- What is Venture Asheville and how does it support the start-up community (1:59)
- Celebrating entrepreneurship and the impact of Startups in the community with the Venture 15 (6:33)
- Why a co-founder is so helpful for a start-up venture (12:05)
- Importance of a team and how they can help you deliver exponential growth (16:12)
- A case study in helping define your customers with JustKibbitz (25:00)
- Jeff mentions a book called Radical Marketing and how you can engage people who love you the most to support your organization (33:28)
- You can learn more about Venture Asheville on the web or follow them on Social Media on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
- Learn more about JustKibbitz at https://justkibbitz.com or on Instagram and Facebook
- Read Tracy’s article on the //firstname.lastname@example.org/launching-a-business-7-ways-to-learn-from-our-first-year-406065634067">“7 Lessonss we Learned in our First Year”
- Learn more about how TEAMES & CO builds effective and empowered start up teams that deliver results.
Listen to Episode 20
Episode 20 Transcript
Tracy Eames (00:34):
Welcome everybody to Building Teams with TEAMES & CO. We're really excited today to have Jeff Kaplan joining us. He's the director of Venture Asheville, which is part of the economic development coalition for Buncombe County. Jeff's also a recent co-founder of Just Kibbitz, and we'll let him tell us more about that as we jump in, but welcome, Jeff.
Jeff Kaplan (00:53):
Thank you so much, Tracy. It's great to be here with the whole TEAMES & CO.
Tracy Eames (00:59):
I love it. Love it. We were actually joking the other day because I... We obviously, in our name, spelled TEAMES & CO with the extra E because of the play on words, but I literally misspelled the word teams because I added the E in normal text. So I now think I'm trained to write it as the company name, so a lot of branding going on.
Jeff Kaplan (01:23):
You know when your phone starts auto correcting teams with the E, then you really made it.
Tracy Eames (01:30):
Exactly. That'll be my new measure. Anyway, Jeff, listen, we'd love to hear a little bit more about you, just kind of to jumpstart our conversation and the audience to know a little bit more about your background. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about your work at Venture Asheville and we'll get started.
Jeff Kaplan (01:48):
Yeah, happy to. So I've lived in Asheville a little over four years, and I've been the Director of Venture Asheville for two and a half. Venture Asheville is a startup resource provider for the area. A lot of communities have something like this. Ours is unique in that it's funded by the Chamber of Commerce, the city, and the county, so we're a part of a public-private partnership with the charge to build high growth entrepreneurial ventures in the Asheville-Buncombe area. And the thrust of this is because our area, our economy, is... I shouldn't say totally dependent, but it is a significant portion of the economy and leisure and hospitality, right? This is Asheville. We’ve got the Biltmore and the Grove Park Inn, and all of downtown and the great breweries and restaurants and shops and retail, et cetera, which while we have a pretty competitive job market and pretty low unemployment... usually, not kind of are... but generally, we've led the state for 20 years in the lowest unemployment.
Jeff Kaplan (02:43):
The jobs that we have tend to be low skill, low wage jobs. So if you have high growth ventures in the tech space or health space that focus on knowledge-based work, so people that need to have degrees... or not degrees, but, necessarily, experience in development, design, engineering, some of the consulting work you have out there, knowledge-based work, sales, marketing, et cetera, HR, even finance - those jobs are going to be demanding far higher wages than our low wage, low skill work in our leisure hospitality sector, so that's how we exist. And why the city, the county, and the Chamber of Commerce created Venture Asheville eight years ago, was to create a force for developing entrepreneurs and getting these startups funded to grow in our area, to create these, again, these higher paying, better jobs, which overall impact the quality of life for everyone living in the area.
Tracy Eames (03:35):
That's great, and I think I've lived in a lot of different cities. As many folks listening to this show know now that my career has been in marketing and sales, and often when you work in marketing and sales, you get moved a lot, right? Hey, lead this new sales territory; open this new market - and so I've had the benefit of living in a lot of cities in my life, and one of the things I was most impressed with when I moved to Asheville was the incredible resources for startups. I have never seen a small city support startups and support ventures in such a comprehensive way. I think you guys are doing a really great job, and I'm looking forward to hearing a little bit more about some of the efforts that you do in terms of supporting startups so our listeners can learn a little bit more about that as well.
Jeff Kaplan (04:20):
Great. So I'll give you the kind of, the nickel tour, is that, let's say at Venture Asheville, we built entrepreneurs and get startups funded through three core initiatives: mentorship, financing, and programs. So for mentorship, we use the MIT Venture Mentoring System, which is used, I think, in 90 or 100 locations now. It's team-based mentorship where we put a founder at an inflection point in their business, usually rather than go to market stage, and put a team of mentors around them - and it's pretty regulated. It's pretty strict, but it has great results. I mean, the program has created something like $35 or $40 million in local revenue just while companies are in the program; created 180 jobs, direct jobs from companies in the program as they're growing and about 100 companies have gone through. One-third of those are going to fail out within a year.
Jeff Kaplan (05:09):
One-third, kind of say, perpetually and once they graduate out to execute longer and then get into the business on the financing side, we manage a small income group, the Asheville Angels, which is part of the VentureSouth syndicate. We have a microgrant program. We also do a startup road trip where, again, capital's limited in our area. We know cash was only a 100,000 people, so once a year, we pack a van full of founders who are raising money and we drive across North Carolina or we're going to Georgia and Atlanta or Chattanooga and Nashville. We hold pitch events. And for me, it's like going to summer camp. I get to be in a band with founders for a week. And it's the best week ever, just pitching and pitching and hanging out, and the pitch is so much fun. I imagine that's what rock stars experience. It was just a taste of the startup road trip.
Jeff Kaplan (05:54):
And then programs and events throughout the year, we do things that will impact or build capacity, so we do the Asheville Startup Games, which is silly, fun, competitive stuff between startups, and every startup has to make an ante. You have to pay your entry fee and you pick a non-profit. Then the winner at the end of the tournament, all the money goes to their non-profit. And it's things like they're playing cornhole and giant Jenga and Mario Kart and games like that. It's super accessible and we can play and it gets all the startups out there, chit chat, get to know each other, and it's for a good cause.
Jeff Kaplan (06:31):
The big event of the year is called the Venture 15 Adventure Asheville Honors. As you know, you lived in a lot of places, and I hear this all the time. People say, “Oh, you're from Asheville, I thought you guys only had breweries out there”. That is one kind of startup, but we also have a healthy tech sector and a pretty fast-growing healthcare economy here. So the Venture 15 was created for us to understand what actually the impact of startups in the area is. You have tangential or occasional exits or investments, overall, how are we doing? So the Venture 15 is our version of the Inc. 5000 where we rate and rank the 15 fastest growing startups in the area, and we do that through compounded annual growth rate. Everyone submits their financials. One of our local accounting firms’ audits everything and then produces the cager, and then we announce that at a great big old grand event.
Jeff Kaplan (07:21):
This year, for example, we know that the top 15 startups in the area brought in $62 million in local revenue. This surpasses last year's record by 20 million, 12 million more than the year before that! You learn things like what percentage of startups are owned by women in our area. Last year, that metric was 66%, 2/3 of our fastest growing startups last year a woman owned. This year, that went down to 40%, so it's a difference of, what, ten to six or something. And so we're trying to understand why we're seeing this happened, but also, we've noticed that the average age of fast-growing startups went down by almost two years. So 3.5 years old is the average age of one of our fast-growing startups starts now. So we have more revenues than we ever had and we have younger teams than we've ever had. It's like, what's going on?
Jeff Kaplan (08:13):
And two other things we looked at is number of jobs, so how many people are employed by those 15 companies, which also decreased over last year. Again, we expect the coronavirus had quite an impact on that. So smaller, younger, more nimble teams in the sectors that are growing, again, are tech and healthcare... are making the most revenue, which is, again, expected given what the economy is reflecting, reflect how the economy is performing.
Jeff Kaplan (08:39):
And the last thing we look at is number of co-founders in the Venture 15. And we find that this year, I think it was 12 of the 15 companies had co-founders. Last year, there were 13. So I take all this light. I make a joke about it and say, so if you want to have a fast-growing startup next year, get a co-founder and go in healthcare, right? And then you're going to be all set, basically. And obviously, it helps if it's a female co-founder. You just have higher chances of success that way. But yeah, so we've found that this is a somewhat unusual market. We are pretty geographically isolated, and we don't have a Tier One R1 university out here and this authentic transfer happening. Innovation comes from the ground up, but there is a strong startup scene and to make it here, you really do need a co-founder.
Tracy Eames (09:29):
When you speak to the startups and the co-founders, what do they say kind of helps that or drives that success? So as you're thinking about starting a startup, and you're thinking about whether or not I should have a co-founder, obviously, from our perspective, that extra person gives you kind of that start of a team, but what are they saying are some of the benefits that they find in having that co-founder as they're launching?
Jeff Kaplan (09:54):
Accountability is a really big one, and we noticed this with single founder teams versus co-founder teams, that there's, out here, lots of folks who are entrepreneurial. Maybe they're hobbyists or passionate about something, and they can create a lifestyle business out of this, whatever it is. Maybe they're making some kind of craft, or maybe they're in tech and they built some kind of cool app, but we don't see them hitting that next level and the growth curves that we've seen people have co-founders. I think accountability is a big part of that because when you're accountable to a partner, it's not just you. You have expectations of somebody else and they have expectations of you and so I think just a certain amount of just accountability and pressure responsibility that you feel when you have a co-founder. I can't let this person down. The intrinsic motivation really helps.
Jeff Kaplan (10:40):
The second thing is division of labor, right? Co-founders have different skill sets. Obviously, that helps so it's not redundant, and just someone who understands what you're going through, right? So we see a lot of our sole founders craving a peer mentorship group we have. They get-together... and they kvetch and they compare notes and we hear things like how you all handle your inventory management systems, and they get together and they all chit chat about what IMS you're using and why. And so with having someone who's in there with you in the fight, shoulder to shoulder, really, it proves that there's more success in the accountability. You share responsibility. Occasionally it comes with funding, depending on the situation of the co-founder and maybe that's how you deal with structure. That was really significant and a clear differentiator in success for a lot of founders or a lot of startups.
Tracy Eames (11:31):
Well, we've heard the same thing. We actually wrote an article, and this was one of our points in our article, as well, about the seven things we learned in our first year. One of the things was that we kept hearing this over and over again from startups or even small organizations, right? Maybe they're not on that high growth curve, but they're kind of growing their companies steadily and not having that counterpart or that person to bounce off of. Or to your point, that kind of complementary skillset, that's where we've seen a lot of success with organizations where somebody has one skill set and the other person can complement, that they have a little bit more of a well-rounded founding team. Not to say you can't create that in other ways, but we've heard a lot of success stories in terms of, yeah, I knew the business or I knew the product, and this person knows finance or this person knows tech. They could really bounce ideas off of each other and kind of get to a better spot. So you also have two networks then, right? You have two networks that you can draw on for other advice or other support systems, which we we've heard a lot of positive things about when we're working with smaller organizations.
Jeff Kaplan (12:33):
Yes. That's certainly a good point. If you and your co-founder don't have that complementary skillset, at some point, you're going to have a... we call it crucial conversation where it's ‘for us to grow, one of us has to be the CEO, one of us has to do this, or someone's going to have to eat the vegetables’, or whatever it is. At some point, you have this conversation where you're going to have to divide your labor. So the more differentiated your skill sets are, the more clear it is who does what. And we've got a company right now we're working with that they just raised a fantastic fundraising round, and now the founders need to talk about who's going to be CEO. One of them wants to be co-CEOs, and the other one doesn't think that's a good idea. They have very, very similar backgrounds of skill sets and degrees and everything. They met in school in their academic programs, so we're helping them get through this process.
Jeff Kaplan (13:24):
Again, at some point, the conversation always happens. I think it's easier when you'd have the hacker and hustler combo, right? You're a CTO and CEO, and it's like, look, you clearly do the code, I'm going to sell and market the bank. That's how we're going to work well together. Then you disagree on things like feature prioritization, which is easy and actually pretty easy to work out and get user feedback, but other conversation on product market failure? We can talk about that some other time Tracy, just had to go off topic. But again, if you don't have complementary skillsets, at some point, you'll have a crucial conversation, which isn't a bad thing. All founders have to have these crucial conversations with each other, especially with a partner who can spend as much time with you as your spouse or significant other. So it would just be, you have to know how to navigate those conversations.
Tracy Eames (14:03):
Yes, a hundred percent, and I think that those are really important conversations to have, and we often speak about them in terms of just making sure everybody's aligned, right? You don't want to be running down the road in two different directions and not know it just because you both have a vision that you haven't just said out loud. So those are incredibly important conversations. You mentioned with the mentoring program, but also maybe some of these informal groups when people are just kind of getting together as part of Venture Asheville, it sounds like there's a lot of opportunities within the organization for startups to get together and have more of that informal team. So they can bounce ideas off other startup founders, maybe they're bouncing ideas off of their mentor team. How do you all think about kind of that informal team network for startups in the Asheville area specifically?
Jeff Kaplan (14:51):
It's so important to know you're not alone, especially as I'm learning more about mental health and how many founders struggle with mental health at different points. Every founder faces so much doubt, even when you have co-founders. You referenced I have a side project, a venture on my side, and one day, I remember my co-founder and I just vented to each other how much doubt we both have in our projects and different parts of it. And it was really therapeutic to be like, well, that's not a big deal and here's why, let me show you what... Anyway, doubt when people are with you, seen people who've done it before. You need that as a founder to get through it, because everything is harder, cost or money takes longer than you think it will.
Jeff Kaplan (15:31):
No matter what you're doing as a startup founder, nothing's easy. You’ve got to be crazy to respect it. It's like half I want to do because the reward is fantastic, right? The freedom to liberate, to control your schedule - to have a big payoff one day at the end when you get acquired by some huge company, the start of being a founder, all the accolades you can get as a founder. That's cool. People like that. It's really hard getting there. There's a lot of failed attempts which is all part of the process, but having your informal team, people like you who are in your place or can empathize with what you're going through, without that you can't get through it. You can't get through the startup journey.
Tracy Eames (16:10):
Actually, I was talking to somebody about this a few weeks ago because it was one of my biggest learnings. I founded TEAMES & CO as a solo entrepreneur, and it was hard in the beginning, especially when you speak about teams all day. Then to be kind of operating without a team felt really just like a disconnect, right? You're kind of having one conversation but still building the business and it was really turning a point for me to be able to start to build out the team, and it's something we speak about a lot. Having individual success is really exciting, but having that larger impact when you're a part of a bigger organization, it just starts to feel more impactful and exponential, and being part of that community that there's a joint celebration going on. So I imagine with the Venture 15 celebration, there's that, oh yeah, we're a part of this list. We're a part of this thing that's happening, and it's much bigger than just any one of us individually. There's this group success that's happening along with it for Asheville, for all the organizations, and creates a lot more buzz.
Jeff Kaplan (17:14):
Yes, absolutely. Playing sports as a kid, I played individual sports and team sports. I always enjoyed a team win so much more than individually. It's a lot more fun to celebrate and high five. And I was a high school wrestler, right? So I'd go on the mat and do my thing, and I win and high five my team like that's it, then I would sit and cool off and just replay the whole thing in my head and whatever. The team win... When the team wins the World Series, the dugout clears and people have to go riot in the middle of the field in a mosh pit. Nothing compares to that energy and that feeling. That's something incredible, and that's what we try to recreate with the Venture 15, right?
Jeff Kaplan (17:56):
It's not like the World Series mosh pit, but as cool as that is... I'm going to start using that branding. It's great to just be like, yes, we are all pulling in the same direction. We all want a future in Asheville, one that is resilient and diverse in founder and diverse in industry and here's how we're doing. Here's how we did the last couple of years, and here's what we want to go in the future. And the line I throw out all the time is, "All birds fly south for winter, but the ones who fly in formation get there faster and look better doing it." And that's a big part of what Venture Asheville and Venture 15 is all about. It's like, this is our chance to get us all in formation and look towards next year and have some fun and celebrate along the way, because we do have a lot to celebrate.
Tracy Eames (18:38):
That's amazing. We get a lot of sports references on the TEAMES podcast, but we don't get a lot of nature references, so that one's what I'm going to borrow. I'm going to use it a lot.
Jeff Kaplan (18:48):
Yeah, hey, there's lots to learn from birds.
Tracy Eames (18:53):
It's like a whole other podcast that we can have just... well, I mean, we're really interested and we want to hear a little bit more about Just Kibbitz. If you'll indulge us in terms of you and your co-founder and the team you're building out and what you guys are doing.
Jeff Kaplan (19:08):
Yes. Happy to. So I love Mike. Mike Ovies is my co-founder. When we talk about complementary skill sets, I mean, Mike and I have...we're not in common and it's crazy. So I also do a customer segmentation and customer mapping workshop for our founders. I use Mike and I as examples of... Demographically, we're almost identical, both first-generation Cuban Americans. We actually grew up in the same zip code in South Florida, and we're about the same age. He's a couple years older than me. Both middle children. I mean, it's just... Demographically, we are in the same bucket. Then psychographically, we could not be more opposite. Mike is a senior software engineer. He's global software consulting. Mike, he's into fashion in another way than I am, right? He's got the Converse shoe in every color of the rainbow.
Jeff Kaplan (20:05):
And when he wears his outfit, he's wearing that Converse shoe. I wear the same duck boots every day, if it's raining or not. We're just not in the same mindset at all, but we get along really well. I mean, because we complement each other. And so I met Mike... It's also - a lot of companies start from employees of another company. We were both working at Anthroware, which is a custom software development shop here in Asheville. I just got the desk next to Mike. He was senior software engineer, and I was brought in as product owner, consultant, helped out with sales. I was just kind of utility player, just jump in and do everything except write code and so, because of that, Mike and I, from the beginning of our relationship, it was like, I don't know what's in code - I'm not going to code anything. You're going to do that. You're going to make those decisions. But together, we'll create these plans. And together, you occasionally get to come on a sales call with me and I'll do your code reviews and I'll do QA.
Jeff Kaplan (20:54):
And then, when it comes to features and prioritization, you kind of referenced before, it's like, I've got my feelings, you've got yours, but at Anthroware, we learn how to do data back decision-making and using design thinking and design learning principles to get to what needs to be in the product. So we developed this common language. Mike's great. Again, it's because he and I are so complementary, and that is kind of our secret sauce to why we get along so well, but it also a huge amount of respect for each other's perspective. And then, we know when to yield to the other one's expertise.
Jeff Kaplan (21:31):
I'm preparing to go on a rant here about co-founders. Let me say more about Just Kibbitz and what it is. So, years ago, six, seven years ago, my wife and I went down to South Florida to visit my mom. It was Thanksgiving or something, and I was doing something with my stepdad, and my mom pulls out this computer, a laptop. She pulls my wife over and she says, “hey, hey, come look at this. What do you think about these girls for Adam?” And my mom then showed my wife a dating profile of Adam on JDate, which was a Jewish dating site. It's like match.com for Jews and my wife realized that she was looking at the dating profile my mom made for my little brother to help him find a date, living in Boston at the time.
Jeff Kaplan (22:14):
We thought this was the funniest thing ever, that my mom was so worried about Adam, that she created a fake dating profile for him to get him a date, especially because you add into it, I come from a traditional Jewish family and she was worried he'd never find a Jewish girl and all sorts of stuff, right? I was in grad school at the time and doing product development courses thinking that's a real unarticulated need. The way that parents and close family traditionally helped family members find significant others and spouses, it hasn't come online yet or it hasn't been done the right way. I keep an idea journal. I've had it since grad school, and I’m just constantly adding to it. And then one of the first ones in there was this idea for a dating site where mothers create the profiles for their kids.
Jeff Kaplan (23:07):
They don't talk to other kids. They talk to other mothers that they think the kids would get along with and they set up the date. It went through lots of variations and name changes and we settled on Just Kibbitz. Kibbitz is Yiddish for chit-chat. When kids get set up on the dates, and I can just hear my mom saying, when she would try to set me up with somebody when I was in high school or college, “don't worry, Jeff, she's fine. It's not a big deal. If you don't like her, no pressure. You're just kibbitz.” This is trying to set the expectations really low for anybody who's getting involved in one of these dates, to reduce the barriers and the cognitive blocks for people to jump in and do this. So that's what Just Kibbitz is.
Jeff Kaplan (23:50):
We raised a little bit of money on it. Last year, we launched officially in October 2020, and we got a thousand or so users on there. Moms are matching. It was a real gamble. Would moms sign up? Would they pay to use it? Then would they even pay to get the kids to go on the dates? So here's the secret sauce; is when you ask a millennial, would you want a date set up by your mom? They only say yes 50% of the time. And then we say, but what if that date was prepaid? And they'd say yes 92% of the time. So that became the secret sauce to Just Kibbitz - through a doable date, and that came to Kibbitz. And so you buy Kibbitz credits and you buy gift cards and they're sent to the kids in the dates. We have a provisional patent on that process, which is unbelievable and pretty funny, but yeah, it's going really well.
Tracy Eames (24:40):
So Jeff, that's a great overview of Just Kibbitz. I think I'll ask the question many of our listeners might be thinking about which is, how do parents and their kids often talk about this conversation of getting comfortable with their parents starting an online profile for them for dating? What are some of those ways that you've kind of connected with your customers around the customer need? Because it sounds like you have a really good understanding of your customers, but I'm imagining that kind of question is top of mind.
Jeff Kaplan (25:12):
Yes. We've done a ton of customer discovery, everything from surveying people, going to JCCs and synagogues and asking rabbis for recommendations. Hey, who can I talk to that's going to... Who's your biggest Yenta? Who loves Mahjong? Let me talk to that woman. And we think of first, the psychographic, Tony Robbins says the two greatest motivators are fear and love. And so we work on both, right? The parents are afraid that their kids will never find anybody, and it's for the pursuit of love. We're trying to be more love into the world. So those demographics... And there's not like one kind of Jewish mom out there per se, and there's not one kind of Jew out there. And I've worked in Jewish... I went to Yeshiva. I've worked at Jew organizations for years and years and years, met just some guys like, I think the Jews are great market. This is my culture and my people.
Jeff Kaplan (26:02):
Anyway, if you didn't know me and my background, it would be a really weird part of the conversation to jump in on, so I feel like I had to put that out there. We know it's the moms who are concerned or have a fear that the kid is never going to find the right person. Or it's on the other side of that. It's kids and moms who have these great relationships that they already talked to their parents about their dating status and the parents are doing this already without having an online tool. So we're just helping them do this online. And there's a lot of people in between. So the customer discovery, individual interviews were the most impactful things we did - which was we went to a Jewish heritage festival here in Asheville, it happens once a year, the HardLox Festival.
Jeff Kaplan (26:39):
And they gave us a booth. We paid 200 bucks to have a booth and put these big signs that say, "Warning: Just Kibbitz may lead to adorable grandchildren." And people were like, what are you talking about? What is this thing? Another sign that said, "Be the Yenta you were born to be. Just Kibbitz." And they would come in and we had this raffle thing and they would give us information. They got to win a t-shirt or a free month or a Mahjong card, all kinds of silly stuff like that. But that process, being out there for eight hours in one day at a Jewish heritage festival, we talked to 200, 300 people that come and say, what's this about? Some people walk by and say, no, you shouldn't do that. No, that's intrusive. That's not respecting your kids. Other moms would walk up and go, oh my God, I've been looking for something like this for so long. I can't believe you're doing this. Are you guys live yet? When can I sign up?
Jeff Kaplan (27:28):
That kind of process, of buy in behavior, getting pricing information, people will walk up. There'll be a different pricing screen you would test. Yeah, it's $19.99 a month or it's $1.99 for a year. Just kind of see what people would balk at and what they were into and what seemed easy. When you sign up today, I'll give you $60 for two years. And it's kind of random, but just seeing what are people going to buy, does two years seem like too long? They're like, why would I be on the site for two years? I want to find someone right away. Or maybe it's six months is the sweet spot. So all those factors, we just kind of... You have to test. And you have to assume that you don't know the right answer. I don't care if you built this product for yourself. You're not the only customer, right? So you have to talk a lot of customers.
Jeff Kaplan (28:08):
And that was an incredibly high return of learning. We spent all day at the festival and some of it was brutal. Some of it was just people insulting us, like, how dare you? What do you think? Who would you think? What do you think you're doing? I don’t know why you're doing this. Yeah, my mom loves it. She talked about in her sermon last night. You did that. That truly happened. And she asked about organizing the festival. What's new at HardLox? And he said, oh, you've got to hear about the site, Just Kibbitz. And we were her Saturday morning service the day before the Sunday festival. Her sermon was great. No better plug than the rabbi telling you, go see this and come talk to these kids.
Jeff Kaplan (28:49):
And we learned that it's a lot easier for us in the beginning of our launch and we want people to love us who are going to say, this is the best. My kid's going to love it. We're going to use it. I'm going to tell my friends who want to find those people desperately. And it's worth the time and energy to find those fanatics, our early, early adopters that will be ambassadors for us. And we do the incredibly unscalable for them, right? We send them gift boxes. They have my phone number. They have my email. They can contact me any time. I'm pen pals with this woman. They tell me their kids are going on a date and follow up a day later. How did it go, I know all the kids' names because I can see their profiles. They know about my kid. We're talking about Hanukkah. We're talking about what I got my kid this year, my grandparents about this and this and that. And then we're joking about our house is full of little kid crap. And she goes, oh, just to wait 20 years, you'll be on my side of it.
Jeff Kaplan (29:42):
So just building these deep relationships because we want them to love us. When we find people that are on the fence, we don't spend that much time with them. We say, look, here's everything we got. Here's some blogs. Here's how it works. Here's what moms say about it. Here's some great proof points. Look, talk to your kid. If he's not into it, then you're not going to be into it and it's not going to be a good fit, so... check it out. No pressure. Just Kibbitz. That's our whole thing, right?
Jeff Kaplan (30:05):
In the beginning, we launched our landing page and it got a little bit of press. We got some really nasty emails from people, same kind of stuff you expect to see, you're crazy and this is offensive. Does rabbi know you're doing this? It's all kind of a crazy thing to hear, and we just send them a quick note. Thanks for your feedback. I'll share it with the team. It's not worth it right now because we're so young, right? We've only been in market for three months. It's our third month in market and we’re revenue positive, and we're growing by about 20-25% every month. We want to keep hitting those numbers, and we're doing that by doing the intentionally unscalable, giving people these incredible early experiences.
Tracy Eames (30:43):
Well, it sounds like you also know your customers incredibly well and I think it's a good lesson for startups in terms of, you can't serve the entire market. You have identified a niche that's really valuable, that really finds your product helpful. And for that niche, you're creating this incredible customer experience which we often talk about, which is not just focusing on your customer, but putting them at the center of your company. And right now, your core customers are clearly at the center of your company. They have a direct line to you.
Tracy Eames (31:12):
And to your point, that may not be scalable in the same ways over time, but you're building a community that these customers will go out and they'll talk about you. They'll talk about that great experience and then down the road, you'll find new and exciting ways to keep that experience alive. It may not be the same way, but it'll still feel really genuine to them. I think it's a really valuable lesson for startups to say, hey, it's not that you're trying to ignore people - you're just trying to put all of your energy into your core customer, and your core customer is really going to love that, right? They're going to love the experience because that's what they're looking for.
Jeff Kaplan (31:47):
Yes. Think about the cost benefit, right? It's really hard to change someone's mind. It's a lot easier to introduce somebody to a new concept and a new way of doing things, so that's how we coach it. This is what you've been doing anyways and then we do it online with all these other moms. They actually have more choices, more opportunity as opposed to when it comes to how do we... question that always comes up is how are you going to scale that? How are you going to stop? When you have 10,000, 100,000 users, everyone can't have your cell number, right? So we'd like to open a call center, only open during regular business hours that's full of these moms who made it, and it's like, hey, once you've made it, you want to stay involved. Why don't you help other moms out? We hope to hire our first customer service agents from our current early users of moms and let them pick up the phone and talk to other moms.
Tracy Eames (32:39):
Jeff Kaplan (32:39):
Only 24 hours of work. 24-hour turnaround is fine. I don't know about you, but I hate getting help tickets and sending out tickets, so I want to email one person or call one person and we want them to keep building relationships. You'll get that Mom's going to be your buddy or someone like that. You're going to call the same number every time and only two or three moms are going to be able to pick up. So that's kind of the concept, right? One day we can employ them to be customer service, and then they're going to have that fulfillment of helping moms on the other side.
Tracy Eames (33:08):
No, that level of community building is really...that's an ingenious kind of approach to, hey, people who have gone through the process can help other people go through the process, right? So it's kind of that mentality of, hey, we've been there, we've done this. Let me help you through it. Which sounds like, to me, creates even more of that community, so...
Jeff Kaplan (33:28):
That concept came from a book called Radical Marketing. I'm blanking out who wrote it. It was a chapter on the Grateful Dead and what the Grateful Dead did that helped them become so successful on the road on these amazing tours they did was they found the best people on Shakedown Street making merchandise for the band about the tours, and they would employ them and say, you do such a good job. Why don't you work for us? Keep doing what you do, but be on our team, right? And people would caravan, and they became their transport and logistics people. When the people who love you the most, if you can have them actually turn them and really become part of the team, you have a loyalty that no one else can match.
Tracy Eames (34:06):
That's awesome. We'll look up the book and we'll put it in the show notes so folks can check it out too. Well, Jeff, thanks. You have been great, and I think that we've covered a ton of different topics here. Is there anything else as we wrap up the conversation that you think it's important to share with our listeners of Building Teams and through your experience of Venture Asheville and now as a co-founder yourself of Just Kibbitz?
Jeff Kaplan (34:31):
When you start your company and you have your co-founder, every group goes through storming, forming, norming, performing, even if it's just one other person. Those four steps are so critical. In the storming and forming phases, I think it's a good time to learn mindfulness techniques and grounding exercises. So you give yourself space to react or reflect for responding to your co-founder or your nascent team because you want to set your team up for success from the start. So looking into some mindfulness work. Mental wellness is great. Good for founders. Good for everybody. And use that with your team.
Tracy Eames (35:10):
That's awesome. Thanks, Jeff. And thank you so much for your time. It's been really fun reconnecting this morning and having a chance to catch up and hear everything that's going on with you. And always lovely to talk about Asheville, so thanks again for your time.
Jeff Kaplan (35:23):
My pleasure, Tracy. Next time we can meet in person. Look forward to grabbing a beer or something in Asheville.