SaaS Founder Interview with Martin Langelo Lien, CEO & Co-Founder of Respond Flow
Respond Flow enables you to automatically send mass personalized text messages to grow your business and connect with your loyal customers.
Tony Zayas 0:00
Alright. Welcome, everybody! It’s Tony Zayas here. In the SaaS founders show. We got a special episode and its special because typically we do these on Wednesdays 11 o’clock. Andy?
Andy Halko 0:07
Tony Zayas 0:07
Tell us what happened this time?
Andy Halko 0:08
Yeah, you know, technical difficulties. But we’re talking to SaaS founders. I mean, if anybody can understand bugs, and issues and have the date through that and be agile, I think it’s these guys. Right?
Tony Zayas 0:33
Yeah, for sure. So with that, I wanted to welcome today’s guest, we got Martin Langelo Lien from Respond Flow. Martin, thank you so much. And thank you for rescheduling, coming back. today to talk with us. We’re excited to talk to you. When I wanted to ask you just to kind of kick things off what I thought was really cool is that at your site for Respond Flow, it says ‘responsible as a home for rebels, PhDs, athletes and troublemakers. Our mission is to redefine businesses to connect with customers.’ I want to hear about kind of that team of people and how the troublemakers fit in?
Martin Langelo Lien 0:15
We’ll be happy to ya know, kind of funny that you noticed that. It’s, it’s kind of a little nod to our origin story, in a sense. It’s been named by a couple as like a typical start for like a Hollywood Story. It was the weirdest group of co-founders that kind of came together. So me myself, an immigrant from Norway, been in the US for about five years now. Kind of met up with the youngest professor in the University of Oklahoma computer science history that was studying his PhD in computer science for machine learning and sentiment analysis. And then we also pulled in our head of marketing and Matt Moore, who was the youngest Pilates instructor in the world. And then ultimately, also our head of sales, Peter Daggett that was a three time NCAA gymnast champion.
So kind of a weird batch of people that you probably wouldn’t ever have expected to be in the same kind of circuits, but ended up being great. Everybody had a lot of different viewpoints. And I think that’s absolutely critical when you’re starting a company.
Andy Halko 0:59
That’s pretty cool. How did that happen? How did all those folks come together? And, you know, you you use the word origin story, which I love. So what is that origin story for you guys?
Martin Langelo Lien 1:14
Yeah, so I mean, we’ve actually been working on a couple of different startups like not like together. All of us had been doing various different things. And we had this little group that we called ‘Startup Beer’ at the University, where we basically got a lot of like-minded people together, and then we would spitball and just drink beer and talk about our problems with our different side hustles, and kind of software hacks. So it was pretty fun. I mean, we obviously got to be around each other. And it was easy to see who was passionate about it, and who was absolutely fanatical about it.
I mean, everybody who showed up to this, like startup beer group was obviously, like very passionate about startups. But there were some that literally would rather not sleep, and would rather sit there at the bar with the computer up and doing work, kind of working on their side hustles because they saw the big picture for it. And that’s kind of the guys that I gravitated more towards. I mean, that’s who the cofounders ended up being.
But the origin story of Respond Flow was a little bit different. It was actually after I graduated, I just kept in touch with everybody, of course, and we continue to meet up regularly. But at the time, I was heading up bizdev and sales for a medical device startup was based in Oklahoma City. So I was leading a sales team there. And we were having great success with Facebook ads. And we were having kind of a surprising amount of interest from the potential patients that was really wanting to get into this prosthetic kind of innovative technology. But the problem we were running into was, at the time that the patients had already scheduled a consultation, almost none of them showed up.
I think we had a seven to 9% conversion rate with absolutely awful. I mean, we we thought these people were so validated because they had given not just their like, Oh yeah, we want to get on a call. They had picked the time on their schedule. They have given their insurance cards they had given their doctor’s name and contact detail.
Oh, we stood to believe that it would be somebody who was interested. And when that wasn’t the case, obviously I got frustrated, made me look Like a fool, because this was supposed to be the easy part. And yes, I ended up just calling a couple people that didn’t end up picking up for the scheduled meeting because I was, like, honestly kind of frustrated. And it turned out that the most common answer was they were afraid of Robo callers. So that’s why they didn’t pick up and it makes sense to. So just got with the team was okay, how about, we just start sending a simple personal text message that says, ‘Hey, my name is Martin. I’m really excited to learn more about you and get you into a comfortable prosthetic socket. Looking forward to talking to you 30 minutes.’ And by doing so we suddenly saw 233% increase in conversion rate, which was insane. Wow, that was it. And it was, the only problem now was, my entire sales team was spending their entire time while they were on the phone because they had four of these calls every single hour. They were texting while they were on the phone. So they got the name wrong. They’re like, hey, Tony, while they were talking to Tony, but they meant to text Andy. And it obviously ruined the entire personalization. So from my past experience, I’ve seen this being automated at a bigger scale for Expedia, Nike, Unilever and Transamerica said, seem kind of how they optimize their customer success funnels. By using IBM Watson and a lot of very top of the line, obviously, $3 million a year licensed tools. But I was convinced that there should be something out there on the market to solve my pretty simple problem, where I just wanted a text message from a local 10 digit phone number that could use a human delight. So it didn’t just like send it right away, and that the customer could call back to and text back to. And I tried every tool on the market for about four months. Not a single thing could do those simple three things. And I was kind of shocked. I was like, This is ridiculous. I mean, how can every single competitor on the market have missed this simple step of just making it seem human.
And that’s kind of how the idea of responsible came together. And after that, it was kind of just a story of picking up the team players that we needed. I remember I was at the SAS Lounge at the Newark Airport on my way home for Christmas. Back in December of 2018, I believe? Those 30 minutes before my flight was leaving, at which point I wouldn’t be able to call anybody in America for about 30 days, which you guys probably understand, if you’re super fanatical about an idea. It might as well be five years, right? So I was like, okay, well, I need to actually get somebody on my team get this started. So we can work over the holidays. And at 30 minutes. So I called up Austin Graham, who’s now our head of engineering and my co founder, the smartest guy I know, and the smartest guy I knew back then too. And I just kind of shared like, this is the opportunity that I’m seeing. Like, this is not a problem that’s unique to me. It’s something that should have been existing for the last 10 years. And I’m absolutely shocked that it doesn’t. Let’s take this, let’s do this. And he was in. So that’s kind of where it all started. And as we were growing as we were meeting up for the startup beer thing, me and Austin started talking a lot about this Respond Flow. Suddenly, Matt, which was one of the best marketers, I knew at the time, he had been doing marketing for Amex and for Ferrari, up in New York. And that was the guy that was the youngest pilates instructor in the world. He was like, hey, so I mean, is there any way I can, like, help out? Like, if you want some help, you know, like, if you want to build a website, or anything, or maybe do some, like small growth hacking, and I was like, why the hell not? Let’s do it. So we got him on board. And then of course, as we continued, suddenly, it was us three talking about the responsible project. And then Peter Daggett, the head of sales now, then reached out and was like, Hey, I feel like I can sell anything, especially this, let’s do it. I mean, can I help you? And we brought him on. Suddenly, we got the Four Musketeers kind of like going, and we ended up getting a house together so that we can all do our full-time jobs while building these nights and weekends here. So
Andy Halko 6:41
That would be my next question is, did you go all in, or did you guys keep working? And then do this?
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
Okay. We, we tried to do the balance. We tried to do the whole bootstrapping thing for about a year and a half. It was a struggle. I was basically working as the piggy bank because I graduated one year before the other guys sign a full-time job. So it was basically like whatever I could put to the side was like the responsive fund. And of course, I was doubling down on it. There was no doubt but we were all intentional. Like, okay, maybe this will be a good little side hustle, maybe we’ll end up making a little bit of side income just passively, like all these dreams kind of start. And then we got involved in an accelerator and was suddenly saying, Okay, well, this isn’t just a small idea, we could maybe grow this a little bigger. They were the first ones that challenged us to seek funding. And suddenly, we got onto the idea that we needed 500,000 and needed to just double down and go full time on this. So I think it was two days or two weeks before the demo day. That was like the pitch event, we basically decided that so we would put that on the pitch. I said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for half a million dollars. This will get us here.’ And yeah, at the end of that pitch event, I think one of our current lead investors came up to me right after the pitch and was like, hey, will 250,000 get you to Tulsa right now? Like, maybe! Wwe can talk about it.
Andy Halko 6:41
Yeah. So what was that like that period? Let’s call it the first year when you were still working? You’re coming up with the product? Like, what was that? Like? How, when did you work on it? You know, was it hard to find the time? Did you run into a lot of challenges? But what was that like? early stage? Like?
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
Oh, yeah, I mean, the earliest stage was probably when, I mean, we moved together before even the head of sales really came on. So we were all of us, basically just going door to door, finding the early users. I mean, that’s kind of how scrappy we were, we spent no money because we had no money on marketing. And, and we of course, like, first, we built it as an MVP for just one use case, which was me running my sales team, and my full-time job. But as soon as we got it out there and something was available, we realized, okay, we have a basic version that’s less intensive than what we really need it to be. But we might as well just try selling it. So we saw a lot of traction with cannabis dispensary is actually where we go in front of them got them to realize kind of the value prop behind it. Because when it comes to any sort of vise marketing, it’s probably one of the most complex ones to like really go into, because you can’t do all that stuff that you usually use. So if you’ve seen success in a different industry, and suddenly, dispensaries are popping up in your state, because they just legalized it, and you’re like, Ha, I know, ‘I’m a great marketer, I can go into this, I can crush it, then suddenly, you will find your kind of legs chopped off, because you aren’t allowed to do any of your usual marketing on Facebook, any of your usual marketing on Google. So there’s really no way to get in front of people unless you directly contact them. And that’s where we came in and could help with some customer engagements. And of course, keeping it extremely personal. Was like, Hey, I saw that you bought this specific product. To stay true to the example, let’s say a pre-roll or something. And it’s like, hey, yeah, so if you are, like we just got in a brand new one, let me know, if you want to drop by after work, I can keep it under the shelf for you, want to make sure that it doesn’t sell out on you because I know you’re going to love this, Andy. And by doing so, of course, increasing the sales for any campaign, because it’s not just like, hey, 20% off.
Tony Zayas 6:41
That’s really cool. I was… Knowing that you went into that marketplace, which as you said, it’s like super challenging since you don’t have a lot of typical, you know, ways to go to market available to you that… Well, that sounds like a challenge for those, you know, companies. I’m guessing there are things you probably learned from that once you’re able to crack the knot that you’re able to take that elsewhere. How has that worked for you guys?
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
Yeah, no, it’s been great. I mean, that’s probably how we got into just general franchises as well. Because suddenly, we were seeing this traction with dispensaries. And we suddenly attracted multilocation dispensers too. Where they had a wish to make sure that headquarters could send out the messages. And they would go out from the local numbers, and each of the locations would have its own local number. So that way if your store was in New Jersey, and then there was my store was in Oklahoma, let’s say, then we would both get a text from our local location for that franchise. But headquarters steers it any texts or calls back, however, goes directly to that location. So that way if there’s any question about inventory, any question about whether or not you’re open this late, then that goes directly to the location where there are already people ready to answer your questions. And that was a feature we didn’t even think about until we really saw this in a difficult market that then kind of just like, pulled us in, you know, like forced us to make it more functional for them. And now that is extremely helpful for a lot of different industries as well. And it’s, it’s kind of become our bread and butter in a sense.
Andy Halko 6:41
Now, I’m always curious about the founder dynamic. You’ve got four founders, or is everybody a partner in the business?
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
Andy Halko 6:41
Okay, and so how do you manage the differing opinions and the approach to road mapping? The software and making decisions about pieces? Has that been easy for you guys? And why? Or, you know, is it a challenge?
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
I mean, it is definitely a challenge. And especially since everybody is so extreme, like, unique, I would say, weird, I’m gonna choose the word unique, weird. But when everybody is so different, it obviously becomes a friction point, because we all have different viewpoints. But in a sense, it also becomes very balanced. It makes kind of the positions that we all have people have respect for them, because we know that whoever was in that position right now is the best at it. So if there is a question about marketing, I will give away to Matt. If he has a strong opinion about it, I will trust him on it. Same with sales. I will trust Peter on that I’m not trying to interfere unless there’s something that I’m like, just oh, no, no, no, no, no, this is gonna ruin our business, you know? And of course, with engineering, I don’t think Austin would even want my opinion on it. It works out a lot because we have like those kinds of experts in it. But of course, when it comes to decisions, that just impacts us all, like the thing of a couple of different ones, like if we’re hiring and a couple of positions, like should we hire this person that would help on sales, and should we hire this person that would help him, engineer, then that’s, of course, decisions that we make together, and need to balance on it. I’m not sure if we have a secret sauce to it. But so far, I mean, we’ve been living together and working together now full time, since we got our pre-seed funding back in May. And even before then, we were working and living together as well. We just all had like us, I mean, we had our daytime jobs, I wouldn’t call that like a break away from people. But we at least had times where we weren’t just kind of glued together. And still, we didn’t really have any conflict that caused a rift in any way, so far. I mean, knock on wood, where anybody got so hurt that we couldn’t work through it. But I would say like probably the best thing that we have is we aren’t conflict-shy. It’s good to bring stuff up early and make sure that nobody takes it personally. Like we all have fun. We all started as friends. Like the main purpose of this company should be that we will be able to remain friends at the end of this as well.
Andy Halko 6:41
Some, like the Beatles, there’s no Yoko Ono yet that’s come in and kind of like.
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
No, not yet.
Andy Halko 6:41
And I think that’s a unique story of you guys living together. I mean, we’ve done a lot of these interviews, we’ve a lot of clients in the software startup fit space. You know, I don’t hear that very often. So how do you turn it off? How do you guys manage that balance of like, being so close? 24/7?
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
I mean, you guys would probably relate to this. Is there ever a balance, I mean, it’s, it’s like we have our hobby that we are privileged enough to do full time, which is great. And we all love it, we’re probably a little worse than what we should be at turning it off. But it works because we’re all just single young dudes who don’t have families yet. And we can focus on this full-time almost to a toxic level. And it’s not hurting anything in the sense. And of course, when they’re when it becomes a lot, we also break away. We also did a, like a trip and we have another one coming up where we kind of just took a weekend away, bought in some good beer, some good drinks, made some good food, and then we just relaxed, and then let just conversations, if it went into new ideas, new thoughts that can come and go. But the main purpose of the trip was just to kind of get out of like, our day to day rhythm. Get out of the house, get out of the office, and make sure that we could just kind of be around each other and hang out. And that’s been super helpful. I think the last trip we did we didn’t go anywhere like exotic I think we went to this small, small town called Bartlesville. And we rented a very extravagant Airbnb. For I think 30 bucks a day. And then you just kind of relax there because it was more about just being around each other than going to like a destination. And I think that’s probably what we’re gonna try and do, again, maybe not Bartlesville, but somewhere similar. It’s kind of small, and we can just relax, go see the town in like 10 minutes. Just Other than that…
Andy Halko 6:41
Like a little band, you know, going off to make some music or an album. And it’s all fun.
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
Yeah, I mean, that’s a great, great comparison. I’ll take it.
Tony Zayas 6:41
I was taking a reality show you guys need to get center that gets the camera out, right? Like the real world? Oh.
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
No, we should not. I don’t think we should take anything and we joke about it. We have far too comfortable with each other.
Andy Halko 6:41
I’m kind of curious about the whole pitch thing. You know, I find this interesting. I have been in those scenarios. And we, I think we talked about it a couple of episodes ago. But you know, what was your experience having to pitch the business? You know, what kind of, are there any like tips that have come out of it to say, this is you know, what we learned to do right. Or what we learned that didn’t work? What was pitching like in that process for you? Yeah.
Martin Langelo Lien 6:41
I mean, it also got to be prefaced with the fact that like, I came to America to study entrepreneurship. So like, throughout college, I was basically forced to pitch a bunch of startups. And together with the co-founders, we’ve had, I think we calculated it up to 28 failures, which is like projects that we tried, and we completely faceplant. So like With that in mind, obviously, we had some experience with this, I had previously also been a part of racing $4 million for a different startup. So I did it before. But I would say like, the big thing that I saw that I noticed that was different from a lot of the other startups was a lot were lacking numbers. And not because the idea wasn’t like standout or stellar. But there was no numbers on this is like, what we’re looking at, this is our revenue, this is what we can expect as a margin as we grow. This is a financial projection. And I think that’s one of the areas that most people don’t really want to stress with. Because it makes sense. Like, if you have a great idea, you have a great team, and you can put together kind of the product, then you also think, ‘Oh yeah, I can just like hire on an accountant and stuff like that.’ But as a founder, and I mean, you can probably relate more than a lot of people. If you don’t know your numbers, it’s hard for any investor to really believe that they can ever get any money back, you kind of have to show them the path. And for a startup, depending on what you’re going into. Now, there are a lot of ways to get money without having to work with a venture capital firm, where you can do stuff that’s a little bit more founder-friendly, in a sense? Where there’s not like boom or bust, where they invest in a bunch of companies and expect that maybe like two or three really booms, and then the rest can just like that kind of lose it all. There are ways to now get money where you can get it through crowdfunding, you can get it through even through like partners that you’re working with, like with Stripe now coming out with their Stripe Fund, money based on your recurring revenue. Like at that point, you don’t have to stress about really growing that much. And that might be a better path. For us, we’re looking to really go international, we’re looking to grow as fast as possible. I have identified that this is obviously a big opportunity now. But as far as protecting that the best thing we can do is grow as fast as possible. And that’s why we intentionally made the decision to partner up with venture capital firms that can really help us with growth, can help us with capital can help us with the resources that we need. But yeah, as far as I guess, raising money? I would say for pitching, like going into it? Definitely decide whether or not that is what you want to do. Right? Yeah, if that’s what you want, then you have to prove, hey, this is how we’re going to reach our 10x value in the next year. So that when we raise we raise at a 10x value higher than what you invested in. Because that’s then more important than this is how we’re going to make a profit. Yeah. Because that’s relatively irrelevant for a lot of venture capital firms.
Andy Halko 10:26
Yeah, I think people underestimate the amount of time that it takes to pitch and raise money. You know, there’s a lot of things you have to do that you don’t want to and then, you know, like a number of our clients being beholden to investors can always be a challenge too. So you got to really think about is that what you want of your life and your startup?
Martin Langelo Lien 24:51
Right? Yeah, ‘cause this is tricky. I mean, like for, like, if I were to look at it from like, what is the most comfortable at this stage in my life, I love the fact that I,I can be just fanatically living for this, I can still just be like a single dude, just like going way too hard on it. But is that the life stages? I’m gonna see myself in over the next, like, 10-20 years? Absolutely not. Would I do this again, then? Probably not. So it really just depends on what you can maintain. Because as soon as you take on investors, that is your life for the next five to 10 years, and you’re kind of married to it. So you kind of have to just strap in and be okay with the stress. Because if not, you’re really going to hate your life. And it’s probably not the most glamorous thing to say, but it’s true!
Tony Zayas 25:41
So I’ll just say you had some success, you know, with the whole pitch process. What, you know, how did you get to that point to discover, you know, you said you heard others that were pitching, working with the detail and numbers. I’m guessing that was an advantage to you. Have you observed that use that, but what is for the big takeaways, aside from that, and how you got became successful with the process?
Martin Langelo Lien 26:03
Yeah, I mean, a big one for that is finding good partners, finding good mentors. I mean, I say that like I did it, but really, it was a full team behind me, right? Like, the biggest benefit that we saw was partnering up with that accelerator that was local in Oklahoma City, called the Thunder Launchpad. So pitch crew, which is the people that put it together. Erica, Chris, Gabby, they are some of the most knowledgeable people within startups in the Midwest. I mean, they have backgrounds from starting and selling various different startups. And Erica has also experienced working in VC in Silicon Valley. So she brought all that back. And they started this accelerator where they didn’t take any equity. So they’re not taking anything back,all they want is to promote startups in the Midwest, because there was no real culture for it. And finding people like that, really hard. But finding accelerators that do take some, that’s a lot easier. And I would say if you feel like you need that guidance, it’s totally worth the cost. I mean, we were extremely lucky that we didn’t like the accelerator that we partnered up with didn’t take any ownership or any equity, and was just really willing to help. Because pitching them getting that harsh feedback from somebody that you trust and somebody that you know, have done this before. that got us all the way there really. I mean, I think I pitched them probably 35 times before I actually pitched any real investor. And every single time. They said, Oh, yeah, I would never invest that right there that you said right here. Complete idiotic, never say that again. And that was the feedback you need. You can’t take like sugar-coated information back and hope that that’s gonna help you because if you get that no, or if you score in that investor, I mean, you probably not going to get that chance again. Because there’s a lot of relational work that goes behind really just getting investments, more so than just the idea or even showing the financials. But all of it kind of builds upon this story together. But yeah, I would say like any actionable advice I would give is probably find somebody who’s done it before. Usually people who’ve done it before are more than willing to help. I mean, me included, I would love to help anybody who has any questions. Usually, I jump on calls as well and try and help out give honest feedback on pitches. Because I know how it is. I mean, it took us six months before we close funding. And I could have sworn back in November when we were like, pitching, that oh, we’re gonna get this close by January. And then suddenly, it was in May, you know. So it’s, it’s good to obviously the optimistic. That’s my motto. I mean, I probably wouldn’t one of the most disgustingly optimistic people on the planet. But it still is good to be realistic with the timelines. Because otherwise, you’re just going to burn out your team, if you promised them that we’re all going to be full-time in two months and suddenly takes six. So yeah. Yeah.
Andy Halko 29:15
How do you balance, good. Tony?
Tony Zayas 29:18
About just on that point, amongst the four of you, what is that? Do you have a couple of like, super optimistic, and then others that are, you know, just a balanced? Because I think that’s a good point is that some, you know, I think there’s something to be said about the wherewithal to stay to maintain that optimism, but then at the same time, you got to have someone to kind of balance that out with realistic expectations for the rest of the team and all that.
Martin Langelo Lien 29:44
Yeah, yeah. No, and I would say we don’t totally do I mean, like, it’s, I wouldn’t say anybody’s pessimistic but of course, as far as I mean, it is my job to as the CEO to be extreme hype man, you know, like, be the one that’s like, yes. we’re on the right track. We’ve got this, because if not who else is going to be? And for the rest of the team, I would say like, it’s a great balance that they can be asking me those hard questions. Like if I’m saying this is the market we need to go for, this is the budget we’re going to do. Let’s go, let’s do this. Having a couple of people there that says, ‘Hey, Martin, I think that’s absolutely idiotic.’ Like, let’s maybe take a breather here, let’s make sure everybody’s on the same page. I have no problem talking about and, and going through it. But in the way that I present stuff that might be hard to like, challenge. So getting that from the team that knows me, is invaluable. I think otherwise, like getting people to just like blindly follow you is not a benefit for any company. At that point. I mean, everybody’s wrong. At least half if not more than time. So when it comes to just kind of staring at company, it’s, I don’t know how it would go if it wasn’t for the balance of people who say, hey, Martin, let’s take a breather here. So…
I’m wondering, you know, you talked about kind of mentorship, the folks at the accelerator. Investors, your own partners, you know, family and friends, you know, the the, I’m kind of interested in the aspect of people probably always have advice, you know, and you’ve got different people with different levels of experience, but I’m sure you’re not needing for more advice from different parties. So how do you manage all that? You know, how do you take that in, especially for a startup founder, because I know a lot of folks where they pitch their idea to their friends and family. And all they get is a bunch of ideas, and you know, then you take it to an accelerator, and some of those folks can be good, and some of them can be mediocre. And so I’m just kind of curious, personally, how do you handle all the, I guess, input that you end up getting?
Yeah, no, that’s a wonderful question, actually. And something that we actually talked about as a company recently, so extremely relevant. We, so we have a lot of great advisors for Respond Flow. And obviously, that’s something that I’m extremely grateful for. But of course, it I think it’s important to acknowledge, like, what is the background for everybody like to give some like specific examples for Respond Flow. We have, one of our advisors who is an incredible marketer. He’s leading the marketing, kind of paid Pay Per Click marketing for some of the biggest companies in the world within media, and has been doing the marketing, push for like 21st Century Fox for Sony Pictures, and leading their million-dollar budgets. So obviously, when I have a question about marketing and paid ads, that is where I would go, like, there’s no question about it. But when it comes to just like overarching questions about other areas, like unless it’s a general question that I would have asked everybody, because every one of our advisors have a very long list of achievements and backgrounds and industries that they’ve been exposed to, like, I probably would have, like guided my or guarded myself against asking certain advisors, certain things. Like for other instances, like we have one of our head of talent and culture. Tracy, she is incredible. And whenever I have a hard conversation that I need to have with a team member, there’s nobody I would ask except for her. Because I know that when it comes to empathy, and when it comes to somebody who knows exactly how to really manage emotion and stuff that can arise after having a really serious conversation with a team member, there’s not a single person that I would have asked or trusted more. So I would say like, having a large bench of advisors can be a good thing, it can definitely be a problem if you have advisors who are more general in a sense. But having like specialist advisors for special problems, I think is a superpower. I mean, at that point, you pull from some of the smartest people on the planet. And they are also there for you and they want to help out. And yeah, I mean, it’s like, I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have the advisors that I have today. And the mentors, though.
Andy Halko 34:31
So what about the other side? The feedback from customers? I mean, one of the things that we talk a lot about with SaaS founders is you have a product, and customers start using it and they have new ideas, a feature requests, you know, how do you balance that for you guys and your roadmap? Because as an example Basecamp was famously like, you know, didn’t take a lot of feedback and they wanted to keep it simple. You know, where do you guys stand without customers engage with you?
Martin Langelo Lien 34:59
Yeah, I mean, that is something we actually struggle a lot with, because it is like our product is, of course, kind of, it’s, it’s a tool, not a solution. Like you can use it for a lot of different things. That’s why we call ourselves the MailChimp of SMS. We’re not like only for, like, let’s say pediatricians, or only for shoe salesman, like we are for all, anybody who would want to communicate with their customers over text. So like how we find that balance is really hard. Unless we find an industry or a customer that is kind of pulling us too hard in one direction, where we are seeing this being extremely valuable for a lot of different customers, then we definitely guard ourselves for prioritizing, like integrations and other stuff into that space. Because we don’t want to end up with a product that is like, okay, for everybody. But absolute, like mediocre or so it’s but yeah, it’s a difficult one. We haven’t actually solved I would actually love to hear your feedback. What do you usually advise people for?
Andy Halko 36:08
Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s, it’s been interesting, we’ve developed the process with a lot of our clients, and even our own products, where you have to, I like to logically evaluate things. So you, you know, you take something in, and obviously you’re measuring what’s the value and outcome, what’s the cost and time? You know, what’s the, we always talk about the ‘stickiness of features,’ you know, and so it is, it’s a challenging process, I like to break everything up into as logical of a process as possible to try and pull emotion out of it, to try and pull bias out of it. Because that’s the one thing I find in this is it’s easy to have bias. And it’s easy to, you know, assume you know the answer, and you don’t. And so the more you can get real feedback, you can turn it into an equation, I think is the better.
Martin Langelo Lien 37:03
Yeah, that’s all it. I mean, like, I mean, there’s the art of the customer interview, right? I mean, it’s so hard to nail down. And use I mean, like the the typical example of like, if you ask people, if they wanted, like what they wanted back in the, like 1800s, say faster horses, right? I mean, it’s like, so like when it comes to like everything, around asking customers for feet feature feedback, we definitely steer clear of that. But we also have to listen to like, what is it? The customers are asking for in the sense of functionality. And of course, as we’re a young company right now, most of the stuff that we get is they just want tweaks to the current features, not necessarily full feature sets. But collecting all that, getting it organized. We use something called product board. So really love that. But I feel like it’s hard to make a product’s, like, completely democratic, you know, asking customers what they want. That’s cool, getting votes for it, that’s almost probably the best thing I’ve seen. Even events have kind of fallen short. Yeah, there’s a good example with an accounting tool called speaking. It’s like a very Norwegian accounting tool for small businesses. And they do that they have a open Trello board where they have a full product roadmap that is completely open. And then they let people add to the first step of the process. So people can add new features as an idea. And then people vote on it. And then the highest ranked ones goes to the top, and then they move it over to like in progress. And I think that’s probably like the most open engineering kind of approach I’ve ever seen. Which I’m not sure how that would working. But it’s, it’s at least something.
Andy Halko 38:58
Yeah, like that approach. I think the saw there’s a software called user voice that helps control that. So I always liked the voting methodology, but then you still have to take it and evaluate it. Even if it gets 100 votes. It doesn’t mean it fits into the vision of the product. So
Martin Langelo Lien 39:13
Right. I mean, that’s the balance, though, like figuring out exactly what you prioritize. I mean, for us, it’s also like, yeah, I can see, like, what we can do is innovative here in America, but like local number text message marketing, that’s like from a very human approach, like letting them text and call back letting them actually communicate and just sparking that conversation. That is something I believe would be revolutionary worldwide, where even text message marketing hasn’t really gone past the five digit points. And that’s where I see us really being revolutionary. But how do you find that balance where you make that, okay, focus on causing a revolution, right? That can really drive you to make some big feature steps. But is that what our current customers And how do you balance? That? is definitely a hard problem.
Tony Zayas 40:04
Yeah, I was gonna ask Martin, you know, in the text messaging, marketing space, it’s got to be super crowded. And you said, you notice some things, you know about simplicity personalization at work, like no one was offering that. So you guys are gonna find that you guys are doing that? How do you maintain that like first mover advantage as far as offering certain things? Like, take advantage of that?
Martin Langelo Lien 40:32
Yeah, so I guess the biggest thing that we’re doing is making sure that we’re only working with companies that want to talk to their customers, because that is what we do. We want to like we spark conversations, we’re not just a notification service. And that way, we make sure that the use cases also promote engagement, making sure that our customers are being educated to kind of send conversations back and forth instead of just sending messages. And I mean, a good use case we had was a customer that we have the sense a weekly deal on Fridays, and they call it Friday text. And instead of just sending that out, they actually send on Thursday nights. Hey, Tony, do you want to get the Friday text? And that way, people then text back and they get that engagement? And it’s like, yeah, yeah, I kind of want to see what what do you got, you know, and it’s, it causes that engagement. People talk about it in the store, it becomes more of like, Hey, I saw, yeah, Martin. So he texted me on Thursday. Yeah, no, that was an awesome deal. And of course, it sparks that like, kind of conversation back and forth, and also educates the customer, like the end customer, that they can text and call that number to actually reach somebody in the store. And that’s probably the biggest educational barrier. because like you said, it is a noisy space in America. And it has been for a couple of years, what but right now, it’s really starting to ramp up. But most customers aren’t really educated in the fact that they can text back because there’s so few solutions that actually let them. And if we make that the norm, then at least from what I’m seeing, most of the customers will be frustrated that they can’t take their business, which is where we come in.
Tony Zayas 42:19
I love their conversational Thursday evening message. That’s very cool.
Martin Langelo Lien 42:24
Andy Halko 42:25
Do you ever think about you know, larger competitors, take a MailChimp that can come in and, you know, maybe attack the market faster. And already have I actually just read an article today about how slack didn’t want to get purchased. And you know, then Microsoft comes in, and Microsoft has so much money, so many customers behind them, that they finally you know, they kind of needed to go to Salesforce to really compete. And so I’m curious, do you ever worry about incumbents in the marketplace?
Martin Langelo Lien 42:58
Oh, of course, I think if you have a business where you feel like you have any sort of competitive edge, and you aren’t focusing on getting that branding out there so that you are really solidifying yourself, then I mean, in that case, in my eyes, at least your ignorance, because if you really have something that great people are going to try and copy you, right? Of course doesn’t concern, I would say like the one thing that makes me sleep much better at night, is the fact that we already have that team. I mean, with Austin’s background in, like machine learning and sentiment analysis specifically, not only can we be the tool that lets people have conversations, but we’re also the only tool in the market that can actually tell you whether or not those conversations were positive or negative. And giving that insight is something that isn’t a complete competitive edge. And continuing, of course, to innovate on that, to build on that ultimately being able to allow the customer as they’re writing the text, because they get instant feedback on whether or not that text looks like spam, like not only just because of the phone providers, but because of you sending four similar emojis of an angry face, this does not look good, like remove some of those emojis deliverability is going to be better, and people are going to receive it a lot better. And being able to use that basically by having all the people that’s communicated on a platform, and then having the algorithm learning from it, letting them then see what takeaway we get. I mean, that will just continue to be an increasing competitive advantage. I think so far we’ve had about 3.7 million conversations on response flow. So every single one that gets sent, we can learn from, we can improve the platform and of course, build those moats. That’s absolutely critical. But
Andy Halko 44:54
it’s really cool. So what do you see is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced building a startup what’s been the, you know, scariest thing? Or the biggest challenge you face so far? Oh,
Martin Langelo Lien 45:06
I mean, I that’s a really hard question. I mean, from from a technical sense, there’s definitely been like, barriers that we’ve hit. But I think more than anything, it’s just motivation. I mean, it’s always like you run a, you’re basically running up against like the waves the entire way. And keeping that motivation and keeping the team cohesive and pushing the same direction, and always being optimistic about what’s next. That is extremely challenging. Because of course, suddenly, you have a season where you hit like, big waves for like, a full month, like in a row. And everybody’s like, a little bit. A little passive on this, I’m not sure if I want to really push on this or double down on this. And then getting the team kind of out of that, like, mental state. That’s challenging, I would say, probably the biggest challenge, and I think that will only continue. And I mean, the good thing there is I’ve seen it in the past as well. I’ve seen what happens when a company doesn’t overcome it, which is what inspires me to continuously just pushing that positive energy out, and at least trying to be a force for good. But yeah, it’s hard. I feel it’s important to surround yourself with other founders, other people in the same position to you, that’s can like really relate. That gets, it’s probably gotten me through more dark days, if I can call them that than anything else.
Tony Zayas 46:48
And you’re not, not here, you’re
Andy Halko 46:50
I have dog. So I muted myself for a second. Well, no, I mean, you can call dark days, I was saying, because I think every buddy that owns a business knows there are ups and downs, there are good days and bad days, good days, good months and bad months. And that’s just kind of par for course, I always see, you know, entrepreneurship is perseverance, you know, it’s really about no matter whether it’s good or bad, you got to keep moving through.
Martin Langelo Lien 47:24
Absolutely, I think that’s probably one of the things that I would identify as well is probably the biggest thing that would be a factor of whether or not you’re going to be a successful founder or not, is just resilience. Like, if you’re not resilient, you just shouldn’t, because you’re gonna hate your life, and feel like a failure, even though you probably achieved more than most people have achieved throughout their entire career. It still is like, yeah, you felt like you failed. And if that really hits you, it’s probably not the sport for you.
Andy Halko 47:59
I’m kind of curious, do you think that the startup world and being a founder is a personality thing, and that, you know, there’s a certain type of person that’s, it’s right for and they can thrive in? And there’s other people that it just will never be possible? Or is it kind of like growth mindset that anybody can do it? It just, you know, they may have to, you know, learn to use different muscles, if you will.
Martin Langelo Lien 48:25
I like to think that everybody can do literally anything, like if you really, really want to, of course, some people are more prone to it, maybe they already have that natural skill set. But I mean, I would have never thought like, I am also a strong believer that I will never ever become a surgeon. Right. But I mean, if you spend enough time on it, you totally can. I guess the question more, at least in my head is, is that a life you’re going to enjoy? Because if you’re not learning to or if you don’t feel like you have that like passion for creating something new, or if that passion isn’t enough for you to really keep pushing, then it’s going to be hard for you at least for a couple years. And I mean, is that really something that anybody would want to do? I know I don’t want to put myself through med school. Awful to me. But then again, I’ve complete respect for whoever does it and I probably could if I really forced myself to do it. But yeah.
Tony Zayas 49:34
So what would you say what is the what is the path forward look like for Responsible at this point?
Martin Langelo Lien 49:42
Yeah, yes. Yeah, no. So right now, of course, like we’re like still and pre seed stage. We’re still testing. We’re still experimenting. We’re still working with a lot of different industries, finding new use cases, seeing what works for us. So We’re probably going to continue to test around that, continuing to develop the platform. I mean, we just launched our second, like the newest version of our platform back in July of 2020. So, so far, the platform is still extremely young. So there’s so much that we want to do to it before, we really feel like we can go international go big. But I mean, so far, we’re seeing a lot of growth, we’re loving where we’re at. I mean, our team went from just the four co founders back in May, to now if we count consultants and the interns as well to like 21, already, so it’s been, like 13, full time employees as well. So continuing to see that growth and building up with great people. That’s, I mean, it’s too fun to just stop to do that, and, of course, ultimately going to start doing some international market testing with some of the current kind of identified customers that has already shown some interest. And hopefully, within the next 10 years, like our B hag, if you may, is being available to every business worldwide within the next 10 years.
Tony Zayas 51:17
Very cool. Back to the points on, you know, optimism, and even like passion as you have this growing team. How do you how do you articulate that vision? This is a point that Annie actually has a white paper on this called the vision gap. How do you articulate that? Your vision so that your team can really understand it buy in, and then obviously, you’re probably finding people you want to find people that are passionate, and enjoy what you’re doing doesn’t feel like work? But how do you do that? How do you articulate the vision? How do you get the buy in, keeps on moving forward?
Martin Langelo Lien 51:53
Yeah, so I should probably read that white paper for sure. Because the formula for it. But I I personally like to make sure that I have a call with every single person that we are planning on hiring, where we talk about that. And one of the things that I identify as the like one of the key things that I’m looking for in any position, whether or not that’s customer success, whether or not that’s an engineer, whether or not that’s sales, that needs to be that they have some inkling of entrepreneurship in that I mean, the best thing I can ever be told in an interview is, hey, Martin, I think this looks like a cool opportunity. But just so you know, I probably won’t be here in two years, because I’m going to start my own thing like that right there is you’re hired on the spot, is incredible. That means you have that drive, that means you love what you’re doing and will love what you’re doing. Because everything you learn for working in a startup wearing several different hats, you know, they are going to bring on to the next big thing, which is passion that you can’t, like you can’t buy, you can get that anywhere. And that’s that’s probably one of the key things that I’m looking for. And then of course, when I talk to them, I don’t tell them about like, hey, response was this text marketing software in Tulsa, Oklahoma that, like is looking to grow and right now you would be the 14th employee? No, this would be like, hey, if you want to come on this, this is going to be incredible. We’re obviously going to go international. These are the companies that we’ve already identified, and of course, Norway as well as England and the rest of Europe. And that is what’s next. So the question for them then is of course, like, Is that something you want to be a part of. And then more than anything, we make sure that every one of our employees are taken care of. I think one of the things I took away the most from just growing up in Norway, was kind of the work life balance there. Obviously, I’m a horrible example of that. But for kinda like me everyday, just like job that you would take, you know that there’s at least like eight weeks paid time off, which is why we do unlimited PTO, you know that if you get hurt, you don’t ever have to worry about it. Health care is taken care of. That’s why we cover 100% of your premium for health, vision, dental, and life insurance. And then ultimately, one of my big goals was something that I have yet to see in America is something called like a corporate cat. So at every Christmas party, at least back home, I knew that my dad had like at his office, they had a corporate cabin. So I always knew that we had this cabin up in the woods. I thought we owned it, we definitely didn’t. Growing up and during the Christmas party, they would just pull out the names. So they pulled out the my dad’s name was like, Hey, now you need to take the full week off. Bring your kids bring whatever to this beautiful mountain cabin with like 16 bedrooms, like huge jacuzzi, like All the stuff that you would like having a dream house that you can imagine that your dream cabin would be if you were the CEO. And that’s something absolutely everybody got access to. And that’s something that I hope that one day we will have enough revenue to really get as well. For the team here.
Tony Zayas 55:17
That’s very cool.
Andy Halko 55:19
Yeah, I’m such a big believer in vision, I think, you know, and articulating it because you want your entire team you know, headed in a common direction. and and the the corporate cabin, it’s funny that you say that, and Tony knows this is on our vision board that we have is a vacation home for the team. And we I haven’t done it yet. But that’s something that I’ve talked about for years. That’s fun. That is so cool. Yeah,
Martin Langelo Lien 55:44
Yeah, I love that. Please do I mean, that’s something that is so I mean, thinking back growing up, that was one of the biggest things, like I always knew that we had that cabin at Hoff yet, which is like, what the like mountain was called. And it was like ski in ski out. And I was like, Oh my god, we’re living like a highlife. I was like, No, no, absolutely not. This was like what everyone at the company got. And it was just incredible. I mean, it’s, it’s something that like for work life balance, like kind of promoting that, even though our team is extremely young, there’s, I don’t think there’s a single one in our company that has a child yet. But still, like that time will come. And I want to make sure that we are there to make sure that that’s of course taken care of and that everybody can build those kind of memories. Very cool.
Tony Zayas 56:34
Fantastic. Well, we’re just just about under the hour here. So again, Martin, this has been a fascinating conversation. We’ve really enjoyed it. And appreciate you, you know, jumping on here and sharing all about respond flow on yourself and your journey. And just encourage everybody who’s tuning in to go check out our Respondflow.com. Take a look. You’re doing some really cool things, Martin, just all around and we will definitely stay in touch with you and look forward to seeing big things happen for you. Yeah,
Martin Langelo Lien 57:07
Thank you so much, Tony. And thank you so much, Andy.
Andy Halko 57:10
It’s been thanks, Martin. Everybody, have a good day.
Tony Zayas 57:14
Take care everybody. We’ll see you next time. Bye.