Three companies, three successes. Here’s how…

Starting a company is really hard. Succeeding at a company is really hard. So when I find someone who’s done it three times, built three successful companies, I want to understand how he did it.

That’s exactly what Travis Schneider did. Travis is the guy who first founded StarBrand Media, which enabled viewers to buy the clothes they saw on major TV shows, and he sold it to POPSUGAR.

Then, he started ShopNation, which normalized product data from fashion retailers to help shoppers find the fashion products at their favorite stores. He sold that to Meredith Corp.

Now, he’s working on PatientPop, which gives doctors an all-in-one solution for acquiring patients, managing their reputations, doing retention marketing, and getting insights into their businesses. It’s a lot in here, and I want to talk about all of it.

Travis Schneider

Travis Schneider

ShopNation

Travis Schneider is the founder ShopNation, which normalized product data from fashion retailers to help shoppers find the fashion products at their favorite stores. He sold that to Meredith Corp.

Now, he’s working on PatientPop, which gives doctors an all-in-one solution for acquiring patients, managing their reputations, doing retention marketing, and getting insights into their 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 think I’m the original guy to do it, one of the originals anyway. I’ve been doing it since 2008, over 1,000 interviews. We go deep, and I’ve got a team of people here who help me do research so that I can go as deep as possible. I do it because starting a company is really hard. Succeeding at a company is really hard. So when I find someone who’s done it three times, three successful companies, I want to understand how he did it, and that’s exactly what Travis Schneider did.

Travis is the guy who first founded StarBrand Media, which enabled viewers to buy the clothes they saw on major TV shows, and he sold it to POPSUGAR. Then, he started ShopNation, which normalized product data from fashion retailers to help shoppers find the fashion products at their favorite stores. He sold that to Meredith Corp. Now, he’s working on PatientPop, which gives doctors an all-in-one solution for acquiring patients, managing their reputations, doing retention marketing, and getting insights into their businesses. It’s a lot in here, and I want to talk about all of it in the next hour or so.

I can do it all thanks to two sponsors. The first will help you host your website right. It’s called HostGator. The second will make sure that if you want to talk to your customers or potential customers that you can do it. It’s called Acuity Scheduling. I’ll tell you more about them later. First, Travis, welcome.

Travis: Hi. Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

Andrew: Did the first company start off because of a movie, the movie “Spy Game”?

Travis: Yes, it did actually. Yeah. The quick sort of history of that company was I was in my last year of university. Originally from Toronto, I was going to school in the city of Waterloo, fourth year business student, looking for what I wanted to do after school. Always a movie buff, always interested in entrepreneurship, and happened to be watching the movie “Spy Game”, which you know, Brad Pitt wearing a cool pair of shades. I said to my girlfriend, I said, “Those are cool. I’d love to be able to find out where I could get those.” One thing led to another and I realized that, wow, there wasn’t really a destination for viewers or consumers to find and buy those types of products that they saw in their favorite TV shows and movies. That’s what got me started.

Andrew: That’s what got you started and helped you come up with this idea. By the way, as you’re gesturing, we’re hearing it on the desk a little bit louder than it seems in person. But I like how animated you are. So now that you had the idea, what’s the first step that you took to actually pull this thing off?

Travis: Well, you know what? First of all, it was a lot of research. I mean, you’re literally watching that movie, having [inaudible 00:02:46] like, “Wow. That’s interesting.” Going online the next day and looking for, “Who else is doing it? What are they doing it out there?” Not seeing anything. So the first step for me was I was literally sort of winding down my last year of school, and I jumped out and started to do the research, looking at what would the business model be? How could one find out what these products are? How could one monetize them, get traffic there? What does all that look like? Put that research together, and then what I did was try to raise some angel money that could get me to get out to California where I thought I needed to be to get that business started.

Andrew: How hard was it to raise money the first time? I know now you’ve done a really good job of it, and you’ve raised a lot. We’ll talk about that with PatientPop. But back when you were just a new entrepreneur on the scene, how hard was it?

Travis: It was really difficult. I mean, to be honest, I got my business started, that first business, with $50,000 of Canadian money. So you know what that’s like. That took a long, long time because I didn’t know how to do it. So the approach that I took was, at the time being a student, I thought, “I’m not going to ask my parents for this money, because I certainly wouldn’t want to lose that. I don’t want to lose my friends, so I’m not going to ask them or their parents for it.” So the approach that I took was, very simply, I asked my network, which was really small at the time, for introductions to anybody in that network that dealt with investors.

Andrew: Okay.

Travis: So I had literally one of my buddies whose father knew a doctor who did angel investing, I met with him and it was that sort of approach that got me on the path to raising that first bit of seed money.

Andrew: You told that producer, Ari [sp], that you wanted to move from Canada to Sunset Boulevard in L.A. Why was it so important to get to Sunset Boulevard, outside of the fact that it’s just a fun strip to be on?

Travis: Yeah. It’s sort of interesting. I wanted to be in California, and this type of business I think needed to be in California. The story behind Sunset Boulevard is when you come up to California with $50,000 in seed money to start an internet company, you look for shortcuts. I, at the time in probably a naïve way, thought, “Well, you know what? If I’m going to get an apartment and work out of my apartment, if I got one on Sunset Boulevard, maybe you people would think I had a real office.” That was the logic behind that move.

Andrew: Did it work? Did it actually help you to be in the heart of Los Angeles?

Travis: I don’t think it helped me one bit to be on Sunset Boulevard. I think that’s naïve sort of thinking. But it absolutely helped me to be in the community where this type of business needed to get started. So that type of business required partnerships with the major entertainment companies, the movie studios and television networks, and there’s no way that that business could have succeeded if I was piloting in for a meeting here and a meeting there. I had to be there and work that 24/7. So yeah, it was good partnerships.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:05:50] and I’m curious about how you got the partnerships even more than the why. But I’m wondering why. I know that a lot of entrepreneurs would have said, “I have this idea. I’ll just put a picture of the movie “Spy Games” and say, ‘If you want the sunglasses in this movie, here they are right here. Click Buy to buy them.’ Then, I’ll SEO it, so anyone who’s searching for it will find them and we’re golden.

Travis: I wanted to make sure that people… A lot of purchasing has to do with intent, and I thought that the way that this would work is ultimately if somebody was watching, let’s say, a TV show, and they ask themselves, “Where do I get those sunglasses?” wouldn’t it be great if during the commercial they could go online and buy that product? So I wanted to have that information available right away. The necessity with the entertainment partnership was if I could partner with a television network, they could provide me with the information about all of the products that were in the show prior to it airing. When it airs, it could be available for purchase at that same time.

I also wanted the entertainment partnerships to market the service to their viewers. So the way that this model worked was there was an e-commerce storefront that would reside on a TV network’s website, for instance. So if you saw something on The CW Network, then in theory, during the show, after the show, you could go to The CW and buy that product. Looking at that, that’s why those partnerships were [inaudible 00:07:15].

Andrew: How did you do it? I’m amazed that you were able to partner up with a major studio right when you got there, it seems like. Right? It was Warner Bros., the first one?

Travis: Yeah. You know what? It was interesting. So those partnerships didn’t come overnight. They weren’t easy. It probably took me my first year almost to identify who to talk to, knock on doors. You meet the right person, the wrong person. It was a real hustle. But then, like anything, I was really fortunate. One TV network gave me an opportunity, which was Showtime Networks. I did the first show with them, and I proved the model.

Andrew: That’s interesting.

Travis: Then, I went to Warner Bros., which is probably the largest television producer out here, and started working with them. They ended up investing in the company, and they really gave it the boost that it needed.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:08:02] I saw when I lived in L.A. for a few years. I saw people so eager to make it in Hollywood one way or the other, trying desperately to talk to anybody, and getting nowhere, frankly. How did you find an executive who had the power to make this decision, who was willing to listen to you, who was willing to not copy the idea? What worked after all this?

Travis: That’s a good question. I mean, I didn’t run around the Sunset Strip trying to meet people in bars and talk Hollywood game. I was up at 6:00 a.m. on the phone, calling every major studio, trying to identify, “Who is it in marketing that I should talk to?” I’d call them. I’d email them. Usually, I got the wrong person. But I had one thing working to my advantage, which was at the time I was a really young entrepreneur, early 20s, right out of school. I think that being straight and straight up, and talking and introducing it, I think they embraced that and they opened up the door, if you will.

Andrew: Do you have any other advice for someone’s who’s trying to make essentially cold calls to get a big partner? Based on your experience, can you give them a shortcut? Or not a shortcut, but can you help cut a little bit of the time for them, because they can use your experience as a guide? What’s one other thing you suggest?

Travis: That’s a good question. I mean, I think you have to really jump right in and be persistent, and not be a salesman. Like I never picked up the phone and tried to sell somebody with fancy language and a script. I got on the phone, I introduced it very quickly, cut to the chase, and asked if they were the right individual. If they weren’t, they could point me in the right direction. That’s sort of how it worked for me.

Andrew: How many phone calls would you say you made to get that first Showtime deal?

Travis: I was on the phone probably five days a week from morning until night. Like I said, you’d call these big studios, and I never got through to the right person the first time. So I’d probably make hundreds of calls into a studio, and probably show up there three or four times for meetings with the wrong people. But eventually, they listened.

Andrew: That’s inspiring that you would make that many phone calls. What’d you do to keep yourself going when you weren’t getting yesses, to keep believing in yourself?

Travis: You know what? I kept seeking validation of where I was going. I mean, at the end of the day, I was seeing a lot of other companies get a lot of traction, a lot of online publishers get started creating content, whether it’s around celebrity, whether it’s around fashion, whether it’s around celebrity style. I’d see information in the TV Guide talking about what someone wore on the red carpet. Even though my idea was different, it kept validating that, “Yeah, this is going in this direction.” At the same time, product placement, which has been going around for years, but there was a lot of talk and a lot of noise about product placement, those brands paying to be in entertainment, TV shows getting funded and sponsored by, by big brands. This fit really nicely into the direction I think things were going in.

I was genuinely interested and passionate about the entertainment industry. That was a big draw for me. Now that I’ve been out here, it’s not like it was. But at the time, it was so exciting having access and exposure to that industry. Being a Canadian to be able to live out in California, your first job, your first career, your first gig, it was a thrilling time for me. So that’s what kept it going.

Andrew: I’ve been looking over your shoulder at the movie poster. What is it?

Travis: Oh, yeah. Interesting. So when I was in Italy, in Rome, I saw, it’s one of the original movie posters for “Jaws” in Italian, and I thought it was cool. I guess that the movie industry hasn’t left me completely.

Andrew: No, not at all. I can see the passion for it. Was it as easy as once you got a deal, that’s it, you’re on easy street, these guys are basically going to do the work? Or was there one other challenge at least after you signed the deal with them?

Travis: Yeah. No. It didn’t stop with the deal. In fact, it started with the deal. I mean, once I had the deal, then I had to deliver. I had to go build a website that was on par with the website’s content and production that these major entertainment companies expect. If you’re going to build content that’s going to live on abc.com, you’ve better be a reliable partner. You’ve better have good content. It better not go down. It better not interfere with the site. So there was a lot of pressure in that.

Then, there was another side to this model which was, “Hey, now that I find out that Brad Pitt was wearing Ray-Bans, how do I get Ray-Ban to participate in this project?” So I was sort of working both sides of that.

Andrew: [I see].

Travis: It was always a challenge.

Andrew: So it was tough to get Ray-Ban to associate themselves?

Travis: [It was] in the sense that they were being introduced to this concept for the first time. I mean, there have been all kinds of companies since StarBrand that didn’t copy me, necessarily. But this sort of idea, I wasn’t the only one in the world that was thinking about this. I was probably one of the first to do it and to get real traction. But it was a challenge to introduce a brand new thing to this industry.

Andrew: What did you do when other people jumped in? I find that, frankly, here at Mixergy, there’s so many other people who are doing interviews with entrepreneurs. What do you do to separate yourself at that point?

Travis: That’s a good question. I mean, I’ve poured a lot of big, big investment in building the relationships with that business with the entertainment companies. So I never truthfully or technically had exclusive contracts. But I had contracts with Warner Bros., and FOX, and ABC. Not to say that they couldn’t have gone with someone else. They probably could have. But I made sure that I always over-delivered and I was the best partner that I could be. For that reason, it was challenging for other companies to do the same thing with those shows. So I kind of had them, in a way, locked up.

Andrew: By the way, for anyone who is listening, I’m catching that there’s some echoing going on here with Skype. It’s very minor, not worth just getting all distracted by it. But I’m noticing it and I apologize, and it’s like I said not too much. You then sold to POPSUGAR. Why did you sell?

Travis: It was a good opportunity for me. I hadn’t made any money as a kid out of school. I had built that business over probably three, three and a half years, and there was a great opportunity for me to do that and put that on my resume, and make a few bucks and continue being an entrepreneur, and looking for other opportunities.

Andrew: Did you have just that one investor from Canada?

Travis: No. That was the initial investor. But then, like you said, Warner Bros. ended up becoming [an investor].

Andrew: Oh, right. Of course.

Travis: So that’s how that worked.

Andrew: Okay. What did you sell for?

Travis: That was a cash and stock deal for me. So it was not a monster exit, to be honest. I sort of call it like it was a nice single, maybe a double, in terms of the opportunity size. But POPSUGAR has become one of the largest online media companies serving women, and I got an opportunity to be part of that executive team, and not in its earliest days, but at a time when it was sort of going like this. That was a pretty cool experience for me, as well.

Andrew: You had it in 2008. At what did it really take off? I feel like it might have been around 2010, 2011 that I started noticing them.

Travis: I mean, they’re a phenomenal company. I learned so much sort of being associated with that company. But they were a company, at this time I joined them, they had done a series A or series B. Sequoia was an investor in them. They had just acquired an e-commerce business called Shopstyle. That company was just on a phenomenal, phenomenal tear. So they’ve become a major, major online media company, and it was nice to have that association. That helped a lot on the next business.

Andrew: Yeah. Let’s move on to that. I’ll just quickly talk about my sponsor, and then we’ll go on to the next one. Then, I want to get to PatientPop, the current one. Have you had a failure? It feels like every one of these businesses is just incredibly successful, each more than the other.

Travis: Wow. No. I mean, listen. I’m failing and stumbling every day. That’s the nature of entrepreneurship. It’s not always roses out there. It’s always a challenge. But no, I was lucky with that first business. That was an awesome opportunity and a nice win for me. The jury is out with this third business, PatientPop. We’re not selling that business. We’re still very, very early, but everything is moving in the right direction.

Andrew: Right. We’ll get into some of the stumbling later on. First, I want to tell anyone who’s listening to me that my sponsor is a company called HostGator. As you can tell from their name, they host websites. Travis, do you have any experience with HostGator? Do you know them at all? It’s cool if you don’t.

Travis: No. I don’t know them. No.

Andrew: So the idea behind HostGator is that hosting should just be something you can depend on. You can’t go down every minute. You have to just be able to say, “My site will work. If it doesn’t, if I have any issues, there’s a tech person that I can talk to, someone reliable.” That’s what HostGator is providing. They make it really easy for people to create websites, and really inexpensive. Let me ask you this. If you were starting out today… I’m going to go back to like if you were a high school student today.

I don’t think we have any high school student listeners. But I’ve got to just take you back to a point where you didn’t have all this experience, and you wanted to start a new business with nothing but a hosting package. What would you start? What’s a business idea you’d have?

Travis: I’m sorry. Are you asking what would be a business idea?

Andrew: Yeah. I’m asking if you have a business idea that you kind of wish you could start, or that’s a simple idea that you would even start if you were in high school. I want to get a sense of where your thoughts are, and maybe give someone an idea of what they could host on HostGator, or what new business they could start with a HostGator account.

Travis: That’s a good question. Let me think about that. I mean, it’s interesting you mention companies like HostGator. Because not to date myself too much, but I remember when I was starting that first business, having very little experience and contacts, and understanding of all of the different options and solutions out there to help an entrepreneur. One of the challenges that I had in starting that business was finding a web team to build a site, a prototype. Today, with companies, like imagine HostGator and some of these other ones, if you have that idea, these types of companies are fantastic, because with very little money you can get up and running with an MVP of a product very quickly. Right?

Andrew: Yeah.

Travis: It might not be the one you last with. But it lets you get into market very, very quickly and in a very inexpensive way. That’s the nature of the game with these startups.

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the reasons why I like HostGator for being inexpensive is that you can experiment with different ideas. A couple weeks ago, I had someone here for Scotch Night. I do Scotch Night at the office. I said, “What are you working on?” He’s basically just an affiliate at this point, and he’s making bank with this thing. He’s trying to figure out what’s the product he can take all this money and put it into, because affiliate programs don’t survive forever.

Basically, what he does is he signs up for people’s affiliate programs, he creates landing pages to promote what they’re selling, and then that’s it. Then, he sends the leads over to the programs that he’s affiliated with. A lot of it is like online universities, stuff like that. But he goes onto, what’s the service where you get it? Like LinkExchange, I think. He’s just going directly to those networks.

Travis: That’s interesting. Yeah. There’s companies like this. Shopzilla is one out here in California. They’re affiliate commerce businesses. But you can partner with them and get paid CPA or CPC. So I can see that working with HostGator [inaudible 00:20:15].

Andrew: Yeah. I can’t believe I said LinkExchange. I think LinkExchange was Tony Hsieh’s first company. I mean Commission Junction. He just goes onto those sites, or cj.com, he gets an affiliate program, he creates a landing page for it, and then he goes out and gets traffic for the landing page, which converts into leads for the affiliate and he gets paid. With HostGator, because it’s so inexpensive, if that’s something you’re out there and you want to try, you can just go to hostgator.com/mixergy and try it. They’re going to give you unlimited disk space, unlimited bandwidth, tons of email addresses if you need it, 24/7 tech support. Yes, they work year-round, including on holidays.

If it doesn’t work out, they have a 45-day money-back guarantee. If you’re not happy with them, they have a 45-day money-back guarantee. My sense is, if you’re listening to me, you will be happy with them. If the first thing you try doesn’t work out, you can keep your account going and try a different site, different idea, but experiment. Go check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy if you want that 30% discount. Hostgator.com/mixergy, and as always just shoot me an email. Let me know what you’re building with it. All right. The second business, where did the idea for that come from?

Travis: It’s interesting. So the first business came from sort of what I thought was a cool idea. The second business came sort of as an extension of that. But what we saw was a lot of online publishers. A lot of publishers, the traditional publishers, like the magazine companies, were all starting to spend more and more time thinking about online and how to build their print brands online. They were, from what we could tell, I wouldn’t say struggling, but the ways that they were monetizing those brands were through banner advertising. We saw an opportunity to introduce commerce into that experience.

So if you were a fashion brand, you’re talking about and commenting on products, trends, etc. Why not be able to allow your readers to click through and buy those products. It’s an affiliate commerce business, like what you were just talking about. We saw that opportunity, and so we built a platform that could aggregate product data from any retailer. Rather than build a consumer brand, what we did was we built a B2B platform. We built the tools and the engine that a digital publisher could plug into their website so that they could start monetizing their content in ways beyond just banner advertising.

Andrew: So was GQ one of your partners?

Travis: GQ was not one of our partners. So we worked with… Our first big partner was Hearst, and I think our first magazine we did with Hearst was Seventeen. So young women, fashion, it was an appropriate fit. Then we started to grow from there. So we started working with some of their other titles, and then we started working with other digital publishers. Then, ultimately we were acquired by Meredith, which is a publisher that owns Better Homes and Garden, Parents, Rachel Ray, and a number of other big brands. We just saw a great opportunity to build that platform across all of those different properties.

Andrew: Was it automated so if Seventeen Magazine happened to mention a product, you automatically would link to it at the store that sold it? Or was it more manual than that?

Travis: No. Automatic, no. We gave the editors… Because one thing you want to do is you want to always be mindful of protecting the integrity of content. So they don’t want to put something necessarily that’s automated that’s going to interfere with the user experience. So our tools were made available so that editors, if they were writing a piece of content and they wanted to talk about the product or the brand, they could drop in a widget, if you will, to highlight those items. So picture you were reading a piece of content. At the bottom, there was a widget that would call in the product, the brand, and then the user would click through from there to the retailer site where they could buy that product.

Andrew: Did you have affiliate deals directly with all those stores?

Travis: We did. So we would work in… I’m not sure how familiar you are with the affiliates-based [units or] Commission Junction. We would initially work with a company like that as an affiliate partner, because they represent all of the retailers. Then, once we got acquired by Meredith, then we had the influence or the power, if you will, to start working with some of these brands directly, and cut direct deals. That became a very substantial business for Meredith.

Andrew: I see. Why did you sell that one, then?

Travis: That one was interesting. So that one, we had an interesting opportunity there. We started that business, we raised about $1 million in seed capital, and we sold it within a year and a half to Meredith, because the opportunity just came to us. We were looking to pursue partnerships with these types of publishers. We had reached out to Meredith to talk about a partnership. They were making a big push into commerce. There was just an opportunity for us to do that deal. So we took it and spent a year at Meredith, helping them build that business and left when it was a profitable and big business for them.

Andrew: Was it easier to get through to companies like Hearst at this point, because you had more experience?

Travis: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Andrew: What worked for you to get through? How do you at that stage in your life get through to companies like Hearst?

Travis: Well, you know what? You can absolutely leverage your past experience. So when I call on Hearst, again, they don’t know me. I’m not that popular. But I have a little bit more credibility, because I can say, “You know what. I had previously had another internet startup. It was acquired by POPSUGAR. All of these publishers know POPSUGAR. They pay a lot of attention to that company. So that background gives you a little bit of credibility to get into the door.

Andrew: Did you have any inside connections at all through one of your investors? No?

Travis: No. No.

Andrew: It’s just you picking… You’re still at this point in the story, picking up the phone, trying to convince people that you matter enough for them to work with you and convince them to do the deal?

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: So is it that you picked the right market at the right time when they were open to this? Or was there some other reason why you think that this took off and did so well in a year and a half?

Travis: I think a lot has to do with timing, to be honest. I mean, when we picked up the phone and called Hearst to talk about commerce, it was happening at a time where they were thinking more about digital monetization. There was a theme in the publishing space about how content and commerce can come together. So a lot of it had to do with timing. I think if you picked up the phone today to call Hearst, it would be a lot harder to get in because they’ve gone down that road already. When I picked up the phone, I was lucky. They hadn’t gone down that road and they thought, “Oh, this is interesting. Let’s explore it.”

Andrew: I see.

Travis: Today it would be, I think, a lot harder.

Andrew: What did you sell that business for?

Travis: That was a bigger exit for us. Again, not a grand slam, but we all made a nice return on that and our investors saw a nice return on that business and subsequently were first in line to fund PatientPop.

Andrew: I see. Did you take some time to yourself? Did you at all get to celebrate that exit?

Travis: Well, it was interesting. Yes, and no. Part of that acquisition, like a lot of acquisitions, require that the founding team stay on. So we stayed. When we sold that business, we didn’t get to go and sit on the beach for six months. We had an [inaudible 00:28:13] with Meredith. They were banking on us to be the leaders of getting that business integrated and off the ground. So to answer your question, there wasn’t a lot of downtime between selling that and starting the next business. But there was a much more relaxing time when you’re working for a company like Meredith versus running your own startup. So I had the luxury of spending a year as an employee, and that’s a much different ballgame than running a company.

Andrew: Travis, are you aware enough of your own skills to know what your superpower is as an entrepreneur? Do you know what that is? If you could put your finger on one of the superpowers, what would it be?

Travis: That’s a great question. You know what? My skill, I think, has always been in the relationship business, whether you’d call that business development, whether you’d call that sales, whether you’d call that investor relationships. I think my one skill that’s helped me a lot and that I’ve developed with sort of day-to-day experience is really being able to try and identify where there’s a need in the marketplace. Then, be able to identify the right relationships to help make that move forward, and then encourage that relationship to take a chance on it.

Andrew: How do you do it? Do you have a process for doing that? Is there something that’s systemized at all?

Travis: I do a lot of preparation. So I don’t have an ABC process, but I take it really seriously. I do a lot of homework, a lot of research. So if we go back to Hearst, I’d probably know a lot about that company before I’d pick up the phone and reach out to them. I’d know their background, their pain points, and I do my homework.

Andrew: How can you tell what their pain points are when you’re just doing online research? What’s a way to do that?

Travis: That’s a good question. I mean, I look at the initiatives that they’re focused on. I look at what their executives are talking about. If they’re public companies, where are they generating revenue? What are they experimenting with? That’s my process, I suppose.

Andrew: I see. All right. Let me do the second sponsor to get it out of the way, because I want to spend the rest of our conversation talking about what you’re working on now, PatientPop and the idea that didn’t work out that led to PatientPop. My second sponsor is a company called, Acuity Scheduling. I thought it was a different company. Acuity Scheduling is going to make it really easy for anyone to get on the phone with a potential customer or existing customer, or anyone else.

Let me tell you about a use case of someone who I’ve had on here, on Mixergy, multiple times, a guy named Neil Patel. What Neil Patel did was he ran Kissmetrics. It was an analytics company. But he also sold some information product on his own personal blog. He said every single person who buys should get on the phone with him. So imagine this. Instead of scheduling back and forth, if he registered with Acuity Scheduling, he could get a single link to give anyone who bought from him and say, “Click on this link and we can get on a call, and I could help you out with your marketing,” because that’s what his focus was.

Well, the idea behind that is that then they could see Neil Patel’s calendar. They could see when he’s available. They can click the date and time that works well for them. If they happen to be in a different time zone, there are no questions about what time zone we’re talking about. I had it converted to their time zone. They could just see it in their time zone, click the time that they’re available. The next screen that they’ll see will ask them for their name, their email address, their Skype name if that’s what he wants to talk to them on, or their phone number if they prefer that, and boom.

Then, it’s on his calendar so he’s prepared with their phone number, etc., and it’s on their calendar so they remember to actually make that phone call. If he wants, Acuity Scheduling can send him a reminder, etc. He’s actually done phone calls like this, not in such an easy way. But he says that a lot of the customers that he got for Kissmetrics, people who were spending thousands of dollars came because they scheduled a call with him, and then he transferred them over to a salesperson, who was able to then talk about Kissmetrics.

If you want to talk to your customers, if you want to talk to potential customers, if you’re not getting people to take your calls… Oh, imagine if you had this, Travis, back then if you were emailing people.

Travis: Yeah. This would be fantastic.

Andrew: Right.

Travis: Think of all the time you waste back and forth, even when you’re fortunate to get someone. Then, you’re coordinating a meeting. Right?

Andrew: Yeah.

Travis: “You do it Monday, Tuesday, this time, that time. Loop in my assistant, your assistant.”

Andrew: Right.

Travis: [inaudible 00:32:50] Come on already. By the time when you take that, you might as well pick up the phone and talk to them. But yeah, absolutely, having that type of scheduling would be very, very helpful and save a lot of time.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:33:01] any intelligent integrations. I don’t want to get too deep into it. But when someone signs up you can add them to a mailing list, you can add them to a CRM, whatever it is that you want to do. Acuity Scheduling is fantastic. We’ve used it for years, I think since 2010, 2011. One of the reasons why I love it is, we tried tons of different software, including their competitors of Acuity. The reason I like Acuity is my assistant and everyone else on the team knows how to use it because it’s got a lot of features, but it’s easy to use.

Here’s what I want you to do. If you want to check it out, don’t go to their homepage because we’ve got a special link that will give you a big discount on their pricing. It’s called, well, here’s the URL, go to acuityscheduling.com/mixergy. Acuityscheduling.com/mixergy. They’re going to give you a bunch of free time to use their software and see how effective it can be at closing sales and getting customers on the phone. It’s amazing.

Travis, then the next idea, I feel like this next one is the biggest idea that you’ve had. Am I right?

Travis: It is. Yeah, absolutely. Night and day difference. Yep.

Andrew: You’re clearly leveling up a lot in life, and the potential is big here. The idea came to you from where? I know you were telling our producer that you had a different idea at first. What was that different idea and where did it come from?

Travis: It’s interesting. Before I give you that answer, one of the lessons that I learned doing the first two startups was both of them were… Not a lot of diligence was put into vetting those ideas. The first idea, cool idea, “Want to go to California. Let’s go start a company.” The second idea, an extension of the first, “Sounds good. Let’s jump in. Let’s do it.” This idea was we sort of looked at, “What type of business do we want to do?” We looked at sort of, “What are the key things that could help position us to build a really big business this time around?” I’d mentioned to you having a couple of singles and doubles are nice wins. But now it’s time to sort of shoot for a grand slam.

So to answer your question we looked at, “What are the big industries out there where you could build a billion-dollar business? What are the big industries where you could disrupt them with technology?” So healthcare was sort of on that list. How we found this particular idea for PatientPop is interesting, because my business partner was having a child for the first time with his wife. For the first time at our age with kids, we start spending more and more time at doctor’s offices. What we saw was we thought, in his case, having a child for the first time, that the back and forth between the patient and the doctor was very complicated with a lot of friction.

So we thought, “Hey, let’s go into the healthcare market with an app that we’re going to sell to OB/GYNs. This app is going to do a great job of coordinating the patient experience around the delivery.” So we had this idea. We didn’t start a company as a first step. What we did was we went out into the market to try to validate whether that idea made any sense. So we went out and we started talking to OB/GYNs, here in Santa Monica. We met with probably a dozen of them, and we talked to them about that particular idea. What we learned was not one of them would ever pay for that idea. They were like, “Yeah. That’s all right. But I wouldn’t pay for that.”

Andrew: Why not?

Travis: I think because their resources are slim, if you will. That particular idea would’ve required a lot of investment of time. There’s no real ROI on it that they could really recognize. It probably wasn’t really solving a big enough patient problem. It would’ve been a nice-to-have for the practice, but not a must-have.

Andrew: [Okay.]

Travis: So the takeaway was that particular app idea wasn’t going to fly. But what we learned by going out and being in the market and talking about that is we kept hearing from these healthcare providers a similar sort of story. Which is, “Hey, you know what? What I really want is a solution to help me build my practice. What can I do to do a better job of getting patients in the door, or keeping my current patients coming back on a regular basis? How do I grow or maintain a private practice?” We kept hearing versions of that story, and that led us down the road to PatientPop, which is a solution to help practices thrive, help them do a better job with patient acquisition, patient retention, building a reputation online, and modernizing their patient experience.

Andrew: What questions do you ask to get at those problems, to get someone to say to you, “What I really want are more customers,” especially a doctor to say to you, “What I really want are more customers?”

Travis: Yeah, we asked them leading. “What are your goals for this practice? What are your objectives? What are the areas that are causing you the most distraction today? Where are your pain points?” Those are the types of questions that get someone talking about or indicating where the opportunities might be. So we just say, “What are your distractions today,” and we hear from a practice, “Well, one of my distractions frankly is it’s harder and harder for me to keep my doors open as an independent provider. There’s a lot of pressure today for me to maybe shut this down and join the hospital system.”

So from that we’re like, “Okay. Well, if they had a solution to do a better job of growing their practice, they could remain independent.” That’s sort of the path that we were on, that just gave us the idea that there could be an opportunity with this type of a growth platform.

Andrew: With that problem, Travis, there are lots of different possible solutions. Like you could’ve gotten into the advertising business for doctors. How did you find the right solution to create?

Travis: Well, what we did was we looked at all of the solutions that were at the disposal of doctors today, the advertising solutions, etc. What we saw was that practices today, if they’re thinking about growth, what they’re doing is they’re in a position where they’re having to sort of cobble together a solution in piecemeal. So to your point, they work with the ad agency to do PPC advertising, and then they work with another vendor to build them a website. Then, they work with another vendor to give them online scheduling. Then, they work with another vendor that’s going to help them with their reviews on Yelp. Then, they’re going to work with another vendor to help them with social media.

So what we discovered is that the industry is using all kinds of point solutions to put together the complete solution. Our thinking was, “That approach is problematic.” We’re like, “If I’m a doctor and I’m spending time with all these vendors, that’s a huge distraction from what they want to focus on with these patients. It’s really expensive, because all of these point solutions cost a few hundred dollars a month. Half of the solutions they’re using aren’t built for healthcare. So you’ve got mechanics down the street using the same thing as the dentist.

Then, a big thing for us was in today’s digital age the metrics that were available to a doctor to tell them how their online marketing was working were not really that clear. So out of that we thought, “Let’s build PatientPop. It’ll be the first sort of all-in-one solution, a platform versus a point solution.” That was the idea that got us started.

Andrew: So it was combine all these tools that are available to them into something that’s meant just for them?

Travis: Yeah. That’s [inaudible 00:40:44]

Andrew: It’s challenging, though, to create something that does so much. Frankly, when I was introducing it, I was challenged to see if I could explain to the audience what you do. Frankly, I basically rewrote the sentence that’s on your homepage. You might have recognized it. But it included patient acquisition, reputation management, retention marketing, and business insights. Is it hard to create a product that does all that? Is it hard to communicate that to a customer?

Travis: Nothing is easy. But at the same time, the clients that we’re talking to, they’re aware of these terms and they’re investing in all of these different pieces. So the way that we communicate it to them is say, “You know what? If you work with PatientPop, it’s a single, all-in-one platform. It does everything that you need to be doing when it comes to thinking about online. If you work with PatientPop, it’s one and done, and we take care of that whole sort of model for you.

Andrew: You did this with a co-founder, with Luke, someone who you’d been working with for a long time.

Travis: Absolutely, yeah.

Andrew: What’s your relationship with him? I see that you guys are both co-founders. You’re both co-CEOs. What’s the work breakdown like?

Travis: That’s a good question. First of all, we’ve been business partners for going on almost 10 years now. We share the co-CEO title today at PatientPop. We’re Ying and Yang, if you will. So we have very complimentary skill sets, but we’re much different people with much different skill sets. So we’re able to make it work. Overall, we make much better decisions when we can make them together, and we’ve had enough experience working together that we can very easily sort of divide and conquer.

Andrew: When you divide, what does he do and what do you do?

Travis: Well, he’s a product visionary. So he sets the product roadmap, for instance, at the company, where I may oversee sales. That’s one area of his, and I’m the other area in sales, as an example. He’s more internal operations. I’m more external [inaudible 00:42:49]. So that’s, at a high level, how we divide our responsibilities.

Andrew: How long did it take you to build that first version?

Travis: Of that product?

Andrew: Yeah.

Travis: For PatientPop, we did it very, very quickly. So it’s interesting. The way that we validated the opportunity is we built an MVP in four weeks. Granted, it was not a comprehensive product. But the idea was, “Let’s build this very quickly.” Even before we built the product, the way that we validated this idea was we went out and we went to three of those OB/GYNs that we talked to and said, “Would you guys be a guinea pig? We want to test this product for a month,” and they agreed to do that. We did the test. We realized that the product would deliver value, and so we had that validation point.

Then, the next thing we wanted to do is, “Can we sell this product?” At the time, we didn’t have the business. So what we did was we created fake business cards, a fake business name, and the two of us pretended we were sales guys. We walked into a dozen doctor’s offices and said, “Hey, we’re this company. We call ourselves PatientTap,” I think at the time. “We’ve got this great product. Do you want to buy it?” The truth is, we sold to every one of them. Granted, it wasn’t 100 of them, but it was enough to validate that the idea could work. We basically within a four-week time period could validate that the product delivered the results and that we could sell the product, and then we raised our capital.

Andrew: What did you create in four weeks that could solve the real problem measurably?

Travis: Well, what we did was we built a very sort of hands-on, manual process for doing the marketing.

Andrew: What Eric Ries calls a “concierge MVP”.

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: Essentially. But you’re doing it for them without them noticing, is that what it is?

Travis: That’s basically what it was.

Andrew: So what kind of things did you do for them that the software seemed to do?

Travis: Well, like what we did was we built a website for them with online scheduling, and we implemented a web presence for them, so manually marketing them across the universe of sites out there. So when we sell it, it’s all automated. But the truth is, it’s all manual.

Andrew: I see.

Travis: That’s sort of how we got it started and now, a year later, it’s no longer manual. But at the time, we did it in a very scrappy way. But it gave us the proof points.

Andrew: Sorry?

Travis: It just gave us the proof points we needed to feel confident that there was a real business opportunity there.

Andrew: I forget how you phrased it before, but you essentially were saying that you were stumbling along or bumped into issues along the way. What’s one of them that you’ve had, maybe with this company, maybe with the previous company? What’s a big challenge, a big setback that you’ve had?

Travis: Well, you know what? I think one of the big challenges and focuses that we have is we’ve learned the lesson of how critical and how important it is to hire A players on our team. It’s interesting, because if you look at PatientPop, we’ve been growing very, very quickly. We went from me and Luke a year and a half ago, to now we’ve got almost 150 people at the company. So when you’re moving that quickly to hire, one of the challenges is making sure you’re not sacrificing what’s really, really important, which is A players.

It’s easy to get other people in. But we were really disciplined about making sure that we wouldn’t just make a hiring decision on a whim, because we needed to fill a seat, that we needed to take that extra time. With that comes friction. Maybe you’re going to miss your timeline. Maybe you’re going to miss your target. But it’s so important to the long-term health of any business that you make that investment.

Andrew: [inaudible 00:46:33] something that an A player that you’ve worked with in the past was able to do that a B player couldn’t do, or two B players couldn’t do, or four together.

Travis: That’s great. I mean, the nice thing is with A players you can really put your trust into them. So an A player for me is someone that doesn’t wait and sit around to be told what to do and how to do it. They’re one step ahead of you. They’re doing things that you haven’t thought of.

Andrew: Is there something that maybe Justin Welsh, your VP of Sales, has done that you’re especially proud of that you couldn’t have guided him to do? He’s got to be an A player to come up with it.

Travis: Yeah. I mean, just the way that Justin thought about building out our sales team, how to identify really great salespeople. He had that experience. I didn’t have that experience. He was able to identify the attributes that were required for this type of business. Because he’s an experienced person, which is a contributing factor to why he’s an A player, he was able to assess and determine which markets made the most sense to go into, the discipline to not spread too thin, the ability to put in place the day-to-day management of a team, what to look for and how to build them and manage them.

Andrew: I see.

Travis: Those are things that would be very difficult for me to do.

Andrew: I see. He’s one of the early people at ZocDoc, which is a doctor listing service. I’ve used ZocDoc to find doctors when I moved to new cities. So I guess he brought that experience here to PatientPop.

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: When you say that you decided which market to go after, what’s the first big market that you decided to go after?

Travis: Well, the first market we started in was California, Los Angeles, because we’re here. The first 10 sales we did were knocking on doors. But it’s also…

Andrew: It’s literally just going in, or do you call ahead?

Travis: I would just go in.

Andrew: You would just go in, no call ahead. How do you get through to the doctors? I see all these people with their medical equipment and donuts getting into doctor’s offices. But sometimes they have to wait. What do you do to get through?

Travis: It’s a challenge. It’s not easy. I don’t know if we’ve even solved the riddle. But we got in because we identified who are the doctors out there that are doing the piecemeal approach? We could identify who are the doctors, for instance, that are advertising on Yelp? It gives us an indication that they’re thinking about this.

Andrew: I see.

Travis: Then, we would call them and introduce what we’re doing, and sort of talk about the issues we saw with typical marketing and we would try to get a meeting with them. Then, we would demo the product and it’s pretty powerful, and it would go a long way in sort of selling it. But that’s one of the things we did with PatientPop that we didn’t do with the other businesses, was very early in the process, we built a really strong executive team. So for instance, we’d hire a CFO six months after we launched the business. Which normally people would say, “Why would you do that?” But we wanted to put all of the pieces together so that we could have a really strong executive team.

Andrew: Where do see these going? I don’t mean just your business. I don’t just mean PatientPop. But where do you see the market for doctors going?

Travis: It’s really an interesting space in all of the changes here. I mean, I think a big one is you’ve got doctors now that really are thinking about patients more like consumers. Not from a money perspective, but almost from a value base, that the industry is shifting. It’s thinking about patients, patient experience. Those are some of the things that we noticed are really emerging in this industry.

Andrew: Individual doctors are thinking about it from a patient experience?

Travis: Yeah. I think they have to be right now. Patients today have a lot more choice than they did a few years ago. Patients today can decide, “I want to go here, or I want to go there.” Why are they going to pick…

Andrew: Because they can go on Yelp and see what doctor’s ratings are, and they can go to ZocDoc. I see. Right. I do find that I have a much better experience with doctors now than I ever did. I think it’s because I have so much more information about them.

Travis: That’s right. Yeah. We want to help those doctors put that right information out there, and look as good as they can and interact with patients in the right way. I mean, you and I, we’re used to, when we want to make a restaurant reservation, well, I don’t know about you, but often you’ll use OpenTable. We’ve come to sort of expect that. So when I go to a doctor’s website, I should be able to book an appointment through the website. Right?

Andrew: Yeah.

Travis: I don’t want to go to a doctor’s office anymore and waste 15 minutes filling out paperwork with a clipboard and a pencil.

Andrew: Oh, for the love of God. But you’re right. Sorry. I’m just screaming into the mic here. You’re right. Not only do I have to fill out that much paperwork, but often three of the different forms have the same information, and then the doctor doesn’t have it once I come in. So it’s like, “What’s your name,” three different times, “Have you had any allergies to this,” three different times, and then I go in and the doctor will ask the same thing.

Travis: Yeah. I mean, what we’re doing is… We haven’t spent too much time talking about the specifics of the product. But big picture is in this industry there are a lot of big, big software IT companies. We sort of like to say that in this industry there have been primarily big software companies that focus on the back office, managing patient records, managing billing, coming into place once the patient is in the chair. But very few companies have really focused on the front end, the front office, the patient journey, where it starts the first impression, all the way through until that patient is sitting in a chair. That’s the market that we wanted to find.

So it’s not just about driving leads to a practice. But what are the ways we can use technology to give that patient a more modernized experience? Online booking, digital check-in, insurance eligibility, appointment reminders, things like that that help sort of streamline the front office and give that patient a great experience.

Andrew: How many doctors do you now have as customers?

Travis: Well over 1,000.

Andrew: Well over 1,000 individual practices?

Travis: Yes.

Andrew: You told me offline or off the interview what your revenues were. Can you say it in the interview?

Travis: Yeah. I mean, we try to not talk too much about our revenues. So the number that we’re comfortable sharing is that in our first 12 months we crossed over $2 million in ARR, which we thought was a really good indication that we were on to something. We hit that mark, and like I said, we grew the team to over 100. We just raised our series A. We raised $20 million from Toba Capital, which is a fantastic VC. They back a lot of B2B software businesses. So we’ve had a really good… We’ve only been in the market less than two years. So it’s been a really great ride so far.

Andrew: Is the number one way for you to get customers direct sales from your sales team?

Travis: That’s a great question. Yeah. So that’s how we started. We built out our direct sales force knocking on doors. Then, we built out an inside sales team which can now reach doctors over the phone with an internal inside demand generation marketing team. Then, what’s new for us is we’re also reaching doctors now through channel partnerships. So we didn’t talk about this. But athenahealth, which is one of the big software IT companies in this space, we reached out to them very early on and they liked what we were doing. They not only partnered with us, but they made an investment in the company. They’re an example of another way that we can reach doctors through a distribution partnership with companies like that.

Andrew: I see.

Travis: So that’s how we’ll continue to get real scale is through those types of partnerships.

Andrew: I was trying to see if maybe SimilarWeb could give me insight into where you’re getting your customers. SimilarWeb is this software that tells me where websites are getting their traffic. For you, it’s not very helpful because you’re not getting customers through your website. It’s CrunchBase that’s, I think, the number one source of traffic outside of search and social. That’s a good indication that it’s not the web that’s doing it for you.

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: Channel partners, inside sales, outside sales, that’s where it is right now.

Travis: [Outside] sales, inside sales, channel partnerships.

Andrew: This is a huge, huge opportunity. Man, this one, this company, am I right, has grown faster than either of the previous two?

Travis: Yeah, much faster.

Andrew: Yeah.

Travis: In our previous companies, we never had even 100 people working there. They were small compared to this. So I think we’ve been able to sort of parlay a lot of lessons learned with the first two to get it right and really position ourselves to try and build a really large business.

Andrew: Well, I’m proud to have you on here, on Mixergy. One of the reasons why I’m so proud to have you here is that there isn’t that much written about you personally online. Yeah, you’re in a few articles. They’re mostly press releases and other people’s scraping of press releases, or rewriting of them. But your story, I don’t feel, has been told much online, and I’m really proud to introduce you to my audience, and frankly to have spent some time researching you and getting to know you here.

Travis: Yeah. Well, you know what? I certainly appreciate the opportunity we have. We haven’t historically done a lot of press. I probably think the first two companies, it was a challenge and with this one we’re thinking about it more. But yeah, these opportunities are great. I mean, we want to reach out and not just to grow our business, but we’re always looking for great talent. So a big win for me today if anyone’s listening to your show that’s interested in maybe working with us if they reach out, that would be a win.

Andrew: What’s a good way for them to reach out?

Travis: My email is Travis@patientpop. You can email anytime.

Andrew: All right. That sounds good.

Travis: I’ll get that scheduling tool that you were talking…

Andrew: Right. So you can talk to all the people who are going to follow up with you because of this.

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: Cool. I should actually thank my sponsors one more time. That scheduling tool is… Really, guys, if you ever forget it, you can find it within this interview on the show notes on Mixergy. But here it is. It’s acuityscheduling.com. Acuityscheduling.com/mixergy. The second sponsor, the one that will host your website, it’s called HostGator, hostgator.com/mixergy. Of course, if you want to see the site that we’ve been talking about, it’s PatientPop. You just go to patientpop.com. It’s a really well-designed site. Thanks so much for doing this.

Travis: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Bye, everyone.


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