Mobile app Robokiller coinventor, Ethan Garr, shares how his passionate team rapidly grew from product-market fit to an acquisition by IAC.

Episode 3 November 01, 2019 00:51:17
Mobile app Robokiller coinventor, Ethan Garr, shares how his passionate team rapidly grew from product-market fit to an acquisition by IAC.
The Breakout Growth Podcast
Mobile app Robokiller coinventor, Ethan Garr, shares how his passionate team rapidly grew from product-market fit to an acquisition by IAC.

Nov 01 2019 | 00:51:17


Show Notes

In this episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, Sean Ellis interviews Ethan Garr, the SVP of Growth at Teltech, the makers of RoboKiller. RoboKiller has been nominated by Apple as the App of The Day in addition to consistently being ranked in the top twenty for utility app downloads. It has been featured on both local and national news programs around the USA as an important solution to battling robo callers. Due largely to the growth success of RoboKiller, Teletech was acquired by IAC earlier this year.

Sean’s goal with this interview is to deconstruct what is truly driving breakout growth for RoboKiller. Their growth starts with strong product/market fit and the worthy mission of reducing the number of robocalls that annoy all of us on a daily basis. Their solution is a mobile app that detects robocalls and wastes the time of the spammer by keeping them on the line with a recorded voice that appears to be a real human. The more these callers waste their time with the RoboKiller bots, the less time they have to annoy us.

In his role at RoboKiller, Ethan helped to conceptualize the RoboKiller solution, iterate it to product-market fit, and ultimately drive its scale and adoption to a breakout hit. Ethan credits their success to, “product-market fit, people, and passion.” He believes that when these three points intersect, they drive rapid, sustainable growth. The team has conducted obsessive optimizations and an aggressive outbound PR effort.

Early in their career, Ethan and Sean worked together in marketing to build, the largest online gaming community at the time, which listed on NASDAQ and was acquired by Vivendi Universal in 2001. 

Learn more about Ethan here:

And give RoboKiller a try here:

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00 <inaudible> Speaker 1 00:03 <inaudible> Speaker 2 00:08 come to the breakout growth podcast where Sean Ellis interviews leaders from the world's fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what's really driving their growth. And now here's your host, Sean Ellis. Speaker 3 00:25 All right. In this episode we're going to look at robo killer. It's a mobile app that aims to stop those annoying robocalls. So you know the ones that from telemarketers or scammers that reach you on your mobile phone. Super annoying. That's what these guys are all about, is trying to stop that they've grown really quickly in recent years, so quickly in fact, that they were acquired by IAC. That's the company that owns Tinder and Vimeo and so a big company was attracted to these guys. Ethan will serves as the SVP of strategic growth. He's led a lot of the team that has, has driven this growth, and he's going to share with us what the keys to their growth success are. So let's get started. Speaker 3 01:15 Sarah, welcome to the show. Ethan, I'm excited to have you. I'm super excited to be here. Thank you. I love the robo killer story. I remember when you first told me about the idea, uh, you were entering into some kind of contest. You can, you can maybe fill in the gaps a little bit, but it's been really amazing to see it take root from an idea to a product that ultimately has become so successful that it's the really the crown jewels that made a IAC want to acquire the parent company TeleTech pretty recently. So what do you think has been really the most important factors in robo killer's gross success today? Speaker 5 01:52 You know, I think it all began with product market fit and that sort of led to the other two things that re or they're all intertwined, but product market fit people and passion. I think those are the three things that put together have led to the success of robo killer and really have been the driving force behind all our growth that tell tech Speaker 3 02:11 product market fit is something I I talk a lot about. And uh, really anyone in the startup world talks a lot about. Did you just get lucky and just, just get product market fit right out of the gate. Did you identify a big problem? Did you, how, how did you go from idea to product market fit? Speaker 5 02:28 The story of robo killer started with that FTC robocalls, humanity strikes back competition, which we won. But it was actually two years from that point to where we launched the product that today is robo killer. Oh wow. There were similar in some ways, uh, certainly in terms of the mission, what we're trying to accomplish and helping people stop the scourge of robo calls. What happened in between there was a failed product and that failed product never got product market fit. And what helped me is, you know, having a relationship with you and knowing, uh, how have really measured, engaged when a company is really ready to go from getting the product right to taking it to that next level, to getting people into it. Um, that was something that we had, we saw not working in that first product and something that I said as we launch robo killer, we have to really know that. Speaker 5 03:18 It's something we really have to be conscious of and cognizant of. And as we were building out, what is the robo killer product of today, we were running your question every week in a survey form to users saying if this product went away tomorrow, would you be somewhat disappointed, very disappointed, not disappointed at all. And each week, and it started, we were actually not at that 40% magic level that you said. I remember used to say you wouldn't work with companies until they had that 40% and I use that as the benchmark of 40% is when we can start scaling. And each week we, you know, I think we started, I, I don't remember exactly, but maybe we were 26 28% or something. And the good news is if you're at 12% or 8% you know, you're in trouble. Like you're not, you're not even close. But when you're in like that 30% range, you know, you're not that far away. Speaker 5 04:06 Like you know that you can fix that with product tweaks and you know, we're product people, I'm at the core. So getting us that passion behind testing and iterating and optimizing, looking for those tweaks, Hey, what are people, what are the pain points? What are the complaints? How are we getting, how can we fix those? And also it galvanized the team. You know, we're so close. Come on guys, we can do this each week. Run that test again. And every week we're getting a little closer. I remember that pie chart and it was just getting closer and closer to that 40%. And then you know, you get, you surpass it. And it's like we're off to the races and our, you know, it also our marketing team, they were chomping at the bit to get going. Um, you know, with some paid marketing and you know, and some other channels and it was exciting for them too. They could really start, you know, they were like ready, you know, it's like, okay, we've hit it. Let's go. Speaker 3 04:51 Yeah. So, so actually when you talk about the marketing team chomping at the bit, a lot of times it's like CEO founders. Like the whole business is kind of chomping at the bit. And how, how did you control expectations to maintain the level of patients that was needed to nail it before you scale it? Speaker 5 05:11 I'm wondering like if it was more organic in that it was very easy to start seeing the sort of groundswell of excitement within everybody. You could feel that it was a product that had legs. And I think what happens is even though we weren't necessarily, you know, dumping, you know, paid marketing dollars or whatever added in terms of, you know, really trying to open the flood Gates, what we were doing is having those important conversations around that mission of helping people. What else could we do? And that led to this conversation about answer bots, which had been the thing, the key differentiator of our product. And really something that I think has been an exciting part and it's really helped us grow. It's been the, you know, something that we've been able to use in, in not only in our marketing but also it's helped us, uh, on the PR front in terms of attracting media and those answer bots. Uh, for people who don't know, these are robots that talk back to the spammers. So when we block a call, we don't just block it, we forward the call to our server, which answers it with these robots that will talk back to the spammers and waste their time sometimes for 45 minutes on end. And it's hilarious and it also serves an important purpose because we were wasting their time. It's time that they can't use to go scam someone's grandmother out of her life savings or annoy you or anyone else. So Speaker 3 06:26 yeah. So it's a kind of high level that can restate the problem side of it is that people are getting all of these, for lack of a better word, kind of spam calls, often called robo calls and that these unwanted phone calls that are coming in, whether they're a scam or they're just trying to sell you something and that, uh, as that problem has gotten worse and worse and we see it on the news all the time, you guys came up with a solution that would answer those calls and be able to, based on the phone number, be able to figure out if, if it's a scam or if it's a, if it's a real color and then, and then basically waste their time if it's a scam. Speaker 5 07:05 Yeah. And, and not only based on the phone number, but what the thing that sort of also separated us was our technology, which I'm just audio fingerprinting to actually analyze the audio of the call. So we weren't just depending on caller ID, which as you know, can be spoofed and changing. Okay. We're also using the actual audio to compare this audio from this call to the audio of other calls we've seen to say, Hey, that audio is exactly the same. It's gotta be a robot, right? So it's multiple things coming together, but it's a big problem. It's an elegant solution that took some iteration to get the solution right? It's differentiated in the answer bot side that wastes their time and just tries to trick them into staying on the line. And uh, and then, but, but from that point, just having that great product from there, you've, you've, you've built a really big company around that. Speaker 5 07:56 And I think part of what's, what's so neat about that is that answer bots, you know, on the surface it might, you know, someone might say, Hey, that's gimmicky, but we never looked at it as a gimmick. We looked at it as, Hey, we have a mission to help the end user solve this problem. What are these calls doing to us as people? They're driving us crazy. They're interrupting dinner, they're interrupting meetings. They're taking away from our lives. What do people want to do? They want to get revenge, they want to get back. So yes, it's entertaining and it's hilarious and it's fun, but it also is that that thing that gives people back that sense of I'm taking back my own empowerment in a sense. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it's, it's not just entertainment for entertainment's sake. It's entertainment tied to the value proposition. Speaker 3 08:37 I mean, one of the things that I've found, I've spent some time with the team that they've come out to to conferences. We did a workshop together. You one things that really struck me probably with your team more than maybe any other team that I've, I've, I've worked with is that they are really passionate about what you are doing. And I'm just curious if it's been, if you got to that point by being really careful on the hiring side or if there's, if there's some ways that you keep mission top of mind for them that's made them more passionate about the business. But how have you gotten to the point where you have such a passionate team? Speaker 5 09:12 The credit goes to them for really being a great team and being, you know, really being empathetic and caring about our end users and each other. We have a culture where I've never heard someone say that's not my job. And when someone says I need help with this or someone is suffering with a problem, everybody's there to join in. Certainly that ties back to good hiring. Right? I think you know, and that, you know, we've made some mistakes along the way and you have to learn from those and I think you have to be very intentional about your hiring process, but once you bring people on board, giving them the feeling that they are owners of the growth and giving them that, that, you know, I once called you when I first started at tech and I was like, what do you think is the most important thing I can do as I grow this team? Speaker 5 10:00 And you said teach everybody their role in growth. And it always stuck with me and I've, I talk about that. I don't even pull any punches. I'm like, we need everybody in the company and understand their role and growth. We try to do that and really be very overt about it. But yeah, we, we took the things that I think you were teaching in the hacking growth book. Um, and certainly we got tremendous value out of your workshop. But what we were doing is we were trying to connect the dots for a company that was already going concern and we were already, you know, we were already making progress against certain goals, but how to adapt that for our needs. And I looked for the things that we could really rally around. And for us it was three things. We had a portfolio of products we needed to keep the pedal down on those products all the time. Speaker 5 10:44 Doing that and saying that to people meant that the people on my team, whether they were on robo killer tape called trap call, it didn't matter. They knew that their product growing their product was as important as everything else that, you know, so they had that ownership of that being data-driven. And you know, it got to the point where, you know, I used to say we're data-driven and then you know, I didn't know how to do a regression analysis. I didn't even know what one was. And then I, you know, said I think we have to hire data people to answer these questions. But we didn't hire, you know, talking about hiring. We didn't just hire data people. My goal in hiring data people was to hire data people who could evangelize data to the rest of the team and teach us how to be more data-driven and better at what we do. Speaker 5 11:24 And then that all ties to this third piece, you know, like the three tenants of, of what we were preaching every day and still do. And that third tenant is a culture of innovation, which is really about a culture of growth. And that's where that engine that you talk about, that flywheel of growth testing and iterating and learning from your mistakes, that's really where it all came together. But by being very direct and intentional and using, saying those things in every meeting, probably that nauseum. And my team would probably laugh that, you know how many times I've said things like I think they had drinking games around it, but at the same time, uh, I think they also internalize that, you know, we all did together and it became, yeah, it became about chasing, you know, not success in, in, you know, dollars of the only success. But let's get to that myth. Let's, let's make that mission us, let's internalize that and let's all do this together. And it just, it became like this magical thing where every day, you know, Sundays I would, a lot of people, they Sunday night, they dread going to work. I know for me, and I think most people on my team would probably tell you this, nobody on our team dreads Monday morning. They look forward to it. And I think Speaker 3 12:34 it's just a feeling that anybody there dreaded being there. It's just, yeah, they definitely seemed like the agenda and part of a really cool office that you're into. You're not in sort of traditional Silicon Valley. So it was probably a really unique opportunity for people there. And, Speaker 5 12:49 and I, I think one thing too is we try not to get stuck in, in the same old day, day after day. Like we don't, we're not good at like business as usual. We're good at innovation. Right? Yeah. And like one of the reasons though, like when we had you come in for the workshop and one of the reasons I think it was so great for us, it was like a pivotal moment for us and it sort of was like that run up to when we did get acquired or that, you know, we're really, we're really growing fast, but that really was a year. Look, we really grew even faster after that. And I think part of what that did is it just sort of galvanized the team. It gave us a different perspective on things. You know, a lot of the things you brought to that are things that we discussed, but having you able to, having you there to articulate them in a different way to also, you know, maybe break some of the sort of continuum to get us into that next phase. Speaker 5 13:34 I think it was really helpful. And I know that that's not so tangible, but I think it is important sometimes just doing something different. When we went to the growth hackers conference the day before, uh, we were in San Diego and uh, we did our own good at life con. It was a conference. We did it in our Airbnb and everybody on the team gave a half hour presentation. But it was just one of those things to kind of change it up. And, and we know, we said we loved the conference, but it was like one of those things where we looked at that and we said that was just as important as going to the conference. They're learning from each other. That's awesome. Speaker 3 14:05 And when I look back at our relationships, so um, we met when I like the early days at upper where you were actually on the agency side working at a PR agency. When I just look at like the variety of your background, I actually feel like that that it all adds together to to get you to the point where where you could lead a team the way that you did at or have done at Deltek and and launching robo killer, but looking at, you know, starting with PR, there's so much value that that brings to it. And then we hired you from the PR agency and you worked with me on the marketing team at uproar and then after that you went out and we're a, we're a small business founder and did something on your own and then a product leader and then growth. But I just feel like the perspective of all those things has probably put you in a position where Speaker 5 14:57 where you could lead a cross functional team a lot better. I'm curious for your thoughts on that. Yeah, it always scared me that I was like a Jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing. You know, you always worry a little bit that that's not going to translate well when you need to go get a job somewhere or whatever. It did give me a lot of different perspective. Each thing I did led from, you know, I learned something here that grew into something else. I took that experience into the next thing and it goes back to really like college where I think I really learned to write, I was an English major and I had this professor who taught me like how to write a thesis, which I then translated when I started at the PR firm into how to write, how to write messaging, and then it became how to stay on message and how to use messaging as a tool to help in terms of the mission, how to communicate not to the person you're talking to, but to the larger audience that end user, the consumer on the other end, what the value proposition is. Speaker 5 15:56 So, and that's always been the one theme that's, that's gone through. And I think I've used key messaging and my approach to getting to the right key messages in every single one of those roles, regardless of whether it was working at the, at the PR firm or opening up this do it yourself public woodshop, which was a failure. But something I learned from and sure, yeah. Speaker 3 16:17 You ended up having so much more empathy for your, for your founder bosses when, when you have been through that journey, you're on your own. Absolutely. Speaker 5 16:24 And um, then somewhere at Tel tech, I've really had this opportunity to coach and mentor and grow a team. And that's been such a great experience for me. It's, I, I feel like it's who I am and what I do, but I realized that the best way for me to coach and mentor was to be genuine and in that approach and messaging is part of who I am now. So having those three tenants that, you know, uh, pedal down on the product all the time, data-driven culture of innovation, like that is who I am. So I think even though my team will laugh at the fact that I say it over and over, they don't think it's disingenuous because they know that I really believe those things. And I really believe that those things are the things that we can use together to grow the diversity of experience. Speaker 5 17:07 Uh, it's definitely caused a lot of stress, but it has been really good in being able to bring that to the team structure, um, to build, to grow a team from where we, you know, from it was just me to, you know, we, we kept growing and then eventually through the acquisition and now my role has changed. I went from leading the product marketing organization to this, uh, strategic growth role, which I really am enjoying, but it's D it's, you know, different muscles and I have to learn new things. But I think, you know, you and I, you know, think, um, I've talked about this a lot. The learning is so important and it's like being able to do those different things. That's what keeps you fresh and makes you be able to go back every day and inspire people to be the best in themselves and be you for you to be the best in yourself. Absolutely. Speaker 3 17:50 You know, earlier you talked about when you were, when you were trying to get to product market fit, you had the percentage of people who would be very disappointed if they could no longer use the product. And you were, you were just trying to get that up to around 40% before you, before you scaled the business, when you really started to scale, what was the key metric that you focused on? How did, how did you really measure progress and know that you were doing better? Speaker 5 18:12 Yeah, I mean that goes back to a North star metric and uh, finding North star metrics has not always been the easiest thing. And I think maybe that, that struggle is important to the, to the process. And in fact, when you came and did the workshop, one of the things we were struggling on a couple of the products with finding like a North star metric that we were comfortable with. You know, with robo killer it was never like, Oh like I think the, the, the sort of cop-out is let's just use revenue, uh, with robo killer. You know, you can think about number of Stan calls blocked and things like that. And I think that was a hugely important one for robo killer. But I think what we learned in that in that workshop is find something that's close that you think is a starting point and work with that. Speaker 5 18:54 See how that works, see if it's answering those questions. If I get referrals, is it going to drive my North star metric, nor if I get, you know, if I improve activation, is it going to drive the North star metric? Will I be able to see that? What are the sub metrics that I can use as a proxy to see if it's grown? But I think it's a process of getting there and our North star metric has to had to change over time. And I think that's something that I think it sounds like North star metric has to be finite. What I think it, it has to be, it has to be a metric and not 40 metrics, but it has to also evolve with the, how the company has grown. I mean robo killers, a very different product today in terms of where we are and who we are and where we're going than it was two years ago. That growth modes different, you know, and then you know, as you're in a position to really scale up your marketing, that changes how the product grows and how things evolve. When that's happening, it's really important to reevaluate your North star metric and make sure it's still answering the questions that are important. So what have you, Speaker 3 20:00 you found is, uh, is is one of the biggest challenges that you've had along the way in getting to this point? Speaker 5 20:07 There's always a little bit of imposter syndrome and I think that's a maybe a good thing. Yeah. The challenges are that the product evolved very, I think when you have a breakout hit like we've had, it's not necessarily linear. I mean, we were at a point in our growth and then ABC world news came and did a story on us. We grew like 30% in three weeks or something. It was incredible. But when that happens, you like, you can't really be fully prepared for that. I mean, just on a tech from the technical side, right? You can't prepare for that kind of spike, right? Just, you know, the, those are the things that you're gonna run into and then they're all, they're wonderful, but they're also distractions from the things that you're trying to do. And I think you have to like scale is very hard. Speaker 5 20:53 Um, linear growth is much more manageable. There's a pace to it. And I think when you have that sort of breakout growth, uh, it's a challenge in that you've got to make sure that the people who are facing those challenges, and sometimes they're really as much fun as you're having with those things. Somebody is going home and really stressed about it. And that's not who we are. We want people to go home happy. And you've been to our office, our culture is about making a place where people are inspired to be innovative and creative and, and feel like we are changing the world for the better every day. That's great. And you need that. I mean, I think that's the, that's where that magic is. But you have to remember in that magic there's the daily grind of things going wrong that are affecting people. They're affecting people's, uh, their, their, their mindset, their, their own self confidence. Speaker 5 21:48 And, um, especially with a younger team like we have, I mean, we hire, we've hired some great smart people and they tend to be on the younger side. Um, they haven't had some of the meltdown situations that I've been through or like, yeah. And I think, you know, you and I have both been through the process of closing down a business like the, when you're going through that, the stress and melt, you know, that the world collapsing on you feeling like you, you know, you're alone in that at Deltek when we were having moments like that, which every company and every person will have at some point, the key is to make sure that your culture and that culture of innovation support is supportive in a way that those people know that, Hey, it's okay. And like one of the things that I think, um, it taught me was to be really upfront and straightforward about the value of owning your mistakes publicly and loudly because especially with a portfolio business, I wanted to say to people every day, look, if we don't make mistakes and learn from them, if we don't, if we make mistakes and we hide them because we're afraid of, you know, our ego or we're afraid that something bad will happen to us individually, what we're doing is we're robbing the rest of the team from that learning, especially across the portfolio. Speaker 5 23:08 Because you might not know it if you're on one product and one product, you know, we make a mistake. So you know, and I, the way I did that, I went into one of our meetings and I've read an email that I, where I apologize to our CEO for a really stupid mistake that I had made, but it was a mistake. You know, I've cut off an email or something and we sent it to somebody and I forwarded to him. He forwarded it on to someone I like. I was like, listen, I would never want to embarrass you. I made a mistake just owning it. I own it. And, but I wanted them to see like, I'm, I'm just as susceptible. I'm probably worse. I made more mistakes, but there's no, the penalty for making a mistake it tell tech is you get to make a new mistake tomorrow. And I think that's what you need to communicate on in the team. Speaker 3 23:50 Yeah. There's, there's a Google that, a big study on psychological safety, I think is the word that they use for it. But it's, it's basically for innovation, you need to have this, this psychological safety that you know, you won't be punished for mistakes. And when you have that, then people are much more likely to push the envelope and keep finding better ways to do things. But when, when they feel like they're going to be punished, they're, they're, they're, they're much more likely to kind of crawl up in a ball and not, not take those risks. And you can't get better if you, if you're not willing <inaudible> Speaker 5 24:19 take some risks along the way. I know it's your podcast, but actually kind of want to ask you that question because I think I learned that working with you. I mean I made lots of mistakes working with you. I was new to what we were doing and I always thought you were really supportive of it. And you know, at the time, I mean, you were pretty young as a leader. I was. What I'm wondering, I was wondering, is there a specific place where you learned that or did it just evolve or, Speaker 3 24:41 I think I'm just so naturally curious that when a mistake happens, I'm just so curious to go look at the numbers and see what happened from it. I actually reminds me of my head of growth at growth hackers. She had said to me, I think maybe an April fools or something that she, she did it, but she, she came to me and said, we, we accidentally, I did a wrong setting in Facebook and we spent like a hundred thousand dollars on Facebook or, you know, whatever. It was like a a month or two's worth of budget in one day. And she was just trying to get like, see me, freak out about it. And I was like, wow, I would've never been bold enough to do that as experiment, but this is going to be super interesting and a writer April fool. So yeah, I was like, Oh, I didn't really do that. But even like, it was just this kind of back off. But I think, um, you know, again, it wasn't something that I was sort of like, what's the right thing to say in the situation. This was, I was genuinely really curious. It's Speaker 5 25:42 actually funny you say that though because now that I think about it, when I started at Tel tech, uh, there was a guy who made that mistake, uh, on a marketing spend where like blew the budget. Like, you know, before I was there, but he had done it and it, it was a big number for the company at the time and he was working for us. He was still working for us as a consultant. Then like, you know, of course the owners like it, you know, there was a little bit of panic and frustration, but instead of, you know, saying, you know, and this is a consultant, like it's easy to just say goodbye, you know, or you know, who knows? Like, you know, people, there are people who will Sue people over that. But instead they said let's work together and come up with, you know, and I just, I think how they treated him and I, that's another thing is, you know, you can't, I came to Tel tech and I, I understood right from the VA, I walked into that conference room that you're in and I instantly felt that what the culture was and it wasn't about the building or the food and all those good things, you know, company crews that like all that good stuff. Speaker 5 26:37 That wasn't what it was. It was a sense of family that the, and I felt it immediately with the two cofounders. They wanted the people who worked there to feel like they were part of that family. It's unfortunate sometimes you see that in most in that situations. You know, somebody like at our company, and I remember some of his family member got sick and the way they handled that and treated that person, it just, it was inspiring and it inspired me as a, as I grew the team to bring that every day and really try to put ego aside. And, and I'm by no means perfect at this. I mean, you know, we all have our moments. We wish we could take back, you know, but at least being there when we have those negative, those moments where we're not so proud of it, what we can do is we can go back and say, wait a second, that's not who I want to be. And then try to fix it. Speaker 3 27:27 What I think where, you know, part of having a great culture is not necessarily as you were touching on, it's not about necessarily having the best game room and, and massage Thursdays and all of those things. It's, it's about having a mission that people are really passionate about and having, having really working hard to make sure that you have people that treat other people well in the business, whether it's the senior people or, or you know, really from, from top to bottom that that like there's a mutual respect across the company and that, um, just just good people that treat each other well because we spent so much time in the office that those, those two things go a long way in building culture. And I think a lot of people miss that. Speaker 5 28:09 I think you should think about culture and, uh, if I learned something and articulating this, I feel like I'll bring something out of speaking to you today. But one thing I've, we've done is we talk about culture of culture, of growth, culture of innovation. I think if it's just culture, then you get in that trap of culture is food, right? Uh, you know, I know our team at home today is going to went to a Yankees game together. That's that those are great things and you should do those things right? But that's not culture. Culture of innovation, that's something you know, that you can rally around. That's like the North star metric. Speaker 3 28:44 Sure, sure. Yeah, absolutely. So let's, let's take a little turn and as we kind of get, get a little bit more toward the end, I want to talk a bit about the, the growth engine at, um, and maybe we can say Tel tech overall, but just focusing probably more on robo killer. I think one of the things that we did in our workshop together was that we were able to figure out and have a North star metric and the role that people played. But, but another big part of it is just trying to get everyone on the same page about how the business grows, what are the different pieces, how they all fit together. And when everyone's kind of looking through the same lens, they're much more likely to work effectively together in an aligned way to improve and accelerate it. Yeah. So let's, let's kind of take a look. Speaker 3 29:27 So you had touched on one of the big drivers that, that really spike growth was when the ABC, uh, news story hit. And I know I followed along along the way that there's, there's been a ton of PR that you've done and not surprisingly given, given your background in PR, um, and I'm not sure if all of that PR has been a function of you or if you've had PR agencies or whatever it's been driving that. But just aside from the PR, what has been kind of the primary way that people have discovered a robo killer? Speaker 5 29:59 Yeah, I mean, certainly in the, especially in the beginning, I think, uh, being able to leverage media, uh, and PR has become much bigger than the PR that I did when I started my career. But, you know, media relations was, you know, w it's kind of old school, but we were still really able to use that. And as a, as a lever, we built a strategy that said this is how we're going to try to get in front of the right audiences through, through media. And we executed on that strategy and that certainly was important and it still is important. Um, but as we grew, it also gave us the ability to, you know, uh, to start using paid media channels as well. And other, you know, just other channels really looking for unique channels. I mean, we're trying new things all the time and yeah. Um, I think opening up new channels is always really hard and it's, it, Speaker 3 30:46 especially as you get big, trying to have channels that can actually move the needle in the business becomes harder and harder. Speaker 5 30:51 Yeah, I mean like influencer marketing is like one of those things where it's like, it can be such an enigma because it can be so high touch and it can be such a, you know, such a challenge. Um, and you know, like we have fits and starts and you know, we're still trying to find that the magic there and you know, we've had some, some success, but like, you know, like things like that can be a challenge but paid marketing, you know, there's, there's some big channels like YouTube and Facebook, I mean, for, for apps. Speaker 3 31:14 So, I mean, that wasn't very long ago where that was a big enigma as well as well you spend money trying to drive an app and you lose a ton of attribution with how have you guys handled. Speaker 5 31:23 Yeah, attribution has really gotten so much in the last few years. It's really improved so much. It's, it's incredible, you know, finding what are these MNPS, these mobile measurement partners, there's like apps flyer and agist and these different companies that we've worked with or uh, we know of. Finding those I think has been really helpful. There also, it's also difficult because it's sort of, they're using proxy information in some cases and uh, you have to kind of learn how to use them. And I think it's why data analysis, one of the reasons why data analysis and data analysts as a a function are so important now. Um, but I think, um, we used to, you know, especially, uh, before rubber killers, some of our products had other channels like mobile and desktop channels and we were using as proxies for, for apps. And that's not a great way to do things. Speaker 5 32:15 I mean, you and I both know that like, you know, just because like you could have two companies that are extremely similar and like they can do similar things and it goes different ways. There's some voodoo in this also and uh, but that was the best we could do. But at least if you could be consistent with that, you could, you could see trends. And I always think it comes down to if you don't have all the data in the world, use the data you have. Well like you know, I remember we worked with a guy years ago and he was a data guy. This is like an uproar like 1820 years ago. And he was like, we can't do this cause we don't have the data. But we did have some data. It was like, but it was sort of binary. Like we can't do anything until we have this. Speaker 5 32:52 And it was like, wait a second. That can't be, I mean, okay, the data's not accurate, but does it consistently inaccurate because it's consistently and accurate. We can see trends in it. Sure. And we can learn from that. The new world where, you know, I think Apple and Android have really, uh, improved in what they give you. So you can learn more just from the, the, uh, information they provide. You can tie that with the MMP data then with your own data information. Um, but you know, we've hired data engineers to build out data warehouses and stuff, and then we've really had to invest in that to do well. Right. Speaker 3 33:24 And even, I gotta assume these channels sort of, you don't necessarily have a single channel that is the source of an individual when you have as much press as you guys have had by the time they're seeing an ad somewhere, they may have heard about robo killer five times already. Speaker 5 33:39 Yeah. And, and I think that's another thing that's improved too, is a few years ago, the, the danger was you were kind of, I mean, you know, it's always been this thing where you have to buy your own keywords, right? Like, and that's like, so, like counterintuitive, but someone else would buy your keywords. But you know, that like those kinds of challenges, it's gotten better now with, uh, because there's so many things you could do with attribution. You can back feed data into these, these channels so that you're not marketing to people who've already bought your product. And I think that's really important cause you don't want to dilute your, your marketing. You know, I think as you market more and more, obviously the people, you know, we're were chatting about this where, you know, if the, if the guy in front of you is eating a hotdog without a bun and you're trying to sell him a hot dog bun, it's easy. Speaker 5 34:23 If the guy in the other corner knows that he's going to have a barbecue next week, he might buy a hot dog from you. Probably terrible example. But like in other words, as you, the more you, the more you spend, the less the intent of the individual was specifically what you were trying to, uh, you know, specifically aligned with what you're offering them. So I think, uh, if you don't have really strong attribution that makes it, you gotta be really careful as you spend more and more, but the tools are getting better and better every day. We're not perfect at it. And I think, you know, I think that's the, the key is to be striving towards better and expecting that every day is going to be a challenge on those fronts. And it can be, you know, certainly there's some headaches with it, but we have gotten better. And it's, and I think that's the one thing that, you know, our marketing team especially like there, they take great pride in, uh, Julia who you've met, who works with us as our VP of product. She's done an awesome job of really, you know, again, like championing the use of those tools. Yeah, Speaker 3 35:21 that's awesome. And, and from my own experience, getting paid marketing to work well often comes down to making it really easy to get started with a product and, and optimizing the new customer onboarding and getting activation. Right. Uh, what I have found is that that's probably one of the biggest challenges with your product actually reminds me of, kind of log me in how to add a lot of challenges in the early days with, with onboarding and um, it's, but at the same time with log me in, we were able to drive massive improvement in our activation rate because it was so challenging. That's sort of our first attempt was so under optimize that just lots and lots of testing. Eventually we got it right. I still feel like robo killer is pretty hard to get started with, but I assume just knowing you that you guys have tested the crap out of it to get it to this point where that's as easy as you've possibly been able to get it to, to this point and that you're still striving more. But what, how, how much improvement have you driven in the kind of activation rate over time? Speaker 5 36:22 Yeah, we're never done. I think, you know, uh, certainly it's, uh, we've, we've improved a lot. I can't share specific numbers, but what I would say is, so, uh, one of our other products is trap call, which is a, uh, it's a product that stops, uh, harassing calls from blocked numbers. It uses a similar, the same technology of uh, harnessing what's called conditional call forwarding, which is a tool on your phone. And yes, setting that up is a, is a bit of a, a step by step process and we have a couple of step-by-step processes we have to walk you through in order for the product to be effective for you. Of course, that's a challenge. And there, there are some minimum things we have to do. I mean, when you sign up for a game, you, you buy the game and you start playing the game. The onboarding is, is getting people to just understand like the controls and the tools. Speaker 3 37:10 Yeah. We're making it so dead simple that it's, you can kind of have fun right out of the gate, but then you've got to keep making waking up more complicated to keep them engaged. You know, you don't have that luxury. We don't have that. We don't have that Speaker 5 37:19 luxury. Fortunately we have a really important problem to solve. Sure. Right. Trap call especially. It was this niche prob problem at the time this were specifically stopping blocked call harassment. So if you needed that PR problem solved, like you were at the point you got tropical, you were desperate, you needed to solve, you would jump through hoops to fix it because there was no other game in town. And by the way, you know, trap calls still exists today. It still does that and it's still helping lots and lots of people solve this problem. We're super proud of it. But I think it's not that we didn't strive to improve our activation process because it was the same complexities. You had to go through it. We'll listen to it like we thought, Oh now we open, we'll just kill you. Just do the same thing. Right. Speaker 5 38:01 But with robo killer, yes, this is a real problem. But the difference is for some people who get robo killer, they are at their wit's end and they, they will go through whatever steps they have to take and they'll contact support if it means that. But then let's face it, there's some cat more casual, uh, people who want rubber killer. Like we said, like when, you know, the, some of the advertising reaches people who they didn't know they needed robo killer until they saw it was out there and like, Hey, yeah, that sounds good. That person is not going to fight as hard for it. So you have to get to the point of, as easy as possible for them. I think the, our team thinks about the mission of, at the end of the day, we've got to get that person who's suffering with these calls every day. The person who's, you know, they just got another interrupted or interruption during dinner with their family. Speaker 5 38:48 You know, they only get a few hours a night with their, with their newborn kid and this stole their time. When we focus on that, we say we have to help that person solve that problem. We make it personal. I think that's where we have the most success. Of course that translates into, you know, into numbers and sure you know, and these AB tests and running the cycle. But if you lose sense of who you're doing it for, then you lose the past. Tying it back to mission, it just, it keeps, keeps so much, so much more sustainable. Energy can be put into fixing things one year when you're like, man, these people are suffering. Yeah. And you and you can't get complacent. You always have to, you know, there is a point of diminishing returns and at that point you have to say, is there a focus area? Speaker 5 39:30 Like, Hey, we've been so laser focused on activation, could we get more improvement for the, for the same effort if we spent that on retention or referrals. Like something like that. You know, there are times to reposition your focus and I think you've always been an advocate of like sort of a thematic approach to your testing. So like, guys, let's get laser focused on activation because like we see that there's, there's this gap here, let's focus on fixing that, right? Like finding leverage. What's the high leverage opportunity that we can really put our wood behind? Yeah. So it doesn't mean you're, when you start to hit those diminishing returns, it doesn't mean you stop doing those. It just means that you may not prioritize product management, marketing, everything. I think in all of these technology businesses, it always comes down to prioritization, right? And picking the right things to do next. Speaker 5 40:21 And what I was liked about hacking growth is it was, I always say, you know, this idea of prescription versus inspiration, right? There's no prescription for success. There's only, you know, you learn from other companies inspiration. But what I always loved about the process was it gave you a mechanism for focus. It gave you a way to get everybody aligned towards one thing. And I think again, that workshop was a way to galvanize that. I was as proud of the team. Like, you know, like it was a little scary bring you in that day because I was like, you know, I hope we've been doing this right cause I, you know, I'm gonna be judged on everything that was wrong but, and it wasn't, of course it's not like I think you came in, you came in there with the attitude like, okay guys, you're doing this. Speaker 5 41:04 How can we take that to the next level? And you know, again, like we're, when you're driven by innovation, business as usual and just even sort of natural lying growth that doesn't wake people up on Sunday and say, I got to come in on Monday. What gets people excited is, you know, if we keep doing these things, we're going to hit that, that, that big thing, that big hit. And I think, you know, you've always been careful about like, you know, just a half a percent increase. That's, you know, if you do that every day and think about how that compounds, but if you have a system that does that, the secret is every once in awhile NBC nightly news will call you up or something. Get that break will happen. Right. And when it does it, it just, it takes everybody's joy and passion and it just ups it another level. Ups it to a level that you didn't even think was possible because you walked in so excited that day and then this happens. You're like, Oh my God, we're at a, you know, how do we go from there to here when we didn't, we thought we were at the top. Speaker 3 42:07 One of the challenges with that kind of like with that hit driven one big PR hit is that once it dies down then, then you're kind of out the same sort of daily acquisition levels maybe that you were before unless you have a way of leveraging the existing customer base to bring in more customer base. And so, you know, we often refer to that as kind of like the referral loop. Do you, do you have much of a referral loop with this business? Speaker 5 42:37 Yeah, I think we have a natural one. We have a, we have kind of two or three. Um, one is the one, uh, which I, I think it's my favorite because it's such a validation of what you do is that you're sitting, you're standing with somebody and you get a spam call and the guy next to you says, Oh, you should get robo killer. Like, I ha you. Oh, check this out, let me show you this. Right. I've actually had that conversation and a lot of times, and I love that because like I said, it's validation, but it also, the thing that people show them is the answer bots and answer bots because they have an entertainment element to them. They are, you know, when you have this conversation between the spammer and this robot that is telling the spammer that you know, that he's in a canoe that's got a hole in it and they're sharks circling, it's hilarious and it goes on for 45 minutes and you know, and it's, you know, it's such a, it's such a great thing, but it, it has a visceral reaction. Speaker 5 43:36 The guy standing there who doesn't have robo killer, just got this call is like, well I want that. You know, and then when you hear it, you can make your own. Then it's like, well I love making, you know, cause I mean, everybody's got a story about how they, you know, talk back to the spa. It's never like that, you know. Um, I started doing it for fun for the, for the occasional time one slips in, I have to mess with them now. Yeah. And that I think like that's, um, that's a, that's a great thing. You know, and, and then the fact that you get blocking the calls, we have competitors who blocked the calls, but they don't even know that they blocked the calls. Just the way that the, the service works. Um, and look, they're providing some value, but because we block the calls and answer them, we get data from the calls that we can learn from. You can actually listen to the recording of this call. You can share that recording on Facebook or you can email it to a friend. I've shared a couple of really funny recordings. I think you once texted me once, I was like, guys like Speaker 3 44:29 ready to kill the recording. You've got like gotten in an argument with a recorded message. It was hilarious. Speaker 5 44:34 Yeah. And it's like, I think when you do that, uh, you know, I think counting, you know, you alluded to it like if you're counting on your next PR hit to be your, your growth channel, that's probably a recipe for disaster because it's not, you know, you can't count on those to happen for, you can't S you certainly can't say I'm going to get a hit on a national news show next month for sure. Right. Just doesn't happen like that. Referral loops are the same thing. And like I think people who start businesses with the idea that it will, referrals will be, I won't have to do any marketing. Like, cause I'm going to have that Dropbox moment. Right. Like if you're counting on that for growth, instead of saying, Hey, if we, that's the nice to have and you know, then it's, then you're, you're looking towards really sustainable growth and you're looking for the, the, in your engine, you're the, this growth engine that you're building, you're looking for sustainable growth as opposed to the, you know, I think that's where runs get dangerous. You should be looking for home runs in your testing. Of course. It just means that your home run should be based on things that actually have the likelihood of just driving a home run is driving the business forward. A home run isn't Speaker 3 45:44 any incremental ability to help more customers and accelerate progress on the mission is something you should feel really good about. And, and, and it's not, it's not something that's like binary that like, we're not growing at all or we've got breakout growth. It's just, it's, it's that every time you figure one more thing that you can add to that growth engine, you're going to accelerate that overall growth rate to the point where eventually you become a really attractive acquisition target for an ICU. Speaker 5 46:11 Right? Yeah. And you, you know it home sound like luck, right. But a friend of mine runs the entrepreneurship program at James Madison university and he always tells us, uh, the story that you, I don't know if you've read this, but the record for this guy who's caught the most foul balls at baseball games, you'd guess it'd be like, what a hundred would be like out of this world. It's 10,000. Wow. And it's because he studies the, the baseball field, the players, and he positions himself in the seat where he's most likely to catch ball. And like, and I'm stealing this from my friend Patrick, so I want to be clear that I'm, yeah. And he evangelizes this to the students and he evangelizes it as this luck is the residue of design. That's, I don't know if he, if that's his, his wording or the, this guy's wording. Speaker 5 46:59 But if you think about that, it's about making your own luck. And I think what I love about the workshop hacking growth as a methodology. Again, there's no prescription for growth, but what this is is it's a prescription for or there's no prescription for success but there is a prescription for growth. If you run this, I always tell people, and I actually told his students this, I was like, if you run the hacking growth model and you know this idea of rinse and repeating testing and optimization, I almost can guarantee you you will growth gains. I can't guarantee you that's gonna. It's going to be bigger than your run rate and that you're going to be uh, your business is going to be a unicorn, but you will grow because it's a methodology based on not only only doubling down on what you grow now it goes back to, of course that assumes that you have something to grow. You talked about product market fit and you know, you talk, Speaker 3 47:51 there has to be at the, at the, at the foundation of all sustainable growth, you have to have product market fit or Speaker 5 47:56 because you know, you can have the best people growing. If a product doesn't have the legs to grow, it's gonna fail. And you've set this, uh, you know, uh, but you could have sometimes mediocre people driving a product with product market fit and it, you know, and have success. I love it when you have great people, which we've been really lucky to have. And, um, you know, we've, uh, at Tel tech, great people sort of, they find us and we find them. And, uh, it really leads to this, you know, this, this success we've had. Um, and we're intentional about our hiring. And, you know, we, we have a very hard line, no assholes rule. Um, you know, and, and, and that, you know, we, we take that stuff seriously, haven't always gotten it right. But, uh, but by, by really focusing on looking for those, those people who have the little Glint in their eye, you know, that, uh, uh, how do you describe it? A growth as their true North? Uh, I think, you know, sometimes when we see that you see that in the interview, when it starts becoming that conversation about how any you feel that enthusiasm and it's like you take that enthusiasm over, you know, what people will call experience. You know, that I've worked for a company for 12 years, so I had the same 12 years of experience versus 12 years of growth. Um, and it really makes such a difference. So, Speaker 3 49:16 well, I think that's a great place to wrap up. Um, you know, to, just, just to restate, I think, uh, I think a huge part of the success that you've had with the business is, is that product market fit and kudos to you and having the patience to not try to scale right out of the gate but to, but to keep iterating on the people who truly valued the product until you got it to the point where you felt like you could scale and then you know, that defines the potential and then realizing that potential is also a lot of work is a lot of execution and the more that you can have a passionate team that's got all the right skills that are really iterative and testing and process oriented, that they can hopefully push the line of, of that, um, of just realizing as much potential as there is for growth. And, um, I think, yeah, it's been really fun to watch from the sidelines how much a success you've been able to drive there. And I'm excited to keep watching it going forward. Speaker 5 50:16 Well, I really appreciate you saying that. Obviously, uh, if it hasn't become clear for your listeners, like, you know, you've been an awesome mentor to me and, uh, uh, and I've tried to take that into what I do every day in terms of mentoring and leading my team. Um, but I think that's, it's important. Like you have to find people who are passionate, who want, who, people who are passionate and love learning to learn from. So, uh, yeah, it's really been a lot of fun to talk about this stuff with you. Absolutely. So, well, thank you Ethan, and, uh, thank you for everyone for listening in and, uh, and tell the next time, looking forward to it. Speaker 1 50:53 <inaudible> Speaker 2 50:59 thanks for listening to the breakout growth podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform and while you're at it, subscribe. So you never miss a show until next week.

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