How does a founder build a multi-million dollar health care tech company in 2 years?
Kabir Shahani is the CEO of the enterprise software company, Appature. Appature is a relationship marketing technology that aggregates sales and marketing data and provides marketers with the tools to mine that data, launch multi-channel campaigns, and get rapid analytics.
In this interview you’ll see the speedy way a company becomes profitable within a year. If you care about profitability, don’t miss it.
Kabir Shahani, Appature
Kabir Shahani is the CEO at Appature. Appature Nexus is a relationship marketing technology platform that provides companies the tools to focus on their target customers.
Andrew: In this interview, you’re going to see the speedy way that a
company becomes profitable. If you care about profits, pay attention to
that section of the interview. You’re going to hear the important advice
that helped launch a company and changed a life. Hopefully one day you’re
going to get a chance to give this kind of advice to someone who comes to
you for help. And you’ll learn how to get a customer to tell you to charge
them ten times more. That’s what happened to today’s entrepreneur. All that
and so much more. Catch it here.
Three messages before we get started. If you’re a tech entrepreneur, don’t
you have unique legal needs that the average lawyer can’t help you with?
That’s why you need Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. If you
read his articles on VentureBeat, you know that he can help you with issues
like raising money, or issuing stock options, or even deciding whether to
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him at WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
Do you remember when I interviewed Sara Sutton Fell about how thousands of
people paid for her job site? Look at the biggest point that she made, she
said that she has a phone number on every page of her site because, and
here’s a stat, 95 percent of the people who call, end up buying. Most
people, though, don’t call her, but seeing a real number increases their
confidence in her and they buy. So try this. Go to Grasshopper.com and get
a phone number that will make your company sound professional. Add it to
your site and see what happens. Grasshopper.com.
Remember Patrick Buckley who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for an
iPad case. He built a store to sell it and in a few months, he generated
about a million dollars in sales. Well the platform he used is Shopify. If
you have an idea to sell anything, set up your store on Shopify.com because
Shopify stores are designed to increase sales. Plus, Shopify makes it easy
to set up a beautiful store and manage it. Shopify.com. Here’s the program.
Hey everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com,
home of the ambitious upstart. I think I’ve said that now over 700 times
because we’ve had over 700 entrepreneurs come here, be a part of this
project where they share with you how they built their businesses, tell you
their stories and teach you what they learned along the way, so that you
can go out there and build your own success story too. In this interview,
I’m going to answer this question, how does a founder build a multi million
dollar healthcare tech company in two years?
Kabir Shahani is the CEO of the enterprise software company, Appature,
which is a relationship marketing technology that aggregates sales and
marketing data and provides marketers with the tools to mine that data,
launch multi channel campaigns and get rapid analytics. It’s kinds of a
mouthful, but we’re going to understand exactly what this business does as
we go through the story of how he built it up. Kabir, welcome.
Kabir: Thanks, Andrew. Great to be here.
Andrew: When we talk about multi million this and money raised there, it’s
big numbers and sometimes people just feel like it’s overwhelming amount of
numbers. Let’s go simple. The first million dollars. What did you guys do
when you got to that point?
Kabir: It’s a great story in problem solving and I think that’s to your
point about lots of different numbers getting thrown around. The focus for
us when we got started in [??], Chris [??] gets a ton of credit for this,
it was, “Let’s go out and find real high quality problems that are people
are willing to pay real money for, to have solution to those problems.” We
were very fortunate to start to learn about some of the challenges
marketers were having in understanding the customer base, reaching their
customer base, driving relationships in a repeatable fashion and really
understanding what’s working and what’s not as they’re building their
programs and campaigns. We got into the market very quickly with some ideas
we had, got customers on the platform and very quickly, within about 18
months, found ourselves, it’s to your question, reaching about a million
dollars in sales.
Andrew: Within 18 months?
Kabir: Yeah. Right about the 18 month mark is when we started to hit that
trajectory and it was pretty interesting. Remember, Chris and I, and two of
our good friends had joined our company very early and really helped us
build this business. We’re sitting in a conference room trying to be
somewhat disciplined about how we were growing the business and measuring
the progress we were making and it was clear that we were going to build a
big company and start to build a big company. We still [??] built a big
company yet, but we’re working on it. And it was great to see that we had
been able to hit these important milestones and we were so focused on
driving forward that we almost forgot. At the end of the day we realized we
should celebrate this. This is kind of a big deal.
Andrew: I’m sorry. Kabir, the thing that you were going to celebrate, the
thing that you’re talking about that you hit within eighteen months was a
million dollars in sales?
Andrew: OK. So, you hit that million dollars and you almost missed the fact
that you hit the milestone because you’re so busy working to build a
business. When you finally realize it, what do you do?
Kabir: We went out and had a great night. We went out on the town here in
Seattle and had fun. It was funny because Chris Hahn, my co-founder, and
Matt Hallett and Derek Slager, who were on our team very early… we
realized that and we decided that we wanted to learn how to celebrate our
success a lot better. So, it’s really part of our culture now, celebrating
our success, insuring that we understand the mile markers and when we
Andrew: I’m sorry, tell me if this is a rude question but what specifically
did you guys do? Do you go out and get drunk? Did you go out and buy
yourselves each a Ferrari because you now were making it?
Kabir: Well, it wasn’t quite Ferrari territory. We certainly had a few
beers and didn’t get home until 2:00-2:30 but there were no lavish
celebrations quite yet.
Andrew: OK. And you built this business with how many thousands of dollars?
What was the initial investment?
Kabir: It was in the $4,000 range in terms of a couple machines that we had
to buy and get spun up. Chris and I were lucky to be in a situation where
we could fund ourselves for a few months and use our savings to get off the
ground. The guys who joined us early made a lot of sacrifices as well in
doing the same thing to really get us off the ground. So, it really didn’t
take a lot for us to be able to get out into market and get the customers
to be engaged with the platform.
Kabir: It was just funded by customer revenue for almost three years when
we realized we had a big opportunity on our hands and we wanted to
commercialize, and we raised venture capital to do that.
Andrew: OK. And one of your investors, Neil Patel, is the guy who
introduced me to you and helped set up this interview. So, let’s find out
how you got here, but first, people need to understand what the software
is. I need to understand what the software does. I’ve been on your website
and I’ve been doing a lot of research on you, so, I’m wondering if there is
a case study that will make it really easy for us to understand what
Kabir: Sure. So, when we walk into an organization there are a number of
disconnected data sets that marketers care about. So, there is sales force
automation data living in something like Salesforce.com. There’s campaign
history, generally living in multiple spreadsheets, there’s enterprise data
warehouses, there’s anywhere from five to fifteen data sets. What we do is
make it really easy for the marketer to see all that data in one place and
use the insights when they look at that data to make quick decisions and
set up and launch campaigns.
So, we have customers that have databases set up that have tens of millions
of records that enable the marketer for the first time to be able to really
understand across these disparate data sets who they should be reaching,
how to create specific targeted segments, and go out and actually launch
those programs with the same experience. Historically, you’d need five or
six different technologies in order to traverse data, get access to it,
launch programs, analyze it, and we give you the opportunity to do that all
in one platform.
Andrew: OK. I think we’ll get an even deeper understanding when we hear how
you came up with the idea for this business, how it evolved, and how you
figured out what your customers were looking for, and we’ll do that
throughout this interview. Let’s go back, before you even ran this company,
there was a frustration that you had. You were working for a different
company. What was that frustration that eventually got you to stop working
there and to move on and create your own company? Do you remember that
Kabir: Yeah. It’s interesting, and Chris Hahn, my business partner, gets a
ton of credit for this because I tend to be manically focused on what I’m
doing and it’s hard for me to look at other things when I’m focused on one
thing. We had both been working at a social book-marking startup for about
a year and a half. It was a great company, great product, and a great team.
I learned a tremendous amount about building businesses but it just wasn’t
seeming to go in the direction that we wanted. The corporate culture wasn’t
really what we had envisioned when we took the opportunity to join that
company. Chris gets the credit because he came to me and said he was going
to quit and start a business. Not sure what I want to do, but I want to
start that business with you.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do that. I wasn’t sure I was ready
for that and I was very lucky to be able to take that experience that I
had, that company, take Chris’ drive and vision around getting out and
creating a business, to be able to really talk about if we were to build a
business together, what that would look like. Everything came together at
once, because I remember being in a state where I actually had taken a trip
to India. I was spending some time with family and thought to myself, “What
am I doing with my life?” I’m in a situation where I’m working hard, I see
the vision for where we could be, but we’re not getting there. It’s
frustrating when you know what’s possible and you can’t see it coming to
life. Almost within 45 days of me just having this, “What am I doing with
my life?” experience, it was incredible, because Chris approached me and
said, “Hey. Let’s start a business.” I was really lucky to have a mentor
that encouraged me to do that.
Andrew: Let’s talk about that. You went to your mentor and you said, “I
have this opportunity. I’m not sure what to do.” What was the uncertainty
that you were facing? What was this solid piece of advice that your mentor
laid on you?
Kabir: It was a very interesting conversation. I went, had coffee with one
of my mentors and good friend who’s built a very successful business here
in Seattle and has been growing even recently. This was five years ago now
and I sat down with him and I said, “I’ve got this guy that I work with.
Super smart engineer, really talented guy. I think we’re philosophically
aligned. He wants to start a company together and we’re not sure (A) what
we’re going to do, and (B) I’m not sure that I’m ready to jump in.” I was
24 at the time.
I wasn’t sure that jumping in and building a business was the right time
for me versus spending a few years in industry, working at a bigger
company, learning the ropes and what he told me was very much life
changing. He said, “Look. I’ll give you a job at my company today. I’ll go
back, I’ll write up an offer and it’s going to be a very healthy salary,
close to $500,000 a year, I think you can make in a job I put you in our
company at a senior level. But you shouldn’t take that. You should go do
this. You’ve got an engineer who’s ready to work with you and build a
business with you.” I was lucky to have the support of my father in helping
us and he has entrepreneurial experiences where he was willing to provide
us some guidance and help us get off the ground. He said, “Kabir,
everything is coming together. There’s no great time. Jump right in and you
can make this happen.” That meant a lot. To know that you had somebody who
was willing to support you even if you decided not to do this, but still
encourage you to do so. It made a huge difference.
He said, ‘I’d give you a job but I think you should go and start your own
company.’ At that point, you said, ‘All right. I’m in. I’m going to go and
launch some business.’ But you didn’t yet know what the business would be.
You and Chris were still going to try to figure things out. How did you
plan to figure out what the business was going to be?
The first part, the platform that Chris and I got comfortable with, was
what type of organization we wanted. The question that we asked ourselves
first and foremost was, “Where do we want to work everyday? What’s the type
of environment that would get us out of bed excited to show up every
morning and be there burning the midnight oil?”
Andrew: Before you even thought of the product, before you knew who the
customers would be, before you had a business model, what you kept saying
was, ‘We want a culture. The culture will come first and the product will
come later and the customers after that?’
Kabir: That’s right. It’s really culture, customers, product. That’s the
next step in the sequence.
Andrew: Something I noted as you were telling us about this company that
you used to work for was, you said, ‘The culture was bad.’ I wrote a note
to come back and ask you what that means. Tell me, what do you mean the
culture was bad? How did it impact you directly? What were you seeing?
Kabir: I wouldn’t go that far. I wouldn’t say it that way. I think the
culture, like many companies, is evolved. Especially when you’re trying to
get a product off the ground. It tends to be a lot about the idea. Tends to
be a lot about different people’s ideas and what they think are the right
ideas. They were as, not experienced, no shortage of phenomenal ideas.
Andrew: At this past company, there were just a lot of ideas coming at you
all the time.
Kabir: Yes. Generally as a team, the team was always talking about a lot of
Andrew: So, why is that a problem? Why is that something that would make
you seek out an alternative?
Kabir: Well, that’s not the problem. The problem is that when you let the
idea trump the problem that you’re trying to solve. I think what was
challenging for Chris and I was, it was less about the ideas we have and
more about how they’re solving a problem that’s really high-value.
Andrew: Kabir, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I want to spend a little bit
more time understanding that. I do feel, as you’re saying this, that I’ve
seen myself do that. I sit around with entrepreneurs or sit around
internally with people whom I work with and just come up with these
brilliant ideas. What’s the problem with that? I always sense at the end of
the day, “Hey, this feels great. All these ideas are terrific. I’m really
with creative, bright people.” But in the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘This
just doesn’t feel right.’ What’s my spidey sense picking up that my mind
isn’t yet able to understand?
Kabir: I think what that might be is for an idea to be a great idea, it
needs a problem to solve. So, an idea is just an idea until there’s a
problem it’s solving, and then it becomes a great idea. The bigger the
problem it solves, the greater the idea becomes. That’s a big piece of when
we got started. We were saying, “Let’s create a place where it’s less about
our ego, less about what we think matters and more about what customers
think matters; more about what we believe the right ideas are to solve a
customer’s problem.” Now, you don’t always want to do exactly what the
customer tells you.
It’s the famous Henry Ford quote, “If I listened to my customers I would
have created a faster horse”‘ It’s not exactly what the customer is asking
for tactically, it’s the problem they’re trying to solve and how your ideas
can do that. We spend a lot of time talking about philosophy and the type
of culture we wanted and rewarding problem-solving, and putting the
customers’ needs right on the core focus of what we were doing versus the
technology of the concept. It’s just one of the challenges in building a
technology business. There’s so much creativity involved, they’re so many
great ideas. You’re always competing for the best idea.
Andrew: I get how the culture was important to you and why it was important
to the evolution of the business, and we’re going to hear more about that
as we go on. So, you get together, you lay this down, and what’s the next
step? Is it finding the customer? Is it finding a problem?
Kabir: It’s finding a problem. We went shopping for problems. We had a
bunch of different ideas of problems we wanted to solve, and one of the
things had been something that my dad, who has worked in marketing his
whole career, had been talking to me a lot about. He would say, “Gosh, in
all the jobs I’ve ever had, I’ve never been able to really get a view of my
customer that’s 360-degree, really comprehensive. I’ve never had tools to
reach customers across multiple channels. I’m using lots of different tools
and agencies to do that. I’ve never had a quick view of what’s working and
Andrew: I know from your conversation with our producer, Jeremy Weisz, that
your dad was in marketing; he did marketing and health care. What
specifically was he marketing, and why would he need this 360-degree
understanding of his customer to do that?
Kabir: He worked in devices and pharmaceuticals, but this applies to all
industries and all products where every marketer needs to understand. Let’s
take a retail example where you’re buying different products from different
retail outlets around the country. Maybe, you really like Urban Outfitters
and you’re buying a lot of products from different Urban Outfitters when
you’re traveling or online. How do companies aggregate your behavior? The
products you’re looking at, the products you’re purchasing? How do they
aggregate the conversations you might be having calling into an 800 number?
There are lots of different touch points that an individual customer has
with the brand, regardless of product. We find marketers facing this
challenge of quickly needing to understand that. That data exists. All of
these companies have massive data warehouses to house all these pieces of
information, but no one’s ever connected it together in a way that
marketing can actually access it and use.
Andrew: I see. Let me bring this down to a really simple illustration. Tell
me if I understand this right. In my own world, I got a phone call from
someone, I think it was this guy Roy Story and we started talking. I said,
“I know Roy. Where did we talk?” I immediately went, and I did a search on
discuss, our commenting system on the site, and I said, “Oh, yeah. We
talked there.” I did a search on Twitter, and I realized we had this other
conversation where he helped me with this problem on Twitter. I bet if I
would have spent a little more time going through my email and Facebook, I
would have come up with even more interactions, and then I could have
talked to him as one person who I talked to over, over multiple
And maybe, even if I went, know that I think of it, to Desk.com, I’d see
when he talked to Aria or Andrea with a customer service issue and I’d be
able to have all that background and have a good conversation with him.
That’s what you’re saying on a bigger level the companies who you’re
working with, that’s the problem that they were facing.
Kabir: That’s exactly right. So they need to be able to understand that for
each of these customers but then do it in a repeatable way. So how do I
traverse all that data to inform a message I want to send to drive a change
in behavior. Which is marketing’s fundamental purpose?
Andrew: OK. I called him Roy Story, I meant to say Ron Story. So the same
issues I was having with Ron in that one phone call, they’re having on a
bigger scale with many more people and they need to a solution for it. All
right. So now you understand the problem. You got the culture, you have a
problem that you went out shopping for, what’s the next step?
Kabir: Well, then it’s the fun part of actually trying to come up with
ideas and figure out what ideas we could pull together and butt them up
against really solving the problem. So, you know, Chris and I spent
probably three months around his kitchen table just wire framing,
researching, figuring out, and we’re talking three long, hard months of
very long days because, you know, we had the pressure of no money in the
bank, right? So we had to get to revenue as quickly as we possibly could.
So, we were rapidly trying to figure out, well, if we were to build a
software product, to be honest we weren’t even sure if the solution was a
software product to start it. We were hoping it was because that’s our
background and that’s the kind of company we wanted to build but, you know,
we started figuring out, if we were to solve this problem with a software
product, what would that look like, how would be structured. I started wire
framing it out. We were very lucky to have a friend whose an incredibly
talented designer also here in Seattle, and he was really kind to say, hey,
I’ll mock some stuff up for you guys and I’ll take your ideas and work with
you and get them into a visual presentation and what we were able to do at
that point is take that visual presentation that Sun Park is his name, that
helped us, he helped us build that out and we took our ideas into market
and we went to customers,
Unfortunately as I mentioned, my dad having seen these problems in his
career had peers of his that were willing to take a couple of meetings to
learn about what we were working on and we went in and said, hey look,
here’s a problem that we’re looking to solve, here’s our approach to how
we’re looking at solving it, would this be a value to your organization and
walk them through how the technology worked to help them solve these
customer data integration problems, these multi-channel marketing problems,
these analytics issues and one platform to run the business of marketing.
Andrew: And the product wasn’t built, it was basically designed but not
built at all.
Kabir: Correct. We started working on some core back end stuff that we knew
we were going to need regardless of which direction we went on the front
end, but it was very much screen shots at that point.
Andrew: Screen shots. So you’re sitting there with these guys, sales
people, and saying, hey look, if I build this would you want this? And if
you press this button over here, you’re going to go to this page over here
and this is how it would work but it’s not working there. Is this what you
Kabir: That’s right and we were talking to Marketing Executives, but yes,
Andrew: OK. Now these guys were pretty high level people, weren’t they? And
they were friends of your father. Was there any concern, hey you know,
maybe I’ll look like an idiot showing them something that’s not built,
that’s like I’m showing them my art work? Your eyes just lit up as I said
that. What was going on?
Kabir: Well, yeah, you always have a little bit of anxiety about exposing
what you’re thinking and I think that that, you know, getting over that
early is one of the most important things and this kind of goes back to the
philosophy of, check your ego at the door. And I think the reason we
weren’t concerned about it was we didn’t care if they thought our ideas
were crap because we were willing to go, we were willing to iterate in a
different direction if we had to. You know, we went in to those discussions
fully aware that the feedback could be, this doesn’t make any sense, or,
this wouldn’t have any value to me. You know, we were prepared for that.
Fortunately that was not the answer, it was quite the opposite. But had
that been the answer, had that been the feedback, you know, I’m confident
that we would have gone back and started from ground zero and gone in a
different direction if that’s what it took.
Andrew: I’m going to get to the sales in a bit because I know that I’ve
been promising people that. By the way, if anyone’s wondering about the
audio lag, we’re doing this, I think this might be the very first Mixergy
interview on an iPad. You are on your iPad having this conversation with me
remotely and so far it’s working very well. But let’s just spend a little
but more time understanding these conversations. One of the problems that
people have when they’re talking to customers about a future product is the
potential customer goes off on all sorts of tangents.
Like you walk in there saying, what if I could build you this system that
tells you about your customers and by the end of the conversation, they’re
saying, yeah, you could give me a flying car I would totally be paying for
that. You know, they just go all over the place. How did you keep them
focused on this one problem and this one solution without having them so
focused that they were basically giving you the answers that you wanted
instead of the ones that they were really believing in?
Kabir: Yeah, that’s a great question and I think it’s a delicate dance. You
know, there’s not one methodology of doing that. I think one thing that
helped us early on was being able to have something that we could point to
with these mock-ups and screen shots we were using versus white boarding it
out. You know, we certainly had, as we evolved and developed the product,
there were certainly more white board sessions in some cases than having
big screen shots and, you know, we certainly exposed ourselves to a lot
more execution risk the less vague the ideas were to be able to iterate
through and get the feedback.
Andrew: OK. All right. Give me one piece of advice or knowledge that you
got from those conversation around the screen shots that you wouldn’t have
figured out on your own if you hadn’t talked to them.
Kabir: Oh gosh, we’re going back years now but I can tell you we’re
learning that everyday, so, when we build products in our company we use a
set of [??] to be able to determine what gets prioritized where on our road
map. And we give customer feedback the highest number of points.
Kabir: So we really, we really value what our customers say that they need
to be successful and, you know, certainly customer data integration was one
of them. You know, there was probably of the 15 channels of data that our
technology ingests on average, we probably only really envisioned three or
four of those when we started. And, you know, to your question about
examples, there was certainly and there continues to be new data sets that
our customers highlight and say, gosh, I’d love to have that data set and
add it to our nexus so that it’s integrated with the other data sets I have
in there and I can actually access and use them.
Andrew: So, it’s specific kind of data sets that they would like to have
access to that you wouldn’t have imagined otherwise.
Kabir: Correct. Especially because, you can imagine, we were learning about
this business so both Chris and I come out of the enterprise software world
but I think one of the advantages we’ve had is we’ve driven a lot of
innovation at this industry is being able to come at these problems in a
really pure way. We don’t have, you know the baggage of 15 years at another
company of the way things were done. We come with the clean slate that
says, well, what’s the right way to approach this for a customer.
Andrew: OK. All right. Let’s now go on to what the first version of the
product, by the way, the reason I’m hesitating so much is because it’s so
easy to think that you know the answer already, especially if you got a
father whose had this problem, whose now been telling you about the
problem, you’ve had some time to think about it, more time to think about
the problem and possible solution than your customers and it’s easy for us
entrepreneurs, isn’t it, to fall into this trap of thinking, I got this,
don’t worry, I’ll put it together, you’ll love it when you see it?
Kabir: Yeah, that’s right. And I think the word you used there, the
operative word is trap. You know, I think that is a trap and the method
that you articulated in terms of the trap we fall into, like, I got this.
It buys you some advantages. You buy speed, you can get into market very
quickly. You know, we’ve taken three plus years to put our product into
market but we have taken that time because we knew we wanted to go and
build the right solution and we knew building the right solution involved
in getting customers engaged in how that solution evolves, not just going
into a conference room and figuring it out ourselves.
Andrew: OK. All right. And by the way, no judgment call on my part towards
the audience if they’re going through this, I wrestle with this too myself.
I’ve done interviews here, like I said, over 700 of them. I keep hearing
over and over the need to talk to customers, how they’re going to blow your
mind with that they need and what they expect and how different it is from
what you thought they needed and what you thought they wanted you to create
and still we could do more here at Mixergy to get feedback from people. We
could do much more to check in with the audience to see if what we built is
right and if what we’re thinking of building is also correct and what
they’re looking for. All right, so, you now have all this feedback, what’s
the first thing that you launch? What did that look like?
Kabir: It was a fairly basic tool set that really enabled the multi-mode or
multi-channel marketing campaigns. Let a marketer load some flat data into
the system, you know, do some surveys, do some email. Some pretty basic
stuff. But the key in what it had and what we’ve really built upon is that
it had a data layer. It had a campaign management or multi-channel
marketing layer and it had an analytics layer.
So, what we’ve done over time is really built out each of those components
in that integrated fashion. So instead of running a complex set of
enterprise data warehouses and MDM infrastructure and having to have
different campaign management tools and different analytics tools, our
customers get all of that in one seamless package. Because since B1, we’ve
thought about how those pieces connect.
Andrew: OK. So, when you launched it, well, how long did it take you to
launch that, to build that first version?
Kabir: We got a version out within five months that had some functionality.
And then, of course, as you know, this is a fast business. We were shipping
every three to four weeks. We’re now shipping every 10 to 12 weeks.
Andrew: Every 10 weeks, changing the software, improving it.
Andrew: And you bill people on an annual basis?
Andrew: All right. How did you know what to charge people?
Kabir: You know that was definitely an exercise of customer feedback. So,
you look at a lot of different things. You look at what it would cost to
replicate this for the customer. I can provide it at a lower cost and have
some value in terms of the cost savings. We certainly look at the amount of
incremental revenue the customer can attract using a platform like ours and
what that means. So, we were able to get out in the market and frankly, I
think, got feedback early on that the product was worth a lot more than we
had even thought, which was certainly a defining moment for us.
You know, I remember coming out of one of these first meetings with a
customer, being almost beside ourselves at the fact that they were willing
to pay so much more than we had even originally envisioned and charging for
the product. Now we find ourselves in market, where a lot of feedback we
get from third parties and analysts say, “You guys aren’t charging enough,
even now,” as more of an enterprise sale, where we’re positioned today.
Andrew: You went in to a customer and you said, “Would you pay?” and you
said, “Well you know what? What number do we give them? We have this number
in mind that we’d like them to pay. How about if we just multiply it by
ten” and we say, “Would you pay this number?”‘ And you threw that out and
their response was “Yeah. That sounds totally reasonable.” And that’s how
you priced it. You weren’t afraid that maybe they would be shocked at the
price and low ball you. You weren’t afraid that maybe by coming up with the
price there with them that they might get the sense that you don’t even
know what to charge and that there’s more price flexibility than there
Kabir: Sure. I think its transparency, right? You earn credibility with
transparency and people, especially experienced customers have good
instincts. They know when you don’t know exactly what you should do, and
the best thing to do is just tell them that, you know? The [??] to that,
throwing a price out is, “Hey we’re not sure what to charge for this. We’re
not sure, the value to your organization. Help us quantify that, and let’s
have that conversation.”
Now, as a company with almost 50 brands on our platform, we have the
benefit of talking to lots of customers and third party analysts where we
can have the same types of conversations about all types of issues and say
“Hey, we’re not exactly sure, but here’s what we think.” That’s innovation.
As you know, interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs in technology, it’s
about iterating. It’s about always getting better and always improving.
Andrew: Let me suggest this, I’ve sold to both enterprise, to companies and
I’ve sold to consumers, regular people. What I’ve found is that if you ask
consumers, they will give you answers that are all over the place. If you
say, “Would you pay 25 bucks, 50 bucks a month?” If they like you and they
want to feel like they’re supporting and they want you to feel supported,
they say, “Yeah. I’d pay a hundred bucks. You’re terrific.” You know? If I
go out to dinner with entrepreneurs, and I ask, “Should I charge a hundred
bucks for [??]?” They say, “Yeah. You’re terrific. You should.”
But I don’t think there’s as much basis in that. I mean, I don’t think
that’s very reliable. But with companies, it is more reliable, because when
you say, “Would you pay $900 a month,” they’re thinking to themselves, “You
know what, I know I can make more than this back. I know that I have
authorization to pay $900 a month without asking anyone for permission.’
So, yes, they have all these data points that give you a rational answer.
When you are having a conversation with someone in the company they are
your informant on the business. They are your supporter and your champion.
It’s a much different process because you are talking to enterprise. Any
truth in what I said?
Kabir: You are absolutely right. You are 100% right on. At the end of the
day, that customer is giving you that feedback they know the next
conversation is, “Great, so will you buy it?” They can’t tell you on one
hand to pay ‘X’ and then the next day tell you that’s too expensive.
Everything you said is right on.
Andrew: This is why so many people in the audience are asking for
interviews with companies that sell to other companies because inherently
all sales are similar. There are similarities with all tech entrepreneurs.
But, your business is (?) Enterprises are different from a business that
sells or gives free stuff to consumers. This is a clear example of it.
Also, in my business, people who buy ads at the beginning at the interview.
If I talk to someone who works at Grasshopper, they will give me an
understanding of what someone is willing to pay versus the audience which
pays for the courses which could give me different bit of information.
Sorry, you were going to say something, and I interrupted you.
Kabir: What I was going to say is that, when you make the comment about
your audience asking for more interviews with entrepreneurs in enterprise
software and the differences in enterprise and consumer. I think this is an
important point, Andrew. We are at the beginning of the most disruptive
revolution in software that I think we have ever seen. I have only been in
the business for a handful of years, but from what we can tell, we are
seeing a fundamental shift in data architecture that is the most
fundamental evolution that’s occurred in the last 20 years.
Companies like ours, that started 5 years ago, have a platform in
infrastructure that we built on versus companies that started 10 to 20
years ago, that completely changes the way in which we can drive solutions
for our customers. We are starting to see this revolution that guys like
Phil Linslow (SP) and (?) write all about. There is a new generation of
enterprise software companies that is going to start to run the businesses
for enterprises and create these platforms which we are lucky to be in.
Andrew: Can I ask you a personal question? You are in your 20’s right?
Kabir: Yes, almost 30.
Andrew: Almost 30, in days?
Kabir: A few months.
Andrew: You have got gray hair. I’ve got gray hair. How much a pain in the
butt is it that you have got gray hair now?
Kabir: The joke used to be people thought I used Touch of Gray just to look
a little older in the enterprise software world.
Andrew: I kept looking at you. Everything about is young. Every story about
you is about this new young hotshot. I think I saw a picture of you when
you were 14 years old, and you had gray hair.
Kabir: Yes, not at 14.
Andrew: Not at 14, but yes.
Kabir: I mean, certainly in these jobs the stress and the pace takes its
toll. Gray hair is one of the ways it shows.
Andrew: In enterprise it might actually be an asset where you are building
an iPhone app for consumers in Silicon Valley as opposed to Seattle maybe
it wouldn’t help you. Maybe it would be a hindrance? What do you think?
Kabir: I think that’s changing. I can’t speak to consumers and the high
consumer technology companies, but I can say that in the enterprise I think
buyers in the enterprise are actually looking for new ideas. This is a
great analogy. There was a reference call, where customers will say tell me
about your experience with this company and this product. One of our
customers told another customer in a reference call, imagine the Facebook
and Google generation of engineers building your marketing platform. That’s
the experience you get when you use (?).
Andrew: I see.
Kabir: I think customers have an appetite for that. You have got an entire
generation of users that use Facebook. They buy products on Amazon. They
are very comfortable with technology in the consumer world, but that
experience doesn’t translate in the enterprise. We look at our job as
helping create those uneasy experiences around enterprise software so those
customers get the same value when they use software at work that they get
when they use software in their personal lives.
Andrew: All right, I get that. I get so frustrated on behalf of employees
at companies that I walk into when I see them using them using old black
screens with green text on them. I’m like, oh, you know how much better
technology is, why shouldn’t it be a little more fun than that, why
shouldn’t it be a little more intuitive than that?
Kabir: That’s right.
Andrew: All right. We understand how you got the first product, we
understand how you got your pricing. Tell me about your first customer and
who you beat out to get that customer.
Kabir: So the first set of customers, you know, we went in, this was in
2007/2008, very green field. So, we were competing with Cebol, you know,
old Legacy systems, which we still see in market, but it wasn’t a formal
product. You know, there wasn’t an A in the sense that customers, oh like
we’re using Cebol to do some of our data integration and we’re using some
of these other tools to do our campaign management, you know, in some cases
they didn’t have tools at all so it was a pretty green field for us, the
first four or five customers on the platform. What’s changed over time is
the idea that there’s never been a platform to run the business of
marketing is now predominant, you’ve got analysts covering it, you have
acquisitions and mash ups, IBM, Terra Data, WPP, companies that cross
software and agencies are on a tear here trying to figure out how to
deliver and end to end marketing platform. You know, you’re probably
familiar Gardner has gone out and put a stake in the ground and said, in
2017, the CMO’s going to spend more money on technology than even the CIO.
Andrew: The Chief Marketing Officer is going to spend more money than the
Chief Information Officer of a company?
Kabir: On technology. That’s right. That’s right. Because we’ve gone
decades with no platform to run the business of marketing and there’s a
huge catch up that has to happen because now you have a generation of users
in the CMO’s office that want a tool set. You know, they want their version
of Salesforce.com, they want their version of SAP to help them run their
Andrew: OK. So they want software to help them to market the products that
the rest of the company is putting together but you’re still a company that
has no background, that has no experience, that’s now walking in the door
and saying, hey, you guys should be spending money on us and we’re not just
talking about ten bucks a month, or only twenty-five bucks a month, we’re
talking about some serious money, some serious investment in time, some
serious investment in trust. How do you win them over? That’s one of the
challenges that a lot of people in the audience who are building enterprise
companies are facing when they even think about…
Kabir: That’s right. That’s right. And I think that’s why you take the time
to build the product the right way. So, we didn’t get here in a year or 18
months. As I mentioned, you know, we took over three years to get the
product into market. But at this point, when we walk in, the product speaks
for itself. You know, we don’t have to dance around, well no, the product
doesn’t do that, or, oh, yeah, you know, we want to do that some other day.
I mean, I certainly things on our, we have a road map for the next two
years and there’s tons of stuff we’re really excited about building but the
product is very rich and functional and so it doesn’t matter about me or
our team or the experience, of course we’re a company now with almost 50
We’ve certainly evolved the experience set in the organization but what
matters is the product and the ability of the product to really stand up on
it’s own two feet. So regardless of any other ancillary factors, the
customer can look at the product and say, yep, this thing will get the job
done for me.
Andrew: So, Kabir, is it, tell me if my understanding of you, correct me,
I’m sure I’ve got this wrong, but here’s what I’m imagining you’re telling
me. You’re saying, Andrew we had this idea, we walked into a potential
client, we said what do you think, they gave us some clear guidance, we
went back and worked on it then we came back to the same potential client
and we said, this is where we are right now, what do you think and we went
through iterations like this over months and then when it was time to sell
we had this relationship with a client who kept asking us for this specific
product that we specifically created essentially for him and people like
him and that’s why we’re able to close the sale. Is that what you’re
Kabir: Yep, that’s right on.
Andrew: That’s the thing. So, you’re first customer, how long did you know
him or her before you closed the sale?
Kabir: About four to five months.
Andrew: Four to five months of iteration before you sold to them?
Andrew: So, the first customer essentially is like a consulting client,
where you walk in and say what’s my problem and they say, here’s my
problem, and you say, I could solve it this way and they say, go prove it.
Kabir: Yep, that’s right on, that’s right on. But it involves, and I’ll
give Chris Connell a lot of credit here as well, making sure you build that
in a generalizable way, right?
Andrew: So you do what?
Kabir: You know, you’ve got to build the product in a way that it can scale
out across not just that A) are the needs specific to that customer or is
there enough of a market where, you know, thousands or hundreds of
thousands of other customers have that same problem. OK, well that’s good
so you got to check that box. But then when you actually build the product
are you building it in a repeatable way where it doesn’t involve you having
this sort of custom thing that you built for one person.
Andrew: OK. All right. So you close out the deal, you get, actually, let me
ask you this. You said it took years to build it. The 18 months from start
to first million in sales, what do you mean, where was that start taking
place? Was that when you guys conceived of the idea? Does that start of the
18 months go back to when you tried selling your first version? Does it
Kabir: When we started the company, when we started the company.
Andrew: So when you started the company. Was the software built by that
Andrew: No, it wasn’t. How long after you launched the company was the
Kabir: About 5 months.
Andrew: 5 months?
Kabir: Correct. That’s when we had the first regular product.
Andrew: So within 13 months, a little over a year of having the first
version of the product out, you did a million in sales?
Andrew: Committed sales or actual sales?
Kabir: That was actual sales on the product and a bunch of, you know, we
did a lot of, in our early days, boot strapping to fund the product
development. So we had other ancillary projects we were doing to fund
development of our product.
Andrew: Such as?
Kabir: Oh, everything from web development to, you know, other products
that we thought might fit in to our platform. Some of them did, some of
them didn’t. So, there was a lot of experimentation going on those first
Andrew: OK. And how much of the million dollars in revenue came from the
actual product and how much came from things like web development work?
Kabir: Oh, you know, I’d have to go back and look at it. I mean it was…
Kabir: I mean it was predominantly from other types of projects, I’d say
maybe 40% of it was from our core product.
Andrew: OK. So, 60% from other projects, 40% from this. The other answer to
how does a company go from zero to a million dollars is by doing anything
it takes in the beginning, by being willing and willing to lose focus a
little bit and do some consulting work. Is that true?
Kabir: Yep. That’s right and I think that, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily
do it all the same way. You know, again but…
Andrew: What would you do that same way?
Andrew: What wouldn’t you do the same?
Kabir: Well I’m not sure we would, you know, I think we in an effort to
staff development of the platform aggressively we took on more of these
ancillary services projects that were great cash flow then we probably
should have. You talk about distraction, it can definitely distract you. So
I think in some ways we extended our time horizon a little bit longer than
we would be otherwise in getting to the certain milestones that we know
we’re capable of. But at the same time, you know, the market conditions are
all lining up pretty well. Hindsight is always 20/20 and if we had gotten
into market a year sooner, you know, who knows what the dynamics would have
been at that point.
Andrew: You launched and shut down Chatterfly, a Twitter search engine.
Why’d you launch it and why’d you shut it?
Kabir: Great example of a project, right? Something that we’ve gone, you
know, it was something that a customer wanted, we thought there’d be some
value to it. We launched it because we thought that social media was going
to be an important part of the mix. You know, right now we sell our product
at the Health Care Life Science customers where social media is still a
challenge, understanding how to engage in social media is still something
our customers are trying to figure out and, you know, we decided at some
point that customers just weren’t getting the utility from it and as you
know, when you launch software products they involve an ongoing investment
in maintaining those products and continuing to innovate those products and
it just wasn’t one we were willing to continue to resource.
Andrew: And it’s because, and at the time it’s Chris, your co-founder, who
built Chatterfly, right?
Kabir: It was some guys on our engineering team. Chris was involved with it
for sure, he had a big role to play but yeah, he didn’t build it.
Andrew: OK. And you had an engineering team because you were able to pay
their salaries because you were taking on other jobs and getting paid
commitments from clients.
Kabir: That’s right.
Andrew: OK. Alright, let me see. You ever have any trouble making payroll
or any financial issues because you were boot strapped, because you didn’t
have the investors for a long time, not…
Kabir: You know, knock on wood, a lot of close calls but never missed a
paycheck, never cut staff, you know due to cash flow. I think we were
honestly just very lucky and very focused in how we managed our cash.
Andrew: You told Jeremy, Matt gets a lot of credit and he stepped up. He
spent 90 minutes with a customer and if we couldn’t get this much to do
then we’d build it out. So basically, Matt is the guy who sold one of your
customers, he’s a salesperson?
Kabir: No, he runs products for us now. One of the guys who joined our
company early and, you know, I remember this particular instance where we
were definitely running up against a cash wall and we knew that we had a
customer with a big problem we were excited about solving to build out our
analytics capabilities and it was a great way for us to get customer
feedback and input, as we tended to do, as we were building that. And we
basically said, hey, look, you know, we can solve this problem for you and
we went through the exercise of talking through it and we said, hey, look,
you know, this is what it’s going to take for us to solve it. Because we
knew we needed to keep the team staffed for, you know, enough time to
really deliver that solution for the customer. And, you know, they were
willing to step up and support us there.
Andrew: I see. So, when you got hungry, you went to clients and you
basically said, what’s your biggest, baddest problem? Let us take it on for
Kabir: Yep. That’s right. As long as it was related to our core product.
Andrew: Right. I see. My problem is I can’t get my kids to school on time
because I keep having to go to work. You can’t solve that for them.
Andrew: What am I trying to figure out next? Why did you raise money? You
were profitable, you were growing and you were boot strapped? Why raise
Kabir: So, lots of reasons. Primarily, we were doing a lot of these
services projects, right? That, you know, the percentage of revenue that
came from the core product, you know, sort of stayed below 50% and so you
have this scope of these non-core product projects starting to just
increase and take more bandwidth and we said, look, the market is ready for
us to launch this. At the time, we had nobody in sales, nobody in
marketing, it was a bunch of us just working on product and what we decided
to do was to raise the money to ramp down all those service projects,
completely focus on our stats platform and actually build out the
commercial team for sales and marketing, professional services to implement
the product. All those things that have to happen to really build a SAPs
business. So, many ways we talk about our company as really just being two
years old, like cause that’s the only amount of time we’ve had to really
focus on our platform and get out product onto the market.
Andrew: The lowest point that you had, you told your wife, gosh, I’m beat
down, I’m beat and worn down. What got you to feel beat and worn down?
Kabir: You know, it happens, you know, this is something that, you know,
I’m sure lots of people you interview talk about. It happens all the time.
You’re always dealing with adversity, you’re always dealing with a hundred
reasons why it can’t work or you can’t go to the next stage and it’s so
important to remember that your job as one of the people building a
business is to keep plowing forward, no matter what. And, you know, I can’t
remember a specific instance, but it’s something that, you know, I think
every entrepreneur deals with and finds their own ways to cope with that
and stay focused on the mission and continuing to execute.
Andrew: What did your wife say? What was her reaction?
Kabir: Well, it’s the one, the one we always laugh about is, oh, well
you’ll figure it out. And it’s kind of the whole, you know, she’s not
really sure what to say but she also knows that, you know, you will march
forward no matter what.
Andrew: That’s a tough thing to hear, but I think you’re the second
entrepreneur to say that within the last week. Wife said, you’ll figure it
out. At the time it might have been frustrating but you knew she had
confidence. I’ll tell you, it’s way better than what I see other people’s
wives say which is, that’s why I told you, you shouldn’t be an
entrepreneur. You know?
Andrew: A hard thing to hear at that point.
Andrew: Let me see what else. Gee, how the enterprise…so…OK. Jeremy
asked you, what question should we ask you because what we were recognizing
is sometimes at the end of an interview a guest says, oh, that’s great but
I wish you would have asked me about this other thing, that’s really what
you should be asking me. So, what did we miss asking you?
Kabir: You know, I think the part that we were able to touch on anyway is,
I want everybody whose watching this interview, and especially those that
were asking you about more enterprise software companies being featured, to
really recognize the revolution of brand and you know, we had a chance to
talk about it a little. But I think we are just literally at the beginning
stages of seeing a whole new generation of enterprise software companies
that are going to be the platforms that are running the Fortune 1000 and
more, Fortune 10,000 (?). We’re really excited about it because it’s a
responsibility we have as technologists to create that next generation of
tools and there are more and more companies everyday that are excited about
doing it. It’s going to be a really fun next decade.
Andrew: Let me read a comment or actually an email from one of my viewers
and then I want to ask you about the one non-tech, non-business thing that
you did that helped your tech business succeed. It’s something we don’t
talk about, maybe we talked about it once or twice on Mixergy interviews,
but we don’t talk about it enough. The email that I want to read to the
audience comes from Kane Mar and Kane had this issue. Kane wanted to rank
higher, not in search engines necessarily, but in LinkedIn. He said, “Hey,
you know, a lot of my customers are finding me and finding my competitors
through LinkedIn. I don’t want to be. . .”
Let’s see where he was. He says, “For one search, my profile was on page
five. In another search, my profile was on page two or three and if you
guys have ever searched on LinkedIn, you know that being on page five,
being on two or three basically means you don’t come up for your potential
customers.” He says, “During the course that you did at mixergypremium.com
with Lewis, you asked for feedback on how the tactics in the course
worked.” When he started out, he was page five and he goes, “Here’s what I
did. I performed the actions as Lewis described them in the course,
frequently stopping the video when I needed more time.
I updated the five sections that Lewis mentioned, Headline, Summary, etc.,
and when I had completed all the work for the same searches, I ranked seven
at the bottom of the first page and third at the top of the first page. It
took me two hours to refine the language and write my new content and yes,
I was late for dinner also. Many thanks to both you and Lewis for a
Basically, what he’s saying is he had this problem. He started watching the
course. He didn’t just watch and sit back, but he took action, he paused,
took action, came back and watched, learned some more, paused, took action,
etc., and within two hours, he got the results that he signed up to the
course to take. That course and so many others taught by real
entrepreneurs, sometimes whose Internet connection isn’t all that great,
but whose experience is always perfectly, perfectly matched to teach that
If you sign up for mixergypremium.com, you get all of those courses. Lewis,
of course, wrote the book on LinkedIn and has taught it for years before
anyone even recognized the power of LinkedIn, back when people thought
Facebook is going to kill LinkedIn. That’s what we’re doing, getting real
entrepreneurs to teach how they built their businesses, to teach the core
tactics that got that them. If you sign up to mixergypremium.com, you get
that and all the other courses. I absolutely guarantee that you’ll get
results. If you take that course, for example, and in two hours you don’t
see any results, come back to me. I’ll give you 100% of your money back.
Thousands of people have not only said I don’t want my money back, but
continue to be happy members of mixergypremium.com. If you’re watching,
then I hope you go to mixergypremium.com and join also.
Kabir, the thing that you did was exercise. Why is exercise something that
you thought so important? In the pre-interview notes, you said, “That’s
what helped me get through some of the tough points.”
Kabir: I think it’s just a tactic, right? Everybody, every human being has
their own tools they use in their toolbox to help them manage through
stressful times. For me, exercise and the frequency I can do it. Everyday
is the ideal and unfortunately, I’m not quite at the schedule where I’ve
gotten that into my daily routine, but as closely as possible and really
just for me it helps manage the stress. I think everybody is going to find
what that is for themselves.
Andrew: Yeah. I could see how that is tremendous. I keep saying that Tim
Ferriss, when he was here, he’s one of the few entrepreneurs, few writers
who talk about health, I asked him, “Why would you want entrepreneurs to
invest into exercise? Why is it important?” He said, “Look, there are going
to be times in business when you’re at your low emotionally, when you’re at
low maybe financially and at those points, I know for myself I tend to
doubt myself, but if I go out for a run and I do really well in the run or
if I do something else like cycle and I do really well there, then I feel
like, hey, no, I’m not a big loser. I’ve got something going on. I can’t
control my own success. If I did it there, then I could bring it into the
office.” For someone who like you, you told Jeremy, that you’re not a huge
workout person, that if you can conquer a workout, then maybe it might make
you feel like you can conquer anything.
Kabir: Yup, yup, that’s right on.
Andrew: All right. First of all, Kabir, thank you for doing this interview.
I always say to the audience if they got as much out of the interview as I
did, that they find a way to say thank you to you. I recently got an email
from Tim Sykes. He goes, “I’m down in the Bahamas meeting with my new
favorite broker, SureTrader. One of their newest employees listened to my
interview on Mixergy and saw that SureTrader is in the Bahamas and so he
applied for a job there and got it. Funny story, just a young, ambitious
kid.” I would say this guys, if you hear anything in these interviews, go
take action. If you see someone who you’ve gotten something out of like I
did from Kabir and like you probably did if you’ve listened this far, find
a way to say thank you and connect with them. Hopefully, you’ll get to work
with them, but at the very least, say thank you like I’m doing right now.
Kabir, thanks for doing this interview.
Kabir: Sounds great, Andrew. Thanks for the opportunity.
Andrew: You bet and thank you all for being part of it.
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