Why This Founder Sold His Thriving Big Data Business to Become Its Employee

Who would you trust more with a valuable asset: a local business owner or the CEO of a multinational organization?

If you said the CEO, big data would agree with you.

Koko Zarov and cofounder Ben Fuller created Nimbler (formerly Nymblr) when they realized small business owners were cut off from big data in their sales processes.

After just a year and a half, they built one of the best and most cost-effective contact-sourcing applications in the business. Then they were acquired by Tennessee-based SaaS acquisition business, Inunity, on Acquire.com for a substantial sum.

Read on to learn how Koko combined years of startup-building expertise and a career in enterprise sales to craft his dream business. And why he sold his business at its peak only to stay on as an employee.

Nine Businesses in Ten Years

Koko loves sales, and he likes to talk about it.

“I’m passionate about building products that improve the sales process,” he says.

Look at Koko’s LinkedIn and you’ll see that passion in action. Since moving to the US from Bulgaria in 2014, he either founded or cofounded nine different businesses. They varied from luxury watch retailers to online promotional coupon services to web-based messaging services.

When you’re a small startup, you don’t have the reputation or the budget to access it so building a platform for sales teams could be very challenging

By 2018, Koko leveraged his experience to shift from building startups to running teams at established businesses. He landed senior product and business development roles at three different Denver-based enterprises between 2019 and 2022. Finally, he became the VP of enterprise data sales for a marketing data company called Lifesight.

At Lifesight, Koko helped sell bid data for keywords and customer profiles in online advertisements to product and marketing teams at multinational enterprises like LinkedIn, Coca-Cola, Accenture, Clear Channel, and Honda. This data helped large clients build analytic platforms for their sales teams.

“One of the main issues in sales is identifying your ideal customers,” says Koko. “Traditionally, this is information like their job title and their function at the company. That’s not enough anymore. You need to identify and gain access to each persona entirely.”

But while multinational businesses with deep pockets could access this data freely, it was unavailable to the average small-scale startup founder.

“You need to treat data with respect and security,” says Koko. “Data businesses will sell to everybody, but when you’re a small startup, you don’t have the reputation or the budget to access it so building a platform for sales teams could be very challenging.”

Koko knew exactly what data was essential to early-stage founders hunting for sales because he’d already spent years as an early-stage founder. Now, with industry connections to some of the biggest names in B2B contact data, he could build his dream data product for salespeople at growing businesses. The idea for Nimbler was born.

Building Nimbler

Koko asked his friend, Denver-based technical founder Ben Fuller, what he thought of the idea behind Nimbler. 

The duo had previously worked together at one of Koko’s startups – a SaaS business simplifying the automotive buying experience. Later, Koko and Ben worked together as VP of sales and VP of engineering respectively at a consumer data sales business in Denver.

Ben knew Koko was an expert in the industry and smaller businesses would leap at the chance to access quality data. After just one phone call, Ben agreed to help Koko build this new business.

The cofounders quickly began development. Koko would design each component and Ben would code it. They would test and refine each new feature and run through everything again.

“I wanted to build it quickly and start selling it quickly,” says Koko. “I’ve learned time kills momentum, passion, and, of course, deals. You have to keep the momentum going.”

After about five months, Ben and Koko established a minimum viable product (MVP). They released their software online without a bank account to take the payment from their first sale. They quickly remedied that issue and the business flourished over the following months.

Traveling to India to Build a Great Foreign Team

Shortly after launching the MVP, Ben and Koko hopped on a plane to spend a couple of weeks in Bangalore India. 

They would stay in the country for as long as it took to source an affordable, high-quality remote development and product team for Nimbler.

It was a carefully considered trip. Ben had previously lived in India to manage a local IT team for a publicly traded company. Koko’s employer, Lifesight, was also headquartered in Asia. Both founders knew they could run a high-quality team out of India for a fraction of the cost – if they were willing to pound the pavement and look for the right one.

“You should talk to multiple recruitment agencies so you can access as many qualified job candidates as possible. And remember things can get lost in translation,” says Koko. 

Koko only suggests visiting a country like India to find remote coders if you’re a technical founder or are working with one. He wouldn’t recommend it otherwise.

“If you’re a CEO or a founder with no technical experience, I think you should probably use an agency or bring in a CTO that can help you make those decisions,” he adds.

The trip was successful. Using a reliable and cost-effective remote team abroad, Ben and Koko kept Nimbler affordable and with plenty of revenue to pay for new features.

Nimbler grew much faster than any of Koko’s previous startups. He attributes it to gaining experience in big data and sales before starting the business and building a user-friendly platform. All customers could try it for free and end their subscription whenever they wanted.

“Customers started telling us they were delighted with it,” says Koko. “They’d say using Nimbler was easy and it provided the data their sales teams desperately needed.”

The business also sourced contact details for potential customers using its own product. By the time it was acquired in October of 2023, Nimbler possessed over one hundred million US-based B2B contacts – twice as many as its largest competitor – and over 2,500 users.

A Buyer Willing to Invest Time, Money, and Expertise

Koko considered three alternative paths to growing Nimbler into a tech giant.

One, they could grow Nimbler slowly by reinvesting profits, two, raise money and expand quickly, or three, find someone willing to invest the money, time, and expertise to grow it exponentially. Koko saw acquisition as the best way to find that someone.

Koko was a long-time follower of Acquire and Andrew Gazdecki and knew the online marketplace would be where he’d sell his business. He loved its user-friendliness. He always strived for the same quality in his products. 

“We believe in simplicity and self-serve products that put the customers first,” he says.

Koko and Ben listed Nimbler on the Acquire marketplace in just one week. They did it with the help of one of Acquire’s acquisition success managers. These members of the Acquire team work hand-in-hand with businesses to help them list on the marketplace, market to buyers, vet them, and more. Within days, Nimbler received over 60 inquiries.

“It was a lot of work and many conversations,” says Koko. “But when you have so many conversations, it’s easy to use your gut to pick the right buyer.”

When Ben and Koko met James Kern and Sumit Shukla of Tennessee-based SaaS acquisition business, Inunity, they knew they’d found the right buyers. 

James knew the challenges of building a successful SaaS business and had helped a company called Textedly grow to a multimillion-dollar ARR. He then built a portfolio of adjacent SaaS businesses in the software technology space with Sumit and a carefully crafted team.

James and Sumit created a holding company called Inunity and developed a system for acquiring startups and then hiring the founders as employees. It was exactly the sort of opportunity Koko was looking for.

“James said from day one that they were primarily a people acquisition company,” says Koko. “To us, that was crucial because we wanted to remain a part of Nimbler and see it grow to the next stage and become a billion-dollar company.”

They closed the deal in a few short weeks with a one hundred percent asset sale and incentives for Ben and Koko to stay on. Recently, they changed the name from Nymblr to Nimbler and are currently rebranding and launching the next version of their B2B sales automation platform.

Unlike many founders post-acquisition, Koko doesn’t see selling his business as the start of a new chapter in his life. He is now VP of Product at Inunity and still manages the same team at Nimbler, only this time with help and resources from James, Sumit, and the rest of the Inunity team.

Koko’s advice for other founders is this: Know why you are building or selling your application at all times.

“Do you want to stay involved or do you want to move on?” he asks. “We knew from day one we didn’t want to just sell. That was crucial.”

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