Table of contents
- Founder - David Stepania
- Location - Seattle, WA USA
- Started in 2018
- $2.5 million revenue
- 35-40 employees
So David, what's your backstory?
Born during the collapse of the Soviet Union in the Republic of Georgia, I navigated a childhood marked by adversity. To escape parts of the civil war and financial collapse at home, I transitioned through 13 schools in various countries.
In the process, I learned six languages, forged friendships that now span across the globe, and honed grit and resilience, which I now use to transform my hardships into opportunities.
Growing up in Georgia wasn't easy—electricity and water were luxuries, my school was bombed, physical fights with the kids on the block almost daily. When I finally was able to move to Europe (Slovenia), I didn't have textbooks from grades 4 through 8 as I couldn't afford them.
To pass my classes and progress in school, I'd fly back to Georgia for exams, essentially doing double the schoolwork to keep up with schooling in both countries.
These experiences fuelled my tenacity and resourcefulness, leading me to the University of Washington in Seattle, two bootstrapped companies, and over $100M in generated revenue throughout my business career.
Originally, my entrepreneurial journey began with an initial investment from my mom of $700 back in high school when I was 16 years old.
In 2007, right after college, I ventured into the commercial real estate world at Marcus & Millichap, which at the time, was the biggest commercial real estate investment firm in the US.
As the Great Recession hit that year, I switched paths and dove into tech sales at Cinterion (now Thales), spearheading business development for the NAFTA region and helping drive the company's revenue from $80M to $140M in a year.
After a year at Cinterion, armed with my newly developed business development skills, I joined as a partner in an IT reseller shop. Alongside a high school buddy, we hit ~$20M in annual revenue within a couple of years.
Now, I run ThirstySprout, a 45-person remote software engineering firm working with renowned brands and high-growth startups like Rover.com, Mailchimp, Intuit, Momentus Space and many other up-and-coming movers and shakers.
On the personal front, I'm a 38-year-old new father, having lived and worked remotely from various parts of the US, Hawaii, and Mexico for over a decade.
My brother made history as the first NBA player from Georgia, drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 1999.
Now, I aspire to become the first Georgian to build a unicorn startup. My dream has always been to leverage the tech talent startup I built to spawn new startup products. I feel we're halfway there, excitedly gearing up to ship new products we've been crafting in stealth mode.
What is ThirstySprout and how did you come up with it?
We specialise in building remote engineering teams for companies in the US. We've worked with high-growth startups like Rover and Momentus Space and established enterprises like Intuit and MailChimp.
Additionally, we've collaborated with numerous VC-backed startups that are on the rise. Our main goal is to simplify the process of hiring remote technical talent by thoroughly vetting candidates.
We maintain a database of around 300,000 professionals, which we constantly filter based on industry and skill set. Whenever our clients need to quickly assemble technical teams, we can make it happen in just a matter of days instead of weeks.
The idea for ThirstySprout stemmed from our own past experiences and challenges. I've attempted to build a couple of startup products myself.
It was a disaster when we outsourced our software development initiatives to offshore teams. They failed miserably. That's when I realised there had to be a better way to find reliable talent who could deliver at the level necessary for startup success.
So, I set out on a mission to discover such talent worldwide. We initially hired some individuals from Eastern Europe, specifically Russia and Ukraine. Eventually, we expanded into my home country of Georgia, where we found some incredibly talented individuals who became the backbone of our operations.
We aimed to find the talent we could trust to build our product. During the period when we didn't have a specific product idea in mind, we offered our services to other companies, and it turned out to be a great success.
In 2018, we landed our first major client, Rover, a rapidly growing unicorn. From there, we've been fortunate to work with exceptional startups at various stages, ranging from seed to pre-seed and even Series A.
Often, these companies need fast hiring solutions because their internal teams need to catch up with the pace we offer.
Now, about our name. It all started while we were taking a walk on the beach in Hawaii after I took a year or two off from my previous venture, Data Micro.
We were hungry for growth and eager to build our own startup. We wanted to collaborate with other startups who shared our thirst for growth (laughs).
We thought the word "sprout" symbolised startups perfectly as they strive for growth. Thus, we decided on ThirstySprout as our name.
Some people have mistaken us for a restaurant, but we've reached a point where our name is gaining recognition.
Our focus now is on taking our company to the next level. We plan to expand our team to around a hundred people in the next couple of years.
How did you get your first 10 clients, and how did you then grow to your current $2.5M annual revenue?
We managed to secure our first 10 clients primarily through outbound email. It's an area where I have developed expertise over the years since 2008.
Back in the day when Blackberries were popular, we had impressive open rates of around 80%. Interestingly, some of the biggest clients we've ever had at our company came from cold emails.
However, if I had to think about it, a few clients also came through networking events. We were part of WeWork Labs not too long ago when WeWork gained momentum. Through their incubators, we were able to acquire a few clients as well. So, a combination of in-person networking and outbound emails played a major role in acquiring most of our clients.
Moving forward, we are looking to diversify our client acquisition strategies. We plan to invest in social media, content marketing, SEO, and pay-per-click advertising.
Additionally, we have an advantage in the form of a community we have built for startup fundraising. It's a free Facebook group with approximately 6,000 members. We are currently working on relaunching it and creating a private community specifically for more experienced founders who are on their second or third venture.
We often generate referral business by connecting with founders within these communities and offering assistance in any way they need. In some cases, we have even collaborated with venture capitalists who are active in these communities, and they refer us to their clients or portfolio companies they work with.
What has been the most effective way to acquire new clients?
The most effective way we've found to acquire new clients has been through cold email, as I mentioned before.
However, things are changing a bit, and the channel has become saturated with many companies figuring out how to send a million emails a day while flying under the radar of spam bots from Google and Outlook.
So, it's becoming more difficult, or even a lot more difficult. If I had to predict where lead generation is heading, building a community and providing value within that community is one of the best ways to acquire clients.
By establishing yourself as a thought leader in the community's theme, you can position yourself as a trusted authority.
With new changes in SEO and the rising cost of advertising on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and even email, one strategy that will never fail is building a solid community around the product or service you're offering. That's my best advice for moving forward.
Any big failures and learnings?
1) Occasional lack of focus on our north star metric, company strategy as well as top priorities
2) Overhiring instead of running lean and training our new hires better
3) Focusing on business development more than we focus on delivery and the supply side of our business
4) Lack of systems and processes in place to help us scale faster
What's next for ThirstySproat?
We are looking to spin up a venture-scale startup from within ThirstySprout. As of right now, It's an AI hiring product idea that we've built and are ready to launch soon. We also have a founder community and a remote technical talent community that we are growing, which helps us grow our ventures.
Your go to digital tools?
Google Meets and Zoom
FB messengers & Whatsapp
Any inspiring founder books you recommend?
How to Win Friends & Influence People
Zero to one
Think and Grow Rich
Everything from Tony Robbins
Any podcasts or websites you love?
Between LinkedIn, Twitter, Slack communities & Reddit, there is not much you can't get an answer to these days that is packed with value.
What do you love & hate about being a founder?
The work never stops, but you get to live life on your own terms, and there is no better way to live
Any mental health tips?
Take a little time off and spend about half the year working from the beaches in Mexico or Hawaii.
Any quotes you live by?
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“The moment you give up is the moment you let someone else win.” ~ Kobe Bryant
"Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen." - Michael Jordan.
Building a Startup is just another sport :)
What does it mean to be a founder?
You can build something out of nothing - it is the best job I've ever had.
Any advice for other founders?
It's a marathon, not a sprint. Learn to stay in the game by being frugal and humble. Things always take longer than you think they will.