Matt:Hey guys and Welcome to the Business and Bootstrapping...
Matt:Hey guys and Welcome to the Business and Bootstrapping podcast. I want to thank you for tuning in. Today we have a personal friend, Frank Moyer from the Advance Technology Development Center in Atlanta, GA. Frank has a quite a deal of experience working with software and working and growing businesses in positions of leadership to improve upon some existing flaws. I wanted to get him in here to go through the many progressions he has seen in his many years of entrepreneurship and working in the business field. So thanks so much for coming Frank.
Frank:Thanks Matt. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.
Matt:It is great to have you on here. I really love having entrepreneurs on here that I know my audience can really benefit and grow from. That is why I wanted to have you. I first wanted to start out with a little of your background. I know you went to Columbia and studied a weird combination of computer science and economics. Do you also want to go into the business field and start your own business? That is kind of what it feels like.
Frank:Yeah one of the reason I chose Columbia was that they had a unique program which was three undergraduate in college and then two years of engineering. Which allowed me to get deeper into the technology program but I didn't want to just do software and program. I didn't want to just go down an engineering track though. They offered a wonderful program which offered a business. I still program almost every day. So from the very early days when I was graduating from high school I knew I was wanted a combination of technical and business experience.
Matt:What would you say motivated you? You we're a bit of a nerd, I was a bit of a nerd. A lot of entrepreneurs are a bit nerdy and tech based. What really motivated you to get into business? What made you think that was something you wanted to focus on?
Frank:I believe that the best way to make technology successful is to make sure that there is a business application for it. We can all sit around and code up some awesome technology but without a business purpose it isn't going to change the world. I think everyone when leaving college want to have an impact on the world. I think every entrepreneur or at least the ones I have talked to are passionate about their projects or goals but the best way to make a passion a success is to have a business application for it.
Matt:I think that is really true. Trying to find the meeting point between what the market wants and what you are able to deliver. One of the points that I heard forever was that there is a reason why we don't have flying cars today. The reason isn't technology. It is merely that people aren't willing to pay the amounts of money necessary that has no purpose. There has to be that linking of purpose and pricing to make something work. So you had to make sure you had the technological background to make it work but also the business strategy and understanding to make it work. To deliver your product to the world.
Frank:Yeah. To be a technology leader there are two components. One is to know technology and the other is leadership. A key part of leadership is knowing how to run a business. I have, that has helped me many times. When in a startup like EzGov, which was about a hundred people strong and there we're times when I was still helping to code. The customer didn't know I as a leader was helping to rush deliver the project but I had my sleeves rolled up. Helping the company as much as I can and supporting the team to get the job done.
Matt:And that is the startup entrepreneur mindset. It isn't about what your job or role is. It is what needs to be done right now to make what you are doing successful. It doesn't matter what you are hired to do or what others want you to do. If you need to make a sales call, program something you get on the internet and learn how to do it. I think that is important for startup founders on a bootstrapped budget where you don't have the money to pay others to do stuff. You can't outsource.
Frank:That is a really good point. When I take on a role of leading the team, whether it is a two person or hundred person team it is about serving your employees as the leader. You are there to support the team and the customer. A lot of customers have trouble because they are trying to throw their ideas on to the customer instead of listening to really what the market or customer needs. A lot of times entrepreneurs have investors and they are serving their investors as well. So the CEO of a small company that goes into a bigger team needs to realize they are serving those main constituents: their employees, their customers and their shareholders.
Matt:And that is one of the beautiful things if you are able to grow a large bootstrapped business like Mailchimp or other examples. You can cut the entire investors part of the equation out of there. Then you are better able to focus on really growing a better company by better serving your customers and employees. One of the things I wanted to ask you about was after you came out of Columbia I know you went to Accenture and worked your way up from an analyst all the way up to senior manager. What did you learn from your experience consulting in corporate America that you would take with you in your future career?
Frank:Ya I had the opportunity a little while, a few months ago to listen to one of the leaders, the previous CEO of the Kaufman foundation, Karl Free. He talked about the people leaving college, he advised against building a startup straight away. He said go out and get some consulting work and get some work experience. And that is really the fortune I had was working with a variety of working with a bunch a great companies as a consultant. Some of the smartest people I ever worked with as my peers. I learned a lot of things not to do before I went to my first startup. It was a lot of great business competition. How to run a team. By the time I left I had a team of about 60 people. I learned how to sell selling multi-million dollar products. But there we're a lot of things I didn't get to do because I worked with such a company. I didn't get exposed to the financial side of the equation, didn't get exposed to the customer support like issues like account management. It was a fabulous experience. I would really encourage people coming straight out of college consulting to get a better business and world perspective.
Matt:I think brings up a good point of something I would raise to what you are saying. One of the concepts I have been hearing more and more in the startup was the importance of a college education whatsoever? I know in some fields where you are working more in terms of the software development side or things you worked on a college education is more critical. What would you say though for someone coming right out of high school who knows they want to start their own business and get started in entrepreneurship? Would you they should spend the four years and however many thousands of dollars working to get a college education that may or may not be relevant to what they end up build in the future? Or if they took a small amount of that money and time and put it into launching and inevitably failing their first, second and third startups. To really see what they could learn?
Frank:It is a broad statement but for the most part you need to play the odds. The odds are, just like professional football or basketball players to drop out of college to go to the pros. They have to figure if they get injured and have to get a normal job. They will want to get the education behind them. I think there are cases, Adam Getty is a great example of someone who hasn't gone through the traditional path and been hugely successful. I think the probability is that you are going to be better off by going through and getting a college education no matter what. That doesn't ably to everyone but 99.9% of the case I believe going through and getting a college education will benefit you in the long run. There is that 0.1% the Zuckerbergs and Gettys of the world who don't fit into that mold and are going to be successful.
Going off topic for only a second, what's your guys opinion on this website? http://jimijive5.com My brother in law asked me to locate a 50's band and I stumbled upon these people this afternoon. Let's get back to the subject though.
Matt:I am trying to Chris Klaus on the show later on to get a little of his perspective in terms of dropping out while he was building something great. I think that does bring up a valid point however that you do need to have a backup plan in case things fail. In reference to that, what would you say is a good major or field of study to focus on to make sure they maximize the opportunities available and help grow their business and entrepreneurship skill?
Frank:Well part of this is, if I could go back. I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs twenty years out say something similar. I wish I could have made more out of my college education. Linear algebra, did I appreciate how important that was then? No. So make the most out of your college education. If anything you are preparing yourself for a lot of hard work when you graduate. So learn as much as you can while you are in school. Be a sponge. There a lot of things you may not use but there are very important things you didn't know you would use at the time. Tap into the resources at the university that exist. The TAs and the professors and learn from them. Once you are out it is a lot harder to get that same access to those people. These are the leaders in the industry.
Matt:I think that is a great point. You really need to game the system as much as possible while you are there. To get as much as you can out. Would you say, I kind of would like to go into EzGov at this point. I was speaking with you before this started. I know you we're telling you joined about six months after they started. Could you go into a little more detail about just what EzGov did working with government services and taking them online and what your role was?
Frank:At the time it was the Wild West of startups. This was 1999 when art majors we're leaving to be java developers and we're commanding 100k salaries just out of college. It was a crazy time. There is a great documentary, don't know if you know called startup.com. I encourage people to watch it because it shows the craziness of the time. It was about our competitor GovWorks. We we're bringing government services online. We we're doing that and we're one of the pioneers in that space. Governments are very slow to move typically and in this case it was definitely the situation where we we're pushing governments into a new era. We had a lot of success. If you watch the startup.com movie there is a cameo of one the founders of EzGov who unfortunately died a year later. And he was going up to meet with his competitors and they are barking at him. What are you doing here, you are trying to steal our secrets. The time was a crazy time. We had a lot of success. We had some of the best developers. The company was founded with nine developers. We we're able to deliver what our competition was taking millions of dollars to deliver with tens of thousands. That made all the difference. So by 2001, two years later we had signed a contract. A 12 million dollar contract. We went from out 100k revenue to 12 million in matter of a couple months. We quickly grew, by the time we sold the company we we're at 30 million in revenue with very good profit margins. I was CIO when I started and took over running the business in 2005.
Matt:What we're some of the challenges you had at running a business of that scale? Also issues dealing with the government who can be a bit slow and troublesome to deal with? I know they aren't the ideal customers for most entrepreneurs and startups to deal with.
Frank:Ya I think this is important for entrepreneurs to, I sort of look at the world as listen to your customer and listen to the market. One of the things we did a really good job of was listening to the market. We we're selling to local governments and we're often up against Sallys cousin who could deliver the same online website at the same price we could. We couldn't argue with that. So we quickly moved to state and federal and we used the credentials we had built up with the local levels. We had over a hundred local governments using our product and that gave us the credentials to sell into bigger governments. We we're always punching above our weight. We we're always using our credentials from smaller victories to gain bigger victories. So that was a key lesson learned. And there we're period that are called bet the company period and every startup goes through this. You have to make some really big bets and you are betting the company. One of the big bet the company moments was when I went over to England to do a short one week consulting gig. The customer asked, could you deliver this system? It was essentially the equivalent of the US 1040 system online over the next three months. We got the executives of the company together and agreed to go for it. This was in 2000 we had a system with 20000 business rules, 200 web pages and a new hosting environment all delivered within three months. If we hadn't done that, hadn't made that bet then we wouldn't have had the success we had.
Matt:What are some of the thoughts or fears that are going through your head as you and your board are trying to make those decisions? You are one of the preeminent players on your team. I think you we're the CIO at this point, a pretty high up position. What we're you thinking? What happens if I screw up and kill everyones jobs? What we're some of your thoughts or fears?
Frank:Well I think it goes back to serving your employees, serving your shareholders and serving your customers. I was excited because my customer gave us the ability to save them. They we're appearing in the paper on a weekly basis and being attacked by the media for their failures. I saw it as an opportunity to help them. From a shareholders perspective I saw it as an opportunity to really add value to the business. From an employee perspective I saw it as an opportunity to give the employees some real career challenges, including working with new technologies. I don't think I have ever worked as hard as I did during those three months but I think everyone looks back with really fond memories of what we're able to accomplish during those three months.
Matt:So there we're never any second guessing or doubts as to putting the company all up there? Betting all the chips.
Frank:There was a lot of debate. There was a lot of concern internally on whether we would be able to do it. The funny story is that we didn't notice until the week before we delivered it. The customer had actually paid Microsoft to build the same thing in parallel to us in case we weren't able to deliver a product. Everyone had their concerns but we we're able to deliver a miraculous system. We made a big bet but it was a calculated bet. It wasnt a bet we're you go the odds are 1%, we felt that the odds we're greater than 50%. Still a lot of risk but we felt good about ti.
Matt:What would you recommend to someone more on a smaller scale, a solopreneur or just getting started when they have some similar doubts and decisions about what they are working on? How would you recommend they deal with that? Should they build a support team? What is some of your experiences?
Frank:I surround myself with really smart people. People smarter to me and that is how I achieved my success. I think where entrepreneurs typically fail, I have seen it happen, is where the entrepreneur thinks they are the smartest person in the world. Building support networks and finding the people you can rely on to give you good advice and capitalize on it man. Make it happen.
Matt:I like it. It is super important to get around other people doing the same thing as you are. Or at least in the same field. If you run an ecommerce store, get around other ecommerce store owners. If you are into software, find other people doing software. You will struggle through and can help talk each other through similar issues. It is good to have experienced people around who you can bounces issues and ideas off of to really learn from. One of the next questions I wanted to ask you was giving out some of this advice for startup founders. What would you say is the biggest waste of time or drain when people are trying to launch their businesses? What really holds some startup founders back? If you could reach out and say do this or stop doing that, what would you say?
Frank:Listen this is an easy one Matt. I have spoken to over the past year while working at ATDC, at least 100 entrepreneurs. I was one myself and I was building something. It isn't what they are doing, it was what they are not doing. I look at the evolution of entrepreneurship over the past 15 years and it has gone from an insular view. AT EZGov to define the strategy we put Harvard business school grad and CTO in a room and a weekly later they came out and said here is our strategy. They didn't talk to customers. It was very insular in what they came up with. And then there has been this shift towards talking to customers and a customer view. Which is tremendously helpful but you are still relying on your customers eyes on things. In the latest progression which I still think is at the tip of the entrepreneurship iceberg. Being pushed by Eric Ries and other lean startup entrepreneurial leaders is like the program I am going through right now in Atlanta called Flashpoint .With Merrick right now I have learned more over the past two months than I have learned since college. An amazing amount of really thoughtful project to make sure when you go out you are ready. I will finish that program and have spoken to almost 200 people and we haven't built a line of code yet. I think that is, it is easy to go build code. It is easy and enjoyable to do but you need to make sure what you are going to go build. Challenge it, break it. Really break it to the point where before you go write a line of code you know you are going to build something that people absolutely need.
Matt:I totally agree with what you are saying. I have struggled from similar things myself. You come up with this brilliant idea that everyone is going to need and everyone would want and then it just falls flat. I do think that with the so called lean startup methodology there could be restrains on people that are not intended. Especially for people who are perfectionists. Generally when you think of a perfectionist you think of someone coding a platform and not pushing it out to the masses because they are afraid it isn't ready to function. On the same boat you can have too much customer discovery. If you keep talking to customers and get so afraid of building something that you just get stuck in limbo. How would you recommend that people that are looking to get started in entrepreneurship? What is a good mix between talking to customers and how do you know when you are actually ready to build something?
Frank:I think that is a great question. I had the fortune of speaking to David Cummings speak twice. David comes at it at a slightly different perspective than a Flashpoint entrepreneur like Merrick would. Merrick comes at it from the view of doing hundreds of interviews and customer exchanges and continuing to do that even while building your business. I think that an entrepreneur is an attacked. An employee at a big company is a defender. If big companies continue to operate like defenders instead of like attackers then they will be defeated. Even as you grow as a company it is important to keep that continual process of trying to break what you currently have. Going back to your question of how to find the balance, even though we are still in the early days I would say try to break it. To the point after you have twenty discussions you feel like people are saying consistently the same thing and that what they are saying aligns with something you are going to help them with. Things and language become very quiet. Everyone starts saying similar things and you know exactly how the market plays out and how you fit into the world.
Matt:And then once you reach that point you are really ready to start. One of the things I have been experimenting with is the art of pre-selling something. I know the tradition model, even in the lean startup model is talk to customers, find out what they want and then build it for them. What I have been working on for a physical therapy SaaS app I am working on is more speaking to the customers and finding out what their pain points are. But then you don't build the code because you don't have the money to build the code. Instead you sell the product to them and use the sales to finance the creation of the project. Similar to a Kickstarter style. What would be your views about the ideal method to go about launching a business in software or physical product?
Frank:You know I like the idea overall. I think that doing a lot of interviews. My last comment, don't finish at just twenty. Do a lot of interviews until you totally understand what the market can't do without. I think at a certain point you can start building some interfaces to allow them to understand what you will build and then get them to buy off on that. Not every customer is going to but it is good to have preorders. It isn't always the case but if you have authentic demand there is no reason you can't get preorders. I think if you do get pre-sales that is a great barometer for what you plan on building and has demand.
Matt:Because you never really know until someone pays you or gives you their credit card info when they say they will buy it. People will say I would buy that but it isn't real until they give you twenty bucks.
Frank:Ya people will tell you what you want to hear.
Matt:I heard an amazing study. I believe it was on a podcast but I can't remember but the concept was a company was doing in person surveys with their customers to try and gauge the value of their product. And through the entire customer discovery segment the product was priced at fifty bucks and customers we're saying they loved it and would buy the product. And at the very end they had what I believe the more innovative ideas to price their product. They said at the end thank you so much for coming and helping and for you efforts, I believe it was a lamp, we will give you your lamp for free. You can keep it but if you aren't interested here is a thirty dollar check. And everyone took the thirty dollar check over the fifty dollar lamp. It shows that people will tell you what you want to hear until you really push them to make a decision.
Frank:Yeah one of the companies presenting at Flashpoint said during the interview we we're on the call and the interviewee said tell me what you want me to say. Yeah to your point they will. It is all about understanding how to ask the questions.
Matt:You can't try to get advice from your parents or your family or anyone else who wants you to succeed because they will tell you exactly what you want to hear. Whereas if you watch Shark Tank and similar concepts but you want to hear that ass hole like Kevin OLeary to tell you exactly what is the problem with your product or business. Exactly where you messed up so that you can go and work like he'll to change some of your problems.
Frank:Ya if you look at the evolution of startups and entrepreneurship over the past fifteen years and where this is now. Success in an insular view where you have an entrepreneur in their garage sitting and building something without talking to customers is a heavy reliance on technical skills. And no reliance on what the market wants. Then if you look at the customer view and talking to a bunch of customers then the reliance is heavily on the customers and their understanding of what they need. There are problems around the scalability of that model. At Accenture we built this product which was a tool for their customers to use and it was just a tool. Tools are hard to sell. In the customer view if you don't watch out you end up building things that are hard to sell. When you look at the market view however where you are talking to hundreds of people in the market who are potential users of whatever you are going to build then the reliance is now on the entrepreneur. The ability to listen and understand technically what is possible. When they are listening they can go I can do this and this to help that. And lastly their ability to change. Their ability to have strong opinions which are loosely held. Those traits in an entrepreneur in this day and age are really important.
Matt:Speaking of which how do you know when to pivot? Or when to change your idea?
Frank:You will know, depending on where you are based on discussions. You know if you haven't built anything and you are just doing the interviews then you will know if you are hearing buying signals. You gave a great example Matt. If you present something to someone and they say I would give you money, I will preorder that. You have to be careful, you can't just hear it from one person but if you hear it from a couple people, five or ten then it is a significant you should go for it. But until you find that authentic demand, you are exploring different options on what to build.
Matt:So it is really just working to take feedback that you find in all areas around you in life. Applying what people are saying to change your product. One of the questions I had for you was about another company you worked at which also had a successful acquisition, GeoIQ. I know you worked as the president and CEO, would you mind telling me a little more about that.
Frank:Ya so I was brought in after EZGov was acquired. I hired my successor and transitioned to the buyer and spent a bit of time with my family. I was looking around the East Coast and found a really exciting company, about five years old. It was still in startup mode, less than 1 million in revenue. As you can find in the In-Q-Tel, In-Q-Tel is an organization that invests in innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the CIA and broader US intelligence community. So as you can see on the In-Q-Tel website, they are an investor in GeoIQ. So the combination of the technology and a customer I was familiar was interesting to me. They had had two previous executives that hadn't been able to turn it around and I saw it as a great opportunity for me to turn it around and get a great growth exit for the business.
Matt:So this is when you decided to join the CIA and become a double agent I am assuming. With taking over the company how did you manage to increase the revenue? From what I am seeing you manage to triple the revenue and really grow the team.
Frank:Ya it was a coming in and creating a culture. I think that is really important. The first hire you do in a company defines the culture. Once the culture is defined it is really hard to change. So it may seem like not a priority for entrepreneurs but really knowing what the core values of the business you want to create. That is going to be communicated directly or indirectly to employees, investors and customers. Really finding and defining the core values you want to make your business off of. This is your business, make it something you feel happy about.
Matt:I think that is really important and something that beginning entrepreneurs and people beginning to build out their teams. Hiring employees or outsourcing to virtual assistants. Dont really consider. How do your really keep a handle on your company culture and what would you advise to startup founders in terms of traits to look for or things to work on to build the best team possible.
Frank:And my cofounder of my current business and I sat down the week before we founded the company and we laid out our core values. That is something that will be the driving force behind our decisions on who to hire, what to build and how we communicate with the market and how we work with investors. I would make that investment early on in the business and then I would laminate and hanging it on the wall and when new employees come in make sure they understand it and live it. I think EzGov had one of the best company cultures. The two founders and entire founding team we're tremendous and it was a lot of fun. I would love to recreate that culture.
Matt:I think that is huge to really get your entire team motivated and driven towards the same single mission or goal for achieving success. With your current startup I didn't actually find and information on that. What are you currently working on or when was this formed? Could we get some details?
Frank:Ya we founded the company in January and we started Flashpoint without having an idea. I have been through two startups and I still think the world of my advisors like Merrick Furst. And I respect his challenges every day. My cofounder and I decided to put the company through Flashpoint and we are about half way through. We don't have a product but we are learning a lot. Enjoying the learning and hopefully we will have an idea if we will build something. Hopefully we will have an idea soon, we haven't decided yet if we are going to build something or what we will build. Flashpoint ends in early June and hopefully by then we will have a better idea on if the market has a need for a product to be built.
Matt:And for anyone that doesn't know, Flashpoint is an accelerator program similar to YCombinator or Tech Stars which is located in Atlanta and loosely affiliated with Georgia Tech. With that I kind of wanted to dig in as an overview of your experience working and advising at ATDC and what you have learned and helped entrepreneurs there with. Maybe a story or two and why you felt compelled to give your time and experience to help others. Including myself on this podcast. What motivates you?
Frank:Ya sure. Well for me there we're two reason mainly. One was for myself. My last startup, EzGov from the last five years from 2005-2010 I was in London. I still maintained a residence in Atlanta so I was flying between Atlanta and London. And then GeoIQ was up in Washington DC so I was commuting from Atlanta to DC and so I was still involved in startups and startups not in Atlanta. For me it was a great way to get reacquainted with the Atlanta startup community. Then for the community is was an opportunity for me to pay it forward. To help people who had been in a similar situation to myself ten years earlier to work through the challenges I had experienced and learn from them. I learned a lot from the entrepreneurs I was advising. And I had a lot of fun. I worked with the likes of some great entrepreneurs and had some great laughs. Coming off a really tough two years turning around GeoIQ to sell it, it was a great experience for me. So some stories. I think the success that SalesLoft has had. Kyle Porter and I worked together and working with him about a year ago when they we're first getting started and building his technical team. They we're just starting to build a product and now he has hundreds of customers, they are really achieving great success. I had helped him at the time with ways to measure how the business was growing. We built a great relationship and I have really enjoyed watching him grow as quickly as he has. That has been a great experience. With every company I worked with, I had a great set of companies and CEO. Dan at MessageGears has been a wonderful leader. He has bootstrapped his business to a really large company. They just graduated from ATDC last year and now they just took on their first investment. I am really happy to see those companies who are a success. The joke at the time was that two months after I joined, two of my companies I worked with we're able to raise 30 million dollars in funding. It had nothing to do with me but it was funny to have the companies I worked with be huge successes.
Matt:It must feel great that you are going in to help companies and that they are really growing and benefitting from your help and leadership.
Frank:Ya it was a really great year. I really enjoyed it.
Matt:Hopefully at some point in the future this podcast will have people who actually listened to and we're motivated by some of the entrepreneurs I spoke to and build their own businesses. I know that is a bit down the road however so until then I am just going to have to be working on my own startups. And I really thank you for coming on Frank. You have been amazingly helpful. You have really helped define the goal, what entrepreneurs getting started in the startup community should strive for whenever they launch a startup. In terms of lean startups and working really on developing their understanding of their customer segment and who they are selling to before even considering the product they are going to build. If any of the audience wants to reach out to you, what is the best way for them to get ahold of you or thank you for the interview? Where is the best place?
Frank:They can reach me through Linkedin or Twitter @fwmoyer. I have a somewhat active blog on FrankMoyer.com.
Matt:And links to all of that will be in the show notes. BusinessandBootstrapping.com/session3. I want thank all of you guys for tuning in today and especially thank Frank for coming on the show and sharing his insight into the business world.
Frank:Thanks Matt. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you this evening.
Matt:It has been amazing. If you guys got some great helpful advice from this I would love to have you leave a show review on iTunes or personally reach out to Frank and thank him. And thanks so much for your time. Until next time guys kick some ass and keep working on your startups.
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Posted in Computer Post Date 12/21/2014