Reeher Software Company Is Reaching For Higher Ground
Financing a startup on your own dime means being fairly conservative with spending. Anything that can, at least theoretically, be done in-house, should be. That was Andy Reeher’s philosophy when he set out to create his software-as-a-service product more than 10 years ago.
Reeher provides a platform for managing fundraising campaigns for higher education. It offers predictive models as well as tools such as donor tracking, annual reports and analytics to help fundraising teams reach donors faster and more effectively.
Growth happened slowly for the St. Paul-based company. Reeher simmered for five years, partly because CEO Andy Reeher wanted to make sure he had a solid foundation; he worked with only a few colleges and universities at first, patiently building and perfecting the product while maintaining total creative control. It was also partly because he was trying to do too much on his own.
“For a small-business person, you almost always want to do things yourself,” Reeher says. “Your money is so valuable. But if you spend a dollar the right way, the payback will be enormous.” When he finally decided it was time to look for outside help, he found a wealth of talent that took the company to a new level. First, he had to completely change the way he and his sales crew talked about the program. In 2010, he enlisted the aid of Spyglass Creative, a Minneapolis-based brand marketing firm.
“Andy’s team struggled with being too close to the technology,” says Molly Rice, president and founding partner of Spyglass. “They know it very well; they get very technical very quickly. They had a hard time telling the story because they’re starting in the wrong spot.”
Spyglass Creative frames Reeher’s story
What was Reeher? What was its place in the market? “We answer all those big chewy questions,” Rice says.
Spyglass interviewed typical customers to learn specifics about what they needed and then went to the team at Reeher to essentially retrain them on their brand identity. They created a brand map, developed a strategy and determined how to bring all of it to life.
They figured out the key to everything was speed. Schools wanted to reach donors faster and raise money more quickly, Rice says. So Reeher’s ability to meet that need became the company’s top selling point. Its resources were targeted to delivering on a customer’s demands for speed and usability within budget; the techie jargon simply became background information. The focus was on the customer, not necessarily the product.
When the Reeher brand needed someone to give it legs, the company sought direction from the Bellmont Partners PR firm. The co-founders, Brian and Jen Bellmont, were former Weber Shandwick employees, so they had big-time public relations experience without the big-time overhead.
Reeher’s College Clients
St. Paul-based Reeher, which provides software services for fundraising campaigns, works with colleges and universities across the United States. Here is a sampling of its clients.
- Amherst College
- Connecticut College
- Drexel University
- Duke University
- Gonzaga University
- Harvard Business School
- Johns Hopkins University
- University of California, Davis
- University of Cincinnati
- University of Southern California
- University of Southern Indiana
- Xavier University
“He was definitely looking for that caliber of support and talent, but didn’t have the large-firm budget,” says Shelli Lissick, partner at Bellmont. “We were able to provide senior-level support strategy and execution. We have the expertise, we can do it quickly and efficiently.”
Bellmont dug into the world of higher education to identify key industry contacts and equipped Reeher with a forum to communicate its distinctive brand. They started out marketing to trade publications. Over the years, the relationship has grown significantly to include video testimonials, webinars for customers, a social media strategy and a blog, says Lissick.
“We are outsiders to higher education,” Reeher notes. “We had to show them we were authentic and had a lot to offer.”
And it worked. Reeher considers his partnership with Bellmont Partners critical to his company’s success. In 2010, Reeher brought in $1.1 million in revenue. In 2013, working closely with Spyglass and Bellmont, revenue rose to $3.1 million. Meanwhile, the customer base tripled to include schools such as Harvard Business School and Amherst College in Massachusetts.
Reeher also outsources work on its technical infrastructure, which is done by slashBlue, a St. Paul-based IT firm. The company took this step to ensure that its operations would run smoother and faster, as well as increase the tools it needed to expand the business.
“We’ve been able to help them through the ups and downs,” slashBlue president Tom Dodds says. “We remove the ankle-biters that grab you everyday. If a software developer is waiting for a slow server for 10 minutes a day, that adds up.”
Eventually, Reeher anticipates that it will outgrow the need to outsource its information technology systems because of the solid footing that slashBlue is providing. Dodds says his company has helped Reeher “embrace the idea of IT themselves.”
For Reeher, using service providers has been a game-changer despite the up-front costs. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few bumps along the way, however.
Reeher shopped around to try to find a better deal on its IT consultant, only to end up back with slashBlue less than a year later, as Reeher discovered that the services that slashBlue provided couldn’t be matched by less-expensive firms. It was cost-cutting versus monetizing time, Dodds says: SlashBlue helped make Reeher’s time worth more.
“It’s not easy to find the partners you want to work with,” Reeher says. “It’s important to have a sense of what you’re looking for. It’s possible to get a bad match.”
Reeher says one of the keys to creating a mutually beneficial working relationship with service providers is to really get to know the principals. When both parties fully understand each other and operate without friction, both will reap the benefits of success.