Emily Sprinkle gets to know Torchlite’s founder Susan Marshall.
You could say that Susan Marshall’s professional journey has been an exciting ride. She came up in tech just as the world was embracing interconnectivity like never before. People of Susan’s generation have the unique benefit of knowing both the analog and digital experience. A before and after, if you will.
Susan was at Apple when Steve Jobs returned and the whole place was buzzing with renewed energy. Marketing was front and center in that world and Susan could see the democratization of the digital revolution taking root.
She was product manager for the Pro Tools at Apple, which was coming into its own for consumer use. It still required high-level skills but you could see how this kind of software was going to become readily available to everyday consumers. It just seemed inevitable. That didn’t mean that the technology was simplifying, on the contrary, innovation became hyper-charged as creatives across the spectrum embraced technology into their lives. The users became the driving force of innovation.
With that expanded access came predictable frustrations. Torchlite was born out of a need for integration of this powerful technology suddenly in demand in every market and every scale organization. It wasn’t just technology for the few, it was for everyone and it was crucial to staying afloat when the pandemic hit. There is no going back now.
How do you feel your previous jobs prepared you for launching Torchlite?
Immensely. I worked with some pretty high-level executives and I got to see how the sausage gets made, up close. I experienced genuine leadership when there was no beaten path to the consumer experience. I saw problem-solving in real-time as the whole world watched. It was exhilarating.
And eventually, it led me to create my own solutions to the issues I could see percolating in my industry. I wanted to be a part of something new and I wanted that personal interaction with my customers and talent. I may not speak to each Torchlite marketplace user, but I am watching and listening to their feedback. Because I know it is ultimately they who will dictate the future of my business.
Why are you passionate about Torchlite? And what should people know about the company?
We are a team of people dedicated to the freelance revolution. We all come to this place by varied paths in the corporate world, nonprofits, and big tech. Torchlite talent is committed to growing their own freelance businesses through ongoing training with the certifications to back it up. I get why my customers come to Torchlite and the talent we provide. It is because we are able to match and guide projects with transparency, identified deliverables, and realistic expectations.
Torchlite customers know the value of cloud-based technology but not always the steps to take on the projects they need to get ahead. Torchlite Flexperts, certified, flexible experts, already know the technology and how to bring organizations into the system seamlessly. They have done thousands of projects and can see the pitfalls before they stop a project dead in its tracks.
What sets Torchlite apart from other talent marketplaces?
We stress communication and transparency. It isn’t an anonymous jobs board driven by algorithms. Torchlite is about making connections, finding the right people for the project. That is the hallmark of a Torchlite project. Our freelancers are frequently rehired by their customers creating trust and continuity with on-demand service when it is needed, and perhaps just as importantly, when it is not.
Has the COVID-19 climate impacted Torchlite? Have you had to pivot at all or do things differently?
Fortunately, we were ready to go when COVID-19 hit. Our team was already working remotely so there was very little adjustment in terms of workflow. We had just launched our 3.0 platform in partnership with Salesforce to help SMBs utilize the new Essentials platform. Freshly minted Essentials Advisors, trained to help small – midsize businesses grow, were in the process of onboarding the Torchlite platform to join the marketplace when suddenly everyone was interested in cloud sales and services. We were able to meet customer demand in real-time as the world adjusted to life online.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently tackling, and how are you working through it?
Like many successful startups, we are growing fast. Right now we are working to meet enterprise demand for integration into the online marketplace. Complex industries like finance and health care are in desperate need of systems that will support consumer interface and a remote workforce. We have the talent that can make it happen. We only accept about 4% of the marketplace applicants into our platform and are always on the lookout for our unicorns with high-level certifications and excellent customer service skills. It is the perfect mix for our customers that are going to be the stewards of their data after the freelancer has gone.
It’s no secret that most venture funding is given to male-owned businesses. What tips would you offer to other female entrepreneurs who are looking to raise funds?
Keep your eye on the prize. Just because that is the way it was always done does not mean it is the way it will always be. We know our business better than anyone and it is our job to get that value across to raise capital. It is about knowing what funders want out of the deal, how that desire will benefit your business, and making it worth the investment. I’d even argue that many women instinctively read the needs of the people around them and excel at raising funds when challenged to do so.
What does success mean to you?
I’d like to say top banana but it is really about creating continuity. We are not aiming to be the biggest or most comprehensive. There are giant whales out there, dominating the market. We are about customization, even when we have done the tasks a million times. Each project is unique and our experts are trained to not only provide excellent skills but to know and understand what their customers need to be successful.
How do you practice self-care?
I am a bit of a gypsy. These days I have teenagers that keep me close to home in Indiana, but I get out to Colorado quite frequently to ski or hike the backcountry when I can.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?
We create our own value. Never let anyone else define you because they cannot possibly see the whole picture. I am very proud of what I have put out into the world as an entrepreneur and as a team player in my career. We have improved the Torchlite product year over year, adding real value, as we learned how best to utilize the Torchlite Marketplace for our talent and our customers. That confidence to move forward comes from me and my vision for what Torchlite can be. I knew what we were aiming for and I kept my focus on the value we bring to the table.
What single word or saying do you identify most with? Why?
Resiliency. I am humbled by the challenges of this life, without a doubt. It has not always been easy but I keep moving forward and rebounding into a better, more productive place. I am grateful for those challenges, as painful as some were, because they propelled me into action that required a catalyst. It is not the blow that I remember so much as the rebound. I am much tougher than my younger self might have imagined.
What’s next for you and Torchlite?
We will continue to grow our consultant base as the demand for professional freelancers explodes. So many talented people out in the workforce are discovering that they want to dictate how and when they work. We support them. Whether it was because they were moonlighting, laid off or they decided to go it alone, emboldened by the demand for their particular skills, they found a home with us. We have both utilized and benefited from the freelance model since Torchlite was founded in 2015. We see the value in supporting these entrepreneurial folks as they embark on this journey with us. It’s been a blast.
This interview was originally published online by Women’s Business Daily Editor-in-Chief Emily Sprinkle on December 4, 2020.
Learn more about Torchlite at www.torchlite.com.