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. Joining me is an entrepreneur who just demystified a big portion of online content for me. I have been on Instagram not that much. But man, one of the reasons why I’m not on Instagram that much is sometimes I see these companies have beautiful freaking photos. Sometimes I’ve interviewed people, you might have heard me in these interviews get really excited about the photography that people have on their Instagram accounts. That’s true for other platforms, but for some reason . . . Not for some reason. Instagram blows me away because when it’s done right it’s meant to blow you away.
And I always thought, “Wow. These people must have found great creative directors, great photographers. They have a talent for it.” But before we got started, today’s guest took me into the back end of his company, Popular Pays, and he said, “Let me show you how we work.” And I saw these brands that I recognize that I promised him I wouldn’t say the names of who basically, he said, “Here’s our new product or here’s a product that we’re featuring. We’d like a creator to take it and do whatever with it. Take our skincare product and have a man hold it in the forest and be creative with that.”
And then all these creators, people who are big on Pinterest, Instagram, other platforms are coming in and saying, “Well, here’s who I am. Here’s my account. And here’s what I could do for you.” And as he’s showing me their accounts, I’m looking at their pictures and I’m like, “These are stunning creators who are just doing it for fun and now they get paid, and it’s not for like tens of thousands of dollars.” I don’t know how much I could say about the prices. I guess he’ll . . .
Corbett: Yeah. You can talk about it.
Andrew: One of them was for 800 bucks by major brand and they got like phenomenal work for 800 bucks. And they didn’t have to get involved in the photoshoot or anything. They just put it up and they picked the creator they want and the creator then gets to create for them and now they have this beautiful thing that makes me feel like they have taste, but in reality, they just worked with someone who has taste.
Anyway, that’s what today’s guest. You heard his voice. His name is Corbett Drummey. He is the founder of Popular Pays. What they do is create some software for collaborating with influencers and creators. And it’s a little bit more than what I described. Like if you want to hire somebody to create a photo or a video and then run it in their own feed, you could do that too. But the part that blew me away is the part that I had no idea existed which is these brands are getting creators to create for them.
All right. We’re going to find out how he built this company, thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first you haven’t heard me talk about them since I’ve . . . It’s been a while. Since I interviewed the founder when I needed help hiring a second-in-command here at Mixergy. It’s called COO Alliance. Their founder helped me. I want to talk to you about how they could help you. And the second sponsor you have heard me talk about quite a bit because it’s doing really well for our listeners. It’s called HostGator. I’ll tell you why they should be the company you use to host your website. First, Corbett, good to have you here.
Corbett: Thank you. Yeah, it’s good to be here.
Andrew: Do you find that it’s hard for you to explain what you do to like at family dinners or something?
Corbett: No. I think it’s like a great challenge because no matter how complicated the thing that you work on is you should be able to boil it down to explain it to your parents or your aunt and uncle. I used to have a harder time and it’s getting a little easier, which I think is a good sign.
Andrew: What’s the revenue that you guys are doing right now?
Corbett: So we don’t disclose that, but I could say that since we went through Y Combinator in early 2015 we’ve done, definitely had tens of millions go through the platform but right budgets on it, but we haven’t disclosed revenue publicly.
Andrew: So what you’re saying is tens of millions of dollars have been paid from brands to creators?
Corbett: Yeah. Just like it’s brand budgets that have gone through the platform to create these like content or posts.
Andrew: Okay. And all you say is tens of millions of dollars. You won’t say whether you guys are doing over . . . Would you say if you’re doing over 10 million?
Corbett: I do love that you’re always . . . I don’t talk about it, but I do love that you always push your guests, so I check out a couple and I love it. You got to ask, right?
Andrew: Thanks. I do have to ask because I don’t know where you feel uncomfortable saying and why not. And frankly, full disclosure, I’ve got a number here in front of me. It’s not like we’re operating completely blindly, but when we took the number from you, we said it would be private.
Corbett: Yeah. It’s an important lesson too, like, I used to be really scared of getting a no but it’s an important thing to do is like orient towards if you want to get a no.
Andrew: You know what? I never thought of it that way because I just don’t feel any pain from getting a no, thankfully. I just feel like, “Well, let’s see where this person feels comfortable.”
Andrew: So do you have an example of a brand that we know that used you in a way that will illuminate what you do? And then I want to find out how you built up this company because it’s not a common idea.
Corbett: Sure, yeah. I mean, what’s interesting is we’ve been extremely fortunate to work with most of large brands you know and love like, a lot of ones that I’m a fan of and users of like everyone from Samsung or like Bose who I was showing you, but really maybe like half or more of the Fortune 100s that you’ve seen have used our platform in some way. And we power the content for a lot of them. But yeah, I think we’re just looking at . . .
Andrew: But let’s more and to talk about what they did on your platform to understand it.
Corbett: Yeah. Yeah. Like, we were just talking about Bose example I was showing some content they’ve created on it. So, basically, we’ve worked with brands like them to both source content at scale for their Instagram feed, for their paid ads on Facebook, as well as just get posts from influencers. So this might be sending an influencer to an event or just like shipping them product like a new pair of . . . actually wearing their headphones right now. So maybe like shipping them headphones, and then getting some great content back and a post to back as well for them.
Andrew: So the influencer would have gotten a pair of headphones, and it’s on them to come up with something creative, and then Bose pays for whatever the photo is.
Corbett: Yeah. Usually, brands put out a creative brief to the network saying, “Hey, look, we’re launching this new product or we have this new initiative. We need content that fits X, Y, and Z.” And the creator can apply and say, “Hey, here’s my idea for how I make that concept come to life.” And the brand can review not just the creator and their idea but also like their profile like what’s their rating from past gigs? What’s their past portfolio of work? All these social stats. And so we try to . . . Like the three main things we do, the first step is helping with creator sourcing and vetting. So it’s like [creator 00:06:12] management. You can either upload creators you’re already working with or use our tools to find and vet new ones.
Andrew: Got it. All right. I’m looking. Now I’m scrolling. This is the problem that I have with any guest who does any work with Instagram, I start getting sucked into Instagram photos.
Corbett: It’s so addictive.
Andrew: Yeah, it is. And it’s kind of cool and now I get a sense of how this was done, how they had such a diverse collection of photos. And it doesn’t have to mean sending out a team to, I don’t know, just some dude in a van in the middle of nowhere and finding it.
Corbett: Yeah. That’s the . . .
Andrew: That could just be you guys.
Corbett: Well, I mean, there’s a lot of brands like . . . That’s the cool thing about it. Like, when we worked at an agency and I did a . . . I worked at Leo Burnett, the ad agency in Chicago. I actually came to Chicago to work there. And when we do a commercial shoot, we would get bids from three photographers, we would pick one, we would do a shoot, we would get maybe 12 assets, we would pay like 40 grand and they do limited rights, and you’d only get like one location.
What’s awesome here is a brand like Samsung could ship phones to people from Sweden to Florida and they can source content, they could never have gotten from professional shoots. And it lets you also test your . . . It lets you do these things with content you couldn’t have done before, like A/B testing ads with 50 creative pieces is way different than testing with two. And it just law of large numbers. You’re going to have some winners when you get a lot of pieces of content.
Andrew: You mentioned that you work for Leo Burnett. Can you talk about the Coors Light story?
Corbett: Oh my god. Yeah. So, yeah, near and dear to my heart. So when I joined . . . I was working on a startup in college. I bumped into a recruiter from Burnett. I ended up taking an internship that summer with Burnett. And when I got there, I wasn’t 21 yet, but they had put me on the Miller Coors account. And we sat down, my very first business meeting in my entire career, I think, and sat down and they said like, to celebrate a new intern, they passed around Keystone Lights. And at first, I was like, “This is amazing. I’m not even 21 yet.” And everyone froze and looked around and wondered like, “Oh, shit. Who messed that up?” And they took my beer from me and put me on Coca Cola for two weeks until I was 21. Then I went from Coke Zero back to Miller Coors. And I had a great time. I mean, it was a wonderful team. We still actually work with them now. They’re users of our software, which is really fun.
Andrew: Well, I should say Leo Burnett is the ad agency, but that’s not the Coors Light story I was talking about.
Corbett: Oh no.
Andrew: I was talking about how you and your roommate . . .
Corbett: Oh, my gosh. The other one, yeah.
Andrew: You know what I’m talking about?
Corbett: I do. I do.
Andrew: So I heard you and your roommate had a case of Coors Light at your place.
Corbett: So, yeah. So I guess there’s two Coors Light stories when you think about it. I didn’t think of this one. To celebrate the fact that I got onto the Coors account my crazy roommate who turned into my co-founder. First of all, he had just graduated art school. He drove up from Florida. He was lonely, so he picked up two hitchhikers on the way which already tells you a lot about . . . And I was like, “Who is this guy?” He drove up there and he got out and it’s late Sunday night, I’m like, already getting ready for bed and he goes, “Hey, man, I heard you got in the Coors account.” He was like, “I got us a case of beer. Let’s have some to celebrate.” And I was like, “Dude, we got to go to bed. Like, our first day at work is tomorrow.”
And I think he at that point thought, “Oh, oh. Who am I living with? Like, this guy is no fun.” And so he had a moment like that. We went to sleep. I woke up. I got ready. I think I made like, eggs. I had breakfast. I was already dressed in like . . . I think I dressed in a suit. And Allan, my co-founder was still in bed. I finally woke him up, I was like, “Dude, we got to go in five minutes.”
So he just rolls out of bed and he goes, “So how about that beer?” And I was laughing. I was like, “All right, man. Fine.” And so he got a Coors out of the fridge. We shotgunned it before work, before our first day of work. And the kicker was that when we got to Burnett, the very first like orientation class is the president of Burnett was like, “Hey, let’s play the name game. Go around the room and all four of you tell me something about yourself.” And I was pretty tame. I was like, “Yeah, my name is Corbett. I went to William and Mary. I like this type of music.” I was pretty straight and narrow with that. And Allan got up and he’s like, “Hey, my name is Allan. I have a tattoo in my ass and I shotgunned a beer this morning.” And everyone’s like, “Yeah, Allan.” And the president never forgot his name for sure. He was like . . .
Andrew: And that was a good thing there?
Corbett: It was a good thing. If you’re creative. I was on the account side. And so the president thought it was hilarious and loved it. And when Allan went to work, just to contrast the two types of departments, he went out to lunch with his team and they had a beer at lunch, and when he told me later they had a beer at lunch, I was like, “Oh, my God. Did you get fired? You can’t drink at work.” And he was the first person to sell in a TV commercial. He’s the first person probably to get offered a job. Like, he crushed it. He did so well. Eventually, we started working on Pop Pays on the side. And we always talk about quitting, but he got kind of antsy and he just said, “Hey, man, I know we’ve talked about quitting. I’ll just put in my two weeks.” And I was like, “Oh, no, man. Wow.”
Andrew: Just did it without talking to you beforehand . . .
Corbett: And he goes, “I told him you’re going to quit too.” Yeah.
Andrew: And as I understand it, the reason the two of you got together is because I guess he messaged everybody and said, “Look, I’m looking for a roommate and I want somebody who I like and also who likes to do side projects.” Am I right?
Corbett: Yeah. Actually, I believe . . .
Andrew: [inaudible 00:11:24] for that.
Corbett: I believe I messaged the Facebook group and he jumped in immediately and said, “I’m in.” And he sent this note. And I remember he signed off and said like, “Much love, Allan.” And I was like, “Oh, it’s so cool. He’s like a very loose and loving and a guy who puts himself out there.” And I still use that signoff a lot to this date. But we moved in together, we moved in with four interns. We had people . . . It was fun to have like the epicenter of an intern experience where people would come over and hang. But we tried to launch projects and startups like mostly started with projects during a time there and one of them . . . We had 2 really great ideas, 30 total and one of them . . . the second was Pop Pays.
Andrew: You had 30 ideas total?
Corbett: He had this running list. Actually, he still has it. He has this list of ideas and he’s never stopped putting things into it. He’s an idea machine.
Andrew: Didn’t he go . . . He’s not working with you anymore. He was with you for about a year, right?
Corbett: No. Yeah, he left . . .
Andrew: And then he went to Facebook and Instagram.
Corbett: It’s been five years now.
Andrew: Let me see. Wow. Five years.
Corbett: Yeah. He just . . . So check this out. He just took his sabbatical and instead of you . . . I would probably . . . Actually, Pop Pays after five years, we give a month off. And one of our teammates, my first engineer, our first engineer, Steve, just came back and he did what I would do like relax, recharge, do a little bit of woodworking, he spent time with his kids. Allan, he moved to Berlin for a month and learn how to code at this boot camp. Like, he’s very, very much about, like, self-improvement and constantly put . . .
Andrew: What I’m wondering is why is the guy who is so into coming up with creative ideas, why is he at a five-year job?
Corbett: So it’s fascinating. I think Facebook has done a good job at like continually challenging the teammates there. And I think as soon as you start to get stale, they give you some new opportunities. And many times he’s had an itch, but they let them create a lot there. And so to keep a guy like him for five years is quite a feat and they’ve done really well.
Andrew: Is he @holmes on Instagram?
Corbett: Yes. Just @holmes, H-O-L-M-E-S.
Corbett: He’s an interesting guy. He’s really good at stories. He actually launched this thing called story schools with one of his teammates, and it’s like a . . . You just give a presentation. It’s like an interactive presentation that shows you all these tips and tricks on stories. It made me realize like stories is a new format of creation, like it’s like a Photoshop for your iPhone. You can prototype cool little things in it and they just presented it and I loved it. And they kind of launched it into like a more global thing that they will now present to all their clients, but he just starts projects like that all the time and they let him do those things.
Andrew: So he’s the one who inspired you to leave. The two of you . . . This is your second good idea.
Andrew: What was the other good idea?
Corbett: What did you say? Sorry.
Andrew: What was the other good idea?
Corbett: So it was actually a program that when we were at Leo Burnett together, there’s this thing called the four A’s and they take advertising folks from all the agencies nearby and they give you a client and ours in the city of Chicago. And they give you a prompt like a brief. Like, again, nothing in advertising has changed. All the things that Pop Pays does, we just took . . . that was offline, we put it online. And so the whole creative process of like the client giving us a brief, the strategy is working and tighten it up, client approving it, all this stuff.
We did it for the city of Chicago and they wanted to boost tourism and now and had a great idea of . . . I’ll see if I can remember it. It was like this tri-city cam where in certain areas in Chicago, they could let us put down like a little photo booth basically, an all-weather photo booth that would take these kinds of animated gifs or photos and it lets you easily share it and you can . . . Like, it kind of stand for the city of Chicago, so they get a lot of social content out there.
And back in 2011 and ’12, this was really important to like really easily get great content and filters. Like Instagram popped off because of their filters. And so it let us like scale a lot of social content easily about people having fun around the Bean in Chicago or all these other landmarks. And we got pretty far, like, I thought we were going to do it and we were excited to launch it with the city, but we didn’t get that far to the point where we were producing them or anything.
Andrew: Let’s talk about the party.
Andrew: One idea you actually took it to Leo Burnett and you said what?
Corbett: Yeah. So, well, Allan was . . . We had a party at our house and Allan said . . . Just kind of giggled, and he was like leaning on refrigerator and he said, “I want to throw a party that you can’t get into unless you have 500 followers,” because he was like looking around the room and I think he had just met these Instagrammers that he was following online for a while. I think was Paul Octavius. He’s following them online and met him in-person for the first time. And we pitched it to one of our alcohol clients saying like, “Let’s have a party where you get carded at the door. If you’re 21 and then you get carded. If you have 500 followers, which back then was a lot. And the idea being like, we’d have a lot of cool stuff you can take photos of and be very interactive. It’s kind of like the Wonder Museum like all this cool stuff to take photos of.
Andrew: What a great idea. Okay.
Corbett: And then, so we pitched that, it got like a verbally approved like it got up the chain. Eventually, it got killed by kind of the executives at the time at Burnett. And some of them really loved it. Just said we couldn’t do it for various like client conflict reasons. But although we’re really proud to get it up to like the C-suite when considering I was like an assistant account executive, we had a mentor at the time who said, “Hey, don’t stop here. I’ve had that before. And these people will be gone in two years. Just keep doing this on the side.” And so we did. We got local sponsors instead and we turned it into a website where when you log in with Instagram, it would show you all the other things you can get for free in exchange for a post. And that kind of turned into Pop Pays.
Andrew: In exchange for a post.
Andrew: So all the sponsors were giving people stuff. All they have to do is post whatever they wanted.
Corbett: The first incarnation was you could get like a free product like a cup of coffee or a t-shirt or whatever in exchange for a post. There’s no payment, no creative brief, it was just pure bartering photo for a post.
Andrew: What was the website? I want to go back to Internet Archive.
Corbett: It was just the . . . It was Popular . . . Oh, man, what did we call it back them, though? I can’t remember. Shoot. I can get you that. I think it was like . . . We had all these dumb names like . . . Oh, man. We actually picked popularpays.com because when you could get all this free stuff in exchange for a photo, we would said it’s pay popular online [inaudible 00:17:29]. It was open, so we got it. But we had all these other names like . . . We had like . . . I can’t remember. But we had pitched it and when we made it into a platform where you can get many things in exchange for a post instead of that one party idea, we changed it from being about this like, you know, party to more of a platform and that’s when we kind of started creating the company.
Andrew: I got to tell you this. This kind of ties into one of my sponsors, HostGator. Anyone who has an idea for a website, just go on and freaking create a website. If you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, if you pick that middle option, and Corbett, this is true for you and anyone else who’s listening too, they will give you unlimited website hosting. You come up with an idea, just toss up a website, one click. Did you guys use WordPress when you started? Probably not.
Corbett: I actually can’t remember. I think I had an engineer friend helped me at the time, but it’s funny, my cousin was just working on a startup as well and he asked me who to host from and I said like, “Don’t use GoDaddy, but I don’t have a good option, please.” I’ll go back to him and I’ll tell him this.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what? You will be happy with HostGator. And one of the things that will do is if you want they’ll scale up with you. Hostgator.com/mixergy. Really, any idea that you have, just go take it to them. Put up a website within minutes and you’re good to go. Hostgator.com/mixergy get you the lowest price that they have available and gets us to stand behind you as a company. I’m looking over here to see if I could find your Internet Archive. I love Internet Archive, but for some reason it’s not working on Safari lately.
Corbett: Yeah. But what a time to start a company now, like, all the infrastructure and support out there to launching a new business it’s amazing.
Andrew: Do you think people still even need a website anymore or can you just live on Instagram and other social platforms?
Corbett: So for the very first time you could. I think it’s still advisable to get a website, a .com if it all you can even if the name is kind of odd at first. But getting a site and having it is . . . But you’ve seen apps that launch in a consumer apps and all they need is, like, a social handle and an app on the App Store and it can work.
Andrew: I like to just hold on to that page even if it’s not my main point of entry. It’s just a way for people to connect with me. I just told that when I first wooed my wife we went out for this event and I did something and I said, “Is that a little bit off-putting?” but she goes, “Well, no, but it’s a little déclassé.” So when I got dictionharry.com and I took a screenshot of déclassé dictionary.com entry and I put my photo into it and I put that on the site and I got it.
Corbett: That’s awesome.
Andrew: It’s like for 10 bucks. I made her laugh. It was great.
Corbett: I bought domains before as jokes to people, and we’re talking about some concepts. Just buy it and . . . Like, mine as well. Just get it. And it’s a fun gift like if it was someone’s birthday or whatever.
Andrew: Yeah. I had people get domains for me for my son. I realized, “Wait, there’s like three different domains for my son.” When he was born people gave it to me as a gift. I’ll never forget. By the way, I am looking at your website.
Corbett: [inaudible 00:20:17]. Yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
Andrew: The first version of your site it’s like just text on a page.
Corbett: Can you like flip it? Is there any way I can see it real quick? We actually had . . . I should show you, man, The origins of our site that were just wild. We had such a cool brand and no product for a period of time where we hired this graphic designer and he took these all these old paintings like Renaissance paintings and he photoshopped like phones and like selfies and we had this great branding, but no one got what we did from our site, but it was a really cool piece of art.
Andrew: I see it. That’s 2014. I’m worried about like losing your connection, but I could see it.
Corbett: Oh, yeah, don’t worry about it. Don’t bother sharing the screen.
Andrew: And now it says, “Popular Pays now accepting social currency.”
Corbett: Yeah, yeah, because you could just buy stuff with a post, so we said, “We’ll take your . . . You can swap photo for a post.”
Andrew: And he said, “Popular the dictionary definition is having over 500 followers on Instagram.” Those were the days.
Corbett: Those were the days.
Andrew: Those were the days. All right.
Corbett: We had people go around Chicago and just get a whole day of free meal. Like, you could do everything from get like a free meal to go up on the Willis Tower sky deck. You could just spend the day touring a city just by sharing. Now it’s even easier. What’s great about now with, like, stories are more than half the traffic across Instagram and Facebook’s portfolio of apps. And what’s nice about that for this day and age is people are not precious about sharing a story because it doesn’t stick and so it’s like very easy for people to share a story about something they believe in whether it’s a cause or a product or whatever.
And so if you’re a brand and you’re just shipping . . . Let’s say you’re a makeup brand or a clothing brand, you just ship a bunch of . . . you can find influencer with our platform, for example. We have a shipping integration, you can just export product to them, and ask them to post a story maybe with a link when they swipe up, you can track conversions. It’s extremely easy, like, low-friction way of scaling up content. And you get all this content and when some are working, just boost it with paid spend. It is like . . .
Andrew: So I could pay for somebody else’s Instagram story to promote that?
Andrew: Oh, I didn’t realize I could do that. Can I do that? Like, if somebody writes about me just organically, can I pay to promote that story?
Corbett: Yes. So there’s some interesting things that are happening. So, for example, let’s just say . . . For example, we have little social listening tools but like you could just . . . Let’s say you’re anything from like a CBD company to like a pet company or whatever. You can just see what people are posting about. You can reach out to them ask them to post. You can actually boost that photo or war story from their handle and it’s usually more effective than boosting from the brand, so . . .
Andrew: But they need to give me access to their handle so I could do it?
Corbett: Correct. Correct.
Andrew: So they need to give my account manager access, if I’m right.
Corbett: Yeah. We facilitate it, so like . . . We handle it for like a low transparent fee if you want us to fully manage it, or we just set it up for you if you subscribe on our platform, but . . .
Andrew: So wait. I could pay you, and then if some random person in my audience decides that they want to post something about this, I could through your software reach out to them and say, “Can I pay you?” and then through your software pay to promote it?
Corbett: So, yeah. Like a concrete example, let’s just say that, like, you can just search and see people posted [inaudible 00:23:26] or something more general like startups or whatever. You could say, like, “Hey, this piece of content is great. Can we boost this from your handle to a wider audience? Yeah, we could procure the permissions for you, and then you if you know ads manager, you can just go in and boost it or we could do it for you.”
Andrew: How much does that cost?
Corbett: Depends. So, for example, on average, if someone is creating a new piece of content, it depends like what network it is and what the format is, but as a rough example, let’s say you see someone posting about startups and you say, “Oh, this photo is great. Can you just post new one but with these tweets?” They might charge you like a couple of hundred bucks, maybe they call it 400 bucks for a photo, or if it’s like an Instagram story maybe like double that like 500, 800 bucks for a story with a few taps to it. It depends how long the story is. And so you can create custom content.
And a lot of creators, like, if you put out a brief to them and you’re upfront saying, “We want to boost this photo from your handle,” a lot of people won’t apply because they’re giving away those rights, but the ones that do, they won’t charge that much more, and as long as you’re transparent and saying, “We want to do this.” I’d say the average they might even double their price to give you the rights to boost from your handle, but it’s very effective, like when you’re boosting from @Corbett versus @Becky, it’s almost usually like a 30% to 50% more effective on like a CPM or like engagement basis.
Andrew: Corbett, the thing that I wonder is . . . And we’ll get to the story because I am here for the story, but I’m freaking fascinated by your business. The thing that I wonder is, I know it’s easier for people who have physical products. How does somebody who has a digital product use it? How could I use it?
Corbett: Great question. So, I mean, one of the challenges for someone that doesn’t have a physical product is content creation because in this day and age, content is oxygen for brands. And let’s say you’re releasing something, like, you’re an insurance company or you have a non-physical product. Staying in front of your customers is so challenging when you don’t have a product. And so for our creative community, they can solve that challenge for you. So you can put out a brief and say, “This is what our brand is about. How can you make this come to life with your content?” And so there’s many ways it can happen. So, as an example, number one, like you could put out a brief and say, “Here’s some video assets we have. Can you edit them and stitch them together so it’s a better asset for us?” That’s one way. Oh, can you hear me?
Andrew: I can give them this interview and then say to them, “Can you take Corbett’s interview and make it into something?”
Corbett: Yeah. Sorry. I think my mic cut out for a second, but basically, yeah, you could . . .
Andrew: What do you mean?
Corbett: Okay. You could basically take . . . Let’s say you had some clips of something maybe like bloopers from an interview or whatever. You can say, “Hey, I need to recut this asset or whatever. Could you edit this and make a new one for like Instagram story or a carousel ad or whatever.” So that’s one way.
The other way is, brands that don’t . . . We do a lot more custom content than re-editing. But brands that don’t have a physical product they still have a brand identity, and so this one challenger bank was like, “We’re about a bankless world.” They source content that’s everything from getting people in old broken down banks and taking pictures of like old shut down banks to just like what a bankless world means to them, like free lifestyle or a content, like I’m not worrying about them on a boat or whatever not worry about things. It just they needed assets to talk to their customers whether it’s an email marketing or Instagram. That’s one of the biggest challenges. It’s a lot easier for brands with products.
Andrew: All right. You started out with these parties. The party was doing well. How did you transition away from that considering how well it was going?
Corbett: The funny thing about startups is like when you launch them, they almost immediately start failing. So, like, when we quit, so we had this site and we had signed up some local merchants that were giving away free products. We were having a really hard time getting people to pay. So, like, users were using it, they were loving it, getting free products and posting, cool content was coming out. And so we’re like, “It’s working. All these cool content is happening.” But brands just wouldn’t pay. And we’re targeting like really small brands. We didn’t have any connection, so we just went almost door to door. Sometimes we legit went to the establishment to talk with people and other times emailed, but it’s a different time.
Like, now influencer marketing is a piece of every single ad campaign. It’s almost like back in the day when I was at Burnett, we’d make a TV concept and if we . . . People would always ask you, they’re like, “How does this fit on like digital? How does it fit on bus stops and out of home?” Now it’s like influencer marketing is a part of every campaign. And furthermore, social content is just like regular activity brands need to do. Again, it’s like oxygen. But back then we had to convince people and tell them why getting it in like Instagram or post their followers would be of any value.
Corbett: So, really, it was really hard the first year, the company was failing, we had raised a little bit of money, but we weren’t [inaudible 00:28:20]. And I could disclose revenue of that year. I think we made like 15,000 grand the entire year.
Corbett: When we . . . Allan had left and I parted ways with our other co-founder, Nathan Michael, who he and I and Allan all lived together, we started the company together. It was really falling apart. And myself and one other engineer, Steve, we kind of rebuilt it and we launched the platform that you see today, and the only thing we changed was, we enabled a creative brief, so brands could say what they wanted versus take any photo. So the creative brief as well as ability to accept and deny content and payment. So really just changing, adding a brief adding choice and control of the content and payment. We made I think 20,000 in one month versus 15 the entire year before that.
Andrew: Because these brands said, “I wanted to have some determination over what happens,” and then it became more about that than even the party.
Corbett: Well, it was really that . . .
Andrew: Or was it . . . ?
Corbett: Yeah, when we had those facets together, we also . . . There’s one crucial thing left out was, we started talking to not even like huge brands at the time, like not necessarily a Nike but like kind of like a startup or growth brand or mid-tier brand. But they saw the value of getting content for cheap and getting posts. And remember back then I don’t think they had ads on Instagram, so people wanted to get on there.
And so when we rolled that out, we launched it, we emailed some brands, and we got . . . Yeah, I think, again, we made like 15 the entire year before. I think we made like 21 that one month when we launched it in like October of 2014 right before we got into YC. We had actually applied to YC and never heard back first and then when we launched this, we showed them like our growth and they finally let us in.
And it was a stroke of luck, though. Like, we went out there, I practice the pitch . . . I pitch a lot. It’s like a five-minute interview. And just by stroke of luck, like, when I was demoing the platform, Nike was in the platform spending and I was like, “This happens all time. This is really cool.” And I was almost walking out and our . . . I called my co-founder, Steve. He, the engineer, he’s like, “Wait, we have an iPhone app.” And we got to demo the app and they were impressed with the product, the traction, the growth, and they gave us a shot. Like, I remember Alexis from Reddit, like, called us to tell us we got in and like, my heart was thumping and it was a really cool night. It was very fun.
Andrew: Was Pete Dolan in there with you too?
Corbett: He was, yeah. So when we’re talking about that people help you like sponsor and . . .
Andrew: COO Alliance, my sponsor, yeah.
Corbett: So, yeah. He was . . . Pete Dolan is our head of operations. And so at the time, we had a really skeleton crew. We had a head of ops, a head of sales. Steve was . . . We were like two or three engineers. It was a really lean crew, but . . .
Andrew: Who has a head of operations at that early stage? What does he do that’s so important?
Corbett: I mean, interestingly, he joined and he was an account manager, but so many things go on in the startup where I’m always focused on . . . There’s always some most important problem. It’s usually something breaking, maybe it’s fundraising, maybe it’s hiring. And there’s so many important things that need to get done to run the business. And so, so many times I’m finding myself like, focus on something like I’m out fundraising or I’m really on this hiring Blitz, and he’s really at home running the business. Everyone in our executive team, all of our teammates are incredibly important, but you really need when you’re launching a company to have someone that can help you make sure that those things don’t fall through the cracks because actually, some of those operational things can really bite you in the butt.
There’s some cases, for example, of like paperwork things. Like, if you don’t know what an 83B is, you should because they can really screw you over. And so having someone that really can make sure that the business is running and things getting done, I kind of charge ahead and there’s someone there at home making sure things are not falling through the cracks and it’s invaluable.
Andrew: I think you’re the first person that I’ve heard who went in with that type of a role into Y Combinator. All right. Let me talk about then my second sponsor, which is the COO Alliance. Cameron Herold was the guy who was . . . He was a Chief Operating Officer and basically the second-in-command. You could give it any type of name. What do you guys call . . . What’s the role with you, your company?
Corbett: So we say . . . It’s like VP Ops. Yeah, I think like, yeah, definitely when you’re going through YC, we had like director of ops. We’re not quite like at COO stage yet. We’re still a small company like little or 40 . . . like 40 people. But yeah, we say like VP titles for now.
Andrew: So he was that. There are lots of different names, general manager, lots of different names for this, but basically, it’s a second-in-command, the person who when the head person comes up with the idea has to make sure to execute, be there all the time in the office and make sure that everything is running while the company is trying to figure out the next thing and go to the next thing.
So Cameron did that for 800-Got-Junk and God knows every one of us in the U.S. sees their trucks everywhere. They were a tiny company before he got in with them and then he grew it with the founder to over a $100-million company. What he realized was there are a lot of organizations with COOs, there are a lot of organizations to make the founder better but there’s nobody who cares about people like him, the second-in-command.
He said, “You know what? I’m now at a point in my life where I could do that.” And he created the COO Alliance. This is an organization where people who are second-in-command can get together, can get feedback, advice from each other, they could get training from other people, but also get mentorship from him.
If this is you, actually, Corbett as the founder and you are looking to bring your COO a more . . . What’s the word? More mentorship, more direction from their peers, the COO Alliance is for you. He is not only putting this together and making it available to Mixergy listeners, he’s also guaranteeing that this will be some of the best money they’ve ever spent. If you don’t get a 10X return on your investment in being a part of this, you will actually get your money back. It’s a 10X ROI or 100% of your money back. I’ve never seen this before. I’m not even pitching you on signing up.
I’m instead going to tell you go over to cooalliance.com/mixergy and just get pre-qualified. All that’s going to do is see if you’re the right fit, and I’ll be honest with you, for most people, it’s not going to be the right fit. But if you are the right fit, you can talk to them and see how this will help change not just your second-in-command, but also change your company guaranteed. It’s the cooalliance.com/mixergy.
Corbett: There’s definitely a need there, like, there’s a lot of founder groups, but as you said, you don’t have the same all the time. I actually haven’t heard of one for COOs or head of operations. And we try to have each of our execs and folks have like ongoing education opportunities. And so those are things . . . It’s really important for everyone to have kind of a mentor group or like a way to continue learn about their craft.
Andrew: Yeah. And like you said, this is a group of people who are really in charge of a lot within a company, but people don’t pay enough attention to them. All right. You finally got money from Y Combinator.
Andrew: And clients.
Andrew: Let’s talk about how you got more clients. How did Nike get on your platform, for example?
Corbett: Yeah. So, yeah, after we finally raised like 2 million, we had scraped for months. It took us like three months to raise 100 when we first started and another three months to raise another 200. It was scrappy. And I think we closed at 2 million in like a month and a half. And so we’re off to the races . . .
Andrew: Wait. Why? Why were you able to close so much?
Corbett: There’s this phenomenon, and I’ve seen it beyond just YC, but the demo day phenomenon is super real. I’ve seen it with cohorts of like, coding boot camps, other types of boot camps where they have like, they train people, and then there’s like an exhibition where like, you kind of showcase the talent whether it’s startups like TechStars or YC or coding boot camps. There’s intense competition. And it’s like the same feeling that you get if you’re like a VC and you get a warm intro. You kind of look at the person that’s coming in for an intro, you look at them in a different light because they’ve been kind of like, brought into you via someone you know versus a cold outreach and kind of ignore that a little bit.
With the demo day thing, it’s like the competition is a really big thing. Everyone is almost like . . . You look at everyone in that light because they have this like stamp of approval from this organization, there’s all these other people fighting for it. And I think it’s really just like, people inherently aren’t really independent thinkers and they only want to do things when other people do it. Not just investors, but employers that are hiring. And so at YC, we just all presented our staff. There’s intense competition. The rounds get filled up super quick. And yeah, it’s not always . . . It’s never that easy, but that was definitely the easiest round.
Andrew: Because you’re saying once somebody is into you, then everyone else feels that sense of social credibility and they start . . .
Corbett: Yeah. And there’s FOMO, like, no one wants to miss a deal. And it’s a really great phenomenon for like . . . Usually, almost all these investors have the upper hand unless you’re like a hyper-growth company. It’s like when we’re starting out, we never had any leverage with investors, but that’s the first time where we are maybe even not quite on a level playing field, we might have actually been a little bit above because we were oversubscribed. But it was a really great dynamic for the founders, for sure. Yeah. Sorry, the customers, actually.
Andrew: One of the things that I heard about . . . We’ll get back to the customers in a moment. One of the things I’ve seen is that AngelList will empower alumni of Y Combinator to go and invest because they realized that the alumni are deep into the community and before demo day, they already know who’s going to be a hit at demo day. Did you see that when you went through YC?
Corbett: Yeah. As in like there’s the alumni demo day?
Andrew: Oh. Do you do that before and that’s where the AngelList people come in?
Corbett: Yes. I know that every year before the investors come, they have the alumni one, so you can go and you can see the pitches first and invest as an alumni, so the alumni kind of get the first look at it, I guess. And it’s both a practice thing as well as . . . We raised a small amount from the alumni session, so it’s a real thing. And so it sounds like AngelList has some folks going there as well and . . .
Andrew: They give them money because they help them create syndicates or something.
Corbett: Yeah. So smart. Wow.
Corbett: They’re hacking it. I mean . . .
Andrew: I don’t know that I was supposed to talk about it publicly, but I wasn’t asking in private.
Corbett: What’s their founder’s name? Like, Naval. I mean, they’re also smart.
Andrew: Naval. Yeah, super smart. Super smart.
Corbett: Yeah. I’ve heard interviews. He’s a very Zen guy too. He’s like . . . He inspired me for like a week to try to drink less caffeine and I was like, “All right. I give up.”
Andrew: Is it working?
Corbett: I’ve done fits and spurts like starts and stops so that he was just saying, like, “You can have a lot more . . . ” I forget how he was phrasing it, but, like, he tries to wake up without alarm clock and not to drink caffeine and just have a more even energy level throughout the day. And it’s true. It really does work, but then some work happens. You get stressed out or tired and you can fall right back into your old habits pretty quickly.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s the thing about traveling. You go away, everything is different and then you come back. I know.
Corbett: Yeah. I’ve been traveling a lot and definitely it ruins you. I’m really keen. I track a lot of habits. I’ve been tracking them for like three years, but every time I travel, I get off my game.
Corbett: I just track it on an Excel sheet. It’s pretty manual, but my hope is one day I can like give this gigantic spreadsheet to some AI machine and they’ll tell me all these cool things. I have already learned a lot from it. Like, there’s certain habits that I know are cornerstone like, for example, sleep. If I don’t get certain things like . . . Actually, one of the biggest movers on my happiness . . . Like, I track happiness. One of the biggest movers is how productive I am. It’s really weird. But . . .
Andrew: You mean, when you’re more productive you’re happier.
Corbett: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Not vice versa?
Corbett: Not vice versa. It is a like before and after effect where if I have a day where I kind of like block out . . . Like, I try to make a list of the most important things to get done that day and block off time to my day to work on them and fill up my day with those activities. And if I can execute really well on those and get them done, it leads to a lot of happiness and I like just being I guess in the zone.
Andrew: What are you tracking? The thing that I like tracking a lot is my sleep. I just wear my old Apple Watch. It keeps track of how long I’ve slept and how deeply. It’s really helpful.
Corbett: You know what I miss? There was this awesome startup called Hello Sleep, and it was such a cool sleep tracker. It was as if Apple designed like a little . . . It was like a little home device.
Andrew: [Bose 00:40:22]?
Corbett: Yeah, it was like a little orb. Really cool UI. I learned a lot. Like, it say things like, “It’s too bright in this room,” or, “The air quality is bad,” and it kind of encourage you to change things and it just track you really well, woke you up when you were in like a light sleep mode, then sound the alarm within like a 30-minute window. It was really cool. And then I mean, the hardware was so hard. I bet what happened was they went to build V2, they missed some either hardware window or funding window and crash and burned, but they’d raised like 40 million. Hardware is still hard.
Andrew: Wow. It is a beautiful device. I’m looking at on Amazon. So then what do you track that’s kind of weird or different but useful?
Corbett: Let’s see. What’s weird or different?
Andrew: Do you track what you eat?
Corbett: I do . . . Well, not like . . . I track how often I eat like salads, like, trying to eat some greens throughout the day. It’s funny. One thing I found that’s really funny is that by far the easiest thing to accomplish is just like spending five minutes meditating, for example, is the hardest thing to do.
Andrew: So, you know what I would want is, I’m like you, I track because frankly, the Apple Watch will track a bunch of stuff anyway. I just want someone to go and right now do what you’re suggesting, which is just go find some patterns. I watch this YouTube video of a science teacher who’s been tracking everything from years including like his happiness on a scale of one to five and he recognized some patterns, but he had to go and do the math himself and go and look. I want something that just does it for me . . .
Corbett: Yep, I agree.
Andrew: . . . make the connect for me.
Corbett: I agree.
Andrew: So talk about the first customers like Nike. Hit them.
Corbett: Yeah. All right. So, interestingly, we talked with a bunch of our creators and they’re getting reach outs from brands, and so they introduce us to the brands. So there’s these jeans companies or like the apparel companies. And so the first deals were from them. We tried . . . We tried back then. Now we’ve been able to move a lot more towards SaaS, but back then the product wasn’t there. But we had scraped a bunch of like lists and we just hit up all these lists with emails and email marketing.
And we got some initial customers that way, but really, what we found for that time, that period of time was we needed to move upstream. And although now we’ve been able to scale down and we can work with the smallest startups and they can get value because we have a tier that works for them, at the time it still required some manual effort, and so we focused further upstream on the bigger brands like the McDonald’s of the world and we just got salespeople that knew that brand world, the branded agency world. And really, for our first years, I mean, all of our sales were coming through that channel. We just scale our sales team.
Andrew: Because you hired a team of people who’d already worked with these companies. Is that right?
Andrew: And then . . .
Corbett: Oh, yeah, it was . . . We kind of . . . It was totally foreign to me. I never built a sales team ever. I mean, the first seller I hired I was just in a co-working spot and I heard him on an interview and I turned around I was like, “You sound like you know what you’re doing. What are you up to?” But we encountered some salespeople that knew the world of marketing and advertising. And it’s a very unique world. Like, I think SaaS sales is very scientific and universal. And if you can sell like a sales intelligence tool on a SaaS basis, you can go around and sell a different type.
With marketing and advertising, working with brands, agencies, and it’s a certain skill set. And after kind of interviewing, just talking with the sellers like this, it opened my eyes to first of all, oh my gosh, I thought these brands aren’t attainable. It turns out we can totally deliver on what they needed. Like, for example, the guy said, like, “Hey, if you can deliver X amount of million impressions, I can get you 150 grand.” And I was like, “We can do that.” And he got us a big brand deal and it kind of opened the floodgates for us.
Andrew: Because what they were looking for was just impressions and that’s an easy thing to sell. And still, when you and I talked about what the company does today, you started by emphasizing that brands can get creatives for their own channels. Is that now the majority of your business, getting content for brands or is it getting influencers to talk about brands?
Corbett: I would say, like, 80% of the campaigns actually involve both. It actually involves getting content from creators that they can use and also getting those creators to post to the creator’s own channel.
Andrew: Got it.
Corbett: Yeah. Because really, when you . . . Even if you’re just paying for a post, kind of half the cost is just the creative development, and so brands often say like, “Look, we need a bunch of content, but our main goal is just awareness. So we want great content and we want the awareness.” And really the third key tenet that kind of has really risen the last year or two is that once you get content and some great influencer posts, just take the best content and amplify it like you’ve already paid this content, put some budget behind it and boost it out.
Andrew: And that means put it on your channel but also promote it on their channel. And the idea . . .
Andrew: Got it.
Corbett: So it’s like . . .
Andrew: It’s just both.
Corbett: Yeah. And when I say boosting, you could do it from, for example, @Nike or you could boost it from @Corbett and it can be about Nike but it can be on my feed.
Andrew: Are they just measuring impressions? Is it largely brand or ROI? Are they trying to get people to actually sign up to something to buy?
Corbett: Big brands tend to do impressions as the goal. However, savvy startups like if you’re getting some people coming out of TechStars and YC or startups and companies like the Home Chefs of the world who just really know their customer acquisition cost. They use influencers for conversion. It’s hard though. Like, the funny thing about influencer marketing is that 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t work for an ROI. And that’s the thing that no one gets. You have to really set up campaigns correctly to get an ROI.
As an example, one of our teammates has run a ton of campaigns on YouTube doing conversion campaigns. And what you would do, let’s say you’re an apparel company, you would get a bunch of people that might fit your target demo or you think they’d work, maybe 30 people and you ship them product, they post maybe with a coupon code, only like 5 of those 30 or something, like only a small group will actually return positive and drive conversions for you. And so it’s kind of a portfolio approach where you’re sourcing and vetting people collaborate with them and then monitoring how it’s performing and you kind of switching out like the ones that don’t convert, find new ones, but the ones that do, keep working with them. And we really build a tech to make it easy, but it is really hard.
The thing that I would say, though, it’s much, much easier to just get a piece of content for example on Instagram and boost it to get an ROI. So, personally, at Pop Pays, we actually get . . . We get well over . . . We take our own content from creators and we boost it on stories, for example. We get well over that amount back in terms of revenue because we’re taking great content, pushing it out on Instagram stories and people are swiping up to go to a link and subscribing and we get revenue back. So, as a brand, I would say what I would do is, if you’re trying to get an ROI with influencers, get creators, have them make content, have them post and take the best post and just boost that and add tracking links. And that’s the formula for success for ROI.
Andrew: You know what? That kind of explains. When I’m on YouTube lately I’ve been watching these small creators who I’m kind of addicted to because they’re into some crazy thing like using the iPad as a main computer which is the thing I’ve been crazy for the last couple of . . .
Corbett: Are you doing that?
Andrew: Oh, yeah, I love it.
Corbett: That’s hard.
Andrew: I don’t do it for recording here because I need certain things, but for everything else, oh, it’s so good, so good.
Corbett: That’s crazy.
Andrew: And the people will have like 5,000 views on their YouTube posts or 10,000 max. And then they’ll have an ad from something like PaperLike which is a sticker . . . You know PaperLike?
Corbett: No, but I was just reacting to like, they might be smaller accounts than previously, like, it’s definitely not worth an agent’s time to, like, work with brand deals like that. But where platforms come in is, let’s say you get whatever five cents per view or whatever it is, these are small deals, but we can really democratize that like, previously it wasn’t worth of brand’s time to work with . . . You couldn’t work with 100 people with email and spreadsheets. But yeah, you can easily find like 100 creators shipping product, just see which ones work for you, and whether you’re getting great content or conversions, it lets you scale that in a way that just wasn’t possible. So I could see even small creators even with 5,000 views is sometimes . . . If you have 5,000 viewers, sometimes they’re like super honed in to what you’re talking about.
Andrew: I don’t remember brands for jack. I don’t remember names, but somehow PaperLike sticks in because . . .
Corbett: So what is PaperLike?
Andrew: It’s a sticker you put on your iPad that if you’re a designer, if you’re an artist that uses the Apple Pencil, you want a little bit of friction from the pencil to feel like a paper. So it’s just transparent but it gives a little bit of friction so that it’s easier for you to draw or take notes and . . .
Corbett: Whoa, that’s so cool.
Andrew: A $5, $10 product and these people will have 5,000 views will promote it. And that’s the type of thing.
Corbett: Yep. So, but that’s [inaudible 00:49:14] just say it’s $10.
Corbett: Five thousand views, if it’s so targeted, like, I use only my iPad or I’m a designer I need my iPad, you don’t have to get 10 people to use that coupon code for it to break even, plus you’ve got content. And so you’re getting free content as a brand, you’re getting a net positive ROI. And so as long as you can keep scaling it up, it’s like an unending source of conversions for you.
Andrew: And so a company like that would come to you and say . . . And by the way, you keep calling it . . . What are you saying? You’re saying Pop Pays, right?
Corbett: Pop Pays, yeah.
Andrew: Instead of Popular Pays. You guys own poppays.com? You don’t own the name?
Corbett: We do not. We do not.
Andrew: You just keep calling it [inaudible 00:49:50]
Corbett: All right. I’ll out myself here. I went to . . . I like low balled that guy that owns it a long time. He’ll probably never read this. If he does, it’s high. When we were first starting I didn’t have any money and so I offered him like something very small and he turned it down. And I would . . . We’d get it today . . . It’s not a big deal, but he never responded back, so just kind of fell through the cracks, but it’s . . . We know it as Pop Pays, but we definitely we kind of own that . . . Like, when you search for our name there’s not many other things around it, so we do a pretty good job when people are trying to find us, but yeah, it’s funny, domains are a funny thing.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s still pain in the butt. So the first customers was you going door to door literally to local stores. Am I right?
Andrew: You personally, Corbett. Then it was you guys starting to level up partially by calling but also then by hiring others who could call for you, and then it was hiring others who had the relationships and saying, “Look, this has got . . . ” That’s what it is.
Corbett: Yes. So, if I walked through the journey, it was like door to door to local businesses. That didn’t work. It was . . . Yeah, door to door and emailing local businesses. We kept moving upstream and we went to like, scraping list of companies and just emailing and calling them. And we got some sales from that, but then we kind of got a peek into the big brand world where we realized we could execute on these campaigns and they weren’t that much harder. But it was this whole world of agencies and brands. And we met a few people that knew that world and helped us understand who to reach out to get those deals. So, yeah, like, finally working with some sellers that had relationships. And then we started working away through the brands and agencies like direct channels, we just hired sellers to work through those.
Andrew: How hard was it to get creators to get influencers on your platform?
Corbett: You know what? There were so many hard things with starting Pop Pays. That wasn’t one of them. There’s always one in five campaigns will have some really weird thing, for example, like find me people that use iPads as their main thing. But again, you can use their social and search for certain keywords and find them and . . . But over . . . We had a lot of word of mouth and so every week there’s like a couple of 100 people that sign up just organically. But because we have this brands either uploading people that they’re already working with or we’re searching to adding new ones so over time, every time we get a weird niche, we end up fulfilling that campaign and it kind of stick around. So this is like a snowball effect.
Andrew: So, if you fill in a niche of some creators who feature iPads as main devices, they come in to get that one job but they’re in the platform in case something else happens and now you’ve got them in the platform and in your world.
Corbett: Nice marketplaces back there.
Andrew: Yeah, that is. You know what? It kind of goes back to something Jason Fried, the creator of Basecamp told me years ago in an interview. A lot of people said, “Hey, ask him to talk about how if you have marketplace who do you start with? How do you get both?” And he said, “Go after the person who has the money. If you get the person who has the money, the people who earn it are more likely to come [inaudible 00:52:45].
Corbett: That’s very true. So there’s always one side of the marketplace it’s harder and there’s . . . So, for us, it was like if you can get the brand’s budgets, it’s really easy then to go to the creator and say, “Hey, I’ve got this budget. Will you do this work?” However, you know you’ve got something on your hands where the other side of marketplace is the bottleneck for growth. So case in point, Airbnb, they actually might have had, I think, more challenge finding the supply. And that is special. So, whenever you have a marketplace, but we really moved into like enterprise software, but if you’re operating a marketplace where you want to be is where, like, the demand is so strong, but the supply is actually the bottleneck. Like, that’s special. Very special.
Andrew: You’re saying that’s the right place to be because now . . .
Corbett: That’s where to be, yeah.
Andrew: Where you get more people and money.
Corbett: It’s so rare, though. It’s so rare.
Andrew: By the way, I’ve been taking notes on you. One of the things that I like about you is you’re so freaking quotable. Like, I never take notes on people with like, quote marks. You said, “Content is oxygen for brands.” You said . . . I wrote that down. The thing about startups is when you launch them you almost immediately start failing.
Corbett: That is true. No, it’s funny as I don’t think I’m . . . If you think I’m quotable, I’ve got some people for you, like two people come to mind. So, first of all, Allan Holmes, the guy that I was mentioning just nugget after nugget of things. Also Jason Peterson, he was from Havas. He left and started his own agency, but he had this sign outside of his office and it would be like, it would say things like, “The ROI of social media is that your brand will fucking exist in five years.” And he would cut to the core of something like, “I would get those questions back in like 20 . . . ” Sorry. I don’t know if swearing is . . .
Andrew: No, do it.
Corbett: . . . and some of that.
Andrew: Be yourself.
Corbett: In 2012, I’ll get those questions from . . . Wait. Sorry. Say it again.
Andrew: I was saying be yourself.
Corbett: Oh, I thought you said mute yourself.
Corbett: Yeah. And 2012 I’ll get these questions from agencies like, “What’s the ROI from this?” and he would just cut to the heart of it by saying like, “The ROI is that your brand will freaking be here in five years.” And he had that quote like every week and I always take a picture of it. And he’s very quotable, so is Allan. But no, I’m . . . I don’t know. It’s just going through this process we’ve come across certain axioms, and it’s funny because when we made a move to like enterprise software and almost like launched a startup within a startup to grow this SaaS vertical, we started with the brands we should turn away like startups that we used to say, like, “Hey, you don’t have 25,000. You can’t do a normal campaign.” We would turn them away. And we launched a new tier where the lowest tiers were just . . . It’s very affordable for them on a month-to-month basis.
Andrew: I don’t understand the difference between that and what you were doing before. Like, you told Brian Benson, our producer here, you said that you guys have a SaaS product. What’s the difference between the SaaS product and the marketplace?
Corbett: Yeah. I’ll give you an example. So let’s just say like a Nike over here. They’d come to us and say, like, “We need 50 videos,” and we’d say, “All right. If you . . . We’ll guarantee that result for 25,000 grand or whatever.” So it’s either a content goal and maybe a reach goal, like we need 5 million impressions. And they’d use the same . . . It’s the same product and same platform, but the difference is they keep picking people until the goal is hit and is outcome-based, and so we’re selling the outputs. And what’s radical about that is that you can come in and sell crazy cost-effective content, you can generate impressions at a great degree. But a lot of brands and agencies wanted to buy just on a one-off basis. What’s interesting about the space is it’s really changing. It’s become such a mainstay of so many brands. We will talk to some brands and they’re working with like 600 influencers on spreadsheets. And so they just clearly need an ongoing software to make it . . . like an operating system . . .
Andrew: You’re saying they’ve got their influencers, they’ve got their creative people, they just need a way to manage it and they come to you and now they pay to use the software to manage it, not to find the connections, they don’t pay you per impression, nothing like that way.
Corbett: Exactly. So instead of launching a campaign where the goal is like 50 videos and they’re just paying a flat campaign fee. Here, they’re just paying, like, for example, a couple of thousand dollars a month. And if they’re just shipping out product, that’s their only cost. Usually, though, they’re paying creators too. So instead over here, they’re not paying for a set campaign, it’s just like a monthly fee. And then there’s also . . . They might pay creators on top of that, but it’s radically more . . . It’s radically more cost-effective over here.
Andrew: I get it. You know what? I remember interviewing the founders of HiSmile. Do you know those guys?
Corbett: No. I don’t know that.
Andrew: They created this teeth whitening thing that was just blowing up on Instagram partially because they would find influencers and they would pay them to take before and after shots or do YouTube videos and themselves trying . . .
Corbett: I think I do remember now. Yeah. I do remember now that you mentioned it.
Andrew: I asked them the same . . . I asked them, “What software are you using to manage this?” And I think they looked at me like I was crazy, like, “Come on. It’s just CRM or spreadsheet. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Corbett: So check this out.
Andrew: But it was crazy. Yeah.
Corbett: Yeah. So I’ll hit him up because what we found . . . I’ll give you a quintessential example.
Corbett: We’re working with a brand that had, I don’t know, call it 200 people, but let’s just as a thought experiment, just say 10. You have 10 influencers and you have them take a five-segment Instagram story. Like, content creation has been . . . Like, the content requirements for brands has almost been doubling every two years like Moore’s law. So now where since the advent of Instagram stories, a brand like them might need these . . . They might every month be generating like 30 Instagram stories. And if they have these like even, let’s say, 10 creators, 5 segment story each, that’s 50 videos where if they’re requesting like, “Oh, can you please change the video number three of five on your segment?” they’re all jumbled up and you can lose the story, it’s so confusing. And we make software where they can come in and not only come in and say like, “Oh, please edit three of five,” and it keeps it as one unit, but they can track the revision history and make sure that they have made the edit. It’s just like collaboration software. Yeah.
Andrew: So it’s beyond just managing who you’re paying and what their result is. It’s also editing and giving feedback on the project.
Corbett: It’s like software with your creative collaboration.
Andrew: All right. Yeah, I saw even behind the scenes when you showed me stuff and you said, “Andrew, you could record it, but please don’t share this with anyone.” It was just like a way to . . . One of the features that I happened to notice was I could message my team member and say, “Hey, look, Rebecca, this one’s really good,” or, “Steve, we cannot work with anyone who has that type of image.” Right? [inaudible 00:58:53].
Corbett: And we’re super proud of the software and definitely down to demo it. I just didn’t know what brands I . . . We do a [inaudible 00:58:59] I asked the brand if I can share their info.
Andrew: I just didn’t because I’m looking at their stuff, it’s like, “Yeah, we did start with the spreadsheet, but we don’t . . . but now we don’t as such because there’s so many influences out there and it’s a big influence . . . ” So, basically, now what they’re doing is they don’t have a way to manage it, so they just say, “We’ll ask people and if they do, they’ll take it. If not, forget it.” It’s more of a time . . .
Corbett: I’ll hit him up.
Corbett: I’ll tell him . . .
Andrew: It’s too hard to put in a CRM. I can make an intro if you want.
Corbett: Yeah. So check this out. Check this out. We make it so easy that they just can give us a list of emails and it would actually shoot out an invite to those influencers and say, “Hey, HiSmile wants to manage this campaign through this platform,” and it auto brings them to the campaign.
Andrew: They’re doing 15 million in revenue 2016. All right. Let me . . . Speaking of . . . I want to close it out with this. Speaking of quotable, one of the things that I highlighted in Brian’s notes on his producer conversation with you was, you said to him, “Once you get to a certain size, every problem is a people problem.”
Andrew: Put some flesh on that. What do you mean by that?
Corbett: I remember, I think it was YC, they said that . . . Oh, it was a guy from Airbnb, Brian Chesky. He said in a talk that when you started, you’re building a product, but then eventually you’re building the company that builds the product. And if you think about a lot of roles like let’s just take engineering, you become an individual contributor, getting more and more proficient in your mentoring people. But as certain degree as you graduate kind of in your career, you don’t always have to go towards management, but what do you think of the company as you continue to level up these roles? Each becomes a people problem. So it could be recruiting culture, almost always culture, and everything you think you have like a growth or sales problem, but you actually have a people problem.
And so the kind of magic of running a business . . . And you know this. I mean, your business is bigger than ours. I saw your notes, but like, I think a lot of us realize that as you get bigger and bigger, the challenges are like people and communication. They are not like this technical challenge of, “How do we like scale this infrastructure?” That’s actually pretty straightforward. It’s always the complex . . .
Andrew: You’re saying just building the team has been hard. I heard creating the culture was hard. I think there was a Forbes article that I read about you talking about the year that you . . . Was it a year where you said we’re going to focus on culture?
Corbett: Well, it was actually Allan. When we started Pop Pays, Allan, Nathan, and I sat down at a restaurant, then Allan had the foresight to say, like, “We need one question that we can always ask yourself so we know if we’re on the right path.” And it’s like tremendous foresight. And it just really surface well, but he said, “How about is it worth sharing?”
And for us, that meant like you saw the content, we wanted content that was coming on the platform that was worth sharing so we are proud of it because we didn’t want to work in a place where we put in all this blood, sweat, and tears and then we were embarrassed by the quality that came out. And so we started with the content but then we said, “Look, it should apply to this experience of using the product itself or even the people we hire. The people we hire should so good that we want to shout it from the rooftops. Even things we tweet.” And we said if we aren’t proud of the thing, we’re not going to do it. So we’d rather do a small amount of things really well than a lot of things okay.
And it’s a challenge to live up to. We’ve strayed at times, but yeah, every six months we go over it. So tomorrow, actually, we have our all-hands where we kind of run through the mission and vision and talk about the opportunities and challenges for the next six months. But we always touch on culture and [inaudible 01:02:18].
Andrew: And when you’re saying culture, it’s like, “Will the people we have here be the types of people that we want to talk about, spread about?” When you’re talking about the content, is the content being created on our platform shareable? Do people actually want to share it?” That’s the measure. Not only do people like it, but are they willing to spread it?
Corbett: Yeah. It’s the mission. Like, at the end of the day, the mission is to build something worth sharing. So, like for us, it’s not enough just to build a company. I think you even said this in your piece, but it was like, You didn’t do it just to survive or like, survivor. Like, the mission is to build something special something worth sharing.
Andrew: Yeah, that grows.
Corbett: Yeah. So we’ve tried to . . .
Andrew: How do you phrase it for yourself? What’s the phrase?
Corbett: Build something worth sharing. So create something worth sharing.
Andrew: Okay. So if Y Combinator’s thing is build something people need or people want . . .
Corbett: Or I think I got to say it’s like make something people want, which some people say is uninspiring, but I think it’s wonderfully simple. Like, make something people want. That’s the hardest part of this startup.
Andrew: I’m so surprised they said that versus something people need, but I guess, right, because you could need stuff but not really want it or think about . . .
Corbett: For what it’s worth, I think it’s more important to like orient towards having a painkiller versus a vitamin where I think they said . . . I think Paul Graham probably said it offhand, like, in an essay or in a talk and he just said, like, “When it’s time of the rules of startups?” He said, “Rule startups, like, number one, make something people want.” And he just meant, like, make something that it is what it is. But I’ve always thought that Paul Graham is kind of like the Hemingway of startup writing. He’s so simple. I remember when he went through and I first met him, he goes like, “Are you Caruso Drummer?” And I was like, “Paul, that is close enough. Yes, I can be.” And so now it’s like . . . I don’t have many nicknames, but the folks from YC know that one.
Andrew: Because it just kind of stuck whatever . . . I do feel like . . . I remember Alexis Ohanian, I said to him, “Why did you even end up with . . . How did you even end up with Paul Graham?” He wasn’t investing at the time. He said that Steve Huffman, his co-founder was so into reading Paul’s stuff and this was back when he was still writing on . . .
Corbett: Posthaven? It’s like . . . He was writing on some like old . . .
Andrew: So Yahoo store, essentially, which is what he created, the thing that became a Yahoo store. He’s still writing on it. There was just like very few essays but there were so hard-hitting even though they were short and they weren’t a lot of them that Steve decided, “We have to get on a train go see this guy speak.” And then they got funding from . . .
Corbett: I was the same way. I was reading his stuff long before . . . I remember when we were starting our company in The College of William and Mary I think we were like the only startup to ever come out of there before like Thomas Jefferson or like after Thomas Jefferson went through. And it’s like very not a startup environment. It’s like Colonial Williamsburg here with like musketeers and like colonial reenactments and they have like a good finance school, but we were starting a startup.
And actually after that, kudos to my friend, Todd Saunders, he launched a company the year after and he’s done well they just raised around as well. But basically, we launched this company I remember reading Paul Graham’s essays at Colonial Williamsburg, read it in the campus and thinking like, “Wow. This guy. I love this culture.” Instead of . . . They were kind of counterintuitive to what you think of startups as, like, he was advocating for things like, “Hey, actually, you should want to be like ramen profitable and like . . . ”
Corbett: Yeah. Like, all these things, I was like, “Yeah. Everyone else is saying like spend, spend, spend.” He’s like, “You want to invest when you’re sure everything’s working,” but his trend is power and being like profitable, and which I’m showing you about.
Andrew: Ramen profitable. Two words. Just committed so much. Be so well you can live on ramen.
Andrew: Profitable but also not so much that you’re, like, living out. Just be super cheap.
Corbett: He nailed so much of it and I was so impressed by the clarity of thought behind that, that I applied. And I remember we were looking at AngelList and there was this company that they were raising on some syndicate there whatever. This is before we went through. And it said like, “Oh, teams from YC and blah, blah, blah.” And I remember thinking like, “God, they haven’t made. How nice would that to be YC company. It’d be so easy to raise.” But they were such like an institution I applied, try to get in really hard, didn’t even really hear back. And I think we got lucky with timing the second time around and it was one of the best experiences. It was like Hogwarts for startups. Like, we went in and met all these idols and met a bunch of friends and it was only three months, but it was really special.
Andrew: By the way, I’ve been looking up some of the people you mentioned like Todd Saunders.
Andrew: Yeah. A personal digital assistant for advertising. Yeah. I’m looking him up. He’s a TechStars guy.
Corbett: He lived in the . . . I lived in this house on campus. I was actually originally in a band with some friends. Our drummer like, fell down the stairs, broke his arm, and we didn’t really have . . . Our band was on shaky footing. I applied to business school and ended up in this class where like the assignment was to make a business plan and we end up making that startup and we figured we just make it real. But he, Todd, ended up living at that house the year after me. He graduated and went to Google, but then left to start that. And they actually just . . . They’ve . . . You should get him up on. But he’s had an interesting journey. They started an ad tech like the spot funded managed marketing spend and recently they realized that like, the consumer market for like installing flooring was just kind of Byzantine and not disrupted and . . .
Andrew: This is new floor force?
Corbett: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: I’m sorry I’m interrupting your story.
Corbett: No, you’re good. You’re good. But basically, they were doing all these advertising and it was converting really well and they figured, “Let’s like vertically integrate.” So they brought somebody in that space so now they can handle all the marketing and like customer acquisitions drive there and they were just making a ton of [inaudible 01:07:43].
Andrew: For flooring companies.
Corbett: I know. We got to take the . . . It’s so hard now to find an industry that’s not disruptive because like Warby Parker and all these people took all the ones that are obvious. So they found one, they found one, and they’ve been crushing it.
Andrew: All right. The website for anyone who wants to go check this service out . . . I freaking love your design.
Corbett: Thank you.
Andrew: Whoever who did the design of the app itself, really nicely done.
Corbett: So shout out to Masha, our designer. She’s amazing. And it actually do . . . I’ll send you her link, but her portfolio is amazing, her design touch is amazing. She’s wonderfully quirky. Her portfolio has like an animated head of her that’s floating around, when you click on it, it multiplies. She’s great. But yeah, we have a really seller product that’s been . . .
Andrew: So good. Because it’s information-dense, like when you’re talking about a creator. It’s not just “Here’s a link to their Instagram.” It’s information-dense to the point where you could feel overwhelmed but it never feels it. It always has this sense of calm and serenity and the data is there when you need it, trust us, you’ll look at it. And don’t feel overwhelmed because there are these beautiful photos too. The whole thing is really well done.
Corbett: Serenity is a great word. I liked that you used that. It’s like, it takes tremendous amount of effort to keep things simple and clean when there’s all this data-packed together and they continue to do an awesome job, the whole product team.
Andrew: Really well done. Really . . . Both when I saw the back end of the software when you were showing it to me before and also anyone could see it on your homepage which is what kind of got me started on this path, it is popularpays.com. It comes from their original idea which is, “Hey, if you’re popular, it’s going to pay. We’re going to help you.”
Corbett: Exactly. Exactly.
Andrew: I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, guys, brand new sponsor, go check out cooalliance.com/mixergy. Really, forget about signing up for anything. If you have somebody who’s a second-in-command just go and set up, see if you qualify. If you do qualify, great, you can have a conversation with them. If you don’t, then move on. They’re really aiming for a specific group of people, certain amount of revenue, certain like amount of seriousness and so on. Cooalliance.com/mixergy. And then finally, if you’re looking to host a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy or do what Corbett is going to do from now on. Somebody asked him, he’s not going to say no to these other people, he is going to say, “Just go to HostGator.”
Corbett: Yeah, I got someone now.
Andrew: Good. All right. I think that’s everything. Corbett, thanks so much for doing this.
Corbett: Yeah. Thanks for having me. It was fun.
Andrew: Bye. Bye, everyone.