With a healthy dose of “irresponsible faith,” Vaadi has navigated the never-ending challenges of building a software company while still maintaining his convictions.
This post is part of The Founder Factor, where we bring you behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough.
Matt Vaadi’s entrepreneurial instincts have been a part of him since the beginning. “When I was 9 years old, I would sell worms to fishermen who passed by my house,” he laughs. “I have always been entrepreneurial.”
These natural skills followed him into success within the sales and sales leadership world, where he began to see shortcomings he felt he could change. “I’ll never forget calling my corporate office and asking for a $500 check so we could help sponsor a 5k raising funds for a local nonprofit,” he recalls. “They told me ‘no’ and said they couldn’t get involved in every local community event.” It was this moment when Vaadi recognized his values and passion for local service didn’t align with the culture at that company.
This revelation drove him to inspect how large corporations fell short in what they offered to potential hires and how local companies could compete by filling that gap. “I began to see a cross-section between culture and technology—and how they could be used to provide a space where people would want to come back to work every morning,” he says. “It’s all about automating things people don’t need to do so they can focus on what they’re passionate about.”
So in 2014, Vaadi started his own company, guHRoo, based on this theory. On the surface, guHRoo provides human resource support to small businesses, whether they need simple online processing tools or a full-blown HR department. While guHRoo’s niche is providing HR services, its sub-niche is helping small businesses create a good work culture. This is driven by his deeper purpose to create a ripple effect in his community because, according to Vaadi, culture drives impact.
“You can’t underestimate the power of a great culture. That’s what’s exciting to me and what fuels me,” he says. “If an employee goes home happy to her two kids, this can lead them to be more joyful, which might then mean they are kinder to other kids at school. Also, if she’s happier, maybe her spouse is happier, and the marriage thrives. That can ripple even further into the surrounding community.”
He’s succeeded in forming his company around good work culture and guiding other companies in the same direction. “Every company thinks they have a great culture, but millions of people are unhappy in their jobs.” Vaadi states. “What people desire most out of their work is the ability to grow and improve, to feel heard and valued, and to have real creative input that contributes to the company’s mission.” In fact, guHRoo is a missional-based company that gives away 5% of the company: 3% of revenue, 1% of its time, and 1% of its product.
However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing since starting a business. Vaadi recalls, in the beginning, his biggest mistake was trying to be all things to all people. “We were doing everything for anyone that would write us a check and never said no,” he reflects. “But the reality is you need to stay very niched to prevent being overwhelmed and really get traction.”
There was even a time when Vaadi considered returning to his former career and began asking his friends about potential job openings. He realized during this period that getting traction takes more time and money than most people think. “I didn’t take a paycheck for 3 years after starting guHRoo,” he admits. “Not many people can make that kind of sacrifice or are prepared for that type of investment.”
What kept him committed to his idea was putting a leadership team in place. He recalls that his company’s most significant inflection point was putting key players into key roles. It was then that his company really started to see growth. According to Vaadi, the sooner things can happen without the business owner’s input, the better. “That’s when you feel like you’ve made it—when the machine is running without all the roads having to go through you,” he says. “When I moved from doing everything to being able to actually lead the company, our growth spiked.”
After the first couple of years, Vaadi learned to handle the stress of building a business by focusing his energy on making sure he put people in a place they could succeed. One of his biggest pieces of advice is not to wait until there is a ton of extra cash flow to make necessary hires. According to Vaadi, if you do that, you’ve already lost. “Sometimes it’s about hiring in faith. By the time you get to a ton of free cash flow, people are starting to strain, and things are starting to break. There’s already a real demand for that next person to be there. Hence, the reason for all the extra cash,” he says. “So sometimes you have to pull the trigger on that hire in faith before you have the budget for it, knowing the next step is coming.”
Another key attribute that made Vaadi such a successful entrepreneur is what he calls a healthy sense of paranoia. “It’s the feeling that no matter how solid your foundation is, you still have a house of cards, and you have to make sure that you’re tending to the garden, or else it could all fall apart,” he says. While his company certainly is not anywhere close to the brink of falling apart, Vaadi believes remembering that feeling is healthy in some respects because it keeps a leader motivated and allows them not to grow complacent.
As guHRoo has become more established, Vaadi hasn’t allowed that to make him content and lose motivation. “My personal goal is to give a million dollars to charity, and how I get there is through our company’s goals,” he explains. “When the company meets its goal of serving 2,500 small businesses, it goes beyond success and revenue but means clean water and housing for our communities—that’s what drives me.”
When asked how he handles what sounds like such a whirlwind, Vaadi’s answer was surprising. “I don’t really stress anymore. I simply remove roadblocks from my team to give them a clear runway to do what they do best. That’s my main job,” he says.
Vaadi has passed down this mindset to other entrepreneurs by co-founding Growco, an entrepreneurial resource organization that allows others to learn from the mistakes he made in his early years. “People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” he explains. “Let your north star be less about revenue and instead the impact that revenue can have in the world. Once you surround yourself with people passionate about the same mission—that’s when you will get things done.”
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