CLATE MASK | Keap, SaaS trends, $100 million revenue and artificial intelligence
- 11 min read
Clate Mask Linkedin
CEO and Co-Founder of Keap, formerly Infusionsoft
– You received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. What changed in your life? Why did you decide to stop and become interested in entrepreneurship? Did you have the aim of starting this business when you were a student?
C: I’ve always loved entrepreneurship. But I went to college, I got a law degree and an MBA and I had a big student debt. And I decided that I can probably pay off my student debt faster by working in my own business than I can by working for someone else and getting a paycheck. So I joined up with my wife’s two younger brothers.
We started building this software company 18 years ago. And for three years it was the hardest thing I could possibly imagine. Every day was a fight for survival. We didn’t have money, investor or any savings. We just had to work hard every day to try to pay the bills and make things work.
– Being an entrepreneur means to be a firefighter. So besides your business, you worked as an employee and maybe you can share some experience. Why did you decide to leave this job and create your own company?
C: I always wanted to start my own business, but because of a big student debt, I felt like “Oh, the better path is to have a good secure job and pay down my debt. And then at some point I would go start a business”. But sometimes that’s not how life works.
It happened that I had left one job. I told them I was going to leave. I was going to look for a new job. And that was right at the time, on September 11th, and those companies, that I was looking for a job at, just stopped hiring. So I was in this funny situation where I had planned to leave my existing company and I had told them that I was going to leave on January 1st and then September 11th hit.
And so by February I hadn’t found a new job and I started thinking that maybe it’s time for me to start my own thing. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I was kind of got pushed into this because of circumstances. And so I started working with my wife’s two younger brothers, and we began building this up for a company that now is known as Keap.
– You mentioned your first years were very difficult, but you also mentioned an issue regarding the money. Do you think money is the biggest problem for startups or no?
C: It would be easy to say that money’s the biggest problem, but it’s really not.
The biggest problem for startups is having the mental toughness to deal with everything that comes your way. When you’re starting a business, every day there are forces pushing against you. There are challenges.
You’re trying to find customers. When you get customers, they’re complaining because your products and services are not quite right yet. And if you have employees, they’re doing things you would never do and you’re frustrated with them. The problems just go on and on and you’re trying to make enough money to provide for yourself and your family. And you’re also dealing with all the different doubts, concerns, and fears that you have as an entrepreneur.
You have to have a mental toughness, a grit and a tenacity to just keep going through all of those hard things. It’s why we call the company “Keap”. Because number 1 ingredient for small business success, which is what we stand for, is perseverance to keep going, keep at it when things are hard. As my dad says: “Keep on keeping on”. You should keep going.
And I really believe that’s the biggest problem for entrepreneurs. We want to believe: “Oh, if I had money, then those problems would have been solved”. No, there are new problems. And I can tell you, having been through all the stages of entrepreneurship, money doesn’t solve the mental problem. You have to be on top of that mentally. And that never goes away. There are always new mental challenges. So I believe that is the key challenge entrepreneurs have to overcome.
– Do you think that the network, useful connections can replace the money at this point?
C: Sure. When you have a network and you have mentors, people who can help you, they help you process things and get out of your head and not beat yourself up too much. And you realize that you’re not alone and you see people who are successful and you hear their stories and you realize that it was really hard for them. They almost quit. What if they would’ve quit?
Because when you get right down to it, it’s just about not quitting. It’s about working and just keeping at it and finding a way through the challenges and your network, your mentors, the people you surround yourself are critical for helping you to have that perseverance to not quit.
– Let’s make a small step back and talk a little bit about Keap. What is its main idea? What is your uniqueness? The market is very competitive and there are really big players. So how you achieve your success? What do you do that no one else does?
C: Keap is CRM software, customer relationship management software. It helps our customers, manage their clients more effectively — find new customers, serve those customers, follow-up with those customers effectively. What we do really well is helping businesses get organized and follow-up with their prospects and customers and then automate as much of their daily work as possible. And when you get organized and you follow-up and you automate, you grow. And our job is to help small businesses grow. That’s what we do.
So what we do that’s different from others is we have an all-in-one solution that really focuses on follow-up and automation. And there are so many ways that small businesses stumble and fall because they don’t follow-up with prospects and customers. Because they don’t have enough time, and they don’t have a system for it. As a result, they don’t grow.
Every entrepreneur knows that all we need is more hours in a day. What drives entrepreneurs crazy is that they need more time to do everything they need to do. And things start to slip and they start to make mistakes. Then they start to feel like they can’t do this.
So what Keap does is like an assistant that just helps you to get a bunch of stuff done automatically so that an entrepreneur feels free to do the things that matter most.
– Does Keap help in any environment or only in a specific one?
C: Basically it helps you to follow-up in lots of different ways. You can integrate Keap with any platform or tool. The main thing that Keap does is helping you follow-up via email, text messages, keeping tasks and current so that things don’t slip through the cracks.
– I know that you are writing or have already written a book. What is it about and how much did you spend on it?
C: We’re in the process of doing a revised edition of the book we wrote 10 years ago. My co-founder and I wrote a book called Conquer the Chaos: How to grow a successful small business without going crazy. And that book is really about the mindset that you must have as an entrepreneur, as well as the systems that you must put in place. We talk about getting organized, following-up and automating. When you get buried by the day-to-day activities as an entrepreneur, the business doesn’t get the attention in the right areas and the business doesn’t grow. We focus so much on growth because when the business grows, the entrepreneur is able to do so much. They are able to hire, to go on the vacation they want to go on, to buy a new house or whatever it is.
When businesses grow, entrepreneurs are successful, and they can do really great things and are very generous. They create all kinds of good in the world. But sometimes small businesses don’t think about growing. They think they want to keep things just the way they are. But that’s not possible. That’s not the way business works.
If you’re staying still, you’re actually going backward because inflation rates and because your own life evolves, you need to buy new things and spend money on other things. So we really focus on growth because when small businesses grow, they are able to do great things in the world. The growth problem is that there are not enough hours in the day and the entrepreneur is trying to cover so many different things. And so you have to get a secret weapon on your side.
You have to get automation on your side. And that’s really what the book is all about. It’s about the mindset and the things you need to do in order to automate. And it’s a book we wrote 10 years ago. It’s the New York Times bestseller. Any entrepreneur, who is struggling and trying to get the business going should read the book. It’s a really good book to help you get out of your mind and realize what you need to do to be successful. And we’re doing a revised edition now. We’ll put that out probably about this time next year.
– Which books could you recommend for those, who start their business?
C: The one that I read years ago and that I love is called The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. It’s a great book for entrepreneurs, who are doubting and uncertain on whether or not they should keep going. That’s a really good book. Another book for entrepreneurs that I love is called the E-Myth, a book by Michael Gerber. That’s a really great one as well.
– What are SaaS trends in 2020?
C: I think the big thing that people talk about is artificial intelligence. I think that the intelligence of the software to know what needs to be done, to help out the user, guide the user. I certainly believe that it’s a big trend for us here at Keap. But I think that’s one big trend that people are paying attention to. I think another one is voice. I think there’s a lot happening with voice and because we do so much with our phones today. SaaS is more about our mobile app now than anything else. We use voice more and more in software.
– I am personally a big fan of artificial intelligence, but I think that the biggest problem in this market is a lack of data. The small companies usually don’t have enough capacity or money to buy this data or to educate the system with it. Do you think that AI will actually be the trend or startups will just say that they use it?
C: It’s a really great question. The data is the thing that makes AI really work and yet a lot of times, the business things are so specialized that you can’t necessarily go to a platform to get the data and have it work for your business. In some companies you can do that. But for small businesses in what we do, it’s very personalized. It’s one of the reasons why we do an all in one CRM system that has the CRM, the marketing, the sales, the payments, all of it in one solution. Because we can be much smarter in the software to recommend things to the customer. We have the data for the customer about their business.
– How to make a revenue of over 10 million in 2020?
C: The first thing I’ll say is that a lot of startups get so caught up in their product or service that they don’t sell effectively. They don’t sell aggressively enough. In the early days, you have to sell and you have to sell strong. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and sell hard. And when you have gaps in what you’re trying to deliver, you’ve got to double down in an over-deliver. Even when it might be inefficient to do that, you need to sell hard to get the customer to get the revenue and then to serve that customer effectively. Too often I see entrepreneurs who go out of business because they’re too shy. They are too bashful about selling, and they’re afraid of all the weaknesses and problems in their own product or service.
So the way they sell is like “I don’t know if maybe you want this, do you think you’d be interested?” No, you should sell hard, be convincing and persuasive. And then you have to stand behind that sale, and deliver for the customer. So the one thing I would say, that has nothing to do with 2020 or trends or anything, but I think it’s really important for entrepreneurs is selling hard. In terms of 2020, I think one of the big things for small businesses is being able to get leads that they can have conversations with. And I think using various sources to get leads so you can sell to your customers is going to be more and more important. Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be ignorant about how to get leads online.
It doesn’t matter if you are using Facebook and custom audiences to understand who your customer is, or other forms of social media or just simple pay per click advertising with Google Adwords. You have to know how to find your customers online. And it is worth investing in, to know how to find customers online. And then the next question is about how to speak to the prospective customer effectively in writing. Marketers call it a copywriting. But learning how to write to your prospective customer to persuade them to have a conversation with you is really important. So I guess if you ask me to name three things, they would be — sell, know how to find customers online and then know how to write copy to attract them and make them want to talk to you. Those are the skills that are worth investing in.
– Do you think that it is difficult to sell hard without having a strong personal brand?
C: You create a brand by selling well, so you sell from the beginning. When I was in the early days of our business, I was talking to my dad one day. It was 18 years ago. My dad asked how sales were going, since I was responsible for sales. I said that they are not going well. He said “Well, tell me what you do. Pretend like I’m one of your prospects.” So I acted like he was a prospect and I talked to him about our software services. And when we got down he said: “Okay, can I give you some feedback?” I said that I would like to hear it. And he said “You’re not selling! You’re just telling me a little bit about what you do. You have to tell me why I should buy it. Explain how my life is going to be better because I’m getting this product or service”.
And I started doing that and we started selling. A lot of people don’t want to go out on a limb and tell their customer how their life is going to improve. Their business is going to improve by getting the product or service. If you as the business owner don’t have that confidence, then you shouldn’t be in business. So sell or get out of business.