Dave Elkington is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Insidesales.com, a leading sales management software company worth more than $1 billion. He and his wife successfully bootstrapped their startup for about a decade before finally receiving venture capital funding, working graveyard shifts for a cleaning service to add to the $10,000 they had from Elkington’s mother-in-law.
The son of two school teachers in Utah, Dave had the goal of becoming a millionaire from a young age, “not for the money, but purely for the sake of accomplishment of being able to do that,” he recalls. A philosopher at the core, Dave has always had a passion for learning about how people organize and categorize their thinking and decision-making processes. His company, Insidesales.com, a machine learning platform, has inked over $250 million in venture funding to build out its suite of sales acceleration tools. With Elkington at the helm, it has achieved 50% to 100% year-over-year growth rates since its inception.
The tech visionary went to Brigham Young University for his undergraduate degree in Philosophy, and received four minors in Hebrew, Japanese, History and Business. In the middle of college, he spent two years studying Politics and Ancient History in Israel. When he graduated, he had compiled 230 credits, almost enough for a PhD.
“As a kid I was the guy that had a paper route. As far back as I can remember I was always doing something to build a business. My mom will joke with me that I used to steal my uncle's shoes from him and I would sell them back to him. I love science fiction and I love AI and I love the premise of it and I think by the time I got to college and was studying Philosophy I thought there's going to be a way to operationalize this thing that is fictionalized in movies and in books,” said Elkington.
The CEO wrote his senior thesis on the premise that humans think and categorize information in a very systematic, pattern-based way. He left school and began a career in banking, and then venture capital, only to return to receive a master’s in computer science to see if he could work out his hypothesis algorithmically. Using the power of the cloud, Insidesales.com started as a productivity tool that helped sales reps automate and provide visibility into part of their jobs. The company stored massive amounts of data about every buyer who had ever purchased from one of their customers, and then extracted information and patterns from those thousands profiles. The unicorn now lists over a hundred-million unique worldwide buyer profiles, along with data on over a hundred-billion sales interactions.
Launched in 2004 as a professional services business, Insidesales.com began selling its product and quickly reached $3,000 in monthly recurring revenues. Albeit a sliver of what InsideSales.com makes now, the CEO and his wife started to think “they had made it.” When the Financial Crisis rocked the global markets and enterprises started cutting back significantly on spending, Elkington’s executive team was forced to work without compensation for six months. To help the company get through its financial crunch, some customers agreed to prepay for a couple of years. It took the software provider just three months to return the money, versus the 12 months it expected.
Four years after the bubble, InsideSales.com landed its first $4 million in venture capital funding from Hummer Winblad and Josh James.
Elkington says it took about seven years to build up the crowd-sourced sales data for his machine learning predictive sales platform. It was then that the company “hit a tipping point of data accuracy or data efficacy where suddenly all of our models began to predict accurately,” the CEO told Forbes in a recent interview. “We’re a 12-year old startup if you will and it took a long time just to unmask this huge amount of data. But once we had it was like everything predicted accurately.”
The Provo, Utah-based company serves over 2,500 customers, and has partnerships with tech giants including Microsoft and Salesforce, which both have backed the company in previous funding rounds.
Elkington indicates that the best way to build a startup in today’s competitive environment is to build a platform intended to last, not to make money. “By planning for long-term success, startups learn to grow gradually and if you do not need their money to survive, investors will chase you. It really is that simple.”