Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Reunion … Oh, What a Night!

Last Thursday, after selling Bronto four years ago, we hosted a reunion at the Unscripted Hotel in Downtown Durham. Participation was amazing and it was like zipping back to the Golden Age of Bronto for just one more night. The enthusiasm at the event was a true testament to the strength of the Bronto culture and a true honor to be apart of it.

Thanks to Carolyn Sparano, Chaz Felix, Starr Stephenson and Susan Wall for help organizing the event. These things don’t just magically happen.

Bronto alum Cathy Traugot wrote a nice recap of the event below. You can also see fun pictures on Instagram.

Until next time!


“I miss you guys.’’

When Co-founder Chaz Felix spoke those lines at the recent Bronto Software reunion it summed up what many of us were thinking.

More than 150 of us turned out at the Unscripted Hotel in downtown Durham this past Thursday to reminisce, laugh and hug. It was like a high school reunion with no mean girls.

Current Brontos mingled with colleagues who have moved on. The ubiquitous green and white wheel from monthly lunches made an appearance along with the megaphone (or close facsimiles). There were silly prizes (a ride in co-founder Joe Colopy’s Tesla) and serious discussion. The drinks flowed. The guacamole was fresh. The t-shirts were a timeline of Bronto’s 17 years in existence.

The initial concept for the reunion was the brainchild of Starr Stephenson, a former Bronto events coordinator who now works for Instana. She had pulled together an impromptu, word-of-mouth reunion at the Pour House last fall. The event was a crazy success that made Joe and Chaz realize they wanted to expand on the idea.

“After leaving Bronto, I hosted the first reunion because I wasn’t finding that feeling of being completely at ease and accepted at my new company. And people showed up. Like they were missing it too.”

“Being at Bronto made me feel like I was part of something bigger than a job. It was social, creative, and philanthropic.”

— Starr Stephenson

Bronto was that kind of place. It brought out the best in people, engendered fierce loyalty and a sense of team spirit that was contagious. You wanted to go to work each day because every day was different. From the monthly lunches with new staffers doing their Stupid Human Trick (I sang the preamble to the Constitution) to a Business Leadership Tribe committed to transparency.

“I’ve worked for the government, giant corporations and a couple of startups. In my experience, you can’t define the culture based on the size of the company. Culture is more about the visions and practices of the leadership. At Bronto, our leadership was always very purposeful about creating a family,’’ said Waynette Tubbs, the former senior manager of content at Bronto who now directs communications for Devada.

One of the first to arrive at the reunion was Andy Feller. He joined Bronto in 2005 as the third software developer after the legendary Ed Dawley and Justin Sanders. He came back in 2010 for several years and now works for Bandwidth.

“Joining Bronto gave me an opportunity to come to this area. I’m from Baton Rouge, Louisiana,’’ said Feller. He said he loved the opportunity to learn so much. “We really matured how we did business internally and made a better product for our customers. It was a profitable and very rewarding experience professionally.’’

Colopy was full hijinks at the reunion. He auctioned off the recently retired Bronto general manager’s parking spot. It might not have been a legitimate prize, but it was classic Joe. He also honored attendees with legit prizes – like a barbecue in his backyard, a trip on organizer Stephenson’s boat and Ed Dawley’s Belgian waffles and strawberries served for breakfast in the winner’s bed (we aren’t sure how that last one is going to work, but we want pictures).

The co-founders’ delightful sense of humor and the crazy antics were a ton of fun when I worked there. But it really was the culture they helped create that was the reason so many of us returned on Thursday.

I had worked for myself for years before getting hired by Bronto in 2015. To say the least, I did not have the kind of resume that a more buttoned up company would jump at. When I got to Bronto I realized that I wasn’t alone. So many of my co-workers had diverse, interesting – and sometimes surprising – backgrounds. And it seemed everyone had a great side passion (chicken farming, gourmet caramels, leather tooling, rock bands).  

It made for an eclectic mix that this former newspaper reporter and freelance writer felt so comfortable with. I took on the role of interviewing Bronto customers – capturing the joy they had in working with my wonderful teammates to make their businesses work.

When people wondered at my decision to trade in working from home for a 35-minute commute to downtown Durham, I just told them, “It’s worth it.’’ It changed the trajectory of my career, and I’m so grateful.

Last Thursday reminded me of that.

Cathy Traugot worked for Bronto from 2015 to 2018. She is now the Content Marketing Manager at Devada.


Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Welcome, Alon Greyber!

We are pleased to welcome back another member into the Colopy Ventures team this summer!  Alon Greyber worked here last summer, and will join us again this summer as an engineering intern.  

Hey, Alon! It’s great to have you here as another intern to work with.  I heard that you worked here last summer too. What did you work on then?

Last summer I worked with the startup Peoplelove on their web development.  

Do you know what you’ll be working on this summer?

As of now, my main focus will be on the web design of Joe’s project-in-progress, Grepbeat.   I may also do more work with Peoplelove, now known as Pugbee.

When and how did you learn web design?

I starting teaching myself programming in the sixth grade and I’ve stuck with it ever since.  I’m now a computer science major at NC State, and I’ve continued to learn more programming languages.  

So after coming back to work here again, I presume you’re also interested in startups.  Have you ever thought of starting your own company?

Actually, I have tried to start a few before!  In high school, I ran a photobooth business for parties called DreamIt Photos,  and I used to sell photography professionally. I also started a programming startup called “SpeakUp” which would help people train for speeches through an automated system.  I started it my freshman year of college, but decided to stop working on it once I found out there was already a similar program on the market.

Wow, those all sound great!  Do you have any other interests beyond your work in programming?

Yes!  As I’ve mentioned, I’m interested in photography which was the foundation that led me to starting those photography businesses.  I’m also passionate about Robotics. Since leaving my high school in Durham, I still go back to help mentor the team there.

This all sounds great and I can’t wait to work with you here!

Emma Markson is studying business at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a marketing intern at Colopy Ventures.  Outside of working with startups, you might see her running around her hometown of Cary or embarking on her next road trip.

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham, Technology

My Hustle into Red Hat

Here is a wildly embarrassing video about how I hustled my way into Red Hat. I recommend starting at the 3min 15seconds mark to watch the blooper reel. It has the best bits. Enjoy!

They say great entrepreneurs have grit and hustle. I’m not sure if I am a great entrepreneur but I have been known to have moments of hustle.

One such moment was in 1999. Back then, I was a second year MBA student at the University of North Carolina, focused on technology / marketing / entrepreneurship. I have always been entrepreneurially minded but I figured that I should go work for a software company for a little bit before starting out on my own.

It was frothy back in the Dot Com Boom days. There were lots of startups to go work for. But, I found few that were truly interesting and innovative. In my search, I stumbled upon a little company called Red Hat and was intrigued. It was based in Durham and still very small, less than a 100 people. More importantly, I found its open source model and community fascinating. I believed that it was truly going to change how software was developed and deployed. Back then, Red Hat was rough around the edges but I could see that there was a diamond in there. I had seen this diamond in the rough before so I knew what to look for.

I graduated from college in 1993. As a computer science major, I had been fairly tied into the pre-Web Internet and even ran a Bulletin Board System (BBS) as a kid. But, I took a detour after graduation and joined the Peace Corps. By the time the “World Wide Web” burst on the scene in late 1993 and 1994, I was living on a remote island with no connectivity. My days were filled with teaching and coconuts instead of coding and startups. (Which was awesome btw!) I missed the Web’s grand entrance but deeply understood what it looked like before becoming mainstream. I saw the same thing with Open Source in 1998 and 1999. Fortunately for me, I was near its epicenter and determined not to miss out on it again.

I wanted into Red Hat but I needed to get their attention. So, I recruited my business school friends to help me make a video, stating my case. I pressed the video onto a CD-ROM and FedEx-ed to the CEO. Easy to do now but no so easy in 1999.

It worked! (in addition to a few other tactics like organizing a school-wide presentation for the CEO and telephoning the head of marketing every week.) I joined as an intern and then converted to a full-time employee around graduation. Meanwhile, I let my more lucrative offers at places like Dell Computer expire. Red Hat IPO-ed on scant revenue later than summer and managed to survive the Dot Com Bust to become the $15 billion 10,000-employee gorilla that it is today.

Some of that $15 billion is likely because of the awesomeness of this video.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

“The Bronto Story” for the UNC’s Adams Apprenticeship Fall Conference

Last Friday I had the pleasure of being the primary speaker for the Adams Apprenticeship Fall Conference evening event. The Adams Apprenticeship is a mentorship program that pairs successful entrepreneurship with UNC’s most promising future entrepreneurs.

For my presentation, I told the “Bronto Story” and lessons learned. I wish that I would have recorded it because it was fairly entertaining. But, here’s the gist of it:

  • This story is a story not the story. Every entrepreneurial journey is different.
  • Entrepreneurship is hard, especially in the early days. Its not for everyone but for people wired a certain way, it is the only way to live.
  • The journey broke down into three parts — Genesis, Growth and Graduation. I am particularly proud of my cleverness in that all the words started with the same letter.

I summarized the talk with these points:

  • It’s a journey. Not a transaction. Mentors and advisors help.
  • Genesis(s) are rough and gritty. Passion and encouragement matter.
  • Growth is about focus and execution with an engaged + committed culture
  • Graduations are about architected sustainability and are bittersweet

Also, that night, I joined the program as an Adams Apprentice. I look forward to seeing where that goes and supporting the efforts by UNC in growing the local entrepreneurial community.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

NCSU Computer Science Presentation on “From Code to Company”

Last month I had the honor of speaking to NC State Computer Science students and faculty as part of their Executive Speaking Series. In the talk, I walked through a number of hard learned lessons in building Bronto Software. You can review the official writeup on the NCSU CSC webpage or here:

Joe will share lessons learned in building a company out of his spare bedroom ten years ago to a successful award-winning software company – entirely bootstrapped without any outside capital. Today, Bronto Software employs over 120 people in over 20,000 square feet on the American Tobacco Campus in nearby Durham. Bronto was recently named as NCTA’s Software Company of the Year and as a TBJ Best Place to Work.

I enjoyed giving the talk and especially mingling with the students afterwards. Hopefully they found it insightful … or at the very least entertaining. Personally I always found these type of talks rewarding back as a student in my Harvard and Carolina days.

So, without further ado, here’s the YouTube video for your watching enjoyment:

Entrepreneurship, Raleigh-Durham

Adventures in Entrepreneurship

Last month we kicked off a new video series with the CED, the largest entrepreneurial support organization in the country. The series features local Raleigh-Durham entrepreneurs and their startups. I play host for the series and hope to go beyond the typical entrepreneur interviews and give viewers a better sense of life as a entrepreneur and in a startup. Special thanks to Caroline Riddle, our community guru at Bronto, for all her help in producing this series. For the first episode, Eric Boggs and Adam Covati, two bronto alumni, discuss their startup Argyle Social. Now, without further adieu, here’s the first episode:

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Interviewed at the Bronto Tweetup

Last Thursday night Bronto hosted a Tweetup at its offices. Tweetup is a gathering of Twitter fans and enthusiasts. The event was a big success with over 200 attendees. And, as you can imagine it was very well covered in the the twitter-sphere. Special thanks to Brontos Adam Covati and Caroline Smith for organizing the event. It as a herculean effort and they pulled it off without a hitch. You can find some more information about the event on BrontoNation.

While there, I was interviewed by one of our guests Tim Ladd. I spoke about Bronto, its success in tough economic times, the state of social media, and the parallels between email marketing and Twitter.

Enjoy the video!

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Celebrates Its New Digs

Three years ago Bronto moved into a 4500 square foot office space on the American Tobacco Campus of Durham, North Carolina. We had 15 people and it seemed like we would never fill up the space. 30 people later at 45 people it was a very different story. So, over a year ago, we started looking for new space. Ultimately, we liked where we were and orchestrated a grand plan to expand, which entailed having three other smaller companies relocate to other offices nearby. The grand plan worked and we moved into our new 12500 square foot space at the beginning of February.

Last Thursday we celebrated by having an open house and invited the local business community, customers, press, social media gurus et al … even Bill Bell, the mayor of Durham, showed up. It was a fun evening and a great opportunity to share our new space and our long-term vision for Bronto.

Here are some blog posts covering the event:

Thank you to everyone who visited us. A special thanks goes out to Stacy and Caroline of Bronto for ensuring the evening went off without a hitch. Hopefully, in a few years, this space will feel too small and we’ll be able to have another one.


My “Miscue” with Billiards Celebrity Black Widow

Yesterday was a strange day. Yesterday the Women’s Professional Billiards Association descended on the American Tobacco Campus for the Carolina Classic 9-Ball Tournament. To kickoff the tournament, the world’s top 12women players teamed up with amateurs to play in a pre-tournament ProAm contest. Fortunately, Chaz and I got to be two of the amateurs.

The evening started simple enough. We went down to the tournament area at a little bit before 7. As we entered, we each received a complementary cue that we would play with for the rest of the evening. I was teamed up the #5 ranked player, Sarah Ellerby. She was a true professional and did a great job in putting up with my serious lack of talent.

Right off the bat, Sarah suggested that we just share her cue because it was much better than the one that I had. Made sense, although I don’t think that the cue was much of the problem with my play. After playing for a while on a number of different tables, the main competition ended and it was time for the final. We didn’t make the final but the pro player and celebrity billiards person Jeanette Lee, the “Black Widow”, did.

Right before the final, all the amateur players got our cues’ autographed by our teammates and the other top players. Since I hadn’t been playing with my cue, I went back to my first table, where I had set it down. Coincidentally, this was the same table where the final match was being played. Ok … you see where this is going. Yes, it is bad.

So, I had Sarah and another professional autograph “my” cue and then walked over to the final. Just when I was strolling past the table, the “Black Widow” glanced around to look for her cue and saw me holding it. Then,  this reality hit me. I just had her very nice and very expensive cue ($2k?) permanently autographed by two of her competitors. Needless to say, it was a very awkward moment and initially she was prettymad, which was completely understandable. In the end, she played in the final and her team ended up winning the whole event.

Fortunately, she and the WPBA folks had a good idea. They had the cue signed by all the players and they’ll auction it off to charity. Nice twist to a very big mistake.

This episode was about as awkward (and comical in hindsight) moment as you can imagine. So, “Black Widow”, if you are out there, let me know how I can make things right — drinks, shoes, bronto, free core edition account, etc. Let me live another day. I have a small children.

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Featured in Triangle Business Journal

Bronto was featured in this week’s Triangle Business Journal (TBJ). The TBJ used an old picture of Chaz and me from a couple years ago. Fortunately, I am proudly wearing my Bronto belt buckle.

The article is fairly short and speaks broadly about our growth.

You can read the full article on their website or inline below:

Durham’s Bronto Software Takes Off

DURHAM – Bronto Software, the company named for a dinosaur, is looking to expand its stomping grounds.

The Durham company is set this month to start work that will triple its space on the American Tobacco campus to 13,000 square feet by the beginning of the year, says CEO Joe Colopy. Bronto currently employs 45, up from 29 at the start of the year, and Colopy anticipates adding more workers.

Colopy says Bronto’s expansion comes as more retailers turn to e-mail as a way to communicate with customers. He says Bronto also is getting new business from companies that had been doing their e-mail marketing in-house.

Colopy says Bronto will reach $6 million in revenue this year, and he projects that the company will reach $10 million next year.

“E-mail marketing is not just e-mail,” Colopy says. “It’s real marketing.”

Corporate interest in e-mail marketing has picked up over the past five years, says Heidi Hennink-Kaminski, professor of advertising at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She says companies use e-mail marketing to try to learn about customer preferences – a goal similar to the one businesses have had with traditional mail marketing campaigns. But with e-mail, Hennink-Kaminski says, feedback comes much faster.

Colopy started working on what would become Bronto’s software in 2000. He and company co-founder Chaz Felix both worked at Red Hat before starting Bronto in 2002. The company has taken no outside funding, though Colopy says he receives inquiries from venture capitalists.

Colopy says that in the early part of the decade, e-mail marketing was just sending e-mail messages to lists. But the industry has moved toward providing messages targeted to particular individuals.

Bronto’s software allows a retailer to measure e-mail campaigns so the content and the frequency of the messages can be adjusted. Message content also can be tailored to customer interests.

E-mail marketing is getting harder because spam filters block a lot of messages, says David Buffaloe, president of M-pact Marketing in Raleigh. Even if a message does get through, Buffaloe says, it must contend with dozens of others filling customer inboxes. M-pact works with clients to formulate their messages but does not offer e-mail marketing software.

Buffaloe says the value of software such as Bronto’s is its analytical power. Being able to measure how many messages get opened and whether users clicked on items in the message can help a company further refine its marketing efforts.

“Every time you do an e-mail campaign, you want to learn from it,” he says.

Bronto has not been trouble-free. A software upgrade in 2006 turned up numerous bugs. The company worked to fix the problems and offered the service to customers free for a month.

Bronto now claims 800 customers. Clients include the Duke University Alumni Association and seafood company Gorton’s. Waterloo, Wis.-based Trek Bicycle has used Bronto for two years. Web Marketing Manager Casey Kohner says Bronto helped Trek move from blasting e-mails to sending targeted messages. Kohner says the software allows Trek to segment messages, so the entire customer list doesn’t get the same message.

“Frequency is determined by what we know about them and how specific they want the information to be,” Kohner says.

Hennink-Kaminski does not see e-mail marketing replacing traditional advertising. Print and broadcast advertising helps build brand identity, she says. E-mail marketing gives more specific information to customers who want it. “I think you need both parts of the equation,” she says.