Colopy Ventures

Scaling Awesomeness in Durham

Bronto Software

Bronto was a 15-year overnight success story. Here are the highlights.

  • Bronto Software is a cloud-based provider of commerce marketing automation to leading retail brands worldwide.
  • Bronto was founded by Joe Colopy and Chaz Felix in 2002.
  • Bronto grew to over 300 people and $50 million in revenue across five offices (Durham, NYC, LA, London, Sydney.)
  • Bronto was acquired by NetSuite in June 2015 for $200 million. NetSuite was subsequently purchased by Oracle in October 2016 for $9.2 billion.
  • Bronto was entirely bootstrapped, without any venture capital or angel investment. Just a lot of persistence and time!
  • Find out more from bronto.com

This genesis story begins in the summer of 2000 when I left my job at Red Hat. This was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. I didn’t have a brilliant idea. I just wanted to have a different kind of life. I decided that I would have to be able to craft my own product so I taught myself to web program and eventually developed DatabaseApp, the predecessor of Bronto.

DatabaseApp was a cloud-based database where customers would have easy tools to store, manipulate and report on information online. The product was great but had one major flaw — no one used it much less knew about it. No customers no business.

By the end of 2001, DatabaseApp was going nowhere and the day-in day-out life of coding by oneself and making no money was getting old. Also, Karalyn and I were due for our first baby in six months so the stakes were going up. Not fun, even when you are still in your 20s. They say, “necessity is the mother of invention” and, at this point, I had a lot of necessity and very ready for the invention.  As a last ditch effort, I simplified the product and refocused it around one customer need —  — sending emails from an online database. Eureka! And then, BrontoMail was born a few weeks later — January 2002.

BrontoMail was a simple email newsletter product for small businesses. I named it after my childhood interest in dinosaurs and some early sense about branding. You can read a more complete answer on the naming. Soon after repackaging it, I fell into a few fortunate product-for-advertising barter arrangements with local newsletter publishers and started getting inquiries by real customers. This soon led to the first paying customer a few months later. Concurrently in April, Chaz Felix joined as a co-founder to accelerate these efforts. We re-incorporated the business as Bronto Software on May 15, 2002 and then were off to the races.

At the end of that year, we made $17,000. Thirteen years later,  in 2015, we were making about $40 million. Also in that year, we sold Bronto to NetSuite, a Silicon Valley based cloud-based financial software company. NetSuite was acquired by Oracle in 2016. Even though Bronto no longer exists as an independent entity, its spirit lives on through 300+ folks now working for Oracle.

There were many ups and downs in the grind period from 2002 to 2015. It was hard. They deck always seems stacked against us. But, we pushed forwarded and eventually things worked out. Its all about the journey anyway.

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