Ep. #31 of the SouthFound podcast - Mac Bartine of Smart RIA
This interview was recorded for episode #31 of the SouthFound podcast.
Mac Bartine of Smart RIA, a bad employee
Mac Bartine joined his first startup in 1996 right after getting his Masters degree. Because everyone with a degree in Organizational Psychology (i.e. Human Resources) parlays those skills into the startup industry, right?
The truth is that Mac had always been an entrepreneur at heart. He admits to not being a very good employee for that first startup, nor very knowledgeable as a sales/marketing professional. But that would change.
Mac’s first startup, a side-hustle play he started in 1999to get involved in the Dot Com boom, was an online platform called KnoxvilleBusiness.com. That platform ended up being his first exit.
1st startup = 1st exit
Although he was not looking to sell his business, Mac admits that he had tired of the challenges of being a solopreneur. Instead, Mac was looking to join a team where he could learn new skills and leverage his existing experience in the digital space. Enter VIEO Design.
After meeting the VIEO Design team at a local BNI chapter, the two groups decided to partner on a few projects. Over time, the businesses decided to merge and Mac joined VIEO as a partner and the Director of Digital Strategy.
The partnership paid off and the company began to scale rapidly. In fact, at the time of our interview, VIEO had just announced the company being named to the Top 100 Inbound Marketing Blogs in the World.
2nd startup = 3rd startup
Mac was hired away from VIEO to help run another company in 2014, an experience that reminded him that he makes a better entrepreneur and leader than he does an employee.
Mac took the lesson to heart, and decided to launch his second startup Instartly, with partner Preston Garland. Instartly participated in the MediaWorx accelerator program put on by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, which Mac credits with a lot of the momentum the Knoxville area is getting in the startup community.
However, that venture did not scale as quickly as the two partners hoped.
While working on Instartly, Mac connected with John Morris (a standard in the Knoxville startup community) who suggested Mac connect with Roger Kiger. Kiger, a financial advisor, had developed a compliance solution called Smart RIA to solve his own reporting challenges and was looking for an experienced person to come in and run the business.
In October of 2015 Mac joined Smart RIA as the CEO with the goal of building a business out of the existing minimum viable product (MVP).
Keep it simple, listen to your customers
Since joining Smart RIA, Mac has helped the company raise capital, as well as scale their customer base from 2 paying customers to over 500. Mac credits the biggest changes in the company to the amount of time Mac and the team have spent talking with customers. With that feedback, the team has been able to understand the value of keeping a solution simple enough for the target market to understand it and limiting functionality to the things that customers are truly willing to pay for.
In fact, Smart RIA’s customers are now asking the company to build other solutions that “do anything else that easily”.
So, what’s the lesson? First, listen to your customers and they will tell you what they will pay for. Second, Mac Bartine makes a bad employee. But he makes one heck of a startup CEO.