Matt Danna went from product manager to founder and raised $100M for his software startup. His venture, Boulevard has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Point72 Ventures, BoxGroup, VMG Partners, and Index Ventures.
In this episode, you will learn:
- The roadmap for building a vertical software business
- How big Boulevard is today
- How to get in touch with Matt Danna
- Piece of advice before launching a business
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About Matt Danna:
Matt Danna is the co-founder and CEO of Boulevard, provider of the client experience platform used by more than 25,000 professionals to power more than 2,000 salons, medspas, and other self-care businesses across the US. In his role as CEO, Matt oversees all aspects of Boulevard’s business operations while setting the vision and strategy for both short- and long-term company growth. Passionate about the intersection between design and technology, Matt has spent his entire career building technologies to empower creative professionals.
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Connect with Matt Danna:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: All righty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So I am very excited about the guest that we have today you know they recently closed a pretty significant day roundal financing earlier this year. But I think that you are all going to find his journey. You know pretty pretty interesting. So again, building scaling financing all the good stuff that we like to hear so without further ado. Let’s welcome Matt welcome to the show and so born in Massachusetts Matt so give us a little bit of a walk.
Matt Danna: Um, thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Matt Danna: Yeah, it yeah um, it was cozy I’d say Massachusetts I was in central Massachusetts and like a super suburban area so it was definitely ah, a different.
Alejandro Cremades: Memory Lane How was life growing up and.
Matt Danna: Type of growing up environment than kind of here in L A where I’m based now.
Alejandro Cremades: So Then in your case you know like obviously you started you know it was kind of like a different path because you went into human computer interaction then product you know now a founder. So what? what. What was that shift there I mean what got you into you know computers to begin with yeah.
Matt Danna: Yeah, it’s a good question. My whole background I’ve kind of oscillated between being technical and also being creative I liked got into tech because I was building websites in like high school and. Around the days of myspace and and what have you and I just found it really really powerful that I could write some code and it would be instantly accessible by others and it was It was super powerful and I liked that. It also acquired some level of creativity with the web design and all that himself so always kind of straddled the 2 worlds the left brain and the right brain kind of thinking and you know come college I was trying to really figure out. Do I go for graph design or do I go for software engineering. And ended up going for software engineering but focused on human computer interaction. This was in Rochester new york e t and that was a really awesome place for me to land and human computer interaction is all about how people use technology and. Ah, different behaviors and the psychology behind everything and so it was a kind of hit on both of the areas that I was interested in and you know the natural path forward to that is to eventually get into product.
Alejandro Cremades: Got it. So then so then let’s talk about getting into product because you know for you, You did you know, ah quite a bit you know on the product side of things you know you did a couple of stints before like actually going at it. You know on your own and building. You know the company that you’re in now which we’re going to be talking about it. It just a little bit but.
Matt Danna: And.
Alejandro Cremades: But how was that you know venturing to product and and how would you say that that has unfolded and and shape up the way that you think about building something that people want to use.
Matt Danna: Yeah, absolutely. Ah, product is really fun. It’s the convergence of many different functions and I love the you know, empowerment of a lot of folks describe it as product managers being like the mini Ceo of of a certain product and. I wouldn’t describe it that way. But there is definitely a lot of empowerment tied to the role and you have objectives and you have to think about it as ah as a business decision maker and so product it was just really, really fun state managing stakeholders. Um. Getting the teams all work together communicating out the progress figuring out what we should go build next All that was really really fun and so it it felt really natural for me and how it’s.
Alejandro Cremades: Because I mean for example because in your case I mean you were in in divian art for about 6 years and then you did full screen for about a year a year I mean 2 years almost three years but but in in in this case for you I mean what was that.
Matt Danna: And yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Transition like and in and and on both you were on the product side. So what did you learn from both. You know that perhaps you know, shaped your perspective and the way that you thought about building products.
Matt Danna: Yeah, so I think as part of the natural product management career ladder start by building features and then you build products and then if you go into the management track which I ended up kind of falling into end up building. Team that’s building a portfolio of products and I think the way that you build product today is is is remarkably similar to actually how you build a team and so a lot of the work that I do today with you know building the company. It feels like I’m doing product management again. It’s all about what’s the the right strategy do I have the right and a team and resourcing and how are we providing the most value to your customers and so it’s kind of a natural extension I think of of being ah starting my career and as a product manager.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for you I mean after being in ah you know, full screen and and and and really I mean you were an employee been top point up until that point of of this company So Eventually, you know like you really come up with The. Idea of dropping that and becoming a consultant which was your immediate step towards becoming a founder. So How was that transition like from employee to consultant to founder.
Matt Danna: And then.
Matt Danna: Yeah, absolutely we did consulting while we were working on boulevard and so that was helping pay the bills so we were consulting three days a week and then working on boulevard the rest of the and ah they’re all you know nights weekends as well as the other four days of the week Ah and it was. It was really fun. Ah I think it was a good way to ah to step into a company and helped us you know? Ultimately, we ended up bootstrapping for about the first two years of our business or some friends and family and so it wasn’t like I’m going to go found a company and then. I’m going to raise lots of venture capital right? at the gate like that we didn’t take that path. Ah and we wanted to show that you know we had product market fit that we were able to monetize properly and and ultimately that’s when we started to get down the venture path.
Alejandro Cremades: Now for the people that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of Boulevard. How do you guys make money.
Matt Danna: Yeah, Absolutely so we make money through software Fees. So subscription licenses and then we are also a payment facilitator and so about 60% of our revenue today does come from Merchant Processing. And you know payment facilitator is basically the same thing as Stripe and Square where you’re the merchant of record and you can provide it really incredible value to your customer base by having integrated payments.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case I mean the bootstrapping that you were alluding to I mean that’s not easy. You know it’s like you’re like walking through a very thin rope and any any movement in the wrong direction could be catastrophic. So.
Matt Danna: Hey.
Alejandro Cremades: How is that bootstrapping because now you guys are bittrabacked I mean you have more money than what you need, but but at that point I mean I’m sure it was not easy.
Matt Danna: Yeah, it definitely wasn’t we liquidated Sean and I my cofounder Sean who’s our cto. We liquidated our four 1 k’s we spent all of our savings like we were all in on this company and I think it was really helpful like it. It gave us this. You know urgency to prove product market fit and to get adoption and then I think also being a boostrap company. You’re looking at every set that goes you know through the business and looking at profitability and you know every time you run payroll. It’s painful and so ah. So you’re forced to to move quick and we moved this as quick as possible. 1 of the challenges in our category is that we had a lot to build in order to break into the market because 85% of our customers come from a different solution and so we had to build to feature parity with. What the leaders in the current market had in order to displace them and have customers come over to us so we had a lot of upfront buildings in order to to get this company to be successful show real traction.
Alejandro Cremades: Now at what point because you said that you were for for the first three years bootstrapping at what point do you realize? hey maybe it makes sense to to get some money for this and and and raise some capital.
Matt Danna: I Think as soon as we had our initial customers on the platform and so we we were getting like lots of requests of like oh could Boulevard do this or could it do this and so like it felt like the product was being pulled out of us. That we didn’t even have to write the roadmap ourselves that our customers were kind of writing it for us and it just felt that like it was time to move faster build up a little bit of a team and go bigger.
Alejandro Cremades: And and and how did you position this towards say vcs because I mean the the industry that you’re serving the market you know, perhaps you know, not being worth a betting on I mean that kind of stuff like how were you able to package things in a way that.
Matt Danna: That’s when we start to think about Venture capital.
Alejandro Cremades: Would address these types of concerns of these people. Okay.
Matt Danna: Yeah, um I learned that vcs are generally extremely skeptical and sometimes very critical of s and Bs I think that there’s a lot of dead bodies on. The way to building a successful Snb Business B Two B business and so we definitely in the earliest days had a lot of evangelism to do. We had to sorry briefly looks like I briefly connected. My back.
Alejandro Cremades: It looks like of line it says of line click.
Matt Danna: Oh no, how about now.
Alejandro Cremades: It it. It looks like of line. Ah you know what? let me let me stop this recording one second. Ah.
Matta Danna: It can I X out of the last one.
Alejandro Cremades: So so mad for for for those people that you were going after I mean those investors I mean how did you guys go about the packaging and the positioning so that they were able to see that this was ah industry that was worth betting on.
Matta Danna: Absolutely so this industry that we’re in small businesses personal care and beauty. It’s it’s hard because most investors are male and we’re betting on a space that you know is. Catered more to the emails and definitely growing in demand from men consumers as well. Male consumers. But so we had to evangelize on on multiple fronts so we had to evangelize that one. This industry is growing. It’s already massive. But it’s still early in its kind of in its maturity and there’s certain subegments of the industry that are growing at really incredible rates. Ah and we also had to evangelize that you can sell. The customers the the buyers in the market you could sell them a software solution that they would pay for and so it had to evangelize that like it’s essentially ah, a viable business. Um, and that we were going to be successful and then the last one was that we had to evangelize that we. We’re going to win against a highly fragmented market and again with we have a lot a lot of competitors. There’s some some of our competitors have started before I was born and they’ve had ah many many years to to build a lot of functionality into their solutions.
Matta Danna: And so had a big shared entry. But once we were able to land our customers they were with us and and our customer retention was one of the things that really spoke to investors in the earliest days. It’s categorically top quartile. And that really spoke and is super abnormal like it defied patterns for S and B B Two B software businesses.
Alejandro Cremades: And what what was the? yeah, what was the process I mean because up until now how much capital have you guys raised too late might and what has been the experience.
Matta Danna: We raised over $100,000,000 super grateful to be able to say that.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, because I mean obviously the last one you know pretty pretty big round that you guys did with point 72 earlier this year so that was that was a serious sea of 70000000 but what what has been the experience of going from 1 financing cycle to the next week because obviously here as you were saying 3 years of bootstrapping then.
Matta Danna: Yep.
Alejandro Cremades: All of a sudden you guys activate the venture you know route and then what has been. You know that experience of going from 1 financing cycle to the next.
Matta Danna: Yeah, absolutely I think in the earliest days. You know you’re still doing a lot of product discovery a lot of customer discovery for us. We were like we started in hair salons. But then we were expanding to adjacent verticals. So barbershops now salons um medspas you name it and so. Still you know the seed in series a are still very early. Um for a company’s maturity stage and series b is kind of when you have to really prove the unit economics and then series c I like to think of as like it’s time to scale. You have to prove that you can scale. Unlock operational leverage that you can you know that your margin and some of like your customer position costs and Cac to ltv like that. All these things are unlocked and that’s it’s kind of the the make or break phase of I think a startups journey is can you go and be you know. Ah, a startup that is able to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of there are per year. Are you going to be the startup that is you know more and just you cap that at 50000000 of they are so this that’s kind of the phase that we’re in is to really show that we’re the former track.
Alejandro Cremades: And anything that you’ve learned there on on running a fundraising process or what to look for in investors on how to do that because I mean you know is he after having. Done all these different rounds. You know I’m sure that you’ve been able to learn a lot from all those different interactions from prospects and also from the people that I ended up investing.
Matta Danna: Um, fancy.
Matta Danna: Yes, excuse me for one second about this seat.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, on worries. Yeah would will will let it. We’ll edit this piece. Don’t worry about it.
Matta Danna: Okay, thank you John ask that question 1 time.
Alejandro Cremades: Yeah, So so. So basically you know obviously yeah after all these different a financing cycles that you’ve done all the interactions. Ah. What have you learned when it comes to either process or what to look for in investors based on all your different engagements with either prospects or people that ended up investing in the business.
Matta Danna: Absolutely I think you really need to go into it with an understanding of what kind of partner. Do you want and I was the type you know, being a first -time founder I was the type that wanted for my investor to be hands-on. And to help guide me and to advise me and to be able to be available for a call on a random thursday to talk about strategy or a candidate that I wanted to hire and ah and so we were uncompromising with. That kind of profile we have been really fortunate to be able to work with top notch investors that have proven to be like incredible supporters and we wouldn’t be where obviously where we’re at today without them. Um. Yeah, in capital side. It’s just the individuals and so I think there’s this philosophy with some founders that you know they just want the check. They don’t care about any value ad and I took I have a different philosophy that I think you should be able to maximize. The total value of a partner that you’re bringing in and to take advantage of that and it’s worked well for us.
Alejandro Cremades: And typically like when you’re thinking about value of an investor I mean be beyond the money. How do you look at that value. What is the way to to filter through the noise and to really see what people can contribute and how they can contribute that value.
Matta Danna: Yeah, and again the the prerequisite kind of table stakes is that you want to work with this person for a very long time right? like I forget what? how long an average kind of startup takes to go public but it’s of the up like timeframe of a decade or more and so this person is going to be with you forever. Ah, and it’s it’s nearly impossible to to break ties with them. It’s so much easier to get a divorce than it is to to change in an investor and so ah table stakes is you got to like the person a lot and trust the person. Secondly, there’s obviously the the capital. That comes with it. Um, and that’s that’s obvious but is it capital that will attract future capital right is is the signal of the venture fund and especially the partner at that fund are they reputable. Do. They have great deals have a track record of success because that actually matters a great deal as to for future rounds and then I think that the other aspect is will the fund that you choose also help with talent in in some ways and I actually found this. Pretty frustrating as ah as a bootstrap founder but we weren’t taken seriously as ah as a business when we were Bootstrapped. It wasn’t until we raised venture capital where people started looking at us as like not just a side project but like a legitimate business and.
Matta Danna: It’s probably frusting for any bootstrap founders that are are listening into this call and can probably relate to what? ah my perspective there but being able to have you know the stamps of the the venture Capital Firms logos you know on your about us page and career site. Ah, that definitely is a point of validation for talent that are that’s seeking high performance and growth startup.
Alejandro Cremades: Like and and and and now that we’re talking about. You know the business and building the business. They always see the perception on love thats stop. But what about building vertical software. So so how do you go about doing that and and what can you share with us. Yeah.
Matta Danna: Um, ah.
Matta Danna: Yeah, absolutely so vertical. Software is very different than horizontal software horizontal being software that is sold into all types of industries so you could think of any of like project management tools and. And programs like that where you know expenses and and finance some fintech like they doesn’t matter which vertical the business that you’re selling to operates and the value of the software still applies for vertical software. It’s about picking a specific buyer. Type a single profile and going extremely deep with them and so it’s not about like how wide of a profile of customer base that you’re looking to Target. It’s about how much value can you provide and go super super deep and so ver to go software. There’s many different dimensions of growth. But we’d like to think about it in 4 different dimensions. There’s kind of which subverticals. Do we operate in within the general kind of umbrella of beauty and personal care. Ah there’s what size of business. So in the entire market There’s everything from sole proprietors which is a business of. Ah, single individual all the way up through enterprise businesses and so it’s figuring out like which is the right type of segment that you really want to target where you can get the un economics that you’re looking for and be really really deliberate about that and then once you figure out.
Matta Danna: Verticals and kind of the size of a business that you’re looking for. It’s like looking at their needs and then what’s the feature set is the third dimension of growth. Um, and you can start with just a single skew a single product and sell that in and I would suggest just starting with 1 make sure you.
Matta Danna: Nail it before scaling it and then with vertical software There’s an incredible opportunity because you already have them and you can start layering in more and more features more and more products upsells add-ons and then like they’re with you and you can grow your contract size significantly over time even if like. The business itself stays fixed in terms of size and then the fourth one is just ah Geo like which markets are you operating in and so I like to encourage founders to be extremely extremely focused in and the early days especially if it’s vertical software. You have to be very deliberate and. Really focus on a single ideal customer profile and then over time you can expand that ideal customer profile.
Alejandro Cremades: So it’s kind of like starting with a store and then you build it into a mall kind of thing now and and and and I guess like to that point like how do you think about? you know, starting small like that with one single customer profile and then how does that.
Matta Danna: Exactly exactly? Yeah, it’s a good analog.
Alejandro Cremades: You know, grow or expand over time and how do you know is time to expand I’m sure that you guys have I’ve seen that very very well with your business. So.
Matta Danna: Yeah, absolutely and so we started to see you know so significant amount of ah demand from businesses that had multi-location and so in the earliest days of our of our company when we were still in. And product discovery and problem discovery really? Ah, we were. We knew that we needed to support multi-location businesses and so from the the getcko we built our our technology to support and really catered to multi-location businesses where depending on how many locations like. All of their information and data rolls up in a really really nice brand level of view and we knew that was something that would be super differentiated but we didn’t start selling into those at the gate started selling just into the the single locations. Where they had a front desk where our scheduling solution would provide a lot a lot of value save a ton of time and overhead and great give ah a fantastic experience to clients and so started single locations and started growing from there and it kind of happened naturally like we signed up 1 location and then they had a sister. Location that we then signed up and said they were a first multi-location business and and then from there just kind of snowballed.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case, you know, imagine you know and I guess before I ask you this question I want to you know for the people that are listened to to get really a sense of the scope and size of Boulevard today I mean anything that you can share in terms of um. You know number of employees or anything else that you know you feel comfortable sharing to get an idea on the size of the business today.
Matta Danna: Yeah, absolutely so we have about 225 folks on the team and we’ve been following the kind of growth trajectory of the the triple triple triple double double double double for as long as you can double and so we’re in the first year of of having. Truly significant scale and this will be our first doubling year and so that’s where you know crec comes into play and’s all about this kind of scale at this point. Um, and in terms of ah, kind of size of customer base. We work with about 2000 more than 2000 ah businesses and for us that might sound like a small size if you’re a horizontal solution where you need a lot a lot of customers. But for us we have a very healthy customer value per logo and especially given payments and so. We’re all about you know, kind of quality of the logos as opposed to quantity.
Alejandro Cremades: Now imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight Matt and you wake up in a world where the vision of boulevard is fully realized what does that world look like.
Matta Danna: Yeah, so my cofounder and I we we set out to really solve a consumer problem like him and I we don’t come from the beauty industry. We weren’t hairstylists we’t barbers and so we we wanted to make it convenient to be a client of these businesses without having to make phone calls. Where you had reminders about when to come in, you were able to find the right service provider for you and we just found that that was missing in the world that there isn’t an app on everyone’s phone that they can go and use to look and feel their best and. We wanted to create that. But when we started we so we started building that we were trying to build an open table for appointments and we realized we had nothing to put in that marketplace like there was no supply. There’s in our market. It’s a lot of legacy software There aren’t apis. Especially not open Apis a lot of desktop software and so we we there was no way to get access to the calendars of these businesses and so we decided I think like 3 or four days into um after we had written our first line of code on for this marketplace we had pivoted to let’s. Go and do b two b let’s sign up these accounts, get direct access to their calendars and and start helping them be more successful and sustainable businesses and then in the future. It gives us the opportunity to be a consumer brand where we can surface availbilities across all of our.
Matta Danna: Businesses and so we’re still very much in the B Two B camp but we’ve always built with an eye towards this eventually someday being a consumer brand.
Alejandro Cremades: Now imagine if I was to put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time. Maybe I bring you back. You know to that moment where. You had to lift your last job and you were now like doing the consulting you know, like figuring out. You know what was going to be. You know the company that you that you wanted to build and and you had the opportunity of having a chat with that younger self and and most importantly, giving that younger self that younger man. 1 piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Matta Danna: Um, that’s a good question. Um.
Matta Danna: I would say trust your gut. Ah for the longest time I was very unsure of many decisions for the business like I’m a product guy like I’ve never operated ah a real business and had people’s paychecks and income. Dependent on some of the decisions I make and yeah I spend a ton of time you know reading blogs and and talking to other founders to really try to learn all of this as as quickly as possible. There still many many decisions I was uncertain. And I think over time I’ve just learned to to trust my gut and that even if I that very few people um, actually makes you know decisions like I make on a daily basis. Many very few people like actually have very very high confidence on some of those decisions. Um, and so you just got to. And trust yourself trust the information you have trying to gather as much data and then make decisions that Way. So I think I’d go and tell my younger self. Um, trust yourself more.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it I Love it now. Just as an example has there been like if you if you could now reflect What has been a moment where you really trusted yourself and then you’re like Wow I’m so glad that I did if you were to look back on this journey with boulevard.
Matta Danna: Yeah I think there was a defining moment which was during covid so our industry you know, like the the restaurant space and everything was was really destroyed during during covid and so we had just raised our series b and we were like. Freaking out like our businesses were shut down full stop like we’re a fintech company. They weren’t doing payments at all for like the first couple months of covid we’re like is this the end of our business. Um, luckily we had like. Closed their series be the week of the Los Angeles County like shutdowns where all businesses were mandated to to close so we were well capitalized going into covid thank god and a few months and volume was starting to pick back up. You know in the 30 30% 40% of what it used to be but it was the fourth of July weekend of the first fourth of July in covid and after that I had this kind of realization that we should gun it and we I made a proposal to the board that. The following week asking to spend more than what we had in our fiscal plan and to add to more engineering teams a little engineering squads so that we could move even faster while all of our competitors were doing layoffs and.
Matta Danna: Slashing their support teams and everything we decided to to increase our velocity and that was probably one of the better decisions that we’ve made we ended up like that year even through covid like we we tripled and a lot of it was because we chose to. To gun it and again that kind of comes back to the trust in your gut.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it now for the people that are listening math. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.
Matta Danna: Yeah, absolutely, you can find me on Linkedin on Twitter it’s Matt Dana on on both platforms and also on our we have ah our obviously our website joinblvd.com and there’s a blog and all that kind of stuff and. We’re always hiring so love to talk to anyone who’s interested.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well Matt thank you? So so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Matta Danna: Absolutely thanks So much for having me.
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