Rapport.io is early stage SaaS company that is working to transform the way companies report on and improve their sustainability performance. The group walked away with top cash prizes at two major pitching events over the past year: the Top Gun Showcase, and Steve Case's Rise of the Rest.
John is the author of the book More Than Promote - A Monkeywrencher's Guide to Authentic Marketing and is a frequent writer and speaker on the intersection of Language, Culture and Sustainability.
Having taught at the graduate degree level, worked on environmental compliance with the Department of Defense and consulted to Fortune 500 companies, John easily blends theory and practice into fun and digestible nuggets of information. We posted some questions to him on what motivates him, what he wishes he had known, and (I had to ask...) how Top Gun program helped the company achieve their success
Q: What ignited the spark to start Rapport.io? How did the idea for your business come about?
A: For 14 years I ran a consulting firm helping companies understand and improve their environmental and social impact. I started that company because I was passionate about the planet and worried about the impact “normal” businesses have on it. A few years ago I realized that to counteract the massive negative impact, an equal and opposite positive impact would be required. I trust the science that ecosystem collapse is happening and time is running out. My clients, primarily large businesses, were focused on sustainability, but the other 99% of businesses didn’t have access to the tools. I saw an opportunity to scale the impact of the 99%. So we built Rapport as an opportunity to, as Steve Case said, “change the world on a global scale.”
Q: Looking back, what was the biggest thing "you didn't know that you didn't know" when you started out?
A: We didn’t know how robust and supportive the start-up ecosystem in Maine was. We were pretty insular in our thinking. That could have been a huge missed opportunity for us. TopGun was our first eye-opening experience in this regard. We were exposed to so many mentors and other great businesses that it become quickly obvious that we needed to take from and give back to that community.
Q: Where did your organization's funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it?
A: First money came from our own personal accounts, and friends and family who believed in the concept but didn’t require hard proof. Next, it was winning TopGun, then it was winning Rise of the Rest, from there we have had several follow-on equity investors. This has all been supported by a suite of grants and development loans from the Maine Technology Institute. Momentum is king, so communicating and building off “just previous” successes is a good strategy.
Q: What made you decide to apply for Top Gun and how did the program help you?
A: We heard from a lot of people that Top Gun was a great springboard for start-ups. It was hard to ignore the advice, although we almost did. Like any start-up, time was short and we needed to make hard decisions about our priorities. Top Gun almost didn’t make the list. We knew that if we were going to participate, we had to go all in to the best of our ability. Eventually, we decided that one thing that was lacking from our business strategy was a broader community of start-ups with which to share ideas. We went into Top Gun with that as a goal.
Q: Rapport has been very successful and you've won some high profile pitch competitions. What changes have occurred in your life as a result of those successes?
A: We’ve been able to move from “Rapport as Concept” to “Rapport as Project” to “Rapport as Business.” We’ve moved into new larger office, hired two additional employees and have enough gas in the tank (funding) to super-charge the business and make our first run at scaling the business. 2015 was about building capacity. 2016 is about acceleration.