published Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Promoting Ambition: Chattanooga startup joins national tech incubator

Ambition co-founder Travis Truett stands in the startup’s new office next to the Lamp Post Group in downtown Chattanooga.
Ambition co-founder Travis Truett stands in the startup’s new office next to the Lamp Post Group in downtown Chattanooga.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Every Friday night at 11 p.m., Carter Garrett's inbox fills up with trash talk. From his co-workers. About sales.

"I get like 38 emails, saying, 'I crushed you' or 'We owned you' and "you know they beat me by like one point,'" Garret said, laughing. "People are literally sitting around waiting for that winner email that comes out at 11:01."

It's been like this for the last nine months -- ever since Chattanooga logistics company Access America, where Garrett is a regional sales director, launched a new sales incentive program called Ambition.

The browser-based sales platform divides a company's sales people into teams and pits one team against another, tracking stats like outgoing phone calls, profit or deals-closed. There are games, tournaments, seasons, winners and losers.

It's like fantasy football for sales people, says Ambition co-founder Travis Truett.

Ambition is the name of the platform, the name of the startup behind the product and a reflection of the high hopes of co-founders Truett, Brian Trautschold, Jared Houghton and Wes Kendall.

The 26- and 27-year-old men have raised $600,000 from Lamp Post Group, are building out a 3,000-square-foot office in downtown Chattanooga for the startup's 13 employees, and are starting to garner national attention.

The founders are splitting their time between Chattanooga and Silicon Valley as they try to grow Ambition into a major national player in the sales world. Most recently, the group was accepted into Y Combinator, the most prestigious tech startup incubator in the country.

Y Combinator puts around $20,000 into each company it accepts, then the startup is put through an intensive three-month program that culminates in an exclusive pitch to Silicon Valley heavy hitters.

The incubator has hatched businesses like Reddit, Dropbox and Loopt. The latter sold in 2012 for $43.4 million.

Unlike traditional incentive programs, like a whiteboard on the wall or a list of top performers, Ambition is aimed at motivating the average performer, Truett said.

"With some of our competitors in this space, their focus is more on what I call sales productivity 1.0," he said. "They can build you a leader board, a one-off competition format. But that only motivates the top 10 percent. We're building a sustainable system where 60 or 70 percent want to work."

So far, it seems to be working at Access America, Garrett said. The company's calls jumped from 14,000 to 21,000 a day after Ambition launched, and it's easier for Garrett to motivate the 25 employees he supervises.

"Performance is up and the accountability is huge," he said. "I don't have to sit and have that interaction of 'C'mon, Tom or Cindy, let's get going.' It's right in front of them. There's more personal ownership."

Every week, Garrett's team, dubbed Risky Business, competes with another team of two to four people across Access America. Each day's Ambition score is averaged at the end of the week to determine the winning team, which is announced Friday night at 11. This week, Garrett played a team in Minneapolis.

"Right now I'm kicking some butt," he said Wednesday. "We're actually leading them today by 110 Ambition points. Basically, we're outpacing the Minneapolis team by 25 percent."

He laughs.

"It's extremely important," he said. "There's a sense of pride."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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