Executive Interview - Darren Catalano, HelioCampus

Jeff Wood, principal at the Alexander Group, spoke with Darren Catalano, CEO of HelioCampus, about driving go-to-market changes and enabling organizations to scale.

Alexander Group worked with HelioCampus to create a blueprint to build a new go-to-market function and hit growth goals, and guidance on the strategy to achieve these goals. “Year over year, we increased bookings by 65%. And this fiscal year, we planned another big year of growth and we are tracking to plan. So really satisfied with how everything came together about how we executed on the blueprint.”

Jeff Wood: Hi, I’m Jeff Wood, a principal with the Alexander Group. And today we have the pleasure of speaking with Darren Catalano, the CEO of HelioCampus, about driving go-to-market changes and enabling organizations to scale. Darren, welcome. It’s great to have you here today. Could you give our viewers a little bit of an overview of your background, HelioCampus, as well as the solutions that you provide across services and software?

Darren Catalano: Thank you so much, Jeff. I appreciate the opportunity to tell our story today. HelioCampus is an EdTech company. We primarily service the U.S. post-secondary market. We have very unique roots in that we spawn directly out of the University of Maryland system where the Board of Regents provided the seed funding to start the company. And so we’ve really built the company around what we call our institutional performance management thesis. And so we look at our goal is to help higher ed institutions drive enrollment, student success, and net tuition revenue. We look at it as part of our goal to help them manage their expenses so that they align with revenues and to improve student learning outcomes. And we do it by offering three platforms. We have our data analytics offering, our financial intelligence solutions, and our assessment and credentialing platform that we now have 160 universities and colleges nationwide.

Jeff Wood: It’s exciting, Darren. I know when we first met and we started working together, we had the opportunity to interview some of your clients and they very much valued the partnership that you were able to bring to them and their institution. So, well done in terms of what you’ve been able to build over the years and build the company. You know, Darren, one of the things that we’d like to talk about that we touched on is when we started about a year and a half ago, you were just exploring, you know, how do we develop a new go-to-market growth plan? You know, what are those required investments to get to the next level? You know, can you tell us a little bit about like, what was the catalyst for change and how did you think about that process that you started to embark to really go to the next level?

Darren Catalano: Just starting a little bit from the beginning. You know, we launched a company in 2015 and, you know, as we kind of like came out of the other side of the pandemic, you know, as we launched the company, we built the company, we hit the pandemic and the pandemic, like all other companies, we were forced to understand what the impact was on our business, what changes we had to make. And, you know, we’re very fortunate we were able to make hay and kind of ride through the pandemic, and even grow during the pandemic. As we got to our fiscal year 2022, there were some exuberance that we had gotten to the other side of the pandemic. And we unfortunately overplanned our business. And so as we kind of took a step back and said, okay, well, you know, we missed our bookings plan, you know why, you know, what was the reasons why? And we kind of recognized that we had an unrealistic plan. Right? So we didn’t have enough resourcing. We didn’t spend enough money to build the kind of pipeline that we needed to hit, the type of bookings goal that we aspired to and that we had planned. And so that’s when we took a step back and said, you know, what are the requisite investments that we need to make? What’s the blueprint, if you will, you know, to really build this new go-to-market function that we knew we needed to hit, the growth goals that we knew we could hit and that we wanted to hit, and we just needed some guidance on how to go about doing that. And that’s when we, you know, engaged the Alexander Group.

Jeff Wood: Thanks, Darren. And I know when we were kind of talking over a year ago, what’s really critical is thinking about how do you build out in sequence those marketing and sales investments, right? It’s not always possible to do everything at once. And you were ahead of the curve, so to speak, where the market ended up of really having to think about profitable growth and what was really required to drive a practical plan that you can implement and get real results from, right? And that was kind of part of the blueprint, effort, and initiative as we kind of iterated on that, like what that is. I think some of the, the other executives, as you give them advice, it seems like it’s really important that they have lots of options of what they can do to invest in scale, but they probably can’t do it all at once. Any thoughts around that and how you think about, you know, prioritizing that and how that evolved to the blueprint that we worked on?

Darren Catalano: Yeah, absolutely. So, yes, you know, when we started the company, we’ve always been focused on profitable growth. And it was not cool when we started, you know, back in 2015. But certainly now, profitable growth is very much in vogue. So we had a running head start, you know, kind of building a culture around profitable growth was a priority. And so for us, you know, once we got the blueprint and understood what were the requisite investments we needed to make? Then we had to set about what is the: how do we meter those investments so that we can maintain our profitable growth. And so, you know, the three areas that we, you know, that were identified in our blueprint were really around: one, building a larger and more sophisticated marketing team, you know, focused on, not only, you know, on demand generation moving well beyond our traditional strategy of event marketing, building our brand marketing capabilities, product marketing, you know, and kind of that those marketing operations and then a reorganizing our sales team and then building out we call it the client success management function, which is also, you know, typically, you know, your account management function.

Darren Catalano: And so we really had to decide on how to meter those investments. And so the path that we chose was to first invest in building our marketing team. So the thought was hey, you got to start driving top of funnel and then everything else comes after that. So we started building, you know, our first investment theme was really building out that marketing team, starting with a VP of marketing hire and building out that demand gen function and then going from there. Kind of the piece that came next was that CSM function. And so really it was kind of like, you know, built up a funnel, you know, increase our bookings plan, book more deals, aAnd then you got to bring in that, you know, CSM function to kind of really service those customers in a more sophisticated and significant way to really ensure kind of satisfaction, renewals and, you know, expansion going forward.

Jeff Wood: Yeah. So a lot of moving parts, but key to sequence out in the right way and make sure you can execute on it. So now that you’ve got, you know, a full fiscal year under your belt since we did the changes and you’re into the next fiscal year, you know, how did it work out? What’s what were the results relative to kind of what your expectations?

Darren Catalano: Yeah. So I’m happy to report it worked out, right? So, we were able to grow our bookings in a very tough market. Year over year, we increased bookings by 65%. And this fiscal year, which we are, you know, more than halfway through. So it’s February, our fiscal year ends June 30th, and we planned another big year of growth and we are tracking to plan. So really satisfied with how everything came together about how we executed on the blueprint. We hired some, you know, real good talent that is paying off. That is really critical to the whole equation here. And so more to come. Right? So, so far, so good. We got a lot of hard work in front of us, a lot of growth trying to grow, you know, big in a down market. So, we got our work cut out for us, but you know, so far we have seen a return on investment for the changes that we’ve made in our organization.

Jeff Wood: Well, fantastic. Darren, I mean, it’s really a two-step process, right? You’ve got to get the right go-to-market plan the changes, the sequencing, but then congrats to the team. I mean, the execution and the follow through is one of the things that’s super critical for every company, right? You can have a great plan. You can know where to go, but it really takes that leadership to be able to execute and drive it, to make it the reality that you got with the right plan. So congratulations on that.

Darren Catalano: Yeah. Thank you, Jeff. I mean, I concur. Everyone’s got a plan. What separates the winners and losers is you know, who can execute the best. And that is a strength of the company that I’m proud of. And, you know, it was a lot of hard work, but really happy where we are. I’m certainly not declaring victory, but, you know, we’re off to a good start.

Jeff Wood: Yeah. Fantastic. Well, Darren, in closing, one of the things, you know, given the success and your journey of what you’ve seen, you know, what other guidance would you give to other C-level executives when they’re thinking about profitable growth, how to scale their company and navigating change? What would be words of wisdom, of what they should look at given your experience?

Darren Catalano: Yeah. So, you know, what I would end with is just the cultural aspect of this. You know, as we alluded to earlier, we always had a culture of profitable growth. So that was just something that was more ingrained in the company. But really building this go-to-market function. There was a, you know, cultural shift. You know, we went from a, you know, enterprise sales-led growth strategy to a more cohesive go-to-market strategy that was marketing-led and had these multiple components to it. And that was really kind of a shift in the culture, you know. And so we intentionally rebranded. It used to be sales and marketing and we intentionally internally rebranded as the go-to-market team. And so we said, hey, you know why we have different functional organizations. You are all now one team. And that one team, you know, included marketing, our sales organization and our CSM teams, you know, as one organization. So when we get together, we don’t have sales meetings, we don’t have marketing off sites. You know, we have we always get together as the go-to-market team. And I’ll also include product management in that as well. We’re very intentional in designing our org structure. It preceded but was in conjunction with our engagement with AGI. But we’re very intentional in building it. It all starts with product, right? You gotta have the right product that people want to buy. Then you need to be able to tell your story in the market and build pipeline. Then you need to be able to sell and close deals, and then you need to ensure the highest level of satisfaction that leads to renewals and, you know, the ability to expand business within those very satisfied customers. And so it was a cultural change and one that you have to be very intentional to, you know, focus on this go-to-market methodology and ideology. And we’re looking now as we are, you know, looking at our performance this year at making additional changes and tweaking that model going forward.

Jeff Wood: Outstanding. And you did all that with the additional complexity of putting this platform together with acquisitions you made. Right. So you did a couple acquisitions, you pulled everything together for the platform, and then we’re taking that to market. So again, congratulations, Darren. Great execution. Very glad to see the results. And we look forward to seeing more success from HelioCampus.

Darren Catalano: Yeah. Thank you so much, Jeff. It’s definitely, you know, starting and running a company and getting to this point, you know, the growth stage is not for the faint of heart, but, I’m excited to do it every day. And, you know, thankful for the help that AGI gave us.

Jeff Wood: Right. Thank you. Thank you so much. And to our audience, if you’re looking to understand more around our market benchmarks, exploring go-to-market changes so you can scale to the next level, feel free to reach out to the Alexander Group. We have multiple go-to-market briefings available for you across marketing, sales compensation and go-to-market transformations. So thank you Darren. Thanks again. Look forward to talking to you again in the future.

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