SaaS Founder Interview with Mark Stralka, CEO & Founder of MobileLocker
MobileLocker is an HCP Engagement Platform that empowers pharmaceutical sales, marketing, and medical affairs teams with simplified, streamlined, and fully compliant digital software to improve marketing effectiveness, visualize sales insights, and accelerate revenue growth.
Tony Zayas 0:10
Hey everybody, welcome to the SaaS founders show. Tony Zayas here, joined by Andy Halko. Andy, how you doing? Are you wearing your snowshoes today?
Andy Halko 0:20
I am, I’ve got my snow boots on and my galoshes, as I like to call them. And I’m doing fantabulous. A little bit of snow out there. How about you?
Tony Zayas 0:30
Yeah, trying to trying to stay alive out there. I was shoveling last night and my wife called me and I told her I was taking a little heart attack break. And, you know, don’t run over my body if, she came home…
Andy Halko 0:44
Yeah, this year, I decided to invest in a, you know, flame thrower to just go that way. Instead of going for pushing. I go for melting.
Tony Zayas 0:54
That’s not a bad idea. So cool. Well, this week, we have an awesome guest and someone who knows we know pretty well, because we’ve been working with him pretty closely for the past few months here. And we have Mark Stralka from Mobile Locker, founder of Mobile Locker. So let me bring Mark on and we can start our conversation. How are you doing Mark?
Mark Stralka 1:18
Doing well! How are you guys?
Tony Zayas 1:20
Awesome. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate you being here. And yeah, I look forward to talking. I think you have a pretty interesting story. And like I said, we’ve been working with you. So we know a little bit more about you than some of the guests that we’ve had on and we’re just meeting so do you mind sharing with everybody a little bit about Mobile Locker what you guys do?
Mark Stralka 1:41
Yeah. So Mobile Locker is a sales enablement platform for the pharmaceutical industry. And what that lets us sales and marketing team do is put everything they need in one place. Yeah, content, videos, things like that. Put it all in one place and let their salespeople and their marketing team access it. So when they’re professionals, they, they have access to everything, and they can easily share it. And it tracks how they’re using it, so that they can improve the materials and hopefully, you know, make more sales.
Tony Zayas 2:13
Yeah, that’s very cool.
Andy Halko 2:18
Go ahead, Tony.
Tony Zayas 2:18
No, I was just, gonna go ahead, Andy.
Andy Halko 2:20
Well, I was gonna say I always like to start with origin story. So, you know, we’re all a little bit of superheroes here when you start a business in some ways. So what’s the origin story? How did you get started? And you know, how did you get into, to building Mobile Locker?
Mark Stralka 2:38
Yeah, so it started, let’s see, um, I started my career at Johnson and Johnson almost 20 years ago. And after a couple years, I was in IT to business partners, and I left to start a company called Kazaam Interactive. So we were building websites, and, you know, doing advertising for pharmaceutical companies, like Johnson and Johnson, you know, and other clients like that. And when the iPad came out, one of our clients said, Hey, can you build us an app that will let me put all my content on this new thing called the iPad. And you know, you know, so my reps all around the country will have that when they go meet with doctors. So that’s kind of how it started. It started as like a project we built for a specific pharmaceutical company. At the time, I was the CTO of Kazaam. It was kind of my baby. And so I kind of got excited about it, and kind of saw it growing into a more of a product than just something that we did kind of, you know, for one client. So I kind of built it out as a software as a service product. We signed up a few other companies. You know, it kind of grew from there. But it was always kind of a side business for Kazaam because we were really just a digital agency. And Mobile Locker was just a small part of it. And then we were lucky enough to sell Kazaam to a larger New York agency in 2012. And so I stayed with them for a couple years. And then, when I decided to leave, they didn’t really know what to do with Mobile Locker. So I bought it back from them. So I bought it back in 2016. And I’ve been kind of growing it ever since independently of that company, as well. So it’s kind of a strange story, but it’s been pretty exciting.
Andy Halko 4:09
That’s great. So how do you you know, how do you balance being a startup founder of the technology side of it, if you were CTO, I know that you do a lot of the development work. Have you found that balance and starting the company of, you know, being focused on tech and product, but then also obviously, having a lot of other aspects of the business on your plate?
Mark Stralka 4:34
Yeah, that’s, that’s been probably the most challenging part of me, as you know, growing as a as an entrepreneur. I learned a lot of that back in Kazaam because I kind of had a mentor of my my business partner, Tom Radha kind of mentored me in a lot of that, you know, the, the other sides of the business than just the tech. So, you know, over the last couple years, I’ve really kind of had to focus on that, probably still doing the tech because we were purposely a small company. So I still have my hands in the product and the tech side of it, but also doing sales and marketing and you know, all the other things that go with growing a business. That’s really been kind of a learning experience as we’ve gone on.
Andy Halko 5:09
Yeah, one of the first books I read, you know, and I always go back to this, it literally was one of the first business books I read was E Myth, which was all about, you know, you go into a business, and you have a skill. And when I started out, I did a lot of development and design. But it talked about how you know, are breadmaker when you start a business, you’re not going to be making bread, you’re going to be hiring, you’re going to be doing all the other stuff. And the biggest evolution for a business owner is being the take that on and being able to evolve, have you, you know, what’s been some of your processes or tactics to evolve your skill set, and, you know, mentality as you’ve had to change your role within the business?
Mark Stralka 5:58
Yep. So I think the biggest one was finding people I trust to that I could bring on board who are better at things than I am. So I brought on a business partner named Bob, who’s kind of leading sales because I knew I wasn’t very good at sales. And it wasn’t my strength, but I knew we had to have a strong sales function. I brought on a marketing person in, Rachel. So really kind of finding people who kind of compliment me and bring different skill sets to the to the table that could help us grow the business like that, and trying to step back and not always be day to day. That’s still hard, because we are a small company, and that’s on purpose. But, you know, so I still am involved with the product, but certainly moving away from it and trying to think more strategically and work on the business rather than in the business has been something I’ve been, you know, working on the last couple years.
Andy Halko 6:47
Yeah, in my entrepreneurial groups, I think that phrase ‘on the business versus in the business’ is muttered daily by all the steady, you know, founder or anybody that’s in that position.
Mark Stralka 7:01
Tony Zayas 7:03
So Mark, talking about, you know, people have there isn’t it… Any others that have come through, that maybe didn’t work out so well?
Mark Stralka 7:15
Yeah, we’ve been some challenges the last couple years. You know, I got, the first year, you know, after I got Mobile Locker back, I tried to kind of do everything myself, and learn very quickly that I wasn’t able to do that. So I cycled through a couple different salespeople, brought on as contractors to try to grow the business, through outbound and inbound and, you know, just kind of trying a lot of different things. And it wasn’t really working, because I think we were casting our net a little too wide. You know, we were trying to be a general corporate sales enablement platform. Even though our core competency in our existing client base was more on the life sciences and pharmaceutical side of the business. So trying to cast my net too wide, trying to do too many things, had a couple different folks cycle through that just didn’t work out, you know, and eventually, it just wasn’t the right fit. But you know, that something I learned too, is trying to find the right people, I think you first have to define the goals and the responsibilities and really figure out what the objectives are before you bring someone in to just try to, try to do it. And that, that’s kind of one of my biggest learnings.
Andy Halko 8:27
Heading back to that origin story of yours, I’m kind of curious, you know, that transition, and what the biggest challenge was for you of kind of going from, you know, being in the agency space and, you know, working as part of a business and then transitioning out to taking a product and, you know, really being on your own and evolving something in that direction. So I’m just kind of interested in that, that period of time for you and what that transition was like. You know, both emotionally and some of the challenges that challenges that maybe you faced.
Mark Stralka 9:06
Yeah, I think the biggest challenge so towards the end of Kazaam , we probably had about 35 people. And, you know, I was kind of running that team after we had been acquired a big part of that team. And so I always had a group of people I could bounce ideas off of, we had designers on staff who could come up with things. We had copywriters, so you could write the, the text that went on the website. So having that team of people who were also my friends, too, that was probably the biggest challenge was leaving that, that that crew that we kind of grown with over the last, you know, five-six years, and kind of, you know, setting up shop as really with myself, you know, to start with. And still trying to maintain these large contracts with these pharma companies that were already in process. And so it was really kind of getting used to being kind of a solopreneur knowing that I was eventually going to grow the team again, and build that out, but really trying to get off the ground with, you know, funding it just from revenue, not trying to dip into my savings or raise venture. So that was kind of another challenge was trying to grow it organically really trying to keep it from, you know, slow and steady. But, you know, I think that was another challenge as well.
Andy Halko 10:22
It’s interesting to me and talking to other SaaS founders of that mentality of growth of getting capital, bootstrapping, you know, family and friends and these different approaches. And I think it’s as much as a business decision, and like, logical decision as an emotional decision. How do you how do you look at the world of like raising capital? And, you know, aggressiveness for growth? And what’s your kind of mentality on that, that aspect of growth?
Mark Stralka 10:55
Yeah, for me, it definitely is a personal decision not to raise capital. I think it’s probably, you know, realistically, we could probably be a lot bigger. If I, you know, what if I went out and found VC funding, or found a, you know, a large partner, but it’s just a personal decision that I like having, I guess, control? You know, I like not having any overlords, or masters, I have to report to and kind of being able to do my own thing, I certainly have some advisors who kind of, you know, helped me out and, and kind of guide me through some different things on an informal basis, not, you know, formally like a board or anything. But that’s, you know, it’s certainly, for a lot of people raising capital is the right way to go. Just to, you know, in given my situation, I just have chosen to kind of keep, you know, probably keep it smaller than it would be, but keep it all under my control. So that, eventually, when we do have the success we’re aiming for that it will be between me and my business partner to have all that to gain all that.
Tony Zayas 11:58
Yeah, Mark, I was gonna ask going back to your agency was acquired. And Mobile Lockerwas essentially a product that you guys had there. What, as you made the decision to go ahead and purchase Mobile Locker, buy it back, what was your vision for what you would do with that? And then it’s like part two of that, how does that compare to where things are at today?
Mark Stralka 12:25
Sure. So when I was deciding to leave, because and we sold cars, and to a company called inVentiv Health, and they’re a big, you know, holding agency, they had probably a couple dozen other agencies underneath them. When I decided to leave, I always kind of knew that they didn’t really get mobile locker, they didn’t really understand it. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t going to be, it was probably just gonna be shut down, if I’d left it there. So knowing that they just, you know, they didn’t have the team in place to manage it afterwards. So when I decided to leave, I basically saw it as a way for me to continue my journey of having something to work on by myself, at least, to start another product, because I hadn’t come up with any other good product ideas. And I knew I wanted to do a software as a service, I knew I wanted to have a product. And this was kind of one that already had revenue, it already had clients. Not big enough revenue to be interesting to inVentiv . But certainly for someone striking out on their own, funding it themselves, it was very profitable from day one. So that was, that was always my goal was to have something that could kind of get me going again. And if they came up with some other idea, great. If I didn’t, and I kept going with Mobile Locker, because it was still pretty exciting. To me, there’s a lot of tech involved, you know, the problem space is huge. And so I kind of saw it as a way that it would probably be the next 10 or 15 years of my life, when I left. And that’s kind of where I think it still is going.
Andy Halko 13:55
I think we’ve learned so much from our, you know, challenges and even mistakes. And so, you know, as a startup person in that first year that you left, and you started that business, when you look back what were, you know, some of the biggest challenges you faced, and, you know, how do you overcome those?
Mark Stralka 14:12
Yeah, I think the first big challenge was trying to kind of keep a couple of my clients that I probably shouldn’t have. There were a couple clients that just weren’t good fits, you know, after I made the transition, and I did everything I could to kind of customize the product to fit their business case, when in reality that wasn’t going to be a good long term strategy for the product and for the company. So that was probably one of them. The other one was, like I said, it kind of cast my net too wide once I decided to, you know, go broad and try to, you know, boil the ocean and make Mobile Locker work for any sales team. So, you know, cycling through having someone do outbound sales calls. You know, in doing that from scratch with no kind of understanding of how to make a good outbound sales call. How to incentivize them, how to measure them, and just kind of kind of flying blind. That was kind of one of my big mistakes. You know that first year, I think.
Andy Halko 15:11
That’s another thing. You’re a technical founder. So, you know, and I’m a code junkie, myself, and I love like the idea of features, and I get excited by new ideas. You know, I always say have that shiny key syndrome. And if for you, you just mentioned with, you know, product features and customizing, you know? How do you approach when customers bring new ideas, or you have new ideas internally, for the roadmap of the product and balancing what’s right, you know, for the product and for growth?
Mark Stralka 15:47
Yeah, so a lot of the things we’ve added to the product have come from our clients, you know. But it’s never a one off where this will only work for one client, has no applicability to our other clients. Because most of our clients are pharmaceutical companies. And because of my background in the industry, I have a pretty good sense of what works for them, and what will be valuable to other companies like them. So when we approach new products, or new features, when someone asks, Hey, can you make Mobile Locker do this? What you go through the kind of the questions of Hey, why? How would they help you? Who will that help in your organization? What do you expect your outcomes to be? And then I kind of start thinking about how do I make that a general enough feature to work for other companies like them? And how do I roll it out in a way where they understand it, where it’s easy to use. Obviously, not everybody, especially in pharma will want to take advantage of all the features that platform has. So you have to make sure that you kind of turn it on, just for the clients who want it, and then teach the others about it. And so to see if they need it, but then some of those features become some of the biggest selling points for the platform, which, you know, especially the case since COVID, some of the ideas we added last year that nobody really was using when we added them, since you know, everyone’s working remote now are all of a sudden, like, ‘Whoa, wow, this is great’. And it’s completely changed the game for our business.
Tony Zayas 17:16
It’s cool. I’m talking about you know, you guys are a small business, you play in a market that you know, the sales enablement world where there are some big players in there, what is some advice that you would have and ways you’ve navigated those waters, in taking, you know, the size of your business and using using that as an advantage?
Mark Stralka 17:40
Yeah, so you’re right, that we definitely play in. We’re a small fish in a big pond, some of our bigger competitors have 800 employees, some have 400, you know, 100 million in funding, they’re funded by Salesforce’s venture fund, and, you know, little Mobile Locker out of Hudson, Ohio, you know, five people. It’s pretty small. So the biggest thing that I’ve found is to own that, that we’re small. And to play that to our advantage in that we can move on, we can change directions on a dime, we can implement new things for them, we respond very quickly. So a lot of big companies expect everything to be slow when they’re working with vendors. And we’re the complete opposite of that. And we were the same way, when we were kazaam. We played to our strengths. If we weren’t a big New York agency, we were small team. And we’ll get things done very quickly. So I think that’s the biggest value we have as a small company is that we listen to our clients, we know all of our clients very intimately. And we can we can change things, we can improve things we can help them, we can jump on a call and train, if they have a couple new reps, you know, and we can just jump on a call the same day and train them. You know, they don’t have to go through an account manager, they don’t have to wait for training, they don’t have to pay for extra for training. So playing being the small company certainly has its advantages, especially when it should, when you when you can when it comes to responsiveness, and you know, really listening to your customers.
Andy Halko 19:09
Talk about that aspect of the business. And I think that a lot of software founders go through this, because we see it a lot when we talk to folks is taking a product that you have and trying to expand the audiences because you get all these ideas and you think, oh, anybody could use this. And it seems like you’ve now evolved to come back to being more of a niche focus. So talk about that evolution, because I think a lot of software founders struggle with that is, you know, staying narrow and staying focused and versus wanting to really expand and, you know, take on any opportunity that they can.
Mark Stralka 19:54
Yeah, I think that was one of my challenges, especially coming from the agency world where you kind of do whatever Your client wants, you know, hey, build us a website that does this, build us an app that does that. You know, update the website or the app to make it do this. Now, I kind of had that mentality start early on. And so there were some features and, you know, parts of the platform we added, because they were cool, or because I thought it was going to go somewhere. But it was kind of a completely different direction, where we were already based, and, you know, kind of, really since COVID, kind of realizing that being spread too thin, especially in part of the platform with, you know, trade shows that there’s a whole set of features and functions that we added for, that was going to be valuable to people go to trade shows, well, trade shows died, you know, so very quickly, like, Well, shit, that part of the business is, you know, out of order, at least for the next, you know, 12 months. So, trying to realize that you can go really wide, and then you’re competing, you know, toe to toe with the big players, you know, we integrate with Salesforce, they integrate with Salesforce, we do this, they do this, and we’re just playing, you know, feature, we’re trying to catch up and play feature parity, and we’re gonna lose that game, because they have, you know, a 30 person marketing team, and they have a whole sales team, and they have, you know, they, they’re, they’re always going to have their, they’re going to do it sexier than we would. So really getting to the realization that, you know, sticking to what you know, which is pharmaceutical sales organizations, was really kind of something I’ve learned the last couple months and really helped us focus back and had some tremendous growth this year, even though it’s been COVID. And, you know, it’s it’s been a challenging year for a lot of people. But certainly trying to go too wide with the features and the cool tech. And, oh, I saw that you can now do this in an iOS app. Let’s make it do that without answering How is that going to help our core customers, our core customers, not our future customers that we don’t have yet? How is it going to help our core customers, and that’s reining it back in and kind of refocusing has been really important and really valuable.
Tony Zayas 21:59
What would be your advice, Mark, to a founder, who, you know, kind of wants to take that broad approach, we work with a lot of clients that we make that recommendation to niche now really get focused. And a lot of times we get resistance, we get pushback, there’s kind of a concern that our way, but if we do that we’re going to be missing out on so much. What advice would you have? How do you deal with you know, and I do feel like you’re losing out on, you know, the broader marketplace, when you do narrow down?
Mark Stralka 22:30
Yeah, and I had that that fear exactly, I was like, oh, if we just focus on pharma, we’re gonna be missing out. But, you know, you know who your core customers are, in the case of Mobile Locker, we had paying customers paying for a specific set of benefits that they were getting from the platform. And so really trying to find one, if you’re a founder, and you’re coming up with an idea, I think the first thing is to try to validate it one or two customers to pay for, you know, you’re not going to try to charge an arm and a leg for it coming in at a competitive price, make it work for them solve a specific pain they have, and then try to find other companies like that. Don’t try to add new features, and you know, you know, bells and whistles that may or may not be valuable to that core customer. And so I think that’s kind of where I went wrong, in the beginning? Was trying to, you know, add all the features in the world because they were cool, because I thought they would attract new customers. But part of the part of the value, especially in B2B. Especially like pharmaceuticals, a lot of the questions that always come up are, who else are you working with? You know, what’s what, who are your logos that you have? And so if you have a lot of other companies like them, that’s part of kind of kind of validates your value to them, because they say, well, the people who work for that company are similar to me in role, in function, in objectives and, and what they’re trying to achieve. And if they’re using mobile locker, that’s, that’s good, social proof that it that uh, you know, it’ll probably work for us too. So if you try to go for example, you know, we have a base of pharmaceutical companies. If I tried to go and then sell it to I don’t know, you know, automotive companies they’d be like, what what, you know experience you have what expertise you have an automotive, you’d never you, you don’t have any automotive clients. So, I think trying to find one or two clients that will pay you for it, make it work for them, but don’t don’t make it too custom because then it won’t work for anybody else. But and then try to repeat and find other people like them are close enough to them is really is really important.
Andy Halko 24:35
So we talked about the the people thing a little bit, and that’s a common topic that we get into here is, you know, how do you find the right people and build the team, and culture and all of those aspects for you, how have you evolved and thought about, you know, how you find the right people and how you want to grow from a standpoint of, you know, personnel. And so how has that evolved over the last year or two for you?
Mark Stralka 25:04
Yeah, so I knew I always wanted to have a remote team. You know, because we’re based in a small suburb of Cleveland, we’re not going to get big talent to come to Cleveland. There’s a lot of talent here. But I always like to have the idea of having a remote team. Certainly, having a couple people close enough to hang out and to meet in person has been helpful. But that that was one of the key things was knowing that you can find people anywhere. If you empower them, and you give them the right tools to kind of collaborate and communicate every day. And you know, the team right now we have a daily stand up call every day, and we’re in very close contact. But you know, as I grow, I think it’ll be more about finding people who have, kind of the same objectives, understanding what we’re trying to achieve. As far as how we’re growing the business, we’re not going to be going out and getting venture funding. So we’re not going to be getting like, you know, the 20s of the Salesforce buying us for $27 billion, like they, like they bought Slack today, kind of aligning that you want to work for a small business, you know, it’s going to be you’re going to have a lot of responsibility. And finding people who want to make a difference in. Hopefully, they’re excited about software. And hopefully, they’re excited about kind of life sciences space and helping people in sales teams grow. So that’s kind of how I approach kind of trying to find the right people. And I’ve had good success, a lot of it’s been networking. My business partner, Bob, I’ve actually known since I was growing up. And he’s been in software sales, his whole careers. And I’ve known him since I was a teenager. And he was kind of a mentor, the first couple years, and we would meet maybe once a quarter for lunch, and he kind of helped me with some ideas and bounce things off of him. And finally, you know, it just worked out at the end of last year that, you know, it was the right time for both of us to make changes. And we came to an agreement, we he came on board at the beginning of this year. And it’s been, it’s been great. So it’s really trying to find people that kind of have the same goals who don’t expect that you’re going to be the, you know, the $27 billion acquisition, but also understanding that, you know, you’re going to be working for a small company and be doing a lot of things that may not be in your job description, you’re gonna be asked to work late, you know, it’s gonna be it’s gonna be all hours of the time and, you know, responding to RFPs and quotes and things like that, and really trying to find people that kind of align with those goals.
Tony Zayas 27:23
How, I know that fairly recently, your wife has joined on board with you. How has that been so far?
Mark Stralka 27:32
So that’s been something we’ve always talked about, you know, she, we, she stayed home for the first couple years we had kids. And she’s always been, she was in sales and marketing. So she’s always been looking to get back into it. And so I’ve always wanted her to be into it, because then I could, you know, talk about work with her more often. Whereas now if I talk about work, she’s like, Uh huh, uh huh. But her before, so there’s been a lot of fun, you know, she’s still not involved, probably as much as I would like her to be involved. I think she would add a lot more value if she had more time to, to commit to it. But certainly, she’s been a big part of it. And knowing her role, and in the past of being in sales and marketing and supporting accounts and large accounts, she’s been, you know, a key part of our growth strategy, especially as we take on these larger clients over the next this year, and next year, as well.
Tony Zayas 28:20
So you guys are able to kind of turn work off when you’re at home.
Mark Stralka 28:24
Yeah, she has to remind me of that a lot. That’s always been my challenges. I’ve always been kind of a workaholic. And, and you know, she’s always been like, turn it off, turn it off. But it’s hard to do that when you’re, when you’re a business owner, you can’t turn it off. Because everything you think about is, hey, this isn’t just you know, a job. It’s, it’s how we’re paying for our family. It’s how we’re supporting our team. It’s how we’re supporting our clients. And that’s always been a challenge for me, and it’s definitely been something we’ve always been working on. As a couple.
Andy Halko 28:52
Yeah, I’m curious to keep going on that a little bit. Because I you know, in the startup space, you see it a lot, but there’s also a lot of people that push against it, it seems like you’ve, you know, done a number of the things that people sometimes avoid family friends, and you know, partnerships sometimes can be challenging. You’ve got all three. So, you know, what’s, what’s the balance for you? How do you, you know, what do you think the advice is for other startup folks that are looking at having past friends or family or bringing in partners? How should they look at this?
Mark Stralka 29:29
Yeah, even though you know, my wife works with me now and a longtime family friend works with the his business partner, I wouldn’t suggest like bringing on your random buddies from high school. I’ve got a lot of friends I like hanging out with. I wouldn’t want to bring them on in the business. One because eventually you might have to, you know, go your separate ways. And, you know, even though my last business venture with Kazaam ended amicably, you know, we weren’t always friends. We didn’t start out as friends. We started off as business associates. We became friends. But bringing in family is definitely something I probably wouldn’t recommend, you know, beyond maybe your wife, or your spouse, but certainly not you know, your buddies or your friends from school. And, you know, it’s definitely better to find the right people for the right job. In Bob, I found that as you know, from the sales side, and the business partner side, and my wife, Katie, you know, on the on the customer success side, it’s the right people. And I’ve known them for long enough to where, even if things went south, certainly hope not my wife. You know, even if things went south, we’d still be friends, and be able to separate business from our personal lives as well.
Andy Halko 30:43
One of the things that, interestingly impacted me years ago was that I had a client that it was two brothers that were partners. And, you know, some things happened in the business. And I remember the one sitting down with me and saying, I’ll never talk to my brother again, for the rest of my life. You know, so I’ve always had an interesting view of bringing in family members, you know, based off that conversation and other folks that do, but I think, you know, if folks are able to do it with metered approach, it can work.
Mark Stralka 31:13
Yeah, I have a similar scenario where I have a friend who owns a business locally, and he had to fire his brother. And, you know, that’s, that’s got to be a tough situation, they’ve worked together for I think, 20 years. And so I can’t imagine how awkward that would be. So that’s why I think it’s probably better to keep it a little bit separate. You know. Yes, having the two separate parts of your life is probably, but obviously, you can cross that you can be you can be, you can work with people, and still be friendly, but understand that you may not always work together, and you may not always be friends.
Andy Halko 31:45
So, how do you find, you know, again, in that startup environment I try and think about is that, you know, it has to be very, very agile, there do have to be some close relationships, you have to ask tough things. How do you handle the other side of it, where, you know, sometimes people aren’t meeting objectives, or you’re having challenges with folks, you know, what have you learned as, also as a technical founder, to be good on that, like people management side.
Mark Stralka 32:16
That’s another part that I’m still working on, back at Kazaam I didn’t have to handle the hiring and firing. So you know, we had, you know, probably 60 or 70 people work for us over the years. And, you know, we were 30 or 35 when we when we sold. So never having to fire somebody was always something I dreaded. And last year, I did have to fire somebody. And that really… That really stressed me out. I met with some friends who are in HR to kind of learn the right way to do it in the in the wrong way to do it, legally and professionally. And, but it really kind of ate me up for a while and, and I really was uncomfortable for it. You know, going into it for a while. And part of it was my fault. I let the relationship the you know, the person was in a role that they probably weren’t qualified for, you know, over, I let them stay too long. I didn’t make the tough decision, I should have cut it off at six months, I should have cut it off. And you know, eight months, instead of waiting a year, kind of waiting for that natural year end point of where it was like, Okay, well, what are we gonna do next year, hey, by the way, this isn’t working. And they knew it wasn’t working, you know, we weren’t making a lot of progress with what they were doing. But that that’s something I still struggle with is how do you approach the… How do you make those hard decisions had those hard conversations? And that’s something I’m still working on.
Andy Halko 33:33
Yeah, and I I work with a ton of business owners entrepreneurs. I’m in entrepreneur groups, and that is just a common challenge across the board is that people wait too long to end a relationship that’s not working and the amount of money and time and turmoil that it cost is just you know, that’s why I always do like ‘Hire slowly fire quickly’.
Mark Stralka 34:02
Yeah, I’m something I’m still learning. And that’s why we’re very careful about the hiring now. So it’s, you know, make sure it’s going to be the right person, not just someone to fill a spot or to accomplish a certain task. But yeah, that’s that’s a hard part about becoming a you know, a leader of a bigger organization is you have to have those hard conversations and I’m sure it gets easier. Maybe maybe it gets easier? I don’t know if you want it to get easier but it does. It does, you know, consume you a lot and trying to do it the right way and jerk but also you it’s also right for them too, you know? If they’re not succeeding if they’re not doing what achieving what they want to achieve. And they’re just happy to kind of hang out that’s not right for their their career either.
Tony Zayas 34:49
Shifting gears a little bit mark, I know a big part of Mobile Locker is you guys have made enhancement and enhancements and updates and thing. feature sets basically On a lot of input from users, but if we go back, what did the product look like in its initial iteration?
Mark Stralka 35:09
Yeah, so 2010 was when we started working on mobile locker, I think we got it into the app store in early 2011. So it was really early on. And it was really just an iPad app, that was the only thing it worked on. Because at the time, it was, you know, that was the only tool that pharmaceutical companies were just looking at using, when they started doing, you know, this in person engagement, when they would meet with doctors and things. So it was very primitive, you know, it was very much just simple list of files, and you know, you can open them and you can download, access them. And that was really it, it had some things that kind of, we saw as long term benefits, like being able to build things interactively with HTML. So you can build stuff, not just PDF files, and things like that. But that was it. And so that kind of was the first couple years of, you know, just being on iPad was good enough. But really, since I got Mobile Locker back from inVentiv , in 2016, is really kind of expanded beyond that, because one, people aren’t just using iPads anymore. Now, there’s Windows tablets, and things like that. So we really kind of had to open it up, make it work cross platform, you know, do make it do different things. And it was pretty primitive, you know, the way it was set up, technically was it was was primitive, whereas now it’s, you know, globally available, robust, running on Amazon, things like that, you know, that make it a much more robust platform that I’ve had to kind of grow it into.
Tony Zayas 36:38
So most of that progress was made, he kind of stayed in a similar state as to the original version, until you bought it back.
Mark Stralka 36:47
Yeah, yeah. Because part of the agreement with inVentiv was, I basically told them, I was like, Listen, I wrote that code five years ago. I want the name and the trademark, I don’t need the code, because I’m gonna rewrite all the code. So I didn’t even want the code back. I started from scratch. Basically, with all everything I’ve learned and everything I wanted to add to the platform and kind of five years long time in tech. So when you build something five years ago, is not the way you’d build it today. And I had a good enough understanding of how to build it as a platform versus just a product where it’d be easy to add things on and make it grow and adapt. Because that’s what I had been doing it because I was building platforms for these different companies. But yeah, so a lot of it’s been the last couple years and really accelerated the last 18 months.
Tony Zayas 37:36
Did you have a user base that went with it, when you purchased it?
Mark Stralka 37:40
Yeah, so that was part of the reason I wanted to name the product name, mobile locker. And the trademark was because I knew if I change the name of the product, the pharmaceutical companies that I had, you know, annual contracts with would have to go through IT, or they have to go through procurement and get me in their new vendor system. So keeping the name kept it simple for that one for the users, because it’s, you know, specific icon at that time at that time on their iPads. So yeah, I kind of that’s what that was, what attracted me to it also was, even though the revenue wasn’t significant to a multi billion dollar company, like inVentiv, to, you know, to that solopreneur, that I was, and what I was looking to start with, it was, it was a nice starting point, you know, it was a nice way to kind of fund my move back to Ohio from the east coast and kind of work on my own for as long as I wanted and kind of start from there.
Andy Halko 38:33
So one of the other things that I see a lot of, you know, founders struggle with, not only the beginning, but as they go is kind of model and pricing, you know, and this idea of, you know, how do you price it as a per user? Is it a fixed fee? Is it transparent pricing that you’re putting on the web versus a sales process? Is there a trial or demo? How have you evolved over the time that you’ve had this product in thinking about that, that model and, and pricing structure? Because, again, I think it’s something that a lot of people struggle with and I’m kind of curious what your journey has been along those lines?
Mark Stralka 39:12
Yeah, that’s another thing that we’ve definitely changed about, you know, when we were casting a wide net, we thought it was important to publish our pricing on the website, and originally started off as one price, you know, you get all the features, and it’s just a per user fee, paid annually. And so we would publish them. We were proud of that, that we had simple pricing. And that, then the question was, was the price too much or too little? And that was depending on who you were talking to, you know? What industry they’re in how many sales reps, they have things like that. And, and so there weren’t a lot of negotiation levers. What we’ve learned over the time is obviously you evolved that to like the good, better best model where you kind of say, hey, for feature set A, here’s a couple things beats up for a little bit more, you get this more you get that and so we tried that, you know, the good Better best model. And where we’ve kind of settled lately is our clients are pharmaceutical companies, they’re it’s, it’s a longer sales process, you’re not going to sign up a sales team with someone registering on your website and putting their credit card. So publishing the price has become less important. Because it’s gonna depend a lot on, you know, length of contract and number of users, you know, their different use cases, and how much you want that logo, you know how much you want them as a client. So we’ve definitely gotten kind of the traditional enterprise route to where now, you know, you can, you can go through a demo with us, we’ll show you the product, we’ll talk about it, how it can help your team, and then price, we’ll come up with the end. And then we’ll kind of say, here’s the list price, you know, per user per month paid annually, that’s typical, or typical, our typical pricing model, and then, you know, then we negotiate, you know, about how length of contract two years, three years, you know, do you need all the features? Do you not need all the features? Do you want to pay us normally we don’t even charge like an onboarding costs. Some companies insist on it, they said, I’d rather pay more for the onboarding, to reduce the recurring, the recurring fee. So it’s kind of evolved a lot more to where I didn’t really want it to go, you know, it’s it’s more of the traditional enterprise route. But we’re still keeping it pretty simple. It’s, it’s still a per user model. It’s still just the the real only levers are number of users and the length of contract. And occasionally, the onboarding cost, but we try to avoid that, because we’re like, that’s not a big part of our, it’s not doesn’t cost us a lot to onboard a team, customer. So it’s definitely something that, you know, gets a lot of attention. You know, you’re in those entrepreneur groups, and I was in a SaaS group last year, and that’s a big challenge for a lot of businesses, I think it’s more important for B2C companies, you know, consumer facing companies, where you can get people to buy on the website with a credit card, or you know, Black Friday just happen. You can incentivize people to plop down their credit card for a year, because you give them some discount, you know, in enterprise sales, where you’re trying to change the culture and how a team works. The sales process is never that simple. So the pricing model doesn’t have to be that simple, either, I guess.
Andy Halko 42:16
How about that dollar figure, you know, was there any process or equation and I’m kind of really looking for, like, the thought process to get to the cost that someone would be willing to pay value of the product, the profit? And, you know, I know, I need to make this was there any approach that you took to get to that number?
Mark Stralka 42:43
Yeah, so I think back when we first started Mobile Locker, the price were very close to the price we were 10 years ago, in reality, you know, it’s very similar, because we’re looking at, you know, the market, we play in his enterprise software. And you know, you know, Salesforce publishes their price, at least their list price. And that’s called 150 bucks a month per user, you’re like, well, if if a CRM and kind of the you know, the, the, the hub of all your business is 150 bucks a user, we can’t spend that you can’t cost that much, you know, we can’t charge that much. So we got to kind of come into a number that’s reasonable, you know, it’s not too much, but it’s also not giving it away for free. And that’s been a balance, too, because I’ve tried lowering the price, I’ve tried lowering it too far to where maybe they don’t perceive the value then. And so I’ve kind of brought it back to kind of our original price is at least as the, you know, the MSRP. But there’s certainly a model for it, you look at the competitors, a lot of our bigger competitors used to publish their pricing. And we were always below theirs. And so that was you know, encouraging. And we were, you know, on on feature parity with them. But then since they took on VC funding, and they’ve become a 400 person behemoths, they’ve stopped publishing their pricing. So it’s always, you know, we’ve kind of gone the route of most companies, I guess, as you go through this B2B. You know, going up market, trying to get bigger customers, you kind of you don’t have to publish your pricing. Because pricing doesn’t come up until the very end a lot. Do you want to see what will work with our team will add value will work with our will get the blessing from IT? And sometimes they’re like, Oh, so what’s the cost? You know, and they’re like, and then when you tell them, they’re like, it’s almost like, insignificant to what they’re spending already on a, you know, 100 person sales team. So…
Andy Halko 44:31
Yeah, I always find that aspect interesting, because I see a lot of founders struggle with it in the software space, because you try and think about what your expenses will be, as you scale, a dev team and marketing and sales, you know, and all these other aspects, and then what someone’s willing to pay, you know, and how you can scale them. So I think, you know, pricing is one of those challenging things of, you know, how do you really do it, it’s as much it has to be a science but it also has to be a little bit of an art right?
Mark Stralka 45:00
Yeah, yep. Yeah, and certainly, you know, because it’s a SaaS business, you know, a lot of our costs are kind of fixed. And so if we add another 100 users, it doesn’t cost us much more to run it. So our biggest cost is always, you know, people. So bring on people as will be always be the most expensive part of our process. And you know, that, but the cost of run the product itself will will always stay fairly flat as we scale as well.
Tony Zayas 45:27
Just to bring up this past year, right, 2020, COVID, all the changes that have come about just an effective, pretty much everybody, how is that affected Mobile Locker? And then I guess we could talk more about it, but how do you see that impacting things moving forward as well, even if things return, you know, back to normal state of affairs, I think I’ve seen a lot where we’ve seen shifts in businesses that, in certain trends, are probably going to, you know, started to do some things that I think people will continue to do. So just curious.
Mark Stralka 46:03
Yeah, it’s really it is really driving a big shift in the life sciences and pharmaceutical space and the sales. So it traditionally pharmaceutical company reps would be going to doctors offices, going to hospitals, meeting with the physicians of the office staff in person, you know, and that, that was a big part of how they, you know, encourage the, sale of their products long over over time, that’s probably never coming back. There was already a shift, where to where doctors were not seeing reps as often. So they were already being challenged to have boots on the ground, as it were, and that just, you know, turned off immediately, come March this past year. So that was certainly something that they kind of always expected was going to happen in the pharmaceutical space. But the the abruptness of it was really a shock to them. Now it worked out well, in for it actually worked out for us well in that regard, because a lot of the value of Mobile Locker is that remote environment, sending things to a doctor, knowing when they open it, what page, they’re looking at, being able to do it using any of you on your Windows laptop, or on your iPad, or on your phone or in Microsoft Outlook was kind of already in place. So fortunately, we had a couple clients, pharmaceutical clients that they already planned to launch a new product in May. They had a, you know, a billion dollar launch planned in May. And when COVID hit, all of a sudden their 300 reps were like, paralyzed, and they didn’t have any way to, to, you know, get the word out about this new product. So we helped them using Mobile Locker, we were able to help them engage with these hcps remotely in a way that was super easy for the reps to use. You know, it worked really well, they got huge engagement numbers on it. And it really led to the successful launch of their business. So we were already kind of positioned that our platform was was would work well for people in person, and also remote. But where it really hurt us was the other part of our business was the whole tradeshow aspect. And that’s something we had invested a lot of time in 2019 going to trade shows, exhibiting and shows showing people how they could use Mobile Locker in all these different ways that shows and then when that hit, we’re like, Well, shit, let’s just pause all that let’s not even talk about it. Think we even took it off the website. Because it’s like, let’s just figure out, you know, that’s not coming back anytime soon. So that was certainly a disruption. But then once we realize, okay, well, our core market or pharmaceutical companies really need what we have, you know, they need to be able to send things to a doctor and have them open it and track it and everything, and engage with them remotely, and measure how it’s working. And that’s become more important. So it’s really led to, you know, you hate hate to say something good came out of COVID. But it’s best definitely been beneficial to us as a business this year.
Andy Halko 48:54
Or last interview that we did, we talked to the founder about selling software into the hospital system and the red tape and some of the challenges that they face, you know, for you on selling into the enterprise space and one that, you know, probably has some level of regulations. You know, what is your insight or advice for folks that are, you know, looking to sell software into a space that is more enterprise that has more process, maybe more red tape, you know, what are the challenges you face? And what are some of the insights that you have about that?
Mark Stralka 49:31
Yeah, so I think my background working one at, you know, in a pharma company at J&J, and then for an agency, we kind of knew what questions they would ask because there was the questions I used to ask when I was on the Enterprise Architecture team at J&J. You know, we kind of so I kind of knew, I think that that’s important to know is what are they going to ask for? They’re going to want to know things like where is it hosted? And if you answer AWS or Microsoft, a lot of the questions hard questions go away. So kind of had built it the right way. Knowing your audience of what they’re going to ask for, was really important. And then also making it very easy for them to find more answers. So, you know, especially selling software to a pharmaceutical company, they want to know, does it integrate with Salesforce? Does it work with our single sign on, you know, is it gonna be hard to deploy to our iPads, and having easy answers for all those is really important. The other benefit, I think, for us specifically, and this goes back to cars and twos, we always kind of work with the brand teams, and the brand teams are the ones who are driving the business, they’re the revenues source at the company. So they’re the ones who kind of, as long as they play by the rules of what they have to do, they can make a case for why we need this new product and how it’s going to add value to them. So, um, you know, we’ve never sold into the, the it function at a pharmaceutical company, we always try to go in through the brand, or through the sales team, the marketing team. And that was even back because in, certainly, you know, happy to engage it, we’re going to work with them. But the Our product is really valuable to the brand and marketing and sales teams. And so that’s where we have to really project ourselves and make sure they understand it, and then they’ll go make the fight, or the case for why we should bring in another sales tool into an organization, especially a large organization.
Andy Halko 51:23
So really knowing those personas within the organizations is important for every business, but especially in that enterprise space to know where you need to have those conversations.
Mark Stralka 51:35
Yep. Yeah, and just then you have to know that, you know, it’s going to take longer, you’re not gonna like I said, you’re not going to get them to sign up with a credit card, it’s going to be a 30, 60-90 day sales process, you’re going to have to have several calls with them, you’re gonna have to write a lot of emails, and just kind of knowing that that’s what you’re signing up for when you’re going into the enterprise B2B space. But you know, the nice thing about once you get into B2B is you become part of their culture. So in our case, you know, a new sales rep gets on board at one of our clients, they come in for the first day, they’re handed an iPad or laptop, and Mobile Locker is already on there. So from day one, we’re part of their sales process. And you know, you want to be sticky, you don’t want to lock clients in, and in no way do we lock them in, you know, they can always get their data out. But as long as you keep them happy, and you’re providing value, make it easy to work with you, you know, from a contracting perspective, from a support perspective. And this goes back to being a small company, they don’t have 15 account managers, they have to talk to, they don’t have to submit a ticket to get help from us, you know, they just shoot us an email or send us a call. And we’re a small team, we even have slack channels with some of our clients that have slack and Microsoft Teams. So just making yourself very easy to work with. They’re very appreciative of that. Whereas, you know, they work with a big company, I think I’ve mentioned this before, they expect things to take forever, Hey, can you make this change, and you know, they expect it to be like, three months later, it happens? Well, with a small company like ours, it’ll happen the next day or the next week, you know, and they love that. And they’re appreciative of that. And, you know, once and the other value of getting into a company, a large company, is the people who, you know, they’re at your current client. Now, when they leave to go to their next company, they leave and go to a different organization, a lot of times, they’ll bring you with them, you know, because it helps them the second say, hey, at my last company, I, you know, we really succeeded by using this vendor, and they walk kind of walk in the door. And that helps you open new doors and new opportunities as well. So there’s a lot of value to making yourself easy to work with. And knowing the personas, like you said, and making sure it’s easy for them to do business with you.
Andy Halko 53:43
Yeah, that’s great. You mentioned stickiness, and we do a lot of work around retention, you know, in that enterprise space, not locking somebody in but creating a sticky product. But what else do you do you think about when you’re trying to think about retention for your software keeping users and clients? Yeah, so
Mark Stralka 54:06
I think the first part is, you know, we have been fortunate that we’ve lost very few clients over the years, you know, some of the clients we’ve had for, I think, nine years, you know, is our longest running client this point, because you just become part of their process. It certainly, you want to kind of land and expand and grow into other areas of the business. And sometimes that’s hard if that clients not growing. But you know, trying to try to keep them happy if they, if something changes in their organization, like some of our clients have been acquired since they became a client. So now you’re working with a new entity, who may not fall want to use the tools that you that they were using from the acquired company. And so you kind of have to sell it all over again. And then you’re competing against the big players again. So that’s that’s one of the challenges. How do you keep them happy? How do you keep them growing? And certainly, you don’t usually get it at least the enterprise The space and the kind of companies we work with, if you know, COVID happens, they’re not going to all of a sudden cancel their contracts with their vendors, because they still need to sell stuff, right? Especially because we’re in a revenue generating part of their business, we’re not a call center, we’re helping them sell more. That’s, that’s a key, you know, value prop of the of the product. So, you know, if we were in a cost saving area of the business COVID would have been probably horrible for us. Enterprise side, but you know, so retention is, you know, obviously, always something you have to think about, but we don’t look at it monthly, we don’t worry about, Oh, no, no, are they gonna, you know, subtract five users of 10 users, we also have annual contracts, you know, most of them are all of them are annual or longer. So you always know you have that renewal event, that’s going to happen. But you also have to build that into their planning, you have to know when their budget season is, when are they going to start doing forecasting for their next fiscal year. And make sure you you get on their radar early enough in advance to say, Hey, don’t forget, you know, we’re up for renewal at such and such date, give them enough time to get through their process to renew as well. So that’s been important as well.
Andy Halko 56:09
What’s the future for Mobile Locker? What strategies? Are you looking at the scale and grow the business right now? And what’s the next, you know, year two years look like?
Mark Stralka 56:23
Yeah, I think the biggest one is, like we talked about was niching, down back to healthcare, and life sciences and pharmaceutical specifically. So that’s our biggest, our biggest change, and we’re going to be, you know, updating the website and rebranding kind of some things to really focus our messaging on the value we provide to those companies, I still see that long term mobile locker can compete with the, you know, the big players in the sales enablement space. So that’s still a lofty goal for us, but not in the near, you know, Next Next, you know, one or two years. But, you know, our, I think my immediate goals is to one stay small, you know, I don’t think I ever want to have more than 10 people on the team. I just like having a small organization, it just keeps it simple. But I think we can achieve, you know, really high financial success and, and, you know, in probably, you know, have a good long term, exit for the company, eventually, I don’t want to stop working on it right now, I don’t have anything else I’d want to be doing. I still love what I’m doing every day and working with the team. But you know, that’s kind of the goal is to really kind of focus back on our on our core target market, and really kind of grow the our penetration in that market as well.
Tony Zayas 57:35
It’s great. Awesome. Well, Mark, we are just about here at the end of the hour. So I just wanted to say thank you. This has been awesome. It’s been really good to talk and go into more detail with you. I encourage anybody who’s watching if you want to check out mobile locker comm or check out and connect with mark on LinkedIn. And with that, guys, we will be back next week with another founder. Again, once again. Thank you, Mark. Have a great interview.
Mark Stralka 58:10
Thanks, Tony. Yeah, yep.
Andy Halko 58:14
All right, everybody, have a good day.
Tony Zayas 58:16