Part I: Seizing Opportunities
Starting a company is a daunting task. No one is prepared for the challenges they will face, even if they’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time. Every company is different, every product is different, and every situation is different, influenced by circumstances both internal and external.
What is especially challenging is knowing how to properly navigate the changes that are bound to occur as companies grow, products develop, and opportunities present themselves. Many founders experience “founderitis” when trying to go through these growing pains. They are so used to making all of the decisions and carrying all of the responsibility that it can be hard to let go, even when it is the best, and sometimes the most necessary, thing to do. This was the challenge for one of our own companies, Pretio Interactive.
Pretio’s story is one full of change. It is a story of challenges, decisions, and relationships that evolved to form a successful company, even though the possibility for it all to go horribly wrong was there at every turn. It is a story of entrepreneurs and investors working together toward a common goal, success, and the ambition to reach that goal together.
But before we can begin telling Pretio’s story, we have to tell the story of another company called RewardsDen.
From RewardsDen to Pretio Interactive
In a former life, Pretio was known as RewardsDen. RewardsDen was founded by serial entrepreneur Tyrone Sinclair in early 2013. The company was focused on connecting brands and consumers by offering real world rewards to users through a points and redemption system. Users could gain RewardsDen points by performing an action online or in a game. These points could then be redeemed from the RewardsDen catalogue for gift cards or coupons.
The company raised an angel round and, through this investment opportunity, Tyrone met Jim Hayhurst, an entrepreneur and investor himself. This encounter began building the momentum behind what would soon become Pretio. Jim saw great potential in RewardsDen and in working with Tyrone and the feeling was mutual.
After taking on an advisory role at RewardsDen in mid 2013, Jim connected the company with a friend and fellow investor, Owen Matthews of The Alacrity Foundation. Owen had a team of young engineers from UVic that was actively seeking a project to work on, looking at different marketspaces to study in order to found a company. As the Alacrity team learned more about RewardsDen and the adtech space, their interest piqued and the two parties decided to work together to see what a collaboration could offer.
As it turned out, this collaboration offered both parties a lot of benefits. RewardsDen accessed talented engineers and resources to further build out and develop their product while the Alacrity team of engineers was able to delve into a project that they were excited about in the growing space of adtech. Eventually it became clear to everyone involved that it made the most sense to combine the two parties into one cohesive team, officially.
“Concurrent with [the investment opportunity from Alacrity], we also really focused on a new opportunity for the company to move beyond loyalty currency within apps and games and go to be almost a white label provider of rewards-based advertising for publishers and other networks. And so it really expanded our opportunity and we started to grow pretty quickly.” -Jim Hayhurst, CEO of Pretio Interactive
The adjusted direction, influx of resources, and team growth were great, but they all complicated matters. RewardsDen was already an established company with board members, investors, and various other stakeholders that would be affected. The way that the changes were dealt with were critical in ensuring that the future of the company would be bright.
“The reason that partnerships don’t work out is usually ego or misunderstood expectations. We took our time to [transition to Pretio], but there had to be give and take on both sides. The rubber really hits the road when you divide up a cap table. We had a company that actually was in existence with existing shareholders, with customers and a bit of revenue, and a business model, so it wasn’t starting with a blank piece of paper.” -Jim Hayhurst
That was the next challenge that needed to be overcome; how could RewardsDen combine forces with the Alacrity team while ensuring that all stakeholders were taken into consideration and treated fairly?
Part II: Refounding the Company
In order to combine the various parties involved with RewardsDen, it became clear that a redistribution and “refounding” of sorts needed to occur. Using this as the perfect opportunity to establish a new entity made of all of the various parts, Tyrone, Jim, Owen, the Alacrity team, and all of the stakeholders needed to work together towards a single end goal, success.
3 Conditions for Success
There were three factors that largely contributed to the successful birth of Pretio Interactive.
- Take the time to get to know each other.
- Ensure that there was cohesion from all sides.
- Divide up the company in a fair way.
The first factor, getting to know each other, was easy; all it required was time. Because there were multiple people involved in the project, each with their own levels of experience, each with their own visions, and each with their own expectations, it was important that everyone was aligned and could work together effectively to achieve their common goal.
The second factor required time, effort, and focusing on success. Although everyone was working towards the same goal, their expectations were all different. This led to some team members leaving, realizing that the project perhaps was not the best fit for them. It was important that the remaining team members could carry on without being demotivated by this transitionary period.
The third factor required flexibility from everyone. Dividing up RewardsDen and merging with the Alacrity team to become Pretio meant that RewardsDen’s stakeholders were affected. It also meant that the stakeholders that were entering the company had a section of the pie to divide up instead of starting with the entire pie. Making sure that everyone was treated fairly and that the division was done properly was critical to the success of amalgamating two companies into one.
As the details of the refounding of the company were being hammered out, clear roles for Tyrone, Jim, and the rest of the team were established. Tyrone would continue working closely with the engineers, developing Pretio based on his knowledge of the market and his vision of the product. He would be the founder of Pretio and would also take on the role of COO. Jim, contributing as an advisor to RewardsDen from its early days, fit naturally in the role of CEO for the company. He brought his years of experience in management, entrepreneurship, and investment and could really be a driving force behind the company’s culture and growth when it came to the people. Owen was able to watch the initial Alacrity team become an integral part of a project that they were enthusiastic about and committed to. And one of those Alacrity engineers, Rob O’Dwyer, grew into the role of CTO at Pretio, working closely with Ty and the other developers to build the product. These roles were solidified as Pretio Interactive was officially founded and the company has grown and developed as a result.
“We actively and deliberately made the decision to grow the way that we wanted to grow. And because I had experience with that, things like core values and things like interview questions, and because I had Ty managing strategy and the business in such a competent and amazing way, it liberated me to figure out a few things. Ty and I had that really balanced relationship where we could both focus on the things that we were each really good at and that was almost a complete picture. By luck and by design, we’ve ended up bringing on some amazing people to fill in the blanks.” -Jim Hayhurst
All in all, Tyrone, Jim, Rob, Owen, the rest of team, and everyone else involved were able to work through these three conditions together, never losing sight of the ultimate goal of creating a successful company. Each stakeholder was focused on achieving that goal, allowing them to approach the situation with a flexible and open attitude.
“There were challenges, but they had less to do with where we had all come from. It was actually a pretty smooth transition, as far as I would say.” -Jim Hayhurst
“Yeah, and I would credit that to the fact that no one really had an ego and people really worked well together. It was much more a team dynamic than any one person.” -Tyrone Sinclair, Founder of RewardsDen/Founder and COO of Pretio Interactive
Part III: The Dust Settles
With the Founder and COO’s vision guiding product and business development, the CEO’s management experience guiding company growth, an active investor offering support where needed, and a team of dedicated employees, Pretio was ready for success. After establishing Pretio’s market, the company was able to acquire a local mobile app ad exchange network called Tap for Tap. The new acquisition helped Pretio’s product focus even further, positioning themselves as a fitting partner to what used to be competing brands.
While Pretio as a product was not drastically different from RewardsDen, the refounding provided the perfect opportunity for everyone to get on the same page and continue the journey as a unified force, paving the way for Pretio’s accelerated growth.
“We started last year with around 6 people and we finished the year at 19 or 20. It’s incredible to work through that growth internally, but also externally with partners.” -Tyrone Sinclair
The rapid growth provided new challenges for the Pretio team, but they had the knowledge, experience, and tools in place to deal with those challenges effectively. Jim’s experience managing growth came into play and the work done in Pretio’s early days really helped establish a strong culture.
“We went through a core values piece before we were even a real company. It’s very difficult to run a company if you don’t know who you are and how you conduct yourself. I made the team go through that process of really understanding what are the guiding parameters, what are the core values that will govern our behaviour when things get crazy? How do you make decisions about what partners you bring on, what investments you make, what people you hire when you don’t have much time to make the decision, you don’t have complete information, and you just want to get going. And so we established 3 core values which have guided us to this day.” -Jim Hayhurst
Pretio’s core values focus on three components of the startup ethos that are critical for success:
- Start with why (critical thinking),
- No shenanigans (honesty and directness), and
- Draw the dinosaur (self-reliance and a get it done attitude).
“Before this, I’d never really worked in an environment such as the culture we’re trying to create and facilitate here. I really entrusted people to follow the core values and start thinking outside of the box. I’m not the one with all the ideas, I don’t have all the answers. It’s really a collective, a group that rallies around and makes product decisions and customer decisions, and I think it really comes back down to the culture that we’ve established as a company and as a leadership team.” -Tyrone Sinclair
The core values that guide Pretio are enhanced by a strong focus on the people that the company works, partners, and engages with.
“I wanted there to be a real focus on the people. Nothing happens without the people. Work with good people, partner with good people, have good people as your customers… You wear it everyday enough as an entrepreneur. You take it home. You don’t want any of that stuff to be a drag.” -Jim Hayhurst
Learning From Each Other to Excel
Tyrone and Jim were both able to bring their experience to the table and, with an open, honest, and flexible attitude, learned from each other in order to move forward. Jim brought about more process to the company, drawing on his years of knowledge in the business world. Certain aspects of Pretio were designed, setting the tone for the new direction, new employees, and new partnerships. Others were adopted as the company grew and developed, with Tyrone and Jim staying open-minded and taking note of what was working and what could use improvement. Tyrone provided knowledge of the market and his vision for the company as a stepping stone to what Pretio would become. Jim offered his experience with managing growth and focusing on culture to continue to grow an enthusiastic and thriving team.
“[Bringing Jim on] really allowed us to accelerate in certain directions and really bring much more experience to the table in what we were trying to do, certainly in the loyalty space and talking with the types of partners and customers that we really needed to get in front of. Jim was opening doors and helping with a lot of structure in terms of how to be getting the company off the ground and in the direction we wanted to.” -Tyrone Sinclair
Tyrone and Jim both brought a flexible approach to the initial stages as well. Accepting support from external parties like Alacrity allowed Pretio to achieve success at a faster rate. Alacrity was an important part of Pretio’s acquisition of Tap for Tap and handled the large part of the administrative and legal details of the early merger.
However, both Jim and Tyrone recognize the importance of staying independent and trusting their own mind when it comes to making big decisions. Knowing when to ask for and accept help versus when to push forward on their own is a key aspect of running Pretio together. As long as every challenge, every win, every event is treated as a learning opportunity and a way to advance, the company can head in the right direction.
“We’re all part of the family, but we’re all very different children and I think that Owen and the Alacrity team do a really good job of recognizing that we’re all different children at different ages of development in very different sectors.” -Jim Hayhurst
Today, Pretio has grown to 20 employees. The company provides brands and publishers with an effective way to connect to consumers and users. By focusing on rewarding users during “achievement moments”, when they are most receptive to receiving a reward, Pretio is able to offer brands, publishers, and consumers the ultimate win-win-win situation.
Pretio also plays an active part of the local tech sector, often giving up their space to host events and engaging with the tech community at large. Tyrone continues to focus on the business and drives the product side of the house while Jim focuses on the people and drives internal culture and growth. Rob has taken on the job of building the technology, and the development team, that allows Pretio to scale. The Alacrity Foundation is still an active supporter and provides guidance as needed.
For entrepreneurs going through a similar experience, having to find common ground in uncertain situations with people from various directions, Tyrone and Jim offer these pieces of advice:
“Things take time, but there are certain things that you shouldn’t allow to go on for too long. If it’s not working, make a decision and cut your losses, or be fair to the person if it’s not working out, whether it’s a partner or employee. Life is too short.” -Jim Hayhurst
“Communication is going to be key. Don’t hide things, make sure there is full transparency. Oversharing in this context is okay.” -Tyrone Sinclair
“It all comes back to respect and confidence and trust in each other.” -Jim Hayhurst
“Really take the time to get to know the people.” -Tyrone Sinclair
For Tyrone, his entrepreneurial experience, his reception of new ideas and directions, and his openness to changes that would ultimately benefit his company was what helped him make the right decisions and not succumb to founderitis. For Jim, the chance to work with an enthusiastic team on a promising project was an exciting opportunity. For everyone involved, the Pretio story, we’re proud to say, is one of uncertainties, perseverance, and, ultimately, success.