After graduating from Amherst College, Brad Stroh went to work for a venture capital firm. Then he went to work for another one, and then another. Through his experiences as an investor, Stroh saw firsthand the struggles of financial startups and entrepreneurial companies. By the time Stroh and fellow Stanford MBA Andrew Housser co-founded Bills.com in 2005, he well understood the challenges and risks associated with building a new business from the ground up.
In 2002, Stroh and Housser had successfully co-founded Freedom Financial Network as a platform for direct-to-consumer financial services. In growing Freedom Financial, the partners realized that what was really missing in the finance industry was consumer financial education. The idea evolved into a business plan for Bills.com LLC, an online portal of free resources and tools to help consumers with money management.
With Stroh as the company’s CEO, and Housser as the company’s only other employee, the two combined their entrepreneurial experiences to launch Bills.com using a scrappy, customer-focused business model.
“Challenge No. 1 was bootstrapping a business and figuring out a way to create value every single day for your clients,” Stroh says. “The reality is, we ended up picking a really successful industry, and we executed really well on our plan; our business became extremely successful. That led to a second major challenge.”
In five years, Stroh and Housser have grown their two-person company into a full-blown $106 million enterprise with more than 600 employees. Though they overcame the initial challenges of being under-resourced, undercapitalized and bootstrapped, adjusting a business model to account for fast-paced success and subsequent growth presents obstacles of its own.
“The things that made us great, which were that commitment to executing, being scrappy, really valuing your clients, having a very unique culture and appreciation of all of your employees — how do you maintain entrepreneurial vision when you are hundreds and hundreds of employees and you’re not 10?” Stroh says.
You do it by making sure every employee contributes to a company culture of entrepreneurism, innovation and competitiveness. Stroh now says his most important job is hiring and building a culture of entrepreneurism.