Andrew Warner: Hey there freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, and frankly I consider this site home of the stories of how the internet… of how the wired world was built. And today I’ve got you one of the pioneers. Joining me is the father social networking. In 1996, Andrew Weinrich founded Six Degrees. A social network site that predated Facebook, Myspace, and so many others by over half a decade. He even got the first patent on social networking. Six Degrees was sold in 1999 for a reported 125 million dollars. He followed it up with multiple companies, including Meetmoi, which was a location-based dating site. He sold that one to Match.com’s parent company, and he created Extafy [sp?], a cross-channel messaging platform.
One of Extafy’s components is software that enables app makers to send push notifications based on their user’s locations. He sold that one to IBM. Today he’s running Andrew’s Roadmaps. It’s a boot-camp for entrepreneurs that offers a crash course on everything a digital entrepreneur could confront. And frankly, who better to tell entrepreneurs what it takes and teach them, than someone who’s got this track record. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew Weinreich: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Andrew Warner: You know, I was so eager to welcome you, I forgot about my sponsor. I’ll quickly say, look guys, I have one page on my site that converts better than any other page. I’m going to make that page available to you, if you want to install it on your site it will only cost you $1. I won’t even tell you more about it other than to say go to andrewswelcomegate.com, you’ll see the page that converts better than anything else. You can add it to your site, and Leap Pages will make it work for you. I get about 1 out of 5 people who hit that page give me an email address and they’re happy about it. You have to go check out andrewswelcomegate.com. All right, but back to the interview. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew Weinreich: Thank you.
Andrew Warner: So before we started, I was asking you about the highs of launching Six Degrees, and you said, “I remember sitting in a panic, wondering.” Well, what were you wondering? When were you in a panic?
Andrew Weinreich: We launched… I remember it vividly, we launched Six Degrees in the Pup [Sp?] Building in downtown Manhattan. We had an invited group of about 200 people, and I gave a talk about how we were going to change the world. We were going to connect you with the people you didn’t know through the people you did, and if you join this network, you would be able to see everyone. The problem was, there was no one that was part of the network. And we had no budget or marketing plan to get there, other than this idea that we would list people, and an email would be generated, and hopefully that person would respond, confirm the relationship, and propagate the contact manager, or the database. I remember that shortly after we launched, we all went home, and then over the next couple of days we had these moments of, “Is anybody going to join this thing?” And we had started by literally listing half a dozen people, and for the first week it was fairly static. We were adding 50 a day…
Andrew Warner: You mean… no, you’re not manually adding it. About a handful of people were coming in every day and adding themselves?
Andrew Weinreich: Right. The way it worked, was you listed someone, an email was generated to them, and it said, “Andrew listed you as his friend.” Actually, confirmation you could do right via email, but it wasn’t like today where you would click on a button. It said, “Confirm by typing the word yes and reply.” And we parsed that. And then it said, “And list other people.” I think it was after a semi colon, “By their email address.” And so we had a steady state of people, but a very, very low number that we were adding.
Andrew Warner: And they were all adding themselves via this email system, where they needed to type in emails?
Andrew Weinreich: That’s right. They were all adding themselves via this email system. You could add on the web, but initially all of the adding was via this email propagation.
Andrew Warner: Why did you want to do that?
Andrew Weinreich: It wasn’t that we wanted. It was 1997. There were the constraints of the technologies that were available.
Andrew Warner: Okay.
Andrew Weinreich: And our thinking was, what has the least friction that people can execute on quickly? Much like your thinking would be today, if you were starting a business. But our thinking was, the least friction we could design was a reply, you would reply back to us. The email would be in some format of the people that you wanted to list. We would parse that, and then we would generate a new set of emails to the people you listed.
Andrew Warner: I see. Why bother sending you over to the web page, which is an extra step, just hit reply and type in the people that you want and we’ll make sure that they get added as your friends on SixDegrees.com?
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah.
Andrew Warner: Cool, and to…what were you going to say?
Andrew Weinreich: No, I mean what’s interesting is you know today you think, “Wow if I’m going to send out emails they may or may not get received, they may go through a spam filter,” This may be in bucket of similar types of emails. Then there was nothing. The whole concept of us communicating to you you’re going to be part of the database that is in an interconnected world. It was almost like a project to people, and so the response rates were fantastic because we didn’t have the clutter that everyone today experiences.
Andrew Warner: What was the goal of it, for the user, beyond just connecting with…was it just to connect with strangers or did you have a vision beyond that?
Andrew Weinreich: So there was the vision we were able to articulate in an email to users and then there was a broader vision that we had articulated amongst ourselves. The vision we articulated to users was networking, we’re not inventing networking, networking is what people have done since the beginning of time. When you’re looking for your dentist you say who I know that knows a dentist. When you’re looking for a blind date, a blind date is what we would conventionally call your second degree.
And so our proposition was we’re going to simplify that. If every relationship is indexed in a contact manager we will simplify all of this very, very simply by categorizing people, or preserving their contacts and that will allow you to peer into your second degree from your first.
I remember we used to tell people, “Your second degree is your first degree squared.” So if you know 400 people and they each know 400 people and there are no overlaps that are 160,000 people.
Andrew Warner: I see.
Andrew Weinreich: Your other question was what was our broader vision?
Andrew Warner: Yes.
Andrew Weinreich: Our broader vision was we envisioned Six Degrees being something of an OS, of an operating system, and we thought about it in the context of when you’re buying a watch at eBay you should be able to filter the watches based on peoples proximity to you. So can I find someone in my second degree who’s selling a watch instead of the first? You should be able to filter movie reviews in the future by who’s reviewing them, and are first mission was how do we index the world’s relationships? And if we could accomplish that we had these ideas about how your social network would be the filter for every piece of advice that you would go seek.
Andrew Warner: Which is essentially is what was happening in the offline world and you were just saying, “Let’s bring it online and we will be the platform that facilitates all that.”
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah.
Andrew Warner: And it took off. I mean we’re talking about virility like we hadn’t seen before.
Andrew Weinreich: It took off. I mean one of the things that were amazing was first of all this whole idea that we’re going to connect everyone in the world that was not doable in ’97 because most people in the world weren’t on the internet. They didn’t have email addresses.
Andrew Warner: Many people in the U.S. didn’t have it, yeah.
Andrew Weinreich: People in the US didn’t have email. So this whole idea that no matter whom you are you’ll be able to see everyone else that just was people buying in to our vision, and…But the penetration we had amongst people that do have email addresses was fantastic and was very, very gratifying that we were able to articulate a vision. People were willing to contribute to the vision even though we couldn’t fulfill the vision until we had indexed a huge number of people.
Andrew Warner: We should talk a little bit about photos, because today photos are an integral part of social networking. Back then we didn’t have mobile phones that could take photos and upload them to whatever servers you’re using. That was a challenge. What did you guys think about when it came to photo’s.
Andrew Weinreich: I have to tell you it’s an amazing thing to imagine this vast social network not a photo on it, and I mean it…People today came of age in the 2000s and in this decade they can’t even envision how there could be a social network without photographs, and I remember we used to get emails, and people would say to us, “If I mail in a picture, I actually have a picture, if I mail it in to you, US Postal Service, if I mail it into you can you scan it in and attach it to my profile.”
And we actually had a board meeting where we had, I had someone who worked for me put together a plan and how many people we would need on an assembly line to take photographs associate them with an identity scan them in and implement them into our system, and then what that mean if someone wanted to change a photograph? What people don’t realize is that people didn’t have digital cameras in the 90’s and as a result they didn’t have enough digital photographs. And then one day we wake up in 2002 and miraculously this macro change occurs where everyone has a digital camera and everyone has digital photographs. Sure, It changed the social networking for ever
Andrew Warner: By the way when you come back and articulating with people the vision you have, it frankly could fail. Because all these systems that we have today that enabled people to connect with each other and spread the word about the new web site didn’t exist. Do you ever feel like a fraud standing up there and saying this is what the world is going to look like, do you ever say in your head and you saying no one will ever trust me. I will be a fool.
Andrew Weinreich: You know mostly No. There are many times when I lack [??] . There are times when I doubt whether or not I will be successful at something. But most of the things that I have worked on, I haven’t lacked the conviction in the vision.
It is abundantly clear to me that the world will index all of their relations, everyone’s relationship in a single database. If for no other reason, then it makes no sense that If I am going to stay in touch with you and I have you and my contact matches. By the way, this is at stake where if you look at Google contacts. It doesn’t make as much as sense for example your contacts in Facebook or Linkedin. It makes no sense to me. It makes me no sense in 1996 that I manage your Email address, I manage your phone number, I manage your Emailing address and my contact matches and everybody manages other people’s information their contact matches.
It makes much more sense that you manage it and it distributes to me. So if you change your phone number it dynamically changes in all the contacts that you have. And we articulated that in 1996 that state of contact managers and responsibility for maintaining information should not rest with your contacts. Everybody should be responsible for maintaining their own information.
Andrew Warner: That is essentially what proxy was going to do where they right you were then envisioning that in your software that fixes was going to do that
Andrew Weinreich: Your question to me, rewinding a bit, was , did I lack conviction that in or wa there any ever a moment where I felt like what if I am wrong if macro change. I never lacked conviction that It needs immense sense to index relationships and that was inevitable that it would happen. There were moments like profoundly doubted whether or not we will do it. But I never lacked conviction that it would happen.
Andrew Warner: I see and you are just so convinced that this was going to happen and that allowed you to say it to everybody, this is the world as I see it, help me get there. We are going to be the ones who do it. And if we are wrong about it you being the one ones who do it and still right about the vision. That’s fine
Andrew Weinreich: I would say that is the starting point for me for starting any business. The next business I started was focused on bringing Wi-Fi to coffee shops. When everyone said it’s ridiculous. Why would there ever be Broadband in coffee shops? That is that action didn’t want so often me. But I had absolute conviction that we would have broadband in coffee shops. I had absolute conviction that political campaigns would raise money online that dating would go mobile. Ike the starting place for me starting with six degrees was have conviction about a macro change. Have conviction about where the world is heading. And then work in that direction and you have more room to make mistakes. You have, there would be greater forgiveness for your errors if you pointed in the right direction.
Andrew Warner: Speaking of that I just spilled a little bit of hot water. I was wondering to acknowledge it or not. I said no, always acknowledge it
Andrew Weinreich: That’s what motivates me and that’s my stating place for whatever I am working on
Andrew Warner: I remember having interviewed Julia Anguin about the Wall Street Journal about the book she wrote about My Space and one of the things that she kept coming back was you guys had the will, but you couldn’t scale, you couldn’t keep it up. And that was one of the reason why Myspace took over. On the insight, is that what happened?
Andrew Weinreich: That was one of the reasons MySpace took over from whom?
Andrew Warner: From you, from Six Degrees.
Andrew Weinreich: My space didn’t take over from us. We sold. Six degrees sold in 1999 and we sold to a public company in New York that had financed itself. It was approaching I think it was six or seven hundred dollar billion market cap company.
Andrew Warner: Is the company called Network event, Thereafter Inc MyBytes.com was the property that they thought would take over and rule the world in social media.
Andrew Weinreich: Right, the public name was You Stream Media Networks, and they had financed themselves with debt. With this expectation that the markets are going to go up forever, and that at some point they would be able to pay off the debt with an equity raise.
Andrew Warner: I see.
Andrew Weinreich: And when the markets crashed, and they couldn’t do another equity raise, they were not able to service the debt. And all of these properties, they were rolling up a number of properties, all of these properties that they were rolling up, needed to be unraveled if you will. And the next company really, by the way, none of these businesses, I shouldn’t say none of them. Most of them weren’t profitable and when there wasn’t the capital to fund unprofitable businesses they needed to be unwound. The next social network wasn’t MySpace it was Friendster.
Andrew Warner: Oh, right. It was Friendster that was struggling. Excuse Me. Yes.
Andrew Weinreich: If I were to sequence these things and say 6 Degrees was the biggest social network from ’97 to ’99 – ’00 then there was Friendster and it was Friendster that MySpace stole the show from if you will.
Andrew Warner: Right. That they were slow and that’s why MySpace got more traction and MySpace’s Tom used to go in and try to steal their top people. Why did you sell if you were convinced that this was the future?
Andrew Weinreich: Our business was phenomenally expensive to run. So, the cost of just hardware, just keeping the lights on, was so much greater than anything you could imagine today. We were not, today you could run a multimillion member social network on a few computers, on a few PC’s that you put under your desk or in a cloud. Then you needed, oracle licenses, you needed sun servers, I mean it was a very, very expensive proposition and we were faced with doing ever increasing financing’s or selling. And I wouldn’t say that I’m so positioned in the market, but it was clear to me that it was going to be a very expensive raise and we had the opportunity to sell and we took it.
Andrew Warner: How much of the company did you own at the time of the sale?
Andrew Weinreich: That I never…
Andrew Warner: Oh, really?
Andrew Weinreich: It worked out well for me, I never revealed what the cap table looked like.
Andrew Warner: NewsCorp was one of the owner’s, right? The biggest owner. Okay.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah.
Andrew Warner: I went to look up You Stream Media’s ticker symbol to see what their market cap is, they’re not around anymore, as far as I could tell.
Andrew Weinreich: So I think they sold their assets to another company. That particular ticker, YSTM is not around anymore.
Andrew Warner: Okay.
Andrew Weinreich: The assets were sold off to another company that is doing non-related things.
Andrew Warner: And you got shares in You Stream Media’s company, did you get, right? It was a stock sale. It wasn’t cash. Did you get to sell it before all of this stuff happened? Before the unwinding?
Andrew Weinreich: So, you know, I would say some. Obviously, a big piece I was not able to sell.
Andrew Warner: Did you go through any depression about that? I remember at the time people were really in a depressive funk. They were all going to be billionaires and change the world then suddenly, not they we, we hit the ground. Did you?
Andrew Weinreich: It’s funny, I actually, while the stock was going down, I had other issues. I had just gotten out of a car accident and so I was spending my time recovering from the car accident instead of thinking about the stock. No, I thought more, I didn’t feel like there was something that I would’ve done differently. And usually when I’m second guessing myself it’s because I feel like there was another option before me that I should’ve taken. Like, if I were to rewind the tape and say what would I do differently. We had raised over 25 Million Dollars for that business.
So the question is, would I have gone out and tried to raise 30 million or 40 million in addition to what I raised and tried to weather the storm. Because that’s a big piece of what, Uber’s success, you look at the companies that and the people’s enterprise value and the billions of dollars. One thing that they usually have in common is that they’re in business for a very long period of time. And so they have the staying power to withstand huge highs and huge lows. Now the stock market crash there was a very, very big correction.
Andrew Warner: Yeah.
Andrew Weinreich: I’m not sure whether we wouldn’t be successful. It wasn’t like it was a no brainer. Someone was saying, “Here’s 50 million dollars go grow and it’s sustainable regardless of what happens if the market’s crash you’ll come out of it with cash and performed operations.” It wasn’t like I…you know you lick your chops and you say, “It’s time to get going and work on the next thing.”
Andrew Warner: I don’t want to leave myself and frankly the audience also with this impression that because you came up with this great idea and had the conviction that that’s all it took. I’m looking even at old cache screenshots of your site and I see things like you had a Campus Rep Program early on. You were a good marketer, what was the Campus Rep Program? Was that helpful or am I over thinking that one?
Andrew Weinreich: No, no, no we had, we were thinking…we immediately, our first proposition was lets link to anyone who’s out there and we’ll see what type of response get, and then our second instinct was now let’s look very closely at who we’re getting and let’s get a sense of what the demographic looks like, and let’s try and retrofit a go-to-market strategy off what was initially just, “Let’s just throw it out there and try it.”
Andrew Warner: I see, so you had a bunch of ideas, you tried them, and then if something worked then that’s what you would double down on or more than double down on.
Andrew Weinreich: Right and we realized that we had huge resonance among college students, and so we looked for offline analogs, credit card companies, other’s that had put reps on campus and we felt we’re in a position to get reps on campus right away because we can just pool our database, let’s build a network of campus reps…It was a very, in the 90’s I think this is probably true for any start-up, you throw stuff at the wall and you see what sticks and then hopefully you try to apply some methodology to the madness. Most of our methodology had to be taken from offline businesses because it was in the 90’s, but we were looking to aggressively apply some methodology so we could scale up our efforts.
Andrew Warner: What worked best? What’s one that you look back on and say, “That one really took off?”
Andrew Weinreich: We didn’t have the infrastructure for the formal AB testing that you would today. You know today you know you sign up for optimizal, you try some different copy and you see what works, but it was very clear to us then that we needed to do AB testing, and that it would be much more rudimentary AB testing, but the copy particularly when you’re growing the propagation system that I described before, and so much of it is driven by the copy that’s delivered, we were very keen to measure confirmation rate and the listing rate.
Confirmation rate being I list you and will you acknowledge it, a listing rate is how many people you list, and we were very keen to alter the copy that we were sending and see how much those rates could be optimized, and it was dramatic, and it was clear to us that it was very difficult to predict what people would actually respond to and that we needed to put aside our artistic references in favor of a more scientific approach as we were trying to scale.
Andrew Warner: What’s something that you were just surprised worked so well to email?
Andrew Weinreich: So I can remember, I mean the whole; I mean it’s a good question. I wish I could remember what copy worked and what didn’t. I think…I remember that when we framed things we played with things like so-and-so listed you as his contact and we’d try to articulate the benefits to you, and the benefits to the prior person, and we found interesting things like when you appeal for help people respond to that, and when you’re very, very clear but you shorten the benefits you get a much better response. Some things may seem intuitive but it was really miraculous how playing with copy had such a profound impact.
Andrew Warner: One little thing sticks out in my head, Greg from Tag.com told me that just putting a smiley face in the subject lines of his emails helped increase open rate, and of course I signed up for his service just to play around with it and sure enough I saw those smiley faces still there.
Andrew Weinreich: It’s funny I don’t think we had an open rate issue, because it wasn’t like you had a lot of email. It was like; you know what I’m saying? You weren’t, I mean when we started it wasn’t you know you’ve got an email and you were thrilled. You know it’s like your very first apartment and you get junk mail and you’re like, “Wow someone actually sent me…”
Andrew Warner: Somebody put my name on a piece of mail, it’s real.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah, ours wasn’t junk mail but because it was your first, or because it was such a new experience, it wasn’t an open rate it was more, “Am I going to participate in this?”
Andrew Warner: What did you do, before we go on to the rest of the business; well actually let me ask one more thing and then go on, and then move on, is there something that you did back then that you say even today people don’t get it. If they could only do this they would really see some, something powerful?
Andrew Weinreich: No, I mean I amazed by, I mean I think most, in most instances every generation of businesses is just getting smarter, and people are figuring out very quickly that the key to building a great business is to focus on one little thing and copy best practices from all the other things, and so I think by and large there are lots of people that are trying to replicate ideas that are five, six, seven years old. They’re moving into very crowded spaces and they’re less innovative than I would like, but there’s a huge number of people that are doing amazingly innovative things and are doing them so much more productively, so much faster, than businesses were in the 90s, and I think a big piece of that is the way information is propagated today you’re really able to borrow so much of other peoples experiences and knowledge and not repeat mistakes.
Andrew Warner: That’s what this is about here, these interviews. Before we get into the next businesses, did you do anything fun afterwards you had all the power in the world to do, well except for the illness, except for the accident?
Andrew Weinreich: I mean I started, I never while at Six Degree’s I never ran. I mean it was like the weirdest thing. I maybe I ran you know two, three miles and I just decided I was going to run a marathon afterwards, and it was very funny because it was I couldn’t imagine running…physiologically, like the toughest piece to…I don’t know if you run marathons but the…you do. Like if you’re not a runner the toughest piece is just a mental switch that you’re going to do it, and you don’t realize like if you peg yourself as someone who’s not a runner it’s like pegging yourself as someone who’s not a, you know, an entrepreneur.
It’s like completely out of the realm of possibility and the moment you say, “I’m just going to do this even if I’m going to start it very, very, very slow mile.” All of a sudden you’re running marathons, you’re doing triathlons, and so I did a bunch and I thought it was, I found it to be one of the great releases and I also traveled…I tried to open up my mind a little bit to doing things that were outside my comfort zone.
Andrew Warner: What’s the most out there thing that you did? Cult?
Andrew Weinreich: I never joined a cult.
Andrew Warner: Okay, Iowasca.
Andrew Weinreich: I was afraid of, I mean I’m not the best flyer and so after we sold I took a couple flying lessons, I did a bungee jumping, I jumped out of a plane, I went paragliding, all to deal with flying. I mean it was like…I wish I had a crazier story for you.
Andrew Warner: Just erase the fear?
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah.
Andrew Warner: But is it because you felt like, “I can do anything. I had this vision and no one at the puck building was a member of this vision, but by the time I was done three plus million people are on this vision, and this is the future so I can do anything let’s just jump out of a plane, lets push myself past my running comfort zone?”
Andrew Weinreich: I definitely didn’t feel like I could do anything I just felt like…I just I’m more like when I think about where I like my skill set and where I’m lacking I like my skill set more in this belief that I have a good idea where I’m good at predicting macro trends, and that I may not be the best, the best person at executing everything but I’m very methodical, and I’m very, very persistent. So even if I’m not the best athlete if I start running I’ve got a really good idea I’m going to finish.
Andrew Warner: What do you mean? How does the methodical approach show itself in your running?
Andrew Weinreich: I mean, you know if you’re training for a marathon there are a host of programs, but people will basically tell you the number of miles you need on a weekly basis to be in the ball park, and so if you start running and you’re running, you know, two miles twice a week and you’re at four miles most people will tell you that you need to be at 15 miles a week in order to even get into a…
I can’t even remember it now, but in order to get into like a three to four month program your first week you’ve got to be at 15 miles, and so when you think about that like, “Okay well I can do four miles and so I’m not four months away but next week I can do 8 miles for the week,” and so you’re just very methodical about it, and you are big…
Andrew Warner: I see.
Andrew Weinreich: . . . are big on calendars and project plans for myself and for the businesses I work on. You know, there’s nothing visionary about running a marathon, but there’s something incredibly gratifying about it. And if you can break it into tiny little buckets and you have enough belief in yourself that you actually finish things you start, it’s a great feeling. I’m never going to win a marathon, [laughs] but I have a great time . . .
Andrew Warner: But you can run and you can do a tie.
Andrew Weinreich: Yes, yeah.
Andrew Warner: And speaking of Macrovision, I saw somewhere here . . . I don’t see it anymore in my notes. I have so many notes on you on my screen. Oh, there it is. In 1998 the name of the company was Macroview Communication. So you really were a person, even from back then, who said, “I see the macro, the big picture.” What’s the Macrovision that allowed you to create MeetMoi? What did you see?
Andrew Weinreich: So you know, the dating space, the online dating space, made no sense to me.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: Because the experiences of people I knew that were engaged in online dating was very much one of spending a huge amount of time in the evenings writing people, keeping Excel spreadsheets of who they had written, trying to track where they were. “Did I tell this one this joke?”
Andrew Warner: [laughs]
Andrew Weinreich: Am I . . . is it time to write this one again?” And the level of work associated with the goal struck me as completely out of whack. And so that was one thought that I had. That this is a hugely, hugely expensive process. Like the biggest expense of joining Match or eHarmony, eHarmony not so much true. Actually, eHarmony’s proposition is, “We’re going to take the work of it, of dating, away from you and we’ll tell you who you should date.”
Andrew Warner: Just fill out this long survey to tell us about you and then we’ll do the rest.
Andrew Weinreich: That’s right. But certainly, the other dating services, the biggest challenge was not the money you had to pay on a monthly basis. It was the work associated with it.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: So I had two thoughts. One, that work has to go away. The future dating products will eliminate that work. And the way you would eliminate that work is . . . would be largely through a mobile device. That’s one. And two would be largely location-based. And so my conviction was that at some point, this system, the Cloud, will be smart enough to know what you’re looking for, what other people are looking for, and actually, it would be smart enough to propose a location for you to meet that is convenient of where you are at that time. But the uber-change, the macro change was that work would disappear, people would meet more people, and they would find the person they were looking for faster because they spent more time dating and less time at home managing Excel spreadsheets.
Andrew Warner: I see. So it wasn’t this whole location thing that I keep coming back to whenever I think about the product. It was we need less work and computers need to do more of that work.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah.
Andrew Warner: That’s what it was.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah.
Andrew Warner: And then how long did it take you to create the first version? By the way, this is before, I think just before the first iPhone. I’m looking up when the first iPhone . . .
Andrew Weinreich: Right.
Andrew Warner: . . . came out.
Andrew Weinreich: So . . . so again we – so this was before the first iPhone – so we had . . . our first version was you would text in your location. Now we didn’t know where you were. So you would text in your location, other people would text in their location, we would geo plot you and we would match you what we called the bi-directional match. Then we built a downloadable. This is still before the iPhone.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: Where we would essentially reverse-triangulate your position. So we would find where you were or what cell towers you were communicating with. We would reverse-triangulate where you were so you wouldn’t have to tell us – pre-iPhone, pre-Android – and we would match you accordingly.
Andrew Warner: Okay. And that’s, that’s incredible. Actually, the iPhone came out 2007 and MeetMoi came out 2007, but there were no apps in that first version of the iPhone. So you would . . .
Andrew Weinreich: We actually launched, we launched, I think, before the iPhone. I can’t remember what month. We launched . . . I think we launched several months before the iPhone.
Andrew Warner: And so when someone would send over a text message, were you manually doing it or hiring people to manually connect them at first or was it all digital by then?
Andrew Weinreich: No we had . . . when you texted in . . . in the first version, when you texted in your location . . .
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: . . . you texted in an address. We converted it to a lat long, a latitude longitude . . .
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: . . . and coordinates. And then we were able to plot the proximity of you to other people that we had long on.
Andrew Warner: And it was done by computers; it wasn’t humans.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew Warner: I thought the first version was . . . no, it wasn’t.
Andrew Weinreich: No, no, no, it wasn’t. It was never done by . . . it was never . . . that would have been – wow – that would have been . . .
Andrew Warner: [laughs] A lot of work. I thought, “Boy, that was an interesting MVP.” You know, the other thing that I remember in my research is I think presented at the Startup Meet Up in New York. And, someone said, “Hey, isn’t this going to be used for prostitution?” I said, “You know, I never even thought of that.”
Andrew Weinreich: I said I never thought of that.
Andrew Warner: Did you? Yes, you said you never even thought of it. And, I wouldn’t have thought of it.
Andrew Weinreich: You know, I didn’t think that was a very realistic outcome that it would be used for prostitution. I mean, when you build an early stage product you are very closely involved. Not every customer supports email. In addition to going to our customers, four persons came to me. I was very, very attuned to what was happening in the system. How do I know whether or not prostitutes are going to join the system? But, it was pretty clear to me that we would figure out a way to make sure that that was never a problem.
That never became a problem. First of all, they never joined. It was one of these things that if you are building something and you just throw it over the wall and say I am just assuming things are going to work out, then you might have a disaster on your hands. We knew we were never approaching the business that way. We were never approaching the product that way. We didn’t really believe that was ever a possibility.
Andrew Warner: Through that, another business idea came to you. This whole need to understand what?
Andrew Weinreich: We were so focused on location with NeedWhat [sp] , and this idea that we wanted to know persistently where you were. While we were measuring where you were relative to another person, it occurred to us that what would be even more interesting where you were relative to a place. I am driving by a Starbucks, wouldn’t Starbucks love to send me a message saying, “Go 50 feet forward, make a right hand turn, and get 20% off that cappuccino.”
That was one micro-vision we had that enterprises would want to know where you were. The other macro perspective we had. We were communicating with all of our users, not through the iPhone/Android app but through text messaging. We were sending huge numbers of SMS to our users as were a large portion of the Fortune 500. We also believed that SMS made no sense. The idea that the carriers intermediate messaging to users is ridiculous. Push notifications would supplant that completely. We went to our investors and said “Thanks for funding NeedWhat.
We are going to continue to do this. We are going to set up another company and raise capital for another company. This company is going to be focused on cross channel messaging, push notifications and persistently tracking people for enterprises. That was Extify [sp]. We hired a CEO of both. I became the Chairman of both. We raised capital for both. We ran both for four and a half years.
Andrew Warner: The investors didn’t say to you? “Focus on one or the other. It is hard enough to build a dating site or to build a location based business that goes after business. Pick one.”
Andrew Weinreich: Those questions were raised. Our investors were incredibly supportive. We said to them, “First of all, I won’t be the CEO of both. I will be an active Chairman. I will keep my eye on the ball. We will have CEOs of both. One will not suffer for the other. You will be better off for us having two businesses. We are going to replicate the cap table. We are going to raise new capital. If you want to participate, great. If you don’t, that’s okay, too. We had a very, very supportive investor base.
Andrew Warner: I see. You also wrote a business plan, you told April. Usually, I wouldn’t point that out in an interview. You brought it up to April when she asked what was the first step you took? Why was it so important to start out with a business plan.
Andrew Weinreich: A lot of people think about constructing business plans just for other people. I always think about them as a necessary discipline that every entrepreneur should go through to demonstrate to themselves that they actually have a thought process for how they are going to operate the business. Full acknowledgement, it is very unlikely that you are going to stick to this business plan. It is very likely that you are going to pivot on maybe your marketing, on your sales, on your product. The starting place is at least you should have the discipline to memorialize all of your initial thoughts.
Andrew Warner: I see. Do you remember one thing you got from doing that exercise that you didn’t know before?
Andrew Weinreich: We built that business plan. When we went to our existing investors and said we are working on another business, we didn’t just say we are working on another business. We said, “We’re working on another business, we’re going to devote the resources to a very, very thorough planning before we ask you to engage in what we’re doing.” So we went through that process. This particular set of business planning was much more thorough than you would ordinarily expect. We detailed exactly what the product would look like. We detailed…
Andrew Warner: …Why?
Andrew Weinreich: Well, our thesis was we would not be using the resources, we would be bringing a whole new set of resources. It was a complicated undertaking that we were about to go through. Building Xtify was a fairly challenging proposition.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: And we wanted to demonstrate to ourselves and to those around us that we would devote the necessary resources and we understood what they were.
Andrew Warner: The first version was a stand-alone app?
Andrew Weinreich: The first version was a stand-alone app. We said the enterprises, the businesses would support the user experience on the mobile web. Or on the web.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: To grab location, the message, they would download the Xtify app.
Andrew Warner: And their users would need to download the Xtify app.
Andrew Weinreich: Their users would need to download the Xtify app.
Andrew Warner: I see. But once they had it- once the user had it…
Andrew Weinreich: …[??]
Andrew Warner: It didn’t matter which company needed to use.
Andrew Weinreich: That’s right.
Andrew Warner: Got it.
Andrew Weinreich: That didn’t work.
Andrew Warner: No…
Andrew Weinreich: …Right? That idea of saying to people, ‘everyone download the Xtify app,’ was a very tough proposition. Particularly because we at that point were betting that every single enterprise would not make their own iPhone, their own Android apps. They would just download our app. What we quickly realized was that’s not sustainable. Our first version of the app, by the way, they downloaded- they were downloading to dumb phones. We had built it to be downloaded to I should say dumb phones and BlackBerries. And then in subsequent version we said, ‘We’re going to represent it in the form of an SDK that would be incorporated- enterprises would incorporate into their apps.’
Andrew Warner: You spent a lot of times making calls. It’s not easy to sell to bigger companies. How long did it take to get your first customer?
Andrew Weinreich: You know…Years.
Andrew Warner: Hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: I mean years. What we were selling was our first big customer. Right? Because we had lots of small customers right away.
Andrew Warner: How did you get the first small customers then, before we go to the big one?
Andrew Weinreich: Usually the way you get small customers is you turn to your friends that have mobile startups that are in New York or the valley, and you say, ‘Here’s what I’m working on. It’s consistent with what you’re doing. I’ll make it free for you, or very, very easy for you to integrate.’ Getting small customers is easy. Right? What’s tough, is how do you get your first Fortune 500?
Andrew Warner: Before we get into how you did it, why was it important? Why not then continue with a bunch of smaller companies? Some of them might be big, but maybe in general they would all support the business.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah. That was a big question for us. How do we- which focus should we- what should be our primary focus? Should it be long tail companies, or should it be larger companies? And we started with the idea that long tail companies will allow us to be in market immediately, test the product, figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: And make sure that there’s significant volume coming in. The problem is if you’re going to plan the long tail, you got to have everyone on the long tail to be hugely exciting. And you got to have some visibility on where your monetization is down the road. And that was the big unknown for us. So we brought in the sales force and we began focusing on enterprises.
Andrew Warner: And so how did you get your first one?
Andrew Weinreich: First of all, at this point we had a CEO that we hired, and the CEO was fantastic. Guy buy the name of Josh Rochlin. And he was just very aggressive in meeting with anyone that would take a meeting. There were many, many months of meetings that we eventually went through to get through to get to our first client.
Andrew Warner: And I heard you found people on LinkedIn? Just go on social networks and see who’s the person who is in charge of this, let’s see if we can get a meeting? It was that kind of process.
Andrew Weinreich: So we picked verticals. We picked retail, travel. And the guy who was running sales in conjunction with the CEO would set up a professional account on LinkedIn and he was building a database from scratch. So he would say who runs Mogul ad[SP], and him and his assistant, or his junior sales guy, would build these databases from scratch. They would email, they would call and they would take meetings anyway they could.
Andrew Warner: Wow, do you remember the first big client? The one that was the marquee client?
Andrew Weinreich: You know, it’s funny, I don’t remember who was first. I really don’t remember who was first.
Andrew Warner: You know what? I went to archive.org to see who the marquee clients were. For a long time it was your company, and I think even the second link was your company. If people look at the portfolio business, I think they were just both of your businesses.
Andrew Weinreich: You mean Meetmoi and Xtify?
Andrew Warner: No, one other one. Let me see, featured apps, I’m not looking at the 2008. Seemywhere.com
Andrew Weinreich: You’ve got to look later. Seemywhere was a template app.
Andrew Warner: A template app meaning? Here, I’ll put it in chat. So that was a template app that you guys created to show what it could do and the other one was Meetmoi. And I think it was a couple of years that people saw those two businesses as featured apps.
Andrew Weinreich: Let’s look, 2013.
Andrew Warner: Here, this will take you directly to all the years.
Andrew Weinreich: September. Yeah, so on the site, in 2013, you can see there’s Fox, Sephora, Thrilless, Ritz Carlton, Staples, Publishers Clearinghouse.
Andrew Warner: Do you remember how Publisher’s Clearinghouse, or any one of these. Do you remember case, in how they used it?
Andrew Weinreich: You know, they use cases very dramatically. In many instances we were their push channel. In some instances they were trying to preserve in a single database and instance of a user. They wouldn’t duplicate messaging to a user, so you would either send email, SMS or push. In other cases, we were grabbing location on a persistent basis, subject to the permission of the user and we were messaging people when they were proximate to a location. The use cases vary for all of them.
What was happening was, you know, you look at these brand names, Ritz Carlton, IHG, Sephora, Staples, Fox, and there were a host of others, big enterprises, that became our customers in 2013. By October, when you added up all of these customers, we were on something like 70 million devices and that was accelerating rapidly. We were doing billions and billions of location updates and it just became compelling at that point for IBM to come and say we can really accelerate this process and we’re a big believer in this push channel and this notion of a mobile CRN, which is how we defined ourself at that point. They came in and acquired the business.
Andrew Warner: And you already had a relationship, I think, with them before?
Andrew Weinreich: You know, I didn’t. They were doing an integration, but I can’t remember for which one of our clients. They were doing an integration for one of the clients and they were integrating Xtify.
Andrew Warner: Okay. So what was it like for you to watch Xtify doing so well while you were at Meetmoi?
Andrew Weinreich: Well, so my time was split . I wasn’t the CEO of Meetmoi at this time either.
Andrew Warner: I see.
Andrew Weinreich: We had a CEO of each, and my title had switched to Chairman and my day to day responsibilities, they were both located on the same floor, on 520 Broadway and I would spend time principally with the CEO of each. My cofounder on Meetmoi was this guy named Jeremy Levy. He essentially cofounded Xtify with me as well. We hired a CTO at Xtify and he stayed as the CTO of Meetmoi. My principle time was spent with the CEO’s, with Jeremy, and with some of the other senior people at both Meetmoi and Xtify. I took pride in both. There were times when I’d spend more time at one than the other, but I balanced and probably divided my time equally amongst the two.
Andrew Warner: You sold it, why’d you sell? You know, I actually can’t find the articles about the sale at all for some reason.
Andrew Weinreich: Of Xtify?
Andrew Warner: No, Xtify I can find a bunch, including one on IBM’s own website. Meetmoi. I know that it was bought by Match’s parent company.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah, it was very, there wasn’t nearly as much discussion or press around the Meetmoi sale as we want around the Xtify sale. Actually what happened with Meetmoi was, we sold the dating business. But the business analytics, we didn’t sell. So we kept the business analytics behind, Jeremy and I eventually bought the business analytics component out of Meetmoi and set up another company called Indicative, which we just raised capital on a few weeks ago. Jeremy’s the CEO and I’m the Chairman.
Andrew Warner: Oh wow, I see. What was the analytics part?
Andrew Weinreich: The business analytics, when you think about what a dating business is, a dating business essentially becomes a direct marketing business.
Andrew Warner: Mm-hmm.
Andrew Weinreich: And what we found was that the tools in market were insufficient to the challenges we had as a direct marketing business. Specifically what we wanted to do was preserve every single touch point we had with a user, put it in the cloud, and then really run very rigorous analytics against that to determine what type of marketing we should engage in and determine what products we should build.
Andrew Warner: I think every marketer has done that and it’s just insane. You know that there’s some hidden answer somewhere but a computer should be figuring it out.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah, and we built this phenomenal . . .I mean I’m very proud at what the folks at indicative have done. We just launched and already indicative’s got some terrific clients. What Indicative does that’s really powerful is essentially Indicative does the data warehousing for other companies, so essentially the same way we had done the data warehousing for ourselves at Meetmoi, we now do the data warehousing for other people. Indicative has built this really cool tool set that initially is focused on market segmentation, funnel analytics and cohort analysis. But the high level vision of indicative is that there’s this thread of interaction with users and the thread of interaction is from the moment you acquire them to how much revenue you generate off them.
What’s the lifetime value? What’s the ROI on your investment? If you can capture every instance, every touch point you have with a user, preserve it in the cloud, and then run these very easy to use analytics against them, you can inform both your marketing and your product development. Whether it for a commerce business or a media business. Whether the commerce business is transaction based or subscription based, this was the vision all learned from Meetmoi that we just embarked on at Indicative.
Andrew Warner: I see it over here, October, 2014, $2 million in funding according to TechCrunch. You know what? So I get all of this. First of all, I can’t believe somebody can see the future so much the way you did. Here’s the part I don’t get. Why Andrew’s roadmaps. Why are you teaching other entrepreneurs? You got so much else going on in your life.
Andrew Weinreich: One is I love to teach. I love the interaction of hearing new ideas. I love the interaction of seeing what people are working on. I also have this idea, this personal idea, and it’s what I talked about before. In order to do something truly great, you don’t need to do everything new. You need to do one thing new, one thing special, one thing better than everyone else. If you can adopt best practices from all the other disciplines, than you can move at a much, much faster pace. So why am I doing this?
Andrew Warner: Yeah.
Andrew Weinreich: So I don’t believe there is a very, very strong end to end curriculum for entrepreneurs, for digital entrepreneurs. I believe there are millions now and millions more that are about to engage in this digital entrepreneurship path. What I’m looking to do is to create a curriculum that all of these people can use to fast forward through the mistakes I made and to focus on the one thing they should really be doing that’s special.
Andrew Warner: And you’re going to help them find that one thing? I’m going over the site right now.
Andrew Weinreich: No, I’m not going to help them find. . .
Andrew Warner: They need to know what that one thing is.
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah, I’m not going to help them find that one thing. I can give people a framework for evaluating whether their idea is the right idea for them. I can give them a way to think about whether the opportunity is as big as they believe it is. I can’t come up with ideas. I say this about ideas, it’s rare that I’ve met someone who hasn’t had a good idea. In fact, I don’t believe anymore that there are so many great ideas and bad ideas. I just think there bad ideas and good ideas and most ideas could be pivoted slightly to be good.
Andrew Warner: Okay.
Andrew Weinreich: What distinguishes them is the ability to execute fantastically. So I try to help people think about where will the world be tomorrow and how to they position their ideas against macro-changes that are afoot? I can’t possibly help people generate, you know, what they should be working on.
Andrew Warner: Let me see here. So I’m looking at the website, it’s AndrewsRoadMaps.com, for anyone who wants to look along with me. I see 14 hours of lectures. This is all in person?
Andrew Weinreich: Yeah, so we will eventually… eventually this will morph to a video format.
Andrew Warner: Okay.
Andrew Weinreich: The boot camps are all in person.
Andrew Warner: Well, they’re all in New York.
Andrew Weinreich: Well, right now they’re just in New York, they’ll be elsewhere as well, but right now you would have come to New York and you would arrive at 8:30 on a Saturday and leave at 5:00 and on Sunday you’d show at 8:30 again and you’d leave at 5:00. I would lecture on all of these topics.
Andrew Warner: Are you doing all the lecturing yourself for 14 hours?
Andrew Weinreich: So I lecture… I have a couple guest speakers but it’s basically me lecturing for 12 or 13 hours.
Andrew Warner: Okay. I know you have the credibility. I’m surprised you’d want to stand up there for that many hours.
Andrew Weinreich: First of all, for every single person, we provide internet access. Everyone brings their laptops. It’s a personal challenge. How do you speak for so long and knowing that people, you know… It’s common nature to want to pull up Facebook or read the news, and step one is, if you’re standing up front and you’re not moving around, you know, you run the risk that everyone totally tunes you out. You need to move at an unbelievably rapid clip. The lectures are SEO, 20 minutes. SEM, 18 minutes. I mean, there’s so many topics to cover.
Andrew Warner: I see here, refining your business idea. The business plan. Burning the bridge. Business model. Legal. Cash flow projections. What’s burning the bridge?
Andrew Weinreich: Lots of people have this idea that I’m going to start a business, I’m going to keep my job, and I’m going to work on it on the side. Once my business massively takes off, then I’m going to quit my job. When I tell people this, it’s not that that’s never happened, it’s just that that’s less likely to be successful and people that find some way to, what I call, burn a bridge. Burn a bridge could be quitting your job. Burn a bridge could be when you raise capital from other people. Those other people…
You know feel an obligation to work for those other people. Burning a bridge is doing something where there’s no going back. You have committed yourself, irrevocably to forward. Now, you may have to pivot, but you’re irrevocably forward, you’re not thinking about maybe I’ll do this, maybe I won’t.
Andrew Warner: There’s a whole section on pivoting, followed quickly by catching the wave. There is creating brand identity, naming the company, logo brief. You give people the brief, that’s one of the templates you give them. They can go and hire someone to do their logo for them. Documentation. Key performance indicators. Project management. Test beta period. Patents. Paid acquisition. Defining the funnel, I love that. Defining the audience. This is really jam-packed. So I’m on the site, I don’t see the price. Is that intentional? You want people to sign up for the mailing list and then hear about when the next one is out and then you’ll figure out the price?
Andrew Weinreich: The price has been a work in progress. We started with beta pricing for the initial ones. We haven’t announced the event, so the pricing will be announced when we announce the date of the next event.
Andrew Warner: I don’t think you play yourself up enough in this. Maybe the end of this interview has taught people a little more about you. This is fantastic, but people have to go to the about page to get a sense of who this guy is behind it. Frankly, when I first saw it, I said, another place where people teach and then there was something about the reviews, then I just woke up and realized, oh wait, I see who this guy is.
Andrew Weinreich: Thank you.
Andrew Warner: I would put your face right there on top with all those logos. 6 Degrees, Joltage, I Stand For, Meet Moi, Extify, and Indicative. Congratulations on all the success. Thanks for doing this interview.
Andrew Weinreich: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Andrew Warner: You bet. If anyone wants to check it out, the website is AndrewsRoadMaps.com. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys.
Andrew Weinreich: Thank you.