Every quarter, the Arizona Technology Council publishes a data report showcasing the performance of the tech industry in the state. We’re now adding an additional layer, with the stories of the people behind the numbers—the people who are the employers and employees, the innovators and investors.
Chris Ronzio is the founder and CEO of Trainual, a tool for growing businesses to document processes and to simplify onboarding and training. Prior to launching Trainual, Chris ran an operations consulting firm that helped businesses systematize and scale.
Chris joined Molly Castelazo, storyteller-in-chief at Castelazo Content, in a lively conversation that ranged from Arizona’s big skies and amazing weather, to the shared mission of tech entrepreneurs in the state, to hiring and retaining talent. Here are the highlights, with timestamps to ease navigation through the video.
[01:02] Did you grow up in Arizona?
No, I actually grew up outside of Boston, in Massachusetts. And so I started my first company there when I was 14, which is our video production company. But that’s kind of how I cut my teeth in business.
And so what brought you to Arizona?
After college, I was growing my video production company, I had an office in Boston, wanted to set up a West Coast location, but it was actually my girlfriend who threatened that she wanted to live somewhere warm and either I could come or not come. So we started looking for different areas. We went to California. We went to Vegas, we went to Texas. And then when we went to Phoenix and Scottsdale we just fell in love with it. It was so different from the East Coast, you could see for what feels like hundreds of miles. Even the highways are perfectly manicured and organized with like lizards and everything on the side. And so we left and I thought that’s the place.
[02:50] As an entrepreneur, what was it like running, growing a company in Scottsdale vs. in Boston?
Incredible. So first of all, the work life balance and the just beautiful atmosphere and the environment is just such a nice place to be in. You know, in Boston, on the East Coast, it would be cloudy or snowing and your mood kind of goes with the weather. And so I just was always happy. And that was a good place to start from.
But just the community was so different, too. I noticed that on the East Coast, everything is really just entrenched in history and your connections and your network and so much is about the school you went to or who you know. And in Arizona, it seemed to be this new, vibrant community where there was a new generation of startups and a few big companies. But really, anyone was willing to grab coffee with you and get together. And so it felt like the whole city was in startup mode. And that was a really cool place to be.
[04:22] How has the ecosystem of other entrepreneurs, folks at different stages of growing their companies here in Arizona and the Phoenix area, changed since 2009?
I think it’s gotten more organized. So in the early days, there were a few groups and you could get to anyone that you wanted, but it was a lot of cold emails or introductions through someone. And everyone is very open to those connections. And now I think that there’s just more events, there’s more coworking spaces, there’s more places to bump into people, coffee shops. And so the interactions, I think, are a little easier to come by than they used to be.
Yeah, it feels like we’re all building something together. You know, everyone is working on their own project or their own company. But together we’re building a stronger ecosystem and we’re building a tech environment and attracting more talent and getting more press. And so the connection that we have, I think, is because we’re all in pursuit of growing Arizona’s brand as much as our own together.
[00:06:33] What role does capital play in that ecosystem and how have you seen that evolve over the years?
Well, I’ve only been newly exposed to capital because my first two businesses were totally bootstrapped and we did raise money with Trainual. So I wasn’t even thinking about raising capital in the first couple of businesses. But even since launching Trainual, I’ve seen new angel groups come together. I’ve seen new individual investors. I’ve gotten inbound interest from people that I didn’t know existed a couple years ago. And so I think that there is this wave of creation of new startups and there is there is money out there. It’s just it sounds to me like in the past it’s been invested in in in real estate and in, you know, traditional investments. And people are getting a little bit more interested in tech investing now that there’s some real traction coming out of startups in Arizona.
[08:00] What has the process of raising money for Trainual been like?
Sure. So the first year of Trainual was bootstrapped internally. I funded it and then Visa and MasterCard and American Express funded it. And so that helped us get started. And then along the way, I was making connections, relationships, friends and was updating people with my progress. And so we actually did a convertible note round that converted at the series A, but $750,000 of that Series A round was through convertible notes with other entrepreneurs in town. And so it wasn’t institutional investors or angel groups. It was other operators, people that understood business, that liked what I was doing and wanted to be a part of it. So that was our first round. And then when we went to do the Series A round, it was actually an introduction from another entrepreneur in town, Gregg Scoresby, who’s the CEO of Campus Logic.
So Gregg introduced both Series A investors that kind of co-led or made up the rest of our round. And Gregg actually joined in as part of that. So what I love about that was, you know, it’s him as a local entrepreneur investing back in to the next generation of entrepreneurs and also helping us by making introductions to people he’s met. And I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s you know, I’m doing the same thing for other startups that are going through the Arizona Innovation Challenge for the first time. And having won that and gone through Venture Ready and Venture Madness and raising money, I now have experience that I can share with people that are just putting together their seed rounds and series A rounds. So I think the more of us that go through that journey, the easier it gets for the new people, and that’s what we’re after.
[10:42] What happened with your first company?
Yeah. So in the first thing that happened was 2012, I had a chat with my director of operations and I knew that I wanted out of the business. I had been doing it for 11 years at that point, and I was ready to just be moving on to something else. And so he took over as president of the company and I trained him into that role and took myself off payroll. And so for a year, I treated the company just as an owner and an investor and to fill my own time and make my own salary, I started consulting, doing operations consulting for other local businesses.
So the company was called Organized Chaos, which is what every small business needs. And the idea was simple. We worked with companies with about five to 50 employees, and we went in and audited all their systems, looked at their technology, interviewed all their employees and figured out their workflows, their bottlenecks, and then recommended their new way of doing business to make them more efficient. And so a big part of that was training them on new tech tools or recommending new processes and writing up standard operating procedures. And so it was that experience that really led to Trainual.
And so as the business was picking up the consulting business, I was getting less and less enthused with the video company. And so I ended up selling it kind of in a in a two part sale. The contracts and equipment and assets of the business went to a competitor in St. Louis and then are our IP that we had built—we had a little software that we had built our whole process for staffing events – and our directory, our database of camera operators went to our biggest customer, which is U.S. figure skating. And so they took over and built an in-house department to mimic the services that we had been doing for them.
So it was really a flagship project where we would go into a company, interview all their people, and then come out of that with an assessment of what’s broken in the company and what could operate more efficiently. And there would be recommendations for, you know, contact management and CRM and project management and marketing automation, all these tools that would streamline how a company worked. And then we’d have these implementation projects to actually help them get that work done.
But more often than not, we were having to host training days or write up training materials to show the rest of the team. Here’s the new way to do things here. Is that the new best practice? And so for a small growing companies, I saw that there was this there was this need for, you know, like kind of an operations manual kind of training, kind of a clarity of roles, responsibilities, and started calling it the playbook for the business. And so Trainual was this prototype that we built in 2014 into 2015. And it was just a tool that was used internally for my consulting clients. And so over the first couple of years, it was just clients that had it and we didn’t sell it. But then slowly people started referring it out to their friends and they would contact us and didn’t want the consulting, but they wanted the software. And so it was in 2017 that the team and I—there were five of us—decided, let’s give this a try. Let’s turn Trainual into a software business.
[14:31] Have you thought about or been asked about moving the company out of Arizona?
Early on, there were some conversations with investors, you know, Bay Area, Silicon Valley type investors on ‘Why Arizona?’ or ‘Would it be easier to move back to Boston where I was from?’ And I had a lot of connections there. But the last, you know, 10, 10, 11 years, I’ve built such amazing relationships in Arizona and I really care deeply about investing in the next generation. Now, I’m part of the StartupAZ Foundation that that Gregg’s also part of. I committed to give one percent of all my equity and any outcomes back to the community. And so that’s important to me. So it was really never, never a question. It was always going to be an Arizona company. And so it says on our web site, proudly built in Scottsdale, and there’s a little a little cactus and we really embrace that.
[00:15:39] How has it been for you to recruit talent and then retain talent?
Well, I think as an attractive brand that’s doing something cool, making an impact, getting national or international exposure, it’s easy to recruit Arizona talent because the best people want to work at the best companies. What has been more challenging is recruiting from out of state. You know, there’s people that that they’re in, you know, the Bay Area, they’re in New York or they’re in Chicago or they’re in Boston. And they’re really integrated in that scene and don’t want to move. And so what’s improved recently is ever since COVID we adapted a more hybrid remote balance. And so we have now a hub where anyone in the Phoenix metro area can work from if they want to. But we’ve also hired seven remote employees since then. So we are hiring people from around the country to fill needs that that we have. But we’d always love to employ Arizona employees.
What particular roles have you felt hard to hire from within Arizona? And is that an issue of, you know, graduating people with that kind of experience or expertise? Is it about, you know, higher level folks who might have come from another company? Talk a little bit about for those seven roles, for example, you know, where those challenges have come in, in finding that talent within the state.
Yes, so what there’s been abundant talent for is customer service, customer success, marketing, sales. I think we’ve got great talent there. We also have great finance talent, although it’s more corporate finance kind of talent. The harder roles to fill have been engineers, product managers and more SaaS specific roles. So because there’s, you know, only a handful of companies that are that are really growing and taking off in this space. And maybe it’s my own fault, but because it’s such a tight knit community and we’re all friends. It’s hard to poach people from your friend’s company. And so, you know, so I wish there was more of an abundant resource of SaaS talent. But that’s just you know, it’s an industry right now that’s larger in the bigger cities, I guess.
That’s an interesting point, because that’s still what companies are doing is they’re poaching that mid to senior level talent from other companies. And so it’s kind of a I guess a catch 22 or a double edged sword. That part of this close knit community makes it actually harder to do what in more anonymous market or anonymize market maybe is it’s easier to do.
Right. And what I would love to see is for more satellite offices of tech companies to be opening in Arizona, because even though they’re not headquartered in Arizona, it would bring more SaaS talent to Arizona and there’d be more jobs for graduates to be placed into and there’d be more training and then there’d be a bigger ecosystem that we could all recruit from.
And do you see that as a trend? Do you see that happening?
I do. I mean, we’ve you know, we’ve hired people from Square and Weebly and some of these companies that, you know, are not headquartered here. But. But, you know, it’s still a handful of brands and you see the same names over and over again. So I think it’s just in its infancy. And that’s part of growing any community. But so what we’re doing now is that with the hybrid remote type work is we are bringing in people that live in other cities, but they will travel to Arizona and come to our office and come to our events and potentially want to relocate here when they’re exposed to how amazing it is.
[00:20:19] Share with us your advice for somebody who’s thinking about starting a tech company in Arizona.
I mean, I guess the first piece of advice I would I would give is put all of your energy into getting customers, not getting investors. And though the thing that made it so easy for us to get funding with hardly any pitching was that we had exceptional traction. We had over a thousand customers or a couple thousand by the time we raised our series A. And by putting our attention into funding through our customers, we built a real company that made it easy to fund. And I think a lot of the entrepreneurs that I talk to at Phoenix Startup Week or where there’s a lot of good ideas, but they haven’t founded something yet. They’re focused on trying to find the seed capital to start something. And I think instead you should focus on finding the team and finding the customers and then fund it through your services, through your product, through early engagements with customers. And then it makes it a lot easier to fund.
[00:21:40] If you were chatting with someone who has a startup in, say, in Boston or in Chicago or in Silicon Valley and they’re thinking about moving their company to Arizona, what would you say to them?
Do it. I would say follow me on Instagram and see how amazing the lifestyle is here. You know, I’ll wake up and I go trail running and I go swimming and then bike to the office and I have amazing outdoor lunch with people and the events that we have. And it’s a resort town. It’s easy for your family to visit because they love the properties here. It’s an amazing, amazing lifestyle. And I feel like it’s an incredible home base to travel to a lot of other great places with no flights canceled because of snow.
[24:00] What what’s exciting to you about the tech industry in Arizona right now?
I think what’s exciting is that we’re starting to see a middle space emerge where at least 10 years ago or what I was aware of, there were a lot of early kind of startups, and then there were the big companies like GoDaddy and Infusionsoft and some of these brands we all know and there didn’t seem to be much in the middle. And now I think we’re starting to see a whole new. I don’t know, middle class of businesses emerge that is more accessible to the early stage founders to get more applicable advice. And those middle stage companies can get time from the biggest companies because there is not such a gap, you know? And so it used to be that the big companies would kind of, you know, their founders wanted to give back, but they’d come in and kind of give a lecture to a bunch of startups. And now I think we’ve got a much more practical application of medium sized companies helping small companies and bigger companies, helping middle the stage companies. And it lets us all grow faster.
Why are you so passionate about Trainual?
Why I’m so passionate about Trainual is where we’re working on a problem that I think every business, every small business has faced. And it’s that, you know, you want something to show for all the hard work and the business. And so you put all these hours into figuring out the way you do something. And then if you’ve got turnover, you’ve got to dive back into the responsibility. You’re kind of figuring it out all over from scratch. And so we really believe that every business would have a playbook or an operations manual, an instruction manual, a user guide, whatever you call it, everyone would have one if it was easy to do. And so fast forward five, 10 years from now. We’ll be, you know, hopefully in a world where businesses do have one of these and it’s just a natural part of being in business, just like having a business plan used to be. And so we’re excited that, you know, everybody’s playbook, everybody’s manual will be made in Arizona.
Visit https://trainual.com to see how Trainual is an easy all-in-one training tool to streamline business operations, automate agent and employee onboarding, and make your life easier.
Castelazo Content is a B2B demand generation and sales acceleration firm. Working with our clients from the very beginning of the marketing funnel to the very end of the sales pipeline, we deliver the results that drive revenue. We do that by leveraging proven sales & marketing strategies and tools to deliver the right content at the right time, helping our clients walk their buyers through the journey – from pre-awareness, to decision, to evangelization. In a single year, our content generated 20,841 leads and contributed to over $69 million in net new revenue for our clients. Connect with Castelazo Content on the web at castelazocontent.com and on Twitter at @cmmarketing.