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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Brian Trautschold and Jared Houghton, co-founders of Ambition, a sales technology company that recently secured another $15.5 million of equity funding, pose for a portrait on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The dream of building what is now one of Chattanooga's fastest-growing software companies began more than a decade and a half ago when Travis Truett, Jared Houghton and Brian Trautschold were business students at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

"We always knew we wanted to have our own business and kicked around a lot of ideas," Trautschold recalled.

After graduating in 2009, Truett and Houghton briefly headed to Colorado while Trautschold took a sales job with Hewlett Packard. But within a couple of years, the trio reunited in Chattanooga and started work on a social media news reader first known as Retickr and later revamped as Fireplug.

The initial business taught the entrepreneurs about engaging users with software apps and personalizing the news reading experience as individuals used the product. Despite some initial success and purchase offers, the trio realized they could use their growing expertise with analytical software technology to build an even more useful and fun information system to better measure and reward sales workers at different companies.

So they quickly pivoted to create the business Ambition, which was launched in 2014. With the initial backing of the Lamp Post Group in Chattanooga, the firm quickly grew to a dozen employees when the trio was selected to participate in the highly coveted Y Combinator, a small business accelerator program in San Francisco in 2014. Ambition was the first team from Tennessee to go to Y Combinator.

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Ambition grows with new funding

"Silicon Valley was awesome and we certainly learned a lot and were able to raise some initial funding fairly quickly," Houghton recalled. "But we wanted to get back to Chattanooga. The rental rates there were quite daunting in the Bay area and we love Tennessee."

Ambition, which was grown into a nationwide digital sales technology business, creates a motivational platform that operates like fantasy football for sales and marketing pros. The gamification tools Ambition offers help employers coach and motivate sales forces, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many such workers are doing their jobs at home.

Like fantasy football leagues, the Ambition gamification software looks at the performance of different sales teams across an array of metrics within the company, allowing them to compete for limited "seasons," with rewards for the winners.

Ambition won both customers and community support in its hometown, winning the Spirit of Innovation award in 2015 and a number of customers, especially in Chattanooga's growing freight logistics market.

Chad Eichelberger, president and chief operating officer of Reliable Partners, first used Ambition's software as a sales tool when he was still at Access America and has used the company at other companies since.

"Ambition created a great sales enabling tool," Eichelberger said. "At Access America, we were very big on transparency and visibility in measuring what each sales person was doing and in making the work environment fun and competitive. A lot of the metrics that we saw as key drivers for our success, they were able to gamify and get people excited about all of the little things that lead to the big successes. They have a great tool and they are able to do a lot of customization for what we needed."

FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller said using the software has helped his company grow.

Ambition at a glance

Started: 2013 by co-founders Travis Truett, Jared Houghton and Brian Trautschold

Headquarters: Fleetwood building in downtown Chattanooga

Products and services: Gamification software helps companies score sales, calls, meeting arrangements and other measures of success and displays results to both measure and encourage staff performance

Staff: Currently 68 employees in 13 states, including 24 in Chattanooga, and another 24 job openings

Investments: More than $20 million, including new $15.5 million Series B funding from Primus Capital

"I can't imagine running a remote sales team without Ambition," said Craig Fuller, CEO of FreightWaves, an Ambition customer since before the pandemic. "Ambition gamifies our sales efforts and provides a real-time view of sales performance and engagement. It is the most powerful sales engagement platform in the market."

Ted Alling, a former CEO of Access America and partner in Lamp Post Group who was worked with Ambition since its start, said the company "is a huge win for the Chattanooga startup ecosystem.

"They are making a huge push locally here in Chattanooga and in Tennessee to develop and cultivate amazing talent," Alling said.

Ambition is rapidly growing this year with its biggest funding in the company's seven-year history. Primus Capital in Atlanta helped Ambition recently secure $15.5 million Series B funding, bringing the total capital raised for Ambition to over $20 million.

Phil Molner, the managing partner of Primus, said the new funding should allow Ambition to rapidly scale the business to meet the growing demand for its software.

"By combining analytics, gamification, and coaching technology solutions in an integrated rep performance management suite, Ambition helps customers maximize the performance of their sales teams while retaining and motivating their top sales producers," Molner said.

The extra funding will help expand the company's staff, operations and development efforts. The company has already added 23 employees this year and has another 24 job openings. In August, both Butler Raines, formerly head of product at SalesLoft, and Kelly Berg, previously vice president of sales services at Eventbrite, joined Ambition as company vice presidents.

"We're really building a star-studded team in Tennessee," said Mari Klotzbach, director of content marketing at Ambition.

The COVID-19 pandemic initially gave the Ambition co-founders some pause last year when many companies were coping with fewer sales and none of the traditional sales gatherings and staff celebrations that Ambition's analytical tools had helped to foster.

But as the economy has rebounded and remote work has become more common, the demand for Ambition software by managers is even greater as companies try to coach and reward sales in scattered and remote sites. The analytical software and data gathered by Ambition and displayed on computers for all to see have created even more demand for Ambition products.

"We decided to raise funds because the pain and challenge customers are facing is so acute," said Trautschold, who serves as the company's chief operations officer. "Sales managers and revenue leaders are in a very tough position with remote work, and a myriad of point solutions have created more disengagement and noise than ever. Sales managers don't want to be analysts––they want to coach their reps to succeed."

Trautschold said the extra funding will catalyze Ambition's ongoing growth initiatives and further its goals to gamify sales and better recognize reps in a hybrid workplace.

"The Sales Performance Management space is largely comprised of software that turns commission plans into dashboards," said Truett, the CEO of Ambition. "While useful, this reactive approach does not align with the fast-paced environment where revenue leaders must turn insights into actions in real-time."

Truett said Ambition is ideally suited to help salespeople achieve their goals in a work-from-anywhere world.

And in such a world, the company founders say they are staying in Tennessee.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.

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