SaaS Founder Interview with David Pawlan, Founder of Aloa
Tony Zayas 0:06
Hey everybody, welcome to the tech founders show happy Tech Tuesday. Smarties is here joined by Andy Halko. We, on this show, we talked to tech founders who are really doing some incredible things that are changing the way we work and live. And before we dive in to talk about our today’s guest, Eddie, how you doing?
David Pawlan 0:27
I’m good. I was gone for a week, Tony. I barely remember anything that we’ve ever talked about. So you’re gonna have to get me waiting back into the pool here today.
Tony Zayas 0:37
Yeah, you were disconnected and off the grid for a week. So what does that feel like?
David Pawlan 0:42
Oh, pretty good. Yellowstone baby. Lots of bears, and bison and all kinds of fun stuff. But I am excited to get back and I’m excited about today’s show. I think we’ve got another another fantastic guest and a really cool conversation. So
Tony Zayas 0:58
yeah, so with that, today’s guest is David Pawlan. He’s the founder or co founder, I believe of ALOA. It’s a platform for outsourcing software development for startups. And so he’s doing some really cool things. Let me bring him in here. Hey, David, how you doing? Doing well. Good to see you, Tony, Andy, nice to see you as well. You’re very cool. So just to get started, tell us a little bit about ALOA and what you guys are all about. And we’ll kind of go from there.
David Pawlan 1:27
Yes. So ALOA is a platform for outsourcing software development for startups. We got into the space so so it’s, uh, myself and four other co founders, we actually started ALOA while we were in college. We were building out apps kind of doing student tech consulting ourselves. And we were looking to expand our dev team. And it was just a nightmare. We couldn’t afford US devs because we were in college, we didn’t have any income. And we started looking overseas. And as we were looking overseas, you know, all we heard was horror story after horror story. And being a team of three of us are technical, we were having troubles outsourcing ourselves. And so that’s when kind of the light bulb came up, popped off and said, you know why, why is it at that time 2018. And the most remote industry out there is the one that we have the hardest time working with in a remote setting? That really makes sense to us. And so our high level mission is to create a world where anyone can innovate freely. And we saw software as a massive barrier to innovation, especially for non technical those who don’t have venture funding. And so that’s really, that’s really where ALOA came from, was was born out of that pain point, that problem of accessing cost efficient and predictable software development.
Andy Halko 2:50
Truly, he talked about the why there, what’s the how, you know, so yeah, how do you how does the platform help?
David Pawlan 2:59
Yeah, absolutely. So we approach the space a little differently, really focused on a problem oriented perspective, rather than the solution oriented perspective. So we have a three pronged process. The first is our partner network. The second is our platform. And the third is the strategist. Partner Network, first proble, how do you know who to trust? How do you know who did that out there, there’s hundreds and 1000s of firms and millions of developers. And especially if you aren’t technical, when you interview a developer, you’re commonly putting way too much weight on variables that aren’t necessarily the ones you should be qualifying a candidate on. So we’ve vetted through 1000s of firms around the world, we have qualified only 11 firms so far to be within our network. We work with firms and freelancers overseas, because we found that firms tend to be more relationship focused, and we’re very relationship focused company. It also gives our clients a little bit more flexibility to scale up, scale down their team and reduce kind of that onboarding pain point. So that’s the partner network, we pair up our clients with one of our partners depending on, you know, who best fits the profile that they need. Second piece of the puzzle is the platform. We used every project management tool out there. Most outsource relationships are either managed in something like JIRA or a chat thread. The problem with the former is that JIRA is horribly complex, and it’s great for Dev to Dev. But when you aren’t technical, it really doesn’t help provide greater transparency, it commonly just makes people more overwhelmed. And the issue with the latter being the chat thread, just horribly an organized, it’s way too easy to get things lost. So we picked apart pieces of every different platform out there and put together our own management tool that’s really focused on transparency. accountability, makes it super easy. So you don’t even have to be technical to manage your dev team. Everything’s in layman’s terms and super easy to navigate, as well as our payment platforms. even have to do with foreign transaction fees or exchange rates, we handle that in our site. The last piece is on the strategists. What we found was that so many of these outsourcing groups are trying to make everything automated. But the issue is that the more humanity you pull out of the equation, the higher the chance of, you know, a not necessarily seamless experience. And so we’re trying to put a little bit of that humanity back into the equation. The strategist is there to understand the client gets to know them their business, make sure that they have someone here in the states who they can reach out to if they need any help or support, we pair them up with the right firm. And then the biggest gap of software outsourcing is that there is no global standard for development best practices. And so what that means is you could be working with a firm who has great reviews, but they’re really used to developing with a certain strategy that doesn’t necessarily align well for you. There’s tons of technical complexities to explain why but won’t take up our time with that here. But essentially, what we’ll do is we’ll build out custom strategies for each clients. And then every other week, an internal ALOA tech lead, will do an audit on the on the firm to make sure that we are adhering to the client strategies, so we can be preventative rather than reactive.
Andy Halko 6:17
That’s really awesome. I think it’s interesting, this strategy for you guys, because, you know, as I’ve seen, the trend over the years is a lot of software platforms and companies tried to go towards automation, and like you said, pulling the human element out of it sounds like you’ve really embraced the idea of, okay to be successful, you need to be hybrid, you need to have service and platform, you know, together integrated for folks to be successful. Is that kind of the thinking behind your approach?
David Pawlan 6:46
A 100%. Yeah, so there’s, we definitely have a ton of stuff automated. And it’s it being a business owner, it’s a smart decision to try and automate as much as you can. But there kind of comes that that threshold, that point of inflection, where the automation is now actually serving as a detriment, because it’s now pulling out those components that only a human could, you know, really fulfill, such as pairing you up with the right partner firm. It takes someone to first understand you as a business, what your you know, development environments are that you’re looking for. And then look for a partner firms and make sure we do that proper pairing. So you’re working with the right people. So it’s, there’s definitely a lot of automation in the process. But there’s really critical components that really just do require a personal touch. And it’s important to us that just because you’re a startup, just because you’re not technical just because you don’t have funding, that shouldn’t mean that you don’t get that white glove type experience of a successful and seamless software relationship.
Andy Halko 7:47
kind of curious, have you found any challenges in building out the service platform hybrid? You know, is it from whether it’s building the right team or the way that you have to sell into folks? Or are there other things that you’ve run into trying to build a business that is this hybrid of service and software?
David Pawlan 8:12
Yeah, definitely. So the The fun thing about our business is that everything is built off of pain points. And that was that was one way that we wanted to be different, we didn’t want to just come to the market with a blanket solution, we wanted to have a reason as to why everything we were doing was in place, everything has to be solving a specific pain point. So everything of our process is really built on the past experiences that we’ve had with our initial clients. Three years ago, two years ago, with each experience every single week, we’re always logging pain points, we have a pain point table internally, that everyone in our team is required to log anytime you feel any pain point, you log it on the platform. And then we review that on a weekly basis. Let’s see what the pain points are. And let’s see what the common underlying themes are. And based off those pain points, we then build out that those solutions. So whether it be you know, three years ago, a strategist could handle maybe three to five clients max. But because of the pain points that we log, we were able to build out a lot of automation on the platform that now allows a strategist to handle around 20 to 25 clients. Another example on the more humanity side, a pain point being we would see some client fires popping up, you know, closer to project wrap up and and some things that we kept identifying, just saying, okay, well, why are these issues continuing to pop up? And that’s really what influenced the audit process, which is very human oriented, having someone who goes in every other week and does that verification to make sure that we’re following proper strategy and protocol. It’s that helped, you know, mitigate that pain point of fires. So everything is intentional. And that’s that’s the thing that I personally really love it and find a lot of fun is that everything of our process is, is there for a reason, nothing’s just, it’s not like we just built out a bunch of bells and whistles and said, you know, come use the service. Every single bell and whistle that has been built has a functional purpose behind it.
Tony Zayas 10:19
Curious along the lines of addressing pain points, obviously the solution is, you know, taking away a large hurdle that people have that are non technical, they want to develop something, they have a concept and we have what has been the most common challenge that new you guys have been able to solve? What are like, what are some of the most common examples, you have clients coming to you that have a need? They’re not technical, but you know, you’ve you’ve helped them get over that hurdle hurdle by bringing them up with the right team? What is the what’s the challenge that you’re seeing most often?
David Pawlan 10:59
Yeah, so, you know, the first important distinction is distinguishing between those clients who aren’t technical, versus clients who are technical and have a CTO and I need more just, you know, efficient dev support that we can just help them on, because they know that we have the process and structure in place. So for those clients, really not facing as many of these you know, technical hurdles, so to speak. For the non technical clients, the the biggest one is really the first step of any software relationship. And if you aren’t technical, the most important thing that you need to do is you need to learn how to write a user story. It’s essentially a way for you to articulate what you’re trying to build in plain english, but in a way that a developer will still understand everything that you’re doing. Assumptions are the most dangerous thing to to make in in software, because especially Overseas Development, because you’re not only now kind of combating just general assumptions that people have, but now you’re also intermixing different cultural differences in perspectives. And if you just say, I want to build an app that does XYZ, well, that can mean something totally different to the person on the on the other line. So what we first do with non technical clients is we teach them how to write a user story. So user story is where you first identify the user type. And then you break it down. So you have modules within each module, there are features within each feature, there are actions and every action can have sub actions and sub actions, etc, etc. And it’s basically a way for you to really put yourself in the shoes of your user, and write out in plain english every single step that can really be taken in a very clean and organized manner. That way, your mission and vision and what you’re trying to build is properly articulated. Because at the end of the day, you as the business owner, you know, your business and what you’re trying to build better than anyone else will will ever know it, it’s your it’s your dream. So it’s really important that, you know, we teach these non technical clients, how to articulate those dreams in a way that a developer will understand.
Andy Halko 13:12
It’s very cool. Yeah, that seems spot on. I mean, I think, I think that in everything you said it was software, but assumptions, the word assumptions mean is a is a powerful word. Because in marketing in, you know, human resources, everything. And so I really find that intriguing. You know, that you’ve looked at that from the software perspective, because that is a huge pain point, I think people have had is that their developers make assumptions and that you’ve really solved that pain point. That’s, that’s the intention. That’s the hope. I’m curious to go back to the origin story a little bit. You talked about, you know, you and your co founders in college and, and and your pain point that started this. But what did the startup look like? What What was the first, you know, two months up to let’s start a business? And then what did the first six months look like of, you know, how do we do this? How do we come up with a platform and a service? And how do we find the first client? Like, what did that period look like?
David Pawlan 14:18
Yeah, that’s a it’s a great question. So it was, it was pretty a giant smorgasbord of all these different avenues we were taking. So the current co founding team we have wasn’t always the team that was working on ALOA. So starting off at the very beginning of my personal college career, so I was working on a mobile app called room E, it was like a roommate searching app for incoming college students. Think of it like almost like a Tinder but for roommate searching, and one of my co founders Christian Roroque, so he was we were part of the same business fraternity, we got to know each other, we’re working on that together. And then that kind of fizzled out. But we enjoyed working together, we knew we would work together again one day, I kind of went and started doing my own thing was was getting sucked into more of the corporate, bubble, and Christian as well as Dawei, and Brian, we’re working on some other apps. So they had kind of just different fun apps they were working on. One of them was more oriented in the food space, one was oriented in like social calendar type stuff, just messing around having fun. They ended up bringing riesen, who’s the other founder as CTO, and again, continued to just build out different apps. And through that process, as they were working on it, that’s when they really stumbled upon the pain point. Now, at that point, they were, they were one year out of college, three of them were one year out of college, one was two years out of college, and I was a senior. And it was the start of my senior year, I was talking to Christian telling him that, you know, the corporate lifestyle wasn’t really going for me, and he said, Hey, man, you should, uh, everyone, we said, we were gonna work together one day, yeah, you should, you should join the team. So that’s all I got that involved in, in the founding team. And at that point, it was a very different company, we did not have. We did, we were nowhere near what we’re at today, in terms of kind of the strength of what we were doing, it was very manual, really kind of putting on that interface of what we want it to be kind of the fake until you make it dollarway, who’s our head of sales, he was really kind of working on building out that sales process, it was a ton of cold emails, sending out tons and tons of cold emails jumping on a crazy amount of cold calls. Most of them really not leading anywhere. But the advice that was given to us by some mentors, was that in your early days, as a company, your metrics for success for cold emails shouldn’t necessarily be closing deals, it should be brand awareness, it should be getting your name out there. So as long as you’re jumping out of call, as long as you’re telling people what you do, you’re getting one more person who may potentially talk to talk about you. And so that’s, that’s what the intention of that early early set, cold calling should be. So I was you know, I would be in the cafeteria, I was always on calls my buddies that always, you know, make fun of me, you know, call me out, go David’s on calls, again. Just try to talk with as many people as I could, sending out tons of emails. The other guys were were grinding as well working on the product, trying to build out those features as we were working through those initial clients. So those early clients, we had eyes that were, you know, many more eyes on each relationship. So we could talk more feedbacks. One of our first clients actually came from, from lift Dawei was driving for Lyft. And Uber, and one of his passengers came in the car, and they were talking and us telling you know her about the startup. And it turns out that that was one of our first clients. So it’s, it’s all it’s all a pretty great story. And all, you know, just slowly came together.
Tony Zayas 18:13
That’s really cool. I would just I’d be curious, you know, all the cool outreach you guys were doing, who are you originally targeting? And then how has that changed over time with audiences that you guys are going after, for sure.
David Pawlan 18:28
So we originally were targeting startups, early stage startups, so we used angellist, we would go on it. We you know, segmented out different cities as to what are primary, secondary, tertiary, etc, you know, markets were and that when I would split up the the, the, the cities, and we would take each city and we would go through angellist, every day, just look through the new post company postings. And if you were an early stage startup that was not funded or pre seed, and you know, one or two team members, then you were our first ideal candidate. Advice that was given to us by a mentor was it’s better to build something that a few people love, rather than a lot of people like, if you build something that a lot of people like you’re getting way too generic, you’re not actually going to find that true product market fit, do something that a few people love, build that product market fit and then expand from there. So we really took that to heart, really isolated our search down to pre seed not funded early stage one, two founders. That’s it. And those were the companies that we would call cold cold call and cold outreach. As we grew, we slowly tried to expand that outreach. And we’ve tried tons of different you know, methods but ultimately, the main channels now for us, referrals is our biggest. So we get most of our clients through referrals, which is being on on the company side. It’s a fantastic sales channel and it’s you know, every time we get to referral is just great validation that we are kind of helping people innovate in a in a successful manner. And the second channel would be through Google ads. So we started some ad campaigns, and also through a blog. So we have a blog on our site. We post about one to two blogs a week, really just about startups and general content. So we’ve been able to grow it to about 12,000 or so monthly organic viewers, but always working to kind of build that and just further ourselves as an authoritative voice at the space.
Andy Halko 20:33
Yeah, I think it’s interesting, the product market fit. conversation. And I, I, you know, I bring this up with almost all of our founders that we talk about is that it’s hard to find that product market fit because one you don’t necessarily know and see if the test some things out. But you also have a big vision of what could it be? And who could we speak to? And I’m sure having multiple co founders, there’s some debate and discussion around those types of things. So, you know, how did you guys have that conversation about? You know, let’s find our right market fit? Or was there any logic behind it? Was there any, like, you know, methodology that you use? or How did you guys approach that thought process of let’s narrow mark and find who’s the right fit?
David Pawlan 21:23
Definitely. So it’s a great point, there were there were three main things that I would say kind of drove us to achieve kind of that product market fit in a more efficient manner. Before I say anything, I don’t even think we have perfect product market fit yet. You know, only like he does exactly only the biggest companies out there can really say that they have product market fit unless you’re you know, 1000s of employees, and you’re really just exploding. Yeah, you found product market fit. So it’s some it’s always a work in progress. I mean, I think that’s, you know, the biggest thing just for any tech founder is that you can be five years in and you should still always be working on product market fit. There are three main things though, that I would say the first is our mission, we made sure that we are mission focused, take the greed out of business, and things are a lot easier. We don’t really care as much about making money quickly, we care more about changing the world. And we think we can change the world through creating easier pathway to innovation for anyone. Imagine what the world could be if doctors or whoever didn’t need a technical background had a brilliant software idea. And they could just go do it. So that’s the first thing is everyone is really aligned on our mission, as every decision we make needs to get us taking one step further towards creating a world where anyone can innovate freely. Second, second, and third are more of just kind of other, you know, startup lines that that you’ll commonly hear. The first is fail fast, fail frequent. It’s about just doing something getting it out there. And if you fail, awesome, you found one way, that doesn’t work. So now you’re one step closer. And that’s the beauty of being in love with the problem rather than the solution. If you’re in love with the solution, if you face uou know, one roadblock, you’re you’re, you’re pretty, you’re pretty frustrated, upset about it. Whereas if you’re in love with a problem, and you face a roadblock, you’re pretty excited, because you just found one way that doesn’t solve that problem. So now you can move on to the next attempt. So fail fast fail frequent is definitely is definitely a big one. And the other one is that if you aren’t embarrassed by your MVP, then it’s not an MVP. That’s like my favorite line, especially, you know, being in this space and working with founders, they day in and day out. Everyone wants everything to be perfect. You want to get it out there, you want it to be this, you know, beautiful, immaculate thing. But at the end of the day, you need to focus on iteration, you need to get something out there in the hands of users, and users are pretty forgiving. And if you aren’t embarrassed by your MVP, then it’s simply not an MVP, you spent way too much time on it, and you just wasted effort that you could have been using towards gathering feedback and iterating in the proper way.
Andy Halko 24:16
Yeah, I totally agree with those two, you know, fail fast and being embarrassed by your MVP, you know, but as you were talking, I was kind of thinking about it fail fast. I totally agree with the mentality and I’ve used that approach. But I’ve also, you know, as I think about it, have seen people that fail so fast that they didn’t really learn the right lesson, or, you know, they missed, they missed understanding what they were failing at, if that makes sense. Like they go into it in depth. What do you think about that just kind of high level of, you know, what’s the right way to handle failing fast is it you know, how do you make sure that you’re failing right?
David Pawlan 25:02
And yeah, yeah, it’s it’s so important to fail, right? And that’s like, it feels weird to say that you can fail in the right way by all right.
Andy Halko 25:12
It’s, it sounds, my new phrase that I’m coin, a coin,
David Pawlan 25:14
coin it, it’s yours. So, if you fail, and you don’t take time to reflect on that failure, then it is a failure. Every failure gives provides you an opportunity to learn, and then that’s where the value comes from failures. So how do you derive value from each experience? You’ll reflect back on it. Take notes, think back, what happened. What went wrong? How did you get there? What steps did you take? Where did you start feeling the pain points? What were the pain points, start just kind of, you know, doing that analysis as to what actually what went down what happened and derive your so what? What can you do next time to avoid that. If you don’t know what you can do next time to avoid that, talk to the people talk to whoever you are interacting with talk to other people who were involved in that failure with you. If you aren’t going to take some learning out of the failure, then it’s a wasted experience. You know, every single brilliant tech entrepreneur or just entrepreneur, generally speaking that you talk to, has some crazy failure story. Everyone has failures. That’s how entrepreneurs are able to continue climbing the ladder, is because they learn from experience, and they figure it out as they go along. Nobody knows everything. And once you can kind of embody the fact that nobody, nobody is truly an expert at anything. And there’s always room for disruption. And there’s always ways to figure out a better way to do it, or whatever it be, you know, just be just be a lifelong student and study your failures and figure out what that so what is derive some value from it.
Andy Halko 26:53
That’s the book that we’re going to co write is, if you don’t feel right, it’s a failure. Um, it was confusing block ever. lock me in.
Tony Zayas 27:06
David, David, just shift gears a little bit. You know, on this show, we’d like to talk about, you know, innovations that we’re seeing out there. And given what you guys are doing, I’m sure you’re seeing a bunch of really cool things being developed. I love to hear some of the things you’re seeing some of the trends, you know, your clients what, what’s going on out there.
David Pawlan 27:28
Yeah, definitely. So I mean, innovation is just the coolest thing. I’m obsessed with technology, it’s it’s so cool. Just seeing how quickly humanity is advancing and finding different ways to solve issues. We’ve done some pretty cool and fun projects. One project what is more of like an augmented reality, where I can’t necessarily share everything with each client just because of the contract. But you know, there’s different augmented reality applications where you know, you you scan something, and it gives you a virtual tour, as an example, or there’s other clients were during the COVID, and the pandemic, they were creating a way to let cities better track where symptoms are being logged. So they could figure out how to better mobilize, you know, first responders and health support. So that was a nice altruistic, you know, advancement and endeavor to be on. One thing that ALOA was is working on is ALOA pay. And we’re actually working on spinning that out as a as a new business as a SaaS product. We’re currently building our waitlist, and we should be live with our beta and around three to four weeks, but we’ve been using ALOA pay ourselves for the past two years or so two and a half years. We built it again, because of pain points. We were it was taking us a while to collect on invoices, and everyone was using credit cards. And it really blew our mind. We looked at everything and we said, okay, let’s look at invoicing as an industry. There hasn’t been any innovation and b2b invoicing since email was invented. So 1978 was the most recent innovation with b2b invoicing, it’s still done the same way you fill out the invoice, you send an email to someone, it sits in their inbox, sales team has to keep following up until they find that invoice, then they pay it and then they pay you and you don’t know when they pay you until it actually hits your bank. So there’s no transparency or control. It was a horrible process. And we thought there there should be a better way and the vision that we had was, let’s take the b2c payment model and let’s bring it to b2b. So for example, Amazon Starbucks Chipotle a right like they all have their own payment application, because it gives them control. You have the one click pay which Amazon generates, I think it’s around like 2.5 bill annually from their one click pay, they can control their fees and any additional fees they want to charge or who takes the credit card fee, they control their data, their invoicing, their follow ups, everything is automated. And so that’s currently, we had some clients who really liked it. The the funny line that we would hear a few times was that we made it way too easy for our clients to pay us. And and that just kind of made us laugh. And we were like, Okay, well, this could be something good. And we had some clients asked to use it themselves. So now we’re splitting it out into its own product, where you as a business, you can now have that one, click pay for your invoices, you can have automated follow up sequences, you don’t have to have a sales team, you know, doing the dirty work, you can change the transaction fees, you can take it all yourself, you can put it on the client, you can split it 50 50, you can adjust it however you want, you can add a percentage, if you want to try and make some revenue on that side, your client found out about that they probably wouldn’t be happy but happy, but you have full control. Ultimately, for us, it ended up decreasing our collection times by about 70%. And it saved us over $20,000 last year on, on on transaction fees. So it’s been it’s been pretty awesome. And we’re really excited about it really hoping to kind of disrupt that, that space. So that’s a that’s an innovation piece that is quite fresh on my mind. So where are you guys out with with lol.So we so it’s it’s fully built, we’ve been using it ourselves. But right now we’re specifying it, it’s way too specific to our own business. So we’re building it a little bit more generic, giving more kind of user functionality to set your own custom email sequence to change your own transaction fees and manage that to let’s say, you want to add automated late fees. So if they don’t pay within X number of days, a late fee is automatically applied. So you don’t have to be the bad guy. or early pay incentive. If you pay early, you get a certain discount. Or if you refer someone you can apply credits. So all of that is currently underway. We’re finishing up the beta. So we should have the beta done in a few weeks. And we’re currently building out our waitlist for those early users to be to be testing the platform and being our first adopters. So we’re building that waitlist out pretty well. We’ve got some pretty significant traction, which is always exciting and hoping to close out that waitlist shortly and then yeah, we’ll we’ll hit the ground running.
Andy Halko 32:48
You’re you’re probably like us and talk to a lot of really early stage folks that have a, you know, innovative idea or, you know, an idea in general and want to bring it to life. What what what do you see is the biggest either misconception or lack of understanding of folks that have a good idea, and have not yet figured out how to bring it to life?
David Pawlan 33:18
Yeah, the biggest point I would say is when people say, Well, I can’t do this, because I’m not a blank, fill in the gap. I’m not a marketer, I’m not a developer, I’m not a biotech, whatever. Whatever it be, you don’t have to be an expert in your space to innovate and disrupt. It’s really cool. How many different services out there are really supporting endeavors. So for example, like software, we have tons of clients who aren’t technical or developers, but they can innovate efficiently with software. If you are in the nuclear energy space, start calling people cold call reach out to people say that you’re interested in doing something and you want to have conversations. The hardest step is truly the first one. Everyone’s just afraid to take that first step and to try something because they’re afraid of that failure. What if I put in all this time and then I failed? Well, if you’re really passionate about the idea, and that’s the key there, if you’re only focused on money, that’s an external motivator, and eventually, it’s not going to last, right? You’re gonna burn out. If it’s an intrinsic motivation, where you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing. Well, then any failure you have is excitement, right? It’s that it’s that idea that you’re one step closer. And the hardest step is really that first one of just diving in. We as a founding team, right, like, I’m not technical, I don’t know how to develop but I’m doing a tech startup in the software space. None of us have ever been in the payment space. We just felt the pain point and we were just like, this sucks. There’s nothing else out in the market that can solve a pain point. So we’re just gonna try and hold ultimately, you just have to try. And eventually you just keep iterating and iterating. And you’ll eventually you’ll figure it out, maybe something sticks, or maybe it doesn’t. You know, it’s companies and all these entrepreneurs and doing these amazing things. Almost every single one is you’re only seeing the things that have been successful. Like every single person has done so many things that have not been successful. You just don’t hear about it. Because why would that be newsworthy to anyone? Right? You hear about the successes, but you need to just kind of bring yourself back down to earth and recognize that everyone’s been in your spot. Nobody is an expert in anything. I mean, Jeff Bezos started off selling books, look where he’s at now. Right if at the very start of his thing, if if you told Jeff Bezos that he was going to be a global logistics prodigy, he was selling books, like come on, that’s like, nowhere near global logistics and everything that they’re doing. So there’s so much opportunity, and the world is such a cool place. And you really just gotta buckle down and kind of shed your dignity. And just go for it, jump in the deep, deep end and see what happens. That’s a horrible one shows you shed your dignity.
Andy Halko 36:14
You mentioned being embarrassed by your MVP. And, you know, it’s funny, as we’ve done a lot of founder interviews. You know, some folks have spent two years before they launch a platform. You know, the first thing that they launched is two years in, we’ve had others that said, You know, I launched something in 15 days, and it was vaporware. We did all the work behind the scenes. You know, and I’m sure it’s different for everybody, that’s got a software idea. But where do you see the point of what an MVP should look like? And where the end of that is? And when you should start putting like something real out in the world?
David Pawlan 36:55
Yes. So it’s, it’s pretty complicated answer because as you were saying, like, there is no right one answer, it’s really dependent on your situation. So let’s, let’s use a few examples. If you are a venture backed startup who has 100 mil in funding, and all the resources imaginable. Yeah, take your time, you’re not you don’t need to build an MVP, you have the resources and ability to build a version one. And if you’ve proven market product fit, and you have LOI sign that people are saying, Yes, I will use this, once you build it to XYZ, as you’re saying, if it’s going to take you a year and a half to do it, then buckle down and grind out for a year and a half and build it. But that’s because you have the resources, and you have the ability to do so because you can also pay yourself. If you’re an early stage startup and you don’t have a lot of money, then you want to be as scrappy as can be. And really the name of the game is just being scrappy, start off with a low fidelity wireframe. So it’s like, you know, almost think of it as you’re just drawing something on a piece of paper, show it to people get feedback, do you like this? Does this make sense? What would you want, once that works, then get to a clickable prototype. Again, all this stuff that you can do with like no code tools. Another thing that’s a beautiful advancement of technology, or no code tools, which you know, happy to chat about more. But do a prototype, right, like use different platforms, envision bubble, etc. Build your prototype, clickable, let people use it, gather feedback, everything looks good, feel like you’re going to great direction, awesome. Then you go to the next step, build out and actually develop your first first draft first iteration. only have a handful of users 10 20 30 people who you’re close with who you know, will give direct and very diligent feedback, build it out for them, because you know that they’re not going to hold the bad design and user flow against you. Use it purely as a way again, to build feedback. You’ve now done that three times, you’ve gathered that feedback three times, everything is still thumbs up, we’re good to go. Awesome. Now, maybe it makes sense to sink a little bit more money into it and work on that next version. For a lot about, really just kind of where you are, what your resources are, what you’re looking to do. The most important part, though, is really customer discovery. And that’s such a critical component of any business and something that people commonly overlook way too much. There’s this great book called The mom test, highly recommend it for anyone looking to do customer discovery. And it basically just talks about how in most conversations when you do customer discovery, you’re you’re you’re phrasing things in a leading manner, and so you’re receiving biased information. And what you need to do is you need to ask questions in a way where if you were to ask your mom, you would be able to get the truth out of her, not just her trying to please you because you’re her child. And so it’s it’s really cool and talks about like restructuring the conversation and different angles you go about it to to subtly get to the answers you want without clouding their judgment with you know who you are and stuff and so that that’s super, super important. And I think that’s the the critical piece before diving into any MVP effort and then that will tell you, does it make sense to wait two years to do it? Or is this something that people literally need right now?
Andy Halko 40:29
Yeah, I hadn’t heard of that book. And I love the idea of you know, how to get your mom to tell you the truth. And I usually run from entrepreneurs that they want mom’s, you know, opinion, where they’re looking. And they’re they are leading, and they want that, versus folks that try not to lead or are open to harsh realities. I always think those are the folks are going to be the most successful. Right, for sure. Totally agree. Totally agree.
Tony Zayas 41:02
So going back a little bit, David, how do you your co founders, you talked about how for clients that you’re bringing on, they need to be able to articulate their vision, and have everyone clearly understand that? How did you guys get to that point for your understanding amongst one another with multiple, you know, co founders in there, and then taking that vision out to the world? You know, what did that process look like for you guys?
David Pawlan 41:32
Yeah, it It definitely wasn’t something we had a grasp of right off the bat, we’ve, we’ve learned from our own mistakes. It was about the the moment that comes to my mind was, is around New Year’s of 2019. I think the year was, and we were growing well, things were moving. And we started to get blinded by the money. And we started making decisions based off of money and started just taking on more leads without doing proper diligence. And it was New Year’s is the day before New Year’s New Year’s Eve. And we had like three client fires hit all at the same time. It was an absolute nightmare. Like we were all on vacation, none of us could actually be on vacation, another kind of, you know, one of the drawbacks of being at a start up. That’s that’s the responsibility, you don’t technically have vacation. So you know, my family’s all hanging out on the beach, everyone’s families are doing their own thing. We’re all headphones in plugging away, stressed as hell. And we go through that whole experience. And you know, we were able to make it out and reflect back and everything. And ultimately, what we realized was that we were growing quicker than we realized. And we started to stray away from money, or from from our mission and started focusing on money. And one of the one of the the points that really made that stuck out to us was actually one of our co founders girlfriend. She said that she never heard him use the word money so many times, like he never used the word money. And then in those past four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, money was a word that she continued to hear him say. And so we that was like a point to us were like, okay, we we totally got pulled away from our mission and our vision. We can’t let that happen again, because we saw the consequences. And so what we now do, is we do this thing called an open compass that we started. And the intention is to serve as a reminder as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. So the first company all hands of every month, so we do one weekly with the with the founders, and we’ll do one with the full team, once a month. And on that monthly all hands, we do an open compass, a reorientation session, where, you know, just kind of outlines our why or how our what our values, why we’re doing what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, just reassuring everyone and keeping us grounded, no matter what’s going on making sure we’re all focused on why we’re doing what we’re doing. And then it’s time for everyone to go through one by one and just kind of get off their chest, what’s keeping you up at night, what’s stressing you out? what’s worrying you that way we can kind of be just a very open, transparent team know what’s bothering everyone know what our worries are regarding the business, and make sure that we kind of stay true to our mission and avoid a scenario like that again.
Andy Halko 44:38
That’s pretty cool. I like the open compass idea. And, you know, something we talk about all the time with our clients and our own businesses, you know, keeping folks aligned towards the vision of the business, and what are the methodologies and how do you do that and it can be hard won. I think a lot of businesses fail. The challenge of the cofounders the leaders aren’t always aligned or have a clear understanding of what the vision is. So how do you even get everybody on the same page? Do you guys use any methodologies, the document create, you know that that the core values vision mission, and, you know, help articulate that to your team internally.
David Pawlan 45:26
So we use notion as our kind of like team note taking playbooks, we have all of our playbooks in there. We have a strategist playbook, we have a partner firm playbook, we have a client playbook, we have a product playbook. And we use that as kind of our gold standard for all of our notes and everything. We use air table to log a lot of stuff and use that to manage a ton. That’s been what we use for all of our pain point tables as well. So that’s been that’s been super, super nice and a really positive impact on the company. Yeah. We use slack for messaging, we use our own platform for stuff. But ultimately, it’s really just conversation. And it’s really just continuing to have those conversations, and just checking checking each other do the those checks and balances, we have one on ones each week. So we’ll all have kind of like a one on one meeting just to make sure that we’re staying on pace and doing what we need to do. But it’s a it’s a time for everyone just to make sure that we’re focusing on the right things. If you know, we are in conversation, that focus is starting to be on the profit margin or on something else. That’s a time for one of us to step up and say, hey, that’s that’s not where the focus should be. This is what our mission is. It’s just really making sure that we all hold each other accountable.
Andy Halko 46:48
On the show, it’s been a common thread of mentorship, and you brought it up a little bit earlier. How did you, you know, did you come into all of this saying like, I want a mentor, I’m open to this? How did you find folks? And then how do you use mentors day in and day out?
David Pawlan 47:06
Yeah, it’s mentors are so important. If you don’t have any mentors, you know, around you to access, just cold cold message people on LinkedIn, people want to help others, they want to share their knowledge. And it you’d be shocked at how many people are willing to jump on a call and chat with you, when you show that you’re genuinely interested in learning. Mentors are so important, they help teach you so many things that you otherwise would have had to learn on your own through failures. So it helps you avoid a lot of those first time failures. For myself, one of my first mentors was she was the director of Vanderbilt’s entrepreneur center. And so she was someone that I would go to all the time and chat with her a bunch and get her feedback. And she was super instrumental to kind of the beginning of my journey with ALOA. As I have continued, throughout my career, I’ve started to you know, look towards others as mentors, whether it be you know, other professionals in this space, who I jump on a call with every so often and just keep them posted as to what’s going on. As well as some of them just people who have cold calls and cold email that just said, you know, looked at their background, they looked awesome. It’s like, Hey, I’m a recent college grad looking to do blah, blah, blah, would love 15 minutes of your time just to chat and ask questions, jump on that call. And that’s truly what I use it for. I’m not trying to sell them anything. I’m not trying to sell them on my business. I don’t even talk about my business, I literally just ask them questions. How did you do this? What did you do? What advice would you have? And you know, you can you can find those mentors, find those people. Not everyone will continue to be a mentor. I’ve definitely had some relationships where it seems great. And then next thing, you know, they drop off the face of the earth, and now you’re their worst enemy. And you have no idea what happened. But those are kind of the things that you just got to you know, let slide off and just, you know, keep moving forward.
Andy Halko 49:07
And I just I think it’s a great point to reiterate of what you said is, is just reach out to folks, I’m always amazed of how many people are willing to give their time and insight and help and expertise. And how many people that early on are afraid to just contact someone and that it works.
David Pawlan 49:30
So it’s unbelievable. I’ve I’ve had conversations with C suite level people for companies that are doing like 100 mil annually. Literally just from cold call, I’ll just look people up and I’ll just shoot them a note on LinkedIn. Just say hey, recent college grad, trying to get into space. I know I know nothing. And I really would love the opportunity to chat for 15 minutes and just learn from any advice you have. People love helping. It’s it’s actually unbelievable how many people will not everyone responds, but how people will respond and the value that you can get from that.
Andy Halko 50:05
I think that humility piece that you added in there is probably beneficial to getting people to respond. For sure. For sure.
Tony Zayas 50:15
So David, where do you see you know, what is the future and the you know, the projection for ALOA. What are you guys looking to do over the next three to five years with the business?
David Pawlan 50:26
Yeah, so with, with Allah, we definitely just want to kind of continue on this course and further our mission. So we we know, we still have a lot of work to do. There software is so complicated, and there are always going to be pain points here and there. And that always provides us an opportunity to further innovate. So we’ve got a ton of work to do. We’ve made great strides, we’ve worked with around 150 or so startups at this point. But we’ve got a lot of progress to make in in plugging more gaps and making it more seamless and more autonomous without sacrificing that aspect of humanity. See how we can lower our margin to make it more affordable. Do whatever it takes to to further that mission to take one step closer to create a world where anyone can innovate freely. So that that’s kind of the the the three to five years is just keep growing, building out that client base more partner firms create a more accessible roadmap, establish ourselves as that authoritative voice of the space. And, you know, hopefully, we can also then spin out some of those complimentary products. The reason that we decided to move forward with ALOA pay was was we had a conversation does this align with our mission. And ultimately, what we determined was that if you were a small business, or an agency or whatever it be, and you are owed a lot of money, the average small business is owed roughly $84,000. It’s wild, everyone’s owed so much money. You’re owed money, if you’re not collecting on time, that harms your liquidity that harms your ability to innovate, because now you’re cash strapped. So we found it a worthwhile endeavor. So we’ll keep doing that we’ll keep thinking through and looking at our own experiences of complimentary products and services that can help innovate and disrupt, but that will ultimately serve to help individuals and companies innovate freely.
Tony Zayas 52:24
Andy Halko 52:26
One other area, it’s kind of a big question, always tough. But I think for our shows, to help other founders learn, and almost in a way be mentors for those folks, I think you learn the most from struggle and mistakes. So I’m curious, are there any, you know, over the years that you’ve been building this business, any major challenges, or mid major missteps, that you mind sharing? That you learned a lot from over this time?
David Pawlan 52:59
Yeah. I think the big one that sticks out to my mind is really the, that that moment in 2019, when the world felt like it was it was crashing. It was that was kind of the moment when at least you know, me, I was just under a year out of college. And I was just like, what the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? I should have just gone corporate. And that was when I was starting to second guess everything and a very, very difficult moment. And it’s really just about holding true to yourself and your mission and what you believe in. It’s not easy, being an entrepreneur, it takes a personality style, for sure. And it takes a certain level of grit to be able to keep working through the backlash. For me, one of the biggest things that I had to work on was just being sensitive to those criticisms and critiques and not being perfect. If a client calls me frustrated, like I, I get very emotionally drawn into business, and my co founders are fantastic. They’re great at helping me work through that of separating emotion from business and trying to just be practical, but if I have a client fire, whatever it be, I get super emotionally drawn in and it’s not only physically and mentally exhausting, but it ends up not being productive too. And so, through so many of those experiences, you know, it’s helped me kind of just build thicker skin. So it’s kind of going through those experiences. I also started meditating, and that’s been literally has changed my life. I tried to do 20 minutes twice a day, and I am genuinely a whole new person. So there’s there’s a ton of a ton of stuff. You know, a lot of it is really just self help and make sure that you’ve focus on yourself. And that’s something that we do really take to heart ALOA. We have a quality of life KPI, key performance indicator that has equal weight to all of our other tasks. And we all we all set our own. And if we don’t hit our quality of life KPI that has just as much weight as if I didn’t hit my sales, KPIs and examples with them, I have to look at my schedule and figure out how we can adjust it to make sure that I’m still taking care of myself. And I think that’s the biggest thing, like, you’re going to fail, you’re gonna get stressed, you’re gonna cry, you’re gonna laugh, it’s gonna be a crazy roller coaster of a ride. But at the end of the day, we’re all still human. And we only have one shot at this earth and living our lives. And nothing is so important, where it’s worth just ruining your life and day over and have fun, enjoy what you do. And that’s kind of you know, the name of the game.
Andy Halko 55:48
Yeah, I totally agree. You know, one of the things that I like to kind of end on we’re talking to so many tech and software founders that are, I think, really tapped into the innovations that are happening. And I don’t I don’t know, if you mind putting on your mystic, you know, wrap on your head a little bit. And what do you think, over the next five to 10 years, generally, from a technology standpoint, is going to be most impactful to either the market or the world?
David Pawlan 56:25
So, Hmm, well, the thing that comes to my mind in terms of like, the coolest innovation, that could still be the most impactful, I think, will will honestly be space, the ability to travel to the moon, the ability to colonize, and build economies in new territories. Right? Like we’ve it’s always been a dream, and you can only sit on this earth and look out and envision what a world can be. Yet, we now have people who are going out to space consistently, there’s a billionaire entrepreneur, out in Japan, and he’s doing this, this this program where anyone can apply, applications are closed, I did apply. And you can apply to go to the moon. And it’s going to be eight people that he selects to go on this civilian mission to the moon, and just give the world a new perspective on what this new frontier could be. Once that becomes a little bit more common. I mean, the the endless opportunity of markets and industries that are going to start opening up I think will be insanely cool. And it’s I’m fascinated by space, I would love to go to the moon. So it’s something that I always read up on, and I think is really fun and cool.
Andy Halko 57:45
So I have to ask then, if you could choose one person in the world to be on the spaceship with you to go to the moon? Who is the one person you would want to have on the ship?
David Pawlan 57:55
It’s I mean, that dude is not only like arguably the most brilliant mind of the past millennials, but he’s also hysterical. He not only learned time, but unbelievable entertainment.
Andy Halko 58:12
Yeah, how he could crash Bitcoin from anywhere. Yeah,
David Pawlan 58:15
I mean, the dude’s insane. The dude’s insane. I would, I would love to spend some time with him. That’d be unbelievable. That’s awesome.
Tony Zayas 58:23
Very cool. Well, David, as we kind of wrap up the hour here, we’d love for you to share with everybody watching just where can people pay attention? ALOA, ALOA pay you everything you guys got going on?
Andy Halko 58:37
Yeah, no. Moon Base.
David Pawlan 58:40
Yeah. ALOA moon. That’s it. I’m coming. I’m coming to you. Once that comes, you’re ah, ou’re gonna be our first our first manned mission to the moon. I appreciate it. Man, Come fly for the return trip. Yeah, there you go. There you go. See, you can check out our LinkedIn. We’re always posting our blogs on LinkedIn as well. So LinkedIn for both ALOA ALOA pay, our website is ALOA.co or ALOApay.com. If you’re trying to get on the waitlist, follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and on ALOA.co. We also have our blog there and our resources tab. So we have pretty detailed books on ebooks on everything software. So how to vet developers, what is software development, how to handle bugs, everything that you should know when stepping into any software development experience.
Tony Zayas 59:30
That’s great. Thank you so much, David, for your time today. You’re doing some amazing stuff and pay attention and see where you go with things. so fantastic. Really appreciate your time here today. Everybody. Thank you for tuning in. And we will see you next time.
David Pawlan 59:46
Thanks guys so much. Thanks, everybody. Thanks, Dave. Appreciate it.