We asked some of New Zealand's leading business people about their bravest moment in business. In the fifth story of our series for Spark, chief executive of Pushpay, Chris Heaslip.
"Our business was about to fold and I turned down an offer of 600K."
Chris Heaslip of Pushpay remembers all too well the moment his bravery was tested.
Today, as he sits in his modern Auckland office, the look on his face is hardly one of stress. He is suited up, relaxed and amicable. So how did he turn it all around?
Pushpay is the world's first mobile app that allows you to make ten second secure donations. The idea came about in an Auckland church, where Heaslip's co-founder Eliot Crowther watched as fellow goers broke into a cold sweat when the donation bucket was passed around.
As people foraged through handbags and pockets for coins a question entered Crowther's head: What if it was as easy to give as it was to buy a song on iTunes?
At the time Heaslip was an accountant and Crowther a sales rep at HRV.
Heaslip: "We were both working full-time, but eventually left those jobs to move to the US and concentrate on Pushpay."
It took two years to bring their new prototype to market. Pushpay was officially launched in New Zealand in October 2012, and in the US in April 2013.
But trouble hit. "We'd raised a little more money from an angel investor, but could see we were going to run out of capital by the end of the year," he says.
Heaslip and Crowther hustled furiously, speaking with hundreds of investors.
They couldn't raise the money. The deadline was December 2013.
Then, bam. A chance meeting with venture capitalists in Atlanta gave them the lifeline they needed. 600K to be exact. Which you'd think would be cause for celebration, but something wasn't right.
"Just as we were about to sign I developed this nervous feeling, a gut instinct I just couldn't place. Why didn't I feel comfortable with this?"
"Past experience taught us taking capital from someone is more commitment than a marriage. Whose money you take is one of the single most important decisions you can make. Those people are aligned with where ever you decide to take the company," says Heaslip.
"And I just couldn't shake this feeling."
In November 2013 Heaslip alerted his co-founder of his concerns, to which he replied, "Man, you're the CEO, if you believe these aren't the right people, I'm willing to support you."
That night, with nothing else lined up, Heaslip called the investors and turned down their offer. On December 2nd 2013, Pushpay would run out of money.
The hardest day of Heaslip's life was telling eight staff members he had failed them. "I said 'I'm sorry,'" he recalls. "I said we don't have the cash to continue running the business and told them if they had other job prospects, they're welcome to go explore them."
Not one person left.
"Our staff's faith in Eliot and I was unbelievable. Each told us they'd be back the next day. We were so blessed to have employees willing to effectively work for nothing."
Meanwhile, an accountant close to Pushpay mentioned a client of his who invested in tech companies. What was the harm in a meeting?
So on December 6th 2013, Heaslip and Crowther showed up with low expectations. Eliot wore flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt. The meeting with rich lister Peter Huljich lasted two hours.
He was interested.
"A few days later Peter indicated he'd like to move forward. On Christmas Eve, Pushpay received an injection of $2 million. Heaslip paid their bills and their staff," says Heaslip.
The Huljich Family's interests would go on to invest over $20 million more.
Heaslip is adamant if he and Crowther had taken the money from the Atlanta investors, Pushpay wouldn't be where it is today. "The support we've received and the alignment of values, was a defining moment in the history of the company."
As for taking the leap to a larger, more lucrative market, Heaslip is resolute. "96 per cent of our merchants are based in the US. Many New Zealanders fail to understand the tribalism of this market. Unless you understand the differences between a Californian and Bostonite you can't possibly succeed."
"When people think about churches, they think of a dinky thing on the corner where grandma goes to play bridge. I now know churches are large, sophisticated organizations. There are around 340,000 in the US alone."
Heaslip says people who work 9-5 might say what they do is risky. When they started Pushpay, they each invested $40,000 - all the money they had at the time - and mortgaged houses to fund the development of the company.
"As for being brave, my philosophy has never changed: how could we ask for an investor's money if we didn't believe in it ourselves?"
Every business owner has a defining moment, a point where they have a make or break decision. Us kiwis love a good success story, and we want to hear all about yours. Share your brave business journey with us and you could land yourself an exclusive Spark Lab VIP experience.
Spark will look after flights to Auckland, accommodation, dinner at Seafarers and tickets for a premium Spark Lab business event with the opportunity to network with the speaker. They will also include a one-on-one business mentoring session with an Icehouse coach worth $380.
To enter, simply tell us about your brave business story and what helped you along the way. Share your story here http://spark.co.nz/sparklabvip