these character voices. We always just said, "Yeah. Sure, we'll list you on this website."

“That's been the same idea right from the very beginning to what we do now is, it's evolved to a global marketplace of over 500,000 users from all around the world…”

At the same time, there would be clients that would look to hire them, and all we had was like a name and a little play button. It wasn't a link to their website or anything. It was, "How do we hire this person?" That was really the aha moment to go, "Wow. We've been spending time kind of running this studio, doing the production ourselves, where really the calling seemed to be, what if we could be the connector between these two parties, the voice talent on one side and the client on the other side?" That's been the same idea right from the very beginning to what we do now is, it's evolved to a global marketplace of over 500,000 users from all around the world, and we just try to stay really true to that core of being the connector between these two groups.

SAL DAHER: That was the crucial pivot for your business.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: You discovered that instead of running a studio and so forth, and doing the work and so forth, it was better just to provide a platform for people to come in and to sell their talent.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah, and notwithstanding, I suppose what would be an important dimension is that love story element. Yeah, Stephanie and I met through this studio arrangement, if you will, but of course, we dated and got married and had kids. I'm tremendously compressing the timeline here, but recognizing that, wow, it's going to be really hard to run a recording studio out of our house and garage bands and so forth. We're like, "How do we repurpose all of our skills and knowledge?" Stephanie on the, her major was in voice, so she sung, and she knew kind of the voices and instrument.

SAL DAHER: Right.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Right?

SAL DAHER: Right.

DAVID CICCARELLI: And all the art that went into it, and myself on the technical side, so it really was not only a marriage of two people, but a marriage of kind of two backgrounds and ideas of coming together. That's exactly it. It really was a pivot from us doing the production to us facilitating other people to do the production.

David Ciccarelli and His Wife Stephanie Are Co-Founders – How Do They Make It Work?

SAL DAHER: Right. Husband-and-wife founding teams. Not a common thing?

DAVID CICCARELLI: No.

SAL DAHER: Eventbrite, an example.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: The founding team at Eventbrite. Pros and cons.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Well, the pros would be, we live, breathe, eat, and sleep the business to, for better or worse, and what we like is that we know everybody ... It's not like one of us is coming home from work, and whether you had a great day or a challenging day, there's no sense of jealousy that you spent time with someone, or, "I'm confused," of, "Who's this new person you're talking about?" We know it all intimately. I guess, jokingly, when we travel, we can share a hotel room, and, yeah, we just have a good person to sit beside on the airplane.

SAL DAHER: Save on the expenses.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: [inaudible 00:11:22].

DAVID CICCARELLI: Hey, it matters in the earliest years. Right? I think there's a great understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and we're learning even now, how to be increasingly supportive of one another. The downside, I suppose, is knowing what someone else's weaknesses are, and maybe a tendency to perhaps dwell on those maybe than you should, because you have this other context where you see it at home and at work, and so I think we've been really working on our marriage to actually improve the working relationship as well too, to set up what we would call healthy boundaries. There's a time and a place to talk about when to pick up the kids and when not to, and what we're having for dinner. Then vice versa, the dinner table cannot serve as the boardroom table-

SAL DAHER: No.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... either, and so learning where those boundaries are is an ongoing pursuit.

SAL DAHER: You're following the example of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe. Never talk business at a dinner table.

DAVID CICCARELLI: That's, and I mean, look. It's not good for us. It's not good for the kids to see. We want our kids to potentially be entrepreneurs in their own right at some point. Not necessarily at Voices, but just to explore the world in that way and to be curious, and if all they hear are the challenges at the dinner table, and this is probably countless people's upbringings, is-

SAL DAHER: It'll turn them off.

DAVID CICCARELLI: It'll turn them off. That's why a lot of kids don't necessarily want to pursue the same career path as their parents, because they only have that limited exposure, so they go to literally try to do something completely the opposite, so we're trying to solve that one as well.

SAL DAHER: This is an interesting topic. You're talking about children following in your footsteps in the business. Were your parents entrepreneurs?

David Ciccarelli’s Parents Encouraged an Entrepreneurial Mindset

DAVID CICCARELLI: My dad was certainly very entrepreneurial. I think Mom and Dad were, my perspective is that they were very encouraging of us. Case in point, Mom did not want us to have a skateboard. Right? No skateboards in the house, because she thought they were too dangerous, and so what did we invent? Blockboards. These were little planks of wood with two-inch by two-inch wheels that were just, they were little block ... They didn't roll, but you could still do all the tricks on them.

SAL DAHER: And scrape the floor while you're at it.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly-

SAL DAHER: Yes.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... and so we could only do it in the basement or in the sidewalk, but we could do it all winter in the basement. We were playing with these blockboards. We invented these blockboards. We had these little mini-skis. We invented the Uno ski, which is basically a, it's one ski you strap on one foot. I don't know if it's because my brother also needed a ski. We only had two skis, but it was like skateboarding in winter is really what it was like. You strap one on one, and then you push with your other foot. We kind of made do with the resources and the things that we had around the house that we could pursue fun, selling hockey cards, and baseball cards, and garage sales, and lemonade stand. All that stuff, I think, teaches you how to have an idea and pursue it.

Mom was a nurse, and Dad worked in automotive industry for many years, and then in financial services, so never, being in financial services, though, I think very much in business for yourself to develop your own clients and build those relationships, so I learned-

SAL DAHER: Absolutely.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... a lot of skills from Dad.

SAL DAHER: Now, and the idea of having your children pursue the same line of business you've been in, I think essential there is for them to feel that they have a space to create, that they can create their own direction, because very frequently, people who are successful at business, the children feel kind of overwhelmed that they can possibly be like Mom or Dad, and then they feel that there's not space, and they have to go off, do a totally different thing. Then you have to sell your business and give them the money to pursue another business which is kind of inefficient, because there are all kinds of friction in the world, and taxes, and all this nonsense, but anyway, so this is really, really fascinating. Basically, you had a lifestyle business.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Right. Yeah. That's fair.

SAL DAHER: Now, I mean, last summer, you got $18 million in funding from Wall Street.

DAVID CICCARELLI: From Morgan Stanley.

SAL DAHER: Morgan Stanley-

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah.

SAL DAHER: ... and for growth capital and so forth. What is it that allowed this little lifestyle company ... It sounds like I'm meaning a company that you, that it's like a family business, a little, tiny family business, to become a business that could be funded from Wall Street?

DAVID CICCARELLI: Well, I would say every entrepreneur desires that their idea grows to the biggest possible version of that idea. Right? Otherwise, you wouldn't be pursuing it. Otherwise-

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

The Remarkable Funding History of Voices.com

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... you would want it to stay as a lifestyle business or a hobby, at best. We really had the desire and vision to grow it as big, and as big and influential as possible. In the earliest days, raising capital's difficult, so I always kind of describe the three sources of capital are cash from customers, which is great if you can start there, develop a product that people are actually going to buy, and for us, that was the voice talent at the beginning. We're subscribing to this platform, kind of like a LinkedIn premium model nowadays, but they were subscribing to the platform, so that provided monthly recurring revenue.

We would use those funds to continue to market online and build the service and hire people. Then you have really debt, if you can acquire it, and if you can prove cashflow, that there's a track record of cashflow, you can assume some debt. That allows you to grow faster.

The first loan that we had was for $30,000. It was a four-year term, and we spent it all on one marketing campaign, which was to mail out postcards to ad agencies in New York and Los Angeles. We, frankly, blew $30,000, and the short version of the story is, we got two leads out of this, of people who actually came back and signed up on the website and filled out this little form, in effect. A cost per lead of $15,000 each, and no conversion, so terrible experience, but nonetheless learned how to utilize that creative, the ad copy and so forth, into, really, a visual identity, so clearly, we learned how to take a situation that wasn't optimal, deploying cash on a marketing campaign, and then resulting something from it, aside from cash from customers and raising some debt with that first loan, we were able to pay that back, get another loan, 50, then 100,000, five ...

Next thing you know, we were able to secure debt financing of $2 million, just a loan, and realizing that, "Okay, we're executing our plan," right, and this is getting us up to north of $10 million annually in sales, and great growth, kind of growth rate, compounding growth rate. We really said, "Well, what's next? Do I, frankly, think that a bank or an institution is going to lend us 5, 10, $20 million?" It just didn't seem like it. Really, we simultaneously recognized the need to find a real partner that was going to be there to hold us accountable, establish a board of directors, which we'd not had before, so I think this was just the maturing of the company, so we'd made the decision that we wanted to pursue raising venture capital or private equity.

The Three Crucial Questions You’ll Be Asked on Your Raise

Once the decision was made, it came down to, "Let's be really well-prepared." In previous, dare I say, attempts to raise capital, I've recognized there's three questions that every investor wants to know. "How big is the market, why you, and why now?" Right? Dissecting that just a wee bit, this has got to be a huge opportunity that everyone goes, "Yeah, I get it, I get what you do now, but I also can see how this is going to grow," and there's clear line of sight there. "Well, why you? If there's 20 other companies doing this, why are you the best out of 20?" If there's nobody else doing this, that's also a problem. Right? You're just too ... That kind of leads into the, you might be too early and there's not really a market there. Then finally, "Why now?" There needs to be an immediate plan. There's something that's driving the urgency that would compel an investor. Would you agree with those kinds of three biggies?

SAL DAHER: Entirely.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Recognizing that those are the questions that needed to be answered, we put that in all the material, and so the material that we used, fortunately, over the years, started with the pursuit list, the investor pursuit list of, I love how you've been describing this previously on the show, here on the podcast, about, that it's sales, and you need to have a prospecting list.

“Over the years, I'd developed a massive spreadsheet of 200 names of investors that had either shown interest, or I'd met at a conference, or something along these lines, of names of the firm, the city they were in, and the phone number and email on the contact, basic information. I created a one-pager, almost like a business model canvas-type idea, but really tight one-pager with some key stats, problem, solution, results.”

Over the years, I'd developed a massive spreadsheet of 200 names of investors that had either shown interest, or I'd met at a conference, or something along these lines, of names of the firm, the city they were in, and the phone number and email on the contact, basic information. I created a one-pager, almost like a business model canvas-type idea, but really tight one-pager with some key stats, problem, solution, results.

SAL DAHER: Yes.

“Now, you've previously made, I think, a really important point, and these are not cold emails. This isn't just, "I googled around."”

DAVID CICCARELLI: Right? Really simple, and sent out an email to like, "Hey, remember? We spoke in the last couple years. We're raising our Series A round. If you're interested, I'd love to hop on a call just to give you some context attached as a one-pager." Now, you've previously made, I think, a really important point, and these are not cold emails. This isn't just, "I googled around."

SAL DAHER: Yes, yes.

DAVID CICCARELLI: I-

SAL DAHER: This is a very important point. Asterisks here, stars.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Absolutely. I knew, or was introduced, or had a referral to every single one of these people, and I had, in my sheet, I had a note of, because I'm not going to remember ... I knew the day was going to come where we're going to try to raise this capital. I just, my trick is actually to write it on the back of the business card when I meet people in real time so that later, when you're going, "Who, what was the reference point for this contact?" I would really get that all into the sheet so I knew how I was introduced, or the event that I was at. That was often kind of weaved into that initial pitch email. Out of the 200, quickly got down, I was ... It was probably at 100 phone calls that were scheduled and set up.

SAL DAHER: Wow.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Went through all of them. You talk about practice of your pitch. You get really right with saying this story over and over, and the calls were often half an hour, and as you can ... The subtext here, it was a time-consuming process, but I think for those listening, I think this is a great kind of story arc to understand the time and energy that's required to pull this off successfully.

SAL DAHER: How long did the raise take?

DAVID CICCARELLI: Three months to kind of, from ... To get to due diligence, and then I would say another two months of due diligence.

SAL DAHER: You were targeting VCs-

DAVID CICCARELLI: VCs.

SAL DAHER: ... and PE guys-

DAVID CICCARELLI: Correct.

SAL DAHER: ... private equity guys.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah, and so after that call, on the calls, I realized, these are all the same questions coming up over and over. I had a CIM, which is a confidential information memorandum, which was the 40 or 50-slide presentation, and I said, "Look, I would love to spend more time with you. We're both busy. Let me flip this over to you now. If you're still interested, and you circulate that amongst your investment committee, let me know, and we can either do another call, or I'll travel to come see you." The key here is that I equipped people at the right point in time with the right information. I didn't give everybody all of the information up front, only the people who ... The more interested they got, the more information they got.

It also minimized the travel. When we did do the roadshow, which. Stephanie and I travel together as a founding team, these were 20 companies, 20 in-person pitches, a ton of interest in ... We did it all in one big roadshow, from Boston, to New York, to San Francisco and LA, and then back home. That allowed us to like ... Man, being on a roadshow like that is like, well, one, it compresses the timeline. "Who else are you talking to?" "Wow, we actually just came from New York. We were just in Boston last week, or three day ... " It's like, "Oh, okay. This entrepreneur is serious about making this happen. This isn't a one-off." What that signals is that you're running a process.

SAL DAHER: Well, what's happening to the business while you were out on the roadshow?

DAVID CICCARELLI: Fortunately, we've built an amazing team around us, so a CFO, CTO, a VP of marketing and VP of sales-

SAL DAHER: So, you weren't an early-stage startup-

DAVID CICCARELLI: No.

SAL DAHER: ... that would just die on the raise.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: That's one of the things that early-stage companies have to balance is the amount of energy spent on the raise versus the amount of energy they have to spend just continue to develop the company, and maybe if they wait three months, the company might be much more developed and therefore easy to raise money for.

DAVID CICCARELLI: For sure. You mentioned, or the story's unique because, candidly, we were at this for a good 10 years. The advice that was always given to me, and I would certainly share that, is, raise debt if you can get it.

Sal Daher:Oh!

DAVID CICCARELLI: Right?

SAL DAHER: I entirely ... I was giving that advice yesterday. Well, bootstrap until you've got enough traction so that you can raise debt.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly, and then once you've raised debt, raise it as much as you can, with a plan, of course, but as much as you can that's reasonable, that someone, at reasonable interest rates, until it becomes a parody of when, if your interest rate on your debt is like 25, 30 ... Well, I mean, those are equity-type terms anyway, so-

SAL DAHER: Indeed.

DAVID CICCARELLI: That just took a long time. I feel like we tapped out all previous sources of capital, and it wasn't just about the capital. I think this is also important, and likely even said many times before as well, but it's sometimes referred to as smart money. Right?

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

DAVID CICCARELLI: You want-

SAL DAHER: Right.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... great investors, true partners, and so the end, we ended up with several term sheets. It was a pretty clear decision, but it was a… the factors that went into that were not just valuation like everybody thinks. It's actually the other terms, because-

SAL DAHER: Did you go for the most favorable valuation for you, or did you end up choosing-

DAVID CICCARELLI: Honestly, no.

SAL DAHER: You did not.

DAVID CICCARELLI: No.

SAL DAHER: This is a point that I often get asked about, and the podcast that you referred to, the secrets of funding [The Secrets of Fundraising, Link to the Secrets of Fundraising Episode], that was one of the questions asked. You agree with me, you choose the VC and not the term sheet.

DAVID CICCARELLI: The short answer is yes. Not to be overly technical, but 100 million valuation at 3X liquidation preferences is going to kill you versus a 50 or 60, $70 million valuation at a one-times liquidation preference, and so people will have to research if that's a new term. They'll have to look at that offline and google it, but it's setting you up for success in the future or not.

SAL DAHER: Let me just add here that what the things you're talking about, TCN is a great resource in here. It's a nonprofit here in Boston, and they have a course every year basically on cap tables. I'm urging them to put this on video or something so people can have a ready resource, but you can find information on how to figure out cap tables, and the impact of liquidation preferences and all these other things. Please continue. You ended up with a VC firm, right?

DAVID CICCARELLI: We ended up with Morgan Stanley's private ... It's their growth equity fund-

SAL DAHER: Okay.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... so not as-

SAL DAHER: So, it's more like private equity.

DAVID CICCARELLI: More like private equity than necessarily VC, and it was more kind of the makeup and nature of the people. I mean, it's the people that we were working with. There were some that were like VCs and PE guys and gals that we thought were super smart, but we just didn't click. You could tell they were smart in dissecting the business and asked very thoughtful questions, but there wasn't the elusive chemistry that was there where we felt that with the team from Morgan Stanley. In turn, I think they had proven that they had a history of working with husband-and-wife founding teams.

SAL DAHER: Ah, this is so important.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Which was our unique aspect. I think they understood what the pros and cons and some of the challenges that might occur there, so we just felt overall, they were supportive, recognizing that this is going to be a five-plus-year relationship. That's ultimately who we worked with.

SAL DAHER: This is really an excellent description of a raise, albeit a raise aimed at private equity investors, because you were profitable early, you had cashflow early, and therefore you were able to get debt, which is a different path. Not every company can be profitable early, but if you can be profitable early and you can show steady cashflow with subscribers and so forth, you're bankable. You can borrow money.

I recommend this particular description from David Ciccarelli of his raise, of their raise. I also recommend, funnily enough, there's a PE firm in Chicago that has a podcast, Parker Gale, and it's called The Private Equity Funcast. In one of their podcasts, they did a description of an entire season of their raise from one of their funds, and the ins and outs and so forth. If you're raising money in the private equity milieu, I recommend that.

I recommend this conversation with David Ciccarelli, and I also recommend Barton Biggs, who was a, he's passed away now, is a very, very clever fund manager on Wall Street and a beautiful writer. In one of his books, I don't remember the title right now [“Hedgehogging” by Barton M. Biggs], he had a description of his raise, the raise for his hedge fund, so I encourage people to look at those sources and, of course, to listen to Secrets of Fundraising on the Angel Invest Boston Podcast.

SAL DAHER: Now, what are the challenges confronting Voices.com right now?

“I think one of the challenges that were currently faced is how to manage the growth efficiently…”

DAVID CICCARELLI: I think one of the challenges that were currently faced is how to manage the growth efficiently, recognizing that there's almost like a changing of the guard, a changing of the dynamic of the company, and what we've experienced over the last year really is a formalization or a professionalization of our operations, of how we run meetings, of how information’s shared. It's the org structure. You need these things, I would argue, before you take that next step, because if you wait too long to put in practices like a human resources, a corporate culture playbook or handbook, and there's human resources policies, you wait too long, disasters will inevitably happen.

SAL DAHER: Eat you up. They'll eat you up.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Right? You're putting out those fires, where if you can put in the fire alarm system and the water system and have the extinguishers around, better to invest in that system and technology before-

SAL DAHER: The house burns down.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... before you need it. Right?

SAL DAHER: Right. Right.

DAVID CICCARELLI: This year has really been, I would characterize as an infrastructure year. Retooling, migrating our technology from kind of dedicated web servers to Amazon, Amazon Web Services, everything in the cloud, as that is kind of almost like a corporate mandate as cloud first, super, and with hiring on a security analyst, which we've never had. There's just new roles that are coming up to go, "Okay, there's clearly a business case here of the need to protect what we have. As much as the need to drive forward and constantly innovate, you realize that there's something really special here, so let's take the necessary precautions." That's one of many systems that we've invested in over the last year that is setting us up for future success, 2019, 2020 and beyond.

How Voices.com Built Its Dominance in a Fragmented Business

SAL DAHER: The voiceover talent market is basically a bunch of small operators and a giant. How did you acquire this dominance? How did you sort of become the big player that you are, given that it's such a fragmented market?

DAVID CICCARELLI: It is a fragmented market. There's, call it a million people globally that are, work in recording studios, call themselves actors, talent agents, cast directors.

SAL DAHER: They all work increasingly from home.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Absolutely.

SAL DAHER: From their own home studios.

DAVID CICCARELLI: They work from home studios. Voice is an interesting space in that you're not in a beautiful tracking studio where it's a music production and you need a 12-piece orchestra, and drums, and ... It's a single track, so it can be done in a home studio with a quiet space and a good microphone, and that is so that ... I think the technology is a catalyst for how that's happening, and some of the things that we got right early on was, we invested in a premium domain name, Voices.com. We didn't start as that. We had a bit of a quirky name, actually. It was InteractiveVoices.com, which is similar, but it was a mouthful, so quick story on this, if I may, Sal, start with whatever name you're going to come up with. Right? I mean, obviously, you want to try to get the best one possible, but a lot of companies change over time.

In fact, Eventbrite, we mentioned that they were something different beforehand, as so many companies are, but nonetheless, realize that we wanted to simplify. People didn't know if it was singular, or plural, or it was like sell.interactivevoices-

SAL DAHER: Yes. I confess to trying Voice.com instead of Voices.com.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah, so even-

SAL DAHER: Yes.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... that, even that can be challenging, but so we, I was on this quest to rebrand or change the name somehow, and I looked at Voxeo, and Vox.com, and Voxy, and nothing was available, and I thought, "Well, maybe rather than just Interactive Voices, it just becomes Voices." The name was registered, and I made an offer, actually, through a lawyer, to the owner at that time to acquire the domain name, and they were willing to sell it for $30,000, which was a reasonable sum, but again, this is early days, so this was, again, going around trying to raise, go to a bank and say, "We're buying a web domain name." They're like, "You're building a website?" We're like, "No, just the name."

SAL DAHER: "And you're going to blow 30,000 of this the way you blew on your mailing campaign."

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly, so it was a tough sell, I assure you. In fact, sidebar on that, well, then, how did we finance it, because every bank said, "No way"? This is where you can get creative. I actually suggested to the fellow, "Look. We'll send you $30,000, but we'll give you $5,000 a quarter." He got what he wanted, which was the price, and we got the domain name.

I think that was a decision early on that helped us start to build a recognizable brand within the industry, and we also invested in things like creating content before content marketing and big players like HubSpot were around that help small businesses market efficiently online, we, first one in the industry to have a blog, to create profiles on social media, like as soon as Facebook had business pages, we were the first ones, so recognizing that if we are geographically separate from our customers, we have to make up for that by being very close online.

SAL DAHER: Online. This is really interesting. This is, if you are early on any one of these various platforms, you have, there's a real first mover advantage.

DAVID CICCARELLI: There is.

SAL DAHER: Yes.

DAVID CICCARELLI: But part of that is just putting stakes in the ground. You don't know if the next social media company is going to be a darling or not, but the least you could do is register an account there and get your handle, if you will, secured. I think we did a lot of the right things in terms of marketing. There was no silver bullet, to be honest, and if anything, it's not going to be something we did. It's going to be the things that we didn't do. This is-

SAL DAHER: What do you think those are?

DAVID CICCARELLI: Well, it's the definition of strategy is, strategy is all about choice. It's as much of the things that you don't do as the things that-

SAL DAHER: Oh, okay.

DAVID CICCARELLI: ... you do. Right? The things we didn't do is, we didn't diversify into like on-camera acting, or music production, being a marketplace for music producers.

SAL DAHER: Listeners, this is really important. Focus-

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: ... in your core business, and you become so good at it that nobody dares challenge you.

DAVID CICCARELLI: For sure, and not only was it just that it was in the name, but we refer to this as laser-like focus. Right?

SAL DAHER: Right.

DAVID CICCARELLI: We laser-focused on a handful of things. Even now, we're in a strategic planning process right now for the next year, and we've looked at ... Boston Consulting Group had this, all these growth avenues that kind of helped us formulate our thinking, and we looked at all of these opportunities and brainstormed this all out, and what it came down to is, we looked at these various opportunities, was just to focus on our core business. I know that's not earth-shattering, and it's probably not going to be, in some ways, very aspirational, but it will yield the best results.

SAL DAHER: Absolutely, and-

DAVID CICCARELLI: When we've looked-

SAL DAHER: It’s what you know best, yeah.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly. It's like, as Mom and Dad would say, "Stick to your knitting." Right? That is the challenge of balancing the desire to innovate, to constantly create something new, yet fully realizing the potential of what you have.

Jean Hammond’s “There’s No Second Thing” Story

SAL DAHER: Right. This calls to mind Jean Hammond, who is the indispensable angel here in Boston [Link to the Interview with Jean Hammond] She's tremendous. She was the number one investor in Zipcar when it was founded. She was the first one. First money in, and then put in a lot of help and so forth, but when she's starting her business, she was telling her business plan, "The first thing we're going to do is this, and the second thing is going to do, and the third," and the person she was pitching to said, "First things ... There is no second thing or third thing. There's one thing you're going to-"

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yes.

SAL DAHER: " ... do in your business." This is absolutely correct.

“We describe that as leading and transforming the industry…. Being the place… where the world comes to find their voice.”

DAVID CICCARELLI: We describe that as leading and transforming the industry. Right? Being the place, the definitive place, where the world comes to find their voice. Right? Where these businesses coming to find their voice, to tell their brand's story, to inform, and entertain, and educate audiences around the world. It really is just using the voice as the medium to communicate. That is a big enough opportunity on its own, and when we ... To quantify that, when we looked at a, we conducted a total addressable market as part of this capital raise, I remember the first question. "How big is that market?" We've identified that this is $4 billion market, and we've even published this research of how we did that on our website as well, too. It's a $4 billion market. Even if we're off by like a margin of error of 50%, it's still a multibillion-dollar market, so if we're where we are today, and we think that we can bring together all of these players, then let's just do that. We don't need the next idea in some adjacent market or something different.

You were just diluting it, and that is the fallacy of these quote-unquote "opportunities" is, really what that is, it's the first compromise you're making, and once you make one compromise, you're going to be making another, and another, and next thing, you're then questioning your identity as an organization of, "What is it that we do again, and what do we stand for?" You can overcome that by just having a very high degree of conviction in, "This is what we're doing. This is what we stand for. This is why we're doing it," and just pursuing that full force ahead.

SAL DAHER: This is golden advice. This is really tremendous.

DAVID CICCARELLI: It's just, I'm just sharing you what I've learned. I wish I-

SAL DAHER: But this is awesome. I love that. I wish people would put this into little card and put it in their pockets.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Oh, that's nice.

SAL DAHER: I love what you, the way you said it, too, "How big's your market? Why you? Why now?"

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah. Exactly.

Starting a Business in the US vs. Starting One in Canada

SAL DAHER: Answer those questions really well. David Ciccarelli. David, we're coming to the conclusion here. Basically, have you had an opportunity to understand the differences between starting a company in Canada versus U.S.?

DAVID CICCARELLI: For sure. Canada is an amazing country. The government is tremendously supportive. There are countless programs that support startups, call it sub-one-million-dollars in monthly recurring revenue, and a new term, scaleups, which is more than a million dollars in monthly recurring revenue, so that's kind of the two paths, if you will.

SAL DAHER: They need different things.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Yeah. Exactly, and it's really been in the last probably two, three years where the government's shifted the strategy of like, "Well, rather than planting tens of thousands of seeds on this, startups, and that being kind of our one approach," there are now services and opportunities for these scaleups. Canada has a great reputation around the world. We have 160 Trade Commissioner offices that put on programs like the Canadian Technology Accelerator. There's one in Boston, actually. The CTA Boston is, we've participated in New York and San Francisco as well. There is a tremendous amount of support and infrastructure.

Business, though, we're constantly challenged if we don't think big enough, we're not ambitious enough. Even when we kind of go to the Valley and you pitch, it's like you need the multibillion-dollar idea. Even if you're just talking about it and dreaming about it, that's better than just trying to hit a single, whereas I think Canada tries to take more of a Moneyball approach of just get people on base, get these little companies on base, as opposed to hitting grand slams.

It's, I think it's a bit of a different mindset, but practically speaking, travel is, at least in my experience, been pretty seamless across the border. We speak the same language. There's a shared culture, shared references, popular culture, news media, and so forth, so I think we get each other as partners in terms of two different countries working together. Aside from that, I haven't personally experienced any friction or any challenges. I think it's been good both ways, and hopefully that continues.

What Has Made London, Ontario a Tech Hub?

SAL DAHER: The question I have is, along that line, is, why this happy accident? London, Ontario, a little city of 400,000 people. Why does it become a tech hub?

SAL DAHER: How many other cities of 400,000 people with a couple of university and so forth are not tech hubs? That's-

DAVID CICCARELLI: That's a great point. I mean, so there's a corridor in Canada that runs across the busiest highway in North America. Think about that for a second.

SAL DAHER: [inaudible 00:41:54].

DAVID CICCARELLI: There's a lot of busy highways, and you go to LA, it's like it's grinding. It's called the 401. It's the busiest highway in all of North America. You can look at that on Wikipedia, and there's, Blackberry started in Waterloo. That's a multibillion-dollar company, OpenText, Christie Digital. These are all billion-dollar companies. Toronto is arguably the multicultural capital of the world, finance, so these are all maybe 50, 60 miles apart, these cities, so they're all just sprinkled along here. Ottawa, Montreal, and it's just kind of all in a straight line, and so there's high-speed rail going in. There's already amazing kind of rapid transit systems, so there's a lot of investment that's in close physical proximity.

 I think we're benefiting that in London that there are institutions like the universities, the business schools, the colleges, and technical institutions that similarly are sprinkled along there, so I think when you have the intersection between business and kind of industry, educational institutions, and government that is supporting what's happening there, 80% of Canada's population happens within this one little stretch of the country.

SAL DAHER: Wow. Okay.

DAVID CICCARELLI: It's a huge country, but most people are-

SAL DAHER: Let's not just count the upper half. There's also the U.S. side of it.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Exactly.

SAL DAHER: There's a lot going on there.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Then, so I mean, like we're a 20, 30-minute drive from the Detroit border, so it's not far away at all. There are advantages to being in Canada that we're super grateful for, and I think as a country, we're trying to build off of those strengths.

SAL DAHER: Tremendous. Tremendous. David, as we wrap up this really just luminous conversation, this is going to be a corker of a podcast, I tell you.

DAVID CICCARELLI: That's great.

SAL DAHER: I love this. Anything that didn't come up that you'd like to talk about, please take a moment and do so now.

 Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs from David Ciccarelli

DAVID CICCARELLI: I'd say, if I could be so bold, maybe just some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. I think I'd like to encourage people to pick, to narrow down and just pick your idea and just run with it. There's a bit of a paralysis by analysis sometimes of like, "Where do I go? How do I enter the market? What do I do?"

SAL DAHER: Amen.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Right?

SAL DAHER: Amen.

DAVID CICCARELLI: I'm all for market research and testing out, but nothing is going to beat talking to customers, and practical example, we put a toll-free number on the top of our first terrible-looking website. They got piped into our dinette, or our little kitchen condo. Okay? I answered that phone day and night. That's how we figured out how to get close to our customers and what they wanted. That's way better than a survey. You're talking to people. Now, it might be challenging if that's not really your thing, but that's the type of activity that you need to do, so whatever you're going to pursue, just do it wholeheartedly. Be either hot or cold. Lukewarm doesn't really kind of get you anywhere, right, so you got to be all in or not. I've seen the benefit of that. I've seen how other companies have pursued, they're known for one thing. Be known for one thing, and I think you'll get a lot more fulfillment. I think your startup will get a lot more traction by seeing something through and avoiding that temptation to move on to the next shiny object.

Just stick with that first one. People don't pursue that idea long enough to realize the results, but if you do just a little bit longer, and you start to get these wins, right, and then another win, and then you have a, it builds up your own confidence, and hopefully one day, you take that all the way to the end, and it'll be something that you can be proud of that you had a positive impact on the world.

SAL DAHER: David Ciccarelli, I'm really grateful that you took time on a busy day, an important day for your company today, to be here in our studio and to share some of the wisdom that helped you and your co-founder, Stephanie, to get this remarkable company off the ground. Thanks for coming in.

DAVID CICCARELLI: Many thanks, Sal.

SAL DAHER: This is Angel Invest Boston, conversations with Boston's most interesting angels and founders, and also angels and founders from other places sometimes, who are tremendously interesting, and I ask you for a little favor. Please go to iTunes and leave a review of our podcast if you liked it. It helps us get found, and I hope you are as grateful as I am to David for this really, really excellent and very wise conversation. I'm Sal Daher.

I'm glad you were able to join us. Our engineer is Raul Rosa. Our theme was composed by John McKusick. Our graphic design is by Katharine Woodman-Maynard. Our host is coached by Grace Daher.