This story is part of our Boomerang Series, where we talk to Minnesota natives who left for the coasts and have since returned to the Twin Cities startup scene. Think you know a “Boomerang” with a story to tell? Reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late last month, SaaS company Runscope announced that it had been acquired by New York-based CA Technologies. Although the business is moving, John Sheehan, co-founder and Minnesota native, plans to stay in the Twin Cities.
Sheehan, who is originally from St. Paul, moved back to Minnesota in May of last year after spending nearly a decade in San Francisco. Upon his return, Sheehan said he saw notable changes in the Twin Cities’ startup culture.
“There just weren’t a lot of high-growth, venture-backed startups when I left,” he said “And the mere existence of them here today is huge for the area.”
Sheehan was working for a local creative agency in Minneapolis in 2008 when he discovered Twilio, an application performance interface (API) business that allows developers to programmatically send texts and phone calls. Popular examples of this include Uber’s communication system with users and messaging app GroupMe.
Sheehan said he used Twilio to build a weather hotline for his softball leage, and was hooked. He began unofficially “evangelizing” for the business, and was invited to join the business in San Francisco as project manager.
After several years at Twilio, Sheehan left in 2012 to start his own API platform with his Twilio colleague Frank Stratton. Together, the two formed Runscope. The startup grew to a staff of around 20, and raised two rounds of funding, including a $6 million Series A, according to Crunchbase.
But after a few years, the funding flow stopped, Sheehan said, and they made the decision to try to sell Runscope in early 2016. The business went down to a lean staff as Sheehan and Stratton focused on digging Runscope out of its financial hole. In the midst of this, Sheehan and his wife, also a Minnesota native, had their first child, prompting them to move back to their home state.
“It’s so cliché, but my priorities changed,” Sheehan said. “It didn’t make sense to continue living in San Francisco and paying ridiculous rent.”
Stratton remained in Berkley. Sheehan said that over next 18 months, the two restored Runscope’s revenue and hired a remote team of around five people. According to Sheehan, all are expected to remain on after the sale to CA Technologies. He added that CA Technologies is “very interested” in keeping Runscope as a standalone product and brand that operates as an autonomous entity.
Despite the headaches Sheehan endured as a startup co-founder, he enjoyed the experience and encourages others to join early-stage tech companies “as early as you can stomach.” He also hopes to see more boomerangs return to the Twin Cities.
“We need more victories and opportunities,” Sheehan said. “Each time you get a win it becomes a cycle, but it takes a long time to really get that. Hopefully they come back and put their money to work.”