Andrew: Hi there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of mixergy.com, home the ambitious upstart. This is the place where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their business, so that my audiences of real entrepreneurs can get out there and build their companies stronger, better, faster based on what they are learning in these interviews.
And I’m making the distinction that real entrepreneurs are the ones who are listening to this interview because I ask the kinds of questions that developers would not be interested in. I ask the kinds of questions that people who are just wantrepreneurs, want-to-bes and never-will-dos just will be bored by. But the real entrepreneurs would eat this stuff up. That’s what Mixergy’s about.
And joining me today is Alexandra Keating. She is a founder who raised money for a charity and found a big problem, as you’ll see in this interview. And that’s what later launches Go Fundraise, a solution for non-profits to help them reduce costs and raise more funds. After selling that company, she launched DWNLD, where she is today. DWNLD allows anyone to create a native mobile app. And I’m going to find out about how she did that and she is doing with that business.
And this whole interview is sponsored by Toptal. If you are looking for a developer yes you can go online and you can find people and you can get dozens and hundreds of resumes. And then you’ll have to sort through all of them and some will be okay; many wont. In fact, most will be bad. What you can do is call on Toptal. Just go to their website and say, “Guys, here is what my culture at the company is like. Here is the kind of person I’m looking for, here is the way we work and the kind of languages that we need or the languages specifically that we need. Find us the perfect person for this job.”
And Toptal will reach out to their network of developers who have proven to be among the top 3% by their peers. They’ve done the test, they’ve screened them and they will only present you with the one or two people who they think are ideal. You can have a conversation screen; you can make sure they are the right fit. And if you like the person you’ve met you can get them to start the next day. I know we did that here at Mixergy. It was a fantastic experience. And if you are looking for a developer, I urge to go to toptal.com. Just search their site right now and see all the different languages they work in. I’m really proud to have Toptal as a sponsor.
Alexandra: Thank you, thanks for having me.
Andrew: Hey, before we get into the businesses that you started, you were like Australian royalty aren’t you?
Alexandra: I wouldn’t call it that, but . . .
Andrew: I guess it’s the opposite of royalty you are . . . your father was Paul Keating, who was the Prime Minister Australia. You’re like the Chelsea Clinton of Australia right?
Alexandra: Some people would call me that, I guess.
Andrew: I was wondering what it was like for you to grow up with dad who is so accomplished, who understands world events. And one of the things I heard is you used to sit down with him and read the newspaper together. What was that like?
Alexandra: Yeah. It was just kind of tough when we started doing it. I moved in with my father when I was a teenager and so he basically brought me up in my later years. And his way of doing that was by educating me current events.
Andrew: I see. Why did you move in with your dad that late in life? I’m sorry to be so unaware of that.
Alexandra: No, because my parents separated, and . . . I don’t know. He is a great dad and I wanted to spend more time with him.
Andrew: And I heard every day for 10 years you would go through the newspaper. You would clip out articles; you would have conversations about them. What did you learn about analyzing world events and analyzing, frankly, just about anything to come up with an opinion and direction that you think the world’s going to go in?
Alexandra: Yeah. I think it was interesting to see the sort of cyclical nature of things and what different countries are going through at different times. And you pretty get a pretty good understanding of economics in general, foreign affairs, and just sort of Australia’s place in that world and what we can do about it.
Andrew: And then you raise money for an event for a charity. What got you to raise money for a charity?
Alexandra: I think that sort of comes from being from political family. We get asked to do a bunch of different fundraising opportunities. And so I worked quite closely with a number of different organizations I was passionate about. One in particular, I raised about a million dollars for, which was sort of huge. I think I was 19 at the time. And so rather than just giving them a check and walking away, I went to their office next day and it’s like, “What are you going to do with this money?” And they kind of alluded to the fact that I should just go away and not ask any questions. So as sort of . . .
Andrew: Is that difficult for them to say, “Hey, thanks for raising about a million bucks for us. Now we’re going to figure out what it is. Don’t bother your pretty little head with that knowledge”? Is that typical? Is that the way that many organizations treat people who raise money for them?
Alexandra: I think it sort of depends on the institution and where they are. I mean, these smaller guys are much more transparent because they’re really trying get people and give to them regularly. But the bigger institutions, yeah, they’ve just sort of said, “Yeah, this is a bit of a time suck,” and so we’d rather just concentrate on what we need to do.
Andrew: I see. And it gets hard for them to show you exactly where the money you collected goes as opposed to everyone else’s money. They’re not tagging it that specifically.
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean depending in what city and what regulations they have. They are supposed to hand over their books within 10 days. So that was something I started to do with charities as the business evolved and we turned into the online fund raising platform. I used to quite regularly ask for their books and see what they were doing.
Andrew: I see. So you saw this problem. I said that it led to Go Fundraise, the business that you launched. But how did you know that it wasn’t just a one-time thing, that it wasn’t just an issue that you experienced and that there was problem that enough people cared about, that it was worth building a business around? How did you validate this idea?
Alexandra: So I get kind of found that my friends, while really passionate about different charities and organizations, were only really giving to the ones they are invited to events to attend. And so it seemed really obvious to me that if I could share the story with my friends about what I was passionate about that they would give. But I had to make it as painless as possible for them. And so that was about Go Fundraise, which allowed anyone to just sort of create their own webpage for whatever it was. If they are running a marathon or opening [Inaudible 00:06:29] it was a vessel for them to be able to do that and share that experience with their friends.
Andrew: Okay. So I get the general idea. I want to raise money for something, I should create a webpage, be clear about where the money is going and what I want. And because it’s my page I have more reasons to evangelize it and bring my friends on board. That’s the big vision. What’s the first step that you took to get this thing going?
Alexandra: So I had to really recruit an engineering team, which was really difficult to do considering that I was in my first semester of university and was studying sociology. So I just put pin boards and different notices and forums for anyone at the university who was interested in kind of trying to do this with me.
Andrew: To be a cofounder?
Alexandra: Yeah. The entire team was really recruited, yeah, through the university and through boards. And friend of friends, but everyone who worked for the company was an NYU student.
Andrew: And what was the reaction to that request? Did people come through?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, at the time there wasn’t even a screening process. It’s not like hiring an engineer now, where you have to do five interviews with the company. It was kind of like, “Hey, do you think you can do this? Great. Let’s try.” So we all just kind of figured it out.
Andrew: Okay. And this is roughly 2006, 2007 when the first version of the site launched, right?
Alexandra: Yeah. I don’t know about the date of it much. I haven’t looked in a while.
Andrew: The site looks great now, but I’m looking at the very first version of it that I can find, from roughly November 2007. Minimum website, what features existed on this first version?
Alexandra: Oh, wow. I think essentially it was very basic. You could go in and choose a charity, create a page and customize it to a degree. And then you could email it out on all these social networks, like Facebook was just sort of coming to be a big thing. And you were able to do all those sorts, like usually as a sharing tool, which not a lot of companies are doing at the time.
Andrew: Was it a full business from the start, or was it just a college project? Did you incorporate?
Alexandra: No, it really just involved. It was a hobby to begin with. I never really expected . . . I wasn’t trying to start a business, really. It just sort of evolved into that.
Andrew: Okay. So it was you and how many people who were launching it at the time?
Alexandra: I think it was me and then it became three people. And then I think we became seven people. And then sort of organically grew from there.
Andrew: When you have so many people who are essentially working together without clear ownership, without a clear direction of where the business is going and somebody is saying, “One day we’ll raise a lot of money and we’ll go public,” what keeps everybody working together?
Alexandra: I think because we all were figuring it out together everyone kind of had autonomy over their role. There was no hierarchy then. I mean, it’s still today with DWNLD, there’s really no hierarchy in the team. There’s no lead dev; there’s not lead product person. So I think I have the same management style. Everyone’s here because they believe in the vision of the company for whatever it is and what we are going to turn it into. So people would stay because they believed in what we were doing and we were creating a lot of money for a lot things that we were really passionate about. Just that unto itself is really rewarding.
Andrew: Do you remember what the first big fundraise was on the platform?
Alexandra: I think it was for . . . it was with some sort of charity marathon.
Andrew: Sydney marathon it looks like, right?
Alexandra: Yeah. That was a . . .
Andrew: It was a partnership with them so anyone who was going to run the marathon could raise money for a nonprofit. Is that how it worked?
Alexandra: Yeah. We were a bit sneaky about it, I think. So essentially, when you signed up for the run it would ask you what charitable organization you desired or liked or cared about. And if it wasn’t there you could enter it into a field a charity that you wanted. And then in turn, we automatically created a fundraising page for everyone. It was doing the run and then it’s kind of like, “Hey, if you want to use this you can.”
A lot of people weren’t really aware of what were doing. Actually, I remember getting an email from this woman saying, “Why has my ex-boyfriend just given me $150? I have no idea what this is about, and apparently you are responsible.” So I don’t know if in today’s world if you can do that but it was definitely successful but did offend a few people.
Andrew: You know what? Wow, I thought there was such a clever idea. Why even bother asking people if they need a page? You just create the page and you give the money to charity. Who would be upset? But I can see it. If somebody’s ex-boyfriend is using it as a way of ingratiating themselves with the person, then it becomes a problem for the relationship. Did you have a partnership with the Sydney marathon?
Alexandra: I think, yeah, it was sort of a friendly partnership. At the end of the day, we were all trying to raise money for charity. So none of it was really financial in nature.
Andrew: But who was sending people over to you? Was it the marathon itself that was sending people?
Alexandra: Yes. So we automatically created the page on the back of the marathon’s [Inaudible 00:11:30].
Andrew: Okay. And so they were sending people to you because of this agreement. Okay. That’s a clever idea. Who came up with that? I know one of the things that you did later on in life, when you worked as Thrillist, was you did marketing for this company and help spread the word for this incredible company. And we’ll talk about that, I hope, a little bit in this conversation. But was it your idea to partner up with the Sydney marathon, create a page for everyone who registers and use that as a way for raising money or where did that come from?
Alexandra: Well, I think because essentially a lot of people didn’t realize how seamless the process could be. And so with smaller sort of campaigns that we were trying to run initially just within our friendship group, I was asking friends to sort of create their own pages and watch their experience. And one feedback I got when I caught up with them is like, “Oh, I didn’t how to,” or, “I didn’t have the time.” So I wanted to make it so that it was already there for them and that if they wanted to then they could push it out. So I wanted to make it very friction-free. Which is a similar approach that we’re taking with DWNLD as well.
Andrew: It looks like it worked. I’m looking at a screenshot from September 2008 about the marathon. It seems like at that point, September 7th, 2008, you guys had raised $602,000.
Alexandra: Yeah. Was it for that campaign?
Andrew: I think it was for that campaign. So it really was doing incredibly well. At some point you’ve got to start thinking about a business. When you take a project that’s just a fun project among a few students and you want to turn it into a business, is that a challenge where you start telling people, “Hey, you all worked out of camaraderie, but now let’s break this up and decide who owns what”?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, that was sort of the same point. So I kind of got to a point where I could raise the money and turn it into a big business. Or I could leave and kind of have an education and be free again. And so I kind of opted for the latter of the two. I think now I most probably think I was just exhausted at the time. There are definitely a lot of regrets, but at the end of the day I don’t think I should have sold but I did and it worked out well for me in the end.
Andrew: Exhausted from what?
Alexandra: Well, it was just very stressful at the time. We just didn’t know what we were doing. There were no really angel funds, there were no VCs and there was less of support for young people, especially young females. It was a lot of pressure. And then the industry itself, the charity industry, had a lot of handholding. And so to every campaign that we did, it was very sort of arduous. So I was looking for some sort of support system where someone would come along and take this and just blow it up, and really help these guys at scale. And I decided not to be the person to do that.
Andrew: What’s the biggest mistake you make, looking back at this with all the wisdom that you’ve acquired since then?
Alexandra: I would have raised money early on and not to built it from scratch. Because the pressure of building a business and recruiting talent as it is, is very difficult. And so we were very, very scrappy with Go Fundraise. And it’s just hard running a business in the first place. Don’t try to do it without any money. That would be my number one advice to people.
Andrew: Actually, can you tilt the camera a little bit? I want you centered. Or move towards the center. There we go. I want to make sure we get you the whole time. Get you on camera. What about the division of the business?
Alexandra: You mean how we divided that between . . .
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I don’t need to keep going back and saying, “Well, who gets what share,” and taking this business that’s such a mission and turning it into a pie that we all slice up. How do you decide who gets what share of the business?
Alexandra: So I mean, we really broke it up in the end. It wasn’t structured before I sort of left the company. And so I just made sure that anyone who stayed at the company got a good chunk of it.
Andrew: I see. And because it was your idea, the domain was registered in your name, it was essentially your business and you were the person who people were looking to for guidance?
Alexandra: Yeah. But part of the deal of me signing was they would all be taken care of.
Andrew: I see. And there was no money coming in to you right? I’m looking at older screenshots and articles. Nothing. It was 100% going to charity. Is that something that you would have changed?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, that was a really big contention point it in terms of a lot of the people who wanted to invest in the business at that stage were trying to make it a very financially profitable business. They can see the money that was flowing through the accounts. And that’s sort of not why I did it. I didn’t believe that taking money from a charity was really the right way to go about it. I mean, they do now, and companies all around the world like First Giving and Just Giving, which are like carbon copies, they all take big chunks. And so that just not right. And at the time for me I wasn’t going to create a business like that.
Andrew: Yeah. I think I know I interviewed Ethan Austin from Give Forward. They take a cut of every campaign I think they run on the site. But you still don’t feel like that was a mistake. That’s not something that you would have done differently?
Alexandra: No. I mean, for me, what I was trying to do at the time, definitely not. I mean, I think that there are businesses to go make money doing that and I just don’t think this is one of those things. And I also believe that if governments were doing their job there would be no reason for companies like that.
Andrew: I see. What about your inner hunger? I’m here in San Francisco now. I moved here a couple of years ago and I feel like everybody’s got this inner hunger for something. What was yours? What is it that you, at that point in your life, wanted to do?
Alexandra: Yeah. I think I just wanted to grow something great that would have big impact, whether that be financial or whether that be something that was really personal to me. I just wanted to have impact. I think now, in later years, it’s more financially driven. But in the earlier years, it was very much about changing the world.
Andrew: You mean today it’s both changing the world but also you care about the finances. You want to make money with your business idea.
Andrew: How did the sale come about?
Alexandra: So actually, one of the guys who originally helped us out financially, [Inaudible 00:17:49]. And he was the one that really wanted to go out and grow it up. And so I sold to him, basically, and a group of other people.
Andrew: He was one of the people who were working on this site too?
Alexandra: No, I mean he was like a silent investor.
Andrew: I see. And he invested without any understanding where the revenue was going to come from?
Alexandra: Pretty much.
Andrew: Wow. One more thing, actually. There are a couple of things actually that I noticed about this. First of all, today you are upfront. I read articles about you both with your cooperation of people just talking about how DWNLD is going to change mobile apps. I look back and try to search for your name in pre-DWNLD days. I hardly come up with anything, especially pre- Thrillist, which is what you did afterwards. On the “About” page of Go Fundraise, your name, from what I can see back in the early days, just wasn’t on there. Why not?
Alexandra: I don’t know. I think that coming from a political family, especially in Australia, I was very shy with media and it was not something that I was going to chase or look after. And then today I think it’s really important that people know the person behind companies they’re getting involved with. And the world’s just changed, and so therefore I’m more forward. Also, it’s sort of nice that people in the States see me for what I have done and not the family I come from.
Andrew: I get that. We had to make sure that everybody on the team was aware of it because in the States we don’t pay attention to anyone outside the US. But I do know about DNWLD, and I’ve been curious about it for a while because I think what you’re doing is really important. We shouldn’t have a world of mobile apps . . . and I’m going to come back to DWNLD in a moment. But I still have to make my statement.
We shouldn’t have a world of mobile apps and then force companies to spend tens of thousands, if not hundred of thousands, in order to have a mobile app. That’s like the days back when everybody needed a webpage but only a select a few people could afford to do it or were intelligent enough to build one for themselves. It creates a real divide between the consumers and the creators of information and he consumers and creators of businesses. So I’m glad that DWNLD is doing that.
One more thing. Again, I’ve got screenshots of Go Fundraise up on my screen. And here is something that is just amazing to me. You get all these different people to be a part of Go Fundraising. Now I’m looking at Blackmores Sydney Running Festival. And here, the Melbourne Marathon. Oh, I guess you got into running a lot. But it wasn’t just running that I saw on here.
I know how hard it is for me to get you to come on to Mixergy and do an interview and all the other guests that I’ve had on. I know how hard it is to get the person who is listening to me now to come to the site and just listen to a podcast. It’s work. What did you do to get all these people to take a further step, which is to put their events on your site or to give money to them? How did you recruit?
Alexandra: Well, again, this sort of goes back to that automatic thing that I was saying. We just automatically created pages for people and said, “Hey, if you want this, send it out.” So once people realized it was really easy, the word got around. Or if they did a campaign earlier they’d come back the next year. And then it was really about making it easy and just doing most of the work for them.
Andrew: I see. So these organizations that I see partnered up with you and then you created a page for their people. And by making it so automatic and making it so smooth that’s how you got so many events on this site?
Alexandra: Yeah. And a lot of the partnerships, we would motivate them. We’d white label the website. We’d sort of do anything so that they felt like it was them who were raising the money and that they could have ownership over their community that had contributed to the rest of the world.
Andrew: Okay. I kept talking about how afterwards it looks like you spent some time with Boost Mobile. But then afterwards, here’s this thing that I keep talking about. You were VP of marketing and partnerships for Thrillist. Thrillist is a fantastic company. Ben Lerer was one of the first Mixergy interviewees and incredibly supportive here. Why do you say the best?
Alexandra: I mean, I just love them; I actually just spent the last couple of days at South By with them. I think that there was just so much opportunity. It was so fun, it was such a great team and we were having such a great time. When I was there it was very early days in terms of the JackThreads integration with Thrillist. And I was fortunate enough to work on bringing those two companies together. And we got lucky in the sense by having such an amazing team that every day was getting closer and closer on working on how content and commerce can really live. And I think that we were one of the first people to sort of nail that, and that’s given huge growth potential to that business.
Andrew: I’ve got to tell anyone who’s listening to this interview; you should go back and listen to my interview with Jason Ross, the founder of JackThreads. The way that he promoted his business is incredible. And the way he used to have clothes in his house. I think it was on his bed and his kitchen table, etc. Because that’s was he was selling with JackThreads and he needed to ship them directly from his house.
And the same thing with Ben’s interview for Thrillist. When I interviewed him, it was just about how could a mailing list generate so much revenue and so much interest. And of course, since then, they’ve become so much more than just a mailing list. The mailing list was the medium. The message is this men’s lifestyle brand that talks about clothes, things to d, etc. So can you tell me one thing that you learned from Ben about marketing?
Alexandra: Yeah. I think it was really just a relationship-based thing. We really wanted to work with other media companies, which I think is really rare. I think that as we approached the media companies they sort of didn’t really know how to receive us. We wanted to work with anyone in our sector; we dint see anyone instead of competitive. And we were trying to help them to figure out what content and commerce looked like. And that was really powerful and . . .
Andrew: What kind of answers did you come up with? That’s one of the things that he did back then, and I still feel like I haven’t fully grasped it. Can you give me an example of a partnership that you put together?
Alexandra: So partnership would be something like, I don’t know, with the comedy channel for example. I’m just making stuff up to give you an example. With the comedy channel, we’d find one of the TV shows, and then we’d take their best quotes and a lot of their creative and create JackThreads gear out of it. And then we’d promote it on Thrillist. It’s sort of like a native thing that would also help us promote JackThreads as well as promoting other brands and other companies. And it wouldn’t necessarily be a financial deal. It could be like a traffic deal. There are a lot of different ways in which we could do it.
Andrew: I see. So if you partner up with-and we’re just making up a partnership idea-with Comedy Central, is that what you said, Comedy Central? It doesn’t even matter. So you partner up with them, you take their quotes, you create JackThreads clothing. Then promote it to Thrillist, which has a big audience. And I see what they get out of it. What do you get out of it? Do you get traffic from Comedy Central because they’re now saying, “Go check out this stuff”?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, they’re driving users to purchase on JackThreads. It’s just a clever partnership and everyone wins.
Andrew: I see. I feel like I should be doing more of that here in Mixergy with my interviewees. I should be partnering up with companies and doing interviews around their topic and asking them to promote those interviews. That kind of thing is what you would do?
Alexandra: Yeah. Expand on the stories you’re already doing and then give it back to them to promote to the network.
Andrew: What’s a partnership that you are especially proud of? Maybe even one that’s just simple but it worked?
Alexandra: Oh, wow. You mean at Thrillist?
Andrew: Oh yeah, Thrillist.
Alexandra: Oh God. I can’t even remember; it was so long ago. I’m so in DWNLD world. What did we do that was really . . . I have to say that the thing that I was really excited about working there was really just on the product side of it and working with the technical product teams at Thrillist and JackThreads to create experiences that allowed things to be native to the user. So what that essentially means is you didn’t have to feel like you were moving to a different platform. And so every partnership that we did, making it very user friendly.
And what that allowed us to do was really scale the different sorts of deals that we were doing. I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense. But usually there’s a lot of friction in creating these deals, and often they take more time to negotiate than execute. But by seamlessly making it available for anyone to be able to do these things you can do multiple of them whether I led them or someone else on the team did.
Andrew: What did you do to make it so easy to create a partnership?
Alexandra: Well, it was really just about being able to integrate brands to make it seamless. So if you’re coming from one experience into the other, you don’t feel like you’re being sold to or feel like you’re going somewhere else. So it’s just about being really clever about negative experiences.
Andrew: I see. So going back to our cable channel example. If they were sending people over to a webpage you would make that page feel like it was part of their experience even though it was Thrillist-created and JackThreads powered. It would still be . . . I see.
Alexandra: It’s very important for people to not feel like they’re getting sold to. That’s a really big thing that we were able to continue to grow partnerships and grow the revenue without sort of losing the Thrillist and JackThreads audience.
Andrew: Okay. So if I’m going to partner up with someone at Mixergy, to use this as an example of how can I learn from you, Alexandra, I would create an interview that was easy for me to chop up in a way that, say, Forbes magazine or forbes.com could publish on their site and not feel like they were publishing in Mixergy interview but still have a Mixergy connection. Got it. I see.
Alexandra: So I was really responsible for growing the audiences on the marketing side. So we used to do these partnerships with the brands and the media companies. And now, from what I can see, Thrillist has really taken that through to being an ad product today. And so now they are able to work with big brands in an integrated way. I think the example last time I spoke to them was using Tide, the men’s t clothing washing thing. And what they would do is send a Tide sample, which I think they were coming out with a color product or something, in the shipping box every time someone bought JackThreads. And so that was taking what we were doing years ago and now turning it into an ad products that’s very additive and not taking away from the user.
Andrew: So one of the things that you saw there that led to DWNLD . . . And if anyone wants to follow along, the web URL is dwnld.me. Like “Download” without the vowels .me. You saw that you guys were building an app for JackThreads and the problem that you noticed was what?
Alexandra: I sort of figured out that at the time, years ago, it was really hard to recruit good mobile engineers. And as I was talking to other engineers about how they would about, whether they were from Guilt or Amazon, how they were doing their e-commerce apps. I noticed that everyone was sort of building the same tech over and over again that was taking 18 months, at best, to get to a product you’re really happy with.
So it sort of made sense to me at the time that I should create a platform that did all of that work, much like WordPress and SquareSpace have done to the web world, be able to do that for the app world. So I didn’t really know what that would look like but I knew that it should be done. And if the backing was there, whether it would be enterprise or consumer driven, it would make the mobile evolution faster.
Andrew: So what is that internally at Thrillist, you guys were seeing it as a problem or was it something that you assumed others did? I’ll tell you why I’m asking. To me, it make sense that a company like mine would say, “Why spend $20, $40,000 creating a mobile app? Why can’t just somebody just create a platform for us to do it?”
But I imagine Thrillist, at their level, wouldn’t even be thinking about the cost. They would be thinking, “All right. This is part of doing business. We’ll pay for it. We’ll have it our own way. We don’t even dream of a day where someone creates a platform. We just are glad that we get to make one.” Did they really have that problem or did you understand that smaller business would have it?
Alexandra: Yeah I mean the problem was that actually just a shortage of mobile engineers. This is two, two and a half, three years ago. There just weren’t a lot of iOS and barely any Android guys to even recruit. So no one would just knew the language to go and do it. Even if you wanted to do it and had the money to do it, you’d still find it very difficult. And that was definitely across the board.
That was the sort of first message that sort of came through to me. The second one was just the people who were buying the mobile. We had a huge amount of people come through and download the JackThreads app. They were purchasing at massive rates, and so no one really thought that. No one thought that college guys would spend money on mobile or buy things from mobile. So that’s obviously changed a lot but still not to the level it can do.
Andrew: I remember the surprise at that to, feeling like, “Who’s going to pull out a credit card, type it into a little screen and see the product on a little screen? They want to see it on a computer.” But then I noticed myself the convenience of just doing it on the BART as I go home or doing it in downtime in between meetings. It’s just priceless. And adding a credit card now, it’s in my phone.
Alexandra: Yeah. I think Sunday afternoons and Tuesday afternoons are the two days when we’re re-engaging mobile uses because that’s when they are really browsing and actually converting. For our desktop . . .
Andrew: I understand Sunday. It’s a weekend; maybe you’re in your downtime and so you’re going to be browsing on your phone. But why Tuesday of all five days of the week?
Alexandra: I don’t know. It’s just where we saw the engagement. So once we sort picked up on these, we’d start to push at different times. Depending on whether you were a mobile user or a desktop user or in-home user, we’d target you depending on what your habits were.
Andrew: Okay. So you saw the problem, and I think one of the ways that you explained to Jeremy Weiss here on staff is you said, “Why should JackThreads create an app that’s so similar to the Guilt app, when frankly if they’re all creating apps that are similar and what’s differentiating is the product that they’re selling, why can’t someone just create a platform that allows them all to not to have to think about the technology? Just like the Wall Street Journal and Mixergy, you don’t have to think about the basic publishing platform they use. They can use WordPress and it works well for both of us.” And so that was the idea. That’s what led to DWNLD and Fritz is the first person that you contacted. Who’s Fritz?
Alexandra: So Fritz is my business partner. We met randomly when I was at Thrillist and his wife at the time is a hobby blogger. And so JNSQ is her website. It’s great. You should check it out. So she created an app . . . or he built it for her. He’s obviously in the tech world and she said, “I want an app. You’re a tech guy; create me one.” He tried to use [Inaudible 00:32:41] and a bunch of the tools that were out there.
She was like, “I can’t put my name on this. This doesn’t look beautiful. It’s doesn’t represent my brand. It’s rubbish. I want a new one. I thought that’s what you do,” kind of things. So he actually went and built the CMS for her so she could build her own mobile app experience. And so he started to sort of realize that mobile was a really big thing that all these bloggers wanted their own apps because they don’t know how to do it and there wasn’t a solution.
So when we met, I sort of just gave him a bunch of advice. I said, “Look, you should be able to take in all of her auto feeds. [Inaudible 00:33:16] with premium content. And if you’re trying to acquire users, here are five ways that I would try to do it. So he kind of realized at that time, and so did I, that we both wanted to be in this world. And we both sort of had the skills to be able to build something together. So after three months of sort of talking about it we decided, rather than to try and to do it our own way separately, that we should just combine forces.
Andrew: How do you know Fritz? Because he is someone who is incredible. The more I read about him in preparation for this interview the more amazed I am. He is guy who sold Livestar to Pinterest. He was also an early investor in Pinterest, in Square. I read that he started a company to build companies before he got together with you on DWNLD. And there are so many other things here that I see on a TechCrunch article and CrunchSpace. How do you know him?
Alexandra: So he was an investor in a record label, strangely enough, back in the day. And there was an Australian company called We are Hunted, which was a company I was very interested in. It had a very amazing algorithm that told you what music was about to break. And I had a huge success right in sort of creating an algorithm with them. So I was interested in the algorithm as well as the product on the music side, but I wanted to take what they were building and apply it to just film and all these different things.
And so there were are all engineers in Australia that were looking for US companies. So I took them to this record label and Fritz was one of the investors in the record label. So unfortunately, the record label didn’t buy. We are Hunted ended up selling to Twitter in the middle of our negotiations. But that happens. So Fritz and I were on the same email, and that’s initially how we met. He realized it was an opportunity that they should have moved on.
Andrew: I see. Okay. And you stay connected with him. You guys partnered up on this idea and the first step that you took, was it hiring people?
Alexandra: Yeah. So straight to the engineers.
Andrew: So hiring engineers is really tough. What do you, as a partnership person, do that the rest of us don’t do, or don’t even think of doing to hire good people?
Alexandra: I think it’s just sort of really taking the time to tell the story. At the end of the day you’re asking someone to commit more of their personal time and their work time to one idea and really taking ownership of it. So I really just sell them on the vision and the company and where we want to be and who we are. And then now it’s much easier because they can meet other people that will be on their team and they can see what life is like here.
I come to work every day because I love what I do. And I hope and think the rest of the team does that. And I just give them the tools to be able to make that decision. But it’s still a process. It’s still a 20:1 process, or there about, depending on what type of engineer you’re hiring. Sometimes it’s a 40:1. So you really have to take time to meet them. I think the difference is a lot of companies, once they’re already at the stage that we are, they’re hiring recruiters the other engineers on the team are already doing initial interviews. Fritz and I do all the initial ones to make sure that we’re not distracting the rest of the team and to make sure that from the initial get-go these guys really understand what we’re about.
Andrew: Let’s look at a couple of examples. Noah is a guy who pitched you back when you were at Thrillist. He ended up working at DWNLD. How did he end up working at DWNLD?
Alexandra: So he was pitching me. He used to work for Bullet magazine. He’s a print guy. And he was trying to get me to give him some Thrillist Media Group money for some sort of campaign. I thought about it and I was like, “I’m not a sponsorship person, and I don’t believe in print. So why was I even thinking of doing it?”
And then I realized he was just a great sales guy. So he was keeping his magazine afloat and doing these amazing deals. And I just ran into him on the street and I was like, “Are you still at that magazine?” He was like, “Yes.” I was like, “You need to get out of print and come work for me.” So I didn’t really have a role for him at the time. I just knew that I needed help and that he could help me start selling us and start getting the business out there.
Andrew: So you just ran into him and you said, “You need to come work for me.” He ditched his print media thing that he was selling so well before. And I guess it’s print so it’s not ever going to be super blockbuster anymore. But still, he ditched it to come work for you. What do you offer him that lets him say, “Yes, I’m going to do this”?
Alexandra: I think autonomy, really. I mean, we didn’t know what the business was going to look like at the time. We just needed help in terms of figuring out what the market needed. We’re really market reactive in terms of each of the different verticals we’re in. And he had an understanding of the print world and that’s an easy win for us. And so I kind of said to him if you don’t like it or it’s not right then you can always leave. But I think he’s actually been here two years, though. He’s smart somewhere. At sometime I should figure that out.
Andrew: How about Mitch?
Alexandra: Yeah. Oh, Mitch. Mitch is an amazing . . . I’m not even going to give you his last name because I don’t want anyone trying to poach him. He is the most amazing iOS guy. I mean, I almost . . . what you would call overstepping in the recruiting process. I don’t think there was a day that didn’t go by that I wasn’t trying to recruit him. And there are lots of different fun ways you can do that. I sometimes send gifts to people to try to convince them.
Andrew: What kinds of gifts do you send?
Alexandra: It depends on what they’re interested in. So it could be chocolate, it could be wine or it could be Coachella tickets. Kind of whatever I can do to convince them this is the right place for them you to come to.
Andrew: I see the coding that goes on. My friend, Shane Mack, who runs Assist, the mobile App that let’s you find local events and restaurants to attend, he’s got somebody apparently handwriting on handmade paper the offer letter that he sends people. In one case, it went inside a box that had a hand-carved logo from the company on it. And of course that’s just at the end of the process once you’ve pretty much got the person to say yes. Before, there’s a whole bunch of courting. It is amazing how much work goes into hiring the good people.
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, good people are hard to find. My sister is really into tarot card reading or whatever it’s called. I’m obviously not, and yesterday she was going to go see this woman. She goes, “Is there anything I can ask this woman for you?” And I’m in the process of trying to hire this Android guy. And I said, “Tell me if he’s going to come work for me.” And she was like, “Really? Out of anything in the world, that’s what you want to know?” And I was like, “Yes.” So these people do have the ability to change the world for you by making you go to market faster.
Andrew: How can you tell who they are? How do you know who out there is that person like Mitch, who was so good that they’re worth the full courting process?
Alexandra: Yeah. I always sort of get a hunch. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right. Once someone sort of gets through the interview process with Fritz and I, then we start taking them to the engineering team. And there are different people who they interview with depending on what role they’re sort of going for. And then we all kind of talk about it. And then I’m like, “Is he a rock star?” And they’re like, “Yes. Is he definitely hired?” I’m like, “Yes. I thought so. That’s amazing.” And t hen I just sort of run for it. So you kind of know but sometimes you’re wrong. But then the validation comes from the rest of the team. But we’ve been really lucky. We have such an amazing engineering team here.
Andrew: While they’re working, are you at that point starting to promote the product? Are you starting to promote DWNLD and get users? Do you do any customer development conversations with potential customers?
Alexandra: When? Now?
Andrew: No, before and while you were hiring. It seems like the first thing you did was say, “Hey, if this is going to be a software company we need developers who are going to create the software.” But at what point do you start talking to potential customers to make sure that what you’re building is what they’re looking for?
Alexandra: Yeah. I think because I’m inherently kind of product person as well, it was really important for me to find good people at different sizes in multiple different verticals. Whether it’s in media and I want to find the biggest media guys out there and then I want to find my cool blogger. And I want to make sure that they can all use it and that it’s doing everything they sort of need.
Same thing with YouTubers. I’m going after the big guys and then sort of smaller ones and making sure it has everything for them. So we were in beta for six months most of the time with all these different people. And then we continued to have a dialogue with them. We built it, asked them if they were happy. And then now we’re at point where we’re asking them for their wish list, which is really cool. So it’s not only what they want or need, it’s what they would like to have. And so we still very much run that same process the whole way through.
Andrew: Did you start that before you built the product? Sid you start talking to big media companies?
Alexandra: Yeah, the whole way through because we needed to make sure that what we were building is exactly what we wanted. We used to sketch things up, “What if it would look like this?” What are your thoughts?” Now the program is really reactive because we can see them playing around in real time. We can react, where back in the day it was all waiting-based and just saying, “What else can we do for you?”
Andrew: As I looked up posts about you, I saw Michael Arrington commenting on a few and I said, “Huh, that’s interesting. He is not a big commenter.” And I realized that his Crunch fund is an investor in DWNLD. And he may not be a big commenter but he is a supporter of the companies that he invests in. I’m wondering does hem in addition to giving you guys funding, does he also give you any guidance? Did he help you out in figuring out what content creators need?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, I think that the reason he invested is really because he wanted to have an app. And he was going through that process, just trying to figure out how to do that. He was our audience and that made it a good decision for him. I should really reach out to Michael more. I haven’t spoken to him for a while. Yeah.
Andrew: What’s one surprising thing that you learned from talking to potential users before you built the product? How did they throw you a curveball and tell you about something you didn’t anticipate?
Alexandra: A lot of people want engagement features between their audiences. They want the communities to chat among themselves. And so not in a commenting sort of way but more in basic peer-to-peer chatting. And that’s really interesting for me because it’s something that’s come up a lot but. But as a “but” person I don’t think that it’s going to be a good product. I don’t think that random people are just going to SMS each other via the apps. So it’s something that’s going against my natural sort of state of mind. But I’m still building it anyway.
Andrew: You’re building it because they’re asking for it and not because you even believe in it. The interesting thing is I’m on your site right now, dwnld.me. Of course, “download” without the vowels. And the basic plan is available for $15 a month. But the standard and the pro aren’t. Why did you decide to start with the $15 a month product instead of a more expensive version?
Alexandra: Because I wanted just sort of see the features that people would want from me. And then therefore create different values from that. That’s sort of part of the answer.
And the second half of the answer was there were a couple of things that when we launched we hadn’t built out but now we have. So being able to explore all of the [Inaudible 00:44:31] existing systems and things like that. Which would be available in the top tier. We’re actually now at a point where we’re going to release them pretty much any day now.
Andrew: I see. Did you do any sales as a way of testing to see if people really want the features they’re asking for? I remember that’s one thing that I learned from my early interview with Eric Ries. He said, “Ask people what they want but charge them. Say, ‘If I build this will you pay for it? Will you pay for it so I will build it?'” Is that something that you incorporated into your customer development?
Alexandra: No, not really. I mean, my whole customer development is actually getting the money. So we go to an advertising market place from the back end. You can now charge pay-per-view for content. So if you want to release content early you can charge $5 just to watch that piece of content or whatever it is. And obviously e-commerce is a something we’ve baked into a lot of the apps. And so I really want people to start making money from the platform on the $15 tier. And then once they start seeing all that revenue come in, then I’ll upsell them once they’ve got the value out of me. So I feel like they will pay me if they’re getting money, and so that’s kind what I’m more focused on.
Andrew: I see. So instead of saying, “Hey, content creator, will you pay me to create this feature,” you’re saying I’m going to see if I can get the content creator to get money. And that’s how I’m validating that my ideas make sense and that my business is worth having. Got it. I see. That’s an interesting way of looking at it.
Alexandra: Well, I think as long as people are making out of us they’ll continue to invest.
Andrew: I see. Why did you decide to go with . . . it seems like you did. With content as opposed to commerce first? Why not create an easy way for anyone to create an online store that’s a mobile app?
Alexandra: So I’m doing that. Go to market just wasn’t scalable and as fast. And so it was easier, one, from a product development perspective and then, two, from a sales perspective to give people in the media blog for them to initially say yes. So one of the products we spent a lot of time on here is being able to take all the unstructured content because there are a lot of nasty websites to help with that, and make it so all the content is perfectly in their ap. And so that was easier because we could just present people with their own app without them really having to do anything.
On the commerce side, you really have to work with their APIs and things like that. It’s not as initially easy to sort of get that person to go from, “I don’t know if I can have an app,” to actually physically saying that and pressing Submit. So in the media world we can do that in 30 seconds. In the commerce world it takes longer. So in order to scale the company we start with the medium.
Andrew: I see. That makes sense. And what about charging? Why charge $15 instead of starting of with free? Let’s get as many people on the platform as possible and then we can charge them once we show them some more value.
Alexandra: I think also because Fritz and I angel invested a bunch of things, we just realized that it’s much more lucrative as we’re raising money to actually have a revenue stream straight up. And we realized that people would pay for these products and so we didn’t feel it was necessary to be free. It’s definitely a conversation that’s come up many times. On the client side, they say, “Why are so cheap?” On the VC side they’re like, “No, make it free.” I initially thought the opposite. But people will ay for it. It’s working and they’re starting to see some revenue out of it.
Andrew: How many people are paying for it?
Alexandra: Pretty much everyone.
Andrew: So we’re looking at six to 7000 users and about six to 7000 of them are paying $15 a month. So we’re looking at about a $100,000 in revenue?
Alexandra: Yeah, about that.
Andrew: Wow. I saw the smile of pride in your face as you said that. So I was trying to figure out where you’re getting your users. And as people have seen me do in past interviews, I went to a similar web where I have a pro account. And I looked to see where you’re getting your traffic. And it doesn’t look like you are buying a lot of traffic unless I’m missing something and you’re not.
Alexandra: We’re not buying traffic. No.
Andrew: It’s things like what you’re doing here with me. ProductHunt sent you a bunch of traffic. It’s TechCrunch. It’s the next web. Am I right? New York Times, it’s articles written about you?
Alexandra: No, not really. I mean, the two things that we sort of do, we do larger partnership with anyone who holds a body of potential app people. So whether they be website builders or hosting companies or media companies or talent agents. So we do larger deals with big people like that we are onboard with a lot of talent.
And then the other thing that we do, which is the most scalable acquisition channel for us, is we that we automatically create task for people and then send it to them. Not en masse, but we could easily scale it to be en masse. And so what that means is that people go from hearing about us to receiving an email that is automated. Which already has their app there for for them. They just have to click through, customize and submit. Yeah.
Andrew: That’s amazing. Basically what I learned about you from the start of this interview, why make it tough for people to get started? Do it for them completely. And here even your marketing is doing it for them.
Alexandra: Yeah. So then once they download it then we start to send them push notifications like, “Did you know you just got 5000 downloads? Or, “Did you know that you could opt into this network and receive money?” And so we upsell them through the device.
Andrew: Do you have your own ad marketplace?
Alexandra: No. That’s the one thing I guess I learned from Thrillist is that ad teams are expensive. And so what I’m actually doing is allowing anyone to sell into the platform. And then just sort of looking at who wins and then based on what vertical you’re in, people will be exposed to you.
Andrew: Where was it? Oh, here’s something interesting. You get your first office for DWNLD; you walk inside, you sit down and you think to yourself what?
Alexandra: “I don’t know. Can I really do this?” We’re still in that office today. We’ve just outgrown it and are moving actually next month. Yeah, I can remember just sitting there on my own and Fritz was still moving. He was in Seattle at the time. So he hadn’t even come to New York. And yeah, it was an overwhelming feeling of, “Will this actually work? How am I going to do this?”
Andrew: What do you mean? Can you do this or what? What made you feel like maybe you couldn’t do it?
Alexandra: It was just you get so excited about the potential of so many things. And there it was just sort of day one and I just signed a lease, which was quite expensive for us at the time. And was like, “Okay. This is actually really happening.” So it was kind of an exciting feeling but also a lot of fear.
Andrew: I see. And how do you get over that fear? How do you keep it from distracting you?
Alexandra: Now I don’t have any time, so I think if I did have time I would both [Inaudible 00:51:21] be freak out and be like, “How am I doing this thing?” You get into a rhythm and you get motivated by the people around you. And everyone here comes to work every single day because they love it and so do I. The more I love it the less fear I have.
Andrew: This space looks really cool. I’ve been looking over your shoulder to get a sense of the environment that you’re working in and I like it.
Alexandra: Yeah. It’s afternoon here and so they’re all going for protein bars and juices. We’ve got a very healthy office here.
Andrew: You are in New York?
Andrew: Okay. Here is the final question. We asked you in the interview about what question didn’t we think of. What question or area didn’t we think of? You said female entrepreneurship. Females who are entrepreneurs are something that we should talk about. And to be honest with you, Alexandra, I once did a series of interviews that was with female entrepreneurs. And I said, “This is the Women in Start Ups.” And a few women before we started said, “I’d rather you not even acknowledge that I’m a woman.” I said, “People know that you are a woman. They can see it.” And they said, “Yeah. But I just don’t want to be known as a female entrepreneur.” It seems like you have a different approach. You’ve noticed that it actually has helped you. How?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of groups . . . not that I run towards them. But a lot of women’s groups sort of reach out to me. And they just kind of keep a support system for women. And while I admire that and while I’m happy to sort of partake from a mentorship perspective, I think it’s really a positive thing. To me, it’s been extremely productive. I think that people more often than not remember meeting me because I’m a woman. And you’ll see that if you go to any tech conference today that there are just very few women that [Inaudible 00:53:09]. But everyone says hi to the women that they do know but no one hates them. So in my case, it’s always to my advantage and I don’t see it as a disadvantage.
Andrew: And I’ll tell you from my point of view here as person who is doing interviews for an audience, a broad audience of entrepreneurs. I know that there are women in the audience who would like to see more women entrepreneurs. And I also know too, and you guys who are out there know that I’ve been paying attention to this, that there are people outside the US who are saying bring in entrepreneurs who are in the US because you will be shocked by the problems that we face that US entrepreneurs just aren’t aware of.
Yesterday I recorded an interview with an entrepreneur who was in India. He said, “We don’t have recurring charges here. We can’t charge people month to month.” So how do you build a SAAS product in India when the government makes that so tough to do? And he explained what he did to have that happen but that’s the kind of thing US entrepreneurs aren’t aware of. And I want bring in as diverse an audience and as diverse an interview base as possible so that we can cover with range of entrepreneurial experiences here on Mixergy.
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, it’s really interesting, and I sort of went around for Christmas and I was actually looking for Australian companies that were popping up to invest in. And then I realized that so many of the great, talented people that are there, especially on the engineering side, are recruited out of high school even or early in their college years to come work in the States, whether that be for small companies of much larger ones. So I was very sad seeing this in Australia while it’s sort of very easy to launch a business there, there wasn’t really an engineering talent on the tech side. And so I think that that’s the big problem that I’m trying to help solve back there. So in terms of the national issues I think that’s one for us.
Andrew: The website is dwnld.me. And I want to ask you one other thing. I’ve been asking interviewees if they’ll help me promote the interview. I want to get more people to watch this interview. And in the past, people have said, “Sure. I’ve got a mailing list. I’ll email it to my mailing list.” Do you have at DWNLD a mailing list of people who you could email and say, “If you’re curious about how this company founded and the person behind it, here is an interview”?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, I’ve kind of got friendship ones. I’m not really that organized with my contacts, unfortunately. But yeah, I would definitely send it to a bunch of people.
Andrew: All right. I would love for you to do that. Thank you so much for doing this. If anyone got anything of value from this, I urge you to find a way to say thank you to Alexandra. I’m going to do it right here because this has been a fantastic interview. Thank you for doing it.
Alexandra: Thanks so much.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.