Andrew: They’re freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. I do these interviews via video. So I’m especially excited about today’s guest because he’s been doing video now. Um, video software for what it’s been well over a decade.
Hasn’t been hasn’t it.
Fritz: Yeah, I launched my first video company and live streaming video in 2009, 2010 timeframe.
Andrew: And that company was brand live, dude. I was on your site. First of all, everything you have has such beautiful aesthetics. I love even the way that this growling works on brand live. You’re smiling. You know what I’m talking about, right.
Fritz: Yeah, brand live is really, uh, you know, had a couple iterations of the brand design, but we felt great about all of them. Um, the most recent design is kind of fun and playful. Um, I wasn’t a part of that. I ended up exiting the business in 2019, but. Uh, the company that took over has been doing a fantastic job.
Andrew: Yeah. What brand live does is it allows people to do video in a polished way. That feels more like what they’d see on television or if it’s reproducing. So yes, you could put together a whole like TV style program. And in addition, if you want it to say re reproduce the offline experience of an event, you could do it on brand live and have something that feels way more special and more polished and more customized to a real event feel than you would on say zoom.
Fritz: Yeah, you gotta, we used to say, you know, in order to produce TV in the back in the day, you’d have to roll up the big semi-truck with all the cameras and the satellite dish, et cetera. You don’t have to do that now. Part of what brand live did was simplify that whole process and make it easy for anybody to produce a really high quality show and broadcast it and make it top level.
Andrew: I wonder if we should be doing that here at Mixergy, but I’ll ask you about that. I’ll also find out about the new business that you launched, which is called Zipcan. I freaking love Zipcan. I went to the website it’s zipcan.com. And what, what they do is they allow anyone to embed video chat on there site really quickly.
If you go to their site and do the demo, you’ll see how fast it is. There’s like this option in the bottom, right. Of this screen where anyone can press a button and then just start, yeah. Live chat. And you’re showing me how easy it is to invite other people to the chat. How, if I put it up on my website and I wanted anyone to come chat with me, I could do it.
Super clean, super simple. I invited Fritz here. Fritz bummed her to talk about how he launched and sold brand live. And then also. Why he moved on to Zipcan and how Zipcan is doing today. And we can do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you need to increase your conversions, unbalanced has created a report that you have got to see.
It will help you understand what you need to do. What’s working for other people when it comes to increasing their conversions. I’ll tell you about Unbounce and what they’ve got and why you should go to unbounce.com/c B R to get that report. And number two. If you need a website hosted, you should go to HostGator and I’ll tell you later why you should go to hostgator.com/mixergy Fritz.
I like to start off by understanding how big these businesses are. What can you say about revenue-wise? How big brand live was when you were there and Zipkin where you with this new company.
Fritz: Yeah. So at brain live, we grew to 50 employees. We made the Inc 500 list and Inc 5,000 lists, multiple years in a row. So we had 50 employees and multiple millions in revenue.
Andrew: And when you exited, did you sell, or did you just say I’m taking off.
Fritz: Uh, I ended up selling, so my co-founder and I, and some early investors, uh, we had been in it about 10 years and we had a PE investor that was ready and willing to take the company through the next phase. And so it just made sense. The company was at kind of a transition point and rather than doing like a full recap or selling the entire business, we just sort of realigned and restrategized, and it was a good situation for me and all the early people that were involved.
And it was a fantastic situation for the company too. This was all right before COVID and obviously being in a live video event company before the world’s shut down. Uh, was very different than after that happened. And so, uh, brand live has done phenomenally well and kudos to the team that has really been able to carry things through there.
In fact, some of the earliest employees we hired are still with the company today. So they’re doing some great stuff.
Andrew: Can you give me a sense of what you sold for tens of millions.
Fritz: Uh, let’s take the baseball analogy here. So for me, it was a base hit, essentially. It gave me the opportunity just to start my next company, um, you know, some financial stability for my family and stuff like that, but it was not, uh, life-changing money, so to speak.
Andrew: Where did you come up with the idea for this? I feel like before COVID hit people, didn’t appreciate what brand live was doing. You were a person who was working, what director of internet strategy and business development at cascade web development. How did that lead you to come up with this idea?
Fritz: Yeah, well, I’ve been passionate about video and kind of the thing that is similar between why I started brand live and why I started Zipkin, uh, I’ve always been creative. I’ve always been into video and this concept of like taking tools and video that are otherwise difficult and simplifying them a little bit, and then putting them in people’s hands that are more like marketers or designers or product people.
They can do some really cool things with that. So, um, that was the motivator, like the mission that I was on, but the idea came from, I was on a Skype call with a friend of mine. He had just opened this high-fashion store in New York. And I was just catching up with him, chatting with him. And I was like, Hey, show me your store.
What did, what did you guys pick out? His wife is from Norway and see you, these cool, like designer shoes and stuff like that. And he started showing me some things on video. And I ended up liking something. I bought it, my wife loved it. And I was like, wow, that was a really cool experience. And then I thought of QVC obviously.
And the, the success that QVC has had QVC by the way, has always been one of the highest converting channels, meaning like the percentage of people that watch QVC and end up buying is higher than any e-com website, for example. So I thought, Hey, maybe we could take the tools that. QVC is using to produce these high quality shows and show and demo products, and then add an e-comm component, add some interactivity components.
And if we package all that up as modules, any brand could use that to reach their audience and convert sales or help people learn and educate about their products.
Andrew: That makes sense. So at the beginning it was just, you got to, you got a product, you can do a show where you show it off, where you demo it, where you get people psyched about it. And then not only it was brand live going to allow me to show my show, my product, but also you had like a Shopify component in it in the beginning where I could sell it.
Fritz: Speaking to how early we’re in. We were in the market. Shopify didn’t exist. Facebook live didn’t exist. YouTube was really the only one that was doing live streaming video. Um, Ustream was kind of a, like a broadcast to your life kind of, uh, experience at that time, uh, and live stream existed. But otherwise we were one of the early, early companies in live streaming video.
Andrew: You know what now it’s become during COVID incredibly popular. If you go to beta brand.com, what you see is a woman right now, she’s on roller skates. She’s kind of pointing at me, she’s talking. And then there are people who are watching what she’s selling and. And chatting about it and buying it. Look, I could actually see in the right corner, someone just apparently what I’m seeing.
Uh, I think they just bought yoga pants. So
Fritz: So this whole, yeah, this whole trend of live streaming commerce video, um, in China by the way is massive. So there’s so many apps, tools and functions for people to broadcast video. Obviously Instagram live is becoming more and more popular as a way to reach your audience and convert sales or, uh, Promote your products.
Andrew: Okay. And so you, you said I’m coming up with this. I’m assuming that the website had a different name because when I go to the internet archive to look at the early versions and I don’t see them, or am I missing something?
Fritz: Uh, so we had, um, initially we had your brand live.com. Then we were brand.live.
Fritz: uh, and then after I left, they ended up acquiring brand live.com
Andrew: And when, when you did that as shopping via video, how did that go over? Considering how early you were.
Fritz: yeah. So when we ran these events, they were awesome. The customer feedback was amazing. The team was really engaged and inspired by. The product that we had created and how customers were using it. So the thing I’m most proud of with brand live is just the culture and the community and the people. In fact, that so many of the early employees were all really, really good friends and we maintain relationships with each other.
We’re talking about reunions and stuff like that. So the culture of the company was one of the biggest creations that we were able to accomplish there. Um, the product itself. Worked awesome. When the customer was using it, the hard part about doing broadcast videos, you have to promote in order to get your audience.
So if you don’t have a built-in audience, you need to think about what are the steps I need to start taking a month and a half, two months at a time in order to drive traffic to my audience, because. You know, most of these big companies, we did things like Walmart cyber Monday, for example, where they want to have millions of people, obviously watching and engaging with their, uh, live shopping on cyber Monday.
And so they had to promote run ads. It was a complicated process to get your audience size and not every customer was capable of doing that.
Andrew: How did you get customers to even sign up for something like this?
Fritz: Uh, so this is actually another difference between brand live and what I wanted to accomplish that zip can, from a go-to-market perspective, um, we had a very enterprise sales focused process at brand life. So we hired sales reps that were. Really knowledgeable in specific verticals, able to call upon some of the best brands in the category.
We would go after those. And once we landed the best brands, we had the case studies and stories to go sell to everybody else within the category. So it was a very vertical focused approach, higher price point. And because broadcast video is. We simplified it a lot, but it’s still a complicated thing to do.
You have to know who do I want on camera? How many cameras do I want? Where are the mix? What’s the background? What’s the script. Is it scripted? How do I take questions? There’s lots of things you need to figure out before you utilize our software. And so therefore the lead times were a little bit longer.
The sales process was longer. So I wanted to shrink that with zip cannon and kind of simplify things down and give people a tool that they could use without ever talking to anybody.
Andrew: what’s up with Zipkin it’s super easy. The new com zip can, by the way, to avoid confusion in the new company, which allows anyone to embed live video, chat on their sites. They’re just a snippet of code we added to our site and that’s it. And it’s an it’s up and running. If we use it enough. Then I’m sure some pricing kicks in, but until then, it’s try it, experience it, do it all for free.
At what point did you decide going back to brand live? At what point did you decide to add a new, a new element, a new process?
Fritz: Well, it was always, that’s always a debate, right? As a startup, you need to have a lot of focus. And so in the early days we had one product that did multiple things. Um, We created the, initially it was the e-commerce use case. So we did lots of live shopping events, but then our customers actually came to us and we just followed the demand and they said, Hey, this is really great.
Except sometimes I don’t need to do these big events to my consumers. Sometimes I just need to train my 500 employees about what my new strategy is and what my new product is. And therefore things like town hall, events, sales meetings, um, Uh, retailer training, all of these use cases were internal and the audience sizes were smaller maybe in the hundreds, but it was very high value for our customers.
And so as that started to grow. We started to build products around that. So by the time I ended up leaving brand live, we were, I would say a two to three product company because we ended up creating a couple of adjacent softwares around video broadcasting to make it easy to produce.
Andrew: As I’m going through the internet archive and seeing the way the site adjusted. I can see somewhere about halfway through your time there, you added this to the homepage, the live video platform for training, marketing, and e-commerce. So e-commerce was now number three. I’m assuming the training was bringing the most revenue, right?
Fritz: It was actually, so we ended up landing really big customers like Levi’s Nike GoPro, REI, and they all used us for that.
Andrew: And so one of the things that I noticed even in the beginning was you said no downloads, no downloads was hard before. What is it now that you’re using web RTC?
Fritz: Uh, Craig, Zipkin the backend technology as of Canada’s web RTC, the backend technology of live streaming or brand live type of video is RTMP. And that’s the thing that, Oh, like, At that time, zoom wasn’t really a thing. Actually, when we first started, it was more GoToMeeting and WebEx were the two leaders in that space and both of those were a download and it was kind of an annoying download.
Everybody hates. Yeah, it’s true. So everybody hated that part. And so we wanted to make something that was browser-based. Um, that is a similarity between, brand live and Zipkin, it all takes place in the browser.
Andrew: Why did you decide to step away? You, you initially became, as you told our producer, you said you switched to COO role from CEO role. Why.
Fritz: Yeah. So we’ve raised a decent amount of money. We were just shy of 5 million raised and the business had been doing very well. Um, but as the numbers start to grow, you know, in the multiple millions, it gets harder to. Show a hundred percent growth per year. And so we were looking for some ways to try to get the company to accelerate even faster.
I was interested in that, but that was. You know, a common topic of conversation amongst our board. And so, uh, at a certain point, I was a first time founder, CEO. I was doing everything I could to like learn the craft and do the craft at exactly the same time, fly the airplane and, and put it together. And we ended up deciding to bring in another CEO and I moved into a CEO role.
Uh, he ended up taking on sales and marketing and product. Actually we shared a little bit of product and I did everything sort of post-sale and there was some positive aspects to that, but the end result was, we didn’t really see the results that we were looking for. So that was the situation where the company needed a little bit of a reset.
And that’s when the investors and the board sort of went back to the drawing board and said, okay, what’s the, what’s the best structure for brand life to be successful going forward.
Andrew: Hmm. And so how did you do as a COO? I find that CEO is a terrible COO’s because you want to have vision. You want to, you want to communicate that vision to the team. You don’t want to have to deal with the details of, of, of executing that. Right? You want somebody else to help organize it? Am I right?
Fritz: Yeah, you are, but it really depends on the relationship and how you structure things with the CEO. Um, we had a pretty good. Set up and structure. I was still, you know, sort of the, the culture and the team leader. I had HR, I had customer success and all the relationships and own ownership of the, the customers.
I ran things like our customer advisory board, which we had some really killer brands, eBay, Adidas. Um, Nike, they all sat on our customer advisory board. So my job was to engage them and make sure that we were meeting their needs. And we had the right people on the right product.
Andrew: all right. Let me talk about my first sponsor. And then I’m gonna come back and ask why you left and then how you ended up coming up with the idea for Zipkin and frankly, the revenue Zipkin it just got out of beta, just like it feels like almost hours ago and already the product works well. Revenues is strong.
You get outside funding for it.
Fritz: We took a very little bit of funding, basically like seed capital less than 200 K and yeah, we’re less than a year old and we’re already North of 50,000 a month in revenue.
Andrew: All right. I want to know how you got there. I, but first I’ve got to tell you about unbalanced. They’ve got this new conversion bench Mark report, and here’s why it’s important for it’s. One of the things that you and I realized is when you run a business, what you want is to bring people to your site, but you also want them to come back.
It took me a long time to appreciate that my site needs to be optimized for bringing people back and the way to do that was create landing pages. In fact, one of my past guests, Fred said, Andrew, you should turn every one of your old interviews into a landing page. And I remember thinking, well, I don’t know how do I do that?
What do I do? And then I started seeing examples. I started understanding what’s possible. I started hiring consultants to help me do it. And then we did it every one of my past interviews. Is automatically a landing page. In fact, this interview in 60 days will be converted into a landing page, which collects email addresses, which then gets me, um, another subscriber who gets to find out about future interviews.
It’s phenomenal the way this whole thing works. I didn’t know how to do that until I saw how other people did it. I didn’t know how to improve it until I saw what was working for other people. I didn’t realize what mistakes I was making and what opportunities I didn’t know existed. I did until I started learning from others.
Unbounce is software that’s designed to create landing pages that convert they’ve watched people create landing pages, marketers create landing pages that convert. And what they decided to do was just do a conversion benchmark report that shows. Anyone who wants to increase their conversions, how others are doing it, that gives them what I was able to get through consultants through endless research, who talking to my past guests.
It is available right now for free. Anyone who wants it? You just go to unbounce.com/c B R. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what CBR is. It’s conversion benchmark report. That’s unbounce.com/c B R. And go get that right now for free. Why’d you why’d you sell the business for its brand live? I mean,
Fritz: So it just became one of those time periods. You know, you reach milestones in business or you reach milestones in your life in general, right. Where you’re like, okay, this is a potential transition point. And. The company, which was such a huge part of my core and my life for the last 10 years prior to that, you know, what it takes obviously to start a business and from zero to 50 employees was an amazing experience.
Like I would never trade that for anything. Um, however it was for, I was fortunate enough to get to a point where I was like, okay, The business needs a little bit of a different structure going forward. Um, I feel like I’ve gotten the business to the point where it can stand on its own. It can be successful without me as the founder being around.
And we bounced around a bunch of different ideas. And obviously it’s awesome from a founder perspective to get to any kind of liquidity, any kind of transition, because a lot of founders are looking at the opposite, you know, the wind down. I didn’t want to have to do that. And so when the opportunity came up, I ended up taking it.
I w I was passionate about a few other things at the time I was ready to move. Uh, I was living in Portland, Oregon. That’s where I started the company. And I was just ready to move my family to a different place. I had moved to bend Oregon, um, just a couple of hours away, but a very, very different place than Portland.
And so all those things combined together. Led me to, okay. I think this is good for me and it’s good for the business and my co-founder and early investors were on board with it. So we made it happen.
Andrew: why do you think it didn’t take off even more? In fact, I’m surprised. I didn’t know about it. I’m surprised I didn’t use it. Yeah. Obviously it took off and it’s doing really well now because of COVID and people are turning to new solutions and frankly, we’re all getting bored with the same look of zoom.
It doesn’t feel special. It doesn’t feel different from our daily lives. So I could see why brand live would take off. Why didn’t it take off before? Why didn’t this get massive adult adoption?
Fritz: Yeah. I mean, I wish I knew the answer to that question, but I think there’s a huge mix of things. One of the key pieces is video is still intimidating for a lot of people, as much as mainstream as it has become. Um, unless you can really demystify it for people, they feel like it’s a lot of work to do. And to a certain extent they’re right.
Uh, broadcast video is not a simple thing to do. We made it very simple at brand live and they’re continually making it better and simpler, but it’s still work to produce a TV show style broadcast.
Andrew: And what you were doing was allowing people to put the what’s called the lower thirds, where they could put the name of the person as the person’s talking. Make it go away, cut from one person to another. Is it something that I’d be able to do while I’m having this conversation and focus on the conversation?
Or is it too, too distracting? And you found that people needed a producer?
Fritz: Great. Uh, you hit on a perfect point, right? We wanted to make tools that were simple enough to have one man broadcast, but big enough to have 10 people on set one person in front of the camera with questions coming up on a screen. So, yeah. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want. Um, but you got it exactly right.
The, the, that style broadcast in the past, I think of when you’re watching the super bowl or the, uh, NFL game and at the end of the game, they cut to like thanks to our producers. And they’re showing like 10 people with big screens up in front of them. And they have like really colorful switchboard. So taking all of that.
Infrastructure that they have hardware and software running and put it onto a laptop with a simple software application that you can run in a browser that was not a simple thing to do and was still intimidating for some customers. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why adoption didn’t take off right away.
Andrew: uh, okay. It really, you know what, it really is difficult. And frankly, even for me, I’ve been doing this now for 10 years. Almost always with video, I don’t publish a video because it’s kind of boring to watch two people’s heads talking. Right. Um, But even to set this up, I know we were supposed to meet at 10 30.
I didn’t connect with you until 10 32. I know I was watching because I have to set up the lights or else. It’s weird that you can see me very clearly. I have to make sure that the mic is plugged in properly. And then I’ve got a little connector to make sure that the plug for the laptop doesn’t bounce off.
I connect an ether net cable into the computer because if I lose the connection because of some wifi hiccup and we got great wifi in the house. It’s still distracting. And then I have to make sure that I shave one of the things up until this past year. One of the things that I noticed, every man, not every woman, but every man do is as soon as the camera comes on with me, they do one of these to like check their hair.
Right. It’s and so it’s very intimidating. I get, I get your point. All right. And we are getting a little bit more and more comfortable with it. All right. And also, you know, what I found is. I’m at a point right now where I’m trying to think, where do I take Mixergy? And it’s really daunting to, after having built something for 10 years to go in and one more time, change it up.
One more time. Change the redesign the site. One more time. Rethink through the content. Is it, was that feeling a little waiting for you to.
Fritz: He had agencies get involved all the time where they’re like helping big brands, figure out what the right go to market execution is. And that, that can be. Intimidating for an individual like yourself, where you can make all the decisions about Mixergy. As soon as you bring it to a big brand context, there could be brand people, product people, design people that all want to have a say in what happens on the video and with a wedding looks like, and who’s on camera and how they’re talking.
And because it’s scripted, is it not scripted? So those are all things that, uh, the barriers come down right? With things like Facebook live and Instagram live, people are realizing like, Hey, I can just be me. With a camera pointed at me. Right. We’re seeing more professional athletes do that. And so then the brands are like, okay, the consumer is willing to, uh, play along with rough content.
So maybe I maybe I’m overthinking this and I can make it more approachable. So those are things that are all really helpful. For the adoption of video switching to Zipkin. I wanted to remove a lot of those things. Like either the,
Andrew: we get to Zipkin. How you tell me how you came up with it. You left and you were at a place where now suddenly you get to explore and you did decide you were going to go through this exploration phase, right? You didn’t just say Zipkin next thing came to me overnight. What was, what was it that you were going through and then how did COVID shift you to something different?
Fritz: Yeah. So fortunately, I’ve been able to talk about that transition period in that story, a couple of different times in a few podcasts. So hopefully it’s okay. If I plug another podcast that I was on, uh, called reboot reboot.io and the founder of reboot, his name is Jerry Colona. He’s often referred to as the CEO whisper.
And I got to have a conversation with him right at the time that I was transitioning out and I was in very much this like complete white space. Do I want to start a physical product company? Am I like done with software? Do I want to, um, I was really into this. I was doing a passion project called magic in the middle, whereas interviewing, uh, CEOs and coaches and trying to find the magic in the middle between how CEOs run companies and how sports coaches run teams.
Because we all, I use a baseball analogy, you know, 10 minutes ago in this interview, it happens all the time. Right. So there’s, there’s gotta be more to that. So I just went as broad as I possibly could to figure out what I wanted to do next. Um, and that process was probably four to five months or so and had a great time doing it.
I even did a medicate, her meditation program called whole life meditation. And that was just a wacky idea that I came up with. When I was moving, I was driving the moving truck. It’s about a three and a half hour drive from. Portland to bend. And at one, one of those drives, I tried to relive my entire life, like just in my mind.
And I was like, wow, that was actually a pretty cool experience. Why don’t I just record like a guided visualization, guided meditation for other people to try the same thing. So I did some wacky stuff like that, and that helped clear my head for what I wanted to do next before I even came up with Zipkin. Thank you.
Andrew: I couldn’t get it to me. Fast enough, the guided meditation that you created for other people. So. We lived their lives. Was that like a business thing where you trying to sell it? Or was it you trying to understand yourself by helping other people understand themselves?
Fritz: Everything I did during that time had no economic expectations. It was,
Andrew: is my time experiment. What was the guiding principle that allowed you to try so many different things? Was it, what do I feel like doing? What do I personally feel? I need what’s the most out there thing I could do.
Fritz: Um, I would say the core of it was education. What can I do that? I’m going to learn something and that’s going to push myself a little bit. And as long as I’m learning something, I’m going to be good with it. That’s going to check the box. So obviously the interviewing CEOs and coaches, I learned a tremendous amount.
Just sort of reflecting my experience as a CEO, founder. Into hearing their story. And it was conversations kind of similar to this. Some of that ended up as an audio podcast format and some of it was more articles and kind of research-based content.
Andrew: And so you just trying to learn for the sake of finding what the next thing would be for you, as long as it allowed you to learn, you were willing to go through it. And then how did you end up with a co-founder that you were able to bounce ideas off of?
Fritz: Actually, it started very similar to that. So, and certainly, um, First of all, he has a very different way of approaching product and design. And so we just had fun having coffee with each other. I would help him with his business. He was helping me with mine. He did a little bit of branding and design for magic-middle.com.
So I had, I felt better about releasing my content when I had more of a brand built around it. And so we started talking about different ideas. We really enjoyed that process and that ultimately led to, uh, Zipkin
Andrew: And he’s somebody who you work with before. Brandville it looks like over the years, he’s helped. Uh, excuse me. Why don’t we keep calling a brand bill brand live.
Fritz: brand lives.
Andrew: called brand bill brand live. Um, I see he was also a designer at inDinero company that I know and love. Got it. And so you’re bouncing ideas off each other.
What’s one idea that you came up with that you got rid of before Zipkin hit you and you said this is the one
Fritz: Well, this wasn’t with Spencer so much, but I’ve always had this dream of starting a hamburger company.
Fritz: Yeah. So I w I was at CES the year that, um, uh, there’s so many of them now, but the, uh, impossible burger. You know, the, have you heard of the impossible burger? It’s plant-based
Andrew: we were vegetarians here largely at home. Um, and so we eat impossible and beyond burger all the time.
Fritz: There you go, impossible, won an award at CES. And I was thinking to myself, okay, that’s really cool. They’re building a brand, a name associated with a burger. And in the like hotdog and sausage space, there are tons of like ballpark dogs and stuff like that. But there’s nobody that has a brand name that you can associate with a regular meat burger.
And so that’s. You know, that’s my idea. If somebody does it before me more power to them, but.
Andrew: for home, people can buy it, put it at home. I guess it doesn’t have to be necessarily for home, but you want even individuals to crave that type of a burger and ask for it at the store. If the, if a restaurant serves it. They want to know you’re right. You know, I hadn’t thought of that.
When once I started to discover impossible burger, I would ask for that burger by name, if they had their own vegetarian burger, I wouldn’t care to listen to them. Tell me how they created it because I doubted it would be any good. I knew impossible burgers, frankly at restaurants are especially good. I can’t make it good at home beyond burger.
I love at home. You’re right. That makes total total sense. Why didn’t you pursue that?
Fritz: Well, fortunately, uh, It just is, uh, you know, starting a burger company was a lot more unknowns and had some risk associated with it. I probably would have started with like a cart or a restaurant or something like that to get couple of customer feedback and get the product into the market. And obviously doing that right before COVID started would not have been a good idea.
And so, um, it was, it was just weird timing. Like COVID ended up hitting. Uh, it was unclear, obviously in that March timeframe, I ended up blowing out my knee skiing towards the very end of the year. So I was like laid up in bed. And so I was not really in a spot to like explore things that were going to require moving around a ton.
Um, and so I came back to software, not for that reason, but you know, it’s something I was passionate about this. Like I mentioned, this whole idea of putting tools in people’s hands that they otherwise would have to do a lot of work. To accomplish, or they would be very intimidated by I learned about this thing called no-code, which is a whole trend in the software space.
So you’re basically giving people tools that they would normally have to code in more of like a simple admin dashboard, because everybody’s familiar with using web they software. Now you can put really cool tools in people’s hands. And so we. Came up with the idea for Zipkin built a proof of concept landed a customer.
Like actually, before I even incorporated the company, we landed a $30,000 contract. Um, so I’m like, okay, we’re onto something here. Let’s just at least deliver for this first customer. And then we got onto the trend of no code and that’s what ended up launching Zipkin.
Andrew: You say the trend of no code? Did you create Zipkin with no code or did you just make it as a tool for people who are into no code?
Fritz: We made it as a tool for people that are into NOCCA.
Andrew: Got it. So you said there are going to be people like Andrew who want a specific type of chat experience. They’re not going to want to code it themselves and hire developer. They should just be able to take our solution and without any code, plug it into their site. And when you envision that, the simplest thing that I, that comes to my mind is.
My own version of zoom, just for my audience under my brand name, with the tools that I want. So I could imagine something like, get a domain, like. Chat with andrew.com or something random like that. I would put Zipkin on it so people could chat with me, but I always need something beyond that. And so I might put that also on the page, it might be things like I need to be able to quickly open a Google doc with the person.
So I put the Google doc on the page, not the chat that comes with with zoom, which is annoying, but my own thing like that, or maybe my, maybe I embed my own chat into it. Maybe a couple of other tools. That’s what, that’s what you’re thinking of. Right.
Fritz: Exactly. Yep. Putting video into context for people very easily. And. And w a lot of our early beta customers and early adopters have been these no coders that are just, they want to set up a website in the simplest way, finding an easy way to host it and then take this little embed code, put it on any one of their templates.
And now there’s video chat happening in that space with no download and all within the brand context of whatever else. You’re trying to get the customer to interact with. So Google docs and forms, and, you know, so many websites have a lot of really cool functionality. E-commerce websites, for example, uh, you know, facilitated shopping experiences, all of that, or have become popular use cases for Zipkin.
And we’re continuing on this no-code path where. The customers are helping us figure out what the features are that we need. And because we’re very technical we’re then building those things in a way that are simple for them to utilize and deploy. So, for example, if you wanted to set up your chat with Andrew website, We’re building a feature called Booka chat, which basically converts the video function into a calendar selection tool, just like Calendly.
The person can select a time. It automatically schedules a link. And then when the call happens, it’s embedded onto your website in a private video calling space, even though the website is public,
Andrew: And other people wouldn’t be able to see that same URL unless they were handed that URL. So you generate a new URL for each person on my site.
Fritz: Uh, sort of. The call actually takes place on a public URL, but we basically take what’s called a fingerprint ID of the user and then move them into the room based on the invite that you’re sending to them.
Andrew: Before we get into how you got your first customer and how you knew what features to go in, let’s just talk vision when you started it. What was the vision that you had like two years down the road? How did you ideally want a customer to use it? What would they be doing?
Fritz: Well, I, I wanted to create something that was much simpler from an adoption standpoint. I wanted a tool that somebody could. Uh, find out about it, learn about the concept. And like you explained to me in the beginning of this call, like the concept is relatively easy to understand, and then it gets you thinking about all these ideas in different ways that you could utilize it.
So want it to be able to do all of that through the product and the marketing product led growth is kind of the buzz word concept in the startup space versus. Heavy sales and marketing approach, where you have to sort of evangelize and convince people that the why the product is interesting or why they should give it a try.
So that was the, some of the foundation layer that I wanted to build that zip can in order to get our creation, our tools and technology into more people’s hands.
Andrew: But did you have a use case? Did you say at some point interviewers are going to be using this or at some point, this is going to replace those Intercom chat buttons? Or did you have something else that you thought were going to get to that one day?
Fritz: Yeah. So actually that vision was all right. Everybody’s going to experience. Video conferencing and video chat, largely because of COVID and the growth of zoom and teams and Google meet. And they’re going to go, wow. Why do, why do I have to have this conversation all the time within the context of this other tool?
Why can’t conversations on video happen across the entire web? So our vision was, we want to bring video chat to every corner of the web by making it easy to embed.
Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment to talk about my first, my second sponsor. And I want to. Talk about how Zipkin could actually be integrated with them. My second sponsor is HostGator. You can imagine for somebody who’s listening to us, who says exactly what I said before. I don’t want to pay for zoom. I don’t want to use zoom.
I want my own thing. And I don’t want to have to keep exchanging these zoom.us/what do they have J slash something else? Right. It just would be their own domain, their own thing. It might even be something like chat with andrew.com/zip can or something easy like that. Right. So that it’s not publicly facing it’s their own.
If they want to do that to go to HostGator, they get WordPress installed within minutes, they pay HostGator just a couple of bucks a month installed. Zipkin what do they have to pay in order to do that?
Fritz: Well, we have a free beta right now. So, uh, if you come to our websites, if can.com you can sign up for a wait list and then we’ll get you into the beta program and then the full product, if you want to launch it and utilize it at more of a business scale, uh, starts at 125 bucks a month.
Andrew: Oh, so then as a resume replacement, it probably wouldn’t work. It would, it would make more sense unless how much, uh, how, how much free access to people get before they have to pay.
Fritz: Uh, 10 hours of video. And then actually we have a creator program that’s 25 bucks a month and that’s more, uh, individual use. But if you think about it from a business perspective, as soon as you’re at 10 users. So if you have a company with 10 people and you could a zoom account, you’re already over 125 a month.
Andrew: Uh, okay. So it might be like mixergy.com/andrew. Andrew gets his own session, his own page and his home thing. mixergy.com/ari, who is Ari, our producer, who you talked with, she would have her own thing. And then Ari, instead of using zoom where she has to share a link with you to a Google doc could just embed your Google doc right there.
And then you see, as she’s typing on the dock or something, that’s the vision, create it yourself, make it fit your needs. That’s the idea behind Zipkin. And if you want to make that happen, if you’re listening to me and you need a hosting company to do it, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. When you do, you’re going to get the lowest possible price from HostGator and you’ll get great service that frankly we use here at Mixergy and has kept us going now for many years, hostgator.com/mixergy to go sign up.
All right. You created the first version we started talking about where you got your first customer, where did you get them?
Fritz: Yeah. So, uh, this is another thing that I was just really excited about doing from a learning perspective. And just being able to start from ground zero again, was both intimidating and exciting at the same time. I’m a huge fan of. Seth Godin and a huge fan of the lean startup. And so that’s the approach we took was let’s build something that is interesting.
And Remarkables, if you know, Seth Godin, it’s the purple cow concept, but let’s also do it in the leanest and VP possible way. So Spencer and I went to the drawing board, created a prototype, and that was the thing that we ended up taking to kind of people within our network. Or we just got the idea out there enough that we had.
People looking out for ideas. One of my friends actually, uh, was in a management team meeting. They were talking about how they needed to create this new product. It was in a telemedicine use case that their business was exploding. They had limited time with engineers and they said, Oh, you got to talk to Fritz and Spencer they’re working on something pretty cool.
We showed them that prototype. And they’re like, this is awesome. You know, you guys have the experience and expertise in the space. Why don’t we pay you to develop your full product and then we’ll just license it to you, license it from you when you’re done.
Andrew: So we paid you to develop your product, that you could then go sell to other people. They just wanted it done in a way that they could use in their business.
Fritz: Yup. You got
Andrew: Why would they let you sell it to other people?
Fritz: You know, I think it was just good timing. Um, and really our, our expertise in the space, we were not willing to be, you know, engineers for hire and just have them own everything. And they knew and understood that they were technical people themselves. So they just wanted to get a good product. And the licensing agreement that we set up with them was a win for them and a win for us.
Andrew: By the way, what’s that noise in the background. It’s bleeding onto the mic a lot.
Andrew: Thanks. Is that a family member of your son?
Andrew: I’ve had that, uh, we are off schools today, but for the most part through COVID we’ve had school, which has been helpful. How have you been holding up with it?
Fritz: Uh, our kids are back in school now, which is great, but we’re on spring break. And so I’m probably the first interview by the way. That’s um, in a camper at the mountain and I still have my ski boots on, right? No.
Andrew: I was looking over your shoulder and I thought I saw a mountain over there. This is a camper.
Fritz: Yeah. I mean, uh, I’m in a little RV truck camper, basically.
Andrew: What are you all up to?
Fritz: Um, we’re skiing today and my son is doing his first little like grail jam slopestyle things. So
Andrew: So you just take your camper up, you drive it up into the mountains and you go and, and ski.
Fritz: yeah, it’s a, it’s a sort of a mobile office for me a lot of the time, but it’s a, you know, traditional RVs so we can spend the night in it too. We’re going to stay up here tonight.
Andrew: And so for the most part, you’ll use it somewhere around your house. That’s where, when daddy goes off to work, that’s where daddy goes into the camper and works from there.
Fritz: A lot of time. Yeah.
Andrew: I was thinking of doing that when COVID hit and I couldn’t go into the office, I said, maybe I’ll get myself a nice van. I work from that.
And then when I need to do interviews again in San Francisco, I just drive over to somebody’s office. Imagine that I drive over to your office and then set you up with a mic and we start recording an interview and it looks gorgeous. And the headache that I had was internet is so unreliable. When you travel around, how are you getting good internet?
Fritz: You know, I found, um, a little plug for Verizon. It’s been fantastic, actually. I’ve ha hotspot. And usually I’m getting like 10 to 15 megabytes upload speed.
Andrew: that’s phenomenal. That is a good way to live. All right. So the company, I don’t know if you want to say their name, but I’m on their website right now. What they do is they do telemedicine. Their whole homepage is telemedicine. You get to chat via video with your doctor and it’s not their software. It’s your software.
That’s powering it.
Fritz: So they already have this relatively large platform that did two-way video. And their primary piece of software was actually patient waiting room and patient management software zip can, was needed to be much more agile than that, which is why it aligned very well with our need. They said, we need to make video.
More embeddable and transportable throughout different experiences. Uh, and we want it to be more mobile based than their larger solution that they already had in place. And so that was essentially the need and why it aligns so well with our vision. And we were able to bring that to life. Um, remove a lot of the, uh, technical risks that we were going to have to shoulder as founders to prove that our concept would work.
And we got paid essentially to do that and it worked great.
Andrew: What about the second company? Can we talk about these company names? Can we say who the second client was?
Fritz: A sign, a phone.
Andrew: Synanon yeah.
Andrew: do they do?
Fritz: Yeah, they do some really cool stuff and all I’ll have to keep it relatively high level. Cause they’re launching the full product with Zipkin, uh, in the next couple of months. So, uh, sinals does really cool and unique signed sports memorabilia from athletes. And right now you can go on dot com and you can purchase a Jersey.
You can purchase this custom made, um, sizeable plaque that they have made. And that’s awesome. You get the signed piece of memorabilia as a fan. That’s really good, but people want to engage with the fans more and obviously video is a fantastic way to do that. And so they’re going to be launching a product that will help you engage.
You can buy essentially time with the athlete to be able to engage with them on video.
Andrew: Like cameo, but real time.
Fritz: Yeah. Similar.
Andrew: Okay. And so you’re building that for them. I could see how that would make sense. Well, every time I talk to you, I come up with more ideas for how I can use it for how it could be done. Imagine if we had a site where even on Mixergy, a section where people can just talk to my guests, I don’t have to code anything up.
Right. I give them their own URL. What about being able to put people in and take them out based on, based on the amount of time that they’ve been in there.
Fritz: Yeah, so you can, there’s a host functionality, just like you would have with zoom, for example, and the host can manage. Who’s getting admitted and removed. So let’s say you wanted to sell time with one of your consultants or take a few people that you’ve interviewed and create like a mentor mentee program.
People could come to your website and sign up to chat with somebody, either paid or just, you know, a lot of us would do it as a way to give back. And then all those conversations would happen on your website. And you could have one of your, uh, content managers or hosts manage that workflow of that. So we could have, you know, an hour block of time and five minute conversations back to back to back to back.
Andrew: So I could do that. I could, if I’m selling something and I’m going through like a sale over the next 10 hours, I could be there doing live chat with customers, explaining the product over 10 hours. Um, we could do a tech support via video. There’s so many different ideas. Is it, is it a problem that there’s not a specific focus that you’re, that you’re going for, but instead saying we’re a tool we’re going to let your imagination go wild.
Fritz: So then a strategic decision that we made and we decided to stick with it as long as we possibly can. Like I mentioned, where. Not even a year old yet. So, uh, so far it’s been great. We decided to go very broad. We’re focused on being really, really good at embeddable video and sort of taking the headache and the mystery out of adding video, chat to your website.
Then we want to see how customers take that. And take their feedback and try and build tools and modules around it. Like the book, a chat feature, for example, that I mentioned all of the host workflow that I mentioned, all of that came directly from customers needs that are in different use cases, but the technology can apply to just how we talk and how we have conversations and what we’ve all become used to with traditional video conferencing tools.
So, uh, I’m hoping we can stay as broad as possible. And enable a lot of different businesses to have video chat in their website.
Andrew: I’m looking at the product hunt launch that you guys have. I love the it’s I guess this is a gift or something. Yeah. It’s a gift where you just show here’s how easy it is to embed Zipkin on your site. So the gift is very compelling. I, I must have watched it five times. It’s super clear. I see that there’s enthusiasm here for you.
How did it do for getting customers?
Fritz: Really well, I mean, we got over 500 beta customers. Um, and like I said, all of them in different, um, types of use cases, there’s been some themes there, but for the most part, it was really cool. How we, uh, I’m sure you’ve heard of the concept of dogfooding we used our own product, so basically. We made it simple enough so that people could come to the website, sign up, start using it within that workflow.
We made it very easy for people to schedule time with us 15 minutes, 30 minutes sessions, where we would learn about their business. And they would basically tell us, Hey, I tried Zipkin and here are the ways that it worked really well. Here are the ways that I would suggest improving it. And these are the other features that I would need in order for it to be successful.
And so we, we launched that beta in November. And of the 500 people that signed up, I would say a hundred of them are like highly qualified leads that have engaged with us at a meaningful level, embedded it within their website, run multiple calls. And, uh, that’s been very positive data and a metric for us, you know, 25% of your customers, highly engaged as a good sign.
Andrew: I see, uh, yeah, I see the people said that they talked to you. Here’s one Louis Ventura had the pleasure to have a call with Fritz last Friday using Zipkin smooth, clean, easy, fantastic experience. And then he talks about how we integrated it into site. So I saw that you were going in and chatting with people that got you, your next batch of customers.
How was it converting people who are trying you for free and to paid? Was that, was that an easy, smooth process?
Fritz: Um, we are right in the middle of that right now. So I mentioned that we landed a big OEM contract. So the, the first company visit, uh, the telemedicine company was, uh, um, One-time contract essentially. Then we found another enterprise type scenario where we could build our product into their product. And then as they bring it to market, uh, we have more ongoing revenue associated with that.
And so it’s given us a lot of freedom to be able to take our time on beta customers and self-service and converting them to paid plans. Yes.
Andrew: What about running your team remotely? Have you been enjoying that?
Fritz: I have. Yeah, I really like it. I mean, obviously, you know, COVID sort of forced us to do that, but I was always really curious how companies would manage a remote culture. And one of the things I noticed was when I do an in-person meeting, it’s almost always an hour when I do a video meeting. It’s usually 1530.
So the amount of time that, that buys me in my day to like focus on the creativity thing, I’ve become more of a fan of the deep work concept and
Andrew: Smiling at your son.
Fritz: I’ve become more of a fan of the deep work concept. And so, uh, working remote allows you to have more deep work time.
Andrew: that’s what it’s done for me. I’ve I’ve tried having people in my office. And I just never could enjoy it because if I’m focused, it comes across as very rude to other people. You know, if you’re in deep work, you don’t want to talk to anyone. You don’t want anything interrupting you. And so on, frankly, that’s one of the issues that I’ve had with my wife, that if I’m super in deep work and she has some exciting thing that just happened to her on her call and she wants to come in and I go, no, I can’t talk right now.
Andrew: causes real tension.
Fritz: Yes. That it shifts from the colleague to the family members,
Andrew: Yeah, but I like the idea then of going out and being in your own space, I think we’re going to leave San Francisco and then I’m gonna look for space where I can just have my own office. We both agreed. Olivia actually said it the other day said Y once COVID is done, you cannot just work from home and we’re not arguing about it, but.
Who needs this kind of like tension there. All right. So the website is zip can for, I love the domain. Do you have to pay a lot to get that
Fritz: Oh man, we spent so many hours brainstorming different names and ideas cause we actually started as piggyback. And the idea behind piggyback was we wanted our technology to sit on top of other tools and make it really fun and interesting to utilize. Piggyback
Fritz: name for that. Um, Unfortunately, there was, we ran into some trademark issues.
So we spent about a month ruminating on different names. And the thing I love about Zipkin and it’s a reference to the old canned phones, like the kids, why wire canned phone. And we wanted something that was fast. So we combined zip and cam and the domain happened to be available. And so it was a little bit, I want to say like maybe 1200 bucks or something like that to buy the domain, but not too
Andrew: that there are no spelling issues I could say Zipkin and people could understand. It’s not like a thing that you have to be clear and spelled out for them. And I think you’re also going to benefit from the fact that every site that puts you on that, well, maybe not every I’m sure at some point you’ll have pricing where you get to remove the branding, but unless they’re paying to remove the branding, they’re promoting you to their audience and businesses are going to look at that and say, well, how did ah, that’s how they did it.
We need to get the same thing for our site. All right.
Fritz: you got it.
Andrew: zip cannes.com. Thanks so much for doing this interview. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you need a website hosted, I urge you to do what I did go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And the second, if you want more people to convert into customers into email subscribers, you got to check out what Unbounce has learned about how to do that, right?
It’s free. It’s available to you right now. If you go to unbounce.com/c. B R CBR. Alright, thanks Fritz.
Fritz: Excellent. Thank you for the time, Andrew.