Business

Why this Triangle startup founder plans to step back from leading his company

Anil Chawla, founder of Durham-based startup ArchiveSocial, has stepped down from his role as CEO.
Anil Chawla, founder of Durham-based startup ArchiveSocial, has stepped down from his role as CEO. Courtesy of ArchiveSocial

After eight and a half years of leading the startup ArchiveSocial, founder and CEO Anil Chawla is looking forward to catching up on some sleep.

Chawla and the company announced this week that he would be moving into an executive chairman role — taking him away from the day-to-day operations of the company.

Ray Carey, the former CEO of NeoNova Network Solutions, will take over as CEO.

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Anil Chawla is stepping down from his role as CEO of the Durham-based startup ArchiveSocial. Courtesy of ArchiveSocial

The move comes about five months after ArchiveSocial — which builds software to help local government agencies turn social media posts into public records — took on $53 million in financing from private equity firm Level Equity.

The deal led to many of its original investors cashing out, including local firms like Cofounders Capital and national ones like Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Fund.

“We are really entering our next phase of growth” as a company, Chawla said in an interview with The News & Observer. “We were hit with an offer to create shareholder liquidity and it was clear to me that this company had a very strong trajectory.”

“It was a good inflection point for me personally to say ... ‘How do I create the most value for the company?’” he added. “It became clear that this was a great time to transition my role and focus on where I add to the company and that is strategy and vision.”

With more than 2,000 customers now and around 70 employees, Chawla said he recognized it was time for somebody with more managerial experience to lead the daily operations of the company.

But the move also allows him to recharge his batteries and spend more time with his two young sons, both of whom were born while the 37-year-old built ArchiveSocial from the ground up. His new role will keep him involved with the company, but it will be more on a weekly basis rather than a daily one, he said.

“For eight and a half years, I ran a race I wanted to run,” he said. “It will be good for me to take a break.”

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Across West Main Street from the American Underground @ Main building is The five story Trust Building at 202 West Main Wednesday, September 9, 2015. A new startup space is planned for The Trust building, in downtown Durham as it is renovated. N&O File Photo

He said he is looking forward to days where he can take his boys, ages 7 and 4, to school and then return home to go back to sleep. He described raising two kids while he ran a startup and his wife balanced her own career as “intense.”

Chawla added that he is committed to staying in the Triangle for the foreseeable future.

“This community has changed my life in terms of support from all the players in the ecosystem,” he said. “Long term, I’ll be involved actively in the entrepreneurial community, paying it back. And no doubt I will be tinkering myself.”

‘A poster child’

Chawla founded ArchiveSocial in 2011 after leaving his job at IBM, when he discovered the challenges many public agencies were having in turning social media posts into archival public records.

He remembers one conversation with a friend who told him that employees at N.C. State University were having to copy and paste tweets into Word documents to stay in compliance with public records laws.

So, he went about creating software that would do that process for public agencies across a multitude of social media platforms.

When he launched the company, social media was still a relatively new thing that agencies were grappling with as a communication form. Now it is something that every agency uses regularly. Chawla pointed toward President Donald Trump’s use of Twitter as the biggest example of the importance of social media usage as public record.

The company’s users have included everyone from the Obama White House to nearly every city and county government in the Triangle. Chawla believes one area of growth for the company going forward will be K-12 school systems.

During its rise, the company took advantage of nearly every entrepreneurial tool available in the Triangle. The company was one of the first tenants at American Underground in Durham, a part of the first cohort for the Startup Stampede and won an NC IDEA grant.

“We are probably the poster child” of using the available resources, Chawla said.

He added that the size of the Triangle market, especially in the company’s early days, was a key to the company’s success.

“Our story has proven that you can build a great company anywhere, but particularly in communities like the Triangle where you have all the ingredients of a successful community,” he said. “Because it is small enough ... people know you and your story gets shared quickly. There’s a sense of camaraderie among the community, and while we compete for the same talent, it doesn’t feel like that.”

The biggest lesson he took from the success of ArchiveSocial was that you don’t need to chase growth and large funding numbers to be successful. Rather, he said, growing slowly and making the company sustainable at the beginning helped Archive Social grow faster later on.

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.
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