Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies.
I’m very excited today because I’m here with Dan Martell. Dan is the founder of Flowtown. Flowtown helps companies recruit their best customers and turn them into their best marketers.
With that said, Dan, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.
Dan: I’m Canadian and I moved here to San Francisco about two and a half years ago. I’m from a province called New Brunswick in Canada. I’ve been doing startups for about 10 years. My last startup I started in 2004 which was finally my success after a series of craters. It was called Spirit Technologies. I started it in ’04, grew it to about 30 employees by 2008, and I sold it in May of that year.
Then I took some time off, bootstrapped it 100%. It was a good outcome. Then I decided to move to San Francisco to see if any of my ideas would hold with some of the smartest people in the world. I wanted to focus more on what I call [inaudible 1:21] more in enterprise, so I wanted to learn how to get people to use my product based on the quality of the software, not based on the quality of the relationship, which is very much traditional enterprise sales. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two and a half years.
Matthew: What makes Flowtown unique? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Dan: The problem we’re trying to solve is that most companies already have existing customers. We call them ambassadors, fans, supporters, or even champions. What we’re trying to do is help a business understand who are these people in their community, both in the store as well as on social, and then leverage those people to have them support you by potentially getting you new customers.
We have a whole feature set that we’ve been building around that. We haven’t launched yet so some of the unique ways we’re going to do that is have yet to be discussed, but that’s the general sense. How do you turn your best customers into your best marketers?
Matthew: We’ve covered a little bit of your background and the overview of Flowtown. As a domain expert, can you share with our audience a bit about the technology and market trends that currently exist and where you see things developing in the future for your space?
Dan: The space that we’re in at a macro level is social marketing. I think that encompasses everything from social media monitoring to social message tools like HootSuite to TweetDeck, social analytics, much like KISSmetrics, I would say awe.sm and bitly. There are a bunch of people in the space.
Then there’s the social commerce part which is kind of creeping out, is the new way of doing E-Commerce. Things like Groupon and other players. We just think that there’s enough data out there, and that’s our mission. There’s a big enough audience in regards to the social graph. For people on Facebook, check-ins and location are becoming more prevalent, as well as mobile. It’s on an upward growth curve. I think if you look at social graph, check-ins and location plus mobile, there is a huge opportunity for many companies and many existing industries you can [inaudible 3:31]. That’s the area we’re focused on.
Matthew: Can you tell us what inspired you to start Flowtown? How did you come across the idea? Was there an ‘a-ha’ moment or did you do a bunch of research that led to the opportunity? What’s the story behind Flowtown?
Dan: It’s actually quite an interesting one. I moved here for a year to focus on building, to understand social marketing. I essentially moved and spent a year, 12 months, doing a sabbatical, trying to understand how people got user adoption, user acquisition. How did they get people to convert into paying customers? My background being as a programmer transitioning to a marketer, how can I learn as fast as possible?
I met some of the world’s best people, like Sean Ellis at Baker, Andrew Chen, guys that have been doing this and pioneering these kinds of art forms, if you want to call it that. I just wanted to learn, so while I was doing that I was helping other startups as an advisor, as a friend. I also do some angel investing so I did that as a supplemental role on top of that. I would sit down and help companies. After awhile I realized all of the startups were really focused on social because social is free. I like to call it ‘free like a puppy’ because even if I gave you a puppy it’s not necessarily free. There’s a time component.
There were opportunities amongst how they were executing their social strategies. The ones that were doing it right were doing it subconsciously and the ones that were doing it wrong didn’t realize the amount of time sync. I just thought there was a better way to solve that problem and build a product that did that.
Matthew: Who are your co-founders and how did you meet? What qualities were you looking for in a co-founder and how did you know they’d be a good fit?
Dan: I don’t have a rule for co-founders. People say this all the time, but it’s like dating. I think that analogy is overused. For me, it’s really, “Do I trust this person unconditionally?” Trust is number one. I’d rather have somebody I can trust 100% that might be at 80% of someone else’s talent level, than the opposite. At the end of the day, especially at co-founding level, where you’re trusting this person to represent your company, to represent your ideas, communicate, share the same vision, all these things, that’s a huge ask.
I see a lot of startups that fail not because they didn’t figure out the product or the market; they essentially imploded on themselves because the co-founders did not see eye-to-eye and they hadn’t worked together long enough to figure that out.
My co-founder is Ethan Block. I first met Ethan because of his passion for podcasting. He had created an indie, independent podcast and [inaudible 6:17] got distribution on revision three. So that was step one. Did Ethan have passion? 100% hands down. When I was doing these projects with other startups, helping them with the social marketing, Ethan was really curious because he’d gotten a lot of success with his online distribution. He was seeing that what I was doing was more engineer-focused and he wanted to get involved.
Honestly, Flowtown was Ethan. He saw what I was doing. I showed him the ideas. He said, “I want to do a startup.” I said, “Well, I’m not sure what I want to do just yet. I’m still studying.” He started Flowtown. I helped him with it. I got super-active and within six weeks that was it. I was an investor first and then a co-founder, and we’ve been working on it non-stop for two years.
That’s how I met my co-founder. I don’t think there’s any right path other than to look for somebody that’s passionate and that you can trust.
Matthew: I know that you’re not yet launched yet, but from idea to prototype, how long has it taken you?
Dan: We like to push stuff out there ASAP. This is our third iteration of Flowtown. Flowtown Version 1 was a landing page app. That’s a longer story, but still in marketing and kind of social, we just wanted to start with email. Version 2 was a tool that allowed people to take an email marketing list, upload it to our system and then we would show them all the social and demographic data they had and allow them to use that to create marketing campaigns.
This next version is, again, leveraging everything we’ve learned but how do we introduce a product that’s approachable to a larger audience and it solves a real need, which is getting new customers. That’s always been our philosophy. As soon as we have an idea we try, within a two week period, to put something in front of real users. That’s always been true. And something can be as simple as a wire frame. It could be where we’ll physically print something off and go to a business and hand it to them and see if they follow up whatever that call to action was on that thing.
We’ve been known for just testing the idea as fast as possible with real people. Steve Lang talks about this; no idea survives first contact with the customer. So we want to get that first contact out quick.