Clate Mask, who has a JD and an MBA from Brigham Young University, is the co-founder and CEO of the fast-growth software company Infusionsoft. He is also the co-author of the New York Times bestseller “Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business without Going Crazy.” Mask raised nearly $17 million in venture capital funding from Silicon Valley–based Mohr Davidow Ventures and vSpring Capital after bootstrapping Infusionsoft from 2001 to 2007. More than 20,000 small business subscribers use Infusionsoft’s SaaS marketing automation solution, which combines CRM, e-mail marketing, lead nurturing, e-commerce, and automation.
Sramana: Let’s begin by tracing your entrepreneurship roots. Where do you come from?
Clate Mask: I have always been into little ventures from the time I was a kid. I loved the challenge of selling things. In the early days, I sold NFL pencils on the playground. I have always loved entrepreneurship. I went to study economics at Arizona State University followed by graduate studies at BYU, where I got an MBA and a law degree. After the eight years of school it took to earn those three degrees, I was ready to get out into the market full time.
I worked for a software company coming out of school. It was a Web hosting company that also had online software people could use to build their own Web pages. It was similar to the GeoCities model. I was the eleventh person there, and I wrote the business plan and shopped for venture capital. Before we raised money, we ended up being acquired by About.com in late 1999.
Sramana: What was your role with the company when it was acquired?
Clate Mask: I was the director of revenue management. My job was to find alternative revenue streams to the advertising model, which is what supported the business. In 1999, we had several million free website customers. We ran banner ads on their websites, which is how we earned our revenue.
Sramana: You were the eleventh employee; does that mean you did well when the company was acquired?
Clate Mask: No, I didn’t. It did teach me the value of equity. I was the most tenured employee who did not get anything out of the deal. In the end, it was not that big of a deal because the shares were locked up and the value collapsed when the bubble burst. There were very few people in that company who actually made any money.
I did learn several things there. It taught me how to build a great culture. It also taught me the importance of stock options for all employees. That company had a policy that you received stock options only if you were a full-time employee. When I started with them I was in graduate school, so I did not have the options. I was there for a year, and by the time I started full time the transaction had occurred. As a result of that lesson, today I make sure that all of our employees at Infusionsoft have stock options.