As an entrepreneur, how can you build a sizable, significant business? Is there a problem you can solve for customers? Save them time and money? If you can offer a good, quality product and there’s good margin in it, then you may have a great idea for a new business!
Today, I am talking with Thad Tarkington of FilterEasy. He describes how his company started due to personal experience with filter issues. He had no background in air filters, but saw an opportunity and jumped at it. After all, entrepreneurship is like skydiving without a parachute, and sometimes you have to make the parachute on the way down.
[05:08] How Thad went from being a solo-preneur to having a team; started his company in 2012 with one partner and now has almost 120 employees.
[06:25] You don’t know everything when you start a business, so find good mentors; the dollar amount you pay them is miniscule compared to your company’s ROI and growth.
[07:06] As an entrepreneur, you start by doing everything; you slowly hand off responsibilities/tasks to allow your company to grow and flourish.
[07:25] FilterEasy focuses on who it hires; must have an aptitude and skill for the role, fit in culturally, and be a self-starter.
[11:38] Trust the process and that things are going to work out in the long term; be resilient and adaptive to keep moving forward, even if there’s roadblocks.
[15:37] Trust other people when you hire them for a job; they may not do things the exact way you would, but they could come up with things that are better and unique.
[17:15] Interruptions are costly; eliminating interruptions is critical for you, your team, and your company to progress.
[19:38] Done is Better than Perfect: To accomplish something, you have to get it done; nothing’s ever perfect in business, and businesses are not perfect.
[24:08] Culture: When employees are excited, energized, and passionate because the company is growing fast, it’s hitting sales numbers, and new projects are successful.
[31:05] If you’re complaining about your team not being motivated and you don’t have the business that you want right now, you’re not the person to lead it yet.
[37:30] Lead-gen and getting a business going can be challenging; there needs to be constant innovation and improvement.
Thad Tarkington’s Email
DoorGrowClub Facebook Group
Jason: Welcome, DoorGrow Hackers to the DoorGrowShow. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, and expand your rent roll, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you’re open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow Hacker.
At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to grow property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, expand the market, and help the best property managers win. So, if you enjoyed this episode, do me a favor, open up iTunes, find the DoorGrowShow, subscribe and then give us a real review. Thank you for helping us with that vision.
I’m your host, Property Management Growth Hacker, Jason Hull, the founder of OpenPotion, GatherKudos, ThunderLocal and, of course, DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show. Today, I’m hanging out with Thad Tarkington, and Thad is from FilterEasy. Thad, welcome to the DoorGrow show.
Thad: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Jason: It’s great to have you. I love connecting with other entrepreneurs, and you’ve built a sizable, significant business. Today, we’re going to be talking a bit about entrepreneurism, and we’d love to hear a bit about your company and showcase you guys–we’ve had FilterEasy on the show before when we were team members. I’d love to start out by you telling us a little bit about you and how you got into filters.
Thad: Obviously, no one grows up thinking they’re going to be in the filter business. Really, the way I got into this business–my co-founder and I, we started it. I was actually attending NC State at the time. I was in my junior year, and part of what we were doing in college was we were running something called the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization. In short, we’d bring in a lot of investors, entrepreneurs, and folks really just to teach, to learn or to network. We were always interested in starting a business, looking at a ton of different models.
One day, he had a bad experience changing his filter, went to the store to buy it, didn’t see the size he needed, ended up grabbing one thinking it might fit, it didn’t fit. Of course, he had to return it. They didn’t have the one he needed. Really, what he thought would be a five-minute task on a weekend ended up ruining a Saturday. We were talking about it. We actually happened to be on Chicago for an event, and one thing led to another.
We were thinking, “This seems brilliant,” and so we started talking to everybody we know. We heard the same feedback. It was, “Man, I know I should change it more often but I never remember.” We proposed, “If the exact one you needed showed up on your door on the day you need it, is that a service you would use?” and everyone pretty much said, “Why would I not?” We got the feedback of, “Well, if the quality’s good, if the price is right…” and so that’s when we said, “All right, if we can get a good quality product, there’s good margin in it, we can have a business here.”
We started working on it. Within two or three days, we were putting 20 hours a day in and we were sleeping on a little couch. Actually, it was his place at NC State called The Garage. It was a conference room and we basically–it was supposed to be a shared space but we put up a little sign as our office and we were sleeping there. We’d wake each other up and say, “Hey, you have class in five minutes,” and it was about three or four months later. We had got the basics in place, started to see that this model could work, and we ended up actually leaving school full-time to work on it. That was the basis how we got into it, no background in air filters, really just saw an opportunity and jumped at it.
Jason: Over time, I’m sure you’ve become an expert in air filters just by nature of it. Who’s “we”? You’re talking about “we” in the beginning.
Thad: I started a company with one other person named Kevin. We’ve met at NC State. A little bit of delineated history of our business: We started November 2012. We started working on this. March of 2013 was when we actually left school, and it was right in the middle of the semester. We ended up moving to South Carolina to do this business, kind of accelerator incubator. The idea was, “Hey, you get free rent, mentors, et cetera, and we’d help you out.”
We did that for a few months. We actually moved back to Raleigh to grow the business, and so this was about 2013. We actually started taking our first customers on. Then, in 2014, we launched the website you see today. What a lot of folks in the property management side of our business might not know is we started as a direct-to-consumer business. That’s actually the larger portion of our business although the property management has grown extremely fast.
The concept was homeowners would just sign up online for this. In March of 2014 was when we launched. It was just two of us. Later that year, we added two folks. One was in customer service like answering the phones, helping customers, and then one was in our performance side, actually shipping the product. It’s grown rather fast since. I think, at the end of 2016, we had 20 employees. Last year, we had about 50. Now, we almost have 120 employees so it’s definitely–we’ve finally hit that up to where it’s really taken off, and we added the property management in about 2015 so about three years ago now.
Jason: Nice. I imagine you’ve had a lot of hurdles as an entrepreneur to move through that time period. You just breezed through it like it was nothing verbally, and you’re laughing because I know–because I get to see inside a lot of people’s businesses. I’m in groups where I get to see inside other people’s businesses and I know, being an entrepreneur, what it’s really like. Give us an idea of what has enabled you to scale because not everybody is able to do this that quickly. Going from just being a solo-preneur to having a team is one of the most painful transitions I see business owners go through. How did you navigate through that, initially?
Thad: I’ll use an analogy that one of our mentors has shared. Actually, let me take a step back. I think one of the best things we’ve done is bring on good mentors. We don’t know everything, obviously, and just the rate it accelerated, how fast we’ve grown and what we’ve accomplished, things that we could deliberate, come up with 10 solutions, is that, “Hey, we’ve done it 20 times. What’s our best path forward?”
Jason: “This is the one.”
Thad: Yeah, so mentors have been really helpful. One thing they told us early on is entrepreneurship is kind of like skydiving without a parachute and you have to make the parachute on the way down. The way they described it is, as an entrepreneur, you start, you’re doing everything, you’re wearing a lot of hats but, as you grow, you’re backpedaling and you’re slowly handing off responsibilities and tasks, and that’s how you allow the organization to grow and flourish.
I think, it’s really been–obviously, in scaling, it’s getting really good people. We’re very focused on who we hire. The three things we actually focus on is they have to have the aptitude and the skill for the role. From a technical standpoint, that’s a checkbox. The other two things we look at is, “How do they fit in culturally?” and, for us, that’s just really good people, someone you’d want to go to dinner with and have a good time. It’s not a specific definition. They’re honest and hardworking.
The third thing is we look for people specifically that want to win. They’re hungry. They’re very driven self-starters. We found, for our size, having just over 100 folks, that’s critical because the stuff we’re trying to accomplish, you could easily justify 200-300 people. Having those people who really want to kick a door down so to speak when it gets in their way has been very helpful. I’d use that analogy of what’s allowed us to scale. It’s just getting good folks and mentors.
Jason: I’ve seen that in my own business. I’ve seen that in a lot of other people’s business. I’ve seen in the role of me being that mentor to other business. I’ve seen the magic in having mentors is in collapsing time. It collapses time dramatically, and the challenge I see a lot of us as entrepreneurs have is we’re also opportunists and we see opportunity everywhere. You’re the guy that saw a problem with filters and thought, “I can make money doing this,” whereas most people would say, “This sucks,” and they would just whine and not even think about it.
Jason: As entrepreneurs, we see opportunities everywhere. In fact, that’s one of the things that crushes us because we’re like, “I can make money doing that. That, too.” It’s everywhere, so staying focused, and mentors are really good at helping us stay focused but they’re also really good at helping us collapse time because they’ve done certain things. They’ve tread that path before so they can say, “That doesn’t really work,” or, “We’ve tried that. That’s probably not a good idea.”
You’re getting a lot more information quicker that’s really relevant. The advantage that I have in working with hundreds of property management companies is I’ve been the fly on the wall, being able to see what’s working and what’s not working. When you hear 100 complaints about the same thing, you realize that’s not working anymore but everybody’s still doing it. There’s that advantage of being able to collapse time in having really good mentors. I love the analogy of skydiving without a parachute and building it on the way down.
I heard this great video, and it was Steve Harvey. He was talking about how you just need to jump. You don’t know if your parachute’s going to open, but you have to have the faith to jump off the cliff and jump, and that’s where it starts. He says, “It may not open right away. You might hit some rocks and it’ll be painful and scary but, if you don’t jump, it will never open. You’ll never get that opportunity.” Sometimes, it’s just that jump that’s the scariest thing to do, is to take a risk.
“I’m going to start a business. I’m going to quit doing school and we’re going to do this incubator thing,” and I’m sure you’ve had a few people say, “That’s a little crazy. Why don’t you just stay in school and get a job?” Did you ever hear any of that?
Thad: Absolutely. I could tell you dozens of people–and some of our mentors now are–they’re like, “The time you came to me and said, ‘I’m going to drop out of school and sell air filters,'” they were like, “I thought this kid was crazy.” It sounds crazy. I think you’re absolutely right of the whole leap thing. It’s not even maybe. We’re definitely naïve and, at the time, I’m thinking, “What’s the best outcome if I get my college degree? I’ll go work at IBM? It doesn’t seem that exciting.”
I remember we actually went through the front office at NC State and said, “Hey, just curious. We’re considering leaving. If we wanted to come back, what’s the process?” and I believe the woman at the desk pulled out a form and said, “You fill this out. It’s $50.00 and there’s one page.” I go, “That’s it? All right, we’re done.”
Jason: You’re like, “Okay, the risk is not so bad here.”
Thad: Exactly. It was definitely a risk analysis. Fortunately at the time, I think it was an easy decision to make. Regardless where you’re at, I think if you trust the process and that things are going to work out in the long term, I think it makes it much easier to jump in. Obviously, you have to stick to it. I could go for hours on things that didn’t work for us early on.
Jason: I think that’s a defining factor among entrepreneurs, is we are so resilient and adaptive and we will just keep moving forward even if we hit roadblocks, even if we get stuck, even if it gets painful. You mentioned trusting the process, but there needs to be a process to trust and, sometimes, we have to get that from a mentor. They can say, “Here’s the process that we’re going to take you through. Here’s the process that we’re going to do,” and they can say, “We’ve helped other people do this trust this process.”
It’s a lot easier to trust that process. Most entrepreneurs don’t have a process to trust in at all. They’re just winging it. That’s terrifying. That’s far more scary, that’s far more risky and that’s how a lot of us start out initially until we get a mentor or until we find somebody. I love that you shared that. Now, you also mentioned culture being a big part of creating–let’s take a step back. You mentioned your ability to offload, and I’ve seen this in the billions of entrepreneurs. To be willing to let go of things and offload is directly connected and proportional to the level of growth a company is able to see, period.
If you’re in that high leadership position and you’re king in the organization or emperor, it’s easy to become the emperor with no clothes but it’s also very easy to create a system and a process that creates the protection and support that you need where other people are driving outcomes and you’re letting go of things. That’s really scary for business owners to do especially when they have this myth in their head that they’re the best.
“I can do it better and faster than everyone else.” This is the lie that we tell ourselves as entrepreneurs to justify staying small. It’s really hard to give that up. How, initially, were you able to kill that? Was it something that mentor coached you through? Because there’s this idea initially, “This is my baby. I’m creating this. I know all the ins and outs and now I have to give up a significant piece of this.” Who was this first strategic role that you brought in?
Thad: Let me jot a few of these down and make sure I hit them all.
Jason: Who was the first strategic hire or role that you brought in to take something off your plate?
Thad: The first couple of hires made, I wouldn’t say, was–I’ll put it this way: What we’ve done today, if we were to redo it, I think the first two and a half years, we could compress into two months.
Jason: Hindsight being 20-20.
Thad: To answer your specific question, I think, early on, we brought on someone in customer service. What we realized is we were thinking that we can’t–it’s tough to afford them, it’s going to be expensive, and we only get a call every 10 minutes. I can handle it, and what one of our mentors told us is, “You can’t focus just like if you have notifications in your computer and the new features that come out would require them.”
You can’t focus if, every 10 minutes, you’re working on something. Even if the call is only one minute long and you’re only on the phone six minutes an hour, you can’t focus and get anything done. I remember we were in a meeting with them one time and I was like, “Hold on, I’ve got to answer this. We have to get every customer,” and we were finally like, “We’ve got to get somebody.” We ended up biting the bullet there, and that was very helpful.
We did the same thing for shipping and fulfilling so those roles are still at the organization. Then, eventually, I realized, “I’m not an expert at–” especially at the time, in digital marketing. Obviously, I learned a lot now, but that was our core business, was acquiring people online. I think it was finding that first really good person that could help us with digital marketing and acquiring customers. From there, our roles have grown but it was really just realizing, “How do you value time? Where do you spend your time on?”
To answer your other question on, “How do you trust people?” I’ll go back to that first role. Though it wasn’t super strategic, it was–the amount of time I’d bite my tongue when I heard them talking to a customer on the phone, I went–that’s not how I’d say it. I think it’s finally learning that, one, I don’t know everything; I’m not the best at everything. I might be the first to tell you that. Two, while it may not be the exact same experience you’d give or the same energy you’d bring to a situation, it’s critical if you want to scale.
I’d say, early on, we’ve held on, “Hey, we want to take this to tens and millions of customers and really be the largest brand and the dominant player in this space.” That was our goal and we kind of knew if we wanted to get there, it’s something we’d have to get over. Actually, I think about some of these–I think if you have a really strong Facebook Group–I read a lot of these comments and look through and understand where our partners and our customers?
I’d see a lot of people all the time, kind of these negative posts around, and I hire this person, didn’t do good of a job and then people started to get on this train of, “Well, I can do it myself. That’s why I do it that way.” I think the trap that you fall into that you alluded to was you can always say, “Hey, I do it the best,” but you can’t replicate and duplicate yourself. There’s a ceiling to that. I think it’s just trusting other people. They may not do things the exact way you do it but they’ll actually come up with things that are better and unique that you’d never think of. It’s hiring people and trusting them, and I think it’s thinking long-term as well and not getting too carried up in these small little things that don’t go perfectly.
Jason: You’ve mentioned some really interesting things. One, you mentioned an interruption. In Gary Keller’s One Thing Book, he mentions that there’s some study where they realized that one interruption costs, on average, about 18 minutes of productivity. If one interruption happens at least once every 18 minutes, which most of us–it’s our notifications on our phone, somebody walking into an office, doing sneakernet, saying, “Hey, what’s going on right now?”
It could be the wife calling. All of these things are interruptions, and if one interruption happens every 18 minutes, you really are spinning your wheels because you have to get back into what you were thinking about, rebuild that house of cards in your mind that you were working on and so you’re not able to get into deep thought. If you have an entire team that’s being interrupted constantly, then the entire team is having problems. Have you heard of Basecamp?
Thad:The software company?
Jason: The software, yeah.
Thad: Yeah, absolutely.
Jason: I hung out with Jason Fried of Basecamp for nine minutes and I was really frustrated in my business. We were really stuck and he wanted to show off Basecamp 3 because I was one of the customers that quit and left Basecamp 2. He was like, “You’ve got to see what we’ve done now.” I was like, “Okay.” I hung out with him for 90 minutes, explained my business, and one of the things he explained to me is–we’ve talked a lot about why he hates Slack, and a lot of businesses use Slack.
It was all about the cost of interruptions and how it causes everybody to have to see everything from every room that they’re in, in order to have context, and they’re all interrupted constantly. Just by eliminating Slack and implementing some of the things I’ve learned from him, we cut our staffing cost in half overnight. We literally cut–we could also say we doubled our productivity. I had to fire half my team, but we really cut our staffing cost in half and our business got really quiet.
It was amazing. I was able to think more. Everybody on the team was able to think more because all of our communication became synchronous and it had context and only the people that needed to be looped in were tagged or looped in, in the communication. Killing interruptions is absolutely critical if you want to progress as an entrepreneur and have your team progress. The other thing you had mentioned is trusting others.
A lot of times, I think there’s this myth that we’re always faster or better, and I think we need to get to the point where we can hire people that are better than us at things. That’s absolutely possible but, even initially, if you can just believe that they may not be absolutely 100% as good as you at this. Maybe they can at least digest that, but I think what would be helpful for the listeners is if they could realize done is better than perfect. Your ability to create done is going to be capped. You have a limited resource called time, and you are the one main bottleneck in the entire company for growing and scaling the business. If you can offload anything, even if it’s 100%, you’re allowing yourself the freedom to be able to grow and scale so I love that idea.
Thad: It’s funny you mention, “Done is better than perfect.” That’s actually one of our internal core values, the reason being you run into a trap all the time. If a project takes a week to get at 90% and you end up spending two months because there are all these things that aren’t perfect that you never get it up, we realized if we really wanted to accomplish all the things we put on our 2019 goals, for example, we’d have to get it done. We’re not going to put out junk but as long as it’s done, we’re making progress. That’s better than having everything perfect so I think that’s actually critical.
Jason: Perfectionism is death for entrepreneurs because nothing’s really ever perfect in a business, and businesses are not perfect. Those that are trying to create perfect businesses are trying to get everything so perfect and so dialed in, they’re the ones that really don’t see growth. Rapid prototyping or just creating or seeing what sticks and works always tends to move a business forward far faster. That’s something that we believe as well at DoorGrow.
One of the things my mention says is perfect businesses are out of business. The only perfect businesses are out of business. Those are the only perfect businesses; everything is exact, everything stays the same because it’s dead, and that’s just not business. In business, it’s always a juggle because, as soon as you ramp up one major piece of the pipeline, something else then fills pressure, and noise, and breaks so it’s always a juggle between all the different major functions in the business, including lead-gen, nurture, converting people, sales, fulfillment.
You ramp up sales, fulfillment breaks somewhat. It’s always a balance. It’s always a juggle. You’re always bringing in new people. If you can live in that space and be comfortable with that as an entrepreneur, you can have a fast-growing company. If you feel like it has to be perfect, then you’re holding onto a unicorn that doesn’t exist. You’re trying to create something that is a mythical creature that is unattainable.
Thad: Absolutely. That’s for anyone who’s on the fence there. It’s something like–to me, our reputation is everything. We got customers up in the consumer side. There are very few, but a few on the property management side that didn’t have a good experience. We screwed something up. It’s 100% our fault. Anytime I see those reviews come in, I want to fall on my chair. It’s terrible but, at the same time, we had moved so slow to make sure we never screwed up, didn’t mess up a shit manner or forgot something here or there, we never got to the point where we’re at today.
I’m talking about that and say with confidence, “We would do that again.” We would move quick. I think especially at our stage now, our goal is to improve it but, you mentioned for us, we ship a lot of product. That’s a challenge we’re always facing, is to be efficient. If we scale up and had a ton of customers, we also have to scale that other side of the business, the operations. We’re moving a lot of product, but it’s something. I think you’ve just got to trust, like, “Where do you want to go? What’s that look like?” and know that you’re going to have some bumps along the way. That’s been a tough point for us to manage, emotionally at least. It’s making mistakes along the way, but that’s part of it.
Jason: As entrepreneurs, we are really adaptive creatures and we can handle it. I think that we need to recognize that that’s normal. It’s normal to feel like you’re winging it and the business feels a little bit out of control and crazy. The bigger you get, the less control you’re able to have over every piece, and you have to really trust people. Early on, you mentioned a big piece of your ability to scale and grow. You mentioned culture, and I think a lot of people hear this, especially smaller business owners or solo-preneurs.
They hear this “culture” thing and they go, “That sounds like fluffy bullshit,” like they just don’t get it. I used to be that guy. I’d hear people talk about culture, and culture is everything to me now and I get it. How would you explain this to somebody that doesn’t understand the importance of having the right fit or believers in your organization versus just finding people that can do the work? One of the big complaints is they’re complaining about millennials and they have this old-school mindset. “I’m throwing money at them, and I’m paying them, and they should just be happy and do the work.”
Thad: To start off the millennial, technically, I’m a millennial. I don’t know the age cut-off. Maybe it’s 37 now. I can’t remember, but a lot of folks are millennials. We have a ton of them in our team and they work hard. I think this whole idea that people don’t work hard anymore, I don’t see it. I think you’re going to find some people that don’t. One of the key things we’re looking for in building culture–I think it’s all about the hiring process.
For us, when we’re interviewing, we had to meet with multiple folks in the team. We really dig into, “What’s your work style?” What level of energy do they bring? How are they going to fit into the team? I think of someone’s attitude. If someone has a negative attitude and everything’s, “I can’t do,” that’s really going to drag down the team. That’s really going to dampen the culture. Something that I tell everybody is, “I know I talked to other companies,” and they’re like, “Oh, culture? We do beers at [4:30],” or, “We do a baseball game.” I think those things are great. We do those things as well.
The number one thing I’ve seen where people light up, they’re excited, they’re energized and they’re passionate is when we’re growing fast. It’s when we’re hitting our sales numbers or our user acquisition numbers. When we roll new projects and they’re successful, that’s when people have that natural energy to jump out of bed in the morning. It’s not when, “Hey, we’re going to go to have beers at [4:30].”
I think that’s really where we focus, is we’re looking for people that can get rallied around that. That culture may not be for everybody, but ours is definitely a culture of winning, of growing, of moving fast. If you can be a part of that and we build a whole group and try the people that are focused on doing that, it takes care of itself. We don’t have to work too hard on making sure that we have different events and things lined up. I know everyone on our team appreciates it. I enjoy being a part of them but, really, it’s that day-in, day-out grind. It’s having good people to have your back who want to work hard. That’s what we’ve done to create culture. It’s all in the hiring good people that take care of everything else on their own.
Jason: In companies, you’ll see people try to create two types of culture. You’ll see people try to create, “Let’s create a culture that’s really super-modern that’s like Google with all these cool amenities,” and it’s like frat-house culture. “Let’s try to create that.” If you were actually at Google, the culture there is a work-based, high-paced culture from anybody that I’ve heard, and a lot of those things just have dust on them. They’re not really used. If they were being used, they’re attractive for recruiting. Recruiters will leverage and use those, but they’re not really part of the culture.
The culture that really inspires millennials, I believe, is having meaningful work and winning. The frat-based culture–where people are trying to be buddies and be best friends, but they still go home and complain about their boss, and they’re still showing up at a job they hate, and they’re just getting paid, and they’re complaining about their work. That’s the majority of humanity. Then, these people want to hide.
Those people are trying to hide in a business. They want to show up, get paid and do as little as possible, get their paycheck, hide and not ruffle any feathers, not do anything really too difficult, then you have people that have a momentum-based culture. They love winning. They love the feeling of winning. They love being a part of something that’s succeeding. They love being part of something with vision.
They love seeing results. They love knowing that they’ve contributed to something and that they’re making a difference, somehow, in the world, and that’s why businesses exist, is to solve a problem. FilterEasy solves a problem. It’s a real problem. Like you mentioned in the beginning, there was an all-day filter change. That’s ridiculous. It’s wasting your entire day. You’re driving around, doing the whole stuff, there’s this all-day filter change, and you’re solving a real problem.
If the business doesn’t solve a real problem, it’s not really a legitimate business model. I think as momentum-based entrepreneurs and true entrepreneurs, we want to see the world a better place. We want to see something positively change. We want to see our team positively impact and we want to create that culture. We want to see that our business, our products and our services are making a difference, which is very different than all those hiders out there.
Their perception is that if you’re a CEO of a million or multimillion-dollar company, then you’re probably evil and you’re probably trying to steal from everybody because that’s what they would be if they were put at the helm of an operation like that. That’s why they don’t have that. That’s why they’re hiding inside the company. I absolutely agree. I think culture is absolutely critical. You could find lots of people that can do a job, but are they real believers in the organization and in the values that are set there? That’s far more significant.
Thad: Absolutely, and in progress, I think and perception. I think I’m no expert on fulfillment and happiness in general, but some of the stuff I read is that perception of progress. Do you feel like you’re hitting your goals and making progress? Whatever scale that’s on–some people’s scale of progress is much greater than others, but that can lead to fulfillment and happiness. I think that’s definitely important as well. Not also as an entrepreneur one of the exciting things: You get to pick people you want to work with.
If you’re looking around the room, complaining, don’t forget you hired them. I think one of the keys is start early. If you’re going to grow thousands of employees, it becomes really hard to turn the rudder on that ship when you’ve got 500 already, but if you start when you have two or three employees–because, eventually, your employees are going to start hiring others, and that’s where I think it’s critical to get that key management group in place and that culture at that level.
Jason: Absolutely. I met a new business owner at the Florida Open Event and he was complaining really strongly about his team and about millennials and all of that stuff. I think one of the mistakes we make as entrepreneurs because we are economically-motivated a lot of times, we want to make money, and money we see as basically a symbol of our level of contribution and impact in the world. The challenge is not everybody’s money-motivated.
A lot of members of my team are motivated far more by things that are not monetary and being able to contribute or being able to get recognition or these things might be more motivating. Just throwing money at people doesn’t inspire more motivation. Sometimes, just having some values and some culture can do that. If you’re complaining about your team, that’s so revealing about yourself as an entrepreneur. If you don’t have the business that you want right now, you’re not the person to lead it yet.
You’re not ready to even–you’re not that person that can run that business that you dream of having yet, and you have to change yourself and your perception and what you’re creating in the business in order to have the team that you love that you feel like is supporting and upholding you instead of you dragging up the hill. I love that. If you’re complaining about your team, those of you watching this, it’s a bitter pill to swallow but it’s feedback for you that you’ve created this situation, and there’s a way to get out of that. You’ve got to create the right culture.
Moving past that and getting the right team, what else has really been critical for you to scale so quickly? Going in just that few of years to having over 100 team members, that’s really significant. That’s exceptionally rapid growth.
Thad: If we look back at Day One, I remember when it was just my co-founder and I. We started and our goal was, “Let’s get one person a day to sign up for our service.” For anyone doing the back the napkin math, one person getting sold to doesn’t move the needle. I think we were joking, “We’ll be 80 years old and still not have a third employee if we only get one today.” We knew that as long as we were getting one a day, we’re staying persistent.
We’ll figure things out, and it’s incremental improvement. It’s that exponential curve we were looking to hit. Eventually, that one turned to two. That two turned to three. Before you know it, it’s five and then it’s ten. That’s when you really start to see that progress. It’s the same thing whether it was the digital marketing that required users online. We always knew there was other opportunities. A lot of folks are real estate property management, utility companies, homeowners, you name it, who were saying, “Hey, this something we could use.”
We always knew if we can continue to grow, we can stay on the right course on the right path and continue to optimize and bring on good folks. If you look at the success stories out there, that’s how they started. It started small and, over time, it has that snowball effect. I think now–if you look at our percentage of growth, this year, we grew 100%. Last year–our terms of scaling are our employee base–we grew 100%. Last year was a little over 100%. Every year, we’ve only doubled.
Now, if we double next year, that’s adding over 100 new employees. I think it’s putting those building blocks in place early. We were talking earlier about how business is messy and things don’t go perfect. One quote I heard one time which I thought was absolutely brilliant was, “If you truly want to be successful, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.” That’s something where we focused on. Again, we know everything’s not going to go well but as long as we can continue to hire good people, we’re hitting our four metrics, we can continue to push the ramp.
There’s absolutely months at a time or there’s not been one time where I sat back and said, “Everything feels easy and comfortable,” because we’re ramping up 10 new people this month, we’re trying new things we’ve never tried, we’ve got customers that are unhappy, we’ve got vendors we have issues–all sorts of things that aren’t going well, but if you look at that general trend line here, we know things are moving in the right direction.
It’s funny. I look back now. What seemed like the world was going to end two years ago, that problem is now so insignificant. That vendor’s our biggest fit and we’ve worked things out. I think it’s just staying focused. We had a morning meeting the other day. Every Wednesday, we have a voluntary morning meeting. Anyone from the team can come, and we have some prepared to share something usually somewhat motivational or a life lessons kind of thing.
The person that shared business, you want to be a macro long-term focus but micro urgent. I thought that was cool. You’ve got to work every day. You can’t sit at your office all day and just dream about getting to 10,000 doors or whatever that number may be. You’ve got to do the work. If you have your eyes set on that long term, one of the key things I have to hit along the way, and you’ll get to them.
I know we always set these goals. I remember at one point, we were like, “If we ever got this big, we’ve made it. We’re a good organization.” I remember when we finally hit that number, I was thinking, “This is so small.” Now, the number appears. I saw the dog chasing its tail. The bar is always moving but that progress is exciting and fulfilling in growing and building something. I’m not sure if that was super-clear and if I answered your question on the scaling piece, but that’s kind of our experience with it.
Jason: Yeah, I love it. You’ve got a really clear hiring and onboarding process, I would imagine, for most roles in the business at this point.
Thad: Yeah, I would say, compared to where we were, absolutely. We have a good process for hiring and recruiting. Of course, you were to interview different folks in our team or even myself, there’s a million things that could be better, but I think it goes back to that we’re constantly improving it and then, on onboarding, we’ve definitely made strides to where we used to show up and there was a cardboard box on the ground with your desk in it, and it was BYOC, bring your own computer. Now, we have a whole process. We did just set up. We have different trainings. We get our fulfillment center and meet with different departments. We definitely improved that a little bit, but in the early days, we didn’t.
Jason: Let’s bring this now down from gigantic business, FilterEasy, down the property manager’s level. You mentioned towards the beginning–you said, “If I could do it again, I could probably ramp up really quickly in two months,” hindsight being 20-20. One of the biggest challenges for a lot of property managers is just lead-gen and getting their business going. What is your current–what’s the strategy that helped you initially start to really ramp up and scale and grow when it came to lead-gen? What was your strategy there that you guys were focused on if you don’t mind sharing? If you were to go back and try and scale and grow this business from scratch again, what would you do during those first two months to really do that?
Thad: I’ll touch on our consumer side and then our B2B side separately. If I think about the consumer side, if I were to paint the first two years in a picture, it would be we knew absolutely nothing. I actually remember when we were starting, we were saying, “Hey, we need to collect payments online,” and we looked at each other and we were like, “How do we do that?” An hour later, my co-founder goes, “There’s this thing called merchant services.”
We were like, “Okay,” and we knew nothing. You obviously have a web design development company. You understand. We just didn’t do anything how long it took to get that set up, and then the logistics, the supply chain. Again, we had taken maybe one class in school, and that wasn’t very helpful. There’s all this basics. Figure them out, what it means by digital marketing and acquiring customers online, building up that user funnel, knowing what ads that convert the right message in the copy, how to test in format and how to track.
Everything just took so long because we had never done it. Once we started bringing mentors and folks who can say, “Well, here’s exactly how you do it,” or we hired someone who’s been doing it for a decade or even two or three years, with the pace of development and innovation, they would–since they’d be experts, they’re going to rapidly help us grow. I think we went from myself trying to negotiate with some sort of third party, and that was going to–we were going to put up an email that’s going to draw traffic, and I just didn’t know the right strategy that would make that successful.
It was trial and error over and over again. We tried 10 times and found, “Oh, this works.” Then, if I were to start again, we know exactly the different ideas that work. We could rapidly test and iterate it once. I think it was just knowing what to do, where to put our time and what success looked like was helpful. To us, the idea that all these people had signed up–we didn’t believe it because we struggled so hard to get one person today and how are we going to get thousands?
We had these mentors like, “You will get there.” With this in place, I think that confidence is key as well. And so, in the B2B side which is a little different, and probably more likened to the property management side, it’s we are out there doing lead generation. We have to–once we find a partner that’s interested in our program, we have to onboard them and so I think one thing that’s critical and a lot of people are saying where to look is the urgency or responding.
There’s all kinds of studies out there. Harvard did one. It’s like, if you answer the phone in one minute versus ten minutes, there’s a significant drop-off. I talked to some folks back eight years ago when the market was down-turning and there was a lot of organic growth out there that they were like, “How did you grow so fast?” and I’m like, “I answered the phone. My next-door neighbor didn’t.” I’m not saying that’s going to take you 10,000 right now, but that’s a starting point.
If you’re not answering the phone, you’re not being responsive, you’re not in you’re A-game–from there, for us, it’s the sales process. There’s messaging that resonates with some people. Our program is an opportunity to make it profitable. You can see a 30% reduction in HPAC annually. There’s different elements. Some people will talk all day about HPAC savings and they go, “You know what? How much money can I make?”
There’s lots of people who are like, “I don’t want to make money; I just want to sit.” I think it’s learning to tailor your message, and then how do you know what message to deliver to get in prospect or a potential customer. It’s in qualifying. If I think about our process there, we’d go to shows, we’d phone call, we’d email, we’d do different things that work for our business. Obviously at property management, you have that whole system and program that works.
For us, we did the typically B-to-B software roadmap, followed that, and it was constant iteration but we were very aggressive. We always had our foot on the gas. We still do. We’re trying to get better. Then, from there, it’s things falling into place, and we really developed the process. Three years ago, it was garbage. Six months ago, I look back and I said, “That’s embarrassing,” but we’re constantly making improvements. That’s what worked for us, and it was staying focused and really persistent.
Jason: I think the process of continual improvement and being able to hold space in that universe that it’s always going to be changing, and that it’s always–it’s never like you create a system and a product or a process and then it’s done. As soon as you consider it done, you are just allowing your competitors to overtake you. You’re like, “How’d they beat us out?” There needs to be this constant innovation and improvement.
You had mentioned one of the biggest things, like struggling for maybe two years that you could have collapsed in two months. All that sounded like it boiled down to, if you could have just gotten the right mentors at the right time, you would have collapsed time significantly. Now, a lot of people at that level don’t get mentors. They try to watch YouTube videos, read every book, do everything on their own; they try to do everything themselves because they think they’re smart enough or good enough that, “I don’t need to pay somebody to do this.”
The myth that they have is mentors are expensive, which is true. They’re not usually cheap people to bring on or to work with. They believe they’re expensive. What would you say to them versus all the trial and error that you went through in the business and how expensive that really is?
Thad: I’m going to use this, I think I heard one, I don’t know if this is true but the concept rings true. I think it was a Chinese investor who’s really well off, had built a really big investor business, said, “I’d rather have 10% of a successful company than 100% of a failing company.” To us, I look at it and say–you’re absolutely right. There was a knowledge gap. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We didn’t know where to focus our time.
One thing a mentor told me, too, that I actually think is a beautiful part about finding good mentors and experts, whether it’s employees or outside consultants, et cetera, depending on what’s applicable at the time, you really can learn quick. One of our early mentors said, “We’re going to work together. In two or three months, you’re going to look at me and you’re going to say, ‘Yeah, I know this. You’ve already told me,’ or you’re going to feel like all the value has been gained.” While that can be true, if we didn’t bring them on, we’d probably a tenth of the size we are now or 15.
The dollar amount we paid them is miniscule in compared to the ROI and the growth. Actually, not to get into too many details, I remember one of our ad campaigns one time on the consumer side–we were banging our heads and was like–we had to talk someone for about 30 seconds somewhere that was a mutual contact of a friend and they said, “Hey, have you considered trying this?” We said, “We’ll try it.” I think we went on one of this platforms and really flipped the switch, and results were 4X.
If you think about that one 30-second conversation, it could be worth millions of dollars in value to our business. I think that’s where–even some of the mentors early on, we gained 80%-90% knowledge upfront but we still work with them today because that incremental value they bring is definitely worth more than the cost in whatever sort of method we’ve incentivized them to work with us. Absolutely, I think that’s huge for us.
Jason: I remember when I committed to a mentor having some bad ones, having some bad coaches and some failures. I went to my wife, Ashley, and I said, “Hey, I just signed up with a new coach,” and she was looking at me and I said, “I just dropped 3K, and this is going to be 3K every month.” We were struggling and she started crying in front of me, my wife. Now, luckily, it panned out. We tripled our revenue that year in working with him.
That’s $36,000.00, and that was his pilot cheap version that he was doing. He was beta testing with me. I spend more with him now but, over that time period, we tripled in revenue. We’re now a million-dollar company, and going from being that small to that much growth in the years’ time wouldn’t have been possible without him. I could have muddled through it like I did the last decade doing website design and other stuff we were trying to do, consulting property managers and trying to figure it out all on my own.
Sometimes, you have to kiss a few frogs, but collapsing that time is magical in being able to grow and scale the business. Everybody who goes to our program says the same thing. If they do it and they listen to me and they trust the process and do it, they always say, “I wish I’d done it sooner.” I feel the same way. I wish I’d known about this stuff sooner and I would have done it sooner. You mentioned the urgency response. You mentioned availability being so critical, answering the phone, having a sales process, qualifying prospects, and I love that because it’s super-validating because that’s all stuff we include in our process when we train property managers to grow and scale their businesses.
All of that stuff’s in there, and that is–it’s critical and it’s a game-changer, and then eliminating all the constraints and the major points during the sales process allows that business to flow in and that continual optimization. That’s’ incredibly validating and it’s huge. Availability and accuracy are expected and demanded things in a business. If you were 100% available and 100% accurate, you’re just not failing. That’s it.
I use the analogy–in our trainings, one of the analogies I use is of a waiter. If a waiter comes to your table and he’s 100% available and 100% accurate at bringing you the right food, you don’t even notice that they’re there. You’re with your people, you’re eating your food and whatever. If they’re not available and your straw’s crackling and you’re looking around and you’re thirsty and they bring you the wrong sandwich, wrong food or whatever, you’re going to notice and you’re going to notice really strongly.
It’s important to go beyond just the level of availability and accuracy, we get into on our trainings, but absolutely real simple. Just be available and do what you say you’re going to do. You’ve already set yourself head and shoulders above most of your competition.
Thad: That’s step one. Get that done.
Jason: Thad, it’s been super awesome having you on the show. I think there’s lots of helpful ideas that have been thrown out here just for entrepreneurism. Is there anything else you’d love to share with the audience and then how can people get in touch with FilterEasy or learn more about what you guys do? Because what you guys do, I’ve heard tons of positive feedback inside our Facebook group, privately among different entrepreneurs. Everybody says, “FilterEasy is a no-brainer. It’s a revenue source. It’s a profit center.” We’ve talked about this previously on the show. You guys can check out our previous episode on FilterEasy.
Any last words for entrepreneurs that are struggling out there? How can people get in touch with FilterEasy?
Thad: I guess the last thing that I would leave you on the entrepreneurship front is everyone starts somewhere and is struggling, and stick to it. Really think through what’s that process, that system that’s going to be successful, focus on the long term. That’s just worked for us. Every mentor we have, they’ve all got that horror story. Some of them are 15 years long, some of them are a yearlong, but it’s really–if you stick at it, eventually you’ll find that growth curve and you’ll find that thing that makes a business tick.
As far as our company, the quick high level is, for those of you who don’t know us, we essentially partner with property managers and deliver filters to the tenants. What we do is unique because it’s branded. There’s dating and expiration, and we help you evolve the setup, lease language, et cetera, so you can structure it and roll it out seamlessly. Hopefully, people turn it to a profit center where they make revenue and margin on the implementation and we’re seeing about 30% reduction on HPAC.
It does vary anywhere from 15 to upwards of 40 depending on your climate, but that’s on the high level. Get in contact with us. I would say you can feel free to reach out to me and I’ll connect you with the right folks. It’s email@example.com or you can go online and email us, […] at FilterEasy or call our 800 number and ask for someone in the property management space who will connect you as well. Reach us and we’ll be in touch quick.
Jason: Awesome. Cool. Check them out at FilterEasy. I love what you said. Everyone starts somewhere. I tell my kinds we all start at Level Suck because they’re like, “It’s so hard and I’m not good at this,” or, “I’m not good at riding the bike.” That’s where we start. We all at Level Suck. If you’re willing to suck, that’s okay and stay with that process and keep going. You’re going to get there. If you get the right mentors, you’re going to collapse time significantly.
Thad: Don’t give up. Be smart.
Jason: Don’t give up, right. Thad, I appreciate you coming on the show.
Thad: Absolutely. I had a good time.
Jason: It’s really great to connect with you and hear your thoughts and your ideas. It’s always great to connect with high-functioning entrepreneurs that are leading fast-growing companies. I appreciate you. I wish you all the success in the world. We’re excited to have you as a vendor and sponsor at DoorGrow Live. For those of you who talk with some of the FilterEasy people, be there. Are you going to be there?
Thad: Actually, I will not be there. Someone from our team will be there, but we’re absolutely pumped. It’s going to be awesome. I want to go but I have a flight that night so I can’t move.
Jason: Connect with the FilterEasy team at DoorGrow Live. Thad, I appreciate you coming on the show and thank you.
Thad: Likewise, thank you.
Jason: For those of you that are watching that tune in or you’re listening to the podcast, I hope you got a lot of value out of this. Make sure if you are a property management business owner and you are not inside our Facebook Group, which is just for property management business owners and entrepreneurs, make sure you go to DoorGrow Club and apply to get into this group. We only approve about a third of the applicants because they’re just not the right fit, they’re not business owners, they’re in the property management industry maybe, maybe they’re an employee. That’s not who we’re looking for.
This is a high-momentum group. It’s built around everything that we were talking about here in this interview today. Get inside the DoorGrow Club group and, if you don’t already have tickets, they’re selling fast. Get your tickets to DoorGrow Live. You can go to DoorGrow Live. My mentor will be there. I’m bringing in other mentors, people that grow and scale businesses at a rapid rate. Everybody there are experts in growing and scaling businesses, some of them building multimillion-dollar businesses and have done that multiple times.
This is going to be a game-changer, I think, for property managers to get some mindset and get connected and learn more, and we’re going to be showcasing some new stuff at the conference so I’m really excited. You’ll be able to connect with other DoorGrow Hackers. Having one connection, that could be a mentor for you, just making some connections with other people. Everyone’s really contribution-focused and willing to give and contribute in our group. All the DoorGrow Hackers there and the DoorGrow Hackers that will be at this event will be the best of those people as well, and so make sure you get your tickets and get your rooms booked.
That is in November, the evening of the 14th through the 16th, in Saint Louis. Get your tickets. That is it for today, and I appreciate you guys watching.
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