TechSesh Spotlight: Brooke Battle, founder of Swell Fundraising

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How can an individual event have a great impact on a cause? Brooke Battle took her passion for important causes and turned it into Swell Fundraising, an event platform that helps non-profits maximize their fundraising potential. 

Battle's company has helped numerous non-profit organizations around the country achieve their fundraising goals. Swell combines event planning, check-in, and the Swell Slides projection app to keep guests engaged and create amplify their clients' missions. 

Since it began in 2012, Swell has created an impact by expanding events' potential and making significant impacts on several causes such as the YMCA, the American Cancer Association, and more. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Swell received the Alabama Launchpad competition in 2014. 

We had a chance to talk to Brooke and hear how she was able to turn her passion for helping causes into a successful business. 

What motivated you to start Swell?

I started Swell because I believed (and continue to believe) that nonprofit events could have a greater impact on the cause they serve.  It was my commitment to women’s issues and a desire for that cause to grow that led me to create an event platform that would maximize the fundraising potential of an event.

Whatis the number one thing preventing women from taking the plunge into entrepreneurship and technology?

Fear. While I hate to generalize by gender, women often evaluate situations more thoroughly – too thoroughly in many cases. If you thoroughly evaluated entrepreneurship, you would fear failure, fear the commitment and the negative impact on your family, fear the financial instability, and fear the unknown. Women get caught up in this detailed thought process and lose the strategic vision and confidence that inspires them to take the leap.    

If I were to start my own business today, what is the the first thing I should do to take action? - Where do you start? 

You should survey 100 prospective buyers to fully understand the problem that you solve for them, validate the need and how they buy products like yours.

What was the worst piece of advice you have gotten? 

The worst piece of advice I received was not to hire a salesperson early.  In this person’s experience, the founder was the top sales person at each company until it was stabilized.  There is no question that the founder is heavily involved in sales but sales is a skill set that I needed and I should have hired a sales person first. 

Who has always been your mentor? 

I have not had the good fortune to have a steady mentor.  I wish I did, but honestly I don’t know how one finds a mentor.  My husband, Bob, has been an absolute rock and a great sounding board.

Do you think the entrepreneurial spirit is innate or can it be learned over time?

I think entrepreneurship can be learned over time.  In my opinion, being a good entrepreneur is really about knowledge and perseverance, which can both be acquired. Sure, some people may have more grit than others but if you want to persevere you can.  The only factor that might be innate would be a person’s capacity for instability and risk. Entrepreneurship has definitely tested my capacity for the latter and my solution has been to seek stability in other aspects of my life.  It’s interesting to consider because literally nothing has changed about my personal life, not even one piece of furniture or decorative item in my house, in the six years since I started Swell.  It’s probably time for me to take some “risk” elsewhere!

What keeps you motivated when everything seems to be going wrong?

When things seem to be going wrong, I just think about how far we’ve come. There have been many times when I questioned the future and in each of those cases I put my head down and worked hard to figure out the next step. Perseverance works and I just remember the many times we pushed through to the other side.    

Everyone has their two-cents, how do you decide whose advice to listen to?

First, I listen to everyone. The question really is which advice do I act upon. Creating a tech-centered company without a technology background meant that I relied on a ton of input and advice.   My strategy has always been to ask questions, keep asking and listen to everything. I look for patterns in the answers and the experience of the people who provide the advice and act accordingly. 

What is your favorite gadget or app that you cannot live without? 

I love gadgets and new apps. For work, we use Slack and I’m a big fan of Google Docs/Sheets/Slides. Once you take the leap to the concept of shared files, it’s hard to go back. My favorite gadget is the Vivitek Qumi mini HDMI projector. I can turn any blank wall into a presentation which is great for exhibiting and presentations when you don’t know the space.

If you could give your former self one piece of advice that could have saved you many mistakes what would it be? 

Establish a relationship with a large partner that is a user of your product. This helps validate the product specifications, test the product and creates a sales channel from the start. 

What is the key to building your own voice and brand? 

In my case, the key was to hire a good branding firm and good people to develop the voice/brand. The only thing I’ve done is maintain our core focus which is to help nonprofits expand their mission and be authentic.    

What are you most proud of?  

I’m most proud of the success of our clients. Helping great organizations expand their mission is the ultimate win. I’m proud that our software and guidance has raised an additional $2 million for causes that support women and girls, provide low cost day care, environmental protection and housing families with medical needs.    

Your favorite quotes?

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” - Walt Disney

“A really clean house is not compatible with a really big life”  - Ann Richards

Connect with Brooke:

Twitter:  @bhambattle; @swellfunds