Would you take on Google? This founder is doing it (Here’s how)


Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Joining me is somebody who is in some ways kind of taking on Google and showing an alternative. And I think if you’re interested in how entrepreneurs survive in a world with a few big giants, I think listening to his story is valuable.
The other thing that attracted me to his story is that he’s not a hardcore developer. He is a product person, he does care about products, but the thing he was most known for, the thing that I kept reading articles about him was that before creating this company, he was a drummer. Now he’d obviously done other things beyond that, but you’re looking at someone who’s not a geek, who’s sitting in a basement learning how to code and preparing his whole life to be a startup coder. He’s smiling as I say all this.
Dominic: I’m sorry, because actually my drums are in the background. You can see them there.
Andrew: So, you do still play?
Dominic: Of course, I still play, yeah.
Andrew: You know what, Dominic? I kind of thought, “Well, this is part of his MO.” Every article I read about him starts off with a drummer who and I thought, “Well, maybe it’s his thing.” You’ve definitely done more than drum. It’s not like, “Hey, drum, you know what? Tech startup, boom.” Go into millions and millions in revenue . . . No. It was more than that.
But, anyway. Dominic Joseph whose voice you heard is the founder of Captify Technologies. I’m going to read the one-sentence description that tells you what they do and then I’ll give you an example. They are search intelligence business that enables brands to engage with consumers . . . As soon as you hear the word engage with consumers, you know a company wrote it. A search intelligence business that enables brands to engage with consumers based on search on their desktops, mobile and now voice.
Here’s basically what they do. You guys know I’m traveling the world to do a marathon on every continent. My habit is to lock in my airfare, a little too late, but sooner than anything else. So I might go to Expedia, I do a little bit of search, see, “What does it cost to go to South Africa?” Pretty freaking expensive. This whole thing’s expensive. Great. I put it off for a little bit. Maybe I come back a little bit later. And then I booked the flight because I do like to lock in the flight. That’s the hardest part.
Then what his software does is notices Andrew has been looking for a flight to South Africa, but he hadn’t actually nailed down a hotel. Let’s show him some Marriott ads. Maybe you want to stay in Marriott. I do like the Marriott. I never think about staying there. And so I see the ads and sign up for the Marriott and it’s all because of his software. Now, that’s the basics that they do. They’ve obviously expanded beyond, as you heard. And I’d like to hear a little bit about how they got into things like voice search.
We’re going to find out how he built this company up and how he grew it to such a massive success. Wait till you see the number and revenue. We’re going to do it thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you don’t want to code, if you’re somebody who wants a minimum viable product, and Dominic, I know you had a really interesting MVP, you guys are going to want to check out bubble.io. It’ll help you code without coding and beyond the MVP it’ll allow you to build apps without coding. And number two, if you do have developers and you want to hire more, if you need a good way to hire fast, go check out Toptal. And I’ll talk about those later. Dominic, good to have you here.
Dominic: Great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Andrew: What’s the revenue?
Dominic: Well, it’s growing nicely. We’ve been expanding across the world over the last eight years. We started with just two people. And this year, we’re nearly 300 in 11 different markets. So growing well. But let’s just say it’s north of $60 million.
Andrew: That’s huge.
Dominic: Yeah. It can be a lot bigger.
Andrew: You know what? What I’m . . . Do you really feel that way a lot? Like, do spend a lot of time thinking, “How do I keep growing this?”
Dominic: Of course, yeah. We’re a high growth business. It’s all about growth.
Andrew: What about this? I wonder maybe because I’m coming at you as a drummer, as a musician, maybe because I’m now at a place where I think, “Maybe you shouldn’t constantly focus on growth.” I wonder, does it help to focus on growth? Do you sometimes feel like, “No, let’s focus on making the best product possible and the art of the business as opposed to the profit of the business”? What do you think of that dichotomy? Is it a dichotomy?
Dominic: Well, I think that you’re right. I think focusing on the product is key to growth. If you have a great product, then growth follows. But there’s also a lot of other layers around that. So you got to have a great product and you got to have the team executing well. So you need to have both to lead to growth. But, absolutely. The paramount thing for us is making sure that we’ve got a product that’s adding value to our clients and the people want to buy it.
Andrew: So you were a musician, but before that, I heard you started an app company back when you were a teenager. Is that right?
Dominic: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: What was the app company?
Dominic: We had a company called Black Label Digital and we created various different apps, but we sunset of the business because we are kind of starting to work on other projects and we just didn’t have enough focus. We actually thought of some pretty big ideas that are perhaps a little bit too big for the resource that we had.
Andrew: What types of apps are we talking about? Maybe you were one of those geeks programming in the basement.
Dominic: I wasn’t programming. I had a geek with me in the team who was programming and he was very talented and we had a good little business that was forming and we’ve got some traction. But we noticed that Apple was changing the algorithm a lot on the App Store, so we kept having to redo the apps, which kind of stopped us having enough resource internally to develop anything new. And ultimately, we were all working on other . . . We had other jobs, so we didn’t have enough resource, so we closed it down.
Andrew: What was one of the apps that you created? Give me a sense of how good it got.
Dominic: We had a pretty really big concept actually, which is prior to Pinterest and it was a very similar type of business. We had actually set up and it was called MyBox and it was a way for you to grab your favorite products from across the web and have a centralized shopping cart and you didn’t have to keep putting your details into individual sites. So it was kind of addressing the inefficiencies of the internet that we still actually see today, but then Pinterest came out and we realized that we were too far behind the curve.
Andrew: As the guy who’s not the developer, what was your part of it?
Dominic: Really product vision. That’s always been my thing. So identifying where there’s a gap in the market and then thinking of it in detail, thinking of the user experience, thinking about how it would benefit me, and then relaying that through to engineering for them to make.
Andrew: The thing that I heard about you too, is that your parents owned a musical instrument shop and I think it was Inc. that said, “He heard a lot about business growing up. He learned a lot from his parents.” Is that true?
Dominic: Yeah, I think I learned . . . I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. So they were running their own company, so I kind of . . . That was just very normal in my business. It was a very small business. It was a . . .
Andrew: One sec. [inaudible 00:06:37].
Dominic: With a couple of shops. But it show the spirit . . .
Andrew: They had a couple of shops.
Dominic: They had a couple of shops, yeah.
Andrew: Okay.
Dominic: And I would say that that’s not the kind of business that Captify is today. Captify is a high growth business. You’ve got various types of business that you choose to make. You can have a lifestyle company where you don’t need to have growth, you can add some nice value and you can take the money out the company and have a certain type of lifestyle or you go for a high growth business and you can raise money, you can try and get all the right people into all the right jobs and attack it as fast as you possibly can. And there’s a lot of positives and negatives about both models, I would say.
Andrew: What’s an example of something that you learned from your parents? I remember my dad owned a store, and one of the things that I remember learning was just open it all the time. Christmas Day, nobody is going to be around, but maybe one person is going to be out shopping last minute. Let’s just try it. [crosstalk 00:07:25] the store was open the whole day. We learned a lesson.
Dominic: That’s a good learning. I think quite a few . . .
Andrew: Well, the connection is going so bad. I hope that your recording of it will help.
Dominic: Yeah, I’m sorry. I watched my family try and open various different stores but they were very good at realizing that it wasn’t working and pulling out. And sometimes you need to do that. Not everything you do is going to be a success. And I really admire them for giving that a go and trying those areas and then having the common sense as to . . .
Andrew: And they would open up a store in a different way, the location didn’t work out, and they closed and there wasn’t a sense of failure, there wasn’t a sense of we’re not really doing well here. No? It was just close it, move on.
Dominic: That’s exactly right. And they had a very positive spirit and then they would try . . . And I really admire them for trying things and I think that I’ve hopefully continued that today.
Andrew: I had the sense that at Captify you had to do that, that there are some people who in the beginning you made investments in, you realize it wasn’t a good fit, as you were growing, you had to let them go. Am I right?
Dominic: Yeah. Not just people, but entire countries. We had to close down one of the territories that we had moved into. Actually, it was a similar times coming to the U.S. and we realized that the U.S. was going to be a far more attractive market for the business. We were getting a lot more traction, and we want to make sure our management team was focused on the right areas. So we had to make some pretty hard decisions.
Andrew: What’s an example . . . What’s the one thing that you shut down?
Dominic: No. It was a German office.
Andrew: I saw. That was also in the Inc. article that I guess it was 2016, was it when Germany cut the . . .
Dominic: Yeah. And that’s one of the biggest territories in Europe. There’s a bit of . . . Strategic is an important market, so it’s not an easy decision to make. We’re still doing quite a lot of business in Germany, actually, but from London. And over time, we’ll probably reopen that, but at the time it was mature decision to make. Sometimes you got to . . .
Andrew: How did you come to the conclusion that it’s time to close it down instead of saying, “You know what? We have to make this work. This is going to be us pushing through and it’ll be a lesson for us that we always have to make things work”? How do you know when to close and when to keep building?
Dominic: I had dinner with one of my mentors. And I was talking and talking and talking about Germany and he said to me, “Look, I think you already know the answer, hence this discussion.” And I was like, “You’re right.” It’s funny how great coaches get out of you what the answer is already. And I never forgot that.
Andrew: You know what? One of the things, Dominic, that I’m noticing in these interviews is that very rarely do people recognize internally. Entrepreneurs are so optimistic, they’re so determined that it’s hard for them to recognize that it’s time to close and give up on a thing. It’s usually a mentor, an outside person who says, “Look at what you’re doing here. This is not really a battle that you want to fight. It’s not one worth fighting.” Right?
Dominic: Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. And ultimately, as an entrepreneur, you just want the business to succeed, right? So you’re not . . . You don’t really have any other agendas other than actually a neutral position on what is right, what is going to be right for the business? I’m very unbiased for the decisions I make because, you know, ultimately I just want the things to succeed as well as it possibly can and for . . . And just you got to accept that you’re going to make some wrong decisions. And not everything you make is right and it gives you good learnings. And focusing on the U.S. was a good thing. Now we’re in six different cities in the U.S. and the U.S. is really booming for us. So that level of focus was the right decision.
Andrew: Before this, I heard that you got into ad sales. Am I right? Did you spend maybe was it five years on it?
Dominic: Yeah, I did five years on that. I quit being a drummer because one thing about being a drummer was frustrating was actually being out of control of your own career. You would work night and day on something, but ultimately, if you’re going to be in a band, it all came down to the singer and the songs and how the band looked. And actually a lot of luck around the band is the market positioning of the band and what was trending at the time. And I found that all too much for me to put all my eggs in one basket and ended up getting a job in advertising because, ultimately, I had no qualifications in advertising. The advertising industry was one of the few industries where I could find my way in.
Andrew: Because you were doing sales.
Dominic: Because I was doing sales and I liked sales because ultimately I’ll do as badly as I put into it. You’d be measured by the success that you achieved yourself and . . .
Andrew: Dominic, go deep with me. You’re a musician. You made it. You got signed. You had an audience cheering for you. When you have to go and not just take a corporate job but a sales job, did you feel at that point like a failure like a sellout, like, “What happened to my life?”
Dominic: Yeah.
Andrew: You did.
Dominic: Yeah.
Andrew: How did you deal with that? How did you deal with that and get yourself to take that move, obviously, were to seeing that that move was the right move for your life? How did you get yourself to swallow your pride to take that direction?
Dominic: It was very tough. And when you’re in an industry like music, and that could probably be the same if you’re an actor or something like that, it’s very in the public eye, everyone talks about it and constantly talking it and you live in this bubble of bullshit where you’re self-fulfilling. It’s really not good for you. It’s really bad. You sort of give yourself this inflated sense of importance and it’s just ultimately. It’s just . . .
Andrew: It’s just it’s bad for you to have other people give you a sense . . .
Dominic: It’s a little bias.
Andrew: It’s bad for you to have other people give you a sense of importance. Why? Doesn’t it puff you up and get you to do your best work because they believe in you so much, then you start to believe in you, you start to buy into that hype, and so you walk around with confidence, and if you’re confident, you produce more? No?
Dominic: You can definitely improve your game by people giving you that confidence, that’s for sure. But I think it depends on you as a person. I personally if I see weaknesses in something, then compliments that come into me when I can still see that there’s stuff that needs to be worked on, don’t really mean that much to me. And that’s still how I am with the business. When people tell me that my company is going really well, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, but it’s full of . . . I’m seeing challenges and problems everywhere,” because . . . And so that’s just who you are. Whereas other people really need to be pumped up by compliments and stuff and that’s just not the way I am.
Andrew: I get it. It’s different personality types. So then tell me, again, how do you swallow that pride, that ego, the fact that everybody notices you as being not just a musician, but a signed musician? And how do you go from there to saying, “All right. I’ll take a job, a corporate sales job”?
Dominic: It was very tough. There was actually a job in between, actually, where I was in a call center having to phone people old. And I was on the phone like . . . I was representing AOL Broadband and I was having to sell AOL Broadband into old grannies who didn’t even care what broadband was. And I hated it and I felt like it was a real low point. But there was other people there who really, this was their lives. This is their career. They were very proud of the sales that they were achieving and I knew that I wanted to try something different. So I found my way into advertising which has actually been an industry that suited me really well.
Andrew: Is it that, Dominic, you needed the money and so you had to do this thing with the call center, then you said, “You know what? Well, call center, it’s not a step down to go into sales from being a drummer in a signed band. It’s a step up from a call center. And the better I do . . . I’m actually I’ve got some aptitude for this. The better I do, the better. I feel this is great, I’m going to keep on . . . ” That’s what it was. Okay. And then you had a couple of ideas. One of them was Captify. What was the other idea, first startup of your own?
Dominic: They were both . . . I met my business partner when I was doing the sales and we basically set up Captify with two different products and we wanted to see which one worked. So we did . . . And I really think that was a smart idea and I probably would do that with new companies as well as . . . It’s risky to go into a new startup with no proven traction with just one product. You need to have a plan B or something that’s running with a slightly different model that gives you a bit of flexibility. And I think one thing that you always want, and I still want today is options on every move that we make, so you’re not snickering yourself, you’re not calling yourself into an alley. You’ve got to give yourself a couple of different routes.
Andrew: So what was your idea?
Dominic: And we had the [second 00:15:36] products.
Andrew: Sorry. What was the product?
Dominic: We had this . . . It was actually called Intelligent Email and it was a really interesting email marketing business then actually it kind of gone on to become another company called LiveIntent. And they’ve done very well which kind of proved that the concepts was there. But yeah, we certainly were much more interested in the search intelligence site because . . .
Andrew: What was the email intent or intelligent intent? Intelligent Email, excuse me. What was that?
Dominic: It was a way for companies to put targeted advertising within emails that were belonging into a brand. So if you were an airline, let’s say you’re American Airlines, they could sell ads within the flight ticket because they could tell where the consumer was going in the flight. So they could sell car hire at Washington airport or whatever it might be because it would understand what was in the email ticket.
Andrew: Got it. And so in both businesses what I’m seeing is you say, “We shouldn’t just place random ads. There is an understanding of people’s intent based on what they’re doing whether it’s search, which is what Captify ended up doing, or in the content of an email, which is what Intelligent Email was going to do.” How did you recognize that that was a need, that that was an opportunity? Where did the idea come from?
Dominic: Google. Google.
Andrew: So you saw that Google was doing this.
Dominic: Well, Google’s 110 billion business based off consumer intent. It’s an advertising business that is 110 billion revenues or plus based off consumer intent. So it’s the largest driver of digital advertising growth and the biggest company in the world has seen. So there was enough of a proof in their model that this was big, and then obviously, we were identifying that there was consumers are not just putting intent through Google, they’re doing in many different ways.
Andrew: And so did you say, “Google is doing this whole big business just because they have intent. Where else can we get consumer intent? Because if we know what they intend to do, then we know how we can place ads to help them do it”? That’s the thing that you did.
Dominic: That’s right.
Andrew: That was the thinking.
Dominic: Yeah, that’s exactly we did.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. And then what made you decide, “You know what? We’re going to go on search intent instead of email content”?
Dominic: We had a lot more demand for the search intent. And we picked off our first publisher where we put our code down. We got 40 million searches a month coming in which were really good quality searches and consumers looking for holidays and destinations, etc. And then we won Hilton Hotels as our first ever client off the back of that and then we just built it up from there.
Andrew: So you built two different products both of them kind of minimum viable products, and this is the one that took off and you said, “Great, we’re going to go all in on this one.”
Dominic: Yeah. And then after one-year trading, we’ve done around $1.6 million and we did a couple of million round of investments and then go and build the product properly. And we invested heavily into engineering and products and started developing it and then we did another round [inaudible 00:18:34]
Andrew: Wait. We’re kind of getting ahead of ourselves here. I want to take it slow and go deeply step by step by step over how you got to that because we’re revealing the whole story here. Why don’t we take a moment? First, I want to talk about my first sponsor, and then I want to know . . . By the way, your goal was to hit what how many millions? And then you said you did 1.6. What was your goal for the first year?
Dominic: It was 1.6 and it was about the same.
Andrew: No, but I heard your goal was 6 million. You said, “You know, we could do $6 million in sales.”
Dominic: That’s a mistake. That’s a mistake.
Andrew: That was a mistake. All right.
Dominic: That’s not . . .
Andrew: This guy just thinking big and big and big.
Dominic: That would have been amazing. I would have loved that. So no. That’s an incorrect number.
Andrew: Okay. All right. Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor. My first sponsor is a company called Bubble. Dominic, what do you think when I tell you that there’s a company that says, “Not everyone should code. Not every business should be built on code. We actually can give you a way to kind of WYSIWYG. What you see is what you get developed websites”? What would you think if I told you that?
Dominic: I think that’s . . .
Andrew: Oh, we just lost the connection again. He’s coming in from I think the UK and the connection just keeps going in and out. No wonder you want to open up a local office. Sorry. What were you going to say? You think what?
Dominic: I think that’s a super-smart idea. There’s a lot of people out there that just want to get it straight to market without having to go through all the steps to get it. It sounds like a good idea.
Andrew: All right, good. I thought you were going to say, “Oh, it’s bullshit.” And then I said, “Well, let me show you something.” You know what? I actually I’ll be honest with you, I thought, “That’s BS. What they’re going to do is allow you to create some kind of interoperability between different apps or maybe they’ll let you create really basic stuff.” No. They actually say, “Why do you need to learn to code? Most of what you’re doing is the same thing. Why don’t we just create these little elements that you can drag and drop and you can build your site?”
And when I interviewed the founder, I challenged him and I did a bunch of research, and it turns out there are a bunch of businesses that are built on Bubble. And if you look at Bubble’s website, and I’ll give people a link where they can actually see this, you can see it just makes sense, drag and drop the elements that you want.
For example, this guy, Dale Wilkinson, he said, “You know, I’ve got an idea. I want to allow people to find the right freelancers.” You know how freelance sites are growing. He said, “You know what? I need a way to create an MVP.” And so he went to Bubble and in a matter of weeks, he was able to create the whole thing himself and realize, “You know what? There is no limit to this.” The only limit that he has is his own imagination. Now the site is up and running. It is called Good Gigs. And it’s about how to find freelancers that will help you make an income impact on the world, you know, the do-gooders of the world, is what he’s trying to do.
And there are a bunch of other businesses that have done the same thing who’ve said, “Let me go see if I could build a small minimum viable product based on this thing, then I’ll have to outgrow it.” And they discover, “You know what? Actually, we can stick with this. This will grow with us. It won’t outgrow us. It’ll grow with us.
If anyone out there wants to go try this out, I urge you to go check out bubble.io/mixergy. When you go to bubble.io/mixergy, they will give you a discount on using it, but more than that, that URL will let you see how you can code without coding. They’ve got these little animations and screenshots that will show you how you can actually do this yourself right now and you’re going to see that there are thousands and thousands of people who are using Bubble right now to build their apps, full-on apps. Bubble.io/mixergy.
How did you create your first version? And what was in that minimum viable product, Dominic?
Dominic: It was a crude version of the first product that we had. So it was a minimum viable product where we hired an engineer and we were able to do a broader version than what we’re doing today. And bit by bit, we were able to develop it further and we were able to sell, more and more about what we were doing and get deeper and deeper close to the clients’ needs and grow those accounts.
Andrew: If I understand, I did some research on it and I couldn’t see the actual first version. But from what I understood, it would watch what searches people were typing in, look for specific type of keywords as triggers, and then trigger ads based on that. Not much more than that, right? You weren’t, like, really broad in the keywords that you were looking for and then the intent. It was just . . .
Dominic: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: . . . this keyword comes in, trigger that ad.
Dominic: Yeah. So, in the first version if somebody was typing in “flights to Paris,” we would keep it pretty broad as, okay, this person is intending to go to Paris. And that was a fairly limited first product, and now it’s a lot more complex. It’s developed a lot . . .
Andrew: So it was just flight to Paris. It wasn’t even flights anywhere.
Dominic: Yeah, it was flights . . . No, no, no. It was flights anywhere. But you just keep it as pretty much just that. Would see flights and would see Paris and that would be those two things that we focused on. Now, of course, that case is complicated because Paris Hilton can mean very different things, right? So, we . . .
Andrew: But did that matter to you, Dominic, because if somebody was going . . . So, the first publisher that you work with was a travel price comparison site.
Dominic: Yeah.
Andrew: No one was typing in Paris Hilton the woman into it.
Dominic: Well, we didn’t just have one site. We’ve had many sites, right? So we have . . .
Andrew: So you launched with a bunch of different publishing partners in the beginning.
Dominic: Well, we pick them up steadily . . . Sorry. We pick them up steadily as we’re growing and we’ve done large deals. So we’ve even got national telcos, right? So with certain data we have comes from also national portals, not just vertical-specific sites.
Andrew: Oh, okay.
Dominic: So, we see pretty much a view of what the whole country as is intent is and that’s coming from a broad range of sources.
Andrew: And this was for the first version you did that or did the first version just say, “Is somebody taking a flight? And if they are, let’s show them an ad for our first . . . ”
Dominic: Yeah. That’s pretty much what we did.
Andrew: That’s the first version.
Dominic: First version was that.
Andrew: How did you get Hilton as a client? How did you get Hilton to trust you?
Dominic: I already knew the . . . From my job in ad sales, I knew the guy that was running the account and he gave me a test.
Andrew: He said, “I’ll give you a shot. I’ll give you a budget.” How big of a budget are we talking about?
Dominic: It was about $50,000.
Andrew: Okay. And that’s not huge in the space, but it’s enough for you to go and prove it out. Then you got a publisher. What was your deal with the publishers? What did you give the publishers in exchange for doing this with you?
Dominic: We pay them the revenue share. So we paid them a split of the advertising. So, yeah. And we found that with publishers all over the web, all over the world, and that’s how we build up some of the business up.
Andrew: And then where did you place the ads? What network did you use?
Dominic: We placed the ads basically wherever the consumer spend their time. So they might go on Wall Street Journal, they might go on, you know, whatever national newspapers and then when that consumer that has made a search on the price comparison site arrives on that newspaper or magazine, we will then sell it. So that’s my daughter is just . . .
Andrew: Yeah. I see that.
Dominic: And then we’ll bid on that consumer, and there’ll be many people bidding on that consumer normally to serve and answer them. And if we think that the consumer is relevant enough . . .
Andrew: Again.
Dominic: [Advertising 00:25:36] space to win it.
Andrew: If you deem the consumer is relative in enough, then you’ll do what?
Dominic: Then we will bid more for the advertising space than the people [inaudible 00:25:47]
Andrew: Got it. But I assume that you’re working with a network to reach all these different publishers where you are running ads. No?
Dominic: Yes. So we basically, in the real-time ad market you can . . .
Andrew: Got it.
Dominic: There’s basically sources that have all the supply plugged in.
Andrew: Which ad market did you use to do that?
Dominic: We used a platform called AppNexus which was just sold to AT&T last year.
Andrew: By the way, you’re running a 60 plus million dollar a year business from your home where your daughter can just come in and say, “Daddy.” But don’t you get distracted? I would just go and play with my kid if I were you.
Dominic: I don’t run it from my home. I just happen to be at home right now.
Andrew: Got it. What time is it where you are?
Dominic: It’s 6:45. It’s 6:45 p.m.
Andrew: Do you want to go talk to your daughter?
Dominic: In a minute.
Andrew: Come on, Andrew, let’s go. Sixty million-plus. What percentage of that is what you keep and what . . . Like, what percentage of that is you basically taking money from the advertisers and passing it to the publishers?
Dominic: Well, that’s a great question. I mean, we . . . Well, we don’t share our margins.
Andrew: Give me a rough idea of it. Is it that you really keep $6 million and that’s what you get to run your business from? Is it a 10th? Because a large chunk of it goes to the publishers and all these different places?
Dominic: Well, it varies. It varies based off the type of campaign that we’re running and what publishers were running and we have different agreements with everybody. So, yeah. And we provide value to both sides of the equation and the amount of value sets how much margin we make, ultimately. So if we provide 2X on an ad campaign what they would normally be getting, then that gives you a rough idea of what our margin might be. If we’re only providing a small increment, then that’s what our margin will be. So, it’s set by the value that we create. And it’s the same for the insights in general.
Andrew: It’s based on how much more you grow for them, grow their sales because of . . .
Dominic: Our margin is effectively generated by the value that we create on an ad campaign.
Andrew: What do you mean by value? How do you measure value?
Dominic: Ultimately, clients tell us the results of the campaign and we can see in real-time how much performance that were generated on that campaign. And the price is ultimately set by what clients are willing to pay for what they get. So either ad campaigns or insights. We have many different products. We’re not just one product anymore. We have many different products. And the value that we create is how the margin . . . That’s the margin that we make.
Andrew: After you got Hilton, did you start using that name to go get other customers?
Dominic: Of course.
Andrew: How?
Dominic: They gave us their permission and we went and told people that were working with clients like Hilton.
Andrew: How did you get the other customers? Did you go back to your previous company, your previous connections and start selling to them?
Dominic: Maybe a few. But we were selling to quite different types of people than I’d been selling to before. I wasn’t working with Hilton in my previous company, but I knew the guy that was now buying for it, which is helpful. And then we focus first on the travel vertical because we had one Hilton and then we could go pick up other clients like Hilton. And we still do the same thing today. Today we’re working with about 800 different brands, the world biggest brands from Amazon to Disney to everyone.
Andrew: At what point did you start to bring in more professionals to sell, to code? How much sales did you get to when it was just the two of you and an outside developer?
Dominic: We hired a couple of interns from day one. And that team is still with us today after eight years.
Andrew: Wow.
Dominic: They are now senior of the business and they’ve done a phenomenal job of growing it. So we had us two and four interns and that was the team for the first year.
Andrew: And that’s what got you to 1.6 million and then you raised money?
Dominic: Sorry. Let me just . . .
Andrew: Oh, there she is. You know what? Why don’t I do my second ad while you help her? Okay. He’s closing the door. That is one of the reasons why I can’t work from home. Every once in a while I have a good day working from home and I think why don’t I do this more often, and I realized I’d be a sucker. I would just get up and go.
Dominic: Yeah. It’s very hard.
Andrew: It’s really hard.
Dominic: But I’m not normally doing a video interview in the evening.
Andrew: Well, thanks for doing this one.
Dominic: You’re welcome.
Andrew: So you got to $1.6 million just you guys and the interns. Then did you raise money?
Dominic: Yeah, then we raised money. We raised a couple of million, then we started building the team. We brought in engineering, we brought in products, we brought in [inaudible 00:30:35].
Andrew: You brought in engineering, you brought in product, you brought a few more people, you were starting to say? Wow, this is . . . I’m so glad that you’re recording your version. I hope that that’s the one that we end up publishing.
Dominic: I think it’s got worse now.
Andrew: Yeah.
Dominic: So, I think mine just got worse since the door is shut.
Andrew: We can keep going.
Dominic: So what was the question? Sorry.
Andrew: So, it was . . . And a few developers, a few salespeople. And from what I understand, Dominic, it seems like the idea even in its basic form just worked, that if you get a little bit of intent from people, it makes the ads that much more relevant and it boosts their conversion rates dramatically. Right?
Dominic: That’s correct.
Andrew: So even that basic thing that you mentioned earlier, is somebody looking for a flight? If that’s all you’ve got, that’s a significant improvement over what was there before.
Dominic: That’s correct. Yeah.
Andrew: Okay. And then you started to invest in marketing. Before we get into the full investment in marketing, what was the name of the company when you first launched it?
Dominic: Forward Digital.
Andrew: Forward Digital.
Dominic: Yeah.
Andrew: Okay.
Dominic: And that’s when we didn’t know what we were going to be yet. So, we had a fairly generic name, and then we got a legal letter from a company called Forward who had the trademark on the word forward and we freaked out for about two weeks and didn’t sleep for two weeks thinking it was the end of the company, and . . .
Andrew: Because of the name.
Dominic: Yeah, because we hadn’t changed our name. We were like two years into the business. So, it was a really, really worrying moment and ended up being one of the best things that ever happened because we ended . . .
Andrew: What did they do? What does Forward Digital do?
Dominic: They were a marketing agency. I didn’t know what they were doing exactly, but . . .
Andrew: I got it. So, you’re doing something close enough to them. Oh, I see. Forward Digital Consulting. Is that it?
Dominic: It was just called Forward Internet Group.
Andrew: Oh, man, there’s so many companies called Forward something. Forward Internet Group. And you eventually . . . Like, you didn’t fight them.
Dominic: And they’re quite big. They’re quite big business and they’re quite successful business and that was the issue for us. So we didn’t have the resources to fight them.
Andrew: And so instead of fighting them you said, “All right. Let’s change our name.” How did it go over after you changed your name? Big deal afterwards or not?
Dominic: It was a very stressful moment. We just literally came out with this name and we went with it. And we told the team the next day, “Hey guys, we’re now called Captify. Change what you’re doing.” We were dreading this. And the team just got on with it. They called it a new name and a lot of our clients were like, “Oh yeah, that’s a much better name.”
Andrew: I agree. I feel like Forward Digital just sounds a little too generic. Captify seems more like something you can own, a brand.
Dominic: Yeah. We created our own brand and then we got a worldwide trademark and so we were a [new 00:33:30] brand.
Andrew: So, no one else is coming after you. But as you were growing, the first thing you did was get salespeople who were going to start to make calls. I’m imagining that those salespeople were already in the business and they could reach out to people they’d work with before and bring them onto your platform. Am I right?
Dominic: Yeah. That’s exactly what happened.
Andrew: That seems like this standard way to work. And then you decided, “You know what? It’s not enough to just have these people go call out. We want to do marketing.” What do you mean by marketing?
Dominic: Well, marketing for us consists of, we run different events, we have to get our company and our message across to the right types of buyers and the right types of brands. So we run a huge event in Cannes Lions every year. We do all sorts of different things from PR through to account-based marketing where we work thoroughly with one brand on creating a white paper. Lots of different things. But it ultimately is all designed to increase awareness of the business and drive new business for the company.
Andrew: How do you measure that? How do you go from being a person who’s just all about measuring and showing results and getting paid on results to doing marketing where it’s not as easy?
Dominic: It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult. So if we run an event, it’s very difficult . . . If you run an event like we do it Cannes Lions where we have a couple of thousand people to our villa, it’s very, very difficult to measure what the ROI from that is.
Andrew: And by the way, I’ve heard about these events. Can you describe it?
Dominic: We have this huge mansion in . . . Cannes Lions is the big festival creativity in South of France. And we hire a huge mansion and we have a stage set up there where we have content running all day and then we have a big party at the pool and everybody comes off the Croisette and comes and spends time with their industry colleagues and it’s really fantastic day. There’s a lot of work for us, but it’s a fantastic day out for the industry.
Andrew: Super posh event from what I’ve heard.
Dominic: Well, it’s very South of France.
Andrew: Yeah. Which is the whole thing is very posh. When we see celebrities out and in Cannes, that’s the event that they’re go to.
Dominic: Yeah. It’s quite . . . Yeah. I mean, it’s a little less flashy than something like the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a little bit more advertising based than . . .
Andrew: Oh, I see. Got it. Got it. I see the difference now. Okay. That helps me. Got it. And so you do this . . . The reason that I brought this up was I think I heard that you hired the guy who worked at TiVo, the guy who ran TiVo for a decade. And as a joke, he said, “Well, I didn’t just join for the party,” because the party is so well-known apparently that he had to address that.
Dominic: Yeah, that was funny. Yeah.
Andrew: And so you guys are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on that party and you don’t know, is it working or not? Do you sit down and say, “How many people do you guys sell? How many people did you meet? Then, did you close any of those sales?” Do you do any of that?
Dominic: We do. Yeah. We track everything as much as we possibly can. And we run various different things in parallel as well. So when we do an event like that we have the big event, but then we have lots of other things that come off that we’re focusing on. It can be PR engagements, it can be specific client workshops that we do. So we do a range of things.
Andrew: Okay. Let me take a moment to talk about my second . . .
Dominic: . . . big event and then hope is not around it. We often had a lot of . . .
Andrew: I’ll talk about my second sponsor and then we’ll talk about how you figured out what other products to come up with after that first one. So, the second sponsor is a company called Toptal, Dominic. Dominic, if you’re ever looking to hire developers, and I know that you are, one of the things that you know to do is you start to place some ads, you start asking people who they know, sometimes you even give points and pay money to people who are on your team who make referrals.
Basically, that’s the thing that’s been working for years and years and years, but it takes a long time to work. And it’s a lot of resumes to go through. And at that point, while you’ve distracted yourself from your business by spending time going to hire.
What Toptal said is, “You know what? We’re going to create these contests. We’re going to create these contests. We’re going to create this whole process of hiring, and then when we have somebody go through it, they’re going to be in our network.” And then when you’re looking to hire, Dominic, or when I’m looking to hire and I have through them, all I do is I go to them, I talked to a matcher, a matcher will understand you, Dominic, say, “What hours are you working? How do you work? What’s the way you communicate? What languages do you need? What do you need?”
And so you might say something like, “You know what? We’re going to go into voice technology. We’re seeing that people are putting these voice devices in their houses. We have this idea of putting voice on web apps.” And they’ll say, “You know what? We have somebody who’s done that exact same thing. In fact, we have a team of people who’ve done it.”
You can hire the whole team. They can often get started within days. The team starts working you, Dominic, they build for you with your current team. If you don’t like it, the guys go away. If you do like it, you don’t even have to continue to work with them. You could say . . . You can go back to Toptal, just transfer all of this stuff to our team, make sure that our team knows how to run with it and build and grow.
So that’s the way that Toptal works. They already have the people, you just contract out with them, they will bring them on really fast. If you’re happy, you can continue to work with them. If you’re not happy, they won’t even make you pay. In fact, if you go to toptal.com/mixergy, you’re going to get your first 80 hours of Top . . . Wait. You’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit after you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period. Guys, that URL is top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, toptal.com/mixergy, toptal.com/mixergy.
One of the things that I love now as I’m traveling the world, I’m seeing people who work at Toptal, and they love to have a diverse team all over the world and they hate the people who just don’t know the company, don’t know the brand. And there’s one woman, Stef, who I saw in Bali, she’s living in Bali, she’s working with clients in Bali, and says, “Andrew, people don’t know our brand. I’m so glad that you’re out there telling them about the work that I do. You’re helping me do my job.” So I’m happy to work with them.
Dominic, what do you think of that? I’m looking at your smile, I’m trying to read you. Don’t hold back.
Dominic: I’m all for making it easy to hire developers. That’s for sure. It’s never an easy task. There’s a lot of demand for good developers.
Andrew: Were you the one who hired salespeople and your co-founder hired developers, or how did you break that down?
Dominic: Together we hired one developer, and then he hired the rest.
Andrew: Okay. Adam Ludwin. That’s his name. What’s Adam’s strength? I think he’s called the Chief Visionary Officer. Am I right?
Dominic: Yeah. So, Adam and I, we’re kind of the yin and yang of the business. So I’ll do the product vision and the sales and Adam does the operational infrastructure of things and he’s very focused on the core operational delivery of the business.
Andrew: And so one of the things that you decided that you needed to do was say, “If we’re going to grow to hit our ambition, I can’t have a founder company where everything comes to me. It’s got to be more managers. It’s got to be more executives.” How did you make that transition? What was it that you went through? You just had an easy leap. Or is it?
Dominic: Yeah. It’s very challenging. I mean, it’s challenging scaling a business, full stop, in terms of people, and you encounter many different problems as you do it, problems that you never knew existed until you do it. So going from 50 to 150 is a huge difference. You can no longer just speak to everybody. You have to have everybody else communicating effectively and correctly. And we also learned a lot about hiring and we made a lot of mistakes in the early days, hired the wrong people . . .
Andrew: What’s the mistake that you made? What’s a process mistake that you made that led to hiring the wrong people? And then I want to get to what works for you because I was looking at Glassdoor, you guys have good Glassdoor ratings. So what’s the mistake that you made in the beginning as you marched on towards this approach that’s working?
Dominic: So, probably the biggest mistake was hiring somebody based off their CV rather than your gut feeling. And that’s something that we no longer do. We still do one-on-ones . . .
Andrew: So you saw that they didn’t what you were hiring for. And what did you see on their CV, on their resume?
Dominic: Well, you can see on their resume that they’ve worked at previous companies that are highly relevant, so you think, “Oh, this is perfect. This is exactly what we’re looking for.” Rather than, you know, actually, is this the right person? And often you’ll find that people have got great backgrounds in there, but they’re just not the right person for your business. You got to look at cultural fit, you got to look at specific skill set. You got to really define the job description before you hire them so to know if they’ve got the right skill set to attack that job description, otherwise, it can take an awful long time to unravel it.
Andrew: How did you know what your culture was in the beginning so that you can hire for the culture? Was it one of those things that you sat down and went through an exercise to understand it?
Dominic: No, not at all. It just came naturally from those five people I told you about, those first interns that we had, you know, they’re still with us today. They just naturally have that in them. So, they all cared a lot about the business, they’re very passionate, hardworking, good fun as well. So, the culture came from the relationship that we all had together as a team and the fact that we’re still together has been core . . .
Andrew: Wait. Good fun and hard working. That doesn’t seem like a culture. That seems like something you’d want from everybody. That seems a little too general. How did you get more specific?
Dominic: Well, I mean, I think that those two things are important, but I think that the number one thing is caring about the business and caring about your career and putting everything you’ve got into it and not just turning up for a day of work. They were very good at collaborating, they were very good at sharing with each other and helping each other out, and that was key to our culture. They also had no fear in trying things [inaudible 00:43:08] and also very ambitious for the business and always believed that we could do more.
Andrew: What’s the scoring system that now guides your company?
Dominic: We have ways of scoring people of how they live up to the values and we have scoring systems based off performance. So there’s metrics for everything in the company.
Andrew: And so a salesperson would have metrics based on closing sales or having conversations or what?
Dominic: We have different compensations for different departments and for different countries. We leave that down to really the heads of each country of how they want to play it. But yeah, we have ones where it’s down to new business versus existing, overall revenue numbers. We have people who have goals based off staff retention, based off all sorts of different things. There’s many different metrics that are used . . .
Andrew: This is based on the book “Who” by Geoff Smart?
Dominic: I’m sorry.
Andrew: This is based on the book “Who” by Geoff Smart, the scorecard?
Dominic: No.
Andrew: No?
Dominic: No, no. We just made it up ourselves.
Andrew: You made it up yourself. You decided everybody needs to have some kind of score so that they know whether they’re doing a good job and how well they’re doing, and that way we can also make sure that as the company grows, we can evaluate everybody.
Dominic: Yeah. And you can incentivize everybody in an appropriate way. Everybody . . .
Andrew: You know what? The connection just keeps . . .
Dominic: . . . and helps us identify help to improve. I know. Sorry. Do you know what? Let me . . . I switch to my phone to try and . . .
Andrew: Well, let me close it out with one last question here. I’ve been talking about different products and I know that one of the one you’re especially proud of his voice. How did you come up with the voice and what is voice doing for you guys now?
Dominic: Well, consumers are changing the way that they operate machines. And voices are new way that consumers are operating machines. And as such, consumer search behavior is drastically changing. By next year they reckon that and I think is Econsultancy, eMarketer reckons that 50% of all searches are going to be voice. And we’re search in this business. We want to understand consumer intent and how they’re doing it in all the ways that they do it and . . .
Andrew: But where are people doing this? So I use Siri all the time. I will say, “Siri, where’s my wife?” I’ll say, “Hey, Siri, send a text message to my wife.” No doubt. I do it on my watch, I do it in my earbuds there. Nobody ever does it. And whenever people see me do it, they all act like I’m a freak. Where are you seeing that people are actually searching beyond their home smart speakers? I’d love for this data to be true. I just don’t see it.
Dominic: Yeah. Maybe not. That’s why we create it.
Andrew: So what you’re saying is at some point in the future is going to be 60%. Now it feels like it’s close to zero, but Google keeps putting out data showing that it’s high percentage of people who are searching using voice.
Dominic: Well, I think it depends what you classify as a search, but they’re certainly calling voice commands searches. There is a huge amount that is happening. Consumer . . .
Andrew: Meaning through the assistant, not just somebody going to Google hitting that microphone that nobody even notices and say . . . Got it. So you say . . .
Dominic: People have it in Alexa and Google Home.
Andrew: Okay. And so you’re seeing that in the future people will be doing searches even on Shopify stores, even where? Even when I go to Expedia, I’ll be doing a search here, you’re imagining?
Dominic: Yes, with their voice. Absolutely. And that’s what we’ve developed. Rolling this out now across the publisher base and consumers are going to be able to navigate with that voice through the transaction.
Andrew: And so the idea is, “Look, we’re already watching what’s happening in the search. Why don’t we make the search better and then also understand the intent to start playing ads, running ads throughout the internet?” Is that right?
Dominic: This product actually for us has nothing to do with ads. It’s to deal with revolutionizing the way that consumers search. We’re not actually in advertising business. We’re a search intelligence business. And it’s down to what we can do with consumers’ intent, and advertising is one way that brands and companies can interact with consumer intent. But consumer intent for us and the way that consumers search with their voice is changing. We want to be part of that change. We want our technology to enable consumers to search in a different way that is more effective than typing something in. We want to give them a . . . We want to give them a brilliant customer experience that keeps them in contact with the brand that they are on. So what this is doing is protecting brands against Amazon and it’s enabling them to provide a great customer experience . . .
Andrew: Because we’d be able to a search.
Dominic: Yes, exactly.
Andrew: Okay. How did you decide that you were going to not be an advertising company but be a search intelligence company? I would feel like money is in the advertising, you’re doing it well, let’s stick with that, and that helps define what products you create.
Dominic: Money is one way that you can . . . Money is one of the outputs that comes from search intent. Sorry. Advertising money is one of the outputs that comes from search intent. Other companies actually use us as well. So it’s not just advertising firms. We also have hedge funds who are trying to predict the market, who look at consumer behaviors across different products. You can use the insights to further your product development. So if you are a Samsung and you want to understand the way that consumers are looking for features around your phone, you can use that search data to improve your product development and your product marketing. So the insight side of the business which has actually led the way now for the company over the last few years is one of the examples of how our companies evolve.
Andrew: Okay. This is interesting. If I’m on Ahrefs, usually I do, like, a search to see what kind of content you’re using. I think I’m getting a sense of who’s using you guys. Like, Vogue I think is using you guys, royalmail.com is using you guys. You probably don’t even have a list of all these different publishers. Interesting. The Ryder Cup, I guess, is using you guys. I don’t know. We’re talking about a really broad collection of sites. I just kept thinking of nothing but the only place where I really think about doing search other than Google is when I’m looking for hotels. It’s way broader than that. All those search boxes you guys are managing.
Dominic: Yeah. You’ve got e-commerce, you’ve got review sites, you have price comparison sites, we have news sites, we have magazines, we have actual portals.
Andrew: Do you think they’ll be able to help with the search on my site at some point. Will there be a WordPress plugin I could put on my site and make it easy for people to find interviews? That would be really hot. We use this company that . . .
Dominic: [inaudible 00:49:38].
Andrew: You would. How far away is that?
Dominic: Well, you can work with our publishers solutions team now if you’d like to look at ways to monetize your search data or if you want to put voice search on your domain or in your app, then we can . . .
Andrew: I just want to make it easy for people to find my stuff. Everything else is a nice bonus, but you’re saying I could reach out at my level and say, “Search stinks.” It’s better than it used to be, but we need to get way better. People need to say, “I want to find a B2B entrepreneur,” because they’re in B2B and then just find it, an enterprise sales company and find it. You guys would be able to do that?
Dominic: Well, it depends where you’re talking about this happening. But we . . .
Andrew: On our site. They come into our search bar, they start looking for something and . . .
Dominic: Yeah, absolutely, with their voice, so they can actually just say it and they’ll go to it.
Andrew: But whether they say it or type it, they will actually do whatever. They’re just really desperate to find a company like theirs, an entrepreneur like theirs. Your people, if I just go onto your site right now, what do I do? I hit the Contact, I tell them what I’m looking for, they might have something today? This isn’t a coming-soon type of thing? I’m looking at the site right now. Let me see. If I go to Technologies, go to Culture. You’ll get in touch.
Dominic: I don’t know exactly what the question is, but . . .
Andrew: Oh, sorry. The question is, can I have your team put it on my site today and make my search better today or is this a coming-soon thing?
Dominic: If you want to put [voice 00:50:59] search on, then yes, it’ll make your search better. If you want to just continue with the text-based search service, that’s not what we do. So, we can help you . . .
Andrew: Got it.
Dominic: We can help you monetize that.
Andrew: And then the search is intelligent. It’s actually . . . If somebody says, “I want to find an enterprise sales company,” your software will let them find it. Yes.
Dominic: Absolutely, yeah. And we have . . . We understand the context around the way that somebody is searching. We have natural language processing that enables us to really understand the details of what you’re getting at. So you can say that you’re looking for a dress for a wedding or you can talk about how you’re getting married and identify with your guests or with your subject to the wedding. So we have a very intelligent search technology which is all part of our new voice search technology.
Andrew: All right. I’m doing it right now. I’m on. So, it’s captify.co.uk.
Dominic: Or .us.
Andrew: Or should I do captify.co.us?
Dominic: Captify.us.
Andrew: Oh, captify.us.
Dominic: And that’s just our website for our company.
Andrew: Got it. So I’m going to captify.us. I’m going to go to the Get in Touch button and I’m going to say, “I would like to add voice search to my site,” and we’ll see if we can add it on. I would like that. All right. Cool. That’d be hot. Imagine somebody could just come to my site and search by voice? I wonder if people would even do it. I do it all the time. It is the future. I don’t know why people just don’t do it, especially developers and smart people who are into . . . Why are you not using voice to dictate your text messages? Why are you not using voice to find your wife? It’s so helpful.
All right. I’m done with this interview. I’ve already gone a little bit over. So it’s captify.us for anyone who wants to check it out. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re looking to hire developers anywhere in the world, go check out toptal.com/mixergy. The second, if you’re somebody who wants to develop without coding, just go give it a shot, see what it’s like. It’s like the early days of publishing online when it used to be a freaky thing to go and install WordPress and go publish without having to create your own publishing platform, then WordPress came out and said, “You know what? You don’t have to code in order to publish.” These guys are saying, “You don’t have to code in order to create a web app or other apps.” Go check out bubble.io/mixergy. I’m so proud that we got these sponsors. I’m especially excited about what you guys are going to build with bubble.io/mixergy. All right. Dominic, thanks so much.
Dominic: Thank you, Andrew. It was pretty clean.
Andrew: All right. See you. Bye.
Dominic: Take care.


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