Dan Martell was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, a small 80,000 person town on the east coast of Canada.
A rough childhood landed Dan in a group home for troubled kids. At an early age, Martell started hanging out with the wrong crowd; anger issues arose, he got kicked out of his group home and that is when he discovered drugs.
At the age of 16 Dan was drunk and high in a stolen car. Following a police chase, Dan found himself crashed into the side of a house with a gun next to him.
Dan spent the following six months in prison, followed by an extensive period of rehab.
These moments are what built Dan to become the person he is today. He used that hustle and drive he had for doing the “wrong thing” to focus on doing the “right thing”.
Fast forward to 2019, where I found myself sitting in an audience, listening to this man speak on stage to over 200 SaaS Founders from all over the world.
Who Is Dan Martell?
“Ok, it’s time for a 15-minute break,” Dan Martell shouted on stage as he put down the whiteboard marker, “3…2…1… CLAP”. (This is Dan’s thing at events)
It was fall of 2019 and Martell invited me to speak at his SaaS Academy Intensive in Atlanta, a two-day event that he hosts three times a year. I showed up and saw 21 tables set up with seven chairs each all filled with SaaS founders.
(Dan on Stage at SaaS Academy Intensive in Atlanta)
I looked around my table at the logos proudly displayed on t-shirts worn by each founder in the room.
Emeric from social media tool AgoraPulse with $13.9 million in revenue.
Trevor Mauch of real estate tool Carrot.com
Todd Dickerson the co-founder of ClickFunnels.com
What were all of these SaaS founders, with millions in ARR, doing sitting in seats listening to this triathlon running, button-down wearing, high energy guy?
His name is Dan Martell; he knows a thing or two about SaaS, and it all started with a high-speed chase, Martell eventually crashing into a garage and reaching for a handgun.
“My handgun got stuck and the police grabbed me.”
Having started using drugs at the age of 13, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, by the age of 16, Martell was found drunk and high in a stolen car trying to flee his town. After a high-speed chase with the police, Dan ended up smashing into the side of a house and went for the gun sitting in a handbag next to him.
(Martell a few months before heading to prison)
He assumed if he pointed his gun at the cops, they’d have to do their job and take his life. Martell describes this as a moment where he felt “someone above was watching out for me.”
The cops tackled Martell out of the stolen vehicle, then carried him to the cop car… his feet never touching the ground. By the time Martell woke up sober the next morning, he was locked up in a jail cell where he’d spend six-months before heading to rehab.
An Old Church, Rehab, and a Dusty Java Programming Book
After his time in jail, Martell found himself at Portage in New Brunswick Canada, an old church camp renovated into a therapeutic facility for teenage drug addicts.
Martell spent 11 months going through therapy, rebuilding his relationship with his family and learning to be a productive, sober member of society. Martell had been on drugs since he was 13. He credits Portage NB for saving his life.
(Dan at his Graduation from Portage Rehab Centre)
(Dan speaking to Portage patients years later)
One day while Dan was helping Rick, the rehab facilities maintenance guy, clean out one of the cabins, Martell found an old Java programming book. He used the book and a 486 computer terminal to teach himself how to code.
At this point in time, it was now 1996 and Martell was about to launch his first company.
“I got the computer to say “Hello World”
His new addiction became programming. Growing up in chaos and uncertainty had him appreciate the consistency of code executing as long as the computer was on.
Entrepreneurship ultimately became Martell’s most powerful personal development program.
100’s of Cottage Owners Need Help Renting
One of Dan’s first business ventures stemmed from his father wanting him to build a website for a cottage they owned and rented called MaritimeVacation.ca. Martell wanted to help his dad manage reservations but needed money to pay for application hosting at $300/mo. He charged his dad $2k to get this up and built the first version in Cold Fusion.
To grow the business, he hired his younger brother Moe for $2/hour to transfer a list of potential customers from a local magazine called the “New Brunswick Tourism Guide” into a Microsoft Access database. Even at a young age, Dan proved to be a true entrepreneur.
Using that list, he sent out direct mailers using a mail merge in Word, and 3 weeks later Martell had people sending him physical mail with $30 inside asking for him to list their cottage.
“It was the first time strangers gave me money for something I built and I felt like I had gone pro… I probably made $15k”, Martell said.
After a year, Martell got crushed by another entrepreneur with a better domain name: AtTheCottage.com. That ended the vacation rental business.
(Dan at his Father’s Cottage)
1999: 20 Year Old Martell Launches Hosting Company
Martell and his brother Pierre each put in $5,000 to launch the company.
(Dan and his brother Pierre)
At this point, Martell has no cash savings, this line of credit was everything. He spent $6k on a server, licenses for Microsoft software to run the applications and hosting.
Martell spent time setting up the web app, database and mail server. They’d migrated their friends’ businesses onto their hosting platform, but things got crazy when the local Credit Union became a customer for their hosting service. Basically they ended up screwing up the Credit Unions site, and things went downhill from there, having almost been sued.
They couldn’t handle the enterprise accounts and ended up shutting the business down, losing over $10,000.
So what came next?
Consulting, Couch Surfing, and a $58k Salary
Dan then found consulting work with a tech company called OAO, who paid him $58k. This is where Dan learnt about the Plumtree Portal Software which would be one of the driving forces of initial consulting success later on in his life. He was finally able to pay off his line of credit.
Martell decided to leave Moncton, NB on September 9th, 2001 to drive across Canada and move out west. Two days later, 9-11 happened, turning the world upside down, and Martells’ consulting contracts fell apart – alert after alert hitting his Blackberry to let him know he was out of clients.
He spent the following 4 months couchsurfing, had spent all his savings trying to live on the west coast and almost had to come back home.
(Couchsurfing on the West Coast)
Right before Dan was about to throw in the towel and head back to New Brunswick, an Oil Company called Syncrude, had just dropped $2M on an enterprise license to a technology called Plumtree that they had no idea how to install and use.
From his time consulting at OAO, Martell was one of the few certified Plumtree architects and knew how to install and use the portal software, which is why the Oil Company hired him.
No One Will Pay Me $150/Hour
“Can you do $75/hour and we’ll cover all your expenses?,” said the Oil Company who needed Martell to do Plumtree work.
Dan called his dad to ask his opinion on the offer, Mr. Martell said: Tell them you want $150/Hr. “I didn’t want to lose the possibility of this contract and sound like an idiot”, Dan said.
Trusting his Dad, he got a hold of the recruiter for Syncrude and on a whim said: “Make it $125/hr and you have a deal”. Martell accepted immediately.
Martell did this for 2 years, saving $150k per year. He lived off $60k/yr and put $90k in the bank. This gave him the freedom to save up seed money for his third company, after failing on the first two.
Everyone Wants Plumtree, I Could Make $1M/Yr
At 24, and back in Moncton, Martell starts Spheric Technologies with $75k in his bank account.
He hired three people, spent loads of money on office rent, equipment, flying around the world. These contracts were net 60 days so cash flow became an issue.
With no money to make payroll, Martell sold these contracts to a factoring company which took 27% of the total contracts in exchange for the factoring company to advance cash immediately.
Martell made payroll that week and grew the company 150% yoy for the next four years building enterprise tech around the Plumtree Portal platform.
Doing 30% net on $3-4M per year in 2006 at 27 years old.
In 2008, Martell sold Spheric Holdings to Function 1 for more than eight figures.
He owned 100% at the time of the sale, having bought out his co-founders 21% equity back in the first two years of Spheric.
The One Decision I’d Do Differently: Exited for Eight Figures To Function 1
“In hindsight, I wouldn’t have sold a company that was that profitable”, Dan said, “but, at the time, I was young and excited! I thought that’s what you were supposed to do.”
Martell went on to spend money on “random stuff” after selling Spheric Holdings in 2008 for “eight figures.”
- Built a “Dream Home”
- Hot Tub
- Wakeboarding Boat
“I thought, hey, what else could you want? I was semi retired”, Martell said.
Now that Spheric had sold, Martell wanted to try building software instead of doing software consulting.
Founded Flowtown in 2009, Raised $750,000
Martell had made 12 angel investments at this point. One of his investments was $50,000 into a company called Flowtown that he co-founded with his friend named Ethan.
It was a social marketing platform that allowed people to get social media data on people from their email list. Flowtown integrated with Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and Salesforce.
Flowtown’s best month was $240,000 in MRR.
In 2012, at the age of 32, Martell & his business partner exit Flowtown to Demandforce.
“Investors made a return,” said Martell, “30% was cash, 70% was stock,” he continued. Ethan, Dans’s Co-Founder at Flowtown was 27 at time of sale and became independently wealthy, but the sale didn’t change Martell’s life that much. Dan wanted to move onto the next big thing!
When Demandforce was acquired by Intuit (INTU), investors and everyone made more money on their Demandforce equity stake.
Angel Investing and Loosing $250K Before Figuring It Out
Martell made his first angel investment at 27 years old, investing in a Microsoft Sharepoint agency called RapidMind Solutions.
He went on to deploy $2M+ of his own money into a dozen or so startups in his city winning awards in Canada for being one of the most prolific investors.
However, it wasn’t until he moved to San Francisco and met Naval Ravikant (founder of AngelList) that he started to understand how to make profitable venture type returns.
Shortly after he made investments in companies like Udemy.com, Intercom.com, Unbounce.com, HootSuite.com and many others.
To date he’s invested in 40+ top SaaS startups, returning his capital 100X over even though his first 5 years of investments prior netted Martell single digit returns.
He continues to invest in companies today.
How Martell Got Mark Cuban As an Investor Via Emails
Moving onto his next plan, Martell plans to begin founding his newest venture, Clarity.fm
Martell was going to raise $750k. Steve Anderson at Baseline wanted to do the full $750k and convinced Martell to do a $1.4M total raise, allowing other key investors to participate.
When the round was done, Martell announced it on AngelList where Mark Cuban saw the deal. They had met briefly at Summit Series a year prior in DC.
Martell saw Cuban sign up for Clarity.fm FM and immediately reached out.
Cuban asked a series of 13 questions via email before telling Martell he wanted to invest.
“Cuban is one of the only investors who always replied to every email with something thoughtful,” Martell said on his experience with Cuban.
The round eventually settled at $1.6M.
We Couldn’t Figure out Scale, so Sold Clarity in 2015
Martell didn’t want to spend his time scaling Clarity.fm, so he sold to Startups.co for a cash and stock deal.
Startups.co offered Martell a zero day earn-out, meaning Martell didn’t have to stick around for more than one day after the sale.
All other buyers wanted 2 and 3 year earn outs.
Martell had 2 kids at this point, so he took the buyout and took a year off enjoying San Diego with his family, where he met a video guy named Travis.
“You Should Do Video, I’d Watch”
During a conversation between the two, Travis Houston convinced Dan to start shooting videos. Taking this advice, Dan started a Youtube channel, publishing weekly videos. Martell hasn’t missed a Monday since 2016 and now has the world’s largest Youtube channel for B2B SaaS Founders, with over 55,000 youtube subscribers.
(Dan YouTube Thumbnail)
Early Youtube videos were around life advice he wanted to leave his two boys, however eventually pivoted to more business focused content and SaaS.
These videos led to founders reaching out asking for help.
Dan’s current venture, SaaS Academy, launched in 2015 and to date, has had over 3000 founders invest in one of his training programs.
He also has personal coaching he offers and says “It’s a major investment,” said Martell. “They get out of it what they put in, and my team and I train and coach them to succeed”, he says as he doubles down on “giving away everything for free” on his Youtube channel.
SaaS Academy started in response to friends reaching out for Dan guidance. In 2015, his personal coaching group of about a dozen founders. Over the years it has snowballed to over 500 bootstrapped B2B SaaS founders doing from $25K to over$10M in MRR.
They look to Dan to show them how to grow faster both in business and in their personal lives.
SaaS Academy is the largest coaching business in the world for B2B SaaS founders. Dan and his team work only with ambitious and driven founders who are looking to bring themselves and their businesses to the next level.
“My mission is to continue to coach growth-minded B2B SaaS founders to achieve their Perfect Exit™, and I won’t stop until I have helped as many people as I can”, Dan said.
“I’ve gone from introverted programmer to extroverted coach, and I love every minute of what I get to do!” he finished.
Which brings us back to the green room chair I was sitting in as I watched Martell quickly down a Cliff bar, hug his wife Renee, then jump back on that stage in Atlanta to finish his 10 hour day coaching SaaS founders.
If you’re looking to get a business coach to help you take your SaaS business to another level, then be sure to reach out to Dan.
You can learn more and schedule a call here.
Dan Martell Business Timeline:
1979: Dan Martell was born in Moncton New Brunswick, a small 80,000 person town on the east coast of Canada.
1994-1995 (16 yo): Martell got into the wrong crowd at a young age. In his early teen years, he got into drugs and in 1995, while drunk and high, Dan stole a car and started a high-speed chase with the police that ended with Martell doing 5 months in jail and then released to spend 11 months in a rehab center called Portage, an old converted church camp.
1996: With an old book on Java Programming found at the rehab center, Dan taught himself to code.
1997 (18 yo): “First time a stranger gave me cash for something I made”. His Dad asked Martell to help him build a website for a cottage they owned and rented. Dan sent out mailers to other cottage owners to list their properties as well.
1999 – 2003: Dan started, and failed at multiple small business ventures, constantly striving for better.
2003 (24 yo): Martell founded an Enterprise consulting company, Spheric Technologies, and hired three people focused on helping big brands integrate Plumtree Portal technology.
2008 (29 yo): Martell sold Spheric Technologies to Function 1 for more than eight figures. Six months later, he moved to San Francisco.
2009: Founded new company, Flowtown, got to a profitable stage and then raised $750,000 from top Silicon Valley investors.
2012: Demandforce acquired Flowtown in a deal that was 70% stock and 30% cash.
2012 (33 yo): Martell founded a new venture, Clarity.fm and raised $1.6M in funding in 21 days.
2015: Sold Clarity.fm to Startups.com
2015: Started coaching entrepreneurs and created SaaS Academy, a training and coaching program for SaaS founders.
2015 – 2020: With over 3,000 clients to date, SaaS Academy is the largest coaching business in the world for B2B SaaS founders