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 business for an audience of real entrepreneurs.
Get this. One of my past interviews I complained about how I get endless calls often while I’m interviewing or while I’m having a meeting. And they’re just fricking robocalls. And I get an email as a follow-up to that from Aaron Foss, who you’re about to meet, who says, “Hey, I’m working on a solution. I think you should try it out.” So I click over to his website and I think, “First of all, cool that he did this and that he reached out.” And second I thought, “Am I being trapped into something?” So I think I had to put in my phone number and my carrier or something. And at the time, it was kind of, like, a clunky experience, but I got so frustrated, I got excited about it.
I eventually became a customer of his. I think I became a customer once Apple allied Nomorobo, his software, to be integrated into the iPhone, like, flawlessly. And he and I have been emailing for a long time, and I’ve been sending him love notes about how it’s just stopping all these junky calls and suggestions for things that I’d like to have happen. And we’ve stayed in touch. And then at one point I said, “Hey, I should just check out if Aaron’s, like, right, to do a Mixergy interview.” And once he gave me his numbers I said, “Dude, can we do this interview please?” And he said, “Yeah, no problem.” He is actually an Entrepreneur in Residence at Hofstra University. So it’s someone who wants to teach entrepreneurship and enable others to become better entrepreneurs.
And he is the founder of Nomorobo, this thing that you plug into your phone and it just starts killing all those robocalls that we’re all getting. Not all of them actually, Aaron. I’d like you to kill all of them. Sometimes I fantasize about you killing the people who make those calls. But you kill the majority of them. And here he is, a listener who is now a Mixergy interviewee and the two sponsors who I’m going to be doing here, Aaron says, “I’ve heard you talk about them a lot.” The first will help you hire phenomenal developers. It’s called Toptal. The second will help you host your website, right? It’s called HostGator. Aaron, good to have you here.
Aaron: Hey, thanks for having me.
Andrew: Why do you listen to Mixergy, by the way?
Aaron: Why do I? I love learning from everybody that you have interviewed, right? Like, what do they say? Dumb people learn from your own mistakes and smart people learn from other people’s mistakes. Is that the deal? So hearing everybody else’s story, I can specifically remember certain lessons that I’ve learned and where I was driving around. I’m on the ferry or something like that. So yeah, if I can help out your listeners, I think this will be great for everyone.
Andrew: How big is Nomorobo revenue-wise?
Aaron: So we just hit $3.2 million in ARR.
Andrew: Annual recurring revenue. And that’s people like me who basically just hit the buy button and every month you charge us. Actually, Apple charges me. And it’s, like, just a few pennies a month, right?
Aaron: That’s exactly right.
Andrew: What is it? A buck or two?
Aaron: Yeah. On the consumer side it’s two bucks a month or $20 for the year. And then we also have a carrier and an enterprise version. We sell it per query or we license it to carriers to deploy across their entire network.
Andrew: And there are carriers who are paying you now?
Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. That was the original business model. I always thought that this was going to be at the carrier, at the infrastructure level. But as we all know, right, like, we still keep getting tons and tons of robocalls. The carriers just seem, like, unwilling or unable to go and block them. But consumers, like, when they say, like, “Two bucks a month, right? You know, take my money.”
Andrew: And you know what? First of all, I think you’re undercharging. I kind of feel like there are people who are charging way more and then they charge on an annual basis. So you feel like, “All right. I paid it once and we’ll move on.” But second, I think that the carriers are going to lose the phone call business. Just like they lost texting to iMessage and WhatsApp, they’re going to lose the call business if they continue like this because if we can’t trust that the calls that are coming through are meaningful, we’re just going to switch to Facebook Messenger for calls or Skype or something else. And frankly, we’re all seeing more and more of our calls are going through other channels. That stinks.
Aaron: You’re exactly right, right? Like, who answers unknown numbers anymore or if you haven’t, like, you know, scheduled a call or anything like that? And nobody does that unless you’re in the contact list. And even on the robocalls side you said, you know, we don’t stop all of them. There are a lot of good robocalls, right, schools, police, fire, prescription reminders. There’s a lot of reasons that you need to talk to people especially, like, people with kids or parents and things like that. You’re exactly right.
Andrew: I kind of thought that since you . . . This isn’t your first successful company. You’ve had a bunch of them. I thought that you were going to tell our producer, “Look. Here are these stories of, ‘How I was a hustler, an entrepreneur kid,’ but you didn’t.” You said, “I’m not entrepreneurial. For whatever reason, I thought I was always going to go work somewhere. And then I got my first job and the first day they teach me how to check out a conference room.” What does it mean to check out a conference room and why did that change your life?
Aaron: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So I’m a freshly-minted MBA. I got my undergrad in information technology, and I got my MBA in Rochester, New York. And all I wanted to do was work at a big company, lived on Long Island. I came back home, got a job at a company called Symbol Technologies, and yeah, the first day my boss shows me how to check out a conference room. Shows the whole system. And you know how there’s, like, a little window in the door? He showed me how you can kind of put a couple of pieces of paper there. That way nobody would be able to find you. And you didn’t have to do any work.
And this was, like, day one. I’m, like, you know, literally day one in corporate America here I am going to kill my career. And I was like, “Yeah. I don’t think this is going to work out.” But I also know I have kind of a shitty attitude sometimes. And so I stuck through it. Said, “Let me see if it’s me or if it’s the company. Do I not belong in corporate America or this is just something I’m going to figure out how to do?” And, you know, a year later, it was literally 54 weeks, right? On day 365 I put in my resignation, you know, vested in my 401(k), and I went out on my own.
Andrew: You started a few different things. I think the first one was Alegean.
Aaron: Alegean. Yeah.
Andrew: Alegean. What’s Alegean?
Aaron: So Alegean was a consulting company. So from the people that I had met at Symbol, I did a lot of contract programming, even internally, right? I was running it like my own company. I programmed in a language called ColdFusion, which is pretty old and obscure. And what was great about it . . . This is, you know, going back, like, over . . . What was it, 2002? Something like that.
Andrew: It was 2003 to 2011.
Aaron: Yeah, there we go. It started in 2003, right? Was that . . . The people that had ColdFusion sites had a lot of legacy code that they just couldn’t get rid of. So by consulting and by, you know, hiring me, there was very few ColdFusion developers and the stuff that it was running was mission critical. So that really kind of gave me, a) it was easy to find clients, b) it was nice to be able to charge a high rate, and then c) what wound up happening was it freed me up to really do some entrepreneurial ventures.
Andrew: And one of them had to do with buffalo wings. You sat down at a bar and you had a problem. What was the problem?
Aaron: You got it and you’ve had wings, right? And you get that little cup of blue cheese dressing. And I don’t know. My brain just snapped. I had just had it that day. I couldn’t get enough dressing on my buffalo wing. And the answer was so easy to me. I was like, “The cup is the wrong shape, right?” Like, a buffalo wing has that flat wing and then the little drumstick. And the flat wing can’t jam into it. And I said, “Wait a second. I know how to do this. I know how to solve this.” And, like, the shape of the wing dipper kind of appeared to me, like, you know, Doc Brown in “Back to the Future” and the flux capacitor right on the bar. It was like, “Wait. We need to take a cup, kind of shorten it, like, because it doesn’t need to be tall.” And it kind of looks like a smushed clover. Everybody goes to wingdipper.com. You can kind of still see it there, but . . .
Andrew: I’m on it right now, wingdipper.com. I can see these things on there.
Aaron: There you go. And I just . . .
Andrew: Do you still own the company?
Aaron: What’s that?
Andrew: Do you still own the product?
Aaron: No. So what wound up happening was, well, I didn’t know anything back then, right? And I still don’t know a ton of stuff. But, right, like, the first thought was, “Well, get a patent, right? That’s what you do.” So I spent, you know, a couple thousand dollars on a patent, and then I had no idea what to do then. And I kind of realized early on that the number one thing for an entrepreneur is getting people to, you know, check out their product, right? They’re called MVP now, but back then, you know, it was just a, “Hey, does anybody want this thing?” to kind of get some marketing and things.
And as it turns out, a show called “American Inventor” was casting. It was the pre-cursor to “Shark Tank” out in New York. And I knew showing up with just kind of a ridiculous . . . I had built, like, a prototype out of, like, clay, like, this stuff called Sculpey that I got at Michaels, like, baked it in my own kitchen and whatever. I realized that I’ve got to do something else. So I had two of my friends dress up as chickens and, like, protest the invention. And the producers just loved it. They called me, like, a couple weeks later and they’re like, “Hey, you know, you’re flying out to L.A. You’ve made it to the semi-finals.” And I’m like, “Well, what about my chickens?” And they’re like, “Yeah, they’re coming too.” And so, you know, I was on the show for all of 10 seconds, but I kind of realized at that moment that you have to make people realize and see what your product is going to be, as embarrassing as it may be.
Andrew: And so where in your background do you come up with that kind of creativity? I don’t see any of that before.
Aaron: Yeah. You know, it was really one of those things where I figured I had nothing to lose, right? I might as well do it and just have some fun, right? Like, that’s the key to this whole thing. People are so worried or, “I’m not going to talk to you about my invention or my idea or anything.” Like, it just seemed to be fun to convince two of my buddies to go and dress up in chickens and go into . . . You know, it was, like, 135th Street, like, the Armory in Manhattan and just see what the hell would happen, right? Worst case? Nothing. The best case? We got on the show.
Andrew: Which you did. And then one of the judges pulled you aside and said, “Hey, look. This is the kind of thing that you should be selling to companies like . . . ” Like, which ones?
Aaron: Yeah. So it wasn’t right for the show and, again, if you think back then or even now, right, for a “Shark Tank,” they wanted somebody that you could sell it, like, Walmart and Target and kind of, like, mass market products. I think the one that won the show was something, like, a child safety seat or something.
Andrew: They want to sell to the audience that’s listening. They’re not looking for a restauranteur to come in and buy this because they saw it on the show.
Aaron: That’s exactly it. B2C, not really B2B. But, you know, one of the judges, he was, like, a founder or CEO at a big advertising agency here in the city. And he kind of pulled me aside after all the filming and he said, “Look. Like, this isn’t right for the show, but I could really see . . . Domino’s is one of our clients.” He was like, “I could totally see them using this.” I said, “Well, I don’t have a product. I don’t have anything.” And he’s like, “Well, you should probably get on that path.” And, again, I didn’t really know about entrepreneurship at that time. But, again, I knew, well, okay, let’s go and prove it out and see what happens.
So the first thing that I did was I . . . There is this . . . It’s called the National Restaurant Association. Their trade show, their annual trade show, is in Chicago. And it was coming up in, like, four or five months. So I grabbed a booth. I’m like, “Okay. Well, I’ll figure it out here.” I Googled and called around to get, like, prototypes made. I found, like, a candy tray company. You know, like, those thin plastic trays that have, like, all the little pieces of candy, out in California. They were able to do a bunch of prototypes for me.
I built a booth that looked like a bar because I figured, “Okay. We’ve got to attract people that are going to be selling. Like, who sells wings?” Right. It’s bars. And then we just hopped on a plane, built the thing out there, and said, “Well, what does everybody think?” And there was, like, a line at the booth. Everybody was, like, super excited about it. They saw that they could save money because of everything. They thought it was great. They saw all the things that we had done. And I guess that kind of gave me my thirst for blood, right, like that red meat that I was like, “Oh, when you have an idea in your head and then you get it out to people and then they like it and then they want to buy it, it’s just really super exciting.”
Andrew: And so what happened to the company? Why do you not own it now? Where is it?
Aaron: Yeah. So it’s . . . I made many, many mistakes in the middle of it, right? And the key there is that the price . . . Because we didn’t get giant volumes, right, it was only a penny or two more than a cup. But the restaurant industry is just super, you know, cost sensitive. And so and actually I ran that. It was sold in bars and restaurants across the United States. And actually not until Nomorobo came along did I finally kind of put the kibosh on that because I just needed to really, really focus on Nomorobo. Earlier in my career, in my entrepreneurship career, you know, I did a whole bunch of different things. And then as I found the one that really worked, that’s when I really kind of went all in, focused, and that’s where I’ve gotten to today.
Andrew: So the site is still up. I just can’t buy from there.
Aaron: If you want, I’ll send you some. I’ve still got a bunch in the closet.
Andrew: I see that it’s created by West End Ventures, LLC. That was your idea, this, like, collection of companies until you found the right one.
Aaron: That was exactly it.
Andrew: All right. You then created SideTour.
Andrew: SideTour, that’s the one that was . . . Well, before I give away what happened to it, a marketplace . . . Here’s how “TechCrunch” described it back in 2013. “A marketplace where people can book places for small-scale bespoke activities and post their own events.” What’s, like, an example of a tour that you guys would let me book if I wanted to?
Aaron: Yeah. So we were trying to go for these very unique experiences. And, again, this is 2011. We started out in New York City. So there was this guy, like, Walter. You could take a ride on his sailboat. There was a monk that he could go . . . And he was actually an investment banker that became a monk, you know, in an East Village monastery. So it was really, really unique things. There were actors that can get tours of Broadway plays and things. Just very, very unique kinds of things. And this is 2011 when kind of marketplaces were brand new. They were kind of . . . You know, and it was, like, kind of the rage and things. We actually got accepted to Techstars in the New York City class, which is an accelerated program. And, you know, from an entrepreneurial journey, that’s when I really learned everything that I was doing wrong and had to kind of right the ship.
Andrew: What do you mean? What happened?
Aaron: Well, just as far as, like, okay. So day one when new got there, I figure . . . So it was me and we had three other founders. I figured, you know, I’m the technical guy. I’m going to sit there and I’m going to write code for 90 days, you know, bang, bang, bang, ones and zeros, ones and zeros.
Aaron: We have our big demo day. And then we go and, you know, raise money. And the first thing that . . . We met with the mentors. And I forget who it was, but he said, he’s like, “No, no.” He’s like, “That’s not how we do things here.” He’s like, “You’re going to really F this program up if you do that.” He was like, “Because you’re not going to learn anything.” And then the four of us just looked at each other like, “Oh, yeah, I guess he’s right.”
So the question was, how do we . . . And, again, by this point with, like, Wing Dipper, it was going on for, like, I don’t know four or five years or something. We were like, “Well, how do we accelerate our learning? How do we build an MVP? How do we figure out . . . You know, how do we de-risk this? Are people going to offer the tours and are people going to buy them?” It’s funny that you mentioned “TechCrunch” over here because what we did is we built . . . I took WordPress and I bolted on Eventbrite.
This is actually before even, like, Stripe existed or anything like that. So it was a complete, you know, spit and bubble gum kind of thing. And we raised $1.5 million from that on demo day. And the “TechCrunch” comments were, “I can’t believe these guys raised $1.5 million with a WordPress blog.” And that was, like, the real big lesson, like, “Yeah, exactly.” I know it sounds ridiculous, but that was how we were able to go and prove out the kinds of tours people wanted to go. You know, listen, there was a ton of problems that we had and it was a complete mess behind the scenes, right? But any time, like, 2:00 in the morning and we sold the tour, we’d have to go into, you know, manually set WordPress and things before I was able to get, like, the synching scripts and everything. But within, you know, maybe, like three weeks of starting the program, we were launched and live and ready to go.
Andrew: And you sold that business within months.
Aaron: About two years in 2013 [inaudible 00:15:32].
Andrew: Was it two years?
Andrew: Okay. Two years. You sold it to?
Andrew: I see it here on, again, “TechCrunch” and a few other companies. What was the sale like?
Aaron: So I wasn’t part of the company with it when it actually wound up selling. So me and the other cofounders . . . I had a very different vision than the other three of them. And so we basically said, and, again, we were talking about lessons learned and things, is that when you have founders that don’t agree on the direction that a company can go, it just can’t hold together. So we kind of parted ways. I went and did my own thing. They went and sold that to Groupon.
Andrew: I’m looking at CrunchBase. You’re totally written out of the CrunchBase story.
Aaron: That’s exactly what happens, right?
Andrew: Why? Lee Edwards, Vipin Goyal, and Minesh Mistry are the only ones who were on there.
Aaron: Right. And Mark Webster was another one. Yeah, exactly, right? Like, and it’s fine, right? There’s a lot of history. You know, people’s names are lost to history.
Andrew: What happened? Like, what happened between you guys? You had a different vision. What was your vision and what was theirs?
Aaron: So I thought that we just really needed to go really big and really quickly, right? We had just raised a ton of money. They were more on the, “Well, it has to be quality and we have to be, you know . . . ”
Andrew: You had just raised $4 million total, right?
Aaron: I believe so. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah, from largely the Foundry Group and RRE Ventures. The Foundry Group is . . . What’s his name? Brad Feld’s company. He’s the guy behind Techstars, along with David Cohen.
Aaron: That’s exactly right.
Andrew: So he put a bunch of money in you. And you said, “Let’s go big. We’re going to be . . . ” Basically, what? Now Airbnb’s experience is what you wanted to be.
Aaron: That’s exactly what wound up . . . what it became. The thing is that as a small company, even with funding and things, it was just I was seeing problems with the business that they just didn’t agree with, right? And, again, you know, it’s funny because when we went through the whole thing, it was really very difficult personally and professionally and things because we were just young and a lot less experienced in things. But, you know, the older me would say, “You know, here’s how to handle this better.” And even when I talked to people, right, like, “You know, sit down. Everybody say, ‘Hey, look. This just isn’t really working out right. Let’s kind of come to terms with how we should do this.'”
Andrew: And instead, you were basically booted out or did you run out in a huff?
Aaron: Yeah, pretty much getting the boot.
Andrew: The boot. So they said, “Hey, listen, Aaron, it’s not working out.” You ended up with some shares in the business.
Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew: Okay. Did you do okay from that financially or no?
Aaron: Exactly. And what would up happening was it kind of . . . After that whole thing happened, right, and I’m just going to say it was actually a blow to the ego and everything, but the . . . I didn’t really have to do much after that because, again, the pieces . . . I was able to go back to consulting. I was able to . . .
Andrew: Wait. Did you do well financially when they sold to Groupon?
Aaron: No, I didn’t actually have any part of that.
Andrew: You didn’t at all. No shares even in the business.
Aaron: No. You know what it was? When we split up I said . . . You know, I felt that it was really a black or white kind of thing. If I believed in this company and the direction it was going in, I would still be there. And since I didn’t, let’s just go and kind of cut ties. You go your way. I’ll go mine.
Andrew: And you said, “I don’t need anything. No money, no nothing. Just goodbye.”
Aaron: Let’s just keep on moving. And basically what I said, like, and so many people were like, “Oh, come join my startup .We could do this whole thing.” And I really just said, “You know what? I’m going to take a little bit of . . . I’m going to let the universe kind of point me in the right direction.”
Andrew: Was that a mistake not getting anything on the way out?
Aaron: I don’t think so, right?
Andrew: No? Why not? They sold to Groupon. Groupon was doing great at the time. Still is doing well.
Aaron: You know, the lessons that I learned from that whole thing, again, you know, they’ll probably, you know, come back later in the story, but were just super important. I think that it was way more valuable than any of the money that came out of that or just the experience that I had with [Techstars 00:19:09].
Andrew: You could have done both.
Aaron: I guess so. I don’t know, right? So I have no idea how it ended, you know, for everybody else.
Andrew: Am I just poking you in the eye and then jamming my finger even further as I ask this stuff?
Andrew: Because it doesn’t . . . No. But for you, you are totally whole with it. This is the decision you made and you’re ready to move on and you needed to move on.
Aaron: That’s exactly it. And, again, like, having that I don’t want to say freedom, but just the flexibility where I just, you know, did a bunch of consulting, stayed in touch with everybody, and then this robocall challenge from the FTC kind of popped up.
Andrew: Let’s pause here. I want to talk about my first sponsor. The first sponsor is a company called . . . Let’s go with HostGator first. HostGator is actually really appropriate because you know what? You started your company with nothing but a WordPress site. Andrew Mason revealed on Mixergy I think for the first time ever . . . It became big news. I still get a lot of links back from this. He said, “I built the first version of Groupon using nothing but WordPress.” This became worth multi-billions of dollars. It’s still a $2.1 billion company as of today. So it’s still out there. It’s still doing better than most of the people who criticize, like, their downfall.
Aaron: The original version, I think he, like, emailed PDF coupons for the pizza that was in Chicago.
Andrew: Did he?
Aaron: And it was all running on WordPress. Yeah, that’s how . . .
Andrew: WordPress. It was nothing but a WordPress site with, like, a little widget on top of it. So many ideas. Your idea started with a WordPress site. So many ideas start with a WordPress site or when they need a site to just, like, tell the world about what it is, they just go put it up on WordPress.
Now most people will say, “All right. WordPress. I need to go find the perfect host.” Let me tell you something. I interviewed the founder of Tenable. The guy built this company. He didn’t sell it. He took it IPO. Again, worth a couple of billion dollars. He then leaves . . . He says, “I’m going to do nothing but angel invest just my own money. I don’t even need any outside funding.” And to promote it, he created a WordPress site. Who did he use to host his company? He used WordPress. Actually, no, he didn’t even do WordPress. He just went straight to HostGator. He decided he was going to code the whole thing himself. Super simple. He can manage it on his own.
Anyone out there who needs a website hosted, right, don’t overthink it. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. With one click, you can install WordPress, or if you want to be like the founder of Tenable, you can just host a static HTML page or you can host so many other different platforms on there. Run your site. Run your business. Keep on growing. Don’t overthink it.
Hostgator.com/mixergy will give you up to 62% off their already low prices. It will give you a lot of extra things, including that 24/7, 365 support. And frankly, you’ll also get tagged as a Mixergy customer, which means that we’ll always do our best to look out for you. By our best, I mean, I become just . . . If anyone even doesn’t respond to one of our customers, one of my listener’s customer calls, they email me, and then I just jump in there and I help them out. I get a little bit neurotic about this stuff because it’s me promoting it. All right. Hostgator.com/mixergy.
All right. The FTC had some kind of competition. What was the competition for?
Aaron: Yeah. So it was called the Robocall Challenge and they basically . . . This was back in 2013, right? And they said, you know, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing were kind of all the rage. And they said, “Okay. Well, we can’t solve or we don’t seem to be able to solve this problem, right?” And they’re going after . . . They’re arresting people and doing investigations. You know, the carriers don’t seem to care.
Andrew: Right because the FTC . . . If somebody was doing robocalls, they would just go in there and try to sue them. And yeah, there would be these headline-making cases, but the truth is the majority of people were either outside the country or just outside the grasp of the FTC and they couldn’t stop those calls from coming in. So they said, “Let’s do a contest,” right?
Aaron: Andrew, these are the guys that run the Do Not Call List, right?
Andrew: What do you mean? Oh, the FTC.
Aaron: The FTC runs the Do Not Call List. And then they put up a $50,000 prize and said, “Hey, can anybody solve this robocall problem?”
Andrew: But why are you laughing? What’s the connection to the Do Not Call List? Why is that . . .
Aaron: Well, because that’s supposed to have solved the problem. Like, the FTC . . .
Andrew: Oh, okay. You’re saying, hey, look, the way they wanted to solve it was by letting you add yourself to a list, but nobody’s . . . If someone’s a bad guy, they’re not respecting the list.
Aaron: That’s exactly it, right? Back when that was created in the . . . It was the late ’90s. That worked, right, for telemarketing. But nowadays, it just changed, right? So it was basically, like, spammers. And I love these, like, kind of like big problems. And I had done a lot of work with Twilio, a lot telephony apps. And I just sat down with them . . .
Andrew: When did you do that one? When did you do Twilio apps? These are the phone call, the API Company.
Aaron: Yeah, I love that company. I mean, that company’s always had my back. Just after they launched when I saw . . . It was in “TechCrunch” again. It was, like, you know, it made it easy to send text messages and voice calls. And I just absolutely fell in love with . . .
Andrew: You just started creating stuff on it.
Aaron: Yeah, exactly. And now them, you know, they’re public and, you know, it’s super exciting to see what everybody has built. I mean, that has just completely changed the world.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. And so you said, “I know how to use this phone API stuff. I know how to create stuff with it. They have this competition. I’m basically not at Groupon right now. I’m doing my own thing,” or not at whatever the company was called before it sold to Groupon. “I’m just going to jump in there and do whatever I want.”
Aaron: That’s exactly it and because . . .
Andrew: And this is one of the things you want to do.
Aaron: Yeah. And if you read the rules, you couldn’t change the phone system in any way. It had to work on mobile and landline, you know, traditional landlines, and VOIP, if you got it from a cable company. It had to work. It had to be easy to use. So when I looked at all the rules I’m like, “You’re giving me nothing to work with, right? It can’t be an app because that doesn’t work on landlines. And it can’t be a hardware box because that doesn’t work on mobile. And you can’t change the phone system. So, like, well, what the hell am I supposed to do?” But I’m a big fan of, like, creativity or constraints breed creativity. And I looked at all the tool . . . Okay, we’ve got, you know, three-way calling. We have call forwarding. We have voice mail.
And then there was this one little thing called simultaneous ring. And it’s kind of the feature that nobody uses. But basically what happens is you put your cell phone or your spouse’s cell phone in your home phone’s simultaneous ring list. And then when somebody calls the house, it rings on all the phones. The first person to answer it grabs the call and then it stops ringing everywhere else. And that was kind of, like, my aha moment. I’m like, “Wait. If I code up an app on Twilio and I give people my Twilio phone number, I’ll be able to see the calls that come in. And if it’s a robocall, answer the call, which stops the ringing in the person’s home.” I just thought it was, like, the simplest thing. I was actually . . .
Andrew: What if it wasn’t a robocall? What were you going to do? Were you going to [inaudible 00:25:13] to me?
Aaron: Return a busy signal, which means that it would just keep ringing in your house.
Andrew: Oh, so you can keep . . . Wait and so the call calls me and calls your system, your computer.
Andrew: Have the call come through to both my phone and your computer.
Aaron: At the same time you hear a single ring, if it’s a robocall. And then, you know, we pick up the phone and hang it up. If not, it just keeps ringing in your house because we return a busy signal.
Andrew: Oh, it’s because you are checking the phone number. That’s what it was, right?
Andrew: I was thinking you were picking it up and listening for it. Okay. Sometimes . . .
Aaron: No, we’re just looking . . . It’s effectively, like, we’re sitting in your house. And, you know, when it rings and you see the caller ID, and then if it’s a robocall, we look in our thing. We pick up the phone and hang it up.
Andrew: And you just have a bunch of different blacklisted phone numbers.
Aaron: That’s exactly it. And so, but on day one I didn’t have anything, right? I just had this weird way of using simultaneous ring to stop it. But, again, if this is the story of my entrepreneurial journey, it was, okay, I knew I had this idea, but how do I make people realize it? And what I learned in Techstars, right, how do you do your pitch? You can’t, you know, send in a 50-page document explaining everything. So what did I do? I built the prototype. I made up a little video demonstrating how it would work. And I sent it in, right? And a couple of weeks later, I got an email back. It said, “Congratulations. You’ve won $25,000.”
Andrew: That’s all that there was to it, even though I could see here that it was . . . What her name from AllThingsD at the time? Kara Swisher was one of the judges. And there are a bunch of judges in there. You didn’t even get to go and stand in front of them. It was just, “Submit your application.” They decide. Boom, you done.
Aaron: That was the thing that I was most nervous about. Like, I knew I had the right way of solving it, but I didn’t know if I could make them realize it. And Steve Bellovin, he was the former CTO of the FTC. After I won he’s like, “You know, have you got some time to chat?” And he told me that when he saw my entry, he’s like, “This is just ridiculous. This is never going to work.” And he called up, like, his friend at, like AT&T and he said, “You know, this is ridiculous, right?” And I’m paraphrasing here obviously, but the guy at AT&T, he was like, “Actually, it’s kind of smart.” And he was like, “No, no, no.” And he hangs up. And he calls his friend at Verizon and he says, “This can’t work, right?”
And he’s like, “Actually, that’s really kind of smart. It would really work on all these places.” And that’s when he even realized, he’s like, “My job was to prove that yours wouldn’t work. And once I heard it from everybody else,” he was like, “We knew that we had our winner because, again, it could actually stop the problem and it can get around the carriers and go directly to the consumer.” And, again, kind of the best part of it was I launched and still to this day launched it for free on landlines. So not only do people get the protection, not only does it work, but it doesn’t even cost them anything on landlines. I had no . . .
Andrew: You had no what?
Aaron: I had no plans for mobile at the time, which we’ll get into. But initially . . .
Andrew: Yeah. When I saw you, it was just I think a landline or just switching over to mobile, even though it was supposed to work on mobile. And you had no reason not to. Why didn’t you just launch on mobile? It’s the same thing, isn’t it?
Aaron: Yes. And this is what was funny, right? So we launched in 2013. Apple and Google, Apple specifically, didn’t let you build call blocking apps because there was a [inaudible 00:28:14].
Andrew: You could have still just had me dial, like, the . . . What is it where you punch in the pound button and then you type in a bunch of other numbers. And then it’s done.
Aaron: Well, so right. So there’s no simultaneous ring on any of the major wireless carriers.
Andrew: Well, wasn’t that one of the requirements, that this work on mobile? I’m sorry I’m interrupting because I’m so excited.
Aaron: No, no, that’s . . . Well, that was the thing. So in theory it had to work on mobile, right? And so if the switches, you know, get, like, some upgrades and things like that, in theory . . . . Look. In theory, it could also work on traditional copper landlines, but nobody’s investing any money in upgrading those. So I won because theoretically it was possible, but then when, you know, rubber meets the road, so yes.
And it was funny because everybody kept on saying like, “I want this protection on my mobile.” We couldn’t do it. So the first version I had kind of this brainstorm where I was like . . . And I had tried a whole bunch of different versions with the, you know, conditional call forwarding. I was always trying. Nothing ever worked. And the thought that I had was to build a . . . It was called CardDAV.
So it’s, like, a shared address book that would get updated and things. And we spent about nine months of time building that version. That was the version that I introduced to you. It was hacky, at best. You had to set up a configuration profile, and you had to do . . . Yeah, you had to enter a phone number. It was really kind of hacky, but I figured, well, you know, let’s see if anybody would do it. And literally we launched with it in beta and a week and a half later, Apple, like, went with iOS 10 and announced, “Hey, you can build call blocking apps.” So we basically had to take nine months’ worth of work, throw it in the garbage, and then spend the next . . . What did we have? We had six or nine weeks to go and I guess [inaudible 00:29:51] July and by September we had to have our iOS app ready.
Andrew: Because iOS said, and most people didn’t know. I didn’t know this. I followed their keynotes all the time. I had no idea. They created a way for you to plug into the phone app.
Aaron: That’s exactly.
Andrew: And that was revolutionary.
Aaron: That was the [phenomenal 00:30:06] . . .
Andrew: found the old email that you sent me. This was July 5, 2016. “Love Mixergy. I have a solution to your robocall problem.” And then I responded back with, “Oh, my phone company wasn’t available.” And then you came back. Oh, and I even sent you screenshots. And you came back when it was available. I like that you just kept sticking with this.
Aaron: Hey, look. Again, it was just so funny. I’m listening to the show and you’re mentioning it. And that’s the thing, right? Like, how everybody that I . . . I’ve been at bars. I’ve been at restaurants. You overhear people and they’re talking about how everybody has this robocall problem. So again, when Apple announced that, it was a no-brainer. Let’s get this out, and get it into Android, and now we can protect everyone’s phone.
Andrew: And then a little bit later you said, “Actually, we support all mobile carriers, especially love T-Mobile.” I love T-Mobile.
Aaron: Well, good.
Andrew: “Just use preview.nomorobo.com instead of www.nomorobo.com. And you’re going to be able to unlock it and try it.” And then my response back was, oh, nothing, because I think it wasn’t still ready for me or something. And then soon after, it was, “I meant to tell you Nomorobo is amazing. I went from three to six junk calls every single day to pretty close to none. Wow. Just wow. Thank you for emailing me a few months ago. I didn’t even know this kind of thing was possible. I just came back and it was shockingly good.”
Meanwhile, you weren’t the only winner. This guy, Serdar Danis, was also a winner. And here’s how his thing worked. There would be an app on the phone or a device that you put in your house. That would then blacklist or whitelist different things and even have a graylist and caller ID spoof detection thing. What happened to him?
Aaron: So it’s . . . Do you have the name of the one? It was something like . . . It was a bunch of [inaudible 00:31:44].
Andrew: No. For some reason, even on the challenge.gov, the robocall.challenge.gov website, his info is not there. Is it called . . .
Aaron: I was trying to think. So mine was named . . . Let’s see. Where is it? Oh, yeah. Okay. So mine was named Nomorobo. Obviously, it was little catchy. Everybody kind of, you know, no more robocalls. His was called the robocall filtering system and device with autonomous . .
Andrew: Oh, that’s an actual name.
Aaron: Blacklisting, whitelisting, graylisting, and caller ID spoof detection. So just form a marketing perspective, right. But no, actually, so the FTC invited me down to when they had their big press conference. And they were like, “Would you come down?” I’m like, “I’ll be on a train, you know, tomorrow.” This other guy, I spoke to him afterwards. And he was, like, he didn’t want anybody to steal his idea. So he didn’t show up. It was me and, like, two guys from Google that had to leave after, you know, two minutes.
So who was left to talk to the media? I did interviews with CNN, with “The Wall Street Journal” and “The New York Times,” you know, ABC, NBC. And there was . . . There it was. It was newsworthy and because of that, it kind of gave it the initial push. This was back in April of 2013, to continue the . . . you know, to build the business because even at that point, you know, I had said to everybody, I’m like, “No, I’m not going to do another startup. I’m not going to do another startup.” And then, you know, pulled me back in.
Andrew: What were the Google guys there for?
Aaron: So there was a corporate . . . Think about it, like, the Olympics, right? There was amateurs and professionals, right? They had won the corporate prize with their idea. They couldn’t win the money. They got that whole thing.
Andrew: And theirs was called the crowdsource call identification and suppression solution. And they had a whiteboard describing their solution.
Andrew: All right. And so you got a bunch of press. People suddenly started to use your thing, which won. You’re using Twilio. Twilio is super cheap until you get a lot of calls. And then . . .
Aaron: There you go.
Andrew: “Oh, oh no, I’m paying more to them than to anyone else.”
Aaron: So there you go. That’s exactly it, right? So well, okay. So I kept in touch with one of the reporters from NBC, Herb. He was the Consumer Man. And he really kind of kept my feet to the fire. He said, “You know, when are you launching this thing? When are you . . . ” And I kept on saying, “The end of the summer.” “Okay.” And the end of the summer came, you know, and then the fall. But because he was just really passionate about stopping robocall and stopping people from getting scammed, he kept on keeping the message out there.
And so I had a . . . I testified in front of the Senate. I was invited to speak about robocalls there. And each one of these steps I just had a really crappy landing page at Nomorobo where you could just put in your email address. And it was, “Hey, we’ll let you know when we launch.” And, again, like, it was just, “Okay. Let’s just . . . ” And I put the video up that I had won with the FTC, but I think it just made more questions than answers.
Andrew: And that video is down now. I was trying to see it.
Aaron: I mean, I could probably find it somewhere, but it wasn’t very good. Don’t worry. You weren’t missing anything. But what wound up happening when I was ready . . . I launched on October 1st. I had over 30,000 people on my email list that were like, “Hey, let us know when this goes live.” So yeah. So I had taken the $25,000. I had built it all on Twilio. I opened up the doors on day one. It’s featured on “The Today Show.” It’s in “NBC News.” It’s all of this. And I realize I’m going to run out of money in six weeks.
Andrew: Because of Twilio expenses.
Aaron: Because of the Twilio costs, right? I had nothing in the . . . Again, it was a one-man show. It was just . . . I did all the coding. You know, I had a . . . I won an Activate grant from AWS. So it was just basically the Twilio bill that was going to . . . Because every one of the robocalls I have to answer. And yeah, that was a problem.
Andrew: So wait. I know you bought the domain nomorobo.com yourself for, like, eight bucks. It seems like you got it back in 2011. You used, like freeparking.com or a service like that to park it. Parked.com is what you used. And then that’s 2011, 2013. You still had that video up on your website.
Aaron: So there must have been . . . So the competition was 2012. I bought the domain when I was, like, doing the competition. So it was probably the end of 2012 to 2013, right? The landing page had the crappy version of the video up there. And then on October 1st, it had the . . . Yeah. Like, a couple months later I got the video professionally produced and things like that and things like that. And that’s been the same way. We haven’t really updated the site in a while.
Andrew: The site looks good. I think for a long time it didn’t look like anything. And then it just looked good. You do have a good design. You also created the Wings site yourself.
Aaron: Yeah. I did pretty much everything. I’m kind of a one-man show a lot of the time with this stuff. Obviously with Nomorobo, it has gotten much bigger than anything else that I’ve [inaudible 00:36:15].
Andrew: All right. I want to find out what you did about that bill to get it to go better, but first I’ve got to tell you about . . . So you’re the only developer?
Aaron: Yes. I’m the only full-time guy, but I work with a whole bunch of contractors. So if you’re talking about Toptal, I think . . .
Andrew: I am.
Aaron: . . . I’m a big fan of entrepreneurs. You know, everybody thinks, “Oh, you have to find a technical co-founder. You have to go and hire somebody.” No. You know what? If you find the right talent and have them help out, you can build some . . . I’ve been working with this team for years. And we’ve built some amazing stuff. So yeah, contractors are not a . . . I actually prefer it over . . .
Andrew: And they’re part-time contractors?
Aaron: Yeah. Yeah. They have their own firms and things like that. So yeah.
Andrew: Why do you prefer that over hiring your own people?
Aaron: So I like mercenaries, right? Like, I really like guys that are I don’t want to say out for themselves, but, like, everybody just wants to get paid, right? And, again, even in startup land, everybody’s, “Oh, I’ll give you the equity. I’ll give you this. I’ll give you that.” I’ve just found that for the top talent, right, they want to get paid a good amount for their work, right? They’re worth it and then, you know, not necessarily take a lot of the risk. And so I’ve found that when you have it that way, guys just really like to be rewarded for doing work. I’m a really good client because I’ve been . . . You know, I’ve contracted before. And so I know how to treat them, but it just seems to work for me. So yes, I love companies where you can go and get better outsourced talent.
Andrew: So you don’t have, like, a bunch of people who are working full-time with you saying, “Hey, you were just on Mixergy. You were just on CNN, ‘Huffington Post,’ ‘The Wall Street Journal.’ Hey, when is our part? You’re about rich. When is our part to get rich?” Meanwhile, you’re not about to get rich. You’ve got, like, a printer on the floor behind you. You’ve got [inaudible 00:37:46].
Aaron: That’s exactly it, right?
Andrew: You’ve got [inaudible 00:37:48].
Aaron: Like, if I was, right?
Andrew: But if you had a team, they would just start imagining things are going really well. When is my piece of this thing?
Aaron: And you know what? It’s so funny. Like, again, the team over here, we’re always joking about, like, you know, the ping pong table and the swinging chair desks and all this other kind of crazy crap. And we’re all distributed around the United States. And you know what? We show up at work and, you know, we work from our homes or our co-working space or anything. And then we just get stuff one, right? That’s the whole thing. We don’t need to . . . There’s no bring your dog to work or anything like that because, you know, we don’t need that crazy stuff. We just need to get problems solved and get work done.
Andrew: If that’s the kind of mindset that you have, the person who is listening to me now, it means to pay attention to this because there is an answer. It’s Toptal. Go to toptal.com/mixergy. They’ll give you 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours, in addition to a no-risk trial period. I should not blow through that no-risk trial period. Eighty hours. They’re giving you a lot.
Aaron: That’s right.
Andrew: If you’re a Mixergy listener, all you have to do is go to T-O-P-T-A-L.com/mixergy. And Mixergy is M-I-X-E-R-G-Y. That’s T-O-P-T-A-L.com/mixergy. And look at that stunning model on that site and the big green button. Start your trial now.
And once you do, you’re going to get scheduled. Oh, look at this. I hit that button and they say, “What do you need? A product manager, a project manager, a designer, a developer, finance expert.” Let’s see. Finance expert. I’m going to hit submit. “How big is your team?” I’m going to tell them. You just answer this and then they get you on a call with someone where you can tell them what you’re looking for.
And then throughout, they keep telling you, “Look. I know this sounds a little different for you, but Shopify has used us.” UCSF, the hospital where my kids were born, used us. Motorola, Udemy, Thumbtack, the unicorn here. They have all used them. Zendesk. You can use them too. Toptal.com/mixergy.
What did you do to solve the money out the door problem where suddenly your Twilio bill was getting higher and higher?
Aaron: Exactly. So every one of the robocalls that was . . . Now I’m going to take a jump back, right? In order to stop robocalls, you need this blacklist. You need to figure out what are the robocallers because I’m sure that you’ve seen this and your listeners, right? Every time they’re calling from a different number. But just because they’re calling your phone number from a different number, they’re probably making, you know, millions of calls from that one number.
The thing is though that data doesn’t exist anywhere. The FTC, where if you go and, you know, report it to the Do Not Call List, I actually . . . The initial database was built . . . I FOIA’ed the FTC and they physically mailed me a CD-ROM that I ran through the algorithm because I just didn’t have the data. But that’s what I knew I needed to do. I needed to go and give away the landline version for free because then I would, you know, be able to see all the incoming calls.
And the algorithm would then be able to see, okay, this new number that we’ve never seen before is now making, you know, 10,000 calls every year or 1,000 calls or just those high-frequency calling patterns. So yeah. So, I mean, I was fortunate enough that I had a track record. I knew some investors, I knew some angels and things, and I went and I said, “Okay. Well, here’s what I think. Here’s how we need to go and do it.” And I was able to raise a seed round that kept the company going. And we basically just kept extending it because then everything just kept growing and growing and growing. And we were . . . You know, it was great that the more robocalls that we got, then we were, you know, proving the problem. We were proving the product out. But we just had to keep on. It’s, like, you know, shoveling more and more money into Twilio.
Andrew: And the reason is that you’re saying that the free calls were your way of learning which numbers were the bad guys and then you were charging who at the time when you were doing just landline?
Aaron: Yeah. So we had, again, the B2B or we had [inaudible 00:41:22].
Andrew: So from the beginning you had B2B.
Aaron: Yeah. Absolutely because I always thought that that was going to be the way it was going to go, that the landline, the consumer side, was just going to basically feed the data in and then, yeah, go and sell this to the carriers.
Andrew: I don’t understand. Why can’t the carriers just do this type of thing on their own? They see when the calls come in. They need you to give them the phone numbers of the bad guys.
Aaron: Yeah. So it’s definitely not a can’t, right? This is not rocket science. It’s more of a liability thing, right, that . . .
Andrew: More of a what?
Aaron: A liability, right? So, like, with the FCC, they’re not allowed to block or throttle or, you know, you figure that even the liability, if you stop a police, a fire, you know, some of these legal telemarketers and things, it’s just such a can of worms that the carriers would rather off-load that [onto 00:42:07] . . .
Andrew: They’d rather say, “Hey, Aaron gave us that number. Go blame Aaron,” instead of saying, “Hey, we don’t like this company and we’re blocking them.”
Aaron: You nailed it. That’s exactly it and that’s why we’ve gotten these integrations. We have one click with Spectrum. You go to, you know, AT&T, you have Verizon Fios or any of those. They say, “You have robocalls? Get Nomorobo,” which, again, we’re not paying for any of that and that’s [inaudible 00:42:26].
Andrew: They’re just telling people to go use you.
Andrew: What about this? My brother switched to T-Mobile from Verizon. Verizon called him to try to I guess win him over or something and T-Mobile said, “It’s a scam caller,” on caller ID, you know, where T-Mobile could do that. They’re running their own show now too, right?
Aaron: Correct, yeah.
Andrew: But they’re getting their phone numbers from someone like you. Is that what you’re saying?
Aaron: Exactly. So there’s a couple of competitors in this space and, you know, building up that database. And there’s always going to be false positives, right? And that was actually . . . And, I mean, go back to day one. A lot of people, you know, kind of told me that the sky is going to fall and it’s going to, you know, land on grandma and kill her dog and, you know, it’s going to block a call and everything. And that was one of the things I had to de-risk and I had to prove out.
Yeah, do false positives happen? Every day, right? Ours is less than a tenth of a percent for, you know, the last couple of months. When I first started, it was as high as, like, 7 or 8%. So the data equality has gotten much, much better. But it’s always going to happen. And then you just need a system. You know, we very quickly will whitelist the good numbers and also while detecting the bad robocallers.
Andrew: I feel like the problem is more than . . . And I want to get into how you got users. I know the original push was being speak in front of the Senate and winning the competition. But how else did you get users? But before I do, I feel like the problem with caller ID as a way of blocking is these guys can spoof caller ID all day long. Like, I was emailing you and saying, “My phone number starts with 310.” And all the spam callers start with 310. They even have the first six numbers of my phone number so that it looks just like it’s a neighbor. It’s called . . . What is it? Neighbor whatever.
Aaron: Neighbor spoofing.
Andrew: Neighbor spoofing. You can’t stop that. I feel like the only answer is either you listen to the calls and screen them on my behalf, kind of like what Google is doing now on Pixel, or you blacklist everybody except after they, like, leave a voicemail or except for people who I explicitly whitelist. And you’re saying that Apple won’t allow you to do that.
Aaron: Sort of. So the answer is a little bit more subtle. So the first part is neighbor spoofing wasn’t a thing until two summers ago. And so I went back. I looked at all the data. Before two summers ago, neighbor spoofing accounted for less than 2% of all robocalls, and neighbor spoofing meaning it’s your exchange, you know, your area code and your exchange.
Two summers ago, all of a sudden, it 10Xd. It’s over 20% and that has held steady for the last couple of years. So on landlines, yeah, we don’t protect from neighbor spoofing because we’re going to be blocking, like, legitimate people and on the landline version at least we don’t have personal black and whitelists. On our mobile version, right, you get the blacklist protection, which, as you said, they’ll spoof a number and, you know, they’ll use it for three hours, burn it, go on to another one and burn it, go on to another one. That’s our blacklist, but we also, if you give us your phone number and you let us see your contacts, you know, but it never leaves the phone, then we can actually stop that pattern, right? We load your area code, your exchange, 0000 all the way up to 9999, except for people that are in your contacts.
Andrew: Oh, you do that now?
Aaron: Yeah. And then it’s endless. There are still some false positives there, right? There’s been a couple of handy . . . There was one guy that, like, he was a handyman and he was calling one of his clients. He was like, “Why am I listed as a robocaller?” And we were looking. Yeah, not on the blacklist. And then we figured it out. It was neighbor spoofing.
Andrew: You want to know something? I actually use a couple of different apps to block calls, now that I think about it. There is one that I hate. I can’t undo it. They just, like, once you sign up, they do the . . . What is it called where you do the # several numbers and . . .
Aaron: I’m sure, yeah. Yeah. They have the conditional call forwarding. There’s other ones that are, like, going . . . If you give them contact access, they go and suck all that up and use it for marketing and things. [inaudible 00:46:02].
Andrew: I can’t . . . There is one that I did and I just don’t have the patience to stop it because I don’t care about my phone app that much. But I have that I can’t undo them. Let me see. Block and call.
Aaron: Oh, you were saying about how we get customers. That’s one of the things. You know, we have this pedigree from the FTC. We’re very trusted. We don’t do any paid acquisition. It’s all from reputation. It’s all from . . . We do a lot of SEO. We do keeping in touch with a lot of the reporters and things like that.
Andrew: What do you for SEO?
Aaron: So we actually have a database. So we know the robocallers, right? We know the new numbers, and we have what’s called a honeypot where we have all these old phone lines that belong to us. So we’ll grab recordings of the numbers. So we’ll get, like, a sample. Okay, if anybody wants to know what, you know, this certain number . . . If you go and look that up in Google, you’ll usually find one of our pages. Somebody sees it. They see that it’s, you know, whatever, a healthcare scam or an IRS scam or something. And then we say, “Hey, you could block this call and millions like it,” because, again, if you’ve looked up that number, by definition, you have a robocall problem and you don’t have Nomorobo. So that’s really been kind of like the creative way of . . . I’d rather give, you know, all the money to Twilio and create a better product than pay for advertising.
Andrew: Yeah. And then you also have the App Store. I think the App Store has promoted you a couple of times, right?
Aaron: Yeah, we’ve been, yeah.
Andrew: They feature you from time to time.
Aaron: Yeah. Exactly.
Andrew: Let me see. If I go Nomorobo, and then you guys also block text. Is the majority of your business done on Apple products, not Android?
Aaron: Yeah, it really is. Our revenue is roughly, you know, on the consumer side 90% Apple and 10% Android. I don’t know why that is, but, and, again, I don’t know if other people that you’ve spoken to. It seems to be a standard kind of thing. I don’t know if Android users are less willing to purchase apps. I don’t know.
Andrew: Look at this. So you guys were featured as a story of the day, right?
Aaron: There it is.
Andrew: So if I search for you that comes up. So that gives you a lot of credibility, but your reviews are pretty bad. What happened?
Andrew: They were so good.
Aaron: I don’t know. You know what? We’ve been trying to dig into that and we actually have a big process. So I think that there’s a couple of pieces. One, look, our version is, the software is always needing to get better. So we update our app every hour but in that hour, and depending on where you are, if you’re on Wi-Fi, if you’re on cell, those robocallers can sneak in. We thought, “Okay, every hour would be fine.” As I turns out, they’re getting more and more aggressive. So actually our next version, which is coming out next month, we’re actually going to be going from hourly updates to every 15 minutes. A lot of people think . . . They get a little bit confused too. Our onboarding is a little bit weird. We’ve really got to get better at that. They just have to install the app and then tada, it just works. But you actually have to . . . And again, this is no fault of our own, right . . .
Andrew: No, that’s iPhone.
Aaron: But you have to go in. You have to go and turn on the extension. Turn on the text extension. You have to do all these pieces. So, you know, yeah. You know, today’s version is always the worst, right? Tomorrow’s is better. The next day is the better.
Andrew: But some of your competitors do have better reviews.
Aaron: They have huge ones, yeah. I don’t know what they’re doing. All I can say it that we don’t buy any reviews. We don’t do anything kind of, you know, nefarious in that way. I don’t know if they are or anything like that, but I don’t know. We’ve never had great reviews, other than when we’ve released something, you know, on day one.
Andrew: The one that pisses me off is the one that has the best reviews and the high . . . I don’t know what they’re doing. I can’t undo it.
Aaron: Andrew, it drives me . . .
Andrew: No, I’m going to tell you exactly what it is. Screw it. It’s YouMail. I can’t fricking undo them. And then all my calls are going to them. And they have terrific reviews, and they do a bunch of stuff. They’re the ones that are also suck in your address book and all that. Let me see. YouMail. Let’s see what their reviews are. I’m just having a . . . Yeah, look at this, 4.5, maybe even a higher rating, 23.5. So 23,500 reviews. It’s just driving me nuts the way that all my calls are being forwarded to them, and I can’t stop it.
Aaron: But look. The good news is, right, that they are . . . So, again, like, they’re a little bit of an older company. They have this enhanced voicemail and things and they are trying to do robocall blocking. But look, everybody runs their own race. Even [inaudible 00:50:09] was always mad. “Oh, what about the competition over here?” Like, we’re just trying to make the best product that we can. Obviously, we’re always getting better. We even said, like, “You know, what’s our pricing like on this, that, and the other thing?” Do I think that we’re getting by on a lot on our reputation? Absolutely, right? We have millions of users on the landlines side that we can go and say, “Hey, get our mobile side for.” So yeah, again, like, and that’s really what’s great about a marketplace like that. Like, you like YouMail? Grab YouMail. You like Nomorobo? Grab it. If it doesn’t work for you, try one of the other competitors.
Andrew: You actually could have a couple of different apps at the same time.
Andrew: And the one that I always wanted was block all calls except for the ones that are in my address book. Send them all in. What do you think about competition coming in from Google now?
Aaron: I love it, right? I think that the [inaudible 00:50:52].
Andrew: Come on. You love it? You love that Google’s coming to compete with you?
Aaron: It is. And it is an entrepreneur kind of thing. But, like, kit proves the market, right? Five years ago there was nothing. There was literally, like, when Nomorobo came out, it was one of the first robocall blocking companies and everybody laughed, right? Do you know how tough it was to convince an investor that like, “No, no, no. This . . . ” And they’re like, “Well, what about Apple?” “Nope. They’re not doing anything.” “No? What about Google?” You know, we’re going up against these giant multi-billion dollars companies. And they’re like, “Oh, come on. This is going to be ridiculous.”
So the fact that now they’re stepping in, why Apple hasn’t done anything on here, I don’t know, but . . . And we started this conversation with that. The voice channel is just completely being destroyed, right? Voice in the home, right, you’ve got Alexa. You’ve got Google Home and everything. Everybody loves talking, you know, to the smart speakers. On a phone, nobody wants to talk there. So yes, I’m actually legitimately excited that the big guys are stepping in here and doing something because, you know, we have the best data. I think we have a really good product and things like that. And then really, if we do our job well, that means that society will be benefiting from it.
Andrew: And ultimately, the best answer is call screening, kind of, like, even Google Voice in the early days, right? You call in. They say, “Who are you?” You say your name. And then the listener or the recipient can hear that person.
Aaron: You know, the best answer is that you know what people want? People just don’t want to get these calls, right? They want to get calls from people that they want to talk to. So, you know, think about it like Uber, right? It’s, like, the Uberfication of every startup now. It’s, like, all people want to do is push a button, say, “I’m here. I’m at Point A and I want to go to Point B,” right? Do you know what goes on between Point A and Point B? Like, literally, there is billions of dollars and there’s tens of millions or billions of hours that have gone into that. All people want, push a button. I’m here. I want to go there.
Andrew: Push a button and then no calls come in except for the ones that you want or know. I get that. But isn’t the way that you’re doing it by caller ID feels like it’s a losing battle because these guys are going to keep changing their caller ID all the time.
Aaron: That’s exactly it, right? Like, it’s a . . .
Andrew: The only solution is to listen in somehow and respond and forward just the right ones, right?
Aaron: That is a really good way. The technology on the network side doesn’t allow that yet. So until . . . Like, we can sit around and have an imperfect solution because this is even what people had said when I started on day one was like, “Well, they’re just going to keep on spoofing their numbers and everything.” I said, “Well, it’s better than nothing.” And really, again, even if we reduce by half, right, we’re over 97.5% accurate. But you’re exactly right. We have to keep on getting better. We have to keep on offering more and more things. Maybe one day there’ll be an entire new phone company that’s like, you know, the safe phone company that has exactly all these things where they’re screening your calls and there’s a blacklist.
Andrew: I don’t think they’re going to be smart enough to do it. I think if anything, Apple’s going to do it and iPhone and Android. But I feel like Apple has a disincentive to stop it. Like, the more that this sucks, the more I’m relying on FaceTime Voice to communicate, you know.
Aaron: Well, you know, wait until the spammers start hitting you on WhatsApp, on Instagram, on all these, right, wherever there is a place for a scammer to sneak in. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen . . . Like, I don’t know if you have Skype. Like, I get robocalls on my Skype.
Andrew: You do?
Andrew: I don’t. I get a lot of text messages. There are a bunch of really smart people. They’re the only ones that I have on Skype because I’ve interviewed them. And they’re super smart, and they now have some kind of virus on their Skype.
Aaron: There you go.
Andrew: What happened when your investors lost faith? You started talking to our producer about that and I wanted to follow up and ask you. In why did your investors lose faith and what did you do about it?
Aaron: So this was, again, another really tough . . . You know, I’m not going to tell you everything was all wonderful and great and everything like that. But the road to anywhere or everybody wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to die, right? It’s tough, right? So with SideTour, there was, you know, co-founder conflict.
With Nomorobo, like, when you’ve been running a company for a couple of years and there’s no hope of monetizing it and we didn’t have our mobile version, we didn’t have anything, right, and you’re running out of money, like, what does anybody expect is going to happen, right? Like, you’re only going to get by on those kinds of metrics. And, again, I thought they were fantastic. We’ve got to get all the . . . We had the best data. We had to get all that. And, again, we were getting ready to run out of money, but we had just turned the corner with monetizing the revenue side of things.
And, again, my investors kind of, like, they got really scared. They got really nervous. They wanted to put more money in. They wanted to kind of kick me out as being CEO. And I kept on say like, “Guys, like, this is the worst time right now. We do not want to pump the brakes.” And, again, a lesson I had learned from my prior startups was if you control the board, you control the company. And I made sure that in all of my docs that I controlled the board. So I won, right?
And it wasn’t because I’m so proud of myself and I’m so excited that I was right or anything like that. But, like, if I hadn’t done that, I don’t think we would be sitting here talking. I don’t think that anybody else would have understood this unique business and how it has to happen and how it has to go. But it was white knuckle. It was rough for a good amount of time and [inaudible 00:55:48].
Andrew: Is your company called Telephone Science?
Aaron: Yep. So it’s, like, the official . . . I like, again, West End Ventures. And I like these kind of [inaudible 00:55:55].
Andrew: I don’t know why I like the name Telephone Science so much. You raised, according to CrunchBase, $1.2 million from unknown investors, $1.25.
Aaron: Yes. You got it.
Andrew: Why are you keeping them secret?
Aaron: Oh, I’m not. No, no.
Andrew: Oh, it is. Yeah, I don’t see who it is. I guess maybe CrunchBase doesn’t know.
Aaron: It’s a family office. It’s a bunch of angel investors. And, again, I don’t blame them, right? This is just part of the game, right? You have to be . . . And every single person that I know that is an entrepreneur goes through these kinds of things, you know. You have the white knuckle fight and we were down to less than $1,000 in the bank account. So those were ridiculous [bucks 00:56:31]. Yeah, literally $1,000 bucks. It was $994 between the time that the money was going in and going out and everything like that. But you just kind of like, you know, put your head between your knees and hope that it goes through.
Andrew: You get to take funding out of the business or profits out of the business?
Aaron: Do I get to?
Aaron: I’m getting a small salary for a couple of [inaudible 00:56:49].
Andrew: But that’s it. It’s not, like, you’re cashing out. So it’s basically you’re building it until you guys sell it.
Aaron: That’s exactly it. And even when we talked about when I raised the money they were like, “Well, we have to talk about executive compensation and everything.” I’m like, “Guys, I’m like, I appreciate it. But, like, I haven’t done anything, right? Like, raising money is not a win, right? Building a business, solving a problem, is the win. So until we get up to that point, I don’t expect nor do I deserve to get anything until that time, right? This is going to be binary, but, yeah, when we get to the end, whatever that may be, and maybe this will turn into a profitable company. Maybe it will get acquired. Maybe it will IPO or whatever. At that point, that’s when we’ll talk.”
Andrew: That’s the big question. Where is the exit? All right. I feel like . . . I don’t want to bring it up online, but I think your phone number is even on the internet, your personal cell phone number.
Aaron: There it is. It could be because, again, it’s, like, yeah, it could . . . I don’t know which one it is, but sometimes there have been people who have hunted me down on my office line, on my cell phone. There was one guy who, yeah, he just wanted to make sure that . . .
Andrew: To make sure you’re legit.
Andrew: I was worried about that too. You told me about the contest and everything and I still said, “Am I about to, like, get, stick my phone number in some place where it’s going to be . . . ” I don’t know. I feel, like, for a while there, it was a little bit weird. Once I got the app that I could plug into my phone, I felt so much better about it.
Aaron: Yeah. Not only was it weird, and did it feel weird, it absolutely was, right, but, again, that’s the thing. Like, the first person that stayed in an Airbnb, right, or the first person that, like, ate a lobster, like, that’s a little weird, right? And then you get past it. So I’m totally with you.
Andrew: I do like how many months it took me to be okay. And then for some reason I’m kind of cheap on this stuff so I’d rather just turn off my phone. I usually would say, “Do I want to sign up for two bucks a month for something like this where I could just handle the calls and just hang up on them or ignore them?” No, this was a no-brainer. You just hit the button and just pay for it. It’s such a raise my blood pressure type of thing or my blood temperature.
Aaron: Yeah. Look, and again, like, you know, I can’t tell people to do anything but a lot of people go like, “Oh, I have this problem.” Oh, okay. I have the solution. And, again, the free version is super easy to . . . Actually, you know what? I shouldn’t even say that. You would think that the free version would be easy to sell but then the whole, “What’s the catch here,” is . . .
Andrew: But there is a free version on the iPhone app?
Aaron: No, just on the landline side.
Andrew: The landline, yeah.
Aaron: But everybody’s saying, “Oh, like, you’re going to sell it?” Like, we don’t market to people. We don’t send emails. We don’t sell your data or anything like that but, again, when it’s a free version, like, there’s going to be something going on.
Andrew: I don’t even know why people have a landline anymore.
Aaron: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of people, and especially on, like, the business side of things, people with families and things. Like, I don’t judge, right? Like, whatever you want. That’s even what’s frustrating to me is, like, even the FTC, what’s the number one thing they say? Like, “Don’t answer numbers that you don’t recognize.” So you have this thing in your house and it’s, you know, ringing a bell and everything like that. And the answer is, “No, don’t use it.” [inaudible 00:59:34].
Andrew: I feel like more and more that’s the direction that we’re going in. No, don’t use that phone. It stinks because that is one of those apps that’s not controlled by Facebook. If we shift into people using chat apps and phone apps, it’s Facebook all the way around. It’s WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram that is going to Instagram direct messages. It’s going to win and they’re the smart people in the room. The rest are not that smart. Apple is too focused on their own thing. So they’re smart for themselves but they can’t let me, like, replace my phone with them. I feel like Facebook could end up taking this whole thing by saying to people, “Look. Here’s how to turn off your phone. In fact, we’ll find a way for you to turn off your phone easily. And just use WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, the works.”
Aaron: I think that that’s . . . Even on the carrier side, the carriers that license our data, when they realize they can make more money by stopping robocalls by not allowing them through, right . . . So there’s a company out in California. It’s called Sonic. There’s one VoIP Ooma, right, like, all those carriers that they realize that they can make more money by making a better product rather than just, “Well, you know, this is just a thing that everybody has.” That’s when it’s going to really kind of tip.
I see it, you know, happening now is that when it’s over, not on a cost side, but, “Hey, wait.” You know, even on a landline, let’s say people are spending $20, $25 a month and they call up and they’re like, “Hey, let me just get rid of this thing because all I do is get robocalls.” And instead now they could say, “We’ll get Nomorobo. Oh, great. Wonderful.” And so then the carriers get that revenue. That’s when they start noticing.
Andrew: What’s the best part of having built this business now that you’re over a couple of million dollars recurring revenue? What’s the best part of your life right now for having, because you did all this?
Aaron: Yeah. And, you know, it’s going to sound cliché. It’s definitely not the money, right? You don’t do anything . . . The money is, obviously it comes, if you do a good job, but it’s absolutely solving this giant problem, right? I’m a big fan that everybody should solve the biggest problem that they can at the time and this is absolutely the biggest problem.
We’re going to hit the one billionth robocall blocked in March, which is just, like, super exciting, and the fact that, you know, “Nobody’s ever been able to do this before me.” Everybody yelled at me and said, “It’s not going to work. All sorts of things are going to happen. Are you serious,” you know, all those pieces. That’s I think what makes me most proud, the fact that, you know, through thick and thin and through all this weirdness, through as wacky as it is and as crappy as it is and, you know, this is what I’ve been able to accomplish. And it’s been really, really cool.
Andrew: The website for anyone who wants to check it out is nomorobo.com, as in no more robocalls. Nomorobo.com. And you can find it in the App Store for Android and actually it’s called Google Play in the App Store that Apple has on their iPhone. I want to thank my two sponsors who made this interview happen who Aaron has now heard me talk about endlessly over the years, HostGator for hosting your website. Check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. Really, get your website hosted by them and throw in that /mixergy at the end, if you like me and you want me to . . . I don’t know what. If you like me, I guess, and you want to save up to 60% off there. There’s got to be something in it for them. And finally if you want to hire a great developer, go check out Toptal.com/mixergy.
And, by the way, email I feel like is having a similar issue. The phone calls, are lot of people are switching away from email into chat. I am big on chatbots as a way of communicating with an audience. And if you out there are interested in how that works, check out my other site. It’s called botacademy.com. I’ll show you on Bot Academy how to use chat to reach your customers instead of just email. I’m really high on that. Aaron, thanks so much and I hope the two of us will get to meet each other and look for more of my messages to you.
Andrew: I’m going to keep telling you what I think about your app.
Aaron: Please do. I really appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Aaron: Thank you.
Andrew: Bye, everyone.