Why would a founder who did $250,000 in revenue his first year say he’d never build a similar business again?
When he was in school, Chris Brisson sold car rims online. I invited him to talk about how he earned his first 1/4 million dollars, how the business grew, and why he says he’ll never sell a physical product again.
Today he’s the co-founder and CEO of Call Loop – the “Constant Contact for voice and text” which integrates with other services you are already using to send targeted voice and text messages.
Watch the FULL program
Chris Brisson, Call Loop
Chris Brisson is the founder of Call Loop, which allows you to send voice & text messages to your contacts.
Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. Hey Chris, to the editor please, let’s bring Chris on board right now and I’ll do a quick intro and we’ll go over what we’re going to talk about in this interview. I’m going to try a different approach. This is Chris Brisson.
Andrew: Brisson. Got to go French. He is the founder of Call Loop which allows you to send voice and text messages to your contacts. The best way to think of it is it’s like Mail Chimp for mobile messaging. Chris and I are going to be talking about a bunch of things including how he bootstrapped to hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.
From no money, he just kept going and clawing his way to the top. We’ll find out how he did it. We’re going to hear about the marketing ideas that he copied from other people and that you and I might want to actually copy from him because he’s gone a long way with them.
And we’re going to take those ideas that you can actually copy. Not those theoretical ideas that are cool but not directly applicable to. And we’re also going to talk about how to get software developed if you’re an entrepreneur with a great idea but no coding skills. Chris, is that you? Did you not have any coding skills?
Chris: I can create web pages.
Andrew: All right. If you can create web pages but not create software.
Chris: And I still can’t program. I don’t want to learn.
Andrew: He doesn’t want to learn it. Good. This is basically not even an overview. Some of the big ideas we’ll talk about in this interview and I should say right at the top, thank you to my sponsor. Chris, do you know by now who the sponsor is?
Chris: Mr. Walker.
Andrew: Only one sponsor to keep it short. I still love Shopify but the person who pays me now is Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. Right? You don’t want a lawyer who represents the circus one day, the plumber the next day, and by the way, sometimes a startup when he thinks that he can get some shares and get it rich. You want a guy that knows the business. Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. All right Chris, let’s get right into it. All right?
Chris: Let’s do it.
Andrew: Let’s do it. All right. I want to start with getting really personal with you. So you’re in software but you watch people like me, you told me before we started, who sell nothing but information and how do you feel about that?
Chris: Well, the thing is I actually came from information publishing. That business, so the last time we talked, we talked about my rim business which was totally physical and then after I sold that company, I vowed to myself never again to sell physical big stuff.
And I transitioned into information and information is always the easiest, as I look at it, it’s an easy business to get into with less moving part. And getting into software, it’s a little more difficult than people make it seem to be especially if you don’t have any technical so looking at the information business is your website up, can you accept payments and is your link working?
So software, especially when you’re dealing with text messaging and mobile messaging and voice messages, there’s a lot more moving parts to it. That’s for sure.
Andrew: You actually told me about a specific friend whose name we won’t mention who was making what? How was he doing compared to you as you were struggling?
Chris: He’s doing good. Through the day, you have three employees and you’re making millions and millions of dollars in net money, straight to the bank. So being an entrepreneur, you question that. Are you doing the right thing? Are you building the right business? Is this the right vehicle to get to the end result?
Andrew: What is the end result for you?
Chris: I think, the end result for me is to build a real business. To have good people around you that you can grow. You can build something together and you can build a real company that can produce-
Andrew: For what? That doesn’t seem like an end. That seems like a means. Is the end to have a jet? Is the end to be richer than this friend? Is the end to, I don’t know, to feed people in starving parts of the world? What’s your end?
Chris: No, the end is to build something that you can essentially walk away from.
Andrew: I see.
Chris: I think to build a business, to not be that cog in the wheel, but to build on something that, literally, you can walk away from and let it generate sales for you so that you don’t have to be there every single day grinding it out and luckily, hopefully one day, you can sell, exit and then take a step back and actually do the next thing.
So I think for me it’s definitely building a business that I can step away from or at least find somebody to replace me to grow the business. Or exit the company. I think when you’re building a software business, it’s either you’re doing it for the lifestyle, or, you’re doing it build something huge to sellout. At least in the software business I would say.
Andrew: Okay. Last time you were on here we talked about how you sold rims for cars, and, you were doing this while you were in school. The interview, of course, is on Mixergy. Anyone can go, and, look up, Chris’s, past interview. Back then, Chris, I’m a friend of yours, and, I still back then said, you know what, Chris? We can’t talk about, Call Loop, it’s too early.
We have to focus on the rim business because it has a beginning, middle, and, an end success story of sorts, right? I thought it was a success story. I don’t know if you felt it at the time. Today the business is doing well. Like a friend with an ulterior motive I come back to you, and, I say, friend will you come here, and, let me do an interview because now I want it, and, you said, no.
Anyway, you pushed me off for a bit, and, you finally said, yes. Where are the revenues right now?
Chris: Nice approach, huh. It’s good. This year we’re looking to be about three quarters of a $1,000,000. I’m excited that at the end of the year we can definitely reach that. It’s exciting to get there.
Andrew: Where were you last year?
Chris: Nowhere close. . . . [??] . . .
Andrew: Were you under $400,000 last year?
Chris: Yeah, . . . [??] . . .
Andrew: You were?
Andrew: Okay. This year what’s your run rate?
Chris: It’s about that. It’s about $750,000.
Andrew: Okay. I don’t have highs where toward the end of the year you expect to do much more than now, right?
Chris: No, I think we’re on track.
Chris: If everything remains the same we’ll stay at that rate.
Andrew: Okay. We’re talking over $50,000 in sales a month, so far.
Chris: Yeah, give, or, take.
Andrew: Okay. Recurring revenue. Give, or take you mean.
Andrew: Does it average that?
Chris: No, some months are better than others . . . [??] . . .
Chris: Well, I’d say the last couple months we’ve been growing. What’s interesting is the recurring side of the business is not a huge part of it. Just simple systems we haven’t built into Call Loop yet. Most of the business is . . .
Andrew: I’m surprised. I guess, is it because people sign up for the free package? Because free is pay as you go, $.5 per message. Everything else is a per monthly fee. Kind of like the example that I gave at the top of the interview, Mail Chimp, where with the basic, pro, and, max packages I pay $29.00 a month, $49.00 a month, or, $99.00 a month, respectively. Is free that much more popular?
Chris: Well, text messaging is not like marketing. You have certain types of businesses that like a budget. Then you have certain types of businesses that like skill ability into it. The market that we go after has skill ability to it. They don’t want to be stuck in saying, I only have 250 messages, or, 500 messages.
We’ve been working our model, and, just checking things over. We’re just about to change over to a new pricing models, and do — with it. It’s interesting. We have a lot of people that pay multiple times per month. Three months ago we had a guy pay 46 times in one month, which is huge.
Andrew: . . . [??] , , , to monthly fees that might be lower because he doesn’t want the contract.
Chris: Yeah, it’ not even about the contract. It’s, like, look we send a lot of messages.
Andrew: I see.
Christ: The monthly doesn’t work for us. We just want to be able to use the platform in scale. A lot of people will build it into, for example, we have so many different segments. One segment is marketers. Marketers have funnels, they have systems, and, to be capped at certain amount of messages, and, we don’t cap anybody, but, they want the ability just to consistently bring plenish [??] credits.
It’s kind of like a Twillo, model. In Twillo you set up your card, and, we have an auto charge mechanism.
Andrew: I see.
Chris: They can use it as they go. They can use it as they choose. It works.
Andrew: All right. Look at me. I’m supposed to actually not start with– I have a coach for my interviews. He said, look, do not start with the revenue. Make it like a buildup so the people are wondering how well this guy does, and, then go to the revenue.
Now, I’m realizing the other reason not to do it is that I’m starting off by making you uncomfortable, by digging into your finances, which is frankly, a very personal thing to do. I think because I ask it so much the feels audience feels, like, well, there’s another throwaway question that, Andrew– no, this is a personal thing to do, right.
Chris: I’d say so. Should I be squirming in my seat?
Andrew: I think so. No, but, I should be starting off by making you feel more comfortable, and, then go onto that. All right. The way you learn is by trying different things. Let’s move onto the things that have been tried, and, true. Here’s the way I like to get to know someone, their background. One of things that you did before, as you said, you were helping information product companies. You took, for example, a raw food client that had an outdated DVD course and was printing manuals at Kinko’s. And what did you do for him when you ran your previous company which was Power Launch Consulting.
Chris: Yes. So starting that company was definitely … I’ve learned a lot about marketing. And didn’t have a product of my own at the time to really push the marketing to the edge and put together a full blown product launch. So this one client, I actually interviewed him maybe a year before and I was like, “You know what? Let me put together a product launch for somebody.”
And so I thought of him and he had a great product. He had a small list, maybe 5000 people, and come to find out, he was printing the DVDs, printing the manual, doing all the work. And he was living in a sharecropper’s cabin in Georgia as raw food guy. But he had great product and he had a good audience.
And so I came in there and just with good marketing, he would just send out, every week, the same HTML email that everybody just got conditioned to know, it’s the same stuff. So starting in January, we did the deal December and, essentially, within three days, I put together a campaign and basically did a scratch and [??] sale.
He had all this inventory, all this stuff. I said, “Look, we need to clear this stuff out and let’s generate some money so we can move on to actually outsource and get all this stuff produced.” So in three days, I put together a promotion, did a survey, just did some really good marketing, and in three days, we did about $14,000 in sales. He was doing $500 or $1,000 a month. So we did that in three days and he was blown away. And I was blown away. But I knew good marketing could do that.
And so we took that money, I basically, completely automated this guy’s business, got all the DVDs, all the books, did redesign, we packaged it. He had 33 DVDs he would ship. So we compiled it down, put it into a 10 set DVD with a book and a manual and all that stuff, really beautiful, completely outsourced with disk.com and set him up. And we did a launch and we ended up doing a full blown product launch. It was awesome.
It was the first big product launch we did. And we did 135,000 in 34 days. So it was pretty cool. And that was an information product. From that, took that same campaign and took that same product launch system and then did it for another client. We did 170,000 in a week using that same product launch formula.
Andrew: Wow. No wonder it’s frustrating to build up the software company slowly when there’s so much money in information product. I know automation is one of your things and I was hoping to get that into this interview. But I don’t think we’ll be able to squeeze automation in. Maybe you can tell me about one automation technique that you used with the Raw Foods Company that we might be able to learn from and apply today.
Chris: Good lord. This is 2008. I knew nothing about Infusionsoft. We used one shopping cart, we used A Weber, we used all of that stuff. But the biggest thing, the automation side of it, that I applied to his business was he was doing work. The fulfillment company printing the CDs, they shipped it to the customer, any refunds that came through, they went to the fulfillment company.
So he stepped away from that to where he didn’t have to do any of the work. So any sell that came it in, it automatically went to the fulfillment center, they shipped it out, and that was it. So, literally, it’s like, Okay, you can just produce sells and not have to do the hard work of what you thought you had to do. For me, that was the big thing. But more importantly, was putting together the right product launch.
And I learned this stuff from Jeff Walker at Product Launch Formula. And this stuff works. We actually got it to work. I remember on launch day, we like, Oh, it worked, it worked. It was really cool because it actually worked. We did the first deal with $23,000 in sales. I was like, Holy crap. It’s just cool.
So you can do hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars very quickly selling information where not a lot of things can go wrong. And then you try and apply that to software. With Call Loop, I feel like I … not anymore because things have changed, we’ve solidified the platform. But in many respects, I can slam the gas and have to hold back because things break and this didn’t work. And there’s a lot more moving parts to it than–
Andrew: I want to get to how you did that. It does seem like, well if this product launch formula worked for information products, it should work for software. By the way, I see you took your hands off your desk. I appreciate that, actually.
You have a great mic, but for some reason when you touch your desk, the mic picks up on the sounds. So helpful that you don’t bang down. Which sucks because I want you to be natural and animated. I want you to be the guy who bangs on the table. Speaking of automation, you’re saying the things that he did manually, you helped him outsource to a company that would automate for him. I want to skip ahead just for a moment.
You heard that Woo Foo, the survey company and the forum company, did something that you and your current company have copied and automated. Can you tell people what you did?
Chris: Yeah. So this really goes to a book I read in 2005. It’s called, How to Sell Anything to Anybody. And it’s buy a guy name Joe Girard. It turns out Joe Girard knows a thing or two about selling and he sold 13,001 cards in a 5-year span. He won the Genius Book of World Records and still holds that today.
And he wrote a book about it. I read it and one of the strategies he talks about is what he would do every month, without fail, is he would write a handwritten thank you note to every single one of his customers. Now, obviously, he didn’t do all the work. He had a whole team that would do it. And I never forgot that because I was like, Wow. It’s just so simple. If that worked for him . . .
Andrew: Wait. He didn’t, actually, write those notes?
Chris: No way. He couldn’t do it. Originally, he did but he had a whole team that would write the hand notes for him. And I never forgot that. I was like, Wow. It’s such a simple strategy but it works. When Call Loop around, it actually gave me a real reason to start applying some of these offline strategies.
I remember seeing Woo Foo and it was probably 2008, 2009 where they got all this press about how they were written thank you cards. And I was like, Oh my gosh. People are going nuts over this simple strategy that everybody should do. The probably comes in is if you’re a small company, you have to do it. And you only have so much time in the day to actually do it.
So with Call Loop, I automated an outsource staff. So originally, I would write the thank you notes for every new customer that would come in. And when I would send these out, I would get people that would post it on Twitter, post it on Facebook and would tag me on it. Just that small little gesture went a long way for the stick strategy side of things but also the good will, that wow factor that [??] applies. And so anyhow, outsourced that. I have a woman that manually does that for us and we pay her .35 cents apiece. And she stamps it, hand addresses it, and does it all.
Andrew: So she just gets an email with contact information, every time you make a sale, she sits down and writes it? Does she write it from Chris?
Chris: No. She writes it as a team member.
Andrew: All right. That makes since. Okay. By the way–
Chris: So every three weeks–
Chris: I was going to say, so every week, she gets a batch and just throughout the week, she sends it.
Andrew: I do it. I’ve got these cards right here at my desk, I hand do them, and you’re right, it takes a long time. But I feel like that’s the power of it.
Chris: Well you may have a personal touch with everybody. Right? [??] or talk to somebody, they talk to you. But to do business with a company, it’s a little bit different. They don’t me, they don’t need my signature, but they just want, hey, welcome to the team, from somebody on the team.
Andrew: To know the company cares. All right. That makes sense. There’s a point for software that’s much easier to do. So you had this launch and actually, frankly, I don’t think we should spend too much time on it. But you got screwed, you didn’t get as much of your consulting fee as you should have, not because of this client but because of a partner. You then had a frustration that lead to Call Loop. What’s the frustration?
Chris: Yeah. So we were doing these launches and I like to take a step and use all these different channels. We were doing teleseminars, at the time. Email marketing’s easy because you can automate that with AWeber. We were trying to just add every component and we were trying to do voice broadcasting. Which text messaging really wasn’t available back then or at least wasn’t a channel that you could easily implement. What I wanted to do was add that to a marketing channel.
The problem is we would have to export our list from AWeber, clean it in Excel, sort, sift, and then import that into a system to send out a call. And so I thought “Hey there’s got to be a better way. How can we automate this?” Or how are we going to build our own mist automatically with a rubber or with one shopping cart, so as we’re building our customer list we can build our mobile list at the same time.
And so just, not having that out there I thought “Hey, you know, let me, let me build it.” and from that just start with an idea and, you know, kind of spawn through that and then gets into finding a partner and, you know…
Andrew: let’s take it slow and understand it. You found a company to create a prototype you, a prototype you, a prototype for you, how do you go and have them prototype you? How do you go to have them create a prototype for you?
Chris: Well I didn’t have a company actually prototype the product, what I did was found a company that provided and EPI for voice messaging and reached out to them and said “Hey this is what I want to do. Do you have any developers that are efficient, or proficient with your EPI?” And they hooked me up with this guy, Ronnie, and after a couple of conversations, he told me an idea, and is it possible.
We kind of got to feel each other out over about three months and I said “Hey man I can’t do this alone, but what I can do is I can do all the marketing, I can do all the sales you know all that stuff.” And he’s a developer and so we essentially partnered up and started ? and started the company.
Chris: I see okay, and if you would have hired him you would have gone broke? You didn’t have enough money to pay for a full time strong developer, but as a partner he got a piece of the business, you got a piece of the business and you can work together and not have to spend as much on salary?
Andrew: Yeah, it wasn’t an easy undertaking and I knew that. And, you know, I would go broke trying to build it myself or hiring developers, and at that time I didn’t know much about, you know, building software, and so it was kind of my first thing to building like real software, you know, I would build little apps or little scripts and stuff but nothing that was actually a soft ? of service. And you know, he could build that back end technology to make it work.
Chris: I understand why he might want to partner with you, you have the marketing experience and you bring that in, but he still has to commit a lot of work in order to be partners with you. Was there ever a time Chris as you were building it that you thought “Ah, I feel so bad for having brought him in here, because he’s, because we’re not as well, as fast as I thought because it’s more difficult than we expected?”
Andrew: I knew it was going to take time to build an actual product, and so, I was working on other projects, he was working full time at a company, and so we both knew going into it, so it’s like hey this is going to be an investment of time and, you know, it’s not something we can flip the switch in thirty days.
This is 2010 we’re getting started into it, and so, we just both know it was going to take a little bit of time to build it out, so it wasn’t like we both knew that it was going to be probably, at least, a year to build this thing out to get to the prototype, moonlighting through the process. I didn’t know anything about startups or funding or anything like that, I just knew I can build a product and promote it and sell it and launch it. But, it’s software. A little bit different. So.
Andrew: I want to hear about the difficulty there, I also have in my research here a screen shot of what the page looked like back when you created the business. I think that was 2009 is when you launched?
Chris: Yeah, we actually, we launched in 2011, you know, we had Call Loop. We didn’t actually launch the product because we didn’t have any products, we were building for that long.
Andrew: 2011, alright let me come back to this in a moment because I’m looking at something here on my screen that I want to ask you about, but first I have to thank Scott Edgar Walker of Walker Corporate Law Chris. What do you think of me doing the spot, a little bit at the front and then the longer version in here as opposed to a starting … You prefer this way?
Chris: Yeah, it’s a good transition.
Andrew: Alright, Scott Edgar Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. Chris, instead of me plugging Scott, do you have any legal advice for entrepreneurs? I don’t mean like what they should do legally but who they should talk to, any mistake they should avoid? What do you think?
Chris: Oh Lord. For getting funding or getting a C Corp? For the C Corp.
Andrew: Did you live for funding? Is that what you said Don?
Chris: We are a C Corp.
Andrew: You are a C Corp.
Okay, alright, I think I’m getting some kind of answer within the answer. Let me suggest this guys, if you need a lawyer, and you’re a star-up talk to Scott Edward Walker. Give him a vision of where you are planning on taking the company, based on that, he can help you figure out whether you want to be an LLC or C corp or something else. And the reason is, as Chris is saying, there is no right answer. You can’t say, what do I, what do I do, do I get an LLC or C corp? It depends on where you’re going in the future and that’s just one of many questions that will depend on where you go in the future.
Now who’s going to know what kind of questions to ask you, so that he can figure out where you’re going in the future and what you need to do today to prepare? A lawyer with experience of course, duh. That’s actually in the script. He said, please include duh. So, duh. Go to Scott Edward Walker, he is the start-ups lawyer. He’s seen so much of what you are about to experience so he can help you prepare for it.
He’s also the guy who as you build your business, get funding, sell your business, do other things along the way, could act as, is conciliary the right word? Maybe conciliary after the ‘Godfather’ is not a word that a lawyer wants attached to him. Why don’t I say, as an adviser. So, if you need a lawyer, who can help you out both legally and maybe even be a sounding board as you build your business, start off right, go to Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law.
If you already established and you’re ready to get funding, or you’re ready to sell or you’re ready to do those big transactions, you know who to call right? Scott. Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. What do you think of that Chris?
Chris: I think it goes good.
Andrew: Alright, thank you.
Chris: Well, well, well played my friend.
Andrew: You know what? The Internet gives me such a feedback loop that now in real life I need the feedback loop. You know, like I sent a tweet on buffer and I said, “Oh look at that, Sunday tweets get you 330 clicks. That good feedback.” You know? So now if I say something, like if I tell a joke to my wife, a few minutes later I’ll go back and go, so what do you think, was that a funny one? That was a good one right? Like, I need the feedback.
Same thing here. When the interview will get published, I’ll see did I do a good job? Is it OK? I get that feedback. I need the immediate feedback for all my sponsorship. Um, let me ask you another question, and be prepared to answer the follow up question to this next question which will be, what did you think of the question? Here’s, here’s the next question.
All kidding aside here, I am looking at Callcast, a website that was up in 2009, a website that says voice broadcast followups with a click of a button. One that says simple five minute setup. And there’s very little on the site besides that except for integration seamlessly with A-Weber I contact, constant contact, Lyrus, whoa, one shopping cart and many more. So was this business yours, or did you acquire the domain?
Chris: No, actually we got really lucky in this. So we were coming up with names Callcast was just a name that we thought we’re going to need. And then, we’re like, eh we don’t really like it, and we found Call Loop, and um, surprisingly it was available. So we picked it up for a whopping eight bucks.
And we got lucky, in fact we own three L’s, and the two L’s. And, which actually the two L’s actually Dropbox picked that up for 20 bucks or something, 60 bucks, so we got really lucky. You know a buddy of mine, Chad Fulkining [sp], he runs domain holdings, he goes into, I mean, I used to own Call Loop like back in 2005. He is a huge domain nerd, he has like 15,000 domain names. So I was like I bought a bunch of domain names and I think Call Loop was one of them so, we got really lucky.
Andrew: Oh, here, here is what I was looking at. Let me show you my research, it says that call, that there was a site on callloop.com as you will see you click on that called callcast.
Chris: Yeah, that was our original,…
Andrew: That was your original site right?
Andrew: So maybe this is just mis-categorized and it actually is not from 2008, or 2009, but from later.
Chris: Yeah, and that was just a landing page, we had nothing. It was just, let’s throw up a page. Kind of like you’re …
Andrew: MBE sort of.
Andrew: And so the idea was to get people to click on that big green sign up button while you were building.
Chris: Yeah, um, you know, what’s interesting is back in 2006, we created a marketing system for this company, and basically we set up a coming soon page, you know, I knew nothing about marketing or anything back then, and we built a list of about 500 people, and the day we launched this thing, we ended up getting 150 people to pay us $20 a month for this thing.
So I’m like, we got to do the same thing. So, that’s where that came from. And again, this is pre-anything about coming soon pages or launch pages or anything like that. It was just, let’s start building leads now so when it comes time to launch, we can actually let people know.
Andrew: Okay. What did you think of that question? Good one?
Chris: Yeah, good. It brings us back to the beginning.
Andrew: I do see, by the way, that you are banging the table.
Andrew: Even small taps sound bigger on that great mic. What do you have? That’s a Blue Yeti?
Andrew: Good mic. I think it’s just got multiple settings. One setting will pick up all the sound around you, the other one will pick up only the sound that’s directly in front of the mike, and I think that’s the difference. But I obviously can’t even tell you the names of the settings, so I can’t tell you how to fix it.
Chris: I wish I knew, too. I have no idea what those do.
Andrew: Okay. So now you got a developer. You have a marketing strategy. You know to throw up ahead of when most people knew to throw up a landing page that’s just collecting email addresses. You knew to do that, you had experience doing that. What’s the problem, then?
Chris: With what?
Andrew: With the launch? You were mentioning earlier that it’s not as easy as launching a content business. It’s not as easy as people from the outside who just watch entrepreneurs seemingly make it overnight. It’s not as easy as those guys think it is. So can you talk a little bit about the struggle before the launch, or the struggle even at the launch?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, we were building a small . . . [chime sounds]
Andrew: Wait. What was that?
Chris: That’s our little chime for when we do a sale, so it keeps me motivated throughout the day.
Andrew: So every time you get a sale, that cash register sound goes off.
Chris: Yep. We use Woopra, a pretty cool analytics company. Back to your question. We were building a list. I was wanting to put something together to launch this out, moonlighting this software company. I can build web pages. I built all that stuff out. But the software backend was with Ronnie, my cofounder. I was waiting to launch it. But “launch it” was, “What do you mean? You can’t do a huge product launch to launch this.
And who is your market?” It was a lot broader of an audience than dialing in on one particular market. So every time I would kind of push a little bit, this would break. Every time I’d push a little bit, this would break. And we’d have to go back and fix, and go back and fix, and go back and fix.
Andrew: Can you give an example of something that broke that was especially painful back then?
Chris: Oh, just sending a message, sending anything. And again, we were in beta for about a year. So when we launched in beta in 2011, we were in beta for about a year, give or take a little over a year. So during that time, we were just putting it out there. We were generating a little bit of money, not a lot. We were fixing the software, and just fixing it, and tweaking it, and fixing it. We were fixing and adding small little features here and there.
In many aspects, we haven’t really truly done a huge buildup about launch, just because we never really went back to doing that, just because it’s kind of organic right now. Now we could take a step back and launch maybe to a certain particular market and put together a whole product launch for that market and how they can use the product base and laser-focus on those specific people. So you know, with software, what I learned, and I got very frustrated because I couldn’t flex my muscles, you know, so it’s like, “Guys, let’s go!”
And I remember hearing something maybe a year and a half ago, where it’s like the marketing people aren’t really going to do much for the first six months to a year. It’s like, “That was me!” I’m wanting to flex my muscles and market this thing and we couldn’t, simply because you don’t want to go out there showing a system that wasn’t fully functioning, fully working. So we were in beta for a while, and we decided to take that label off after things were a lot better.
Andrew: Did you use Twilio to send out your text messages? Or are they too expensive for this?
Chris: Yeah. No, no. We use Twilio for our backend.
Andrew: To this day you do?
Chris: Yeah, and going into it, we didn’t want to build hardware, because that was a huge proposition to get into. So, at the time, there wasn’t necessarily a Twilio platform. Actually, Jeff, in Miami, in 2009, when the idea of Call Loop came to be, and Twilio was just getting started, which has been obviously very cool to see them grow into this massive huge company, but really it was kind of like “Oh, my Gosh, there is a company that does this.”
And it was like a saving grace for us, rather than having to go direct to an aggregator and, you know, invest more capital, which we didn’t have to spend to get that inter-structural built, so.
Andrew: Jeff Lawson, the founder of Twilio, that’s the guy he met.
Andrew: What did you do then for the first year while you were waiting for the product to get built?
Chris: Oh, Lord! I think the [??] development side of stuff, you know, was building up the site, and then, you know, trying to keep it just very lean, you know, how can we get to actually creating the product and generating some momentum with it.
You know, frankly, from the marketing side I didn’t really do a lot. I was more of, like, the product and “what do we do here?” Just kind of flashing those stuff out. And so, I was really just kind of building the product, building the membership site and, you know, fortunately I can build web pages, but, I don’t know why I did, we just had to do it.
Andrew: What’s the membership site?
Chris: We called it, you know …[??]…
Andrew: You were building it
Chris: …[??]… Area and everything, ya.
Andrew: But you mean, by building it you mean, what you were working on was the html part of it: the design of the page, the people would see when they were costumers, I see.
Andrew: Where did you get your first customer?
Chris: I believe it was at a… where did I get my first customer? It was just through the network, from some real estate investor guys.
Andrew: All right.
Chris: They wanted to use it, because, actually it was at an event in Tampa and Gary Vaynerchuk was part of this [??]master-man group when he came down and I revealed Call Loop, like “hey guys, I was working on it, this wasn’t working at all”, but these guys were like: “Oh my God, I need that” and that’s when I knew like, cool, we’ve got a product that people want and need and will pay for. And so we [??] that initial group of real estate investors that were doing, you know, webinars and seminars, those type of events, they were the first costumers [??].
Andrew: How were they using it?
Chris: A lot of different ways. You know, originally, and still a lot of our customers’ use is for webinars, you know, tele-seminars to drive more people to their webinars. A lot of these guys generate the majority of their income from events – from webinars and tele-seminars…
Andrew: Wait, so someone see their phone number, what’s the flow, actually? People would actually call into your software on their number? …[SS]… phone calls to their customers, right?
Chris: Ya, they would send a voice message or reminder to people. So, you sign up, let’s say for a go [??] and you put your first name, your last name and your email and your phone number. So, excuse me, the big problem that they have is: “Hey there, I’m getting a thousand people to sign up and a hundred showing up”, so, you know, they can send only so many emails [??] text.
And so, 20, 30, 40, 50 per cent [??] increase in attendance. When they are more people [??] more cash.
Andrew: Got you.
Chris: So the [??] call them. So people can sign up for their webinar, they can put it into Call Loop and then send out a text, you know, an hour before the webinar starts.
Andrew: You said text. The first version was voice only?
Chris: Voice. Yes, it was voice only.
So, they would have a phone call go out to their people saying: “This webinar is going to start and they would just playing a recording.”.
Andrew: Yes. When did you get into text? Or what made you get into text, I should say?
Chris: It was the obvious solution, it was the obvious next step, people wanted it, you are asking for it and, you know, we finally built into it. It was probably, maybe eight months later. In eight months we finally went text into that. We do 75% text, 25% voice. And that’s ever since we lodge it.
Andrew: Would you give me those numbers again? The connection is somehow, a little bit weird today.
Chris: So, 75% is text.
Andrew: Text, Okay.
Chris: And 25% is voice.
Andrew: Okay. How did you get your next badge customer after the master mind?
Chris: Yes, I mean, just through the network. You know, again, I wasn’t doing any sort of marketing or blogging, you know, knowing what I know now, man, I would have done a whole different approach. But it really just came through the network, you know, people told other people and, you know, just kept kind of [??]
Andrew: What would you have done differently?
Chris: I would have definitely done like a mint.com. What they did leading up to the launch of their software: going out to target markets; creating content; writing blog posts; networking with certain outlets. Just building up the buzz in the marketing and providing value to the market way before we launched. We didn’t do that. I didn’t do that. Looking back, I think we would have done a bigger launch from it with having a larger presence.
Andrew: How do you do that when you have so many issues as a software company? Where things aren’t going to work when you first launch them? Where all the things you were talking to me about happen?
Chris: You get mad a lot.
Andrew: But would it have been possible to do a mint style launch? Where you do a lot of content marketing and outreach before you fully launch? Building up your list and then launch to it?
Chris: You know we could have built the list, but I think we would have done a very slow opening of beta spots. Getting the buzz out there and just putting it out there as much as possible to build that list. Slowly allowing people to come in so you can fix the problems…
Chris: … before opening the pipe to everybody. Obviously, they had funding. Going in to it we didn’t have any funding, so we could only move so quick and so fast before getting things done, getting things done essentially. They could move quick and they could launch in a big way and have it all done. We didn’t have that luxury.
Andrew: I should say that we did a session here on Mixergy with Rob Walling, who created multiple software products including Hit Tail, where he talked about how he a launch for… And how he has done multiple launches for software. It is a different process.
There is no one who really does the product launch for software. The closest I can come to is Rob Walling, whose created multiple software and multiple web apps, whose taught other people how to do it and marketed them. I am really proud that he is part of Mixergy Premium. If you are a Premium member, go check out Rob Walling. If you are not, sign up to mixergypremium.com.
There are a lot of highs and lows. You told April Dykeman in our pre- interview here at Mixergy that one of the things you learned from your Dad, who had restaurants while you were growing up, was the massive highs and the massive lows that you should expect as an entrepreneur and how to deal with them. What was his lowest that you knew as an entrepreneur? That this is what you could potentially face?
Chris: Oh boy. I would say, probably the last five to eight years it’s been tough. It’s been really tough. My dad sold his restaurants in 2001 and kept investing in bad businesses. It has come to bite him in the butt.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Chris: Just investing in the wrong business idea that necessarily didn’t have a plan for generating revenue.
Andrew: Do you have an example? I mean….
Chris: Well, he kept investing in this company called Recobond [SP]. It was his company but it was a housing system. He just was pumping money into this but wasn’t generating any sales. So after, it was just shocking.
But Dad what’s business? How’s it growing? Who is your [??]? Knowing what I know now, looking back, it’s like holy cow. You were missing like the core elements. I think he went from doing restaurants to something he knew nothing about and jumped into an industry where we weren’t a builder.
He didn’t have any experience in it and it come to bite him in the butt. I think I have learned a lot of lessons just seeing that. Investing in a bad idea for way too long and not killing it too soon. He should have killed it a long time ago when the results weren’t there but because he…
Andrew: Chris, I talk with my audience about this a lot. How do you know when to kill it and when not? Sometimes you see an entrepreneur, like you, who it took a year to really get the full product out there. Some entrepreneurs halfway through that year would say maybe this is not the right place and I’m pushing more money out the door. And other entrepreneurs would say stick with it because if you do then you’ll finally make it.
Look at what happened to you. So how do you know when to keep pushing it and when it’s just not going to work out and you should stop and cut your losses.
Chris: You know there has been a lot of times where it is like, what am I doing? Is this the right thing? Is this the right vehicle? And again, looking at the other opportunities out there, and being an entrepreneur, you’re in a state of constant questioning. And there comes a point in time where you have to truly believe that what you are doing can get you there.
And in knowing that you have a product that’s unique, that people are buying . . . and that’s the thing, it’s not like we have it out there and we’re not generating sales. It was always a momentum, it just kept growing.
And so if you have a product that no one is buying and you’re not generating sales, you have to question yourself. Although you’ve built the product, are you marketing it? Are you generating sales? Can you even sustain yourself with this business?
It’s a lot easier in your 20s when you’re not married, you don’t have any kids, you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have expenses. Hence that’s why [??] is awesome, because kids can live off nothing and build something. Work 24 hours a day. But when you’re a little bit older, you have to generate money, and you have to generate an income.
And so you’ve got to . . . my friend Dale, I sold one of my sites to him a couple of years ago and he goes, ‘You know what, you can’t eat your dogs.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean by that?’
He goes, ‘When you’re building a business, you can’t constantly take the cash out and steal that money away from the business that needs it. Don’t eat your dogs. When you’re building a company, reinvest that cash back into the business to grow it to the next level.’ So that was a lesson learned from Dale. Don’t eat your dogs.
Andrew: Let’s talk about a few more marketing techniques. We talked about the letter and I see that not only is . . . I see the card that you’ve written out. I have a screenshot here that you sent me before. You learned though from more than just Wufoo. You learned something from HelloFax about marketing. What did you get from them that maybe we can copy from you?
Chris: Yeah. I relate this to the larger company that’s known for these strategies, and so Zynga . . .
Andrew: I’m sorry, you related it to what?
Chris: I relate it to a larger company that has claimed that strategy if you will. Zynga is known for gamification. And so HelloFax, when you sign up for HelloFax they say hey, get free faxes. And if you like us on Facebook get five free faxes. If you tweet us get five free faxes. Hey, create a password. Oh we already did that, so congratulations you know?
And so it’s just a simple onboarding process to make it fun but also it’s a way for you to turn your users into traffic drivers. And so I thought HelloFax set a great example because you’re giving a reward for them tweeting it or sharing it or importing their Gmail contacts.
Because the hardest part is, how do you acquire a user? How do you acquire a customer? And if you’re paying for it, it can get expensive. And this goes to . . . I think what Dropbox did, when they originally started, they were going to go broke, and they realized . . . you know they were doing pay-per-click and SEO and all the traditional media marketing. And what they realized was it was about $400 give or take to acquire a customer.
But they were selling a $10 a month product. They’ll go broke quick. And so they had to figure something else out. And enter their referral program which dramatically grew their business. 25 percent month over month, and they are 10 billion dollars today, and so it’s just . . . I know we’re getting on a marketing thing here, but its applying those same strategies these large companies have applied to their businesses, we wanted to apply that stuff to ours.
Andrew: So you have it now in your business where, when people tweet or like you on Facebook, then you give them some credits.
Chris: Yep. So when somebody comes in . . . and we’re doing a lot of testing all the time, so people can go in and we have our, I guess, Zynga gamification thing where, hey, if you tweet us you get 20 free messages or 15 free messages. If you like us on Facebook and LinkedIn and all that sort of stuff. And so, we figured it out with Infusionsoft so we could actually manage it and issue the credits and do all [??] on the backend [SP].
Andrew: Okay, yeah I see it here. You actually sent me a screenshot of your automated marketing. If people like you, at least at the time you created it, you gave them 10 credits. If they referred a friend they got 100 credits. If they created a group they got 25 credits, and it was all automated and ready to go. How about one other one? What’s another bit of marketing that you did? That you copied from someone else?
Chris: Letter docs are a really great way to convert font text to customers.
Andrew: You’re saying that webinars, many software entrepreneurs say its education. I’m in the software business. I’m not in the content marketing business. How do you use webinars?
Chris: To sell but also to educate. In [??] companies there’s a problem and the big problem is content marketing. Right now I do more blog posts and I’ve got to do this stuff, but why not use a different modality to educate, but also to make an offer, to get them to upgrade or to try your product. We use webinars; in fact I do them anymore because we automated our webinars.
But they’re a great way to have a [capture] audience to educate them but then also to get them to buy and to make a special offer to those people. It’s interesting, if we can bring on 50 or 100 people in a webinar, I know that we can convert probably 15, 20 percent of those people to get a trial or to make a purchase of credits.
And so it’s a great way to just, again you have their attention and you’ve turned it into a selling tool. It’s not a way to hardcore pitch, but it’s a great way to transition them to the obvious step which is to actually use your product and upgrade.
Andrew: What do you do your webinar about? You’re not doing it about your software because people don’t want to watch a webinar that teaches about software, right? About your software. They want to learn something else. What do you teach them?
Chris: The one we have offered right now is getting started with Call Loop.
Andrew: So it is just getting started with Call Loop.
Chris: Just getting started with Call Loop. Basically to have a walkthrough of the software. Here’s how to create a group, here’s what a broadcast is. We just walk them through the entire software. And the transition is that: Hey! So here’s how you buy credits, here’s how you purchase a keyword. And hey, if you upgrade today, you’ll also get the [??]. So, it’s just a simple way to see how the software works. Now, there’s obviously different segments…
Andrew: Sorry Chris, the reception just keeps getting worse and worse on us. Do you happen to be downloading anything in the background, maybe drop boxes going off? Maybe someone in the office is downloading Game of Thrones as we’re having this conversation? Or uploading it? That’s really where the trouble could come in.
So I see, the webinar really is about how to use Call Loop and as they’re learning it they’re getting an understanding of the features and many of them are deciding that they want to sign up and buy it. Where can someone take the webinar if they’re curious about how you do it. Where is it?
Chris: Go to Call Loop.com and sign up there.
Andrew: So if I just add my email address to, as you set it up right now. Claim your free Call Loop account right now. As soon as I do that for free, that’s where I get in on the webinar.
Chris: Yeah, and actually a day later you’ll get an invitation to the webinar. [??] So the cool thing is you can select [multiple] times per day. So, we run it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can do it for 12:00 or 3:00 p.m.
Andrew: I see, so I can pick the time of day that works for me. I’m only repeating it, not because I’m not fully getting it but because the connection is bad and I want to make sure that it’s coming in clearly for people. Do people that watch the automated webinar know that its automated or do they think that its real time?
Chris: Some people do. We just say it’s a webinar. It doesn’t say it’s a live webinar. But some people do. If you know the software then [??].
Andrew: What’s the software that you use to run the webinar in replay mode?
Chris: Stealth Seminar.
Andrew: What is it?
Chris: Stealth Seminar.
Andrew: Stealth Seminar, yes. Sean [sp] Malarky [sp] talked about that here on [??] as part of his launch. Alright, here’s what I think we need to do. Because of the connection I think we need to end the interview right here. But if people want to follow up with you is there a place for them to go and follow up? Is there a way for them to get to know the real Chris. The man without all the [Andrew] jokes to interrupt him and without the bad Internet connection? What’s a good way for them to do it?
Chris: Go to Call Loop.com. I don’t have a blog, per se. But Call Loop.com or Automiseit.com [sp] which is kind of the umbrella of everything.
Andrew: What is it? Automize [sp] it?
Andrew: Let me see that. You know, I didn’t even get to ask you how about producthunt.com, I got to ask you about that. Why is product hunt.com sending you so much traffic?
Chris: They are?
Andrew: They are! Oh, here we go. I know what it is. Product Hunt is a daily leader board that best new products. I guess that you are not even aware that you are one of the best new products on there, so that’s why you are at the top.
Andrew: That’s something for us to know. Alright, I thought, maybe I discovered some kind of connection there.
The other one is, oh, here is what else you do that works really well. I’m gonna say this because the connection is kind of bad on your end, but still very worth to talk about. Integrations. Market place that infusionsoft.com is sending you traffic. Where is the other one? Mail Chimp somewhere in here, Connect on mailchimp.com – because you integrate with all of these different services, they help us send traffic to you, right? Not just traffic, real customers.
Chris: Ya, absolutely. …[??]…
Chris: This business model is to do, you know, marketing and Call Loop, they [??] text and voice and all that stuff, you know? Yes.
Andrew: Right. Without having it do it themselves. Alright, the website is Callloop.com and if you guys are out there and you are using Duolingo, if you’re using it, not just kind of hanging out, but really, using Duolingo, I would like to encourage my friend Chris to keep using Duolingo, so please add him on Duolingo. His name is Its Becon [SP], right?
Chris: It’s Becon, ya.
Andrew: Becon. I like that, actually, now I get it, like it’s ‘on’, ‘Becon”. Add him on there, encourage him to play, because he is the only person who encourages me to play and because he hasn’t been on Duolingo, look at me, I got zero, none of my friends are on there, so add him and then add me and maybe we can all finally start competing. I think…
Chris: …[??]… on there.
Andrew: Ya. It really encourages me. Back when you were using it, I was using it so much more, because I’d get up in the morning and I’d do it and then I’d send you a text message, saying “Aha, I got you” and then you’d send me a text message, or maybe you wouldn’t, I’d just log in, cause you’re so much more modern [??], damn it! I show him and then you [??] show anyone, I’ve got hardly any points this week. …[??]…
Anyway, go check it out and check out Call Loop. Thank you so much for doing this interview, Chris and the previous one, thank you all out there in the audience for watching it. Bye!
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