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The SuccessLab Podcast: Where Entrepreneurs Collaborate for Success

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. At what point did you start adding to the team?
    • 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Looking back is there anything you would’ve done differently?
    • 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 experience.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. How can people connect with you?

Twitter: @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 grateful.  

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 hopefully.

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 often. 

Quote of the week: “Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” ~ Marv Levy

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 now. 

Have a happy, delicious and safe Thanksgiving! Give gratitude and take some time off! Cheers everyone!