Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Joining me today is an entrepreneur who keeps pushing himself to think bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger like you are if you’re listening to me here on Mixergy. His name is Kreg Peeler. He is the founder of SpinGo.
He started out with a business that offered DVD and iPod guides to things to do around town. This was back before everyone had an iPhone in their pockets. He grew and developed a new business SpinGo today, which is a directory of local events that’s now a part of over 1,200 sites including Fox, Daily Herald, SFGate, New York Daily News and Boston.com. You may not know that you’ve seen them, but if you’ve ever gone to a site like–I’m here in San Francisco–so, SFGate looking for something to do this weekend and you’ve seen that there’s a comedy club and an art show and so on.
It’s his software that’s powering all that. I invited him here to talk about how he built up the company and he got all those partnerships. This interview is sponsored by HostGator and I’ll tell you why later if you need a hosting company you should go to them. And it’s sponsored by Toptal and of course I’ll tell you why if you need a developer you’ve got to check out Toptal. But first, Kreg, welcome.
Kreg: Thank you, Andrew. Good to be here.
Andrew: Same here. It looks like you’ve had a busy day. You were telling me you were… What was going on today?
Kreg: Typical running things around the office. But also I worked with some clients. We’re working on some pretty major promotions with some big festivals and trying to find the best way to move last-minute tickets for them, get more people to their shows that otherwise wouldn’t have heard about it.
Andrew: And that’s the thing. You said you were looking for a pain point and the big pain point that event organizers have is what?
Kreg: Getting people to their shows.
Andrew: That’s it. So, to this day, you are still working to help them do that?
Kreg: Yes. There are different methods. Things keep evolving. Early on like you mentioned we had a DVD and some iPod software to help promote things happening around the area. Now obviously people rely on apps. But we also didn’t want to be just another app in the App Store. We wanted to really aggregate all the data into one place and allow properties like SFGate and others that you mentioned to really have up to minute best content for everything going on.
Andrew: So, I’ve been clicking around and clicking around and trying to figure it out. It’s not that big of a mystery but where’s the revenue coming from?
Kreg: So, all of the listings at the top of our event guides are actually paid.
Andrew: I see.
Kreg: Promoters who want to get the word out about their show more urgently or more prominently, they pay a little extra to be at the top.
Andrew: When I see that at SFGate, SFGate gets a cut of it.
Kreg: Yes. That’s right.
Andrew: Got it. And there’s always a link that says, “Be a promoter for an event,” next to each event?
Kreg: Yeah. So, you can look at the event and promote it from there. A lot of our event content actually comes from the public. So, they add the events for free. After they add it to the whole network for free, they can pay a little more and get a wider distribution.
Andrew: Interesting model. What kind of revenue are you pulling in with that?
Kreg: Right now we’re trending towards $3 million this year. And if all goes well, we’ve got some big things in the works for Q4 and we’d love to break $4 million.
Andrew: How much funding did you guys get?
Kreg: So far we’ve raised about $7 million over the last few years.
Andrew: This all started when you were a student at BYU?
Kreg: Yeah. Early on I was doing all the live event support on campus. So, I’d be in charge of everything from major sporting events, theater shows, concerts, battle of the bands and I’d go home at 2:00 in the morning when I’d finish wrapping all the shows. My roommates would be all sitting there playing Mario Kart. I’m like, “Dude, what are you guys doing? This is pretty pathetic. You’re in college and just hanging out here.”
They’re like, “There’s nothing to do in this town. It’s lame.” I’d say, “There’s actually a lot going on.” He goes, “There’s nowhere to look.” So, that kind of planted a seed early on in my mind as there has to be a better way to connect event promoters, event makers as we call them, anybody that makes an event, and the event goers, people who really want to go out but don’t know where to look.
Andrew: And end up spending time playing Mario Kart.
Andrew: Why were you doing events? Who were you doing these events for?
Kreg: Early on I was working for the university.
Kreg: Head of the sound crew. So, we had a lot of gear. I had keys to the stadium and the sports arena. It was pretty cool to have access to everything. But overall, I realized that some of the best artists and athletes are not great marketers. They know how to put on a good entertaining show but they don’t know how to always market and build events.
Andrew: What I’m curious about is why you would do that. I’m looking here at some notes on you. At eight years old, you were taking appointments from your neighbors to do what? You’ve got to tell the story.
Kreg: Fix their furniture, help them setup their computers–this was when computers were pretty new. So, it was the home appliance that they just got. Nobody knew how to work it.
Andrew: And you would go door to door and say, “I can help you with your printer ribbon,” I see here in my notes. “I can help you out with your television. Hook it up.” That’s the kind of thing you would do and you’d just knock on people’s doors?
Kreg: I never had to knock on the door soliciting business. They kind of came to me through word of mouth.
Andrew: I see. This seems like a very entrepreneurial thing to do.
Kreg: Yeah. I just always had a knack for picking up new tools and learning how to use them. I always liked helping people solve problems that were brought in by new technologies.
Andrew: You told April here on our team at Mixergy that you had a hard time at school. You were really frustrated.
Kreg: School was really hard for me because it felt like a lot of the stuff they were teaching was outdated. It didn’t really apply to what I wanted to do with my life. So, I actually was a pretty good student, got good grades but was always miserable.
Andrew: I was always miserable and I got bad grades. So, that was an awful situation to be in until I took business classes at NYU. Then I graduated with high honors. They should have given me business classes in eighth grade. I would have loved it back then.
Andrew: So, I see what you’re feeling and I see the opportunity. You see all the events that you’re doing. You see your friends in need of stuff to do. You say, “I’m going to marry those two–the need with the offer that I could create.” What’s the first thing that you built for them?
Kreg: The first thing we built was the DVD back in the old days to really help get the word out. Beyond that, we realized that if we just launched another app in the app store, we wouldn’t have complete information and you would be one more place an event marketer would have to list their event.
Andrew: This was 2007. Why DVD in 2007 instead of a webpage?
Kreg: So, we did a website as well. But we wanted something that was tangible. We saw a lot of people marketing websites and they were having a hard time getting more traffic. So, we actually were able to go out and collect payment up front because it was something tangible yet electronic.
So, all the local businesses would pay to be on an actual issue of something like a magazine or a newspaper. But we didn’t want to go old school. We wanted to use tech. So, put it on a DVD, we could actually pre-sell, collect the revenue, tell them the issue was coming out in the fall and that would fund the growth of the business.
Andrew: And you noticed that they were more likely to say yes to paying for an ad in a DVD because it was tangible than an ad on a webpage because it was just another site.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Tell me about the salesmanship involved in going door to door and selling. I keep saying door to door, but there’s no doors that you’re knocking on for this. What’s the sales process for this?
Kreg: So, for SpinGo today?
Andrew: No, back when you were doing the DVD. I want to build up to how you got here.
Kreg: So, early on we’d go out and find all the event makers. We’d find local business owners and we’d let them know this was something the students were waiting for. We’d built up a lot of anticipation. We’d done some beta releases. We had a lot of local musicians that were submitting their songs and some filmmakers that produced some film shorts for the DVD.
We showed them all the things that were going to be on this disc. We showed them a beta. We said, “We don’t have a sponsor for the pizza category or for the nightlife category.” So, they would usually step up and say, “Yeah, we’d love to be there.” So, by showing them that we already had user adoption and some interest, they were willing to pay to be a part of it.
Andrew: I see. And I like the way you positioned it. “We have a spot opened for the pizza guy. Do you want to be that guy right now before someone else takes it?”
Andrew: I still remember the first business out of school what my revenues were. I remember when we hit $30,000 a month. I have the chart somewhere in my Evernote and I looked at it recently. Do you remember–I know it’s a long time ago, but do you remember what revenues you were pulling in back when you were in iPod, DVD world?
Kreg: Yeah. We were happy if we brought in $20,000 a month.
Andrew: That’s really good. What were your expenses for that?
Kreg: With the whole design team and everything, we were around $20,000-$30,000 a month. So, we were still losing a month.
Andrew: Really, $30,000? I guess the DVDs were what, $1 apiece if that?
Kreg: To produce them, about $1 apiece. The biggest costs were maintaining the team. We had to do a lot of design, a lot of video editing, a lot of authoring, put all that together.
Andrew: What’s the video editing if you’ve got a local event?
Kreg: So, we produced short. We worked with, like I said, the different filmmakers to get their shorts on there. And then we created video menus and just tried to make the whole disc a fun user experience.
Andrew: So, where does the extra $10,000 come from if you’re pulling in $20,000 and spending $30,000?
Andrew: You get investors even back then? We’re talking about days when you were a student at BYU?
Kreg: I did. Some of them were friends, family and fools but we had money to cover it.
Andrew: Wow. So, the whole thing eventually lost money?
Kreg: Yeah, but it led to SpinGo, which was good. About that time, we had some news media organizations reach out to us and say, “Hey, we love what you’re doing. We’d love to reach this elusive college age mindset. You guys are doing it better than the newspapers. So, why don’t we acquire you? So, we had a couple of papers that were interested in acquiring the product. But we realized the reason it worked was because it was authentic. It was fun. We really poured our heart and soul into making it a production.
Andrew: And you could have sold this at a profit for your investors?
Kreg: Maybe a slight profit. But at that point, I knew it was something bigger than we wanted to sell at that point.
Andrew: Talk to me about bigger. I introduced you a guy who keeps pushing himself. You push your team to think bigger and bigger. What were you thinking bigger about back then?
Kreg: Back then we wanted to go national.
Andrew: Every student, every school.
Kreg: Yeah. We wanted something that really connected the students to the local community. I still feel like that’s a big gap. There are a lot of good products out there. But they’re still not really creating that urgency to get out and go do things, experience the life of the community. I think there’s starting to be a change in this trend, but I think there is really a bad pattern where everybody was staying on the line and they weren’t going out and doing things. People would opt to stay home and hang out on Facebook all night.
That’s starting to change. People are going more mobile, more experiential. But I really wanted to create a new reality where people were highly engaged in real life experiences and I always loved live events. I would start to feel a little down if I wasn’t somehow associated with live events at least once a week. So, I’ve wanted to share that. I wanted other people to have the same type of excitement to get out and do things.
Andrew: What kind of music were you into?
Kreg: I honestly like everything.
Kreg: That’s a cliché answer. But I actually really do anybody who’s a decent musician up on stage, it’s hard to not get into it, even if it’s not your preferred genre.
Andrew: So then the company or the guide was called The Spin Local. Did you close that guide business down and then start SpinGo or did you evolve it into SpinGo?
Kreg: It evolved. So, like I was saying earlier, we had some people interested in acquiring it. We came back and said, “Well, why don’t we license a part of this product to you?” We showed them the analytics and showed that 80 percent of our traffic was actually going to the event section of our Spin Local guide. So, we said, “Why don’t we license that as a separate product? We’re going to call it SpinGo.” That was a hit. We had a lot of media groups that wanted that.
So, we started in Utah. We had about 50 publishers signed up in Utah within the first few months. Then when we started expanding outside of Utah, the problem was a lot of other areas like LA, they wanted exclusivity. They wanted to be the only partner in like all of Southern California. We knew for this to work, we’d have to have a community effect, where all the publishers and everything from radio, TV, magazines, newspapers would all have to work together to really contribute to the larger event database.
So, it was hard to expand outside of Utah. So, I actually went on and did some other ventures in between, kind of put SpinGo on hold. The website was still up. It was still being used by tens of thousands in Utah every month. But then I recapitalized the company and in 2013 we went national with new funding and just went for it on a big scale.
Andrew: Let me break down what you said. You said first of all that media companies approached you. I’ve been doing this for years. Nobody’s approaching me unless I somehow put it out there. I think you came to us through–someone approached me about you. But I needed to put something out there in order to get that introduction. There’s a link on our page that says, “Hey, if you think of someone that we should be interviewing, you should tell us about it.” I talk about it from time to time. You must have, I feel, done something to put it out there to get the media companies to connect with you.
Kreg: Yeah. So, early on we definitely made some calls. When were first getting some acquisition offers, everyone had seen us from the DVD that had been circulating. People were talking about it. But beyond that, when we started selling SpinGo, we definitely had to do outreach. We were calling and emailing and letting them know, “Hey, we’ve got this product. It was really easy to say, “Hey, we see you have events on your website. We assume you spend a lot of time together. Why don’t we make your life easier. You can use SpinGo and now we can bring revenue for you.
Andrew: And that was the pitch to them?
Kreg: That was the basic pitch. And then as we went national, we did a lot of tradeshows. We had a booth where we’d show all the news publishers, “Hey, look what we can do for you.” We always knew long term the end game was not the news publishers, but it was a way to get some critical mass.
One of the really interesting findings we found early on was if you would ask an event maker where do you go to find events happening on Friday night? They’d say, “Oh, well, I ask my friends. I check Facebook. I text my buddy who always knows what’s going on. He tells me.” And then you say, “When you promote an event, where do you push it?” “I add it to the local newspaper.” So, that’s when we realized early on that if we wanted to be in this space, we’d have to work with the newspapers to get a lot of inbound public submissions. But ultimately, that’s not where people are going to find the events.
So, now we have a new product coming out that is actually an app that is dedicated to finding the things in your area, the best recommendations and making it easy to share with your friends. We think that’s going to create a lot more engagement.
Andrew: Let me be a little more tactical about the way you were approaching newspapers. The reason is earlier this week I talked with one of my members at Mixergy who said that his goal is to make a certain number of phone calls to schools to convince them to carry this healthy snack that he wants to have the schools sell for their fundraising efforts. I’ve gotten way too detailed in what he’s doing.
But the thing that I took from it is his struggle is to make enough phone calls to close enough sales, to get people on the phone. So, if we go over the details of how you closed the original sales, I think I’m doing him and people like him a disservice. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you did to close those early sales when you were just in Utah with this idea and you didn’t have network effects, you didn’t have contacts. What was the process like?
Kreg: So, first of all, it was free in the beginning. So, today, a lot of the licensees pay. But early on, we were giving it out to all of them for free. So, that was part of as you say, “Hey, we’ve got this new product.” The real clincher was we’d say, “Let us know what you think.” And you’d open up the conversation where it was, “Here’s the product that we want to build. Here’s what we think would fit your needs and solve some problems for you.” But give us some feedback. And you make them really feel like they’re part of the product development as opposed to just a client.
Andrew: I see.
Kreg: And then when they give you that feedback, you come back and you show them some iterations, even if frankly they’re just mockups. You say, “Hey, we were looking at this and moving this button over there like you recommended. What do you think?”
Once you see that you’re actually applying the feedback that they gave you, they’re much more interested in partnering with you. I’ve never thought of myself as a sales guy. I’ve always thought of myself as a product developer and every one of my clients is just another opportunity to develop a product that meets their needs. When I approach it that way, I’ve found a lot better success.
Andrew: How did you get through to the right person at the papers?
Kreg: That’s always a challenge. But we’ve actually found that in some ways we’ve mostly worked with the editors and we probably should have been working with the ad sales teams if we wanted to help them grow their revenues because editors don’t care about growing revenues. So, when you try to talk to them about optimization and putting the widgets in the right place, they may or may not care.
So, there’s always kind of question in a big organization who’s the decision maker, but it’s also who’s the influencer? Figuring out who really has the novel ideas inside the organization and is going to get everyone bought in.
Andrew: Who made the phone calls? Was it you?
Kreg: Early on yes. But what we brought on some people that had some good contacts in the news media organizations and that helped a ton because they–
Andrew: What did you do to keep yourself making phone calls when it was just you?
Kreg: You just got to have a craving to make the company succeed. I wasn’t going to let anything go. So, I wanted to just prove that we had something good and it was always a new opportunity to share my dream with the rest of the world. So, I never had a problem reaching out.
Andrew: Cool. I should at this point just take a quick break and say to everyone that my sponsor is this dude right here, this guy who is HostGator’s mascot.
HostGator is a hosting company that will host your websites. They do multiple–they do just about any kind of hosting out there. In fact, they have one-click installs for the most popular open source platforms like WordPress. If you want to sign up, go to HostGator.com/Mixergy.
How good is HostGator? Well, you guys have heard me do ads for them times here on Mixergy. I know because they’ve bought months and months and months’ worth of ads. So, they must be working for them. But the cool thing is every few interviews, I will do an ad and the person will say, “I know them. I’m using HostGator.” In fact, that’s what happened in my past interview, the one that I recorded a little earlier today that you guys hopefully will have gotten by the time this is up. That’s how incredible HostGator is.
So, instead of me yapping here, Kreg, let me ask you this. If you were starting over fresh with nothing but this vision of building something big, didn’t even know what it was. All I gave you was a HostGator hosting account and said, “Here, go, host anything.” What would you launch today?
Kreg: That’s interesting. I think if I were to start again, I would spend a lot more time early on understanding how to create a viral following. I think some of the people today that can really create a social media sensation, whether it’s a YouTube channel, a Vine channel or a Twitter account with a lot of followers, when you can create that following, there are a lot of things you would do with it.
So, I think I would reframe your question a little bit as not what I would host on HostGator. It’s what kind of movement would I create. And then the product kind of falls out of that. What is the movement? What’s your cause? For me the cause was getting people out in their community.
I think in some ways I thought too big too early on. It might sound a little contradictory to how you introduced me. I think it’s more important than just building something big and complex is figuring out can you create a super loyal following of a few people. If you can do that, then you can scale it.
Andrew: Interesting. All right. So then just piggybacking off of that idea is try a bunch of different social networks to experiment with different ideas there. Is that what you’re talking about?
Kreg: Yeah, definitely. You find something that resonates with people, something that other people can rally around. Then when you have that, then you can decide what is the product that serves that cost.
Andrew: And you’d experiment with different social networks? You wouldn’t just go to one. All right. So, piggybacking off of that, if I had all that, all those networks are free to be a part of. You don’t have to pay to be a part of Instagram. But you eventually want people who see you are to come back to a page and join your army, your mission.
For that I would quickly launch a HostGator-based WordPress page, a single-page website that just collected email addresses so that if I ended up getting someone excited on Instagram, I could at least get them to join my mailing list on my HostGator-owned website.
And then if I decide Instagram isn’t the place to continue this march, I can email them and say, “Hey, everyone, we are now on Twitter. We are now on Snapchat. Come and check us out. Let’s be a part of this,” and have some dialogue back and forth. People are really good about that if you get their email and you start the conversation that way. I urge you guys to check out HostGator.com/Mixergy because if you do, they’re going to give you 30 percent off and I get some credit for having connected you.
But as you look on that page, HostGator.com/Mixergy, I’m just going to describe a few things that are really important for you to see when you get there. First, the very top is 24/7, 365 tech support with a real human being. I’ve done it. You can do it before you even sign up. Call them up and you’ll see there’s a real human being who takes your call. They do not just WordPress, which I use and I think is an easy thing to setup. But they’ll install things for you like a shopping cart, like a forum if you want. You can do so many different things with it.
They have a 45-day money back guarantee, so if everything I tell you does not work out the way I’m telling you, they’ll give you your money back. And if you scroll down to the bottom of that page, HostGator.com/Mixergy, you’ll see that they even have an offer to give you $100 AdWords and a $100 search credit with Bing and Yahoo. What else do you need?
Go check them out at HostGator.com/Mixergy. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring and for sending me this thing, which I don’t know–will my son get to play with this or will my dog? I kind of put whatever toy I have down in the center and whoever has the biggest fight will end up with the toy for themselves. Do you have kids?
Kreg: I do. I have four kids.
Andrew: Do you have a dog too?
Kreg: Not a dog yet.
Andrew: I think you should wait until they’re older before you get a dog. My dog just goes after whatever toy my kid’s into, especially if it’s plush and fun-looking. I’ll keep it at the office for now.
What do you mean by you were thinking too big?
Kreg: So, I’m pretty technical on the back end. So, I started thinking about how to make the whole system work, how to make the database tie together, started thinking about APIs and everything else, when really, the most important thing–and to your question earlier, what would you host on HostGator?
If you could just create form where people could come in and just simply add a recommendation for something to do on Friday night, that’s basically SpinGo in a most simplistic way. It’s like, “Here are three things everyone should know are happening Friday night.” You post them and then it’s a forum that people can discuss and add other ideas.
Andrew: But you know, Kreg, I get the feeling that if I would have gone back in time and told you that, you would have said not only is it not big enough, but it’s just too small. It’s not going to make a dent in the universe.
Kreg: Yeah. And it’s tough because if it’s too simple, there’s no barrier to entry and everyone else will do it and then you have nothing. But at the same time, again, if you can create that loyal following of some really big evangelists for your cause, I think things start to balloon from there. So, early on, we realized that our most loyal followers were not the actual attendees, they were the promoters because we made their job a lot easier.
Prior to SpinGo they’d have to go add their event to hundreds of different websites. Now they can just add them to SpinGo. It took them a while to understand what we were doing for them, but once it clicked they’re like, “Oh, so I don’t have to post it to all these sites. I post it once and it goes everywhere.”
As soon as that clicked, they became fans of what we were doing. So, that’s the base we started. But we’ve realized there’s still a gap around the event goers not quite understanding how that service helps them find something to do this weekend. So, that’s what we’re trying to correct now with our app.
Andrew: You said you were taking some time away and you were doing other projects and then something brought you back to this. What brought you back?
Kreg: I was working as a consultant for a company that worked building a CMS, content management system for a variety of news publishers. In all those meetings, they kept saying they want a better way to engage with their community. They wanted an events guide or they wanted a community calendar. It kept coming up over and over. And this was like, “This was what I built years before.” When I saw that we had hundreds of publishers that were all asking for the same thing and it didn’t exist, it was time to relaunch SpinGo.
Andrew: How did you recapitalize? What are the mechanics to doing that?
Kreg: So, we had to find a new investor who wanted to come in and then find terms for previous investors that they were happy with and then the biggest thing, you’ve just got to find an angel investor who believes in you and is happy to get enough seed capital to get the thing going. That was a long hunt. I had been looking for years for the right partner.
Andrew: Why recapitalize as opposed to just bringing in the new person and giving him shares?
Kreg: Because the new investor wouldn’t have been able to have the upside he was looking for. And the old investors weren’t compelled to keep putting money in if they weren’t believers. So, you have to make sure the biggest believers have the biggest part of the action.
Andrew: You’re telling people, “Hey, I know you have this share of this company, but frankly that company is not going anywhere unless I give you less share of this business and give him more. Did you have to start a new company and move the old shareholders to the new one?
Kreg: Yeah. It’s a new entity.
Andrew: That’s something that I’ve learned recently. I didn’t realize that’s the way it worked. You start a new entity and the old people get shares of the new one. Basically if they don’t move over, then they’re in trouble because they’re on that sinking ship.
Andrew: So, that’s a way to get everyone together and on board with this new idea.
Kreg: It’s never easy. It’s always a delicate balance. But ultimately I would want everybody to feel like those that made it a success would have a part of the upside.
Andrew: Is there anyone who didn’t come over to the new one?
Kreg: Yeah, there are some.
Andrew: And not they have a share of the business, it’s just not doing anything.
Andrew: Did you get sued?
Andrew: It’s one of those things that I didn’t fully understand until I had private conversations with entrepreneurs and then I fully got how the recap works. It’s not something that most people talk about comfortably but it happens more often than we realize.
Kreg: I think the key is just to make sure that you have a good relationship with everybody, help them all feel like they’re still part of the story. I personally want to make sure that everybody that helped SpinGo get off the ground, whether or not they technically have shares in the company, I would definitely want them to see a return. That’s just me. I don’t want any of them to lose money betting on me. So, at the point when SpinGo has that situation, I personally want to make sure that everybody sees a good return on what they invested.
Andrew: So, my assumption before I saw the research was that you just scraped all the events that were already online, put together in one big database and made that available to publications and then you allowed people to add to it. But you told April that’s just not the way you did it because it doesn’t work. Why doesn’t scraping other people’s events work?
Kreg: First of all, if it’s online, it’s already too late. We work with a lot of promoters that are adding their event to SpinGo as a way to get it online. That’s the first time it actually goes digital. They might have a great idea and say, “Hey, we’re going to host this event. We’re going to reserve this venue,” but they haven’t put it on their own website yet or they haven’t submitted it to a ticketing site. So, we wanted to be upstream for that. That was part of it.
We knew we’d have to get a lot of public submissions. We wanted to be the place where the events originated. The other problem with that is a lot of times you get duplicates or errors by just scraping other websites. So, we do reference a lot of other websites and we work with a lot of ticketing sites to get their feeds into our system, but we spend a lot of energy really evaluating them against each other and de-duping and managing the quality.
So our philosophy is merge the value. We might find parts of a really good listing on Ticketmaster, some other good information on Eventbrite. We might find some other information on some blog somewhere and then somebody might submit something from a public submission. By putting all those together, we can create the best listing possible. That’s been our philosophy all along. We want to take the best of all the elements of a listing, merge those together and then serve that back to the user as verified content.
Andrew: And so some human being goes through all those listings that you find online and decides whether they’re right or not to be included and then cleans them up.
Kreg: That’s right.
Andrew: Where’d you find those people?
Kreg: So, early on we would post jobs on Craigslist in every major metro. We had at least two people in every state that were working from home and they would hopefully know a little about the nightlife and venues in the area.
So, we built out this really big database of venues and kind of a repeating pattern of when events happen in certain market. We’ve automated more and more f tat. So, our system has quite a bit of machine learning and has learned from all those individuals what’s needed to make quality event listings.
So, now we’re operating with less than ten people on our content team and they are in fact looking at every listing but the system does a lot of the initial review and presents it to them for a human verification.
Andrew: I was smiling because I know I saw a job listing from years ago from you and I couldn’t find it but now I found it. It’s loading up for a second. There it is. It’s an event angel. I saw you had wed developers, graphic designers. You were looking for photographers, I guess, for the events, marketing interns and event angels. What’s an event angel?
Kreg: An event angel is somebody who…
Andrew: Sorry. I misread it. It’s event agent.
Kreg: Agent. Okay. I was going to try to wing that there a little bit.
Andrew: I was just like going through and finding these old pages. This is like a page from 2008. So, what’s an event agent?
Kreg: An event agent is exactly that, someone who’s a specialist who knows the event information happening in the market. They know about the nightlife scene. They’re kind of like the event ambassador to the community.
Andrew: They go to the event on your behalf?
Kreg: If possible. But more importantly, they know what’s going on. And their knowledge of the local area would be basically imparted into the database.
Andrew: Okay. So, you start an event to sign up more publications and you said at that point you were starting to hire people who already had contacts. Who already has contacts to all these publications and can start introducing you to them?
Kreg: So, there are people who obviously work with content management systems, people who have sold classified utilities and other groups to newspaper organizations that have all those publishers in their rolodex. So, finding people like that, we tried to find people from other implemented products that lived on other media sites because they knew that they had already closed deals with these types of publishers. So, that was always who we tried to reach out to.
Andrew: Is this essentially a temporary hire because you hire them, you get all their rolodex, all their connections, they make the deals for you and then they move on to the next person because you’ve exhausted their list?
Kreg: It’s always my hope that anybody we hire can be a part of the long-term success of the company. But as you grow there are definitely phases to the business. You have people who contribute really well to one season of the game, but as you move on to the next season, you need a different first baseman. That’s always the hardest part of running a business. You have to find who fits the team for the right time and then make the changes when necessary, otherwise you end up kind of stunting your growth.
Andrew: Did you develop the original version of this software yourself?
Andrew: I heard you gave them wireframes on Keynote files. Is that right?
Kreg: Yeah. So, Keynote was always my mockup tool of choice. I liked it because I could create some animations and create a scenario of what it would be like if you actually clicked through and interacted. You could create live buttons and everything. So, I would build the prototypes out in Keynote and give them demo to the coders and engineers and say, “Here’s what we’ve got to build.”
Andrew: Do you Keynotopia?
Kreg: I do. Yes.
Andrew: Is that what you used?
Kreg: Keynotopia came out after I started using it for mockups. But I have since downloaded their templates and I would recommend them to anybody. Yes.
Andrew: Yeah. Keynote, of course, meaning the presentation software that Apple makes kind of like PowerPoint but more Apple-y and it is really good for creating wireframes, almost fully functioning–for presentations that look like fully functioning apps. Amir, the founder was a Mixergy interviewee and last night he texted me to say, “Hey, I’m in town. Can we get together?” I said, “I’m with my baby in the backyard tomorrow after work. Do you want to come by?” I thought he’d say no, but yeah, in less than an hour, he’ll be over at my place.
Kreg: Oh, very cool.
Andrew: I love what he did. He’s like really into detail.
Kreg: Yeah. I love the quality of the templates and I have used them since it came out. But like I say, early on, some of the earlier wireframes, it was long before I knew about Keynotopia.
Andrew: I love that kind of detail into how you did it. So then you handed it over to the developer. He knew what you were going for. You guys were friends so you can keep on chatting. You know, since we’re talking about developers, why don’t I take a quick stop here to talk about Toptal?
Top as in Top and Tal as in Tal. No. Top as in the top, the best and Tal as in Talent .com–Toptal.com. That’s where you go if you need a developer. Where do you go, by the way, when you need developers before I get into my shtick here?
Kreg: So, one thing we’ve really tried to do is be a big part of the tech community here in Utah. By sponsoring events and being there, making sure our team is there participating, we’re at least on top of mind for a lot of the engineers in the area. So, when we post jobs, we get some really good candidates.
The other big drive is always make sure that your tech team are good recruiters. They need to have friends. They need to be contributors to different code bases and communities. By doing that, they start to get their name out there. So, when they can push a new job listing or let them know we’re seeking somebody with this skill set, we’ve always found that’s the most effective.
Andrew: I see. Your developers build up their reputations in the developer community by contributing back to it and then when they’re looking for new members, they have more credibility and more name recognition. That’s what you’re saying.
Kreg: That’s the hope. Yeah.
Andrew: All right. Frankly, that works. It absolute works. Hiring headhunters absolutely works. On a small scale, going to freelance sites, that works too. The thing is, what happens if you need somebody to fill in your team let’s say tomorrow or in three days. You’ve got a project that absolutely needs to get done? What happens if you need somebody on a long-term basis and you don’t want to spend time recruiting and hiring?
My recommendation is you go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. They’ve got the top developers, top three percent of developers in their network. You call them up. You talk to a real person. You tell them exactly what your office is like or if you don’t have an office, what your company culture is like without the office. You tell them what you’re working on, what languages you need.
You tell them how many hours you need. Is it a full-time positon that goes on for years? Are we talking about a part-time positon or maybe someone to just finish up a project? Do you have a team and need someone to add to your team or do you need several people to get things started for you? You tell it all to Toptal. They will go to their network and they will find you top people who fit exactly what you’re looking for. They guarantee that it’s going to be a good fit.
Think about that. The prices are reasonable. They’re not competing with those cheapo freelance sites for a reason. They get you really top people. There’s a reason why I’ve used them, why Andreessen Horowitz invested in them and supported them–because they are freaking good. Their management is good. Their relationships in the tech community, in the developer community is really good.
So, if you need to hire a developer, go to Toptal.com/Mixergy and you’ll see that they are offering Mixergy listeners 80 free Toptal developer hours when you pay for 80 in addition to no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. You tell me who else who has credibility does that? 100 percent satisfied is what they’re going for here. Just go to Toptal.com/Mixergy.
Frankly, if you don’t want to do that, if you want a personal introduction, I’ve had the founder of Toptal over to my house for dinner. I’ve gotten to know the people over there. I will make a personal introduction. Email me, Andrew@Mixergy.com. That’s how much I believe in this company and I know that you guys will thank me for making that introduction. And I know if you refer someone else to them, they will thank you for telling them about Toptal. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring.
Kreg, as a non-salesy person, what do you think of my ads?
Kreg: They’re good. I like the fact that you paint the value prop. You let people know why they should use it and what they get of it.
Andrew: I’ve been working on it. I think my earlier ads were heartfelt and so they did well. And then they were still heartfelt but still sloppy and they didn’t wow anybody. So, I just kept working on my ads and getting feedback from people like you. Eventually now my sponsors are so happy they’re now fighting each other to get ad spots. And my ad sales person is asking if we could do four ads in an interview. I think that might be too much.
Kreg: That’s a good place to be.
Andrew: It is a good place to be.
Kreg: Good problem to have.
Andrew: Thank you. But I should be thinking bigger, actually. Was I right, by the way, with the way I introduced you as a guy who keeps wanting to think big and pushing his team to think big or did I just pull one piece of research and made too much out of it.
Kreg: I definitely think SpinGo could be massive. I have no doubt that the entire event space needs to be reinvented and that the market is much bigger than anybody understands it to be today. I think there’s a lot of value to creating a knowledge base of time, understanding where things are happening, when things are happening and what drives community engagement. I don’t think we really understand that.
We spend a lot of time and money as a civilization on web analytics. But I think the web is still just a small fraction of a greater community that we aren’t mapping. We don’t really know in the local space as well as we could. So, I know that sounds really geeky, but I actually think SpinGo can map time.
Andrew: So, when you say, “I believe it,” when you say it, I suddenly realize I go out and I do the exact same thing over and over again. If I’m going to go out with my wife on a date next week, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go to a site like Yelp or an app like Assist and I’ll say, “What’s a good restaurant to go to?”
And I’ll go to an interesting restaurant, but it’s still a freaking restaurant and how interesting can restaurants be, especially to someone like me who’s not a foodie. I’m too much of a philistine for that. And you’re saying, “Look, there’s a world of entertainment around those restaurants that you’re not even considering,” and that’s the big–so, when you say it, I do think, “Ah, this is a real big opportunity.”
But let me ask you this–when you were starting out or when you were earlier on preaching this gospel, did you feel a little bit like a fraud like, “What if it doesn’t work out? I’m telling all these people where the future is and I’ll look like a sham if it doesn’t come out like that?”
Andrew: Never crossed your mind.
Kreg: No. I always knew it was going to be huge. The question was could I get the investors to buy in? Could I get investors to believe in my vision enough to back it? That’s still a continual question, finding the right investors. But there’s no doubt in my mind that SpinGo being well-funded is going to solve this in a major way.
Andrew: And you have said actually that finding investors was one of the hardest periods, especially the series A. What was going on as you were trying to find investors?
Kreg: So, we knew we were onto something big. We felt like we had a lot of traction. But everyone kept saying, “The news media industry is not where you want to spend your time and money.” We knew that on one hand. We wanted to help then. We wanted to help solve a lot of their pain.
But we also believed that better than any other online product, the news media had really fostered a real authentic community gathering. We wanted to get behind that. So, that was hard, though, to get investors to believe in that. So, we’ve really had to kind of prove that traction, show what we were able to get from that and now we’re showing that we’re also doing some other things to supplement that growth.
Andrew: Was it because you were in Utah? Was that a big issue?
Kreg: Not typically. But you want to make sure that you’re taken seriously. I think sometimes when you’re not in the Bay Area people wonder, “How big is this? How established is this company?” But I’m originally from California. There were a lot of times I considered should I relocate the company to California. But I’ve really enjoyed the talent that’s in Utah. There are a lot of great people here and plenty of people that are ready to get behind a good cause. So, that part I’ve really loved about being in Utah. But I did have to spend a fair amount of time in the Bay Area to find some larger investors.
Andrew: I saw your list of investors on CrunchBase. There are some California-based investors, right?
Kreg: Not yet, actually. We’re working on closing a couple here before too long.
Andrew: I see. Then I misread that. And then there was a set of investors who stopped funding you told April. Is that the group of people who were the early investors?
Kreg: Yeah. That’s the earlier group.
Andrew: I see. That’s got to kill you because it means they don’t believe in you, but at the same time, you can understand them, right?
Kreg: Yeah. The hard part and the great part about business is revenue kind of drives everything. I think that’s good because it makes you focus, but I think it sometime is a disservice to the company because the biggest revenue opportunities take five years to really build out. You’ve got to find investors that believe in you long enough in a big enough way to fund the bigger play, not just the short-term play.
Andrew: What did you think of Zvents, the company that eBay bought?
Kreg: Yeah. I liked what they were going after. They were acquired by StubHub. They thought it would lead to ticket sales. It’s a big of a conflicted model because Zvents was supposed to be impartial and promoting all the local events. But when they started promoting StubHub content above other content, news media publishers didn’t like that. So, we were able to pick up a lot of the clients. But we have a good working relationship with StubHub and we respect Zvents for what they did, but they’re not around any longer.
Andrew: They’re not around anymore. I forgot all about them until I saw that they were an issue for you at one point. I went to look at what their webpage looks like and it just said, “Sorry, we’re done.” And that’s what did it. You funneled off a lot of their clients and many of them just weren’t happy with how they were promoting StubHub, which is another eBay company.
Kreg: Yeah. I think ultimately it wasn’t core to StubHub’s strategy. So, that’s when they ended up shutting it down.
Andrew: It does take a lot of work to put something like this together.
Kreg: It does. Event content is harder than it looks. It’s because you can build a restaurant directory and it more or less stays the same for a week or two. You put together an event directory and it changes every single day.
Andrew: Because what happens? People just disappear? I know the new events are coming on board so every single day many times a day new events are being added. But are they also changing once they’re added?
Kreg: Yeah. They change a lot. You have a lot of new information being posted, people wanting to make changes to the listings. But it’s more just a fact of being event content. It expires. So, the events that happened yesterday aren’t relevant today. So you’ve got to continually refresh and regather all that content.
Andrew: That’s got to be so freaking frustrating. Are you guys profitable?
Kreg: Not yet.
Andrew: You don’t want to be profitable, do you?
Kreg: We want to keep scaling. So, I would much rather keep funding our growth than go for profitability. But I’ll be honest, there’s a time when it’s appealing to not have to work with investors and just be able to go for it and not have to worry about what they think. But it’s always a tradeoff of do you go for the growth or do you go for the short-term revenue?
Andrew: One of the things that you want to do is you said app several times here in the interview. I get feedback that I interrupt people a lot. I guess I shouldn’t always interrupt. The reason I was pushing that off is I wanted to get to it later on in the conversation so we can build up to it in chronological order. I don’t want to push that off forever. What’s the deal with the app?
Kreg: So, the app is focused on the best events happening each day. So, we’ve powered thousands of apps. All of our partners, the mobile versions of the newspaper sites, all of them redirect to a mobile web app. We have an API that powers other apps in the app store. But we didn’t want to do our own app until we really zeroed in on a model and until we had a big enough critical mass that it wouldn’t be competitive with other apps, but it would be more supportive. So, we want to focus on the best content happening in any given day.
So, there in San Francisco, for example, you’ll be able to open the app and see, “These are the top three events happening tonight. They’re the ones that still have available seats. They’re the ones that you should care about.” It’s really going along with what I think the new philosophy of the internet is. People don’t want everything. We’ve proven to the world there’s a ton of content. Everyone’s kind of discovered that. The internet is massive. There are a lot of publishers.
What’s most important now is finding the content that matters to me. If it’s an event that already happened, let’s not show it. It if it’s an event that doesn’t have tickets available, let’s not show it. If it’s an event that most people aren’t going to be interested in, don’t show it. So, we’re going to highlight the content that is exclusively of interest to you and available. By focusing on the best of mobile content, we think we can actually create a lot of interest.
Andrew: And that’s how you avoid competing with the newspapers because you’re only showing a small subsection of the overall events.
Kreg: Yeah. It’s like the best of album for the local community.
Andrew: Eventually, though, you need to outgrow them and create your own app that does everything, don’t you?
Kreg: At some point. Yeah. But we still believe there will always be a place where promoters want their listings on news publisher sites. So, that will always be a part of our business.
Andrew: The other thing you want to do is give every event maker a voice, a channel or a following, kind of like they have on YouTube with their channels. How would that look for you?
Kreg: So, we are coining the term event maker because we’ve all been familiar with the idea of a film maker. You think of these people who can be a storyteller or a filmmaker and they can really create a platform to express themselves. And I think those who bring and event together and bring an event into existence, I think there’s a really awesome skill set there that most people overlook.
I want to allow them to have a platform where they can have a great idea for an event, bring it together and get the word out very efficiently in the same way a filmmaker can on YouTube or a blogger can by posting to their social media channels. There are a lot of other formats out there, but to get people to come to live events, there hasn’t been a great platform for those that want to do that.
Andrew: I get that. All right. Final question is about universities–you said they are like a zoo. You’re smiling. You actually taught at Brigham Young University’s MBA program, right?
Kreg: I was a guest lecturer several times. Yes.
Andrew: You still think universities are a zoo and I get it. What do you mean by that?
Kreg: So, I actually dropped out of college. I loved what I was learning, but I didn’t really care about the college degree. It was more important for me to get the experience I wanted and then get out before I got too shaped into the thinking. So, what I’ve commonly said is universities are like a zoo. It’s great to go observe the animals, but don’t get caught in the cage.
I really do think universities can often overly shape individual thinking and if you stay too long, you end up thinking that the conventional wisdom is the only wisdom and you decide not to try things because everyone is telling you they won’t work. I think if you listen to those voices for too long, you end up stunting your own future, your own growth.
Andrew: Let me then ask you the flip side of that. We started out with the idea of thinking big, not within the confines of the zoo, which is the university, but thinking bigger than even the idea seems to justify at the moment that you have it. How do you push yourself to think bigger? How do I push myself to think bigger? How does someone listening to us do that?
Kreg: I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. I love to think about in a perfect world or in five years or ten years, how will things be different. If anything were virtually possible, what would we do? Would you still get in the car and drive across town? I think that’s what drove a lot of Uber’s founding vision. Would you still build a second house just so you can go vacation in it? I think that’s what drove Airbnb’s founding vision.
So, you ask yourself how should life be, not how is life? By asking yourself if there were no limits, what would I be doing? What would life be like? I think you unveil a lot of really big ideas and then the question is which one of those ideas do you believe in that you are willing to fight for it every day of your life for ten years.
If you don’t want to do that, quit now because you’re going to burn out. But if you’re willing to fight for that vision for ten years and it’s something that you believe in and you see, “This is the future. There’s no doubt about it,” then it’s just a matter of your own persistence.
Andrew: What a great place to leave it. The website is SpinGo.com. You can check them out. Keep following their progress as they build this ideal future. I love the way that you put that. My sponsors are HostGator and Toptal. If you want to sign up for them go to Toptal.com/Mixergy or HostGator.com/Mixergy.
If you like this interview and want every single one that I do as I create it and publish them, please subscribe to the podcast. And if you want to go the extra mile, give me a positive rating. I feel like such a douche every time I ask for a positive rating. But it helps other people find it and I’ve discovered that when you ask for something, some people will actually come through. So, I’m going to ask you guys–if you like this interview, please give it a high rating in the iTunes Store.
Kreg, thanks so much for doing this interview.
Kreg: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it.