Investing in a senior leadership team allowed RTO Insider’s founders to work on the business, not in the business

“My life is significantly better for having learned how to delegate. That doesn't mean there's stuff that doesn't fall on me, but there's been an amazing quality of life improvement.”

Merry Eisner, Co-founder and COO, RTO Insider

A brilliant idea

Founded in 2013, RTO Insider is a subscription-based publishing business. Through its three brands - RTO Insider, ERO Insider and NetZero Insider - it provides intelligence on policy and decision-making within the wholesale electricity industry, and in the developing sector of climate policy and adaptation.
RTO was founded by married couple Merry Eisner and Rich Heidorn Jr. Both came from the world of media - Merry from advertising and Rich from editorial - but neither had founded a media business before. However, after Rich was laid off from his role at Bloomberg at the age of 57, they decided they had nothing to lose in starting RTO.
Rich had spotted an underserved niche within the wholesale electric industry in the United States. A lot of media was focused on stories once they got to Washington, but it could take months of deliberations before those rulings bubbled up in a stakeholder setting in regional markets. 
“I realised how much money was at stake there,” explains Rich. “We’re still the only ones putting reporters in the room from stakeholder meetings regionally around the country.”

Complementary skills

“We had amazingly complementary skills,” Merry says of their start-up partnership. “And we knew we had a good idea. We did the research to confirm that the idea was a good one, but when we launched, it was pretty obvious right away.”
RTO grew to the point that it was working in all seven wholesale energy markets in the US. “We were doing pretty well. We had the entire country covered. We were steadily increasing sales,” says Rich. However, being completely self-funded, there were limits on how much RTO could do. “We could only grow as fast as our revenues allowed us to.” 
RTO now also had a staff of 28 people to consider. “It became bigger than just the two of us,” says Merry. “If we were going to have a company, I wanted to be able to provide people with a good living.” They were also working 80-hour weeks themselves, which they recognised wasn’t sustainable.
They saw that they had to find a way to do what they were doing more effectively, and that the only way to grow would be to develop more efficient ways of working.

Supercharging the model

Merry and Rich sought Collingwood to help them safeguard and grow the business they had built. “We had the model, we had the engine, now we wanted to supercharge it,” says Rich.
The first challenge they had to tackle was how to make RTO sustainable without their constant input. “If you're doing everything, that isn't possible,” says Merry. “Number one is how to put people in the right places.”
Collingwood worked with Merry and Rich to invest in a Senior Leadership Team that focused on progressively removing day-to-day dependence on them, freeing them to work on the business rather than in the business.
Through their work with Collingwood, they realised that scaling a business is about much more than just a better understanding of subscription metrics, budgeting or sales forecasting. Merry says it's also about the role founders play, how they manage people, and what scaling up actually looks like. “We're in our third year working with Collingwood, and I'm still learning things,” she says.

Planning and accountability

Rich credits Collingwood with the creation of a more effective planning process, and then pushing the team to follow through. “That accountability was huge. That forced me to step out of the business a bit more and play more of a management role”.
“In essence, Collingwood acts as our board, there to guide us and make sure that as we move, we're moving in a positive direction,” says Merry.
In its third year of working with Collingwood, RTO has accelerated its sales effort by building a clear, customer-insight-led strategy that cements its value proposition. Merry and Rich now understand their market size and have gained the confidence to invest time in unblocking their sales pipeline. They now have an enterprise-level subscription focus, founded on product, pricing, marketing and sales playbooks that will scale the business independent of their day-to-day input.
“My life is significantly better for having learned how to delegate,” says Merry. “I no longer feel that if something goes wrong, it means I'm going to have to drop things. We didn't get a honeymoon until year three, but in the last four years of our 10-year history, we've finally been able to take a vacation.”

“The biggest single thing we’ve done is to give Merry and Rich the confidence to invest in their senior team. We helped them believe that there was a bigger opportunity, that they didn’t need to be working 100 hours a week to break even.”

Andy Baker, Practice Lead for Business Information and Memberships, Collingwood

Most successful year

Since beginning work with Collingwood in 2021, RTO Insider has delivered top-line revenue growth of 30% per year, and in 2023, completed its most successful year ever with profit margins and renewal rates approaching those of market-leading subscription businesses. 
Our work has ranged across customer insight, product, pricing and packaging, creating the right dashboards to inform strategic debate and developing the senior leadership team,” says Practice Lead for Business Information and Memberships at Collingwood, Andy Baker.
However, the benefits to RTO go beyond the bottom line. “Merry and Rich have very successfully reduced the reliance of the business on themselves, something which many Founders find exceptionally hard to do,” says Andy. “But I would say our greatest contribution has been to give them the space, time and confidence to develop and back their own strategic decision-making.”