SaaS Founder Interview with Ted Mico, Founder of Thankful
Tony Zayas 0:04
Everybody, welcome. It’s the SaaS Founders Show here back for another episode. I’m Tony Zayas, I am joined by Insivia’s founder and CEO Andy Halko. Andy, how you doing?
Andy Halko 0:12
I’m doing fantastic here. Still hanging out at home since we’re doing the remote work and excited to do another SaaS founder live show here today and chat, have a great conversation with some interesting people.
Tony Zayas 0:23
Yeah, for sure. So with that, this week, our our special guest is Ted Mico from Thankful. He’s the founder of Thankful and we’ll talk all about Thankful. So with that, let me bring Ted on here. Hey, Ted! Good morning. Thank you for… It is nice and early.
Ted Mico 0:36
Yeah, nobody said that. I had to be interesting. Like that was that was that was not pre cleared. I don’t know about that.
Andy Halko 0:41
You didn’t see that in the 40 page contract?
Ted Mico 0:45
Along with my soul, which you’re welcome to. But yeah, there’s no return on that as well.
Andy Halko 0:48
Tony Zayas 0:50
Ted before we get into Thankful and your career and kind of everything you’ve done, very interesting kind of, kind of list of things that you’ve done. I want to hear, first of all, about your experience in the music industry. He had some some pretty cool background at Capitol Records at Interscope, Geffen, and even a marketing consultants for Rolling Stones. So, love to hear a little bit about that and how that kind of how anything you’ve learned in that realm has helped you in.
Ted Mico 1:33
I learned a lot of bad lessons. What did I learn from Keith Richards that I could possibly talk about? How to Survive! Yeah, I certainly I’ve probably been voted least likely SaaS founder in my… Yeah, so I set up an ideas factory in the in the 90s, which was basically just, I came up with crackpot ideas, found people that were either willing to do them or pay for them, sometimes both. And that was a huge grade indigenous peoples triptychs, spoken word videos, a couple of books, just anything. You know, what the one one of the books was a.. We had a whole bunch of historians, like very famous historians write reviews about films based on historical themes because the back was when I was very drunk one night that you know, all Americans only get their history from the movies. So which is sort of wholly true, but it’s not not wholly untrue, either. Anyway… So this the the wackiness of it all, what the craziness of it all, like sort of coincided with the dawn of the internet and digital media, etc. And it got the attention of a lot of artists like the boys in Rolling Stones, and Peter Gabriel’s as well. So I ended up working with all of those as well. Sort of by, by coincidence, more than design. In fact, my entire the trajectory of my, trajectory of my career has largely been this a slalom of, I don’t know, controlled by luck. More luck than judgment and and just being at the right place at the right time. So what did I learn from the from the experience in the music business? Um, yeah, how to be the music business is, you know, often like, Look, I was on the other side of the music business when I was part of a team at launch. Dave Goldberg’s launch. We were trying to create a new digital music economy. And I was sort of faced with an intransigent business. They didn’t want to change the music business, like, Look, we sell CDs. Why do we want this digital nonsense? What do you mean track economy, we can’t have that that’s going to destroy our business. So I was I learned how to deal with intractable problems and how to convince people that you know, like, don’t argue with technology, because technology is always going to win. agility wins. You know, the music business had to be very agile, you have to think very quickly. You don’t have time for seven year you know, deployment plans or requirements gathering. And you really have to understand your audience. The Rolling Stones fully understand their audience. They know they know what they want, and they go out of their way to try and deliver, you know, the best show possible. So, so we learnt. Yeah, I learned I learned a lot. I also learned, you know, it is also at times the most venal place on Earth, it makes the Circus Maximus look like a pleasant place to be, you know, like there’s it’s a bloodsport at times. And I learned that that is not the, that is not a an environment that I want to bring to any company that I co found. So, you know, I brought, I brought the lesson, there was not a good one, it was like, okay, I don’t want to, you know, this idea that whatever happens, I need to understand either how to how to take credit or assign blame quickly, that is not the environment that I want to build. So that’s a very long winded way of answering your question,
Andy Halko 5:43
Oh, but those are great insights. You know, know, your customer, I mean, that I mean, it’s pretty interesting to kind of look at a completely different world and industry and say. ‘Look, I mean, there are some foundational things that just, you know, are intrinsic to anything that you’re doing.’
Ted Mico 6:01
The most, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was actually from Bowie. Because he was a hero of mine growing up, and they say, you know, never meet your heroes, because they’ll always let down. He was definitely not in that camp. He was he was wonderful. And, and still sadly missed today. The, what he saw the opportunity that technology brought as, as a challenge, for sure, but an opportunity. And instead of that said that… While the music business was thinking about what digital media was going to do to it, Bowie was thinking about what it could do for it. And that distinction is something that I’ve always brought with me, including into Thankful and AI. And instead of thinking about when you’re when you’re faced with a problem, instead of thinking like, Oh, well, this has been done to me, dammit, you know, we’ve lost a customer, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened, etc. You know, if you can flip that and think, well, what what is this? You know, what is this? What is this actually doing for us freeing us from, you know, to be able to do other things with it, then that change in perspective allows you to move so, and it stops you if you’re always worried about… what’s next? You don’t you don’t tend to move? Well, there was a great Steve… I met Steve Jobs a few times and his, his constant thing about the music business, when when do you think the music business will let go of the side of the pool? You know, like, like, because it just wanted to hang on to the past and for dear life. And it’s not it’s not surprising, the music business was a, you know, multi billion dollar business. So it was you know, like, it was fine for startups, like launch, etc. to go. ‘No, just like go this out of the pool. If I had a multi billion dollar business, I might think twice too.’ But eventually, I guess pain is the touchstone for all business growth? They got into enough pain that they finally did, but it might, but it took a long time. And even in subscription that was like when they first saw subscription was like we’re not doing that that’s that’s we were just run the numbers are gonna be underwater, this is terrible idea. They didn’t have the faith that it would work. And like, you know that it turned out that they were wrong. Thank goodness. So anyway, all of that sort of brought me into technology, etc. So I was the COO of a computer vision company. And then, you know, let let me to consult for a whole bunch of AI companies, which then led me to Thankful and my cofounder, Evan Tan. So that’s sort of the, the, there’s not a straight path.
Andy Halko 8:28
Ted Mico 8:29
Andy Halko 8:30
So what you know that, you know, maybe dive into that. I’m kind of curious, that path that you took to get into the product and then, you know, what was that moment? Was it you were brought in with someone else’s idea? Did you have an epiphany? Did you have a pain? Like what got you into actually creating Thankful?
Ted Mico 8:50
That is a fun, I should probably have a fancy, you know, origin story by me. It should be like I was, I was surfing on the beach and invest and then the shark came along. And then I thought customer service. No, it wasn’t true. I tell you, it has to have blood gut, if it bleeds, it leads. Actually was a little bit more pedestrian than that. I was looking for a challenge. I was introduced to my co founder Evan Tan, by his brother who has been a friend of mine for a couple of decades. And Evan was building a, an AI wine assistant, which is, you know, that’s good, I guess, you know, but not necessarily a problem that I had. I had a lot of people, friends and wine just…It wasn’t a burning issue. And, and so I met him and I just thought that’s interesting. That’s good. You know, like, I wonder whether we could do something in the future maybe. And I just so what happened was, I guess the Epiphany was was not really an epiphany at all. It was just an abject pain, sorrow and and and desperation. I ended up with In the two weeks of Hell with various forms of customer service that were going wrong, whether it was Blue Cross Blue Shield or spectrin cable or three or four e comm companies, you know, the the simplest email would take five days to reply to or that or the chat bot would get it wrong or you know, like, Hey, I’m having trouble tracking a note or here’s your track order link. No, you idiot, I’m having trouble tracking the, you know, that stuff? It just, it all collided in a sort of constituted in a two-week window, where I was virtually able not able to do anything. My entire life is consumed with his nonsense. And the weird thing about it was that, and this was a focus group of one that I had the expectation that somehow technology, because it had fueled my… My expectation or entitlement for immediacy that it was going to deliver on that, you know, somehow and then it wasn’t, when it was immediate, it was wrong. So I had, like, I was faced with those hopes and choices of like, either wait for, you know, wait for a so called ‘expert’, but I have to wait weeks or I can get a an instant answer. And it’s wrong. Great. What a you know, what a… foul packed with a devil that is so. So I had no interest in customer service, I’d been in a call center like everybody else had for, you know, briefly for a holiday job. It was, you know, it’s a wretched job. But, so I have I approached it as a customer, you know, not from somebody in the industry, but as somebody that needed to be served by the industry and was not. So that was my, that was my entree into it. And so, you know, we talked about it. And then we did a little bit of research and I was into, you know, I looked for all the blogs, having been in marketing where you know, there’s three or four blogs every day that you can disagree with them, but they’re always sort of interesting. It’s like marketing and the avocado like I never thought of life like that, or you know, like Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance. Whereas in customer service, the best I could come up with was, you know, how to better manage a call center, which could have been written in the 1950s. It was dreadful. And it was dreadful for me because I was happy to steal other people’s ideas and couldn’t. So, so I shouldn’t be telling you that. So anyway, that that the end result was that I am not an angry person. I’ve never been an angry person. Apple Care only works when you throw the phone across the room once when you throw the second iPhone across the room and it’s shattered because you have hardwood floors, you end up paying $1,000. so thankful was born. After the second iPhone got shattered, I guess is the is the pithy answer. But it’s a. So that was why it’s a starting at starting an AI customer service company, I was in the hope that it would save me a lot of money on broken phones. And I hope to save humanity from the cost of broken phones as well. It turns out that one of, the one of the tidbits of information that I did pick up was that I think it was from Forbes magazine, which was that in our average lifetime, each one of us will spend 43 days on the phone interacting with customer care. Now, like which is like… Being exiled to the second or third circle of hell for 43 days, that’s a long over six weeks of my life that I’m going to be spending in this crap. So the goal of Thankful is to do you know, like the the humanitarian goal of thankfulness do to give back, you know, three weeks of your life back. So you can spend it on a beach in Bali, you can spend, spend it doing service work for for, you know, for the disadvantaged, you know, spend it however you like, but you won’t have to spend it on the phone. And by the way that 43 days, I’m willing to bet that that’s almost double, if you have, you know, BlueCross BlueShield or anthem liberals?
Andy Halko 13:50
Well, that 43 days, you know, I think about my kids with with their phone, that’s going to change because 20 years ago, people were predicting that, you know, you’d spend 43 days tangled in the cord from the phone that was on your wall trying to get out.
Ted Mico 14:05
Right. So yeah, we want to be the catalyst for that revolution, for sure. You know, because because there can be nothing worse than then waiting for something like waiting for a customer support or waiting for a resolution to a problem that you think and the simpler the problem you think it is, the quicker you feel, it should be answered as well. Why is taking so long, I just want to know how to return this. And so anyway,
Andy Halko 14:34
And the bigger the company, the worse their customer experience gets
Ted Mico 14:37
Almost almost uniformly That is true. Correct. And that is like so part of the… Part of the mission here is to is to and not wishing to overstate it too much, but it’s to revolutionize the whole concept of service. We actually believe as a company, you know, better living through service and then you know, better service through technology. So it’s a sort of two stack. But service is always the last thing that any company thinks about. And I understand why it’s the messiest, it’s like, you know, the rest of the especially in, you know, when you’re dealing with a lot of digital stuff, the rest of the customer journey can be tracked in a almost Star Wars-like data driven way, you get to the customer service bit, and suddenly you’re back two centuries, and you’re fighting in 1917. And it’s trench warfare. And there’s blood and dysentery and mustard gas, and it’s just awful. So, so I understand why it’s the last thing, the problem with that thinking is, you know, it’s a burden a cost center, it’s a problem that needs fixing, as opposed to an opportunity. This goes back to the the David Bowie thing. So the problem is that as the rest of the customer journey has largely been commoditized, all insurance companies are pretty much the same, most ecomm companies pretty much the same, offering the same product, roughly the same price, etc. It is the service part of the customer journey, the customer experience, that is now the defining characteristic for the customer. So now, it’s the most important thing from the customer. And it’s the least important thing from the brand. And that expectation gap opens wide. And we’re trying to, to solve for that expectation gap and allow companies the ability to put service first and be part of that customer service revolution that is happening with or without us. And by the way, we started the company four years ago. And that was a, I wouldn’t have even dare to tell somebody that I think there’s going to be a revolution. Because it seemed a long way off. Now. I’m actually behind the curve. But so yeah, of course, we know that it’s happening now. And we started in Ecom, because e commerce is the is the pointy end of that stick. It’s the it’s the sharp end, because there’s no switching costs, you know, when an e commerce company isn’t doing what you wanted to do, it takes you what, two, three seconds to cut and paste your credit card into their competitor, and you lose, you know, the brand loses that customer forever, you know, they’ll never even then not only will they not buy, they won’t even visit the site again. So this idea that it just I found it curious that any brand or company would spend all this money trying to gain my attention. You know, like all this marketing money trying to get my attention. As soon as I’m struggling with something, their first thought is, let’s get rid of Ted as cheaply and quickly as possible and deflect him. Like, what, what doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. So we feel like that service is a first contact that actually customer service isn’t a problem that needs deflecting, it is it is a, its the first contact of a relationship. So you can think of customer service. And we do Thankful as I sort of is a relationship engine. And our goal is to build better relationships between brand and customer. That’s that that’s the the end goal. And we’re still in the, I’d say we were in the first mile of a marathon for that. But it is we are the only people that are looking at the problem in that way. We do believe there’s a service economy, we believe that that service economy will eventually take more money from the pot than marketing will. Because I think that service actually is marketing. And it is the new marketing. And if a, whether it’s technology or a person, if that person has helped you out when you’re struggling, there was a relationship there. Like I said, whether it’s an intelligent AI bot, like Thankful or whether it’s a human, doesn’t really matter. Like I don’t care, I’m sure you don’t care, as long as it’s fixing my problem in a personalized way. So I feel like someone you know, the whole idea is, you know, can we treat everyone like someone? I don’t care what what it is. But I think that this idea that the relationship can foster from that first contact and move forward. And, you know, can that channel then be a marketing channel? For sure it just where again, we’re not there yet, but it’s coming. If you were into, you will interview SaaS founders within two years, where that question won’t even exist. The demarcation between marketing on the one side and retention and service on the other? That will cease to exist. And I think it’s five years. That means probably it’ll be two years, Right?
Andy Halko 19:25
No, I love that the expectations gap. And, you know, it’s funny in talking to SaaS founders, they’re so focused in the beginning on like growth and acquiring customers, and they’re not thinking about that retention side, like at some point, we’ve got to keep these people and then we’ve got to use them to try and sell more product because it becomes our marketing by having happy customers and you know, reducing the churn and I completely agree but it’s like the last thing that they think about, for whatever reason. And it’s crazy!
Ted Mico 20:00
I also think just in terms of how we approached the problem, we did everything the way you shouldn’t. It’s quite contrary in nature. Like, we actually did go to brands. And we said, What would you like, and the brands told us pretty specifically what they would like, which turned out to be sort of a better mousetrap, you know, build a better deflection tool, the one, the one we have isn’t working, it’s too dumb, you know, build a more intelligent version of it. And we start having, Evan and I started to do that. And we couldn’t, I mean, it took two and a half years to build the first tech stack that we were that we felt was good enough to launch? And it was good enough to launch because, in fact, we abandoned the brand request, and went for our gut, which was the customer request, we wanted to serve the customer, and our sort of, so the mantra was, you know, let technology do what technology does best, so that your humans can do what humans do best. And the whole goal was, how do we serve the customer better? As opposed to how do we serve the brand better? And that shift in perspective, actually enabled us to build an entirely different tech stack than we would have done had we just focused on the brand and their needs? So we did everything that I used to advise SaaS companies not to do I did not, I did not follow my own advice at all.
Andy Halko 21:21
Now, does that end up playing into the sale of the brand? Is that, you know, do they now realize, okay, by us having focused on the customer, you went the right way, and it’s gonna make things better? Or is it now to get in there? And it’s not meeting their expectations? And you have…
Ted Mico 21:39
No, it’s actually more than meeting their expectations. Again, like, customer service is very tricky. You know, it’s a tricky business. It’s not easy. I the mistake that I made, I’m not sure, again, my co founder, Evan, thought that I thought about it as simplistically as I did, but I really did think that we would get a product going. You know, he’s a genius developer, I’m pretty smart. You know, I thought, well, nine months, we’ll bang something out, and it’ll be an alpha, and we’ll start. Two and a half years later, we were still bootstrapping this thing. And it was like, ‘Oh, dear, is this ever going to work?’ Like, the trouble with AI is until you press launch, you don’t know whether all this work and all the you know, all this code is actually going to function and do what it says it does on the tin. So it was great relief, and it actually did. But, um, but again, that the it was the . lack of, I say, maybe just the lack of vision and imagination, like what could be done, because when you’re in it. You know, all you want to do is make the pain stop, you know, like, I’m not meeting my SLAs, I’m not, you know, like, I have queues of people, everybody’s angry with me all the time. Customers are angry with me, my own staff is angry with me, the rest of the company is angry with me just make the pain go away. So I totally get it. It’s not like, there’s no fault on them whatsoever. You mentioned waking up every morning at 8am, you know, eight o’clock in the morning and not being interviewed by you, gentlemen. But literally standing under a waterfall of shit. Yeah, that is exactly how, you know, that’s pretty much their life. And so the idea of, well reimagine customer service in a new light or whatever, like, No, just make the pain go away. So it you know, like we do, that’s that I guess that’s a… By fixing the problem for the end customer, we actually end up overachieving for the brand,
Andy Halko 23:25
The point that I like, and I just kind of want to pull out though, is, you know, I, we deal with a lot of companies where they’re selling to someone that then the software is used for an end user, and they think a lot more about who they’re selling to. And I just love the thought process that for other people that are looking at that model, where they’re really creating a service for someone, at the next level, that they’re really focused on them and thinking about them and going in their shoes, rather than staying in their customers mindset.
Ted Mico 23:58
For sure. I mean, I, I think that in general, much as that sort of tends to work against some SaaS principles. I think it’s the, the right way of working at it. Because, you know, if you’re, if you’re in my enemy’s enemy is my friend, if you’re fixing for the customers customer, then surely you’re fixing for the customer, you know, you just then need to make sure that your software is easy to use, you know, is is cost effective, etc. But if you can do that, the tricky thing is actually solving the problem for the end customer. The rest of it is is is just functional operational, like how do we make sure that the deployment is you know, days, not months, or, you know, years, you know, like, so we looked at sort of, again, AI deployments and sometimes you know, sometimes they can take years who wants to wait years for this thing, you know, like you want it you want it in days, I have a problem fix it. So it wasn’t that we completely ignored the brand with they had certain criteria that we wanted to meet. It had to work out of the box, you know that I didn’t want to have like they shouldn’t have to wait again months and months of training on their own tickets and stuff. We have a shared training model. So out of the box, it works. So it wasn’t like we completely ignored everything, their requirements. But the trickiest thing was how do we fix it for the end customer, if you’re happy, then then you’re happy with the brand, then we’ve done our job. Their relationship is built, you know, we’ve done our job.
Tony Zayas 25:26
Andy Halko 25:28
AI is such a buzzword these days.
Ted Mico 25:32
It’s hideous, isn’t it? .
Andy Halko 25:33
Well, yeah and it’s funny, because, you know, I know so many founders, they, you know, they kind of the bugs that, hey, if we just throw that onto our product, it’s going to get some interest. And I’m kind of curious, your mindset of, you know, the industry of AI and the reality of what products, you know, are out there that are pretending to be AI versus where it’s going.
Ted Mico 25:58
Don’t get me started! Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. That’s true. I mean, from… from a sort of investor multiples point of view, it is like that. Just add AI, you know, you know, there’s sort of the Desert Storm, troops, they end up with those sachets of food or just like white powder, and you just add water, and it becomes like a three course TV dinner. I feel, I feel that AI is like that. And I’ve actually I had investors like, ‘Oh, yes, that AI That’s fantastic.’ Is there a Is there a blockchain element to that as well? I’m like, ‘No, what are you talking about?’ But, you know, AI plus blockchain? Oh, that’s definitely That’s amazing. You know, no, most AI is not AI. It is, like, you know, at the moment, look, you know, two Excel spreadsheets and a pivot table suddenly becomes a machine learning, it’s learning from one color to the next. It’s not, it’s, it’s a, it has become, you know, from become from from once it was a liability. It is it has now become this marketing buzzword. So, like is it… We don’t even like I don’t like… don’t like the term, it doesn’t matter how you do the magic trick. The point is, does it do the magic trick? You know, does the, in our case? Is, does….Is the machine learning good enough? To really understand the nuance of what you’re asking? Because they gain the problem with customer service? And something that I didn’t know, at the time, it’s that it is there is no 80-20 rule, it is all a world of edge cases. So you have to understand like, when that track order example I gave you, you know, like so there’s there’s there’s 50 or 60, different versions of that, that are all, that all lead to different solutions, none of which are here is your track order link. It’s like it’s not working. Shopify hasn’t put the link in yet. I haven’t got it. Like there’s a, the FedEx doesn’t give me any information. They’re all that nuance. Does the AI understand enough of the nuance to actually be able to, you know, give me a relevant answer. And that’s the, that’s where your AI has to really function. The idea like, you know, because again, AI could be just target words. ‘Oh, you said return, I heard you’re saying return’. You know, we’re gonna give you here’s, here’s the FAQ about returns, that is not AI, you know, that. That is that is literally two or three weeks of code. And I’d say you know, like, whereas again, when you get into the, when you push this into the wild, you find that people saying, Hey, you know, I need to return these yellow jeans, you know, yellow-blue Jeans for size larger. And then you get the link back saying here’s five FAQs about returns. I’m like, No, no, no, I don’t want to do that. I want to Oh, I guess I want to exchange but I didn’t say exchange I said return all that stuff. All that nuance. We get that’s what we spent all this time and money building. And it turns out now you know, like that, it’s been you know, now that we’re on the sort of select to the other side of that bell curve. It’s fantastic. But at the time it was it was brutal. Because one thing after another it still wasn’t getting the Oh, it’s getting this but it’s not getting there. We lost our first customer. It was the worst experience ever. We lost our first customer because we got one answer wrong. It was a tiny customer. And again, when you’re starting with AI, you just need data, you need a data set, but we answered everything correctly. We’re getting stuff right etc. One answer wrong and it was I think that some some investor for the company wrote into their customer service channel saying hey, I’d like to track my investment how do I do that? And we said, Hey, we think you want to try try like and and they said like you got it wrong. And I’m like, we were like humans get things wrong all the time. How can you possibly judge technology at a different you know, on a different scale, different yardstick to you know, to to your humans, but they did and it was. So again, we have worked tirelessly to try and make sure that we get as much right as we can. So that you, you know, so that there is a trusted relationship between thankful and the customer and thankful in the brand. It’s that what’s the… The Sam, the Samuel Beckett quote that’s always used that’s butchered ‘Oh, yeah, ever tried ever failed no matter try again’. You know that that’s the app for two and a half years, that was pretty much it. It was like, Okay, this is ever gonna work is it? It’s not that it didn’t work. But it only worked in the sort of the perfect scenario of saying, like, I have a defective item, can I please return the like it got that but it didn’t it didn’t get when people are actually speaking in their, their misspelling, and they’re not saying what they really mean, etc. can you know can can AI really understand enough about the context of the person? Intent behind, what they’re saying? To be able to answer that problem well, and that that was a… That is the tough thing. So yes, not all AI is born equal. Some of it just is on the chin and actually isn’t in the product. Be buyer beware, there is no
Andy Halko 31:03
It has become a buzzword for sure.
Ted Mico 31:05
It has it like I said blockchain, I guess would be the other one. And if you can combine the two things, I think it makes a great investor deck but not really necessarily a great product.
Tony Zayas 31:14
So Ted, they, you said the two and a half years where you kind of felt like you didn’t get past that point. What when did the breakthrough happen? With your solution?
Ted Mico 31:25
When like it did happen on our first You know, when you when you build this sort of rocket ship, but you don’t actually know whether the rocket will actually achieve escape velocity until you press launch. This is the terrifying thing about it. You kind of you all this time and effort and then you’ve hit launch to go like ‘I don’t know, maybe it’ll blow up on it.’ On the launch pad. It started when it started working in it started answering questions. I guess the break the real breakthrough happened? When Evan showed me a response that that Thankful agent had that I didn’t get like I wouldn’t have got it. Like I would have actually picked the wrong thing. And I was like, well, Wow, that’s amazing. That’s, that’s like how, you know, like, that’s pretty that’s, that’s a wicked understanding.
Tony Zayas 32:12
And that’s AI.
Ted Mico 32:14
And our, you know, again, you can sort of think of our technology split into three bits, there’s the understanding bit, do we really understand what you’re saying? And then understanding what you’re saying is kind of useless, unless we can take an action unless we can actually resolve the problem. So you know, can we can we resolve enough of your problems to make it worth deploying us? And we do, you know, we started with one or two things, and now we do over 50 things. So you know, lots of the basics, like, you know, returning things, exchanging things, changing your schedule, you know, in insurance, it would be, you know, like, I need to, you know, upgrade, downgrade, etc, all that stuff we do, I need to, you know, I need to change my driver’s ed lesson from three o’clock to 3:30, that the things like that we can do. And any Ecom, it would be, you know, I need to pause my subscription, etc. But it can get much more complex than that we can actually though, you know, we can actually suggest there’s a difference between let’s I’m skipping around, there’s a difference. Again, in nuance and understanding between, I need to pause my dog food subscription, because I’m moving to Poland. And I need to pause my dog food subscription, or I need to cancel my dog food subscription, because I’ve been furloughed, because of the pandemic. Those two responses, even though it’s the same action of cancel, could require and should require a different route One is we moved to Poland, so we don’t deliver to Poland. So good luck. Thank you very much, you know, like, hope you come back, you know, enjoy Poland. And the second is like, you know, can we give you 50% off for you know, whatever the brand, want, you know, like, Can we give you 50% off for the next two months? We’re should sort of. Does your AI allow those kind of in depth nuanced replies? Yes. You know, like we can, there’s a rules engine, we’ve created this for you. So that you’re, you’re treated as an individual, the one thing as a customer that you want is you want to be known. You want to be known by the brand, I’ve spent this money with you, you know, the least you can do is know me, that means I don’t want to go through the torture of what’s your name, what’s your email? What should I get? Don’t you know I’m chatting with? Or I mean that you can see my email. Why are you asking me these redundant questions, you know? And I don’t want to feel standardized, I want to feel valued, and great service makes you feel valued and looked after. And if you’re look valued and looked after, you’re likely to be much more likely to be loyal to that brand, or that company. So serve great service and lifetime value are absolutely inextricably linked.
Andy Halko 34:49
Talked about two years to getting to, you know, the Launch button. I’m kind of kidding, you know, was that an MVP like minimum viable product that it took down years? Yes, it well, and most founders look at you know, how quickly can I get something out and then iterate on it, I’m kind of currently was that.
Ted Mico 35:10
We would have done the same thing. Because they don’t want to spend all this money like that when you don’t actually know whether it’s going to work or not. So we were at the same, but we couldn’t, we couldn’t get the product to the point where it was accurate enough. Again, the whole goal was, you know, we were using Bayesian classifiers. And we couldn’t get it over 85% right. Which is pretty much the industry standard. But when you think about it, 85% that means it’s wrong. Three times out of 20 is not a good batting. I mean, that’s very wrong. Like when you’re saying, hey, I need to return this, and it comes back saying yes, we shipped to Sweden, you know, like, yeah, exactly. Wrong wrong, or both positive wrong. So, you know, could we get it over 90, can we get it over 95. And at times were like, 99.98% accurate. I mean, like, so that was the goal. Again, if you’re going to provide great service, it wasn’t like we were perfectionist, we just didn’t think that we could actually bring something to market that didn’t work that well. So it had to work better than everybody else. So that was their sort of their criteria, we were gonna you know, and, frankly, the, the bar was set pretty, as I just suggested, the bar was set pretty low. I mean, that’s a pretty Neanderthal technology out there that is, and when you think about customer service, you think about the help desk is sort of the plumbing, that, you know, they’re the ticketing. foundational technology, it’s the plumbing, but what’s what’s the most important bit is the application layer next to the customer, you know, like, I don’t care about the plumbing, I’m glad it’s there. But the customer only cares about the water that’s coming out of the faucet, like that’s the water that comes out the tap is the thing that’s important to them. So the intent, we want to be that intelligent application layer around the customer. And at the moment, you know, all the clevers that are going on for a brand are sort of denuded by or diminished by this application layer that is pretty Neanderthal, like in the end, you know, instead of instead of talking to your customer and an erudite, you know, personalized way, you’re clubbing them over, you know, over the head with a sort of woolly mammoth boat. And that’s great, if the customer didn’t care, and if service wasn’t important to them. And, and they weren’t in charge, you know, but guess what the customer is in charge now is a really matters, getting that communication to the level that the customer wants, not that the brand thinks is cost effective, is super important. So, you know, the two facets that have changed everything is the customer is in charge, and worse, the customer knows they’re in charge, which gives them all the power. So all we’re doing is trying to be that sort of intelligent application layer. And it took, it took much longer than I wished. When it’s your money, I mean, Let both evident. I’ve had successful exits before. So it was okay. But when it’s your money, you know, like flying out the door, it is, it is a deeply unpleasant experience after a while it’s like, you know, got remodeling a house that you never think is actually going to finish it’s like, is it everything? is is is the house have begun to expand? Or is it just the first wind that blows, it’s gonna all fall over it? So it’s a little, it’s certainly a little bit of a high wire act. And
Andy Halko 38:27
You bootstrapped it on your own? And did you look for funding or get any funding?
Ted Mico 38:33
Again, after two and a half years, we look for funding we got we we got the funding, we were lucky in that as soon as we launched this thing, it was reasonably, you know, there was traction because again, it did things that other people couldn’t, etc. It was solving a problem that everybody you know, that seemed to be an intractable problem to solve. You know, my customer, like, the social and just general digital media mean meant that access to the brand was easy, you know, like suddenly you didn’t have to write a letter, you know, writing a letter, it’s a big barrier to entry, it has to be a real problem for me to write a letter post a letter. Like now it’s like I in this tweet, I like how much I hate the brand. You know, I’m sitting sitting in the middle seat on an American plane and I’m like, started like, is this plane ever going to take off and American can answer back or not, it’s a very public reputational damage in business. Now, customer service. So the purpose of forgot where I was going to go now. The the reasoning behind what we were trying to do was to create to limit that expectation gap between what a brand what what the customer wants the brand and what the brand is able to deliver, because that because of the access suddenly 10 times more people are hitting you up. And their expectation is that they’re going to get an answer 50 times faster than they can possibly do it. Like so technology has to figure into that equation. And, and it is a very human-like touchy-feely world. So it’s, it’s not like you can just automate, it’s not like a session replay tools, you know, like, and you can see how people are, are see what people are doing. There’s three, there’s kind of three voices of the customer, if you’re like, this is what the customer is saying publicly about you. In the twittersphere. There’s the what’s the customer doing on the website? It’s pretty easy to track not not not, you know, like, there’s a number of technologies can do that. And then the voice of the customer, what’s the customer struggling with? What are the things that are blocking the customer from being happy. And at the moment, there’s nothing, there’s no understanding of the customer, etc, there’s no data that’s coming back that allows the brand to get better. And if you sort of, again, view this as every problem that a customer is having is an opportunity for the company, the brand to improve, then suddenly, that problem is an asset. If you can collect the data and look at trending, etc. And that’s the next thing. You know, again, those three sections the understanding the action, the third one is that business intelligence, can we give you actionable data from what is now the totally unstructured voice of the customer? All there is is anger and upset and discontent and fury. Can we actually give you actionable data and say, You know what, here’s some of the problems that you know, here’s the operational problem, because basically, your customers are telling you everything you need to know about your business, your price, your policy, your people, your, your process, etc. The trouble is that it is buried under this sort of this waterfall of out of frustration. So divining any kind of actionable data is not an easy trick. And that’s our that’s what we’re doing at the moment.
Tony Zayas 41:56
Shifting gears a little bit. We were talking about the music that said you learn kind of a lot of bad habits, that what not to do. So. I’m curious as you’re, you know, growing the company, what does the team look like? And you know, how have you use some of those lessons from a culture standpoint?
Ted Mico 42:17
Yeah, I mean, so that’s a, that’s a great question. Most of the lessons that I learned from the music business were were not that hard to do the opposite of, of what I’d experienced. I guess I learned I learned the hard way. Yeah, I didn’t want you know, I wanted to play like, life is short, I want the place to be my superpower, I only have one superpower. And that’s team building. I build great teams. So I had the opportunity when I founded this thing with Evan to, to build what I consider to be world building team and part of that world building team is that, that we get on that we have a common goal, that that, you know, there’s no sort of superstar, you know, I dealt with superstars all my life, I The last thing I wanted to do was deal with, you know, Rockstar developers, like I have, I have zero patience for that. I like I want people that put the interests of the many in front of the interest of themselves. Like I said, service runs through the DNA of the company in general, it’s not just a you know, yes, it’s a way of hopefully us making money as well. But it’s an important facet of what the company is. So yeah, as far as team building is concerned, you know, there were a bunch of criteria that I use, that are largely built from that compass that I learned from the music business of what not to do, you know, how not how not to but that’s not true, because there were some great teams, as well. So it’s not that it was all bad. But I certainly I realized, you know, life is short, the last thing you want is people screaming at one another, it’s just not, you know, like, that’s not how you want to conduct a business you want you know, here’s that here’s the North Star, let’s let’s all row in the same direction and get there, you know, and get there with, with, with a sense of humor as well. I mean, you know, especially in a year like this year, you pre you have to have a sense of humor to get through it. If you don’t have a sense that you know, it if you if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re definitely missing the biggest joke, you know?
Andy Halko 44:23
Very Monty Python of you.
Ted Mico 44:26
Well, no, it’s true. I mean, look, I you know, gallows humor is essential, I think in 2020. Like it’s a it’s a it’s a Unfortunately, it seems to be the most appropriate response. What else is it going to throw at us?
Andy Halko 44:39
Yeah, right. You know, the interesting thing about teams, so I do think every founder that we’ve talked to in this show, and before that, and folks that we deal with, they talk about building great teams, you know, and the first thing that comes to my mind as I hear it over and over again, So how do you find these folks? And is there a limited pool of them? You know, and the question that kind of came to my head is, you know, can someone great be great for this company, but not for another, you know, and really this idea that maybe the pool isn’t as limited, as you know, we, we might think that it is to find great people, it’s really just about finding those cultural fits, and the passions, and there’s something to building a great team. That’s not just, you know, this is their resume and what they’ve accomplished, but there’s a lot more to it. I’m just kind of curious, your thoughts on, you know, finding great people and and is it different than just looking at numbers on a white sheet of paper?
Ted Mico 45:49
I think it’s an interesting question. Let me try and think of a reasonable response. I think, I have always found that there is a dearth of talent, yes, there’s fewer people than I would like, that are genuinely talented. I have also found in technology that great engineers tend to attract great engineering. So we have we have great engineers working at Thankful because Evan is a great engineer and, and great engineers want to work for great engineers. So you build, you build a, a, an environment of greatness. By being great yourself, let’s like so that I think that it’s true, it’s like that, that it’s an attractive, you know, it’s like there’s a gravitational pull in that regard. As far as like, Can an engineer thrive in one place and not for another I’m sure that’s true. I’m, I’m trying to sort of think of the the analogy that works. And it is there’s a sporting analogy, isn’t there? Like so I’m a I’m a football soccer fan is that Arsenal, football club is the closest thing I have to an organized religion. And I’m, and there are there are there are players that just they failed at Arsenal, and then there, then they go to Bayern Munich, and they’re genius. And you’re like, well, what hat? What? Why? Why weren’t you genius? When you were with us? What happened? You know, was it the coaching? Was it you know, did we not get the best was just the system that was different, you know, like, was it like, a, we didn’t have the, we didn’t have the system for you to thrive. And I think that there’s an element, I think you’re right, there’s probably an element of that there are, there are cultures that people would thrive in more than others, you know, like, for instance, where we are in a very fast moving, chaotic piece of the market. And if you can’t move quickly, and adjust and like, hey, but we said, we were doing this last week, remember Tuesday, and we know you’re changing your mind. And if you can’t react to that quickly, and you like a steady state business, I’m not saying you’re a terrible, you know, engineer or salesperson, but you probably shouldn’t be at a startup where we’re surfing that chaos and adjusting course, the whole time, you know, based on different circumstances, is a, it’s not a it’s not a nice to have, that’s a must have. So I think part of it is environmental, like it’s just like where you are and the business that certain people that are better with steady state businesses, and, and and thrive with that, you know, with that, that they know what they have to achieve in the next six months, nine months, the business itself isn’t necessarily going to change, you know. And there are people that love chaos. I’m a, you know, as you can see from my resume, I’m attracted to chaos. And if chaos isn’t around me, I probably will create it. So it’s a good thing. It’s around me. But so there are people that thrive in that as well and enjoy the the challenge of trying to rein that chaos in or find a path through the chaos, you know, like, and so I think that there are definitely, but I it’s my opinion that there that, that I think that there are fewer people than I would like that actually fit the bill, whether it’s sales or marketing or engineering, you know, that actually a bit that would really work. I do think that one of the upsides of the pandemic is this is it has freed us to be able to look at talent, not necessarily, you know, local. Yeah. which used to be a criteria. It’s one of the benefits, it was a few got, you know, there are a few benefits. I think that we’ve lost some of the serendipity that being in one place allows and that some of that communication, I do feel has been lost. But the the advantage of remote work is that you can glean talent from places that in the past you probably would have been a barrier. So I think that’s a you know, that’s becoming less of an issue.
Andy Halko 49:54
Yeah, I’ve had my business for 18 years and you know, I definitely have seen folks that have not done well in our organization go and thrive somewhere else, you know, and I really do think it is, you know, do they align with the vision? Like, do they get passion from that? Do they align with the culture? And the other people that are there the systems that you have in place does it fit? You know, I do think there’s something big too, you know, it’s not just about finding great people, it’s finding, you know, folks that really fit that and they can become even greater than they are when they really fit. So there’s probably people out there that might seem mediocre somewhere, but could be fantastic in the right environment.
Ted Mico 50:41
I also think that one point I would probably make is that there’s a, there’s an element of leadership and training that is essential here, that culture just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t like it’s, it’s not a product of like, well, I woke up and not you know, then that’s called this company culture. It is a sustained, it’s, it’s sustained work. And if if you don’t have I mean, again, it did an awful lot of SaaS consulting, you have to have a Northstar. Everybody has to be pointing in the same direction. And for that to happen, you need a really defined like, Okay, this is what we’re going to do, this is the mountain we’re going to take, now let’s take it. So you know, for thankful it’s like, we want to give every customer access to great service, by giving every brand, you know, the ability to the technology to deliver it. So it’s a pretty simple message. But again, customer first, it’s the customer that’s first not the brand. If you get that, then the rest of it is like how are we then going to create a culture that allows you to thrive with that mission. And, again, that has been challenging this year, we have, we have dealt with all sorts of things this year that we didn’t think we would have to like, Oh yeah, we don’t have an office anymore. We don’t have an office we can go to or, you know, there’s a fire burning two miles away. A lot of smoke, we didn’t have smoke before. I have a I have a salesperson that we’re onboarding now who you know, is in San Francisco, and he has no power because pg&e cut the power because this winds and they’re worried about fire, these are all things that you know, in the normal course of non 2020, that those would be challenges that we’d have to face. So we’re you know, but again, facing it with with, I keep going back to humor is super important to me and runs through the company, you have to be able to laugh at this stuff. It’s like because if you get if it’s all about the money, you know, like, Oh, we got to be successful, we’re going to be successful, I truly believe we’re going to be successful because we have that mission. And because we can execute on their mission. If we start thinking about how much money I will screw it up. And so the North Star being our version of success is serving customers the best we possibly can. And that is again, slightly different to some other companies. And then the company makeup is slightly different to that too. We’re looking for people that fit in with that vision. Not necessarily like I said, we have we have rock stars for sure. But they’re not sort of the sort of prima donna engineer prima donna sales people that I you know, I’ve worked with before, where, you know, they may be able to pull stuff out, but the, the price you pay in morale and culture, etc, is a hefty price. And by the way, that that is not I didn’t invent that, that sort of no assholes policy. That’s Dave Goldberg gave me that on a plate and said, like, here’s what you need to do. And you know, he was my mentor for a while, for a long while until he passed away. But he was he’s definitely you know, again, he had access to great talent. And he didn’t always use it. Because if it came with a price, and he wasn’t willing to pay the price, in terms of the entire company culture, which sounds easy, but we’re we’re a team of 2324 or we’re small teams. So you kind of want right it’s it’s tempting to go like, oh, wow, I want to rock you know, get the rock star. I have the benefit having worked with the biggest rock star planet. And I know what what I know the price you pay for that put it that way.
Andy Halko 54:09
Yeah, I do think this pandemic you know, the whole thing that challenges we face though, we were talking about this the other day with one of our clients is like challenges bring opportunities. And like you said, finding people in different folks like we used to hire within a 25 mile radius, you know, and we recently this year have hired a bunch of people in different other other states. And, you know, it’s really intriguing one of the hires that we just had, I think it’s someone that we would have never looked at, you know, if they were here in town and they just submitted a resume and they came in for an interview but you know, it being remote, I think open them up to be working with us because they had some, you know, specific needs in the way they work. And, you know, and opened us up to the mindset of You don’t have to be here. You don’t have to be in specific hours. Like, I think there’s some amazing changes and opportunities that are going to come out of all this year like massive ones.
Ted Mico 55:13
There’s a great I keep quoting a public shouldn’t, is that there’s a great Girtha quote, which I’m going to completely butcher because I don’t speak German very well. But it’s the in, in the limitation first appears the master is sort of the gist of it. And surely 2020 has been the year of weird limitation, like, Oh, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I’m never going to do this. And your ability to, to create, you know, wonder, out of limitation. is is is the key. That’s the touchstone to success? I think. So you’re right, you’re absolutely right. I think that, you know, the goal has to be to use 2020 as the launch to something else. I’ve been on the I’m sure you have like lots of zoom kind of coals about culture, and how are we getting back to normal, like, you know, the bank and the investors, you know, running all these, these different kind of zoom calls about, you know, getting back to normal? I’m like, I don’t even know whether I want to get back to normal. What is normal? I’m not a huge, normal person. I don’t do well, in normal like, and I want to reinvent normal, like, why are we going back when we could be going forward? And like, I don’t, I live in Los Angeles, and I don’t like traffic, you know, like, this is not a good thing. I don’t want to go back to traffic. Can we not do that? Can we not? Can we do something, you know? So this idea of, of going back, as soon as somebody says that I’m like, ah, like, there’s certain things. Yes, I’d like to go to the cinema. I like going to see movies. And I like, the things that I would like to do. But do I want to do I want to just revert, you know, like, no, there’s no reversing, let’s go forward, like always Forward, forward, forward. And that goes for technology, too.
Andy Halko 56:56
I’ve loved working from home, I used it, you know, went into the office every day. And now I’m here with my family. I have two young daughters. And it’s just this amazing experience. And honestly, the other night, I was thinking this is what life should be, like, you know, is that I can go and meet with employees when I want when it opens up, and we get in conference rooms, but I’m here with my family. And then at nights, we do what we want, you know what I mean? And I just, I don’t know, I agree with you. I don’t think we should revert. And I think it’s interesting. You know, what life could be like, if we say the norm doesn’t have to be anymore?
Ted Mico 57:31
Yeah, I mean, bringing it back to fame. Well, that’s, that’s what this is all about is like, how do we reinvent this, like, we have an opportunity now to reinvent the ground literally has shifted from under our feet. Like now, to go back to the my original premise of like, what does this do for us not do to us? You know, like, now what can we? What can we do with this? Okay, because the ground has shifted? Where’s the ground? Now? Where could it be? I think if we can, if we can keep that compass alive and fresh, then then we’ll all be better off then. Well, how do I get back to the, you know, the solid ground that I had before? Because it may never be. I mean, this is the, you know, entomology like, like the disease specialists or like, like this, we we’ve been very lucky that there haven’t been that many pandemics, but there might be a whole slew of them coming, you know, we make this may be the new normal, like, how are we going to adapt to that? How are we going to sort of get the best out of the collaboration that we need as a team. And, you know, there are certain people that don’t thrive on their, you know, because their home life is total chaos, or because they’re sharing a flat with five people, you know, and three dogs and a parakeet and the parakeet keep swearing while they’re on zoom calls or their eye doesn’t, you know, it’s not ideal for everyone, you know, and, you know, can we provide them those people with an alternative so that they can thrive to it is certainly, I’ll say, it’s probably more work. You, when you, when you’re in a in the same place, you can watch people’s body language and their shoulders slump, and you know, that there’s a problem, you know, or that could be a problem, that they’re feeling depressed or whatever, it is very hard to see that in a slack chat. So you have to be more attuned to that, when somebody is not necessarily checking out but when they’re having problems, or are we listening to, or we listen to people when they’re just talking about their family life because it’s important or the artwork that they have behind them? Or, you know, can I not judge people’s artwork, you know, like in their living rooms? these these are all challenges. Exactly, exactly. No, I’m not judging. I’m actually that some of that fantastic.
Andy Halko 59:38
Three Wise monkeys with the monopoly man I love.
Ted Mico 59:41
It’s pretty it’s pretty, pretty amazing. It’s very impressive. I like it. Um, and I like the placement too. Yeah. So you know, it just brings it just brings up different challenges but none of these are I think these are great challenges to have I mean, I do you know, the the cost to life has has been extreme. But the the opportunity that this thing has give, there’s nothing I can do about that what I can the bit that I can change, you know, change what you can change is that, you know, now can reinvent, can we re envision work life in a different way that is better for everybody. And I think that that that’s definitely I think that’s possible.
Andy Halko 1:00:21
Tony Zayas 1:00:22
Awesome. Well tell I think that is a good note to end on is we’re pretty much out of time. But this was awesome. Some really insightful thoughts. We appreciate you taking the time to, you know, share these insights and your journey with our audience. And I would just encourage everyone to go to Thankful.ai. Check out Ted’s solution. You guys are doing some really cool things. And we will keep our eyes on you guys. And we hope to keep in touch. Well, listen,
Ted Mico 1:00:53
Thank you very much for having me at this at this early hour. Hopefully I haven’t waffled on too much. I apologize if I have.
Tony Zayas 1:01:04
Thank you for making the time for us.
Andy Halko 1:01:06
I thank you very much. Anything that the viewers should check out about Thankful?
Ted Mico 1:01:13
Hey you can hit me up on I’m on Twitter, at TED, Ted Mico. M-I-C-O. You know, yeah, and the website is 1.0. The technology is fantastic. The more you know, the the the surface stuff is a work in progress. So that’s going to be changing over the next you know, next few weeks. You’ll see it evolve. Right.
Andy Halko 1:01:34
Ted Mico 1:01:35
Well, thank you. Thank you very much, guys.
Andy Halko 1:01:37
Yeah, it was a great conversation. We look forward to, you know, keeping in touch and seeing what you do with the company.
Ted Mico 1:01:43
That would be great. Thank you.
Tony Zayas 1:01:44
All right. Take care everybody.
Ted Mico 1:01:46