Andrew: Hey, they’re freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I read entrepreneurial stories all the time, cause I’m just so freaking excited about like the world of business, about tech joining me as an entrepreneur, whose story I kind of heard.
And truthfully, all I heard about it was got bought by we work and then we work sold it back to the founders and the in-between and the before and after I didn’t know much about, and then my producer sent me notes on him and I couldn’t believe it. His name is Seth BIS Martinek. He is the founder of conductor.
It’s a organic marketing software that helps customers create an optimized content. The story. It’s about how he built a $25 million company went down to $0, built it back up, and yes, of course there is the sale and then the repurchase, and then hopefully we’ll get into some of the, some of the stuff that he did even in his childhood.
That’s a little bit. Um, wow. I wonder if your parents thought that maybe there was something wrong with you. Okay. And that as a parent, now I sometimes look at my kid and go, did I get a bad one? Did I get a good one? I wonder if your parents thought that about you or we’re going to find out all that.
Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first will host your website, right? It’s called HostGator. And the second you’re hiring salespeople or considering hiring the salespeople, you should go check out overpass, but I’ll talk about those later first. That’s good to hear.
Seth: Very excited to be here. Uh, actually my father at my father’s speech at my wedding was for all of You that all of the people who have children and think there’s no hope don’t give up CEP as a Testament.
Andrew: You know what, and I’ve heard fathers laugh about stuff like that, but then you start to think, well, maybe right. Well, let, let me, let me spend a little bit of time on this little article that I saw that you wrote on LinkedIn, you said in the article we sold to we work and you said, I called every investor and thanked them.
I put my phone on speaker. My wife and kids were listening in people cried
Seth: Yeah, that’s true.
Andrew: because what happened to them that you sold this before?
Seth: So I am, anytime I talk with entrepreneurs or leaders about, uh, equity in companies, and I always say, you know, people call me up. They’re like, Hey, I’m an equity. Should we do? Or how much should we put it on? I said, you’re never a Greg. I don’t think you’re ever going to regret giving away too much equity to the people who help you build the company.
Right. Um, and I share my experience. One of the most joyous moments of my entire life. so we, we, the company was going to get announced that we sold the business, all the, former employees, existing employees where we’re going to get, we’re going to make money.
And, um, I called up every shareholder, who helped us build a company, former employees, advisors, even folks who, I could have said I didn’t have, or maybe were, they weren’t the most fondest of, I called every single one and I told them what was happening. I told them how much money they were going to be getting.
Uh, I told them when I was going to happen and, you know, people were crying. People were, um, they were screaming. They, um, you know, there’s one guy and he, he actually, he couldn’t afford to buy his stock options. So we, we let them have them and we let, we let everybody roll their stock options. We didn’t, we didn’t force them to buy them.
And, um, and he just started cursing and cursing and I’m like, I’m like, Hey, you know, my kids are in there. My kids are listening, stop doing that. And he just couldn’t stop saying Yep.
Words. He kept saying and saying, and it’s saying, and, and it was moving, you know, it was really moving. And, when we created the new company, which is conductor that we are today, amazingly enough, the employees of this company, we call them co-founders they own, uh, at least 10 times more than we had in the last company.
And, uh, it’s certainly something I look forward to in the future is how we can have an impact on other’s lives.
Andrew: You had what? 10% of the business, when you sold it.
Seth: So when we sold the business myself and all the employees, we owned about 7% of the cost.
Andrew: Oh, wow. And it was a cash sale.
Seth: uh, no, it was cash and equity. So I mean, you know, the way these things work are like people who have stock options and to get, and, and it was a mix, but all the, all the employees got, um, got, uh, uh, cash for their, their stock options.
Andrew: All the employees got cash for their stock options. They didn’t get WIWORK shares that
Seth: And they got, we were, and they
Andrew: we work
Seth: meaningful manner. We were shares.
that they had that on a go-forward basis. So,
Andrew: when, when the stock went down for WeWork, did they, did they suffer from that?
I mean, we, so conductor myself and Handel and all the people, we were given a substantial amount of WeWork stock as part of the consideration for selling the company. Now, when I look back in time, uh, in even knowing what happened with me, And I think conductor benefited, you know, we had a great, we, we ended up, um, we almost lost everything, but we ended up having this sort of unicorn scenario that we are now, which I can talk about maybe later.
Um, but, um, I would go back 10 out of 10 times and I would do the deal again. Um, in spite of all the craziness and all the bad things that happen. Um, well, it was just at the, at, from where I was sitting, it was the absolute best thing to do. So the company actually was, uh, coming off of, uh, 14 quarters, straight of accelerating revenue growth.
And we were about $30 million when we sold the business 28, 20 9 million of ARR high margin, SAS revenue, great customers, great, you know, very, the best companies in the world using the product, the business was performing the best that ever was. Our investors wanted to put more money in. It was for the, for once, for the first time, it was really starting to get traction.
And then All of a sudden we get an offer to sell the company. But when I looked at it, it was, the offer was like, we’ll give you a blank check to do basically whatever you want. You can buy companies. We can, you can invest in hire as many people, right. Um, you’ll have autonomy. Um, and your, your cap, your basically your employees are going to get so much equity that, you know, you, they, you know, they would have to do twice as conductor would have to be 10 times bigger for that to actually happen.
And when someone gives me an opportunity to do such a great thing for all the employees of the company, I mean, I couldn’t, I couldn’t say no to it and that a huge amount of stock optic stock options and stock, and actually most everyone that’s here that was joined conductor during the work days. They all still have their rework stock.
And, um, you know, as we work goes public and things like that, they’ll all benefit actually. Ironically, I’m the only one that has no reworks on part of it when we bought the company back. Um, the way that the transaction work was, I, you know, I contributed all of my rework stock as part of the consideration for buying the company.
Andrew: All right. My goal is to understand how you got here, but let me just ask you one side note question, Adam Newman, the founder of we work bright guy genius.
Seth: very complicated person, um, very, you know, very complicated person, uh, incredible strengths, incredible brilliance, um, incredible weaknesses, right? You credible, um, blind spots,
Andrew: What’s a, what’s a blind spot and what’s a strength.
Seth: a strength. is that Adam can in a, in a one-to-one one to five or one to 500 setting almost at a hundred percent success rate, get people excited about something in a, in a huge way. He has such certainty of, of the future that it’s it’s, it’s so attractive. It’s a Loring it’s um, it’s the reason why so many amazing people who became in the vortex of we work.
Yeah, I was telling him I was talking to my wife last night. It’s shocking to see all the, all the CEOs And entrepreneurs that are, that are former WeWork employees that are now starting companies raising rounds. And it’s like, there’s so many good people there. And it was because Al Adam was a magnet for it.
That’s a strength, uh, blind spots, um, the, the growing discontent and lack of trust for him that, uh, that happened in the last few years and, and, and not, um, and not being cognizant of that and finding a way to self rationalize, um, the, the, the really dark things that were.
starting to brew in the minds of the people that you needed to, to get him to where he wanted to go to
Andrew: And the dark things were.
Seth: distrust disengagements, um, uh, you know, lack of buy-in lack of comfort.
Uh, and ultimately, you know, we, when we were. Had, you know, it was, it was like a swing crowd. It’s like, yeah, the Yankees are good. I mean, I keep saying Yankees, aren’t good. I’m not a Yankee fan. You know, it was like that. We work with good everybody’s on the train. But as soon as people assumes where things weren’t good, I mean, all the bad press, large, a lot of it was seated from all of the disk, all the people who used to work there, or work there who just were so fed up with the
Andrew: They were exhausted from what I understood from all the demands that were made of them. They stop believing in this vision. And then they looked around and they saw the challenges. They started to spew.
Seth: But there’s a lot of his lack of credit credibility. Right. So, you know, when you say something that you’re going to do and you don’t do it, is that a lie now? Uh, I would say you can argue. Yes. And if you do that enough times, if you say enough things and you don’t do them, you lose credibility and. I think that is what at least I, you know, I wasn’t around, I wasn’t around it.
We worked during the glory during all the glory days. I was only there from March 18 to December 19. Um, they already had 6,000 employees when I joined. Obviously They did so many things right. To get the point. But I saw, I basically joined right. When things started.
to turn, I think where sentiment went from, like, we’re all in, I’ll eat my family it’s for this company.
Like, I’ll do anything for this company. So then this disconnect between like there’s us and there’s leadership and I’m going to be successful in spite of leadership.
Andrew: All right. I think that we’re going to, if he has a second act, I think we’ll all reconsider the past, like the Winklevoss twins, right? They were, they were like the evil schemers who were trying to take away, um, mark Zuckerberg’s company for a while. And then they became the geniuses who saw Bitcoin before anyone else and evangelize it.
Right. So I see both sides. I kind of wish that we didn’t make entrepreneurs into heroes and goats in the world, you know, because then we can’t really fully understand them if they’re the goat, the failed, and that’s what we need them to be. We’re not getting any depth if they’re the heroes and we’re not understanding how they got there and it gives us a bad perception
Seth: Adam was, I mean, we work with so successful. I mean, it, it, and it is today. I mean, it’s so many billions of dollars revenue. The product is phenomenal, you know? I mean, that’s the thing, people miss out. It wasn’t thorough. So it wasn’t fraud. People love, we were, it just was, um, overextension over ambition and yeah, you just got a little too far out ahead and it collapsed.
Andrew: You started conductor, this company that you sold to, we work and then rebought and you now are on a whole new path with it, but it started in college as what,
Seth: I started the company, right, right. At the end of college. I start actually, when I was in college, my, my, at the end, I was starting a company to deliver a therapy online called mind empty, and that never really got off the ground, but I spent a good 18 months, two years off
Andrew: what did it, what did it look like? I heard about mind MD. Did it look like betterment and some of these new apps that are out or what’d it look like?
Seth: was basically, it was a, it was a portal that you can call up or you can have a text message or, I mean, instant message, not text message conversation. And you basically can go into like a HIPAA compliance, private room and have a conversation. And you can have like a 15 minute session at all on a phone with a therapist, and then you can have a video conference.
At the time. I mean, the, the stigma around therapy was much different than it is today. I mean, you know, much more negative than, and it was a, it was, uh, it was not an idea. I got much traction with them and lots of therapists who wanted to participate, but anyone in the business world thought it.
was a wacky idea
Andrew: And did, and people weren’t. Yeah. You know what? It’s hard for me to imagine now, but frankly, when I had the founder of betterment down here a few years ago, I didn’t believe it until I dug into the business. Understood how it worked and didn’t realize, oh yeah, of course. This makes more sense than going out to your friends.
Seth: long now, I mean, now it’s like, I mean, I see a therapist every Tuesday and last week he wrote me, he wrote an email, said, Hey, if you want to come to the office on Tuesday, we’re open, I’m open. And I was going to go, and then I was like, you know what? I’ll just do zoom again. You know, like I just, it’s just, it’s a little easier.
Um, I didn’t think I’d be one of the people at the same time, but that’s, that’s, that’s what I did say.
Andrew: Okay. So you built it up. How far did you get with it
Seth: I mean, we, we, um, we built this whole platform and we ended up, I mean, there, I, I, I basically lost most of my money doing legal diligence because there’s so many illegal restrictions on how people, like, if someone’s in New Jersey and they’re talking to a therapist in New York and the license doesn’t transfer over.
So I actually, I, I, I burned a lot of cash and, you know, I was only 21, 22 years old. So a lot, you know, that didn’t have a lot of cash. I had loans that I took out from school to fund it and, you know, making money, you know, play playing poker in the evenings. Um, and, um, and then I, um, as a side business, I had a roommate, his name is Jeremy.
And he, he became, he basically went from being on unemployment to being like pretty rich w during the time we were living together, all this fancy steps that are showing up in my apartment, like electronic drums and giants knees. And he basically, when you did a search on?
Google for the word business, His websites showed up one, two and three, and he built a, basically an automated way to design a business card and he had someone else drop ship it.
And he would, he had no employees. He didn’t even have to work all day. And he just was basically print, literally printing money. And he came to me one day and he said, Hey, why don’t we, why don’t we start a little business where we can help companies build links to their websites. And, uh, and uh, you know, you do all the work and I’ll put in the money and it’d be like a little kind of get rich quick side scheme.
So I said, Okay. I’m like this therapy business, wasn’t anywhere close to making me any money to pay my bills. You know? So, so I put on a calculator to get, I was like, all right, fine. He, he, he contributed about $20,000 and I started working on building websites and I was going to put links on them. And in doing that, I’m like, why don’t, why not?
Instead of building new websites, why don’t we build software and go to existing websites? We start, we hired an engineer, we started building a product and we eventually built a product called originally. It was called LinkedIn management systems, but then it was called link spurts, L I N T E X, P E R T S.
Um, we couldn’t afford that. The E that was eight. That was $1,800. Um, and we put up a website and we actually have links that you can buy on Jeremy’s business card websites. That’s how we started. And I got two calls that I guess, saved my life because they called me on my Vonage, my bondage phone. And I, and I’m like in my underwear, you know, like just like my apartment one morning.
And it was like, Hey, this is a, uh, you know, this is priceline.com and we saw your product and we’ve got $50,000 a month to do link building. Can you give us all your inventory? And I’m like, oh yeah. Okay.
let me, let me get back to you. What’s your name and number? Anyway, we only had three websites. The most we can sell this company was, was like $500.
Right. But I’m like, we literally had people calling us to give us money. And that started to change my attitude towards that business. I got one business where no one wants everyone thinks I’m crazy. When I walk in the room to talk about it. And then I got this business where people are literally calling me and giving them throwing money at me.
And we ended up, I ended up shutting down the therapy business. Um, and I, um, started, uh, we started links experts, and we went, we went full-time I, I got, I got $40,000 to start the company. My, my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time gave me like all the money she had, which was $15,000. My dad gave me 20, and then I took a $10,000 loan out from Stuart, from Citibank.
And he put in Jeremy put in 45. I put in 45, we had 90 K. We rented an office right here on 28th and park with $2,000 a month. And the building and we got, we found a CTO who would work for free Richard saffron. We got two engineers that I worked for $400 a week, and we were starting to build this company and.
Into a, uh, um, a, a link building network business effectively, where you can go in and you can have buy links that were SEO friendly. So instead of them going through like ad servers, they were, we built a technology to hard code them onto your website. So what ended up becoming of the business, whereas all these big companies, um, Microsoft and companies like Microsoft, and one example I always use was if you did a Google search for my exchange server, which is Microsoft’s product, they didn’t show up.
It was all these resellers that showed up because Google wasn’t good at crawling deep in the big company’s websites. So we would give them links that they would buy, and they would point deep into their websites. And then they start to rank. So for companies, they just give us money and they start to rank and we then had all this money behind us.
So we went to Forbes and PC magazine and all the big publishers, New York times. And basically conductor built the bigot. I mean, link experts, sorry. Link experts. By the way we bought the, we bought the name link experts by at one point we built, we went from a zero to a million dollars in revenue. In our first year, we raised two and a half million dollars from first mark capital, which was P quite ventures, Ameesh Johnny first, mark capital.
And then, and then over the course of three years, that business was doing $25 million. And we had the who’s who of best brands as customers and
Andrew: Before we take it any further. What you’re talking about was it was kind of gray hat, if not black hat, I guess at the time it was a little more accepted, but I know that there was the idea of how can bloggers sell links without a no follows was a big issue. Can bloggers create paid content? All that stuff was a big issue.
What was it like internally? I mean, we’re talking about Microsoft there. They’re not going to
Seth: was one of my first major professional struggles. Because when we started actually Yahoo was one of our first customers, the search engine. So you remember you that you had Yahoo travel And Yahoo
Andrew: And they would do, they had a big SEO team from, or at least a Cape, a strong SEO team. And I said, why do you need SEO? People need to do SEO to rank on your site. They said, no, we also have our products. We’re going to rank on Google for our product. It was, it was one of the smartest
Seth: were our customers, so there’s a search engine bot buying effectively links from us. And what we did is we only, we, we only work with like fortune 1000 companies. We only had the best pout publishers. All of our links were only relevant and had good ad. They had good content. Um, but what ended up happening was the search engines actually had a real loophole in their algorithms where you can pretty much get a link to it from any company to any website and you’d start to rank.
And this became a real problem for Google. And like, like all things like that. There were a lot of bad companies that were really taken advantage of this. So as that happened, You know, I found ourself in a situation where, when we started, we were just building links for companies. And now all of a sudden we’re in this highly controversial area where there’s like good stuff and bad.
And then there’s a guy named Matt that’s from Google. And he started saying, you know, you shouldn’t do this. And then all of a sudden, now we’re in like, are we in the black hat? Are we a black pack company? And we, we fought this for a long time. I hired a guy named Michelle Barry from Google and Michelle was our qualities are, that was his first title.
And he built these giant, these quality guidelines to help us figure out how to do this in a way that made the internet better. Like we really believe we made the internet better. And I think actually we did. Um, but ultimately it became too big of a, of a, of a mountain to climb. And actually it got to the point where Google was calling our customers,
Seth: um, and telling them that if they worked with conductor, they would like kick them out of the search engine.
And actually, I mean, I don’t even know how they were able to do that. We, I remember, um, someone from 18th and we called up and they’re like, listen, we’ll keep, we’ll pay you guys the money, just take all the links down. And this became a Google basically went all on a tack because we were the biggest company doing this.
And basically that business went from at the height of eight, April, 2009, I think was about $25 million. And we ended up selling it, uh, you know, six months later it was doing $7 million and we basically got nothing for the business. And we had to start from scratch
because, because Google didn’t like what we were doing, because they didn’t like the idea of someone having to being able to pay for links that, um, that effected their algorithms. And we became the company that was the most well-known. Um, and again, our customers. The the, the, the only the best company we didn’t sell to affiliates, we didn’t let publishers violence.
We had, we had all, you know, I think we really did.
a lot of good work, but it just became like, you know, Yeah.
We had to fold our cards at some point because they, then I want it. I started, I wanted to be an entrepreneur to build an enterprise that can last forever and something that children can be proud of.
And all of a sudden, you know, we weren’t, we weren’t like making money from this company. Like I was making a hundred thousand dollars, $85,000 salary. Like it wasn’t like we were like printing all this money. We were, again, it was just, we were hiring people and growing the company. Um, and now all of a sudden I’m in a business that clearly is not going to be a company that’s going to go public one day.
Andrew: How did, how did you not freak out? You’re using your, your wife’s money? You’re using your dad’s money, it’s you at frankly, I’m a new Yorker too. You see all this wealth around you, you see, you know, success equated with doing good work. How did you not feel bad about all this and just close it?
Seth: well, this was, uh, this was, uh, this was not the hardest moment in my professional career, but it?
was, I think it’s top four, uh, top three, top four. Um, very hard because, um, we had put all the work into the company and, um, and watching it vaporize was very hard now there’s, there’s a, there’s a silver lining as there always is.
Right. Which is that I had started to have the idea to build SEO software while doing this. So what we found was all these big companies like Microsoft, for example, who was a customer. They didn’t have any tools to measure their organic marketing. Like how do we show up in search engines? What’s competition showing up our sites, getting better and our pages getting better.
And I just kept scratching my head. I’m like, how did these companies not know this stuff and Google analytics? And I’m not sure which is now Adobe analytics. They didn’t tell you any of this stuff. So after work, I hired a, um, a designer and we would meet about three days a week for about four months. And we started to sketch out an idea for building a software product to, um, to do, to manage your SEO, like a salesforce.com or an I’m the chair for your organic marketing and your SEO.
And we built this prototype out. It was like a PDF document. And then I was like, let’s I started showing its our customers, the link building customers. And they’re like, they, they all, they were like, if you can build this, we’ll buy it for you. We’ll pay you 50,000 for it. We’ll pay you 80,000. So I got a Mitch from first market to come to what we did a few of these meetings at his office.
He saw the reactions and he wrote us a check for, I think, $2 million to start hiring engineers to build this product. And then actually we raised in, um, we raised, uh, the day, uh, the day Lehman brothers went out of business. I started my process to raise a series B for conductor, which was the software company.
We were still a link-building business, but we wanted to build a software company
Seth: and we raised financing from matrix. I got five term sheets and one of the hardest times we raised money and we started building this product. And what made that, what made this process a little easier? I’m losing the whole link expert business was that it’s not like we went, we went back to zero, but we had a, we had the beginnings of a software product that was going to become the future of the company.
And that’s when we changed the names
Andrew: and come and customers that were willing to pay significant money for it. And what,
Seth: when we built the product,
Andrew: when you built it. Right.
Seth: is a long way from that point of time.
Andrew: But there was clear, there was clear need for the next thing you weren’t trying to
Seth: There was a future.
Andrew: but then what could it do that, that, um, the Google analytics couldn’t do, frankly, people who are in the SEL space use Google analytics, like wizard’s a pain in the butt, but right.
What is it that your PDF showed that the Google analytics didn’t.
Seth: the big, the big thing is so Google analytics or I’m the chair of Adobe. They tell you everything that happens once a person lands on your website. What we do is we crawl the whole web, like the search engine and we crawl your website. We crawl the search engines, we crawl the competition and we tell you what people, what consumers and buyers experience before they get to your website.
So when they want, so we want it. If you wanted to see, um, how many times do I show up when someone searches for laundry detergent? I see you show up 35% of the time. This company shows up 65% of the time. Here’s the pages that perform well, here’s the ones who don’t. Um, and we were able to give them their visibility on their, their digital presence
Andrew: That’s what the first version date. It said when people are searching for this, here’s, who’s showing up and here are the pages specifically on those sites that show up. And now when you do more work, you can see as you rise up.
Seth: And then we gave them a little score on their pages. So we would score their pages and say, here’s things that you can do on this page to make this page have a better
Andrew: Ah, got it. So kind of like SEMrush today, right?
Seth: Yeah. So SEMrush is a partner of ours, a long-term partner. We’ve been partnered with them for about almost 10 years since we started conductor actually. Um, but they, they focus on, they have, they have like 70,000 SMB customers. We’ve focused on enterprises. So it’s very different. We work on big companies and it’s a different type of price.
It’s like comparing like Adobe analytics with like, um, um, you know, some, yeah, I mean, it’s something that’s very SMB or.
Andrew: No, I get it. I wanted to get a sense though, of what it did. And I see now with the first person first version did, let me take a moment to talk about my sponsor and then come back in and understand how the, how the, the business unfolded. My first sponsor is overpass. In fact, Seth, I’m gonna ask you. There are a lot of people out there who have this understanding that the internet means you don’t have to have salespeople anymore.
You build a great landing page. If it doesn’t work, optimize and optimize. Have you found that hiring a salesperson has helped or how have you thought about doing it? And I’ll use that as my ad for overpass. Just talk about your experience even though you haven’t used them yet.
Seth: Yeah. A lot of misperceptions. It is impossible. Almost impossible. If not impossible, to, to sign enterprise deals with enterprise companies, without salespeople, you have to go through security reviews. You have to go through procurement. You have to, um, go through pricing negotiations, legal reviews. You need salespeople.
I was actually just talking to someone last week from Atlassian, which is notorious for saying we don’t use salespeople. And the person’s like, that’s not true. We have tons of sales people here. Um, um, so salespeople are essential if you’re dealing with, um, you know, contracts that are over $5,000 a year, you need salespeople.
Andrew: You know what, and I didn’t know about it until I moved to San Francisco. This was like 10 years ago or so I come in here. One of the first things that we do is I hosted a drinks for my wife, her friends come out and I start to see all these people who work at tech companies. And I was talking to a guy who worked at box.
And I said, what do you do at box? He goes, I’m sales. I go, doesn’t the webpage sell. And he started telling me about that calling process and how they work enterprise. And it completely opened my eyes to something that was always there. But we don’t talk about all right, listen to people. If you’re considering adding salespeople or you want to grow your sales team, the beauty of overpasses, they make it easy for you to go to their marketplace, find the right sales person, see their ratings, see what they’re experienced in.
Are they better calls? Are they better email? What have they done for other businesses? See their, see their availability and then hire them. And if you decide that you want to hire them, you, of course you get to do an interview first and actually test them out. But if you decide you want to hire them, overpass, we’ll even make it easier for you to work with them remotely because they’ve got software to help manage a relationship.
Go give it a shot right now you can get started very quickly. And frankly, if it doesn’t work out, you can also unwind it very easily because that’s what overpass does. It makes it easy for you to hire and work with team. Uh, people. So if you go to this URL, you’re going to get a discount. And frankly, you’re going to get educated on the power and the speed with which you can get this up and running for your business.
It is overpass.com/mixergy overpass.com/mixergy. How long did it take you to build it? It’s amazing. I wish I wish I thought of it. I can’t believe nobody else thought of doing it right. That these platforms where you can go and hire writers, do these platforms, you can go and hire developers. Of course, salespeople and salespeople were great remote.
All right. Um, and sometimes what you need is like the, the mom who’s at home and waiting for her kid to come home from school who can give you a product that touch that, you know, a sales person in an office is not going to do it. All right. Um, how long did it take you to build that first version of conductor?
Seth: So the link expert, the link expert business, or that where the, um, the,
Andrew: So now link experts who are starting to sunset, right? That was now I understand why you needed so much money because what you were doing was actually writing on people’s websites. It wasn’t got it. It wasn’t like as simple as a banner. You sold it, you said you got next to nothing for it. You’re restarting on this new business, which, uh, which becomes conductor.
Andrew: Ameesh is behind you, by the way. He is still there at first mark, we’re talking about, I don’t know, his whole life has basically been there
Seth: Yeah, he’s he’s,
Andrew: quad and then,
Seth: one of the most successful VCs here in New York is fantastic.
Andrew: uh, shop, I can go through the list of the people. I guess he was involved in Shopify and Brooklinen. I could go through the list. All right. Um, so then how long did it take you to build that new version? The new business.
Seth: we, I mean, so, I mean, this is, this is where, you know, we went from one fire to the next, during those days, um, you know, we had the, the, the link-building business that, um, was collapsing. Um, and that was like our cannon. That was The thing that was providing on cash in the business to fund the whole company, right.
To fund the, we were hiring a lot of engineers for conductor. So, and then we had this weird dynamic where we have like the new business, we’re creating this thing called conductor, but then we’ve got all these people working on the other businesses. And then, and then we sold that business. And what was bizarre was when we sold the business.
Um, we had about 30 people, went to the company who bought it and, but they still worked in our office for like three months. So, so we had like this, these people who were part of our company that were friends, right. That we’re going to the new company and they were there. And then we were launching conductor and it took us, um, it, it really took many years to get a good product that actually provided value.
And part of that was that it was a very hard product to build. But then part of that is I screwed up so many things in the beginning, largely because you know, when you go home at night as a founder and you’ve got a $20 million fast growing business, you feel pretty good. Right. But when you go home at night and you’ve got a startup that has no product and, and, and you’re, pre-revenue, you’re like, what are we got to do to make this product so we can get customers?
But I had a team in, on a different floor that was building conductor. I, I hired a CTO and I hired a VP of product who were two of the least successful hires I’ve ever made in my life. And the thing just turned out to be a giant disaster. We wasted a lot of money. We, we had to rebuild the whole product.
Our CTO came in and he was crying when they, because the product wasn’t working and, you know, we had to, we had to kind of clean the whole leadership team up and then rebuild the whole product. So it took us a number of years to get the product to be really good. And frankly, I mean, it took us even longer to really make up for some of the architectural sins that we had made that we had committed during
Andrew: And the problem was that you wanted this new business to grow as fast as the last business, maybe even faster because the other business was starting to go away.
Seth: Yeah. Now the other business is a much better business, right? Th th the conductor business is a it’s, it’s a, it’s a SAS recurring revenue, software, high margin business. You know, that those are like the most valuable companies today, the other, and then the link building businesses. You know, we had to share half the money with the publishers and, you know, it’s an ad networks model, which is a lower value business.
Andrew: But set that one grew quickly. That one you got to, I think you said a million dollars within 12 months, you had customers, uh, offering you money before you even got started.
Seth: They want it to grow fast. Absolutely. And we
Andrew: so with, and did conductor conductor didn’t grow as fast. It took you a while to get it off the ground. And then once, uh, did, did it, how long did it take for it to start?
I don’t know. Just start holding its own.
Seth: we launched, we launched a product in June of 2010 and we started to, I mean, we started to, uh, we got to $10 million in ARR annual recurring revenue in a couple of years, actually, we grew very fast and now it’s because we had, now, the thing is that’s different is we grew fast. because we had, we had good commercial chops, so salespeople, right, good salespeople.
We knew how to sell. We had a brand. Um, but the product. Um, the product was worse than our selling. So, um, I actually want to, you know, I started writing some of the stories of conductor and one of my posts is called the unconscious Ponzi scheme.
Andrew: Uh huh.
Seth: And this is a story of conductor, the early days of conductor, where we were adding customers a lot faster than we were losing them, but we still were losing customers.
And eventually when you stop adding customers as fast as you are adding them, then your business flattened out. Right. And this is what was happening to us. And it was largely because we, the companies were so focused on selling and we were not focused on customers. And that’s what, you know, you made a comment earlier about how every time you see me, I’m wearing a shirt with its customers first.
And that’s because I, I, I went through a very cathartic fundraising process for the company. Almost didn’t make it at the end of 2014. And coming out of that, I realized. We had to run the company hold differently. And we just made a hundred eighty one hundred eighty degree turn and we became a customer obsessed company.
And that became the beginning of the good years.
Andrew: Sales first got you to grow revenue, but not to build a better product and a better business. And it was unsustainable customer first did. That made you so good at sales? What, what was your process for doing that?
Seth: Well, I think that?
we, we had a great vision. Um, we had a great vision and we were able to articulate our vision and it was I think it wasn’t, it was just that, and the timing was really good. The problem was is just our ability to execute on the software side was, was not good. So
Andrew: that people were starting to understand that businesses started to understand the value of search engine optimization, but they didn’t know how to measure it. They were spending real money behind it, uh, on it. Got it. So it was that you tapped a real need
Andrew: and you understood this was a need because what was it that let you discover
Seth: because we had this.
link building business and we were dealing with companies who wanted to show up in a search engine and credit, and they were willing to just throw some money on it. And in working with them, we realized that they didn’t have the tools to do this. And, and just logically Google, more and more people in the world are searching on Google every day, every year.
And most of the traffic that goes through Google goes to the organic results. So the, the need to show up was only going to get bigger over time. And you know, now post, you know, in this kind of tail end of COVID, I’m not sure where we call ourselves right now. Like that has gone up by exponentially in the last 12 months where now enterprises all over the world are popping out of the woodwork and saying, you know, we gotta, we have to have a good organic presence because that’s the only way to compete.
So it’s, it’s, it’s kind of actually just getting, going, actually, even though we’ve been doing it for a while,
Andrew: what’s that w were you finding that customers were coming to you back when you were doing, um, link experts saying to you, how do I show, how do I justify this to my boss? How do I know whether the money we’re spending on links are working? How do I know, what else we need to do on lost? Were you specifically hearing that.
Seth: Yes. So a lot of product listening. So we, we, we, we gave them the links and then we had to do all the reporting for them to show them why it worked. And it was very surprising to me how little they knew about how people find their websites. They knew a lot about other things, but very little about that.
And that was when I just like, I don’t know, I don’t know what triggered that from coming out of it, but that was when I was like, let’s build a software product that can help them manage this. And I think logically, I was like, there’s software for CRM there’s software for HR there’s software for web analytics.
There’s no software for SEO. And at that time there was nothing. So. That was the beginning of coming up, coming up with it and customers validated it the whole time.
Andrew: In that article that I mentioned earlier, that you published the day that you sold your company, that we work, you said that you had to keep reading the struggle. Ben Horowitz is writing. Why, what was going on that made you have to keep coming back to that?
Seth: Got it right here.
Andrew: I’ll look at the hard thing about hard things.
Seth: yeah, in our, in our, you know, I first saw I’m not a victim, so I don’t want to, I don’t want to ever make that I’m not a victim. I’m, I’m very privileged and I’m lucky to have gone through all the experiences that I’ve gone to. Um, but it is it, I, I, I took the path of most resistance, right.
I started a company out of college with no experience. Um, you know, I, I, I did everything completely learning on the job and, and I just happened to also have a lot of, you know, I made a lot of mistakes. So it’s interesting when I was talking about being salesy. The, the real thing was, it’s not that we didn’t care about our customers, but when we have problems with customers, I, I chose to, to come up with aversions to think that we were fixing those problems and we really weren’t.
And the customer first focus was staring our problems in the head and just making the hard decisions to fix them. Um, but Y you know, Y Y the struggle always resonated me. And it’s one of the most profound pieces of business writing, I think, um, is that, um, you know, we had times when, uh, when I mentioned that time, we were raising money where we’ve talked to 34 different venture firms.
And, um, it was the last one who invested in, and w we were, we were a couple of weeks away from not making payroll. And, and we looked like we were not going to get an investor, you know, and you’re sitting in the room and it’s glass, and you could see everybody smiling and having a great time. And, you know, knowing that there’s a very high probability that you’ll have to probably let them all go.
Um, Um, there was a time when the business was not performing well at all. And also we were running out of money and our competitor was trying to buy us and the process got out of my hands. Um, and I had called us the era of the eye switch because my eye was twitching for about like nine months. Um, there was a time where, when we actually, when we sold the link building business and we were starting conductor, I had a bad board member.
I had two board members, Ameesh, and then a guy from matrix is not there anymore. And he, he wanted to force us to sell the company and to replace me. He’s like, we got to replace you and sell the company immediately fire sale. And it came as a complete surprise, no feedback. Everything was actually going according to plan.
And you know, it was like, I just lost everything. It was just like the rug had just been taken out from underneath me. And the next day I had to go present at our kickoff meeting for the. So, yeah, there’s a few of these things, um, that we have some over the years, I’d say the biggest struggle was actually getting on a, we were at, even though I was the most seasoned and most mature at that time, that was the hardest moments of my life.
Um, because when you, when you face it, when you face the threats of losing everything you’ve worked for and letting everyone who you care about down and potentially causing real damage in their life, you it’s, it is a on tolerable pain, right? That you feel
Andrew: How would you have caused damage in their life? If you didn’t extract conductor from WeWork?
Seth: uh, we would have had to terminate their employment. We would have not. We would have, um, not provided the financial fulfillment that we had promised as part of joining the company. Um, like their stock, wasn’t going to be worth anything. They were going to lose their job.
Andrew: Meaning all these people who are, who are screaming within the data you said the sale went through. We’re going to have some loss, not all of it, because you mentioned cash also, but
Seth: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, most of the upside was actually on the other side of the equation, but just losing their job and then also being part of something like it’s not, it’s not, uh, not, not just losing your job, but also being a part of something that, that was a failure. Um, and just as a, as a side note, most of the companies that we were at thought, unfortunately, they got destroyed.
You know, they, they, they ended up, um, not really making it out and work where they did, but they were, you know, you know, uh, Kylie dismembered at
Andrew: what’s an example of that.
Seth: uh, managed by Q this was a company that was a growing great company, Dan and the founder, and they got bought for a lot of money by we work. Layoffs and layouts and layoffs.
And eventually they sold it to a competitor with 30 employees and went down to 15. And I had like 250 at one point. Um, I mean all of them actually, except for us really, uh, uh, didn’t ha we didn’t, you know, didn’t go through the pain that they went through. I mean, we almost did. I went through the pain, but, um, but the, our organization became was pretty, actually came away, very unscathed,
Andrew: All right. I want to find out then what happened new after the sale? First? I should say my second sponsor is HostGator. In fact, Seth, I’m going to ask you this HostGator allows anyone to host a website. You could use WordPress, you can do whatever. You’ve seen tons of content based sites. Do you have an idea?
If you had to start today, this is Seth. Your dad says, you know what? You’re no good. Nick. I need you out of the house. Go make your own money, but I’ll pay for your hosting package. You can start from scratch. What would you start today? 2021. What’s an idea that Seth could launch with nothing but a hosting.
Seth: like A website
Andrew: A website you can launch with nothing else. Yes. Is there a site that you would launch that would help you get back on top? Is there a business that you would create?
Seth: I mean, you know, it’s with anyone with a good idea and a good hosting package and a good website. You can do anything I can say
Andrew: You know what I would do right now? Here’s the easy, here’s one. You tell me if this would work for you, your team is mostly remote.
Seth: today, today. Yeah. People
Andrew: Are they all, are they all going to go back into the office?
Seth: somewhere else. Someone.
Andrew: Okay. For the people who are home, I think they’re going to have an inadequate connection to the office. I, I suggest somebody do this.
Get a website where you say, here are the three or five different packages that you could have for work from home connection and work from home mic and all this stuff that you need, press a button and have it shipped out to two people so that you could do that exact thing for everyone at your company.
Andrew: Right. All right. And you could do it just by ordering from Amazon, frankly, first version, and then you ship it out and then you start making these things improving. All right. Listen to me, people, whether it’s that idea or anything else, if you need a website to host your tip, if you need a hosting company to host your website for your business, go to HostGator.
If you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, they’ll give you the lowest possible price they have. And frankly, their price is already so low that that’s not why you’re doing it. You’re doing it because you’re going to give me credit. Let’s be honest. hostgator.com/mixergy. Save a few pennies and help out your buddy, Andrew.
And they’ll know that I
Seth: Sounds like a good deal.
Andrew: what was going to be new now you’ve got the company started back up again. I mean, that started back up now. You’re running it yourself again. What changed after you bought it out?
Seth: Well, it started with the ownership of the company and the corporate structure and the intention. So, um, you know, I, I I’ve, I’ve always been a very, uh, people first, uh, leader in the sense that I care a lot about the culture of the company. I mean, even to my detriment at times, You know, we’ve, we’ve won countless number of workplace awards,
Andrew: What does that mean by the way? What do you do? But I’m looking at you right over your head is a drawing that says, change yourself, change the world. I don’t think I could do it justice by describing it. Um, you’ve got a book. What was the book that you showed me before we got started?
Seth: Uh, oh my culture. But yeah, this is a book we wrote when we were at WeWork about the culture of the
Andrew: Okay. So you clearly care about this stuff. It’s surrounds you. What is, what’s your vision for culture and how do you, how do you manage it?
Seth: I mean, I, for me, it’s like a business is more than, about starting a product. And then, and then, you know, making money, right. The path is everything to me and I deeply care about and it’s deep in my blood. I don’t need, I, you know, it’s just deep in my blood that, about the workplace. And I care about the people and I care that, and I want conductor, you know, we have a workplace mission, right.
Which is. How do we, how do we make the workplace a place that makes it, that lets you be the best version of the person you can be? And I believe very much that, that there’s a lot of taboo at work where it’s like, you go in, you puff up your chest and you pretend to be someone you’re not, and you never, you don’t talk about your feelings.
You don’t talk about what’s, you know, you don’t shit. You don’t want to share your weaknesses and the gaps in your skills know, and then you go home and then you become back to yourself. I mean, that’s the end. And you work for a company and you do labor and they give you money. Right? I mean, that’s the old mentality.
When, and when I believe is like the people at your work, they, they have the secrets to your growth. And in many cases, the people who you work with, you spend more hours with them than anybody else in your life. Even more than your significant others. If you’re not, you know, besides the time you sleep in bed together.
Um, so they have, they have a lot of secrets that can help you become a better person. And if we can create a work environment where people can. Really, um, realize the benefits of each other, helping each other, then that will create the best that will make it so people can grow faster and it’ll make the company more successful.
Um, so I, it’s always been, I’ve always been passionate about doing this and, and I think when you ask me the question about the new company and the new company, we wanted to actually embed the culture in the corporate foundation. So now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I learned a lot more about corporate structures and, and all that kind of stuff.
So when we created the new company, one is, um, we distributed equity in the company equally. Um, the terms of the type of equity we use for everybody. So everybody got cofounder stock, the same kind of stock that I got. Um, we were all at the same level playing field, um, no stock options, uh, no preferences, no kind of weird things that would, that would that way, uh, inhibit the employee.
That’s that’s one thing we call them co-founders
Andrew: Yep. How many were there?
Seth: There are about two 50 when we, when we did that. And then we, um, we actually created a co-founder, uh, voting agreement, which gave the co-founders rights. Um, for example, the people who work at conductor have the rights to get the information and the performance of the business.
Um, the people at the conductor can sell stock to each other without any subject, to any like rights of first refusal, um, that they have death benefits if they die. Um, they, um, they have the ability to have there’s a springing, right, to create a board member for themselves. So if the employee base, which includes me ever goes below 50% ownership, which is likely to happen as we grow and we raise money and so forth, the, they can elect a member amongst themselves as a board member to represent the employee based on the board of directors.
Right. Which is a, it’s a concept that actually is in your, in some European companies like German companies have employee board members, but in America, in American companies, this is a non-existent idea. So I really wanted to have a culture that was rooted in the corporate structure. Um, and, and then now that we have the key business back, it’s about growing it.
I mean, we’re about a $50 million ARR business. Um, we are, we’re accelerating our growth every quarter since we came out of WeWork. Um, the, um, pandemic has done us well in the sense that, oh, your website is now more valuable than it’s ever been before. And large corporations all over the world are need our help.
We’ve got the best product in the whole industry. Our competitors are, you know, are barely see them in our rear view mirror. Um, and, um, and I think there’s a chance to build a really meaningful company that that can be, you know, a company that’s up there with the Adobes and the big companies of the world and has a positive impact.
I mean, our mission is to help companies use, use their wisdom because every company has wisdom to do marketing better and to help people because. W instead of selling people, stuff, we, we kept, we convinced companies to use their knowledge, to make content, to make websites, to do marketing in a way that’s helpful.
And the more successful we are, the better the world is.
Andrew: Because if they’re buying more ads, they’re basically what Seth Godin and said was interruption marketing there versus content marketing, which is educating, entertaining, being useful. And by the way, there’s some positive feelings that come from that, that then translate into order. That’s your vision.
You want to be the guy who does that. Only thing to software. You don’t want to hire the writers who are going to write for your clients. You just want to empower those writers that they
Seth: Well, we want to get, we want to be the connection point to get everything you need for enterprises. And we have a marketplace in our product where you can, if you want to have a content brief created, you can like an Uber experience. You can just request, press a button and request it. And, um, we want to have all the services that you need in the marketplace.
And we have partners that are connected in the marketplace that can deliver.
Andrew: By the way what’s that on your wrist, the one you’re
Seth: that’s my pandemic mass.
Andrew: uh, the mask, you gotta keep it around. Yeah. New York is still using that us too here in California. Um, I, I wonder now that you’ve got new cut new employees coming in, are they getting the same rights, the same equity as the ones that, that relaunch the company with you?
Seth: Yeah. So, so the rights, um, good question. So the rights that we give all the new people are, is the same rights, the equity, we just flip the switch on a different kind of equity. So, so yeah, a different equity. So, um, because of, uh, because now the company is, is past the year and there’s something called 4, 9, 8, where you have to get your stock evaluated.
Um, we can’t grant stock to people anymore as co-founders because they, they would have tax implications with that. And then, you know, and, and it becomes a lot of money to pay all their taxes. Um, so we’re giving people stock options, but, um, to the extent we, you know, we make the stock options. In the best possible way.
Um, you know, 10 year extension. No, no, uh, no exercise. That’s like, you know, uh, uh, that we, we basically make it as employee friendly as possible. Um, but it’s still stock options.
Andrew: What do you think of what’s going on right now? Where companies are starting to say, let’s not talk about it. Politics personal stuff. Are you good with that?
Seth: Yeah. Very, very tricky topic. We’ve had more contention here at conductor and I think all the CEOs I talked to it’s, it’s become a very hard time to be a leader, you know, where, Hey, why didn’t you say something about this? Or what, why are you talking about this? Or, and then, and then when you are talking about it and people are upset that you’re talking about stuff, Hey, why are you talking about the set that we’re trying to build a company?
Are we a social justice company? So it’s been a little bit of a no win situation for leaders in the short. But in the longterm, I think it will all make things better. My perspective is you got to have values as a company. If your values are about equality, if your values are about, um, are about, um, supporting your people.
Um, then when there are things that happen in the world that are either anti equality or not, you know, or your people need support, like for example, the members of the AAPI.
community here in, in, in conductor, And they’re worried about getting attacked on the street, you know, I think they look, um, uh, Asian, uh, Asian, Pacific Islanders, American, Asian Pacific,
Andrew: right. So you’re saying if they’re worried about getting attacked on the street on the way over to work here, we can’t be insensitive to their
Seth: And, and crimes against, uh, uh, Asians or Scott, you know, skyrocketing. So you have to say something and you have to let them know they have your support. And, and it, it means something to them. So I think that as leaders, we have a responsibility to provide, uh, to provide inclusion and membership and support to the communities and the company and where it gets hard is just like, where do you cry?
Where’s the line about what, where you talk and where you don’t. But I think companies that are saying, listen, politics and all this stuff and advocacy, like, like 37 signals, we can’t talk about it’s, it’s too overlapping with diversity and inclusion and things that people really care about. And yet you can’t just cop out of it.
Andrew: I’d like to find a way to cop out of that stuff. I, I want to not have politics get into every conversation in my life, but I think what you’re saying is it’s not politics. If somebody is feeling unsafe on the way over to work, whether it’s
Seth: Not politics.
Andrew: If, if, if the sidewalk is broken, if there’s, if there’s crime there or if there’s hate crime there it’s all the same.
Seth: if the Asian people are getting attacked on the street, um, if you know, black people are getting murdered by cops. Um, these are in our politics. These are American values of equality and world where people are equal. And I think that the workforce of today, they demand to be at a place where their leadership will advocate for their rights and that they at least can feel.
And I know for me, I conductor, I can’t speak for other companies. I want to make sure that the,
people at our company, um, know that we got their back. Like you’re a conductor. Like I will, I will, I will. I will come out on the street and fight your battle with you. If that’s what it takes.
Andrew: It’d be like Ross Perot, who somehow I think he flew into a rant and rescue his people, or you send somebody in to rescue his people. But the fact that they were his people in Iran meant that he had to go and find a
Seth: Your people, your people and, and, and I don’t care. What were the, you know, once there are people, there are people and we’ll do anything for them.
Andrew: your dad gotta be proud by now. Don’t you think
Seth: Yeah. My
Andrew: he is? Right?
Seth: my dad’s round. He’s, he’s a good, he’s a good dad
Andrew: What was it that, that made him worry about you?
Seth: as bad kid. I was a really bad
Andrew: you do? I know you sold drugs. Can we say that? No. Well, I can’t say that.
Seth: Where, what made you think that?
Andrew: I don’t know and stuff out there to see what happens.
Seth: Yeah, listen, I’m not going to convict myself of anything, but, uh, yeah, I did a lot. I did a lot. I did things. I mean, I, listen, I did stuff that I just was a bad kid. I would say starting from, I mean, starting from nursery school, I
Andrew: told our producer you bit a kid first day preschool.
Seth: Aye. Aye. Aye. Yeah. I got it spelled on my first day of preschool.
Um, I bet I bet a girl because she wouldn’t give me raisins. Um, and uh, I get kicked out a lot of schools. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. I got a lot of parents calling my parents about things I did to them. I had a lot of police coming to my house. Um,
Andrew: I didn’t realize it was that bad. So what turned you around?
Seth: well, you know, my, my, uh, from, at the time I was 13 to 18, you know, my parents got divorced and my dad was working.
I live with my dad and I was working. He worked a lot, and then he all, he had two jobs and then he also was doing his own grieving and he was dating at night and stuff. So I had a lot of time by myself when I was like 13 to 18. I taught myself how to drive. Like when I was 14, I would drive my brother’s car to school.
Andrew: Long island.
in long island. I mean, um, you know, and I, I barely went to school as it was. Um, and, um, but I just, I got it all out of my system. Right. So, you know, um, the things I just did all, I did so many things that I got it out of my system, that by the time I was 18, I moved to Manhattan. Like the day I turned 18, I went to cos city college here in Manhattan.
And I was like, okay, I’m here. Like, I don’t have to go and like, do anything. I don’t have to go in like soil my out somewhere or do some crazy stuff. I did it all.
Andrew: Uh, Yeah.
Seth: looking around and I’m in the city and I’m like, this city has unlimited potential, but you got to have some bucks to do something.
You know, like you gotta, you gotta have some currency, uh, cause you can’t do anything without currency in this city. And it’s also a city that is, you can do anything. So I, I just, I went from, I did one semester at hunter college where I went to school during the day. And after that I got full-time jobs for the rest of my college.
I went to school at night. I had, I used to wear a suit everyday to work. I had a full on salary. And then after I worked for four years, I had like corporate jobs. I worked for Nautica corporation. I worked for the software company called cross-border solutions. I was like a guy was a sales guy, like an SDR called making cold calls and stuff.
And I go to school at night. Um, I was like, I don’t want to do this the rest of my life. Like, first of all those companies, they were terrible cultures. I’m like, this sucks. Like, am I going to sit here? The rest of my look and check in while some, you know, some guy, some jerk comes and tells me that he doesn’t like how I looked that day and I gotta be, you know, working for the man.
And, and I, and I, I was fortunate that I had these bad experiences. So I’m like, I don’t want to be doing this the rest of my life. So I was like, I got to start my own thing. And you know, one thing led to the next and that’s, that’s what, that’s what got me here.
Andrew: I do find it. When, when you live in New York, you do see these possibilities for both sides. I used to go and like separate hangers in a, in a basement because that’s the job. My dad got me and I saw that there’s a life over here that I didn’t realize existed of people who are going to spend the rest of their lives in the basement because they, they weren’t going to school.
They didn’t have a future. They, and frankly, uh, many times they were just, they were illegal immigrants. Right. And you saw what they were hoping for the future. And then you looked up and you saw the possibility of what was out there. And you said, I said, this is amazing. I want that too. I’m with you on this dude.
I’d like to see, write a book. I, you told me before we got started, you’re not are facing your life. Are you like sitting around and talking about your story, writing your book? I feel like, you know what it could be. No, I don’t know that you’ve got the patience for it, but you’re the content guy. So for you to sit and write more about what, what the right culture is for a business, how to think about it from the beginning, I think it’s meaningful and it’s.
Authority the credibility to do it. And then from there I’d like to see you just frankly, right? The, my life story.
Seth: I mean, th the, the, the WIWORK stories, um, were unbelievable, um, you know, share one or two with you if you’re interested.
Andrew: Yes, yes, yes. I was trying to figure out how much you want to say.
Seth: yeah, no, actually I’ll share anything about it. Um, um, the, um, I’ll share a couple of them with you. Uh, I’ll give one good one that I’ve never shared before that you’ll like, um, where, I mean, where, where in the beginning, we’re in the, we’re in there, the chapters here, right?
Like we, we’ve got a great road ahead. And, um, and I w I will find out, help me figure out how to write a book. I’ll, I’ll figure it out. I’ll figure it out if we can, but we got, we have great story here. Um, but we, so we work. Um, so the story I’ve never shared, um, so we just sold the business and we got, we joined.
We were, and, you know, as I said, we were like $28 million in ARR and, uh, Adam Newman’s like, you gotta be a billion dollars and three years, or you’re not gonna mean anything. And I’m like, Okay.
I’m like, yeah. Okay. And he’s like, you got to come back with a plan of how you’re going to be a billion dollars in three years now.
There’s physics in south SAS. You don’t go from 30 to a billion dollars. Right. So I think we came back with a plan that was like, I remember sitting with my team in a room and like, we’re going to, we came back with a plan where like, we can get to maybe $140 million in four years or something. Anyway. So we start building this plan.
We’ve got all these ambitions, hiring an SMB product that we’re going to distribute. We work and all that stuff anyway, a month later, um, Adam’s like, Hey, let’s go on a, let’s go. Um, you know, like I’m taking a trip, you want to come with me, we’re going to go meet the mayor of LA and we’re going to do this little tour.
So with the LA, I went to San Francisco and, um, I’m on the I’m on the plane. And, uh, there is a guy who just joined. We work, who. Was like the top, one of the top five guys at Amazon guy named Sebastian, John Cunningham, phenomenal, phenomenal guy that, that, that I really, really have very fond of. And Sebastian, right.
When he joined WeWork, beat me, being very opportunistic. I emailed him the day they announced it. I’m like, Hey, I’m stuck. I just joined the company. They just, I just sold. You want to come meet me? So he met me, he, and at the end of the meeting, he’s like, he’s like, yeah, this is cool. What you’re doing. And you’re, you’re a good guy, but I don’t understand why you’re here. So anyway, I’m now on the plane. I’m on I’m Adam’s private plane and it’s, it’s, uh, it’s Sebastian, myself and me sitting at a little table and Adam’s like, Hey Seth. Um, so we’ve been thinking 30 days after we bought the company, we’ve been thinking, um, we think we were going to sell conductor and I’m like, okay.
I’m like, what do you mean? He’s like, yeah, we’re going to sell the company. I think we’re going to sell it to Salesforce. Um, and, um, Uh, we’re going to sell the company and, uh, you know, we, you should keep your best people and you can hire anyone that you want from the company and we’re going to sell it.
And we really think we should have, you know, we should be focused, have everybody focused on the core business. And literally my, my heart sunk in like the worst, cause he wasn’t joking. And I had felt like, again, just this feeling of like, wow, like you just got punched in the stomach. I was so excited about building conductor.
Just told everybody how excited I was. And, and then, and then the conversation kind of abruptly ended. He’s like, I’m going to meet, he’s like, Marc, Benioff’s coming over next week. We w like, be ready and, and we’ll, uh, you know, we’ll give them a good deal. I know you like Salesforce, Seth, because he knows that he knows, I like Salesforce and I like mark Benioff quite a bit.
Um, and Adam was, you know, pretty good friends with mark Benioff, at least that’s fine. Um, you know, when we were selling the company, he was like texting with Benioff and FaceTiming him and, um, you know, like about our deal is, um, and, uh, anyway, um, so the, the, the, the, the, the trip goes on. We don’t talk about this again.
And then like the day we’re back, I get a text message from the CFO of we work. He’s like, Hey, Benioff’s going to be here tomorrow. We’ll be ready at 11:00 AM tomorrow. So I go to someone here at conductor. I mean, I’m like, I’m like, I don’t know. I mean, keep in mind, I’m running the company, we just sold that everything’s all this happening and I don’t know what the hell is going on.
I, uh, so I talked to this, I talked to Lindsay, who’s here at conductor. She’s our head of marketing. It’s phenomenal conductor. And I’m like, Hey, we’re, we’re, we’re having a really big partnership meeting with Salesforce like tomorrow. And we need to make a deck for it really fast. So when to make this deck and, um, the next day I go over there and I’m in, Adam’s like he’s got this big giant office and couches and TVs everywhere.
He’s got like a spawn there. And I got my slides up on the screen and, and Benioff’s in the building doing the tour and he’s going to be making his way to the room. And we’re going to have this conductor meeting and mark, mark walks in the room and Adam’s with him. He introduces me and Adam changes his mind at the last second.
And we never talked about conductor once. And then. Adam never brings it up ever again.
Seth: He never brings it up ever again. And actually once, and then he added that he had the nerve to tell me months later that I’m too emotional. And he referenced the time when he told me that in the, that he had to leave the meeting because he saw our emotional, I was getting that he couldn’t be, he couldn’t stand to look at me anymore because I was too emotional.
So that’s kind of like, you know, a manipulate manipulative technique.
Andrew: And the, the emotion did you, you don’t, he’s not talking about this meeting where you showed emotion,
Seth: I was, I was emotional when he told me on the plane that he wanted to sell the
Seth: cause I was excited to be a part of it. So then, so then, so then, uh, that turns out to, um, that turns out to be, you never talked about it again and then he, he, he didn’t want it. He, it was just, uh, it was a so.
We work about it. And they’re like, don’t listen to Adam. Like, so I came back, I came to the first board meeting. We had two months later with a plan to buy the company out from WeWork. And I’m like, you guys don’t want me here. I got a plan. I’ll get out of
Andrew: Uh, if you’re going to sell me to Salesforce, then just sell me to me instead. I’ll
Seth: no, I was going to partner with the private equity firm cause they just paid a bunch of money.
And then I got screamed at, at this point, we’re not doing a deal with PE and we’re not, we’re not, you know, we’re not selling the business, we just bought it. So, so then I was like, okay.
And then I, I, you know, I just, I got back to conductor and I just leaned into what we were doing here and uh, and never that conversation never came up again.
And uh, but that’s, that’s just one of many stories like that that are just when I talk about a rollercoaster, I mean, it was a roller
Andrew: You think he changed his mind right there in the meeting with Benioff.
Seth: I don’t know, you know, I don’t know.
Andrew: he was just riffing to see as a possible and, or does it make sense? Is that what it is? You don’t know? That’s the thing that there’s not enough logic as, as for you a person who’s sole logic. Who’s Ori who’s oriented that way.
This makes no sense. It just makes no sense.
Seth: Absolutely. He has a great authority and influence. And the implications for me were drastic. That basically was a three month that put me in a tailspin for three months because, um, you know, and again, the hard part about being a leader, especially in those times is that I got to put my game face on for all my people here.
Meanwhile, um, you know, I’m like, is this is this. They don’t want us here anymore. And I’m like, I just, I just told everybody how excited they are to
Andrew: did they even want you, what was the connection to WIWORK?
Seth: Well, we work with our biggest customer.
Seth: We had done phenomenal work for them as we do for our customers. And we made them a lot of sales, right? Because we grew their organic presence tremendously in the, in the multiple hundreds of percents in the hundreds of millions of dollars we made for them. So I think they wanted us to help them with their marketing.
But, um, Adam, uh, Adam had a strong affinity to me and he, and he, I would, I refuse to accept any offers to join the company. And this was the, this was the only way to get to, to, to make that happen. So we, um, you know, um, that, that had a lot to do with it,
Andrew: but it was mostly that he liked working with you. He wanted more of you for his company. It’s not that he wanted to
Seth: me to be an executive. he wanted me to be an executive at we work. Um, and I. There was a vision for humanizing conductor being the marketing arm of WeWork. Like we would have an enterprise products and that’s what I was joining for. I’m like, Hey, we’re going to use their platform. And we’re going to build a giant marketing platform using all their customers.
And it was the fastest growing enterprise customer base in the world. So I was excited to do that, but I think he had other things in mind and, and you know, it, it, it, it definitely created a lot of tension. I mean, Madame would call me all the time and he’s like, Hey, when are you going to leave conductor?
And come join me here we work.
Andrew: Wow. And you knew each other from school for right? From what I understand, you
Seth: We were, we’re like barely acquaintances in school but we built a relationship in 2016 when they became a customer. That’s when we started to get to know each other. And I haven’t. And since we, since we, since we bought the company back and since his last day at we work, I haven’t talked to him once.
Andrew: What’d you? Of course.
Seth: Of course, I talked to him, you know, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t w I don’t think I would, uh, get into a business transfer.
Andrew: I don’t think so either. I wonder how he’s going to come back though. I wonder what the next version of him is going to be.
Seth: I mean, he likes real estate, real estate people don’t care about all the other stuff. And like you said earlier, I mean, I mean, I look at like Alex Rodriguez, right? Um, and for those of you don’t know, like he’s a baseball player, but he was like the most decisive despise person in professional sports. He got suspended from the major league baseball.
He was using drugs, selling drugs. And now Alex Rodriguez is like the head guy for ESPN. I mean, I think up until recently, he’s like, you know, Jay dating J-Lo, he’s like, you know, everyone loves Alex harder, you guys. So I think we live in a very forgetful world for good and for bad. And, uh, I think Adam, you know, hopefully Adam, Adam has so many superpowers.
If he can, you know, if he could shore up some of the, some of the parts that he needs to work on here. I mean, he’s, he’s a, he’s a very powerful person.
Andrew: I wonder what it’s going to end up being.
Seth: We’ll see.
Andrew: he’s not telling his story yet. At least you’re, you’re out there telling your story. I feel like what’s happening
Seth: I am I am today. I haven’t, I haven’t talked to him I haven’t talked to, I haven’t
Andrew: No, no, no. I’m not saying you’re telling his story. I think he’d do better to start taking a little bit of his, of the narrative, into his own hands for his own life.
I think what you’re doing now, it let’s come back to you. I’m glad that you’re out there talking about this. You know why I think that there are people who are going to be working for you, who are wondering, who is this guy, Seth, where did this company come from? Does he really believe it? Is he like, can I look in his eyes or listen to his words and see something I believe in, I’m glad you’re doing this.
Seth: yeah. Thanks. Well, thanks for the opportunity.
Andrew: All right. Thanks so much. I usually will give out the website so people can go and sign up, but no one’s signing up. My audience is all entrepreneurs. I don’t think they’re at the place where they’re ready to work with you. right.
Seth: Yeah, well, conductor actually has a free product that we just came out with called conductor for Chrome. It’s a Chrome extension, and it’s actually useful for really anybody, any marketer, any anyone who’s doing digital. And, uh, if they want to get that, that’s a great way to start working with us. It’s free, it’s free for life.
And, um, but, uh, we have a lot of great content that we share. We have a lot of good events that the company has, that are welcome for everybody. And, um, and, um, yeah, we’re happy to happy to do what we can do.
Andrew: Well, if you heard this interview and you get to see him in person, go say hi to Seth. Thanks so much.
Seth: Amazing opportunity. Thank you for doing what You do for the community.
Andrew: You bet. Right on, man.