In today’s enlightening edition of Bright Founders Talk, we delve into an insightful conversation with Kyle Racki, the Co-Founder and CEO of Proposify. In an era where businesses scramble for digital proficiency and streamlined processes, Proposify stands out as a solution that brings consistency and control to the proposal process for growing sales teams. With over nine years in the business and a revenue mark around $10 million, Racki still considers his company a startup—or at the very least, a company with a startup mindset. One might argue, when is a startup no longer a startup? According to Racki, the journey and the ethos matter more than the revenue or years in business.
However, beyond the corporate facade, Kyle Racki is a man with an unexpected backstory. Remarkably, he grew up in a tightly controlled cult and made his escape in his late 20s—a life-altering experience that has shaped him in myriad ways. This adds an extraordinary layer to his persona, a far cry from the typical CEO story you might come across.
As we navigate through various aspects of entrepreneurship, startup culture, and personal growth, this interview with Kyle Racki promises a blend of business acumen and deeply personal insights. So let’s buckle up and dive deep into the multifaceted world of Kyle Racki and Proposify.
From Cult Life to CEO: Kyle Racki’s Unconventional Journey and His Startup Mindset
So, you’re cruising at a cool 10 million in revenue and have been around for almost a decade. When do you stop calling yourself a startup? Well, according to Kyle Racki, CEO and Co-Founder of Proposify, that label isn’t about to peel off anytime soon. “I feel like we’re a new company,” he told Matt on Growth 100 Talk. Racki’s take on the whole startup vs established company debate is as refreshing as a cold brew on a hot summer day. For him, it’s not about the bucks in the bank or the candles on the birthday cake; it’s about the vibe, the journey, and yep, the unquenchable thirst to grow and innovate.
Kyle puts it this way, “If our goal is to get to 100 million and beyond, then by that comparison, we are a startup.” It’s the kind of hustle mentality that keeps the team at Proposify ticking, ensuring they’re always two steps ahead in making your sales proposals not suck. This all coming from a guy who looks at mammoth-sized companies like Amazon and goes, “Yeah, they’ve got the startup spirit!” At Proposify, the essence is not just to ‘exist’ but to ‘evolve,’ to keep that startup flame flickering, no matter how big they get or how long they’ve been around.
But hold onto your seats because Kyle has got more layers than an onion. Ready for this? He grew up in a “very tightly controlled cult,” doing door-knocking duties and only made his break for freedom in his late 20s. Woah, talk about plot twists! If there’s anything you take away from our chat, let it be this golden nugget from the man himself: “I feel like we’re a new company.” That’s right—whether you’re breaking free from a cult or leading a nine-year-old ‘startup,’ it’s never too late to start anew. Keep that startup spirit, folks. It’s a game-changer.
Headline: “The Perfect Match: How Kyle and Kevin’s Unlikely Partnership Became the Secret Sauce of Proposify
It’s the buddy film trope in the business world: two polar opposites finding a sweet spot in their collaboration. Kyle, a young, design-savvy thinker meets Kevin, a business development guy two decades his senior, in the colorful corridors of an agency. “We hit it off quite a bit,” Kyle remembers, “In fact, I would say he was helpful in helping me deprogram from the kind of cult that I was in.” It’s the kind of backstory you’d expect from a Lifetime movie, not a business enterprise. But here they are, 15 years into a partnership that has seen them launch not one but two successful ventures.
When it comes to co-founding a company, there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe. But Kyle had some meaty advice: “Look for someone who has the drive and ambition to see it through. And, a complementary skill set helps.” The wisdom stems from a shared bank account, a symbiotic skill set, and a heck of a lot of trust. You know, the stuff successful partnerships are made of. But Kyle doesn’t glamorize the journey; he’s seen the pitfalls too, especially when both partners try to wear the same hat. “Can’t have two cooks in the kitchen,” he chuckles, “One should be the cook and one should be Front of House serving the customers.”
Kevin brought to the table what Kyle didn’t have, and vice versa. It’s like an old song where the harmonies only work if the melodies are distinct yet complementary. “Time is of the essence at the beginning of your startups,” Matt, the interviewer, rightly points out. So sure, you could spend time learning what you don’t know, or you could find your Kevin—a partner who already knows it. As Kyle put it, “If you don’t know how hard running a business is, you’ll probably just quit when the going gets tough. I’d look for somebody with tenacity.” Ain’t that the truth.
Juggling Family, Full-Time Jobs, and a Startup: Kyle’s Candid Take on When to Make the Big Leap
“Take a bit of a leap of faith, even if the business doesn’t yet support your lifestyle,” Kyle shared. In an era where hustling hard and going “all-in” from day one is glamorized, Kyle, co-founder of Headspace, goes against the grain. With a newborn at home and a full-time job at an agency, jumping in headfirst into the startup abyss wasn’t an option for him. Alongside his partner Kevin, the two navigated the challenging early days of their startup by keeping their 9-to-5s and using the stability to test, tweak, and refine their product. Turns out, that slower, safer approach made all the difference.
And let’s talk about their MVP – “put together with duct tape and bubble gum,” Kyle admits, grinning. He might’ve handled it differently today, but that’s hindsight for you. At the time, the duo was enthralled with the process of creating. “We were making the classic mistake of building because we enjoy it, before really getting in front of people,” he said. It may have extended their runway to success, but it also gave them a wealth of insights.
Kyle’s tenure of almost a decade has taught him the tough realities of leadership. The fact that leadership isn’t only about titles, it’s about people. And the tricky part? Sometimes those people are your best friends, the ones you hang out with on weekends, the ‘Jimmys’ of your startup life. “The founder is only limited by their own growth and mindset,” he cautions. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but Kyle’s candid reflections serve as a powerful reminder: When the stakes are high, hard choices and leaps of faith aren’t just an option; they’re the lifeblood of growth.
The Hard Thing About Being Kyle: Navigating Leadership’s Fine Lines
Kyle leans in, elbows on his desk, eyes narrowed and focused. “If you see ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ on my desk, some crazy sht’s gonna go down,” he says, chuckling. This isn’t a threat—it’s his personal bat-signal that sht’s getting real, and hard decisions are imminent. The book, by Ben Horowitz, serves as Kyle’s road map through the minefields of leadership. Whether it’s a chapter on the brutalities of layoffs or one about demoting a loyal friend, Horowitz’s insights have been invaluable to him. “That book? It’s both cathartic and practical,” he states, as if revealing his secret sauce to success.
Ah, but here’s where things get juicy: Is Kyle an advocate for ruthless leadership? The air thickens as he takes a moment to answer. “Ruthless might be a strong word,” Kyle says, shifting in his seat. “But if you’re not transparent, it leads to mistrust. You’ve got to tell it like it is.” He calls out what he dubs “toxic positivity,” cautioning against always wanting to make people feel good about themselves. “You’re not gonna see it in your P&L, and frankly, you’re not gonna attract very good people to your organization,” he adds.
As we pivot towards the end of the conversation, the topic turns to Proposify, Kyle’s venture that’s been through a lot this year. But amidst the highs and lows, one thing sticks out. “What we’ve tried to do at Proposify is be a company with personality,” he emphasizes. Kyle wants you to know that they go above and beyond for their customers, and the same ethos is deeply ingrained in their company culture. “We’re known for having the best support in the industry. That was foundational,” Kyle asserts. Love him or not, you can’t ignore his candor or his commitment to striking a balance in leadership that’s both empathetic and results-driven.