Mastering Motivation to Drive Business Growth with iFOLIO Founder Jean Marie Richardson

Welcome to the first episode of The Female Founder with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. The Female Founder is a show all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories, offer real-world tips, and advice to help you grow professionally and personally.

Today’s guest is helping sales and marketing teams all over the world break through the noise and convert their clients with visual portfolios and text messages. We’re pleased to welcome Jean Marie Richardson, Georgia Tech alumna and founder and CEO of Atlanta-based tech company, iFOLIO.

iFOLIO team via Facebook

Transcription: 

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Jean Marie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Thank you for having me. So, it’s exciting. I’m a native Georgian. Excited to see what you guys are doing with this show. I’m a Georgia Tech alumna, and so proud to be the founder and CEO of this awesome tech company, iFOLIO. March 2020 changed forever the way businesses engage with their customers. And now you see that email boxes are flooded, our social media feeds are full of ads, and people are spending six hours a day on their mobile phone. Companies are having to find new ways to engage, and iFOLIO has introduced a new standard of customer engagement with these visual portfolios that are pushed, not pulled, directly to fingertips and the mobile phone. That has been incredible for us and it’s been very exciting working with companies.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Very, very good. Great timing right now for the company, has really taken off. I know in the last few years you’ve had a lot of major accomplishments.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Do you want to talk to us a little bit about those?

Jean Marie Richardson:
Yeah. So, I am so incredibly proud of this team. 2021 was, I think it was hard for any business, and definitely also for iFOLIO, but during that year team iFOLIO really rose to the helm. There were five key milestones that this team delivered that are really incredible for any tech company. The first one is a revenue milestone, so a seven-figure revenue milestone, which is important. I would say alongside that, what I also think is just as important is that we grew our team and we hired in multiple states.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Congratulations.

Jean Marie Richardson:
So, that was the first one. The second one is even more important, and it gets to usage on both senders and viewers, and that’s 300 million seconds of engagement.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Congratulations.

Jean Marie Richardson:
What’s so cool about that is so many marketing platforms that we talk to our customers about, their biggest challenge is utilage, and they’ll have less than five percentage utilage. They’re not actually using them. So having these seconds of engagement means our customers are sending them out and they’re being viewed. This was in all 50 US states and 100 countries.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Wow.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Yeah. So that was super exciting. Three more. One is WeBank certification, which is great for our female business owners. This means we’re certified woman-owned, and it also means that companies that do business with us get a tax-

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh, nice. Yeah.

Jean Marie Richardson:
… from doing business. So, great one to know about. SOC2 certification, it means our security is top-notch. And the final one was the patent. Oh my goodness. How could I ever forget this one? It took us four years. It’s not easy to get a patent in technology and it is so worth it. It means that we have a protection on our analytics. So I’m super proud of this team.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Nice. Congratulations.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s five great accomplishments. I know you guys have been working really hard.

Jean Marie Richardson:
We have.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So let’s go back to the beginning. Talk to us a little bit about what inspired you to start iFOLIO.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Yeah. So I really wanted to make a platform that made sales and marketing better with visual storytelling. So the human brain is wired, we’re wired to remember visuals six days after we encounter them, whereas text, we’ll forget it in 30 minutes. For me, it might be less than that. So I wanted to make a platform that helped companies to market better, and then therefore, to make more money, but using the power of visuals. The challenge was the technology is just oftentimes very, very difficult. When I was coming up in sales and marketing, I was working at Oracle, and the top sales guys, they wanted these awesome presentations, but you would have to get a developer to build them for you. That was expensive and time consuming. And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a platform where it was as easy as PowerPoint to build something visual and digital and engaging, and yet we could do it with real time customization and real time edits and you could do it in minutes. And that is what we’ve built.

Jean Marie Richardson:
As I look at the marketplace right now, we look at Adobe. We want to be more user friendly than Adobe. We look at Marketo and Pardot and Showpad. We want to be more effective than those. We look at Seismic and we want to have higher utilization. That keeps us constantly innovating. What that means is the story must be easy to build digitally, as easy as a presentation. You’ve got to be able to add rich content, but then you’ve got to be able to share it in multiple ways, so one to one, like from me to you, or one to many in a campaign. This encompasses the actions of an introduction, a campaign, or even a killer presentation, and our platform does all that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Now back to the beginning again for a second, when you were starting the company, what kind of research did you do on the market, on your competitors, on funding? How did that go?

Jean Marie Richardson:
That is so incredibly important. I had 15 years in sales and marketing, if you will. Five years before I went all in with iFOLIO, I started researching and working on, is it possible to build this? What else is out there? What will my competition be? How do they monetize their platforms? So I spent probably more time than I think I would recommend to a lot of business owners really getting the research ready, developing the requirements for the product. We even built a platform before I left the corporate world, and I said, “It’s got to be better than this.” So, there was a lot of work for me on the side while I was still in the corporate world.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Something that got me really excited was I got really excited about the name iFOLIO.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
It’s a great name.

Jean Marie Richardson:
So when I got the trademark for iFOLIO, I had just left the corporate world, I went all in, which for me was directly to my basement. So I left the office and a great getup, and now I’m bootstrapping it with my savings in my basement, working with some awesome developers who are still with me today. And we’ve grown from there, but I’ll never forget the early roots, summertime in Atlanta in my basement, working on the product.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great.

Jean Marie Richardson:
And that was five and a half years ago.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. Now as a female founder, I too am a female founder and I can recall a few times when I felt I may have been dismissed because I am a female, for one reason or another.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Sure.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Can you recall a time, whether it was in your corporate world or as a founder today, that you felt like you might have been not taken as seriously? Or is there a time that you can talk to us about and maybe how you overcame that?

Jean Marie Richardson:
Great question. Two things I think are so incredibly important to think about for anyone gearing up for this journey. The first thing is startups in general. So if you choose to be a startup, you are choosing to be both a pioneer with un-forged paths, but then you’re choosing to be an underdog until you are not. And that is a surprise to many people who come, especially from corporate companies, where you don’t even realize the engine you have behind you because of the brand behind you. But it is incredibly hard. So just being a startup in general, the stats say that 99% of startups go out of business in the first year and 97% never even reach a million dollars in revenue. And that is whether you’re male or female. It’s just incredibly hard.

Jean Marie Richardson:
So companies like and people like to contract with companies who’ve been around for a long time. Not because they’re better, but just there’s a sense of comfort. For my own experience, I had 200 nos before I had my first yes. Once you get to 12 or 13 nos, you’re a little bummed. Once you get to 25 or 27, you’re just, what’s going on? I had to literally gear myself up and recommit to my why. What am I doing this for? I really made up my mind, I was going to be stronger. When I got that first yes, I will never forget that first yes. I went on to get 67 yeses in a row after that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Oh my gosh.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Just the power of momentum. I don’t know if that has anything to do with being a female or not, but I do know it’s so incredibly important when you are knocked down, when you do get an answer that you don’t want to get, to go back to your why, try to figure out ways to be better and just to keep at it.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Yeah. I was going to ask you how you stay positive and motivated, but you would say that’s because find your why.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Well, and I would also say it’s important to have people that you look up to that inspire you. So in my case, I love to lean into the words from a man from history, Winston Churchill. His words are, “Never give up, never give up, never, ever give up.” If we think about Winston Churchill, he was a David versus Goliath during a time where it looked like the odds were against him, and he helped to change history. So, I think it is important … It’s not just your own, why looking to other leaders, other examples of leadership and pioneers.

Jean Marie Richardson:
I also think it’s important to surround yourself with strong mentors. I’m so incredibly grateful, there’s three people especially who’ve been really important to me in that journey. They’re very, very different individuals. All three of them are investors in iFOLIO, but I met most of them before they were investors in iFOLIO. Bert Thornton, he’s president emeritus of Waffle House. He helped to grow Waffle House into the huge brand that it is today. I mean, who doesn’t think about going and getting some scattered smothered eggs at all times of the day? But he has been integral helping iFOLIO as we really formulate and then grow our culture, as well as our operations.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Another mentor who’s been really important to me is Richard Bergmark. He helped to take Core Laboratories public, and that is in the oil and gas industry. So as we think ahead to some of our growth goals, it’s been great to bounce some things off of him. And finally, Atlanta’s own John Brock. All three were yellow jackets, and he helped to grow Coca-Cola Enterprises into the global giant that it is, and now owned by Coca-Cola. But all three of those have been really integral to me, and I think it’s a combination of all those things, your why, the inspiration you find outside of yourself and mentors.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes, absolutely. Now you touched on leadership for a second. How would you describe your leadership style, and is it different from men that you’ve worked for or with in the past?

Jean Marie Richardson:
I think it’s always interesting and fascinating to study leadership styles, because there’s so many different styles and each one of us, we have our own style that’s just innate to us. I would describe my style as I lead to win. You can ask some of the team, they feel it, but it’s very on the field with the team. So for instance, there are some types of leadership styles I’ve seen where it’s very removed from the team and it’s more like the sidelines, like a coach. Give me the points. Why are you not giving the points? Pounding on the team if they can’t score. I am very ‘lead to win’, try to have more of a motivational style of leadership, but I’m also down there on the field.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, you’re the quarterback.

Jean Marie Richardson:
I’m the quarterback and I’m also problem-solving. So if we don’t close a deal or we don’t get to what we hope to get to, you can be sure that I have tried everything possible to help us get there. I think there’s a trust in that with the team. They trust that if we need to call in the special options team, if we need to call a special play, if we need to reformat a little bit, that we’ll do whatever it takes. But it also can get very, we can get very passionate about what we’re doing. If I feel like we’re left out in the cold on a play, that will likely not happen again, because we care about what we’re doing. But we celebrate as a team and I think it all comes from a place of respect and just, I’m so proud of this team. I really believe they can do anything. And that’s why I’m inspired every day to be beside them doing what we’re doing.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. That’s fantastic. Now, if you could go back to when you first started iFOLIO, what advice would you give yourself then?

Jean Marie Richardson:
Oh, man. I think I would remind myself to take a vacation twice a year. I think so many of the books that you read, so many of the incubators, they tell you all the work that you need to do and that work is so incredibly important, but most of the awesome women that I know, they are living that. They are doing that every single day, whether it’s with their family, with their projects. They are going to be all in. And the thing that we so often forget is take a moment for ourselves.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
And to recharge.

Jean Marie Richardson:
And for me, it’s actually really difficult for me to do this. We went to Montana and I was on the phone with the client and the phone went into the Blackfoot River, and my husband was like, “Finally. You’re finally inclined to close it.”

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, right.

Jean Marie Richardson:
So thank you, Blackfoot River.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
What are you going to do?

Jean Marie Richardson:
So, I have to find ways, where literally there’s no signal, so I can really just recharge. I think I would remind myself to do that not once a year, but twice a year. Just that regeneration is so good even for your thought process, your ideas, your planning.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
For sure. Any other advice for someone thinking about starting a small business?

Jean Marie Richardson:
I think it’s so incredibly important to find the problem you’re solving and really hone into that problem, whether it’s bringing new stories to a market that’s hungry to hear those stories, whether it’s making something easier to use or delivering marketing that’s better because it’s more visual. Your why will be really important and really laser focusing on that. And as you grow in the business, it may even mature with you, and that’s okay. But you’ll lean back on that, and I think it’s very, very important.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great advice.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
So one more thing before we go. What is next for iFOLIO?

Jean Marie Richardson:
Yes. Oh my goodness. I’m so excited for 2022 and then years after that. We are growing our team. We are hiring in multiple positions. We are competing for some really large contracts.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Great.

Jean Marie Richardson:
These are contracts that would be really, really massive, and I’m super excited about them. We also have more patents in the hopper. So all of these things are, we’re really excited.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Great way to go into 2022.

Jean Marie Richardson:
So, go iFOLIO. Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Yes. Congratulations on all your success.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Thank you.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
We hope to have you back for a follow-up someday.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Yes.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
And we’ll talk again some more.

Jean Marie Richardson:
I would love that.

Bridget Fitzpatrick:
Thank you so much.

Jean Marie Richardson:
Thank you.


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