Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters.
My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixer G, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I was super excited to talk to today’s guest because he is the founder of Clearbit. Alex McCall. Clearbit is software that we had gotten excited about in the tech community a few years back because what it would do is it would magically take an email address and then tell you about the person behind the email address.
So if somebody filled out a form on your site, if somebody was in your database, whatever it was, you could know more about them. And then it started getting integrated into the software we use. And so suddenly, magically, if I had someone’s contact information, I didn’t have to stumble around to figure out who they were or go to LinkedIn and search it was in the app.
And then they expanded from that to do all kinds of business intelligence, incredible success story. I wanted to talk to him about that. And I didn’t think I would talk to him about his newest company, which is a reflect. I said, this is new, it’s nice, but that’s not what I do. I talk about the past, how someone got there for an audience of people who wanna succeed like my guest.
But freaking a, this guy hit something with Reflect. It is a note-taking app that will let you capture what you’ve done today with an eye towards understanding how what you’re doing can be useful in the future for both understanding what wor works and what doesn’t for you. And at the same time for just having a record of where you were and what you did, I don’t think I could do it justice explaining it.
Frankly. I’ve done all this stuff, uh, to research and prepare for it. It wasn’t until I used Reflect that I said, oh, this is something that’s gonna be huge, like Clearbit was. We’re gonna talk about both those companies then, and we can do it thanks to, uh, two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re interested in DAOs, I do a podcast on decentralized autonomous organizations.
Go to join origami.com/podcast for that in the second. If you’re hiring a developer to add, for example, artificial intelligence to your software, you gotta go and hire from lemon.io/mixer. G Alex, good to have you here,
Alex: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Andrew: dude. What are you doing on a boat? By the way, I’ve never talked to someone from a boat, uh, for an interview.
Alex: Well, I live on a boat. I live on a boat in the Caribbean. Um, right now we’re actually talking a starlink, so you can thank Elon for that. And it’s going, this conversation going amazing. And I, I create my own water. I have a bunch of solar panels that take energy from the sun. All of this has been powered by that.
Um, and the reason I like doing that, I up sailing I on the water and I’ve thought is, and you, it, and sailing around the world for me was, uh, you know, probably the highest on my list of like big adventures to do before. So,
Andrew: And you’re working full-time on, reflect from the boat and you can concentrate and get work done.
Alex: Yes, yes. Um, obviously the boat takes priority. So if we’re at anchor and we start dragging anchor, for example, then I’m gonna stop coding and, uh, and to that. But, uh, in my downtime, yeah, I get quite a lot of time to work on reflect, you know, I’m a programmer by trade. I absolutely love programming. So it would reflect the, the team’s only four people.
So every day I’m just programming. And programming.
Andrew: Wow. And what do you do at night when you’re done doing all this work? Can you go out and hang out or are you just sitting out and reading?
Alex: Well, I often have friends coming through, so it’s, it’s typically hanging out with their friends, um, playing cards, making dinner, that.
Andrew: So if you and I were like best buds, you might invite me out to wherever it is that you’re docked. We’d get on a boat, I could see you’re like, do I like this way? This is going or not? But I get on the boat with you. We’d go sailing for like 10 days, hang out every night at the end of the day, at the end of the day.
And then the next day I wake up, I do my own coding on my computer and the day repeats.
Alex: So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Um, the la the last couple of weeks with a, with a group sailing around the Grenadines and yeah, it’s, it’s basically that bit of kit surfing as well. Bit of coding, uh, just being with nature. A lot of swimming and you know, hanging out with the turtles.
Andrew: Um, how big did Clear be? Clear bit, get revenue wise,
Alex: Uh, 50 million around there, roughly around there.
Andrew: how much.
Alex: Uh, 50 million arr.
Andrew: 50, 50 million annual recurring revenue. Super impressive from, uh, where’d you get the idea?
Alex: Well, you know, someone who knows, plan their ideas. I happen just to fall into them, it seems. I’d come from stripe. And you guys know Stripe is like heavily developer focused and I wanted to do the same thing, but for data in my mind, I had this idea that data had higher margins and was gonna be, um, good business.
And some of that’s true. Some of that data has its other issues of course, which we can get into. But um, I wanted to build a developer first data company. And so we started out with a bunch of data APIs and what we realized really quickly on was that people really liked a couple of these APIs. One that looked up email addresses and returns information about a person and one that looked up the main names and returned information about a company.
And what we realized were people were using the data from these APIs to better sell to their customers. You have to know your customers. Well to sell to them, the more you know the better. And so people were using our data to get more context, but a lot of our customers ended up coming to us saying, Hey, we wanna use your product, but we don’t really know what an API key is.
Uh, and at that point we started building out integrations into Salesforce and HubSpot and all these other CRMs. And that’s when the business really started taking off. You know, in our first year we made a million and then the second three and the third 7 million. So the business really started taking off, you know, and when in that year when we made 7 million, we had two sales reps.
So we had credit market fit for sure.
Andrew: I’m looking at an early version of your site. You had a social lookup, um, which was, let me see, send us an email address and we’ll return all the associated social data such as a person’s name, Twitter handle avatars, URLs, and more company lookup. You also had L Geo location address, auto complete verification, watch list, lookup search, uh, consolidated us, uk, Australian, et cetera.
Watch list of name matches in order to comply with financial regulations. I see. So you’re just saying what can we let people look up via API and give them access to.
Alex: Yes. Yeah, I mean, the actual company originally was called api hub,
Andrew: Ah, okay.
Alex: api hub com. We didn’t even get the com. So, you know, we all start with humble beginnings. So Stripe actually was called slash dev slash payments. And, uh, the, in the name cause all sorts of problems with like registration with it, with.
So they had the name and they have a much succinct these days and the with.
Andrew: And so I, did you do any market research before to see what kind of data people were looking for, or were you just giving it a hunch and saying, we’ll get it all and we’ll let them figure it out?
Alex: No, um, I’ve never done any kinda market research. I, I do not recommend starting businesses like this. Uh, I recommend doing a lot more research than I do. Um, but it turns out all the businesses that I’ve started, I’ve done no research, uh, they’ve just been scratching my own edge. Something I’ve been interested in, in the same goes with a reflect, like you have to be quite nuts to start a note taking application cause there is you 30 or 40 competitors.
Um, and so I guess the less market research that you do, the better if you’re set on creating a note.
Andrew: that’s why I dismissed it. That’s why I said I’m never gonna look at it. And then I, all right. We’ll get back to that in a moment. Um, how did you get all that data? I remember when Facebook, you used to be able to pop in a phone number and email address, and then they would say, is this your friend? And then you’d be able to, to get that information, and Facebook eventually shut it down for privacy reasons.
And so as they were shutting down basic information like this, you were adding it. How did you get access to that?
Alex: So to clarify, we only expose public professional information about a person, for example, such as, um, you know, when they work their role in seniority. And then we were exposed about hundred different company attributes like geolocation, like company category. So on most of that data we can get from the web.
You know, we company websites. We had quite advanced ML for the time, uh, that would go and categorize companies. Um, and then the stuff that we couldn’t do. Automatically we would do program, uh, we, we would do with mechanical Turks. So we had a huge amount of, um, humans that were also doing stuff manually.
Um, and then we also built these free tools that would give to get models. So you would give us access to your emails, um, and in return you’ll be able to prospect.
Andrew: So you didn’t have deals with, I assumed you had a deal with LinkedIn early on. No. So I’m typing in an email. I’m gonna just put your email address into, uh, Google and I don’t think I’d be able to get it. I don’t think I’d be able to get your name out of that. Actually, in that case, I did get your name out of it, but that’s not, that’s not what you did.
I guess what you’re saying is you just started to put your own LinkedIn together. That was private information with email addresses, use that type of search and everything else you said, and you had your own database.
Alex: Yeah, yeah. We sourced all the data. We bought some of it, but it’s very little of it. Um, most, most of it we built up. Um, yeah, it’s, it’s tough work. Building a data company. There’s a lot of, um, data and, uh, I call it plumbing data, plumbing. But yeah, essentially we built up our own database.
Andrew: What’s the cleverest thing that you did that at the time you couldn’t talk about, but now that we’re reflecting you can.
Alex: Okay. I’ll tell you secret, that works really well. So. Early on in the company, we had this API for turning domain names into logos. So you could find the company’s logo by giving us their domain name, their website, and we decided, hey, this is a really interesting api, why don’t we give it away for free as a free tool?
Um, and, um, the only thing we’ll ask for in return is a link back. So if you wanted to put it on your website, you had to link back to com. So we released this, it was insanely popular, top of hack for the day, and it’s used all over the place. We have so many link, which means the, for.
Andrew: And so that allowed you to, to get more customers. It wasn’t about data doing that, that was about just straight up s e o and getting customers to your site.
Alex: Yeah, that was, that was why we did it. Um, yeah, I mean, look, there’s some data you can from that, like how many times the logos being looked up. Um, but the majority, the use that API was in sending back to website using api, but also just making us really highly on search engine so that we, marketing would.
Andrew: You know, I see that Hacker News post, it’s written by you in 2015. The other cool thing that you did was you allowed people to put the image on their site referencing clearbit.com. Um, and then it, the image would be on their site, so it was like, image SRC equals, et cetera. And then it’s logo.clearbit.com/in this case, spotify.com.
If I fill that in properly, I get Spotify’s logo and you get your URL on my site forever.
Alex: Yeah. So we get a link back. Exactly. So that is, uh, is how SES work. They look at incoming links and they’re like, oh, this be important to,
Andrew: I see, I see. I thought you were saying if anyone put the search on their site, then by putting the tool on their site, they were, they had to give you credit. I see this super clever. This is like the type of stuff that there were a few people in SEO who were good at, and everyone else dismissed them completely.
You jumped on it. How’d you figure that out? Where’d that idea come from?
Alex: Oh man. Where do ideas come from? The late you? It’s,
Andrew: As you grew, what else did you do to, I guess, inter getting, uh, developers to know about you through posts? Like the ones I see on Hacker News were, was helpful, integrations was next. Those are super powerful and, and their companies built just on that, on, on developers finding them and integrations. But you’ve gone beyond.
What was the next step beyond those two that allowed you, your company to grow?
Alex: well, for us, um, it was a combination of those two things. It was the APIs let us have direct integrations into other people’s products. So, uh, for Drift uses our data. Um, To, uh, enhance their product we’re, you can look at Clip’s website just to see more examples, but a lot, there’s a lot of the industry that uses as the backbone for some of the features of their own products.
Um, and then when it comes to the other integrations, like that’s when the company really started taking off, you know, data is useful only if it’s in a place where it can be used. If it’s in a place where there’s some kinda workflows and you can take action on that data. So we, as soon as we build out the Salesforce integration, that is when the company started taking off.
You know, uh, like almost all of our customers use Salesforce and, you know, having our data inside of Salesforce where they can do automatic lead scoring based on it, uh, is so valuable. A lot of these companies have freemium models where they have a lot of signups. And they dunno which ones to concentrate and focus on and which ones not to.
Um, and data would let you do that analysis programmatic, so segment qualified customers give that to and make sure all on them.
Andrew: yeah. I remember, uh, one company using you to take anyone who was signing up for free or even paid account, analyze the company they were with, and then if they seemed like they were a good prospect, just based on Clearbit, they had these SDRs who would do nothing but try to set up an appointment for those people with the salespeople of the company.
And that was a huge marketing push for them that allowed them to get the bigger customers that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise because they’re, they’re, uh, a small SaaS company.
Alex: Yeah. And then the other thing, a couple years into the company, uh, we built this API called Reveal api. Anonymizes IP addresses, uh, to the company level. So you can essentially give us an IP address and we give you back the company domain that’s visiting. So this is amazing cause now you have no idea who’s visiting your website.
It’s just black box. Um, and so you have no idea if your marketing campaigns are working, if you’re driving qualified traffic. Um, and you also can’t customize the website. A lot of these B2B companies have a really narrow target customer, and they wanna make sure that if that customer hits their website, they get their white glove experience.
So using that api, now you can always on your website, it’s really cool. So you can actually like pop up a chat box, for example, with a company name in it and saying, Hey, qualified company, uh, you know, chat, chat to us by our staff, uh, if they’re, if they’re in a specific segment.
Andrew: I think I’ve seen that with Drift, where I was at a Regis office and Drift for some reason, kept thinking that Regis was ibm. Um, I guess because of the way that they were set up. So it wasn’t perfect, but it was cool that it would say IBM is using this for, this is good for ibm. And I could see that a few companies, uh, were targeting me and talking to me based on the fact that I seemed to have been from ibm.
Um, So the, the initial sales were people were finding you in Salesforce’s marketplace, individuals were adding you. Is that right? And then they would be upsold to the full paid version. It wasn’t Salesforce that had a deal with you in the beginning.
Alex: So we thought the success marketplace was gonna be a great acquisition channel, and we spent a lot of time building out products and integration specifically for that marketplaces.
Alex: Um, yeah. Um, so I, I think part of the problem is that no one just tries out a Salesforce package. Salesforce is an unbelievably complex database, which you can very easily up with wrong configuration. And your, um, head of sales op is not going to try random Salesforce packages cause they know they’ll get fired if they bring down Salesforce.
Uh, so no one trade our package through that. Um, no. Um, our lead source was, was word of mouth initially, and now we have an outbound team as well doing prospecting. But for many years it was just built, try and build the best product and then use word of.
And I mean, that’s not quite true. So we also did your conventional B2B marketing stuff, right? We did Facebook ads and LinkedIn ads and what have you, and we actually used our own data for that as well. Um, so we built very targeted Facebook audiences, um, just targeting companies that use Salesforce for example.
And in fact, we actually ended up building a product around that cause we thought it was so useful.
Andrew: You mean a product for companies that we’re trying to find other businesses to sell to the way that you did?
Alex: Yeah. You know the odd thing about Facebook ads, Facebook targeting, there’s no company targeting in there. They haven’t got any company criteria at all, uh, which is bizarre. B2B advertising is huge. So Target internally. So we could target specific companies. Um, and then we also had other data to see which products specific companies were using. So then we could target all the companies using Salesforce with a certain employee range, um, that we in on target market essentially. And we could build Facebook audiences around that.
Uh, and then we were like, wow, this is such a useful tool. We should really productize that. And we did
Andrew: And the way you targeted where people were was by connecting it back to the api and then you, you, it’s like basically Facebook retargeting based on the A, um, not the
Alex: Facebook led to upload. Yeah. Facebook. No, that wasn’t using IP addresses. So Facebook uses, uh, Facebook audiences let you upload emails.
Alex: So we would upload emails.
Andrew: uh Got it. Oh, that makes so much sense. All right, let me just make sure that I understand that. Initial sales though, when selling to the Facebook, when selling to the Salesforce marketplace didn’t work, who did you sell to that enabled Salesforce users to get information on the people who are in their database?
Alex: Well, we had a Salesforce integration. Um, sales Salesforce marketplace is incredibly complex. There are different types of apps. Some are kinda behind the scenes and some are in the app store, and there’s a lot of different requirements for both of those things. Um, we started with the app that was behind the scenes where we could install it on our customers Salesforce instances and then use it to enrich that data.
But we weren’t actually listed in the, and then down line we idea. But it was, it was terrible lead and was.
Andrew: All right. Lemme tell people, if you’re looking to, um, explore a new way that organizations are forming, that they’re being led, that they’re being run and grown, there’s something called a decentralized, autonomous organization. Alex, do you know much about these Dows? Are you into them at all? No, I, I talked to one where the, this guy who put, who turned all the phone booths in Manhattan, into wifi hotspots, that was his previous business.
He then, unlike you where you went to the, uh, on a boat, he decided he wanted to go live van life. And he said, you know what, van Life is pretty good. The problem is it gets lonely. You’d like to get a bunch of people or together who are also advanced to hang out at night. And, and so what he did was he said, I’m gonna create a company to do that.
He started it in a traditional way, and then he said, well, Why am I picking where we live? How about they all pick, why am I being the only person who, who leads this right down to what people are eating every night? He goes, let’s just do a new thing. And so he formed it into a DAO, a decentralized, autonomous organization.
It’s called Kift. And they vote on things like, what vegetarian food are they gonna have at night? Where should they buy land? And how much should they charge? People like Andrew, who are not part of the community, who wanna just come and visit and they get to do it all together. And I interviewed him and I interview a lot of other people who are, who are starting organizations this way.
If you’re at all curious about it, Alex and people who are listening to me, use your star link, use whatever you got to download this podcast. It’s uh, it’s from origami. Origami is a company that creates and builds DAOs. And so go to their website. It’s join origami.com/podcast. Join origami.com/podcast. Um, you took money initially from, you raised money from uh, um, first round right?
And a few other angels.
Alex: Yeah, so for a long time the company was just me. Um, I was just hacking on it in my bedroom essentially for six months. Uh, eventually it got to the point where I was like, you know, I should go out and raise money. In fact, my original plan was to join yc. So at this point, I had a company, had a lot of customers.
It was in fact it was profitable around that point. Uh, so I applied to yc, I think the second time I applied to yc. Um, and, uh, they turned me down of, the reason was that I was a single and against founders that I think is. Is wrong. I think it’s quite wrong, and I think they’re looking at data wrong. We can get into that if you want, but that was one bias.
And then the other thing was they told me I couldn’t do B2B sales. Uh, you know, an engineer didn’t think I could do that. Um, so I came home from my interview, licked my words and was like, you know what? I’m just gonna go out and raise a conventional round. Within a couple of weeks we’d raised, uh, 2 million and we ended up raising, uh, 3 million part of that early seed round. And, uh, and then, then that was when I hired out the early team and the business started really getting rolling.
Andrew: Uh, you raised 2 million. I think you, I’m looking at the list of investors. Some of them worked at different, uh, venture firms, I think, but they were just friends from the tech community,
Alex: Well, we started out with an Angel Round that was just my friends and people I had met I’D Silicon Valley for a of years point, then quickly, conventional round, first round capital joins, and a bunch of other investors. Um, I can tell you for what it’s worth, first Round Capital is probably one of my favorite investors of all time and I would absolutely work with again.
And that’s saying a lot. You know, I tend to be very skeptical of VCs in general. I have avoided VC completely for my second company. Um, but you know, some of the VCs that I’ve worked with, stellar.
Andrew: I feel like there was a period there where we all appreciated first round and then they got, I don’t know, overlooked as Y Combinator sucked all the oxygen out of the early stage, uh, environment. But what was it that made them such good investors?
Alex: They’re founder friendly. You know, in this market it’s really interesting that you, you can tell who’s friendly and who’s not. It’s all sunshine rainbows. When the interest rates are low and the times are booming, but whens tough, that’s when you start to see people’s true colors. And a lot of investors, true colors are not great.
Um, first around capital, I can tell you, like, for example, clever had a bunch of money with SVB and they were willing to, um, you know, give us a loan to help payroll and.
Andrew: Wow. What about Ilia Sukkar? I’ve seen him, he worked, I think at eTax, which was I think a company that I interviewed or tried to interview early on. But I’m looking at his LinkedIn, uh, profile. He was a Y Combinator partner, I think. At the time that you were rejected?
Alex: Yeah, I dunno. He certainly wasn’t in the interview. Um, I ab I highly recommend him as well. He’s fantastic. Uh, he now works at Matrix and is a very, very good firm if you
do these. But when I was to impressed.
Andrew: No, I’m pretty sure I interviewed Ilia. Like I’m looking at my site, I think in 2010 with HaZaP. Who, uh, would one of the co-founders went on to create Mercury? I think. Uh, the bank and a couple of others, uh, founder of posts anyway. Uh, all right. Really impressive group of people. Do, why did you leave the company yet?
You were onto something and you hadn’t iPod or sold.
Alex: Yeah, well there’s this myth that goes around Silicon Valley that if you don’t personally, I company, you are a failure. Uh, and this myth causes a lot of pain. Ultimately, it should be a very objective decision. Are you the right person for the job? Are you the right person? Just cause you found that the company doesn’t necessarily mean you should be the one to scale it.
Running a 10 20 person company is very different than running a company. And when I looked at what needed for. And I had an honest conversation with myself. Those weren’t it, like I, my skills did not overlap. What I’m really good at is zero to one. I am, I am, I’m very good at starting businesses and you know, I’m a one man band.
I can code and design and, and do everything, and I love it. That is the part that I love the most and it’s the part that I’m the best at. Why should I do any other parts? Uh, there are people that are really good at scaling businesses, like we should hire those people to scale the businesses. If you’re a founder and you wanna scale it, by all means do it, especially if you’re good at it.
But if you’re not good at it or you don’t want do it, don’t do it. Hire someone else. Do. It’s really ultimately, the more you get your own, the happier.
Andrew: Do you remember the first day that you had left Clearbit and entered this world of living on a boat and sailing around the world?
Alex: Yeah, well, yes, that was a bit of time in between. Um, you know, I was, it took a year for the boat to be built, so I was, uh, kinda twiddling my thumbs, uh, staying with friends and sleeping on couches and things until the boat was finished. But yeah, it was a good feeling, I could tell you. Um, ultimately getting back to my roots starting businesses, it was certainly bittersweet.
You know, when you built a company, I think I built, I’d been there for five years, it becomes part of you. It’s, it’s like, uh, you know, some organ to you. So it’s difficult. Um, emotionally, personally, and of course, uh, internally in the company is difficult, but if you hire someone greatly, they can take on the mantle and ultimately, uh, it is a company, you know, it is, it’s, it’s different from you.
And a lot of founders struggle with that. They think they, the company reality it.
Andrew: How big’s the boat? Okay. I had the sense just looking over your shoulder, that it was a much smaller operation, and then you told me that you spent a year waiting for it to be built. Wow. Where’s the first place you took it?
Alex: Well, the first thing I did was sail it from South Africa to the Caribbean.
Andrew: Uh, wow. Wow. How was it?
Alex: It was, it was an experience like 30 days of no land, just water with uh, four friends and one captain. And it was, you know, it was beautiful and it was tough and it was like a meditation in some aspects. We didn’t have much internet access. We only had like a trickle of dialogue, internet essentially that we could send emails over.
Um, but yeah, I’ll never forget it. Especially the stars. You know, the stars at night, you can see the entire Milky way above you. I’m a massive believer in technology, but one of the few things I think technology has taken from us is other stars. It’s really sad, you know, that people like up to a few hundred years ago, all of our ancestors were looking up every night.
And thinking about that place in the universe and wondering, and we kinda lo we’ve lost that. And I, I wonder if that that’s like, this seems like a significant part of being a human, that we’ve lost this, this kinda objectiveness that we can out see yourself and comparison to the universe and wonder. And so that’s actually one of the reasons I.
Andrew: You know what? I grew up in New York and I really didn’t believe that people could see the stars for most of my childhood. I just thought the stars are some things that are up there. It’s kind of like a planet. You don’t look up and see a planet, I guess you do. I learned as an adult, um, and now I moved to Austin about a year ago, and I look out in the backyard and I see the stars and I keep telling everyone, I didn’t think that was possible as a kid, and I think they must be tired of hearing me say that.
And I don’t think people believe that. There’s a world where you can’t see the stars, but go In Manhattan, you can’t see the stars.
Alex: Yeah, I mean there is a dystopian future among us where the stars are like, um, you know, a myth, you know, just a memory where people are like, do they really exist when this, there’s one large city. But I do, I do highly recommend you go somewhere like middle of New Zealand where you can see the actual Milky Way that is Lifechanging experience.
Andrew: All right. Let’s talk about reflect. Dude, I’ve looked at your site over the years. I look at everything about you. I’ve gone over and I see in your Twitter everything is well designed right down to like every last hair on your head. It’s just like in a good position and your app reflect, reflects that beautiful freaking app.
I didn’t expect it, but I should have. What I’m, and I also also love that it doesn’t seem like you have access to my data. You’re letting me kind of like the way one password does create a recovery file, right? You’re nodding just for the audience to hear. You don’t have access to my data. I get access to my data, which gives me such a sense of calm when I write down stuff.
I want a place where I can write down the stuff that I’m too embarrassed to tell my wife. Too embarrassed to even think. And better yet, I don’t wanna even write it down. Sometimes I just want to talk it through and I use dictation. When you have built into the software, is it your own dictation or are you, are you feeding off of Uh, my
Alex: we’re using Whisper,
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. It’s incredible.
Andrew: it’s so good.
Andrew: All right,
Andrew: you need to do this? Take me to why does a guy who’s smart like you feel like a call to go and create another note? App?
Alex: well, that’s a great question. Um, so when I was leaving, I obviously was gonna start another company, what I love doing the most in the world. Uh, and I was gonna scouring around for different ideas and one of the things I wanted to do differently around Clear Bit was. Rather than pick the, um, kinda market, I wanted to pick my customer base. So I wanted to make a, a product for people that I really enjoyed hanging out with. Um, because it turns out when you are doing product development, you hang out a lot with your customers, and the more you like your customers, the better the product is. So that was one of the criteria. And the other thing was I wanted to try my hand at b2c.
I wanted just to have a small company. You know, B2B companies, they are so much easier than b2c. But, uh, one of the hardest, harder things about B2B companies is the large team size. Like you have to scale up a large sales marketing team. So I wanted a small team. I wanted to be b2c. I wanted to build people that I love, and then I wanted to build something that I use every day.
Again, another advantage of b2c. And so I was like, you know what? I love writing, so I’m gonna build something on my dock that I use every day that’s gonna involve writing. And yet, so, so that was the amount competitors or what have you. It was a very personal decision about what I wanted to build. Um, I wanted to craft an experience.
I wanted to control every pixel. I wanted to create something really, really beautiful. These notes apps, like not just, uh, reflect, but a lot of them are just incredible tools for self. I can’t imagine growing personally without taking notes every day. Like it is like a fundamental part of, of my life at this point.
I treat my notes well. I, I’ll I. Yeah, lemme get into that. So, um, I treat my notes as essentially a second brain so everything flows out into my notes and I typically don’t do my thinking in my head right. It, it’s not until it’s flow out myself into the paper that or, you know, into to reflect that I can actually think about it and analyze it.
Um, it’s very important of being objectives, especially your in the page end to end. Encryption was a really important part of that product. I wanted a place where people felt notes are the most sensitive things. I can’t think of any, any, any more sense to data. It’s your NMO thoughts, so you won’t share with anyone, let alone a note startup. So we wanted to make sure that we had end encryption. It vastly complicated. The, uh, building reflect, but it was worth it. And so you asked about my routine. So every morning I go into reflect and reflect that she has a new note that is created every single day.
And the notes are in a timeline. So you can go back infinitely and you can go forward infinitely. You can go and see what you thought about something in the past and you can write notes to yourself in the future. Uh, and actually turns out our memory works like this. So our memory uses, uses, associations, doesn’t use hierarchy, uses and associations.
Um, and so I wanted to build a product specifically around those two things. Um, we have a way of associating notes and reflects using something called backlinking. Um, so often when you’ve forgotten something, you’ll be like, God, I can’t place my mind on whatever the thing is. I’ve forgotten, but I can remember things around it.
I can’t remember that guy’s name, but I know that you used to work at this company or used to be in the city. So that’s, we basically remember through associations now in reflect all those associations are stored and they stored in digitally, so there’s no loss. So you can follow those associations. You can take whatever you do remember and follow.
Andrew: I wonder if maybe calling it a journal instead of a note taking app would’ve would’ve communicated that faster. But that was an intentional decision, right?
Alex: That is a great point. I mean, you’re much better at marketing than me. And maybe, uh, maybe we should we that’s
Andrew: If you’re willing to take more feedback from me. One other thing I’d suggest is the, the speed to write a note is more important to me than the speed to find a note. And so I would love it if the plus button to add a note was on the bottom of the screen instead of the all notes. Yeah. Like if you’re, I’m gonna shut my screen off just so no one sees it’s on my screen.
Or you don’t, but you know, you just wanna quickly grab and just take a quick note and, and go. Um, and
Alex: you are right. Okay. Here’s, here’s, uh, what you should do. Double tap on the daily icon.
Andrew: okay. Lemme try that. Okay. I would even say I like that. I didn’t know that. I like these. I like that you’re keyboard heavy and I like that you are also, um, like the way that Apple used to be, you’d hide the features that power users need so that new users don’t get intimidated. I would all, but I, for me, it’s the audio.
I could be, I could be a wacko in this, but there’s nothing like for thinking, just talking it through. Which is why even though we’ve gone remote with therapy, we still have us talk to the therapist instead of chat with the therapist. I just wanna be able to hit a button and go. And even in, in, uh, day one, they used to have a button on the bottom that lets you record, but maybe not enough people used it, so now they’ve hidden it.
So take it with a grain of salt. Take it for what it is, one person’s feedback, but the ability to just hit a button and just, here’s what’s going on. I just finished a call with this person. I just talked to this person. I’m trying to figure out how to adjust my day. Just boom and go. Maybe that’s more of a widget.
Alex: you, you know what? That’s such a great idea. We’ll add that to the screen. That’ll be, we can add that as a widget so you can
Alex: the screen.
Andrew: And now I couldn’t tell why you were smiling earlier when I said artificial intelligence. I want AI and I, I’m just now opening up your app in a, um, uh, in private mode on, on Safari. And I see at the very top, AI has landed. So you have it. How do you do artificial intelligence in a secure environment?
Uh, the, the Verge did a whole episode on this and the challenge of it, and a lot of people are remaking their software and taking away privacy so they could add ai. What are you gonna do?
Alex: That is a very good point and it’s something I have struggled with. So select and then feature, feature and then perform some kinda operation on that text for that text to be sent to open. so for example, We, we have a bunch of system prompts in there. You can select texts. One of my favorite ones is actually taking an audio transcription and selecting it and then selecting acts as copy editor. And it’ll go through and it will just clean it up. It’ll add punctuation and paragraphs
Alex: is, it’s so nice. Um, but we have explicitly do that. So we don’t send notes to, if you don’t use the feature, all of data shared, that’s line we have, uh, picked. But uh, we also have invested heavily in running models on the client.
So we have a bunch of projects that we’ve invested in that will essentially allow you to run some of these smaller models on the client. These are gonna be great for things like, And grammar correction o’s native spell and grammar correction is, and, and I don’t understand why they haven’t fixed it. Uh, so
we’re, um, we’re also going to do embeddings locally as well. So you can start to see similar notes searching by meaning rather than exact note content. And all of this stuff is coming. But for today, what we have, what we’ve given people access to is four first people to actually receive API access. And we put it straight into flags.
And not only do we have these system prompts, but we have these custom prompts as well. So you can build little workflows. And this is, I find amazing. Let give you an example. So I have a bunch of, uh, favorite writers. One of these writers is Hugh, how he writes some science fiction. He, he’s been around for a long time.
His all his books are in AI’s training set. They, the AI understands what the idea of Hugh is. Okay? So what I can do is select a couple of bullet points that I’m trying to turn into a paragraph, and I have a custom prompt that says I could just hit that says, convert into a paragraph as in the of hug, and it just produces Beautiful,
is amazing. Uh, and it’s like it speeds up my writing considerably.
Andrew: All right. In that case then, I don’t know that you should call it a journal because you’re really helping me think through writing that I could share beyond my own world. It’s, and I, I love the custom prompt notion. Doesn’t do that, unfortunately, and so I. I have, for example, the same set of links that I want for everyone.
I want to know what you look like on SimilarWeb. I wanna know what you look like on archive.org. It’s a simple concatenation. I just need an easy way to do that. Prompts, like you could rewrite them every time. Save them in a notebook, or just have the system know this is what Andrew’s looking for. All right.
What about this? The ideal thing for me is to be able to find the notes using AI to be able to ask a question to say, what was I thinking about, um, marriage over the years? And then get a whole thing. What was I thinking about? Whatever work over the years and get, get a list. Could you do that?
Alex: it’ll happen. Yeah. Like we, we, like I said, we have that line in the sand where we’re not gonna proactively send your notes to open ai. Um, which I think is very important. You know, there is, we have competitors that will just send everything to them. Um, we’re never gonna do that. I think we are seeing such fast progress in AI that we’ll be able to run a GB model, a three, four size model on the clients. I think within year, year and a half.
Alex: When, when that’s possible then absolutely. We’ll just feed oil notes to this AI locally and you can ask it any questions. It can be like the, the ultimate work buddy. You in this, just work together. It can, it can know all context about you, what you’ve thought in the past.
Um, it can help you. The also timely I released.
Open ai, you can check it out. It is a app store foris. So it’s
Andrew: Open pm.
Andrew: n n pm Got it.
Alex: pm Yeah, it’s a for open package manager.
Alex: and it is a, uh, it’s right now it’s essentially a directory listing of open API files. And I don’t wanna get too technical, but ultimately this, a AI is going to need to know what are the APIs available.
You know what if this AI is one takes action in the real world. If it wants to order you an Uber, it needs to know about the concept of an Uber and how to trigger API to, and this will do so essentially some point in reflect, you’ll be able to have chat bot can. Instacarts like, what? What have you, e everything will be in there.
Andrew: I think that’s, we’re gonna start to see that in everything, um, that the new operating system will be a conversation with an ai but coming to reflect, uh, to the app. I think that’s why as soon as I saw what AI could do, I started journaling more so that I have more records of what I’m doing and have more to go back and, and.
And search and understand. Like if I know a year from now I’ll be able to ask a question like, what was I thinking about work over this last year? The AI will know work related, uh, notes that I’ve taken. I just have to take those notes. And the fastest way for me to do it is just talk it through. And then the upside of talking it through is I end up coming up with a new understanding of a problem that has just been rattling around in my head, or I’ve been neglecting because I thought it was unsolvable.
And that is the beauty of this. I feel like, um, everybody now has got to find a way to take notes. And, and, and the way that I got it, by the way, Alex was this, I did this interview. I couldn’t freaking remember what the guy said. My, my, my process in the past was to just do a keyword search for what he said.
And I go, wait, I’m dumping the whole transcript into notion, I’m gonna start asking questions. How much did he say he sold this company for? Boom. I get the answer. What did he say He did? And then things that I understood, the AI understood better and differently than I did. Sometimes I come in an interview with a preconceived notion and then it turns out, I, I was wrong.
Alex: so what you could do is turn all of those questions into a custom, and then every you,
Andrew: It will wait a minute. It could right now do that. I don’t have to highlight the text. It’ll, as long as it’s on the page and if I’m doing a search.
Alex: you have to highlight the, but you could create a custom prompt, which has all the interview questions that you.
Alex: Um, like the revenue company, what, what have you?
Andrew: So I could have a custom prompt that says, give me this, give, tell me what the person was doing before. Tell me where the idea came from. Who are the co-founders? What’s the first step they took? I get the whole thing filled out and boom.
Alex: And blog
Andrew: And what will it take? Long text. I know if I go, if I go into, um, some apps, I could do long text, I pay for notions, uh, uh, premium version. I can’t do long text in that.
Alex: there are limits. We actually had to add limits, sadly, after someone wrecked up a $2,000 bill in one day. Um, but the, the limits are quite high. Um, and if you do hit the limit, you can just put in your own API key into there Unrestricted.
Andrew: And then I could get my own, I could have a long transcript and it’ll, it’ll, uh, gimme feedback on that.
Andrew: really interesting.
Alex: yeah, so we also now support, uh, passing transcripts, um, or conversations more, 30 minutes as.
Andrew: I got the preferences. Okay, I, I should say, by the way, anyone who wants to add AI to their software and doesn’t have somebody on staff to do it, you should go to Lemon lemon.io/mixer G. They’ll connect you with great developers, will help you do all this guaranteed. And if use my url, I guarantee that I’m gonna get credit for it.
But also more importantly, they’re gonna give you a lower price than they give other people. Go to Lemon, do io slash mixergy write frick. Now I’m going into your site to see where I can, oh, there, I didn’t even see that. I could scroll up and add the api. Alright, gimme some tips for people who are, who want to who, who wanna learn from your experience for taking notes.
What is it about your note-taking process that you can teach us so that we could be more productive with our, because of our note taking?
Alex: Yeah, let me take you through the template that I use every day, so, and reflect and then, and I don’t wanna just reflect here. Most note taking apps, there’s some kind feature. So you, whatever notetaking app you’re using, you should be able to do something like this. Just make sure you’re taking notes. Okay.
So we have a template. And every morning I enter my template and it starts out with like four bullets. What I’m grateful for, what’s on my mind, I’m working on, and my daily habits. Okay? So this I think is just a great way of stretching a day. It starts out with a gratitude practice, and that is, I think, one of the key ways of staying happy.
Uh, and then you can, whatever’s on your mind and you can talk about what you’re working on daily habits is really interesting. So this is how you change your life, like any kinda goal that you want. You wanna be fitter, if you wanna be better at business or you want, or, or whatever it habit. Like it’s, it is no good at just having a goal.
So actually having your habits in reflect or whatever, just day
Andrew: I’m doing all this, by the way. That’s why you lost me there for a second. I’m, I’m realizing, oh yeah, I could put bull, I could put, uh, to-dos in here. Um, and how do I trigger just a, this is gonna be like a tech support just for me. I wanna add dictation within and within a note. How do I add dictation? Do I hit the dictation next to the search bar?
Alex: so right now is quite, is quite dumb. So it’ll just insert it into your daily note, top level.
Andrew: always. Just the daily, no top level.
Alex: yeah. Yeah, at some point we have specific areas of.
Andrew: Okay. Dictation on the Mac is a nightmare. You have to hit the dictation button. They finally gave you a dedicated button. It doesn’t work. You have to hit it twice and then it might work, and then the next time it’ll work instantly, but
Alex: It doesn’t understand me. I think my, I mean, I’m British and I think I’ve been in the States for a decade. My accent is totally messed up. Uh, it doesn’t understand me at all. I actually have to put on a fake American accent for it to start transcribing properly. Um, but open ai, they release this technological whisper and they open sourced it.
It’s incredible. Uh, and this is got near human level transcription ability. It’s unbelievable.
Andrew: All right. Bottom line for me personally, if I’m using this today, take notes using the process that you just described. If I wanna find, um, if I wanna find what that process was, I copy and paste the transcript into a note and then I query it using AI and say, what was it that he said? Gimme a list of, gimme a bullet point list, or anything that I want to query within a note.
Just hit, I think it’s Command J. Yeah, command J to ask anything. And then can I today ask questions of past notes? Can I say I have 10 notes for the week I want to go and ask? No, not
Alex: Not today, but uh, that’s something that we’re gonna work on.
Andrew: Is that right?
Alex: Yeah, we’re gonna work on that as soon as we get the models running on the.
Andrew: All right. I think you’ve hit on something really, really, um, surprisingly good. I don’t think any of us would’ve expected that we need another note taking app. I don’t think any of us even would’ve thought that we need another app for, um, um, for, for journaling even. The thing is that there’s a new way of communicating with ourselves, with our ideas, and it’s got AI all over it, and the, the tools that exist today have to find a way to retrofit it.
But you’re early on and you can just naturally put it in, and you’ve started with an app that calls for something like this. All
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. Well you’re very kind, Andrew’s very kind. You
Andrew: I’m really not, I’m kind of an asshole. Ask anyone,
Andrew: I get excited sometimes.
Alex: started take, you might interested context very quickly about the business, but. Business is bootstrapped, or at least was for a long time. And then we race from our customers, um, and we’re gonna try and pay them dividend. So we’re basically running a tech company backwards, like no one has done this.
Um, but it looks like we’re pull it off. We on track to this year we grew 20%. In the last month we’re about, um,
Andrew: What’s the revenue right
Alex: k monthly revenue now, or, and with about a couple thousand customers, we need to hit 50 k monthly revenue to be profitable. And are we growing? I think we’ve just like touched some kind of nerve recently.
Andrew: All right. Congratulations. Thanks for being on here. For everyone who’s interested, the site is reflect.app. Thanks Alex. Enjoy boating around.
Alex: Thank you so much, Andrew.
Andrew: You bet. Bye everyone.