Today we’re talking with Gaby Isturiz, an advisor and well-known investor. Gaby was born and raised in Venezuela before coming to the US as a software engineer 25 years ago. Gaby worked for a law firm when she stumbled across an issue that needed a solution. This led her to create her very first company to solve an unmet need in her industry. She would scale and sell that first business before starting her second business for another unmet need she had discovered. Both of her companies were number one in their industry and continue to be today. She now spends most of her time mentoring and advising other startups, especially those run by women and minorities.
Stumbling Into Entrepreneurship
Gaby was originally from Venezuela, where she says you do what your parents tell you. Her father told her not to go into the arts like she wanted but into something with math or science. Gaby decided to go into software engineering and discovered it was like a type of art so it felt like a good fit. She came to the US 25 years ago where she did her Master’s in information science. After completing that she would go on to work as a CIO at a law firm. While working there she would create her first company, grow it, and sell it
Ignorance Is Bliss
That first company was eBillingHub, a pioneer in electronic billing solutions specifically for law firms. She originally built it for the law firm she was working at but would eventually take it commercial. In their first two years, they acquired a lot of the largest law firms as clients and they continue to be number one in electronic billing for law firms. When it came to building up the company Gaby says ignorance was bliss, she didn’t realize how hard it would be. Having just come from Venezuela she didn’t have a network yet and while it was challenging she learned a lot. eBillingHub would go on to be acquired by Thomson Reuters in 2011.
Solving Unmet Needs
Gaby would go on to start her second company, Bellefield Systems. In 2011-2012 the iPad was a new thing and they thought it could be utilized in time tracking. So Bellefield Systems was started as a time tracking solution and 7-8 years later became the number one time tracking solution. Gaby says she simply asked herself what is another unmet problem. She did very well growing the company and had about 50-60 people at the end. Using a broker Bellefield Systems was acquired by Roper Technologies, which she decided would be the best home for the company.
Do One Thing And Do It Well
When it comes to KPI’s Gaby says to do one thing and do it really well. She says to make sure you keep a lot of focus on what you’re doing and don’t try to go after every shiny object. That’s what led her into engineering the company that she wanted to build. Gaby says they wanted 98% of their revenue to come from recurring revenue and that’s a goal they met. Their growth margins were over 93% as they invested a lot into the automation of their processes. Automation ensures you don’t have to throw too many people at a problem. Gaby says they were very anal in terms of metrics and that recurring revenue and retention were key.
No Perfect Time
There is no perfect timing for an exit according to Gaby; she says it’s much like getting married or having a child. She did start to think about a potential exit when she saw how quickly they were growing. In order to keep growing at the same pace, she decided to start an equity-raising exercise. She wanted to partner with private equity or a venture fund to invest in the company. What started out as just a way to continue to accelerate growth turned into an opportunity for exit. They hired an investment banker and ended up with 12 offers. After narrowing it down, they made the choice to sell to Roper Technologies. From beginning to end, Gaby says the acquisition took about 6 months. She says a good banker can make the process easy. Preparation to sell took about 3 months, then they took it to the buyers, which took another month. After narrowing it down, they did in-person presentations to get to know each investor. They ended up with a bidding game and then closing took 45 days.
Knowing What You Know Now, What Would You Tell Yourself Ten Years Ago?
Gaby says she honestly doesn’t think she could have said anything different. She would simply tell herself to keep up and keep working hard. She says there is merit to what she would tell her future self, however. One thing she has learned is that if you make a mistake more than twice, it’s a decision. So, she would tell herself to be more present, that you can’t change the past.
What She’s Working On Now
Gaby jokes that over the last 20 years she has prided herself on making every mistake an entrepreneur can make. She says she was fortunate to learn a lot and wants to pass that knowledge on. She mentors, advises, and coaches startups, mostly for female or minority founders. Likewise, she wants to help others to achieve the success she was able to. Gaby credits her success to amazing advisors and coaches, and wants to do the same for others. She’s currently advising 14 startups and has personally invested in 3 of them.