“The toolkit that helps reps at every step of their sales process”
Position: Co-Founder and CEO of Groove
Home: San Mateo, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Minnesota in entrepreneurial management and management information systems
Family: Wife, Sarah; son Roman (3 months)
Career: Rose to a team lead for Google Earth Pro Sales before co-founding Groove
Favorite books: “The Score Takes Care of Itself” by the late San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh. “I like re-reading that one because it reminds me how it’s important to focus on the simple things in the process and the rest will work itself out,” Rothstein said. “That’s better than just focusing on the result. Create a good process and over time you can expect the results to be better.”
Fun Fact: He’s juggling a company and being a new father. “We’re just surviving right now,” Rothstein said, laughing. “It’s quite an intense beginning. We’re getting as much sleep as we can. At least there’s been a little bit.”
Interests: Rothstein reads a few books a month and tries to play flag football or pickup basketball at least once a week. And when he travels home he also loves to go fishing, “like most Minnesotans.”
Growing up in rural Minnesota, Chris Rothstein knew all about the hard jobs that come with working on farms. For instance, baling hay was no fun. But there was something else that was even tougher — picking up rocks.
Let him explain.
“Every year when the fields were plowed, they were rotating the soil and that meant rocks came up to the top,” he said. “You literally spent all day going through a field and picking up any rocks of any significant size and throwing them into a moving trailer. It’s incredibly painful work, and it gives you a totally different appreciation for any job you ever do after that.”
Today, he’s a long way from that upper Midwest farmland. But Rothstein is still doing heavy-lifting of a different sort helping build the San Francisco-based sales technology company Groove, which uses software to make sales teams more efficient.
“The last year has been awesome for us,” said Rothstein, 32, a co-founder and the CEO. “We definitely feel great about where we fit in the market. We’re growing fast and we’re really happy with the direction that we’re heading in now.”
But to hear him tell it, Rothstein is surprised at how far he has he come. He claims to have been “lucky” getting hired by Google out of college and fortunate to be be surrounded by a strong team at Groove. Reserved and polite, Rothstein fits the profile of “Minnesota nice” and is much more comfortable talking about his company than himself.
“Looking back on it, I still find it all amazing,” he said.
But don’t underestimate that humble demeanor, said Austin Wang, a fellow co-founder and the chief technology officer.
“He’s definitely a strong leader,” Wang added. “He’s very good at what he does because he’s so energetic and just gets super-psyched about projects. That enthusiasm is really infectious. But his core strength is that he’s just very careful and strategic in his decision-making.”
Rothstein is from St. Martin, Minn., a classic small town northwest of Minneapolis known as “Smartin” by the locals. It has two bars, one church, no stoplights and 308 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. His father owned a tractor dealership.
“It’s just a very different world,” he said.
Later at the University of Minnesota, Rothstein showed signs of having entrepreneurship ingrained in his DNA as he tried his hand at starting two businesses. Rothstein said he didn’t have the traditional resume that normally gets the attention of Google. But a hiring manager saw something in him.
“She was looking for people who were willing to work and sell really hard,” he recalled. “She was willing to take a risk and it proved to be a good fit. I think I was just fortunate to find a manager who was open to looking at people with my background.”
At Google, Rothstein and Wang became a strong, two-man sales team. The pair often would end up talking about the different ways that software could help salespeople do their jobs.
“We talked constantly about our dreams of someday starting our own company,” Wang said. “For years, we would brainstorm after work and come up with ideas. Sometimes we would just grab a conference room and talk about how sales could be better. Eventually, we decided it was time to try something new.”
They took the plunge in 2012 with a couple of product ideas that included one geared toward real estate agents. Wang described their path as a “zigzagging journey.” In other words, it was pretty much the typical story of young entrepreneurs finding their way. But after joining forces with another ex-Googler, fellow co-founder Alexander Kerschhofer, the pieces began to fall into place in 2014.
Rothstein describes Groove as transforming sales the way marketing automation did for marketers.
“We’re making it far easier to do more as a sales rep and then measure your ROI so you can make better decisions,” he said. “That way, you can double-down on the things that are working. We want to be the toolkit that helps reps at every step of their sales process so they’re connecting with their customers.”
The company name stems from the idea of “flow,” which was coined by Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The idea is that people can become so immersed in a positive, focused state of mind that they lose track of time and everything, well, clicks. Groove helps sales reps operate at that peak performance by removing distractions.
They’re in the groove, so to speak. And so is the company, which was one of the co-sponsors of the recent Ops-Stars at Dreamforce event.
“I’ve definitely always had that feeling of urgency to create something and desire to constantly make things better,” Rothstein added. “Even when I was at Google, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. We had been talking about this for so long, and now we’re getting to do it.”
So, you can take the boy out of Minnesota, but you can’t take Minnesota out of the boy.
Wang said that Rothstein, who was the best man at his wedding, never fails to point out companies that are based in Minnesota — like Target. He also took pride in being the rare Googler from that state.
And when they went back to St. Martin for Rothstein’s own wedding a few years ago, Wang was struck by the town’s small size. He saw that his friend really had traveled a long way.
“This has worked out way better than I ever thought,” Rothstein added. “I’ve always had high expectations for myself, but I never thought it would turn out like this.”
It’s also definitely better than picking up rocks.
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