How does a family man with three kids build a profitable business without risking his family’s financial well-being?
Sam Morris is the founder of Everbadge, which has a unique way of helping Android app makers monetize their apps with nonintrusive advertising that pays on a recurring-basis.
He built his business while working a full-time job. I invited him to talk about how he did it.
Sam Morris, Everbadge
Sam Morris is the founder of Everbadge, which offers free app installs and more revenue for Android.
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Hey, there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner, and I am the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And by the way, guys, what it means to be a freedom fighter is… I used to ask my interviewees, “What… why did you succeed?” or “What’s the best part of having made it?” And what I was hoping they would say was, “I’ve got this jet. And now I have all this money.” You know, because I wanted the fun answer. But what I kept hearing over and over is, “Andrew, I have the freedom to do what I want.”
And when I talk to people who are listening and ask them, “What are you looking for? Don’t you want to build a billion dollar company?” What they’d say over and over again, and, this used to shock me, is, “No, I want freedom.”
And what I realized is, that’s what we’re about. We’re here to give ourselves freedom, and we’re here to give our customers and our users as much freedom as we can. And that’s why I started calling my audience, calling myself a freedom fighter. It was reluctant, but it came from a deep understanding of myself, because that’s what I want, too, and the audience and the interviewees.
And today, I’m honored to have a fellow freedom fighter, someone who has been listening for years. And what I wanted to find out from him is, how does a family man like him with three kids, build a profitable business without risking his family’s financial well-being. Sam Morris, who you see up on your screen, is the founder of Everbadge. They have a unique way of helping Android app makers monetize their apps. Their product is unintrusive, and it pays on a recurring basis.
He built this business up while working a full time job, and that’s why I was especially excited to have him here. I know that there’s someone out there who is now in a full time job, who wants to understand how to balance that with a family and a new startup and do it effectively. Sam, it’s an honor to have you on here.
Sam: It’s an honor to be here, Andrew. Thank you.
Andrew: Did you give notice yet, or is a boss somewhere going to hear about your business and be shocked?
Sam: I did. I gave notice a while back. Actually, my last day was July 3rd of this year, working for the state. Washington State.
Andrew: Washington State is where you are, and we are in September, so it’s just a few months ago.
Sam: Just a few months, yep.
Andrew: I heard that you Googled “how to give notice,” because you weren’t sure how to do that.
Sam: Yeah. It had been a while. I had been there almost six years, and I was very excited just to be able to Google that and prepare that letter. So, I did that a couple… maybe a month or two ahead of time. Yeah, I was excited just to look for a template to copy and give to the supervisor.
Andrew: And you had to feel really comfortable before you were able to do that, and I want to know how you went from idea to business that was creating enough cash to give you that comfort. [??], skipping ahead, today, is the business profitable?
Sam: It is, yes.
Andrew: What kind of revenue is Everbadge doing today?
Sam: This previous month, in August, we did about $130,000 in revenue. It was one of our best months. Prior to that, it was around the $100,000 mark. Earlier on in the year it was a little bit slower, but we’ve just continued to grow.
Andrew: It seems like your margins must be around 20 percent in this business, right? Because you have to share so much of it with the publishers.
Sam: Correct. Typically, it’s like a 70-30 share. In some cases, an 80-20 share. It kind of depends on the campaign and what we’re doing with it. But, yeah, it is 20 to 30 percent.
Andrew: So, for ever $100,000 that you pull in a month, $20,000 to $30,000 makes it into your gross profits, and then from there you have to pay for things like hardware and all of the things that go into running the business?
Andrew: Okay. All right, there was a period there when you were a nobody. Where you couldn’t get people to work with you because you couldn’t generate nearly enough traffic, nearly enough attention for it to be interesting for them. I want to know how you built it despite that. And it all started with a job that you had back when you were listening to Mixergy interviews. What was the job?
Sam: So the Secretary of State for Washington State had been a developer for 10 plus years. I did an Android app early on for the Secretary of State and, with doing that at home, I thought, well, I could mess around and maybe come up with something on my own.
Andrew: They needed an Android app? Washington State wanted an Android app?
Sam: Yeah, so the Secretary of State, there are several divisions underneath that, and one is corporations and charities, and they handle all the corporations that start up and manage those. I believe the app that I worked on was for charities. So, it’s still available on Google Play. It’s just a real generic… it’s kind of ugly, too. But, it was just, so people who needed to search for charities, they could use the app instead of the website, and so I think we were kind of exploring ourselves. We were a small team, the team I was on, with the Secretary of State, and so trying to go ourselves and deliver a better experience and make ourselves more accessible to the public, since it was a state agency.
Andrew: Sam, this seems such a different environment from the startup world. First of all, you have a job. Second, you’re working for the government, right? So, did you discover entrepreneurship while you were in this job or did you feel… did you discover it before and you were just waiting for the day?
Sam: I think before. I guess to back up. We used to live in Southern California, Bakersfield, California. At that time, I worked for a web design firm. I was a programmer there. My wife and I, we were really into playing World of Warcraft, and one of the things in the game is… we weren’t super hardcore, but you know, we played. And we didn’t have as many kids then. We had our oldest at the time, he was under one. We played the game, and the people would, inside the game… it sounds super-nerdy, but they would steal loot…
Andrew: Steal loot?
Sam: If you down a [??], you know, you get your loot and you divide it up among the guild or whoever you’re with, the team, and it was irritating enough to where I created a website called wowjackass.com, and basically, it was… this sounds kind of bad…
Andrew: I love the name.
Sam: Yeah… and you could name players and say which server they were on, the game server. That way other people could avoid playing with these troublemaker players. Anyway, I did that, and people wanted it to be better. I started to get a little bit of traction. I say that. It got some visitors to it. It didn’t really make any money, but… I built a Windows app so you could capture the screenshot while you were in game, and so you came to have a little bit of proof of, “Hey, this guy stole this loot.”
Sam: So that was the very first thing I did and then, I think, for someone who had been working for clients in what they wanted and their demands, and it’s a whole other side of things. It was kind of nice, I thought. I’ve always kind of wanted to do this, something that was my own, I owned it, you know, had basically control over it, and maybe make a little bit of supplemental income.
And so, it built up a little bit further and then I ended up leaving that job when we moved up here to Washington. I started working for the state, and I did an Android app that time. And then I thought, “Well, wowjackass, maybe I can do an Android app, as well to make it a little bit easier.”
Andrew: Again, by yourself, on the side, and this is for wowjackass.
Sam: Yeah. Yeah. So at that time, or around that time, I decided to change the name. I would call it Gamershots, so it took screenshots of the games, and you could do different games, not just World of Warcraft.
Andrew: So, it’s no longer limited to people who want to catch thieves, it’s now any kind of screen shot and it has a family friendly name.
Sam: Yeah, no more Jackass. And so that, once I put it on Android, it was a real basic… it was basically HTML, just wrapped in… we call it a Web view on Android, and that’s all it was. A mobile website just wrapped into an app. The users started coming in. The Market was still… it was called the Market, at that time, Google Market, not Google Play yet. I started seeing 100 new users coming in daily, and to get in they had to full on register. I mean, it was a long, ridiculous process, but…
Andrew: You made that long, ridiculous process.
Sam: Yeah, not realizing maybe I should improve this, but, I mean, I kind of knew that already. It should be easier, but… anyways, over time, I just improved on it, and got more and more users, and I needed a better way to… I needed to monetize it somehow. I was getting enough users. It went from 100 a day to 300 a day and at the high end, it ultimately went to about 3,000 a day. But I wasn’t monetizing very well at all. And probably around that same time, I somehow happened on Mixergy, and so, totally credit goes to Mixergy. I think you did an interview with the original guy from SuperRewards…
Andrew: Mm-hmm. [??]
Sam: He talked about their Offer Wall, and I think he was talking about more about on Facebook and the Web-based stuff. I know they were doing big back then with that. And then, I think he mentioned like TapJoy, and so, I actually ended up using TapJoy to monetize with, and I put an offer wall in there, and monetized the application, and it became more of a social network for gamers. So maybe around that time, I had like, around 100,000 users. So, I put the offer wall in and it started to make a little bit of money on the side, but…
Andrew: Let me pause for a second and just make sure to emphasize this point. What you’re saying is, you heard him talk about an idea that no longer worked. It only worked in the early days of Facebook, but it worked really well for SuperRewards, and you said, “Maybe this idea, this format can work for me today in the Android universe, right?”
Sam: Yeah, basically. I don’t recall exactly what I thought at the time, but I think around that time, I was doing… I wanted to gamify the gamers, so I thought, we need to have some levels, and titles, the same idea as World of Warcraft, you get titles as you progress. You become more recognized because you know, you’re level whatever, and you have this title to you. I thought the same idea. It engages the user to participate further.
So, I had a point system, and the offer wall seemed like a good idea. I think I had looked at SuperRewards at the time, and maybe I used them for just a real brief… they did a little bit on mobile. I know they’re doing now on mobile quite a bit. But TapJoy looked like…
Andrew: What’s an Offer Wall?
Sam: It’s a listing of basically ads. They’re sponsored placements. The end user can earn, well, one type of offer walls is basically incentivized, so a user can earn a reward for installing another app, registering, or submitting their email on a submit form, a one-page submit form. In return for doing that, they earn a reward in whatever app they came from. It’s an incentivized version of the offer wall.
Sam: So I saw an opportunity there, which was pretty obvious that, so I had these points, this could help. And I integrated with TapJoy at the time, and started making a little bit of money at the time. But I wasn’t happy, mainly with their support. It was lousy at the time. I don’t know how they are today. I don’t mean to talk bad about them, but at that time, it was pretty crappy.
Andrew: What kind of issue did you have that TapJoy wasn’t able to help with?
Sam: I think the… well, I wasn’t doing that great, that much revenue. I kind of got the sense that I was at a certain revenue point, like maybe $500 to $1,000 a month. So, I’m not sure exactly what it was. It was probably under $1000. It seemed to me that I got the sense that I was less important. My support requests would take a long time to be answered and there were some issues ongoing that I would email about and they wouldn’t respond on it. Maybe they’ve improved on that now. I don’t know.
Andrew: I’m emphasizing this point because I want to show the audience where an idea for a business comes from. We’re already starting to see a lot of the elements of the core idea come together here, which is the ad wall and is the frustration with TapJoy. There was something else that you weren’t happy with TapJoy. It was the payment breakdown, right?
Andrew: What was it there?
Sam: I think, at the time, it was from 50%. I recall seeing that. I think somewhere on their side and maybe the terms. They might have it reset to 60. I’m not sure. It was enough to where I thought I can build the functionality of this thing pretty easily on my own. Getting those advertisers to be placed on that is a whole other universe and I guess I didn’t really understand that. It was an ambitious and naive task to take on but I didn’t realize it so I did it. And actually, I left them in the app as well. I said try out in the app. They could earn the points so I gave them a couple options. When I made mine I did mine first and then theirs was second.
Andrew: I see.
Sam: That ended up being an issue with their terms of service as well.
Andrew: They want to be the only place, the only ad.
Andrew: Okay. I see it all come together. When do you now launch your own ad product?
Sam: Well, there’s kind of some more to it.
Andrew: By the way, later on when we get into it, I see that you’re a little bit nervous. Later on when we get into you calling up advertisers, I have to understand how a person like you who doesn’t leap at an opportunity to talk to someone, even though you and I kind of know each other because you’ve been listening to the interviews, you’re still a little shy.
I want to know how someone like that can make sales calls because frankly that’s more useful than hearing a natural born salesman telling us how he sells. I want to hear how someone who’s more reluctant does sales. But sorry, you were saying that there was a little more to the idea than that?
Sam: Well, how I progressed and made the first ad unit or ad format.
Andrew: Okay. But you are now on your way to do it and were you thinking I’ll do it for myself and do it for my brothers later? I’ll scratch my own itch and then see if anyone else’s body itches like this?
Sam: Yes. I thought I can the same way they were distributing their offer wall by an SDK. I can do the same thing. I just need more ads in my offer wall. I ended up getting more advertisers to try it out and that’s what I did. I built an SDK and I ended up adding other parts to that SDK as well which ultimately led to our current name of Everbadge.
Andrew: What’s the first advertiser that you called on and what was that conversation like?
Sam: I tried to research it. I don’t recall the name. They were a larger one. They were doing well on Android at the time. I’m not sure exactly how I got the contact information. Maybe it was direct from Google Play. I can see their developers email or I went to their website. I think I sent them an email and said hey, we can deliver you more installs. I would love to talk sometime and left my phone number.
I remember I had a phone meeting with their Marketing Manager and went out to my car during my lunch break and I was talking to him and he basically said what kind of volume? He seemed optimistic. They want this, you know? Still today they want this. I said, oh I think 20 – 50 daily installs. Fifty was probably very optimistic at the time. He said we need more volume. If we’re going to integrate for the tracking part back then we would need much more volume than that.
Andrew: He was looking for 500 installs as I understand.
Sam: I think around 500 a day.
Andrew: You were at 20, maybe stretching to maybe 50. Then, this is how small you were. I imagine that other people maybe didn’t need 500 installs a day to get excited but they needed more than 20 a day. How did you get your first customer when you didn’t have many installs to offer them, to sell to them?
Sam: That’s a good question. I think back then I set up self-serving side for advertisers, and I made it so just super simple for them to get started. The hardest part was probably setting up a way to track the installs from click to conversation. But, by setting that up they didn’t really email me about volume.
They would get in there and set it up, my setup with merchant services, so they can use their credit card on line, and they would do everything and then we would do maybe one call or email after that to make sure everything was tracking correctly, and so more of those advertisers. The self-serve, [??] less volume, they just came in…
Andrew: How were they coming over? I understand the power of self-serve because I used to have a sponsor link at the top of my site, and I got so many people clicking on it and offering to buy ads that I said I don’t want to get too distracted by advertising, lets remove it. But it was hundreds of people who were coming in.
I understand how I had hundreds of people coming in. I’m talking to an audience of entrepreneurs, they’re all potential customers for sponsorship on the site. You didn’t have tons of traffic. How did you have people come, how did you even people get aware of the fact that you have self- serve advertising option?
Sam: It’s a hard question to answer. I wish I had like a great answer. This is how I did it and you guys can do this too. One way, and at the time this worked a little bit as I bought up a few domains. One was Android-Pay-Per-Install.com, and it was hyphenated between each word. At the time I built a basic landing page, it was really simple. It ultimately led them to our self-serve option. But it was hosted somewhere else it had a different landing than our normal website. I saw a decent amount of Google results starting to be picked up from Google. I’m not sure where we ranked for a while. Later on I noticed we were at the top there for those keywords, Android-pay-per-install.
Andrew: And that was a big thing for you, Google searches.
Sam: At first I thought it was a huge thing. It was enough to pull in some advertisers, some customers to do this. And actually submit it and pay for it. So I think that was, a few of those came in that way, and then other times I’ve heard that an advertiser would come in and they would get a certain amount of installs. And they were okay with the amount they got so kind of word of mouth. [??] maybe the indie-developers or the small teams that were looking for a little boost. Anything on Google play, I think that’s basically how it happened.
Andrew: Okay. And for you, an advertiser, I guess you need an advertiser and you need a publisher, right. An advertiser is going to say I will pay you money Sam, if you can get someone to install my software, right?
Andrew: And that’s a no brainer for them because they only pay when they get the software installed and they know what their cost is. As long as you’re not committing any kind of fraud, they’re happy with it. What about publishers, did you need publishers at that point?
Sam: Yes, I did and maybe I should backup a little bit, too. The social network grew to a level to where it got a little bit of recognition on some of these Android blogs that are out there that get decent amount of traffic. I did get requests through there from advertisers saying, hey, can we promote our app on this as well. So that was one source of it. But on the publisher base at first I was just focused on the social network. It was all internal traffic. I wasn’t yet wrapping this ad format into an SDK for developers to use in their apps.
Andrew: So you’re still saying this is just for me, and if I can make it big enough it will be for other people, I just need some revenue for my own business.
Sam: Right, yeah 100 percent, it’s not half of it going to Tap Joy, or something else.
Andrew: At some point soon after this, Google shut you down, shut down Gamer Shots. Why?
Sam: The screen shots. So one of the things to get users to join the network was lots of people they like wall papers on their phones. From the PC, users could take screen shots and up load it to the service. Well those same screen shots were located in a wall paper category when the game or social network. So these wall papers were huge, they attracted a lot of users to come in and get these free wall papers. And then users could upload their own wallpapers as well.
Well, there are issues with that because you’re taking the artwork from these games and uploading it to your server. No one was charged anything to upload or download but I got a notice from Google saying, there were two specific games at the time from big companies and they even sent me the DCMA request, or whatever it’s called, to take it down immediately. And I did, and it was down within an hour or two.
About a week later I got another email that didn’t say take it down, it said we took you down. We took your app off of Google Play, or the Android Market at the time. You can appeal this if you want, and so that’s kind of where I was at.
Andrew: And did you ever get back in?
Sam: No. I appealed it the first time and I think it took two or three weeks. There’s no phone numbers for you to call and even the appeal process at that time was, you had to hunt for a link. I finally found the right form and I submitted it and two weeks later I heard back, no, we will not allow you to come back. No specific reasons, even though I fixed things.
Andrew: Google do not like talking on the phone. Talking on the phone is for humans. Google likes Python scripts.
Sam: Yeah. I don’t think I ever talked to anybody. You could even resubmit, do another appeal and I did. It was rejected. So everything I had done to that point was basically.
Andrew: Gone. By this point, had you already established the network of other publishers who were going to be running your ads?
Sam: That’s a good question, I think that was kind of the early time of when I did. Yeah, I did, because, I should know this off the bat but this feels like quite a while ago. All of this was three years ago, two-and-a- half three years ago. I did, because part of the SDK wasn’t just the offer wall it was gamification.
Around that time when I did that I changed the name to Everbadge because one of the things you could do was the users could earn badges in these other apps and then it would post on their Everbadge profile, and even in these feeds in and chat rooms. If you’re chatting with a group of other gamers it says, hey whoever just earned this badge in this other app. And then they could tap that app, or tap the link to that app, go in and install it and then.
Andrew: I see. So, app makers who wanted to gamify their apps by giving out badges as rewards for action that their users were taking didn’t have to write it, didn’t have to write the code to do it didn’t have to manage it. They could just use your SDK and you would power all that. In return what you got is all their users who are really into the badges coming into your app, to your product, and seeing where they ranked, seeing where other people ranked and congratulating themselves for getting those badges.
Sam: Yeah, and it increased engagement within that app. They would play a few levels, earn a badge and then also it could potentially, in a viral sense of recommend that app to someone else.
Andrew: Are you still doing that product?
Andrew: Why didn’t that work out? It seems like that’s a brilliant idea. You’re helping other people gamify, but you’re also embedding yourself into their product. If they pull you out, they those all the badges that they’ve given their users. So, why didn’t that work?
Sam: The only way I was monetizing was still the offer wall as well as what I just mentioned, if the app was recommended via a badge reward. Mainly it’s because the social network got shut down. Without that.
Andrew: Oh, and the badges were part of your social network?
Andrew: So, that was really devastating. Not only did you lose your network, you also lost your chief form of advertising because that’s where you were still getting most of your revenue. And, all those other sites in products you were powering, all those other apps, lost their connection to you. I’m sure that they must have been pissed.
Sam: Well, I didn’t have a ton.
Andrew: I see. That’s one of the advantages of not having such a big business, is when it doesn’t do well it doesn’t hurt as bad.
Sam: I think they understood too. There were some bigger advertisers that are big today that I had to explain to them what had happened. I think they felt bad. They were excited about the possibility of it but without that social network now, I was completely depending on the distribution through the SDK. Badges still worked, the reward wasn’t being broadcast to hundreds of other users or thousands of other users.
Andrew: It seems like it was a blessing in disguise though, right? Because of that, you were no longer focused on your own network, you were focused on the monetization part of other people’s sites and the monetization of your own idea.
Sam: Yeah. Completely it has worked out and I remember thinking towards the end of it I was like, this is actually probably a blessing. I was really starting to get burned out with the social side of stuff. I had a group of core users that were moderators in the network. Probably five to ten people. And they were really into doing this, they would just volunteer to do it. But there were so many issues with the social side, and chatting and people fighting and just crazy, weird stuff happening with people around the world. It was too not down what I wanted to do.
I was kind of relieved, and I wasn’t making a ton of money from it, but I was devastated by it because I had a lot of hopes and I thought I could see how it could grow to do this one thing. From there I thought, well, the only way to keep doing this under this name is remove the social network side. We could still keep the social network up, it was still there, it’s just I couldn’t distribute on Google Play anymore. I could distribute via alternative markets which wasn’t a great an idea at the time.
Anyways, we ended up just focusing on how I can have more developers use this SDK. So, I went that direction.
Andrew: Alright, going back to what I said earlier, I’m looking at my notes here from your pre-interview with Jeremy Weisz and you said to him I get a bit of social anxiety, and you talked about being on the verge of a panic attack one time. So, how does someone like that start to call developers and say, please work with my product.
Sam: I don’t know, I think I’m driven to do something. When you started of the program you explained freedom fighters. That’s always, I think, the word I have to describe why I’m doing something or doing this. I really wanted freedom. Freedom for a lot of different areas of my life and for my family’s life. I have a huge motivator with my family and paying the bills, and I told Jeremy also that I felt like my cubicle was a cage. I wanted out of my cage, I wanted to do something on my own terms and see if I could do it. We get this one shot in this life to come up with something amazing, or to perform. That’s where I was.
Andrew: That desire is what got you to make those phone calls because you were so determined.
Sam: Exactly. Right, and I think you step outside your comfort zone. I do it, and I think I do it, it feels like sometimes on a daily basis still. But sometimes when I do that it seems like I look back and I’m like, I’m glad I did that because it ended up being awesome. There’s other times where I’m like, that sucked I don’t want to have to do that again, that phone call was horrible. I don’t feel like, even if I’m selling something, I’m not thinking of selling it so much. I try to explain what I have and if appeals then great. If the demand is there and we can deliver, I feel like maybe it can just sell itself.
Andrew: Do you script yourself before making a call?
Sam: No. I guess I have in my mind the routine.
Andrew: What’s the routine?
Sam: Describing what Everbadge is. I kind of go into what it previously was and how today it’s a mobile performance network, basically an affiliate network. And where we’re different compared to them using a competitor. So, I know that, it’s just the story of what I’ve done, not as in depth as this. That’s just normally what I say. The fine detail pricing and all that tends to change with what’s going on.
Andrew: Today you have two different products, right? One product is this ad-wall, and I think you call that UpRise?
Andrew: No, I’m sorry, UpRise is the other product. This one is called the, what is it, Offer Wall. It’s incentivized or non-incentivized offer walls for Android, iPhone & Windows Phone apps. No SDK required, we’ll get to why that is, implementation is piece of cake, that’s what you say on your site. One product is what we’ve talked about right now, just a wall of ads. People show it to their Android, developers show it to their users. When their users click an ad, you and the developer get paid and optionally the user gets some incentive points in the game et cetera.
Sam: Correct, yeah, on the incentivized side.
Andrew: So that’s the first product. The second one I thought was interesting, that’s Uprise [SP], right?
Andrew: What’s Uprise? That’s the one that I think’s more unique.
Sam: It is. It is unique. Now, since I spoke with Jeremy, and we had talked to him pre-interview, some things have changed with that. And that explains a lot of, I think, the space that I’m in with mobile and Google and with iOS or Apple. The rules are changing. So Uprise, what it is the developer can implement this within their app. It asks a user if we can leave a new icon on their home screen. If they say ‘Yes’, it leaves a new icon pointing to our non-incentivized offer wall. It’s called Games and Apps. Gamesandapps.com is the URL, it’s just html.
Andrew: So they just get an icon on their Android phone. They click that icon and they’re taken to a list of games and apps. Kind of a recommendation engine and the monetization is every time they install one of those apps you and the person who helped install that icon on the user screen get paid.
Sam: Yeah, it’s not paid on the actual icon drop, but it’s paid per performance. So, the user, their user, must install an app from that. Then yeah, they would get paid. And that offer wall would stay there, app wall or offer wall, would stay on their home screen until the user removes it. It’s not an in-app advertisement. But I need to say this, Google just changed their policy on ad icons. That’s not going to be allowed on Google Play within, actually, days.
Andrew: Days?And you can’t even adjust it? And you know now if you keep doing this, you’re going to get shut down?
Sam: It was completely fine 20-something days ago. As long as you got the user’s permission, which we always did. We’re respecting that. And it’s not doing anything else. It’s not adding a bookmark to their browser. It’s just adding the icon. Google recently updated their Push Notification Ad Policy as well, as the icon dropping. They’re no longer going to allow it. So in a way, I’ve been scrambling from my side for us to update that and for it to be compliant and no longer using icon drop. So we have a few things about ready. And we’re still going to call it Uprise and it will still monetize, but it will be different. Just a few weeks ago, that’s exactly what it was and that’s what…
Andrew: Joss Oskey [SP] said to me that when you build on someone else’s platform, like you’re doing with Android, it’s like picking up pennies before a truck comes. Right? Now in your case you’re collecting a lot of pennies, but the truck is still coming. At any point it could just knock you out. How does it feel? Can you go to sleep at night knowing that tomorrow morning you might wake up, everyone is excited about a brand new version of Android, but your business could get shut down by it?
Sam: Yeah, that stinks. And I’ve had this happen almost two different times with the app itself, the social network, and then this. Something that’s encouraging for Everbadge is… So we’re kind of in between. We’re a mobile performance network. So we mostly… Most of our volume of traffic has come in from either network partners, media buyers, or developers who have an app and are really aware of their audience and they can grab an ad campaign from our listing and promote that directly within their app.
So a portion of our traffic is from the SDK, but a larger portion is from direct traffic from these network partners and, like I said, media buyers. We’ve really grown as an affiliate network focused on CPI, cost per install campaigns. That’s where we’re doing the best. And so as far as being able to sleep at night knowing that, that Google can’t touch us, no one can touch us. Well, I shouldn’t say that, but it’s not dependent on them. You know? They can’t exclude us from doing anything like that. Oh we’re not doing anything wrong.
We offer value to all of these partners, these developers or media buyers. As far as coming up with these SDKs that are compliant, it’s kind of known and I feel bad for other companies who are more in depth into that and doing a lot bigger numbers. But at the same time, I think it will deliver a better experience for Google users. I have an opinion about all that, but I don’t really get into it.
Andrew: What is it? I want to get back into the story here, but what’s the opinion?
Sam: So I think in IOS, everything is pretty well walked down. Google through Android’s Super Fast and they’re leading at almost the expense of the users. So these spammy ads that they cause spammy push notifications, their icon ads, or whatever, I agree. I don’t like push notification ads. It was such an open network that I think developers flock to it. They realize this thing is growing.
That’s one of the reasons, and this other ad networks help the whole eco system [sounds like] to grow. And then they, basically, pulled up the rug from underneath this other networks who help them grow Android. Within 30 days, it became compliant. And this are multi-million dollar like huge . . . like a lot of workforce company. So it’s a little frustrating, and I think they pulled up the rug from a lot of developers depending on this ad formats to monetize and offer free apps to users who would typically be charged ?99 on the App stores. But I do this great in one way, and another way I can see how the users now kind of using the developers. So that’s my opinion. [laughs]
Andrew: All right. I feel like the same thing happen in Facebook. They were cheering everyone on. They’re getting them all to experiment. Then they realize a lot of these apps are too spammy. They keep flooding people’s news feeds and so on. And they pulled back and a lot of ad developers got hurt. Let’s talk quickly about this HTML versus HDK because that’s an important decision. What is the difference between the two of them in your business?
Sam: So the HTML side, it’s basically we provide a URL that the developer can point to within their app and access that directly. Whether it’s within a WebView on the Android or if it’s in the default browser app. It’s just a super easy straightforward way to access our app format. Originally, with the of the wall, the HDK, originally that I did. It wasn’t HDK. And it was the incentive [sounds like] version. The process to implement it just took more time, and I think I did see request to simplify it. And I didn’t see any reason why just to use HTML [??] . . .
Andrew: How did the HTML anyone can implement? You just give me a link. I can do it here on my personal website. I don’t even have to know how to do more than WordPress in order to do that. Maybe not even WordPress. That’s HTML. Software development kit, I’ve got to know software development.
Sam: You don’t know more of that.
Andrew: It’s much more difficult. And so simplifying it, even though you’re dealing with developers. Even though you might be taking away some features for yourself and some ability to link directly into the software. Simplifying it is so important that it help shoot up your usage.
Sam: Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of different use cases. So if you have, for example, something that’s growing [??] right now is, like free public WiFi spots. Some of these places, there’s a good opportunity to monetize, and so we’re seeing increase on that. They can just point to a URL. They don’t worry about . . .
Andrew: Oh, I see. I don’t even need to have an app. As soon as someone log in to the free public WiFI, you show them all these ads, they clicked one. Boom.
Sam: Sure. And typically it’s on the confirmation like, “Hey do you want to check out some apps, you know, with this free WiFi access.” But, yeah, they can use it on out of the app or, you know, one of the mobile websites as well.
Andrew: Here’s something else that I heard about how you found ad network. This are the people have the ads that will populate the pages that we’ve been talking about. Link in. Something as simple as link in helps you. Have you used link in.
Sam: I haven’t so much myself. I think the request.
Andrew: Are they finding you on LinkedIn?
Sam: In ads, we want to promote this app. This is our app or, “Hey, we’re this agency. We have this app. We have this budget. We know about every batch. I think that’s an easy way them to try to contact someone who’s working with every batch or small team.
Andrew: So you’re not even buying ads. You’re just keeping a really clear link in profile.
Sam: For the most part, yeah. But I will say that, actually, last month or few months back, I did experiment on some link in ads to pull in . . . To explain that, so for example, we have over 300 Android campaigns. So these other networks, most networks do not have that many performance based networks. Affiliate networks. They usually have 10 to 20 campaigns for CPI, cost per install. We have 300 on Android, so that ad is really simple. It’s like, “Over 300 Android Apps Ready to Run.”
So, anyways, I tried that for a while and I got a little bit of new publishers in, but as far as advertisers requesting connections on LinkedIn, and then followed up with an In mail, some if came from that. I think there’s still a lot of opportunity to grow with us on there.
Andrew: So, Sam, what I’m seeing is, there is a deep need for app developers to get their apps installed. You create an app. You hope that someone is going to find it in Google Play or in one of the other app stores. It’s not happening for you, and now you need to be proactive, and the best way to do it… or the most reliable way to do it is to pay someone on a per install basis, and that’s why so many people are finding you. You’re meeting a big, painful need for them. You’re alleviating it.
Sam: Yeah, for certain advertisers. I don’t know that it’s always… I think that there’s several methods for making that happen, but definitely, this is a shortcut, and the demand, like you said, is very strong.
Andrew: What about on the publisher side? They have some many other better- known companies to talk to. Why are they coming to you?
Sam: So, our publisher makeup is pretty diverse. It has three or four different types of publishers. We go anywhere from a developer to a whole other ad network, with thousands of developers on their side. So, a reason that maybe another ad network would come to us is, if they need to fill ads, if their fill rate is low in a certain country, they can easily log into our system, pull up that country and see the ads we have available.
If the payout works for them, and they can deliver the traffic that this advertiser wants, they’ll run it on their site, so it helps their fill rate go up, basically for their backfill. We have a lot of campaigns listed there, so it’s just a good option. And it’s an easy way for them to do that.
On the developer side, that’s been more of a harder publisher to grow with. I think one is, just a lack of tools that Everbadge offers. You know, we had Uprise. It’s simple. It’s a different type of ad format. That’s why I liked it so much. I thought it was different and it was effective. But, we’re growing more on the other side, where we’re, like I said, an affiliate network. So, my focus, with limited resources, hasn’t been developing these brand new SDKs, or these crazy ideas for new ad formats, native ad formats, whatever. It’s been more in growing what we’re doing well at.
Andrew: The idea to go to HTML instead of SDK came from a conversation you had with the founder of HasOffers?
Sam: No, I don’t recall… I don’t think so.
Andrew: I’m so intrigued by how you got to meet the founder of HasOffers. It’s a huge affiliate network, right?
Sam: Well, HasOffers is a platform that powers affiliate networks, and they’re based in Seattle, which isn’t too far from me, so, early on, when I developed that self-serve I mentioned earlier, for advertisers, I also developed a publisher side, so I had my own platform. It was rough. It was just minimum what it needed to be. I went to HasOffers because they have it all packaged up, nice and neat, and I pay a monthly rate.
In the process for doing that, I met with them early on, and I happened to meet, I think, one of the founders, one of the brothers there. I didn’t really talk much to him. It was more Cameron, I think, was my main contact there. They didn’t so much influence on the ad formats at the time, but it helped us get to become more of a performance based network, which is… after we moved there, we grew quite a bit, and then our costs grew as well. With them…
Andrew: Why? What kind of costs suddenly grow?
Sam: So, you see the pricing structure they have, and I thought, “OK, so we’ll be in this range.” Basically, the more volume we deliver. So, if we’re partnered with an ad network that can send a lot volume of traffic to a campaign, we ended up paying per click, whether that click installed or not. So they would send, at the high point, three to four million clicks in one day. And then, you look at the cost of doing that, and then the conversion rate, it was… it got to be difficult to do. Just basically, the more you use, the more you’re going to pay for it.
So, we ended up moving away from HasOffers, which is a great system. It has its issues, I think on the support side, [??] support issue, but they’re good guys. I think they have a great team. I know they’re booming, especially with their mobile app tracking product. But I ended up contracting out with additional developers in India to build our own platform, very similar to theirs but really focused on mobile. So, now we’re off of that, and I think within like one or two months, the whole platform has paid for itself.
Andrew: Let me see what else is missing here in this conversation. Oh, here’s what. So, I’ve got a question from someone in the audience that I want to hear your answer to, but I think it relates to an experience that you had. You were in an airport and the server went down. What did that mean for you and your business when you’re on your way out and this happens to the business? Then I’ll get back to this question that Damian Christianson [sp] asked me to ask you.
Sam: My wife and I were heading to California for a wedding. My team is small, so when that happened we were on our own platform. The server went down and I started getting notifications right when I was boarding the plane. It’s just helpless. It’s a helpless feeling. And at the time, it was daytime here, so the team in India weren’t responding. We were down, it ended up, 12 hours total. When you’re working with some of these other large networks, they noticed, and so we saw a pullback after that, quite a bit.
Andrew: Suddenly, they’re thinking, “All right, the guy’s back up, but can you trust him?”
Sam: Yeah. How scalable are they? Can their system handle it?
Andrew: [??] as a result of that, because the business did depend so heavily on you and people in India who aren’t always around.
Sam: So, we found the issue, which just has to do with volume and the amount of records we’re storing in our database. So, we have a good system in plan. And we’re still implementing parts of this. It’s taken several months for the most part to get to where we need to be. But it’s much more scalable now. We have a backup plan. We’re replicating a lot of our stuff now, so, better than we were before.
Andrew: So you have a backup plan, that if the site goes down… Let’s suppose that you’re about to do this interview with me, so you’re unreachable, and your site goes down. For the hour that we’re doing this conversation, who would step in and what would happen?
Sam: Ah, who would step in? Me.
Andrew: So, it’s still you.
Sam: Yeah, it’s still me.
Andrew: All right. So, let me come back to Damian’s question. He said, “If you, Sam, had to leave your company in two days and hand over your baby to someone else, not involved with it today, in a paragraph, what would you tell them to sum up the past and keep on course for the future?” So, basically, he’s saying, “How do you make the business run without you?” But, he’s adding urgency of you having to leave in two days, and the clarity and simplicity of a document that says, “Here’s where we are, and how we’re going to run this business.”
Sam: That’s a good question. I don’t know that I can sum that up in a paragraph. What I’m doing myself to improve that right now is, I’ve recently brought on a new sales manager to help on the advertising side, but the good part of him is he’s also a developer. That’s what he does. He went to school for marketing, but he’s a developer.
Our plan right now is to get a better handle on whoever needs to be involved when something does go down, so he’ll play a bigger role in all that. If I was to hand this over in two days, it needs more than just me to do it. So, currently, I couldn’t just do it. You need a couple of guys at least, developers, who can… And the code structure, what we’re using with the new platform, it’s good. We have a solid setup and it’s clean. It’s easy to get into and diagnose a lot of what we’re doing, and we have tools in place, like New Relic and stuff, to help us monitor what’s going on better than what we did have in the past.
Andrew: One of the things that we are doing internally is we are redoing our systems so that we may not get to a place where if I get hit by a bus, I can continue doing the interviews. But, I want to get us to a place where if I need to focus on some new ideas, the business continues to run. We had that for a while. Everything was documented and organized and I could take off mornings and I could think of new ideas on Fridays and Mondays and just separate myself from the business but those documents went out of date.
So we are now redoing the whole documentation process and coming up with a way to keep things up to date. What we are using is Sam Carpenter’s formula. He is the guy who wrote “Work the System” the book and we are going through that. We are actually using the interview he did on Mixergy and some of the other Mixergy courses on systemizing because I let it go because I think I could do it. If there was a problem, I could fix it. Then, I end up fixing more and more. Other people depend on me as the man in the middle between them and whatever they need to do and then they can’t get their work done, I can’t get my work done, and it just drives me crazy. It doesn’t happen like that, it just hapens over time.
So I am resystemizing and I am wondering if anyone else in the audience is interested in this issue as much as I am. In the comments, if someone is going through this system process, let me know. If you haven’t listened to the interview with Sam Carpenter on Mixergy, go check it out. Type in Sam Carpenter in that site or go to Mixergy.com/find and look for that interview. I will put in a plug for Mixergypremium.com; that is where you can take courses by proven entrepreneurs who teach how they built their businesses. If they are good at systemizing, ask them breakdown their process. If they are good at getting traffic, ask them to break down that process and teach it.
Those courses and hundreds of interviews with entrepreneurs are all there for you at Mixergypremium.com. Hey, you told me before you started that one of the reasons you listen to Mixergy is because you were a lone founder. How did you use Mixergy?
Sam: Being a lone founder has its highs and lows. On the lows, I would find myself, I had a few people and I had an Advisor now that I can talk to. For the longest time, there was no one and it still feels that way in a way where it’s like a crazy wilderness. I would go directly to Mixergy and look at the titles and if there was something that I could relate to based on the title, I would click and recap on the transcript. I would watch that.
Usually, even if it wasn’t exactly what I was going through, there are some nuggets that sometimes I pull away from and I am encouraged. They are very similar. Often, I thought that. I would do that at my day job. At times if I wasn’t on my lunch break, I would leave the program running in the background while I was doing other stuff.
Andrew: I think that is the best way to do it. To say, I have this issue, maybe in the case of someone listening to us, the issue might have been “I have a family and I still want to build a business. I am done with all of these entrepreneurs in their teens building business because I can’t relate to their time. But I need to know about someone with the family responsibilities built a business.”
So they listen to you. If they are on the opposite side of it and they are saying “I can’t relate to someone who’s older and I am just getting started. I want to know if there is someone out there who’s a teenager like me who is also in the ad-based business like me. Who should I listen to?” We have a few interviews for them there. I think that is the best way to do it. To think of it as a library and a step-by-step path.
Frankly, I don’t know if there is anyone out there who can say “here is the exact road map.” Speaking of family man, let’s close this up by going back to the fact that you have a family. What’s the challenge there and what advice do you have for someone else who is a father who is trying to build a business?
Sam: There are quite a few challenges. Every situation is different. My wife is very supportive. She always has been. Which is probably pretty unique.
Andrew: I think it is.
Sam: I think the key thing for me is, and I have done this for quite a while, it’s around 5 or 6 o’clock or when I used to get off the day job and come home, that was family time. For the next two to three hours. That was for family. I basically stayed as much as I could off the computer. I tried not to check my phone. When it was time to eat with the family. Just play with the boys. They are crazy. As soon as I get in the house, they were tackling me. It was their time and honestly, I treasure that. So it’s a good thing and I soak it up.
Andrew: So two hours, you are fully in there.
Sam: Yes, two to three hours before they go to bed for their bedtime and then after their bedtime, in the past, and sometimes now too, that’s when I get back to work. But I know that there is balance with my wife as well. She has been super understanding. I think that it is a juggling act but honestly, they do come first. If I had to turn my back on this because it was better for my family then I would do it.
Andrew: What about your personal time? Your time to just sit and “veg- out” with television? What about your time with your wife? Where she might not necessarily enter a deep conversation with her but she just wants you to be there to have a conversation? I don’t see how you can squeeze that in with a full time job, then hang out with the kids and the family for two to three hours, then working on the start of all the issues that come up especially when something goes wrong like Google knocks you out of the PlayStore and that personal time for yourself and that personal time with your wife?
Sam: Honestly, I don’t know. I think I would do things in spurts. So if it was something big that I was working on and I had to work a lot of late nights, I would do that for a while and then after that was finished, I think just for myself, I was burned out. I want to not work. I want to watch some old Battlestar Gallactica clips and something. I don’t know, it goes back and forth. So now, I think that I can do that more often and I think at times I have to remind my wife that it’s not going to always be this situation.
Maybe the struggle there is when something happened that was urgent, like we had to go to a baseball game and on my phone, I was getting stressed, I think that is when she is not real happy about stuff. She understands that we are trying to build something better. We are trying to get out of the cage. We were for the longest time, Andrew and for a lot of people out there it is probably like this, we were living paycheck to paycheck.
Yeah, I had a great job but my wife was a stay-at-home mom, she wants to do that and we have three boys now so, at the time it was seriously paycheck to paycheck for years. We were just so fed up with that. We wanted to save a little bit for safety if something goes bad which happens. So we are both hungry. We want to improve our lives. We both want freedom and this is our ticket. We are going to push it as hard as we can.
Andrew: And that is what you kept reminding yourself and your wife? This is the vision, we are going to get this freedom together. It will be painful at first but eventually, I won’t have that full time job and I will get to concentrate on my passion and being more present.
Sam: Yes and occasionally buy her some really nice shoes.
Andrew: I asked Jason Kalikanus once how he did it because Jason is like an animal. Maybe that is the way to say it. He is just constantly on and constantly running his Muhalo. He is constantly running his LaunchFest and so on. When do you get time for your wife? What do you do? His answer was “here’s what you do.” He finds one big gesture that he can make. Something like taking his wife to a picnic to a place on top of the mountain. That is a whole experience that is so big and so memorable that it maybe makes her forget about the other time that he can’t be available. Alright.
What I am sensing from you is, “Hey. We are on a mission. This is where we are going” and you just keep reminding yourselves of that mission together. Congratulations for having gotten there. You left your job a few months ago. You are fully in on this business. Ever Badge is growing as we can see from month to month. And I keep saying in my interviews that my hope is that the person listening will go use what he learns and then she will come back and do an interview and teach other people.
When I asked you at the top, before we started recording, “What’s your goal here?” You said, “That’s my goal. I hope to give back to someone who is listening; someone who is where I was.” I hope that they appreciate you closing that circle and hopefully now someone is listening to us today and they will come back and say, “You know what, I heard that Sam Morris interview and it motivated me, it educated me, and it reminded me of what my vision is. I used it and here I am coming on to do an interview with me.” Years from now, I am looking forward to that conversation.
Until then, let me say this, developers, advertisers, if they want to work with you, what is the best way for them to go and say “I want to go and work with this guy Sam. I like him. I like the product that he’s got.”?
Sam: Go to Everbadge.com.
Sam: Yes. Call or email. You can email me. My email is just Sam@Everbadge.com. For advertising Michael@Everbadge.com or call us. Often times we are working more than the hours than what is says on the website. We will get back to you and that will be great.
Andrew: Well, thank you.
Sam: Thank you.
Andrew: Thanks for doing this, and thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys!
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