Today on the Stride 2 Freedom podcast, we sat down with Mike Preuss, Co-founder & CEO of Visible. Mike is on a mission to work with 5,000 founders by 2025 and we want to help him get there. At Visible, Mike helps founders around the country with a SaaS software solution to track key metrics, update stakeholders on important business milestones, and raise capital.
In this episode, all of your burning questions as a founder will be answered from, “How should I communicate with my investors or stakeholders?” to “What should I communicate with them?”
Mike explains what it takes to build a relationship-driven business as a founder trying to attract investors to raise capital. By helping founders manage the process, Visible saves hours of time and reduces the risk of your communications “falling through the cracks.” Through automated data integrations, Visible has made it possible for founders to send monthly updates to their investors in minutes rather than hours. Mike knows how important it is to focus on tasks that will generate revenue for your company- which is why Visible was born.
In this episode, you really get to “feel” the passion Mike has for what he does, and that is something I think any business owner can appreciate, especially when you are trusting this person to deliver data on some of the most crucial aspects of your business to potential investors. I was also excited to hear that Visible recently launched a free database called Visible Connect which allows anyone to search for different types of investments for their business.
With Visible comes powerful functionality that is enabling founders to build a relationship with investors in a way they never could. Visible helps founders deliver accuracy and transparency to the fingertips of investors. We are rapidly evolving into an almost entirely virtual world. Two hour long conference room meetings with hundreds of spreadsheets flying around the room is a thing of the past. Take a look at the future, take a look at Visible.
Who should I interview next? Please let me know by clicking here.
In this Freedom Speaker Series episode with Mike Preuss, you will learn:
- How to keep core stakeholders and investors updated on what’s going on in your business.
- The important of nurturing a relationship-driven business with your investors
- Why it’s so important to visualize trend data
- The importance of keeping your investors updated on a monthly basis
We are fortunate to have Mike available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Show Notes and Links From Episode:
Russell Benaroya: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom Podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I’m the co-founder of Stride Services, a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States.
This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone.
We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow. Thanks for joining. Let’s go.
Russell Benaroya: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom Podcast today. I’m Russell Benaroya, the same guy I was on the last podcast. Well, not really the same guy. I’m a little smarter every time I have interviews like we’re going to have today with Mike Preuss. I want to welcome Mike to the show. How are you doing, Mike?
Mike Preuss: Oh, Russell, man, thanks for having me. You got the name right too, the last name right without even having to ask beforehand. So, kudos to you on that one.
Russell Benaroya: Hey, experience, man, experience. Mike Preuss is not only a great entrepreneur, but he fuels solutions for thousands of entrepreneurs around the country. As the founder of Visible—the name should speak for itself—he helps entrepreneurs create more transparency around their business and financial performance.
He does it in a couple of different ways and I’m going to let Mike explain, but for those of you that hate looking at spreadsheets to understand your bid business, this podcast is definitely for you. I’ve gotten to know Mike over the last couple of years because Visible helps power our financial trends visualization for our clients. We call it Stride Vista. Mike is always thinking about ways to bring more solutions to keep entrepreneurs in their zone of genius, which, as you know, is the core purpose behind this very podcast. So, without further ado, Mike, let’s rock and roll.
Mike Preuss: I love it. Let’s dive in.
Russell Benaroya: So give us the why behind Visible. Why did you start this? What’s the problem that you saw? Then, obviously, let people know, what is Visible?
Mike Preuss: I’ll start with the what actually and the I’ll jump into the why. I think you did a great job of describing what Visible is.
We see Visible, first, and foremost, as a way to give founders a better chance of success. We help founders, we call it, track, update, and raise. Track is: how do I track key metrics that are important to my business and visualize it. I think that’s what you alluded to with Stride Vista. So we’ll connect tools like QuickBooks, Salesforce, HubSpot, Google Analytics—tools that founders and entrepreneurs are using every day to run their business. We’ll automate a lot of the visualizations and insights you can get from those.
Update: how do I keep my core stakeholders and investors updated on what’s going on in my business? Really, that’s how we got started, and I’ll definitely touch on that. Then raise, which is certainly newer for us, how do I raise capital more efficiently for my business, whether that’s equity or debt, and just manage a fundraising process probably as a first-time entrepreneur? So we always hit home on track, raise, and update.
Then, in terms of why, it’s actually pretty interesting. It’s certainly not your standard I-had-some-crazy-problem-and-I-needed-to-go-solve-it. I was actually living in San Francisco at the time, working at a startup there. I was doing “business development”, which is an awesome title because they don’t have any real responsibility. You get to do a lot of cool different things.
I was in business development there and I got to work with our board. At the end, I was doing a lot of product reporting on metrics because we were a consumer app. That business was being acquired; I was looking to do my next thing and I was approached by some of those early investors in the company to come work with them and spin up ideas in a venture studio.
That Venture Studio is now called High Alpha. They build B2B SaaS companies. We had the problem of, one, we were operators. So we were founders ourselves and we had to keep all of these different investors up to date on what’s going on with different businesses. On the flip side of that, we were also investors. So we wanted to be able to get updates, information data from our portfolio companies, and understand how we can better serve the entrepreneur and the founder and also use that to report to our investors.
So it was born out of a need as an internal tool within a venture firm and then, obviously, we spun that out in 2014 and it’s its own business now.
Russell Benaroya: Put us in the shoes of one of your clients where you’ve heard feedback from them on how you’ve helped them in their life. As entrepreneurs, we are driven to dramatically increase our productivity so that we can get more done in a shorter period of time, given the limited amount of time that we have to try to create impact. Share a couple of experiences from clients where the work that you’ve done has really materially impacted how they run their business.
Mike Preuss: When we look at why Visible exists, it’s because, at the end of the day, the founder-investor relationship or I use stakeholder interchangeably there as well because it’s not just investors. There’s your team, your spouse, your potential investors, but that relationship is really what drives the whole thing. If I invest in Russell or I invest in Stride, I’m basically kind of hitching my wagon to you for 10 plus years. So it’s really a relationship-driven business more than anything.
In terms of what we help founders do, I think, is how should I communicate with my investors or stakeholders? What should I communicate with them? Probably, more importantly, I think we just give them confidence because we make them look like they know what they’re doing. It has this trust and professional element to it.
In a sense, it’s really a relationship-driven business. I don’t know how well-documented it is. We really are like a coach that helps founders think about what they want to share with their investors, how to share it, how frequently to share it, what not to share, and at the end of the day, make it super simple. Something that might have taken you eight, nine hours of your time every month to put something together, hopefully, takes you a couple of minutes now because we automated through the data integrations, it’s all templatized, and you can hit send.
In terms of real ROI or what am I getting out of it outside of just being able to produce this really beautiful looking update is, you’re basically establishing trust with those investors over time and potential investors. A true story is Harris is one of the customers of our new company called Pipe. He has been religiously sending updates every single month about Pipe and the business and what’s going on and what’s not going well, and things like that.
Recently, he was raising some fundraising for his company and had a potential customer come in. He said, “Hey, we’d love to see your past updates or what’s going on in the business historically.” He sent him, I think, the most recent six investor updates, and they wrote a $3 million check right there. He was like, “Here’s everything in terms of the business; both good and bad.” He was like, “That’s the quickest I’ve ever raised money.”
Clearly, that’s not all because of Visible. There are other factors at play, but it was just a small piece there that helped with that.
Russell Benaroya: You mentioned spouse and I’m thinking to myself, wow, I could send updates to my spouse. You didn’t know you’re in the relationship game, right?
Mike Preuss: We are, yeah.
Russell Benaroya: That’s probably the number one relationship game. Well, I see it being particularly valuable, and just to put a finer point on the what, for those people that are listening, imagine that all that information that sits in your QuickBooks file, your financial information, represented in terms of highly glanceable, and visually appealing charts and graphs, that give you a really efficient view to look at the trends in your financial statements.
For many of us, investors included, that don’t want to pore through spreadsheets, I found this to be a really effective way to not necessarily elicit all of the answers, but certainly spark a lot of questions. Why did this happen? For smart entrepreneurs, they can be proactive and say, “You may notice there’s this variability here this month. Let me explain why.” It just helps focus in such an incredible way.
Mike Preuss: That’s exactly right. Hopefully, it’s like, why did this grow so much this month? Then when we think about we always talk about people investing in lines and not dots. So establishing a trend with someone, whether that’s how many touchpoints I have with you, Russell, as a person and getting to know you, or my business in terms of my revenue or bottom line, or whatever that key metric is.
Very rarely will you have someone come in and say yes on the first call. So it’s up to you as the founder to create that repetition and build that rapport and relationship and turn those dots into lines.
That is both literal in the sense of we are visualizing trend data, but it’s also more on the qualitative or relationship-driven side in terms of how many touchpoints I have with a particular stakeholder or person.
Russell Benaroya: I know lines not dots is not an original thought here. But I think it’s worth explaining that for everybody who’s listening. Can you talk a bit about what that means?
Mike Preuss: In the context of the fundraising relationship, I’ll break it down for both current or potential investors. Let’s say I’m a founder and I’m going to raise money for my business from a brand new investor who I’ve never met before. I’ll pitch my business, here’s what’s going on. Hopefully, there’ll be a nice dialogue going. Probably, 99 times out of 100, that investor says, “That’s awesome, Russell. Keep me in the loop with how things progress because today, revenue is $1,000 and you’re saying revenue is going to be $3,000 by the end of the month?”
Is it because this is the first time you’re trying to do this, whether it’s a new offering service market, and you’re probably a first time founder, maybe unproven. No investor, typically, is going to say, “Here is $1 million,” on the first meeting based on this. They’re going to want to see how things progress over time.
That’s really what it means with lines and not dots. It’s, great, the month’s end, did you do what you said you were going to do? If so, that’s great. Now, we’re creating a trend, and maybe a week later or two, I send another note saying, “Hey, we went from $3,000 to $5,000. “By the way,” you can start creating some FOMO, “we just brought on this other investor,” or, “We’re at the one-yard line with this thing,” and start creating some momentum.
You got to create the momentum, you got to create the lines first. Then as it relates to your current investor, it’s like, “Hey, I have investors in my business, keeping them up to date with what’s going on.” Obviously, on a monthly basis, without knowing anything about your business, I think monthly is the perfect cadence. “Here’s what’s going on with the business both good and bad.”
The likelihood of them reinvesting more capital at a future date is 3-4X higher if you’re doing this. We have the data to prove it. It basically comes down to, as an investor, there’s only so many bets I can take with my existing portfolio that I would want to double down on or allocate more capital. Who am I going to do that with? Russell, who has been sending me an update every month on the 20th, or Mike, who hasn’t sent me an update in nine months, and now he’s out of money, and the house is burning down? So it’s really important to connect those dots into lines and continue to do so.
Russell Benaroya: The application of that extends into so many areas of business. Business is so largely driven by relationships. You’ve chosen a use case, and what it sounds like, is a customer segment. It sounds like you tend to work with companies that are maybe tech startups that are raising money, but that’s just because you chose that customer segment.
What I’m hearing is that the application or the capability of Visible to be relevant for many different types of businesses, for instance, Stride serves a tremendous number of high-growth professional service companies and they have stakeholders too. Is it equally valuable? For you, you can’t serve everybody at the same time.
Mike Preuss: I would say we really focus on tech-enabled high-growth startups. That’s our core business and that’s for a couple of reasons. One is we know how to talk to that customer. We know how to market to that customer. We think we can win there and better than anybody else.
That’s not to say that we don’t have all types of businesses using Visible. We have a church in New Zealand that uses Visible to report back to some of the congregation members about the finances through zero integration. We have Purveyors of Honey. We have all different types of businesses that use our products.
At the end of the day, they’re all using it to share something with someone important, if I had to really distill it down. It’s like I have important information about what’s going on in my company. I need to share it with these key important stakeholders and I’m going to do that through Visible.
That’s really hard to market. Those are really ambiguous words like important information and stakeholders. So we’ve really honed in on the investor update and startups. It’s our vernacular and how we drive demand for our product and things like that.
Russell Benaroya: Talk about your most recent product launch and how you’re working with startups to identify potential sources of capital, and then also the investors to arm them to solicit more standardized financial metric reporting from their portfolio companies. What was that born out of? What’s the product called?
Mike Preuss: It’s called Visible Connect. It’s our free database where people can come and just search for different types of investments for the business. You can search by the stage. You can search by geography. Where are people primarily investing? That has completely changed in 2020 with COVID, but you can search by geography. Check sizes, like, what type of round am I looking for? Am I looking for $10 million, $1 million?
So there are all different ways you can search and slice our data set that we built. We built it for a couple of reasons. I’ll try to be succinct with this. One is we find that a lot of founders are building relationships with the wrong people. Just because I’m an investor doesn’t mean I invest in any type of business. I probably have my zone of genius and the types of companies that I want to back.
I usually have a thesis like, I’m going to invest in health and wellness companies, or remote-first companies or services companies. So I’ll have a thesis. I might say, “Hey, I’m really just driven to the Pacific Northwest. I only want to back entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest because I think, with huge tech companies here like Microsoft, Amazon, and Zillow, that we can find better talent and things like that.”
All that said, we found that founders were just hitting up any investor and trying to build relationships with people that probably have no intention of either investing in their business. It’s a thunderous waste of your time because that person’s never going to invest. They only write $30 million checks and you’re trying to raise $2 million for your company. That’s the problem we were trying to solve with that.
The way it’s being solved today, as a founder, I was going and fact-finding and figuring this out for myself. There’s certainly publicly available great data sources out there too, like Crunchbase or PitchBook. Some of those tell some of the story, but then we also found that a ton of those already exist online, and there are disparate data sources, whether those are like local people building the top seed investors in the Pacific Northwest, or here are the enterprise B2B SaaS investors across the world.
There’s all these like disparate efforts that people put together. We just took it upon ourselves And we started scraping all of those with their permission. We would take Russell’s list of service provider investors and we would take Mike’s list of enterprise B2B SaaS, and some of those investors were mutual. We would cleanse it and build it.
That’s the problem we were really trying to solve.
Russell Benaroya: No, that’s great. I understand that for startups and then for investors, you’re also giving them a vehicle to outreach to their portfolio companies so that they can assemble information to better manage their portfolio performance. Is that right?
Mike Preuss: Yeah. This is how Visible got started, is just a simple tool for an investor to send out what we call a request. To send it to the portfolio companies on a schedule they choose, again, typically monthly, to get data in updates from portfolio companies.
Some of that might be financial performance data. Some of that could be purely qualitative, like, what were your wins from the month? How can we best help you? Anything that’s challenging going on in your business you want to talk about? That’s a product we recently launched this year as well for investors for a couple of reasons.
One is investors typically have investors. So they have some fiduciary responsibility to report back what’s happening with the portfolio. So there’s a need on that front. Investors are only successful if their companies are successful. I think that’s always important to remember. Ultimately, an investor is successful if the portfolio is. So how can investors better serve their founders?
We think we can help them do that if they know what’s going on with the portfolio. We offer now a product for founders that’s free. So if your investor is sending you a request through Visible, you have your own free Visible experience now that you can utilize a lot of our platform. You can use it not only to update that investor but any of your investors. We see that as a really nice way to work with founders. It’s called a non-commercial relationship, to start.
Russell Benaroya: There’s so much powerful functionality in Visible. It sounds like it would be a particularly expensive solution, but you’ve figured out how to make it quite approachable for many companies. Can you just share a bit how much Visible costs, in general?
Mike Preuss: Across all customers, an average customer is paying us around $140 a month. It’s your typical, good, better, best pricing model. That’s anywhere from someone paying $29 a month, if I’m just getting started, all the way up to $200 a month if I want all the bells and whistles that Visible has to offer.
We really take pride in making the product easy to buy, easy to use. The one I take the most pride in is easy to get support. Our median response time, over the past 30 days, is five minutes. Also, easy to cancel if you’re not happy, being able to cancel without having to call the Wall Street Journal. So we built it to be frictionless.
Russell Benaroya: You’ve also created a really popular newsletter called Founders Forward. I really enjoyed getting the newsletter. It’s grown quite substantially. I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about that initiative and how it’s helped your business.
Mike Preuss: I think there are about 20,000 people that get it on a weekly basis now. I wish I could take credit for it. I don’t think I’ve ever produced a single issue of the newsletter.
It is nine articles, sent every week, and curated by the Visible team. These are things we found in the previous week on the web that we think are the best tips or things you should know or learn or just interesting things we found that we think are helpful for operators.
So we curate it because there’s so much out there to like, “Here are the nine things we found.” It’s usually split into three categories. The categories are always rotating, but hiring, culture, and finance. We pick different topics and three articles for each.
Founders Forward is getting a facelift and a rebrand, which is pretty scary, next week. It’s Thursday; I’m not sure this episode will be out. It’ll be called the Visible Weekly by the time this episode probably airs.
By the time this airs, we’ll have a completely new brand, an updated brand for a lot of different fun reasons. We’re renaming the Founders Forward Visible Weekly.
In terms of what it’s done to the business, I was actually asking the team because I saw this question come through. We’ve really struggled with it, to be honest. It takes a little bit of time to produce, it’s not insignificant, but it literally does not sell Visible really at all. It’s been called the Founders Forward. It’s even got its own unique branding. It’s hard to drive like, yes, we get new customers from this.
Anecdotally, every week we get people replying to that email saying, “I love this. Thank you so much, keep this coming.” We get a ton of great qualitative feedback. I also think it helps us be like Visible is always there because it does say “Powered by Visible”. That’s why we’re calling it the Visible Weekly so we get a little bit more credit for producing it.
We’re never selling you on Visible in terms of our features or our products or whatever we’re doing. It’s more like, how do we just be in front of the entrepreneur and say, “Hey, we’re here to help.”?
Then I think there’s a lot of dark attribution if you will. Like, founders telling other founders about Visible through that. You feel like you’re part of something. That’s why we do it and we love doing it. Next week, it will be the 160th in a row that’s gone out.
Russell Benaroya: Terrific. As an aside, I should also add that clients that work with Stride, we include Stride Vista, which is built on the backbone of Visible into our service because we think it’s so important to demonstrate, or maybe better said, to bring more transparency to their financials and get data to the fingertips of entrepreneurs, rather than have it residing in an Excel file somewhere. So pretty awesome.
What’s something that people don’t ask you that you wish they did? What’s something you want to share, either about yourself as an entrepreneur and the journey, or about what you’re building at Visible that you think is important?
Mike Preuss: That’s a great question. I wish more people would ask me about the team behind Visible. I think a lot of times when I get asked to get on a podcast it’s fun because I get to go be the face of the company and the talking ahead, and that’s cool. The Founders Forward has gone out 160 plus weeks in a row because of Matt, who happens to be my brother, who started as an intern. He has put that out every single week.
Or our engineers and our designers on the team who build all of the awesome things that people get to use. I love talking about the team because I like to think I’m a good leader. I don’t like taking credit.
I was talking to Matt Hale, who’s one of our engineers today. I think there was a question about something about your business that’s tricky or some of the prompts. He was like, “Sending updates is not as simple as it sounds.” Like the update that we send is rendered in an email inbox of the recipient. One of our principles, again, it’s frictionless.
So we do not make someone sign in to Visible to get data. The Stride Vista is rendered directly in my email client, which is hard. We’re taking things that are in the browser, rendering them in email. Then the hard part is people have Gmail, people have Outlook and Outlook has an infinite number of versions, both online and offline. People have iPhones, androids.
So there’s a whole team that just goes behind and makes sure that if I put a screenshot of my product in a Visible update and it gets sent, it’s going to look beautiful, whether that’s on an Android phone, Outlook versus Gmail on the desktop.
I answered two of your questions, I think. I love the Visible team. I try to give thanks to them every single day.
Russell Benaroya: That’s awesome. It’s hard to make things look simple and elegant. It’s super hard to make that happen. Tell me about what’s been going on with Visible during this global pandemic and some trends you have seen around growth and whether or not the future of work, where more people are remote, in fact, reinforces the Visible value proposition or creates some vulnerability?
Mike Preuss: I think Visible as a business is slightly net positive with COVID. If it’s cool with you, I’ll talk through it from March to now. COVID hit mid-March and that’s when at least the state shut down. We were pacing. I think we had the best month of all time. That mostly was pre-COVID.
April’s was our worst month ever as a business because we had a lot of people that didn’t know what was going on. So we had a ton of cancellations. Fortunately, we’ve grown and ended September and quarter three is our best month and quarter of all times, which is great. I don’t think that’s because of COVID per se. I think it’s because of our trajectory as a business.
I do think we will have a benefit there in the sense that you’re going to have all kinds of relationships with people all over the world. How do I best keep them in the loop and have visibility into my business?
The trend we’re starting to see emerge; San Francisco as a tech sector is predominately the biggest one. I think a lot of founders and entrepreneurs have moved out of that area for a lot of different reasons: political, climate, COVID, cost. I think San Francisco will, at least from my foreseeable future, always be the hub there, but I don’t think it’ll be the dominant force it once was.
I think you’ll have founders moving out of there. Then investors will follow that capital wherever it goes. Before, I was just doing Founders in the Bay Area, and founders are moving, they’re going to have to change that. I think what you’ll see is more remote-first companies in different checks going in different places. I think we do benefit there in terms I was doing a lot of in-person meetings before and I need a solution. We’re certainly seeing that.
On the flip side, at least this year has been challenging for a lot of founders and businesses too that maybe had exposure to travel or to hospitality or retail. We’ve certainly seen a pullback from those types of customers, too. That’s where we’re not a COVID winner or loser, but maybe just a slight winner.
Russell Benaroya: Just to end, Mike, I know you moved from Chicago to Seattle. So you’re living in Seattle now. I’m curious about what you’ve enjoyed about living in Seattle. Obviously, we’ve been in a pandemic for a reasonable portion of it. What do you enjoy about Seattle? How are you spending your free time when you’re not building Visible?
Mike Preuss: I love Seattle. My wife and I have been here for about a year. It was a shame because I don’t think we got the true heartbeat of the city this summer and be able to go outside and enjoy restaurants, bars, and stuff like that, but it has been a huge benefit.
Three weekends in a row, we were at a different national park every single day, which is so cool. North Cascades, Olympic National Forest are all a two-three hour drive max away. So we’ve been able to enjoy hiking, getting outside, and everything that Pacific Northwest has to offer, which is great.
Next week we’re getting in a camper van to the Oregon coast and checking out the Oregon coast for a couple of nights in a camper van. It’s been great. It’s been a lot of spending time outside and my wife and I have a huge affinity for that.
Then I love cooking as well. It forces me to use my hands and not stare at the screen. Over the past four or five years, I’ve really got into cooking as something to do that’s not in front of my computer. Both of those things take up a ton of time.
Travel was a huge part of our lives too as well before everything hit. My wife and I love to travel, new experiences, places, countries, people. I love doing that with Visible too. We have customers all over the world. It’s always fun to go meet them in person. Obviously, that’s taken a backseat. Hopefully, next year, we can start revisiting traveling.
Russell Benaroya: I know we’ve talked a little bit about van life and I have this vision of a Visible Sprinter van crisscrossing the country, going to different markets, meeting with entrepreneurs. It just meets both of your passions.
Mike Preuss: I just that would be incredible. We’ll count on Stride to guide us on this one, but if you put the Visible logo, there’s some business expense. We want that tax deduction if you get the Visible branding on there.
Russell Benaroya: Absolutely. That’s awesome. Well, Mike, thank you so much for joining us today.
Listen, thank you so much for joining us today on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. You not only bring a wealth of perspective as an entrepreneur, but you have a lot of empathy for what it takes to build a business because you happen to be helping thousands of customers work a little bit smarter, both companies and investors.
You’re a great example of someone who spends time thinking about how to help business owners get and stay in their zone of genius. For that, we have to thank you. It’s awesome. I also appreciate all the great work that you do with us as a partner at Stride.
Mike Preuss: Oh, man, thank you. That means a ton. Stride’s been a phenomenal partner both in terms of our relationship as a customer of Stride, but also as a partner where you guys are using Visible as well with the Stride Vista. It’s been awesome.
Russell Benaroya: Yeah, mutual. Listen, thanks, everybody for joining this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. Thank you, Mike, and have a great day, everyone. Thanks for listening. Talk to you later. Bye.