Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. By the way, I say freedom fighters because, I was living in Argentina when I really had Mixergy take off and at the time people were so crazy for Che Guevara as the freedom fighter of long time ago. But in reality, the people who are living in Argentina, Che Guevara’s home country, they were looking to entrepreneurs all over the world to rescue them from the isolation that they had. Isolation like they couldn’t send money to people in other countries because of government restrictions because some like established players weren’t allowing them to participate in the online economy. They couldn’t accept payments, stuff like that.
And so I really do believe that entrepreneurs are the people who set others free and also set themselves free. They get on a life and we all do, a life where we’re expected to go on a path and then we realize that’s actually not the path for us. We want freedom to create, freedom to invent and frankly are willing to suffer to get that freedom.
Joining me today is an entrepreneur, Allan Sutherland, who was on a path of being an accountant, which is like the right set, the right plan for life. You’re not likely to go hungry if you’ve got a good accounting job. And still there was an entrepreneurial yearning inside of him and he said, “I’m going to do this thing.” Even though he’s not a developer, even though he’s not somebody who was coding in his house all day long and couldn’t wait to put his product out all by himself, he found a way to make it work. And I thought it was kind of interesting the way that he interviewed developers to figure out who he could make it work with.
So Allan Sutherland has a company that if I would’ve just seen him in the app store, I would have thought, interesting. Probably not doing that well, all right. But it actually is doing really well, largely because there’s more to it than what you see in the app store. All right. Let me introduce him by telling you about his company then we’re going to go into a story of how he built his company. Allan is . . . would you prefer to be called Al?
Allan: Al or Allan. Either one’s fine.
Andrew: All right. He is the founder of In-telligent. It’s a platform that issues emergency alerts that are delivered immediately regardless of cell phone settings, and I’ve got to tell you that if I’m sitting here in my office and the alert goes off in my building and I’ve had it happen within meetings, I will mute the mic. Nobody in the audience, even the guest doesn’t know. The alarm goes off, and then as soon as it stops, I unmute my mic. I ask a question, then I mute it again. I don’t pay attention to anything except what’s on my phone, so I get why Allan is understanding that if you want to get people’s attention on emergencies, the phone is a better way to do it.
All right. But there are also kinds of issues with how to do it. We’re going to talk to him about how he built this business up thanks to two phenomenal companies. The first one will help you host your website right. And for those of you who are just listening because you’re fans of entrepreneurship and haven’t started a company yet, I think I’ve been making you guys feel bad. I’m going to talk about why I shouldn’t do that anymore within the ad for HostGator. And then the second is a company that will help you hire phenomenal developers. If you were Allan, years ago what Allan would have gotten if you would’ve just gone to Toptal, my second sponsor. But I’ll tell you both about them later. Allan, good to have you here.
Allan: Great to be here. Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: What’s the revenue right now?
Allan: So, you know, we don’t disclose. We are a private company, so we don’t disclose our revenue. We are growing meaningfully. And I can tell you that by the end of the year, this is going to sound shocking to all the other founders, but we had just over a million dollars last year in revenue. This year, assuming all goes well, we could have over $100 million in revenue.
Andrew: And then can you give me a sense of where you are right now about two months into the year, three months, almost?
Allan: Two months into the year we’re still tracking along at that, you know, $100,000, $150,000 a month and we’re about ready to explode.
Andrew: So you’ve done over 5 already, over 10
Allan: No, no. $150,000 a month.
Andrew: So, oh, 150 got it. For some reason, I just saw you saying 150 a year and I said wow, that’s a huge growth. Got it. Okay. I see.
Allan: We are going to go to over $100 million dollars this year, assuming all goes well.
Andrew: But so far it’s been a $100,000 a month.
Andrew: Got it. Got it. Okay. And the reason that you think that you’re going to grow so dramatically is what?
Allan: So something that happened at the end of last year, we finally got our patent application. I’m more than happy to share with your listeners kind of sort of that journey that we went through. But the key to getting the patent gave us the flexibility of licensing our technology into other company’s applications. And as you pointed out, ours is about emergency communications. So think about the example you just gave, right? When you’re seven years old and you’re in school and the fire alarm goes off, you actually believe that it’s a fire and you do all the things that they’re telling you that you’re supposed to do. When you’re not seven years old anymore and unfortunately I’m a lot older than that seven, the fire alarm goes off and the reaction is exactly what you said, which is annoyance, right? You’re about ready to start a fascinating interview, you have no desire to have it stopped in any way and so you get annoyed because you assume that it’s a drill or a false alarm.
Having your phone blow up at the exact same time telling you this is not a drill, this is not a false alarm, this is a real fire and you need to move and you need to get out now, influences your activity and the timing in which you get things done. So and will ultimately save lives, right?
Andrew: And that’s the epiphany that you had that set you off on this course. The thing though that shocked me was, you were going to be an accountant. Who told you go be an accountant when you were a kid? Who tells kids go be an accountant?
Allan: No one actually. I don’t think firemen, yes. You know, policemen, yes, but accountants almost never, unless you’re from a family of accountants. I actually am from a family of accountants so it seemed to be in my blood. When I was in college though like any good son of an accountant, you kind of sort of don’t want to be an accountant. You want to be something sexy like a business consultant. So I went into, I was in college, I was in kind of sort of general business. It was my freshman year and I took an accounting class and I got an A in it. And one of my fraternity brothers said, “Hey, you’re good at accounting. They’re hiring. You should be an accountant.” And that’s how I became an accountant.
Andrew: Wow. But you did have this business consulting period, right? Where you were in is it Champaign, Illinois where you were working with local retailers. Can tell me what that was?
Allan: Yes. So a buddy of mine, again, we were frustrated accountants and business people that really didn’t, I mean we’ve cared about what we were doing, we thought there was some symmetry in the kind of sort of magic of accounting and I know most people don’t understand what that is, but right has to equal left and it always is imbalanced. And so there’s some fun there but it didn’t, we didn’t feel like we were really making a difference. One of the things that we always want to do is we wanted to help people and I think a lot of your entrepreneurs have listened to several of your other interviews and you hear that as a theme kind of sort of consistently, I want to help, I want to help, I want to help.
And so as we were coming out of college, and this was back in the early ’80s, the idea was we need to differentiate ourselves and we need . . . from the whole herd of accountants and business majors. So let’s form a consulting company, make a little bit money at the time because we needed some cash to pay for bills. And what we’ll do is we’ll take all this business skills that we have and we’ll work with local businesses helping them understand the inventory management, helping them understand what to do about receivables, how to advertise, right? You got to remember, this is back in the ’80s right? We didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have anything like we have today. So it was a fascinating opportunity to really apply the business skills that we were learning.
Andrew: And you had time as an accountant to go and do this consulting work on the side?
Allan: Well, I was a student at the time, right. So, you know a full load is 16 hours. And you know, I was living there, I was working. I did work. I was working in a job, but we were able to do this kind of sort of it night. The business owners didn’t want to meet. One of the things actually I learned about business people is entrepreneurs work, not necessarily 24/7 but they think about their business 24/7. And all your listeners know this, right? No one cares as much about what they do as they do. And so the ability to actually have a conversation and to sit down after school before my other job gave us a couple hours a day that we could go around and work with companies.
Andrew: Okay. And then you ended up being what? What was the career that you got into?
Allan: So I graduated early, although I needed money. So graduated early, went to work for one of the big accounting firms. At the time there were eight. I had a relatively ambitious plan when I left school. I was going to go work for one of the big accounting firms. I was ultimately going to rise up the ranks, become, you know, the youngest partner that they had ever made, and then ultimately run the firm. And then after that, I was going to leave, go work for a big multinational company. Ultimately run the big multinational company. And then when I got old, kind of sort of like I am now, I would leave and I would go on to senior golf tour.
So I had an ambitious plan when I started. Ticking the box was going into the big accounting firm. So I went there, started working, did a great job, was promoted up through the ranks pretty quickly. I think that entrepreneurial bent within the accounting industry just kind of sort of separated me from most of the people. I was on the tax side, not on the audit side so I was again, much more interactive with my clients.
And then all of a sudden the firm that I was with changed overnight in that they merged with another one of the big accounting firms. And so this idea that I was going to run this from one day, you know, the gall of these people not to consult me before they merged and I had all these other people I was having to work with. Ultimately I decided, look, this firm’s not for me, but I still love what I do and I want to be more entrepreneurial.
I was finance oriented obviously. So I went to work for a Midwest manufacturer that had operations around the world, one of these global 200 companies and started up a very small capital group within that company and ultimately ran really, really fast investing, doing tax planning and doing all kinds of stuff around the world and became a very young senior officer and was on path to run the company. And when I realized that the company, ultimately it was a manufacturing company, I was a financial person and I probably wasn’t going to run it. And so I decided, all right, I need to leave and do something meaningful with my life before the senior tour.
Andrew: How old were you at the time?
Allan: When I left to go run In-telligent, I was 50. I was turning 50.
Andrew: Wow. Did you feel like at 50 you were too old to be an entrepreneur? Too old to have a startup?
Allan: I can tell you at 55, five years later I feel too old. But no, I don’t. Look, your question is a great question because you need energy, you need time, you need that passion that comes, that all your entrepreneurs have, right? And that passion exists in spades when you’re in your 20s and your 30s, no doubt about it. The nice thing I have, by being, you know, in my 50s is my children are all grown, so I don’t have to worry about soccer practice and a few other things. My wife doesn’t necessarily like me that much anymore, so she doesn’t really want me to be around, which is kind of sort of nice. Helps going back to working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And I love what I do and so this passion is great. I guess you could also say there’s a real benefit of being 50 in the sense that as opposed to 30 because I have 20 more years’ worth of experience.
Andrew: And relationships, which I think we’re going to get to in a moment. By the way, are you kidding about your wife not wanting you around?
Allan: No. If she were here, she would absolutely tell you that she enjoyed when I was traveling. No, she does love me. She has to say that. I’m going to tell, say it for her and she’s excited about what . . .
Andrew: But you guys work well when there’s a little bit of space between the two of you?
Allan: We do. We do.
Andrew: I get that. I think that it’s like an embarrassing thing to say, but I find that my brother and his wife will spend all day in the same room and then they’ll go on vacation together like working side by side. My wife and I can’t do that. There’s some people who just need a little bit of space and then we do need some quiet space just the two of us.
Allan: Yeah. Of course.
Andrew: So then you said, all right, this is actually not going to work out the way that I planned. I’m going to go and just do something meaningful with my life. The realization that we talked about earlier about, look, today people have an alert go off in their building. They’re not paying attention, they’re looking down at their phones. I literally bumped into someone on my way to get a cup of tea right now because I was looking at my phone as I was walking. It was just so wrong. And you saw the Amber Alerts come on phones. What are Amber Alerts and what did you notice about them?
Allan: So Amber Alerts are alerts issued by the federal Emergency Alert System. So wireless emergency alerts can be issued for Amber, which is missing children, can be issued for weather, which is severe weather hitting a person in a specific area and can be issued for acts of terrorism. So those are the three limitations that the system can be used for. The system is great if you’ve ever had it go off because what it does is it pops up. It makes your phone make noise, even if your phone’s on silent, which is terrific because it forces you to look. The problem is it’s antiquated system. It’s run by the government. We all know, and again, we’re not anti-government people, but we all know that if the government was really good at what they did, we would probably have no jobs.
So the advantage of the fact that they’re pretty inefficient creates these great opportunities for us. And I said, if the government can make a noise when it’s on silent, then we can do it. So let’s go figure out how to make it happen.
Andrew: And that’s the part that makes you amazing and the part that got you the patent that’s going to . . . it’s a part of . . . You guys got two big significant patents that we’ll talk about, right?
Allan: Yeah. So there’s parts to our platform.
Andrew: Let me just hold off I want to build up the story, but I wanted to emphasize what I should have done earlier which is, the patents aren’t just a random thing. They’re a critical part that you’ve proven actually helps in your business and now you’re taking the next step with it. Okay. Because it’s for many, many software entrepreneurs, patents are that helpful and in your case, you found that it was. I want to get into that in a moment, but let’s continue here. So you [inaudible 00:14:45], you’re not a developer who’s sitting around coding all day long. You need to find developers. Talk to me about this interview process because the two buckets that you came up with I thought were kind of interesting.
Allan: So there’s two types of people that I’ve kind of sort of experienced. Again, going back to that three decades, four decades of work experience and that is people fall loosely into two groups. One is the group of people to figure out and say, okay, I’m super smart. I’ll figure out the answer to this problem. I’ll dive into coding, I’ll learn coding, I’ll learn finance, I’ll learn distribution, I’ll learn marketing and I’ll be the guy, the master kind of sort of all the trades and I’ll be able to figure everything out.
And then there’s other people that sit there and say, look, I have certain skills, but there are other people out there that have other skills and they are comfortable bringing those people into the equation. That’s me. I know enough about coding to realize, I mean my coding experience was back with Fortran and Cobol back in college days, which is a long time away from today. So the concept of me trying to become a coder, I’m going, that’s not my highest and best use. I need to find somebody who can truly be a good coder for us. And that was either hire somebody, right, go out and hire somebody to be on the team or go out and interview companies like one of your sponsors to be able to say, “Hey, you guys have the people, you have the skills now let’s bring you in and help make my decision a reality.”
Andrew: Okay. And then I thought as you were interviewing different development shops, you came up with these two questions that you were looking for. One I think to some people you asked, if . . . oh, I see what it was. You asked all of them. If I asked you to build an F16 fighter jet, what’s the first thing you would do? Why would you ask that question?
Allan: Well, because almost none of us have ever built an F16 fighter jet, right? We all kind of sort of know what it is. It’s got to be super complicated. It’s super hard to do but it’s one of these things that requires a lot of different opportunities for people to go into. So it helps me understand which bucket they fit into. So that idea is, if I said to you, Andrew, you’re going to have to build, in order for you to win this engagement, you’re going to have to build an F16 fighter jet. What would you do first? You would first have to sit there and say, “Okay, am I going to go research it and figure out all the different things that you need to do to go into it, or do I go off and hire somebody or talk to somebody that’s actually built it before?”
Andrew: And that’s the two different ways that people were responding. Some would say I’m going to go and do research. Others would say, I’ll find someone who is built it. And who are you looking for? Which of those two groups was the better one for you?
Allan: So it’s so interesting that you say that. So at the management level, like the head of the development team, head of development team, I wanted that to be somebody who is in that second category that would say I’m going to go find people and put the best team together to build this. And then I wanted the team to be people that were individual experts. So if you think about software development, I needed somebody on iOS, I needed somebody on Android, I needed somebody to do a web application and I needed somebody test and to project manage it, right, as well as design it. So I needed a variety of different experts, all managed by somebody with that same vision of how to get this all together.
Andrew: Got it. And so you wanted to know that the person who is responding to you was someone who would say, “I’ll go find the people who did it already.” Not someone who was going to say, “I’ll research and I can figure this out for myself.”
Allan: That’s exactly right.
Andrew: Why did you want experienced people? I’ve kind of noticed that when I talk to people who work with bigger businesses, they’re looking for people who already had done the thing that they’re doing. Like the person who comes to mind is Cameron Herold, the former COO of a 1-800-GOT-JUNK. When he advises people on how to hire, he says, go find the person who’s done the thing that you’re trying to hire for. And I noticed that newer entrepreneurs are looking for people who’d never done it before, but are more agile and can figure it out. Why do you think that way after having all that experience?
Allan: So it’s a really good question and I can’t speak for everybody, right? I’m just going from my own experience. I think people, especially older people that have been doing this for a long time become risk-averse in the sense that they want the highest likelihood of success. And they have a tendency to manage toward an end goal versus younger people don’t have as strong of a vision of what that end goal is going to be and so they’re more than willing to be able to bring people onto the team that are adjustable and adaptable in order to ultimately figure out what the goal is going to be.
So it’s that idea of if I have a piece of clay and I’m going to make a statue out of the clay, the person that’s been around for a long time is going to have a vision of what that’s going to look like first. The person that’s just trying it out for the first time without a vision is going to start morphing the clay until it starts becoming something that’s meaningful and so it’s really an exploratory situation versus a journey to execution.
Andrew: Okay. I’m with you. Let me talk about Toptal, my first sponsor and then we’re going to go into how you got your first customers. I told my team before we started, I actually highlighted the notes that they made on you and I said this is the way to put together a set of milestones. I actually can see how Al built his business and got the first set of customers and the next set of customers and the next. I want to understand that with every guest, and so I complimented them and we’re going to get into how you did it.
But first I’ve got to say to people, if you’re listening to this interview and you’re thinking, how do I find a really good developer? Again, the way that Allan was talking. Not someone who’s going to figure it out, not someone who is a novice and will charge you less, but will be the person who hopefully will hustle and figure it out. But someone who’s done it, someone who’s really the best of the best, who has proven themselves. That’s where Toptal comes in. And you also have to be kind of at the place where In-telligent was, or at least where Allan was when you’re hiring. Not someone who says, “I kind of have an idea. Can I hire someone who’s going to figure it out for me?” Not someone who says, “I don’t have any technical experience. I want someone who’s going to figure out all this technology.” Toptal is not for you if you’re in any of those situations.
But if you have someone on your team or if you yourself have a little bit of technical knowledge that you can guide the developer because they really want people working with their . . . they pride themselves on how good their developers Toptal. They want good people working with them. They don’t want to jerk their team around. They’re not in a desperate situation, so if you’ve got someone on your team was technical, if you yourself are technical and you’re looking to hire developers, the best of the best developers are already on Toptal.
You have no risk. All you have to do is go to this URL I’m about to give you, hit a button. You’ll be scheduled to talk to someone that they call I think internally a matcher. Basically, that person will understand how you operate, what you’re looking for. Will take your questions and then find the right people who are going to be the perfect match for you. And then you get on a call with them. Actually, they’ll probably send you three or four. For me, I found that I’m so clear with them, they could send me to people in most situations. You get on calls with them, you talk to them and I’m hesitating because I didn’t do a call. I did Zoom. I want to look in the person’s eyes and I want to understand them and I want to do screen share and see what they’re doing. I guess I’m a visual person, but that’s my quirk and so they found people who could accommodate my quirk.
We got on, we understood each other. I found the person I liked, I told Toptal and then I was able to hire them. No long-term commitment. As soon as I was done with them, it’s not awkward if it doesn’t work out. Just go to Toptal and say it’s not working out. It’s fantastic. Best of the best reasonable prices not inexpensive but reasonable prices. If you’re looking to hire part-time, full-time team of people even who work well together, there’s only one place to go to get the best of the best. It’s toptal.com/mixergy. When you throw that slash mixergy there you give me credit but also more importantly for you, you get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks.
If at the end of the trial period you are not 100% satisfied, you will not be billed. But don’t worry, the developer, of course, will get paid. So here’s the URL, toptal.com/mixergy, that’s T-O-P-T-A-L.com/M-I-X-E-R-G-Y. First set of customers came from where?
Allan: So our first set of the customers came ultimately down in south Florida and the idea . . . If you would, Andrew, let me just go back and help your listeners understand to the three pillars of our platform real quick.
Andrew: Yup. Okay.
Allan: Imagine a building, imagine an emergency happens. So my premise, my paradigm was 9/11. You had all these wonderful people, they were just there working, they were just like us and no one expected when they went to the office that morning that a plane was going to fly into the building and no one expected the building was going to collapse. So all these things are completely outside of normal thinking. How do you get a message to them telling them that the building is going to collapse, that a plane has flown into it and if they don’t go down the south stairwell, they will be going into harm’s way and they’ll be in trouble. So how do you do that?
The three things that were important were you had to be able to get a message to them that they were going to see. Now it’s staggering for us to imagine right now, but when 9/11 happened, there weren’t iPhones, there weren’t Android devices, right? The technology hadn’t developed but it is there now. Every one of us has a mobile phone, either powered by Android or iOS. And we’re looking at them 24/7. Just like you said when you went to get the tea before the interview, you’re looking at your phone because that’s your window to the world. So we said how do we get a message to that device that is, makes it make noise, which means it has to override silent and do not disturb because we keep them on silent, do not disturb all the time. So how do we get past that? And then you go to the next level, which is and let’s auto-group people based on where they are, not where we think they are.
So if we’re sending out a message to people in a building, it’s got to group people that are in that building, not necessarily people that are supposed to be in that building for whatever reason. So we need a dynamic list activity going on. And then the last is even though I’m speaking English, you’re speaking English, we’re listening in English, your listeners are listening in English, that isn’t necessarily the language that everybody speaks and everybody should speak. And so if an emergency message goes out and it goes out in English, but I’m speaking Chinese, I need to receive that message in Chinese in order to know what to do. You don’t need miscommunication around emergency. You don’t need somebody thinking they said north stairwell instead of south stairwell. So we said you have to do all three of those. And those were the three pillars of our platform. Once we had that organized, right?
Andrew: Wait, you had all three before you even started?
Allan: We had all three before we started, yeah. And we had to because it was super, super important that we had a communication system that was to some degree, more powerful than anything else. What I found in our history is that people gravitate to stuff that they know. So if I’m saying, “Hey Andrew, I need you to send me a message,” you’re going to send it to me via email, you can send it to me via text because that’s how we do most of our communication.
Believe it or not, and I’m old enough, there wasn’t text messaging and there weren’t emails when I started, and so we sent letters to each other and we sent faxes to each other or we called each other. That was crazy technology back then. It’s evolved and so we had to come up with something that was differentiated when it came to communication.
Because we were emergency communication, you had to have people that actually cared about emergencies. And unfortunately, coming out with this, there was a nightclub disaster in Orlando, the Pulse nightclub and we had a situation. And your listeners may remember this, here was a guy, went into the nightclub and started shooting people. Just horrific. The problem was nobody knew where he was in the nightclub. It is a big nightclub. People are hiding. He has these guns, the police are outside. They don’t know how to communicate with each other. They don’t know how to communicate with people around there. And so we said, how can we do a better job of that communication and tell [inaudible 00:27:24] solve them.
Andrew: I’m getting it, but I want to understand. So the first step that you took though was you went to commercial buildings in the U.S. and you said you’ve got a lot of people in there, you’re responsible for those people. It would be awful if something bad happened to them and you couldn’t save them. Would you please do what? And I know you went beyond that to stadiums and schools, but let’s look at commercial buildings. What’s the thing that you wanted them to do? Get everyone who is in the building to install the app and then be able to message them for free?
Allan: We did. We did.
Andrew: That’s it.
Allan: Yeah. That was it.
Andrew: And a business would do that? I mean a commercial building would say to all of their tenants because I don’t pay attention to anything the commercial building says to me.
Allan: So it goes to two different groups. There’s a client rep, a tenant rep at every tenant that is responsible for sending out communication to everybody else within that office. So what the building does is it first talks to each one of the tenant reps and gets those tenant reps to download the app and then they can send a message to them. And then they publicize within the building and say, “Hey, this would be something good to have on your phone if you care about getting these emergency messages. We’re not going to bombard you with spam, we’re not going to send you messages on stuff that you don’t care about, but we’re going to send you a message that’s, if it’s an emergency, you’re going to be happy you had it.”
Andrew: It was free to them. It was clear how they’d use it. Did they sign up when you talked to them when you did one-on-one conversations like that?
Allan: They did.
Andrew: They did?
Allan: So the problem is we needed volume, right? So my goal had always been, I want every iPhone and every Android device to have my technology on it so that any building can send out an effective communication. In order to be effective, you have to not only be able to message that somebody is going to see, but you have to be able to get it to the people that you want to get it to. So that meant get it onto their devices.
So we needed to have big groups. So we were starting with small real estate groups that own several commercial buildings but then we quickly ran into people like CBRE, Jones Lang LaSalle, Hines as the three biggest property managers in the country and said, we would like you guys to use this as well, right? They said, “Fantastic, super, super good but your company’s only been around for three months,” right? Your technology is brand new technology come back to us when you have a sizable enough presence where you have people that are using it that we can reference off of.
Andrew: And so what’d you do to get those reference people?
Allan: So we went down to the places where the market was the most in demand. We went down to south Florida, the Pulse night club was there, we’d had a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport. And so we went down there and we got the city of Doral signed up that they were going to, this is where the Doral Golf Club is, it’s just west of Miami, then we got them to sign up. We got Coral Gables to sign up, which is another strong [inaudible 00:30:25].
Andrew: The city.
Allan: They city, yeah.
Andrew: The local community, got it. So it’s not building by building because buildings were saying you’re not big enough yet, but cities on their own, local communities on their own are big enough that if they just sign up, they get the mass that they’re looking for. Now when they sign up, they still need the residents to install the app. How did they get the residents in the area to install it?
Allan: So that’s where we started using social media. So part of our team, you know, it’s that idea of if you’re trying to get somebody to download an app, which is the hardest thing to some degree to get anybody to do on the planet, but if you’re going to get them to download an app, you need to make it easy for them. You need to hit them when it’s relevant. And so that means that if there’s traffic, you know your conversation has to be around relevant stuff so it’s about traffic emergencies.
If it’s about break-ins, if it’s about any wandering people, whatever the case would be, you’ve got to get it to them. And so we use social media primarily Facebook to be able to start sending out advertising messages to people in and around these specific areas suggesting that they download. Now the download part, we had a link through Facebook and we also use a simple text message system of text a keyword to a specific number and that would give them the links that they needed to in order to download.
Andrew: And then you were buying ads for that. As far as I know, you don’t have any outside funding, right?
Allan: Right. So we then we did that all on our own.
Andrew: Did the cities pay you to promote? Did they pay you? So you had enough money to go promote it?
Allan: So the initial cities did not because we needed, we needed to make this attractive to them. So we said, “No. Initial contract you get this really great platform for free.” That solved, you know, one of the real big hurdles of procurement, which meant we were able to bypass a lot of their competitive bidding situations. Not only do we have new technology that no one else had, but it was also coming to the city for free. So we were able to move in pretty quickly. We at Doral, Coral Gables, and Miami, those were our first three that were really big and escalating in size each time to be able to then start getting onto to the residents and sell what’s going on. Now we’re offering the same technology to other communities, but it costs them in order to use it.
Andrew: Got it. And is this where your relationships, you’ve mentioned a few decades of work, this is where your relationships came in, right?
Allan: It was super critical. So two things happened because of that. One is the relationships helped us with our funding. As you mentioned before, the friends and family, you know, if you’re in your 20s and you’re going out and you’re saying, I’ve got this really good idea and I’d like friends and family to finance it, it’s really, really hard to have enough friends and family that can support an app, building an app and growing it to any sizable amount of any size.
You know, in my world, because I was older, I had amassed a certain amount of money so I could afford to put in more. And then my friends were also older and they can start putting in money, but the friends were also in different industries and they could make introductions for us so that we weren’t going in cold as, “Here, I’ve got this really great app here, use it.” It was here, “I’m coming in with my best friend Andrew and Andrew can sit us down.” And once I’m in a room with the people, they were very excited about what we were doing because what public servant doesn’t want to keep their people safer.
Andrew: At what point did you raise money? How far along? Did you have at least one community? Did you have the app where? At what point did you do it?
Allan: So my first we raised money right after we launched on the App Store, Play store. So we launched on the App Store, Play store in August or in April, trying to figure out where we’re at now. It’s 2016 and we raised our first amount of money at probably August of ’16 and by that time we had several customers that were on the app that were starting to use this. Some buildings and local community businesses, they were starting to use the app for their purposes and so we raised money primarily for advertising and to figure out, you know, new features and a few other things on the application to make it work a little bit better.
Andrew: Okay. Quickly I’ll talk about the second sponsor and why I’ve been regretting the way that I’ve been talking to non-entrepreneurs who are listening to Mixergy. And then I want to find out the next thing that you did because banner ads were . . . you were also running banner ads as a source of revenue for a while? You got rid of those and we’ll talk about what happened next.
Here’s the thing that happened to me. I’ll take it away from entrepreneurship for a moment because I had been saying Mixergy is just for entrepreneurs who are building real businesses and I think that I’ve been excluding some people who are, I thought just on the wannabe stage and I was just missing them. And then this weird thing happened to me. I found myself watching a lot of YouTube videos about video makers, just like how they shoot different angles, how they edit, just random stuff.
I think it was just to let my mind just disconnect from work for a little bit. And for a while it was all well and good until I got this like GoPro. This is it right now . It’s connected my other computer downloading some random footage and I added this so I can hold onto it easily. It’s just like this laughable piece of equipment. We at Mixergy, we’ve got thousands of dollars’ worth of camera equipment that we take out when I fly out to do interviews with people, but this was the thing that I just kept for myself. And it’s silly because it’s got like this bubble look to it, the mic kind of stinks but it’s accessible. And I started shooting videos and it was kind of cool first of just work stuff then randomly my personal life and started publishing it and it was really exciting.
Now am I setting the world on fire? No. I’m not going to be the next Casey Neistat. I’m not going to be the next Peter McKinnon. I get it. That’s not what I’m looking to do. Looking to just have something that’s meaningful, that’s creative, and because I got this camera, I’m able to do it. So what does this have to do with entrepreneurship and more importantly with my sponsor, HostGator? I know that there are a lot of people who are listening to Mixergy maybe to disconnect from their everyday life. Maybe you’ve got a job and you think, I’m never going to be an entrepreneur, but I’d like to just like fantasize about it and maybe you’ve been feeling guilty. I’m going to suggest it you don’t feel guilty and do something that for you could be that first step, like buying the GoPro camera was for me and maybe it is going and signing up for HostGator account.
And the funny thing is, yeah, HostGator’s inexpensive. Yeah, it’s kind of . . . they’ve got their inexpensive plan is super inexpensive and you can scale it up. And maybe some people say there’s this feature that’s missing and that feature that’s missing and you’ll get it when you need it. But if you just sign up for HostGator, especially if you’ve got that unlimited hosting package with one-click WordPress installer. Frankly, anything install just about that’s open source like Magento, you’ll have it. And when you have an idea, you just can hit a button and start launching the site and maybe it’ll be something that you throw away. The way I throw away a bunch of my videos. Maybe it’s something you keep just for yourself and maybe that creative process will lead you to create a business that is one that you’re excited about.
So if you’re listening to me and you want to get started, yes, HostGator is great for people who hate their hosting company could just switch, but if you’re just looking to get started with anything, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. They’ll give you a super low price. They’ll give you that middle option that lets you host unlimited websites.
I know there’s one person, my audience who decided that he was into Cuba. He heard me talk about this, said, you know what? I’m going to create a website about Cuba. I think I’m going to go and take one of his travel packages to Cuba interview entrepreneurs in Cuba. I could do it because he’s got a website that I could read about and I could understand what he’s doing. All right.
If you’re listening to me, go to hostgator.com/mixergy, Mixergy is M-I-X-E-R-G-Y, and you’ll get a great price, a whole bunch of other features, but you can read the features. I want you to know the mission. Mixergy stands by them because we love them. We use them ourselves.
Allan, the next thing that you did was . . . well, let’s talk about this do not disturb mode. I guess some grain of rice or sand, I mean, or dust got in. I can’t take it off like this. It’s only on vibrate. I can’t get rid of it. As soon as I do, it just pops right back. A lot of us, and I don’t even care, a lot of us walk around with a phone not making audible sounds. Many people I’m seeing like, Josh, the founder of Baremetrics, who I interviewed recently said, I don’t even take my phone off do not disturb ever. I don’t need the distraction. That is an issue if you’ve got urgent alerts. What do you do about that? By the way, what’s that sound? What’s going on over there?
Allan: I got an urgent alert. How funny is that?
Andrew: It works.
Allan: It’s not, but it is. So that was our critical point because I agree with you. Everybody puts at 24/7 people are keeping their phones on silent, but if you need to get ahold of them, you needed to [buzz pass 00:39:12]. So that was a critical part of our overall development. When we started we said we’ve got to get past the silent. And what we did without divulging too many secrets is we started with this. So again, my history is not in coding, but my history is in problem-solving. Go back to when I was a young kid in college. I was about helping people try to figure out what their problems were and then solve them.
So in this case, when I sat with the developers and I said, “Hey, can we do this?” They go, “Well, yeah, you can do this on Android because it’s an open source platform. With Apple is very closed and you can’t go in and there’s a switch on the side of the phone and then do not disturb button and Apple tells you can’t get past them.” And I said, “All right, well, Apple says that, but let’s test that theory.” And one of the things that we knew or I knew why it was so important to get the patent is, I know that was one of these you were asking about is the whole world of Apple developers, all your audience that is an Apple developer or say history of that being an Apple developer is going to tell you can’t do what we did.
They’re going to tell you that Apple says you can’t override the silence switch, that you can’t override the do not disturb feature. And so when we did that, right, we knew that we were going to be creating our own competition, right? Because we were going to be telling this whole world of people that are super, super smart that yes, you can actually do that. And if we could do it and they can they can do it and now all of a sudden we’ve got a potential challenge against us. So if we do it, get a patent on it and then start marketing it, then what we can do is we can then keep our kind of sort of runway as broad as possible for as long as possible. So that was a real key.
Andrew: So first you got the patent, then you introduced it into your software and now you’ve got it in the software. Am I right?
Allan: We do have it in the software. So we have it embedded actually up in the App Store and the Play store in a library that we can access either on our own application or we can license into third-party applications. So we’ve opened it up as an asset, as a software as a service, as well as through our own application.
Andrew: And because it’s a, what’s the patent type on it? It’s a methodology. Sorry?
Allan: It’s a utility patent.
Andrew: So and because of that, even if somebody figures out another way to do it, you’re still covered.
Allan: So, Andrew, it’s a great point. So we took not just the technology but we, as you said, it’s really a two-part patent, which is not just the override technology, but then taking that and putting it into a system. And the system then says not only are you using override, but you’re sending it to people that are in groups that are either automatically included in the group or that it’s subscribed to that group. And you also translated into , so or you set it out in the original language. So what it does is it can sort of covers all of those use cases for somebody that’s trying. If they come out with a different way to override, that’s fine. That’s outside the patent but if they try to use that in a messaging platform, then they’re in violation of the system patent that we have.
Andrew: Right. Even if they find another way to do it if they’re in a messaging platform. Got it. All right. And then the other thing that you did that you mentioned a moment ago was you said people shouldn’t have to download our app. What if we’re built into other apps, right? And that got you more usage. What other apps would you build yourself into?
Allan: So it could go a bunch of different ways. So one, for example, is a Comcast Xfinity home. So a home security application, right? So home security, if you have water in your basement, if you have a fire in your house, if your smoked detecting and you’re sleeping, would you prefer to get a text message or an email or a push notification that you’re not hearing or seeing because you’re sleeping? Or would you prefer your phone blow up and wake you up and tell you, “Hey, you’ve got water in your basement. Hey, the house is on fire or we’ve detected radon gas,” or whatever gas it is that is deadly and you need to wake up and deal with it. So those were the things that we see that you could have. Similarly, United Airlines is one of our customers or working with us for purposes of a flight cancellation.
So I’m not talking about the gate has changed from G2 to G7. I’m saying you’ve got a flight at 5:00 this afternoon and you’re on United and they’ve decided to cancel that flight because it’s flying a Boeing 737 Max or whatever and nobody wants to get on a plane. So they’ve cancelled it. But now you’ve got to get to Chicago. How are you going to get to Chicago at an appropriate time? Do you want to know now that the flight’s been canceled so that you can put the interview on pause and tell the assistant to go do something or at least know that it’s happening and after the interview go do with it? So it’s those types of time-sensitive stuff.
But we also found that there’s other type of really cool applications. Like in schools there are great applications that are already being used by schools. Like Catapult is one of them. The, where that company specifically helps teachers talk to the principal when there’s an emergency. So they’re using this to help the teachers understand what’s going on on a real-time basis to keep those kids out of harm’s way.
Andrew: Are you concerned that Apple’s going to remove your ability to do that or block you somehow because they don’t like people going around them?
Allan: Well, you know, the question is, is it around, right? So, we’ve been doing this now for three years on the App Store. We have customers, we have the City of Miami, Miami Dade County. We had a bomb alert yesterday or last week, a bomb threat where it was reported out to the people through In-telligent at 1:30 in the afternoon. It didn’t hit the news until two o’clock in the afternoon. Right. This was literally, and this was a real bomb, right?
Andrew: I see it. By the way, your Twitter stream is one of the most frightening Twitter streams ever. I see it yesterday, 24 hours ago, Miami Dade PD’s notification. And so you’re saying, and then, by the way, the one right after that is, have you seen this woman? She just kidnapped a six-year-old child. I go, “Oh my God.”
Allan: So I know it’s horrible. Right?
Andrew: But you’re saying that is a bomb alert that no one would have known about or you knew about first when it was critical and people wouldn’t have gotten alerted except that your software allowed it.
Allan: Exactly. So if you sit there and you say, okay, now I’m Apple and Apple’s going, “Okay, I don’t want people to override other people’s devices.” And yet you see that this is saving people’s lives, Apples in a quandary because they can’t necessarily pull it back now. Now I don’t know what ultimately Tim Cook and his people are going to think. But the reality is, you know, we’re, as long as we’re using it for good, right? If it’s being used for mischief, then I think there’s a problem. But again, if you think about where it goes, and so when we license our technology, we license it into applications that are designed for public good and safety. Not trying to just go off and do . . . it’s not a game event. It’s not a toy. This is meant to be serious communication.
Andrew: Okay. Let’s close out with a little bit of vulnerability. I feel like we’re going from strength to strength as they say in the UK. Let’s talk about the things that we’re getting you down. Like you said to our producer. “I sent a message to my wife yesterday saying, ‘Remind me why I am putting myself through this.” What kind of thing would make you send that type of text message to your wife?
Allan: So, you know, and again, this goes to . . . first off, your producer was really cool. I really enjoyed the interview [stages 00:46:56]. You’ve got a great team and I’m really enjoying the interview, so thank you very much for making this easy. You know, entrepreneurs are a different animal as you know. You know, there’s, you worry about everything, you worry about your business plan, you worry about your product, you worry about your customers, you worry about your staff. You never want to have to worry about, you know, not pay them. You don’t want to let anybody down.
You do all this stuff every day and you get all the highs and all the lows and you feel great about actually accomplishing stuff. But what you get also is you get a feeling to some degree of loneliness in the sense that you’re working crazy, hard, harder than anybody else ever will and, and you feel the success that comes from it. But you also realize that, gosh, you know, who can I turn to? Who will really ever appreciate what I’m doing and what I had to accomplish in order to make it appear simple? Like we just talked about, we’ve done something that no one else had ever been able to do. We got Apple to give us permission to blow past the silence switch and do not disturb, right.
Andrew: They gave you permission or to accept it?
Allan: We did the tech and then they gave us different permissions to be able to operate at the core of the device and a bunch of other things, right? Because one thing we had to do is it had to work whether the phone was awake or asleep. So we had to be able to wake up a phone. We had to be able to do it if it’s open, minimized before it’s closed. So there’s a lot of tech complications, permissions and on and on. But we were the one that did that, right? No one else had done that before. So that’s exciting but to everybody else it looks like, “Oh hey, you just did that,” and go, “No, it was like a lot of work,” right? Give me credit for that.
And then you have to convince people to use it and that’s complicated. And then you have to convince people that they need it. And that’s complicated. And so once you start building on itself and it starts growing, the super exciting part is where we’re at now, right? We have the government of Guatemala, we were going to have a press conference on April 4th and the government of Guatemala is going to announce that it is going to use our technology in their brand new application that’s going to keep everybody in Guatemala safe, right?
We’ve got the Dominican Republic that’s signed up. We’ve got Costa Rica that’s signed up and we expect Mexico, El Salvador, and then South America to sign up as well before the end of the year, right? This is a platform that none of them have that’s super exciting and so you go, it’s a great product, but you need energy and you need time to make it happen. And when everybody else is sitting there watching you, it looks like it’s magic but it’s really a lot of work.
Andrew: So why are you doing this?
Allan: Because I want to keep people safer. I really do. It drives me out of my mind when you see a tsunami hit the beaches of Indonesia and people didn’t know that it was coming and, you know, it has problems. You have a hurricane hitting in the Caribbean and people knew what was coming, but they have no way to communicate with them afterwards, right? You have a night club in Orlando or in, you know, outside of Los Angeles where people just could have been saved but they didn’t have this information. Those things happen everywhere. I need to get this on to people’s devices so that we can get that information to them so that they can be safe.
Andrew: Okay. I get that. And that is the thing that really gets me excited about entrepreneurship. You know lately I’ve been thinking, there was a period there where people want to be entrepreneurs, wanted to just start tech companies, wanted to be the next creator of the next Instagram and then things change recently where now people want to be the next big celebrity on Instagram. Instead of creating the platform, they want to be the person on the platform. And I don’t take away from them. I know that many of them are the next frontier of entrepreneurs, but there’s something about software entrepreneurs and what they are able to do. There’s something about this tech type of entrepreneur, software, services, etc. that makes it different and makes it still exciting for me and it’s the fact that your software could save so many people’s lives.
Along similar lines. Jamie Siminoff, I’ve known him from LA when I lived there. He’s a guy who was just like bumming around trying a . . . not bumming around, never bumming. It was trying a bunch of different ideas and then he came up with one Ring that his focus is on safety and you could see he’s having an impact on communities. That’s really what’s exciting. All right.
Allan: And that’s what we’re doing. That’s exactly right. And, you know, look and I apologize, I go really quick, but I think you hit it on the head. A lot of people get into some of this stuff if their truth be told because they think they can make a huge amount of money, right? Whether it’s, you know, when you think about 30 years ago, I think it’s today. I think this is the 30 year anniversary of the internet itself being born and so those are original entrepreneurs, those original inventors, they weren’t thinking . . . I mean, Bill Gates didn’t think about building the company that he built, right? Zuckerberg did not think about building Facebook into Facebook, right?
When we come in today I mean these two platforms, Android and Apple have done something amazing, which means between the two of them, we can get a message out to over 4 billion people on the planet. That’s staggering, right? They’ve done all the heavy lifting. If I can tap into that, we can do something amazing. And so many people focus on, “Oh, I can make a ton of money.” Yeah, money’s nice, right? Trust me, it’s going to be a lot better when we have 100 million in revenue versus a million in revenue, no doubt about it, right? But what’s most important is when we have 100 million, that means that we’re keeping a lot more people safe and that’s where we’re focused on.
Andrew: All right. The website for anyone who wants to go check it out is In-telligent and it’s in in-telligent.com. Do you think people know what a hyphen is?
Allan: Dash, we just call it dash.
Andrew: Right? in-telligent.com and follow them on Twitter if you want to just get freaked out and see why their mission matters so much. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will host your website. It’s called HostGator. Check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy, start your first startup or grow your current one, hostgator.com/mixergy. If you’re looking to hire developers, check out toptal.com/mixergy.
And finally, I’ll tell you and everyone was listening to me the thing that’s exciting about our company. For a long time, I’ve heard people talk about the importance of culture, the importance in how to get culture in a company, but they never were specific about it. And to be honest, for me, I always thought the majority of people who work on Mixergy are all I contractors who work whenever they want to. Like Arie, who did the pre-interview with you, she’s not full time but [our 00:53:54] only client but she works whenever she wants to. She decided when to talk to you. I don’t even get to pick that. And I thought there’s no way I could create a culture around that.
And then I talked to this guy, Scott Bintz, who is a guy who started this truck parts company and it was doing okay but not great. And then what he decided was, I want to love my company, I want to create an environment that I care about. He went out and he researched by actually traveling to the companies he admired, learned a bunch from them, came up with this process for coming up with this culture and then implementing it.
I did a masterclass with them on Mixergy and then I said, “Why aren’t we implementing it already?” And we started implementing it. One of the things that I took from him was don’t introduce the whole culture document at once. Just pick one thing at a time and then over the course of a month, drill it into people and conversations. Reward them when they do well, highlight how we could do it. And then for me also it insists that people use it.
And last month it was we do less, and I’m so excited about the things that people decided to do less of. For example, we’re not publishing video interviews for everything. We found that publishing interviews in video form sometimes distracts people from the fact that there’s a podcast. Sometimes means that there’s extra work for us and takes away from what we’re looking to do and I thought maybe the audience would complain. No, nobody’s cared. One person actually. Literally one person complained and obviously, there are times where video makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t, but we do less.
Now people on the team came up with that and other ideas and I’m rewarding them by, I’ve got these t-shirts that I’m going to send out to them that I had all these different ideas of what it would be on it. The thing we settled on is the word “Less” and I’m going to give it to everyone on the team who does less but beyond that, actually that was February. That was last month. Even this month, people are still doing less and finding ways to cut back on what we do because it’s part of our culture and it’s all because of what I learned from Scott. If you’re out there and you’re looking to implement culture, whether you have a full on team or a team of consultants, whatever it is, you got to go check this guy out.
We’ve got a course with him. It’s at mixergy.com/scott and if you’re not into it, you don’t like me. I think his ideas are so good. You should just go get his book, look up Scott Bintz in Amazon or wherever you buy books. Fantastic. And I’m really proud of the course and more importantly, what we’re doing with that course. mixergy.com/scott. Al, I’ve become like a top promoter, right? Like three different things I’m promoting here. I can’t help it.
Allan: Wow. Very exciting.
Andrew: Thanks for doing this with me and thank you for being on. Congratulations on everything you’ve built.
Allan: Thank you, Andrew. It’s been a pleasure.
Andrew: Bye, everyone.