Why Shopigniter is a Great Client

A couple of months ago we were introduced to a company called Cularis (now ShopIgniter). We had worked with some of the members of the team in their prior stints at other companies but had not heard of Cularis or their products. Flying under the radar in Portland is actually a tough thing to do so we were a bit surprised when the first 15 minutes of our initial meeting turned into a monologue by the founders about all of the positive traction they were getting. Clients were signing up, a major cloud infrastructure provider was interested in partnering on an exclusive basis, a major development firm wanted to form a strategic alliance and several local, Bay Area and Seattle VCs were pursuing the company. This was early Fall 2009 – remember how bad things still were then?

This meeting reminded me of why we started Alto. Dan Warner and Alan Wizemann – the two main principals of the company – were infinitely passionate about their product and knew there was a market for it. (If you don’t know, their product essentially allows companies and e-tailers to monitor social networking sites and direct very targeted advertising and offers to users of those sites.) What separated Dan and Alan from many of the people we meet with was their ability to temper their enthusiasm with a very rational and thoughtful approach to making the endeavor succeed. We asked some questions about the company, the product , the go-to market strategy and future growth and it quickly became clear that these guys were on top of their game.

What they lacked was strong legal counsel. Like many of our clients, they came to us having had little to no legal advice on corporate structure, securities issues, licensing models, or intellectual property. So they were shopping for firms.

We’ve been through these meetings dozens of times. Typically we start with introductions and light conversation and then have the potential client tell us about what they are up to and where they may need help. Then we typically talk about Alto and our philosophy, expertise and experience before wrapping up by talking about how we might work together.

But sometimes that agenda goes out the door and the conversation becomes more dynamic in nature. That’s what happened with Alan and Dan (and their advisor Jim McConnell) when we first met. We were so excited about talking about what they were doing and the interest that they had been receiving that we barely got around to the nuts and bolts of billing rates, payment terms, and engagement letters. We did, though, talk about our history with start-ups and struck a chord with the founders when we characterized ourselves as a start-up. This is a label we embrace. We experience many of the same growing pains that our clients do such as cash flow the need for agility and speed. I find that many of our clients appreciate this fact as it makes us more aligned with them philosophically and operationally. It is a natural characteristic that has turned into a benefit.

We left the pitch meeting not knowing how we fared but felt like we had the opportunity to truly show the spirit of our firm and approach. A week or so later I got a call from Alan indicating that they had decided to go with us as their legal counsel. It was a great feeling because I felt we had won their business based not only on our experience but also on the intangible traits of the firm. We understood them and they understood us and wanted us to work with them. These clients are the best types as it results in us being trusted advisors and partners rather than just service providers.

Since that time, Alan and Dan have grabbed onto the rocketship that is ShopIgniter. They’ve pulled $3 million in investment from Madrona – a Seattle-based fund which has not invested in a Portland company in several years. They added Matt Compton, an experienced, smart and incredibly hard-driving leader, as CEO. They are hiring while most companies continue to cut jobs or remain stagnant.

I have little doubt we will be reading much more about them in the near future – and we are honored to be able to work with them.

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