Last night, we honored some of our portfolio companies at the Emergence Capital Annual CEO Forum, an afternoon and dinner with all of our portfolio company CEOs. Here is the text of my toast to Rene Lacerte, founder and CEO of Bill.com:
“Every year, we celebrate with our CEOs at the end of the year. We want to thank you for your tireless efforts and we want to recognize some of you who achieved significant milestones during the year.
At Emergence Capital, our mission is to build industry leading SaaS companies, and if we are doing our job – and we think we are – then by coming to this dinner you are almost guaranteed to meet famous software entrepreneurs who have disrupted billion dollar markets.
If you have been coming for a few years, you may have sat next to Lars Dalgaard, or Aaron Levie. If it’s your first time, then you may be sitting next to the next Peter Gassner or David Sacks. If fact if you are here, you much more likely to become a famous software entrepreneur or a billionaire, then almost any audience I can think of.
In addition to our Company of the Year Award, we also give something called the Emergence Award. The Emergence Award is not for the big successful sale or IPO, but a company that is working its tail off, executing, making their customers happy, often without much public recognition.
We give this award, because we know that success does not come from a sudden stroke of genius. It comes from years of hard work, planning, evangelizing, fundraising and countless tough decisions. Even for the companies that go public, there are 8 or 10 years of grueling hard work.
The Emergence Award is not about who has become famous, but who will be famous in the next 2-3 years. This year we want to recognize Bill.com and its founder and CEO, Rene Lacerte.
I met Rene through his wife, Joyce, a friend of mine from MIT. I watched him develop his management skills by watching him raise his kids.
When we first invested in Rene, he convinced us that small business owners are always thinking about cash – when will we get paid by the large customer, when is that bill due – but there was no tool to really understand the ebbs and flows of cash. He also convinced us that those small companies paying each other are really a network- a trusted network of financial payments and trusted business partners. If we earned the trust of these customers, they could lead us to thousands of additional customers, just like them.
Today, Bill.com has over 12,000 customers, growing over 100% in the past year. The company has a reputation for insanely happy customers.
Bill.com is transferring customer payments at a $12 billion annual rate. The network of payers and payees now exceeds 200,000 small businesses. Many of these companies experience the service for free, relying on Bill.com to get payments from our paying customers. These are our future customers.
In the past year, we began to feel that the momentum had shifted. Instead of pushing customers to try the product, the market is pulling Bill.com. Two of the five largest banks have agreed to offer the service to their small business customers. The company recently announced a $38 million financing, led by Scale Ventures, heavily oversubscribed, with several of the leading banks participating.
These successes didn’t happen overnight. The team had to get the product right. They had to develop processes to ensure that our customers are protected from fraud. They had to learn how to explain it to small businessmen and women.
We faced some dark days, and we stand here today because Rene’s leadership was critical to survival. During the fall of 2008, when Sequoia shut down the venture capital market, Rene proposed the steepest cuts of any in the entire Emergence portfolio to extend his runway.
During this time, he lost his father and supported his wife while she suffered from the loss of both her parents. Rene was like a strong oak tree. He carried a heavy weight, but he never wavered.
There are many positive things I can say about Rene. He is a creative business thinker, a gifted product executive, he hires an A team. People who know him immediately think of his integrity, his authenticity and his love of life and his family.
But the thing that really sets him apart is that he genuinely listens and seeks the opinions of others. I have found that this single characteristic to be most correlated with success for entrepreneurs. Rene has great ideas, but he doesn’t assume that they are all right. He is constantly talking about them with other people and gathering their ideas too. It also makes for a positive relationship with your VCs.
Bill.com still has a lot of work to do, but we are proud to be investors and partners in your success.
Thank you, Rene, and congratulations.”