Michelle Songy, Founder + CEO, PressHook
If you were to ask Songy to describe her latest startup in only a few words, it would be “an AI-powered platform that helps small businesses get the media attention they deserve." While she recognized her entrepreneurial drive early, she took time to prepare instead of jumping right in.
"I recognized my entrepreneurial calling but also understood the importance of gaining business experience. This led me to roles at Coca-Cola and later American Express, where I learned essential skills like company structure and culture, laying a strong foundation for my future entrepreneurial endeavors," as she retold it.
In 2017, with over a decade of marketing and management experience, she channeled that experience into co-founding mobile payment platform Cake Technologies. When it was later acquired by American Express, she started looking for new opportunities that fit her mission.
A strong theme of her entrepreneurial journey is making modern technology more accessible to small businesses. “Founding Cake Technologies exposed me to the power of positive press and the challenges small businesses face in accessing it due to budget constraints," Songy explained. That's what inspired her to create Press Hook.
Steli Efti, Co-founder + CEO of Close
Steli Efti is the CEO of Close, an all-in-one sales CRM built “by and for" small businesses. It can help companies improve sales rep performance and drive revenue growth through built-in email, calling, and SMS.
His decisions to start the company bootstrapped and remote-first have given the company a unique advantage when working with small business owners, allowing the company to put its people first, whether that's customers or employees.
Regarding bootstrapping, Efti described a “desire to be independent, to act and think long-term, to be self-determined, and be able to make major decisions with the best interest of our employees and customers—versus the best interest of an external investor." This has allowed them to avoid some of the pitfalls their larger competitors have experienced, like needing to hit metric milestones to keep investors happy.
And having a remote workforce lets them tap into a much wider and more diverse talent pool. "One of the biggest factors in our success as a remote-first company is that we've been able to hire exceptional talent from around the world," Efti explained.
Nicolas Cassis, Co-founder of eTip
Finally, we spoke to Nicolas Cassis and Robert Petteruti, co-founders of eTip, a platform that lets businesses offer cashless tipping. Both co-founders had backgrounds in financial products before launching the company. Cassis had founded a telecommunications company that built and launched products like prepaid debit cards and calling cards, and Petteruti got into fintech as a hedge fund manager.
Like Songy, Cassis is passionate about how technology allows him to create an impact. “I've always been a natural problem solver and out-of-the-box thinker, and I think the opportunity to deliver a broad impact with technology is the most exciting way to put that drive to work," he said.
This natural problem solving is how eTip got started.
As Cassis retold it, “During a stay at a San Francisco hotel, I discovered just how much a cash tip to my hotel housekeeper meant to her, reflected in a gracious note left to me (a note I keep on my desk to show to this day!). After speaking with more housekeepers and service workers, I realized that the decline in the use of cash was actually a microcosm of a slew of issues faced by millions of service workers. From that moment on, I knew there was a major problem to be solved, and the rest is history.
But strong customer relationships depend on strong employee relationships, Cassis stressed. As he put it, “I'm of the firm belief that businesses can nearly make up for lack of size, SEO, or brand recognition by investing in their employees because, ultimately, an engaged and motivated team will translate to the best service and authentic relationships between your team and your customers."
For the eTip founders, the best part of working with small businesses is the fast pace. “The most exciting aspect of serving small businesses is the urgency to deliver an impact. When small businesses need a solution, we fully understand they need the solution yesterday," Cassis affirmed.
Their cashless tipping platform helps small businesses counter “the hardships caused by the decline of cash transactions like tips, as well as digitizing an age-old and often onerous cash tip-out process for hourly workers," as he put it. This benefits the workforce and customers with increased convenience, and business owners with the growth that a more convenient experience can facilitate.
If it sounds like something your business needs, you can access an offer in the American Express Business Savings Suite on eTip for new customers – 40% off the first year of annual subscription plans. Terms apply. You can learn more about the eTip offer here.
Robert Petteruti, Co-founder of eTip