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Ambassador kicks growth into hyperdrive with VC round

Ambassador went on a large growth spurt over the last year, but the downtown Royal Oak-based startup purposely took its time getting there.

The 5-year-old company is kicking it into high gear now. It has hired 33 people since 2014, expanding its staff to 44 employees. It also has 15 job openings. It's also aiming to double the size of its team within the near future, mostly by expanding its sales force.

"Across the board we are looking for great people," says Jeff Epstein, founder & CEO of Ambassador. "We will talk to anyone interested in joining us."

Ambassador builds custom online referral campaigns that offer rewards to users who spread good word of mouth about companies. Ambassador’s software as a service platform automates enrolling, tracking, managing, and rewarding referrals. Some of its brands include PayPal, Spotify and T-Mobile. The business is currently cash-flow positive and expanding its revenue.

Ambassador was part of the Techstars New York startup accelerator in  2011, raising a large convertible note from investors like Ludlow Ventures. Ambassador closed on a $2.35-million Series A a year ago. The round was led by Arthur Ventures with other early investors like Ludlow Ventures participating.

It wasn't always charging ahead at this speed for Ambassador. It's first four years were marked with incremental growth where the then small team focused on product and the business rather than rapid expansion.

"It was more important to me that we were growing and not risking people's jobs," Epstein says. "That meant growing a little bit slower in the earlier years."

The team at Ambassador focused on organic growth through word-of-mouth. Those early customers allowed the company to gradually, and with minimal pain, go through its learning curve. It new it had to start growing faster when it couldn’t keep up with the demand for its product.

"We were slowing ourselves down because we didn’t have enough people to do the demos and do the deals," Epstein says. He adds, "At a certain point you need to take a leap of faith. We had seen enough positive signals."

Epstein's advice to aspiring tech entrepreneurs, don't rush into rapid growth. Figure out the best direction to aim your company for longterm success, and then think about pulling the trigger.

"It's super important to go as fast as possible when you know you’re facing the right direction," Epstein says. "However, going really fast in the wrong direction can kill you."

- Written by Jon Zemke

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