BidPal back on growth path after strategy shift, CEO says

About a year after shedding a quarter of its workforce and hiring a new CEO, fundraising-software company BidPal Inc. appears back on the growth path.

Last summer, the award-winning company reduced its head count from 113 to 84, and, soon after, brought in Chicago entrepreneur Steve Johns to succeed longtime CEO Scott Webber. Up to that point, BidPal had been deemed one of the region's fastest-growing startups.

Since Johns took the helm, BidPal has added five employees, grown its not-for-profit client base to 1,400 from 1,200 and raised about $600,000 in venture capital—suggesting some of its recent pushes have gained traction.

"We’ve accomplished a lot in the past 12 months since I joined BidPal," Johns told IBJ this week. "BidPal was the pioneer in this space, and we have a solid foundation upon which to grow."

Founded in 2007, the company started off providing digital-bidding services for annual charity auctions. The company still aids with such one-night-only events, but a couple years ago it began offering management software to help clients fundraise year-round.

One of the firm's major pushes under Johns has been selling that software, a subscription for which is about $1,200 annually. Last year, roughly 70 percent of BidPal's clients were software subscribers; this year that figure is about 90 percent.

"It really became the way we lead with our sales," Johns said. "Ultimately what we hope it does is get those customers to stay with us."

Other new initiatives include BidPal's mobile app, which debuted this spring and eliminated the company's need to disperse mobile-bidding devices at events. Also, Johns said, BidPal has been targeting non-traditional clients, including churches and the charitable arms of professional sports teams.

Its software, which in part helps sell tickets to charity golf outings and other small events, represents about one-sixth of BidPal's annual revenue. Fee income from processing credit-card or debit-card donations accounts for another sixth.

Events generate two-thirds of its revenue, but Johns said his goal is to grow the software "to be a larger percentage of our revenue." He declined to provide recent revenue figures.

BidPal was the area’s fifth fastest-growing company from 2011 to 2013, according to IBJ’s 2014 Fastest Growing Companies list. It grew revenue from about $5.2 million in 2011 to $13 million in 2013—a growth rate of 151 percent—and increased its headcount from 51 to 113 during that span.

The firm was named Techpoint’s “Emerging Technology Company of the Year” in 2013.

Weber, the previous CEO, who remains chairman, said last year that the job reductions represented a "change in direction" as simpler software reduced the need for support staff. He also said his resignation was unrelated to the job cuts.

Although the company is growing again and has open positions, it's unlikely to meet the hiring projections it laid out in December 2012. That month, it announced a deal with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. to hire 172 workers to its then-59-person workforce by the end of 2016 in exchange for $2.2 million in conditional tax credits.

So far, it's received less than $8,000 in incentives from that agreement, according to information on IEDC's website.

"We're growing in a way that doesn't necessarily require that level of investment in [hiring] people," Johns said. "So, I would say that's not a target." 

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