Nov 26, 2014
In this episode we're joined in the lab by Zach
Goldstein, the founder/CEO of a Bay-area startup called
Thanx, a customer loyalty and
rewards program and app.
- Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
- I was a consultant at Bain & Company working with large
retailers and tech companies, and a lot of what I was on customer
retention and customer satisfaction. The concept of Net Promoter
Score was founded at Bain and a lot of research around customer
retention being far more cost effective than acquisition. I spent a
lot of my time working with businesses to help them understand that
and act on it. But most of these businesses struggled and what
became clear is that this is something they weren’t doing well. So
when I was at business school at Stanford I started investigating
what are ways we can help merchants identify and engage with their
best customers. This was a time when Groupon and daily deals was a
big deal and there was a lot of attention on how to acquire new
customers, but very little around how do you figure out who current
customers are and build deeper relationships with them. I founded
Thanx with the goal entirely of helping these merchants build those
deeper one-to-one relationships but without the hassle of
point-of-sale integration or new hardware.
- How did you get it off the ground?
- I founded the company myself and then hired a team starting
with an exceptional lead engineer, then our head of product and
then ultimately growing the team from there. We’re now 15 people.
We’re growing. What I needed to do first though was build a product
that could attract the attention of our merchants we were looking
to target. I designed and built a product with our first engineer,
which was a basic prototype. Really we kind bootstrapped the
company. That prototype was enough to close our first merchant
relationships. Then we raised a larger seed round which allowed us
to iterate on the product several times. That was important for us.
Most recently we announced a series A round of funding from Sequoia
Capital, which will be focused entirely on growth.
- At what point did you start adding to the
- As soon as we started. It was clear that we were biting off a
very big problem. The vision was technically challenging to
implement, but also building an experience that’s easy for
consumers and really works, is challenging. So we needed to focus
on design early on. We needed to grow the engineering team. So the
challenge wasn’t when do we decide to bring on new people, but when
could we. We maintained a really lean environment but added
resources as soon as we could.
- How did you build a solid team?
- It’s constantly taught in business school, “hire slow, fire
fast.” The last part feels unappetizing to me so I hire
particularly slow. For us, building a strong team with exceptional
people who want to be here because they believe in what we’re doing
is number one. So when we’re interviewing, the first thing we do is
evaluate for passion. The first call starts off by letting them
know about the Thanx vision and the role and letting them ask
questions. Before we ever interview someone we tell them to really
give it a long, hard thought on whether they can get passionate
about what we’re doing. Because those are the people who are great
early stage startup employees. We evaluate on that dimensions
before we ever go into their credentials.
- Looking back is there anything you would’ve done
- There are lots of ups and downs in the growth of an early-stage
startup. At the end of the day I’m not sure there is much we would
do differently. I think we’ve made strong decisions along the way.
Most of the we gotten luck and have paid out. And the ones that
haven’t…I think you have to view them as a valuable learning
- What has been one of the most valuable things you have
done for the business?
- Without going back to hiring, which I think is the number one
thing. Having a top-notch team pays off in a lot of ways that
people don’t really think about. 1) You have a wonderful culture
and you can be more productive. But it also means it’s easier to
recruit more good talent. It’s the people that really matter at
these companies, because what we’re doing is a tough map ahead.
From the product standpoint, we made a very challenging decision as
an early stage company to forgo the traditional advice to build a
minimum viable product, get it out there on the market, see what
happens and iterate. In some ways we did that in that we tested
heavily and iterated. But we didn’t go live with a product that was
really on the minimum side. That seems to have paid off, though it
was risky because we had slower growth initially.
- Do you have a mentor?
- I have several. And that’s been key to my growth as CEO. I have
a mentor who means everything to me and to Thanx who I met at
Stanford Business School. He gave the advice to stay the course
several times throughout the course of Thanx.
- Do you have a tip or tool you can share? Something
you’re loving right now?
- The number one thing that I have had to come exceptional at is
email management. The volume of email is mind blowing. So I’ve
cobbled together a set of really useful email tricks to help it
become manageable. I use Boomerang for
Gmail, Sane Inbox, and HubSpot’s Sidekick
plugin. I also use a feature called Inbox Pause made by
the people behind Boomerang. The other email hack is to turn off my
email when I’m not engaging with it and I block out time on my
calendar to plow through email.
- How can people connect with you?
@zgoldstein and @thanxinc
In lieu of this week’s Biz Hack, I wanted to have a
moment of gratitude. This past year in SuccessLab has been an
incredibly fun, motivating, inspiring, and uplifting one. I’m so
grateful for the connection that have been formed as a result of
our mastermind groups. It’s also been amazing to watch the growth
and transformation many of the SuccessLabrs (myself included) have
experienced. This journey has been a bit unexpected…it started last
year with one mastermind group and has grown into multiple groups,
a podcast and has piqued the interest of entrepreneurs from across
the world simply looking for support.
To my fellow SuccessLabrs: thank you
for all of the support, input, motivation and guidance. You’ve
become my trusted advisory board and for that I’m tremendously
To the amazing people who’ve let me
interview them for the podcast: thank you for being so willing to
share your time, knowledge and story. It’s helped other
entrepreneurs around the globe.
Those who’ve supported SuccessLab
and the podcast: Thank you for helping to spread the word about the
podcast, and for providing invaluable feedback and suggestions. It
continues to make the podcast better and better…well
Action Items: This
week’s action item is a simple one…find one thing, along your
entrepreneurial journey, you are grateful for. Write it down either
just for your eyes to see, or better yet, write a blog post about
it or share it via Twitter. Refer back to this
Quote of the week:
“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” ~
Next week we’re in The Lab with the
founder and executive editor of Design Milk, Jaime Derringer. She
has grown Design Milk (and Dog Milk) from a blog to
a globally recognized authority site on all things design. We talk
about how she grew the traffic and how she manages it all. Don’t
miss that one. If you need ideas for DIY Christmas trees, there’s a
really cool post on the Design Milk site right
Have a happy, delicious and safe
Thanksgiving! Give gratitude and take some time off! Cheers