Customer satisfaction should always be the top priority for every business. Some companies would have refund policies if they’re not able to meet the expectations of their customers. Such free pass is what makes Sumo and AppSumo competent and reliable. These sister companies are both on a mission to help websites and businesses grow by providing tools and software solutions. VP of Sales Anton Sepetov shares how mentorship and book reading play significant roles in enhancing one’s skills. Known for having fervor in business and entrepreneurship at a young age, Anton talks about aiming for excellent customer satisfaction. He reveals why their company has a 30-day money back guarantee and what it does to strengthen their identity. On the side, learn how he keeps up with his CEO and the deciding factors of their onboarding process.
How Customer Satisfaction Helps Online Businesses Grow with Anton Sepetov
Anton Sepetov is from AppSumo. Anton realized his passion for entrepreneurship and business at a young age. He emigrated with his family from Russia as a child and watched his family turn a couple of hundred dollars into a multimillion-dollar biotech company in the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s still running successfully. Living this experience shaped Anton and he realized that growing companies with his passion as one of the founding members of the Sumo group. He’s helped grow two eight-figure sister businesses, AppSumo and Sumo.com. He’s also held a variety of leadership roles with one ultimate goal, helping every online business grow. Anton, I’m super excited to chat with you and learn from you as well.
I am truly excited to be here.
Tell us where you developed your skill set to be a second in command.
I would say I got them in a nontraditional way. It’s not that I went to school and got an MBA and learned that this is what you need to do to be second in command. My parents came to America and started a biotech company and there are almost a hundred employees, a successful company. I basically shadowed my dad around as he was the CEO/President and I was around him all the time. I would spend my summers when I was twelve traveling to their other site in North Carolina and being in on meetings with him. He would have me sit in the room. I was incredibly blessed and lucky to be in that position. As I’m in the same scenarios I’m like, “I understand why I want to do this or I want to say that.”
If young adults realize they could learn as much from apprenticing and job shadowing, they’d probably stop flocking to go to universities as much as they are. You’d probably learn more from shadowing your parents and running their company than you ever would have learned in a traditional school.
It’s changing a lot more nowadays hopefully. The same thing with my brother, he’s going to school and studying art and I told him, “I don’t care if you get C’s and B’s, start working for people. Even if it’s free work, you’re going to be learning and growing your network.” I would argue it’s way more important than A’s.
I got C’s and D’s as well. What were your grades like?
I was still the first child of a strict Russian family. I had this pressure of I need to get A’s, but I started a business in my sophomore year of college and I was like, “Let me get A’s, B’s and C’s. That’s not that important but let me see what I can do outside of that and applying myself.”
What was the business you started in college?
The cleverest name ever, it’s called Anton’s Piano School. I’ve been playing piano since I was five or six and started a school to teach piano, theory, mainly focused on kids and college students. It was a grind because I was going to school full-time. I finished school with a double major, but I was still doing this on the weekends and it taught me a lot about how hard it is to start a business.
A lot of people forget that starting a company, you spend about 30% of your time doing sales and marketing that no one’s paying you for. You spend about 30% of your time doing admin and back office stuff for yourself and at best you’ve got the billable time of about 30% to 40%. It takes a long time to get over that hurdle. Give the audience who don’t know what AppSumo is and Sumo.com. Give us a helicopter tour of each company so we know what you guys are running.
The AppSumo.com started a few years ago. We describe it as a Groupon for geeks. We discover the newest and latest software. We promoted at Dropbox and MailChimp when they were starting out. It’s a great way to discover new companies, new software and we give you a great deal on it. It’s great for partners. They get a bunch of influx of customers and it’s great for our customers because they get great software at great prices. For Sumo.com, that’s the sister business that we started out a few years ago. What Sumo.com does is it’s basically marketing tools for eCommerce companies. We work with some of the best and biggest eCommerce companies out there to help them get more customers and to grow.
Who would some of your big partners be?
Dave Asprey was a former client of mine. I used to coach him. They have a great business. You function as the VP of Sales, but you truly are the Second In Command. What do you think the strengths are that you bring into the company?
As the Second In Command, I challenge a lot of things. From Noah, the CEO of the umbrella company at Sumo Group. He will have a lot of ideas and is the risk taker and more creative thinker. I’m the one that will push back on that and say, “Is this a reality? Can we make this happen?” There are times that could butt heads where it’s like, “Why Anton is negative and doesn’t want anything to happen?” That’s not the case. It’s that I want it to become a reality. That’s one thing I’ve always brought that has made me excel is pushing back and saying no and thinking about can this be a reality or not?
Can you give us a specific example? That’s something that is typical for seconds in command. Most entrepreneurs are high quick starts. They’re fire, ready, aim. They start something and then plan later. Most seconds in command tend to ask a little bit more questions and put a system or process in place before we start something. Give us a specific example of when you’ve maybe slowed Noah down, stopped him or to think through it differently.
Noah meets a lot of other amazing CEOs that are doing great things at great companies and talking to them about what’s working for them. He may talk to a company and they’re saying, “We had our pricing based on the number of users collected.” He’s like, “We should do it like that. It’s working for them.” I’ll say, “That’s a great idea. Let’s look into it,” and then thinking through, “Does that apply to our business? It may work well for them, but I would argue it potentially wouldn’t work for us.” That’s one scenario where it’s moving in this direction and that direction based on what’s going on and me being like, “Hold on. Let’s not immediately publish that and start going with it. Let’s think this through a bit.”
He meets a lot of other entrepreneurs. Does he hang out in different mastermind groups or is he a part of any groups where he’s learning?
I don’t know specifically his mastermind groups, but he has a big network and is always interviewing with a bunch of different entrepreneurs and learning from them. In many ways that can be incredibly helpful because then it comes to us and he says, “What if we try it like this or if we try it like that?” At times it can also feel that without a control system around that, it can be we’re bouncing around the walls.
What control systems do you guys put in place for that?
When there were only four of us, it would be a room where if someone had an idea and then we’d discuss and we’d figure it out. As we’ve gotten bigger with more people that we involve other teams. At the end of the day, I still feel with the decision makers in the company, it’s more of a gut check. Does that make sense or does that not? Is that also who we want to be?
What do you mean by that?
I’m working with Noah and with Sumo and I could’ve gone and done a bunch of different things. Nowadays, people jump from company to company all the time. I am incredibly invested in the company we are, the culture we have, the people we hire and I would say everyone else is as well. It’s important every single thing we do. I care about the money back guarantee and exactly how I support it because that matters a lot to me. It represents who we are.
Walk me through that. That’s a specific example of something that’s tied to who you are. How does your money back guarantee work? How is it awarded?
For Sumo, we have a 30-day money back guarantee. If you do not see any results, you’re not happy at all, we will refund your money regardless no matter what. We have the same thing with AppSumo. We’ve had it for a long time. That’s important is if there was something in there that said 30-day money back guarantee and it sounds like this great promise and we say, “If you live in these states or if this crazy small print, they’re not going to get their money back.” I would feel we’re inauthentic. We’re not genuine to ourselves and that’s not who I want to be. If they genuinely did not have a good experience, do not make money with Sumo, I absolutely want to give them their money back. Other companies will happily have the fine print and steal people’s money, but that’s not us.
I’d love to know who the early-stage companies where that started that. The ones I know for sure that are doing it in a big way are obviously Amazon and Zappos. If you don’t like your product, you turn it back, the money comes back, no questions asked. It’s like, “That was easy.” I almost wonder how it is that easy that I bought something on Amazon. It was probably my mistake for buying the wrong size, the wrong thing and turning around. I bought a huge projector screen and I bought one that’s way too big for the room we needed it for. I said to my assistant, “Let’s return it and we’ll order the one size down.” It’s not fair to Amazon. That’s my mistake, but they don’t care. The reality is my loyalty to them is strong that I don’t go to stores anymore.
I feel it’s the right thing to do. If you’re doing business with someone and they’re not happy, then there should be some consensus to meet where, “Let’s figure this out together,” versus like, “Sorry, it sucks for you. You picked the wrong thing.”
When we were starting the COO Alliance, we started the only network of its kind in the world for seconds in command. We decided to put in place the ten times guarantee and we said, “If you don’t get ten times your investment in ideas of ways to make money or save money from the event, we’ll give you your money back in full.” It’s $20,000 for them to join for a year. If they don’t get $200,000 in the ideas of savings or ways to make money, then what was the point? The reality is we know they’re going to get way past that anyway. We interviewed about 30 members and we asked all of them on video how much they saved or made. The lowest was around $100,000 from one event. They go to three events a year. We know we’re in the right ballpark.
With the 30-day money back guarantee with Sumo, we also have a 2x ROI. If you’re paying us $200 a month and if you’re not making $400 a month with Sumo, then please ask for your money back because that means we’re not doing our job right.
That’s the direction we have to go in as well. I want you to eat a $40 steak, but you feel it was a $1,000 evening because of the experience, the ambiance and the staff. That’s what we’re searching for.
It also makes it a lot easier to get started. One of the companies I love and I look up to is Away suitcases. It’s these beautiful suitcases that they have a bunch of carry-on ones that have chargers in them. It’s like the Apple of suitcases. They’ve been doing insanely well. One of the great things is they had 180 days to buy the suitcase, you can use it. If you use it, even traveled to Europe and you scuff it up, send it back if you don’t like it. It made it much easier for me to be like, “My fiancé and I are going to Europe. Let’s get the suitcases and try them out.”
That’s the irresistible offer that we all have to start putting in place. That’s what’s changing in organizations or companies is that if you don’t do that, you’re either doomed to fail or you’re certainly not going to rise to the top. It’s like in the old days when coffee shops came out and started playing jazz. Now every coffee shop plays jazz. They’ve got to take it up the level. As a company, if you don’t have that irresistible offer and that strong money-back guarantee to a different level, you’re not going to succeed.
They’re going to go to your competitors.
We had an industry when we were building Gerber Auto Collision and Boyd Autobody. It was a large chain of collision repair shops. We had what we call our, “Let’s get taken policy.” The CEO and Founder Terry, he was frustrated when this woman came in and was arguing saying that this one part of a door hadn’t been fixed properly. We were looking at the order and we fixed the other side of her car. We weren’t supposed to fix the passenger side. We were only supposed to fix the driver’s side. She was arguing. He was like, “I’d rather get taken advantage by her, fix it and have her relieved, thrilled and happy than argue at all and spend the rest of my day being frustrated. I was arguing something and had that negative energy.” We decided no matter what somebody wanted, we would say yes and happily fix it.
I’m sure she would come back because of the way she was treated.
Even if she didn’t, we’d spend the rest of the day being in a good mood because we did something cool and that energy reflects and throws off. Tell me about when you were in the early days with AppSumo and when you were hiring. What were you looking for in your early stage hires?
When you have four people in a room, each additional person is important. With four people in the room, you’re going to spend a lot of time with that fifth person. One of the biggest things we look for is how much do we like this person? How much do we like talking to them? It sounds cliché, but how much would we like after the end of the day go to grab a beer with them and learn more about them. That was the first thing because if you don’t have that, it’s going to be a not fun situation. With a small team, we need someone that’s not niche and specialized that they can’t do other things. They have to be able to wear their hats and, “Let me try this out and let me learn this.” They have to be a self-starter. With each of your initial employees, they have to be someone that at the end of the day will lead because they’re going to start their own company.
Do you guys look for self-driven learners as well?
Absolutely, and by self-learner do you mean someone that’s by themselves willing to go and learn how to do something?
Yeah, they already are. They’re engaged and learning. They’re online watching videos. They’re reading books. They’re going to courses on their own not because someone’s telling them they have to but because they want to improve.
One of the questions I love asking is who your mentor is? When was the last time they give you feedback? What’s the last book you read? If they’re not reading, if they’re not doing anything, to me that’s a red flag. I don’t even care if the book is Ender’s Game or if it’s a sci-fi. At least they’re trying to learn and educate themselves.
I had never thought to look for self-learners before. I’d always built these learning organizations and viral learning programs inside of organizations. I’d always focused on my role as to grow people. I always felt the leader’s job is to grow people. One of our COOs at the COO Alliance, Rachel Pachivas from Annemarie Skin Care, she said, “Instead of trying to train everybody, why don’t we look to start hiring people that train themselves?” I was like, “A blinding flash of the obvious that never even occurred to me in all my years of business.”
It’s much easier. I look at everyone that’s on my team and working with Sumo and I can tell that if I’m gone, I’m confident my team will lead itself because they are going to learn this. If some curveball comes up, they’ll figure out how to deal with it because they can. They don’t need me to be like, “This is how you have to do this.”
What role do you play in the organization? What role does Noah as CEO play? How do you guys split, divide and conquer?
It’s changed over the years and as the different businesses has grown and companies have changed. Noah runs the Sumo group and we have some other sister businesses and making sure all these business work together well and we’re progressing. I’m focused on Sumo and specifically running our sales team and anything else that’s business sales/marketing related. We have Chad who I would also consider to be another one of Noah’s second-hand men, who is the COO of Sumo. Things have changed where I was running AppSumo on my own and they were trying to build something else, which then turned into Sumo. It’s interesting to see how the second-hand man has changed and who has been a leader versus not leader.
You’ve got a second for each of the two companies. How does each of you differ in your strengths, your skill sets and even in the parts of the business areas you run?
One thing I would say why I run the sales marketing business side versus Chad is I have a lot of experience in it. I’ve made sales for a long time and I know that world well. It’s interesting to look at Chad versus Noah and how they complement each other well is that Chad has a strong long-term vision and long-term beliefs. Noah will happily admit to this where Noah can get attracted by this and that and that changes on a more often basis. Chad will have strong core beliefs of Sumo. We’re going to help every online small business in the world. It’s something he thinks about as a 10, 20, 50, 100-year business.
How do you guys get the alignment? That’s your BHAG pushing towards that Big Hairy Audacious Goal. How do you get the vision from Noah or from the leadership team throughout the organization and out to your customers? How do you share and communicate the vivid vision?
It’s something we haven’t been amazing at and it’s something we’ve gotten a lot better at. We always knew in our heads why we’re doing this is because we care much about helping entrepreneurs and small businesses. That’s who we’ve been. We want to help our own kind, but it wasn’t defined exactly what is that going to look like in many years. What is that BHAG? That’s something we’ve been working a lot more on, having leadership off sites and sitting down and being like, “What do we want to be in many years?” That’s something we discussed, had a lot of back and forth and a lot of healthy discussions. We would keep doing that for a while and get something we felt strongly about. That stuff we communicate on a weekly basis. We have a Monday morning all hands team meeting where we go through who we’re serving, what we’re providing them and why. We talk about we want to help every online small business in the world. That’s something we repeat on a weekly basis. It’s written in the office. If someone starts with Sumo, they should know that on day one.
You are known for having a good company culture and that’s if you want to succeed or do well as an organization, you need to figure out culture. It’s not the free perks. What do you guys do that is turning your company into a magnet for such great talent?
It’s something we’ve cared a lot about. It goes back to what I was saying with we have four people. We’re adding a fifth person. That fifth person needs to fit into our culture and who we are. All of the perks, the free massages and the cookies, we do that as well, but I wouldn’t consider that culture per se. We’ve always had traditions of what we’ve done that matters to us. To name a few, we do calisthenics before our Monday morning meeting. We’ve done it for a few years and we do it every single Monday regardless of wherever you are. If you’re in China and working abroad from there, you’re still going to call in at 10:00 AM Central into the team meeting and you’re going to do calisthenics. That’s one thing and it’s a small thing, but for us it’s important to continue those traditions no matter what. We have other ones.
One thing with four people is that when we had a great year we would say, “It’s the end of the year. It’s usually pretty dead. Let’s go take a trip together.” We would go to Hawaii. We would go somewhere else and we would go on these trips for fun. They’ve become what we call as retreats. I know a lot of companies do that, but that started because it was the four of us and we said, “Let’s go have fun and let’s go ski, let’s go surf.” We do those twice a year and we bring in everyone from the company. Our midyear ones are more focused on work-centric and working through strategy. If we had a great year, at the end of the year go to Mexico and everyone has fun.
There are things like that where it’s also one of my favorite ones and one that we actually keep a bit secret for new employees is that we do what we call a ceremony. On their first day, at the end of the day, we will have fifteen minutes for everyone in the company to ask this new teammate any question they want. It puts them on the spot, but it’s also they feel like they are becoming part of the family. I was the first one that ever did it and we’ve done it with every single new employee. That’s what I truly consider like culture, not the free massages.
The ceremony you do and even your branding stuff, that’s culture. That’s what I was digging for as well. I’d love to see that happen live. I was in the event that was held at MIT for about 65 CEOs from around the world and it was held at this MIT offsite location. It’s called the Entrepreneurial Masters Program and they have what they call The Night of the Living Dead. It’s on the second night when all the CEOs dropped their pants and talked about one brutal mess up they had in their life where they screwed something up in the business world. It’s amazing to see that vulnerability and how when you get vulnerable like that, it builds. Do you guys do anything related to vulnerability? When you have that high functioning strong team that you’ve got, how do you also share where, “We don’t know something, I don’t know how to do this.”
It’s the transparency that is important. If you start a new job, I have this project, I’m stressed and I can’t get it done. I’m going to mess it up and I don’t want to be the one to blame. I don’t want people feeling it’s their fault. One of our core values is to fail fast to succeed. What that means is if you’re trying something out and someone on my sales team is, “Let me try out this new sequence to email our customers.” They put something in there and it fails compared to what we were doing before. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s more about sitting down after that and saying, “What happened? We tested this out and it didn’t work. That’s totally fine. Let’s either go back to what we were doing before or let’s try out something else.” It has that culture of it’s totally fine to screw something up.
We used to say that people don’t fail, systems fail. We tried to create a no-blame environment where we didn’t want to have people blaming somebody. We wanted to look for a missing or broken system.
It’s hard. You have to push people on that because they still don’t want to admit to it. There have been times where I’ve screwed up and I’m like, “Let me fix this,” but then I’m like, “I messed up. I need help. Let’s figure this out together.”
You guys are based in Austin. Both of the companies are based there. How many of your employees are remote? How many are based out of the Austin office?
I would say around 75% to 80% are in the Austin office and then the rest are remote.
Austin has become a big tech hub. Is it competitive there for talent? What are you guys doing to stay above the rest of the crowd?
I would say Austin is getting a lot more tech talent than there has been in the past. I feel the best people in Austin work for Sumo, no disses to anyone else working out of Austin. It has become more of a tech hub, but we’re still a bit struggling with San Francisco has a lot of the tech talent. I would say more than 50% of the people in Austin at Sumo, we had to import. They were in New York, Chicago or the Bay Area and we had to talk them into moving into Austin. I was in the Bay Area. I went to school in Austin, but he said, “You’ve got to come back out.” I was like, “Really?” but he got me back out there.
The way the restaurant scene is and the entrepreneurial scene. You’ve got Austin city limits and self-buy. It’s such a huge tech corridor. You’re going to have an easier time bringing people in from the Bay Area where people want to get out of the additional taxes, that 15% state tax and the cost of living there. The cost of housing in Austin is much better. It’s not cheap, but it’s certainly way better than it is in the Bay Area.
There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that came out and said to buy a house in the Bay Area, the median income between the household has to be $330,000. It only said that a small percentage was making that amount. I show them that article and say, “Do you want to move to Austin and own a piece of land and a piece of property?”
Maybe you should do a landing page that shows for this much money, here’s what you get in Austin, here’s what you get in San Francisco. Here’s the cost of living in ten different things. Austin is a spectacular market. Tell me about the retreats that you’re running. How do you run them? What would a typical leadership team retreat be like?
We do leadership off sites on a monthly basis. We will have a full day where we will go to Chad the CEO’s house. Everyone on the leadership team for Sumo, we’ll spend a whole day away from the office working through different things. If we’re preparing for the next quarter and we want to check in on our goals for the year, how we’re progressing and what we potentially need to do, we’ll go through that. Say we feel that we want to talk about the morale of the company. We’ll focus on that. Chad’s the one that leads those and determines what to go through. It’s not a let’s sit by the pool and drink margaritas and talk about how well things are going.
It’s a twelve-hour let’s dig into things and it’s going to be mentally exhausting. At a certain point, we’re going to be probably yelling at each other, but it’s been insanely helpful for us to grow as a leadership team, to be the most important team out of the whole team. That’s shown with everyone else. In the beginning, we were doing them and then everyone else was like, “Why are they going out of the office for a day out of the week? What are they doing out there?” What we were doing is defining what our vision is, defining what our BHAG is, what are our core values, then communicating that with the rest of the company.
You touched on something that 99.9% of companies have never thought of. Maybe you do get it. You said the leadership team is the most important team. I’ve always said the leadership team is the first team and then each business area is second. If you’ve got the VP of sales, their most important team is a leadership team, not the sales team.
I want to touch on this because Noah read a book called The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team. He read this book and he was like, “This is us. This is exactly what’s going on. Anton, read this book.” I read the book and I was like, “This is us. We need to do something.” It wasn’t me that decided it but then we talked with Chad and he read the book and we said, “We need to get everyone together and we need to go through this book and we need to go through some of the exercises in this book.” It was incredibly hard and there was a lot of stuff that we were hiding, that we were backchanneling, that we were not talking about with each other. We weren’t focused, which the leadership team is the first team. It took a lot of going through that and a lot of healthy conflicts that we all feel much stronger about the team.
That must be where that idea and I don’t give myself credit for having any ideas. I’ve always tried to do what I call R&D which is Rip off and Duplicate. I try to take the best systems from somewhere and put it in place in companies. That must be where I learned that idea of the first team. I knew it was from somewhere and I’ve never said it was my idea. I’ve been ranting about it for years and we read The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team when we were building 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. One of the business leaders didn’t want to change. We found out four of their direct reports were annoyed and were having a problem with the leader. We confronted the leader on it and the leader said, “If my team doesn’t like it, they can leave.” We said, “That probably means you should leave.” That book highlighted that for us. It was huge.
It’s definitely tough going through that, but it’s necessary and I feel much better about us and the future of the company because we’re prioritizing the leadership team.
What else do you work with your leadership team on in terms of skill development? Are there books that you have them reading? Are there any podcasts you’ve got them listening to or masterminds they’re in?
It’s one of those things we’re constantly getting better at. I wouldn’t say we’re pros at it at all. It’s one of those things where Chad will read something. There’s a book about customer success written by the CEO of Gainsight, which one of the leaders in customer success and CSMS, Customer Success Management Systems. He read that book and he was like, “Everyone needs to read this book.” We all read the book, we talk about it and it’s one of those things that I will take that to my mid-level managers and say, “You guys also needed to read this book.” We then spread through the whole company. I like doing things. We do here and there with my team where I like having a book club where I say, “Please read this book, we’re going to sit down on Friday over lunch and we’re going to talk about it.” I would say it’s something we do here and there and we want to be better at it that we’re developing ourselves and everyone’s developing as well their leadership abilities.
I’ll give you a book that you and Noah may want to take a look at. It’s called Never Lose A Customer Again by Joey Coleman. I bought a copy of it for every one of the CEOs that I coach and for every one of the members of the COO Alliance.
What about it was strong?
His understanding of customer engagement, the customer lifecycle and understanding the first 100 days of a customer. Most of us wait until there’s a problem to try to save the customer. Most of us wait until too far along in the process. The reality is it’s about truly wowing your customer in the first 100 days and building that relationship, much like you do with your ceremony with the new employee. You don’t wait until the 90-day mark to do that. You’re doing it on day one.
It’s proactive versus reactive.
Yeah, it was proactive customer engagement. Add my book Meetings Suck as well. I wrote the book Meetings Suck so people would stop complaining about meetings. 30% is written on how to show up, participate and attend meetings, 30% is how to run meetings and the last third is what meetings you need to run a highly successful company.
As we’ve grown, we’ve gotten bigger with 50, 60 employees are that we’re in more meetings. There are more people. We have to make more decisions. In the beginning we were like, “Screw meetings. They don’t make sense.” We’re much better now, “Let’s set an agenda. Let’s make sure that meetings make sense. At the end of the meeting, let’s debrief and make sure that it was a good use of everyone’s time.”
The reality is that a meeting is anytime two or more people have a phone call in person or over video engagement, we’re all doing it. The data says the average employee is spending one to two hours per day in meetings. If you’ve got a $50,000 employee, you’re spending $12,000 a year of their time in meetings. Why wouldn’t you spend $15 to teach them how to show up at one? They are critical. I saw Elon Musk was complaining about social media saying, “If you’re in an ugly meeting, stand up and walk out.” I sent him a text. I’ve known him for a long time, but I said, “You’ve got to solve the root problem. Don’t have people walking out of meetings. Why don’t we change the way the meetings are run and run proper meetings, so people don’t have to walk out of them in the first place?” It’s root cause analysis. Tell me about some of the meetings you guys run other than your Monday morning meeting. What are some of the meetings and the off sites is another one you’re doing monthly?
If we’re working on a big project about something, customer success, we’ll have a specific committee on that with different team members from each team to be working on something. One interesting thing to note is not in terms of the meetings, but in terms of the issue. We have the leadership off sites on a monthly basis, then we have the company retreat/off sites which we do by bi-annually. It’s one of those things where at the beginning like, “It’s four of us. Let’s go surf in Hawaii.” Now it’s, “How can we make the most of everyone being together? What can we do that people are learning, progressing and developing their skills?” One interesting thing I’ve loved and I’ve seen everyone else at our company love is we do role-playing or role-reversal between the different teams.
We’ll have someone in sales have to do a product mockup or you’ll have someone on the product team have to do a mock call with me. It’s fascinating when people do that and then they’re like, “This is way harder than I thought. I respect the product team because I don’t know how to mock this up.” Some of my favorites are people on the product team that do a call with me. You can see that they’re struggling. They feel awkward. They realize, “The people on the sales team, they’re not these scummy trying to take money from people. They truly have strong communication skills and that’s why they’re well adept at that.”
That’s a great idea of getting people to try the other person’s shoes on for the day or for an hour. I was in a university in Ottawa, Canada and our fraternity decided to spend a day as a disabled person. I chose to be in a wheelchair for a day and one of my roommates chose to go blindfolded and spend a day as a blind person. It’s amazing spending 24 hours in a wheelchair. It’s a pain in the butt. Trying to get water out of a water fountain I’m like, “How do you angle it?” Some people are trying to push me because they thought they were helping me, which scared me and doors slamming on me. I got caught in the bathroom because I couldn’t get the door open. I felt rolling down to the head of the university to complain about everything, but it was eye-opening.
You respect them and put you in their shoes.
Has Noah written a book yet?
He has one on Amazon. It was the story about how he got fired from Facebook and lost hundreds of millions of dollars. This goes to how Noah and I work well together and why I’m his second-hand man. He wrote something, it was in this G Doc and he was like, “I’m going to put this on Amazon. It’s my book.” He wasn’t putting a ton of promotion behind it. I read it and I was like, “Noah, this is terrible. I cannot read this. I don’t understand what you’re saying. This is jumping from thing to thing. Please do not put this out there because I care a lot about the way you look and the way we look together. Let’s work on this.” What I did is I tore it apart. I was like, “Let’s work on this. Let’s work on that. Please tell us some more here. I’m cutting this section because it’s awful.” At a point, I don’t know how good it is. It’s one of those things he threw out there. That goes to the second-hand man and how he and I work well together. He has it on Amazon.
If you guys ever want him to, there’s a great Austin company called Book In A Box. I’m an investor in the company and an advisor to Tucker, Zach and JT. Their COO’s in the COO Alliance, but they’re an amazing company for their CEO or any real thought leader. If you want to get a book out the door, they’re a great group to work with. I would never normally end a conversation in the show by asking you about your failure, but you guys said you embrace failure. Do you want to tell us one then? A real true failure that you guys learned from or that you learned from?
It’s something that we’ve always focused on for a long time. In 2012, the company was doing as well as it had ever been doing. We were making the most money. We have the most employees. By all looks of it, we were successful, but at that point, Noah and Chad had sat down and this is where I wasn’t at the point to be on the leadership team or his right-hand man yet. I was still new to the company. They sat down and said, “We’re making a lot of money, but I don’t like the way we’re doing it.” What we were doing with AppSumo is we were putting out and promoting software companies that we weren’t vetting. We weren’t using their tools. People were buying it, but were they getting value out of it? No, they would leave terrible reviews. We have a taco reviews system. They would leave one out of five tacos and they’d say, “This is awful. Why did you guys promote this?” It was embarrassing. Noah felt, “Why are we doing this? This is not why I started this company. You guys were making a lot of money. We say promote cool things and these are not cool things.”
They made the decision that was determined to failure. After that, what we did is we laid off more than half of the company. It was a crazy day. I came in on a Friday. The night before, I was talking to Noah at 3:00 AM and he was asking me, “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” I said, “I love this company. I love what we’re doing.” He was confused like, “Why do you love it so much?” I was like, “We’re helping small businesses. My parents came here to America to start a small business. I’ve always wanted to help these people.” It’s because of that 3:00 AM chat, I was not one of the people that was cut the day after, but a lot of people were. What we did is we went back to basics. We said, “Who are we truly and what do we care about?” We cared about promoting amazing companies, not the things we were promoting and that’s what we went back to. It was tough. We were making a lot less money. The team was way smaller. We had to figure things out. Is that a failure? Yeah, by some accounts people will say that’s a failure. You guys were doing well and then things changed, but that completely changed the business and it has completely changed us. We’re in a way better place because of that.
You’ve brought on many great points on this talk that I hope people are scribbling them down. My final question is where you would go get your favorite tacos in Austin?
My favorite tacos are at Rosita’s on Riverside and they do carnitas tacos and they are amazing. It’s like a hole in the wall. People will say Taco Deli and Torchy’s. That’s like bougie $5 tacos. You’ve got to go to Rosita’s on Riverside and they have unreal tacos.
Do you know a friend of mine, Brad Weimert, in Austin?
I do not.
He’s crazy. He’s got a Mohawk like you. He climbed a mountain called Mount Stratton. They had an event there called Everesting where you had to climb it seventeen times and that would be the equivalent of Mount Everest. 140 people tried it, only 72 completed. He decided to do it twice and he did it 34 times. The guy is an absolute mad man. He’s a crazy entrepreneur. He trains by wearing oxygen deprivation masks and running stairs in some of the Austin buildings. He’s a great entrepreneur, a local CEO. Anton, thanks so much for the time. I appreciate you sharing everything.
Thank you so much, Cameron.
- Hint Water
- Bulletproof Coffee
- Noah Kagan
- COO Alliance
- Gerber Auto Collision
- Boyd Autobody
- Ender’s Game
- Annemarie Skin Care
- Chad Boyda
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- Never Lose A Customer Again
- Meetings Suck
- Amazon – How I Lost 170 Million Dollars by Noah Kagan
- Book In A Box
- Brad Weimert
About Anton Sepetov
VP Business Development at Nanosyn, helping the Biotech and Pharma community accelerate drug discovery.
Previously, was a founding member of Sumo.com, the best email marketing software for small businesses. Avid bicyclist, aspiring semi-professional chef, and more.