Dan Pantelo is CEO & Founder at Marpipe.

Marpipe is the first multivariate testing platform for creative.

Tony Zayas 0:01
It's Tony Zayas here with Andy Halko. Welcome to the SaaS Founder Show. How you doing, Andy?

Andy Halko 0:08
I'm doing great. How about you, Tony?

Tony Zayas 0:10
Awesome. I'm excited to be actually live on our one of our shows. We haven't done a live show in quite some time. And this is actually the first of our founder shows that we'll be doing live here today.

Andy Halko 0:22
Yeah, this is fun. I like going live and getting questions from folks and just hanging out and talking. And, you know, it makes it great for this conversation in our SaaS Founders show because we can go in a lot of different directions, have some fun, and, you know, just talk about how do you, how do you grow a company, so it's cool.

Tony Zayas 0:39
Yeah, for sure. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in today we have a special guest, Dan Pantelo. From Marpipe.

Dan Pantelo 0:53
Hey, guys!

Tony Zayas 0:53
How you doing?

Dan Pantelo 0:55
Hey, good to be here. What's going on? This is like podcasting. I love this.

Tony Zayas 1:01
Yeah, it's awesome. So welcome, thank you for joining, we've had a chance to correspond a little bit. We were excited to have you on. We think you have a really cool product out there. We want to hear about it. And we kind of want to find out the story behind it. And yeah, I guess you know, to start with, I just want to share that if anybody is watching, you know, for our live viewers, feel free to enter questions into the comment section. And we will see those and we will get to those as we go. But with that, then I just would you know love to hear a little bit about your story and tell us about Marpipe.

Dan Pantelo 1:40
Yeah, totally. So first off, thanks for having me. It's great to be here. I'm super excited about the reboot of this show and honored to be the first guest on so this is, this is great. And I'm excited about the community you guys are building. So to answer your question, Marpipe is the first multivariate testing platform for ad creative. And essentially, just to give you like a little bit of context on the story there, and then maybe we could get a little bit granular. We actually started off as a performance marketing agency that specialized in working with venture backed startups. So we, our first office was in Soho. And we were working with a bunch of companies that had just come out of tech stars and Y Combinator and raised a bunch of capital from venture firms. And, you know, today 40 cents of every venture dollar, it goes to Google or Facebook, right? And so like, we were right at the right place at the right time, doing performance marketing, they needed to spend all this money to acquire customers. And you know, I was like, Hey, guys, I'm right here, you can poke me whenever you want, you know, I run an agency, we can work together, it started taking off from there. And essentially, we, we quickly discovered, like we were under as an agency, we were under a performance mandate, meaning like all our clients cared about was like, How much money did you spend? And what are we get in return? And are like we quickly realized that is the thing that influences performance, by far the most. And a lot of performance marketers are already familiar with this. But the most influential elements of performance online, more influential than audience targeting than reach, then even brand is actually your creative. And when I say creative, I mean like, what are what like, what's the visual stimuli? Within that like little piece of real estate? You're paying to show someone on a screen? What colors is it? What where's the product featured? What angle? Does it have shadows, all of these granular elements, even if you take one ad, and you just change the background color from blue to green. Or if you just, you know, we would change like a cactus somewhere in the background with like a palm tree, we would see like major changes on performance. If you didn't see that the ads look similar. And just look at the numbers. You think they're totally different ads, right? And then that's when we kind of like stumbled upon this, like little realization, we were like, well, if creative is so important to performance, like how is it that we make creative decisions today? How do we decide what our ad creative looks like? And like the question of like, ad, like the way creative works today, like how we make creative today is exactly how you think it is like there's no secret sauce, like you hire a designer that makes something cool. They're like, do you think this looks cool? I think this looks cool. And if you guys both agree that it looks good, you run it as an ad like at the highest level of agency, like that's a really quick rundown of like how it works. We're kind of like still in the madmen era. Like if you watched Don Draper patient madman, like it still works a lot like that today, right? Like this. Like the creative workflow has been undisrupted. Like it feels like every part of the marketing process has benefited from data science and automation, except for creative, right? It's like we make work just guessing still, we're just arbitrarily pace-making. And our thesis was, you know like actually ad creative as is not an art. It's not an it's not like it's just a strictly artistic endeavor. And it's actually because we can quantify how people and audiences react to visual stimuli, we can, we can actually attribute like a scientific element to this process, right? But if we can quantify all these things, then we can inject the data science into the starting point here, right and use data to drive our creative decision making, rather than just guessing and checking, which is like really time consuming and expensive. And so that's where the idea from Marpipe came from, like Marpipe is really what we see as the first way to, to actually inject data into the creative process from a starting point. Like when we, when you have an anyone watching this show is probably a founder and has a product idea or is interested in entrepreneurship. And like, when you have a good product idea, you're probably thinking, Oh, my God, this is so great. There's so many good things about this. There's like my, here's a whiteboard with like 10 value props. And here's all these things I could show about why this product is so great. Well, which one are you going to show in your ads, right? That's super important. And what we warm up allows people to do is essentially based on some like the inputs of just like some messaging variables, some create a variance from your brand, some background textures, things like that, we automatically generate essentially kind of like every creative possibility and rapidly teste it in front of your audiences on Facebook and Instagram. And then we tell you really quickly, like not just which, which is the best combination of variables that works best, essentially telling you like your best case scenario. But also, we tell you why your ads work, what people most love to see and hear from you and your creative and what they hate to see and hear from you from new creative. So that's the story of like, how we started kind of like, where we are and what it does.

Andy Halko 6:55
That's really awesome. And it's a great story. We Tony and I talk a lot about spinouts, you know, you're in an existing business, you find a problem, and then you try and spin it spin out a product from that. I'm kind of curious to start, like, you know, one, are you still in that spin-off stage where you've got an existing business and you're creating a product? And you know, whether you're in it still or not? How do you find that process? And that challenge of trying to build something while you've got another? You know, business running?

Dan Pantelo 7:27
One, yeah, no, that's a that's an that's an excellent question. And it gets actually shooting right to the core of like, our biggest business challenge, actually, so. So essentially, we were running like. I was running a fast growing agency, it was called the Pantelo group. We were doing really well, it was a high cash business, but it was low margin. Because, you know, agencies are like a business that runs on like, you know, people in seats, it's a people business. And that's also why agencies have like a low revenue multiple, when they're valued by investors and things like that. I mean, it's like, it depends on the people you have there. Um, and, uh, I actually, like, it was a great business to have. But I, I knew if you first off, it wasn't, it wasn't scalable. And second, it was non-unique, which made me less interested in scaling it. Like here, like, I'm in downtown Manhattan, right now in Tribeca, there's an eight, there's like five agencies on every block, right? Like the world doesn't need another agency. There are a lot of really good agencies out there. And when we first started building Marpipe, I actually just use the profit from the agency to hire a few engineers and pointed them at this problem. I was like, can we solve this? Like, can you just like, start to start working on it, like, let's see, do And at first, like the angle was, all right, this is going to be like our secret sauces and agency, right? Like, we're gonna, we're gonna have like this thing that no other agency has. And that's going to give us like, the differentiation that we need. And so we started building it, and we guinea pig it on a bunch of our clients. And we screwed up a lot along the way, with their consents, of course. And, and, and we finally, like got it to like a really good, a really good spot where like, we can actually automate the rendering of hundreds of ads, the deployment of them through the Facebook API, the the analytics component that tells you exactly what to do next. And so when we first told that some of the brands we were working with, why their creative works well and why it doesn't, they had never saw data like this before. And these are folks spending like a million bucks a month on Facebook ads, right? They're like, they were just showing this to them for the first time. And then they shared it with all their friends. And then we had a bunch of people like I just had a bunch of inbounds being like, hey, Dan, I know you have an agency. I don't care about your agency. I already have my own. I just care about how did you get this data for this particular brand I know, right? Like I saw what you did, how to do that. And that's what We like really knew that, in trying to fix our own problem, we discovered that we could actually fix the problem for a lot of other people too. And that's where venture money comes in. So we were like, you know, this, like, there is no, we built this, because we first looked for like a product like this online, we searched like the internet for something that could do this before we built it. And we just couldn't find anything. So we're like, let's build it ourselves. So then, you know, we showed like these, like early prototypes, which was like a lot of raw code to some early investors. And we ended up actually raising in just last December, in December 2019, we raised a $1.8 million seed round from several VCs here in New York, but also, we're backed by Adobe, and mediamath, which are just like some of the best, you know, if you're building a creative technology product, those are some of the best, the best investors to have on board. And they saw the uniqueness of it. And that like, you know, this hasn't been done before. So. So, you know, that gave us the freedom to actually totally like when we raised, I was like, agency businesses done, we're cutting it off completely. We're not focusing on this at all. I, I told my clients for the party's over, we're moving on to this other thing, you can join us in this other thing, if this is interesting for you. Or you could you know, I can refer you to some of these all the other awesome agencies that can take over your account. We had to do an honestly, in order for me to do that. It was like ripping a band aid off. My team had to back me into a corner and like, get me drunk and convinced me to do this. Yeah.

I didn't want I get it as a as a founder building a bootstrap business letting paylines go That was so hard earned is so hard to do. But you can't build two businesses at once. It's, I don't think it's possible to like, unless you're Jack Dorsey running Twitter and square at the same time, I don't think it's possible. I think it's super human to be able to, and I think it's a totally unreasonable expectation for a first or even second time founder to run to try to run two businesses at the same time. And honestly, you're not you're taking away effort from whatever it is that you just need to decide what's most important. And then if that's the most important, is it worth it to take away your time and effort from that to focus on this other thing? 99 times out of 100? It's probably not. And so we had to rip the band aid off completely. We told the customers to go home, we say we buckled down and we would that capital were able to focus on building products for the first half of this year. Yeah, so so yeah.

Andy Halko 12:42
Oh you answered? Totally answered my next question, which is, do you think you could have done it and kept the company because, you know, we deal with so many companies like this, and I completely agree with you is, you know, if you're, if your effort and resources are diluted and split, it's just so hard, you know, to really get traction, but there's a lot of folks out there that they just, you know, keep pounding away at that. And it ends up being a losing game. So I really, I appreciate you saying that.

Dan Pantelo 13:13
I think it's like, I think it comes down to like, a like kind of ratio of like, the uniqueness of the thing that you're doing. And like, you're like the automatability of that, right? Like, for instance, you can probably run 10 dropshipping businesses at the same time, right? Because those are, those are not unique, you're not, you're not reinvent, you're not inventing something new. You're not shifting something new onto a market that you have to educate, like you're playing with, like basic economics, like that you can kind of like automate and pull levers for and you can once you set one up, you can put someone in charge of it go on to the next thing, I see this happen often, but I think what's when you're trying to genuinely invent something new, that requires like some of the best talent in your, in your space to ship that requires educating the market? investors are excited about it, like, you know, it's your it's your responsibility to your ecosystem to like, put your 100% focus into it.

Andy Halko 14:15
Yeah, no, I agree. And I think, well, even with simple businesses, you know, there is some level of dis traction that comes with it. I'm kind of curious to, for you to put time frame around that because the other piece that I think people don't realize is they listen to these stories and think, Okay, well, that happened over 30 days. You know, I went from being in this agency to building a product to you know, testing it with clients to raising capital, etc. And, you know, you say it, it sounds quick. What's, uh, what's, what happened there? What's the timeframe that that happened?

Dan Pantelo 14:50
Yeah, yeah. So like 100% patience is key, you know, in this in this kind of game at the same time, You know, you do have to move fast and run and the best, the best, like, I think one of like the, the hallmarks of like the best founders and operators I've ever seen, like one of the best traits that they have that can immediately if they have this, like, I can tell like. Wow, that's A++ operator is their ability to come across like an interesting opportunity. And immediately, like, make, like, actualize it, right? Meaning, like no, like, drawn out negotiation period. Like, they're just they move fast, right? So like, at the same time moving fast, it's important to put it in context for my journey. We started, I started the agency, I started running my own agency business around maybe I'd say four years ago is when I started was that was when I opened up shop. Actually, this was right after I graduated college, I was doing a lot of freelance work in college. I'm 25 right now. So we started, we started real quick first thing after college was I opened up shop and so had an agency for around two years, at which point we decided to pay that like, that's when we kind of stumbled upon this, like, let's go into this focus, like, let's be the testing agency. And then we built out these tools. And then, you know, around like, maybe half a year to three quarters I was focusing on, on like building the tools out in the agency, then we raised that was about a year ago. And so it's about a year that we've been fully all in on Marpipe. And we actually just shipped our like public beta announced our public beta just launched this quarter. And so and it's so it's been a crazy journey. Since since since that launched, in Q3 of this year, we grew top line revenue 80% month over since we launched product. So that's been a pretty crazy ride. But it's been yeah, it's been several years in the making. And I don't even think we've made a scratch on the surface yet. Like we haven't even, we haven't even done like I'm so early in the journey right now. There's still so much to be done. Like, I'm not speaking from a place of look at how much I've accomplished. I don't think I've accomplished anything yet. So yeah.

Andy Halko 17:25
I like the, quote, speed to fail. You know, like you said, you have that patience, but you have to figure out what's not working very quickly. You know, and that's why people talk about launching an MVP, really fast, minimum viable product, you know, you want to get it out to the marketplace, test and understand is advisable, you know, will people pay money for it? And I kind of always like that speed to fail is that you want to learn what's not working for fast, so that you can really focus on what is.

Dan Pantelo 17:55
I agree with the with the idea that if you're not embarrassed by your first product launch, you've launched too late, you know, that's so so you know, 100%, like, when we first launch our product, and we had the first few users, it was crickets. Like you have. You have that, you have to have, like we you have that you have to have this like, weird mentality that's like that's, that's honestly kind of bizarre to think that, like, the thing that you spent half a year building just now just exclusively focused on this that you just showed to some people, you know, it's like crickets while they don't like it. Well, you have to have that like the mentality to think, Okay, well, no, we like we have to keep going, like we're just not there yet. Right? It's not like people, people don't hate our idea. We just haven't shipped it the right way we need to operate on it. And I think that's a big like yet, like there's figuring out what's not working and moving forward quickly. But then the counterweight to that is like figuring out like, maybe maybe it's not working because we need to do we didn't do it the right way. Right. Um, so yeah.

Andy Halko 19:09
Yeah, I like to call it the event horizon of like, features and user experience, like, you know, black holes, there's an event horizon, where up to the event horizon, you don't get pulled in, but as soon as you hit that event horizon, you're just sucked in. Yeah. You know, and how do you as you know, founder and as a team determined, you know, get to that event horizon where folks get in and they just, you know, gravity just pulls them to the point that they can't get away from your product, you know, and if you can, you know, it's hard to get that event horizon out of the gate, but you can work to get there where you're improving features, you know, and then you create that and that's the point where I think things really take off hundred percent

Dan Pantelo 19:52
i think it was like the start like, is this reminds me of like the, like the Airbnb story. Like when they first launched Airbnb like, he was like, there was zero adoption, people thought it was bizarre, they didn't like it. And they found it ephemeris found out that like, after, like, after, like, they were like, on their, like last few dollars. And they found out that there was like an insanely high complete diving into the metrics of their application, they discovered, there was a super high correlation between the quality of the photo listings in the in the listings, and like the the rent the, like the engagement rate in the app. So they went personally, they did something intentionally unscalable. But you need to do in the early days, always. And the founders went to all the listings in New York, and took professional like, learn how to do professional photography and took professional photos themselves. And then that's, that was like one of these, like, major unlocks for them were like, suddenly, all the listings had super high quality photos, and getting on the app just went up from there. And they I guess that was their, like, Event Horizon the way you describe it. Yeah. So

Andy Halko 20:57
With YouTube, that there were a bunch of different video sharing or video platforms out there. And that with YouTube, when they developed the embed, and people could put their videos on other websites was like one of those turning points that other products didn't have, and really just shifted YouTube's trajectory, right? I mean, it's, it is interesting when you think about something simple like that. But you know, how, how much does that change the value proposition for what you're doing? Because it changes the concept of it being just presenting video to people, you know, kind of democratizing it, where anybody can utilize it.

Dan Pantelo 21:37
Right. Right. Yeah, that's cool. Yeah. So, Dan, I would like to know, like, what is the competitive landscape look like out there? Because, obviously, you've had on, you know, a challenge that exists and has existed for a long time. What are alternatives that agencies are turning to? That, you know, problem that you're solving? Yeah, so today, agencies in the in house teams, when it comes to like, batch rendering, and testing of creative, there's kind of like, there's kind of two paths that exist today. One, you could go like the super old school route, which is like a survey agency, which really doesn't solve the problems of like, like, the problem of the problem with testing is that it takes too long, and it's really expensive survey agencies don't really cure either of those. Now, then you have a, there are some like large, kind of like, creative technology companies in this space, like thunder and sell tra, which they actually, you know, they deliver some of these service services and like fragmented products that help along the workflow. And what, what's the what's actually like, what's, what's interesting about those is that they're, they're not very accessible, like, their products are in original, like, access their products, you know, you know, when you go to a site, and you're like, Oh, this technology is so cool. And then it's like, talk to a sales rep. And you're like, oh, man, like, I don't want to book a call with a sales rep, or they're gonna try to like, prove it, like, it's really gonna try to qualify me. And if a mess if my brain isn't spending at least 100 k a month on advertising, they're not gonna want to talk to me. And like, you're gonna have to go through the you guys to talk to the SDR and then the AG, and go through this, like enterprise, like deal flow. You know, that's so not SAS, right? Like, they asked this product. First, we want to have a product line, we want to have product lead growth. I don't want to sell to CMOS and have CMOS force their operators to use my tools. I want operators to be able to access and use my tool, put my product first, they love it, because it just makes it's so affordable, it's cheap, it's freemium, they get in the experience, they get hooked on it, and then they you can't rip them away from it. Right. Like, that's the that's the idea that like we're approaching the market from a bottoms up perspective, and a product lead perspective, where what we're doing is we're shipping a premium product like you can go to Mark lytx comm sign up and get started and use the same tools completely underpriced as you would find in some of these top competitors. And we're not afraid to put our product first because it's designed really well and it's fun to use, and it's addicting. And so, as an operator, as someone who's like a creative at an agency or in house shop, you could just swipe your card and or like your company card if you need to upgrade to a paid plan or you could just start for free and be like hey look, I just made 100 creatives and like it's using more pipe for free, which you can do today. And you know that's like that's that's the difference of how we're approaching the market. And we also have like he we can get granular on like how we have all the tools necessary in the workflow for tests. And some of the other folks don't. But I'll spare you the technical details there, folks can just check out the product for themselves and see. Yeah, awesome.

Andy Halko 25:10
I'm kind of curious, you know, and I'm always curious about the business side of things. Do you have a background in like development? Or UX? Or do you really rely on other folks for that type of stuff?

Dan Pantelo 25:21
Yeah, no. So I'm a marketer by trade. So, you know, my background is in my background is in performance marketing. So that's, that's really like, where that's the world where I come from, and identify, personally like as a, as a performance marketer. And if I had to get a job at a fortune 500, somewhere tomorrow, like, if I was forced to gun to my head, I'd probably go to the marketing team, right? Um, but, uh, you know, we're like, in building, you can't, you don't, you don't need to be an engineer to build a technology company, right, you just need to find really good engineers to help you along the way. Now, when he first started, like our first art, the first engineer I ever hired was just like our CTO by default, like, it's like, we don't have anyone else. He's been here as long as he's the CTO, right? As we got more sophisticated as an organization, and, you know, our engineering team exceeded five people. That's when we needed like some better management, and some folks who have like, seen it and done it before. And so like, talent, if you're building like a good if you're building a SaaS company, you look at you look at all the SaaS companies that have like, just really crushed it who have become like unicorns, like their early stage talent is insane, right? They're at the hallmark of a good, the way I look at it is like, as a founder, I have, I really have three jobs. And this is like one of them is finding and retaining and incentivizing good talent. The second one is talking to investors. And the third is making that is, is making sure that we have money in the bank, right? Like, if we can, if we can, if I can do like those three things really well. Like I'm doing my job as a founder, right. And so the talent piece is like, often the hardest, sorry, for the sirens in the background in New York City. So so like, so yeah, we hired, we ended up hiring a CTO who, like had two exits under his belt, built a previous venture, you know, that, that he sold for 75 million. And that was like two and a half years ago. And so we ended up getting getting him on board. And like, it was like night and day made a huge difference for our team. And so like, so we started off just like building like a small, scrappy team with what we could, you know, obviously, we couldn't pay fair market prices for engineers. Like there are other advantages. We had to like, as a founder, you have to be like. Well, you could get paid more working for this big company. But you could have the freedom to like operate on your own there. Like you have to really sell like the advantages that are that are so real about working with startups, like, you're going to learn so much more, you're not going to be micromanaged. You're going to you're going to be able to grow really fast thing on your like on your design career track, you're going to be able to pick which projects you want to work on. And those are the things that you know, a lot of engineers who are really good are like, you know what, yeah, like, I could, I could, like I could take, I could take a 20k per year salary hit in exchange for like, actually loving my job. Yeah. Right. Right. So those are so you start there. And then you have to find and hire, and which is really happens early days through network, you have to find and hire like those really good, kind of like executive roles. That's really we're sizing up right now. And we're actively hiring and looking for more folks like right now my big challenges. We're looking for a world class Customer Success leader right now, which is so hard to find. It's really hard to find, like a good customer success person to lead that. Yeah.

Andy Halko 29:01
Yeah, we've

Dan Pantelo 29:03
gotten Tony. No, I was just gonna ask, what does your team look like right now? Damn. So right now we are 13 people going on 15. So we've got a set, seven engineers, three people in design and product. There's me, there's our coo and then there's our salesperson, right? So it's like majority engineering, and product like aside from engineering and product, there's me, our CEO and our salesperson, so like small, scrappy team, currently hiring the like a unexperienced sales leader to his death and customer success leader. So yeah,

Andy Halko 29:53
So I know a lot of startups and software folks that even in this crazy time are looking to hire and like you said, find the best talent. So, you know, how do you go through that process? How do you? Where do you look? And how do you evaluate, especially on the engineer side? And I think there's, like question kind of, is really around the idea of like, most of the founders I know are struggling to find those great folks. You know, and how do you make even the determination that someone is going to be great? How do you do that?

Dan Pantelo 30:27
Yeah, so we, uh, right now, like, we've been doing it primarily through network, right, we have a good week, we have like, so network building is really important to do, regardless of whether you're a founder or not, um, you should have like, I recommend this to everyone, you should have a monthly newsletter that you send out to interesting people that you meet professionally. Right, I have a monthly every month I send out an update to around 500 something people that is like really interesting people I've met along my professional journey that are investors, high level marketers, like creatives, just people I think, are like doing really cool stuff in the space. And I just give them a monthly update. And I'm like, here's what I'm up to this. Here's what I learned this month, here's where I screwed up this month. And the open rates and the engagement. And the responses on that are like are incredible, right? Yeah. And, like, it's just, it's just like a, it's like, it's like an open diary to people I've met before where you could just keep up to me keep up with what I'm doing every month. Everyone, everyone can do this, right? I recommend everyone to start like you should start you should start immediately. This is like, I think it's the best way to network build, because now I'm keeping in touch with people I've met like three years ago, well normally be talking to anymore, but they know what problems they have today. And they can always like chime in to help. So. So you know, essentially, we that's also been great for business, by the way too. But network building and then leveraging the network is great. The disadvantage of it is lack of diversity. So the thing is like, like right now we definitely prioritize building out a diverse team with like a diverse background that come from different places. When you are only looking in your network, it's hard to find candidates that would normally be outside of the range of people you would encounter are me, which is which is a substantial challenge. You know, and it's something you have to proactively work. You have to like work to try to find and be inclusive of considering candidates you wouldn't normally find. So, so you know, let's that's something that is like a disadvantage of it, you know, to be to be frank and something where we're trying to work against it. So we supplement that with trying to put out like job postings on the sites and talking to recruiters from different places. And like using that sort of form or process. So it's a hodgepodge of things. But when it comes to like that sourcing when it comes to vetting, we have like an unorthodox kind of like approach. So, um, I think like, if you ask anyone who's interviewed with me, they'll tell you, it's the weirdest interview they've ever had. I like to ask weird questions that, like take people kind of out of their comfort zone. My favorite question to ask people is, and the reason I do this is to assess like culture fit. Because we're kind of like a ragtag group of weird, weird people.

And, and in order to fit in with our team, like just culturally, you have, you have to be like, kind of like, comfortable encountering situations you wouldn't expect to, like, and particularly what I mean by is like, perfect, like, if we say, hey, like, here's this new problem. Like, you wouldn't normally be asked to solve it like anywhere else, but like, you're asking you to, like, try to figure it out. Right? Like, this is a naturally uncomfortable situation. What I try to assess quickly is like, your level of comfort with being uncomfortable, right? and challenging, like challenging yourself right now. And so like, That's why, you know, I like my favorite question I asked is like, and this is one that like, I remember every one of my team, I remember all their answers to this. This is like, I love this question. It's a it's how likely do you think it is that we're currently in a simulation right now? Like, and, and I don't like that. We're not trying to just like, you know, ask people weird questions, just to just for the novelty of it. But I genuinely think I've genuinely heard like, insanely thoughtful answers to these questions that tell me like a lot about how these people think like, if you're just like, I don't know, you know, it's like, Okay, well, you're not you're probably not like that. Like I probably Wouldn't be interested to talk to you at a bar. Right? Right. You know, and and those kind of things are important for like 14 chemistry overall. And so, you know, there's like, there's those culture fit questions that like, I like to ask people, I always take the first interview. And I try to assess culture fit. And I try to, like, assess, like personality type, and whether there's someone who would fit in with a team, then they have a second and third meeting with, with the folks that they would be reporting to that would assess technical, like aptitude. So like, you know, you'd then meet with a CTO and the CTO would be like, Alright, do you actually know Ruby on Rails, right, then we'd get technical and find out those things. But like, I think it's important as a founder to like, take the first meeting, always, in the early days of 20. People, you should be the first one to meet with every employee, because you're the one that's going to be best able to explain the vision, the mission, sell the premise of the company, the excitement of the workplace, and assess whether there'll be a fit with the rest of your crew. Right? That's good.

Andy Halko 36:03
You had mentioned in your message out to your network about mistakes. I always love people asking people, so So what's the biggest mistake that you think you've made? Kind of in your career, or in this product? process?

Dan Pantelo 36:20
Oh, man, biggest mistake? Mmm hmm. I think I think that my biggest mistake was actually when so there, there are certain people like as you can, as you scale your business, um, there are certain people in the early days who are no longer right, who, like you, as a company outgrow their, their skills, and don't have the time to wait around for them to develop. And then, and so like, so, you, you do need to make hard decisions about, about talent and team. And I think the area where I struggle is most is candidly pulling the trigger on some of those decisions. Right? And it because it's really tough. And most people's lives, yeah. And, and they, and there's an aspect of loyalty, you know, that that is like, you know, am I am I being Am I being like a shitty person? Or, you know, like, or is, it was it just like the businesses business? Right. And it's, it's kind of tough to separate emotion from those judgments. And I think some of the things that I had to do, like bringing on that new CTO and shuffling the team around, I should have done that much earlier. Right? My biggest mistake was not pulling a trigger on that earlier on in those days, and even today, you know, we're still, we're still, we still have some challenges on like, in that department that need to be met. And those are, those are like, the places where I tend to make the biggest mistakes on like, you know, lingering for too long. And not not like, like, I have a duty to the organization to make the right calls. And so like, that's kind of the area where I as a founder, chant, like my invest, my lead investor tells me that I'm, like, loyal to a fault. And so sometimes that can hurt you, you know. And so, so that's a that's one of my biggest challenges. And it's a source of light, I think, where my biggest mistakes were made early on. Yeah,

Andy Halko 38:40
I've had my business now for 18 years. And you know, what I've tried to come down to and, you know, you you kind of hinted at it is your duty, and I always try and think a bit what's the greater good, you know, if I've got these other 20 folks sitting here, and this one person, you know, what's the greater good for the team, and those other folks that are there, because that's my responsibilities is the greater good, rather than the individual and you know, you want to be loyal, and it hurts to do that stuff. And but, you know, you also have that duty, like you said, to do your best for the other folks that are part of that. So that's, that's a great challenge. And a great, great mistake, for sure. Yeah. What about influencers for you? What kind of support network have you had? You know, I mean, mentors or family or other folks, you know, it's not easy to start a business. I'm, you know, I'm in a lot of different groups. And, you know, I was lucky enough to have a family that was entrepreneurial too. And that's how I got started. So like, you know, tell me about your support network, because for some folks, it's they may not have any right now. And so and then makes it harder.

Dan Pantelo 40:01
Yeah, yeah, definitely. So, so this is huge for me. And because I didn't come from an entrepreneurial or privileged background whatsoever My parents are, I'm a first generation, my parents immigrated here, they hadn't when they were 18. And they were like, you know, working at a restaurant. So grew up really poor in Brooklyn. Um, you know, now my parents are well are, like have have made a good careers for themselves and put themselves through school. But I grew up with no, you know, like, no connections, they didn't, there's, there was no connections, no, like, English is my second language. And, and like, you know, there was just no, I kind of had to figure everything out from scratch, which I always had a, like inclination to do from a younger age. Um, and really like, what you I think the key is like building an advisor network, right. And like building a support network, like, early on, when I was in college, I was like, I was an entrepreneurial person. And I was always like, doing things, like services projects for folks making money here and there where I could. And that was like, you know, there were, there were people that were willing to play an advisory role. And I asked for it, I was like, I want to be like you. I really like you. I like I want to, I'm willing to like, I'm at the point where like, I'm willing to do whatever, I'm willing to work. However, whatever I need to do. I want to be like, you tell me how to be like you. Right? folks? Who are who have made it who like have have experienced success? They do want to find many mentees, right. That like that's like, once you've made it, and you've done all, like, you checked off all the things on the list, like, the next most fulfilling thing is for you to give back. Right? And so like, they do want to play advisory and mentor roles, it is fulfilling for them, right? And so to find those kinds of people, and to actually even just put it just straight up, like, I want to, like have a call with you every week, right? Like, would you do that? Like, can I tell you what I want to do what I'm working on? can we can we like work through some life situations together? Like I'm trying to get to my next level, right? Here's what my goal is. They're, they're dead, they're down. They're open to it. Right? And so that's kind of how I started building my early advisor network that like where I even discovered, like, oh, wow, what what is the venture ecosystem? What is the VC, right? Like, all these things, like, there's so much jargon in this like community, and it's so insulated, and like, you know, you kind of have to, like, have someone, like, introduce you, and, like, walk you through it and be like, here's how these things work, like, in life, right. And so like, that's super important. And it started that way, which was like, really loose, but then it turned into formal advisory relationships, where I would give people actually want to start in my company, I'd be like, I'm going to give you a percentage, or like, I'm going to give you you know, like standard standard, you know, advisory shares, depending on the level of the advisors, when you start a new companies between a quarter of a point to a full point, you know, depending on the quality of the advisor. And so I build out some early on advisor shares that would best off like, and it's like, you know, up to your two to four year vesting schedule for those folks. And, you know, what's interesting is with advisors, you actually outgrow them too, right? Just same way you actually grow people you work with, like your, your team, right? So. So I've actually like, had to also, part ways with some advisors when they were like when they you know, a year invested a year, okay, you've helped me a lot, but we're going to stop your best thing reward you with for all the time that you spent, but also like now I need to find an advisor that can help me do this next thing that you have never done before. Like, okay, I've already raised venture money, right? Like, I know how to do that now, right now I need to know how to do this next thing, right? This is the next challenge in your find some award classes that get them on board as an advisor. So selecting advisors, incentivizing them to come on board and aligning them with the growth of your company, but then also keeping them to like you like you need to keep them to standards, right? So like, we're gonna do a bi weekly meeting. If that bi weekly meeting starts being a waste of time, we're probably like, this probably doesn't make sense anymore. Right. So, so yeah,

Andy Halko 44:41
that's fantastic.

Tony Zayas 44:44
Awesome.

Dan, I would like to throw on your way. I was careful not to get into any debate here in this this interview today because I see your background and debate. So I would love to hear about how you took debating skills, how have you use those in your business and your business career?

Dan Pantelo 45:08
debate is the science of persuasion, right. And I was always, I was always like, I'm in college, I did some sales jobs like, like when I say sales, I mean street sales, like I sold makeup and phones on the street in Brooklyn. And, and that was like, so debate was always like, a really good, I was always a good writer, and a good talker, um, debate is like, the best way to make use of those skills, we and I ended up you know, being the captain of a team being ranked in the state of New Jersey, second in New Jersey, which is the one of the most competitive states next in New York and California. And of traveling around the country in high school debating, it was what early on made me first off, like hyper competitive and ambitious, because it is super competitive. Like we invest our like, all our free time into, like at that, at that level, into the activity. And so like, it actually kind of prepped me in some ways for like, the level of commitment and dedication required to actually like compete in a standard hybrid setting. But also, early on, I was like, I'm gonna debate I want to be a lawyer, right? And then I talked to some lawyers, and I discovered, like, this whole courtroom thing you see on TV, like, that's not part of it, that's not realistic, like, 99% of being a lawyer is paperwork. Right? And I was like, Oh, that sounds boring. What's a job where I can like, actually talk a lot, right? So, so I was like, Okay, I don't want to be a lawyer. And then I, you know, I discovered like sales and marketing, which like, seemed more fulfilling, I was like, okay, like, it's like literally persuading people what at scale, right? And, and then that's where it kind of like, my interest fell, like, that's where I because I was interested in that I went down this like rabbit hole that led me into the sales world, that then led me into like, the more tech world, and more I discovered marketing technology, I was like, Wow, it like, literally, we're living in a time right now, as like, this is the first generation where we're living at a time where to sell products at scale, you don't need to have hundreds of sales reps, basically, on Salesforce selling things, you can actually automate all of it online and have like, the power of thousands of in person sales people, it's like comparing, like when cars people on the horses, like, I don't need, like 100 horses, that 100 horsepower, like, I can just do it in this car. It's all automated, right? It's all packaged in this like, automated thing. So that's when I was like, okay, that's really interesting. Let's dive into it. And that's kind of how we went down this journey. It opened up the window to me initially to enter the world, but I would encourage anyone to get involved in like a competitive, like, extracurricular activity, whether it's sports, you know, like a lot of a lot of a lot of folks like, I looked at debate as a sport, like, which is very Excel. But you know, you get like a lot of successful entrepreneurs or like former athletes, right? I think being involved in a competitive activity, like that for just for fun on the side, is something that's really important to just like your personal development.

Andy Halko 48:28
Yeah, I agree. It's winning, and having that drive to win is definitely important. So I'm going to spend this round on you, you know, asking out of the blue question. You know, let's assume that we are in a simulation, who or what created it and why?

Dan Pantelo 48:48
Yeah, I think that so I do think we are in a simulation, I think the likelihood that we're in base reality is really low. And, and, like Ilan, Ilan Musk has some really interesting thoughts on this. He does spend a good amount of time talking about it, actually, he's really interested in this topic. So if so what it would be was like, like humans, like if we could right now create a simulation, that would be like an accurate simulation where we could, like we would have the product to act, we don't have the ability to accurately predict the future and play out like multiple events, which would be the useful tool humans could ever create. Right? Like if I could simulate right now, what would happen if I said, anything out of these hundred options in this podcast right now, and I could find the best possible outcome, right and do that I would be like an unstoppable force, right. And imagine how like governments would even be able to like weaponize some technology like that, right, where they could play out military scenarios and things like that. It's the most useful. We are currently right now. A lot of our, the smartest people in the world are working on projects that are to create simulations, right? A lot, the biggest government r&d budget is going to building accurate simulations of our own society. And, and right now, like, the, like, the exponential rate at which computing power is increasing is necessary for us, we need to hit a certain point for us to be able to render out accurate simulation. So all these factors are coming together. And so the answer is humans, like we would create our own suit, like we are probably in a simulation of, of our own society, right. So that that we do it to, like, we could be just playing out some random situation that someone wants to see how it would work out, if, maybe 100 years ago, someone pulled this lever instead of that lever, you know, when like, Thomas Edison was inventing whatever, you know, like, who knows, but yeah,

Andy Halko 50:59
I have to point out, you know, you ask every employee that question, and you get really impassioned in answering it. And it's very reflective of your product of simulations and texting them, you know, and seeing what works best. So it's kind of intriguing. I don't know if you've ever, like made those connections. But I mean, you've got some level of passion and interest in this idea. And you've, you've now created a product from

Dan Pantelo 51:27
Yeah, what do you guys think?

Andy Halko 51:31
Oh, now you're gonna turn around on us?

Dan Pantelo 51:33
Yeah, I yeah, this is all good. Yeah, yeah. I'm asking the questions now. No,

Andy Halko 51:37
I totally think it's a possibility. But the interesting thing is, is it seems like it spins in on itself is that, you know, like you said, we're increasing the technology power to get there. And I think we totally can, but then we're in a simulation that's getting to that point. And it's kind of you know, I don't know, it's such an interesting thing of, you know, how does it continue to spin in on itself of if we're getting to that place? So I don't know, my feeling is that we're probably not in a simulation now. But I think that we will eventually get to that point. But then it wraps back around into itself that why haven't we gotten there already? So I don't know. It's a it's a fantastic question for sure.

Tony Zayas 52:24
Yeah, I love it. I've thought a lot about it. I have a degree in philosophy. So this kind of stuff is type of stuff I enjoy. But you know, I think it's not something that we could, we would know, if we were in the simulation. That's the challenge with it. That being said before, the philosophical side of me says, you know, what is the difference between, you know, true reality, and a simulation, as we, you know, as we know, our existence, it's all relative. So, I love the concept. I don't have any answers on anybody out there.

Dan Pantelo 52:58
Here's the thing, though, if you create a truly accurate simulation of your world in which you've created a simulation, then that simulated world will also create simulations of itself. Yeah, right. I think Yeah. It's like an infinite it goes into my womb. Yeah. Right.

Andy Halko 53:19
Yeah, I think and that's why I can ask the who and what, you know, it's interesting, the the idea of like, you say that we created it. I mean, what if we are completely different beings? And, you know, we created the simulation, but we put these slightly different people in there to kind of test out that scenario. Yeah. And that, you know, I mean, you never know. I mean,

Dan Pantelo 53:42
Right.

Andy Halko 53:43
Maybe it's a race of, of intelligent frogs that wanted to see what it was like, if you could stand up and walk around and how that would change their society.

Dan Pantelo 53:53
Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, no, totally. Exactly.

Andy Halko 53:57
So yeah, if you could tell me, I mean, that's where the who would what becomes fun, because then come up with all the different ideas of like, who created the first simulation? Or what created the first simulation?

Dan Pantelo 54:11
All right, right. I think that would set off a trigger of events that like would create parallel universes and stuff like this, that person creating a first accurate, like, we do create simulations today, just not good ones, like Sims, like SimCity. You know, like the computer game that's supposed to like is a simulation technically, right. But it's a bad one. It's not accurate, right? It doesn't have its own like it doesn't go on on its own. So but what we can do with the, with the loop, the specs of our pipe, are that connection that you made is really interesting, because we use the simulation potential with the datasets that we're collecting. So because we are the first platform for multivariate testing for creative, what we're seeing, we're allowing, we're now collecting the first time Like ad scale database of creative component intelligence, meaning we're collecting all this really interesting data about, like, what people what different consumers what visuals or visual stimuli they like to see or hate to see. And we can actually like, we can predict, like, hey, this consumer segment, if you're, if you have this kind of product, and you're advertising to this consumer segment, just don't show them purple, they hate purple. Right? If you show them purple, we can predict that they would purchase at this amount. And if you show them green, we predict it will purchase at this amount, right? And so like, we can actually start predict the same way that Facebook based on your credit card history and behavior can predict your likelihood to purchase certain types of products, we can predict your likelihood to engage with certain types of visual stimuli. Right. And so that's like something that we we have barely scratched the surface, though. But is there an exciting project we're working on?

Andy Halko 55:58
Yeah, that's awesome. So you know, we're kind of coming up on an hour. What's next? What's the big? You know, what's the big, hairy, audacious goal in front of you? In the next three to six months?

Dan Pantelo 56:13
Yeah, so a few things. So right now, we are work because we're experiencing really exciting growth right now, we want to double and triple down on on the product to ensure that we hit that kind of like, runaway, you know, volume, and we want to hit hyper hyper scale, essentially, so to speak. And in order to do that, we're going to, we're looking ahead to raising our next round of funding within the next six months, we're going to do our series A, we already have a lot of the pieces to get for that coming together. So it's going to be a really exciting round. And we have a lot of really awesome names coming into the picture too, on that. So if anyone was going to this is interested in having a conversation, you know, reach out to me about that. And we're going to that what that's going to allow us to do is actually unlock some really ambitious goals we have for a product. So like right now, we can essentially allow you to, let's just say, let's use the word for the sake of it, simulate tons of creative possibilities in the real world and understand like, what's your best case scenario for your creative. And but tomorrow, like, right now, we're limited to just the image format. And on Facebook and Instagram, well we want to do next is bring that sort of capability and that technology to Google to Amazon's DSP, to LinkedIn, and also to the format's of not just image, but to video and audio, which we get tons of requests. And so those are like really complicated projects. And so, you know, we want to be able to deliver that capability to be able to, like take over to be able to, like have access to more of the market, because our product features enable it to. So those are like the big, the big goals. And obviously in the process, we're going to be need to need to hire a ton of customer success people, engineers, product designers, and so if any of the folks listening, are interested in what we're building in our mission, reach out to me, let's talk.

Tony Zayas 58:16
Yeah, that's awesome.

Andy Halko 58:17
Well, that's exciting.

Tony Zayas 58:19
Thanks. Sure. Now really good stuff, Dan. I think I think that kind of wraps it up. This has been awesome. Appreciate your time. Everybody, go check out Mark pipe.com. Reach out to Dan and really cool product. And oh, Andy and I have been in there playing around with it. Pretty awesome. So thank you for spending this time with us. We'll keep an eye on you and mark it and see how things are going.

Dan Pantelo 58:46
Thanks for having me, guys. This was a lot of fun. This was really awesome. And I wish the I can't wait to share this and refer people to the show. And I wish you guys the best in the upcoming recordings. I can't wait to watch. Thank you ppreciate.

Andy Halko 59:00
And yeah, it was awesome. We'll talk to you soon.

Tony Zayas 59:02
All right. Take care. Bye bye.



About Insivia

Insivia is a Strategic Growth Consultancy helping software & technology companies scale through research, brand strategy, integrated marketing, web design, and retention.