How do you stand up another customer vertical without hurting your first one?

Joining me is someone I interviewed years ago. His story was so memorable because he was having kids while running a company. That seemed so strange to me back in 2013.

Michael Fitzgerald is the founder of Submittable, the world’s leading cloud-based application and submission management platform.

He started with publishers but we’re going to find out in this interview how he grew beyond that customer segment.

Michael FitzGerald

Michael FitzGerald


Michael Fitzgerald is the founder of Submittable, the world’s leading cloud-based application and submission management platform.


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 for an audience of real entrepreneurs who are listening, learning and building their businesses based on some of what they’ve learned from the experiences of people who have interviewed.

Joining me is someone who I interviewed years ago, his story was like, it’s so freaking memorable, Michael. There’s so much about it that’s stuck out for me. The one thing for some reason that stuck out for me about you, Michael FitzGerald, was you had kids. What is it like to have, like, kids? That seems so weird and while you’re running a company. Isn’t that for other people? Isn’t it . . . I don’t know w . . . I know why because I didn’t have kids back in 2013, so the whole thing seemed like this big weirdo thing, which I imagine, Michael, that for many people entrepreneurship, in general, seems like that type of odd thing.

Michael: It is a little punk rock. You’re kind of outside . . . You don’t have a regular paycheck. I think maybe, you know, we talked about this that entrepreneurship or being a CEO startup founder, especially earlier at early stage is really a euphemism for being unemployed. Right?

Andrew: No. I don’t know that we talked about it. I refuse to see that. I actually think that you’re working on a mission that doesn’t have clear . . . that does that doesn’t have enough clarity, but it’s still . . .

Michael: I don’t know . . . I don’t think there’s any shame in being unemployed. I’m just saying there’s no safety net. There’s no . . . You can’t get laid off. Like . . .

Andrew: Wow. The no-safety-net is the big one.

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: But you did actually say, “Hey, Andrew, actually, it’s not that big of a deal. If anything it actually motivates you, it made me work harder, and made me . . . And all those things that you said stuck with me when I had my kids. And I love that.

Michael: Around kids.

Andrew: Around kids. I love that. I love that, Michael, that when I do an interview, I don’t sit down and take notes and go, “Ooh, well, having kids is actually not that bad. It’s helpful.” It’s the stories and the messages it just kind of stuck in your head, and then before you know it, you’re in a similar situation like you have kids and suddenly, boom. The thing that this guy said years ago suddenly comes and helps you out. And you did tell me. It was more of a motivator and it was a limiter in some degree, but it made you more serious. And boy, I found all those things for myself.

Anyway, I’ve talked about myself without introducing you. Michael FitzGerald is the founder of Submittable. When I first interviewed him back in 2013, what he did was he came out with a software that made it easy for writers to submit their work to publishers and made it easy for publishers to sift through all the material that they got, give feedback, select the writers and the work that they wanted to work on.

He stuck with that for a bit, and then he expanded beyond writing. He said, “Look, this software platform that we have actually will work with other people and for other areas.” And so one area that he got into is foundations. If they’re requesting grants and they have to go through all that and figure out which grant to accept. And I don’t know what else. We’ll find out in this interview. They can use Submittable and do. The same thing for universities that are asking for scholarships submissions. They use Submittable as a way of keeping it organized.

We’re going to find out how he grew beyond this one thing to so many other areas without driving his one customers, his one batch of customers away. I’m curious about what he did to go more enterprisey, like, bring in sales, people and so on. And I’m curious, frankly, about a personal health issue that I am glad that you’re willing to talk about because I think at some point that’s going to come in handy for me too, handy is not the word. It’s going to hopefully help me too.

All right. This interview is sponsored by two phenomenal companies. The first, if you’re going to follow in Michael’s footsteps and hire salespeople, you’re going to need a phone number for them, a way for them to handle, all the inbound, outbound, and so on without using their personal phone numbers. RingCentral. I’m going to tell you why that’s a tool to go for. And the second sponsor is I’ve been kind of automating myself and ActiveCampaign will allow you to do that to automate your marketing by almost copying your best salespeople. ActiveCampaign. I’ll talk about both those later. First, Michael, good to have you here.

Michael: Thanks, Andrew. It’s great to be back. And congratulations on the kids.

Andrew: Thank you. Last time you were on here you did about 2.3 million. And one thing that struck me as I looked at my notes was you wanted to be very accurate. It was like 2.3 maybe even 2.5 million a year in sales. I just look for ballpark, but that was impressive. Where are you guys now?

Michael: So I don’t want to give an exact number, but let’s just say we’re 10’ish.

Andrew: That’s impressive.

Michael: It feels good.

Andrew: You’ve been at this now for the better part of a decade, right?

Michael: Yes.

Andrew: Almost exactly a decade at this point.

Michael: That’s . . . Yeah. So, the 10th. We’re about nine years. Yeah.

Andrew: When you’re funded, do you get to take some of the profits off the table or is it just all salary, reinvest the profits, in one day in the future you get an exit?

Michael: You mean during the transaction? I think it’s dependent on . . .

Andrew: I mean, for you at some point, you’re doing this for 10 years beyond getting a salary which you would have had and you did have jobs. Is there a situation where you say, “I made a little bit. I get to put some in the bank for myself and my family”?

Michael: One, my salary is significantly different than it was when you and I last talked and I’m not really a big spender, but . . . I’m a very fortunate person financially.

Andrew: Okay. All right. One of the things that I’m noticing now this is in private conversations. Tell me if this is making you feel uncomfortable. But in private conversations, I’m noticing, there’s several entrepreneurs who I’ve interviewed who are now in a position to take care of not their kids, but grandkids who have not been born and they have like, 5, 10-year-old kids.

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: They put that money away. I’m starting to hear more about trusts and stuff. It’s interesting how the maturity of the entrepreneurs who listen and who’ve been interviewed has gone. Are you in that situation too? Do you care about that?

Michael: I’m not in that situation . . . I don’t think second-generation wealth, but the . . . But one thing, you know, obviously, it’s just the tenure of a company it now takes 15 years to go public. So it kind of makes sense that there’s transactions along the way. I think there’s transactions with early investors as well, you know. If somebody who invest 15 years before a company goes public, they’re probably . . . they probably need some sort of safety net. They need to . . .

Andrew: Some sale before the actual exit, before the final exit.

Michael: Exactly.

Andrew: Got it. And so you’ve had some of that too.

Michael: Yeah. But we’ve raised $17 million which is a lot of money to someone like me, but comparative to a lot of the Silicon Valley companies that’s not . . . I think you need . . . I would have had to pocket all of that to, like, have generational wealth, right? And that has not happened.

Andrew: I want to get into the business part of things. One of the things that struck me about you was when you were starting a company, you read Jessica Livingston’s set of interviews called “Founders at Work.” You learned a lot from them, and I think people are going to learn a lot from this. I have to ask you about the thing that’s on my mind. You’ve got . . . You went to get a colonoscopy.

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: And what happened?

Michael: Okay. So, we can talk. At my series A with True Ventures, that was in May of 2017 and we hadn’t . . . We’ve raised a little bit of institutional money, but that was our first real . . . That was our first institutional money, I guess, beyond YC or post-YC. And . . .

Andrew: Really? Wow. Wait. So, all you had was Y Combinator, a few thousand dollars and then you went years and years and years and it wasn’t until 2017 that you raised those money.

Michael: No. It wasn’t a few thousand dollars. It was like $700,000.

Andrew: Oh, Y Combinator did 700? How did that work out?

Michael: So, post-Y Combinator . . . So, Y Combinator does their own investment but then there’s a Y Combinator demo day and you kind of raise the seed round.

Andrew: Got it. Okay. I thought maybe you were saying you didn’t raise their. Okay. I’m with you now. Okay. So after the demo day where you raised 700,000, then you still at several years to live on with 700,000.

Michael: There was one sort of pre-series A million-dollar between that. So we got . . .

Andrew: Got it.

Michael: So we did about 1.7 before we did our series A which was a $5 million raise with True Ventures.

Andrew: Okay.

Michael: And so that was our first . . . And that was about five years in. So it was pretty typical, but we are coming from a place that doesn’t have a lot of history of raising capital. And that, we should talk about has dramatically changed, dramatically.

Andrew: What do you mean?

Michael: I mean, when we first started the company, it was like raising . . . It was like . . . It felt like we were in Antarctica, where you’re going. There was no history of raising capital. There were seed and angel investors. But without the next step, those guys were sticking their necks out so far. Like, an angel investor does a small amount in a place like Missoula and if the company doesn’t get to . . . Like, even if they are wildly successful, if there isn’t a series A history or if there aren’t series A investors, they get there and there’s no there. Right? And so that was kind of happening. And then there have . . . There’s just been a change, it seems. You can’t do SDRs, you can’t be sales reps in Silicon Valley. There’s no model where you’re paying anybody less than like $100,000. Right? So it’s gotten so hard to do certain models there. And as a result, we get so much inbound from investors now just saying, we’ve been dedicated to investing outside the Valley since January. But . . .

Andrew: And so if I understand you right, and I think I might not be, you’re saying there was not enough of a market for series A. It was hard to raise beyond the initial few thousand dollars, it’s hard to raise the millions of dollars that you did with your series A. I’m looking now at Crunchbase where you guys have $5 million from True Ventures.

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: Not only that, there wasn’t really an understanding or an appetite for SDRs, sales development reps. These are the people who will get the customers on calls with salespeople?

Michael: Well, I’m giving an example. Like, we hire them and we have a great team of SDRs, but you can’t do that in the Valley. Like, those are commission . . . Those are entry-level jobs, commission-based, and they can’t live. Like, you can’t have a $40,000 a year job in New York City or Silicon Valley. And so everyone’s sort of realized that those models don’t work anymore. And now you’re seeing tons of VC money come into these sort of second-tier cities, Denver, Boulder . . . Boulder was always a little different.

But places like Missoula now, we’ve had Summit invested 20 million, first money in and a company called onXmaps. That’s in Missoula. ClassPass has just moved here and they’ve stood up 150 employees and are going to double in the next year or so. And my understanding is they’re bringing executives here. They’re paying them to move here as well because they’ve just realized the cost. I mean, you get so much more for your money bang for your buck here. So the town has dramatically changed since you and I talked, like, housing prices are . . . I mean, someone once said you can either have jobs, you can have housing, right? And there’s good and bad with it, you know, but . . .

Andrew: Okay.

Michael: But there’s a lot of good. The good things are, we had a really hard time hiring senior people especially from outside of Missoula because what if you’re working for a startup? What if it fail? So they bring their . . . They’re 40 and they bring their two kids here and they bring their spouse here, and they work for this company, and then it goes . . . It takes a dive, what happens? So we had a really hard time recruiting serious . . . or not serious, senior people at some point. That has sort of gone away now that there are other companies here. It’s super . . . Sorry. Gesundheit.

Andrew: Thank you. I was sneezing. So you’re saying, “Look, now that there are other companies here, people are more willing to move in for this job, and if it doesn’t work out at this job, there are other startups, other comparable companies that they could go work in.” All right. So I see that things are changing. You raised money, you then went out for a colonoscopy.

Michael: All right. All roads lead to this. Okay. So on my series A, I did the traditional, I went to Silicon Valley, I walked up and down Sand Hill Road, I had 100 interviews, and, you know, it’s going pretty well. And then we got a term sheet for True and I actually just loved them. I was just super excited about it and came back and . . . But that was like late spring, early winter.

And around that time, my kids are ski racers, I had had a weekend where I just felt awful. I just didn’t feel great and wasn’t able to like follow them, like keep up with them on ski hill. And that week, I got back and I went to my GP and he said, “Let’s get a colonoscopy.” Missoula is one of those towns that there’s sort of a Snowbird population. So we get a lot of older people who are here in the summer and they go to Arizona in the winter and as a result, there’s a shortage of gastroenterologists. So they couldn’t book me for like three months. And in the meantime, I went and everything actually bounced back. I felt fine for the next couple of months.

And the day we were closing, you know, we were sitting here with my partner, Bruce and John, hitting Refresh on our bank waiting for it to go from, you know, we probably had 100 or $200,000 to $5,200,000. And it comes through and almost like a half an hour later, I got a robocall from the hospital reminding me that I had an appointment the next day. And I went in and woke up, did the colonoscopy. And I highly recommend anybody over 45 to get one. But, you know, there was . . . It was a pretty awful moment. The nurses kind of wouldn’t looked me in the eye. The physician had to tell me that they thought they saw something. We did further tests. We did some MRIs and it was a very large tumor in my lower sigmoid. I can’t remember what it’s called. But there was a significant tumor and it also got into my liver. And it was . . . The diagnosis was pretty ugly. It was six to eight months. And that was what my . . . They basically told me to go home and get my stuff in order.

So I had just gone through the raise process, and that process to me had been like, just keep talking to people until you hear yes, right? So I started treating it like that. I was like, “Okay. Well, that’s your opinion. That’s not . . . The six to eight months is your opinion, but that’s not the answer that I’m looking for. So, what was awful was this . . . For the first time in my life I could afford cancer. Right? Like, how we normally treat people with my diagnosis is first we tell you . . . First, you go broke because it’s just insanely expensive thing. You can’t . . . You’re in chemo, you . . .

Andrew: Even if you have insurance?

Michael: Even if you have insurance, every two weeks . . . You’re signing up for potentially chemo for life. So every two weeks, you get poisoned and it’s basically like having a hangover for three to four days. Right? So like, a quarter of your month you’re sort of suboptimal and you’re just sick, you feel horrible. You’re throwing up, you lose hair, you lose fingernails.

Andrew: Got it. So even if there’s someone paying for your medical procedures, you still aren’t earning money at work and you could lose your job, you’re saying.

Michael: Yeah. I mean, it’s so crazy that our insurance . . . in United States, our insurance is tied to our jobs, but if we get really sick we can’t do our jobs.

Andrew: Which means then that we don’t have our insurance. I didn’t think of that.

Michael: It’s crazy.

Andrew: Oh, yeah. Okay.

Michael: Right? So I mean, I’m very fortunate. I was the boss, right? Like, no one’s going to fire me yet. But . . .

Andrew: It’s happened.

Michael: Yeah, the board could. But the board would be right to fire me if I can’t do my job and then where would I be? No insurance. Anyway, the short of it is, I got on a . . . And I went . . . And this is the other thing. There’s very different healthcare. For things like cancer, there’s 21 NCI cancer clinics around the country that are funded by the NIH. And they’re just light years ahead of regional hospitals, not because regional hospitals are crappy or anything but they just don’t see the volume that New York or Sloan Kettering or MD Anderson sees. So it’s very hard for them to be on the cutting edge of anything, right?

And the NIH guidelines for something like what I have is palliative. You’re most likely going to die and you’re generally older. I was young. I was like 47 when I was diagnosed. But you’re generally 75, and so it makes sense to just . . . I mean, they’re not going to put a 75-year-old through some crazy surgery.

Andrew: So they don’t get to do it often, and then the people who they get to . . . who come in with colon cancer are not people that they’re going to try all these different approaches with. Got it. And so you’re saying because you had money, let’s be open about it, you were able to fly out to one of these locations, get better care.

Let me just pause for a second. I try to ask questions that I know I’m going to think about afterwards. The big question for me is, how did you not fall apart? How did you not at that point go, “Who cares about anything? I don’t have it in me anymore”? You’ve been working for years, you don’t have a break. How do you not say, “Screw it. I can’t do this anymore.”?

Michael: Well, I just looked True Ventures in the eye and told them that they should invest $5 million in our company.

Andrew: Michael, are you going to tell me again the same thing with your kids that because other people depended on you, you had to bring more of yourself to your today?

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: That’s honestly it.

Michael: I don’t know what else. And also I had 25 employees, 30 employees . . . No, I had 40 employees at the time.

Andrew: But there’s no sense in you, Michael, of saying, “What about Michael? Michael needs to just say, “Forget everybody. I need to just . . . ” No?

Michael: Well, I did.

Andrew: Or feel sorry for myself.

Michael: Well, I do. I’m not excited about having cancer.

Andrew: Okay.

Michael: Well, let me tell you what happened.

Andrew: Okay.

Michael: So, the money comes in, I go get this diagnosis, and I freak out. I definitely had a . . .

Andrew: What does it mean for you to freak out? I’ve never seen you freak out, not that I should because I don’t know each other well, but I can’t imagine it. What does a freak out look like for you?

Michael: You know, teary-eyed and can’t think straight. Thinking about the world without you or thinking about death or trying to . . .

Andrew: Oh, like, start to visualize what would happen in this situation without means . . .

Michael: Yeah. And immediately your family like, “What have I done? What have I done to my family by taking these huge risks and now dying?” Stuff like that.

Andrew: My big one that I’m not proud of is I will . . . Like, my wife will come to support me and I’ll get angry at her for the approach that she’s taking, whatever it is.

Michael: You mean business advice from your wife or . . . ?

Andrew: Anything. Like if I’m not feeling well and she comes over and she says, “Let me help you with this.” So there’s this one thing. I get angry. “Now I’m handling this already. You’re just making me . . . ” And I’m not proud of that. I have to go back and apologize later.

Michael: Have you ever noticed that sometimes . . . I don’t know. I haven’t talked to my wife about this. But when she’s in a good mood, I’m in a bad mood and when I’m in a good mood . . . or when I’m in a bad mood, she’s in a good . . . or not a bad mood, but when I’m, like, down she’s like super supportive.

Andrew: I’ve been in relationships like that. And you think it’s because . . . Someone I was in a relationship with said it’s like where a bicycle pedals, when one of us is up, the other is down, and that’s how we keep each other going.

Michael: Right. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah.

Michael: Okay. Real quick business. So I have to call my invest . . . I had to call True. I mean, the day before they had wired $5 million, and so I called Puneet Agarwal, which, I don’t know if you’ve had him on the show, but he’s a partner there and he’s our board member. And it was a pretty terrifying moment. Like, did I read in the fine . . . Could they take it back? Could they . . . What? What? Like, what do you do? And I started . . . The first thought was like, “Okay. Button this all up. Get the lawyers, like, figure it all out, figure out what’s legal, what’s not legal.” And within an hour, I was like, “I’m not going to ever really, really know, so just be as transparent as possible, get it out.”

Even this, right? Like, I think a lot of people would have an issue talking about their personal health. And at some point, I just said, like, one, I want other people, young people to know that it’s an issue. One in 20 people get colon cancer. It’s on the rise in millennials. So people born after 1990 have like a 20% chance of getting it more than people born before then. I think it’s dietary, but no one really knows. But two, it’s one of those diseases that if you get it early, if you get it at stage one, it’s 100% curable. If you get it at stage four, it’s 11% curable.

Andrew: And that’s where you were.

Michael: That’s where I am. So if I had just gotten ahead of it, like, nothing.

Andrew: Can I say it? So my family has a history of colon cancer, so I got it in my 20s, believe it or not, because it was s . . .

Michael: You did?

Andrew: It was such an issue. I’m very squeamish about going to the doctor and take my pants off in any way. Colon cancer is . . . Not colon cancer. Colonoscopy is the one of the easiest things that you do. Everyone told me, you’re knocked out, you don’t feel any of it. You literally go to sleep, you wake up and they say the whole thing is done. You don’t notice any of it. Number one. Number two. The big thing they tell you worry about is the drink that you drink that makes you go to the bathroom a bunch a night before. It is one of the most refreshing . . . somebody should in Silicon Valley turn that into a treatment.

Michael: Into a product.

Andrew: A product, because by the end of the day, by the end of the night, yes, you’re tired of going to the bathroom, but there’s a sense of cleanliness about your body. I don’t feel like whatever junk I had in me is in me. I now can start fresh the next day. And I’ve had to have it several times to the point where they’ve now told me, “Okay, you’re good to go for a few years, but let’s get genetic testing for you, Andrew.” But the next day I feel so clean that I watch what I eat a little bit more, I now I’m healthier. It’s really one of these things that somebody should brand as a new agey-cleansing diet. It’s just underrepresented, undersold, I think colonoscopy.

Michael: By the end of it everything that’s coming out of there is like drinking water.

Andrew: Right, right. Yeah, 100%. A hundred percent. So, you went and you said, “I’m going to be open with Puneet Agarwal.

Michael: Yeah. And so . . .

Andrew: And what did he say?

Michael: Well, so, I called him and I just said, “I don’t know how to tell you this.” And I just told him. And without even getting . . . He didn’t even get off the phone. He didn’t say, “I got to go talk to the other partners.” He just said, “Hey, don’t worry about any of it. Go get . . . Go do whatever you need to do to get care and don’t, like . . . ”

Andrew: Wow.

Michael: “Forget it.” Like, it was a sort of profound awesome moment. And then I called another investor who was in New York and I told him and he said . . . So, I had a plan to, like, go to Seattle, go to Mayo, basically, go to all the big cancer centers and find someone to say, “Cure.” And I hadn’t thought about the East Coast yet because it’s 2,000 miles. But I called one of my early investors, one of the angels who he said, “Okay. We just come to Sloan Kettering.” His wife was on this on the Sloan Kettering Foundation. And I was like, “Even if they had like a cure, I couldn’t do it.” And he said, “Just do this for me. Just come, get the consultation, and if you can’t do it, you can’t do it, but just I’ll leave you alone if you do this.” I went and they had a solution and they had an answer that was the best I had heard so far. It was this treatment called the hay pump, the problem with colon cancer with stage four. So you had it when you were in 20s? Did you . . .

Andrew: Not colon cancer, colonoscopy in my 20s, yeah.

Michael: Okay. So, right. There’s people who are more prone to it than others and they should be checked regularly. But the . . . And I love that you . . . Like, if people are all scared of it, it’s like effortless versus cancer you do not [want 00:24:45]. So, anyway, I went to the Sloan Kettering and I met this amazing Dr. Nancy Kemeny and she has this process called the hay pump where the issue with colon cancer is not actually the colon. Like, you can cut out 10 feet of your colon . . . You can cut out a lot of your colon and still get by. But once it metastasizes and gets to your liver, gets to your lungs, gets to your lymph nodes, that’s the problem. It’s in your blood circulating.

It had gotten into my liver. And historically once it gets to your liver, it sort of lights out because they can’t do liver transplants on cancer patients because it’s actually illegal. They’re starting to do it now in Cleveland and certain places like Rochester, New York, but it was illegal for a long time because they thought the cancer would just come back and kill somebody else’s liver. So once it’s at your liver and your liver is . . . There’s 300 vital functions on your liver just alone. And the liver is problematic because systemic chemo gets to your liver and your liver’s whole goal is to dilute toxins. So the chemo gets there and liver is like, “Bring it.” and just dilutes it. And so if you have cancer in your liver, systemic chemo meaning full-body, chemo doesn’t work.

So she thought, “Well, what if I could target just the liver?” And so what’s the delivery mechanism? Like, you could take a huge needle and shoot it in? But that would be . . . It’s too much of a punch at once. And what she needed was a way to just slow drip chemo over two or three weeks directly to the liver. And so she saw this video about this thing called the Codman pump, or she saw a talk about the Codman pump. And I’m messing up the story. This is her story.

Andrew: It’s okay.

Michael: The Codman pump is this titanium pump. It’s got two elastic chambers in it. You fill one with medicine and you fill one with air. And it was originally used for pain relief like in the ’60s and ’70s when we began doing hip replacements and spine fusions, those worked mechanically but everybody was in chronic pain. So she came up with this way of . . . And so what they came up with was they would implant this thing in you, fill one of the patches with Novocain or some sort of pain relief, and then your body temperature would expand the other, the one filled with air, and slowly push out the medicine of the one filled with medicine through a catheter that had been tied directly to the area.

And so she figured, “Well, if I could do that with the liver, and then it would . . . Your body temperature would slowly push the chemo directly into the liver over the course of a couple of weeks.” And it worked. Within five months, my liver was what they call resectable, meaning they could go in and do surgery on it. And so for a year, I was NED, which is No Evidence of Disease. It recently returned in the summer, so we’re working on plan B, but . . . I mean, that’s a straight-up rich people shit, right? Like, they got . . . I was able to go do that and I was able to, you know, get way beyond six to eight months purely because of options that aren’t available to everybody.

Andrew: Yeah. Yeah, the work options is . . . Is her name you said Nancy Kemeny?

Michael: Yeah, Dr. Nancy Kemeny.

Andrew: Dr. Nancy Kemeny. I see her here in a New York Times article about the Codman pump. I get it.

Michael: So Johnson and Johnson cut . . . They stopped making it.

Andrew: That’s what this is about, it’s being phased out, is the headline of this article.

Michael: I can’t go into it, but we’re coming back.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Let me . . . Let me go on with the interview. Maybe I should do an ad for a sponsor now just to, like, take a break and then come back in. All right. My sponsor is a company and I’m really appreciative to them for doing this, for sponsoring this interview. It is a company called ActiveCampaign.

Michael, one of the things that I like to do is if I’m putting out an offer for something, I want to put it out, and then if somebody responds and signs up, I want to follow up with them, so Rebecca on my team will send them a calendar link to follow up with them so that I can get on a call with them and understand why they signed up. If they signed up and canceled, I want her to find the people who did, send them a personal note and follow up with them so I understand why they canceled so that I could improve things for the next people. I was like, “The set of stuff that I want to do that’s hands-on that Rebecca will help me do.”

Well, the thing about ActiveCampaign is they kind of let me clone Rebecca. All this like high touch, if this person is in pain, let’s go through and find out why they are in pain with our software, why they don’t like it. If this person is happy, let’s find out why. Let’s make sure that the right people get on a call with Andrew and the ones who are just going to waste his time are not.

That’s what ActiveCampaign does. It is marketing automation. They want me to call it that. And the truth is most of us don’t care about marketing automation, but we do want, when we’re putting out an offer, to send it to the right people. When they’re responding, we want to respond to them based on what they’ve said to us. If they buy, we want to make sure that we send them a follow-up that makes sense. If they watch videos about a specific topic on our site, we want to make sure to send them emails based on that. That’s what a human being would do, but we can’t have human beings for every single person who joins our email list. ActiveCampaign allows you to create something similar to that.

If you go to, they will let you try their software for free. They will give you your second month free after that. They’ll do two free one on one consultations to help you get up and running with them. And of course, if you’re with a different email provider, they will give you . . . I’m going to talk about why my mind just went off there for a second. If you’re with a different email provider, they will help you migrate for free. All you have to do is go to, to get all that. Michael, the reason is, once my head goes even for a second to announce, I thought you can see that there’s a shift in my pronunciation of the word.

Michael: I know.

Andrew: And I don’t know if it happens to you, but it’s one of the things that I’ve learned from doing interviews and from having conversations with people. Stay focused. My mind went to, “Oh, this is not a great ad for ActiveCampaign. I didn’t do enough.” I got to just shift the mind back to where it needs to go. All right.

Michael: It’s hard. I don’t know how you do it.

Andrew: I think . . . Well, yeah, we’ll talk about that another time. Let’s come back then. Last time you had a solid business. At what point did you say, “You know what? It’s not enough to go after publishers.” How did you realize that?

Michael: Well, publishing is . . . Publishing was a little bit on the ropes. I mean, publishing is in a weird place. Like, it’s actually easier to publish than ever before. There’s more publishers, if you think of blogs or, you know, what is publishing? Publishing itself has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. So publishers are great customers in terms of volume, in terms of logos, but they’re broke, and you can’t have a broke clientele.

Andrew: When we were talking publishers, it wasn’t just book publishers. I was thinking you were going to go on to online publishers . . .

Michael: We are.

Andrew: . . . blogging was going to become bigger. And you did. But you’re saying even that, there’s not like TechCrunch is not sitting on millions of dollars to invest in writers.

Michael: There’s only that many TechCrunches. Yeah, they’re . . . TechCrunch actually built something similar in-house. They were a customer for a while and then they tried to . . . They have a contributor’s network which is based [inaudible 00:31:45].

Andrew: I see. I didn’t realize that.

Michael: Yeah. But the . . .

Andrew: But you’re saying there are not that many of those customers and the rest of them are not doing well.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Michael: They’re not . . . They’re doing fine, but I know. Did you read that Conde Nast article in the New York and . . . It was New York Magazine.

Andrew: No. What was it?

Michael: It was just saying they’re in trouble.

Andrew: Okay.

Michael: I mean, just being in trouble just the industry is contracting or the company is contracting, but if your whole industry is contracting, there’s really not a lot you can do there, right? Like, what . . . And what I mean contracting, I mean in revenue because you’re now competing against anybody who can start a blog or anybody . . . At the end of the day, their model is to get eyeballs. And if the eyeballs are looking at Facebook or the eyeballs are sitting on LinkedIn or watching Mixergy, I mean, you’re a publisher. Right? You’re just a different kind of publisher.

So, it was a great . . . It’s a great vertical in terms of volume, but they have a very . . . They have a significantly lower price point than say a university, a corporation, AT&T is a customer, HBO is a customer. You know, that’s a very . . . And they use it for different use cases. So one of our fastest-growing verticals is corporate giving. So when I walk around town, I go to the supermarket, I run into, you know, another dad and he’s like, “Hey, we got our soccer team up and running. I was wondering if Submittable would be interested in sponsoring. It’s 200 bucks and we’ll put your logo next to the dentist logo on the t-shirt.” Of course, I want to do that, right? Like, of course, I don’t want to say no.

So how does that . . . What are the mechanics of that? So I’ll say, “Cool. Send me a email reminding me in the morning.” So I get the email in the morning and then I forward it to accounting, I’m like, “Hey, can you cut a check and send it to these people?” And they’re like, “Sure. Where’s this . . . What department is this expense going?” Right? So then I got to think about it a little bit more. And then marketing is involved and they’re like, “Oh, can you get the kid’s picture so that we can put it on Twitter or whatever?” So then you’re . . . Anyway, at the end of it, it costs me like $2,000 to give away 200 bucks.

Andrew: Because of all the people who are involved in making sure that this happened?

Michael: Yeah. Right.

Andrew: You know what? I’ve had situations like that too and on a smaller scale. I get it.

Michael: So, what if you . . . I can just say, listen, if you go to the bottom of our website, there’s a link for sponsorships and charity, asks or anything. And as part of the application process, you upload your logo so that we have their logo for marketing. You upload any other materials we need, you like the actual, like, “Could we just transfer it instead of sending you a check?” And we also now have a way of, like, going back and forth like checking in. In a month, we can check-in and be like, “Hey, how did they do?” So we can keep that material. So every single company in the world deals with this and they also deal with it at executive levels, right? Like, it’s usually the higher-ups who get these asks. And so it’s been a very, very valuable vertical for us.

Andrew: I have questions about, like, why can’t that be replaced by a simple form on like Survey Monkey or Gravity Forms or something? But let me get to how you understood that this was the next thing because one of the things that I noticed when I went back and looked at my past research on you was you had an idea, it didn’t work, you were willing to adjust. You had another idea, it didn’t exactly work, you were talking to the wrong people or whatever. You were willing to adjust. I like your willingness to adjust so much. But I’m wondering, how did you know that this was the end of the road for the growth . . . Maybe even not at the end of the road, but there was going to be huge growth here. You had to go somewhere else. And then how did you find that somewhere else?

Michael: Well, in that use case, I was just the user. So I came in and told our salespeople, I’m like, “What is corporate giving?” because I went and researched it and I was like . . .

Andrew: So, this was the first next thing for you guys to do at Submittable?

Michael: This wasn’t the first, but this . . . Let’s say foundations was the first.

Andrew: The foundation. So, how did you know, “We got to look at foundations”? Because again, look at me, it’s been five, six years since I talked to you. I’m still focused on startups, still tech startups. I’m not branching out the way that you are even though there’s not huge growth in the startup space the way there was six years ago. You knew it. What was the mechanics of knowing that?

Michael: Is that true? There’s not . . . Like, more people aren’t starting companies?

Andrew: There was a period there where people wanting to start software companies. I don’t know number-wise, but I do absolutely see the energy. There are people who now . . . people who are younger don’t want to start software companies, they want to be the next YouTube star. They want to be the next influencer on Instagram. That’s where more the excitement is. And frankly, it’s easier. So where before you’d have to think, “How do I become like Michael?” I now can think, “How do I become more like Casey Neistat?” You could imagine yourself getting there.

Michael: You’re way ahead of that.

Andrew: To some degree, but not enough. So let’s . . .

Michael: Okay.

Andrew: So yeah, tell me about the mechanics of how you understood that.

Michael: So, how we got to our first vertical was, it was basically through sales. So I had been doing all of our sales and maybe one of our early advisors is like, “You’ve got to stop doing the sales.” So how do you do that? You got to get a salesperson. And at that time . . . I mean, I assume there’s a lot of companies that went through the same thing because as you know, like, all those original SaaS companies had that three-tiered pricing on their website. You click something and you’re put in your credit card and you don’t talk to anybody. And that created a billion . . . a thousands of software companies. Just two or three developers who were like, “Oh, I can build a SaaS thing and I’ll put up this and I won’t talk to anybody and I’ll be off to the races.” And unfortunately, run into . . . At some point, you have to talk to people especially for larger companies.

Andrew: When was it that you realized you needed to talk to people?

Michael: It was probably right around when you and I were talking because I remember the building I was in. We were in a much smaller office and we had . . . It was . . . That was the office space where I hired our first salesperson. And what I couldn’t figure out . . . I wanted a salesperson, I wanted somebody to replace me, but I didn’t know the model because we were charging $29 a month up to like $200 a month, so how do they make commission? Right? Like, how do the salespeople eat?

So the first . . . And I had this . . . Somebody had told me how to hire salespeople, and they said, “How you hire, like, especially your first salespeople is you just say no to them three times, and if they keep coming back, then that’s a good hire.” So I’d done that and literally he’s still with us. He’s a VP of our sales. He is one of our VPs right now. But he came in and I was like . . . I didn’t say no, I was just like, “I don’t know how to pay you.” Right?

But somebody . . . I don’t know if I came up with it or somebody advised me to do it, but what we ended up doing is I said, “How about I just give you five grand, I give you $5,000, you can take a month, you can take three months, but at the end of it, you got to tell me how to pay you? Right? Like, you’re the pro. You know how to do this stuff.” And he was like, “Okay,” and he did. And he came back to me with like a vertical which was foundations and applications and a price point and a model and . . .

Andrew: He figured out foundations. He said, “I’m not going to go and contact more publishers,” because he saw the same thing you did and he said, “You know what? Foundations need the software to.”

Michael: Yeah. He tried a couple of different verticals and he found . . . And so then, you know, through fits and starts, we added like four or five more salespeople and we figured out that we had to go after verticals that had money and . . .

Andrew: Got it. And he was making calls to foundations, understanding them, closing the sale to them, is that right? And then you said, “Ah, we got this. This is our brand new thing.”

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: And then when you did, did you . . . I didn’t see this in the Internet Archives. How did you start to position yourself as somebody who was right for publishers and foundations, etc.?

Michael: Well, that’s not easy, right? The other thing that’s changed, you know, when I started . . . When I was an engineer in the late ’90s or early 2000s, you would never . . . you would do everything humanly possible to not customize, right?

Andrew: Right.

Michael: And in the last 20 years, like, it feels like the core pieces of software. I don’t know. If you think about . . . If you think about plumbing, the first houses that had indoor plumbing, each of those things were handmade, every pipe that fit together was, like, designed and built by the person building the plumbing. And then slowly over time, everything became mass-produced and it was the same widget that . . . You know, every house had the same widget studio. And software has kind of been like that. Like, in the beginning, we were building the shopping cart or we were building the mail server. And now there’s a service version of everything, right? So now you’re just really like putting these pieces together.

And so as a result, I’m not saying it’s effortless, but you can customize on a degree that you couldn’t do 10 years ago. So, we basically have about . . . We basically have about 15 different products where 80% of the product is the same across the board, and then that last 20% primarily around language and some of the organic or workflows that you would only see in certain verticals, that gets customized. And that’s not effortless and it’s not . . . It feels sort of yucky when you’re engineering it, but at the end of the day, you suddenly have all these other verticals. Anything that’s Submittable is potential customer. And to go back to your mention of Gravity Forms and Survey Monkey.

Andrew: Yeah.

Michael: So those are forms that take data and they end up as data. They aggregate data into another data set. Submittable is primarily about digital objects, meaning it gets reviewed and a bunch of people have to look at it and sign off on it. We have a corporate-giving team that once a month goes to all the asks that come in. So we have four staff members that meet once a month and review them all and, like, use Submittable to vote and talk about and leave notes. And all that is Gravity Forms, Survey Monkey, Typeform. Those features don’t exist remotely.

Andrew: For the one soccer team or baseball team that’s hitting you up, you might want a form where you can say, “How can I wire money to you? Can I have a photo?”, etc. But if you have 10 and you have to pick only 4 of those, then you want some conversation, some commenting system, some way of taking people through a process in multiple steps. Got it. And that’s where Submittable comes in.

Michael: And you want multiple people on the receiving end. So we have four or five people and myself, like, I can go in and vote on things. And we create a contextual survey around the application, like, “Yes, this like talks . . . This is about our culture. Yes, this is about our town. No, this . . . ” Whatever it is, but you can create a scoring mechanism around that and makes it super easy.

Andrew: Almost like Workable and other software for hiring . . .

Michael: Exactly.

Andrew: . . . where it used to be people were sending applications and we’d all have to go through and find a way to keep track of it and now we can comment and move people along. This is Submittable you realize is that for everything else that you get it?

Michael: That’s exactly right. It’s an ATS system for everything that is in a job.

Andrew: What’s ATS?

Michael: Application Tracking System . . .

Andrew: Oh, got it.

Michael: . . . which is what Workable is.

Andrew: You know what? And I have found some Internet Archive data on you guys. You guys started with editorial applications for admissions and . . . I don’t know what colony is, grand fellowship competitions, like photo competitions, business plan. At some point, you started to . . . I guess soon after even my interview started to think, “What about other stuff?”

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: And now . . .

Michael: It was probably a little bit. It was probably that year that we interviewed around then. But yeah.

Andrew: Where you were starting to switch. And then talk to me about . . . Like, how did you then expand the sales department? When you’re coming in from a software background, a writing background, it’s kind of safe to stick with software for writers.

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: Once you start to go beyond, how did that work out for you? How did you do it?

Michael: You know, mostly I just listened to them. I listened to what worked? I did . . . I did struggle with, like, “Do I even care?” It’s hard . . . Like, I got writing and I was part of that community, so it was fun for me to talk about and think about. Admission software, it’s not something I wake up thinking about. So that was kind of a struggle, but fun is money, you know. And I do also get a huge amount of joy from paying our staff and seeing them have families. We watched KPIs that we watch or how many babies get born among the companies. We have 120 employees now.

Andrew: Wow-wee, dude. I had no idea you were that big.

Michael: I know. So we measure babies . . . We measure . . .

Andrew: As a way of understanding how big the company is?

Michael: Well, just something that we’re proud of. Like, it gives me great joy to see people being able to create lives from Submittable salaries and have babies. Also, have first-time homebuyers. We’ve got 16 right now. So 16 people have bought their first home as a result of working at Submittable.

Andrew: Wow.

Michael: And then we just have babies. We have just regulars, like, there’s probably . . . The company is probably responsible, at least, you know, financially for feeding probably like 80 kids, right? And I know that weighs on you. That’s something that would make me think about other verticals, like, how do we get . . . How do we keep growing? How do we make money?

Andrew: Well, what I mean is . . . So, in our last interview, you told me about how you learned a lot from Y Combinator. I said, “Can you be specific?” And he said, “Well, Gary asked me this question, and then one of the things that I noticed was Gary Tan, the investor from Y Combinator, as soon as we hit on the answer, he pulled out a laptop and said, “Let’s do it right now.” And you learned a lesson about, like, being fast and agile and experimenting. I’m curious about . . .

Michael: You want to learn another lesson?

Andrew: Yeah.

Michael: So, Paul Graham, my Gmail picture, I was . . . So when we were at Y Combinator I’m like emailing back with Paul Graham about something and my Gmail picture has our whole family, had me and one of my kids was an infant and he was like on my shoulder. And Paul had never seen . . .

Andrew: I’ve seen it right now. Yeah, I see it right now at least on the software that I’m using. It’s there.

Michael: Okay. So that picture, I don’t . . . I can’t remember how that got . . . You uploaded it like 10 years ago now it follows you around everywhere.

Andrew: Yep.

Michael: So that picture was you . . . So he saw that for the first time. We were already . . . We were already in Y Combinator. I probably had been there for like a month or something. And he wrote back, he’s like, “I had no idea you had children.” And we were talking about something completely different. And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got . . . ” I go, “At that . . . ” They weren’t the same . . . In that picture, they were like, you know, one and two or something. But when I was at Y Combinator, maybe they were five and eight. But they weren’t. My wife was back here with them. And we’d moved to Mountain View and he said, “I don’t . . . ” I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “You shouldn’t do this. You should stop.” And he wasn’t being a jerk.

Andrew: Meaning, you shouldn’t do the startup Y Combinator thing, you should stop.

Michael: Yeah. Yeah. He’s like, “If you have kids, this is irresponsible.” Basically it was his message. I can’t remember his exact words, which sounds kind of harsh. It’s like, basically, your boss telling . . . He is a formative figure and especially in Y Combinator and was he kicking us out? And what he was really doing was caring. Like, he’s right. It’s crazy to be doing this with people who depend on you.

I was very confident we were going to figure this out. I had no . . . I wasn’t worried about it, but I appreciate . . . I understood where he was coming from. We didn’t look like the average Y Combinator kids at the time. So, he was working within his universe, but what I really liked about it was that he actually was like, at the end of the day, like, he was much more concerned about you not doing something, like, bad and hurting your children or hurting your family, versus us becoming billionaires or whatever. And that definitely is part of how I think.

You know, we have childcare in the building. We have in-house childcare. So we have babies in the building, and it’s like the greatest thing ever. I mean, you know, just walking down the hall and seeing someone bringing the babies out . . . There’s nine of them. Bringing the babies out for a walk. Seeing moms or even dads, you know, but moms . . . Like, you could imagine right now if you had a 9 to 5 job and your kids were . . . What do you do? Do you have daycare?

Andrew: We had a full-time nanny, like, more than full-time nanny. And we did.

Michael: So, not every staff can do full-time nannies, but look at what you had to do. Right? Look at what you had to . . .

Andrew: Yes. It was so nerve-wracking, especially when there was one we didn’t like and then you’re kind of stuck.

Michael: Oh, my God.

Andrew: Oh. It’s the worst. We were really fantasizing about having some option for it. By the way, I’m looking at that photo right now. It is you with a baby up in your arms, you’re wearing this beautiful suit, your wife is standing by your side, your older son has a tie. The weird thing about that is not any of that, it’s that the person who is also taking a photo of the family has a flip phone, like, not even a Motorola flip phone, it’s like an old Samsung flip phone.

Michael: So this is probably 2007. I don’t know when it was . . . Yeah. Well, the oldest one is now 16.

Andrew: Yeah. That is a long . . . So, the thing that I’m getting at though is who helped you understand and how did you learn how to put together a sales department, how to structure it right, how to even get SDRs? I’m hearing from entrepreneurs here who didn’t know about SDRs until Jason Lemkin sat them down and said, “Here’s what it is.” And literally here.

Michael: Well, I didn’t do it in a very efficient way. I basically . . . We got this . . . We got that first sales guy. He was great. And then he kind of . . . I was like, “Well, let’s get you productive. How do we optimize . . . How do we pay for you?”

Andrew: Right.

Michael: Then we had a model for one person and then we said, “Okay. Let’s go get five.” So then we went and got five people and got them optimize, like, how they paid for themselves. But what really happened was with the series A, one of the directives was go hire a VP of sales and we went and looked for somebody who’d done it before.

And in Montana, there’s kind of this right now mafia. RightNow Technologies was the first . . . I think we talked about it. It was the first billion-dollar company ever to come out of Montana. And there’s a lot of those alumni. And Brady Melter who is our VP . . . He was our VP of sales. We hired him as a result of the series A and he came in and really, like, created a structure that allowed us to get to . . . I guess we have 40 or so. But he also built out account management, land and expand people . . . And so I didn’t learn it as much as, like, tried, tried, tried, and then went hired a professional.

Andrew: And then what’s . . .

Michael: I hired a couple.

Andrew: What’s the structure that he put in place?

Michael: There’s teams that are built it. We have sales teams that are vertical-specific, and each of those will have a couple of SDRs and they have quotas. And so I think there’s four different vertical . . . There’s four different groups and they all have verticals assigned to them. And they all go after them in slightly different ways. Marketing, on the other hand, is its own thing. It’s one hole. And so it’s kind of a . . . I’ve created some tension there by mistake because I don’t have, like, dedicated marketing per vertical, but I’ve got dedicated sales per vertical. And if I could fix that, that would be cool. It’s just more money which I don’t have right now.

Andrew: What’s the difference? What do you mean? What’s marketing doing?

Michael: Well, marketing is marketing Submittable, but I’ve got salespeople that are just selling Submittable RFPs or selling Submittable admissions or Submittable philanthropy, right? So you’ve got sales that are vertical-specific but marketing is everything. And what I would like is each of the sales teams had their own, like, mini-marketing team in them.

Andrew: Oh, I see. To talk about their aspect of Submittable, what their clients are doing, and then start getting more leads for the SDRs who will then qualify them and bring to the salespeople.

Michael: Yeah. And with the SDRs also get their own leads. Like, the SDRs are just working off a list. We get tons of inbound just because the platform is so wildly out there. It’s similar to Typeform in that way that we get inbound just by people running into the form itself.

Andrew: Got it. I’m looking, by the way . . . I’m using Ahrefs to try to understand what your content marketing strategy is. And instead, it led me in a different rabbit hole like to where I guess that’s where people submit poetry to the New Yorker?

Michael: Yeah. The Condé Nast.

Andrew: And then you also have tinhouseonline.submittable. Am I, like, giving away too much stuff? Discover has one.

Michael: Year to season customers. So, you . . . Oh, I see. You did an Ahrefs . . .

Andrew: I went to the Ahrefs. Usually, what it tells me is here are the top blog posts or content that’s really high in value. Instead, it’s showing me the top sub-domains on your site.

Michael: So what that saying is that those sub-domains get more traffic than our www site.

Andrew: Well, no, the w . . . Well, maybe actually.

Michael: I mean, that’s what I would think Google is looking for.

Andrew: No. It’s valuing based on traffic. I guess you’re right. Yeah. So I see New Yorker, I see Harlequin, I see . . . Wow, you’ve got some really impressive customers here. But do you guys do a lot of content marketing yourselves as a way of bringing people in? Is that part of the top of the funnel?

Michael: Yeah. So, blog.submittable is probably what you’re looking for. So there’s two different blogs. There’s the blog.submittable which is customer-facing. And then there’s discover.submittable which is people looking for opportunities. So we have over . . . We have thousands of customers at any given time. What we call form . . . We call forms opportunities. It’s usually the opportunity to get published, the opportunity to go to school, the opportunity to win a fellowship, the opportunity to get funded from a foundation. So at any given time, there’s over 10,000 opportunities online and we make those discoverable for anybody looking for them. A lot of it is still publisher-focus, but if you’re interested, if any of your viewers are looking for funding opportunities or anything, go to discover.submittable. There’s usually a list you can . . .

Andrew: Discover the next opportunity. Got it. You know what also I’m seeing? I’m seeing in your content. Now that you’ve told me about blog.submittable, I should have done that before. So I put that into Ahrefs. And now I see some of your content marketing. Like, I could see here, “Scholarship Versus Scholarship Endowment: What’s the Difference?” And you’re explaining it. And then on the very bottom, if you’re putting . . . Here, let me read it exactly. “If you’re creating a scholarship endowment . . . ” Wait. “Creating a scholarship endowment is a wonderful opportunity to honor a loved one, give back to your community or build a charitable reputation for your friend. One, explore how Submittable can streamline your scholarship process. Connect with us.” And then there’s a link anytime for a demo. And that’s where you guys get the leads for your SDRs. Got it.

Michael: Yes.

Andrew: All right. What’s next for you? What are you going to be doing here?

Michael: Well, I want to be the way everybody’s submits anything. Right? Okay. I think we are branded correctly and I think we . . .

Andrew: So, you’re imagining, like for us, I get a lot of people who want to do interviews with me. I use a Gravity Form that goes into Pipedrive, in our CRM, and then somebody on the team moves it over and says yes or no, right?

Michael: Yeah.

Andrew: You’re saying, “Hey, Andrew, why don’t you just use Submittable?” Would we be able to use it?

Michael: Yeah, you would use it for the entire process. So it allows . . . Once the submission comes in, you can either bulk accept or bulk decline, you can do templates and create that whole back and forth. You can also do follow-up materials. So, like, if say I’m submitting to you, I want to . . . I’m a new entrepreneur and I want to be on this amazing show. What are the things that you need? You need to demonstrate that it’s a real company, you need some proof, have a look in . . .

Andrew: Right. There are a couple of things that we need. You’re right.

Michael: Revenue.

Andrew: Revenue, number of users, something, years in business.

Michael: What of headshot? I don’t know what else you asked, but . . .

Andrew: Headshot is a good one too. We do take it at some point.

Michael: Okay. So you can ask for all that upfront. Why you might want to ask for headshots before you accept them is because it actually puts a little tension on the process and make sure that they’re serious, right? You might . . . You don’t want enough. I mean, there’s probably people you go after, and then there’s people who go after you, and you probably just want to . . . You want to put a little bit of a hurdle so that they’re demonstrating that they’re actually just not filling . . . Just filling out a form is pretty effortless.

Andrew: Right. Of course, I want a headshot because look at this. I was sued because I use the wrong photo. And it was clearly . . . If we did do it at all, it was clearly an accident that we got the headshot from the guest. So, yes, I do want that. Okay. So, you’re saying a little bit of tension so that not everyone is filling in every application and . . .

Michael: Yeah. And they’re thinking about it. They’re being sincere. Yeah. So, then you have all those materials, you don’t have to go back and forth. And then you can also have follow-on forms so that you could say this . . . Once they get through a certain round of review, like maybe, you know, the first . . . Maybe 100 . . . You say to your staff, “Pick the first 100,” but you’re only going to talk to 10 or something, you can get it whittled down before you actually see it or somebody senior sees it or something like that.

You can imagine this with VCs. So, partners are going to review every single pitch, but there might be some associates you want to see. And you also can do logic. So you can say in the VC model, so you can say, “I’m submitting an application to a VC.” And at some point, it says, “Are you B2B? Are you B2C? Are you a biotech? Whatever.” And depending on what you want to select, it’s going to go into a different review process. Right?

Andrew: Right.

Michael: So B2B goes to these five associates, B2C goes directly to this partner. I don’t know what it is. But you can build all that logic before into the . . . All that logic can sit in the platform and automatically happens once you build it. So with you guys, you could say . . . I don’t know what the logic would be, but you could build that into your review process. And it’s super valuable for a lot of . . . It saves tons of time. But, yeah.

Andrew: I now I’m seeing it. I’m wondering why would you want us when . . .

Michael: I don’t want you. You’re a publisher. No. I’m just kidding.

Andrew: I know. Because it’s not huge money to know. What I mean is, why not focus? You told our producer, “Look, I had no idea there are 140,000 foundations in the U.S. They need a paper trail.” Why not focus on just one or two and say, “We are just going to be Submittable for them and we’re going to be excellent for them.” Why create this headache for yourself of lots of different verticals, lots of different teams?

Michael: Because I’m an idiot. I don’t know. That’s a very good question. It’s like there’s . . .

Andrew: No, there’s a logic to it. I know we think that way. What is the logic?

Michael: Well, we’ve just seen success in all these different verticals. Like, you know, user-generated content, AT&T, Nike, HBO, Hallmark, all these big customers use us for this one vertical. And it’s so . . . I mean, it’s a mistake, probably, that we’re not heart more. We’re not more draconian about like what we do and don’t do. But all of them support a sales team, all of them work.

Andrew: Like scholarship and fellowships is one of the areas, publishing is another one, awards nominations, conferences . . . Oh, conferences, that makes so much sense so many people submit to conferences. Would it . . . Is it an issue where there isn’t like a website that speaks just to conferences that you do all under the same brand?

Michael: There’s vertical-specific competition in all these. What we’re doing is coming up a little bit below. So if you’re vertical-specific, you’ve got to charge a ton. Right? So we’re coming up below on a lot of them. And I want to be a multi-billion dollar company. I want to be the way you do all this for any of them. I don’t . . . And I guess that’s why because I want to be massive.

Andrew: I’ll close it out with this. Why?

Michael: Why be massive?

Andrew: Yeah. What is it about you that makes you want to be massive? Why does that matter?

Michael: If you’re going to do anything, why not go as big and as far as possible? I mean, I want to be the . . . I want to be a massive company in Missoula, Montana. I want to have 1,000 employees. I want to be a cornerstone employer. It’s not really about being massive, but it’s about being . . . I want to demonstrate you can do it here. I want kids to look at me and be like, “Oh, if that idiot can do it, we can do it.” I don’t want people thinking you need to move to Silicon Valley because you don’t. It’s a total lie. They just have an amazing PR machine. Right?

Andrew: I don’t think people are going to look at you and say, “If that ad can do it,” I think they might say, “If that egghead can do.” Like, there’s a writer professorial, like, personality. And I get that it’s not that . . . If that father could do it, I think I could do it.

Michael: Okay.

Andrew: All right.

Michael: All right. We got to go.

Andrew: It is impressive what you’ve done here.

Michael: Well, likewise.

Andrew: I know that you’ve a trip tomorrow, so I have been very conscious of the time. In fact, I also didn’t feel right doing the RingCentral ad here, so I’m going to do it on another interview. I didn’t want to waste time. I had so much I wanted to ask you and I wanted to, like, give myself time to get personal with you.

Michael: You got kids. You got to get paid. Do it.

Andrew: I will. All right. Here’s how . . . I’ll pitch you on RingCentral. Here’s the beauty of RingCentral. The thing that’s been happening is we’re realizing that we need to make more outward calls to people. And I like to do that. And I feel like my team wants to protect me from talking to my customers. And I want to talk to as many of them as possible, especially now that I can’t do scotch night every week because I do have to get home or I do have to fly out to different countries to do my marathon. So I want to talk to them as much as possible.

The problem with talking to them is if I make a phone call to somebody and they text me back, it goes into my own personal text message inbox, and I can’t keep up with all of it. And I’d like my assistant to jump in and say, “I could respond to this person and Andrew should respond to that.” So we need like, a real business solution to text messages that come in, to phone calls that go out. So it goes out for my number and it goes out from someone else’s number on the team. So if they decide to leave, we keep that phone number and it doesn’t . . . And all the calls don’t go to her cell phone after she’s gone. And that’s where . . .

Michael: Huge problem.

Andrew: That’s a huge problem for you guys too?

Michael: Yes.

Andrew: And people don’t want to do it. What they want is, “I got my iPhone. I love it. Don’t make me use a desktop.” Well, I’m not going to make you use a desktop. I’m not even going to make you, like, switch away from your iPhone. Just put an app on here. And guess what? If it’s on your phone, when somebody calls in from RingCentral, it’ll ring just like a regular call. If you dial out, you have to hit a different button to dial out, but it’s the same dialer.

Michael: You also can’t just ask all your staff to use their personal phone for business.

Andrew: You know what? They want to anyway. Don’t you find that?

Michael: I know. Yeah.

Andrew: They do.

Michael: But some don’t.

Andrew: But I don’t want them to use their personal phone number for it. There are lots of issues with using their personal phone number.

Michael: No, that’s . . . I mean, phone number. Sorry. Not your personal . . .

Andrew: Right, right. I’m not looking to take away your phone. I’m just saying, “Have a different app.” Just like you have a button where you dial out from family calls, let’s have another app, another button on your phone that you dial out when you’re making work calls. That means if somebody calls you back and it goes into voicemail and you’re not answering it, I get to see it. Or frankly, you shouldn’t even maybe answer voicemail. Maybe somebody else should answer that voicemail. If you won’t leave, you shouldn’t have all these calls coming. You should say, “Hey, Andrew, here’s my email address. Anything that comes in here is for work. Here’s my phone number. Take it, give it to someone else. Anything that comes on it goes to someone else. And . . . ”

Michael: I’m going to look into why we aren’t using RingCentral tomorrow morning.

Andrew: I’m fascinated by that. I wonder why.

Michael: Well, I think we’re probably using Header . . . I don’t know. I should have looked in. You should’ve given me a heads up on this.

Andrew: I will say this, whatever you’re using is better than having everybody use their personal cell phone numbers, go into voicemail and text, which is what we tend to do. There’s a better solution. I like RingCentral, I signed up for them, we have accounts on them. I think anyone who’s listening should at least go check them out. In fact, I’m going to give it to you for free. I could have given this to you for free, Michael. And if you guys decide to switch you still get it.

All that you have to do is just go to When you do, you will not have to pay until 2020. That is ring, R-I-N-G, Start off as low as 19.99 I do think they should get rid of the phone on that landing page. I was a little confused and thought maybe it had to be a desktop phone. It should be emphasizing whatever you got, it’ll work on that. Thank you, Michael, for doing that. That you for doing this interview.

Michael: Can I ask you one thing?

Andrew: Yeah, ask me anything.

Michael: What are those? Are those like . . .

Andrew: Beads.

Michael: Oh, I thought they were olives.

Andrew: No. I have a huge focus issues so different people on Etsy. Like, this is one person on Etsy made it look like nuts. Here’s another person made it look like these, whatever.

Michael: Oh, all right, cool.

Andrew: Yeah, they me stay focused. All right, Michael. Thank you so much. The website is Submittable.

Michael: Andrew, I’ll see you in five years.

Andrew: Sooner, hopefully. I hope to see you in person at some point, but I’m not going to Missoula. That’s a problem.

Michael: That’s another continent. You can pretend this is another continent.

Andrew: I should actually be exploring the U.S. much more. Actually, who cares? Even if you’re in San Francisco, I’d be seeing you on Zoom or seeing you on Twitter. All right. Thank you, Michael, honestly.

Michael: Cheers.

Andrew: Bye. Bye, everyone.

Michael: Thank you, Andrew.

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