We're building Avocode for tens of thousands designers and front-end developers. We know that in order to improve various workflows we have to understand various businesses. That's why we created a Lesson Learned series where we investigate 3 things:
Our first guest was Douglas Lusted. He is the CEO of Linkett, a company that helps marketers assess and improve the performance of Digital Signage advertising within locations such as malls and airports. It uses Internet-connected sensors to recognize smartphones in order to analyze the performance of ads through traffic and behavioral smartphone data.
My grandfather was not really an entrepreneur, but he did work for himself. I thought that was really badass. When someone asked him what he does, he said I'm a business owner. I wanted to be a business owner too.”
“I always wanted to be an inventor. Ever since I was five I wanted to do things on my own, I wanted to make money on my own - so you could say that I felt like an entrepreneur even as a kid.”
I never wanted to be average. I never wanted to make 100K a year, live in the suburbs, have two kids and live a normal quiet life - that scares the shi** out of me.”
"I grew up in Toronto and went to University of Waterloo in Canada, where I studied Business and Environment. I got quickly wrapped up in the tech scene in Waterloo. Soon I started an advertising company to pay my way through school and I quickly realized that all of the data analytics that online advertisers have, offline advertisers don't. I got hired by an offline advertising company that did billboard advertising to put together a proposal as to how they would be able to get analytics. Once I presented this proposal, they offered to acquire my company."
I showed them what I was doing in online and they told me - we need you to do this in offline too. And I realized there is a way.”
"While all of this was going down, I attended a pitch conference at the University of Waterloo. I was 19 years old back then. I pitched the same idea to the Velocity Venture Fund and I ended up winning the competition along with 25K."
I didn't have anything. I just had a deck.”
"That's when I realized that there is credibility to this idea - not only a company wanted to buy my business but I also won a pitch competition for it. In 2014, I partnered with two guys in Waterloo - one was an ex-Blackberrry guy who was sort of a mentor to the company, the other was Vlad, who holds a master degree in artificial intelligence. Together we founded Linkett and applied for our first few patents. We also went through an accelerator at the University of Toronto and raised some venture capital."
"We had to pivot quite a bit from our original concept - a technology called NFC to push content to peoples’ phones. From that we got some analytics, but not really good ones. It turns out that you get better analytics not from pushing content to phones but from gathering content from phones. So we moved from a NFC push product to a Wi-fi pull product, which was quite a challenge. We launched the actual product in late 2015."
“The University of Waterloo has a co-op program, so if you hire a student, they get to work for you from 4-8 months and they are relatively cheap, so we hired a bunch of engineers from the University of Waterloo and the Canadian government therefore gave us a $3,000 tax credit for each person we hired for four months.”
"In Spring 2016, I got an e-mail from Elizabeth Yin, from 500 Startups, that she and her colleague Chelsea Ng are in Waterloo searching for companies for the next batch. We talked a bit and with the vision of Silicon Valley capital know-how I knew I had to apply. So after a few Skype interviews we actually got in. When we got to the accelerator we had 10 paying customers. After three months we quadrupled our customer base and we keep growing at 61% month-over-month. That reflects in a recently closed investment from Niagara Angel Network.”
Robert helped us realize that we are a highly sales-driven organization, yet our sales cycle is pretty long. That's why we started calling all of our customers on a weekly basis and asked them for feedback.. Once we get one or two of them to pay for the development of a new feature, we build it."
We are not just building features for free. If it's a big enough problem, someone should write a cheque for it. Obviously there is a difference between bugs and features. Bugs we fix instantly for free.”
“Robert from 500 Startups really installed that mentality. A common problem for many startups is that they build too many features instead of one really good feature, so you end up with ten half-ass features.”
What we're actually focusing on right now is removing features. We're trying to learn what is a filler, what we do need versus we don't need.”
“Robert also helped us tremendously with our pitch deck. He would literally stay until 11pm at the office with me going over our presentation. It was amazing to see his dedication to startups in action.”
“We're acquiring customers faster than we expected so the accelerator worked in this sense. However, getting customers is different from onboarding them - that is tough. So in order to manage them we hired a Head of Customer Success. We've also hired a Head of Growth, because 500 Startups has taught us all these wicked marketing techniques, but the founders didn't have the time to implement them. He is also responsible for all of our online marketing. The third person we hired was a Head of Sales, because we have so many leads coming in now that I cannot handle them all. It's the worst feeling ever as a CEO, when people call you and you literally don't have enough time to call them back - that's how busy we are. Luckily, our new Head of Sales has been a great help and now it seems like we're doing OK.
Fun fact is that we've hired all of these people in the Valley. Canada is in huge push right now to become a big technology player. A lot of the amazing talent that's in Silicon Valley is actually from Canada, for example one of the Uber co-founders is Canadian, and also Hootsuite and Blackberry are Canadian, but it's still really hard to find good sales people in Canada. I was doing interviews both in Canada and in the Valley where we have our offices. We gave everyone a fair shot, but the Silicon Valley locals were considerably better at sales than everyone else. However, they were also considerably more expensive."
We want to be the pioneering an analytics platform for digital out-of-home advertising. Basically what Google Analytics is for online advertising we want to be for offline advertising.”
“The core of our product is done and now it's time for tweaking and improving. Our CTO is currently tweaking the existing ideas rather than coming up with new ones based on customer feedback. We're growing our customer base 61% month-over-month so we want to make sure we keep on that track. We also want to grow our existing accounts, because right now we have a lot of massive companies on board who are still putting in small and medium-sized orders.
We can already do some visionary things. Not only can we collect data, but based on the data about whoever is watching the screen, we can change what is on the screen.”
It's exactly like Minority Report.”
“That is the future. I mean, data is great, but what you can do with it is really cool.”
“We don't really punch the clock at Linkett. It's also not mandatory to show up to our office, which a lot of people think is crazy. However, I assign each employee one metric that I ask about every week. One metric that defines their success. I don't want a big report, you have one job, so I want one metric. Everything below that, I appreciate that, but I don't have to know about it every week.”
We're a metric driven company. Not a cubical driven company.”
We're pretty basic. We use:
“Well, I can surely give you my version of how it works. Say, we have multiple customers asking for a feature. I'll call my CTO frantically, and I will literally whiteboard a really ugly illustration and say 'make this work!'. Then we hire a contractor to do the UX design of the feature and then one of our developers picks it up to make that a reality. Until now, both the designer and the developer had difficulties with the hand-off. Things would get lost in the e-mail communication and finishing a project took forever.”
When we stumbled upon Avocode, we got rid of this pain.”
“Finally we have everything in one place. As I said earlier, we are a sales driven organization, so it's great to save some time with clever tools and use that time where we really need right now, to keep our numbers high.”
Would you like to tell us about your business and workflow? Share your story with us at firstname.lastname@example.org