Ep. #1093 - How to Improve Your SMS Functionality
In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, improve your SMS functionality in a way that serves your business better. Join Matt DeCoursey and Martin Lien, co-founder and CEO of Volt, as they talk about its nitty gritty. There’s also a segue on pivoting, rebranding, building the right team, and raising capital.
More great news, Hustlers! Martin’s company is also part of Startup Hustle’s top Tulsa startups in 2023. If you want to check out the rest of the list, read an article published on Inc.com written by Matt DeCoursey.
Covered In This Episode
How can you use text messaging to your advantage? What is the main problem being faced by the SMS industry? How do you build an all-star team?
Matt and Martin have all these things pinned down in their conversation. Aside from sharing insights on how to improve your SMS functionality, they also tackle other topics to bring business growth.
It’s time to take down notes, everybody. Listen to this Startup Hustle episode today.
- Martin’s backstory as an Entrepreneur (02:23)
- Is Tulsa becoming a top startup destination? (02:41)
- From Respond Flow to Volt (07:44)
- About MessagingOps (13:22)
- Solving the business SMS problem (18:07)
- On building the right team (21:10)
- When it comes to raising capital, hear this (32:04)
The only authority you need is revenue. And if you can earn the product out there, and you can get the revenue, people stop asking you, “Well, do you really think you can do this?” And they start asking, “How much more can you do?”– Martin Lien
Be aware of the changes that are coming down with SMS. And make sure that you’re protecting against T-Mobile trying to find your $10,000. And, of course, if you’re building a startup, Frankenstein it up and get the demand before you build it.– Martin Lien
You’re not gonna get the help that you need, or want, or the partnership, or the investment, or anything if you don’t get out there and start meeting and talking to people. If you can’t be a big deal in the town you’re in, why are you going to be a big deal somewhere else?– Matt DeCoursey
If you want to build a software development team quickly and affordably, you’re at the right place. Full Scale, Startup Hustle’s parent organization, has experienced and qualified developers, testers, and leaders you can work with. And what’s the best thing about tapping into their solutions? You only have to spend two minutes on the platform to be matched with a fully vetted team.
We also have Startup Hustle partners at your service for additional solutions. Discover what they can do to help your business grow.
Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Matt DeCoursey 00:01
And we’re back! Back for another episode of Startup Hustle. Matt DeCoursey here to have another conversation I’m hoping helps your business grow. Have you used text messaging and SMS to help anything with your business? Do you know that it can be a great marketing tool? It can be great for reminders and notifications. And remember, if you provide services, reminders to your staff and to your clients are both good things because if one of them is missing, you don’t make a transaction. We’re going to talk about that, and a whole lot more, on today’s episode of Startup Hustle, which is powered by FullScale.io. Because hiring software developers is difficult, Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably and has the platform to help you manage that team. Visit FullScale.io to learn more. There’s a link for that in the show notes. If you’re unaware, that’s my company, and we love talking to Startup Hustle listeners. When you go to FullScale.io, it takes like two minutes to fill out the questions. And we’ll match you up with 10 people that can help you out. So that’s what we do. Speaking of doing stuff, with me today, I’ve got Martin Lien, and Martin is the co-founder and CEO of Volt. You can go to textvolt.com. There’s a link for that in the show notes. It’ll be right around that FullScale.io link. Martin’s company is on Startup Hustle’s list of Tulsa’s top startups in 2023. Straight out of Tulsa, masks in Tulsa a lot. Martin, welcome to Startup Hustle.
Martin Lien 01:30
Thank you so much for having me on that.
Matt DeCoursey 01:31
You know, here, I like to start my conversations with a little bit about your backstory. So what brought you into being one of Tulsa’s top startups, Martin?
Martin Lien 01:43
Cool. Well, I guess me and my co-founder started off running a text marketing company for three and a half years. Which really helped us uncover all of the frustrations and agony that is running a text feature in a software company. Which then set us off to try and solve that problem.
Matt DeCoursey 02:01
Okay. Now, you know, I’ve already had some people ask, they’re like, why are you featuring Tulsa as a top startup yet? A lot of people don’t realize this, but Tulsa is on the come-up, man. It’s, you know, being from, and also, if you’re unaware, Startup Hustle is based in Kansas City. So I know a whole lot about markets that people overlook on many days. But, man, you know, it also kind of reminds me of Kansas City before we got the Google Fiber thing. If you’re unaware, Google picked Kansas City to do it, to string it. It was the first Fiber Internet, city-wide main thing; hundreds of cities competed for it, and they came and did it here. But it really kind of moved us up a level in the startup scene and tent. You know, here we are 10 years later. They’re the after-effects of that. But I see Tulsa doing a lot of these things to attract startups. Another company that was on the list used to be in Kansas City and got lured away. So what have you seen from the inside out?
Martin Lien 03:05
Yeah, so it’s actually been really fun. I know. There’s been, of course, a lot of press about Tulsa lately. And of course, around the Tulsa remote program, how they’re paying people $10,000 to come work remotely from Tulsa, I think that would be probably the biggest driver, which then has a lot of senior management and senior employees from one of the big kind of thing or man companies really working here in Tulsa, create some good talent, but also the drive from GkF. Forge Kaiser’s Foundation is a huge proponent of building out Tulsa. So they, of course, now also have a venture capital firm to fund potential capital that started here. One of their drivers is to help set up companies here and relocate companies to Tulsa, which is actually what happened to us. We didn’t move far. We moved from Oklahoma City to Tulsa but got to be a part of that from May 2020. believe we were there, first check. And so we’ve seen the adventure from the start.
Matt DeCoursey 04:09
Yeah, I knew these things do kind of follow that pattern I had taught long before we published this lesson. Actually, part of what got Tulsa on my radar was the press about that it will pay you 10,000 bucks. So I think a lot of people don’t realize it, even people that are in tech startups and software and all that, how grossly deficient. The supply of software developers is in North America, and that’s why I started. That’s why my business has grown so quickly, because, you know, in the, in the almost six-year history of Full Scale, we have seen, you know, 250 to up to 400,000 open programming jobs in the US, meaning there aren’t enough people to fill them. Such places like Tulsa are trying. I mean, everywhere, trying to attract people is done. A lot of people do that. Like there’s that $10,000 thing like, do you seal? Or do you run into people that are like, Yeah, I moved here because of that, oh, yeah, a bunch?
Martin Lien 05:14
There’s a shocking amount. And also, especially since I like the industry, as I’m sure it was also in Kansas City, obviously, it was mostly industrial, oil and gas, and everything else, that’s more legacy. So the pockets of tech workers and tech team members, and really also startups, people are usually in the same circles. So obviously, for me, the people that I run into every single day at the office are people that work on different startups, as well as tech and software employees. So it’s definitely like a skewed impression from my end, right. But I can definitely attest to that. I mean, it’s tough to ensure that you get the varied amount of talent that you need. We’ve been extremely lucky. Tulsa actually, our entire team is currently in person in Tulsa, even though we do, obviously, a hybrid kind of work schedule.
Matt DeCoursey 06:10
And, so, you know, and once again, if you want to learn more about what Martin does, go to textvolt.com there. If you want to read the complete list, you can find that at StartupHustle.xyz, you know, so at textvolt.com or Volt, you want, also known as Flow or Respond Flow, I believe, got another one with a little pivot and rebrand. We’ve all done that, along with Full Scale didn’t start out as a software service provider. By the way, it was like we started a different company. We’re like, hey, maybe we should do this because it’s better. But you know, every entrepreneur, every business, every software, every amazing product does something to truly benefit its clients, users, prospects, and, you know, it solves a problem. So let’s talk about the problem that you solved. And what made you become passionate about solving it.
Martin Lien 07:04
Yeah, I mean, why is that? And like you pointed out, I mean, our previous company was Respond Flow. And that was originally built to be a sales and driver. So for sales teams, being able to set their meetings and then being able to remind people 30 minutes ahead of the time that they were going to call from that same number. With time, it kind of morphed as we needed to expand and as our market couldn’t stay as niche as medical sales teams. And we soon found ourselves just being a solution looking for a problem instead of a specific solution, which I think a lot of founders find themselves in. We were extremely lucky that we were in a field that was just littered with problems. And we had also gotten over three and a half years of experience running a company in it. And when that can, I would say, like the spring of 2021 is when there were a lot of legislative issues and changes to SMS called 10. DLC. It’s a GIF with a lot of acronyms.
Matt DeCoursey 08:07
I’ll try and stick to your requirement to define acronyms on the show. I will. My listeners will attest to the fact that I usually stop or find a monologue. Okay. All right.
Martin Lien 08:22
Let me explain it. I will just say, though, that it’s very similar to financial industries, where acronyms are actually just abbreviated versions of previous names. And then they mean something else. So it’s built to be confusing.
Matt DeCoursey 08:37
Well, there are only so many letter combos and sequences, and you’ll find certain things. I don’t know how that example is right offhand, but yeah, I don’t know. I’ll talk to someone, and I’m like, you’re saying this, but I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing here.
Martin Lien 08:51
Exactly. That’s the thing, though. 10 DLC is one of those examples 10 DLC stands for 10-digit long code, which is the definition of a local phone. So local US phone numbers called 10-digit long codes have existed since they became text-enabled. However, 10 DLC is something brand new that is more or less a registration demand from the CTA. That is, CJ then is the kind of coalition of the major carriers in the US and then being handled by the campaign registry, which is managed by them. So super complicated for no reason.
Matt DeCoursey 09:33
And that governing body is there to try to prevent fraud and bullshit and like, I mean, because there’s, I don’t know, dude, I mean, honestly, I get a text almost every day. I don’t know where it came from for the last two weeks. That’s clearly a phishing scam. Oh, yeah, there is no it’s like your Netflix account is on pause. I’m like, I’m watching it. I was literally going through it, and they’re like, you’re gonna need to click here and login And you know, I’ve had those, and those are those fraud attempts. Oh, yeah. No, they’re trying to cut that down and spam and misuse. And you know, and you, everyone’s like, Oh, but texting has been around forever, has it? Because I got my first text message 15 years ago. Yeah, yeah. You’re like, Yeah, but that’s 15 years, dude. In the world of tech, that’s like a blink of an eye.
Martin Lien 10:23
Yeah. And you’re looking at it from like business texting. That’s been relatively recent. But that’s just surging. And I mean, that’s the great thing. With 10 DLC, it’s built to be able to now go from what was previously just a tiny little country road where you can drive as fast as you want because there are no cops to now being the autobahn, where you have guards basically on every speed limit, right? Yeah. And there’s no speed limit, but a speed limit that’s specific to each individual car that you have. Now we’re pretending that that is the brand, right? Extremely complicated. You are them after you’ve registered, told by the carriers. And this is dependent on each individual carrier, which helps fast you can send us a message, how many SMS you can send per day. And this just completely revamped the requirements for infrastructure. Because if you were a CRM that had 1000 brands under you that all sent SMS, suddenly.
Matt DeCoursey 11:23
Now, the TCPA will click one senator, not 1000.
Martin Lien 11:27
Yeah, exactly. But you have to register all 1000. That’s the problem. Now, yeah. So now, suddenly, that burden of overhead to be able to register but not just register, but independently speed limit each individual registration based on the feedback and the score that they got, just suddenly became such a burden. And that’s where Volt really came out. So we knew that there was a plethora of providers out there, like Tullio told them to expand with Messagebird. There are hundreds. However, everybody that sends over about 100,000 messages per month usually has more than one gateway. They use at least two if not three. We work with people that use seven because you need redundancies, especially in infrastructure and technology that is reliant on physical infrastructure as well, like cell towers, so the parts have issues, and unreliability is always problematic. So what we then do is build that connection point that has all the infrastructure requirements, but you can still choose and work with whatever provider that you want.
Matt DeCoursey 12:33
And that, for lack of a better acronym you are, you are basically an application performance monitoring tool.
Martin Lien 12:42
Yeah, that’s, that’s a good way to put it. Was that a good acronym? I would say a better acronym is probably messaging ops. So right now, there’s a lot of hype around DevOps and how internal teams have gotten worse and need to make sure that everything is managed, especially the upkeep and overhead of managing your structures. But that has never been a thing in messaging, especially SMS. And now that there’s so much more work, we find that the biggest companies out there, the ones that send the most SMS, SMS, marketing companies, and so on, all have a VP of messaging ops or director of messaging ops. And the reason for that is really an interdisciplinary job. It goes between customer success because they are the ones that get yelled at by a customer whose messages fail. They then elevate that to engineering as a bug because messages failed, and we need to look into it. That’s been engineering. And then engineers complained that it took so long to figure out what the issue was that they elevated the product, and of course, at the top CEO, the CEO CFO really just sees the company churning out money and costs for hours of work that is completely unnecessary. So we alleviate that and one connection point for it.
Matt DeCoursey 13:53
Yeah, and that’s as the founder of Gigabook, which we use for a ton of stuff. Internally and externally. I’ve learned a lot about messaging in general everything because, you know, Gigabook, just it’s a booking platform, you know, and, and with that, we know we use the engine inside of it, maybe that ended up being the most robust side of it, because like the Full Scale platform is highly dependent on and we have a lot of people there’s a lot of complexity, with booking, reminding and messaging in general, people look at like making an appointment. They’re like, God, this is really straightforward. Well, putting something a singular thing on and off of the calendar is actually quite simple. But it’s the F Dan’s and the combos and the timing and, and, and all of that, and the customization and the control that get exponentially complex. And I’ve talked to a lot of people about this. And because they’re building something that’s going to have a scheduling or reminder component, and I’m like, well, when are you guys going to address that? And they’re like, we’re saving that for last. I’m like, you might want to do that now. Because it gets really kind of stuck and weird and you know, so I’m at the, I’m at textvolt.com. And there are three things that you’ve got on here right near the top, you know, get notified when SMS deliveries occur, quickly understand why they failed, and get insights on how to fix the issue. Now, here’s the thing is, and I have a strong appreciation for what you guys are doing, Martin, because none of the other people, none of the places you buy the text from. So tell you when your stuff is off, they’ll tell you if they do detect if they think it’s been compromised, or if someone’s so like with a platform like Giga book, what we’ve had to learn to maintain and monitor Well, first off, text messaging has gotten pretty expensive. And people don’t realize this is the way that you get billed for texting, regardless of where it comes from, because you get so many characters, and that’s a packet. And these packets, if you so we went through this because we had some users were like, how is this person using this much text? Well, they have these like Uber long, they’re like, putting their entire Terms of Service or something and make attacks in it. And so that ends up counting like 10 text messages. Yeah. The throttle land content. You know, now we don’t even give you, I think, maybe like five text messages before you have to be a paid user to send them. There are different rates for international shipping. It costs me four times more to send them to people in the Philippines than it does here. And you know, there’s a lot that goes on with that. And then you know, another thing too, is I’m looking in here, you’ve got like bad numbers. Yeah, like, I don’t even want to know. I feel like if I hook up to Volt.com to get a book, I might barf afterward if I realize how many bad numbers are because of your client because our users are putting them in. It takes one fat-fingered response or something else to just kind of kill it. And you’re definitely right. We’ve had to navigate through that spot where, like, it’s kind of like a shared thing. And then, you know, one of the things it’s tricky too, is you know, people Okay, so here you are, you’re going to your golf lesson. And you get the reminder, and I’m a golf coach, which is a bad example because I’m a terrible golfer. But you know, so they get a reminder, and then they want to reply back and they’re like, I can’t be there at 430. Well, that’s, that’s very hard to aggregate in a way that is conversational and relevant and stuff like that. So you get charged for that, too.
Martin Lien 17:27
It’s super complicated. I think at the bottom of it. The problem that we found was the industry has since Tullio really built the sea bass industry, and 2008 has been based on API attempts, which works really poorly when you’re talking about SMS, because you don’t care as a consumer of that, unless it delivers. Because like, yeah, SMS can be super powerful. But honestly, if you get charged for 100,000 attempts of phone numbers that weren’t even actual, you got zero ROI. So you need to of course, then that’s one of the core problems. And we even see that now that we’re analyzing several millions of messages every single day now being able to call out that 20 to 30% of messages that we see across really independent of industry is bad phone numbers. So check that with whether or not they’re a carrier, but secondarily of that, we even go as deep as to check whether or not they are an actual number. So in other words, don’t remove them from the list because they were just on a cruise. So they were outside of connected connectivity. So you should still continue to reach out and you should try again. So the tool that we’re talking about on the website, is really our analytics tool. However, there’s really two tools that we got, we got the first one, which is the analytics tool, I call it the DIY, that is the one that tells your engineers what to do to solve it. And it tells your customer success team before the customer gets angry and calls you out. To tell them, hey, you need to change this bitly link because that’s causing you to get all of your at&t contacts to fail. And then the second one is really bold, which we’ll talk about at the bottom of the website, I believe, where we just solve all that, like we handle the issues practically. And any issues that do pose like pop up at the end is stuff that we then solve for you. So it’s kind of like that’s that’s the Rolls Royce, right? That’s where you don’t even need engineering capabilities or engineering efforts in house to be able to get a premium SMS infrastructure.
Matt DeCoursey 19:30
Speaking of engineering, finding experts, software developers doesn’t have to be difficult. Thanks for teeing that up for me. Especially when you visit FullScale.io where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs and then see what available developers, testers, and leaders are ready to join your team FullScale.io To learn more, once again, takes two minutes. Fill it out, folks, because I’m telling you we do some amazing stuff for amazing people and we’d like to consider you to be on that list, let’s talk about that for a second man you mentioned like building a team. And you know, that’s hard. It’s hard.
Martin Lien 20:14
You know, when it comes to you guys finding it in 2019, where or sooner was with Respond Flow, like platforms started a completely bootstrapped 2019 to middle of 2020. Until we were close to funding, that’s when we went full time with a co-founding team at the time, and then built that until basically mid 2021.
Matt DeCoursey 20:30
Yeah, and once again, congrats on the success and being on the list of Tulsa’s top startups make sure you check out that upside. There are some really cool companies there. You know, when it talks about like, the talent and people that I just published a real I was either Instagram or Facebook, if you guys want to, if you haven’t heard me talk enough, go find us on social media, we’re putting out a lot of great stuff. But you know, I have one that just recently came out, it’s talking about building it, you know, if you want an all star company, you need an all star roster. And I know I still look back. And what do I know about that? Well, I’ve built an all star roster at Full Scale. But I’ve also gone through an evolutionary process as I approach being 50 years old at this point, man, I’m 48 this year, which is crazy. But you know, the thing is, it’s like you got to have the best people around you. How’s that gone for you? Like I mean, because we if it when people that have more than 10 employees, tell me if they’re like, oh, yeah, I touch I hire the right people every time I think either you just don’t realize you didn’t or you’re lying.
Martin Lien 21:38
Yeah, no. And I think especially as we’ve also gone through a pivot, right, like, it’s, it’s tough to find the right people that can not just be right for the company. And it’s such an early stage, but also be able to scale beyond that. And then you toss in a pivot as well, then it’s like, well, you also need to be flexible to move around that super tough. We’ve been extremely lucky. And I will call it luck. However, what we focused on the entire time was trying to make it an extremely employee friendly company. So as a little bit of background, I won’t go too far into it. But I was born and raised in Norway and lived there for the first 20 years of my life. I came to the US about seven and a half years ago. And like the entire focus of any sort of employee relationship there was first and foremost, you were always taking care of health wise, like that was never a concern. And secondarily, vacation was something that was mandatory.
Matt DeCoursey 22:36
Like AppBrain one, probably a hell of a lot more of it than here. Oh, yeah.
Martin Lien 22:40
Oh, yeah. minimum minimum of eight weeks, right. So at that point, it was like it was a critical
Matt DeCoursey 22:46
thing done. It’s crazy. It’s getting anything done. I mean, like, I get it and I don’t.
Martin Lien 22:55
Maybe it is like, everybody is planning around summer vacation. So most Europe like Norway, you’re probably pretty happy to get outside by the time that’s around.
Matt DeCoursey 23:01
Yes, it’s like the sun. So we’re gonna get a lot of shit done for 10 months. In fact, we’ll burn ourselves out. But you gotta know we’re gonna need sunlight, air and some warmth. That makes a lot more sense.
Martin Lien 23:20
But it helps people be able to learn, spend time with family and what really matters. And then I guess lastly was one of the kinds of cultural phenomenons that I haven’t seen too much here. And I want to strive for us to hit it if I remember growing up, we would always go to this cabin by a ski resort. And I was like, wow, this is a really nice cabin. And I was convinced for the first years of my life that that was our cabin. No, no, that was the company cabin. And every single Christmas party, you pull a week out of a hat. And you get that week off that you have to go to a cabin and you have it’s pretty cool. Well relax. Because all the equipment you need a bunch of bedrooms, all of the ski equipment, sauna everything so you’re basically then just getting to take those vacations and that’s something that I really want us to get towards eventually it’s obviously not something we’ll spend it on that one man.
Matt DeCoursey 24:09
I’m extra. I’m picturing my new Full Scale brand beach house there you go. Yeah, cuz the well because the affordability there is that yeah, so you wait until you move when you grow up and no you do not sound Norwegian. Thank you. Yeah, I mean, I don’t mean that it’s not bad to sound Norwegian but I never would have guessed you weren’t just you also don’t sound like you yell so don’t sound like you grew up. And I’m not picking on Southerners. I have a lot of family in Texas. I spend a lot of time in Kansas. Sometimes my wife makes fun and because she says that I say 10 Not a 10 if you’re lessening 10 But what was that like? command because I feel like going from Norway which I asked chat GPT to give us a couple of facts about Norway 5.4 million people capital of Oslo got a lot of viewed beauty like fiords I’ve never seen a fiord I do know how to spell it that’s as close as I get but it’s also one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has a lot of social and environmental policies that I admire especially around well I think the Dutch take credit for the windmill but I believe isn’t Norway one of those countries that’s almost fully on sustainable, renewable.
Martin Lien 25:38
Yeah, we have more I think waterfalls than any other place in the world so all those values.
Matt DeCoursey 25:43
The wheel, yes.
Martin Lien 25:46
We could cover but we make a couple mistakes as well as a country I will call out. We sell that then for cheap to Europe during the summer when we then get that hydro and then in the winter we buy expensive medicines.
Matt DeCoursey 25:58
Entrepreneurial, I’m into that I mean if you get what you need out of it or whatever, and I believe it’s isn’t debt is it Denmark or Sweden or one of those two is like full on like 100% It’s the one mill those farms just round because of course they are like entire island is surrounded by just extremely windy seas.
Martin Lien 26:15
But ya know, I will say it was quite the culture shock. I had never even visited the US when I ended up coming to Will Dodgems International Airport in Oklahoma City to go to school at Oh US university Oklahoma.
Matt DeCoursey 26:37
Accent was gonna go Jayhawks, by the way. So we got to pay seniors for that one. But I just I we get to beat Oklahoma and basketball a lot and then not return the favor returned to us tenfold on the football field where we get destroyed. Yeah.
Martin Lien 26:55
I love how they always put Kansas first it’s not.
Matt DeCoursey 26:58
Yeah, well, the funny thing is, is with that, like yeah, all the other schools they really do are used to like Kansas is Kansas University has won more college basketball games than any other college in the history of college basketball. And I feel like in the history of college football, they may have lost more games. So most people in Kansas University fans don’t even like, oh, we have the joke like we have a football team. We have above all the analysts usually soccer. So yeah, that’s all. So you were out. So that was at Oklahoma University.
Martin Lien 27:29
Yeah, university Oklahoma, apparently back in 2015. When I started looking at schools, oh, you were top three in the world for undergrad entrepreneurship. So Norway covers a portion of school expenses. So just like looking at NYU Michigan a little bit more like the typical to come from Norway to but oh, you were not just perfect for entrepreneurship, but also the perfect price.
Matt DeCoursey 27:57
So with that, then you found Indiana University and there Yeah, well, that’s that and that’s one of the that’s one of the five colleges that I dropped out of by the way. There was the same way there are some schools that have very, very robust business and entrepreneurship programs and and I’m willing to bet that at ODU that was a legacy from an entrepreneur that probably funded the program to a huge amount of money, right?
Martin Lien 28:27
Matt DeCoursey 28:28
Do you know who that was? I know you.
Martin Lien 28:30
I believe it was the founder of love.
Matt DeCoursey 28:35
Oh the diaper or is that the way that the traffic places? Okay, that means like the convenience store gas station, okay. That’s kind of adjacent to oil. There’s a lot of oil in Oklahoma. We ours a lot of red dirt, all of the land. A lot of tornadoes unfortunately. And a robust and growing startup scene and Tulsa, which by the way, is a lot more robust than the one we found in Oklahoma City. So great, honestly, yeah, it was at IU it was at Indiana University. It’s the Kelley School of Business. So Ed Kelly left like 100 or 200 that huge I mean ton of money and he was the founder of steak and shake the restaurant chain and also the importer and marketer of pop off of vodka. And yeah, so he left huge amounts of money there and I can attest to the fact that it was a great program and what I liked about it was alright, so my business 101 professor wanted to CLL have steak and shake, which is a publicly traded company. That’s someone that had done it you know, when I did that I You’re gonna hear me ruffle feathers. When I say that, if you’re not an entrepreneur, you haven’t been. I don’t really mean, I’m harsh. really listening to your advice about entrepreneurship, because what a textbook says and what reality says are not the same. Like you go A to B to C to D to E to F to G and and in reality, you started at A, and had to jump to C, because B didn’t come to work because B was in a relationship with Dee and then they broke up and then V got mad. So now you have V Point One. You know, it’s just like it goes, there’s never a linear path to and nothing’s ever straightforward as an entrepreneur, in fact, hang out with me. And you always will. I’m constantly saying that it’s always something, it’s always something.
Martin Lien 30:39
Nobody does something, there’s always something so nobody comes to really do the same for investors. It’s like, there’s a lot of really good investors who have been operators, and I love talking with those. Because then in that case, like they know the struggle, like they know like your table, there are situations where you have to just button down the hatches, just make sure that you are ready for any new trouble that comes your way. But then there’s all this is like no, no, like right now, obviously, you just need to spend money and do this. And then you spend money on this. And it’s like, I don’t necessarily think that’s good advice. It usually always comes from, yeah, people who went into either just immediately into an investor or didn’t have the opportunity to work at a startup first and kind of feel that stress themselves.
Matt DeCoursey 31:24
I liked the advice when you get you’re like what you should do this. And you’re like, motherfucker, we’re trying man like, we’re not unaware, we’re not unaware of the ideal path to the outcome. You know, it’s not, it’s just not always that easy. And people said, Well, why not? People? People are why it’s not easy, like people are the problem and the solution in everyone’s business. What about all this automation? And oh, yeah, people work. They are the operators of that still. So yeah, that’s a challenge, then when it comes to raising capital, and I don’t know if this is accurate, but what we found is you’ve raised about $3.3 million. A lot of times I bring these quotes out and people like oh, it’s more than that. Now. I’m curious about what that process looked like for you, and, and what advice you could give listeners on that might be going down the same path.
Martin Lien 32:17
Yeah. So and actually, yeah, this would be one of those cases as well. I’ll have to amend that to 3.8. But yeah, we pulled out from from CrunchBase.
Matt DeCoursey 32:25
And sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it’s not.
Martin Lien 32:31
But ya know, so yeah, I would say like, when we started out, we were extremely young, like everybody straight from college. And I think it was tough to then ascertain that, like respect is on like, yeah, we are actual, true professional operators. And a lot of people keep using the same excuse. Whereas like, Well, honestly, though, I probably need to go to an accelerated first or I need to do this or that, to get that authority. Truth is the only authority you need is revenue. And if you can earn the product out there, and you can get the revenue, people stop asking you, well, do you really think you can do this? And they start asking, like, well, how much more can you do? And when they start asking those questions, you’re ready to race. So that’s really the best advice I have. Don’t seek funding, until you actually have a product. Like we started selling stuff door to door, like text marketing, door to door, we started talking to restaurant owners businesses, and really got the test in their hands. That got us to a point where we had 60k, about in revenue. And that wasn’t enough for us to show like, hey, we were growing 40% month over month, like, if we can do this, while all of us had full time jobs. And we were doing this just nights and weekends, what could we do full time. And that was really the only argument or pitch we needed. Of course, like from there on, it’s all about scale. And it gets a little complicated from there on because of course then it’s with established investors, same investors previously for previous rounds. And then of course, new lead investors as well. So that might be too complicated to give general advice, but why agree and disagree?
Matt DeCoursey 34:11
And I do, I’m gonna say the disagree part is is based on situational concerns, because, you know, because some things, and some founders and some products and some situations aren’t ever going to be able to get to having a product right so you get revenue, cut some things, some things that it without the product, you can’t create the revenue, it can be a challenge now where I where I do want to fully support. The approach though, is you it sounds to me like you guys focused on revenue as much if not more in the beginning than product now, there’s a in the world of sales, salespeople and managers and folks often say sales cures sales, sales is that Trump card, it’s that Shut up, you don’t have that objection, we’ve proved it card and a pitch meeting. And, you know, I once again went back to the kind of different content and stuff that I put out. I had a video at some point in the last month or so that talked about how not to wait too long. Because we get obsessed as builders and innovators and creators, we get obsessed with the product. And oftentimes forget, forget to sell and there’s this old, this fable or whatever you want to call it. It’s a story about a shopkeeper that never opens the store, he never gets around to opening the store because he’s too busy cleaning it. And that’s an important thing to remember, like, Don’t be that guy, because you got to get it out there. And it’s in fact, you get to the point where you are actually creating a huge detriment to your company in several different ways if you don’t get it out there, because if you keep building building building, I made this mistake a gigabyte we built there was a few things that we built before we launched that no one ended up using, and looking back at it like I mean, we could have been out there earlier, we could have played the time and effort of it. It just didn’t happen, the things didn’t land, they weren’t as important to the user, as we thought they were going to be. In fact, if I could go back and do it again, I would have obviously emulated more like a Calendly Oh, yes, hey, we got it, you know, hey, and you know, freemium at the time was there was a big debate with some of that. That’s a multibillion dollar company now and my Gigabook is not so who was right, they were, but there was a simplicity to it. That’s just like a bridge to Google, I tell a lot of people I’m like Calendly is probably better for you, because it’s not complex. The Gigabook was more of that. It’s Calendly on steroids. And, you know, in some cases what people need, and sometimes it’s not what not what they need to figure out like one or two of the biggest problems that your business can solve and get like a triple plus, it does. Because if you’re trying to be great at eight things before you’re good at one, you’re gonna be this C minus kind of thing, and product and company. And it’s just, you know, and by the way you talk about investors, they’re gonna see that, like, I give that advice to a lot of people that seek input, I’m like, you are trying to be good at six things. And I don’t see that you’re an expert at any of them yet.
Martin Lien 37:23
No, I think I mean, like to that caveat to like, there’s two situations where I think you shouldn’t get a product out there or shouldn’t get revenue until you have the foundation to be able to do so be cement factories, or it would be something that requires just immense experience that you don’t necessarily have which either I think isn’t necessarily a good premise, though. I think that’s probably where the fundamental kind of don’t launch your law firm before you’re a lawyer.
Matt DeCoursey 37:47
Yeah, exactly. office before you graduate from medical school, like those are those are those are like, layman’s examples of you’re like, Well, shit, I wouldn’t do that. Well, yeah. People do that all the time in the world of startups. Absolutely.
Martin Lien 38:04
I mean, then, on the flip side of that, though, what I taught a lot to our team, in general, is the hackathon mindset. If we have an idea of a new offering, get something out there in two days, if it can’t go out there in two days, like, now I’m talking like rudimentary, like, hey, if we need to get something like a advanced, like upgrade to our registration sheet, get a like, just a simple type form. But the questions that we need, send it out there, when people actually pay us for us to then handle that and register it, for instance, like that stuff, takes no time. But in fact, we can see revenue several times, even internally right now with our team, that’s gotten us to just get in front of customers to get feedback on what they didn’t like, and what they liked. And then immediately, I mean, some of them even made us $500 In the first week that we tested that. So it’s like that sort of stuff, I think people get a lot in their head. And that’s why I want to always challenge that because I think most of us get blocked in our head because we think it requires a developer or something advanced or like expertise that we don’t have. There’s so much no code out there. And there’s so many tools that you can just kind of like Wizard of Oz to prove that there is a demand for a frank and platform.
Matt DeCoursey 39:17
Yeah, that’s what I call it. Yeah. Really? Yeah. With me today, once again, I’ve got Martin Lee, and he’s the co-founder and CEO of Volt, one of Tulsa’s top startups. Go to Texas bolt.com. To learn more about what they do while they’re down there. Once you click some of the other links and see what myself and the other Startup Hustle hosts are doing on social media, it’s different from what you hear here. You might like it, you might not leave us a comment anyway. We’d love to talk about it. Well, Martin, as I like to end my episodes of Startup Hustle with what I call founders freestyle, and I’m essentially going to give you the mic and let you make closing remarks. So here you go.
Martin Lien 39:59
Thank you so much, man. Yeah, I would say if you’re looking to build any sort of SMS infrastructure in your software, definitely see us. We could either help your engineers and do it more professionally or even help take that off your hand. And, of course, right now, be aware of the changes that are coming down with SMS, and make sure that you’re protecting against T Mobile trying to find your $10,000. And ensure, of course, if you’re building a startup, Frankenstein it up, and get the demand before you build it.
Matt DeCoursey 40:29
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of, you know, for my freestyle, I think there’s a lot of good takeaways here. I think that you know, when you talk about, you know, Martin starts his business solving a problem that he was aware of, and, you know, there’s a lot of services and things out there, you’re talking about monitoring something, someone else’s activities, and things. And there’s a lot of clap light connection to third-party platforms that exist without intermediaries, without effective monitoring with a lot of stuff like that. And remember, like, just because you’re in Tulsa, which like our Kansas City, or like, I mean, these aren’t the top names or city names that come out of people’s mouths when they talk about startups. Great. That was how my people liked blushing. You know, all these years ago, when we moved back to Kansas City from India, my wife and I lived in Indianapolis, and we’re like, Should we move to Austin? Should we move to San Francisco now? No, why not? Just Kansas? The city’s great. It’ll be a lot easier to stand out there. Oh, yeah. And a lot of merit to that, like and being able to and then you know, and look you met you will also allude to something about the simplicity of the market, meaning there’s, everyone knows each other, I feel like it’s that way in Casey. And there are a lot of ways people are here. We have this term called Midwest Nice, which I don’t always fall into. So sometimes, I piss people off because I’m too honest or candid about stuff. But you know, there’s, there’s, if you talk to people from San Francisco, they will tell you how open and amenable people are to meet each other, and they’re just in this really densely packed space, it makes it even easier. Well, it’s like that and a lot of cities too, but like you’re not gonna get the help that you need, or want, or the partnership or the investment or anything. If you don’t get out there and start meeting and talking to people. If you can’t be a big deal and the town you’re in, why are you going to be a big deal somewhere else? So get to know the people that are around you that you’ll find there? They are huge assets. They are referral partners for you later. They’re someone to call and cry to on some days. And these are all important things to be successful as a startup founder, Martin. Thanks again for joining me, and congrats on making it onto our top startup lists.
Martin Lien 42:50
Thank you so much, Matt.