What began as a strip mall startup recently raised $55 million in Series D funding and is now hiring a person a day – and their Chief Technology Officer Marc Chesley has a lot of advice to offer the Fargo startup scene.

Infusionsoft, a Phoenix-based company that makes sales and marketing software for small businesses, has been seeing an abundance of progress this past year. The nearly 14-year-old company continues to grow on a global scale, with over one third of their current 25,000 customers coming from outside of the US. When Chesley first joined the company ten years ago, he was employee #15. Now there are nearly 650 employees, with over 30 more each month, he said.

In October they announced the 55M raised by their Series D funding, which was led by Bain Capital Ventures with participation from past investors Signal Peak Ventures and Goldman Sachs, as well as Allure Ventures and Fargo-based Arthur Ventures.

Infusionsoft website.Although the company is a few states – and a big climate change – away, Infusionsoft has close ties to Fargo. Many Fargo startups, Unseen Ministries for example, are customers of Infusionsoft. And this is the second time Arthur Ventures has given fundings to Infusionsoft, having partnered with them since 2012 and given to both the Series C and D campaigns.

Mark Chesley

Marc Chesley, CTO of Infusionsoft

“We love having [Arthur Ventures] as part of the Infusionsoft investment family. They are terrific guys,” said Chesley, who has been to Fargo on multiple occasions and was a speaker at the Midwest Mobile Summit and TEDxFargo.

Chesley, who was named CIO of the year in 2013 by the Phoenix Business Journal and the Arizona Technology Council, is an entrepreneur himself. He successfully founded, grew, and sold a computer services networking company prior to working with Infusionsoft.

He’s also a big Fargo fan, sharing how he stays at the Hotel Donaldson during his visits and knows “the whole gang” over at Myriad Mobile. As someone who loves this city and is seeing so much progress at Infusionsoft, we spoke with Chesley on how Fargo’s startup scene can glean from their success.

Here’s what he had to say.

Chesley’s Words of Wisdom

1. Know the mission, and be stubborn about it.

“I always encourage entrepreneurs if you’re starting up, to be clear about your purpose, why you exist… and what your current mission is,” Chesley said. “Focus, get clear on your purpose values, and be stubbornly clear.”

The key word here is “stubborn.” Once you know what your mission is, dig your heels in and stick to it. Don’t let anything sway you from that path, not even hefty business offers, Chesley said. Which leads to his next point…

2.  Yes, you will have to turn down $$$.

A crucial part of knowing the mission is having the strength to turn down business offers that aren’t in line with that focus, Chesley said.

“As a startup you always tend to take revenue from somebody who’s willing to pay you money,” he said. “Entrepreneurs need to get clear about their purpose…and say no, even though it might be painful, to revenue opportunities that might diverge you from keeping you on your path to focus.”

3. Don’t just grow your company, grow yourself.

“There’s a funny thing, when your company is growing at 40 or 50%, that means that every other year, you have more than doubled. Which means every other year you have to be reinvented for the next stage of growth,” Chesley said. “So you have to continually improve, innovate, and just grow personally. I think that over the years, that’s what’s kept me in the game. I love having a very intentional focus on continued personal development.”

Some ways that Chesley does this is by going to conferences, transformation seminars, and focusing on developing personal leadership skills as well as nurturing one’s talents and artistic ability. One of the most beneficial ways Chesley finds growth, however, is encompassed in a single verb: read.

4. Read Read Read.

“I read about 25-30 books a year,” Chesley said. “At Infusionsoft, we have a dreaming room – a library, where we just have a bunch of books on the shelf and if you want to take one, you take it. Even visitors. We keep that stocked up with a bunch of the core meaningful books that helped us shape the company over the years.”

Apart from his personal reading, Chesley said that the Infusionsoft executive team is always focusing on one or two books. When asked if he thinks the literature they have read has directly influenced the success of Infusionsoft, he answered, “there is no doubt about it.”

Book recommendations from Chesley:Great By Choice Jim Collins

Jim Collins : Great By Choice, Built To Last, How the Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, Beyond Entrepreneurship

Peter Diamandis: Abundance

Michael Gerber: The E-Myth Revisited

Napoleon Hill: Think and Grow Rich (and all those good classics, Chesley said.)

Greg Mckeown: Centralism

Liz Wiseman and Greg Mckeown: Multipliers

Steve Zaffron: The Three Laws of Performance

Other authors: Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Goden, Ray Kurzweil, Simon Sinek,

5. Keep dreaming – and dream BIG.

It sounds cliche, but Chesley has the proof to show that if you don’t dream big, big dreams won’t happen.

“Don’t be afraid to call the shots that might seem insane,” Chesley said.

“Ten years ago when I would tell people that someday Infusionsoft would be a global company with hundreds of thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of customers, that we would be meaningfully making a difference and reducing the small business failure rate globally and replenishing the middle class of the world through the principles of entrepreneurship, people would roll their eyes at me and say ‘keep dreaming.’

And I’d say, ‘Okay!’

We went from insane, to kinda crazy, to ‘those guys are kinda out there’, to ‘man they think big’, to ‘wow this just might work’, to ‘you really got something here’, to ‘we knew it all along that you were gonna make it’.

Dream big. Bigger than you can possibly imagine, and don’t be afraid of thinking that you’re actually going to do something that could change the world.”

What’s your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)?

BHAGInfusionsoft is continuing to dream big themselves. The $55 million raised in the series D funding is going towards accelerating their small business success platform, making it easier to use through interaction design and creating the next generation of APIs that customers will be able to utilize throughout the next decade or more, Chesley said.

Infusionsoft’s current big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) – a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies – is to have 1,000 employees and 100,000 customers by 2016. Reaching that goal is imminent, Chesley said.

“We can see our trajectory and where we’re at, and we’re going to hit that,” he said.

So what’s next? After spending two days with Jim Collins in Boulder Colorado, Chesley and the team established what they call the BHAG 2030. Yes, this team has a dream for over 15 years into the future.

Chesley shared a bit of this goal, describing how they hope to be “impacting millions of businesses around the world.” Additionally, with the whole world now almost completely mobile, Chesley predicts a “rising billion” population that has access to commerce – and a need for the platforms that Infusionsoft provides – like never before.

“Now a kid with a smartphone and data access in Africa has access to more in terms of volume and in terms of data, than the President of the United States had just ten years ago,” he said. “That’s enabling a whole part of the world to start engaging in commerce, and transaction business, that has previously been unavailable.”

A big part of Infusionsoft’s BHAG 2030 aims to enable this “rising billion population” with the ability to engage in commerce and interact with others through mobile devices and connectivity.take the stairs to success Infusionsoft

“We should probably have about 15,000 employees worldwide,” Chesley said. “I’m modeling right now that we’ll have several trillion dollars of annual global impact.”

Setting such lofty goals is something Chesley finds both exciting and daunting. But he claims that, “if you don’t have a little bit of butterflies in your stomach when you’re calling your shots, it’s probably not big enough.”

Having watched the company grow from a handful of employees working out of a strip mall to the rapidly growing business it is today, Chesley looks back on the ten years of hard work with pride.

“It’s cool to see all that hard work really pay off in a way that we are able to make such an impactful difference in the lives of small businesses around the world,” he said. “And hey, when we look at the 2030 BHAG, and where we’re planning on going, we feel like we’re just getting’ started.”


Read more about Infusionsoft, including customer success stories, here.

Photos courtesy of Infusionsoft.com, amazon.com, and ggpht.com

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Marisa Jackels