The Tech Startup Playbook | Brian Long (Founder of Attentive) | EP007

Jan 10, 2024

Notes

In today's episode, we are thrilled to have Brian Long, the Founder of Attentive, a cutting-edge tech startup that's transforming the way businesses communicate with their customers. Brian brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, and he's here to share his insights on how to navigate the challenging yet rewarding world of tech startups.

Episode Highlights:

  • Problem Hunting: Discover the art of identifying real-world problems that are worth solving. Brian shares his journey of problem hunting, providing valuable tips on how to spot opportunities and validate your ideas.
  • The Startup Playbook: Dive deep into the strategies and tactics that have propelled Attentive to success. Learn about the importance of adaptability, the role of customer feedback, and the crucial steps to take your startup from idea to execution.
  • Building a Dream Team: Uncover the secrets to assembling a team of passionate and dedicated individuals who share your vision and are committed to your startup's success.
  • Navigating Challenges: Every startup faces its share of challenges. Brian opens up about the hurdles he encountered along the way and shares practical advice on how to overcome them and stay resilient.

🔗 Connect with Brian Long:

📖 Mentioned in this episode:

  • Brian's Book: Dive deeper into the strategies discussed in this episode with Brian's comprehensive startup guide. A must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur!

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🎙️ About the Channel:Our channel is dedicated to uncovering the stories of entrepreneurs who are changing the game. From tech innovators to wellness pioneers, we bring you the insights and behind-the-scenes looks at the journeys of today's top founders.

Transcript

Brian Long:doing, it makes it much harder to change direction. If you have to call up all your friends and family and all these people and say, well, that thing I've been talking about for the last three to six months, actually, I decided it sucks.

Andy Mewborn:So you were at Twitter. What are your thoughts on everything going on with Twitter right now? Elon Musk took it over. What do you think the future for Twitter really holds?

Brian Long:I think the Twitter has tremendous potential. this sort of super app, if you will, that can do all sorts of different things and do it in a very sort of clean fashion. I'm bullish about what can be within that sort of product.

Andy Mewborn:I think, too, the whole, like, free speech thing is interesting. I just saw this thing where he, like, removed the New York Times badge or whatever because they were, like, providing false information about the Israel-Hamas conflict. That was, like, pretty crazy. already. What number is this for you?

Brian Long:You know, I don't, I don't really know. I'm losing count, but, uh, you know, it's interesting just doing the podcast thing. We, we set these up and they're like, great. You slotted in for January.

None:So it's like people, people plan these things sometimes pretty far out.

Brian Long:So, uh, and that's been interesting.

Andy Mewborn:Oh, wow. Interesting. Interesting. Yeah. I mean, for me, we've got quite a bit of people, but like we just try and make it, I'm like, you know, one of the, uh, cultural values of attentive. I know this cause obviously my wife works there, but it's like default to action. Right. And I'm like, just get it done. Like if you want to have someone on, get it on. Like, I don't know why it's taking people so long. That's crazy.

Brian Long:Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's, uh, I think that it's because they, they kind of do like a cadence of like one a week or whatever. And like, yeah. like a big release, like a fiction book or some celebrity biography or something. There's not really that momentum. You actually, it turns into a word of mouth thing. And the goal is to peak over time. So you want the sales to peak in year two or year three.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess that makes some sense there. And for you, I remember you sending me, why we're on this podcast is because we chatted what about two months ago or something. I was raising some money. And I was like, Oh, Brian, like, let's chat. You were gracious enough to say, Alright, let's hop on. And you gave me some tips, right? And then you're like, Hey, I'm actually writing a book. And it's literally gonna cover all of this in detail. So you sent me like the manuscript or something. It still had like red lines on it, you know, and all that. And I was like, and so I dove into it and I was like, oh my God, this is like amazing. And why I loved it in particular is because a lot of the startup books I've read in the past, and this is just my own kind of review, were like very theoretical. Right. Very theoretical. And from from lots of people that have never actually been in the pit or like been in the weeds of actually building something, it's all kind of from an outsider's perspective. And so yours came from the perspective of, hey, I started Tapcart, which sold to Twitter. And then, you know, I just started another company that may or may not be going public at some point in the future. Right. I don't know what we could say, what we can't. But That was what blew my mind. So it was kind of like, hey, here's actually how to do it from someone that has done it before, which I thought was amazing.

Brian Long:Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of great books out there, but where we kind of saw an opportunity was a lot of the books were heavily sanitized. You know, so you have the same, you know, these books that would be like, here's the story from Apple and Google and a couple other places. And you felt like you'd heard the story a couple of times before. Yeah. And, and it was like very PR friendly. but does it actually help you go start your business and scale your business? I'm not sure. So I wanted to be very, like very, very tactical and practical on how it can be used.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Well, I'd love to do an exercise with you, but before we get there, um, cause one thing I'll say is we just raised, uh, 2 million bucks as a, as a pre-seat round, actually. So we just raised that. Um, and I would say I'm a, walking testimonial for you in the book because I literally was like, all right, how would Brian deal with this situation? I actually go back to the manuscript with all the red lines, you know, and I'm like, all right, how would Brian deal with the situation? And no joke, like a month and a half after reading that and like kind of looking at what your playbook was, we ended up closing it, which was like, what, two weeks ago or something. Um, yeah, thank you. Thank you. So, um, going back to that, you know, I want to, I think it'd be amazing to focus on your first 12 months of attentive and like, how did you deal with the cold start problem?

Brian Long:Yeah. I mean, I think that oftentimes the mistake Right. And, you know, that actually, it does feel good to say, this is what my company is doing. I'm going to go do that. Let's go. And, you know, you, you didn't really take a lot of time to explore. You just went right. And I, and I've done that. And I did that, you know, we, we, we started the tenant with another name and we kind of did it with that mindset of like, Hey, I have an idea. Let's just go start something. And that ended up not working out super well. Um, because although it was an interesting idea. factories. It was that we wanted a way for executives and managers to easily communicate out to all of those employees in real time using text messaging. So, hey, I want everyone to take a training. I want everyone to know that we made some change. I want everyone to know, you know, whatever. Also, here's the they're not checking their email all day. They're not taking surveys all day.

None:They're mainly on their phone.

Brian Long:Let's engage them on their phone. So that was the initial idea. And I went out and I did... We built the product and I did 100 plus demos of that. And over and over again, people just didn't want they could not reach their customers. They were not successful in getting in touch with their customers anymore. And they said, Hey, can I just use this text messaging to reach my customers? I don't really care about talking to my employees, but customers, yes, figure that out. So it just comes from finding a real problem, which we ultimately turned over by talking to lots and lots of potential customers.

Andy Mewborn:That's interesting. That's not the first time I've heard that story, right? Which is like, if you look at, so I was early at outreach and at outreach, you know, early on, like it was a, it was really a recruiting tool first. It was a tool built for recruiters and, or there was a recruiting tool built Outreach was reaching out using this internal tool that was built to sequence people with emails and stay consistent, right? And people eventually said, hey, we don't want your recruiting tool that you're reaching out to us. What are you using to stay so consistent in reaching out to us? And then That's when it clicked like, oh gosh, like that is actually what people want, which is like, so from, you know, sound just so similar to yours, which is like, people were like, Hey, I get this kind of like mechanism you're using, but I want it for this thing over here versus what you're trying to do with it. Um, which is super interesting now. Like how often do you think that happens, Brian? Is that the first time that's happened to you? Or is that, has that been part of your process overall?

Brian Long:I think that's happened in every company that I've started or been close to. And I think you've got to listen. And it's actually pretty hard often to make the change you need to make because it involves throwing away a bunch of stuff. different directions. And a lot of people are not comfortable with that sort of change and flexibility. You know, sometimes, you know, people get really tied to a certain product, they're building a certain mission, you know, they have a certain vision, and they just want to sort of see that through. And they block out, you know, hearing the feedback from, you know, people in doing that. And it just doesn't

None:And, um, you know, we weren't completely unsuccessful.

Brian Long:We, we sold the product to a handful of customers and we had a big public company that was, um, went through legal red lines and was about to sign off and give us a big deal. And, you know, myself, my co-founder looked at each other and we said, you know, if we sign this deal, we're going to be pretty committed. And we don't really, we actually don't feel very good about where this business is going to be. think could be really big. So we ended up basically throwing away 6 months worth of work across a team of 12 people. We ended up parting ways with like 4 or 5 people that would have only made sense. I guess it was only 2 people, but that only made sense for the prior business and really going in this other direction. But I think that's really hard. I think that's hard to do for a lot of people because it's hard to throw away something you've spent a lot I'm talking about, Hey, you know, I work today, but it was a few hours, you know, there was some study I read recently that the average worker does like three hours of work a day. Like as a startup person, you know, you do it like 12 hours a day.

None:So it really is like an incredible amount of additional work nonstop. And then you throw that away.

Andy Mewborn:Like that, that really sucks. Yeah. And I heard someone the other day say something like around, um, inertia can sometimes be the worst thing for you, right? Which you kind of avoided this inertia that you almost would have had with getting this Fortune 500 customer because you were going to be married to having to do that, right? If not, you'd probably have to start a whole nother business, which who knows how that will roll out to do this other idea. And that takes guts.

Brian Long:It's hard, it's hard to do it, but at the same time, you know, I think it's necessary in order to make something big that you're really excited about. And that's going to attract the talent you want. You know, I experienced this once before. Um, with my first company, we started, it started out, we had a bunch of mobile apps during the very early mobile app food days, like 2011. And we, we had, we had this one app where the whole idea was like buying something in a mobile So it was kind of like Wish, where we did really easy payment information store, one-click buying, just buy immediately in the app.

None:And we sold a bunch of stuff. And we were doing not a joke. We were doing, I want to say, $35,000, $40,000 a month.

Brian Long:So it went from $0 to $40,000, $45,000 a month in maybe 3 months. So pretty, pretty quick that it grew. But we realized that, hey, you know, that business, while it was okay, we didn't think long-term it was great, but B, there were all these issues we had for the app that we started building tools for. And we said, you know what? I think a lot of our other friends who have apps would buy these tools from us. Let's just productize that, sell all these software tools to everyone else. And that's maybe like a much better business you know, really once in a minute.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. And that's what you sold to Twitter, right? That was like tap commerce. And, uh, tap commerce was around for about two years.

Brian Long:So we started that in June of 2012 and sold it to Twitter in June of 2014.

Andy Mewborn:Wow. So you were at Twitter. Now this is a little off topic here, but what are your thoughts on everything going on with Twitter right now? You know, Elon Musk took it over. Like what, what do you think the future for Twitter really holds?

Brian Long:Yeah. I mean, look, I think the Twitter, be this super app, if you will, that can do all sorts of different things and do it in a very clean fashion. So I'm bullish about what can be within that Twitter product. I think it's really good I think it needs more innovation, right? So I'm excited to see more innovation.

Andy Mewborn:And Elon, I mean, when he came in, he pretty much slashed what, like 80% of the workforce, don't quote me on that, or something crazy. And you were still CEO of Attentive at the time. Right. And so did that influence you at all, like with the tentative, like, hey, maybe this thing's bloated or maybe we have too many people doing too many things. And, you know, how did that influence you at all and kind of how you ran a tentative?

Brian Long:Twitter. You know I think there was a strong general view that the company was quite voided. Right. That there was there was a feeling like hey there's a lot of people that we probably could get along fine with without. And then two I think probably more importantly is that investing Yeah. Um, so, you know, I, I, yeah, again, I think it's too early to say, and obviously, you know, Twitter is something that's gotten very politicized and I don't think that's great. Um, I think it would be nice if it wasn't politicized and focused more on, um, you know, the impact that it could have, uh, competitively, um, for social networks and media and other things in the United States, because it should be a bigger part of the conversation. You know, where it can't just be Facebook that is doing everything. It's for the best of Facebook too to have real competition.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I have. Yeah, I'm excited to see where he goes with it. I think to the whole like free speech thing is interesting, right? With it and him trying to not have people push a certain narrative and get away from or Twitter pushing one narrative is, you know, maybe they have in the past and all that, which is quite interesting. I just saw this thing where he like removed the New York Times badge or whatever, because they were providing false information about the Israel-Hamas conflict, which I thought was pretty crazy. He's just basically throwing them under the bus saying, you know what, no one should believe what you say anymore, which is interesting. But I wanna go back to starting companies, Ryan, because your book is like, again, I think the best, one of the best handbooks, I would say, on this whole process, right? And from learning about you, it sounds like y'all are really good at going zero to one, right? Saying, hey, we're at zero revenue, and we're gonna take this thing, prove it out, and see if we're going in the right direction. What are your frameworks for saying, hey, we're going to build this thing and getting it in the hands of the right people, especially in 2023, where, as you know, like cold email isn't what it used to be. Right. Text message has text messaging, has a lot of regulations around it. Like you can't just start cold texting people. Right. As a channel, you know, paid media is getting more expensive. Right. And then one, the market is in another thing is like the market is becoming more saturated with with software tooling because it's so much easier to build AI and all this stuff. Right. So with that in mind, like, you know, how, if you went from going zero to one, when in getting this in the hands of people and then moving forward, like what would you recommend people do? And like, what are you advising companies to do in this? Yeah.

Brian Long:I mean, the short answer is you have to compensate people for their time. So when you're early on and you're still figuring out, you know, what your customer problems are exactly. you're going to start testing solutions, right? You have to understand that most people don't want to spend their time helping you figure out what your solutions should be. So you got to compensate them. I think it's always funny to me where people are very willing to go hire someone whatever it is, but they're unwilling to pay $100 or $200 or whatever it is for a 30 minute or hour long chat with their buyer, right? I would really lean into offering compensation to people to get their feedback. And this is before you've got a product, right?

None:This is like, you're just getting there to hear from an expert and learn from them.

Brian Long:You know, expert networks and getting feedback has been around for a long time. I think that you can do a lot there by aggressively reaching out to people and offering them compensation for their time to get their feedback. Now, obviously, that's different than, okay, now go sign this contract. But you only get to be, hey, go try the product out and sign this contract once you feel like you have something that works. To me, it's much more just focused in the early days on getting that feedback, And then if you feel really good about all the feedback you've collected, then you build an initial product. You also are hopefully giving that out for a degree, you know, for free, make it easy to try. And then ultimately have people pay for it.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. How much does y'all spend? Like get it, you know, for attentive, for example, like what kind of budget did y'all have for that? Cause that's my first question. Yeah.

Brian Long:It's not that much money. I mean, look, you know, this stuff is, is all relative. Yeah. You know, we in total, I think, you know, to get our first hundred customers, build the initial products, all that sort of stuff, we probably spent about a million dollars. Yeah. So, and that includes, that includes salaries for the entire team. You know, families didn't take salaries, but salaries for, you know, anyone we hired, anything we need to do to get people's time and get them on the phone.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Yeah. A million bucks. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, if you think about a million bucks to build something that's built to last like a tentative, right. Uh, you know, now what's, what is y'all's valuation? A few billion or something like that. Uh, at that point, you know, spending a million dollars to figure out like, okay, like this thing has legs, we're going to move forward. Right. Uh, in the grand scheme of things, definitely not huge. And, Now, something interesting.

Brian Long:That's also milestone over time.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Right.

Brian Long:Yeah. So Not like you walk in one day and you say, boom, I'm going to spend a million dollars. We put some of our money in because we had sold our prior company. We also raised about a million from outside investors across a handful of people, I'd say eight to 10 people that wrote checks in to that very early convertible note to see what it could do. And you're spending maybe 80 to 100K a month. So, you know, you get that outside money, makes you a little more open to spend the money, you spend 100K a month or something like that. It's not like you just have to write a million. You do some stuff, see if it works, and then you buy it.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah, I would say the conversion rate on that, obviously you're looking at that and saying like, some of these are converting to customers as well. So you're making the money back as you're going. But that's, that's funny, because I've used this strategy. I mean, if you look at outbound prospecting strategies, right, companies will do this with like gift cards and stuff like that. And you know, what's crazy is like, I've never even thought about doing that for like this early, what you did was basically prospecting, but more feedback kind of related stuff. Right. Which is, which is amazing. I'm actually going to go do that now because you're just saying, okay, do you want to be a design partner? Right. That's kind of what everyone's shooting for these days are the ways that like VCs will tell you, Hey, go get some initial design partners, like have them use it for free. Right. Ask them if they want to be a design partner, but you've made a good point, which is like, you know, not everyone wants to just go in there and use your tool and be kind of the Guinea pig. They want something that's going to really like solve that initial problem. Go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah.

Brian Long:I mean, you also have to find people that want to be guinea pigs to an extent.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah.

Brian Long:You know, like, look, I do think that there's a little risk there because you want to make sure that when you're identifying a problem in the market, that that's not a problem.

None:You want to make sure that the problem that all of your potential TAM, you know, all of your total adjustable market has to a degree or,

Brian Long:is getting. You want to make sure it's not just a small cohort of guinea pigs that have been unraveled, but most of the market does. And I think this is a pretty common mistake that happens is companies make a product that they think works for a big market, but it actually only works for a small cohort of the market because only a small cohort of the market actually has that problem or that your solution works for. They see some immediate success. 10 million in revenue, they think they figured it out. And then all of a sudden, they hit a wall because they have to go outside of that initial core group where the selling was easy and the product worked, and then they need to sell to a lot more. And it turns out the product doesn't really work or the market doesn't really want it for the rest of the market. And that's why I think you see a tremendous amount of companies that are able to get to 5, 10 million in revenue pretty quickly. But then all of a sudden they run out of steam and that's probably, you know, it's very common. I mean, the hardest thing is not getting off the ground at all, but I think too often you hit five or 10 million and then, you know, growth gets a lot slower because it's harder to find, you know, those next.

Andy Mewborn:Did you hit that with attentive and have to like recalibrate it all?

Brian Long:We did not with attentive with my prior company. We were much more worried about. it, which is part of the business. We had also about 20 something million in revenue.

None:And we went from zero to 20 in about a little over a year. year.

Brian Long:So it was very fast, but we looked at it and we said, you know what, I don't, I don't know how I'm going to get to 40 or, or 30 for that matter in the next year. So I think that you, you, um, well, it's, it's very hard to see out a couple of years. Like when we were starting to kind of the idea of getting it to hundreds of millions of revenue, which is it's at now, um, many, many hundreds from zero in seven years, it's seven years in the future, you know, who knows? I had a much better idea on what was possible in the next six to 12 months.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Yeah. And when you found let's, whatever the term people are using these days, product market fit, or, you know, when you were like, okay, this attempt and things are going to work, we're going to do text message marketing for e-commerce brands, you know, and you found that was working. One thing that I'm thinking about is like, okay, we have this thing, it's working with a few subset of customers, right? We're getting some revenue in. How did you think about how you were going to like hire early on, right? And I know this is a big question that people have is like, all right, who's your first hire? What are your first hires going to be? How did you think about that specifically for attentive? And would you have changed anything?

Brian Long:Well, if you get the money for it, the number one hire I would make early on is a full-time in-house recruiter. So, I think that's a role that CEOs... CEOs always say, oh, I spend a bunch of time recruiting. But if you actually look at the calendar, often they don't spend that much time. And I was at a dinner a few weeks ago where the doing that much. And he's still spending over 30% of his time recruiting.

None:It's probably like the hottest tech company, right?

Brian Long:I think I can't underestimate the value of spending time recruiting, and its ability to bring in top talent. And I think that, especially now, we're, you know, pretty competitive for that talent.

None:And I think if you have a full time person that's just focused on that, you're going to have

Brian Long:incredible fun with people. You're going to be able to pick great people. And also, by the way, if for whatever reason, someone's not working out, it's not a fit that you hired, whatever, it's also much easier to replace people as your business is growing. Whereas on the other hand, if you don't have that, and it's really just reliance on you and to go figure it out, I think that's very hard. And some people hire outside recruiters, but they're very expensive. They And and and be there's a instead of this alignment right because outside the cruise point they just want to fill the role right there. They're not really worried if the person is going to work out and do great they kind of just want to fill the roles and yeah.

Andy Mewborn:That's actually interesting because. A lot of people I've asked are like, Hey, uh, which I've, I've kind of thought the same thing too. It's like, Hey, have like higher customer success managers when you're first hired. you know, is a common one. Another one's like engineering. Um, Lenny, uh, Rochowski has a newsletter. I don't know if you've seen that, but it's a pretty good, he's like a, he was like product Airbnb. It's a huge product newsletter. You should get on his podcast, by the way. Um, he's got a, like a hundred K followers or something on his newsletter. So good size too. Um, anyways, long story short, he put out this, uh, chart recently and the chart was like all your first hires. I, and I didn't see recruiter and it was like 20 top SaaS companies. I didn't see recruiter on any one of those. Right.

Brian Long:Which is yeah. I think that they're, you know, look, there's a founding team and I, and I, you know, my team is a product person, a tech person, and someone that can work the business side, salesperson type mindset, right? But after this core three, I think the most important hires are A, a recruiter, and B, inside sales. And the reason I like inside sales a lot is that you can, on a amount of customer feedback very early. And that ultimately should shape the product that you decide to build.

None:You can hear the customer problem. You can build up the customer funnel quickly.

Brian Long:I think it's a huge mistake to go hire a handful of engineers early on or something like that. get a team of five or six engineers and they build the right thing. Most of the time they don't. And the worst thing about having a bunch of engineers is that you got to give them something to do. And then they go build it.

None:And then you got to go sell it.

Brian Long:And then no one wants it.

None:And then you just build

Brian Long:You know, no one wants it. And then they're, you know, they're discouraged. They don't trust you. They don't want to build the next thing. So I think it's very, very dangerous to hire a handful of engineers early on and just start building shit. I go by the mindset of build last rather than, you know, this, this.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah, it's funny is I feel like you have to screw up a few times to actually like figure that out on your own too, right? Because you ask friends and like, they'll come to me because I built a lot of things just as you have. Most of those things have failed, right? Yeah, most of those things have failed. That's the stuff I don't think a lot enough people talk about, but you know, most of the things that I've built have failed. And it took me three or four times to realize, before you build anything, you have to understand that this is something people really want, which is the obvious thing. And then these mental models that I've put together myself, and I always live by these before I built this new product that we're building. One, can you take something that already exists and make it like 10% better, right? Or 20% better. Right. Um, two, can you democratize something that like only people with money are using that like Uber, for example, getting black cars. Right. Uh, which is obviously, uh, you know, one of the bigger examples, but, or can you do that? And then the third thing is like, if you build something that you yourself would use, there's probably a million other people out there that would use it. And those are kind of the three things I've done. And before the first things I started to build, the big mistake that I've made was like, Oh, I think other people would think this is a cool idea and this is going to be the next space X or whatever. Right. And then you kind of like shoot for the moon, realize that like, Hey, there's so many like that. There's so many things wrong with that. The timing could be off the. It could be not solving the right problem. It could be for the market, yada, yada, yada. Um, so it just took me so long to do that. Um, which is interesting why you say that. And now I have buddies that come to me all the time and they go, Hey, I want to build this app. Right. Um, and I go, Oh, well, you know, what's the app, what do you want to do? And they're like, well, it does this thing and it does this and it goes from X to Y and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, why can't you build that with a spreadsheet first? Right. And they'll go, well, no, cause that's not cool. And I'll tell them, well, it may not be cool, but like, if you think about it, if someone's not going to get download your spreadsheet, that solves this particular issue, what, what makes you think that they're going to go through all the loopholes of downloading an app on their phone? Right. Um, and then that, so now I'm kind of the friend that they don't come to with ideas on apps because I'm just going to tell them like the truth, which kind of, which kind of sucks, but I'm sure you've experienced that too.

Brian Long:Yeah.

None:Well,

Brian Long:is probably the greatest killer of entrepreneurial ambitions. And what I mean about that is when people have a particular concept, idea, whatever, they go around and talk to people about it, a few people. And everyone just says, Oh, that's great. That's awesome. That's cool stuff. That sounds great. Right. And you're like, Oh, wow, everyone says it's and go build this thing. And it's bullshit because most of the people, they might not even immediately know what you're talking about. They don't even know what you're talking about. Most people don't have any idea what you're talking about, right? Because they're like, ah, yeah, that sounds good, yeah, sure, okay. They don't care. The few that might though and actually get it, they don't want to tell you that because they think that if they tell you that, you're not going to like them. And it's going to be a problem for them. And you're going to say, oh, Brian's a dickhead because he told me my product sucks. And I think that's very, very hard to overcome. You need to create an environment where people can give you actual critical feedback on what they like, don't by what happened, like you'll do a pitch. Oh yeah, we're going to do this. We're going to solve this, this problem, this solution, et cetera. What do you think? It's great. You're asking questions. You think it's all great. But every time I like to get a rating. So I like to say, okay, a one to 10 scale, one being, you know, I'm not at all interested. 10 being, I love this. I want to buy it now. You know, let's, let's go. That's what, what level of interest are you? like a point very low score. So I think that just by pushing people to get you that thing, and then also I think opening up the, you say, okay, well, what do you like?

None:They give you what you like.

Brian Long:And once they give you some positive feedback, then it opens them up to be like, okay, great.

None:What do you wish was different?

Brian Long:And then that's the only, you know, that's the feedback that really matters. And I think you need to also, you need to be intellectually honest. This is the other thing that I think people, they get in If the idea doesn't work, you don't want to have to go find new ideas. So you just want everyone and everything to tell you that it's great. So you only hear the good feedback. And when you hear bad feedback, you say, yeah, whatever. Bad feedback. I don't really care.

None:So I think that's the other kind of big danger is someone just sort of putting their blinders on and only hearing the positive stuff and then they just keep doing it.

Brian Long:And look, I've seen a lot of people do this when they have a company and they'll have a thing and they'll do it for years and years and years.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah, that's an inertia kicking in for, you know, the bad inertia, I guess is what you could say. Right. And, and not being intellectually honest over time compounds into you getting more of that inertia. Right. And then like the, and then you, you kind of convince yourself or create that narrative in your head, like, no, everyone else is wrong. Everyone else is wrong. Everyone else is, you feel stronger and stronger about it. Um, and this is coming from, uh, my own experiences as well. Like I haven't done that. Right. Um, question for you, who do you go to for honest advice? Like, do you have a board of advisors or like, you know, a group of friends that you go to and you're like, Hey, is this, is this idea of shit or not? Or I'm trying to thinking of doing this. What do you think?

Brian Long:I mean, look, I have a whole bunch of entrepreneur friends and I speak very openly about what I'm thinking about doing. mistake is people that are, um, super secret about what they're doing. And, you know, I, I got some bad news for you. Like most ideas and things, there's other people already working on, and they're probably not going to be your buddies and friends you're talking about.

None:There's people everywhere.

Brian Long:And, you know, a lot of it's going to be execution. But I think that the, the, the, the openness I've always been pretty open, um, when talking to buddies and friends about, you know, what you're doing. But I also think, well, if that only goes so far, you got to go talk to people that are your buyers, right? Which are often not your friends and people like it's those random people, which is why I think adding an inside salesperson, preferably a couple early on, doing those random meetings, they're not friends of friends. feedback early on and then you know it's going to work.

Andy Mewborn:That's actually seems again another piece of advice I like that seems contrary to what most people say, right? Like the first one being the recruiter, right? Like I haven't heard anyone say that, but when you think about it, it makes total sense because all of the logic that people hear and we tell ourselves is like, hey, you know, recruiting is the number one thing you need to be doing all the time. And as you know, CEOs always say like, hey, yeah, recruiting is our number one job. But then when you look, they're not actually doing it.

Brian Long:If you want to be a big time CEO, I think there's really only two things that you do. And maybe there's maybe a fourth in the corner, but there's really three things you do. One is you need to figure out Right. Number two, it's getting the money in the bank. And the money in the bank is typically based on whether or not people buy the vision, which is usually tied to like a bigger market and trends and your own reputation. Because early funding is basically trusting the person that you've given this big check to that they're going to go spend that money building something of value. And by the way, they can just pay themselves a whole bunch of money.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah.

Brian Long:You know, anyway. reputational. So number one is vision. Number two is getting the money in the bank. And then number three is the people. It's recruiting, right? It's just finding people. And why do the people come and work at the company? They come and work at the company because of the vision and because Based on your reputation, right? Now, there's like a fourth bucket of things, which is like accountability and making sure that everyone's accountable and keeping them accountable and setting the pace and keeping the speed of the company. Because speed is what's going to make your company successful. You talked about Elon earlier. Elon's number one statement is that speed is the ultimate offense and defense. Speed is basically all that fucking matters. So if you are able... And what I mean by speed is not building 1 product and say, we're going to make it in 6 months. You build the 1 product as fast as you can and do it in a month or 6 weeks or whatever it is. We built our first product for Intentive in about... I think it was about 45-50 days. And we just got it out there. Minimum product time. and getting numbers from it. It gives you a lot of stats. But those 3 things are really, to me, what matters. Paging money, recruiting people. But if you recruit the right people, that 4th bucket of needing to to hire better people. that we're able to just rock and roll without a lot of my oversight, really. And that allowed me to just focus on what I do best.

Andy Mewborn:And let's talk about that. What's your mental model for figuring out if someone is going to be one of those people that you don't have to hold accountable because you know they're going to do a great job? What do you look for when you're interviewing them, especially early on in the company? Later, it's a little harder because you probably weren't involved in all the hires, maybe mostly just executives. But what did that checklist look like early on and then how did it shift or did it stay the same as you became a 1,200 person plus company?

Brian Long:You have to understand what drives them, what's in their heart, what do they want, what do they care about, and how that maps to the job that you want them to do. So I like to ask people basic questions like what's their ultimate

None:that dream and goal?

Brian Long:You know, what's it based in?

None:You know, what's their ideal setup?

Brian Long:I do think that there is a portion like, look, anyone who can find the thing that they want to do in life and do that thing, it's not going to be work. It's going to be doing their thing. They're going to like doing it, right? If you like doing it, then you're going to do it all day long happily, right? And then look, there are always parts of these jobs that stink, right? There's always going to be a component of it. And you have to build up to getting certain skill sets and certain things, um, to, to reach different milestones. But like, you have to be understanding how that fits into a larger structure of, of, of building a dream that you're getting towards. And, and I, and I think that's what, what my biggest thing is just making sure that those are aligned because I want to help someone who has a particular dream that aligns with what our company can, can give them on that dream. If you can't, then they're never going to be that motivated to work. Yeah.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. And I'm sure you just intuitively get an eye for that over time too, or like an ear for it, I should say, right? Of being able to sit down with someone and be like, does this align? And like, are they truly going to just care about reputation and doing a good job regardless if I hold them accountable or not? You know?

Brian Long:And there's a caveat there too. shoe level, something like that, they're probably not going to have, because they just, they just, they may not have gotten that there and figured it out yet. Um, and that's totally fine.

None:Right.

Brian Long:Some of the best tires I've had were people that, you know, they weren't exactly sure, but they know they really wanted to achieve something and do something great, but they weren't exactly sure how that fit into their plan. And that's, that's fine. like, you know, Hey, what do we want to do? And they were like, well, I, you know, I want to be a psychologist and therapist. And I was like, why are you talking to me? And they're like, we just had like a 10 minute interview. It was fine. And they go, well, you know, um, I feel like, uh, what I've heard is that I can't do that job for like, you know, another five to eight years because Well, that's fine, you know, but mentally I'm thinking to myself, but you're not going to do that working with me because, you know, we don't have spots for people that are just waiting to do something else. And I'm just kind of like, you know, checking in and checking out like we want to do has a passion for it and it's fitting into their vision because they do well in this role. They're moving up roles and they're getting more and they're excited and

Andy Mewborn:And not people who have similar interests. Yeah. And something that strikes me here is, you know, you think it sounds like you've just asked some very simple questions, simple. And I would say on the front end, right. But it can be more complex than the back end, but simple on the front end, like, Hey, what is your dream? Like, what, what is it that you want to accomplish? And the more I've learned and like the older I've gotten, I've always, I've learned that. You know, you think when you get out of school, you have to ask these super tough questions for people and they have to be like some great questions. And, you know, out of nowhere, the best questions in the world, when really the most simple questions give you the best answers a lot of the time on what you need to know. And I don't know, it's kind of coming full circle here in discussing this with you, because, you know, I would have thought you would have had some crazy mental checklist of like, Hey, here's how we hire great people after all these years. And no, it just comes down to like, Hey, what, what are their goals? And, and how does that align with where this company is going? You know, like, what is it you want to do? Right.

Brian Long:Well, there's where's your heart at and then where is your skill. Right. And, um, the, the reality for a lot of roles is that you don't need, um, some incredible intellect for some ridiculous, uh, So there's things that obviously you're going to test for. But at the end of the day, I think the heart has to be there. And I think the skill bar certainly depends by rule, you want to make sure the skill bar And is there part in it? And that to me is, is harder to see. Whereas like small thing you can kind of, you can kind of grind.

Andy Mewborn:And in getting on this topic, which is related, like you're hiring people so that they can do a great job. But as you know, a founder, you're like, the company's your baby and you're kind of want to like, A lot of founders have this trait of perfectionism, right? Or like wanting to oversee, make sure things are done right, because it is your baby, you know, you care a lot about it. How have you gotten How have you thought about delegation, right? Kind of, and let your, I would say, been able to delegate better to these people over time, right? And have you dealt with it? Because I'm sure you struggled with it at some time, at some point. Maybe I'm assuming that. But you've had to like kind of work on that skill and be okay with other people kind of doing things when they wouldn't be as good as, as you would do. Right. Maybe in that sense. So how, how have you dealt with that?

Brian Long:Well, I think there's a few things, but one, there's a thing that my, my exec coach, this guy, Matt Notaro, amazing exec coach does where he, he goes back through, you know, you go back through your calendar, you basically say what's And, um, I think that if you can find where things that give you energy and that you're also good at come together, focus your time on that. And then wherever possible.

Andy Mewborn:What is that for you? What do you, what do you think that is for you?

Brian Long:Well, I think that changes over time with the needs of the company. Right. Um, and the scale of the business, but, you know, For me, I think it's the intersection of being able to work on a problem and a solution for a product.

None:Finding that product market fit early on.

Brian Long:marketing or sales or whatever it is, partnerships, to really scale that engine. And I think that if that's what you're the best at, then that's where you can focus the time. Like now, with my company, I spent this morning on some calls around our position, held on to probably the longest and been the most intimately connected to. Because I think it's the most important document for that company is how we communicate what our products are, how they work, why they're better to our customers. The sales deck and material around that most important document we have. So I would just focus on that. There's a lot of other stuff that I wouldn't spend time on and just say, great. And there's problems and there's issues and maybe off, whatever. But if you get the stuff that really is the most impactful stuff, then that's great. And then too, I think as CEO, also just something else I like to really turn over in my head and push on is, what is the boldest thing that we could Because there's a CEO founder power that you have that maybe I didn't realize until somewhat recently. But there's an incredible power you have where you can kind of do anything. You can really do anything you want if you're the CEO founder. You really can. And I think that people don't realize that. They say, well, I can't do exit. No, you can really do anything. things and say, okay, I've raised my hand and said, this is an example, I'm going to do anything I want. Let's go do that. And you have an incredible ability to move things and push them. And you know, you talked about Elon before. I think that's really been Elon's biggest success. His power, but it's actually a power that we all have, which is that as CEOs you have, is that you can say, let's just, let's just go do X. And I'm going to just push resources and go do X because I think X is the most important thing.

Andy Mewborn:And that's it. I'm sure some people with that, with, you know, Hey, we're going to go do this. Some people may say, well, that's a different direction. You know, that, that, that's not where we want to go. Most people will, a lot of people will, and they'll say, this is inconsistent.

None:And, you know, you said something else nine months ago, you know, management's all over the place. And, you know, these guys don't know what they're doing and all that

Brian Long:and whatever is the opposite of that. The experience they have is the company just kind of has the same Coca-Cola and it's just selling Coca-Cola over and over and over again. And we're just going to keep doing that steady as she goes, whatever. So I think that that greeted with the chaos and speed that comes with building a real fast-moving fund company is very different. And I tell people like, look, you got to be cool with We're going to learn things in the market and we're going to find out, oh crap, you know, that thing we just spent the last whatever on it's actually, we're just going to throw it away because something else is much cooler. Now we're going to go do that. And, and there's a reason.

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Well, I mean, this is like, I'm taking notes here, right? Because, uh, you know, exactly what I just told you is exactly what, as you know, what happens. And it's almost like, you just got to push through it. You yourself as the CEO founder, and it's like, no people know that people aren't going to be, are going to be against it. And you just have to, you have to set that expectation that this is, this is just how we're going to roll.

Brian Long:Well, I mean, but I'm, but I'm saying too, like, you I'm not saying to be an authoritarian leader. What I'm saying is you should explain, hey, here's why I'm thinking that we should do this other thing.

None:Here's my focus. Here's why I'm thinking it.

Brian Long:Let's talk about it. We can all talk about it. And look, your mind may be changed. You may hear everyone's feedback and you may say, you know what? That's a good point. Let's not do that. You've got the conviction and you've thought it through and you've talked to people. My biggest point here that I'll just come back to is that you can do anything you want. And I think this is something that CEOs forget, is that they can really do what they want.

None:And there's so many excuses on why they can't. Oh, you know, such and such won't like it or such and such, whatever. You go, okay, but why is that?

Brian Long:Yeah. Then what are you doing?

Andy Mewborn:Yeah. Go do that. Give us the two minute pitch on your book just so I want people because I can give you my perspective. It's awesome. Everyone should go read it, buy it, download it. It's like a legit startup handbook on how to raise money, build a company, think about all this stuff Brian and I just talked about. But from your perspective, I kind of want to hear from you, Brian, on maybe why you wrote this thing and what you hope for the book. Yeah. Yeah.

Brian Long:Good question. So, you know, look, I think at a very high level, I would say this book is built to be an extremely, extremely tactical way for anyone to figure out what is a company that they can start, you know, from, from the beginning, how to find the idea, how And then once you find that problem and begin experimentation with that solution, it then has a whole bunch of different practices and things that you can incorporate into hopefully making your business successful. And I might just reiterate a few things. the core themes of the business that I think maybe are a little contrarian to what might be out there, which is number one, I think you should build last. I think that it's a big mistake to just start building, whether it's software or hardware or a physical product. I think it can be really, really dangerous and trap you to just start building and get stuck in a crappy company.

None:You get committed to a crappy company.

Brian Long:So don't do that. Number two, and this is a little related to that, don't go social. It makes it much harder to change direction. If you have to call up all your friends and family and all these people and say, well, that thing I've been talking about for the last three to six months, actually, I decided it sucks. So you don't want to and you also don't want to post it on LinkedIn or anything like that, So just make sure that you're getting real feedback. It can really hurt you and consider hiring, recruiting and sales very early on. So those are some of the lessons, but if you check out the book, you'll get a good one.

Andy Mewborn:Awesome. Well, thank you, Brian. Hey, it's been a pleasure. We'll get this out and then maybe in the future we'll have you on again at a later time when you write the second book or something like that. All right. All right. Thanks. Yeah.