Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters! My name is Andrew Warner, and apparently today I’m really messing around with my jacket. And addition to the guy who messes with his jacket a lot before the interview starts, I’m the Founder of Mixergy.com which is, of course, home of the ambitious upstart.
Hey, I want to dispel something for you. I want to reveal a little something about business that most people don’t know. See, most people will pull out their phones and take a picture of a receipt or do something like that, and then bot-a-bing, bot-a-boom, all the data, the amount from the receipt, the company name’s that on the receipt, the date and so on, just appears on their phone. And they think the company has this fantastic software. I can’t believe it can read this crazy receipt.
Well, it turns out it’s not fantastic software that’s doing it, it’s the company whose founder you’re about to meet today. They do that and so much else. Bryce Maddock is the co-founder of TaskUs. They provide customer care and back office outsourcing to rapidly growing businesses. There’s a company you’ll hear about later in the interview where they will transcribe your interview and they do it so much better than Google. And I remember at a time when I was thinking, why can’t Google software do it as well. It’s because Bryce’s company have real people who are doing it. That’s the kind of stuff that Bryce’s company does. All right.
This interview is sponsored by AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. A little later on I’ll tell you why. If you’re in the business of just not getting hits to your site but collecting email addresses so that you can start real relationships with people who come to your site, you need a page that increases conversions. It gets more of the people who come to your site to give you email address and trust you.
And one way to do that and my favorite way to do that is to choose AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. You’ll have a template to use on your site that has been proven to increase conversions. I’ll tell you more about that later. First, I’ve got to welcome Bryce. Bryce, welcome.
Bryce: Hi, Andrew. How are you?
Andrew: Good. What kind of revenue can you pull in when you’re doing like typing up people’s receipts and voice mail?
Bryce: Yeah, so we’re on our way to doing just over $13 million in revenue in 2014. That’s up from $6.25 million last year. So we’re going over 100% year over year. And really a lot of that comes from the kind of back office services that are custom in one-off for companies that are looking to solve problems with technology that maybe need a little bit of a holdover as their programming team perfects that technology.
And a lot of that comes from sort of how you service, the customer care, email, phone, chat support that we’re providing for companies that really care about their culture and the quality.
Bryce: But also really want to continue to deliver amazing service and more affordable cost than doing it in downtown San Francisco or New York.
Andrew: So when I’m on a site and that chat box pops up, it’s often someone who works for you, not the website that I’m talking to.
Bryce: If you’re dealing with any of the startups that you interview on this show, it’s a high probability.
Andrew: [laughs] Oh, that’s great to hear. I want to hear how you got to this because I am looking at a screen shot of one of the first versions of your site.
Andrew: It is a mess.
Andrew: I mean, I don’t ever insult someone’s website, and I hope not to. And frankly maybe it’s a point of pride, but to see where you were back then and compare where you are today, I’ve got to expose the audience to how you did it. I mean, everything. The business model is completely different. There’s a pricing button here that probably laugh at the way you’re pricing.
Andrew: But let’s see how you got here by just understanding where you were before you started. You come from a family where your dad was really successful. Hey, what did your dad do?
Bryce: Yeah, so my dad was a screenwriter and a producer. And that for me was interesting because I grew up in Los Angeles. I met my co-founder, Jasper. We went to Santa Monica High School together. And so growing up in L.A. I actually thought that I wanted to be in the film industry. And I think that’s where my entrepreneurial ambition comes from, kind of watching my dad’s success but in a way that he was able to control most of his own career.
That helped me a lot to kind of step away from sort of a more traditional corporate path. That being said, as I went into middle school and high school, my dad stopped being able to sell scripts and stopped being able to produce movies. I think how good is a culture that is a little age-ish. And so as time went on it got harder and harder. You know, my family was never not well off, but we certainly weren’t able to do the things that we were when I was much younger. And that made me want to be an entrepreneur even more, just not in the film industry because I saw it as the one way to really control my own future.
Andrew: Your dad wrote “Short Circuit” and “Tremors.”
Bryce: That’s right.
Andrew: Really great career, and you’re saying that at that point, even when you get to that level, you don’t have financial security and safety and freedom for the rest of your life.
Bryce: You know, you’d think so.
Bryce: So, “Short Circuit, “Tremors”, “Land Before Time” and I think my dad is such a creative person and not a business mind. He just didn’t like to think about money growing up and certainly wasn’t a big spender, but I think even to this day doesn’t even know how much money he’s got. There’s some advantages to that, but there’s a lot of disadvantages. It cost a lot of anxiety for me and for my family growing up. It’s been one of my, sort of, core motivators for better or for worse [??]
Andrew: How do you mean. When you were experiencing this. When mom said hey, you know what, we need to cut back on our spending.
Andrew: How did that shape the way that you look at business today?
Bryce: It’s so funny. I was actually just having a meeting with my VP of finance yesterday. She was telling me, she was, like, listen, Bryce, I absolutely hate that we are constantly arguing about how much money we can spend. I sort of paused and I said, Melissa, this is exactly what I used to do with my mom.
My mom was much more conservative with money than my dad was. As things got a little tougher she would be the one to tell me you can’t spend. You can’t go to that party. You can’t take that girl out to dinner. I absolutely hated that.
Being, sort of, rebellious teenager that I was I would find ways to sneak it. I would find ways to make money on the side and be able to afford these things. Sometimes spend my parents’ money against their will. Now, I’m kind of doing the same thing in my business where I’m fighting with my VP of finance about, I want to go out and build this building, or I want to build a new office.
She says, we don’t have enough money and I’m challenging her and sometimes rebelling like that teenage kid.
Andrew: Is this kind of like the people who grew up in the depression who had depression mentalities? We are not going to blow a ton of money on wasteful things.
Bryce: Yeah. I think that’s an entrepreneurial dichotomy. You got one type of entrepreneur who’s very spend thrift. Really watches the pennies. There’s huge amounts of success. I’d say that my business partner, Jasper, is a lot more like that than I am.
There’s certainly a lot of times when I think that we would’ve totally run out of money if we followed my direction. There are other types of entrepreneurs who are more like me, which is, look, I’m not here to pay attention to how much money I’m spending because I’m focused on how much money I’m going to make.
I don’t think one school of thought is better than the other. I think you kind of get the best result from having those arguments and finding the middle ground and beginning to kind of trust one another to find the right answer between that type of disagreement.
Andrew: You and your co-founder founded a club together early on. I started googling it. It’s the hardest thing to find a club that’s called Club Access.
Andrew: What was Club Access?
Bryce: Yeah. We didn’t pick a name that was easy to Google because when we started it was 2005 and it was really more important that you showed up on My Space than the broader internet. Club Access was L.A.s first all-age night club. We catered primarily to kids who were 14 to 17 years old.
The idea came out of a trip that I took with my business partner right after we had graduated from high school. We went to Europe for the summer for six weeks and backpacked across the continent. We kept on going into night clubs and seeing that there were 16 year olds, 17 year old kids who had snuck in.
They weren’t as strict on IDs and the drinking age in Europe is 18. We said, why couldn’t we do this in high school? We came back to L.A. We studied the laws and it actually turned out if you were a night club that could serve food there were no age restrictions.
You couldn’t serve alcohol to kids who were underage, but you could certainly let them in. Summer times on Monday nights most clubs are empty because adults have work the next day, but high school kids have nothing to do and they’re able to go out. We’d open the doors at 9:00 and shut them down at 1:00 pm. Parents would drop their kids off. It was great.
Andrew: At 1:00 a.m.
Bryce: Parents would drop their kids off at 9:00 p.m. and come pick them up at 1:00 a.m. Yeah. It was . . .
Andrew: And they would just be in the clubs not stoned or drunk?
Bryce: Well, I think a lot of them would drink beforehand.
Andrew: I see.
Bryce: At least from the behavior that we saw, but it would be 800 to 1,000 kids. Still to this day, and I’ve been to some wild parties. These were the wildest parties I’d ever seen in my life. Just kids, hormone enraged, just having the time of their lives.
Andrew: What do mean? What happens? What’s the craziest thing you saw?
Bryce: People taking their clothes off, dancing. The way kids would dance. It’s kind of terrifying as I get older and begin to think maybe sometime in the next decade I’ll have kids of my own. It’s terrifying to think, but just the way kids would dance was insane. I haven’t seen anything like that since. It was a great run for three years.
Andrew: How do you get that many kids to come in?
Bryce: Yeah. Marketing was kind of our forte. We didn’t realize it, but we used to go and print up flyers and we had these flyers cut like beautiful designs. Then we’d go around to different high schools and hand out flyers and had street teams dressed up in t-shirts and booty shorts.
It was a total kind of, again, very adolescent, but really successful business venture. We were also really active on My Space at that time. We started a Facebook page kind of in the later years 2006, 2007. 2005 when we started My Space was the place to be. We had really a kind of aggressive online marketing strategy using My Space to get kids to come to the club.
Andrew: What was that? [??] everyone so that you can [??] them out.
Andrew: So there are friending everyone so that you can dole them out.
Bryce: Using MySpace at that point you didn’t have to be a person. So Club Access had its own MySpace page. And thousands and thousands of friends, way more friends than I ever had on MySpace. So that was a really successful strategy for us.
Andrew: How old were you at the time?
Bryce: So I was 19.
Bryce: Yeah, 19.
Andrew: You were 19. Thousands of kids wanted to come to your party.
Andrew: I’ve seen all the movies. I saw the movie about club whatever it was. I’ve seen the movies.
Andrew: The guy that runs it ends up destroying himself, either because he’s constantly partying himself or because he starts to feel a heady sense of exaggerated self-importance because every woman and every guy wants to be around him. What do you . . . Did that happen to you at all, be honest?
Bryce: Yeah, I think it was interesting because there was like chasm that you couldn’t cross between being a high schooler and being a college student, right? So we felt very responsible hitting on high school girls. I mean, there was probably some interest there.
Andrew: What about the arrogance then that comes naturally then? I had a little business work in high school. I’m the smartest entrepreneur here. What doesn’t anyone understand that?
Bryce: I think arrogance is good for entrepreneurs. In my college days, this was actually right before I had Club Access one of my roommates my freshman year told me that I had an irrational self-confidence, and I think irrational self-confidence is what makes people successful as entrepreneurs. You’re basically coming up with the world’s craziest idea, right?
And then you’re saying, “I’m going to create something out of nothing, and it’s just pure grit and determination.” The only way to convince yourself to get up every day and work that hard is to really believe the lie you’re telling yourself and to believe it some much that you make it true. So I look back on those days. It was tough. Most of our friends had normal summer jobs, right?
They thought that we should go and work at Abercrombie & Fitch or, you know, sell hot dogs at the mall. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for us it was an adventure. It was exciting, and if it hadn’t worked we wouldn’t have made any money. But it did work, and we made as much money . . . Each of us were making as much money in one night as our friends were making the entire summer from their summer jobs.
Andrew: What did you do with the money?
Bryce: Well, so it was all cash. This is actually an interesting story. So, you know, when you’re making that type of money we would charge $20 to get into the club, 800 to 1,000 kid showed up. So you can do the math. Fifteen thousand to $20,000 in cash changes hands that night. It’s dangerous, right?
So we did the only thing possible which we had our moms collect the cash, and then one of our dads . . . I mean, this makes it sound so mature, but one of our dads would pull up, and our moms would drop the cash bin into our dad’s car and they would take off. Then after the club we’d go back to Jasper’s house and count the cash. So it was a real sense of triumph because you just had so much cash.
Andrew: Now you could actually see it.
Bryce: See it, right? That doesn’t exist anymore today for our business, so we would go the next day and deposit it in the bank, and I think most of the bank tellers thought that we were drug dealers because like nobody else was bringing in that type of cash to the bank. So we saved the money, and basically I went to Europe for a semester. Jasper went to Argentina for a semester, and we used a lot of the money there to basically fund our businesses, our vacations.
Bryce: And then I also when we started TaskUs we basically put the money back into TaskUs. I think at that point we had about $25,000 left, so we just poured everything left of our life savings into the business.
Andrew: That’s a considerable amount of money. A lot of kids don’t leave with 25 bucks, you know.
Andrew: Or deep in debt. All right. This seed of the idea happened when someone was typing in data . . . or someone was typing in data.
Bryce: I was.
Andrew: Into a contact management system.
Bryce: Yeah, that’s right. So TaskUs basically it came to me when I was working as an investment banker in New York. I went to NYU, and as soon as I graduated from college, even though I had this entrepreneurial experience, I was looking to stay in the city and I had been hanging out with all of the friends that I . . .
I graduated a year early from NYU, and basically the job that I got was an investment banking analyst which is kind of a glorified title because most of what you do is, you know, data entry, building models, building PowerPoint presentations,
And in the middle of this gargantuan mindless task where . . . I guess, you had probably, the technology existed at this point to do this more efficiently, but we were moving data from an online CRM into . . . I should say a premise-based CRM into an Excel spreadsheet so it could be uploaded to an online CRM.
Bryce: Every piece of data had to be manually moved. So, you know, the answer to that was get the analysts in here, make them work 16 hours a day copying and pasting this data until it’s done. It was three weeks, seven days a week, 16 hours a day of this.
Andrew: You weren’t cheap. You were a fresh college graduate from NYU in New York City. They had to be paying you a considerable amount of money to do this. You must have told them, “Hey, you know what? We can outsource this.” Didn’t you?
Bryce: Yeah, that’s exactly where the idea came from so at first I was really pissed. This is so stupid; I can’t believe I’m doing this. But by the end of it I was really pissed for the owner of the investment bank because I thought probably for a tenth of what I’m earning we could get this done in India or in Pakistan, a place where people would really want the work and it would be meaningful to them.
But, of course, when I purposed this idea to the investment bank I was kind of laughed out the room and they were told that this was. . . it was a lot like hazing in a frat, right. This is a rite of passage that everybody has to go through and this is the way we get our next tier of managing directors for our investment bank. So I decided at that point I had to leave and try to invent this idea myself.
Andrew: I saw the “Wolf of Wall Street”. You have to do the grunt work before you get to be the wolf.
Andrew: So then you go to Argentina and you have this idea and you went to the guys at California Burrito Company which I remember when I lived in Argentina, I would have them deliver it every day. I loved their burrito so much that I said “Here take money on Monday and just everyday deliver the burrito into the office”. And just like in Argentina, like everything else in Argentina, it worked great for two days and then it stopped working.
Andrew: But the burritos were fantastic and so why did you talk to them? To the founder?
Bryce: Yeah. What was really interesting is my business partner, Jasper, had an idea from his time in Argentina that we needed to start a frozen yogurt shop in Argentina. I quit my investment banking job to go and be a frozen yogurt magnate. The idea was that Argentinian people really loved ice cream or what they called “helado” and they were very body conscious so actually Argentina has the second highest case of eating disorders in the world…
Andrew: I had no idea.
Bryce: Japan. Yeah. So we figured that this market needed frozen yogurt very, very badly. We went down with a forty page business plan that I had meticulously written up and we contacted all the manufacturers of the machines and a flavor scientist to do our flavors and we began to raise money.
Then we figured we should probably talk to someone who had done it before and I think this is like the biggest lesson that I learned from this experience was you want to go out and get mentors who have been there and done that. There was a guy named Jordan Metzner, who had moved down to Argentina to basically start basically what was a effectively like a Chipotle, California Burrito Company.
Andrew: Yep. And by the way, we should say most people assume that if you are south of the border, burritos and tacos go everywhere. No. The burrito was an exotic food there. If you went to Mexican food it was one restaurant per maybe one or two per town. I don’t think Argentina had that many but he happened to say, “hey you know what, burrito is such a great thing let’s create a chain of them.
Bryce: Yep. It’s interesting because you think Argentina you think they would have burritos. But it’s completely, it didn’t exist really. So Jordan has created this business with his business partner. It was really popular.
We called them up and said “Hey, we’ve got an idea we’d love to sit down and kind of pick your brain”. When we walked in to his. . . I remember the day so clearly because it was like 85 degrees. It was the middle of summertime in Argentina and we walk into his restaurant and at the time the farmers north of the city where on strike and they had been burning their crops. The city was filled with smoke, it was very atmospheric. We sat down with Jordan and for about two hours he told us why we absolutely did not want to do what we wanted to do.
Andrew: Why? What’s the short version of why you shouldn’t be starting a frozen yogurt stand in Argentina or chain?
Bryce: Yeah. He said “Listen guys, this is not as easy as you think it’s going to be. I spent the last few years begging my parents to continue funding this idea, ,sticking with it, pulling money out of ATM’s, getting sued by local employees, getting shaken down by government officials.” So at the end of this long, humbling experience I turned to Jordan and I said, “Jordan, I guess my only question is, what would you have done differently if you had your time over”? He said “Honestly I would have figured out a way to pay people in pesos and earn dollars, rather than doing the opposite” which is what they had done.
In an ironic way that exactly what TaskUs is. Today our offices are all in the Philippines where we pay people in Philippine pesos and most our clients are in the U.S. where we are earning dollars. The ultimate irony is… actually I hung out with Jordan this afternoon, he’s come back to LA and started a company called Washio which just raised ten and a half million dollars and . . .
Andrew: That is him? The guy from California Burrito?
Andrew: Washed Out I.O.?
Bryce: Yeah. Washed Out I.O. is Jordon Metzner?
Andrew: They do laundry for people.
Bryce: Yeah, exactly. It’s like an uber for laundry. It’s a hugely successful business, LA based and we’re friends to this day. We go around telling this story of that fateful moment in Argentina where he saved me and Jasper probably five years of our lives.
Andrew: [laughs]. Yeah. I agree with that. All right, so this old idea, this old frustration you had back when you were on Wall Street is still in your head. What do you do with that? What makes you say “Hey, you know what? Maybe that’s the next thing for us to pursue?
Bryce: Yeah. We came back to LA with nothing. I had quit my nice job on Wall Street, left my apartment in New York, and moved back in with my parents. Jasper came back, too, and moved back in with his parents.
We began to feel the pressure like we need to do something here. We tossed around a few ideas, and the one we kept coming back to was how can we make people be more efficient. We thought the Internet, mobile technology, it’s just going to get easier and easier for people to connect and collaborate.
The original idea for TaskUs was to basically empower people to delegate individual tasks to the people who were best suited to complete those tasks. We were going to hire a network of assistants all over the world. If you had a data entry task we might send that to someone in Pakistan. If you needed Spanish language translation we’d send that to someone in Argentina.
Andrew: You were going to hire someone in different countries.
Andrew: But, they would work for you. It was a marketplace. That was the model.
Bryce: Yeah, it was a marketplace that was based on skill. We would basically test everyone, and based on their skill set we’d assign them work, and then we’d pay them for the work that they completed. Really, that was the concept.
With $25,000 you don’t go a very far way in terms of building out technology. That initial website that you saw is actually a really funny story. We went around and interviewed web developers, because neither Jasper or myself were technical.
There were two guys, a company in Santa Monica, that basically took us on a charity case. I didn’t realize it at the time. We went in with these, like, big story boards and exactly what we wanted our website to look like.
They really liked our ambition. They were building $100,000 and $250,000 websites for banks, and they offered to do our website for $5000. I thought oh my God, yeah, that’s really expensive but we’ll do it with them. Only a year later did I realize we were a total charity case.
But, we got the website built. It was very simple. It was just an interface for people to upload tasks, and on the back end Jasper and I were sitting in my parents’ basement basically looking at these tasks and then assigning them manually to people to get done.
Eighty percent of the time the work that got done was not good enough, and we would end up redoing it. Even when we redid it more often than not it was not good enough for the client, so we had a business model where most of our clients were unhappy, and they weren’t paying a lot.
Andrew: But look at all the things that you do. I mean according to this original site: accounting, bookkeeping, billing, invoices, data entry, financial modeling. I can continue and continue.
Andrew: Legal, 24/7 paralegal assistant, document drafting, voice transcription, written transcription…
Andrew: …proofreading, editing, et cetera. Student: calendar management, data entry, event planning, et cetera. Pricing on this is on a per task basis. I think if I remember right $17 per task, or I could buy a book of tasks which is what you really were trying to sell. You were not making that much money.
Andrew: Here, I could get price per hour at $8 if I were willing to pay for 160 hours. It’s not that much.
Bryce: No, yeah.
Andrew: A really broad collection of tasks, and you’re selling to individuals.
Bryce: Yeah. It was a really bad business idea.
Andrew: But, it was the seed of… The germ of the idea’s right, right?
Andrew: People need to outsource the tasks that they shouldn’t be doing themselves. How did you end up with this? What was the thought that got you to this first version?
Bryce: Yeah. We were pretty stubborn. We stuck with this business model for about two and a half, three years. This first version really came about as a result of our frustration, and we were convinced that people would be able to provide services that were good enough that we didn’t need to curate the tasks, to review them.
Maybe if we had built technology that was intelligent enough we could have done that, but no one has really sort of cracked the virtual assistant market yet. It’s a really tough market to crack.
After that period, after about two and a half years of just sticking with this, getting real slow growth, barely breaking even, the good part about the business was we didn’t have to raise any money. Because we would only pay people for work they did, we would charge clients for the work they did, and basically we ended up kind of breaking even for the first few years. We weren’t making any money, but it was enough to keep the lights on.
Andrew: And when you’re breaking even after having spent all the money that you made from Club Access, where do you live?
Bryce: You live with your parents. I mean I lived with my parents until I was 25, 25 and a half years old. At the time I was driving a 1982 BMW that the first seat had the cover completely torn off. It was a grim existence.
I mean it wasn’t bad. We were fortunate enough to be able to live with our parents, but when you’re 25 years old living at home it’s tough. We stuck with it because we really believed that we could figure out a business model that worked.
Andrew: What about on a personal level? You were the guy who… I caught you say that you were dating, so much so that you had to say to your mom no, I’m going to spend my money on these dates, right?
Bryce: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Then you had this club. Tons of people come to the club. You’re top of the world socially, top of the world financially, get to do what you feel like, thumb your nose at Wall Street if you want to, get out of college early if you want to. Now, you’re living at your parents’ house. That cannot be easy.
Bryce: No. It was humbling.
Andrew: What was the most frustrating part of that? Bringing home a girl and saying hey, these are my parents.
Bryce: Yeah. I mean this happened.
Bryce: A few times. You would bring home a girl. I remember bringing home a girl and not telling her that it was my parents’ house, and her having to ask me, is this your, oh, okay. I still had my single bed from high school, literally a twin, which it’s hard to have a girl sleep over in a twin. I mean, yeah, it was very humbling.
You went from… I had a lot of friends, actually, who continued to promote clubs in college and when we were young adults, and they were making great money and were literally living at the top of the world. Jasper and I had made a very conscious decision. We were like, listen, we are not going to continue to be club promoters, because we know that has an expire date. We need to make a transition to something different.
This three year period of living with our parents was kind of an investment.
Andrew: How do you keep from doubting yourself to the point of losing motivation, losing productivity, creativity? How do you keep your spirits going at that point?
Bryce: I think the key for me was having a business partner. I mean there are a lot of people who are a lot tougher than me who can go it alone, but I have to say that there were many times when having Jasper as my business partner, it kept me in business. It kept me focused.
Andrew: Do you remember one time when you were especially freaking out and Jasper had to get you back?
Bryce: Oh yeah. There was a period, it was probably three years into the business. The irony was we had kind of just turned the corner on our business model and had begun to make money.
But, I’m 25 years old. I’m living with my parents. I have not been able to take a girl out. The special treat that Jasper and I got was once a month we took ourselves on Friday afternoon to Souplantation buffet. That was legitimately like the most special thing that we did for ourselves.
I thought at this point I have to call it. I need to figure out a way to make money elsewhere. I didn’t know that I was going to go back and get a job or try to do some other business, but I remember sitting in Century City and telling Jasper look, I’m done, I want you to buy me out of this business or let’s just wrap this business up and move on and do something else.
This is, I think, the best thing that a partner can do for you. He turned to me in that moment and was like Bryce, I don’t want to do this if you’re not doing it with me. It just wrecked me inside. I was like okay, let’s keep going. Within probably six months of that we began making money, and our business was growing faster than ever, and I was able to move out of my parents’ house.
Andrew: One of the big reasons for that is a mutual friend named Jamie Siminoff who we’re going to talk about in a moment.
Andrew: But, first, I have to pay for this whole interview here, and the way I do it is by promoting my sponsor which is Clay’s… Clay. Why am I even mentioning Clay? People don’t need to know that Clay Collins is the founder of the company, but I like people. I like to mention the people behind the companies.
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Oh, wait, you know what, Bryce? I forgot to add scarcity. Here’s my addition of scarcity, people, and that is I’m a little concerned as more people use the exact same page that I’m using, and it’s been doing well for me that it might reduce my conversions. I’m going to keep watching my conversions if having so many people use it hurts my results I’m going to stop giving it out to new people. So if you want it, grab it before everyone else does. Go to AndrewsWelcomeGate.com, there you’ve just been [??] people.
Bryce: I love those tactics. I mean that’s brilliant.
Andrew: I did an interview with Germaine Griggs who said that he literally has a list of all of them you know, the stuff that you get from Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence” and when he writes an email, or writes any kind of copy he says “Did I use enough of those tactics? If I didn’t, I got to get right back into it.”
Andrew: So, back to our story though, Jamie Siminoff how did you know him?
Bryce: So Jamie I met at a party, and this again the story about Jordan in Argentina is the same exact story, right? I met Jamie at a party as soon as I moved back from New York. A buddy of mine had a birthday party, and his older brother is really good friends with Jamie, and so I told him that what we were building at TaskUs, he’s like “You’ve got to talk to Jamie.” And I was like “What does Jamie do?” And he’s like “He does this voice mail business” and I didn’t know how that related to starting an outsourcing company. But I met Jamie; I was super impressed, and I just didn’t leave his side the entire party, I think I probably annoyed him, but by the end of the party he’s like “Listen, we should, we should go grab lunch, and continue the conversation.”
Andrew: Why? Was it about him?
Bryce: What was that?
Andrew: What was it about Jamie that made you say I’ve got to stand by him instead of going to talk to all these great people here?
Bryce: You know; it was there’s sort of a magnetism I think that comes from entrepreneurs who are super successful, and I think also just to, there was like a strategic angle too. I saw that he was building offices in other countries at that point, he had over 1,000 people across the world who were transcribing voice mails for Phone Tag, which was his business, and I saw that as a had a real close correlate to what we were trying to build. And so I was like “I’ve got to pick this guy’s brain,”
I mean, you know, we probably had less than a dozen people working for us at that point, and for him to build something that was almost 10 times the size he was, or I’m sorry 100 times the size he was the right one for us to, to connect with. And you know there’s something interesting about the eco-system in the startup world which is when you ask people for help, and you’re genuinely interested. I mean simply asking for help isn’t enough, you need to understand who you’re asking for help, really get to know what motivates them, and frame what you’re asking for, in a way, that they can really support you.
It’s incredible what people will give back. I mean today you know, I’m always available to people who email me, I’ll go out of my way to have lunch or a coffee with people who are interested. And the same thing still applies when I’m reaching out to Founders who are way more successful than I am. I’m amazed by how many people will give you the time of day.
Andrew: You’re still doing it, you’re still finding mentors.
Bryce: Oh my God, absolutely, absolutely yeah. I mean you know there’s, this is a part of my discipline is at any time I always have a least two or three mentors who I’m working with, and I’ll reach out I mean, very often you’ve got to email people two or three times before you get their attention. I find that that’s just because they’re so busy, and very often you know, they’re not annoyed by you; they’re just too busy.
And so you know, I’ll take them to lunch, or we’ll go and grab coffee, or we’ll get dinner, and it’s always, I always start by asking them as many questions about themselves as possible, and inevitably they say “How can I help you?” And at that point you want to know what that one thing they can do that will really help you whether it’s answering a question or doing something and ask for it, and it’s amazing what you’ll get. So Jamie was…
Andrew: So what did he teach you that changed the course of your business?
Bryce: So we talked a lot about outsourcing, we talked a lot about the global operations that he had built, and about the product he was building. And really what he did that changed the course of our business was a favor that he did for us, which I don’t think this is a favor that you can never pay back, because we wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for Jamie.
So we at that point opened a small office in the Philippines, we had five people, but we probably, I think we had less than $5,000.00 in cash in the bank. And Jamie came to us and said ” Listen I just sold my company off the record, and we need a 100 people to transcribe voice mails, because we’re about to get a big new order. And I was like, “I’d love to do that, but here’s the problem, I don’t have enough money to buy the computers to fulfill that.”
I didn’t even have the money to travel to the Philippines to help him build the office, so we, he turned to me, he’s like, he turned to me and said “Listen, I’m going to figure it out.” So we worked out a deal with the acquirer where they paid for the money upfront for us to purchase all these computers, and all we had to do for them was give them a one year cost-plus contracts. So our margins were fixed and they were tiny, but we had all this capital, this capital equipment that had been bought. We had these computers that were used for one shift and now we had two shifts that we could sell them for and that really just put us in business.
And again Jamie being such an incredible mentor, I told him like, “I don’t have enough money to for a trip to the Philippines to build this.” and he said, “Well I’ll pay for your ticket myself.” So I don’t know if at that point he thought that we would be as successful as we have become, but he took a big risk and I am forever indebted to him because we wouldn’t be in business without him.
Andrew: So he gives you your first big customer and also shows you a new kind of customer that you want?
Andrew: You don’t want the college kid who, what had I said earlier, needs help with his calendar.
Andrew: You would want whom now?
Bryce: What we realized then was, off a hundred people we can make way more money than they we’re making off thousands of people who were using the service individuals. These are hundred full-time people for business. And we realized that, the model was not actually to help the professionals, but to help busy businesses that were growing really quickly and looking to leverage the talent that existed in lower-cost countries.
So we discovered that Philippines is an incredible country. The Philippines today has over 53 million people– of 100 million, 53% of population are beneath the age of 25, over 75% of the population speaks English fluently, half a million of people, are graduating from college every year and entering the workforce.
It was just the perfect place to open an office that was going to be servicing Western businesses. So we were right at the right place at the right time. After we started working Phonetag we were like OK, who else can be go and work with that we need smart people to do relatively simple work.
Andrew:. . . .and lots of them, not just. . . .
Bryce: Lots of them, massive amounts of ….
Andrew: As you started, I think. Today the minimum I think it’s 10 people, right?
Bryce: Yes, that’s right. So today the most people to build a business is 10 full-time people and at that point we started with a hundred people with Phone tag. At that point didn’t have a minimum, I mean we took on a lot of contracts that were or one person or even halftime person. But the next contract we landed was another large engagement for a company that did social media sentiment scoring.
So, it’s like a [radiant six foot], that they did in an automatic fashion. This company was servicing the big brands, DirecTV, Delta Airlines, Comcast and was reviewing every tweak in Facebook post that included their name and having human beings manually [score] for positive, negative, neutral [uplinks].
Andrew: Do you know how that worked, how the software was doing it so accurately and now that’s it.
Bryce: What’s interesting about the software, human trade-off that you described in the beginning with the with the receipt transcription example is that you need humans to teach the algorithm. So when you’re doing a computer learning algorithm, you need the knowledge to be able to teach the algorithm.
So what we were doing with Phonetag and what we were doing with this company which is called Visible Technologies was educating their algorithms to become more and more and more accurate. And you almost never would achieve the accuracy that human beings can have, which is 99.9%, but you get closer and closer.
So sentiment analysis where we started was probably 60% accurate, it’s probably closer to 80% accurate now, in an automated fashion. So, a lot of work that we did actually put us out of work. We don’t do any of the voice [??}. . .
Andrew: How did you get them as a client?
Bryce: That’s interesting. I had another mentor. This is like I can trace almost every major client that we’ve gained. I had another mentor who was a really successful entrepreneur. He introduced me to someone he knew was in the tech industry and I told him what we were doing.
This guy was building another sentiment analysis company, that interviewed for a job with Visible Technologies in Seattle and he introduced me to the guy he interviewed for the job for.
I flew up to Seattle, spent probably like 10% of all of our earnings on a one trip to Seattle to meet this guy, met with him and then he introduced me to the operations guy who was in charge and within probably three months we had a contract with them and that contract was massively more profitable than the cost-plus contract and from then we were in business.
Andrew: So now you have a real business. But what about the first 1,60,000 and it occurred to me that I didn’t push to figure out how, even when you were just breaking even, how did you manage to get 160,000 a year, in that first full year and where did you get your customers?
Bryce: So what we did was just traditional [growth] tactics. We went out on all the blogs and the forums. We commented on people’s content. We talked about TaskUs. We used Twitter in the early days to answer questions of people who were looking for ways to be more efficient and this was mostly just Jasper and myself and sometimes we would have a few of the people who were working for us remotely to do a lot of the stuff for us.
We were able to acquire a couple thousand individuals to use the service which is where the initial 160,000 comes from. A big part of the 160,000, just to be clear, we earned ourselves as social media consultants. I mean this is literally how desperate we got. We were earning money, but it was like 3000 a month, 5000 a month…
Andrew: I see…
Bryce: …[??] …
Andrew: …but it’s not all from doing tasks. Some of it was…
Andrew: …you being consultants. Oh, wow, I see.
Bryce: Yeah, yeah. That initial year, 2009, we did 160,000 in revenue. I think, I don’t know, probably close to 60,000 of that came from us being social media consultants which just basically meant that you knew what Facebook was and what Twitter was and during those days could explain it.
Andrew: Oh, a waste of time. A lot of people didn’t.
Andrew: I’m actually doing… See, as we’re talking I keep doing searches to get more clarity on the story and help the audience understand how you did it. I’m doing a search to see if I can find those old blog posts about you, but I don’t see those. What I do see instead are things like… Where was that? You were on social media a lot.
Andrew: So, if I type in TaskUs and limit the Google search to 2011 I see that you had Slideshare, for example.
Andrew: You were using presentations. It seems like you were just kind of fishing your way around. But, you also got some media attention. Didn’t ‘Inc.’ cover you guys, if I’m reading this right, back then?
Bryce: Yeah. ‘Inc.’ actually covered us. I got a quote in ‘Inc.,’ I think, in 2011. ‘Inc.’ covered us last year. We made the ‘Inc.’ 500 as one of the 500 fastest growing companies in the US, and we’re going to be on it again this year.
I think the big accomplishment for us early days was we had the ‘LA Business Journal’ call us one of the top 25 entrepreneurs under 25, and we have this whole article which we framed and is still up in our office. The newspaper is turning yellow, because a sort of classic to Jasper’s spendthrift he wouldn’t let me buy a properly mounted, so we had to actually make this plaque ourselves. We bought a frame from Aaron’s and glue gunned in the newspaper that we cut out from the ‘LA Business Journal.’ That was our first piece of press.
We got a little bit of press. It’s tough, you know. I think one of the…
Andrew: What about this? No, here’s the ‘Inc.’ article, I see, from 2007. It’s “What’s Next, TaskUs Interrupts.” Here’s how it goes: “Hey, stupid. Yeah, that’s right, you. I’m talking to you. You might think that your email Blackberry smartphone always on web connected and ever growing array of computer applications make you smarter and more efficient, but you’re wrong. Instead…,” and then it goes on to talk about you. That’s a long time. How did you get that kind of press?
Bryce: Yeah. I think a lot of it is just personal relationships. I’ve found that even today we struggle today to get media coverage. I think for our size of employees and revenue we get a lot less coverage than companies…
Bryce: …that are a lot smaller than us. The reason is we’re not sexy. I mean we’re a service based business. Certainly at this point we’re becoming more and more tech enabled, but the sexiest part of our business is the people that we serve.
Bryce: We have found that going out, meeting people face to face, and then bringing our clients into the conversation is the only way to really get media attention. A lot of our clients are getting more and more comfortable going on the record saying they use TaskUs. They really appreciate the work that we’ve done in the Philippines.
Andrew: Because really, frankly, when I heard outsourcing company I said all right, who in the audience is going to care.
Bryce: No, of course.
Andrew: But, then you take a look and see who you’re working for. Is it Uber?
Andrew: It’s Tinder. It’s all the hot startups. You guys are working for all the hot startups.
I love this headline from PandoDaily, I wish I’d come up with it, ‘The Startups World Little Secret: Everyone’s Using TaskUs but No One’s Talking about It.’
Bryce: Yeah. I think the issue is people who think about outsourcing generally kind of think about it in a negative context. It’s because outsourcing generally conjures up images of thousands of people in a single room doing massive amounts of mindless work, right?
Bryce: It conjures up images of getting on the phone with Comcast, who’s completely culturally clueless and doesn’t understand how to talk to your customers. TaskUs was started to actually completely turn that on its head to change that. We wanted to create an outsourcing company where people didn’t have to compromise between sort of culture, quality, and cost. They could get a lower cost but also deliver the same sort of customer experience that people have come to expect.
As we were starting TaskUs, 2009-ish, Tony Hsieh was popularizing the idea that customer experience really mattered and it was a way for a company to differentiate themselves against entrenched competitors. Airbnb could out compete Marriott by creating an incredible customer experience. A company like Airbnb would never trust their customer experience to one of these publicly traded outsourcing companies that was working with a Comcast, or an AT and T, or an American Airlines. TaskUs was created as kind of that option. We realized that we were going to sit between the Odesk and Elances of the world that really work best for small businesses and the big publicly traded outsourcing companies that really work best for huge mega businesses.
We were going to service emerging growth businesses. Companies who were outsourcing for the first time and really wanted to cut costs because they knew they needed to do that to get acquired or get to an IPO, but refused to cut costs that meant compromising their culture.
Andrew: We talked about how you did it. You got a little bit of a press at first. You were writing all over social media. Then you were working your network. Here’s one way that I’ve seen that you guys work your network. Jasper, your co-founder, I searched my inbox to see all my interactions with you and him.
He’s invited a few times to dinners with entrepreneurs. How important is that to your growth?
Bryce: Hugely important. We get almost all of our sales to date from face to face interactions with people. Jasper, is a master marketer. I think you can credit him with a lot of the success that we had with Club Access. We’ve applied that exact same philosophy to marketing TaskUs.
We host a series of private dinners called, Founders Dinners, where we invite 12 to 15 entrepreneurs. We got them sponsored by law firms, or accountant firms. All the sponsorship dollars that we raise beyond paying for the dinner will go to the network for teaching entrepreneurship, which is a nonprofit that teaches entrepreneurship in inner city schools.
It’s a good cause, but what’s interesting really about this is that we invite entrepreneurs out to talk about what their biggest challenge is. If you’ve read the emails it will say, so many networking events are all about who’s crushing it. Who’s doing the best. When we started TaskUs we did horribly for three years.
We were sick and tired of hearing about everybody else succeeding. We wanted to know, is everyone struggling like me? These dinners kind of formed a center where it was safe to talk about the employee who was suing you, or the big client that you just lost.
Andrew: Then what? Is it masterminds hour where everyone helps you out?
Bryce: Yeah. Absolutely. You talk about one challenge and then if someone has something to offer to help you they’ll jump right in. You can go into a dialogue. For us at, TaskUs, the way to get people to open up and be unguarded and connect with us as individuals I think events and face to face interaction is becoming more valued. I still think it’s hugely undervalued.
If I call someone up, or if I email someone they can just totally ignore me. If I cold call someone they’re probably going to be annoyed, but if I meet someone at a conference face to face they’re very likely to listen to me and take me seriously as a human being.
I can’t tell the amount of times that I considered using the service just because someone comes up to me face to face and was, like, hey, check this out. I’m, like, oh, that’s really interesting.
Andrew: I know.
Bryce: If they had called me I probably would have hung up the phone.
Andrew: Even if it’s not interesting you feel guilty and have to at least check it out.
Bryce: Totally, totally, totally.
Andrew: I see. The dinners are another part of the way that you grow your customer base.
Bryce: Yeah. It is.
Andrew: You don’t even have to pay for it. You guys have enough money in the bank, I know, to pay for it, but you still get a law firm to pay for it. I’ve noticed a lot of people do that. Get a group of successful entrepreneurs together, the law firm, or accounting firm. It’s usually a law firm will fund it, will pay for it.
Bryce: Yup. We have [??], law firms, private wealth mangers. It’s amazing kind of how many people want to get into this eco system. For them a few thousand bucks is no big deal, right. It’s part of their marketing budget. They’re happy to do it. It gets them in front of tomorrow’s snapchatter, tomorrow’s tinder. That’s really, really exciting.
Andrew: You did all this even though you’re dyslexic. How does being dyslexic impact how you can work, especially in a world where everything’s done by text?
Bryce: Yeah. This is funny. It makes me sound like severely, severely disabled. I don’t want to overstate it. It’s not like I’ve overcome the odds here. I’m a terrible speller. I’m a horrendous writer. Actually, it’s funny. I was reading up on this the other day. It turns out if you look at the population just at large, the percentage of the population that are entrepreneurs.
Then you just look at the dyslexic population. The percentage of dyslexic people who are entrepreneurs, there are five times as many people with dyslexia who are entrepreneurs than just general people who are entrepreneurs. It’s insane.
Andrew: Malcolm Gladwell, in his latest book, “David and Goliath,” he talks about that.
Andrew: Do you agree with his premise that fighting through your dyslexia made you smarter because you had to figure out how to work? I think that’s what he said. How to deal with the world that doesn’t make sense on first contact. That made you smarter because if you rose to that occasion you can rise to other occasions.
Bryce: I think it does. It helps you out because you get knocked down a lot, right. I think this is one, again, I’m not a parent so, I’m not good at giving out parenting advice probably, but one thing I recognized is that all my strengths today come from the challenges that I had to face as a kid. One of the challenges was I could not spell to save my life. The theory that I’ve heard which is similar to Gladwell’s theory is that the dyslexic kids in school can’t do the work themselves so they literally have to organize other people to do the work.
Andrew: Mm, I see.
Bryce: And that makes great entrepreneurship because you learn how to manage and inspire and I still that way. I still feel like I’m managing and inspiring people to work that have no idea how to do myself effectively. But, really if you think about it, that’s what management is about.
Andrew: Do you have an example of a time when you did that when you were a kid?
Bryce: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: How did you do it?
Bryce: Yeah, so we had a group project. This is when I was, I don’t know, second or third grade. We had a group project where we got to select a state and write a report on it. I selected Alaska for my group which no one was really interested. They were all very upset at me. But, we had one girl in the group who was a fantastic artist. I set her to task on designing the state flag.
We had one guy in the group who was a great reader, so I sent him over to the library to find the book. He actually pulled out a book that was about the 50 states and had all these facts and was reading me these facts about Stewart’s icebox and how it was bought for less than two cents an acre and how no one thought there was anything of value in the transaction, but it turned out there was oil up there. It was like, I think the highest ROI on a land acquisition the United States ever did.
So, it was that type of thing where you sort of task people with their disparate skills to go out and acquire pieces of information. I was always pretty good at presenting so I could present the ideas and take credit for them.
Andrew: Sometimes I do feel like it’s a super power that if I had it, I’d be so much smarter. I’d be better at managing people. I’d be better at I don’t know what.
Bryce: Yeah, I mean. . . There are certainly great managers who are not dyslexic. I’ve got a lot of them in my business, but for me. . . I think whatever the challenge is, dyslexia’s probably just a good example of a challenge, a disability that you overcome and are stronger for as a result. I think that applying that mentality to all of the challenges that come up in your life and your business will make you a better entrepreneur and just a better person.
Andrew: Let me do a quick plug and then I want to close things out by asking you about this one thing that you do that helps you recruit well because recruiting is tough.
Andrew: Guys, if you’re listening to this, we’ve talked in this interview about how to outsource a whole department; 10 plus people. But, what if you just want one person? What if you just need a little bit of help in your work? Well, we have several courses in Mixergy that show you how to find the right person to do it, how to manage them, how to train them, how to give them work in a way that makes sense if someone’s working for you remotely. In short, if you are looking to do the small outsourcing tasks, go to MixergyPremium.com, sign up, we’ll show you how to do it.
One of my favorite courses is taught by a man named Liam Martin. If you’re a Mixergy Premium member, take that and learn from him. He has a couple of really cool ideas that we’ve used here at Mixergy that I’d like you to try out. MixergyPremium.com
No scarcity in that one.
Andrew: Go sign up before the world explodes!
Bryce: Just to plug your plug I think anyone who’s not using virtual assistance or delegating via a [??] an Elance or any of the tools that I’m sure you’ll learn about in that course is missing out. I mean our services are definitely more expensive than going direct and if you go direct you can get people in the Philippines who are brilliant to work for you, or India, or anywhere for three, four, five dollars an hour. As an entrepreneur who’s just starting your business, it magnifies your power. So, take that course for sure.
Andrew: I felt a little weird about having someone do the small things for me, but once you get started it’s so helpful.
Bryce: It’s so addicting.
Bryce: Once you get up and rolling, it becomes addicting and you realize that that’s the only way that any of these really effective leaders are able to succeed. It’s the people around them.
Andrew: It took me a bunch of tries. I thought what’s wrong with people, what’s wrong with me. Maybe Tim Ferriss is lying when he talks about this stuff, you know?
Andrew: And then I got it. Here it is, I want to end the interview by how you find the right person and one of the things you do is you want to understand the potential employee’s why, right; His motivation, his reason, the Simon Cynic definition of why. Why do you care about their why? They’re just going to be typing in receipts. They’re just going to be typing in phone calls. Why does that matter to you?
Bryce: So, for us, culture is a huge part of what we do. We’ve taken on a lot more complex work. I should say about half of what we do today is customer-facing; so, customer care, email support, phone support. So, when our people are working for our clients and they’re talking to our clients/customers, really they need to connect with those customers in a way that most outsourcing companies just simply can’t do.
And beyond that when you’re talking about someone who’s coming in to transcribe receipts, to me that’s the future of our company. We’re looking to recruit people there who are ambitious and want to scale the ranks, and maybe next year they’ll be on the phone with a customer, answering their questions. And maybe a few years from now, they’ll be running a site of their own.
And so, we want to understand the motivation of every single person that we hire, so that we ensure that it aligns with our motivations, right? So in TaskUs we’ve got six core values, and we screen every single employee for these core values, no matter how talented they are. And that question really gets to the essence of that.
There are many instances in which you’ll ask somebody, “Why do you want to do this? Why do you…?” I’ll ask someone, “Within five years, if there were no limits, what would you be doing?” Very often, you’d get a response where it’s like, “Oh, I’d be working at your company.” I’m like, “Ooh.” [laughs] “I don’t think so. If there were no limits, would you really be working for me?”
Andrew: You really want someone who in five years is going to say, “I want to go run your company,” because that means that they’re never going to be fully settled into the job that they’re doing right now.
Bryce: And I think that there is a place for the person who wants to come and work for us for five years, but I love and I get most excited about people who are like, “I’m ambitious.” We had an employee leave our US office…the first guy who’s quit at TaskUs in about eight months. He’s now quit twice. He quit and came back before, and now he quit again and he’s gone off to start his own company. I’m thrilled. You know, inspiring people to go off and start their own business is giving the tools to do that. To me, that’s a legacy that is far better than any company that I could ever build myself.
But more than that, all those people work for you, right? People who have had experience running a company or are thinking about running a company, they just think different, right? They’re not likely to take extra paper from the printer room, because they’re beginning to think about being an owner. And so, the more that you empower your employees with the mentality of what would this be like if you were actually responsible for the profit and loss of this business, the better that they’re going to be, and the more automated the business itself is going to become.
So, you’re right. I mean, certainly you don’t want every single person to be like, “I need to be the star of this show.” That probably wouldn’t work very well for someone like me. But you do need people who have that level of ambition, because that’s the future of your company.
Andrew: The other companies that have used you, Expensify, Groupon, Hotel Tonight, Autodesk, Savings.com, Whisper, Tender, Uber. We mention so many. I think that really Pando nailed it. I wish I’d come up with that headline myself. Well, startup’s little secret — everyone’s using TaskUs. No one is talking about it. Congratulations so much on getting out of your parents’ house.
Bryce: [laughs] Yeah.
Andrew: You ought to be proud.
Bryce: I am. I’m very, very proud. They’re happy, too. I’m actually going to dinner with them tonight. It was my 20th birthday on Saturday, so I’m treating them to dinner. And let me tell you, nothing feels better than taking your parents out to dinner.
Andrew: I bet. I know it; I know what you’re talking about. And congratulations actually on a more serious note, I’m looking on this screen here on the new office here. That’s your whole building, that whole thing? Or is that a joke?
Bryce: That whole building is ours, and the sign that you see on there — this is the craziness, right? And we’ll end with kind of not a down story, but a challenge. The sign that you see on the side of that building yesterday…there was typhoon in the Philippines. Fortunately, all of our people are safe and our operations were not affected. But that sign was ripped off the side of the building and dropped squarely on my manager’s car. [laughs]
Andrew: [laughs] I don’t mean to laugh at his…
Bryce: No, but it’s like this is business. I mean, it’s going to cost us probably tens of thousands of dollars but hey, business goes on. Everyone’s safe. Keep your head above water. Keep moving forward.
Andrew: Congratulations on that. Thank you all for being a part of it. If you’ve got anything of value, find a way to say thank you to Bryce. I promise it will pay off. Thank you all, and thank you, Bryce.
Bryce: Thanks, Andrew. See you later. Bye.