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 building their businesses. And today’s guest is someone who happened to get on a private jet and his life changed, not so much because he wanted to do like an Instagram type photoshoot and tell everyone where he’s on, but he . . . well, he had this thought that I’ll let him tell you in this interview that led him to create this company called TestimonialTree.
Now, what TestimonialTree does is it allows businesses to understand how they are doing as companies, how the sales people who are working with their clients are doing, and if they’re doing well, they encourage the customer to go . . . TestimonialTree anyway, will encourage the customer to go and talk about it online on different review sites.
The founder you’re about to meet is, his name is Jason Dolle. He created this business. I invited him here to talk about how he did it, how he got clients, how we got people to use this. I know working with businesses can be challenging because they’re not going to just download and install and start using the latest thing. They want to make sure it works so I want to understand how he did it. And we’re going to hear this interview thanks to two great sponsors. The first will help you host your website. It’s called HostGator, and the second will help you hire your next phenomenal developer. It’s called Toptal. Jason, good to have you here.
Jason: Good to be here.
Andrew: This trip on a private jet that we’re going to talk about, was that your first time or are you experienced with private jets?
Jason: So just to get the story correct, maybe I wrote it down wrong when I sent it. What happened was I was selling real estate and I had a customer and I was looking at getting a luxury sort of real estate here in Naples, Florida, and this was like the biggest customer I’d ever had. And he flew in on a private jet. I picked him up at the airport and in the morning, drove him to an island not too far from here and he bought . . . [inaudible 00:01:42] the same day and ended up buying a $4.4 million house.
Andrew: Wait, same day, he flies in on his private jet and just walks out with . . . what did you get from 4.4 million there?
Jason: [crosstalk 00:01:51], but he chose the house that day and there was some things he had to do but basically, he was in and out the same day and I basically closed this sale for a house and I thought, “This guy is awesome.” And actually, I was a little, not disappointed, but he was looking at $12 million houses so I was like, “Yeah, that’d be kind of cool to get a $12 million sale, but no, he ended up choosing this house and I thought this guy is awesome. Actually, the $12 million house had a wine cellar or white wine room, whatever, and this guy is like, “Hey, I just drink Bud Light. You know, I don’t care. I don’t need this stuff.” So that’s kind of cool.
And then this guy flew in from, Sioux Falls, whatever, and so I was like, “How do I get like people like him to know about this experience he had with me? I know he could give me a testimonial, but how do I get his friends to know about that?”
So I tried to find something that would prompt him to give a testimonial for his experience with me, but then get him to share it on Facebook or whatever. This is back in 2012 and I couldn’t find anything that did that, and my background is computer engineering and so I built this MVP. I read “The Lean Startup” right then, and so I built this MVP to see if you would share this on social media and it took me a little while to build it but ended up . . . when I got it done, it worked pretty well. I think that month I had five closings and I got five testimonials and three of the folks shared on social media and the two that didn’t, said they didn’t use social media, so I have like 100% share rate so it’s kind of cool, I thought. So that’s where it started.
Andrew: Give me a sense of the house that he bought, just like put me in the luxury that a guy who can fly in like that and buy a house and make a decision like that goes through.
Jason: I mean, it was a pretty big house. I mean, I forget how many square feet it was. Like it’s 8,000 square feet maybe on the bay, boat docking, you know, the back, great view. But it was like I showed him other properties too and generally speaking, the nice thing about this part of the country we’re a second home market for the most part in Naples, Florida, so people have a limited window of time, even if they don’t have private jets, they come in on weekend or whatever.
And so my job, I felt like was trying to help him make an educated decision, kind of consult him and so I showed him different areas, parts of town. So I’m mainly trying to figure out what part of town they’re interested in first, the lifestyle and then we kind of identify the houses. So usually, it’s like a couple of day process where area like maybe like a little bit of a subdivision or a community and then they make a decision.
This guy was like . . . I mean, you’re online, you can do a lot of research, but I guess if you’re worth that much money, it’s not as big a deal maybe like, “Hey, that sounds good. Four and a half a million’s fine.”
Andrew: You know, when you’re talking about a wine cellar, I was thinking about how many different houses I’ve looked at here in San Francisco where they have wine cellars and I know what they do is the sellers just turn one of their rooms into a wine cellar, the smallest closet into a wine cellar. Nobody needs a wine cellar, they’re not big wine drinkers here, but it makes the place feel a little bit more luxurious. So I was at a friend’s house this past Saturday. He bought a house with a wine cellar. I said, “Let me see what you did with the wine cellar.” I walk inside and he had diet coke in all of the containers and puffs for his kids.
Jason: Trader Joe’s.
Jason: Trader Joe’s wine in there.
Andrew: Yeah, there’s no big wine culture, but it does elevate the place. When you say you built a testimonial, what are the . . . I mean, an MVP? What did the MVP, the minimum viable product do?
Jason: All I did was, it was a little mini webpage that would collect a testimony, a little form, and then I use a third-party tool that would prompt . . . that would let them share on Facebook and so one thing I didn’t really know . . . I wasn’t friends with him on Facebook and stuff, I didn’t know what networks he was on, so I wanted to find something that will let him choose between LinkedIn and Facebook or wherever he wanted to share. I can’t remember the name of the tool, but it was something where I could just plug it in and so . . .
Andrew: So it’s just a form and whatever he filled out in the form, there was a button for him to share? And this guy, who had just bought a place for over four million dollars, within a day, he made the decision to buy, he’s posting a testimonial on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on whatever?
Jason: Yeah but later on, yeah. I mean, it took me a while to build this thing. But . . .
Andrew: Did you have to call him up and say, “Can you please use my thing and then post it”? And you did.
Jason: Yeah. So what I did was I . . . so that month I like I said four or five closings, whatever it was and what I did . . . and actually, when I . . . we launched brokerages, I used to train on best practices on this stuff or real estate brokerages. I would generally call my customers up after the closing and just make sure it went okay and they were happy and make sure the kids liked the new school or whatever it is. And I’d say, “Hey, would you mind giving me a testimonial? This is my marketing, whatever,” and they say, “Oh yeah, no problem.” I never had someone say no like, you know, they all said yes. And they said real estate is real. It’s a very personal transaction. And so I’d say, “Cool. I’m going to send you an email with a link to a system I use. It’s really simple. You leave a testimonial that’s going to ask you to share it on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever. Don’t feel like you have to do it, but if you don’t mind doing it, I’d really appreciate it.”
And so I’d let them know that was sort of important to me and for the most part, they would do it and the people . . . like the first time I did, I said, if people didn’t use Facebook, they were . . . whatever, this is a while back. So everyone that was on social media that said they were on social media, shared it at that time.
Andrew: Okay, so he’s posting it up. An MVP is supposed to like tell you whether a theory you have is actually working, is playing out in the real world. What were you testing and what did it tell you?
Jason: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, at the time, I really didn’t even think about this as a company really. Just something I was trying to use for myself to get him to tell his friends about me, so . . . or any of my customers really. So the fact that they shared it, sort of was part of it. I wanted to see, number one, would they use this tool to give me a testimonial? Two, would they share it if I asked them to and made it easy to do it?
You know, I took a step back and I said, “Hey,” so I made it more disconnected like, “Hey, would you give me a testimonial?” They’ll say, “Yeah, sure.” And I’ll say, “Hey, do you mind sharing on social media?” “Okay.” “Hey, do you mind liking my Facebook page? Do you mind doing this, this, this?” If you make them all separate things, it’s a lot of things to ask for, but by making it one process, it was like one ask in a way.
Andrew: And you had this flow where within the flow, they were giving you their impression, then sharing on social, like, okay, liking, etc. All right, then you told Brian, our producer, before you incorporated in 2012, you decided to do something that’s kind of unusual for the entrepreneurs I’ve talked to. You said, “I’m going to go and get a client and also work with that client to build that first version,” right?
Andrew: How did you find the client to work with you on this?
Jason: I had a connection to a company called Michael Saunders up in Sarasota, Florida and they’re pretty big brokerage for the area and I knew their CTO pretty well and Michael herself as well. But the CTO, I just told them sort of what I was doing, sort of nonchalantly and because they had used me in the past for some other technology things I was involved with and I just said, “Hey, what do you think about this thing?” And this guy was like, “Hey, I love this. Actually, we have an in-house testimonial thing. This is much better because you do these couple of things like make categories or whatever. We’ll pay for this.” I said, “Oh, how much?” And so he gave me a number, I was like . . . because it was like four or $5,000 a year, I was like, “You know, that’s perfect. I mean, I can do those things.”
So what I ended up doing was I drove up there . . . because they have this testimonial table in their backend system, so I actually drove up there, programmed this thing basically to go directly into their table and so that when the testimonials came in, it would show on their agents’ profiles and so that was like a big step forward as far as whatever. So I actually incorporated in January of ’13, and they were my first customer like that next week because I already had it all built and we already had it sort of . . . So definitely, I think it’s more of a Lean approach to the way we started.
Andrew: You were a real estate broker at the time. Why give it up in order to create a software company?
Jason: Good question. I was doing pretty well. I mean, I didn’t give it up all at first. So what I did was I was very, I don’t know, pragmatic about it a little bit. You know, I knew it sort of worked for me. I knew this broker was interested in . . . I had no idea like where it actually would lead. And so I didn’t really . . . Although like my . . . I’ve had other ventures before that, different outdoor adventures, I was always entrepreneurial and so I always had that in the back of my mind, like this could be something cool, but it kind of took it step by step.
So, you know, actually what happened was that guy, his name is David Gumpper, he . . . and I just had lunch with him actually today, he’s still a friend of mine. I didn’t realize he’s on Tech Advisory Council with this group in Chicago. It’s like 130,000 agents and maybe 550 brokerages. It’s called Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, Chicago. He’s on the Tech Advisory Council. So he called me up like a couple months later and said, “Hey man, this guy, Paul wants to meet you for coffee over in Miami. You have time to go meet him?” I said, “Oh yeah, sure, no problem.”
And then so I went over there for coffee, showed him what we’re doing and he said, “Hey, this is pretty cool. I like it.” And then thought, “Well, that’s cool. He knows what I do now.” Never knew where it was going to go. Next day, he calls me up and says, “Hey, we’re going to fly to Chicago. When can you come?” So I ended up going there like the next week and meeting with their president and kind of figured out if this could be a sales channel for us, something that they’d adopt. And so that’s kind of how it started to go from one-off sort of brokerages and agents here and there that found out about it to like, “Hey, there might be some scale here. I can probably do a lot more than what I’m doing now.”
Andrew: When Michael Saunders asked you to create a testimonial software that allowed you to take the testimonials and add them to the websites of an individual broker, that seems awfully specific. How did you know that what you were creating for them would actually be wanted by other companies or were you creating something so specific that only the independent founders of this company cared about it?
Jason: No, I was very, very careful that any requirement, even today, any requirement that we get from our customers, we make sure it’s scalable, like it makes sense. Obviously, everyone pretty much had testimonials on their site, all these agents, you know, all these brokerages. I thought, “Well, I could easily power that. Most of these things are stale and stagnant and don’t even have fresh content on there. Maybe I can make it really easy.”
Andrew: Was there anything that they asked you for that you said, “You know what, it’s actually not going to scale to other customers. I know they want it. They’re my only customer right now. I have to say no”?
Jason: At that time, not really. I don’t think they . . . they also . . . he was a friend of mine, he knew like there could be a scale to it. He wasn’t asking for more than we really . . . now, looking back, there were some things we probably did that we didn’t . . . that didn’t really scale, but at the time we probably thought they would. Like the actual . . .
Andrew: Because he was in it with you. He said, “Look, my friend wants to start this new software company. I’m going to be his first customer to help him out. He’s going to customize things to me to help me out, but I understand this is not just about him catering to me like a developer who’s working in my office for me.” Got it. All right, so you started to build it. You had the first version. Was it always called TestimonialTree?
Jason: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know what I called it. I don’t think I called it anything else at first and probably nothing at first, just little software product that I had. And then I was looking for domain names, it was [inaudible 00:13:33] was available to us. So this sounds pretty cool.
Andrew: I’m looking at early versions of your website and I went to them frankly because I was looking for the crappy version and I don’t see a crappy version.
Jason: There was a one version prior that I couldn’t find the screenshot of, but they were all, I mean, they’re all templates based on I think . . . what do you call them? Yeah, bootstrap or some template theme so they didn’t look horrible, like I mean, I just bought a template, threw it up there and you know, but . . . and the content was pretty simplistic. I’m sure there’s a lot of misspellings everywhere, but you know, and honestly, what I did it at first too, was I . . . I mean, so most of our focus had been like enterprise level sales, meaning like companies that have lots of employees or sales people or locations or whatever, not as much one off.
But I made the pricing originally just to justify my enterprise level pricing basically because I was like, “I’m not really selling one off, but I need something to say I’m going to give you a discount since you have so many agents or users. I need to be able to have some kind of reference for the deal you’re going to get.”
Andrew: So let’s say you put up a site with a price just so when you talk to clients, you can say, “But because you’re an enterprise client, I’m going to give you a discount on it.”
Andrew:Oh, that’s great.
Jason:So I think the original pricing was like $5 a month for like . . . I forget how many testimonial. I did it based on number of testimonials at first and it was like $5 a month per user and I knew that brokerage is probably you spend less than that, like you know, they wouldn’t . . . maybe two dollars a month or so. I don’t know what exactly they spent at the time, but someone had told me this range and so I thought, “Well, it’s got to be more than that,” and so that’s what I based on. Then I had another level that was like $30 or $100 or something and that was just kind of off the charts just to get some more scale but . . .
Andrew: Okay, you know what, now I found one of the earlier versions that was not very good looking. There’s hardly anything on the site. Even the “Start here” button just led me to a form where I could create a password and username.
Jason:There you go.
Andrew:You did get a testimonial pretty early from Molly. Oh, Molly is your wife. So the early testimonial is I immediately started generating more referrals through testimonialtree.com and it’s Molly Dolle, realtor.
Jason: Oh, that’s probably a test account. My wife’s Mindy so I must have just tested it out.
Andrew: Oh, sorry Mindy, excuse me. I misread that.
Jason: But yeah, so actually what happened was friends and family started using it, so I had brothers and my whole family is actually in real estate so I had them actually using it to test it out.
Andrew: And you come from a real estate family. What is Apartment Connection?
Jason: Hey, you’re going way deep there. Apartment Connection is my . . . when I grew up, my parents were entrepreneurs. They started a company called Apartment Connection in Cincinnati that was about relocation, so like, I think Procter & Gamble was like one of their customers or affiliates or whatever. So when people were relocated to Cincinnati, they’d help them find housing. This is before apartments.com and before anything like that. So it was like that they actually had offices you go to and people would show up and they’d drive around Cincinnati and wherever they wanted to live or whatever and find them an apartment, get a referral fee.
Andrew: What’d you learn from watching your parents build that business up?
Jason: It was really cool. I mean, I still remember like we had an office in our house, and I think my sisters shared a room and I had my own room and there was another bedroom, a real small one that they used and I remember watching my parents sort of make decisions together like on logos or whatever. And you know, it’s much different than this today.
And I saw some of the struggles and, you know, some mistakes they made. I didn’t really know what mistakes were. I could just tell sort of like there were some things that there were there issues going on and that grew into my basement. We had a finished basement or they finished it for that, I’m not sure. And then we had like at one time, I had maybe five different employees that would come in into our basement every day. And then my grandma, my mom hired her to do letters to companies so she’d lick envelopes and send them out.
Andrew: Oh, and send letters to try to get new customers.
Jason: I mean, looking back, I mean, I think that’s sort of where my entrepreneurial side came from. I mean, I love the creative part of it and love like the ability to grow something yourself and I think that’s sort of . . .
Andrew: The possibility, watching it grow from something in their basement or in a part of the house, build it up to multiple employees, get into a strip mall, see a sign with it, that possibility is what you took away from it.
Andrew: You know what, I was thinking about what I learned from watching my dad build his business growing up. I remember there was one thing that just came to my mind as I was asking you and that was my dad could never really write well in English. Farsi was his first language and when he got into his office, he would have to start writing letters to people occasionally and he could never do it.
But he had this guy who was like a true American. He was like a World War II vet, came into the office smoking cigars all the time back when you could smoke cigars and he would say, “I’ll write the letter for you.” And at one point, my dad must’ve been embarrassed to ask him to write letters and Mr. Smith, the guy said to him, “Your job is not to write letters. It’s to find people like me who are good at things like this and enable us to do it,” and that’s one of the big lessons that my dad took away about business in America and being an entrepreneur and a businessman and that’s one of the things that I took to school.
Every time they would say, “You have to learn all this stuff,” I’d say, “I don’t. Teach me how to run the company because I know I want to be like my dad and then show me how to work with these people who could do that.”
Jason: Right. What’d your dad do? I should know this probably but what did he do?
Andrew: I don’t talk about this much. He manufactured women’s clothing back when you could do that in the U.S. and he refused to go to China and as things were starting to move to China, I feel like the industry got away from him. And he was a fast follower, so I remember him walking into a store, asking to collect money from the store owner because every Sunday, he would go in and make his collections because that’s when their cash registers where the fullest. So he’d make his collections and he’d always say, “What’s selling well? What’s hot right now?” And I remember one time, the guy said, “That thing over there is really hot,” and my dad without paying for it or anything, just said, “I’ll take it with me.” I said, “Don’t you care?” “It doesn’t really cost him that much and I’m going to come back and I’m going to make him a copy of it for much cheaper.” So he took it with them to the car and made a copy of it and . . .
Jason: That is so cool. Did you grow up like in his shop, whatever then, with all the material . . . ?
Andrew: I’d go work there in the summers and he’d give me jobs and I’d make 50 cents an hour. I didn’t really care about the money that much and I remember buying Kit Kat at the end of the day, one for me, one for my brother and sister.
Jason: That’s cool.
Jason: That’s cool.
Andrew: Do you ever do anything like that? Do you have jobs at you parent’s company?
Jason: You know, so I would be the computer guy, so this is when computers started to sort of evolve and so I remember . . . like these computers are monochromatic and whatever and I remember helping him with some little networking things with printers and whatever else. So I’d help them with that kind of stuff and I mean, just general, like cleaning up and whatever. But I remember one time, I was . . . got a little ahead of myself and I remember like editing something on there, trying to fix something to do something. I ended up editing the autoexec.file, which people don’t even know what that is probably nowadays, but . . .
Andrew: I think it was started immediately when the computer started, right?
Jason: Yeah. It just basically crashed and they couldn’t start the computer anymore. I remember like thinking and then I had to become a little hacker to try to figure it out what was wrong or how the . . . So definitely, that aspect of their business sort of influenced my . . . so my degree is computer engineering so that sort of influenced my direction I think in my educational world anyway.
Andrew: That you got to actually touch something that was used by real business, where if you just have to work for someone, they never let you do that.
Jason: Yeah. And my parents, I mean, even today, your parents don’t know as much about technology as their kids. I mean, my kids probably know more about stuff than I do in certain respects, but like, so you were always the . . . you became the expert, so, “Hey, we need to do this, whatever.” So we got a little bit of a role there, you know.
Looking back now, I did . . . my parents at one point came to me and said, “Hey, is there . . . ” they ended up selling the company to a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, whatever, but . . . and so they came to me one time, “Hey, is it something you want to run? Would you be interested in doing this?” and I think my instinct was, “I don’t want to do this. It’s apartments. I don’t want to do that.”
You know, but in hindsight, like it was a ridiculous opportunity that I kind of messed up. I thought I had the mindset of wanting to scale that company. That was before apartments.com, before anything like that. So I could easily have used my knowledge to help kind of do some things differently there but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time.
Andrew: Yeah. You know what, I just read about . . . I went to see Toys “R” Us, which just closed. I wanted to see it one last time and I found out about how the founder worked for his dad. I forget what his dad did, but then he tried I think selling bicycles and then he tried selling bicycles and then he leveled it to selling cribs and then he realized, you know what, cribs are actually something you buy once and never come back and buy another one. Why don’t we sell toys so the parents will keep coming back? And I get what you mean but you know what, it seems like I could see how you might like move from one thing to the other and build up their business but we’re talking about 1987, they built the company, right? They started the company?
Jason: They sold it, I don’t know, the ’90s, sometime. I remember in high school, they still had it.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s way too early for tech. All right, I’ll quickly say that we’re talking about hiring people. I should say that if you’re looking to hire, you should check out Toptal. They can help you hire the best of the best developers. Make it super fast. Boy, this was something like the . . . well, I was going to list a bunch of companies that use them. Instead, here’s what I’m going to tell you guys. If you’re looking to hire, you’re desperate enough that you’re going to go check out anything and I stand by this company that’s going to do better for you than anyone else. It’s Toptal. Go to toptal.com/mixergy, and you’re going to get 80 hours of developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’s an addition to a no-risk trial period of up to 2 weeks. If you’re hiring, you’ve got nothing to lose.
First step, you hit that big green button on the page I’m about to give you and you get on, you know, you basically tell them what you’re looking for and then they’ll get you on a call with someone. If they can help you, you can continue. If they can’t, you don’t have to. If you don’t like who they connect you with, you’re not wasting much time because they do all the work to find the person and connect you with them and you can often, if you do like them, get started within a couple of days.
So here it is. Top as in top of your head, Tal as in talent, toptal.com/mixergy. I’m ripping through the ads, Jason, because I’ve been asking for feedback from people about whether I go too long and they say, “Yeah, you are.” So there it is. Not too long.
Tell me a little bit more about the next batch of customers. Either the people who aren’t close friends of yours, your software is not perfect yet. What were they looking for? What’s the problem that you’re solving for them that they were willing to deal with some flaws to get?
Jason: Right. Well, Michael Saunders was a little advanced. They actually had a testimonial platform built. Most companies I worked with didn’t. They didn’t have any sort of feedback mechanism at all. And so through that connection with Leading RE out of Chicago, leadingre.com, they started introducing us to different members of the organization so independent brokerages that are successful in their areas.
I’m trying to think in San Francisco, Alain Pinel, I think is one of the members there or First Team is in Orange County, so these are members of this group. So they introduced me to a few other . . . another string of those, Allen Tate being one. John R. Wood was one I sort of already knew. Balistreri, some other brokerages. So my background in college, I used to consult for LG, Attachi [SP], and all kinds of companies like that and overseas.
I sorted them in that mentality where I’m there to consult to see if this product would fit . . . what I have now fits and if they needed something else, I could figure it out if this made sense or not. And we grew that way for probably the first year. I kept getting . . .
Andrew: It’s just, “I’m here to be a consultant for you to see if I can help you.”
Jason: Yeah. So, “Here’s what I do. Is this something you’re interested in? Here’s what it’s going to cost. Here’s some things that we do now. Here’s what we’re going to do. Are there other things you would need? And those things, just an example, might be like maybe we didn’t work with teams like real estate teams very well in our product, but now we had to figure out how to work with teams or maybe locations, multiple locations and so we build these things in there and knowing that other brokerages have the same issues, that we didn’t have to solve it again.
And we still have that same philosophy now. Like I have customers right now that want me to do certain things, like for example, one feature we’re rolling out, but it’s not . . . doesn’t exist yet. It seems really simple, but we haven’t done it yet to make an image out of a testimonial so we can use it for marketing and whatever in different social things you can do with it.
So we say, “Hey, we can do that. Get requirements from multiple users, figure out specs on it, then we can roll it out.” I mean, you’ve solved the problem for lots of different problems . . .
Andrew: What is the problem, Jason? Are people really going into a broker’s website and then looking for testimonials?
Jason: Yeah, I mean, so the testimonials themselves, I get really philosophical on what they really are, but I mean, so yeah, they use in all kinds of marketing, so one of the branches of our tree . . . so now I really visualize our company as a tree, one of the branches is marketing. So you can use them for things on your site. And people will go there and read the testimonials and it actually does have an impact. I have agents that tell me anecdotally, they’ve won listings from adding these things, listening presentations, their websites. I mean, they work really well.
Andrew: So if I’m looking to work with . . . I see here there’s a woman named Edie Lomason who works at Michael Saunders. If a friend recommended her to me, I would go to their website and look up to see what strangers thought about her on her website?
Jason: Yeah. So potentially, I mean, depends on . . . there’s lots of use cases for it, but one of the meatiest parts of that whole thing is what people say about you. So you can say whatever you want, about how great you are, “I’m the best realtor in Sarasota or Naples,” or whatever. Then that’s one thing. If you have other people saying, you know, telling a story about their interaction with you and getting detailed like, “Hey, they were so great, they . . . when I got to town after my closing, I realized I didn’t have any bed sheets. They left bed sheets for me,” or whatever. There’s a level of detail you can get that you can’t really get other places or you can say yourself and people generally relate to that. So what I’m learning about our company as we evolve is that testimonials are great for marketing, increased conversion rates, all kinds of data around it, but also what they really are is people telling you how you wowed them, basically.
So people have to think a little bit creatively about the experience and kind of recall things, what was the experience like, whatever. What they write is generally the things they remember and what wowed them. So you can use that in lots of different ways, like one obviously is marketing
Andrew: Okay. Because if you start seeing that a lot of people are happy and compliment you for telling them about schools or giving them referrals to the neighbors, then you know this is what it’s going to take to get the next client and make that next client happy. It’s not necessarily for getting new business, but also for understanding what’s going to keep your existing business happy?
Jason: Mm-hmm. That’s what we’re evolving to our company. So the testimonial part, just an example, like my sister even, she’s a realtor. She came to me one day. She called me or whatever. She said, “Hey, just tell you I got this listing. I was a really hard listing. I was up against three or four agents for this cool thing I wanted to get and they said they chose me because they went to my site, read all these testimonials and figured they couldn’t go wrong by choosing me.” I mean, so she won this listing primarily because of the story she’s able to create from her customers.
Andrew: Wow. How big did you get revenue wise before you decided to expand beyond real estate?
Jason: So we sort of started a little bit before I intentionally did it, so we had the online signup, so I’d have companies that were like avocado oil companies. And like, I mean, the good and bad thing about my business is testimonials can be used anywhere, like pretty much anybody can use them. So people would go in there and sign up or whatever and I kind of chased those leads down and figure if there were bigger opportunities there.
But in 2016 is when we sort of decided, “Hey, there’s a big opportunity outside of real estate. We need to have more resources.” We got funded in ’16. I had my revenue up here. In the first year, we did about 70k in 2013. Again, this is part time, I was still selling real estate. In ’14, we did about 150, total and then, ’15, we did 260. So we kept going like not so [inaudible 00:29:44], but like very, you know. Then it was just me and one contractor by the way. Like so it wasn’t like we’re a big company. And then at ’16, that’s when we started to go in . . . We did like 560 that year so we started growing faster.
Andrew: And that’s when you raised money and then said, “Let’s start actively going after these other verticals.”
Jason: Yeah. So we thought, “Well, we’ll be able to go after real estate faster,” but also we had mortgage, title. Healthcare actually became a big focus for us that summer. We got funded in February and we realized that . . . we kind of analyzed what made us successful, partially with the integrations we had so we didn’t get with all these platforms that would automate the feedback requests after real estate closings. So we thought, well, healthcare has a high volume of transaction, so it’s more opportunity for feedback and it’s really . . . there’s a million doctors’ offices. I mean, there’s dental, there’s veterinarians, and there’s every kind of sub-specialty, so we decided to try to figure that out. And that was pretty hard actually, like there’s a lot of pain in doing that, but . . .
Andrew: Before I ask what that transition is like, I just want to notice that I am looking at earlier versions of your site and now that I think about it, I don’t see you explicitly going after real estate brokers. Yes, you had real estate broker logos on your site because they were your early clients. But I can see that you’re saying, “We’ll help you get more testimonials and then spread them out on the internet so that you can get more business.” That’s essentially it. Okay, and that was intentional. Why? Why didn’t you just say, “You know what, we’re going to be the company that goes after real estate. We’ll focus intensely on that”?
Jason: Through that company in Chicago, that group in Chicago, they became a sales channel. So when I was doing this, they actually had someone assigned to me as . . . I’d give him a commission, but they were selling for me so I didn’t have to worry about the sales as much anymore. I was worried about . . . well, I was kind of having to close deals sometimes, but eventually they were able to close to themselves and then I’d worry about onboarding. So I was getting them signed up, getting all the technical staff, getting all that stuff. So there was a bandwidth issue so I was kind of doing this kind of like juggling all these things, getting these customers up and running, making sure they’re happy, fixing bugs. And then I realized I couldn’t do that. I mean, I could take on . . . I was drinking from a fire hose in a way. Maybe no, doesn’t seem revenue wise, maybe that I was, but we had a lot of customers and I mean . . .
Andrew: Because of this partnership.
Jason: Because of this partnership we had. And they believed in me. I mean, it was like, I mean, honestly, we’re blessed, man. I mean, we’re the only company they ever invested in. I think they invested in . . .
Andrew: They invested in you and then they started referring clients?
Jason: No. Before that, they actually were our sales channel before they invested, but they believed in me enough and took the risk on what we’re doing because I had a couple of their members as customers and made them really happy and so we were able to build on that. And so they decided to take this chance knowing that we were sort of new and it was just me and whatever and they said, “Hey, we’re going to do this and so I want you solving issues, these customers, you can make them happy, we’ll keep throwing them at you.” And so that was the plan.
Andrew: You know, at 6:30 today, I get a text message from my friend, Shane Mac. He says, “I’m outside your house in one of the rental bikes. Do you want to go for a ride?” I said, “I’m changing a diaper right now, but how about I come out and see you?” So I finish changing the diaper, I walk outside in my bare feet so that my socks don’t get dirty, holding my baby in my hand, a one-year-old, and we just go walking in my bare feet to get coffee.
And I’m asking him about his business because I invested in Assist and he’s telling me about this one business that’s just sending him a bunch of clients. That he is not winning all his clients on his own, he’s partnered with another company that works with the same kind of clients. They’re sending him business just so they could sell his type of product and I didn’t realize how much that goes on in enterprise.
What I wondered is, especially for your business, why couldn’t they just duplicate what you’re doing? Why take the risk that this guy is going to first of all, give you the business and second, that you might just run off and take them to a competitor of theirs or I don’t know why. Why not just build what you had?
Jason: There’s lot of trust there, but I realized that they didn’t really have the technical resources in-house to actually replicate what we did. Not even today, like that comes up today, I mean, different partnerships we have with other tech companies, even more so like they have big tech teams. I mean, one company I worked with, it’s got 30 programmers like in this one floor of their building, so I mean, they could easily replicate where we go in to an extent as far as like the surface.
The problem is it gets really deep and if you’re not focused on that, then you’re not going to keep up. I mean, it’s impossible. What I’m trying to do in these partnerships is sell . . . we’re a point solution, we do this really, really well and you’re better off using us than trying to figure this out yourself or you’ll never keep up. Especially now with all the changes in social media and all these things that are happening with Cambridge Analytica [inaudible 00:34:37].
Andrew: But still, it’s handing clients off to you. If you don’t fulfill your obligation to them, they look bad.
Jason: Oh yeah. That’s why . . .
Andrew:How do you get them as a partner? What was your process for getting them?
Jason: I think I just made the customers that I had or their members really happy and they were like . . . they were my sales force. And when I got funded, just to give you an idea, so I decided to . . . in 2015 or whatever in the summertime, “Hey, maybe we should explore funding.” And so I started using my network to figure out what that means and how to do that or whatever, first. I’d never done that. And so I started this sort of, this a pitch process, whatever, and I realized it was going well. I had some really cool connections and it was going well, but then I sort of talked to this, Leading RE, “Hey, I think I’m raising money, blah blah blah. Like, you know, if you’re interested, let me know.” And then they got me on the phone. I forget when that was like months later. And so I had to pitch this whole board, whatever.
And I remember I was ready to like do a regular sort of pitch like you know, the deck and whatever and the first thing one of the guys said is like, “You know, I don’t know what you guys think, but Jason has been the best vendor we’ve ever worked with. I think we just do it.” So that was like the opening line of the whole thing. I’m like, “All right, well, that makes it easy.” They already used the product, they knew who I was, it made everything easier. So my job was to make sure their customer, their members were happy and that kept building on itself, then everything else was easy.
Andrew: They’re sending some clients over. You’re making them happy to send more. That’s the type of . . .
Jason: Pretty much.
Andrew: How did you meet them?
Jason: How did they meet the group in Chicago?
Andrew: Yeah, what’s the name of the company?
Jason: Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.
Andrew: How did you meet the founder or the people at Leading Real Estate Companies of the World?
Jason: So that guy, Dave Gummper introduced me to that. His name is Paul Boomsma. He’s now the president. I met him for coffee in Miami and that’s the first time I met him and then he flew me up there and met the whole team. I pitched the president at the time, Pam O’Connor, and it was a process I had to like go through things and they kind of guided me through some other things internally and eventually, we . . . I don’t know, it was a different time. I think I flew up there and Paul and I kind of hatched this deal, you know, “Hey, let’s . . . here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to be a sales channel for you. We’re going to have this percentage of the commission and whatever.” First time I ever did a deal like that and we just flushed it out ourselves and they just believed in me basically.
Andrew: That seems really big in enterprise and we just don’t talk about it as much as we talk about landing page conversions.
Jason: I’m trying to figure that part. So part of it is like, I mean, I was along for a ride. I didn’t know what really I was getting into. And then I realized later how fortunate I really was. Like, I mean, it wasn’t easy, but it seems sort of like easy because I was just, I think I was focused on the customers more than the next level. But then like I had people that . . . I won’t say the names of these companies, but some of them were like really big companies, like huge now, but that like, you know, like Zillow bought these companies. But these people were calling me up asking me, “How did you do that? How’d you do this deal?” I’m like, “Dude, look, I can’t tell you how I did it. Like, here’s what, you know, it just happened.” So I felt after that started happening, I realized, man, I’m pretty blessed, man. Something went through. They believed in me when they probably shouldn’t have, honestly.
Andrew: Okay, let me do a second sponsorship message and then I’ll come back and continue with the story.
Andrew: You know what, I’m looking at . . . where was that name of that store? So I’m reading a book called “Netflix.” It’s so well done. It’s about how Netflix started, how they came up with their idea, how they built up and one of the things that they did actually to get clients back when people didn’t even know what DVDs were, is they partnered with DVD manufacturers and they got them to put coupons in with the DVDs that they were selling that said, “Get some free DVDs on Netflix,” and that was huge for them. The problem was when they were going after these DVD manufacturers, a lot of them didn’t know what Netflix was and they went online to look for the website to see what does this netflix.com look like and they saw nothing and so they kept turning away to people at Netflix who were trying to come up with partnership deals.
And the reason I bring this up now and a message for HostGator is there’s still that belief that if I look you up and I see your website, I feel confident. If I look you up and I don’t see a website for you, for some reason, we just don’t believe that the person exists. There’s more validation that comes from a website than I think should be there. So if anyone’s out there listening to me and they have an idea and they want to quickly add a lot of credibility to it and have people take them seriously and start creating partnerships, it doesn’t take a long time.
Just go to HostGator, fire up a WordPress install, and then with one click, you could do that, and then you add a theme and create a homepage. You don’t even need anything more than that so that when someone looks you up, boom, they got you. Do that for your own . . . for your name. Do that for your company name. Do that for ideas you have. Super easy.
If you go to the URL I’m about to give you, you’re going to get a place where you’ll see that middle option on that site will give you unlimited domains. That’s the plan I recommend you sign up for. Unlimited domains will allow you to take any idea that you have, quickly create a website for, and if you don’t like it, abandon it or kill it and move on and start something different.
All right, I’ll also say this, if you don’t like HostGator, they have a 45 day money back guarantee and they’ll just let you move on to someone else. But more and more, I see that people are switching from their current hosting company to HostGator. They do a really good job. If you want to sign up and get up to 62% off, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Adding that slash mixergy will give you a bigger discount and frankly, help me out because you’ll be telling them that this ad worked for you. hostgator.com/mixergy.
You guys aren’t built on WordPress. But you do support WordPress. So I was trying to figure out how you worked so I went to Michael Saunders’ website. I saw that they’re built on WordPress. I saw that each broker has their own page with testimonials. So I went to look at the source code on that and that’s built on WordPress. And you guys are pairing that or are they just pulling it off of your software and manually putting it into those pages?
Andrew: Oh, I see it now. Yes.
Andrew: Oh, those pages that I saw are HostGator hosted?
Jason: Well, no. I forget exactly where I hosted it, but it was like you’re trying to do something really fast and trying to get something up there. It’s not mission critical as far as like with the product, but you need something that looks good, good enough to like next level and make you look bigger than you are basically. I’m not sure any of my actual customers besides Michael Saunders maybe, and maybe one other one knew that it was just me for the most part. So you have to look bigger than you really are at first, for sure.
Andrew: You were saying about raising money. How did you go about talking to investors? How did you go about finding them? Because I know that there was one person who wanted to work with you that you could have raised money from who was not your partner. How did you find him? How did you find the others?
Jason: So that person was a local person that I knew and sort of a friend that had a big exit and so I sort of was . . . took a while. I mean, there’s a number of meetings. So I wanted to make sure that was something they really want to do, he was a friend, so that was going pretty well. I also had an advisor, a friend, sort of Silicon Valley, and I thought that might be my biggest weakness in a way is being not in Silicon Valley. And so I wanted to have some sort of advisor there. He started connecting me with all kinds of cool people. I mean, I cannot remember all the names right at the top of my head right now, but people that you’d know, the companies and the . . . And so I started that sort of route, more angel route, this sort of pitching and . . .
Andrew: Just talking to all the wealthy people who you knew. Were they in tech or not in tech?
Jason: One was in tech. There’s a local angel fund, I started talking to them and they were techie and they started . . . here, locally, summertime, no one’s really here. I mean, people are here but it’s seasonal. So all the investor people that were locally in Naples were out of town. So I remember I called my one friend Tim Cartwright. He runs an angel fund here. He said, “Hey, you’re talking to this other guy in Cleveland. He’s out of town for the summer.” So I happened to be in Ohio that next month. So I actually pitched this guy in a Starbucks and he’s like, “Yeah, I think I’d be in. I think we’ll do it. So verbally, the first pitch I had, he was like in and then I realized it was like, I think it was like more phases of that, than just like, “Hey, here’s a check.”
But he was in for the next level of like due diligence I think. So I went through all these things and I don’t know how many, a dozen or so maybe more pitches, Angel List folks and all kinds of things. And then I was going to dinner with one of the guys locally that I think was more of a closing dinner. In my mind, it was like the third or fourth meeting, like “We’re probably going to close this thing.” He was that interested. I don’t know how exactly how much yet but a significant chunk.
And I get a call like 15 minutes before that dinner when this guy, Paul called me up and said, “Hey, well, you know, you did it. You got the funding.” I said, “Oh cool, how much?” Because I’m thinking you do it in little chunks. He said, “Oh, all of it.” I said, “What do you mean?” Like, “Oh, the full whatever. We’d raise a million, two five.” I’m like, “Are you serious?” Like, yeah, he’s like, “It’s all, it’s done.” So then we’ll get the paperwork figured out but we approved it. And so anyway, I went into my buddy that was potentially going to invest and we drank for three hours.
Andrew: And he took it well that he was not going to get to invest?
Jason: What’d you say?
Andrew: He was not going to get to invest, but he took it well. He was just that happy for you.
Jason: I told him we didn’t really need him anymore. Like I mean, I didn’t want to have . . . someone else told me that “Keep the number of investors to a minimum if you can,” so I was like, I don’t really want, I don’t think I need more than that. So I’m like, I don’t want to just take someone’s money just to take it, you know?
Andrew: How did the business change after you raised money?
Jason: Oh, it changed everything. I’ve learned so much personally since then, but it let us scale because before that, it was just me and a contractor. We had revenue but not enough to really like really scale it and go off to these other verticals.
And actually, I had this money and I was like, “What do I, you know, I got to make sure that we’re executing this plan that I had in place. It’s on paper and now I get to actually do it. I got to hire people.” Our main overhead was people and the main way we scaled was people. So I had to find the right people and that was a big learning process. My first hire is still with me so he was a good hire. Then I had a couple other ones that were like, you know, it took me a while to figure out that they weren’t the best and that’s one of the hard things about Naples here. I mean, there’s a lot of good talent but not probably anywhere near what the bigger metropolitan area really is.
So you had to make sure you find the right people, poach people sometimes, whatever. But yeah, I mean, change everything. Now we can figure out a game plan, there’s other verticals, go to events, you know, make a presence, do some advertising, do things that we could never do before.
Andrew: For hiring, you’d go to events or for getting clients?
Jason: No, for getting customers. So healthcare, my first event I did ever . . . first booth we ever did was a veterinarian sort of event and so it was a big one in Kansas City.
Andrew: And that works for getting clients? You buy a booth at an event, veterinarians will walk past it, they’ll ask you what you do, you’ll take their contact information, you’ll pitch them, you’ll show them, and then you’ll close some of them?
Jason: That was what I thought. That was our plan. So we did do some of that there.
Andrew: Did it work?
Jason: Nowhere near to the scale we thought we would do. Like we thought, “Hey, we only need . . . ” I forget how many the number was. It costs like 3000 bucks or something for the booth plus whatever, whatever. So we’re like, I think we’re charging, we were trying to charge $100 a month then I think for healthcare. I forget exactly what charging, but we only need a certain number of customers. We didn’t get that number of customers then and people would warn me specifically. Veterinarian space is awesome. We love veterinarians, but as sort of a culture, it seem like they’re a little slower to make decisions than other specialties and we didn’t . . . we were naïve, we didn’t realize . . . we didn’t really believe people that told us that. We thought, “Hey, we’re so special. We’re going to crush it here,” and it took more than that to do that. So we learned quick.
Andrew: So you take their contact information because they’re interested. What was your process for closing a sale?
Jason: Well, hire a sales guy from Gartner as a big technology and consulting company. So I had to seasoned guy there . . .
Andrew: From Gartner, the research company?
Jason: Yes. Their sales team is based here in Fort Myers.
Andrew: Got it. So you said, “Look, this guy has experience at a company that does this really well. I’ll hire him.” You give him the leads. He starts doing what?
Jason: Yeah, he was at the event with me. We were there. We made it a group effort, so we actually had three of us there and we didn’t exactly know the strategy for closing them at the time, but obviously you get to a card, whatever, you follow up. We tried to get them to sign up there. We give them special deals there. That didn’t work too well, but mainly with follow up. And so we learned a lot there, like for example, you know, we’d never done . . . I’d never done a booth for this kind of company before. Just trying to make sure you set the appointments at the show that people are interested because it’s really hard to get a hold of these doctors later, we learned.
Andrew: So while you were there, you get an appointment on their calendar.
Jason: Right. Well, the next event we did. We’ve learned that we thought we should do that. We didn’t do that that well that first event.
Andrew: So what’s the process now for going in an event? You’re there, how do you get people to come? What’s your process for closing a sale?
Jason: Most of our events we’ve done the last year have been through partners, so for example, right this second, we have a partner called RollMaster, which is the flooring software company that’s a reseller of our product and so we have a presence like collateral material, all kinds of stuff in their booth. Other events we go to in ophthalmology. We have some big partners there that will give us a corner of their booth where . . . So we actually piggyback on their . . .
Andrew: Okay, so they have . . . you have a corner of the booth? You have someone there who is selling on your behalf. They take contact information. They try to schedule an appointment right there for themselves?
Jason: Yeah. I mean, lots of them, I just sign people up right then. We’re better at it now so we can actually get people to sign up there potentially.
Andrew: How? What do you do to get someone to sign up right there?
Jason: I mean, depends on the level of interest. I mean, so what I feel like we’re really selling to someone these, at least in healthcare, is how easy this is. So if we are a partner, they can check a few boxes, the backend platform, it’ll automatically do some things, so it’s really, really easy. So we can actually get the things turned on right then and we’ll turn on, get them to like sign up, which means sometimes there’ll be a sign up form we’ll have like right there in the iPad, wherever, they can sign them up. Other times, we’ll just say, “Hey, we’ll send you the agreement like in the whatever.” So anyway, we just get them all on board and sort of create their account, gets up going right then.
Andrew: And give them a page that they could use to start collecting testimonials.
Jason: Yeah, we sort of get it started and then generally we have an onboarding team that will brand it for them and kind of white glove it. One of our things is we want to make sure it looks really good and kind of seamlessly fits into their whole platform, whatever. So there’s some work that goes into that, little bit of work.
Andrew:I see but am I right to say that if you can set them up right there and show them that the thing is done, you give them confidence that it’s easy to use even if it’s even if they’ll want to tweak it more before actually using it?
Andrew:And that’s what gets them comfortable with it?
Jason: Yeah. So I think the biggest barrier that we sell against . . . I think for most companies actually is the fear of something new and the process is going to be to launch. They’re used to certain things and we tried to exceed those expectations that look, it’s easy. I mean, actually, what I’m finding is the bigger companies work with the easier it is, I mean, because they have a tech team. So I was at a company I’d call with a really large lender. We’d signed up and that was the easiest I actually had. So we had a call with them that escalated to their main tech guy, the main data guy, that’s in New Jersey and we got on the phone with him within a five minute conversation about what we’re looking for as far as data and that day, he sent me what we needed. So we could automate things like . . . so we can launch them this week. Easy.
Andrew: You know, Jason, I was going through an event recently and I remember seeing a booth for someone who did webinar software that I’ve been curious about for a while. I asked them questions about it and if they would’ve said, “Andrew, look, I see what you’re going for. Let’s just set it up right now. I’ll create an account for you. If you tell me what you’re looking for, if we can’t do it right now, we’ll tweak it afterwards. But it’s better for you to just have an account and play with it,” I would have actually signed up for it and used it. But instead, they answered some of my questions, not all of them, and then I said, “All right, we’ll follow up,” and I never did. And then we ended up . . .
Jason: There’s like a time period there where you’re sort of like you’re there at that event probably engaged to do things. That’s what you’re there for.
Andrew: Right. We could go hands on.
Jason: Yeah, exactly. So if you can take advantage of that, that’s . . . honestly, I’ve had a lot of mentors. I learned I’m not the best event person. We all have big booths. I mean, there’s a lot of companies that have crazy booths. I’ve seen at obviously these expos, but I’ve had a lot of other people that do like maybe . . . one guy that I met at these expos, forget how many. It was like 200 events a year. I mean, it’s crazy number of events. They’re like constantly traveling. They would give us a lot of tips. Some of them we’re like really dumb. I mean, not dumb, but like simple, like kind of a bowl of candy on your desk. And it seems so silly, and actually what happened at this other event, this other ophthalmology event we were at, we had this bowl of like Snickers or whatever in front, but it was a local event here in Naples and Norman Love chocolates, a big sort of chocolatier here. It’s a famous chocolate.
So we had these stacks of Norman Love chocolate in the back that we thought, “We’ll give these out to people that want to do a demo. They’ll get a special thing, a reward for a demo or whatever.” And so what we found though if people will try to walk by your booth, like kind of like not want to talk to you or whatever, and they grabbed some candy and I said something like, “Hey, you know, hey, that’s good, but good candy is back here.” Then they’d come in and then you’d have a conversation.
So it was like an icebreaker and we signed up a ton of people there. So let’s say have a conversation. Some people don’t want to . . . they’re kind of walking between things. They don’t want to like talk to people, but as soon as you get them in and they kind of like know that you’re not trying to totally sell them, just talk to them, then it’s much easier.
Andrew: Brian Benson, who works with you, told me that one of the issues you guys had, or you personally had as you were growing the business was how do you replicate and delegate? Can you talk about what that challenge was and how you’re dealing with it?
Jason: Still dealing with it. Yeah, so I think at least, this is from my experience, like I pretty much did every job in the company, whether it’s programming, sales, onboarding, customer service, everything. In the very beginning, I think I was decent at all those things. I was not the best probably in all those things, but I had my way of doing it and I was always extremely customer centric.
And so now the challenge is . . . and then we have 10 employees and each of them have their own department sort of based on, you know, the onboarding customer service. It’s trying to make sure that we can replicate what made us good in the beginning, but also give autonomy to those people to be creative and do it their way. So that’s what we’ve been the last year or two. Just as we grow, now I feel like we’ve got to the point we’re at now, you can get there through brute force without having a lot of processes and a lot, not a lot of things in place that you need to take the next level.
And now we have to make sure that . . . I tell all the people that are running these things like Brian or whatever, “Don’t think of it in terms of you, like this is you, but think about you had five employees or five people below you. You can’t do things the way you’re doing it now because . . .
Andrew: So it’s just not you replicating it and delegating it to them, but prepping them to delegate to the next group of people. So why don’t we take a piece and just so I can understand this, let’s take something specific. Onboarding, this is brand new product for people who are not especially technical and eager to go spend a day figuring out a product. You used to onboard people yourself?
Andrew: When you were saying, “Look, I can’t be the onboarding guy and also be the CEO of this large growing company,” right? “If TestimonialTree is going to continue to go, I need someone else to do it.” How did you replicate what you did and delegate it and then how did you set them up to improve it?
Jason: Yeah. And that actually was the hardest role of all of it probably?
Jason: Yeah. I mean, so onboarding for us was a big differentiator I think. Plus I feel like sales is a promise and then onboarding is where you really deliver. You have to deliver on these promises and there’s more time involved with the customer and onboarding processes, more relationship building there, which is how we grew up. So the key to our growth and our innovation sort of as our customers liking us enough to like tell us what we’re not doing well or “Hey, I wish you did this one thing right.” So that’s where you build that rapport. I mean I had trouble sort of relinquished at first. Brian does this now and he’s a more recent person that’s helping us to there. But before that, we had some other folks as well.
Andrew: So how do you do that? How did you do that?
Jason: So what I did from a technical standpoint is, I mean, very simply I would do it in conjunction with that person. I’d train them in how I did it, “Here’s the way I did it.” And from a technical standpoint too, it’s not that complicated really for what we do.”
Andrew: But it was then sitting next to you, watching you do it. It wasn’t you giving them this document or nothing like that. No, you did it. And that’s what you mean by brute force. There was, you have to get them to understand it. There was no system process for handing it off.
Jason: Right. So you could do . . . I would drop balls at a certain point. So that’s why I realized I can’t do this anymore. So like I’d have. So I’ve learned little tricks for myself where every meeting we had, so it’s a broker that’s launching, which technically isn’t really that hard for us to launch, but there’s processes in place and have to talk to the web company and then their data person or whatever. There’s a lot of people involved that maybe a single doctor would not have the same issue.
But anyway, so I think that all these moving pieces and I realized for example, if I didn’t set another meeting for the following week, that meeting, that by the time I got all the stuff done that I needed to get done, I’d kind of try to reach out to another meeting. It’d be a week or two later. So my onboardings being more than a month and it was like deal, but like I just wasn’t doing it right. And then if I didn’t, if I forgot to do a meeting, there’s a chance I might forget to schedule the next meeting and I just forget.
Andrew: So there’s a lot of you just going by gut, going by instinct, no process set up. And so when you’re passing it on to someone like Brian, you have to tell him what you did by showing it to him. You’re not passing him anything more organized that that?
Jason: No, well, now it’s different. We use our CRM in ways that probably it shouldn’t be used, honestly. We went to different CRMs. Right now, we use Nutshell CRM and we liked that because I can treat the onboarding process like a sale cycle and has automated phase tasks, so onboarding processes like, you know, basically some technical stuff, some QA, training, and launch basically and so was able to like do tasks that are related to healthcare clients and tasks related to real estate or whatever. So I could kind of phase through that and sales is $0 sale in the system, but I could have a very regimented task.
Andrew: So all the steps that the software is meant to be used to create steps to close a sale, you’re turning them into steps to satisfy a customer after you sold. So this is you saying we have to professionalize our processes. We can’t just have Jason be the guy who knows how to deal with clients. We have to have checklists for each item. We have staff software that manages it and if you’re using Nutshell maybe in the future I use something that’s either custom or more dedicated to this. Got it. And this is the way that you’re professionalizing your company.
Jason: Right. I’m trying to build a factory in a way, trying to build a machine. I can plug everything is repeatable. So like everything, we’re going to keep it very personal for our customers, but behind the scene, it should be like a factory. Like there should be . . .
Andrew: How do you get to improve if it’s a factory because you don’t just want Brian to do the same thing a year or five years from now that you set him up with when you got him started because he’s doing onboarding today? How do you enable them to . . . him and his team to then customize it and improve it?
Jason: Well, that’s part of the culture of the company, which I think is really important for us. Like so the mindset needs to be always continually improve. Like you never do it perfect basically. So for example, for Brian, like we realized that part of the onboarding process for some customers we’re leaning towards training and we realize this is getting deeper that we want right now in this part of the process, all we need to know is a task list for us and for them like, “Introduce us to your web company, maybe we do these other things on our side.”
So all we want to do is initial kickoff call. Really, we don’t want to get into the product, really. The product is the product, whether we train them now on it or now or two weeks from now or whatever. So we’ve identified ways to do that. So the training part, you segment that out and maybe there’s some videos you can send them that’ll automate some of the training.
So everything’s got to be with a mindset of streamlining, but still with that personal touch is what we really, really want. But they can call us anytime they have questions or whatever. That’s true in sales. We’re trying to automate that. And on the pipeline for the tech side, making sure we have some agile type processes or whatever in place that we have some regimented way of doing things. So everything is got to be sort of the system in place but you can’t really improve, I don’t think, unless you have a system because you don’t know exactly who you are [inaudible 01:00:40].
Andrew: What we’re doing is we’re getting into a rhythm of a monthly or quarterly calls on every process and between those calls, we check in. We have a place where we dump all the things that need to be improved. Then when we get on a call, it’s, “Hey, here are the 10 things that people have asked us. Here are the 10 things that we need to improve. What can we work on right now?” and change our process to take into account.
Like right now, one of my processes is to edit interviews and I’ve gotten a lot of complaints that the audio quality is not what it should be. And so on the call yesterday to talk about how to improve editing, we realized, you know what, Skype is just dropping the ball on calls. You have a great connection because you’re an accelerator, really good internet connection, really good spot. Many people don’t and I think Zoom is doing a much better job of handling that. So we got on a call yesterday, we said we have to experiment with Zoom and we did it and I think we’re going to shift to Zoom.
But that wouldn’t have happened unless I had a call on the calendar to go over every problem and talk about how we could solve it and change our process.
Jason: Yeah, we do in our company, we don’t have a call exactly like that, but we try to do and we’re pretty small group, have a big open office, whatever. We have a meeting stand up with the whole company and 9:30 every Monday and then that sort of, you know, like a way to sort of start the week and say, “Here’s the things that are priorities, whatever.” And all the departments say something, real quick meeting.
And then on Fridays what we do is on 4:00 or so on Fridays, we go in the middle of the office, we get some beer, whatever, but mainly it’s about product and process. What happened this week that we can improve on? So it seems like a social time, which it is, social time, a little bonding and stuff. But my thought is it’s a creative time. So here, how can we improve? It gets everybody talking and helping each other with different things.
And that’s actually one of the more productive meetings we actually have, even though it’s probably the most fun. By the way, we also have a thing in the beginning of the week. We have little task things where you have like year goals, 90 day goals, and some things you’re trying to get done this week. So we have people do that and Monday, we put them on the wall. And the theory was if you didn’t get these tasks done, you have to sing a karaoke song. But what I realized is that it wasn’t much of a punishment, everybody wanted to sing.
Andrew: Yeah, they actually want to do that.
Jason: Especially a couple beers, you know?
Andrew: Yeah. Okay, got a sense of the business. Let’s close it out with this final question. Revenues now, where are they? What are they?
Jason: We’re just bumping along breakeven. We’re in theory, just crossed a million bucks, a million one or so . . .
Jason: Annually. ARR. So, yeah, so are goal is go to two million this year. We’re on track right now to do that. Although these next two months, historically, it’ll be the leanest month for us. I think it’s just summer. People aren’t around or whatever, but we’re confident we can still achieve that goal. It’s our goal.
Andrew: All right, the website for anyone who wants to check it out, is TestimonialTree. I think you guys do a really good job with your site explaining what the software does and how it not just to gets testimonials, but helps send them out to places like Yelp and Google and WebMD, etc. So check it out, testimonialtree.com.
I also want to thank my two sponsors. If you’re building a website, look at how many guests that I’ve interviewed have used HostGator, you should go check them out yourselves. And if you don’t like your hosting company, of course switch by going to hostgator.com/mixergy. Also, my second sponsor is a company that helps you hire phenomenal developers. They are known in the industry for doing that. Go to toptal.com/mixergy and just schedule a call with them and you’ll see how much they can impact your business.
And finally, if you are like me and have an Echo, you should check out Mixergy on your Amazon Echo device. Just say, “Hey,” well, actually, you don’t even have to say hey with them, say, “Alexa, play Mixergy podcast.” I’m saying it quietly not to trigger people’s Alexa devices, but do it. You’re going to see that Mixergy does a really good job on those devices. Thanks so much for listening, guys, and Jason, thanks and congratulations.