Large sales force. Our very early investments were in scaling our sales force quickly and regionalizing it. We hired 15 reps in our first year and grew to 45 by the end of our second year. Today half of our head-count is sales. I knew if we wanted to have an effect quickly we needed to be in front of coaches creating those authentic in-person connections and relationships. We were never going to be a telemarketing, low-cost high-volume company. I really wanted to build something transformational.
You can’t build a transformative business by making the people feel like they’re just a transaction. We’ve always tried to address that first and foremost by having a physical presence to show our coaches and team leaders that we are there to help and that we care.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cole Morgan, a former high school and college football player, has turned his passion for supporting coaches and youth leaders into a multi-million-dollar business — Snap! Raise, the nation’s largest online fundraising solution for school teams and groups.
He founded Snap! Raise in 2014 and has spent the last seven years building Snap! Raise into a juggernaut in the high school fundraising industry. Headquartered in Seattle, the company has 180 employees, including 90 reps in markets across the country.
In 2018 Cole won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Pacific Northwest award. Also in 2018, Snap! Raise made Deloitte’s Technology’s prestigious Fast 500 list as the 46th fastest-growing company in North America, and again in 2019 as №182. In 2019 Snap! Raise ranked №738 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I played football in high school and then went on to play at the college level for Washington State University and finished out my college football career at Central Washington University. Football had a profound impact on my life as did the many amazing coaches I had along the way. After I graduated I wanted to stay involved in that world and find ways to help and support coaches and other high school athletes.
Shortly after graduating I spent several years representing a line of physical fundraising products — discount cards, entertainment books, cookie dough, etc. At the time I saw it as a way to be entrepreneurial and to help coaches and impact kids.
About two years in, a coach who I considered a friend said “Cole, my kids love you, my coaches love you, I love you. But every time we see you, we’re afraid that means we’re going to have to do something we don’t want to do which is sell a product to our communities that they don’t want. You’re young enough, you’re smart enough, I dare you to try to change the system.” Just like any coach I’d ever had, he challenged me to figure out a way to improve a situation. His visceral reaction to what I was doing was not who I wanted to be, but I had never really thought about the business side of product sales and how it affected their teams. Cookie dough, popcorn and the like were taking a huge margin and were an incredibly time-consuming way to fundraise. It was making coaches and parents and kids’ lives harder and more stressful, not easier which is what I had intended.
If my goal really was to help these coaches and teams, then I had to figure out a way to do it better, so that’s how Snap! Raise came about.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I was on an interview committee for a high school football coach. It was in the early days of Snap! Raise.
During the interview the coach introduced Snap! Raise to the committee as the way he was going to fund the program. That was a pivotal moment for me because one of my first written goals for the business was that I wanted to change the way coaches think about fundraising and when he introduced the business, without knowing who I was, I knew that we were breaking through and that coaches were starting to understand our value proposition. To hear my vision played back by our customer, without him knowing that I was there, was huge.
Another interesting moment happened when somebody else called a competitor ‘a Snap Raise’. To think that we were becoming the go-to name for the category was really gratifying. What I didn’t know at the time was how often in the years to come I’d hear a competitor describe their services as just like Snap! Raise.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt it would be Coach Trainor, my high school coach.
His commitment to developing young men was really impactful to me. He was totally dedicated to his kids and believed in them. There’s never been a time when Coach T. wasn’t there for me. From high school on. He’s shown up at every point in my life.
When my house flooded in college, I lived with him and his family for months. Another time I got a chance to try out with the Canadian League as I thought it would get me two more years of eligibility. The training facility was in Southern California, so I went down there and trained for two months for a try-out. I quit my job to go there, I had no money and didn’t have any way to pay for the training and Coach T paid for it.
When I started Snap! Raise, he was one of the very first investors. I told him I was starting a company and wanted to make sure he didn’t have to sell discount books and cookie dough ever again and he gave us a loan out of his daughter’s college fund.
But I would say it’s also all of our early employees. I might be a large percentage of what helped the company get off the ground and get to where it is, but truly, and I learned this from Coach T, nothing of any significance is ever accomplished alone. It really was our early employees who believed in me and the mission and helped us get it off the ground, and our early customers who took a risk.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If your goals are what they are, then your choices are predetermined.” This is a quote that I love from Trevor Moawad, a well known mental conditioning coach to both professional athletes, collegiate coaches and CEOs alike.
If you want to accomplish a goal, and you mean it, then making the decisions necessary to achieve it is simple. If you struggle to make the decisions necessary to create success, then the goal is wrong because you’re not committed. Simple and powerful — set the right goals that lead to easy decisions and success will follow.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
At Snap Raise, we believe that every kid needs a champion. A champion is that coach or teacher, parent or donor, family member or friend who’s there to help you be your best.
It’s our mission to champion coaches and leaders, so they can spend more time improving the lives of the kids they work with. We help coaches save time and raise money quickly and safely.
The reality of a coach or leader is that building a successful, sustainable program is often an uphill battle. A big challenge is time. They get bogged down by the work they have to do outside of actually coaching or leading their groups. The average time spent on fundraising is 40 hours per season.
With Snap! Raise, a campaign can be set up in 45 minutes. Our reps in the field are experts in fundraising and are there to walk the coaches through every step, supported by an in-house customer service team, all taking the burden away from the coaches and freeing them up to concentrate on their kids and programs..
Even before COVID entered our lives, door-to-door fundraising was inherently risky. By eliminating cash exchanges, we keep kids safe as they aren’t carrying cash around their neighborhoods, and we make everything completely trackable and transparent.
There have been cases of kids (and even coaches) getting robbed, and when that happens there’s a waterfall effect — the kid is on the hook for the money. And if you’ve been robbed for your cookie dough money, chances are you’re not in a good neighborhood and are already disadvantaged and unable to repay the money.
If the kid can’t come up with the funds by the end of year, he or she can’t graduate. All for some damn cookie dough. Sometimes the coach will step in and cover it himself or try to pay for it out of fundraising dollars if the school will approve it, but that’s not typically approved funds.
Our process is also completely transparent. With online fundraising, coaches don’t touch the money and administrators can see where every penny has come from and can account for it. That’s a safety issue for the coaches and group leaders. (Not to mention a huge time saver.) There are thousands and thousands of dollars involved in the average fundraiser and if for some perfectly innocent reason a coach or group leader can’t account for a few hundred dollars, that becomes a misappropriation of state funds and they can lose their job over it.
We pride ourselves on being the safest fundraiser on the market. We’ve partnered with WePay — the industry leader in online processing owned by JP Morgan — to process all of our fundraising transactions.
In early 2021 we’ll be introducing a new product with a dashboard view into the status and performance of every campaign and even more detail and transparency.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have a great product, amazing service, our results are unmatched and we truly are changing the way high schools fundraise. But at the end of the day, it’s the people who make us really stand out. It might sound cliché but in our case it’s absolutely true. People join our company not to sell a product but because they want to have an impact, and they believe deeply in the people we’re serving — the coaches and youth leaders — and who they’re ultimately helping, kids.
We have a rep who recently drove from Miami to Key West because one of our clients needed a volunteer for a wrestling tournament and couldn’t find one. He drove to Key West and put himself up at a hotel to support his coach and make sure the coach was successful. Every person who’s joined the company has some sort of story like that.
And that heart and passion is our differentiator.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
I’ve had such a great line of coaches that I truly feel like my mission in the world is to help them. Football taught me so many life skills and values not typically taught in a classroom education and I wanted to make sure coaches and youth leaders could focus on championing the leaders of tomorrow rather than spending time on fundraising and administrative chores.
It’s what guides me as we build Snap! Raise. I tell my team all the time “We need to be a company that’s rooting for our coaches and youth leaders, the way that they are rooting for their kids.”
It all starts with fundraising. But it goes beyond money. It’s about impact, community, and a desire to help kids engage in experiences that are healthy, fun and might just provide them with a new perspective on life.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
It’s exactly the same — helping coaches and youth leaders champion their kids. I’m motivated right now to figure out how we build tools and services that help programs build year after year, rather than have to start from scratch when coaches come and go. I’m motivated by taking the task-oriented things that coaches do today that keep them away from their students and giving them a software solution. I want to make those tasks as streamlined and efficient as possible, so that those great coaches and leaders can spend more time with their kids developing them, teaching them life skills, teaching them how to get up when knocked down, things like that, that you learn through sports and your failures and successes, that good coaches can help you figure out.
I’m also motivated to figure out how we build a model that services everyone from the lowest socioeconomic rungs to the highest, and how to help those kids that need help the most. I want to figure out how to create an ecosystem that gives to some of those Tier 3 schools and connects some of our historical donors to those Tier 3 schools to make sure that every kid’s got a fair shot and can keep programs funded, everywhere.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m excited about the fact that we’re building and creating a new category of software that schools have never really seen before, tools that will help coaches organize and advance their programs in ways that they never thought possible and will help make their lives easier, which has been our mission from the start.
There are about 30 jobs that a coach inherits when they take over a high school coaching job or a band or cheer director job, and about 15 or 16 of those are technical job requirements and/or tasks that we can streamline with technology. We’re building tools to help them build their budgets, communicate with their programs, manage their rosters, get gear out to their students and the myriad of things that are involved in running a program. We’re looking at templatizing all of those things that they inherit so that they can focus on the things that they do best, which is building the lives of their kids and being the champion for their students.
The Snap! Insights tool will include transparent budgeting and reporting tools for administrators and coaches and on the back end of Snap! Raise there will be tools that allow coaches to engage with their students more efficiently, all things that have been learned through our fundraising campaigns. So, whether that’s communication, organization, fundraising or event-based stuff, there are going to be a lot of products and tools coming out. These tools will continue to empower coaches and leaders to run Snap! Raise fundraisers without having to chase down financial reporting, donor receipts or payment information ever again.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
After we came out of beta we grew very rapidly and hired a lot of sales people. The hardest part was teaching our reps to do what I had done as our first salesperson and why all the things that I did were important to success. Our very first rep fell consistently short in his fundraisers compared to what I’d been doing. Which made me realize I needed to figure out all the nuances of what I was doing and what was actually critically important for success.
That eventually led to codifying the process and creating the Snap! Raise training handbook which is very detailed and lays out the process step by step, leaving nothing to chance. It’s the backbone of what we do still to this day. Creating that handbook/template was key to ensuring our reps could create successful fundraising campaigns.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
Our most important sales strategy was making sure that our first client on every campus was a good one.We allowed our earliest sales people to turn down business when most companies probably would not have. If a coach didn’t believe in us or wasn’t prepared to follow our process, we turned him or her down. In order to get the business off the ground we couldn’t afford to go into a school, have them try our new way of fundraising and have it not be successful, because then we’d never get a second group at that school or even in that district. So we targeted the leaders we knew would embrace our approach, have financial success that would impress the hell out of everyone else, and be a great springboard to other groups on campus.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that
It wasn’t funny but it was a big one. One of our big differentiators is that we don’t just send an email, we show up and introduce ourselves, make genuine connections and invest in our clients. But one of my cardinal rules has always been to never interrupt a coach or team leader during practice. One day I was out in the field training one of our reps who was struggling to get new business. We had travelled a fair distance to get to this one school and the band director wasn’t available as practice was going on. The rep suggested we knock on the door. I said no, and explained why it was a really bad idea, but the rep really wanted to take advantage of the CEO being in the field with him.
Against my better judgement I acquiesced and broke my own rule. When I knocked on the door, the band stopped playing immediately and you could have heard a pin drop. When the band director found out who we were and why we were there he chewed me out and kicked me out. It’s the first and only time I’ve ever been kicked off a campus. It was a reminder that band (or football or cheer) practice is important and there’s a reason I created that rule. That rules are rules for a reason and I should have stuck to my guns.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Yes, we currently have 90 reps in markets across the country. This is backed by a regionalized sales management and an executive leadership team focused on creating attainable, performance metrics for all to strive to hit.
You also need to make sure your team is hitting their goals but you can’t set unattainable goals. And don’t cap your sales people’s commissions. Give them opportunities to opt in to new initiatives and don’t hand pick the ones you think are the best fit — let people self select and you’ll be surprised at some of the results.
A mantra I use all the time is “teach and trust.” Teach the people the values that you want, trust them to deliver against them, and when they fail, which they will, teach them again, and trust them again.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
Large sales force
Our very early investments were in scaling our sales force quickly and regionalizing it. We hired 15 reps in our first year and grew to 45 by the end of our second year. Today half of our head-count is sales. I knew if we wanted to have an effect quickly we needed to be in front of coaches creating those authentic in-person connections and relationships. We were never going to be a telemarketing, low-cost high-volume company. I really wanted to build something transformational.
You can’t build a transformative business by making the people feel like they’re just a transaction. We’ve always tried to address that first and foremost by having a physical presence to show our coaches and team leaders that we are there to help and that we care.
I understood the value of face-to-face contact for our customer base and that got baked into our process and sales strategy. Prior to COVID, our sales process instructed our reps to visit 3 schools per day, shaking at least five hands at each school for a total of 60 handshakes per week. Today our reps connect virtually like we all do (and are doing really well), but we’ll get back to those in-person connections as soon as it’s safe to do so as they are core to our brand.
Our sales playbook and process leaves nothing to chance. It’s a step by step comprehensive plan that walks reps through how to prospect, build relationships, communicate, overcome objections, plan and run successful campaigns.
Genuine ask vs. selling a product
I understood the pain point of donors — they wanted to support students but didn’t need a gimmicky promotional item to do it. Our process is based on asking people for support — genuinely — telling them what you’re asking for their support for, and letting them decide whether they want to give, rather than trying to force them to buy a product.
Technology + personal support
Arming our reps with a great product is a key element of our sales success. We’ve invested heavily to have a best- in-class, data-driven product. Our technology makes fundraising programs easy, safe and accessible to all. We have a tech support and development team constantly innovating relentlessly. But technology alone won’t win the day (or the customer) — it’s blending it with highly personalized support from our reps and customer service staff that does.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Think about removing yourself from certain elements because you can only do so much and you can’t do everything well. When hiring, don’t try and duplicate yourself, hire complementary talent and skill sets and try and replace yourself with better talent.
Look at your employees and make sure everyone is in the right job and working at their full potential. If not, make changes. Align job roles with things that people enjoy. If you have a sales leader who doesn’t enjoy customer service but oversees both, they’re not going to be very successful at customer service.
Keys for growth: you may have to do some hard things in order to restart your engine, but it will only challenge whether or not your goals really are your goals, so it’ll be a good gut check.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Without a doubt it’s having in-person sales reps that I’ve talked about. And a sales force that truly understands the market and customer base. Nearly all of our reps were high schools athletes or played in the band or were on the cheer squad and even coach youth groups today. Like me, their coaches and extra curricular activities had a profound impact on who they are as adults, and they are genuinely committed to helping coaches and team leaders succeed and champion their kids. They understand what they’re dealing with and their paint points.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
You need to eat, sleep and breathe your customers’ needs and understand the nomenclature that they use. Your adoption rate will go up if you figure out how to speak their language, rather than expect them to speak your language. For example, we compare sending emails to get their fundraiser going to the effort that a team exerts when they run lines and the accountability that a coach requires for them to touch the line with their hand and not their foot and the details that go into that. But if we used that same language to a band leader, it would fall on deaf ears. So it’s about creating context for the customer.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
It starts with the product and delivering on your promises — both in terms of the product and the customer service. If you exceed your customers’ expectations you’ll gain their loyalty. When a coach knows beyond the shadow of doubt that they’re going to have the safest, best, and most successful experience by choosing Snap! Raise, that creates loyalty and repeat business.
However, on average, a coach’s tenure is only two years and the incoming coach has to start all over again to build or grow the program. This means we also have to start all over again, selling our solutions. Our goal is software that can be handed from coach to coach, similar to the way that uniforms are. We plan to introduce a whole new suit of tools in the first half of 2021.
With templates, best practices and great software, that transition will be much easier and new coaches and group leaders will be able to focus on developing their kids vs. getting bogged down reinventing the wheel on the endless administrative details of their programs. And we will reduce customer churn.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I were to inspire a movement, it would be to encourage people to engage with today’s youth. Positive experiences in kids’ developmental years pay dividends for the future. Be a role model — kids take inspiration from their role models. You can have a better impact on tomorrow by helping shape the lives of kids today. In fact, I’m working hard to create a company that helps inspire this movement and empower more people to want to coach at the youth levels. Every kid needs a champion coach in their corner, a person who’s there to pick you up when you’re down, or call you out for not trying hard enough. Sometimes that little bit of encouragement from a mentor can change a kids’ life for the better. We should all be so lucky to have that experience as kids.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d have to pick two: Bill Belichick and Barack Obama. Belichick, because I really admire that he’s built a culture that’s about ‘we’ and not ‘me’, and the consistency of which he’s done that in a time in which athletes are very much about themselves and building a personal brand. And Obama for his ability to address the public with poise, confidence, and humility and the courage under fire aspect of the way he was able to present to the country when he did. Knowing the things that were going on in the world, I think it’s pretty incredible.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!