Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on wellbeing and performance science. Grace writes a regular column on happiness & leadership for WRAL TechWire.

Last week, we shared highlights of Joe’s upbringing in Akron, the bootstrapping of Bronto, and introduced “Karate Kid moments.”  Today, we examine how being a school teacher proved foundational for building his entrepreneurial venture, and where he has been focusing his time since selling his company.

Peace Corp teaching teaches

In our fireside chat, Joe spoke of how his first jobs out of Harvard as a teacher in the Seychelle Islands and then in Ecuador proved invaluable to his role as an entrepreneurial technology leader. He said that capturing the mindshare and excitement of a middle schooler or high schooler is about as tough as it gets. And figuring that out early as a member of the Peace Corps provided insight later when faced with inspiring young software developers.

“You could be building anything. It’s all about motivating people.”

Early days of Bronto

Growing Bronto!

Bronto principles

There were many core company beliefs that developed over time and as they grew Bronto, Joe and his team thought they should put them down on paper. As many of you are contributors to shaping your culture, we share Bronto’s Principles in full in hopes that they spur ideas for your company.

On behalf of all Brontos – welcome. We’re delighted that you’ve joined us.

By coming to work at Bronto Software, you join a fellowship of talented professionals focused on creating the best marketing software company in the world.


As a member of Bronto Software, you will be part of an exciting, challenging and rewarding workplace.  We fully expect that you will grow, learn and contribute during your experience here.  To be a part of this highly professional team, you have to know and become proficient at your responsibilities and cooperate with others.  We expect you to simultaneously be a leader and a team player regardless of your position in the Company.

Over the years, we have found the following principles to guide how we grow as a business and as people. These principles should be used as your compass for making decisions at Bronto.

1. Our customers drive our business

Success is guaranteed if we serve our customers. Customers pay our salaries and are the reason we exist and grow as a company.

2. The best path to happy customers is through happy Brontos

We strive to provide a challenging, rewarding and fun workplace. We understand that we can best serve our customers with enthusiasm and insight if we ourselves are happy and productive.

3. Indigestion is more dangerous than starvation

There is no shortage of opportunities to pursue. The challenge is to find the opportunities that tighten our company’s focus rather than broaden it. Distractions are costly and pull us away from serving our customers.

4. Lift our community

We have a responsibility to apply our passion and commitment to be a positive change in lifting our local community. We see this as an integral ingredient to being a stronger, profitable company and to being stronger, purposeful people.

5. Hits not home runs

Consistent execution of our strategy day in and day out makes us a great company. Seeking the one big score and chasing fads, although appealing in the short-term, ultimately does not help the company in the long-term. Constantly striving for operational excellence is the key to our success.

6. Making something easy is hard

Developing intuitive products and services is difficult. The process requires endless iterations, relentless attention to detail and the discipline to only include “need to haves” and forgo “nice to haves.”

7. If you can’t measure it, don’t do it

Projects are rarely perfect out of the box. They can always be improved. Measuring gives us the framework for that improvement and affords us the discipline to pursue only well defined projects.

8. Plainspoken language wins over jargon or buzzwords

We pride ourselves on being clear, honest and open with our customers. We don’t hide behind buzzwords and business-speak. We believe that plain spoken language is the most effective and powerful way to communicate with our customers.

Bootstrapped versus venture-funded

Joe was ramping up Bronto in the years following the dot-com bust, so little venture money was flowing.  Cutbacks abounded as companies rationalized and “swam backwards.”  Joe chose not to take outside money, rather he and Chaz put in $5,000 each and Joe did not take a salary for three years.

He explained that if there was outside money to take in, he likely would not have known at that time how best to use the funds.  Instead, he used the time to learn. He taught himself to code. He knew his early product very well since he coded it himself!  This paid off years later, in critical first meetings with NetSuite,  he was able to demo the product himself.  They were immediately impressed, saying that they saw few leaders who could do that.

“Keiretsu”: A difference maker

After the high stress negotiation and acquisition by NetSuite and then staying on board for a period of time, Joe took a year off from doing anything notable. He gave himself the time to think of what would come next.

Post-Bronto thinking with Joe Colopy

Where did he want to make a difference? At the beginning of the following year, on January 1, he formed Colopy Ventures, a holding company, a keiretsu of sorts, that would be the umbrella of entities in which his family office would focus.

He decided one area would be tech, software in the Triangle. While he had bootstrapped Bronto, he realized that some founders do not have the luxury of not taking a salary for a few years.  He thought he could help shrink the up front years toward revenue ramp by being a source of funding for recurring revenue b2b software startups.

The thinking behind Jurassic and Primordial Ventures: The brontosaurus existed in the Jurassic period, and that corresponding fund focuses on ventures with little or no existing capitalization with a few million in revenues. Preceding that was the Primordial period whose corresponding fund focuses on very early stage ventures which could be just a couple of people working out of their garage.

In both, his funds offer the advice of experienced operators who can help by adding wisdom that can help guide the path for revenue ramping versus flattening out, that Joe saw take place with many players in Bronto’s category.

GrepBeat: District Density

Districts, such as the financial and the diamond districts, have density.  With GrepBeat, Joe stepped outside the dinosaur theme with “beat” harkening to newspapers and activity.  At our chat, he held a contest to see who could define “grep” and be the winner of the new red coffee mug GrepBeat socks.

One audience member guessed and was close to the actual meaning of the Unix/Linux command used to search files for the occurrence of a string of characters that matches a specific pattern. GrepBeat’s role is to parse and serve up all the meaningful Triangle Tech news.

Joe recalled in their earliest days when it wasn’t easy to get the attention of the press.  So GrepBeat makes sure that early stage startups stories are told. Known as the Godfather of GrepBeat, Joe has taken this media entity into creating spaces, through regular happy hours and full day events called Grep-a-palooza.  On June 4, the third conference will take place at the Durham Convention Center with Jes Lipson of Levitate and Igor Jablokov of Pryon keynoting.

Did I leave the world a better place?

From his years in Boy Scouts, leaving a place better than he found it was ingrained into Joe. Living and working in Durham, he and Karalyn have decided to focus their philanthropy there.

His oldest daughter attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM), and through that experience, Joe was reminded of his upbringing in Akron. He saw in NCSSM a meritocracy, as a boarding school that is free for all its students who matriculate based on their merit. The graduates are those who can go out and make a difference in the world, and Joe realized that many successful tech CEOs in the Triangle attended NCSSM.

He noticed that the scientific method of research was strong at the school and thought that by endowing a director of entrepreneurship, they could invest in the long play of more startups in North Carolina by exposing these incredibly bright students to the joy of entrepreneurship, similar to what he discovered at a similar age.

Joe has also been thinking about the economic disparity in Durham and realizes that economic development is a hard nut to crack. There is much work to be done beyond the area of tech, so he and Karalyn will likely be focusing attention in that direction in the years to come. Finally, they want to continue to instill in their 4 children their desire to improve the human condition in the world and most importantly, in their immediate community of Durham.


About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a management and marketing consultancy that since 2003 has been helping leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential through conducting strategic reviews, marketing audits, and coaching.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles in marketing, business development and product management at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. A TED speaker, her work has been covered in The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, and Inc.

Contact her firm for more information on Grace’s flagship workshop, HappinessWorks™.

Subscribe for free to her Happiness & Leadership@Work.  You will receive one research based lesson each week to learn to be a happier and more productive leader: click here