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After 2 Decades at Startups, These Entrepreneurs Are Aiming for a Billion-Dollar Business

What’s led to the path they’re on now and — even more importantly — how to keep moving forward.

Qualified Co-Founders Kraid Swensrud (left) and Sean Whiteley (right)
When Kraig Swensrud (left) and Sean Whiteley saw Salesforce start to pioneer a new software delivery model, making it clear that businesses could outsource their most mission-critical information to the cloud, they knew it was going to be the next big wave. [Vince Tarry / iClickStudios ]

Your marketing team might do a great job sending potential customers to your website, but what happens then? How quickly does your sales team take the baton? Is there a seamless handoff that keeps users engaged? 

Those are the questions that entrepreneurs Kraig Swensrud and Sean Whiteley set out to solve when they founded Qualified, a pipeline generation platform. Founded in 2018, the dynamic duo have since grown Qualified into a rapidly expanding business. Their goal? To check off “build a billion-dollar business” from their bucket list and transform the way companies generate pipeline.

Turning an idea into reality 

In 1999, Swensrud and Whiteley connected at a web services company and became friends. Then, in 2004, both at a crossroads in their careers, noticed a significant trend happening — the rise of what everybody now calls the “cloud” — which, at that time, was just trying to run business apps on the web. When they saw Salesforce start to pioneer a new software delivery model, making it clear that businesses could outsource their most mission-critical information to the cloud, they knew it was going to be the next big wave.

Fast forward to today, Swensrud and Whiteley have partnered on a variety of successful SaaS business ventures such as Kieden (acquired by Salesforce), GetFeedback (acquired by SurveyMonkey), and now Qualified. The idea for Qualified is simple: After marketing teams send qualified buyers to their corporate website, the sales team should be there to have conversations with them in real-time. Swensrud and Whiteley wanted to fill the gap between when a customer lands on a website and when they’re engaged in a sales process. They are pioneering the future of pipeline generation. 

Companies spend a significant amount of time and resources to drive prospects to their website. Not only do companies have to engage with prospects quickly but they also have to understand, “Who are they? Where are they coming from? What are they interested in? Are they showing a propensity to buy?” And if they are, they need to connect them to the right people in real-time. These are the questions Swensrud and Whiteley are answering with Qualified’s Pipeline Cloud.

Insights from two decades of entrepreneurial experience

It’s been four years since founding Qualified, and nearly 20 years since Swensrud and Whiteley entered the startup space. The co-founders have achieved an impressive milestone of receiving $95 million in a Series C round of funding for Qualified with no sight of slowing down. During this time, Swensrud and Whiteley have assessed what’s led to the path they’re on now and — even more importantly — how to keep moving forward.

1. Develop a distribution strategy that drives customer growth

Distribution is one of the biggest challenges for a startup or any company. This is why Swensrud and Whiteley decided to list Qualified on AppExchange. It’s a ready-made marketplace of buyers, oftentimes Salesforce admins. Admins are the decision-makers who can install applications inside of Salesforce. It also doubles as a customer acquisition vehicle for Qualified because they’re able to participate in the marketplace listing and advertise via sponsorships, demand-generation opportunities, and more. 

2. Trust is inherited by your customers

As entrepreneurs and technologists, the founders of Qualified decided to build their solution on a platform they could trust. By inheriting the scalability, availability, and reliability of the Salesforce Platform, they were able to then pass it along to their customers.

3. Lean on an ecosystem to reduce your risk level

“Because we’re part of an ecosystem, we have formed relationships with other companies and system integrators, as well as developed joint go-to-market plans that help our company succeed,” said Swensrud. As an entrepreneur starting out, an ecosystem can help you form the right connections to build integrations to work with on distribution and collaborate with to make joint customers more successful.

4. Maximize your chances of growth and success

It’s very fulfilling to build something with your own bare hands and introduce it into the market,” said Whiteley. “But at the same time, it’s also really challenging. No matter which avenue you take when you’re building your company, you’re solving a problem that hasn’t been solved before by somebody effectively — and that introduces new challenges, new problems, and unknowns. And to do that, there’s a lot of trial and error.” Facing every day with uncertainty is tough. But to be able to push through challenges and mitigate risk, Swensrud and Whiteley’s strategy is to always map out a path to success that maximizes the chances of business growth and success. That’s why they chose to build their entire company on a platform they could trust.

After two decades of entrepreneurial experience, Swensrud and Whiteley have a good thing going. It’s clear that their formula of expected risk and built-in trust has served them well. Although building a company from the ground up doesn’t get easier, knowing what to expect sure does help. 

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