Better task management

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Platforms like Slack are so freaking distracting. I think if you’re running your company you need less distraction not more.

Well, today’s guest created a more automated task management system and I want to find out how he did it.

Max Nalsky is the founder of Pyrus, a team communication tool that helps get things done.

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Max Nalsky

Max Nalsky

Pyrus

Max Nalsky is the founder of Pyrus, a team communication tool that helps get things done.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey There, Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And many of you probably are by the time this interview is done, going to get a Slack alert on your phones and on your computers and on whatever.

And it’s going to distract you and I have to say, that’s why I got rid of it at my company. It’s too freaking distracting to have chat going on all the time. I think if you’re running a company, I think if you’re running your life, what you want to have is conversations that are structured around something that matters and not just endless messages going off.

Anyway, this is something I’ve said over the years here on Mixergy. Joining me is an entrepreneur who had a similar understanding and he did something incredible about it. His name is Max Nalsky. He was running this company that in parts of the world you probably know it- iiko. What it’s like is the cash register of most places.

Am I right Max?

Max: Hi everybody. No, actually it’s more than that. It’s an ERP system, the whole ERP for restaurant and for hospitality industry. So it’s point of sale combined in inventory management, combined in time management for employees and combined finance management and in line ordering. So ERP is one stop system that if you run a store, you need just one software instead of many.

Andrew: If I go into a store in parts of the Middle East and parts of Russia, they will have it there on the counter. Am I right?

Max: Yeah. And actually, many more countries like the United Kingdom. I mean, the cash register is just part of it. The point of sale is one module of the system, but the whole idea is that when you have a transaction, the cash register, it hits your PnL. And some managers of a chain of stores can see the PnL in real time because they have very new cost and stop. This is what different about iiko.

Andrew: In 2005, you created iiko. And then as he was working with his team, he said, we need a better way to keep track of what we’re doing together. The task management software that exists right now is not organized well enough, the chat apps that are out there are not helping. Let’s create something. And so 2010, he created Pyrus.

It is software that enables you to manage task delegation, real-time messaging and approval of workflows for modern teams. I’m reading obviously from your website. Let me say it in my own words. Here’s what I think is amazing about Pyrus. Number one, task management-completely free. Max realized, Hey look, task management is not something that is worth charging for because there are a lot of alternatives.

But what makes Pyrus really amazing is the automation that happens within it. With most task management software, you have to set a set of tasks. And then when somebody finishes a task, they assign the next task to the next person on the team. With most task management software, if someone pays a bill, your assistant would have to go and mark that task as done so that the next step gets assigned and somebody does something to follow up on the person who paid a bill. With Pyrus, the whole thing is automated step-by-step even if you’re using external software. That’s what makes Pyrus special. I invited Max here to talk about how he did it. Why he launched Pyrus, how it grew, how he got customers, what it means to walk into restaurants in different parts of the world and have his brand right there, front and center. And we’ll also talk about his interesting hobby. And I can do it thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you’re hosting a website, if you’ve got a business, you need a good hosting company, right? Well, I’m going to urge you to go check out hostgator.com/mixergy. And the second, if you’re paying people, I’m going to Rippling.

You have so much agita by telling you to go to rippling.com/mixergy, but Max, we’ll talk about those later, first thing, great to have you here.

Max: Thank you very much.

Andrew: How much revenue do you guys do in the Pyrus?

Max: We’re in the millions of dollars, but I am not going to disclose more than that because this is a private company.

Andrew: Over 10 million. Can we say that or you don’t want to say that?

Max: Below $10 million

Andrew: Profitable?

Max: Profitable.

Andrew: I want to ask you a lot about business here, but first you were a software developer in Boston, Massachusetts and a conversation led you to this interesting hobby. What was the conversation? What happened?

Max: Well, actually, we had a group of people that there were an engineering team, basically working on a project. The head of our team flew his grandmother to a weekend to Philadelphia somewhere. And I thought to myself, Hey, well, if you’re a good engineer then you could probably one day, have your own plane, fly places.

And that’s what turned out to be my hobby. I got my private pilot license, a year later. Obviously I had some time, enough budget to do that. And now, I am private pilot with 650 hours of flying experience. Last Monday we flew on a short vacation trip over Grand Canyon.

And honestly, my friend tells me that aviation has a kind of fourth dimension. When you really need to detach, what I do is I take my plane and fly somewhere-somewhere new. And when you’re up there, you’re focused on your plane. You’re responsible for the lives of the people on board.

You’re the captain, right? There’s nobody else. This is something that really, you can’t think of any business, you can think of any, you know, current, stressful things. You’re really out there. And I practice this several times a year and that’s, what’s really, you know, one of my biggest hobbies, well, it’s the biggest one, honestly.

Andrew: I had a friend who did it and he took us up in his plane. He said, Hey, do you want to go by the Golden Gate Bridge? I said, you could just do that? You could just say, I want to go-and go? He goes, yeah. So we go up by the Golden Gate Bridge- it was beautiful. And then he said, how about we go to lunch?

And I thought, okay, interesting. I guess we’re landing and going to lunch. And he goes, Napa has a great place. Yeah. He lands at this airport in Napa. I guess, because gas costs so much that they bring in this really nice car. He gets to drive us in this really nice car to a restaurant. We sit down, we eat, and then he flies us right back home.

It was such a killer experience. That’s what it’s like. Huh?

Max: Oh, yeah, it’s called Crew Car. And usually there are many airports back there. Really, if you buy certain fuel, they give you a Crew Car for free for a couple hours and you drive somewhere to have a lunch. And sometimes you have to lunch in the airport, but it’s the coolest experience  to fly somewhere and they give you a car that goes, and you go somewhere.

This is, I mean, it’s, it’s typical.Not typical to the Silicon Valley, it’s actually allaround the country.

Andrew: What’s the most exciting place that you’ve flown to?

Max: Oh, my God. There’s so many. I mean, flying over the Rockies was nice. Jackson Hole airport, Wyoming was great. Grand Canyon, you can’t imagine how does it look? I mean, you can imagine how it looks when you’re on the rim, but it’s even a hundred times better when you’re in the air. This is Powell Lake, you know, up there.

Those are beautiful places. I tell you what-you are now probably on macOS Big Sur, but the previous one was Catalina. Catalina Island is a must go in California. You haven’t seen California if you haven’t been to Catalina Island in California, this is so much, I mean, it’s incredible.

Andrew: Can you can land on there?

Max: There is an airport there. Yeah, great parks. Yeah. The air force built this airport for training, but now it’s a general aviation airport. It’s sunrise to sunset. You can land there, Have your lunch there or have a car to town and you know, just some other stuff. Yeah.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Let’s talk about how you got here. What’s the first big success that you had as an entrepreneur? And we’ll talk about Pyrus in a moment, but was the first big one iiko.

Max: Yeah, we started this one earlier and it’s been full to over 50,000 restaurants stores in 44 countries right now. So yeah. I mean, it’s kinda considered a success, but honestly we are after 1 million restaurants. So the company is growing and we’re on track. Last year, even with COVID, we still were able to grow 19%, which is great because honestly, the restaurant industry was dying.

Andrew: Why were you guys able to grow during COVID?

Max: Well, because in some countries, in the world, in the summer, it was a huge boost because the spring-this is the first thing. And second thing, the delivery, I mean, people continue eating out. I mean, sorry, not eating out, but ordering things. So people continue eating, not what they cooked.

Andrew: so even if they’re not sitting inside at a restaurant or even outside at a restaurant, people are ordering food and the delivery company is bringing it, but it has to get registered in some system and it’s iiko that’s doing it.

Max: Yeah, of course, for example, you need to calculate your costs. Some software should calculate your cost. Whether you’re building this food is profitable or not. And iiko had all this stuff. So iiko is an ERP for restaurants. So this is a single system where every order comes into, no matter with this delivery order or order or inside the restaurant or take you out.

Andrew: How’d you get the idea for iiko?

Max: Actually, that was my friend’s idea. And my partner, we’re partners in this company and we’re two co-founders. So we met my classmate who actually brought us together and it was his idea actually. And I thought to myself, Hey, the guy’s really, you know, knows what he’s talking about. And, uh, I was a software guy. He was also from the tech industry, but he ran the restaurant. He ran the actual restaurant for a year.

Andrew: He had a restaurant himself.

Max: He had and he tried a couple of other softwares and I was like, Oh yeah, there was something in it because he tried couple of softwares that didn’t work out as well as we could.

And we coined this together, this vision for the new software. We started investing our own money. Then attracted a couple of venture funds. So yeah. That’s how it got going.

Andrew: What was that? What was the problem that you saw with the other software?

Max: Oh, it’s very simple. In every restaurant, you have a point of sale, basically where you track your revenue and inventory system, where you track your costs. And those are two systems. They’re not connected. So it leads to all kinds of problems. Even the one, I tell you what, you may not believe me, but I’ll tell you. When you take the file out of your revenue system and you move it to your backend system, to your inventory system, you can change this file or your manager can change this file so that the backend system. Basically it’s a fraud, the backend system doesn’t see the whole revenue. This were the kinds of problems we had back in 2005 when I started the system.

It’s again, it’s just one of them. I’m not telling you that everybody’s fraudulent out there…

Andrew: Yeah. But you’re saying, look, the person who’s taking the information, I call it the cash register, but I’m oversimplifying it. Right. The thing that keeps track of- I see your face every time I call it the cash register, it’s like, Andrew, this is not kindergarten, but okay. I’m basically simplifying it.

You’re saying the person who’s in charge of the cash register can change the file that they’re sending back into inventory to, maybe hide the fact that they’ve taken some stakes out of the company.

Max: Yeah, this, this is yes, exactly. Or better, alcohol. Cause it’s really easier to, you know, to substitute alcohol selling over the counter with your own that you brought from the shop. Yeah. It’s just one of the problems that freaked out certain restaurant owners and others just delay in data. Like you don’t, you don’t see your revenue. When you have real time inventory, like when you sell an item, the cost is really applied. Then you can have real time inventory so we can really predict what’s missing. So for example, if your limes and lemons are missing, that half of your bar is the stop list. You obviously don’t want to do that in the Friday or Saturday night in the club. Right?

Andrew: iiko can actually tell a restaurant “you have 20 limes. you just sold 40 drinks. You’re going to run out of limes in the next day. You should buy.” Got it. Oh.

Max: All because iiko is real time. I mean, any system can do that, but you don’t want to predict a lime shortage on Friday. If there’s already set on Sunday.

Andrew: All right. So now you’re working. You told me before we got started, you’re super hands-on. The team comes back to you with an internal release. You don’t even remember which one it was, and you were trying to figure something out. What was it that you were trying to figure out?

Max: Yeah, true. I’m very hands-on and I’m trying to polish the software, the user experience. And usually once the team comes to me with the release, I have 20 to 30 items that I’d like them to fix. It could b the simplest type, or it could be big as some, you know, some feature rework. And I just responded with an email with all those items, and it was really hard to keep track of them because those went to different people.

It’s either me who would have to go into the ticketing system, into Andrew’s or Mark tracking system or ticketing system. And honestly, that’s a pain in the ass because those tracking systems, I mean, they’re good for development teams, they are good for engineers and they’re good for me because I’m a techie person, but for an average person, they’re just too complex.

Andrew: What were you trying to figure out? You were trying to say, what is it that, what bugs did they solve? Did they, did they squash? What features did they add? And you couldn’t even see that as you were going through. That seems like pretty basic stuff.

Max: No, you can. But honestly, when you do it reviewing a release and you see those, you know, those 20 to 30 items that you would like to be fixed very, very fast, like it’s so we were so agile back then when the word was not even the in fashion. Again, I could put out those bugs and all those issues in the bug tracking system, but this is just complex. It takes time and the user interface. I mean, there’s forms you have in order to post the buck, you have to fill a form with 10 fields. If you don’t like to fill the form 10 fields and you have to customize this form to cut out fields. So it’s all work about work. I need something simple- every line item is like this.

Again, those issues are just for one line item- one line issues. When it’s something simple, you could just start 30 parallel tasks. And one of them could be just close to the next, you know, the next natural step to do is to just work with them and close them. Or sometimes they’re a conversation with multiple people, you know, as they evolve, we bring more people in there being designers who bring something. So these are conversations who bring certain. Uh, designers can come up with a certain version of the design. There’s an attachment. There is a second attachment, third attachment. So in the beginning you can’t really know which becomes what, so we thought, I thought to myself that there should be a better way to just, you know, what’s the shortest amount of time I could as a CEO or a product manager to take, to enter those into some system that could be, you know, In this kind of scenario, where some of them are very simple and some they’re more complex, that should be super easy to enter and super easy to work so people don’t really get confused with a lot of interfaces.

Andrew: Okay. So this was, this was 2010 when you launched. Asana launched a couple of years before, JIRA launched a few months before I think so we’re basically in the early days of this new form of task management software, right before all the software that we now know that we now know existed. Right. Okay.

Andrew: You just gave me this look as I was talking about competitors.

Max: no, no, no, no, no. Honestly, JIRA launched about 2005. No, we actually launched in beta in 2010. We didn’t have a public cloud before 2014. And between 2010, 2014, we have a much of a beta, a lot of beta customers that brought us some revenue, initially. Even the Pyrus brand was not there. It was a totally different name for the product. Then Pyrus came out in 2014.

Andrew: Okay, before we get into that. And then why did you say I’m willing to, you had a full-time gig, you had a business that was growing. It made sense. It was going to, it had huge potential, right? With iiko. Why did you say I’m going to take even a little bit of my eye off that ball and go start this new business.

Max: Oh, that’s a good one. Honestly, because my need for this product was so desperate that I couldn’t resist start building it. And you know, what, what I started doing, I started as a separate side project, I put an outsourcing development teams, not from my company-just to build this thing because my initial vision was like, okay, this is an experiment. I’m not sure where it’s going. So let’s start the experience with external team without, you know, distracting our company’s resources. And once they started using it, I at one point, I remember myself, I realized like, Hey, even if it doesn’t go into a profitable business, I still keep it because this is the best experience of running teams and projects.

So, but all this turn out, it’s going to, it became a profitable business, which I really like this fact, but honestly, at some point of time when it was not that it was so better than others, it was so natural to use the user experience. So I realized that I  just couldn’t drop it.

Andrew: How much money would you say you spent in order to get it to that point?

Max: Um, well, currently I invest into Pyrus I would say several millions dollars, in a low millions of dollars.

Andrew: What about the early days when were just investing in it as a side gig?

Max: tens of thousands of dollars.

Andrew: under a hundred thousand dollars

Max: Around a hundred thousand dollars.

Andrew: And so this was just you saying, I know I need this. Maybe other people do, but I just have to see this through- it was that kind of a thing.

The world needs. I need this. I think other people need it too. I don’t know where it’s going, but I’m willing to spend money because I need this in the world. That’s what it was. Okay. How did you get other users in the early beta days? The very early days to try this out with you?

Max: I was telling all my friends about it. Yeah. And that’s it. I mean, we launched our Beta version, we put our website out there and the people were flocking in. And we had our mobile apps initially too. And that was a big part of the business by the way, having great mobile app with a great offline mobile experience that doesn’t break when you just travel in a car and connectivities getting – your phone getting disconnected from one cell tower and connects the second cell tower. This is the moment you lose your connectivity.

Andrew: I got to tell you, I signed up for Notion cause at once talking about notion. I said, um, I got this call that I had with someone. I said, I’m gonna put it into Notion. I get it into Notion. This guy has a place. He says, Andrew, do you want to come over to my place? We’ll continue to talk about this idea.

I say, sure, I’ll be there tomorrow. I drive over to his place. I say, let me go through all my notes. So I remembered the little things he told me about his kids and so on. There’s no connectivity. He lives in the Sonoma area. There’s no phone service. I got none of these notes in my phone. I can’t believe what 20 21, there’s still software that doesn’t work if there’s no internet connection. It was so frustrating.

Max: So, this is why we began when we launched our mobile first apps, then we, that was the first thing we had is an offline experience. Just, I mean, for busy guys, even just let’s say New York city, right. Sometimes you get it into the lift, into the escalator or elevator, sorry, elevator. And there could be no connectivity just because the doors are closing and there was a metallic steel parts.

You don’t have connectivity when you’re in the elevator. God, you have your 30 seconds to do something, to make couple of decisions, right. To do something and you have no connectivity. What’s the problem? So this is why. Yeah.

Andrew: so freaking frustrating. Okay. So you put it up. The reason that you were able to get beta users is you obviously have friends in the space. I was looking at your, at your profile, even as far back as 1997, you were coding, right? You were development lead.

Max: I was an engineer.

Andrew: you were an engineer. So you have all these friends, but beyond that, from what I understand, you’ve got a rep in Eastern Europe. Am I right?

Max: Yeah.

Andrew: How, how are you so famous? Is it the flying? You’re not super outspoken as far as I could tell. I don’t see a lot of articles about you online.

Max: Uh, yeah, it’s, uh, that’s probably because we just built this, this iiko business was pretty much successful and we are number one restaurant in a number of countries, honestly. So this is probably what was.

Andrew: It’s because of iiko. It’s iiko is an infrastructure company, but your clients are so prominent people go into restaurants, they see your logo. Is that what it is? That’s what got you your reputation.

Max: Well, yeah. Again, I can’t speak to my reputation myself. Obviously, it’s a question for people that’s around me about my reputation. Honestly. I was just trying to build the great products and honestly, with this restaurant company that you mentioned, thank you so much. What I’m especially proud of when my mom flies in and I meet her at the airport, then I just, I can go to a kiosk down there and almost half of them, or even more than half of them, there is our logo and this is something, you know, we can be both proud of and she can be proud of me. So this is something that I really, I just love building great things.

Andrew: iiko wasn’t the first one as I was researching you, I saw that you had an exit with a company called Glowbyte. Am I right?

Max: Yeah, exactly. That was a very natural trend in the end of nineties and first decade of two thousands. That was an outsourcing company. And we basically took some US companies and that was an outsourcing job. So it was we hired developers and sold their time, and that was great. I sold it. I can’t complain. But to me, building a product is a very, very different experience. It’s not just you built what they pay you for, it’s not just selling time. Even if it’s done with hundreds of thousands of developers, I, I understand it’s a totally viable business. I really respect many people. There are public companies like that, but to me, building a product is much more of a challenge because it’s more risk. You build something that you’re really not sure people will buy. You have to be like, even in the internet age right now, even more, you have to be like 10 X or a hundred X better than, than the competition out there. And this challenge, this challenge was really draws me in.

Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor and then we’ll get back into the story and understand what the feedback came. Uh, what was the feedback from the people who are on the beta list? My first sponsor is a company called HostGator. What they do Max is they host basic websites. In fact, not just basic.

They host any number of sites, but I think that the WordPress hosting is what people who are listening to me are probably going to be drawn to. Easy WordPress hosting. Inexpensive. Let me ask you this Max, if you were starting today, you’re Max, let’s say you’re 19 years old. You’ve got no money. None of this reputation, nobody knows who Max is.

And Andrew walks up to you and says, Max, you got to start from scratch. All you have is a HostGator hosting package. You host your own website. You don’t have to pay, I’m going to pay for it cause just a couple of bucks a month. What’s the first thing that you launch on it? What’s a good idea that today you would launch If you are in your late teens, starting a business with nothing but a hosting package?

Max: Oh, my God. The world is so, so different right now at the time I was 19, but, I would start an online shop.

Andrew: An online store selling. What would you sell?

Max: I don’t know some, some stuff that teenagers have a crush on. I don’t know.

Andrew: You know what I would, you know, it’s interesting. I think that, uh, first of all, online stores, absolutely. If you’re listening to me, you go to HostGator, you can install WordPress and then WooCommerce and you starting to sell immediately. Um, literally within an hour, you’re up and running and you own your store and you can take it with you.

The thing that I think would, might be a twist that I would put on this Max, considering where the world is, if you can help people connect with like hire, right. The way that you did that feels like a high value item. You don’t have to ship anything. It’s like imagine if you had access to developers, even if it was you and five developers or growth hackers put up a website, say we’re selling these services.

And people get to pay you by the hour, but you start to promote yourself with some interesting content. You start to reach out to people, do your sales directly. What do you think of that? Max? Would you have been able, would you be able to pull, would you have been able to pull that off in your late teens, access to developers, maybe like hire a teenage developer?

Max: Well, I don’t know.

Andrew: No, that’s not great. That’s not great. That’s not a great idea. I like your idea better. Listen to me, people don’t take my idea. Take Max’s idea. Find something to sell online. Online shopping has exploded, and if you want to do it in a way that allows you to own your own store, take it with you.

In case you’re not happy with HostGator or just keep growing it And if you are happy with HostGator, here’s what you have to do. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And when you do, they’re going to give you the lowest possible price. You’ll also get tagged as a Mixergy customer, which means we’ll have your back and you’ll be able to keep building your business. HostGator great price, great service, long-term relationship. I use them. hostgator.com/mixergy. All right. The initial feedback that came back from your friends, from the people who were originally using Pyrus was what?

Max: Some of them just started using Pyrus. Some of them didn’t, some of them started using them.

Andrew: What was the stuff that you didn’t expect that didn’t expect them to like? That didn’t expect them to want? What was new for you from user experience?

Max: From user experience, it’s a mix of things. So honestly, when you build something and again, I was building to my experience. So this is how I view the world. So for example. now this idea of automation, of certain steps, that tasks travel. That’s not my idea, honestly, that was what people told me. And the whole idea of business process that we build our business currently, that’s different from task management.

Andrew: That came from them?

Max: Yeah, that came from them. It’s just the larger of those. They came back to it and say, Hey, max, we need something even more structured than just the workflow in a task. And just a bunch of people. We need to some form, let’s say it’s the expense management form. Like there’s certain fields there’s a CRM form, there’s a candidate applicant tracking form, There’s a, you know, last name, surname, resume and stuff. And there’s also a workflow. There are certain steps that this applicant goes through once he or she is in the funnel and the system, but you still need a form. And this is, this is also was brought by the first early feedback.

Andrew: You know what? That makes a lot of sense. I wouldn’t have thought of it either, but it makes a lot of sense. A lot of what goes into a project management software. A lot of what goes into our CRMs is a form. And what many of us do is we go and we use form software, then we use Zapier to connect it because we think of forms as being separate from project management, separate from CRM, Right. And so

Max: Separate from chats.

Andrew: separate from what?

Max: chats.

Andrew: From chat, right? You think of it as completely different. And so you accept that you need a form app and you need a project management, CRM chat app, and then Zapier connects the two. But I would understand why they wouldn’t not want that for everything that you need a form.

You don’t want to have to go and create a form in one place, Zapier connection in another, and then have it go into, so that came from them. You started building it right away?

Max: yeah, honestly, once we heard about it, yeah, that was, I can’t remember details like month to month planning, but yeah.

Andrew: So you accepted it?

Max: Yeah, and again, the funniest part about it is that task management that I initially started this on, we now give for free unlimited.

Andrew: that’s actually, that’s really interesting too. You were investing your own money in SAAS. The plan I imagine was initially to start charging for it. Right? It’s business software. Businesses are willing to pay. Tell me what you noticed in the world that made you say we have to suck it up and not charge.

Max: Well, we continue to charge. It’s just our free plan has changed and now we give to the world more free than we used to give earlier in the days.We started charging for task management. The business grew. It became profitable. It’s okay. But we realized the task management is so basic, there’s so much competition out there that we’re not going to get a lot of money on that. That was our initial design. So we just give it away for free. So essentially our test management version count as our free marketing tool. We give it up for people for free, and we even give out the business process management for free, after a hundred forms.

So it can build the form, can do the work so we can build those integrations and run it unless you hit a wall with a hundred forms, which is pretty enough for you to understand if this product really works for you.

Andrew: And so was that a hard decision for you to come to, to say we’re not going to charge for this?

Max: no, because we actually decided about a year ago when COVID hit, it was part of our response to COVID. So we kind of felt that people, business are moving online and we thought to ourselves that. Honestly we run experiments. So we give it away for free for three months, and we experienced double the number of registrations, just doubled the number of signups.

And this is, I thought to myself, I thought, Hey, maybe we should just continue. And then we made it unlimited for free.

Andrew: By the way, why is it called Pyrus? And then what’s the pear next to Pyrus for?

Max: Oh, well, I tell you, it was initially called the Papyrus. So Papyrus is a kind of electronic thing – not paper. So the thing that you provide us is not a paper thing. You put all your tasks into it and you don’t forget them. Papyrus.com was pretty expensive. So we ended up cutting two first letters and here we are.

Andrew: And then why the pear?

Max:I’ll tell you. In all my B2B software, SAAS companies like iiko or Pyrus, I feel that businesses  are agile and the need to change fast, My customers or businesses. The thing that holds them from moving even faster is a slow speed of automation.

I tell you, it’s slow speed of automation brought by developers, by engineers that need to run, to make features and the cycle of change requests, new feature testing and stuff. It’s just long. I mean, It’s great to, if we go back 20 years, the automations there, wow, We have computers. Wow, We have internet, but nowadays we just need to move faster.

So what we’re up to, what I’m seriously up to is the for platforms and Pyrus is an example of such a platform, for platforms that allow non-developers to automate themselves. And a great example of such a platform. Imagine spreadsheets, right? This is by far the most popular, maybe after email. It’s number two, email is number one, but spreadsheets is number two, the most popular business app in the world, because it allows you exactly for a non-developer to run a complex model, even if you just run this formula simple spreadsheet, you’re actually automating, you’re writing a program for that, but the genius of the spreadsheet is that you don’t realize that you are programming.  And we consider ourselves sort of Excel for workflow. So this is the the tool that you don’t need developers to automate yourself.

You just, for the workflows. Excel is great for model building and we’re great  for workflows. For the pear, for B2C for consumers, there’s a great company that’s number one by far that gives an experience. And it’s Apple, right? So we couldn’t take Apple. So we take pear. So we should, we aim to be the same type of company, but for the businesses.

Andrew: and the name Pyrus kind of sounds like pear. And so you’re trying to evoke that quality and trying to create that. Got it. Beyond your initial first users, your first friends, it was time for you to start marketing this business. Where did you market first? What brought you the most customers in the early days?

Max: Well, it was Adwords. you know, it was a little bit of PR and a little bit of Adwords. And, uh, that was, there’s not something really different from other people.

Andrew: What type of PR?

Max: Just an article about us. So I had some computer contributors write about us and Techcrunch wrote about us in the early days. So these types of things, and this is just it’s yeah, PR is. It gives you again, if your product sucks, no PR can help you. So at first you need to build certain product. Then when you hit this PR and those people come, then you have something. So they really value it and stick.

So that, that’s how it is. So we, we, we, we built a product for, for several years before that, just to make it really polished. And then we had this, this initial PR campaigns and ad campaigns.

Andrew: You know, what I saw for Techcrunch. When Android wear was becoming a thing, you guys created an Android watch app. Am I right?

Max: Google IO conference and I was like “This Android Wear thing is going to be big.” And it’s like, Google was pushing it like heavily, you know what? They distributed 6,000 Android watches to the visitors of the conference for free just to get them running. So I, put my hands on one of them, got device and thought to myself, what could we do about it?

I called my developer back overseas and and he builds something in three days, honestly, that was working. And we had this like pitch to the reporter. Hey guy, we have something where Android wear it’s going to become hot. So here we are.

Andrew: And so I imagine that that was great for PR not great, like there weren’t a lot of users checking their tasks on their watches.

Max: There was not many watches back then. So.

Andrew: There still aren’t a lot of people doing it.

Max: Exactly exactly. But that’s part of your, like, you know, innovation prophet. You really don’t know how far the new technology goes, but you try to ride waves. And there was obviously the wave because the Google was pushing hard. And one thing about it, it was ahead of Apple Watch.

So this is one of the, one of the rare cases when these guys were like ahead of Apple and then Apple then came with their Apple watches. But you’re right. That are currently not so many people use our watches.

Andrew: I’m one of the few people who does. I love it. Because it lets me just get rid of my phone. If there’s a text message, it’s urgent. If there’s a something else, I could see it on my watch. But for the most part, I don’t get sucked into, into work that I don’t need to unintentionally. What were my phone with me, I’ll find myself just going and browsing. And then from there I’ll hit some article and then from there, I’ll go to somewhere else. And before I know it, 20 minutes are gone. What’s your favorite piece of tech? For me, It’s. I, uh, I do love my Apple watch a lot. What’s yours?

Max: Oh, well, um, I would say iPhone because… I tell you why, because you know the story that Jobs quits Apple and founded Next Step corporation in nineties. I actually was in a New York back then with my friend and he showed me this Next computer, I was like “New personal computer. I mean, why?” But then, after years, if you’re an iOS developer, you develop apps for the iPhone, then your classes in the iOS are starting with the prefix NS – two letters N and S – and nobody knows what’s that, but that’s the Next Step. And that’s what I love about technology.

So this technology in your iPhone started 25-30 years ago as a very boring thing, as an operating system for a new computer that basically nobody wanted. And the company almost went bankrupt. Apple bought them for this technology, and this is what I like about the technology. Good, great tech is like wine. It ages well.

Andrew: Oh, that makes so much sense. I hadn’t thought of that. All right. I’ll come back to this story, but first I’ve got to tell you about my second sponsor. It’s a company called Rippling. Max, I’m going to tell you about a headache that I have. Okay. There are few headaches that I have, but the one of the big ones is.

I was reluctant to hire people because it’s such a headache to pay them and then to deal with all the mechanics and the legalities of doing it. Rippling said we solve it. I was reluctant even to take on contractors sometimes because I, every year I have to 1099 them, then I have to make sure that they get paid properly.

If they’re in a different country, I have to figure out ways to pay them in a different country, which should not be difficult. Right. Canada is easy. UK. I have to sometimes use PayPal to pay people and then they want something else. Like Wetransfer. I don’t want to do that. Here’s the beauty of Rippling.

Simple software to onboard people. So if I hire contractor or hire employee, all I have to do is just add them to the system. They send out the agreements, make sure people sign them, make sure they, they ask them, how do you want to get paid check or wire? And if you want to get paid it directly into your bank account, give us your bank account information, not give Andrew the bank account information.

Let’s just put it directly into rippling. Great. So now they onboarded easily. If they’re international, if they move from city to city, it doesn’t matter. Rippling handles it. And then if there’s new software that they need access to, Rippling gives them access to our accounts on all these different places.

They give them their email address, all onboarding handled, right? And then paycheck to paycheck check, which for us is, um, every two weeks or every month, depending on what your, what your work is, crippling just sends out the money. All I have to do is approve it and I’m actually going to go in and see if I don’t have to approve for certain people.

I don’t need to approve it. I just want them to get paid on a monthly basis. Super simple, super elegant, super easy. And if I ever have to let somebody go, makes it easy also to disconnect them so that they don’t get paid in the future. But also, so they don’t get access to my software. Right. Get away, get removed, their email address.

And so on max, this is the life, man. If anyone out there is listening to me, they need to go and check out Rippling. It makes paying your people so easy, but also managing all the HR and all the tech with your people. Max, they’ll even send out a laptop to the people I work with. If I want them to, to get one.

All right. And they’ll manage it. Listen to me, people, you owe it to yourself to go check out Rippling. It’ll be better than your current solution for paying your people less expensive than your current solution for paying people. And all you have to do is just take a look at it and I’m not even telling you, sign up, go take a look.

And I promise you next time you get frustrated with your payroll situation. You’re going to say fricking that Andrew showed me rippling. We got to switch to Rippling and then you’ll thank me. So here’s how you go get a free demo from Rippling. All you have to do is go to a rippling.com/mixergy Rippling.com/mixergy.

And if you’re ever curious max about how they could do so much and charge a little, go look up how much venture capital these people took in-huge. One of the biggest VC raises in, in the Valley. No wonder they’re doing so well, you, what?

Max: I’m sold and I will check them.

Andrew: They are the fricking task. Fantastic. Alright.

rippling.com/mixergy. Go get a free demo. And if you switch over you’ll thank me for it. All right. Beyond getting your first customers and improving in those early days, how do you now work with your customers to understand what they need so that you can improve Pyrus? What’s the process that the team goes through?

Max: Oh, thank you very much for this one. I really like it. I really liked to tell you about it. So things that we hear very carefully about the feedback, the problem of every size business though, is that customers, if they have, if this business is sustainable, it has, you know, loving customers is that customers want you to make hundred X you can with your engineering team and budget.

So again, And this, this, this hundred doesn’t change even if you raise a lot of VC money, it’s still, you know, it’s, you will still be way behind what people want. What our position on this is that we hear carefully every customer. And we try to understand the underlying business problem that they’re having.

And you know what in 50 to 80% of cases, their underlying problem can be solved on our platform without any coding on our side or without any editing features. It’s our customer success department who works in that and who makes sure that customers really get. Sometimes it’s even get as simple as that, Hey, we want to have these sophisticated electronic approval staff and going out to thousands of people that are our, I dunno, I had this university and some, some researchers that I want to pay on a part-time basis, I want to get their approvals through email and stuff.

And do we want, do we need to integrate DocuSign? Or something. And we came up with a solution where they just sent out email from Pyrus to this, with a document they need to sign and it just went and they replied by email. He, because usually it sort of starts a conversation. And again, if you have a conversation, if it’s not just simple approve, Pyrus is a conversational apps, So we came up with the solution without any coding in their ad with it.

Andrew: Do you then go and, and show the individual customer how they could do it, or do you do some, you do.

Max: Yes. Yes. It’s our customer success goal. So it’s not, we don’t have, we don’t call them technical support. We have technical support. We don’t call them such. We’ll call them customer success because their goal is to make customer successful on our platform, but sometimes you have the feature requests that you really need to do and you fix it.

But when we have it, we really understand the underlying costs, the underlying process, the underlying page and we’ll stick this up in the backlog. And how does this process of budgeting or quarterly budgeting, what we can assign the resources to. But again, you have to, what I tell my people is that you can’t do just what your customer wants, you know, word by word, because this way you don’t have a product this way, you have a custom development company, which I used to have and I sold it. For thousands of corporations and once in a day, your code base becomes a mess. Well, we have, instead it will stack those requests and we try to come up with a solution where it was some of the features that solve, not one but multiple requests.

And this is how we basically do product management. It’s heavily customer driven.

Andrew: Do you have example of something that the multiple customers have asked for, and instead of giving it to them, you decided to understand the root problem that they had, and then address that instead of the features and the needs that they talked about.

Max: Oh, I tell you. Well, in every Pyrus process there is a form, right, that starts the process. Half the problems are resolved, but you saying “Hey, why don’t you add a field to this form and make this field use certain business rules, let’s say, a certain person gets involved on the third stage of a workflow when this field is filled out with such kind of value.”

So. You know, 50% of cases are resolved by that. But such things. Or let’s add some field and made it mandatory on a step two. Cause we have a field, let’s say we have like, I dunno, applicant tracking form. And uh, when we have applicants, we just put it into the system, uh, with our resumes and stuff.

And on the second step, there is some kind of evaluation and we have this, you know, basically analytics on this. You know, on this person, like, I dunno estimate level of proficiency in certain areas and stuff like that. And you can’t really tell by resume, but when you’re screening a person by asking questions, you can just fill out.

So this is the second stage, and then it goes to the third stage of the workflow. So those are, uh, It’s like daily, to me, it’s like, it’s a bit hard to come with a better example because to me it’s like, you know, it’s usually just the response, build a form in Pyrus is the answer to anything.

I love the stories of my customers. Once in a while I talk to the customer and Uh, you know when I really felt that Pyrus is picking up in our organization? When I passed through the hallway, that was before COVID, I passed through the hallway and there were two people discussing and one of them was telling F-word, I’m moving this into Pyrus.”

Andrew: Ah, like stop the conversation. Let’s go into Pyrus with the conversation.

Max: No, no, no, no. That was, that was the, it was not just a conversation. That was a process that was, there was just some mass and some process and something stuck, not for the first time. And the person was like F word. I build a form on Pyrus for that and make everybody use it for, because I’m done. I mean, no more.

Andrew: I get it. And so I know I could create a form right in the beginning that asks people for information. Are you saying that? So I create a form. Someone fills it out. It creates a set of say three tasks. Are you saying that the fourth task could be to create another form for the next person?

Max: It doesn’t create three tasks. It’s actually the form creates one task just assigned to this form. But these tasks has several steps and yeah, you can. Yeah, you can have sub tasks if that’s what you’re asking, because sometimes you have a form, let’s say a form of certain agreement, like you track agreements to your customers and the sub form could be an invoice or, you know, accounts receivable form that could be subtask to it too.

Andrew: So for us, for example, one would be somebody fills out a form that says they want to do an interview with me. Right. It goes into the first task would be for someone on the team to say, look into this and see if this is a good fit. And then if it is a good fit, they check off that it is, it goes to someone else and we say, do some research on this person before we moved them to a conversation with the producer, understand more.

And then right. It goes to the next step. After that, that’s what you’re talking about. That the form triggers these several steps that the team needs to act on. All right. This makes sense. You know what, you know, where I was, I was surprised is you guys also go beyond with like Facebook messenger I talked to someone on your team.

She said, if somebody sends a message on Facebook, we could then respond back to them because people are sending messages on Facebook. I said, you mean a Facebook message creates a task. And the task is go back into Facebook messenger and respond. She said, no, no, you could respond within the task. And then that goes back to Facebook.

Am I right about that? So somehow you guys have built an integration into Facebook. Is it Facebook messenger or Facebook pages? Do you know?

Max: No, no, no. It’s Facebook messenger. It’s not only Facebook messenger. We have this section, Instagram integration or it’s popular telegram app integration. That’s basically part of the service desk solution or a platform because we’ve got a blog for our platform. And our pitch is you run many processes, the whole value of Pyrus, you run many processes on one platform. So we have service desk solution. Here we are competing with ZenDesk, obviously. And, uh, for the service desk solution customers reach out through many channels, be it email, phone, telegram, Instagram, Facebook messenger. So building the relations with all those channels and no matter how customer reaches you out, uh, then on Pyrus in a unified interface, your support agent response and this response, or this reply goes into the original platform. The customer is. So for you, it’s just the only channels service desk solution. So this is, this is what Facebook messenger is part of. So something about task messaging that really.

Andrew: But it is, it does create a task of some kind doesn’t it?

Max: Yeah, it creates a task because it creates a task attached to a certain form support request form where you can have information about your customer and actually. Uh, it actually pulls up the information from the customer, from the previous inquiries. It makes you understand your customer because one day he phones you, second day He emails you and third day, his girlfriend,  you know, sent something you on the telegram or sorry, Facebook messenger and, uh, You, you just kind of want to see that it’s just

Andrew: Oh, the conversation.

Max: requests. Yeah. You, you want to understand that? And that’s what we do. So you can is one big thing about multi-channel support is the only channel support, how they call it these days.

So, uh, yeah, it’s a task and, uh, Uh, there is an SLA agreement, service level agreement attached. So for example, you have SLA that your team has to reply to Facebook messenger requests let’s say in two hours. To email requests, let’s say in three hour.  that you put your SLA into the system and system calculates the SLA for you.

So a week or a month into it, you can have the visibility, how your team performs. Maybe you should change the slate. Maybe you should add resources. We don’t like your slates and teams is working harder than should probably add more resources. So. Yeah,

Andrew: All right. Let me close out with this. Um, When do you work? Do you work? Are you somebody who works as soon as you get up? Are you someone who limits your time of day to just like to certain hours? Are you working non-stop always with your phone by your side,

Max: Honestly the latter. So again, I try to be with my kids and my family and the weekends. Uh, but other than that, it’s really not a really eight to five. I didn’t, you can find a CEO of SAS company.

Andrew: So 11:00, a message comes in, you’re handling it. Customer has an issue and you happen to be awake at 1130. You’re responding right away.

Max: Yeah. Thing is that we have teams, we have customer success team. We have a, you know, an SRE team that runs our software in data centers. So I don’t have personally to kind of wake up and respond to every call luckily at this point of the development of our company. But yeah, sometimes like if something happens and need responded, I I’m like

Andrew: So what’s more typical for you to respond to at night, if you’re up at 11 o’clock, are you up at 11 o’clock?

Max: Uh, sometimes could be, but, um, I try to be an early riser. So

Andrew: What time do you get up

Max: well, six to seven.

Andrew: Six to seven. Okay. So if you’re up at night, what’s the work that you’re doing late at night. What takes up most of your time now?

Max:Uh, well i  kinda like… To make all the decisions in the morning because your head is fresher there. In the evenings… you know, it turned out I also have another hobby. I’m actually a guitar player a little bit. And I figured out this thing from guitar lessons. You try to play a certain composition and you try hard. And the harder you try in the evening, the more mistakes you make. And you’re like saying to yourself “Hey, man. It’s bad, and it’s getting worse.” So you go to bed frustrated with that. But in the morning when you take your guitar and start playing notes, for some reason, surprisingly, they play out so well, just because your kind of brain memory from the evening, it’s kind of, you know, processed it at night and you’re fresh now for the solution.

 

So I tend to apply this in my business decisions too. In the evening, you can do some kind of research. You can read something that you postponed in the day, something that’s not that important. The point is you don’t make a decision in the evening. You don’t make it. You don’t make a call. You don’t send an email. If it’s an important email, I can write it in the evening, but I will reread it in the morning and sometimes you’ll find some things that you really don’t want to put out there.

Andrew: Because you’re letting your, because you’re letting your brain work on it. In the middle of the night, God, you know what? I read a book about this. I don’t know if you know the book Psycho-Cybernetics and it does talk about this idea that you have to trust your brain. I forget how they put it in the book, but you have to trust your brain to think through without the effort of forcing it to think through.

And when you do that and sleep. It really helps. So we’ll use sometimes before going to sleep, say, I have this problem. Brain, mind, work on this. I trust you in the morning. I know that you’ll help me get the answer. Is it like that kind of deliberate?

Max: I didn’t read this book. Thank you so much. I’m going to Probably order it. And you know, what about the process you just mentioned during our interview that somebody fills out the form on your website? What I suggest is after this call, let’s just pick up a time and I’m just going to onboard you to this process or one person on my team

Andrew: for, uh, to do the forms for us?

Max: for handling for, yeah, just we’re going to on board.

You just, you know, it’s uh, after this call,

Andrew: How about, can we extend this to anyone else who’s listening too? Or is it just for me?

Max: Oh, honestly. Yes.

Andrew: Is it awkward that I say everyone? Okay.

Max: Yes. Because yeah, it’s just, you know, um, I should say, uh, that this is special for you, but not special to your audience and all your listeners, because, uh, if you just sign up for Pyrus and you just kind of try to understand what’s going on here and need some help, just shoot out a support request.

You know, shoot out this little question, mark a form, write what do you need. And our customer success team will be able to help you to build out the process.

Andrew: Meaning, they will build the process for us. If someone says, look, here’s the process that I have. I want somebody to fill out this form. I want this next thing to happen. I want this next thing to happen. After that. I don’t know how to do it in Pyrus I’m kind of getting lost. Your customer success team will do it for them.

Max: Exactly. Even more than that, because rarely people come up with such a such a request. Like I have a form, I want a certain steps that we, this is our response. This is our terminology. Like a form and steps. Usually people come up.

Andrew: It’s like I have a problem.

Max: Yeah, it’s more like, it’s more, it’s more like I had this mess, how can I organize it in Pyrus?

Andrew: And the team will do the thing for them? Will go into their account and then do it?

Max: If they allow us to. Yeah. Usually what we offer is they, Hey, this is the email address. Please add one of our customer support agents, one of our customer success agents to your account, that’s their call. If they want us to be able to access their account. And yeah. And then one of us helps them to get on board

Andrew: No, there’s only one company I ever did that with. It was click funnels. The only company that ever said, instead of here, go figure it out. They said, do it for us. Can we we’ll we’ll do it for you. Can we go in, it was freaking heaven. I just said, I don’t know how to do this thing. What do I do? And they said, Uh, can we log into your account?

I said, sure, the next day, or maybe it was like 36 hours later. I don’t remember exactly how much they fricking did it for me. It was amazing that they would do that. I just don’t know how they could put that much effort into it. I don’t know how you can, you guys are charging even less. Your prices are..

Max: Yeah. Uh, luckily currently we have prices pretty low. We’re going to, we, sometimes it’s not the price that I had initially was, sometimes raise our prices. Uh, the thing is that we calculate our math. We know that if we spend couple of hours on you and how to get on board, then the lifetime value of you will be much more than the effort we put into you into getting you on board.

So it’s just, just business supports for us. That’s why we do it.

Andrew: Thank you so much for doing this, the website for anyone who wants to go try it. Is Pyrus.com, pyrus.com. Max, I’m going to continue to follow you, but I don’t think I’m actually going to find anything cause, but what I hear there’s there’s like people who know, you know, know what’s up, but you’re not, you’re not online much.

I couldn’t find like Instagram photos of you hanging out. No photos of your flight. Am I right?

Max: Uh, um, yeah, a little bit of, uh, I spend my time building products. I’m not much of a social media guy yet, but I’ve got Twitter, mnalsky and also you can just follow my Twitter and  and, uh, uh, there I am.

Andrew: All right. And hopefully once this whole COVID thing is over, we’ll be able to get on a plane together or have a scotch. Do you drink scotch?

Max: I’d love to get you on a plane. And I drink scotch.

Andrew: No, not together, but yes, I catch it. All right. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first is HostGator. Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. The second, if you have a team of people that you’re hiring. Or that you’re, that you’re managing right now, whether they’re contractors, full-time employees, whether they are in your city or around the world.

I want you to go check out rippling, go to rippling.com/mixergy and max, won’t give you his email address, cause he’s too busy building, but I’ll give you my email address. And if you want to sign up for Pyrus or something, uh, hit me up. Or if you have any issues with HostGator, I want an intro to someone at rippling.

I’m always available to you guys. If you’re listening to me, my one and only email address, or it all goes in the same inbox, it’s andrew@mixergy.com and I’d love it if you just said hi to me. Give me feedback on this intro interview, or just ask for an intro to, to the people who I’ve talked about today.

Thanks so much, max.

Max: Thank you very much, Andrew. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Bye bye everyone.

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