A founder faces pivoting or failure (8 separate times)

I was invited to do an interview on stage of Podcast Movement, and soon after I got off the stage, this guy who looked like a rockstar came over to talked to me.

He started telling me about his company, Proven, and how it’s hiring software for small businesses. I thought, “Does the world needs another piece of software to like hire?” I thought this was a solved problem. That was until he told me how much revenue he’s doing, and what he’s doing to grow the business.

Pablo Fuentes is the founder of Proven. We’re going to find out how he came up with a bunch of really bad ideas that were close to the idea for Proven and they all seemed to fail.

Pablo Fuentes

Pablo Fuentes

Proven

Pablo Fuentes is the founder of Proven, a job post site for small businesses.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner, I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I was invited to do an interview on stage of Podcast Movement, and soon after I got off the stage, this guy who looks like a rock star came over and talked to me.

So that’s like the boots, the hat, the whole freaking look, and as someone who’s tried to get a look for years and didn’t make it work I was impressed. And we sat down we just talked his two podcasters. He’s a guy who has a podcast called Business War Store, Small Business War Stories, excuse me. We talked about it and as we were talking, he started telling me a little bit about like anxiety and business and, you know, that the mental health challenges that we have to deal with ass entrepreneurs and I said, “This does not sound like something you learn from a podcast. Tell me more about what else you’re doing.” And he says, “Oh, I run a company called Proven.”

And he starts telling me about Proven, and how it’s hiring software for small businesses, and I thought, “All right, the world needs another piece of software to like hire.” I thought this was a solved problem. And he’s telling me how much revenue he’s doing, and how he’s growing the business and what he’s doing to grow the business. And I’m like asking him all these kinds of questions that I really would ask in an interview because I want to know how he got where he got. And I said, “Wait, hang on, you know what? Pablo, let’s just do this as an interview.” And so that’s what we’re doing right here.

Pablo Fuentes is the founder of Proven. We’re going to find out how he came up with this idea. I did a little bit of research in preparation for this interview. Apparently, it’s not that he came up with this idea, it’s that he came up with a bunch of really bad ideas that were close to this idea, they all seemed to fail.

He learned from some of them, one of them specifically he did not learn from but now it’s working, he’s grooving it. Actually, is leading to a happy life of a guy who looks like a rock star. And so I invited him here to talk about how he did it, and we’re going to find out about Pablo Fuentes and the story behind Proven thanks to two great sponsors. The first is Hostgator, hosting done right for your website, website hosting done right. The second will help you close more sales. It is called Pipedrive. I’m going to tell you about both those sponsors later.

First Pablo, welcome.

Pablo: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Andrew: Dude, is it like the dorkiest question for me to ask you, did it take you a long time to work on your look because it’s not coming across right now in the video, you’re just kind of hang, right? You don’t have the hat. You do have some guitars behind you. But let’s be open. Did you have to go through some iterations to get this rock star look that I saw with the boots and the whole thing?

Pablo: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think if you were to look at a picture of me 10 years ago, you would certainly say that yes, it took some iteration but I . . .

Andrew: Describe. What did you look like 10 years ago?

Pablo: Let’s just say the hair water fell down from the top of the head to the bottom, so I had more hair at the top and had a little bit preppier look, and I don’t know, it’s just been over time, I guess. But as I’ve gotten more into music, I’m more into martial arts, this is kind of the way things have gone.

Andrew: And more of an acceptance yourself, is that what it is?

Pablo: Yeah, I think, you know, it’s kind of like let your freak flag fly to quote Jimi Hendrix. It’s just be who you are and it’s chill, it’s cool.

Andrew: But you know what Pablo? Look at me, I like being myself too. This is just a v-neck t-shirt that people have seen a billion times over here, this is like letting your nothing fly. But this is who I am. I’d like to say there’s a rock star in me. I just want the look of it and I can’t pull it off. I even hired a stylist.

Pablo: Well, let’s play some music the next time we get to hang out, and I’m coming out with an EP. I record, I play and record blues music, so I’m kind of coming up with my first record in January. So yeah, the next time we hang out we’ll jam.

Andrew: You’re not too far from me, are you? You’re in San Francisco?

Pablo: I’m in Austin, Texas.

Andrew: Okay, I thought I saw San Francisco number, all right, you know what? I don’t think music will help. The only thing that . . . there’s two things that helped in combination for me. One is I hired a stylist who was good at finding things that were off the beaten track, and that she forced me to wear or at least to try. And number two, she would get me to drink alcohol before we would go out. So drinking to chill me out and get to try new stuff with her taste worked really well. This was in L.A.

Pablo: Well, I don’t wear pretty anything that comes from a store, like a regular store. Everything I buy is at vintage stores, and the only thing that I buy as new is shoes sometimes. But yeah, everything else you’ve seen comes from . . . I love the hunt for my cool stuff and funky shirts.

Andrew: I see. All right, that’s something that I won’t ever have the patience for. I will like start listening to a podcast as I go inside, and then I get lost in the podcast and not want to try on clothes because who knows who wore it before, and then what happens if it has cooties and all right, all right. We’re going off track here.

Let’s talk about revenue. I saw you felt uncomfortable when I said I’m going to push you just to give me the revenue numbers in the interview, so I’m not going to push you too hard. I don’t want to ruin things right off the bat here. But you got to give me the revenue, to give me a sense of the revenue where you guys are now.

Pablo: Yeah, we’re single digit million, so seven-figure revenue company. We’re growing. We’re fully remote, so we use seven offices in San Francisco for about six years. We went fully remote in May of last year. So it’s been what year and a half now, and now, we’re profitable, we’re growing. We don’t have any salespeople, so a 100% of our customers come from the content marketing. So we’ve grown, and we decided to make that move about two years ago and we went in two years from 15 monthly visitors to our blog to about 50,000 monthly visits.

Andrew: And that’s what it is, it’s largely content marketing that’s leading to all these sales?

Pablo: Yeah, yeah, it’s 100% and referrals, yeah.

Andrew: Again, I want to know how you got here. But here, why does the world even need to understand what here is? Why does the world need another a piece of software for hiring that existed? What is it that’s different about you guys?

Pablo: Yeah, so and it still exists. We have a lot of competitors. The thing that’s really unique about Proven is that were designed exclusively for small businesses, so businesses with under 100 employees, and we have a very simple, very easy to use mobile interface, a very simple, easy to use desktop interface. And oftentimes a lot of hiring products what they do is because it’s very expensive to sell to small businesses, so you can’t really . . . nobody has been successfully able that I know to pay a sales force to sell a product that’s inexpensive. So you have to invest in the long run in doing it [inaudible 00:06:05].

Andrew: I think we just lost your connection. Sorry, you’re saying it’s too expensive for a company to market to small businesses.

Pablo: Yeah, it’s too expensive for a company to . . . for companies to sell to small businesses with salespeople because the products too inexpensive. So what we do is we focus exclusively on that smaller business and the longer tail of customers, versus a lot of our competitors that end up having to go upstream to make their business model work with salespeople.

And I was just, a competitor that will remain unnamed that’s raised quite a bit of funding. I just got off the phone a little bit earlier with him and yeah, they used to be a direct competitor and now they’re more of a mid-market, and a more a full feature, full set of features and things like that. So they’re really simple easy to use system for small businesses to hire, that’s what we do.

Andrew: Okay, and if I go to proven.com, cool domain, shows you guys raise money. Go to proven.com I get to post my job to what 100 plus job boards, and that’s the whole idea, and also you guys will help me manage all the responses that come in?

Pablo: Yep, we’ll help you manage all the responses. We have a ton of really good content about how to write your jobs, and also as part of the content as you mentioned, I have a podcast called Small Business War Stories. It’s one thing to say you care about small businesses, it’s another one to do . . . I just got back three days ago from a 4,000-mile trip around the country, interviewing small businesses firsthand to understand the problems, understand their life and highlight their stories.

Andrew: You know what? I always hated the term small business. You’re basically telling somebody they’re small, going back to the whole idea with the stylist. I remember the first stylist I ever went shopping with. She would never say give him a size smaller. She would say the next size down. To call a man or something that a man is going to get small is an insult, to call a business owner who spends all their time on stuff, small and lead with that, I always hated that term. I wish that there was a better term for it.

Pablo: Yeah, it’s funny you say that. When we started the podcast, we thought about the same thing, and we were wondering should we not call it that. But in talking to people, people have a pride about that, about the term small business. It embodies like a grit and a certain spirit.

Andrew: Smallness doesn’t embody the grit.

Pablo: I don’t know. There’s something about it. I don’t think people . . . let’s just I don’t people take offense to it. And I’m writing a book actually with all the stories because I’ve done 70 or 80 interviews now across the country with small business owners in person. I don’t do remote interviews. And I’m coming out with a book where I’m highlighting a lot of these triumphs that people have with their businesses.

Andrew: I think you should reconsider the name small in the title. You’re going to call it Small Business War Stories, it makes sense, that’s a podcast, that’s the message. But yeah, I’m starting off with an insult and you were doing these interviews. Weren’t you in an RV as you were driving through the country, is that what it was or a van I think?

Pablo: No, I’m in my truck with my dog and my guitar, and then I stayed at either friends or Airbnb spots [inaudible 00:09:01].

Andrew: That’s thing that gets me dude. You raise millions of dollars, you get to travel, and you have not a care in the world. I raise zero dollars, I show freaking up every day at this office, I was here today at 8:45 a.m. because I had a phone call at 9:00, and am I sweating things? Hell, yeah. I’m sweating like will this interview since we started two minutes late, end two minutes late, which then means that the next interview with the founder of Sensei is going to be like . . . look at your eyes as I do this. And then I have a team meeting, and then this and that, right? This is the thing that gets me. I want to understand how you get to this point too. But why don’t we get to know you. You’re a guy, tell a story in chronological order. Guy was born in Chile, am I pronouncing it right? Chile.

Pablo: Yeah.

Andrew: What was it like to grow up in Chile?

Pablo: It was good, it was different. I started coming to the U.S. when I was about 12. My dad worked in New York for the United Nations, so I started coming back and forth, and then when I was 16 I moved permanently. I also traveled quite a bit. I lived in Germany as a kid. So my whole life has been change and challenge, so I kind of got used to it from an early age.

Andrew: But you had a car wash at some point when you were in Chile?

Pablo: When I was a kid, I was at a car wash, and I had a membership-based car wash where I would tell people that they could pay and get a discount if they bought four ahead of time.

Andrew: Smart.

Pablo: Yeah, that only lasted about six months or so. I had a partner who had all the supplies and all this stuff, and the partner ended up falling through. But it’s a good experience to go and get rejected a lot by telling people you wash their cars is, you know, a good experience.

Andrew: And culturally you told our producer, “Look, I don’t come from a country or a part of the world where failure is trumpeted, and people are excited about it.” So talk a little bit about what that was like and how you had to overcome failure.

Pablo: Yeah, I think that’s changing. I think more and more the culture of failure is okay is permeating more of the world’s entrepreneurial ecosystems. Back then when I started, when I moved here in the mid-90s, certainly there’s people when they failed they’re seen as a failure, not as somebody who has tried something that didn’t work. I think that’s like I said it’s changing but definitely [inaudible 00:11:14].

Andrew: Well, I can see why he does all his interviews, sorry, I could see why you do all your interviews in person. You stalled out for a second. You were saying that you can see why that was what?

Pablo: [inaudible 00:11:28]

Andrew: You had to overcome being a failure or worrying about failure, not overcome being a failure. You have to overcome the fear of failure. Selling this carwash subscription helped you do that partially. You still though went down the conservative track, yes, you did really well with it. You went to UCLA, very impressive college then you went to Stanford Business School, really impressive place to get your MBA. And as you were going through business school the ’08 financial crisis hit. Everyone was talking about it and what was your feeling about it?

Pablo: I just realized that when I got to Stanford I had worked really hard to build a background in finance after college. I passed a couple of levels. It was a crazy [inaudible 00:12:10] CFA and I worked at a successful hedge fund, and when I got to Stanford I was like, “I don’t care as much as these other people do about this.” These other people are very passionate about finance and for me that wasn’t it. And I could either continue that down that line and make a bunch of money, but live a life that didn’t have a meaning to me, or try to find what it was my calling. And I’m still digging, still finding but I would say I’m closer to it now than I was then.

Andrew: But back then you said, “I know that going and getting a job at a hedge fund,” which is what you had before school and living that life, “is not me.” You then had to find out what was you. You and some friends from school said, “Let’s start a company.” It was a couple of friends?

Pablo: Originally one who later left the company. I actually interviewed him on my podcast about what it was like to break up with me as a co-founder. But then we added shortly thereafter another co-founder who is still my partner, Sean Falconer, so there’s two of us.

Andrew: Okay, and its two co-founders right now. You looked around and you saw what I see here. I go running through some really expensive neighborhoods sometimes, but a lot of bad neighborhoods in San Francisco. And the weird thing is still in the corners you see dudes, always dudes standing kind of chatting, backpacks on, waiting for somebody to pick them up and give them a job for the day. You saw that. You said, “This is an inefficient system. I could do better.” Am I right?

Pablo: That’s exactly right, yeah. Originally this is in 2009 before really apps and smartphones were prevalent and it was a text-based message system for people to get jobs. And for us I mean, I could find meaning in that in helping people get jobs and helping people hire. That’s something that to me gave me a lot of inspiration and fire to work.

Andrew: Did you ever talk to them before you started it? Or did you just say . . .?

Pablo: Oh, yeah.

Andrew: You did. You would go on the corners and you talk to them because you speak Spanish, they speak Spanish different kind of Spanish but still the same language?

Pablo: Yep.

Andrew: And they would tell you what? What kind of understanding did you get from talking to them?

Pablo: A lot of frustration, a lot of basically, these are very hardworking people. And it just evolved, I’ve always gotten out and out in the field and spoken to people. I think that’s the only way to truly develop a good product is to understand your user. But yeah, I mean generally speaking like a lot of inefficiency, a lot of frustration with the systems that exist to get jobs . . .

Andrew: But they don’t express it as an efficiency. They’re standing there on the corner, you come over to talk to them. They probably think, “Who is this guy? Is he going to give me a job or is he going to waste my time?” You literally were a Stanford student and you did this. So what did you ask them and what did you learn from those conversations?

Pablo: I mean it’s all about approach, right? So I think, obviously the way you approach them, you don’t come up with a clipboard and dressed in Brooks Brothers shirts tucked into chinos and go and come up.

Andrew: So what did you do?

Pablo: I just came up to them in jeans, and said, “Hey.” And you know in Spanish you like open up with like, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing. I’m working on this system. Can you chat for a couple minutes? I’d love to understand how you get jobs today.” And of course, like everything in life, not everybody’s going to say yes. Some people definitely told us no. But it also helped, my original business partner, Joe Melon was at the design school at Stanford, and he was doing a project that had to do with day labor centers with creating systems for day labor centers to place people. So we had a built-in kind of like first layer or first batch of people who were default, yes, to talk to us. So that helped a little bit to.

Andrew: Okay, so you talked to them. Now there are one side of this two-sided marketplace, the other side is that people who are hiring. I always imagine the people who are hiring wouldn’t want to use anything online, because they want to just pay cash. They want the whole thing to be instant gratification, no record. Am I right? Did you talk to them and if you did, what did you learn?

Pablo: Yeah, I mean, so let’s be clear. This business didn’t work. So let’s be super clear about that.

Andrew: So I’m trying to get like is why it didn’t work? Does it go back to the foundation where you didn’t do that much research or you did research and you misinterpreted it? Or what.

Pablo: No, we did research. I mean obviously, when you start a company . . . I mean, every idea that we ever tried, you know, you mentioned there’s an article in businesses [inaudible 00:16:24].

Andrew: One sec. Let’s wait for the video to catch up. So we were saying before we disconnected, I asked about the people who you talk to. Did you talk to the other side of the marketplace? I know the things didn’t work out but I want to understand.

Pablo: Yeah, we definitely did. I think for me we spoke to people and people told us yes, they would use a system, they would want to hire. But that’s what I call the free beer problem, right? So people, you tell them about this magical solution, in their head they’re like, “Yeah, I’ll use that.” Versus actually building something. Whenever I talk to entrepreneurs I’m like, “You build something and then you go out and actually get people to use it.” Because people telling you they’re going to do something it’s not the same as them actually doing it. So they [inaudible 00:17:03].

Andrew: So they did tell you, “I would use it.”

Pablo: Oh yeah.

Andrew: They said okay. And the way that you wanted to do it was you said, “Look, these guys on the corner do not have laptops in their backpacks. They’re not sitting at desktop computers when they get home but they do have phones in their pockets. It may not be the new iPhone X which Apple would like me to call the iPhone 10, but it is some phone in their pocket. That’s how I’m going to reach them.” And you’re going to do it all via text messages because that’s the universal communication channel that was available back then on phones?

Pablo: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay, the company is called Tick or was called ticktasks.com. I have a screenshot of what it looked like. For $9.99 anyone could schedule a job.

Pablo: Wow.

Andrew: At the top it said, “The evolution of parking-lot labor market.”

Pablo: Yep.

Andrew: That’s the goal.

Pablo: I’m glad you’re digging this up. I didn’t know you were going to do that. That’s cool. It’s like a vintage website.

Andrew: Yeah, so vintage is like flash in the center of the website. One thing that you learned from that, I forget where I saw it, was you learned that people are going to respond to text messages in unpredictable ways. Am I right?

Pablo: Yeah, that’s what I figured.

Andrew: Talk about that.

Pablo: So outside, like people, even if you gave people instructions or guidelines on how to use text messages, a lot of people especially people whose English was their second language, and we did do it in Spanish too would come up with like . . . they would conversationally respond to things. And maybe 10 years from now, we’ll have bots and I’ll be able to interpret all that but certainly, nine years ago that wasn’t the case. So we spent a lot of time interpreting, a lot more time than we thought interpreting outside use cases of responses.

Andrew: I see and you couldn’t use the press one if you want this job, press two if you don’t, press three if want the next job. You did that.

Pablo: We would do that if people would respond “I want the job.”

Andrew: Okay, I see then how Tick Tasks was hampered by the technology of the day. What about the other side of the marketplace? Were you able to get people to hit that button and schedule a job for $9.99?

Pablo: Yeah, I think we did. We would have people schedule jobs and pay the fee. But then a lot of people would then if they like the person that they worked with, there was not a lot of incentive for them to come back to us, it would just get the guy’s phone number and then do it. Another thing we underestimated is how one off the use cases for these things are. So okay, you need to build a fence, probably have to do that once and like clean your leads like once a year, so there’s not a lot of repeat business.

Andrew: So the people who are doing this I always assumed they were contractors, but it’s not. It’s some guy who needs quick work done in his backyard, he goes to Home Depot, realizes he can’t do it himself, gets one of the guys from Home Depot to come in his car with him, takes him home, the guy does the work. That’s so like sketchy. Are people really willing to do that?

Pablo: Yeah, yeah. But again, that’s a business model that lasted about six months before we went into like more of a staffing-related business and that’s very, very far removed from what we do today. And this is in 2009 just want to make that clear.

Andrew: 2009, about a year after the iPhone came out, you guys come out with this. And I could see how it was a little bit of ahead of its time. Also you learned a lot from it. One of the things you learned was hey, don’t expect people to just text back with exactly what you want them to do, they’re going to write their own thing. We’re ahead of our time. You then went back to the drawing board, you came up with a different business, same basic philosophy, still want to be in the job market. We’re going to come back to what you did there the winter of 2010. But first I’ve got to tell everyone about a company called Hostgator. Have you ever hosted a business, by the way, using Hostgator, Pablo?

Pablo: I have not.

Andrew: You have not. You’re one of the few interviewees that I’ve had on who have not. Hostgator is incredibly inexpensive and scales up with your business, which is why a lot of people who I interview said, “My first website was on Hostgator. My current website is on Hostgator. I have a package that includes multiple Hostgator domains.” It just is one of those things you need a website, boom. You go to Hostgator for less than 10 bucks a month.

You end up with solid hosting package as you grow. You can call them up and scale up. In fact, they don’t list this publicly because I think they’re like aiming for the starters. But yeah, you can get what I see here on this special URL I’m going to give everyone, you could get it for $3.48 a month. But if you decide I want managed WordPress hosting, where they make sure that all the plugins are right, that I’m not going to get a virus and so on. They have that. They just don’t put that on their site.

If you decide you want a dedicated server, they have that. They just don’t put it on the site. They want anyone who’s a beginner to start off with them and then they want to keep winning your business as you continue to grow. If you’re out there and you’re looking for a hosting company, I urge you to go check out hostgator.com/Mixergy. I told you about the $3.48 a month plan that’s on there, don’t take that.

I think what you should do is, believe me, I don’t get paid anymore whether you do or you don’t. I think what you should do is go the next level up to the baby plan at least, because that’s going to give you unlimited domains. Here’s a beauty of unlimited domains. You have an idea in the middle of the night, you just go buy the fricking domain, and then you put up a website on the same hosting package with Hostgator, and the whole website is up. All you have to do is install WordPress on it. You have an idea for a shop, you just go buy a domain for it and boom, or you have one domain like I did with Mixergy, which did one thing, it did events. I have an idea, I’d like actually to do some interviews.

So you go in and you get a blog.mixergy.com, all part of your package and you install WordPress on it. One-click install, you’re good to go. Every idea that’s in your head gets a website, an outlet, a place for you to see if anyone’s interested in it. And frankly, to see if you’re interested in it, if you want to get started go to this URL hostgator.com/mixergy. You’re going to get unmetered disk space, unmetered bandwidth, unlimited email addresses, 24/7/365 tech support. I’m finding out frankly, I’m going to be honest with everyone, their tech support used to be super-fast within two minutes, I can get a response. Now it takes a little bit longer. But they still have tech support which hosting companies often do not do by phone, they just do by email. They do by phone and they do it online.

And if you find that I’m full of it and you’re not happy with them, they have a 45-day money-back guarantee. Go check them out at this URL hostgator.com /mixergy and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom where you can see the $100 ad offer from Google AdWords. I’m telling you, they’re setting you up for success. Go check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. We use them when I started my new bot business. But that’s a story for another ad.

All right. You then move on to something called Worker Express. What was Worker Express?

Pablo: Yeah, Worker Express was basically we saw, because we were talking about how private users didn’t have that frequency of usage. So Worker Express was an online staffing agency, the staffing market is a huge market worldwide. I think 300 billion is a number that gets thrown out a lot. And it’s still at that point . . . it’s becoming more modern but still it looks like a very disruptable market on paper, and we started supplying temporary staffing for the construction industry. And I mean, a lot of companies have tried that. Again, I tried so many business models about once or twice a month I get a new request from new entrepreneurs, “Okay, I know you tried this. Can you chat?” I always say yes.

And it’s a very attractive market on paper, the staffing market and we especially blue-collar staffing, we wanted to help provide temporary construction crews for contractors and things like that.

Andrew: Because you said, “Look, these guys who just need somebody to paint their fence, they’re one-offs. It’s hard to build a business on them. These guys who just need somebody to paint their fence, their one-offs it’s hard to build a business on them. There’s no repeat business. We get them in, they pay $9.99. But then they’re gone and so how much money can we spend to recruit someone who’s going to just give us $9.99 in revenue.” You said, “These contractors, they could give us a lot of revenue over time.” And they are good market. You’ve said on your site here that they are very, very relationship oriented. What else?

Pablo: You mean as to why it didn’t work or what?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah.

Pablo: So the costs, so on paper the idea is like, “Okay, we build a staffing system. You don’t need physical offices.” They’re very large companies that have fiscal offices where people go there, and you can do a virtual system where you don’t need that. For us, what we found is that as we scaled up revenue, the costs never basically, we were never able to leverage those costs. We’ve always had like a measured increase in cost.

So over a very long period of time, I mean, there’s a company called Labor Ready based out of the Northwest, out of Tacoma that has been able to over a very long time build a publicly traded company with this. But it didn’t have technology type margins or technology type dynamics, which is what we were seeking to do, which is why we stepped away from that business. And many other folks have since tried to also start different types of staffing companies.

And they I think they’ve found similar things, and some of them have successful businesses but they have staffing margins, not technology margins. They kind of dream is put taking the staffing industry and putting technology margins on it and that hasn’t been done yet.

Andrew: I see. And that’s what you were trying to do. Pablo, I’m trying to find some understanding in all these different setbacks. The thing that comes to me is, I’m looking again, I’m looking at now Worker Express, you’re kind of cute. You say contractors can search for workers, they could add workers to their quote “Crew” on the site, they could press one button and call someone on their crew.

The thing that I wonder is, did you even understand the market? I feel like you didn’t fully understand the business when you got in it. If I’m going to try to analyze this and see what’s my big take away from the story we’re telling here over the course of an hour is, I feel like Pablo started with a market that just needed some technology, but not a full understanding of it. That you weren’t living and breathing the people in the space. But disagree with me if that’s not the thing I should be taking away.

Pablo: No, I think that’s fair. We certainly had a lot of enthusiasm. I worked very hard on it. In some ways in hindsight it was a little bit of problem looking . . . a solution looking for a problem in the sense that we kind of had like preconceived notions and the whiteboard. But, the whiteboard doesn’t talk back, right? You could write whatever you want on the whiteboard. And I mean, we definitely spent a lot of time with our customers but yeah, it didn’t work. I think every business model iteration we tried was a reasonable idea to try, and we worked really hard at it and we were not able to make it work. And we’re not alone, I mean, if you look at the history of funding for businesses like that, there’s like hundreds of millions of dollars that have gone to that kind of type of business in the last 10 years.

Andrew: Today you are living. You could definitely be doing what I’m doing right now. Do it via remote, interviews with your interviewees, publish it on your site. You can do what John Lee Dumas does, he could record eight interviews in a day. You could record eight interviews with these small business entrepreneurs in a day. You want to live and breathe the same literally, the same air as they do as you’re talking to them and interviewing them. You are in their world. You understand how they feel about small business as a title enough that when I push back on you can say, “No, they accept it even if they don’t put it on their t-shirt.” So I get that and I could see it in your eyes when you’re back off Andrew with those eyes when I was asking.
I don’t see it when I look at Worker Express circa 2010, where here’s what you express as the reason for it. Worker Express is a startup looking to disrupt the $7 billion temporary construction labor market, and it goes on from there. It’s the sense that there is a bigger market intellectually, it makes sense. Not “I am living in this space, there’s a pain that punches me every day right here.”

Pablo: Oh, that’s completely fair. I think that’s painful to hear that but I think it’s true. I think it’s they . . . and I do think what we do today with helping small businesses, we do live and die by that and we’re very passionate and excited about that. And I think you’re right, I mean, at that point it was my first ever venture and I had a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for it for helping people get jobs. But no, I don’t think our understanding of the market was nearly as deep as our understanding of our market today is.

Andrew: At what point did you raise money?

Pablo: All along the way I’ve raised money in very [inaudible 00:29:20] fashion in small rounds over the years.

Andrew: How? Did you do so well raising money when so many entrepreneurs struggle with that?

Pablo: I mean I think we had . . . it was a market where technology had not really, and still hasn’t really left its mark. And we were willing to work hard on the problem and we had a solution. We had a product, we had customers that were using it. And I knocked on a lot of doors, I mean, I think I pitched over 250 times in my time as an entrepreneur. So I got a lot of people say no, but eventually we got people to believe in what we were doing and give us a shot.

Andrew: It was just knocking on a lot of doors. What’s the first investor? Where did it come from?

Pablo: The first investor was a classmate at business school.

Andrew: I see, all right. Is it weird going to your classmates and ask them to raise money from them?

Pablo: It can be. At Stanford there was an ecosystem was where that’s kind of part of the game, and people are more open to it. I mean, it was tremendously helpful because he gave us some credibility. The hardest investor you’ll ever get is the first one. After that people have more social proof than other people have also done it, especially when somebody has never started a company before going into a new market, that definitely helped quite a bit.

Andrew: Okay, let’s go to another one and then I want to understand how you dealt with all this internally. Spring 2011, Magic Timecard Geo Fence check-ins for workers at construction sites. The problem there was? Talk about it.

Pablo: I love it. We’re digging really deep into stuff that I hadn’t thought about in a while. And most times when I do interviews now it’s about Proven and about Small Business War Stories. But I like it, this is good. So go ahead, Magic Timecard. That was a special one.

Andrew: You know, it’s partially your fault. I told you, you guys have really good content on your site, and you go introspective on it and you’re thorough. So I’m not pulling this out of nowhere. It’s not like my research staff just sat down and said, “We’re going to put together this great list.” It’s like you actually wrote this great blog post about all the things that you went through to get to Proven, and I highlighted it. I used what’s this tool? Do you know Digo, DGO, D-I-G-O, D-I-I-G-O, I don’t even know. I used that to highlight . . . I’m really big on highlighting. Hang on, let me call you right back.

All right. Let’s continue, talk about how you came up with the idea for Magic Timecard.

Pablo: Magic Timecard is actually your product within a product. So when we had the staffing business we had this geofencing product when people checked into the job to make sure that people were showing up at the time and reduce . . . we were trying to figure out ways to reduce our operational cost and not have people on the field. So we’re trying to figure out how we could do that. So it was a geofencing way for people to check into a job site.

And this was a true, true like stupid mistake which is we’re like, “Okay, well, maybe like start selling that in addition to the staffing services to see if we can also do that.” So pursuing more than one business model at a time, that is a colossally stupid idea and we were definitely doing that.

Andrew: Kind of like as I was looking at your history I was thinking of that 37 Signals Base Camp is the new name of the company, of course, post about sell your . . . the things that are the byproduct, sell you’re byproducts. I feel like maybe that’s what you were trying to do there.

Pablo: Yeah, we were trying to be creative in ways where the staffing business we were encountering some barriers with it, we thought, “Okay, this is something that people do want.” And so we started selling that as its own product without much success either.

Andrew: Okay, all right. I’m going to talk about my second and last sponsor and then come back and ask you now mentally, internally, how are you dealing with all this stuff because frankly, I have one little setback or one thing sucks, and I feel like everything sucks as I get angry. We did this sales challenge, we bought a bunch of ads, the ads went to a landing page. I go, “Who the hell on the team created this ugly landing page with too much text? A landing page is supposed to be a box and a little bit of text. You’re adding so much text to the landing page, people are going to have this sense of indecision. I have to read all this.” Maybe I’ll save it for later, maybe I don’t want it and then we lose them. I don’t know, I wonder how you dealt with it.

All right, here’s the software that I got to tell everyone about. I’ve been evangelizing this long before they were sponsors. It’s called Pipedrive. Here’s the nice thing about Pipedrive, it forces everyone on the team to use a specific sales process. What’s the first step you take when somebody . . . when you’re interested in selling to someone, or where they express interest in buying from you? What’s the second step? What’s the step after that? And then it forces you to put every one of those steps into a column. I keep saying forcing because this is going to hold you accountable, you tell it what your process is, they make sure that you actually go through this process as a team.

When we started selling chatbots, I said, “Let’s use it.” We got a little lazy. We didn’t use it as a team. The person who was in charge started just like winging it, making phone calls. She knew what she was doing, she’s a good salesperson, but things weren’t happening, she wasn’t closing enough sales and as a result she was feeling a little disconnected. I didn’t know where she was, ended up with all these problems. You start blaming each other. Maybe Andrew didn’t give her enough information, maybe she didn’t give me enough, maybe she’s not doing enough sales. I have no idea. I finally got on a call with her earlier this week and I said, “Listen . . . ” Last week actually I said, “Listen, we have to actually go back to using Pipedrive. I want every step of your process in Pipedrive.”

So we sat down. We did a Zoom screen share. We laid out every step of process in Pipedrive, what’s the first thing you do when someone expresses interest. What’s the second thing and so on, and she’s a good systems person, so she really took to this. Laid it out in Pipedrive, we started going through it. Earlier this week I was curious, how is she doing? First of all she made a sale. Second, she actually now has a clear board where I could see where every single potential sale is, if you guys are out there and you want to grow your sales, I urge you to go check out this special URL where you can try out the software, and see how it will grow your sales. It is called pipedrive.com/mixergy, that’s the URL.

By the way, I got to tell you, what software do you use, Pablo to keep track of the people you’re getting to do interviews with?

Pablo: To do interviews?

Andrew: Yes.

Pablo: I just used Excel Spreadsheet.

Andrew: Excel Spreadsheet. If you were to use Pipedrive, you’d have so many more possibilities. Why do you use Excel? That means you have to do it all yourself, right? Do you have a team that helps you?

Pablo: Yeah, we have a team. We have a system down that works pretty well that I came up with, so it’s that we only do one show per week, and I record them in these 4,000-mile tours and batches. So it works for me.

Andrew: I do it in Pipedrive. I have 10 steps to getting somebody in our process and closing them, and this allows me to have way more suggestions for who we should be doing interviews with. Look, like I can see that this guy Chris, who’s helping us out just suggested the founder of Coinbase. For some reason, I didn’t think that Brian Armstrong on, but Chris did and so we suggested him Pipedrive. And now someone could start researching, very system oriented. I want to crush this fricking thing. All right, anyone who’s out there who’s interested, go check them out, pipedrive.com/mixergy.

I’m so convinced that I can help you get even better guests if you switch to Pipedrive. You guys should have this in. You know what we should do at the end of this? I should show you my Pipedrive, I’ll blow you away.

Pablo: Okay.

Andrew: All right.

Pablo: Sounds good.

Andrew: Did you feel any insecurity? Did you feel stress as you went through all this?

Andrew: Oh, yeah, tremendous amounts, I mean, like you said, I mean, if you’re honest with yourself like you know facing that failure to reach a good outcome, and find a good business model can be painful. I mean a lot of our investors have told us a lot of other companies they invested in would have given up a long time ago, like forget getting to seven or eight business models. They would have given up a long time ago. So yeah, it was definitely very challenging.

Andrew: Most entrepreneurs I know have like a day that they remember where things were really close to the end for them. What was your lowest day? You’re nodding, you know what I’m talking about.

Pablo: Oh, yeah. The day that we actually let go of 15 people, and . . . no, I’m sorry. We went from 15 to 2 people and we had just hired a couple from Canada, and we thought we were going to be able to raise more money. We were not able to raise more money. The second day they showed up we realized we had to lay off everybody. So I gave them my apartment, so I basically had all my clothes in the back of my car and didn’t have a place to stay. I was staying with my then girlfriend and I was crying on my couch.

Andrew: Literally crying on your couch?

Pablo: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. Owning to the fact that I’d screwed up royally and we were not able to get to the place where we wanted to, absolutely.

Andrew: When you were feeling bad, where does your head go? For me it’s all these people who I said I knew what I was talking about are going to see that I was a failure. All these people who I borrowed money from are now not going to get paid, or this disaster for the next five years where I need a break. I won’t be able to even have a break because I can’t afford it and what kind of job will I get because I’m an unemployable entrepreneur. Talk about the dialogue in your head, you’re nodding [inaudible 00:38:34].

Pablo: Exactly those things. I’m unemployable, what’s going to happen? What am I going to do? I mean, to be clear I think it’s important to live through those emotions, I mean, it’s not like I cried with every single problem, like, in the last decade that’s the one time I can remember we went from 15 people to 2 people. I didn’t have a place . . . I basically like gave my apartment to it to that couple.

So yeah, I mean, I think for me what kind of saved me was I got into Brazilian Jujitsu and I’ve never done martial arts, in my life before. In 2011 I started training jiu-jitsu. And that gave me a presence. When you’re fighting somebody, it’s amazing how you’re unable to think about other stuff, unable to think about like your grocery list, unable to think about your work problems or anything else. You’re forced to just deal with that that you have in front of you. And to me that provided me a very needed form of self-awareness and growth that helped me through what would be really another few years of meaningful challenges, before hitting on a profitable growing business model.

Andrew: I’m looking at the note. You and I met August 24, 2018. I quickly fired off an email to my assistant, told her to add you to Pipedrive and ask you to do an interview. In my notes, it’s said mental health and anxiety. This seems like just a bad day, is that all it is and you’re making it sound like it was bigger or was there more to this?

Pablo: I mean, if you’ve raised at that point we raised $2 million dollars and you go from 15 people to 2 people, and that’s like you put all your life savings into that, and you don’t have a place to stay because you gave your apartment to two former employees. That’s more than just an average bad day.

Andrew: So then how long did it last? And were you in enough of a funk that you weren’t actually producing?

Pablo: No, I mean for a few days then we quickly just were able to rechannel that and to figuring out a way to start testing business models, and do it then. I think my business partner and I both supported each other through this, Sean. And Sean had a background in CrossFit, so we both have like this kind of fighting spirit where we want to like continue and try and try and go and go. So yeah, we channeled that into testing new business models and doing more things.

Andrew: The next one, I’m looking at your blog post is Workers Now. You said, “We heard from trade schools that they wanted help placing people, so we decided to jump into that.” What were you hearing? And the conversations that you had with them were very positive. People were verbally enthusiastic even though, you know, there were still challenges. What were you hearing that made you think this is good, this is a next model for us to follow?

Pablo: Sorry, you cut out there. Can you repeat the question please?

Andrew: Yeah, what was it that . . . what were you hearing as you were talking to trade schools that made you decide to jump on this?

Pablo: Yeah, trade schools were talking about how it’s very difficult to place people and they didn’t have a system to keep track of who went where, they didn’t have a way for trade . . . especially people who were in the trades to effectively market themselves. And we thought the systems we had built could be used effectively for that. And at that point we were grasping at like whatever we could, different ideas and try to figure out . . . like Ben Horowitz says there’s always a move and we’re trying to make moves.

Andrew: Why didn’t you just say, “I’m going to go get a job.” I remember Matt Mullenweg. I asked him, “Why did you start this company Automatic, the makers of WordPress? Weren’t you afraid?” He said, “Dude, I’m a developer. I could always get a job.” He would have if things didn’t work out go out and get a job as a developer. Why didn’t you say, “You know what? This isn’t working out. I’ll get back whatever money we have. I’ll go get a job and I’ll start fresh, I’ll play my music. I can come back to this later on.”

Pablo: We didn’t have much money left. We made $120,000 one last about 10 months with all expenses for three people in San Francisco. So we didn’t have any money to give back. And I’m kind of unemployable too, kind of you were saying. I’m not somebody . . . I don’t know. For me I had to keep trying, I had to keep going with everything I had. And that’s what you and I talked about back at Podcast Movement and about the anxiety stuff. Because it’s true, that to be an entrepreneur you have to keep trying, keep going but it’s also dangerous advice to give to people to say like, “You just got to always keep driving.”

Because I’ve known people and friends of friends that have also committed suicide, or hurt themselves in that process, right?
So for me I found I was aware that I needed to have other things, and that’s what Brazilian Jujitsu came in and also seeking, being open with my failures and that’s why I’ve written all these blog posts talking about basically how much I sucked at things because it helps you process all these things. And you were straightforward about like, “Look. I mean I tried this. I tried hard and it didn’t work.” And then also finding people that you can trust, that you can talk to has been really important along the way.

Andrew: How’d you find someone you can talk to about this?

Pablo: I mean, I think San Francisco, you were there, there’s an ecosystem of people that are kind of in that. There’s kind of two paths . . . three. There’s the ones that don’t say anything that maybe they talk to only themselves or their family. There’s the ones that are always “crushing it” which come to find out almost never are. And then there are people who are willing to . . . if you are the one that takes the initiative to open up, I think people are more likely to reciprocate on that. And I was able to find people that were good sounding boards and I was a sounding board for them as well.

Andrew: That is a good thing actually that you really can be open. I do wonder sometimes around here if I am super open about my challenges, how many people are really supportive and are damn good at being supportive? But then afterwards will like write me off mentally, because I am not crushing it. I’m not in that . . .

Pablo: Yeah.

Andrew: You think I’m [inaudible 00:44:35].

Pablo: That’s bullshit, that’s crap, that’s complete bullshit. That’s basically . . . that’s not focusing on substance. That’s focusing on like flash and short-term stuff. And the short-term like to quote, I think it’s either Warren Buffet or Charlie [inaudible 00:44:49], the short term the market is a voting machine, and the long-term it’s a weighing machine. You want to be heavy, you don’t want to be popular short term. Who fucking cares for people who do short term.

Like you ought to be true to yourself and you have to be authentic to yourself. And especially if you’re an entrepreneur, listen, it sucks sometimes and it sucks many times, and being open about it in my experience. And sure, to be honest with you, yeah, sure, there are people who have written me off because of that. But who cares?

Do I want to be close to people lack enough self-awareness to see their own dark sides and to see their own problems, and like would “write me off” because of that? Probably not. So it’s cool, good riddance.

Andrew: Here’s the downside to it. The downside is that at some point some of these people are going to possibly buy your business. And if they see you as this unstoppable force, they kind of want to get in on that. If they see you as a mush who’s always going through challenges or that’s what they know, I think they want to stay away. Or do you tell me maybe I’m getting in my head about that?

Pablo: I don’t know. I can go to sleep knowing that I’m being authentic to myself, and that I’m continuing to do and work hard. I mean, you’re talking about how you look like you’re cruising. I was up at 6:00 in the morning today, and I’m working for another four or five hours, it’s 5:00 p.m. here. So I’m not cruising.

Andrew: You’re not.

Pablo: I’m working hard. I’m working hard at what I’m doing at my craft.

Andrew: So when you’re traveling, what kind of work are you doing in that period where to me it seems like you’re in that easygoing lifestyle, and I wouldn’t want to tell you my challenges. What are you going through?

Pablo: In the last three weeks . . .

Andrew: We got to call you right back, sorry. Take it you were for the last three weeks start there.

Pablo: For the last 3 weeks I drove over 4,000 miles. I recorded 31 different shows in person with amazing businesses around the country. A lot of high-profile ones like Teton Gravity Research, this key film company, [inaudible 00:46:44] ranch. There’s like a famous maker of backpacks. All kinds of it Meow Wolf, an art installation in Santa Fe, like all kinds of really interesting small businesses, and this provided like our content strategy for the next six months. And now I’m writing a book that puts us out as a thought leader in the small business space based on all these interviews I’ve done around the country.

So if you think about driving 4,000 miles and producing 31 shows in 3 weeks, that’s not what I would call chilling.

Andrew: But then who’s running the company? Who’s trying to think of the next product? Who’s trying to make sure that everyone is responding to customer requests? Who’s keeping things going as you’re doing that?

Pablo: Well, I mean, we have systems. I have a business partner. We have systems. We have 10 people. We have 10 employees that work full-time on the business.

Andrew: What kind of systems keep it going?

Pablo: I mean everything is like documented and processes, and like we have specific . . . you’re talking about customer support, we have specific systems built around that. Same thing with our content marketing conversion. I’m also as I’m driving I’m on calls with everybody with like my team, with my business partner. So you have to remain involved and there’s WiFi everywhere so you get somewhere and you pull up all your reports, pull up all your stuff.

Andrew: You know what? I’m sorry to interrupt but this is something that I need to learn from you and other people. How are you systemizing your stuff? Is it like Google Docs with processes? Are using checklist? Because I can see how that would make you more of an efficient team.

Pablo: Yeah, I mean checklists, I live by checklists. I have an app called Clear, where it’s very, very simple. I keep all my checklist on my phone for everything I need to do, and it’s not a complex like scheduling system yada, yada, yada. It’s like literally just checklists.

Andrew: What about for your team? Let’s talk content creation, you said you have a system for that. Where’s that written and how is that organized?

Pablo: Yeah. So once a year, we get together, actually twice a year, we get together the entire team, everybody, we call it Proven Live and we plan out. So all the contents planned out for the foreseeable future so it’s nothing’s being improvised. I mean, obviously we do improvise a lot of things because you have to adapt. But we do rely on Google Docs a lot. We rely on Google sheets and you know spreadsheets and checklists and calendars.

Andrew: So once a year you make a list of all the different blog posts that you guys want to have?

Pablo: That’s more like once a quarter.

Andrew: Once a quarter, okay. So once a quarter, your processes, we’re going to have a list of it. Does the writer then know I have to go into a spreadsheet, pull out one of the topics that we picked and then has a step-by-step process for what to do with it?

Pablo: No, we have a director of marketing who coordinates like depending on which freelancer, what writer’s working on it. We also have a lot of guest posts. So as we’ve gone up in domain ranking and our traffic to our blogs gone from 50 people of 50,000 people a month, a lot more people have been reaching out to us or writing guest posts so that we have an entire process to coordinate that.

Andrew: Take me through it. Just describe one of the processes you’re especially proud of, like, for me it’s that Pipedrive process for booking guests. I’m so proud we have Google Docs describing it. I have software that manages it. We have metrics that tell us how well we’re doing. Is there one that you’re especially proud of that you can show me as a model for what we could learn from you?

Pablo: I think it’s just being really clear. So for example, our process to publish. We publish every Wednesday morning Small Business War Stories, right? I produce the actual sound file and I produce the actual attached blog post that goes with it. And that our director of marketing knows specifically to look for images and create all the graphic assets for that. And then my business partner does all the connection between HubSpot and Libsyn to make sure that everything . . . and everybody knows we have a specific by Tuesday, I mean, it’s already today’s Tuesday, it’s already happened for tomorrow morning and everybody knows exactly what they need to do.

Andrew: What software coordinates all that?

Pablo: It’s Google Docs and Slack.

Andrew: So Google Docs says, “Here are the steps.” Everyone on Slack is talking, but they’re going through the same Google Docs?

Pablo: Everybody has their own checklist and they own thing. Everybody knows what they need to do in one place, and the next day, actual the day of publishing then we do a follow-up email that also gets updated, with specifics about that episode for that guest to help them promote the episode.

Andrew: I had this great conversation with Syed Balki from OptinMonster and he owns a bunch of other software, I said, “How are you constantly growing all the software?” He’s got this little software empire. He pulls out cash, profit from his business . . . did I just lose you again? No. Pulls out profit from the business and he goes and buys the real estate under gas stations, and then that gives him continuous sources of revenue that don’t depend on the internet, and it’s more passive.

So how are you doing all this? And he told me same thing, systems. I said, “What does it look like?” He pulls out his phone, he created his own internal WordPress, his own internal only WordPress site with all the systems, he shows me step by step how each process including for writing posts on his site goes.

I feel like I learned a lot just from watching him. I don’t know if you’re into it but at some point I want to do this with other entrepreneurs, like a screen share half hour. I show you my process, here’s how I’m running my company, can I see yours. I’ll do 15 minutes, you do 15 minutes and I just ask questions so that I can see how we organize ours better or [inaudible 00:52:03].
Pablo: I’m kind of a low-fi guy. I think simple low-fi systems trump no systems, and maybe there are people who have more elegant systems than I do. But I use paper notebooks, that app Clear, a whiteboard that’s behind that door and literally just like having like things written down, and then there’s a great book that I’m actually going through right now. [inaudible 00:52:27] Getting Things Done, and it’s a great book. It teaches you how to get things on to places where you’re not constantly thinking about them.

And I also meditate every day. So being able to clear your mind and have things in different places allows you to then focus on the thing that you’re doing. And by the way, I think it’s it can be overwhelming to think like, “I need to have all these fancy systems for my company to work.”

I think incremental process and slow is smooth and smooth is fast. You build a little bit better system for this, iterate on it . . .
Andrew: Yeah, that’s what I want see. I want to see how people do it. All right. Maybe this is something for a follow-up conversation. Let’s go on then. Now you’ve gone through all these different ideas, 2011 you come up with Proven version 1.0. How much did it cost you to buy the domain proven.com?

Pablo: I think 25 grand back then.

Andrew: That’s not bad at all. And it’s easy to spell, even my bad spelling can configure it out. Wow. Okay, so I see that you bought it. You had barely any money left. Why did you do it instead of you know get the domain getproven.com?

Pablo: I think at that point we still had some money left. It was about six months before the debacle that I described before. And I mean, for us it was important at that point to establish a brand. I think I’m happy that we have it. I think it’s a very powerful domain name. But the business has evolved a lot since then and we did a restaurant marketplace, and then that evolved into this small business hiring system that we have today.

Andrew: First restaurant marketplace?

Pablo: It was a restaurant employment marketplace.

Andrew: Again, still employee based okay, and you said, “We’re going to let restaurants . . .”

Pablo: Everything we’ve ever done has been how do you help people get jobs, and how do you help businesses hire using mobile phones and using technology. So even though it’s like a lot of different business ideas, it’s not like we went from gummy bears to explosives. It’s like different things like different ways to try to find a business model in that area.

Andrew: What happened when you were doing it just for restaurants?

Pablo: It worked.

Andrew: It did?

Pablo: It started growing, yeah, it started working in San Francisco but we wanted to expand beyond just restaurants, and we went to small businesses nationwide.

Andrew: And how’d you find restaurants at first in San Francisco?

Pablo: Just walk door to door.

Andrew: You walked door-to-door?

Pablo: Oh, yeah.

Andrew: You said, “Do you need a waiter on short basis?”

Pablo: It wasn’t short term. It was for permanent employment at that point, yeah.

Andrew: You want an alternative to putting the sign up on your window. I got it right here, it’s called proven.com. That’s what you did.

Pablo: Yep.

Andrew: Or on Craigslist, what was the Craigslist thing?

Pablo: No, it was like do you want alternative, like you hate Craigslist. We have a better system and we built a marketplace that way.

Andrew: All right, and then you started to get into content marketing. Content is the number one thing for you for bringing in traffic, you’re talking about it. What worked for you in content marketing because I see a lot of businesses can’t get that right. It’s like a whole other thing to promote. You have to promote the content and then promote the business and find a way to get the content you promote it to lead to sales in the business, and then they just say, “Why am I running two businesses here? I better focus just on my main company.” What did you do right?

Pablo: Well, it’s a distribution system. So content is the same thing as running a sales team, right? It’s a distribution engine for your product. So again, it’s like very, very process and data-driven. Like we look at what specific pieces of content convert, how often are people visiting those pieces of content, what kinds of customers are coming from them. So every single week we’re analyzing that and looking at the specific number, specific customers, specific cohorts that were acquired with a specific batch of content and like what happened to that. So there’s a lot of numbers.

And that’s where I think having the training at a hedge fund has helped me, because I’m very comfortable with spreadsheets and looking and analyzing data and processing large amounts of data. But I think we’re all . . .

Andrew: We lost the connection. There we go. We lost the connection again. You’re saying you’re comfortable with a lot of data and then I lost you.

Pablo: Yeah, we’re comfortable with a lot data, and we’ve always been in God we trust, everybody else bring data. So we don’t assign . . . it’s not like Oh Johnny or Jack had a good idea, it’s like okay, everybody brings ideas and then we measure against numbers.

Andrew: I’m looking at SimilarWeb to see where you get your traffic. Number one source of traffic is indeed.com, number one is Work at Home Mom, Work at Home Mom Revolution I guess is what the site is. What are they doing . . .

Pablo: We have very, very long tail. I mean, neither one of those is a large percentage of our traffic. Most of our traffic is a very long tail of referring sites.

Andrew: Oh, interesting. I’m seeing that as . . . I see 9.58% of traffic is coming from referrals. Of that 9.85, 30% is from Indeed. Okay, so it seemed like it was a bigger amount. You do seem to get 70%+ from Search, does that sound right to you?

Pablo: Yeah.

Andrew: Search is really big. The word job description seems like a big keyword for you. Let me see what happens.

Pablo: So we’re in the first page if you go to job board, or job boards and things like that.

Andrew: So yeah, so I’m just typing in job description to see how that works. Who does your SEO? Is it you guys?

Pablo: Yeah, we do everything in-house. For us there’s no difference between SEO and marketing. It’s one thing. Like that’s integrated.

Andrew: I see it. What did you learn about SEO that’s still working that maybe could work for someone in the audience?

Pablo: Yeah, a lot of leaf building stuff. So we took, I mean, none of this stuff . . . SEO and content marketing is kind of like how do you get a beach body? You get a beach body by eat less sugar, drink lots of water, work out four or five times a week. I promise if you do those things, you’ll have a beach body within a year. And it’s the same thing with content marketing. You have to publish good content, create backlinks from that content, from high quality, high domain ranking link creators, and promote your content.

And it’s just like it’s brutally difficult to do it over and over and over and over, and it’s boring and stuff doesn’t work and you have to . . . so it’s not pretty, it’s not sexy and it takes a long time to actually get the results but that’s how you do it. It’s super simple. We actually published all about . . . my business partner Sean Faulkner published a very popular blog post about how we grew our traffic on SEO that works. We took that course, so it’s not hard. It’s very simple but it’s very . . . it’s not complex I should say, it’s not complex. It’s simple but it’s hard to do every day.

Andrew: But this is from backlinko.com?

Pablo: That’s right. That’s a very popular article that my business partner . . . what we outlay our entire strategy there, so anybody who wants to do it can do it.

Andrew: I see, this is on Brian Dean’s site, it’s the SEO checklist 48.7% more organic traffic. Here’s the case study and it’s on backlinko.

Pablo: We continue to grow our traffic significantly since I got published. So yeah, you have to systems based, look at the numbers and it’s a long, long game. It’s going to suck for a long time and then the good thing about it is that once you start getting more traffic, it’s much more defensible and you don’t have to pay a team of salespeople every month to be your SEO engine.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:59:45] taught you how to do this?

Pablo: Its Brian Dean’s course, SEO That Works.

Andrew: All right, yeah, I think the world of Brian. I don’t know him super well but I’ve just keep . . . I work with people who work with him and I’ve worked with him a little bit, I think he was on Mixergy a couple of times.

Pablo: Smart guy. My business partners a lot closer to him than I am. But yeah, we deeply respect and appreciate what he’s taught us.

Andrew: He’s good, he’s just not a loud mouth so you don’t get to hear much about him, which is what I respect about him. But also what keeps him from like being someone that everyone who’s listening can say, “Oh, yeah, I know Brian.”
Pablo: Yeah, I don’t know man. It’s the second time you’ve said something like that. It’s the long game. Markets a weighing machine, you know, that guy does . . .

Andrew: I’m not putting him down. I’m just saying he’s not a loudmouth. Let’s take a look by the way on the site.

Pablo: But hold on. But it’s the second time that we’ve something’s come up on your end, where said like, the kind of valuing the flash over the substance. It’s about laying down things, like year after year after year and doing them over and over that that’s where people succeed in the long run.

Andrew: All right. Good place to leave it. Anyone who wants to go check out your site. Well, the domain is easy, it’s just proven.com, and I want to thank my two sponsors. I like that we got into these arguments but I would have liked more . . . I don’t think we’ve argued about things that I disagree with you on. I think I’m being provocative to get your point of view.

Pablo: Sounds good. You know I got nothing but love for you, and I deeply respect what you’re doing and it’s always good to talk to somebody who can level with you, and that dig deep into your past failures, so thank you.

Andrew: Are you profitable now?

Pablo: Yeah.

Andrew: You are? And your investors are okay with you being profitable and staying where you are? They don’t want you to take on these major sites? Oh, the connection dropped again. What’s going on? You guys have some kind of bad weather in Austin, that’s why this is happening.

Pablo: Yeah, there’s a storm in Austin right now.

Andrew: Are your investors pushing you to get more growth at the expense of profits?

Pablo: No. I think our investors want us to succeed and have a good outcome. I think at this point this is the level we’re growing double-digit percentage every year and we’re happy with that. And we want to continue to do what we’re doing.

Andrew: All right. The two sponsors that I mentioned, the first is a company called Pipedrive, it will help you close more sales. Go check them out at pipedrive.com/mixergy and the second is the site that the company should host your website, it’s called Hostgator. Check them out.


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