Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. You know me. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It is home of the ambitious upstart. This is a place where I do deep, in-depth interviews with entrepreneurs and talk about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs.
I know there are a lot of podcasts out there for wannabes where we just talk about, “Yeah, we started a company. How great is it? Tell me your favorite book. Goodbye. Everyone else, go start your business.” That’s just not it. That’s not what I’m into. I really want these in-depth interviews, the kinds that will almost sit on a shelf with a biography because that’s the way we really learn, by going in depth.
Let me tell you the challenge that today’s guest has. He really does have a challenge. You’ve never heard of him, my bet is. You’ve never heard of his company. Here’s a challenge. You’ve heard of his competitors. They have tons of cash, really impressive people. They have conferences that basically take over all of San Francisco. Still he’s competing with them. And he’s growing.
So, let me ask you this–if you were in his place, what would you do? How would you compete with these big guys and still claim your customers, build your product and grow your business? There’s one word that will kind of sum of up one of the things that he did that’s really different–resellers.
I want to talk to him about how he built a reseller network to kind of go around these big marketers, who he’s competing with and I want to talk to him about how he’s talking to his customers to figure out what to build for them so his resellers have something valuable to sell.
His name is Lars Helgeson. Excuse me, Lars, I talked to you before we started about the pronunciation.
Lars: It’s tricky.
Andrew: I’m over sensitive to it now. Lars Helgeson–how did I do?
Lars: That’s perfect.
Andrew: Good. You are the founder of GreenRope. You told me before we started that your mission is to help companies take command of their businesses and create demand for their products and services. Basically what that means is someone has a business, they need to find new leads, your software helps them collect those leads and helps manage those leads. They need to be able to send intelligent email and other marketing to those leads based on what they’re interested in and what they’ve done–your software does that. They need to sell–your software closes the sale.
They need maybe to have a sales person interact with that customer before the sales closed or afterwards–your software allows that sales person to go into the CRM and see what that customer has done in the past and if the sales person discovers something interesting, like if the customer has a dog named Pete, they might write that into the CRM so that the next time they call they remember to ask how Pete’s doing.
That’s what your software does. We’ll talk about how you built it and how you grew it. All of that is thanks to two great sponsors. The first is a company that will help anyone who’s listening to me hire developers. It’s called Toptal. I’ll tell you guys more about them later. And the second one will help you find the perfect brand. So, if you have a new business and you hate trying to figure out what to name it, this company will do it for you. It’s called BrandBucket. I’ll tell you more about them later.
First, I’ve got to meet Lars. Lars, good to have you here.
Lars: Hey, thank you so much, Andrew, for having me.
Andrew: This is the second version of this business that you started. The first one was what? What was it called?
Lars: It was called Cooler Email.
Andrew: What did it mean to create Cooler Email?
Lars: Well, back in the day–we started back in 2000. Way back then, there really wasn’t much out there in the market in terms of email marketing. You had to be a hardcore propeller head. You had to go in there and setup these old programs. If anyone is ancient and is watching this, they might remember programs like Majordomo and using qmail and some of these other old software packages.
So, we found that there was an opportunity there for the market. It wasn’t easy started. I had just gotten out of the Air Force and didn’t really know a whole lot about business, but fortunately had a business partner at the time who kind of kick started us and made some good introductions and we started to grow. And just from working part-time and anything I could do in the evenings to work on developing this–it took a couple of years, but finally without taking any external funding, we were able to launch Cooler Email.
Andrew: And you left Cooler Email because of an issue with your cofounder. Can you talk about what the issue was?
Lars: Yeah. It was more that the market was changing. We recognized that there are a lot of bigger, well-funded competitors out there. Everyone knows Mailchimp, Constant Contact and now Mandrill and SendGrid. It’s a very heavily competed space. It requires constant attention to really be competitive in the space. You have to continue to create either more value, make it easier to use or whatever.
So, what we found was that we had to adapt. So, either we had to create some way to make our email marketing tool better or we could modify what we did and make it a little bit more capable. So, we chose the latter path. My business partner at the time really wasn’t too interested in that path, so we recognized we had just had a difference in philosophy and it made more sense to kind of let me take control of the business and over time we were able to negotiate a way for him to continue to participate a little bit, but essentially transfer the responsibility of the business over to me.
Andrew: You were buying him out, essentially, over time.
Andrew: What was his philosophy?
Lars: He wanted to stay very simple. He wanted to keep a very small, light overhead business, still only do email marketing. What I had found in talking to a lot of our customers was that email marketing, aside from it being very much a commodity–there’s lots of competition out there and it’s a very simple thing–really the challenge that businesses run into is more about information. It’s how do you take the data that you learn from email marketing and make it mean something?
So, what happened if you send an email newsletter out and you get a 20% read rate this month and a 10% read rate next month? How does that impact sales? What do you do with that data? The problem that we find is that in the real world, most of the time that data just sits in the email marketing program.
You can hire now–there are new marketing automation tools. But even most marketing automation tools, they’re just expensive versions of Constant Contact and Mailchimp. Most people that use marketing automation, because the integration of data is so hard, usually what ends up happening is they just use it as a very expensive version of Mailchimp.
Andrew: I’ve got an account with AWeber, which will just tell me how many people open my email. But I can’t easily email people who open up my second and fifth email. There’s no way to say, “Look, they clearly are interested in this topic and that topic. Next time I want to talk about those two topics, here is the group of people I should be addressing exclusively.” I can’t do that. That’s the frustration.
You wanted to go bigger. He was happy with where it was, kind of a lifestyle business. I know I’m over-simplifying. My guess is there’s a lot more underneath the surface here, especially when we’re talking about two founders. You don’t just break up. It’s kind of like being married, right? There are deeper issues there.
Andrew: But you took it bigger. Where are the revenues right now at GreenRope?
Lars: We’re just about $2.5 million. So, without having any venture funding, we have to be very cautious and organic about the way we grow. The only way to do that is to make sure you’re providing a lot of value.
Andrew: Here’s what you told our producer. He asked you what’s your biggest–how did you get started? You said, “I started talking to clients, getting a better understanding of what to build for them. I wanted to find their challenges.” How did you do that?
Lars: So, we did it in a couple of ways. Whenever you’re trying to get feedback–essentially, it’s creating a collaborative development environment where we involve our customers and say, “What can we create for you?”
Andrew: What about the very first version? We’re talking about you had an email system. It was working well. You have to reinvent yourself. You reinvent yourself through making phone calls to existing customers. What are you asking them to understand their challenges?
Lars: Really it’s where do you run into the roadblocks? Where are the roadblocks in your business? How does information get stuck? What we found was that almost every business has this problem–every business. If you talk to consultants, they’ll all tell you the same thing, that businesses work in silos. You’ve got a marketing department. You’ve got a sales department. You’ve got an events department. You’ve got your account executives, which a lot of times are sitting in a totally different place.
What ends up happening is this information, just like the people, are stored in silos. You might have maybe they’re in a separate little area, a cubicle farm. They might be on their floor. They might be an outsourced group. But generally speaking, the marketing people don’t really talk a lot to the sales people. They don’t really talk a lot to the operations people and the customer service people.
Andrew: So, you specifically–I’m looking at an early version of CoolerEmail.com. I see your client list. I see there’s a company Said Barry. I see there’s something called Off. I see there’s StarveUps.com. I see that there’s Nextel, which was a huge company, one of the most successful startups of its day. Did you actively call up your customers there and say, “What are you trying to do with our software? What are the roadblocks getting in the way of achieving that?” That was it?
Lars: Yeah. So, that was part of it. Having those conversations, reaching out to the people that we knew there that actually used it and said, “How can we better serve you?” A lot of times, people would have–they would look at the older versions of software and they would say, “I like the way X works, but I’d really like it if we can do Y and Z also.” So, how do we get there?
It’s like if you ask anyone who owns a software company, they will tell you your work is never done. Customers will always say, “I need the software to do this additional thing. Really, it’s up to the software company to determine how easy is it for us to add this new thing on. Do we need to bolt another thing on or do we need to start over?
Andrew: Lars, one of the things I’ve heard in these interviews is that if you ask your customers, “What do you want? What should we be adding?” They ask for all kinds of off the wall requests or requests that make a lot of sense, but only for them.
Andrew: So, you got that too? So, what do you do to keep from getting these off the wall requests, like, “Hey, Lars, I’d like to be able to request to email just to white people?” Who knows what kind of craziness people are going to ask for? What do you do to avoid that?
Lars: Yeah. So, we created a big matrix. In that matrix, we looked at who was asking, how important are they–in other words, how big are they–anyone in a software company should have some sort of a feature request process in place. So, we came up with a series of five different metrics–who were they, how much did they pay us, how hard was it, did our competitors do it and an overall assessment of how did we feel about this?
So, we had this matrix that we put all the requests in. So, we collected all this information. We looked at all the things that needed to be done and we realized that the value that we needed to create for our software was beyond anything that we had designed for Cooler Email.
Lars: So, we knew that in the old days of email marketing, it’s build a list, design an email, blast it out and see who opens it. But we knew that for us to meet the needs of our customers, we had to start over. So, instead of using email marketing as the core, GreenRope is built with the CRM as the core and everything rotates sort of as orbiting around that.
Andrew: What kind of a feedback would tell you that CRM needs to be the core?
Lars: It really had to do with understanding the relationship. They wanted to know more about the relationship than just who opened the email and who clicked on it. They wanted to know what happens–did this person go to our website? Did they fill out a form? We found the common thread through all of that was the actual person.
So, it’s not really about the reads or the clicks or the unsubscribes or the bounces. That’s useful information. But at the core, it’s really about the relationship because the relationship changes over time. That’s really what a CRM is supposed to do.
So, if you look at the way companies like Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce–they’re all built on the concept of what CRM was 30 years ago. Thirty years ago, CRM, the relationship was between the sales person and a lead. That usually started with a phone call. Maybe they’d get a brochure. They’d see an advertisement or they’d go to a networking meeting and someone would put into the CRM, “I talked to Joe today.” Then they would say, “I talked to Joe. I’m going to schedule to Joe in two weeks.” They pull the note about Joe two weeks from now.
But we know now the world works totally differently. People get research and they know more about your business way before they call your sales person. They’re learning about you. They’re visiting your website. They’re interacting with you on social media. They may be filling out forms, downloading whitepapers. They may be making phone calls, all those things.
Andrew: Speaking of phone calls, that sounds like a desk call.
Lars: I actually do still have–
Andrew: You do? Why do you keep that?
Lars: That’s a good question. I think back in the old days, we still have faxes that our clients ask for. So, it’s just one of those things. I’m holding on to old tech.
Lars: That phone rings probably once a week and it’s always someone trying to sell me something.
Andrew: You could probably give that number over to Google Voice and have it screened for you.
Andrew: All right. I see what they were asking for–CRM as the center as opposed to email being the center. By the way, I hate these acronyms. Let me just say CRM is customer relationship management software. It’s that software we sue to keep track of all of our customers. That’s a simple idea but it could be really hairy.
In fact, I talked to you about some of my sponsors before we started and I said, “I want to make sure there’s no conflict with any of my sponsors, that you’re not doing any of what they’re doing.” I mentioned one and you said, “We’re doing that.” Then I mentioned another and you said, “Yeah, we’re doing that too.” Then I mentioned a third and you said, “We’re doing what they’re doing also.”
So, that’s a big project where you are today. What’s the first version. What did that look like?
Lars: The first version was really just email marketing and contact management. It was very simple. It was you want to be able to keep a record, a longstanding record of the history of what someone has done with all the emails that you’ve sent them.
Lars: At the very basic core, you’re measuring here’s a person, here’s something that we know about them. Like you were saying before, you found out the guy’s dog’s name is Pete, whatever it could be, having that continuity of understanding the relationship over time so you could see that maybe over the course of the last year, this person has read these emails, they’ve clicked on these links and now when my sales person calls up, I know the rough idea about what they’re interested in.
Andrew: I see, really basic stuff. You’re not sending different emails to different people based on what links they clicked. You’re just keeping track in a record in your CRM. Here’s the name of the person and their email address. Here’s what they subscribe to and what they open and clicked on. And that’s it?
Lars: That’s what we started with. That was eight years ago now.
Andrew: Was there anything that was hard for you to keep out of that first version but you had to force yourself because it didn’t make sense?
Lars: Oh yeah. We had a massive list being able to embed survey data, for example, and being able to embed website traffic data. In the first version, we wanted to be very cautious about trying to–of course, you can wait and wait and wait while you develop software for the perfect thing. For us, we had to get this minimum viable product out and see what our customers liked about it.
So, when we first started working on this, this was back in 2009, that’s exactly what we had to do. We had to start with something very simple and based on that, start to build out more functionality. That’s how basically we’ve been incrementing this base functionality over the last six years around that idea. We know where we wanted to go. We built the architecture so that we could get there eventually, but we knew that when we first launched, there was no way that we’d have everything built. So, that’s what 2009-2010 looked like.
Andrew: Was there anything you added that you shouldn’t have to the first version?
Lars: That’s a good question. I that because we started very simply, I think probably in the first version, the survey tool was probably a little bit premature. Now it’s built out, there’s a lot more functionality to it. It’s totally integrated with the CRM. You can build automation around it and all that.
But way back in the day, building a survey tool was probably a lot for us to take on and include in that first version. And then the other part, we built a very preliminary event management tool. So, that was another thing that when you start managing event attendance and reminders–
Andrew: Why did you do that?
Lars: So, this is actually kind of a funny story. I started working on a version of this for my hockey team. So, I play ice hockey. It’s the proverbial beer league thing. So, the captain said, “I’d really like to have a tool that would help me keep track of who’s supposed to show up, who’s supposed to bring beer.” I said, “Maybe I could build something like that into this new version of our platform that we’re building.”
So, my hockey team kind of inspired me to create this event management tool and of course, you don’t just build a calendaring system and build event reminders and build all those things overnight. So, that was another thing so that I could help my hockey team out and make sure we have enough guys showing up every night that we skated, making sure those guys showed up.
So, it was one of those things with a lot of nights working and building this thing out, thinking that I would have the approval of my hockey team.
Andrew: Ah, that makes sense.
Lars: But it was fun.
Andrew: In retrospect, a mistake.
Lars: Well, yeah. I probably could have pushed off the development of it. In retrospect, it is a very important part of our system now. We’ve got a booking calendar. We’ve got event management. So, we can fully replace Eventbrite for ticketing and all that kind of stuff and receiving payments, registration options and all that. So, it was good that we built it, didn’t really need to put it in the first version. But maybe I got a little more ice time because of it.
Andrew: All right. Let’s talk about my sponsor because this is an important one. Finding a company name is really hard. Finding a company name that someone else hasn’t taken over and you’re legally actually allowed to use is really tough. Finding a logo is really tough, finding the domain, really tough.
What if instead of spending all your time when you’re getting started trying to find the perfect name, you just went to one place that put the whole branding for you right there. Branding, actually, is a business that actually can costs you tens of thousands–bigger companies pay hundreds of thousands, but if you’re a startup, you’re not doing that.
You’re paying maybe tens of thousands of dollars to find the perfect brand. But it’s too expensive. You don’t want to spend that much money when you’re just getting started. You don’t want to spend that much time when you’re just getting started. So, what do you do?
Well, one of my past interviewees is a woman named Danielle Morrill and she wanted to start a brand new company because her previous one wasn’t doing so well. It wasn’t a hit. She was willing to go take a flyer, take a big risk on what she believed was going to be it, the next business. So, what she did was she went to a company called BrandBucket. She told me about this, I think, in the interview.
BrandBucket she was able to go to and say, “I’m looking for a name that’s kind of catchy.” She wanted an alliteration where the first parts of the word kind of rhyme. She found one, Mattermark. Now Mattermark is a site that you can go to that’s basically like the Bloomberg business news of the startup world. Investors, reporters, other entrepreneurs go there to see what’s going on, what matters, what’s up in the startup space, who’s raising money.
She’s been raising money herself. I see according to CrunchBase, she’s up to $9.9 million in four rounds. The company is growing. She’s got a lot of good customers. And she did it because she has a good brand that will just stick with you. You’re going to remember Mattermark. And she didn’t have to futz around trying to find that herself. She just went to BrandBucket and that’s what BrandBucket specializes in.
She’s not the only interviewee that I’ve had on here who got her brand name, who got her company started by going to BrandBucket. The other one is a company called Envato. They’re huge now as a marketplace for–do you know them, by the way, Lars, Envato?
Lars: I am not familiar with them, no.
Andrew: What they do is they’re a marketplace for so many different things like themes for WordPress or landing page design or code snippets if you don’t want to do it yourself or I think they even do video, all that stuff–how do you find a brand that works internationally, that is easy to remember and use? Well, they went to BrandBucket and they signed up and they got this name and he built up this incredible company and I interviewed him about it.
So many people go to BrandBucket. If you’re listening to me and you have a new project, go check out BrandBucket.com/Mixergy. You’re going to get to see logos included, domain names are included, everything is included for one price. It will allow you to get your company started right.
And if you go to BrandBucket.com/Mixergy, they’re going to give you a $75 Envato gift card with purchase because they want to encourage more Mixergy people to sign up. I think part of the reason is they want more people in interviews on Mixergy to say, “And then we went to BrandBucket and we started our company.”
So, they know there are a lot of entrepreneurs listening. They want you guys to sign up. Go check them out. Even if you just want to browse, just to be creatively inspired by what’s out there and you never want to sign up, just go skim, go look around at BrandBucket.com/Mixergy.
Lars: Yeah. I wish we’d had a company like BrandBucket.
Andrew: How did you come up with your company name? I know we were talking about the challenge of it before we started.
Lars: Yeah. It’s tough. It’s worse now. Every domain name is taken. Every business is taken. Every random conglomeration of different syllables and different sounds is taken. A lot of times you’ve got to pay extra for these domains that are for sale if people are squatting on them. We had to kind of poke around and do a lot of brainstorming. A lot of it was kind of hit or miss without the guidance of another company that could really help us find a good brand.
Andrew: What does GreenRope mean?
Lars: So, green is for revenue and sustainability. The rope is that many strands make a rope strong. So, the more things you connect your business to with GreenRope, the stronger your business. That’s basically what we’ve created is this platform that’s all about how do we get companies to rely on us to have as many different parts of their business connected to us.
Andrew: You do have a lot of different parts. I’m now looking at the earliest marketing that I was able to find for you online came from 2010. What I see is that GreenRope will do SMS campaigns, surveys, web forms, forums–that’s a bit challenge to take on–brand monitoring, calendaring, project management, contact management. Do you feel like you went too far?
Lars: My social life does. You know, it’s always a challenge. When you have a lot of capability, companies come to us and say, “We have a couple pain points. We don’t have 12 different pain points.” But the nice thing about having a broad product is that companies can grow into the broadness of what we offer. We can address those pain points no matter what they are. People will come to us and say, “I really need an event management solution that integrates with a CRM.”
So, those are the two main things that they’re concerned about. Then we show them down the road, once those things get built and integrated in their business process, we can show them how to use the CRM, how to do email marketing and marketing automation and the surveys and some of the other functionality.
So, a lot of times companies come to us with a specific problem or two and then we’ll solve those problems and then they will see how they can connect all these other functions together in the same piece of software and do things they had no idea were even possible.
Andrew: You told our producer that you took a very consultative–yeah, that’s the word–approach in the beginning. Is it because–did you see yourself as essentially a consultant who was only building this kind of product and if a customer wanted it, you would basically build it just for that customer with the expectation that others would do it in the future, as opposed to saying, “Here’s our core, let’s see if we can build out this core only?”
Lars: That’s a very good question because the answer is a little bit of both. We had to listen to our existing client base and make sure that we built something that was going to be useful. But we also had to anticipate where the market was going to go. I’ll never forget, when we first launched, I was giving a talk to a room here locally for a local organization where they put you in front of a room and you present your business model and you get feedback from the audience.
So, I stood up there and I said, “Here’s our vision. We want to create this unified platform that does all these things. Every single person in the audience said, “You’re crazy. There is no way you can even build anything like this. There’s no way people are going to use anything that’s this broad. You’re trying to boil the ocean.”
After I was done giving the presentation, there was someone from Infusionsoft in the audience. The guy walked up to me and looked at me square in the eye and he said, “You are headed for certain disaster.” When I heard that from the Infusionsoft guy, it lit a fire under me and said, “Okay. I have everyone telling me that it can’t be done and I have, at the time, still, a pretty good-size company telling me they didn’t think I could do it either.”
So, when someone presents a challenge, I feel like I think I can beat that challenge. It’s the competitive nature in me, I guess. So, a lot of that was the combination of listening to our customers, having someone say that this kind of technology was impossible to achieve and seeing the value that we could bring when we were able to create this unified platform, I knew what this could do for a company, at least in my head at the time.
Now we have a whole program in place. We’ve got–when people come on board, we walk them through this whole process. It’s a very–that part is also very consultative because we have to understand how they do their business. So, we have to look at, “What do you have in place? What does your website do now? What are you selling? Why do you sell it? What happens when someone calls a sales person?”
So, we kind of break it into three different components. We look at what data are you gathering, what does your market segment look like and what do your processes look like? And then we use that information to customize our platform around what they’re looking to do.
Andrew: I see that it is still very much a consultative sales process, a lot of T’s in there. I’ll tell you how I can see it. You guys have a pricing page right now that has seven different options–eight, actually, if you include enterprise, ranging from $149 a month to $499. I get to see which one I want based on the number of contacts I click. Every single one of these buttons except for the enterprise goes to the exact same page and it seems like you guys don’t even pay attention to what I clicked. You just get my contact information so that you can call me up and we can have a conversation.
Andrew: So, I can’t just buy online. I can’t say, “I want to pay $149. Let’s get started now.”
Andrew: You just get me into a call with a sales person who walks me through the process.
Lars: That’s right. Actually there are a lot of good reasons for that. One is that a CRM is not something that you just dive into. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned CRM consultant or you have no experience with CRM. Every CRM works a little bit differently and a lot of strategy goes into developing it in a way that makes sense as you start to scale and grow, both as a company and in the use of the CRM.
Our platform–we call it Complete CRM–is much bigger than what you would expect from any other CRM because we include all these other features. It’s not just about CRM. It’s about marketing automation, email marketing, project management, event management, video management, in and outbound calling, SMS, live chat–all of these things all integrate together.
So, if we were going to open our platform up so you could just sign up and do that without talking to anyone, what we found was that people saw all these different options and they felt a little bit overwhelmed. So, if you step into a 777 cockpit and you’re looking at all those dials, you’re going to say, “This does so many things. I don’t know where to start.”
So, because we have so much capability, what we want to do is work with the customer to say, “What does your business look like? How can we best serve the way you do business?” And then we tailor it so that the platform looks and does and acts the way it should look and act. That’s why it has to be so consultative.
Andrew: Now we’re starting to get an understanding of your sales process. Let’s go back and see how you built up your customers to get to this place. The first batch of customers came over from Cooler Email. Did you say, “We have a new thing, you have to move over?” Or did you sell to the people that were on the list?
Lars: It was very much saying, “Here’s an option.” If you were an existing client and you just do email marketing, let’s talk about how we can add CRM into the platform. Let’s talk about some of these other features we could add in. So, we tried to make it as seamless as possible in the conversion from Cooler Email to GreenRope.
But then at the same time, we were also looking online. We started doing a little bit of pay per click ads and doing some SEO. Back in the early days, we weren’t spending too much money on it because we didn’t want to create a flood of customers before we were able to handle them and before we were able to respond to what the market really needed.
Andrew: Okay. So, you started to make the transition request. How did you do it? Did you say, “We have this new thing view email. If you want to sign up, call us up or schedule a time?”
Lars: Yeah. That’s how we learned that it was by providing too much functionality too quickly, people got overwhelmed. We tried it first where people could just show up and create a new trial account and start going. That worked with cooler email because it was a simple thing. It’s email marketing.
Everyone knows in your head, you can think, “I need to build a list and blast an email out and I can see the stats. The difference between that and this complete CRM concept is totally different. So, the sales process has to be totally different we have to help them all the way through.
Andrew: But you started by doing the same SaaS sales process that a lot of other people do, “Go to our webpage, sign up and serve yourself.” I see. I feel like a lot of business could be served well by saying to their new customers, get on the phone with the founder, frankly, and, “I’ll walk you through the process,” as a way of understanding the challenges people have and seeing what excites them.
All right. So, you did that. I can see how you got your first batch of customers that way. The next group of people came from SEO and SEM. What did you do that works especially well for you in either one of those channels?
Lars: Pay per click has always been really useful for us. It’s been a good source of leads. We’ve tried some third party lead sources. We’ve had a couple that have worked out pretty well. G2 Crowd is one that’s pretty common in our space, in the CRM and marketing automation space. They do a lot of assessment of different platforms.
So, you can see an independent review of what people say about use and frankly lots of other different software packages that are somewhat similar to us. So, you can see how different CRMs rank. You can see how different marketing automation tools rank. And then from there, you can open up a form and they can pass the lead on to us. So, that’s one way that we worked with it.
We also started doing retargeting. That seemed to work pretty well. So, once people see our brand, they’re reminded, “Hey, by the way, you stop by GreenRope.” And pretty much every search engine company that you can outsource is going to have the tools to be able to do this for you.
Andrew: Right. Okay. The reseller part of your business is the one that I was most curious about because I don’t interview a lot of companies that sell that way. How did you get your first reseller?
Lars: We actually had them in Cooler Email.
Andrew: I saw that. You used to have a link on the left side of your site encourage people to resell.
Lars: Yeah. And we have a page on our website that talks about it now. The challenge, of course, with it is you’re reselling something a little more complex. So, again, it’s another consultative sales process with someone who’s going to be a reseller. They need to be able to explain to their clients what a CRM is.
Andrew: But Lars, did the first group of people who became resellers just come to your site, see that you linked over to reselling and say, “All right, let’s resell this.
Andrew: You didn’t go actively looking for them?
Lars: No. Actually, we still haven’t. We do very little outbound marketing. Everything we do is inbound. So, when people come to our website, they see that we can do reselling and they want to find out, what does it mean to be a value added reseller? So, for us, it’s taking the GreenRope platform, totally reskinning using different graphics, different domains, but at the core, it’s our platform.
Andrew: I see.
Lars: So, a company has to have the expertise though to be able to sell and market what it is that we do even under a different brand.
Andrew: And it would be their sales people who would make those initial trial calls.
Andrew: I see. So, Mixergy could have its own Mixergy CRM marketing automation package. I would just have to field the phone calls or have someone on my team do it.
Lars: So, the advantage to that is that, using you as an example, if there were customers that came in and signed up for Mixergy CRM, every day they would be logging into a Mixergy product. You think about this in terms of any business that wants to cement the relationship between them and their customers. When you create something they’re logging into and using every single day, they’re seeing your brand every single day.
On top of that, when they send their emails out–so, whether they’re marketing automation emails or drip campaigns or newsletters, rather than those emails being branded powered by constant contact or powered by Mailchimp, now they’re powered by your brand and your no domain. So, you get your brand not in front of just your customers, but in front of your customers’ customers.
So, it creates recurring revenue from that for you. We start at roughly a 50/50 split. But the real value is creating that relationship between you and your customers, making that permanent and then having your customers send emails out using your platform that are branded with your brand that bring them back to your website.
Andrew: But they also then have to study your software because they’re connected to what they’re promoting. If I were to just be an affiliate of someone and start selling that, it wouldn’t matter if it didn’t work or it wouldn’t matter if the customer didn’t use it right because now it’s your headache and it’s your relationship, right? Like me sending people over to BrandBucket. If you have an issue, BrandBucket is going to take care of it. But if it’s Mixergy’s BrandBucket, I have to now deal with it, but it’s a lot of work.
Andrew: Why do people choose to do that?
Lars: That’s really the difference between an affiliate type of relationship and what a VAR will do. When you’re a value added reseller, a lot of times–so, one of our resellers, for example, is in Florida and works with dental offices. So, they have over 100 now. But they go to dental office and they’ll train them on how to use their platform. And then they provide custom content for them.
So, they’ll say, “We going to preload your account with all this content that you can use and now the dental office is using the private labeled version of GreenRope with the value add of having a dedicated account rep that knows all about the dental industry with the content that’s preloaded into that account all about dental-related content.
Andrew: I see. They’re really turning this into their own business.
Andrew: All right. The second sponsor for this interview is a company called Toptal. If you want to hire a developer, what you want is the best because the best people will help you think through your problems and help you think through how to solve it in a way that you never could have imagined, right? You don’t have to start to tell them every single thing that they need to do. Well, there do you find those people?
One of the things that Toptal did was they put together a network of the best developers out there and they know because frankly the founder is a bit persnickety. Do you know what persnickety means? It means like overly fussy about details, right?
Lars: Yeah, I think so.
Andrew: I feel that’s what he is. He’s a little persnickety. He’s a really nice guy. I love to hang out with him and have some scotch. But at the same time, I feel like if there was a spot on my scotch glass, he would catch it. He would notice it. He would drink from it, but he would notice it and he would not want that in his company. He’s that kind of a person. His people are like that too.
So, they found the best developers they could. They tested them, they screened them. They were a bit–I was going to say jerks, but they weren’t jerks. They did push off anyone who didn’t fit the best of the best. Now they have that network. If somebody needs to hire a developer, they come to Toptal. Toptal does a consultation call where they understand your issues and then they match you up with the right developer based on how you work. In fact, I know Lars, you guys have a team that’s not all in house, right?
Lars: It’s very hard to find good developers.
Andrew: Right, very hard to find good developers. So, what Toptal does is they find them for you and they don’t have to come into your office. The guy will work from wherever he happens to be, will communicate with you on whatever software you use. What do you guys use to communicate internally?
Lars: We use our own platform.
Andrew: I was going to suggest that, actually. Of course, you guys have your own internal email system.
Lars: Yeah, we do.
Andrew: If you could have something built outside of your current business, what would you have a Toptal developer build for you, if they could build anything for you for you to build a business off of?
Lars: I think for us, a lot of it is around external integrations. So, companies come to us and they say, “I’m already using (fill in the blank) for accounting software or for scheduling software,” you name it. So, we don’t expect that when someone signs up with us that some company is going to dump everything that they’ve been using for however many years, especially if it’s something that we don’t do, like hardcore accounting.
So, we really look for developers that can do those external integrations. So, that requires familiarity with both sides of an interface.
Andrew: Ah, interesting. Yes. I see. That makes sense. I imagine maybe someone else out there is listening to us and probably has the same issue. They realize the more integrations my software has, the more opportunities I have to bring in new people because first of all, if I integrate with some calendar system, that calendar system is going to list my logo and suggest to their users that if you want to integrate, here’s a tool that integrates with us, so now they’re promoting you, number one.
Actually, that’s the number one biggest advantage of doing integration. But you also make your customers happy because you’re integrating with these other pieces of software. But it’s hard to find developer time to get somebody up to speed and get them to go and create this stuff. That’s a great idea for Toptal.
If anyone out there is listening to me and they want to create better integrations for their software or frankly do anything, get on a call with a Toptal consultant, they’ll help you think through your issue and if it’s a good fit for you to work with Toptal, they’ll tell you and if it’s not, they seem to be really good at turning people away. 97% of the developers that apply and want to be a part of their network are turned away. So, if you’re not a good fit, they’ll let you know. But if you are, but if you are, you can sign up with the developer, often get started within a couple of days and they do incredible work. I know because I’ve worked with their developers.
Here’s what you do. Go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. That’s Toptal.com/Mixergy. When you go to/Mixergy, they’re going to give you 80 free developer hours when you pay for 80 and they’re going to give you a two-week–what do they call it? Not trial period, but two weeks for you to say, “Hey, Andrew lied to me. I don’t want to pay.” They will still pay the developer and you will not be on the hook. So, go check out Toptal.com/Mixergy. I’m grateful for them for sponsoring.
Lars: That sounds like a great service, by the way.
Andrew: It really is. These guys are tearing it up. I keep hearing different revenue numbers as rumors from how much they’re much money they’re making because people need new developers all the time. Boy, they really locked into a great business there. I wish I’d invested in them, you know?
Lars: Yeah. Talking about integration, if there are other people that are working in the software space out there, we just finished our integration with a company called Zapier.
Andrew: Yeah. I like that you pronounce it Zapier. A lot of people pronounce it Zapier, which is not right.
Lars: It’s Zapier, right. You make zaps.
Lars: Yeah. Zapier is a great platform. So, if you want to really extend your influence and the ability to connect with different software packages, I highly recommend looking at Zapier and it sounds like Toptal would be a great company to use to actually build that.
Andrew: What a great idea, right? The first integration you make should probably be to Zapier. Unless you have one piece of software that all of your customers want, you start with Zapier and then you get everyone. And then you can start making more custom integrations with some companies. You’re not a developer yourself, are you?
Lars: I actually am.
Andrew: You are? Did you code the first version of the software?
Lars: I did. Actually, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this or not, but I still code.
Andrew: You still code? Why shouldn’t you say that?
Lars: A lot of people will say that if you’re the CEO, founder, whatever, that you should be out doing more business development and marketing and all that. But a lot of the code that I wrote is still in use. When we’re extending functionality or we’re cleaning things up or whatever, changing user experience, a lot of times I have to go in there, I don’t have to, but I go in there and I will make some changes.
Andrew: And you will make the changes yourself.
Andrew: Wow. Be honest. Do you prefer coding to sitting here with me and talking about your business and being challenged on a couple of things?
Lars: This is the most fulfilling thing I can possibly imagine.
Andrew: It seems like you’re kind of on–like you’re not the kind of person that’s spent a lot of time getting out there in the public eye and it seems like you’re working on that now. I read so much about you. I don’t remember where I saw it. It might have even been on your about page where you said, “I can come and speak at an event.” Why are you doing this?
Lars: So, when I go out and speak at conferences, it’s not the GreenRope show. It’s really about creating more awareness that there are different ways to do business. A lot of companies still think and operate in this concept I was kind of describing before about CRM, the way it was designed 30 years ago, where you’ve got a CRM in the middle and you’re bolting all these other pieces of software on.
While that’s a way to do it, it’s a very time-intensive and expensive way to do it and it’s great if you’re a system integrator because you’ve got to hire lots of engineering hours to figure out how to make your CRM work by bolting all these different pieces of software together. But I think if you can explain to an audience that there’s a way to pull CRM and Marketing automation together, both strategically and tactically–
Andrew: I get that that’s your message. I’m wondering why. Why are you now, a guy who can code, a guy who’s got a team of people who are counting on him, why are you speaking more? Why are you doing this interview? It feels like there’s a strategy and it has to do with marketing right now.
Lars: Well, yeah. So, part of our challenge is that our competitors, they’ve got huge budgets. Salesforce is a $50 billion company. Infusionsoft has taken $100 million in financing from Goldman Sachs. As a small business that’s never taken any financing, we have to figure out how to compete with these much larger, better funded types of companies. So, I like the idea of having content and helping people and educating people.
So, it’s really for us, our core mission behind what we do is really about helping businesses grow, helping them run more efficiently. If we can provide educational content, whether that’s me going out and speaking our writing books or whitepapers or whatever to help companies figure out, “How do I run better?” then I’m able to give something back. And if that actually results in more awareness and sales for us, that’s great, but really…
Andrew: Has it? Have you been able to see measurable results from that?
Lars: Oh yeah.
Andrew: What’s been the most effective?
Lars: I think when you go to a conference and you’re able to speak and you provide really useful content that people can walk away from and say, “I’m going to be able to use this particular thing that he showed me to help me figure out how to organize my business better.
Andrew: That’s sometimes led to new customers, that they heard you say how their businesses could be organized better and they said, “Let me try this guy Lars’ software to see if it will work.”
Lars: Yeah. That just sort of happens sometimes. The real goal is to go out and create educational content and help people, but if they see that what we create has the potential to help them run their businesses better and then they check out GreenRope because they see that there’s a software that’s built around this philosophy, then we’re happy to help them.
Andrew: I see. What about the whitepapers? Have they helped?
Lars: They have.
Andrew: And you’re seeing measurable results coming right back. Is there one whitepaper that especially worked well?
Lars: We actually just finished a collaborative eBook. So, this idea was I got everyone in our company to write a chapter in an eBook. We just launched it and a lot of people have been reading it, downloading it and the whole thing.
Andrew: What’s it about?
Lars: Actually, it talks about all the different aspects of running a business and the lessons that we have all each individually learned in growing GreenRope organically. So, from customer service, our customer service people wrote the chapter on customer service.
Andrew: Where do I see that? That’s a great idea.
Lars: We just launched it. I think there’s a page on our website. I’d have to talk to our marketing people about it. So, we just finished it, just published it. We have it available to all of our existing clients. So, we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from our existing client base that’s read through it and taken the lessons that everyone has written. We’ve got lessons in there on sales, on customer service, on operations, on events, all kinds of cool little things in there.
Andrew: Our producer asked you what your biggest challenge was and you said that it was hiring people and also getting them trained and on boarded and up to speed. Do I have that right, first of all?
Lars: Yeah. I would say that it’s always hard to find really good people, especially when you have a product that’s like ours that’s so capable. You want to make sure that you’ve got people that are nice. You want to make sure they have initiative to learn. Like we were saying, the consultative, whatever it is, approach requires someone to actually have some empathy for their customers.
So, finding the people that really honestly and genuinely care–and I’ve been fortunate in that the people that we have brought on board have all come through personal relationships. So, they’re friends of friends or people they’ve worked with or people they like. They’re just good people.
Andrew: What’s the challenge with this?
Lars: I think the challenge is finding that right fit. So, someone may have 100 friends or 200 or 300 friends and of those friends, how many of them are technically capable and nice and good communicators, finding that right fit for the company culture.
Andrew: What’s your process for onboarding people so that you get them started right?
Lars: For our clients coming on board?
Andrew: No, I’m assuming you meant onboarding your team.
Lars: We work with all of our people for several weeks before they get onboard. Almost everyone actually starts in customer service. So, they work for several months in customer service, answering questions, learning how to solve problems.
Andrew: A new developer will work in customer service too?
Lars: Yeah, actually, for a little while.
Andrew: For how long?
Lars: For developers not too long.
Andrew: A day?
Lars: A day or two. So, they’ll get a sense–
Andrew: A full day answering customer support emails?
Lars: Yeah. But that requires them to really understand the system and how it works now. So, obviously I don’t want to drain too much of a developer’s time away from what they’re supposed to be doing, but when someone talks to end users, they talk to customers, they really hear the tone of, “Here are my frustrations.” So, a developer really understands.
That’s kind of what I mean by the empathy. Everyone on our team has that empathy. They all care about the happiness of the end user. It’s a culture thing. You have to build people around that idea. If someone really has the attitude of, “I don’t really care if this customer is happy or not,” they’re not a good fit. Nobody really wants those people in their company, but somehow they end up in other people’s companies.
I’m not going to lie. Everyone in our company has not always been perfect all the time. Everyone that’s been on our company does genuinely care about the success of our clients. That’s something that you can’t really teach that. I can’t tell everyone like, “Hey, you guys all care about your customer.” It has to be something people naturally want to do.
I think when you create a culture around that and you hold people accountable–we have statistics, metrics. We look at our chat ratings and we look at how people respond to our support tickets. I think when you’re able to see what sort of feedback we have, the culture speaks for itself.
Andrew: All right. Fair. Good point. If people want to check you out, the best place to go is to go check out your website. It’s just GreenRope.com. It’s so great when it’s simple like that and it’s not GetGreenRope.com or GreenRopeApp.com.
Lars: Yeah, just GreenRope.
Andrew: Just GreenRope.com. And my two sponsors for today are BrandBucket.com/Mixergy and Toptal.com/Mixergy. Go to BrandBucket when you need a brand. Go to Toptal when you need a developer. Lars, it’s been great to have you on here.
Lars: Thank you so much for your time and for doing this. I’m happy to be a part of your mission.
Andrew: You bet. Congrats for all that you’ve done. Thank you all for being a part of the Mixergy audience. Bye, everyone.