Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And one of the things that I don’t like to do is have two founders do interviews with me. And it happens so much where someone will say, “I’ve always wanted to be on Mixergy but so did my co-founder, we should have us both on to tell the story.” And I think, “No, you really shouldn’t.” There is an issue of talking over each other where some founders do it.
But there’s another issue of two people trying to squeeze in on camera in front of a laptop and pay attention makes for a very awkward conversation. It’s almost like they’re sitting in each other’s laps pretending that it’s okay. But in reality, it’s awkward to watch, awkward for them to experience and it makes the conversation a lot worse. I’ve been hearing about this piece of hardware that supposed to solve it. And I can’t believe that I’ve got the founder of the hardware here to talk about it. It’s . . . Is the actual hardware, by the way, Max, called Owl? That’s what I’ve been calling it.
Max: Yeah, you know, it’s Owl for short. The full name is Meeting Owl, very specific application of Owl.
Andrew: What it is a 360-degree camera. So if you’ve got people sitting at different parts of the room, it could pick up on them. In fact, not only do they not have to sit so tight together that it’s kind of awkward, they could give each other some space, they could be on the other side of the desk and the other side of the table and still be on camera.
Now, when I first heard about it, I thought, “This is amazing. It’s great. It’s never going to go anywhere.” And I thought, “Why?” And I realized because we’re all moving to Zoom and these specific types of tools to hold our meetings and Meeting Owl actually integrates with them. So look at that. The thing works. It’s doing well. I invited the founder here. Actually my team did. I had no idea that we could get him on here. My team worked together to make this happen.
We are now meeting Max Makeev. He is the founder of Owl Labs. They create this 360-degree smart video conferencing camera that I thought it was going to cost 1,000 bucks. It doesn’t. It’s way more reasonable than that. I want to find out why he’s doing this, the difficulties of being in the hardware space as a hardware entrepreneur, how it’s going, how he’s getting customers, and how he can frankly make real money considering how little he’s charging for this.
And we could do this whole thing thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. Max, the first one is a company that does my books, my accounting, it’s called Pilot. And the second one is a company that helps me and everyone else who’s trying to do research on what kind of content to create, pick the right content, promote it properly. It’s called Ahrefs. I’ll talk about both of those later. But first, Max, good to have you here.
Max: It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: What do you charge for your hardware?
Max: So the Meeting Owl’s reasonably priced product at $799. And today, you can actually buy it on Amazon. You can go to our website and purchase it. And if you work with resellers partners, you can get it through them as well.
Andrew: $799 for one Owl. It sits in the conference room and people just get to use it anytime they want.
Max: That’s correct. And it’s compatible with every video conferencing platform in the market. Here today we’re using Zoom. Customers of ours use Skype. They use Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, and a whole bunch of other web-based conferencing platforms where you use the pluggable device.
Andrew: Because it just shows up as another camera on our computers, on devices, and then the device itself knows how to figure out who to show, right?
Max: Absolutely. And that comes a lot from our background. So my co-founder Mark and I come from iRobot Corporation. Roomba is the popular product that I think most of your viewers might be familiar with at this point. And when you think about Roomba, there’s a big button in the middle of it that says “Clean.” There’s nothing easier than pressing that button. So when we entered the video conferencing space, we wanted to create that seamless experience and embed all that automation into a product that the complexity is then abstracted away. It’s a USB cable that everybody in the world knows how to plug in. So the Meeting Owl is a smart 360-degree camera and microphone speaker.
It has all this intelligence built into it that it leverages that 360-degree view of the room to apply computer vision algorithms to figure out where the people are. Combined that with audio algorithms to triangulate to where the sound sources are in motion and really get an essence of where the people are so that when you speak it shows you automatically. If multiple people are speaking, we put them side by side. And above it all, there’s this little panoramic ribbon output, that gives you the full context of the room—who’s coming, who’s going, who’s not paying attention. That missing bit of information that I think remote people value is what we found so far which was the original bet that gives them the full context of what is happening to give them a little more presence.
Andrew: It is kind of weird even when I do interviews that I will suddenly see a hand get on camera and then disappear. It’s because all I’m seeing is the person. And I’m not noticing that someone walked in the room. Where if I had, I might just give my guests, give the person I’m talking to a moment to just process say hi to the person coming in the room and not have it be distracting, right? But I don’t know it because all I do is I see the head on of the person I meet. And, by the way, we use Zoom for everything, every meeting completely. The only meetings I don’t use it with our with my parents. We use FaceTime for that. Everything else is Zoom. Your revenue is what?
Max: So that is private. It’s just between us and investors. But we can tell you that year on year, we launched the Meeting Owl in the summer 2017. In 2018 we had 8X the revenue and we have 10X the customers. We have thousands of customers [inaudible 00:05:27].
Andrew: I always find that to be honest with you, Max, if that’s not very meaningful because you could have had like $100 the first year and then, right, 8X. Can we say whether it’s over a million or under yet?
Max: It is definitely over a million.
Andrew: Over a million annually?
Andrew: Okay, I’m going to leave it there. I just want to get a sense of where you are. Here’s the thing that I wonder before we get into how you built your business, which is the essence of my conversations with entrepreneurs. How are you going to make money with this long-term? I feel like it’s under 1,000 bucks. How many would I even need? If I ship one to everyone in my team, it would be enough and then that’s it, right? I’m thinking about the . . . I rent from Regus. They might decide that they’re going to plug one of these in every one of their conference rooms but that’s it. Is there like a limited model here?
Max: Well, I’d like to think of it not as an end but like a start. So if you think about video conferencing, well, let’s just go ahead and take the two founders, myself and my co-founder Mark. We entered this video conferencing space . . . This is not our background. We don’t . . . like the passion is not for video conferencing, the passion is for connecting people and really leveraging robotics and robotics algorithms to do that effectively. So the Meeting Owl is the starting point. Today, we’re able to focus on the right person at the right time.
In the future with better technology, with better processing, we’re going to be able to identify the things that matter, the objects of interest in the room, whether it’s the whiteboard that’s being created, whether it’s the purple dinosaur you’re talking about launching for Christmas, whatever the piece of information might be, we’re going to be able to do that for you automatically. So as this world becomes increasingly distributed thanks to tools like Zoom, we’ll be right there helping you to understand the full context of the meeting, establish that hidden language that Esperanto that’s missing in the conversation today between distributed teams.
Andrew: Got it. And you’re thinking at some point about software too, about a standalone device that just does it all?
Max: Well, absolutely. We’re thinking about the customers pain to start with. So what we found is that . . . I’ll actually give you an example. So, you know, hardware is a very difficult thing, a difficult type of business to get up and running. And we raised $1.3 million in our first round, and we had to really understand the customers’ pain and how we were going to address it. So that way we don’t waste a whole bunch of capital providing the wrong solution. And so one of the first things we did was we actually found and recruited seven companies after we raised $1.3 million.
Not a lot of money. And we handed each of them a competitive device. It was a built-in camera, a microphone and speaker, and there was a USB cable with a battery installed. And I told them, “Look, at the end of this process, you guys can keep the devices but what I care about most is that every single week, we get on the video call and you talk to me about, you know, what you’re going through, what your experiences are like, what you love about the product, what you don’t like about the product.” Now this product was shaped like a Pringles can. So, you know, it was super portable, easy to maneuver about.
Andrew: And this is what you created to see if people were interested in it?
Max: This is what we bought from a competing company as a proxy to test the various hypotheses that we had around the product concept.
Andrew: Like what? What are some of the hypotheses that you had?
Max: Well, the big one was automation. Do people actually care to have this automated cameraman focusing the right person the right time in the room? Or do they prefer remote control which was part of this Pringles can package that we were offering?
Andrew: And the Pringles can package gave a remote control to the remote viewer so they could look around the room when they wanted to?
Max: So the remote control was for the local folks to be able to steer the view of the camera . . .
Andrew: Okay, got it.
Max: . . . to the person speaking. And the funny thing was that every single person I spoke to over seven of these companies, they all said, “Oh my God, this remote control is life changing. We’re going to be able to focus on the right thing at the right time for the benefit of the remote person.” And so they were excited about it. But what I found as time went on, that they loved the idea of remote, but they didn’t execute on it. So the fire was there but the follow-through was lacking. And so there was really this clear signal for the opportunity to inject automation to solve that problem. And the other data point that I found interesting was that people were taking this Pringles can and instead of using the remote control they would actually rotate it themselves . . .
Andrew: That’s exactly what I would do. I would just pick up the camera and move it around instead of dealing with the remote. You know what? I see your vision for this and I’m with you on it. It’s way better today to meet remotely than it was back in the early Skype days or in the phone days, 100%. But there’s still little frustrations that are inherent in the way we do it that are so natural and so . . . There’s so such a part of our conversations that we forget about them. Like the one that I mentioned earlier, there’s someone in the room . . . I want to get a sense that there’s someone in the room.
If there are two people who want to talk in a meeting, what I usually will do is I’ll say, “Put two cameras on you. Put two different laptops, open them up, I want you both on there. And then there’s an audio issue, but I’ll deal with that a little bit.” Because what they’ll do is they’ll mute each other so that they . . . like when you’re not talking, you mute. When she’s not talking, you mute. And that’s how we talk to each other as a team. So I get that this is an issue and I see long-term, “You’re thinking we’re going to keep solving it.” And your end game is remote meetings should be as effective as in person meetings minus like whatever comes from hugging and physically touching, right?
Max: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Andrew: So let me get a sense of how you got here. You’re a person who grew up where? Communist Moscow?
Max: Well, that’s where I was born and lived there until I was about seven years old. At that time, my dad . . . so my dad had lots of side hustles. He was working the grocery store, he was like building out these balconies for folks to have more space in their apartment.
Andrew: In Russia, he did this?
Max: In Russia, he was doing this as well.
Andrew: And he would do this on the side and it was okay back then?
Max: Nobody complained. He made extra money and he used it towards whatever he wanted to. But he had this internal desire that just wants to create his own thing and grow it from scratch. And at that time, there was really no outlet in that country to do that. So in the late ’80s, my parents applied to leave Russia and it was granted to them. And so that time when we left, all we could take with us was two suitcases per person. We were a family of 4, so 8 suitcases and $90 per person. And we had to travel through Europe and kind of make ends meet before we could get to the U.S.
Andrew: How? I hear about people doing that a lot. They say . . . not a lot but, you know, they only had $90 and they had to find their way through. I wonder how, if you needed to today go through Europe on 90 bucks, it would be really hard. What did they do? Do you know? Is it the kind of thing you guys talked about?
Max: Yeah. There’s a whole host of things. We borrowed some money. We made arrangements because there’s no easy arrangements to be made between Russia and, you know, folks that were willing to lend. And the rest of it we have to make up the gap along the way. My dad took a series of odd jobs along the way. So when we live in Vienna, he got himself job at a fruit store where for the first time I tasted kiwi and all these sorts of things. These memories will never leave me.
When we were in Italy, he was fixing television sets and reselling them. He found himself a scooter and managed to leave this town that we were living in to go and work on construction sites in places where there were less immigrant community so he can make more money. And then he also opened up a consignment business where he was traveled to Rome and like hock these car, his little model cars to really rich Italian businessmen. These model cars that were coming from Soviet Russia at the time.
Andrew: He was a real entrepreneur and still you don’t like the name entrepreneur. The word isn’t what you’d use to describe yourself.
Max: Yeah, you know, because I think this is going to be . . . I just think that it’s . . . I’m a humble person, I’d like to think. It’s almost an oxymoron to say that. But I think that word is the opposite of like who I am in character. I think it says, “Look at me,” versus, “Look at us.” And so it’s more personal, I guess. I don’t like to look at it as an entrepreneur. We had a problem. The problem was clear. People have a difficulty [inaudible 00:13:49].
Andrew: I think it’s actually it might be clear when you notice it, it’s hard to spot. But let me go back one more thing about you in school and entrepreneurship. You had this little business too. You had a couple of businesses from what I understand. One of them had to do with homeworks. With homework, not homeworks. There’s no such thing.
Max: Yeah. And so when we moved to the U.S. we were poor and all my friends they were playing arcade games after school and so I needed money and I would do things like recycle cans. But the other opportunity that I found was actually selling solutions to homework assignments. And that was really great. Like I was charging 10 cents for people to essentially Xerox copy my homework, and then I realized I could charge more money if I actually wrote out the homework for other folks. And it was a pretty good business model but I didn’t realize the risk with it, which is that bullies will kick your ass and demand the homework since you’re already doing it, you know.
Andrew: And so you had to do it for free because they would kick your ass?
Max: They threatened to. And so I managed to weasel my way out of it but the business had to shut down. It was not sustainable long-term.
Andrew: Let’s talk about how you ended up understanding hardware. And then we’ll talk about what you guys discovered the problem. You decided to be an engineer why? Why did you become an in engineer in school?
Max: So I didn’t ever have a passion for engineering growing up. And, again, a lot of this was driven by economic need. I went to school with the understanding that I had a pretty good grasp of mathematics and science. And I knew that engineers had a pretty good salary leaving college. And for me, it was all about ROI, how am I going to take this debt and pay it off quickly. And electrical engineering seemed like the path for me at the time. So I pursued electrical engineering and I worked my butt off, I would solve every problem in the back of the book. I would deliver like solution manuals as homework assignments at the end of the week to my professors.
But in my third year, I had a bit of a crisis moment. I didn’t actually understand what an engineer does. I could solve all these problems, but I didn’t think that anyone would ever bring a homework assignment to me and ask me to solve it and pay me money for that. That’s not how this world worked I assumed. So at that time, I began to look for ways to actually get a sense for what engineering is. And I was connected to the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at the University of Florida where they make robotic systems. And the professor told me, “Oh, swing by, you know, hang around, you’ll learn some things.” So I showed up. It was myself and I think three or four other people. And the first thing they had us do is soldered together serial cables for the master students.
So I sat there and I would solder cables every day for weeks. And as the weeks went on, there were less than less people that were coming in there with me. And so at some point, it was just me. And I remember going up to the guy who was running the lab and I said, “I’ve been doing this for over a month. Can you give me something more meaningful to do?” But that was really the beginning of it all. Because in that lab, I got to see how sensors interact with processors and how these things come together to control systems and engineering sort of started to materialize. Like what engineering is started to materialize before my eyes. So by the time I was graduating, I knew what engineering was and I knew that I wanted to be in robotics.
Andrew: You actually started to fall for it, fall in love with it?
Max: I felt hard for it. Absolutely.
Andrew: Oh. All right. You worked at iRobot. iRobot was the first company that made robots that you could put in the house that made us all realize at some point in the future, we won’t have robots like the ones we imagined on TV. We will have robots in our house for sure. I remember the first time I got one in the house, I hit the on button, it went and did its thing. It spun around in these weird circles that you didn’t like know where it was going to go next. But at the end of the day, you trusted it. It cleaned things up. What was it like when you were there working for iRobot?
Max: So it was an interesting time because the company was quite smaller than it is today. But everybody was driven and passionate about the idea that the robotics revolution was coming. So when I joined they had already launched Roomba and had achieved a pretty decent level of success but they hadn’t IPO-ed yet. And the belief at the time was that we’ve got to get to be viewed as an appliance in the eyes of the customer. And so we have to, you know, deliver a product that has a certain level of quality of life of reliability in both performance and longevity. And so I came into this inflection point in the business as we were shifting the mindset from being the scrappy startup into something that is more of a staple in the eyes of the customer in the home.
So it was a lot of work. And I began my career there by cleaning up after Roomba. Plain and simple. We had to devise a test that would let us repeatedly measure the cleanup performance of Roomba. And I remember I did this for months. This is, again, like I stick to things. You know, I did this thing for months. I would deposit dirt and design this whole pattern and roll it out and then let Roomba pick it up and measure the results and do it again and again and again. But at some point, I had actually packed my car and drove up from Florida to Massachusetts to take this internship at the time. And I was an electrical engineer hired as a mechanical engineering intern because I wanted my foot in the door. Well, three months in, there wasn’t much opportunity for growth in that area.
And I walked over to the senior engineer and I said, “Hey, listen, man, I drove a long ways for opportunity and like I don’t feel like I’m getting it.” So very quickly they transitioned me out of that function, the quality assurance function into the electrical engineering role, where I got to learn a whole lot of things. So we were small at the time. Some of the things that I was doing was negotiating for prices for components and I’m like year one out of school trying to drive down the cost of Roomba. I got to learn about robust product development, robust hardware design, how to think about longevity in the home and safety as well. We have motors, we have batteries, these things, you know, the F4, they catch on fire. So you have to really react to . . .
Andrew: What’s one example of something that you learned back when you work for iRobot that today you use at Owl Labs?
Max: Absolutely. So actually, there were so many lessons, but the biggest takeaway was the one that a lot of the business is structured around is the product and loss statement. So at the end of my tenure at iRobot, I was a product manager. And so I got to manage . . . I had to launch product worldwide. I got to manage the P&L and work with sales and marketing all these folks. And I learned about how to structure profit and loss statement in such a way that you can be a profitable company long-term.
And so one of the questions you asked early on was how are you going to be a profitable company with, you know, a $799 product, but with all of this tech that you’ve put in? Actually, we wanted to launch at $500 so that we can be accessible to every startup in the world as well as large organizations. But when we did the analysis, when I did the analysis, I said, “We cannot afford to run a business. We can’t afford to reinvest into ourselves and grow if we don’t hit the $799 price point. And so that was a major piece of takeaway that was the kernel of the business, which now has been scaling for the last two and change years.
Andrew: All right. I’m going to talk about my first sponsor, and then I’ll come back to where you guys understood the problem that led you to quit your job. And when I say you guys, I mean, it’s you and Mark were the co-founders, right?
Max: Yes. Correct.
Andrew: Yeah. But I got to tell you, as you’re talking, sometimes I’m spacing out thinking things like, “I really love when I record interviews remotely with people because Zoom records well, and it’s just dead simple.” Yesterday, I had this founder, TK, the founder of ToutApp over my house. I recorded with him. The audio was good but I needed this like handheld recorder and lavalier mics. And then the camera was a pain, it did not work. I’m actually contacting the software people to understand what the problem was. I was thinking like, “Could I just bring an Owl, put it on the table and let two people talk, record it, and just be done with that and allow us to talk and not worry about the technology?” I’m looking for an easy way to do that. Anyway, I’m just kind of fascinated by this.
Max: So I love that. And I would even offer this up to some of your viewers. If you have niche applications where you want to test it out, you should reach out to us directly and we can volunteer an Owl for you to test out and try. Because we love those kinds of experiments and we love the feedback. Believe it or not, it’s a good leading indicator where various market opportunities are going to be.
Andrew: We should try it. All right. I’ll follow up with you and see if it makes sense. You know, finding that I just do so much using conference software that I wouldn’t have thought of before. But anyway, online, for some things is way better. The only thing I want from in-person is more of that connection with the person, you know, the . . . you know what I’m talking about. Let me talk about my first sponsor, it’s a company called Pilot. I’ve got to tell you, Max, you probably don’t know about this. But there’s a lot of entrepreneurs who every April 15th, they get the sweats. They then worry and then they don’t pay their taxes.
It’s not what this ad is about. But it’s because there’s so much going on. And when you fall behind with your books, you tend to just stay behind and then you feel incredible amounts of guilt as an entrepreneur. “What’s wrong with me? I screwed up. I’m not responsible. I’m basically breaking the law.” And it just goes through your head about how bad you are, instead of just recognizing that we shouldn’t be bad at doing the books. As business people we should not be the ones doing the books. Now some companies will hire a bookkeeper. I do not believe in having a single bookkeeper. I want lots of pairs of eyes to do my books.
In fact, I want more than that. Max, you’re going to like this. I want software to do most of my books. A human being taking data out of something like Stripe or my bank is always going to make a mistake. But software pulling it in, if it makes a mistake once, it won’t do it again because someone will catch it and fix it so that it doesn’t repeat that mistake. And so I discovered a company called Pilot. What they do is they’ve got software that will pull in all my data from Stripe, from Chase, even from Citibank, which is the worst for all these companies to pull data out of, from everywhere and put it into QuickBooks, that’s what they use.
It automatically organizes it. That’s what the software does. And then a human being, a real bookkeeper goes through and looks for issues. And when there’s an issue, it’s almost always that Andrew started selling something, but nobody knows what it is. And the software can’t figure it out so they ping Andrew or someone on the team and say, “Do you guys start selling this?” Or Andrew racked up this random expense on a trip to Chile because he’s interviewing entrepreneurs all over the world and he went to some place that nobody knows what it is. And is it an electronic store because you need electronics? Or is it a restaurant? I can’t tell.
So they’ll do that. And then they’ll fix my books, and then my books will be perfect. I resisted using them for a long time. And then I said, “Do you know what? Here, takes some money. Go do it for me. Let’s see what happens.” They did my book so perfectly that I couldn’t help but switch over to them. If there’s anyone out there who wants their books done, they should follow me. I’ve been using Pilot since the end of last year and I love them. Get it all in order. But also it’s not just me. You might think, “Hey, Andrew is getting paid. Probably just saying it because he’s getting paid.” I’m probably going to pay Pilot way more than they’re going to pay me for all these ads because I’m going to use them for so long.
But, look, Justin Kan is using them. He’s the guy who founded Twitch TV. He’s now running a company called Atrium. Sam Altman, the guy who ran Y Combinator until recently. I don’t know why stopped. He still runs OpenAI and he’s using it there. His brother, Sam Altman, is using it at Lattice. Two brothers who are successful. Anyway, so many companies do this. I really urge you to go to pilot.com/mixergy. Recognize that they’ll give you a discount when you’re ready to sign up. But also acknowledge yourself that you’re not ready to sign up yet. And so take advantage of the fact that when you go to pilot.com/mixergy, they will give you free consultation on your books.
They’ll walk you through how your bookkeeper is doing things, give you some advice to take back to your bookkeeper. Or if you’re starting a new company, they’ll walk you through your thought process on how to organize your books. They’ll give you some direction. Go off and do it. And then a year from now even, five years from now when you’re ready to switch to pilot, you can still get the . . . well, I don’t know five years from now you can get the discount. But they’ll be there for you when you’re ready to sign up with them. What they’re offering right now is free feedback for you on how and thoughts on how you should be doing your books. And they’ll customize it to you directly. Go to pilot.com/mixergy.
All right, Max, that’s a great company. I didn’t want them to be great, to be honest. I just thought, “Who needs this?”
Max: Everybody. Everybody needs it.
Andrew: Who does your book? So you guys raise money. So you you’ve got probably an internal bookkeeper, don’t you?
Max: Well, we will be hiring one internally for a long time. I did the books myself. Cash flow is so important to a startup that you have to be mindful of how you’re spending your capital. But, you know, long-term when you’re talking about multiple products and different ways of selling, you really want the help of a person that can think through the various models. But software tools are a must. Software tools are a must. You got to have to Pilot. But it freaked me out the first time we had to do taxes. I realized you have to do taxes like in April. I’m like, “Oh, my God.” Actually by April it was too late. I think it’s May in the business world.
Andrew: For businesses, yeah. Depending on how your structure your company.
Max: Right. And I was like, “Oh, my God, what am I going to do?” I did my own taxes the first year and I swear to God I thought I’d go to jail the following year. Never again.
Andrew: I did that once. Never again. It’s not worth saving the money on that. And you guys do pay attention to every dollar. I heard 2014, really cold winter in Boston, what did you guys do as like money conscious entrepreneurs?
Max: So like we spend a lot of time in my co-founder’s kitchen. And he keeps his house at about 50 because, well, you know, it’s actually quite warm relative to what the temperature was outside. And 2014, 2015 was quite a cold weather. That year, there was so much snow coming down that I swear to God my house looked like an igloo by the time I was done shoveling it. And I was shoveling deep into spring. So we cut costs everywhere. I stopped going out, which was a little bit sad. I lost track of some of my friends. Like you just can be able to do these things. But, you know, in exchange for that I did spend ridiculous amounts of hours with my co-founder really doubling down focused on the mission, focused on the product trying to get ourselves to the point . . .
Andrew: It is a cold place. And the reason that was cold was he was trying to save money. He said, “Do you know what? If I put it at 56 degrees, it’s going to be too expensive. Let’s keep it at 55 degrees. Yes, we’ll see our breath but do you know what? We’ll save some money in this new company.” You guys store enough money from iRobot days?
Max: Say that again?
Andrew: Did you save enough money from the days at iRobot? You were there pre-IPO.
Max: Definitely saved enough money to start the company but not to make it, you know, to last multiple years. So we were bootstrapped.
Andrew: You guys weren’t millionaires after that?
Max: We were far from millionaires after that.
Andrew: Really. Wowee. Wow. I guess because . . . and you were there before the IPO, right?
Max: We were there before the IPO but we were there pretty late. So a word to everybody out there that’s listening to your show who wants to join a startup, the earlier you join, you take on a lot of risk, but the benefits are going to be huge. My co-founder and I joined much later. We got a nice little bump from that but it wasn’t life changing.
Andrew: Yeah, I get it. There’s a sense that here in San Francisco, a few of my friends working for companies that go public or have gone public or are going public, this is a big year for IPOs. And everyone assumes that they’re going to be filthy rich. And the truth is that it doesn’t really happen that way. Some will no doubt. But not filthy, rich, rich. But for the most part, it’s like San Francisco rich is not really rich. Sorry, I mean, rich is not really rich in San Francisco. The thing that I heard recently at a pizza party in my house was this mom said that she was thinking of sending her kid to the Quaker school and she said, “You know, they actually will give you a financial aid if you make less than $300,000 because that means that you’re not doing well.” Wow.
Max: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, those are definitely San Francisco problems.
Andrew: So you came up with the problem how? I tell you I didn’t recognize this problem. You did. How?
Max: Actually, I can’t even take credit for this. My co-founder Mark recognized the problem. So the genesis of the story is essentially that my co-founder Mark and I spent 10 years of iRobot together or, no, 8 years. And then at some point, he felt like he just wanted to see what it was like to join a startup and work at a startup. So he joined a startup that was . . . left iRobot joined a startup based in Las Vegas. And he wasn’t going to move to Vegas. But the founder of that company really thought that he could make remote work. And at that time, in the beginning of the decade, Google Hangouts was becoming kind of a staple for any company that’s starting a company as part of your G Suite package.
And as a result, one-on-one conversations, not like the one we’re having now were super simple and easy. But the moment that my co-founder got into a group conversation, he couldn’t see everybody, he couldn’t hear everybody. He didn’t know when it was okay to jump into the conversation. And so the communication suffered. And this is was the guy that was brought in for a senior roboticist experience. He’s got lots of patents from iRobot Corporation. And he can’t even offer that advice or really make that value show on these group video calls. One day, during one of these huddle sessions, somebody started to rotate the camera at the right person at the right time.
And that was the epiphany that why don’t we automate a way this problem? In the room, you should focus on the conversation. On the remote end, you should be always connected to the conversation as possible if you can’t physically be there. So he comes back to Boston, takes me out for a beer and says, “Hey, here’s a problem I saw. I think there’s a real opportunity here.” And I felt the pain. He was so good at expressing what the problems were. And I sat there at the bar thinking to myself that we are the two people in the world that can actually pull this off. We’ve got the hardware experience, we’ve got the software experience, we’ve got the business and engineering experience, and we can do this.
And so just like that, I was ready to quit and so I did. And then the world served up with massive helping of humble pie because in 2014 where every company seemed like they were getting funded in this Kickstarter world, we thought surely with our background, our pedigree that we could go out there and actually raise capital to do this. And we completely underestimated the challenges of fundraising as a first time founder. Like, yeah, sure, we can do all these other things within the context of a bigger system that already exists, the process and whatnot. But can you do it yourself? And so there’s a lot of risk baked into first time entrepreneurship, to use that word. Sorry?
Andrew: So you’re saying they didn’t think you could do it. They said, “Yes. It’s a problem. Yes, you have electrical engineering experience. Yes, you have software experience, but we’re not sure you guys could do it”?
Max: That’s right. Because I think in hindsight, starting a company and having the grit and stick-to-itiveness to do it is a very different untested skillset in the context of working at a bigger company. And so first time founders, it is a risk. Are you going to be able to pull this off? I can trust that you’ve got the background to do it. You can check a lot of boxes. But you can have that other thing inside of you that actually will get you across the finish line.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And so how many no’s did you get? And was there one that was especially painful?
Max: We got lots of no’s. And so, actually, you know, in the beginning, we heard about YC, Y Combinator, and we thought, “Boy, it would be really cool to get into that.” Before we built anything, we just submitted our idea to their sourcing period. And they requested us to fly to San Francisco and we gave him the 10-minute pitch, though we told them up front we had nothing to show. And they told us that, “Hey, look, this all sounds interesting, but we need to see more.” And so it felt like a homework assignment that we had to go back to Boston, raise a little bit of angel money, and come back to them with a prototype. So we doubled down, we built the prototype, we got on the plane, flew back out to YC. And we gave them the worst demo of our lives.
Andrew: You think that’s what it was that because you did the demo badly that’s why you didn’t get it?
Max: Well, I mean, I would say we were probably were a mismatch for what YC was looking for anyway. That demo that we had was so crude, we couldn’t pick any part of what we want to do and grow it exponentially for Demo Day. We probably were just a bad fit for the program.
But in the meanwhile, leading up to that YC demo, somebody reached out from California and they signed up to our newsletter, and said, “Hey, you know, if you’re ever in San Francisco, stop by. We’re kind of doing this fund thing but we don’t really invest into companies outside of California. But it’ll be good to network. So stop by if you’re around.” Well, we had this colossal failure at YC but we were already in San Francisco so we thought we’d stop by and see what they had to offer. So we stop in and, you know, we meet with a venture capitalist and somebody that’s running parts of operations there at a venture fund called Playground Ventures. And this is Andy Rubin started this Playground Ventures.
Andrew: The Android guy.
Max: That’s right, the Android guy. And we knew nothing about it really. We heard rumblings that Andy Rubin was a part of it. But we also knew that they weren’t going to invest. So we walk in there, made no assumptions about what this meeting is going to be like. And we’re giving them the demo. And conversations are going well. Halfway through the meeting, two guys show up. They’re wearing shorts. One guy has got a cap on. They bring a dog into the room. They look like engineers. And by the way, we’re coming from Boston. So there’s a bit of an East Coast, West Coast set of expectations.
And so we have no idea who these folks are. But they started asking us like really like technical questions getting into the weeds, getting into our shorts, and I’m getting frustrated because they already told us they’re not going to invest and they’re just giving us a hard time. And at some point, I said, “Look, guys, I know what you’re asking but if you want me . . . why don’t you ask me everything that’s wrong with this product and I’ll tell you up front instead of like wasting everybody’s time?” So the meeting comes to an end pretty quickly after that. And it turns out the two guys that walked in late were founders of Playground.
And the guy asked if we would let them invest into our company. Well, we look at each other and we’re like, “Well, we didn’t think that was going to be an option but we should talk about it.” We walked out of the building, high five each other. Come back the next day and those guys, they were great. You know, we worked out this sort of schematic, we worked out the terms, landed back in Boston, had the term sheet ready to go. A month later, as my future wife was moving into my condo, I was packing up my car and moved to San Francisco.
Andrew: And so did they put in . . . I see on Crunchbase that they came in this year for $15 million series B. But I don’t see . . . was this a seed round that they came in for?
Max: So that’s right. So Playground Ventures was our seed round investor. They came in for $1.3 million at that time.
Andrew: Got it.
Max: Yeah. And they’ve been great partners. As we were getting closer to manufacturing start, we needed more capital. Also, we wanted to grow the company in Boston and we reconnected with Matrix Partners, Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners led our A round. And then most recently, we had closed our series B just a few months ago with Spark.
Andrew: Spark, got it. Okay, so, yeah, Crunchbase is a little bit mismatched. On your page, it shows $50 million from Spark. On the Playground page, it shows that they did that. Anyway, it looks like also iRobot maybe invested in it, too, and Andy Rubin personally. It’s true. Yeah.
Max: So iRobot invested into the company. So when I quit my job, and I had been there for a long time, and at that point, like I knew a lot of the folks. There was one guy that I always was nervous around. And it’s not called the CEO. It was actually the lawyer, the corporate counsel. So his name is Glenn. Glenn has like the massive office. And I swear to God, it feels like you’re walking for miles. You walk into the principal’s office and you feel small, you feel like a little kid that you have to take a lot of steps to get to that big desk of the end of the road.
So when I quit and he finds out that I’m quitting to start a company, he sends me an email. He’s like, “I want to talk to you.” So I walk into this office and I take this very long walk. And I sit down, and he looks at our website, which was just this crude thing we put together. And he looks at that thing and says, “So, you’re building a robot?” I’m like, “No, no, we’re not building a robot. No wheels, no moving parts, we’re not building a robot.” And he just did that I think intentionally to rattle my cage.
But the conversation was very good and friendly. And he basically said, “Look, you know, if you guys are up for it, we’re going to put a little angel capital into you to help you get started.” And of course, that was music to my ears because, you know, one of the things which was a risk to us was actually finding angel investors. We were not embedded in that community. So just getting a head start with iRobot was super helpful to us. And, you know, I thank them for that. I thank them for all the opportunities. So they came in at the angel round.
Andrew: And so I see how you raised money. The first thing that you did was you took someone else’s product, it looked like the Pringles can which you put on a table and you want to know how it was working. And what you learned was, nobody was using the remote. People were just moving it around. At what point did you say, “It’s time for us to start to get the soldering iron out and create our own even if it’s a bad first version”?
Max: That’s right. So it was not too long after we were getting data about of these, you know, what we believe were customers that they were having with this Pringles can thing.
Max: As we were interviewing them, we were putting down our confirmed hypothesis about what the product feature set needs to be. And very quickly after that, we went straight after identifying the types of hardware we need to implement the functionality required.
Andrew: And you were starting to . . . I guess, it’s not a soldering iron. Is it a hot melding machine that used?
Max: Well, so let me think back. We . . . a lot of the . . .
Andrew: Basically, what I’m wondering is what did it look like and what could it do this first prototype?
Max: Oh, the very first one. So there were a few. There was one . . . Oh, my gosh, there were so many actually. There was the one that we raised the seed round with which was retired very quickly. That they had cotton balls in it to keep audio from . . . or sound waves from leaking into various microphone paths. The first prototype we did was . . . so once we . . . it was going to take a long while for us to actually build the hardware. The hardware is very complex because we’re essentially cramming a cell phone into the Meeting Owl. And we carved up the Android operating system like a Thanksgiving Day turkey to make it work for us. It’s easy to start a cell phone company. It’s very hard to start Meeting Owl and [our last 00:41:31] type of company with Android OS and the cell phone processes out there.
So once we were building the hardware, we also wanted to build proxy hardware that we can very quickly deploy into the hands of customers to get a sense for what they thought about their experience. So we build these things that look like nuclear towers. And inside of them, we had the eight microphone array that was tied into a Raspberry Pi. And it was sitting on top of . . . there was a 360 camera that we hot melted onto an image sensor, which we found somewhere in Hong Kong that was just big enough. And all that was plugging . . . there were like three or four USB cables that were coming off the hardware plugged into a PC. The nuclear power sat on top of, which was doing all the heavy lifting, processing, and then running the Hangouts call with our experience on top of it. It was the worst thing we’ve ever built. And oh, my God, we would have failed as a company if we go back to market with it.
Andrew: It was built on Android on Raspberry Pi hardware?
Max: So that nuclear tower that like iteration before the actual hardware was built on Linux actually. It’s a lot easier to interface into Linux than Android.
Andrew: And you guys kept a monitor attached to it so that people can see on the monitor what the other party was doing. It was like a Hangouts box.
Max: Yeah, exactly right. We supplied them a full Hangouts box essentially. And that was part of the key was finding folks that actually use Hangouts regularly so we can get enough mileage out of the hardware, out of the software to understand, you know, what’s working.
Andrew: Okay. And so you were giving them this box seeing whether they needed what? 360? Whether they liked the idea that the camera would switch from person to person based on who was speaking, am I right?
Max: That’s right, yeah. So that’s exactly right. So we started with a Pringles can thing that kind of confirmed the path we’re on. But then we needed to understand how do you make 360 valuable? There’s lots of 360 cameras, consumer cameras on the market and they’re great for taking photos. But what does it mean to be a 360 camera in the middle of a conference room? How do you make that technology useful to the remote people? And so the question is where do you pop people into the view? Do you [G 00:43:50] them out like an Apple experience? Like there’s so many questions about. If you think about it, we’re kind of building a filmmaker algorithm into the Meeting Owl. So that in real time, this filmmaker is figuring out what the right screenshot? Well, the right color we shot our film.
Andrew: And how to change from one shot to the other without giving people whiplash and making it go back and forth and back and forth between two speakers just because they talk over each other. And so how would you know if this was working and what problems people had with it? You know, let me take a moment, talk about my second sponsor, and then I want to find out about that. So my second sponsor is a company called Ahrefs. You probably don’t know Ahrefs because you’re not a software content guy. Am I right, Max?
Max: That’s correct sadly.
Andrew: I will tell you what it is because at some point, you’re going to want to do some content marketing, probably going to want to create some content. As I know, you guys sell cards. So you guys are in the content space to some degree, cards to help people have good conversations. Even if it’s like a company that’s okay with a NS, with a not safe for work type conversations. You want to give them cards to encourage better conversations that are a little bit more risqué.
So here it is. When you finally hire someone, tell them about Ahrefs, and here’s what you should tell them. There’s some keywords that your competitors, some older companies, maybe even like WebEx that if you do a search for certain things like, I don’t know, how to look good on camera or something, that the article goes back to like an old WebEx article that’s completely out of date. It’s not at all interesting. It’s useless.
And then if you guys could create a better version of that, you easily would maybe not outrank them, but maybe even outrank them, and get more traffic for people to come and read your article that’s a better article on your site. And then some of those people would say, “Hey, what’s this Owl Labs? Huh. Here’s how I could have a better conversation by putting this hardware in,” and then they’ll go and experiment and some will end up buying. It’s that type of thing. See what other people ranking for that you could beat them for.
See what other pieces of content you guys should write. Or frankly, if you’re going to write a piece of content, maybe go and look through Ahrefs to see what are some of the words you should include? What are some of the things that people care about that you should pay attention to and just add them into your article? I think that my biggest problem with Ahrefs is the way I pronounce them. I wonder how many people right now in their heads are going, “What did he say?” I’d say it again. It’s ahrefs.com. I’m looking to see . . . oh, here is my link. As soon as you sign up, what you will get is seven days for seven bucks, you’ll get an email, immediately, comes in. I just got one right now. I signed up while we’re talking. Boom.
Oh, there that’s how they want to find out. I was trying to figure out, I said, “You know what? I know how this works. I’m going to use another one of my email addresses, another one of my credit cards to see how they know that people are coming from Mixergy because they’re not even sending the people to ahrefs.com/mixergy.” So here’s what they’re going to do. As soon as you sign up, they’re going to say, “I’ll send you an email saying how did you find out about Ahrefs?” I’m going to type in Mixergy. Boom, proceed. Great. And now I’ve got all this access. One of the things that they showed me was there are people who are ranking really well for the word entrepreneur, for articles about entrepreneurship.
And when you click over those articles are just dopey. We should be beating them. I want to beat them. All right, if you’re in content marketing, go check out Ahrefs. They’re going to give you seven days for seven bucks. Go explore it. Write a bunch of great content. If it doesn’t change your world, if it doesn’t change your business, move on. But if it does, you’re going to love them and you’re going to want to tell me how happy you are with them. Ahrefs.com. Wait, you know what? Let me spell it, ahrefs.com. All right. What did you learn and how did you learn it by giving people that version?
Max: Well, so we learned that it was that version was never going to sell. And then we really need to get into the actual hardware quickly. The problem with that version was that it was . . . one of the big problems with that version was that the hardware would not be tied together with the software fast enough because we had all these disparate pieces going into the operating system that was trying to combine everything without really being optimized for . . . my goodness, there’s . . . Yeah, I’ll just pause there. The hardware was just not good enough at all.
We did find one lead user that was using it all the time. And they were giving us great feedback in the things that they really loved, but it was buggy and unreliable, it crashed, it overheated, the image sensor would collapse. And, sorry, the lens was so heavy that over time as the image sensor that it was hot melted onto would warm up. It would kind of sink into it. So there was just a lot of issues that we could not solve without actually putting the right hardware in front of people.
But the one company that did stick with it gave us a lot of great feedback in terms of . . . They had a giant mirror in the background. And if you think about it, that is a false positive all of a sudden that you hadn’t considered.
Andrew: Oh, yeah.
Max: How do you address that issue, right? And they gave us enough feedback that we could go back and tune our algorithms. They talked about the snappiness. The speed with which we focus on people. It’s not fast enough. It’s too fast. There’s this tracking motion that you guys are implementing that sucks. It’s making me nauseous on the other end. So it was really a great feedback from this company that was our lead user. But we also learned that we’ve got to get into the proper hardware quickly so we can get in front of people.
Andrew: Okay. And so the first real version of the hardware was when?
Max: So the first real version of the hardware showed up right around 2016. So shortly after we raised our A round. And the A round bet was that we had done enough due diligence to make sure we answer the customer. And we had a good value prop to offer to folks as well as [de-risk 00:49:43] the product so that we can go through manufacturing. So that first version was available towards the end of 2016. And that was the first time we got something in front of customers that we really stood behind. And very quickly, we found out that we had a lot of work to do.
Andrew: What did you find? What did it look like? And then what was the stuff that was missing?
Max: Sure, no problem. I’ll actually show you what it looks like. It actually looked quite a bit like this, which is our own version of a cylinder, but it’s tapered at the top. It looks a little bit like a Meeting Owl.
Andrew: Yeah, let me describe it for people who are listening because I know a lot of people are. It does look like it’s a big . . . you know what? Like the first Alexa speaker, except it’s tapered at the top. It’s got these two eyes and a nose that make it look like an owl. And I’m guessing the camera is that thing that looks like a hat on the top, right?
Max: Yeah that’s correct. So that hat on the top is the camera and we designed this to look like an owl intentionally. So if you think about office hardware today.
Andrew: Is that the mic that you’re talking to me on right now?
Max: That’s correct.
Andrew: The one that . . . okay, we should put it back where it was before just so the sound doesn’t change too much for people who are listening.
Max: Absolutely. Thank you for.
Max: Yes. I should be careful about grabbing it because it’s going to mess up the . . .
Andrew: It didn’t do the big thud which often happens when I put lavalier mics on people, so you’re fine. So yeah, you were saying about you wanted it to be an Owl why?
Max: Yeah, so believe it or not, we did a lot of soul searching when we were deciding whether or not we should be on the cute side or like a professional side. And what we decided on is that we actually want to be approachable. If you think about office hardware today, there’s a lot of buttons on the technology. It’s very plasticky. There are more features in there than people actually need. And as a result, they’re intimidated by it. They don’t use it. The Meeting Owl does the other way. We have first off the whole thing is shrink wrapped in cloth so it’s plush to the touch. There’s only four buttons and they’re all self-evident. There’s mute, volume up, volume down, and there’s this magical option button, which lets us switch into various functionality.
But that is the complexity of it. Then the eyes come on to indicate that the cameras running. That the videos is recording. So people in the room understand that is happening. And as a result, we have great adoption. People are not intimidated by the tech. They pick it up. They interact with it. They ask questions about it. And, you know, if you think about it on some level, marketing is kind of built into the product, into the experience. On the local end, you have this product that’s almost a conversation piece. And on the remote end, you’re seeing this unique experience where people in the room are having a conversation. They’re entering and leaving the stage, if you will, as they speak, or quit speaking.
Andrew: Yeah, I get it. I think it feels right. How did you know that this was supposed to be a camera that plugs into people’s computers versus a standalone device? How did you decide that?
Max: So you mean, why are we running the meeting on the owl? Is that the question?
Max: Okay. So if you think about the . . . I think about complexity a lot. I worry about complexity because if products, or technologies are too complex, people don’t use them. They don’t get adopted. They become shelfware. And when I think about the Meeting Owl, there’s actually quite a bit of complexity. We have to . . . when you start with a product that hadn’t existed before, you have to explain to people what you are and how you work. And so it was hard enough to just explain that much about what is a 360 experience? Why is it valuable? But it was easy enough to explain that it just works when you plug into the USB.
If we decided to host the meeting, I fear into there was too much complexity, and trying to explain where all these magical things for an experience, and we also run your meeting at the same time. And so that seemed like a mistake to do. And also, the people really like bringing their laptops to the rooms. They like to plug in. You know, they either have a computer in the room already they’ve invested into, or they brought their laptop into the room for the quick call. And it seemed like a lot of those solutions already exist. But this better experience by way of sensing just hadn’t. And that’s what we . . .
Andrew: How did you know that then what people didn’t need was a monitor with a wide angle lens that could zoom in on people? Because I think about how many meetings do people have where its people around the table, but we’re all looking at the one guest on the one laptop?
Max: So that’s a good question. Those solutions actually existed for a while, not necessarily cobbled together, but in pieces. You can buy like, for example, you can buy Logitech cameras today, or other cameras, put it on top of your television set or at the bottom of your television set. And the thing that we heard from customers as we were interviewing them was that, “I really don’t like the bird’s eye,” or, “I don’t like having this tunnel vision view of the room.” And the Meeting Owl sort of makes the meeting a little more personal for the remote folks because you get more context, you get more face and get more expression in the conversation. So those solutions that you just mentioned already exist. And people don’t like them. They want a better experience.
Andrew: So do people turn their laptop around? So if you and I were sitting facing each other on a table talking to a third person, I guess how the Owl would pick up on both of our faces as we were talking. But for us to see the other person, would we have to shift the laptop around?
Max: Yeah. So today, most of the rooms that we sell into, they already have a television set at the front of the room, and they have a computer that’s plugged into an HDMI cable. So the Meeting Owl just plugs into that computer. So in the room, we’re already have the remote end up on a television set. So there’s not really a lot of need to shift the laptop around.
Andrew: Got it.
Max: It matters when you pop into a room, all you have is your laptop. The laptop is actually shorter than the . . . well, tend to be shorter, like a MacBook tends to be shorter than the Meeting Owl. And that’s intentionally designed that way. So we’re about 10 and a half inches tall. And therefore, if they do pop open a laptop for folks to meet around the Owl, it’s never going to appear in the camera’s view because it’s just the lower Owl’s field of view.
Andrew: Yeah. I’m trying to think of what we do here. I rent from a Regus office and they do have a monitor, you could just wire into it. I sometimes think now that Apple TV is a thing, it’d be nice if they let us Apple TV and Chromecast into it. But wire is fine as long as they have the dongles, which they do for every device. And then I don’t know what they do for the camera because they just never bother with that. It would be interesting if they just put one right at the center of the table that said, plug in and you could have a camera right away. How did you get customers?
Max: Yeah. So we got customers. Our first customers were actually coming out of our beta testing. And that was just hustle and grit. It started initially with I would comb through LinkedIn and find people that I thought were in companies that were small enough where they would talk to me. But as we got bigger, we got a little bit of word of mouth traction and beta people helping to refer us to other folks that they knew. And then when we launched, we had this great write up in “The Verge” which drove amazing sales. We were on back order in 10 days after launching. And we were on back order for, I think, maybe four or five months after the launch date until we managed to have enough inventory on hand that could fulfill demand. And demand fulfillment has been like the challenge of 2018. I mean, we kept up with it. But, wow, the demand was just incredible.
So we’ve had amazing growth. But our initial customers came from the beta testing, followed by this great press release that we managed to achieve. And then we hired great marketers from a company called HubSpot that understand content marketing and understand how to drive top of funnel activities, which would then promote further sales of Meeting Owls. And, you know, the other thing is the, like I said, some of the marketing is built in, the experience is great, people buy now to try it, but they come back and buy more. And so what we’re seeing is somewhat of Owls kind of spreading through the organization as they began to value the experience.
Andrew: Wait. So this content that you guys have on your site, on your blog, it’s HubSpot that helped you come up with what to do?
Max: We hired some early employees of HubSpot to help us figure out go-to-market and content and all this modern day, you know, marketing activity that we needed to engage in order to drive customers.
Andrew: And so I’m looking at it for example, one of the posts on your site is “16 of the best podcasts for remote workers.” So I get where they came up with that. I like that it’s an actual player that they put on to this site. It’s the Spotify player. So it looks nice and it lets people go and grab the podcast. And then there’s a, “Subscribe to our . . . ” yeah, “Subscribe to read more from our blog,” or, “Give us your email address if you want to join hundreds of remote workers.” You guys got to change that.
Max: You know, millions.
Andrew: Yeah. It just feels like . . . actually, I wonder if the top should even be subscribe to join hundreds of remote workers. I think it would be better if it’s, “Enter your email to get tips for best remote meetings or stand up meetings,” or stuff like that.
Max: I’ll definitely [work 00:59:13] that along. I’ll say that they’re great. They do a lot of work. They hustle. They look for those opportunities that they can scale and then they apply all their might behind it to scale those sales opportunity.
Andrew: I can imagine HubSpot is really good with content marketing. They were machines when they were getting going. And so that did it, and then it was the press release to announce it. Was there anything else? Was there big partnerships that helped you get in? Was . . . ?
Max: No, there hasn’t been any partnerships. It was day-to-day battles, just grit and trying to connect with people.
Andrew: And so are you selling directly, Max? Are you the person who’s calling up companies and trying to close sales?
Max: No, at this point. So the way we sell and we sell directly on our website so you can come on there and purchase the Meeting Owl if you need accessories or whatnot. You can buy them from us as well. You can buy the Meeting Owl on Amazon. For your audience, you can take a look at the reviews there and we are above . . . we’re just under five stars on Amazon. We have nearly 100 reviews up there. And then one of the other ways that video conferencing technology is sold as through channels. So if you have a reseller partner that you like to work with, or an integrator, let them know you’d like to test drive a Meeting Owl and they’ll get a hold of us.
Andrew: And so you guys are working with integrators? What’s an example of an integrator?
Max: So integrators are folks that you can kind of think of them as people that help outfit your rooms or provide solutions. So for example, you have a 9 by 12 conference room. You need to figure out how to outfit it the latest tech. This person will come in right size a solution for your budget and presumably will provide you with a Meeting Owl.
Andrew: I see. Yeah, and I’m looking to see if Zoom has been promoting you guys. You have some content on their site. They don’t. They’re not especially big on promoting hardware right now from what I can see, right? They’re not sending you guys a bunch of customers.
Max: They are not but their customers love our products. So we mostly do customer surveys regularly to understand what’s working and what’s not. You know, there’s always opportunities to fix things. And so Zoom customers are some of our happiest customers. The fact is that at the A round, we’re such a small company, raised not a ton of money. So, you know, you can try to double down on building partnerships or you can double down on content marketing and that type of lead generation.
And we thought that our strengths were going to be in getting as many owls into the world through driving content and those kinds of activities. And, of course, Owls sell Owls. The product just works really well. People love the experience. They come back and they buy it. What we hear from customers is that you know, “I heard about it through a friend,” or, “I heard about it through this blog post. I saw it in the meeting.” So there’s just a lot of . . . in some sense, virality might actually be built into the product already.
Andrew: Because people see it. If I’m talking to somebody and they’re on Owl, the view changes completely. Like you said, “Yes, I’m focused on the person. The screen is the same as we’re used to.” But then above there’s a strip of video that has the 360 degree view of the room. And that alone is striking enough for somebody to have a conversation about to bring up. All right. For anyone wants to go check it out, it’s at owllabs.com, right? Or Amazon. Let me see on Amazon how many reviews you got. It’s the one thing you said and I didn’t check it out. Let’s look at . . . what do I look for? Owl camera?
Max: You can look for Owl camera or Meeting Owl and you can . . . Meeting Owl is the surest way to get there.
Andrew: There we go. I’m on there now. I see 360 degrees. Yeah, 90 plus reviews. Four and a half stars, right? Yeah, four and a half out of five. Cool. Congratulations on building up this company. Thanks so much for doing this interview. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first is Ahrefs for creating content. Your team probably already knows about it. I bet they’re even using it. I got to tell you. I want to know how they even knowing that I’m sending people over to them. And then I signed up just to like go through the whole flow and see what are they doing. And then as I did it, I clicked in. I couldn’t help it while you were talking. I clicked into . . . like they have this great onboarding flow.
It’s like they want to know what’s the company you’re analyzing step-by-step. And then they take this freaking page. It’s just making me bonkers angry. It’s a list of all the people who are linking to me to pages on my site that are broken. I got to go and just like . . . I’m going through the roof on this. I can’t sit still I’m so freaking angry. But it’s pages and pages of people linking to me to my site to broken links.
Now, what they’d want to say probably at Ahrefs is, “Andrew, number one, go freaking fix those links. Redirect them something that works, or fix the pages.” But they probably also want me to do that for other sites. Like they immediately said, “You’re competing with the foundation.com, right?” Which I don’t think I am but okay. Then what I would do is go see who’s linking to the foundation to pages that are broken. That stuff makes me freaking angry.
They should not let me touch this. No one on my team should let me touch this. I just get frustrated. All right, it’s Ahrefs guys, go sign up ahrefs.com. Do it on a day when you want your blood to boil, but at least we could do something about that. It’s not a problem that I can’t do anything about. Anyway. And then finally the second sponsor is a company that will do our accounting right, it is called Pilot. Check them out at pilot.com/mixergy. Max, thanks so much for doing this interview.
Max: Thank you very much, Andrew.