Sujan Patel On Extreme Sports, Customer Development & "Graduating" Customers To Competitors

In this interview Sujan Patel shares the growth strategy he's used to build 7 successful companies over the last decade. He also talks about his love for extreme sports, cars, burn out and brutal prioritization.

Sujan Patel Interview

Sujan Patel is founder and CEO of digital agency Web Profits, and has founded numerous software companies including Mailshake, Narrow and Quuu. You can follow him on Twitter at @sujanpatel.

In this interview Sujan shares the underlying marketing and customer feedback strategies he’s used to build two marketing agencies (Web Profits and SingleGrain) and five software companies as a founder. He’s also applied these same growth strategies to his agency clients which have included Salesforce, Intuit, Warby Parker and LinkedIn.

He also talks about his love for extreme sports, cars, burn out and brutal prioritization.

Audio Version

Interview Transcript

Christie: Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Sujan Patel. And he is the co-founder of Web Profits, it’s a growth marketing agency that helps companies leverage the latest and greatest marketing strategy to fuel their business. He has a tonne of internet marketing experience. And you’re gonna find out what a fascinating guy that he really is. Welcome, Sujan, how are you?

Sujan: Great, thank you for having me.

Christie: Yes. And I have to tell you, off the bat, and tell everybody who’s watching this that you are probably one of the most fascinating people I have ever learned about. You are quite the thrill seeker in your spare time.

Sujan: Yeah.

Christie: Almost like an extreme sportsman it would seem.

Sujan: Yeah, I think, I try to keep things very interesting. A lot of people on their downtime they relax and hang out and mellow down to prepare for the work week, or what’s ahead. I usually do the opposite. I go … My personal life, I go skydiving and I race cars and whatnot to … I turn it up 10 notches and that’s how I get my energy.

Christie: So you turn it up and that’s your way of winding down?

Sujan: I guess so.

Christie: Is that how you approach your businesses?

Sujan: Yeah, I think … I mean, I’m always looking at things … Business is a little bit more … I’m putting more, I guess [inaudible] thought, thought around where the levers are to grow, and what things need to be done, but I generally put in a 105% or 0% with everything I do.

Christie: All or nothing.

Sujan: Yeah, it’s a light switch.

Christie: Wow, that’s quite the … I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that from anybody before. Well, one thing I also read about you that’s very interesting, before we get into your businesses and your obsession with your customers, you have on your website, sujanpatel.com, it says that you pretty much mastered an 80 hour work week. But, before we started this interview, you shared with me that you have shaved that down to about 30 hours a week. How did it go from 80 to 30? You shaved 50 hours off of your work week. Now, those of us that are entrepreneurs, start up founders, all this, we know about putting the grind in, and some of us never sleep. So how? How did you ramp that down?

Sujan: So let me back up a step and … So I run Web Profits, [inaudible] but I also run another company called Ramp Ventures, and combined, we have seven businesses within all of those. So all those two brands. And so there’s a lot of different moving parts. On the agency side we’re profit, we have lots of different clients, different needs and lots of things going on, and then on the Ramp Ventures, we have a handful of SaaS businesses that we need to grow. So it’s almost pulling me in different directions so 80 hours came from the necessity of just, I need to put in time. And it’s 80 hours throughout six days a week, so I usually work like a half day on Sundays, and that’s my admin day, or sometimes it’s my thinking day where I’m essentially gonna be doing my … I do a lot of talks and travel for that. So that’s my me time, and then sometimes it’s like I’ve got 50 chores to do, like chores for the business. Pay these invoices, follow up on this, and follow up on that and what have you.

So those are the Sunday’s I spend distraction free, but how I’ve shaved, really, 50 hours off my day, or week, 50 hours in a day, that’s crazy.

Christie: Yeah, real crazy.

Sujan: 50 hours in a week. What I essentially did was I looked at, I do this thing called The Purge, so every six months, I make a list of everything I’m doing. And I’ve been doing this for the last two years. And it’s been helping me take things off my plate. I look at everything I’m doing and I imagine the ROI it’s providing. And some cases it’s me, like my personal brand, the talks, the videos, the content I create. Is it helping me? What’s the intention, what’s the goal? I’m literally writing down everything. And I write this down, I actually update this list throughout the months, so it’s live. And then one day every six months, I look at it and I pretty much purge the things that I … or stop doing the things that don’t move the needle for me.

And I’ve found is, every six months, I wipe out a bunch of stuff, and I’m carefree for a month, and then slowly but surely, things get back on the plate, sneak in. Not the same things, but, and at the end of the day I’m end up busy again. And so, then I repeat that exercise. So this last time around, one, what I did was, I look at … I made a list of everything I do, and I looked at the ROI first, and then I ask myself what are the things that I absolutely have to do? What are things that somebody else can do? And then what I started to do was, I turned that list into job descriptions. Not necessarily the whole job description, just the responsibilities section. And I made one job description. I’m like, whoa, that’s an impossible hire. That’s like a personal assistant, that’s a marketing manager, that’s a customer support person, customer success person. ‘Cause I talk to a lot of customers and I spend quite a bit of time doing that.

And so I was like, I just put the roles up, right? And so, now we have a full time customer support person, a full time content marketing manager, ’cause we create so much content, and we … I’ve realised I’m gonna be continuing to wear the customer success hat for a while, until I can maybe afford to hire somebody. In this case it was in the budget that permitted it, or until we have a full time need for it. So I’m doing like three roles right now. I run my personal brand, which is in charge of creating all the content. But I have an assistant now that does my research for me, does the pre … the research to figure out what topics to write about, what to do. They also do all the content promotion.

The other hat I wear is I’m this … the managing director of two different businesses. I can’t outsource that, I gotta keep doing that. The third thing is that customer success role, and I can eventually offload that. So now I only work about 50 hours … Sorry, 30 hours a week, five days roughly a day … Sorry, five hours a day.

Christie: Five hours a day. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sujan: Yeah. You know what I realised is that I spent a lot of time just sitting at my computer with low energy trying to do something.

Christie: Yes.

Sujan: Like three hours trying to write a blog post, when I could have cranked it out at my normal speed at 30, 40 minutes. And it was just because I was tired. So I don’t work between the hours of 2:30 to 5.

Christie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sujan: Or, because I have really low energy, so I replace that with client calls, or I replace that with calls or exercise, and that exercise brings me back up. And so I end my work day really early, but I make up for it, because every night before bed I put in 45 minutes to an hour, because that’s high concentration time, no distraction, and although I work five hours a day, it sounds like I’m just twiddling my thumbs half the day.

Christie: No, no. Not at all.

Sujan: And I actually wake up at 6, and I get most of my stuff done before and after work hours, and during work hours, that’s my time to manage my team, to conduct client calls, because we talk to clients and sales calls and what have you. Oh yeah, I hired a salesperson, because they’re better at sales than me. So these are things I just offloaded because things get done better when it’s not just me doing five roles.

Christie: Right. Well, I’m telling you, you have probably inspired a whole slew of people who will possibly look at this, I mean, seriously, because when you’re in startup mode, when it’s your baby, when you have these businesses that you tend to go all in and feel like you have to do everything, or not realising the value in delegation, and I get probably budgets and all that stuff come in, but you probably get a better ROI splitting that up amongst a whole bunch of people instead of stretching yourself amazingly thin, and I mean, if you’re stretching yourself out, I mean, how can you race cars and jump out of aeroplanes  if you’re completely dog tired after working 80 hours a week, right?

Sujan: Exactly.

Christie: You gotta have the time to enjoy life.

Sujan: Exactly. And actually on Fridays, I work from the racetrack, so …

Christie: Oh my gosh.

Sujan: We have this clubhouse, it’s awesome. I have the luxury of having, I live in Austin, so there’s this … There’s a racetrack, and a skydiving place within a mile or two of each other. And there’s a clubhouse that I literally it has really great internet, no people, ’cause who goes to the track on Friday?

Christie: Who goes to the track in the middle of the day?

Sujan: And I just work for a few hours, and then blow some steam for 15, 20 minutes. Yeah.

Christie: That is so awesome. Well, okay. Everybody watching this, take notes, because this is some great entrepreneurial living advice. So let’s … Back on track.

Sujan: Alright.

Christie: Let’s talk about web profits and ramp ventures. These are in essence, growth marketing companies, is that safe to say for both of those?

Sujan: Yeah, so the agency Web Profits is a service based business where we help companies grow, and then the SaaS businesses are growth tool. So they’re self service … you might wanna do something yourself, what have you. And these businesses came from … I’ve been doing this for 14 years, I’ve been doing marketing for a long time. And a lot of people need help. And that’s wear Web Profits came from, and on the tools, a lot of people need help, but they need tools to do it, and they don’t have the budgets … They might just want to do it themselves, and so we built tools for ourselves, originally, as internal tools, and as we started using them, building and expanding them, we realised well, people might want to buy these too, so we created them for the public, after we did some customer validation.

Christie: Excellent. What were you doing prior to starting Web Profits that made the light bulb go off to say, I need to do this on my own? Or what prompted you to start that business?

Sujan: Prior to Web Profits, I was Head of Marketing for a SaaS company in the SMB HR tech space. Helped them grow from one to 10 million annual revenue, and built that team, what have you. Did that for about two years, prior to that, I actually had another agency that I ran for I think, almost six years. Five, six years. And I swore off consulting, and I was like … After I sold the business, I’m like, I’m never doing this again, I hate this. Turns out, I was just burned out. So with Web Profits, we … While I was not doing the agency, I still continued to get lots of leads because I’d built up a good personal brand, a great reputation amongst my peers, until people still wanted to hire me.

And I realised, well I don’t have time and I’ve got something going on, and I worked at the SaaS business because I wanted to get my hands dirty in SaaS, I actually … As an agency, we go a lot of work with it, but when you actually do it for yourself, that’s when you really learn the ins and outs of things. So I strategically took a job so I can learn, and almost get my MBA in software. And so, I ended up leaving because, I gave myself five years to learn everything and then build the SaaS business, and what ended up … What I thought would be five years, turned into six months, and so on the side of my job, I would go home and … I ended up recruiting a developer to jump onboard with my idea, which is now what’s called [inaudible]. We’ve pivoted and learned a lot from our customers, a whole nother story. And on the side, I was doing these things, and actually … Then I was like, well I should probably, I need to put money in this, so I took on some consulting.

Cars and skydiving is quite expensive, I didn’t want to drop that. I took on a client or two to help front the bill for all of our development costs and SaaS company … All of the development. So I did this for a year, year and a half, and I realised well I’m not … even though my day job was growing, I’m over it. I’m ready to move on. And so what’s … The consulting turned into Web Profits, the SaaS business, one of them ended up turning into six, or actually now seven, which is crazy alone.

Christie: Very crazy.

Sujan: So we ended up growing, building two companies, mailshake.com and [inaudible]. That’s a Twitter automation tool. And then we ended up buying, we realised that, my partner and I realised that, oh wow, we’re actually really good at this stuff, but we’re really much better at growing businesses, like my background, I helped companies grow. But growing and owning that business, so Ramp Ventures now owns seven properties and we grow them and manage them. So that’s how everything came together, and Web Profits started as, I didn’t have any money. I couldn’t live without a job, well I could, but I’d have to dip into my car fund or my savings account, and I couldn’t do it without … The revenue wasn’t there. So we did consulting. And, again, because I’d get so many inquiries, it was like an obvious low hanging fruit to do that.

Christie: Right. But it seems that you enjoy it, though, which is good, it’s like, I think you turned a situation where you felt burnt out, maybe because of the way it was done previously, and you ended up spinning it in a sense to find a way that you enjoyed what you were doing, as well as to helping your customers.

Sujan: Absolutely. It was definitely through reflection and not doing it for two years that I realised, I was actually just doing it wrong. And my first business, Single Grain, which is the [inaudible] agency, which was oddly enough a competitor of Web Profits, right, so it’s funny to have a competitor. But anyways, I’ve learned through reflection that I didn’t … One, I had too many direct reports, didn’t build enough, like a management team. Two, I just … the business wasn’t structured in a way for me to be healthy, personally. It was too much stress, and things like that because a lot of the problems were sitting on my plate. And the cause goes back to the 80 hours a week. I was just not efficient because I had the role of a CFO, the role of a operations person, the role of customer, account management, the role of being a people manager all on one … And then I had to do, that’s not even my trade, my trade is marketing.

Christie: Right, right.

Sujan: I still had to do that, so there’s no place that we can pull that off, at least for a sustainable period of time.

Christie: Right. Well that’s good, that’s a remarkable story of how you turned something that you could have potentially just kicked to the curb because you hated it, into something that you now love and are sharing with multiple people in the world, and getting them to grow their companies just like you were able to grow yours.

So you have written about the need for companies to turn customers into brand advocates, and specifically it seems so important that you created a really well laid out customer advocacy playbook. So, that alone says that you are pretty into your customers. For Field Boom, we talk about customer obsessed companies, so in your words, what does customer obsessed mean to you? And how does that customer obsession help with turning these customers into brand advocates?

Sujan: Yeah. So I think the age old saying, “Your customers are your best way to grow.”, your best marketing channel, because they talk about it, they love … if they love the product, the service, the brand, they’re gonna spread the word, right? So it comes down to figuring out what can make your customers love you. That’s what I always … that’s my North Star metric when it comes to obsession of a customer.

So I look at … And, actually, it’s not actually about your product, your service, your offering, it’s also about the brand, the content … So you’re … A product can help solve a problem, maybe, if you do a good job. But a brand, a company can help educate, it can help inspire, motivate, solve their problems in a different way … And so I look at first and foremost, what are my customers problems? What are their challenges? And again, software service aside, I’m talking about what are their problems in their day to day? Their role? And so I’ll give you an example, Mail Shake.

When we built this thing … We pivoted over from a different model, we were doing a initially-

Christie: What is MailShake, just for those who might not understand?

Sujan: Yeah, for sure, that’s probably better to start there. So MailShake is a sales prospecting tool, it lets you send emails out, and it’s an email marketing tool that lets you send emails out and followup sequences and whatnot. And mostly for sales professionals.

Christie: Okay.

Sujan: We started off as a marketing tool. And I thought I was going to build something for marketers, which is, again, I’m a marketer, so I am the customer, and I know hundreds of marketers. So I was like, I’m just gonna build things for my friends. And so I talked to my friends, aka my customers, or potential customers, and thought about building something.

Fast forward a year and a half, we … turns out, it wasn’t a marketing tool, but the sales tool. Or, what was … our tool was really okay for marketers, but it was really great for salespeople. And we knew this by talking to our customers. We figured this out, but anybody who was very, very active, I asked them what they did, what they used the tool for. And this was not like this automated sequence or anything we did systematically, no, it was just me manually looking into our database, who’s the most active customers, and I’d ping them. It was, “Hey, you’re on a roll here, what are you doing?” And I thought it was marketing people, but it turned out, it’d be salespeople.

So I learned this even by making this mistake myself. What are my customers problems? So if I’m targeting salespeople, and they’re using the tool, what are their problems? Not with the tool, what are their problems in the space? So when we did, when we pivoted over from content marketer dot IO to Mail Shake, I spent nine months doing customer development, while my partner was going and building stuff. And so I talked to, I looked at all the customer reviews of our competitors, or who we thought are our competitors, and the space we want to get into. I looked at all the customer reviews of other tools our customers would use.

If you [inaudible] sales prospecting tools, you need to build your prospects list. So I looked at all that, the list building side. There’s companies that sell data, I looked at customers reviews there, I looked at … Once you start a conversation, you need a CRM, so I looked at that. I looked at sales operations people, and what do operations people have in managing things? And I found two big problems. It’s complex as hell, there’s just too many pieces, parts, whatever.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: Things can get really, really expensive. And so when we thought about that, we’re like, let’s just be the opposite of that. Simple and cheap. Right? And so that’s what strived for Mail Shake to do. Now, we looked at every, the whole space, the sales tech space, and like, well we can’t solve all of this stuff, let’s just solve the things that we’re really good at. And so Mail Shake, you’ll see us, we’re never gonna be the perfect solution, we’re never gonna be an all in one tool, we’re gonna do one thing and we’re gonna do it amazingly simple and make it easy to use. And that just comes from talking to customers, looking at what they’re complaining about, right, on the web, which is public, right.

Google, whatever company reviews, and you’ll find tonnes of reviews.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: Very, very simple.

Christie: That is a great strategy. And so far the first that I’ve heard of that where you actually go look at the review, which is smart. It’s like, you go, well duh.

Sujan: Yeah.

Christie: You know? That is the easiest way to build your product, what I like to call build a better mousetrap, ’cause that’s how I approach things sometimes. When I often try out a new app or something like that, that I like, I’m always looking for how it could be better, because I’m weird and no one app … Project management apps, I’m obsessed with them, but they never do exactly what I need them to do, so I’m always like, I love this, but it would be even more awesome if it did this. You know?

Sujan: Yeah.

Christie: So you were looking for those people that are giving that kind of feedback on something else, so that you can better mousetrap your own product, which is an amazing approach to … Listening to your own customers, but also listening to the customers of other people of your competitors, that’s pretty brilliant.

Sujan: Yeah, exactly. And again, when we did the research, we realised that this is actually, when I was talking to the customers before we pivoted, before we did the nine months of development, customer and product development, I started talking to some of our best customers, and they said the same thing. “Hey, we like your tool because I can give this to a new sales rep and they just figured it out, how to use it. I didn’t even have to do any training.” Awesome.

Christie: Minimal training, which is time …

Sujan: Exactly.

Christie: … is time back.

Sujan: Exactly. And so again, another reason, and we actually, we found there also things of what our tool doesn’t work, right? I could talk about all the great things all day long, but when our tool doesn’t work, it’s like, when we have a big sales team, when you need to integrate with a big [inaudible]. If you’re a large enterprise organisation, you have 20 people in your sales team, we’re probably not the right tool. And so then when I talked to my co-founder, I’m like hey, how do we become the right tool? And we actively decided that the right tool for that segment is actually the wrong tool, and is counterintuitive or … Not counterintuitive, but the exact opposite of what people like about us.

And so if you wanted to build this big tool that serves all of these people, we’re not gonna be able to serve our current people really well. So we said, line in the sand, we’re not going there. So you outgrow us at five or six employees on the sales team or, it’s five or six people are using the tool. And that’s … I’m okay with that, because that’s actually a graduation moment, right? You succeeded in doing sales, or you succeeded in doing what you’re doing, and now you’re ready to move on to a bigger, better things. And it’s like managing employees, you don’t want to hold people back with a lot of good talent, you want to let them loose in a direction that lets them be creative.

Christie: That’s great. I love your approach to things. It’s pretty refreshing. With all that, you mentioned earlier that you spend a lot of time talking to your customers, you reach out to your customers and you like to specifically do it. So how do you do that? And how often? Is it literally you pick up the phone, or you send an email? And I guess, I don’t want to throw too many questions at you, but when in the process do you do that? Is it once they on board, or do you wait and see how it’s going? When do you touch them and how do you do it?

Sujan: I dedicate Friday’s, the day I’m at the racetrack, very excited, high adrenaline, high energy, to talk to my customers.

Christie: That’s a great time to talk to them.

Sujan: Exactly. So Friday mornings, usually. I’ll go and look through new customers. Backing up a step, I don’t really diversify … or ping certain people at certain times. I go and say let’s see who signed up. I always look at the most active customers. I look at people who are having problems. I also talk to churned customers. I look through our customer support, and I look at the people who are actively talking to people. Or sorry, or who have submitted multiple tickets because generally I’ve found the guys who have the most tickets or inquiries, they’re not the ones that are annoyed the most, they’re the ones that are trying to be most helpful.

When you start to take a qualitative look, you’re like, oh, actually this person’s telling you feedback that you probably want to hear. And so, I do that, and then I also … a part of my marketing automation are onboarding emails. I ask customers for case studies. I’m a big advocate of the Net Promoter Score, NPS. So we do NPS surveys every quarter. We use this service called Ask Nicely. Ask Nice dot L Y is how you say it. And if you actually go to our site, mailshake.com, you can see our … if you click on our testimonials page, that’s actually NPS responses. So I look at all of our advocates, and so between all those four or five different ways to look at things, I usually find like five, 10 people to engage with. And I email them. That’s my way to get a conversation started.

Now, I also have the privilege, because I built a personal brand, and am very active, so when I do talks and things like that, I get to run into my customers, and I have impromptu conversations, and they sometimes tell me things I don’t want to hear, but I have a smile on my face anyways because there’s nothing I don’t want to hear.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: Nothing, right? ‘Cause if you really don’t like it …

Christie: Or only hear great things because not everybody’s gonna love you.

Sujan: Exactly. And so those are the ways I get information from my customers and I usually schedule calls. Those calls are scheduled throughout the week. It’s really dependent on when somebody can take that time to actually have that call. And we have customers everywhere, so we have around 10,000 customers or so, so I have no clue of the time zones people I’m reaching out to. I just want to say hey, thank you for the feedback. Now, another thing I do also on that Friday, is when you sign up for Mail Shake, we ask you how’d you hear about us? It’s a form you have to fill out, and if you say a friend or a colleague, we ask you who. We ask for their name. And so, every week, I look at … And it goes into our slack, so we know when new customers are coming in, I look through that. And I look through all the last week, and I look at who actually referred us, and I’ll try to find them.

Now, sometimes I get the first name or I get … We have a customer or a person that’s our huge advocate, Johnny West. I have no clue how to find him, so putting it out there, if anybody knows Johnny West. Yeah.

Christie: Of course the first thing I think of is Johnny Quest. Dating myself, but that’s okay. I don’t think it’s him.

Sujan: No, it’s not Johnny Quest. But yeah, so I’m looking for these customers and I look on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and I ping them. I ping them and say … I have a generic schpeal, which is … sounds canned, but it’s from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you for recommending people to Mail Shake. It might be something you do casually, but it actually means the world to me. I put my heart and soul into this business and let’s keep up the good work, and if I can help in any way, you ping me. This is my direct line, this is me on Facebook, I’m answering this. Or I say that same thing on LinkedIn, and I get good conversations. Those lead into case studies, they lead into great product feedback. They lead into the roadmap, or bugs, and just all sorts of crazy stuff. I don’t even know what to expect when this happens. And yeah, so that’s the ways I talk to customers. And look, we have one full time developer, so it’s not like we can build things fast.

Christie: Right, right.

Sujan: It’s the exact opposite of fast.

Christie: Slow and steady wins the race, though.

Sujan: Slow and very, very deliberate.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: So we deliberately don’t … we do things that deliberately don’t do things. Anyways, it all comes from talking to our customers. And so I talk to customers and I ask hey, what’s your day look like? How many people do you manage? How much time do you spend doing this? Okay, when you … Let’s say, again we’re a sales prospecting tool. I ask them what happens after you prospect? What happens when you jump on a call? What happens after the call? What tools, technology are you using? Can I interview you, and you tell me the process. And honestly, I’m not a sales guys, I’m a marketer, and so I’ve learned so much about sales from our awesome customers and people doing it the right way, or even the bad, wrong way.

And so that’s ideas that come for webinars, and we’re just starting to do that. It’s the ideas for what we create on the content marketing front, our blogs, our e-books and things like that. And even loading up these, for example, templates. When we did early customer development, people realised, people don’t know how to write emails. I’m like, ah, that’s pretty hard if we let them send emails and they don’t know how to write it, that’s a big problem, right?

Christie: Right.

Sujan: Very, very simple logic. So we loaded up a bunch of templates that people can use to get the words out, or just get started. And that’s helped drastically improve the success of our customers. So we look at our … So my North Star metric when doing sales prospecting, is actually the response rate. Big advocate of forget all the nitty gritty, if people respond, even if it’s negative, that’s a successful campaign, or dictates success. So we actually look at the success rate on a monthly basis of all of our customers and see how well they’re doing.

And so it’s like our internal MPS. It’s like if we want that to be, we wanna do things that could help people improve, notch up the overall blended success rate.

Christie: Excellent. Well I can tell you that your energy is so infectious.

Sujan: Thank you.

Christie: And it has to rub off on folks. So if everybody in your company as pumped up and energised as you are? And if so, how did you create that culture? How did you get some of what’s coming off of you on everybody that works with you? Do they share this level of literal customer obsession that you do? And I imagine they would have to, to work with you. But how do you get them to your level of just loving this the way you seem to love it?

Sujan: I think passion and energy rubs off on people, so we’ve got some … Not everybody is high energy, and I get the privilege of getting to do interviews and building up this energy. Not everybody has that eccentric, or experience. I think a lot of this energy rubs off on folks. I think, when I look for culture when we hire, or even our current team, I’m looking at what excites them. Is that something that’s close to what excites me? So if somebody’s into sewing, I don’t know anything about sewing, I’m not into that, but if that’s what they get excited about, they’re super passionate about it, that’s fine. That’s passion.

So we look at the … What different criterias are people excited about, and can we vibe? Can we … When I interview people, I look for like, do I want to hang out with this person after hours? Can I go drinking with them? In fact, we do that all the time. We have a very, we have a lot of folks in their 20’s and 30’s that work with us, naturally we sway young on the tech side, but we wanna … if I can’t hang out with that person one on one, and I can’t have a conversation about something I’m interested in or something they’re interested in, it’s not a fit. It’s not a fit. We’re really, really specific. We’re starting to implement the Strength Finders feedback where they, you take a big, long survey, Strength Finders in the survey questionnaire gallop survey, and it tells you about your personality, or that person’s personality.

And so, I think I’m a yellow and white? That means high energy, really creative, and I think just process oriented I white. So whites and yellows get along with other different colours.

Christie: Oh wow.

Sujan: But they don’t get along with reds. I’m pretty sure it’s red, yeah.

Christie: Well red means stop, red means angry …

Sujan: And so there’s certain personalities I just don’t get along with.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: And I know the teams colours too, I don’t want to share all that information, but …

Christie: No, that’s okay.

Sujan: I know as a group, collectively, who we would love. And if we get too many reds and blues, it’s gonna throw the balance off. We definitely need more organised people, we need more charismatic people. But if we had an organisation of all creative people, nothing would get done ’cause we’d have so many ideas.

Christie: Right, right. Yeah. You need a balance.

Sujan: Yeah, exactly. And my business partners are actually the opposite of my personality. Not opposite in terms of personality, but opposite in terms of traits, and so we butt heads, not in a, oh my God I hate you way, or you’re so frustrating. We have a mutual respect, but we butt heads. I’m the culture guy and my business partner’s like, he’s the money guy. He’s the [inaudible].

Christie: Right. Right.

Sujan: He’s like, “Sujan, I don’t care about your culture, if people are.”

Christie: I want to know the numbers.

Sujan: And what’s the numbers? Are people getting this done? It’s a one or zero if it got done or not. The qualitative part is like, it didn’t get done because of bla, bla, bla, oh it’s halfway done. My partner Bob is like, he’s like, “No, that’s a zero. It didn’t get done, it’s a zero.” I’m like, you’re right. Okay. And then sometimes he takes the qualitative stuff, and I’m like, look, it didn’t get done. We had a huge outage or whatever, and he’s like, “Alright. Right.” He says you’re right to me, so it’s all good. There’s a yin and yang factor to that.

Christie: Right. But that’s interesting, how you took interesting measures to try to make sure that you put the best people together that can work and play against the strengths and weaknesses and things like that. And of course, there’s always gonna be some level of butting heads because yeah, when you have the analytical folks who are really concentrating on the money versus us touchy feely folks that are like, but it’s so great. It doesn’t matter.

Sujan: Exactly.

Christie: But that’s great. It seems like you take a lot of pride in not just making sure that your customers are happy and successful, but your internal customers, your culture, the folks that work with you. So is your team on site, or is it mostly remote? Or a hybrid kind of thing?

Sujan: We’re a hybrid, so we got eight people in the office in Austin, and then everybody else all over the place. Different timezones, different countries. Written communication’s really, really important. And written being email and slack, or messaging.

Christie: Yes.

Sujan: If people rub … You can write something and it could just sound like you’re just pissed. So we do … I’ve learned this thing, I’ve hired probably around 50 people in my career, maybe like a hundred, actually. 50 people, this is just at my own companies. And what I’ve learned is there’s two or three different factors that really make [inaudible] … which really weeds out the people who don’t fit. First and foremost is I get people out of their comfort zone in the beginning of the interview, or during the interview. I’ve done interviews like, hey, are you a member of Gold’s Gym? You’re a runner? Cool. We’re gonna go run for like 30 minutes. And we’ll talk while we run. We’ll go slow. We’ll just do stuff that is not … is not an office environment. And we’ll just see how well they work when they’re running.

And maybe not everyone’s a runner. We’ll go get coffee, we’ll take a walk. And I’m judging them, like Zappo’s Tony Shea. The interview happens when they pick the person up from the airport in the car.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: I’m looking at when they cross the street, are they gonna wait for this person … Are they … There’s a lot of homeless people in the downtown area, are they … how are they reacting to that? Are they pissed off, are they afraid? Whatever, the little things like that. I don’t have any real judgements against anything they do, but I’m looking for how is that person in real life?

Number two is we give everybody a homework assignment. A small one. And it’s small meaning it takes … one to five hours. It makes people … it weeds out the people who don’t want to do the work. Because if you don’t want to do one to five hours to get a job, and I look at this as a career opportunity for a lifelong person I connect with …

Christie: Right. Right.

Sujan: … then I don’t want to talk to you. And it also, everybody can talk a big game, but they can’t actually execute on the things, it weeds them out. And nine times out of 10, this is the thing that they never get past. And then the second thing … The last thing we do is they come back for a working interview. And they usually work for a half a day. We pay them 20 bucks an hour, no matter who they are. 20 bucks an hour, they’re working half a day. They’re just gonna sit in our office. They’re gonna do kind of the job that we tell them that they’re interviewing for. And I say kind of because we hired a customer support person, they’re not gonna be able to handle customer support day one.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: That’s a two week onboarding process, so it’s the best they can do, but if they’re clearly off, we’re not gonna do it. It’s like we had somebody who was awesome at these first two exercises, and then when we saw them in person in work, this is a customer support role, they did the homework assignment. But what we didn’t see is it took them like five days to do the homework assignment, which would’ve taken four, five hours. Which would take our normal teams, when they came in, the numbers were just … their productivity, the numbers and what they were able to execute was just really bad, and I was like, whoa. That saved us a huge headache because they just weren’t a fit.

So those three things are really, really important. And I actually, I’m a big advocate in customer delight, and just delighting folks. And so I don’t do, my way of cultures, I don’t like to set, like we’re gonna go to happy hour every Friday. No, we try to do that, people are busy, they get used to it, and perks are only great if the people …

Christie: If there’s some variety to it.

Sujan: Well, what I do is I just surprise folks. During summer months, there was, we drove everybody to San Antonio to go to the Spurs game, but randomly, and then there was folks that counted join us, we’re like, go buy a ticket to your … Go on Stub Hub, use this account, buy tickets to this game, any game you want.

Christie: Oh wow.

Sujan: Not like, don’t go splurge $1500 tickets, but, you know …

Christie: Right. Reasonable tickets.

Sujan: Random stuff like that, or I just come in some days and like, look, let’s just stop doing everything and go … let’s go to the amusement park. And that happens maybe once every six months or something like that. But that’s stuff that just throws everyone off and they get really happy. Sorry, not to tout my own horn too much, but there’s one example that really, really keeps our employees the happiest. One of my first hires in Austin, his name is Mark, and Mark’s mom is an accountant. I don’t know why I know this, but I know it. Mark’s mom is an accountant and one day Mark’s mom was like, hey … Emails Mark and is like hey Mark, can you send this to your boss, I think there’s something that … this could help him.

And it was this article about a new tax law or something like that. It pretty much could help up save a few thousand dollars on our tax returns or … I don’t even know what it was, and Mark forwarded it to me, and he’s like, dude, my mom’s thinking of you, that’s [inaudible], I was like, this is awesome. I’ve got my employees mom.

Christie: [inaudible].

Sujan: So what I did was I sent … I was like, what’s your mom like? And somehow he told me this story about them wine tasting and so I bought this 15 different … I don’t know anything about wines, but I did some research and I found this kit, I’m not lying, and it turns out Mark’s mom doesn’t know anything about wines either. So I did some research and I found this 15 bottle of wine, it’s this package you can buy, I think it’s 100, 150 bucks. And it gives you this card, and it teaches you all about the 15 different wines, where they’re from, the different countries …

Christie: Right, how to taste it and all that great stuff.

Sujan: I shipped to his mom. And I guarantee you, Mark will never turn. As an employee.

Christie: He’s never leaving you, you got him for life.

Sujan: We got his mom happy. His mom is gonna think about us now, right?

Christie: I hope you already have his gold watch ready for his retirement.

Sujan: Exactly, right? Now, we combine that with good culture, and a happy employee works harder and whatnot, but that’s how we keep talent around, and I’ve learned this at my first company when … Simple things, like providing … which is crazy, simple things like providing cereal and milk for people for breakfast kept people happy. It wasn’t the money that was kept people happy, it was cereal and milk, which was … it blows my mind, how little things …

Christie: You’d be surprised what creature comforts do for folks. You’d really be surprised. So do you believe, I mean, it seems like you do, that your treatment of your employees to where they are really enjoying their work, they enjoy their work atmosphere, do you believe that that translates in how they in turn, treat your customers?

Sujan: Absolutely.

Christie: Or, do you see a direct correlation between creating this awesome culture and projecting upon them, be like this for our customers.

Sujan: Exactly. And it also, so they see me act the right way as if I was [inaudible] customers to them, then they also hear and see me and interact with customers throughout the week, which is another part of the culture, right? They’re seeing their boss act the way their boss wants them to act. So it …

Christie: Lead by example, the easiest …

Sujan: Exactly. Exactly. And the last thing we have in terms of how we treat customers. This is easy to say, very hard to do, is we never, ever say anything internally that we wouldn’t say in front of a customer.

Christie: Nice.

Sujan: I don’t care if they’re pissed off at us, whatever, because everybody has their bad days, their good days, their situation. And we have to be … behind their backs, we have to talk about them the way we would talk to them in front of their face. Because I think the internet has a big tendency to put this wall. There’s obviously trolls, if we look at Reddit, we don’t want to be Reddit. We want to be the closest we can to an in person relationship.

Christie: Right. Well, that’s amazing.

Sujan: Hard to do. Hard to do.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: Not very profitable. It costs a lot too, but when you start to do it, what you end up seeing is your company grows faster, because everybody’s customer-centric then. Everybody is focusing on delighting customers. Everybody is focusing on going above and beyond, and I think it starts with customer support, your salespeople and it then eventually bleeds into your marketing team. Because they start to think about that, and the marketers generally have the furthest touches from the customer. I, as a marketer, I would never have to talk to customers. I had to talk at customers, and marketing isn’t talking at customers, it’s making them … it’s marketing to them to try to get them to engage and whatnot. And when you start talking at your customers or writing content that talks at your customer or marketing at them, you end up losing.

Christie: Right.

Sujan: So there’s not a science, like how do you make it happen, but it is a psychological thing that a person has to go.

Christie: Right. It’s doing it without letting them know that you’re doing it.

Sujan: Yup. Exactly.

Christie: Very subliminal messaging. So who do you look to for inspiration, ’cause you’ve got me all fired up and I’m pretty sure anybody that’s watching this is like, “Yes. Let me go jump out of an aeroplane.” I am not doing that, however, but … The closest I’ve come is zip lining, and that’s pretty much where I probably draw the line. But who gets you going? Who inspires you to be the best that you can be? Or that actually maybe fueled you to go in this direction?

Sujan: Yeah, I mean, look … I think the big guys, Tony Shea, Richard Branson, are really good examples. I reread their books every once in a while, ’cause it re energises me to do this. And really put my customers first. Over deliver, right? So those are the big guys, I’ve never had a conversation with them, never probably will. But those guys get me fired up. I would put Gary V on there more for energy and [inaudible] …

Christie: He’s a whole lot of energy.

Sujan: Too much energy sometimes, but …

Christie: Oh, yeah.

Sujan: I’ve got my neighbourhood heroes, there’s a guy named Ethan Shaw, amazing product marketer, I think he has a really, really interesting way he looks at things. I’m always just learning from them. And Andy Reskin, he is … I’m not really sure how to describe him, but Andy Reskin, you should definitely look him up.

Christie: Okay.

Sujan: Awesome guy. He’s a marketer product video, I think? And then I think there’s one more … the names are fuzzy right now, but yeah, I’m always reading content. And then thing a lot of people think about is oh, I need to know this person, inspiration comes from talking. Actually, I read so much content, it comes to me as I absorb it, and what I actually do, and I started doing this awhile ago, is this is just how I email my customers. I email the people whose articles I’ve read, and I thank them, right? So it’s same thing as what I do for customers, I thank them, I tell them why, and be very, very specific, and I end up building great relationship with people just from flattery. And you’d be surprised how many people you can email and start a conversation.

Christie: That is another great … I mean, it’s strategic, in a sense. You’re not doing it from a sense of how you can turn this into something, you are doing it from a genuine place, but it could turn into something. It really could. And somehow propel your business forward even if it’s just, now I’ve made this person a friend, and now I can chat them up. And they don’t seem so larger than life anymore.

Sujan: Yeah, because when you put a personality on someone. Like when you put a face or a voice, you get to know somebody, you know, if you’re pissed off at them, you’re gonna know, maybe it’s an honest mistake, you cut them some slack, right? And again, I think the whole internet experience removes that element, which also enables a huge amount of growth and coming from stuff, but if you’re talking to a sales person, you go to Sears, you’re trying to buy a fridge, if that person’s mean to you, or … that’s messed up on them, but if you had a good experience, you will remember that, right?

Christie: Yeah, and you’ll remember the person, you …

Sujan: Yeah.

Christie: Yeah, and it makes you want to go back.

Sujan: Exactly. And advocacy online, and advocacy in delight, delighting customers helps you get the closest thing to a Sears in person experience. And I think that’s how I look at it, and so we’re looking at how can we get that delight moment. And that may be … a customer support person just being a little extra helpful, and they remember that, right? And or, somebody churns, even your churn customers, and they’re like, they tell you why, and you’re like, “Hey, can you tell me more? I really want to solve this. Maybe I’m too late to save you, but there’s not too late to fix it for other people who are having this problem.”

Christie: Right. Right.

Sujan: There’s a respect that comes from that, right?

Christie: And maybe they’ll come back later.

Sujan: Maybe. Well, you know what it is, and this is how I think of my secret weapon is like, the people who hate my product still love the brand, right?

Christie: Yeah.

Sujan: If you can get your people who don’t pay you anymore ’cause they had a problem, to like you, you’ve won.

Christie: And still tell people about, it’s like, well it didn’t work for me, but it could work for you.

Sujan: Exactly. And so what you’ll see with Ramp Ventures Properties, all of our SaaS businesses, is word of mouth, referrals is our biggest growth channels, and it becomes … it comes from our ethos of being customer obsessed. And we may, at any given time, may be messing up, or we may … If you look at our examples and you’re like, oh, this is not customer first, call us out. We might not be doing it every single time, but that’s how we’re approaching a problem. And that’s when we buy a company, we actually are a magic trick to grow them, which they’re really not magic, but it’s taking this whole ecosystem of they’re doing marketing, they’re doing all this thing, it’s a good product, and getting it to think about the way we look at it, and the way we think about customers. And that’s almost like a … it flips the switch of, “Wow, I had a great experience.”

Christie: Wow. I’m tell you …

Sujan: You’re inspired. I’m gonna go [inaudible].

Christie: No, you are … I wish I was taking notes, ’cause I’m like, I’m gonna have to watch this again, because you said a whole lot of stuff that I just want to retain for myself. I’m like, note to self, there’s some people that I need to reach out to that I’ve been scared because they’re larger than life to me, but why not? Why not just dive in? You never know what it could do, right?

Sujan: Exactly.

Christie: So what companies, to you out there, are killing it in the customer obsession realm?

Sujan: I think Amazon does a really, really good job. And I say that because they’re so big, it’s incredibly difficult to do a good job. I don’t think they do a great job, I think they do a good job, it’s impossible to do a great job at that scale. They over deliver a lot of the times. They always, I think they sandbag themselves, and I think that’s what they got from Tony Shea when they acquired Zappos, right? They promise two day shipping, it gets there in one day, I’m gonna be ecstatic. I’m definitely gonna order again. So I think those guys do a really, really great job. I think Apple is customer obsessed and they’re intentional. I really respect the fact that they don’t have features. They don’t have a lot of things. So those are two really awesome companies that do this.

Let’s see. I think there’s a couple realistic examples of this. The company when I worked [inaudible], which I was the head of marketing for, they do an amazing job, and it wasn’t like I did this, I actually learned a lot of this from them doing a great job, because they over deliver on the customer support. The customer support person … their team has a budget of I think $5,000 a month or something to keep … to send gifts, to do things to make customers happy. So I think somebody in … I vividly remember this. And I’m pretty sure the customer does too. The customer support person sent somebody from London a Baby Ruth bar because in a conversation it came up, in a support ticket it came up that they didn’t … have never tried Baby Ruth, so they overnighted them, and it was like, I think it was a hundred dollars to ship some.

Christie: A candy bar? Oh my gosh.

Sujan: Who sends a candy bar, right?

Christie: For a hundred bucks, and he probably paid like a dollar for it. Oh my gosh.

Sujan: Yeah, exactly. So a hundred bucks for shipping, two dollars for the candy bar, and he got this oversize one, so it was a little big. But anyways, it was like, who does that?

Christie: Right.

Sujan: And that doesn’t happen. So that, to me, was … it’s not scalable, it’s not profitable, but it’s damn good business.

Christie: But, in a sense, it could be. It depends on how you look at it. It depends on how you look at, I think, ROI sometimes, and call me crazy, but I think it comes in different forms. So yes, of course, everybody wants the money kind, but brand loyalty, brand advocacy, aren’t those forms of ROI too?

Sujan: Exactly, yeah.

Christie: Customer and employee retention? That’s …

Sujan: Yeah, and that’s something you have to do actively, to indirectly get the benefit, right? It’s not like you actively do it more, you put out … it’s like putting goodwill out, I’m giving you goodwill. It’s not like, okay, I got this tangible thing now, no, it’s just like … do that long enough, and you end up building a really solid referral and word of mouth. So you’re right, there’s a really great business sense into it, but I think it’s counter intuitive when you look at it from a financial standpoint.

Christie: Well, my next question was going to be what advice would you give … well the last question, I guess. What advice would you give people watching this interview, but my goodness, you have given … a whole lot of advice. If there’s maybe one major nugget of wisdom that you would say would be the … probably at the top of your list of what the founders and entrepreneurs that are watching this, if there’s something at the top of your list of what they definitely need to do to be customer, to be almost your level of customer obsessed?

Sujan: So, it’s easy. Go and look at your most active customers, the one’s who have been around … Active could be anything for anybody. The longest customers, maybe that they’ve signed in the most, they’ve sent the most … For us, it’s sending the most emails, whatever it is. Whatever it means to you, get that most active customers, now, I don’t want to say go email all of them, just take 10. Take a random 10 samples, get their email, email them and get on the phone with them. Say hey, I’m the CEO, I’m the marketing person, whatever your role is, and say, “Can I just chat with you about your experience? I want to learn, we want to do better for our customers, and we want to learn from our best customers.” Flatter them, thank them for being an awesome customer. Tell them that they’re your most active customers, ’cause people like hearing that.

Christie: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Sujan: If I told my customers, I was like, “Hey, you’re the best customer.” Everybody wants to be, that’s cool, it’s a good accomplishment. And just ask them, one, what you can help them with, and get on the phone with them, and talk to them. As a human being. Don’t do customer interviews, have a customer conversation. And take notes, whatever. And if you can help them, great. Now, one more thing to add to that, after you get off the phone, email them back, saying, “Hey, thank you for your time, can you give me your mailing address?” Don’t tell them why, give me your mailing address. And then send them a hand written thank you card. Right? Now no one sends hand written thank you cards … not no one, but …

Christie: It’s very rare. It’s very rare. But I can tell you that when I get one, it means a lot. It definitely means a lot.

Sujan: I mean, I’m jumping up and down. Well, [inaudible] jumping up and down, but my emotions …

Christie: I can totally see you jumping up and down.

Sujan: [inaudible]. You’re right, I do jump up and down. But I didn’t want to disclose that just yet. I mean, that’s interview number two or something. Alright, yeah, so just do that. 10 customers, most active, you can’t figure out most active, just take 10 customers at random. Make sure they’ve been around maybe longer than six to 12 months. That’s a good sign, because you want to make sure you’re engaging people who have thoroughly used your service or product. And just tell them, ask them questions and then send them a thank you card. It will mean the world to them. They will not churn. Like Mark’s mom, will not [inaudible]. Mark’s mom will.

Christie: Mark’s mom is the best. We can so learn from Mark’s mom. That’s a case study right there, did you write that? Did you write about Mark’s mom?

Sujan: I’m inspired to write something …

Christie: Write something about Mark’s mom. You know what? Your next talk needs to be about Mark’s mom.

Sujan: There’s this guy I learned this from, his name is John Roland? He wrote this book called Giftology, and he’s a renowned speaker. He runs this company by giving gifts, and personalised gifts. And so I learned a lot from him. And I just [inaudible]. But yeah, check out Giftology, if you don’t know … you gotta read that book, it’ll change your world. It’ll help you stop sending your branded swap, and start sending something your customers actually want to receive.

Christie: I love it.

Sujan: It’s crazy. It’s a good book [inaudible].

Christie: That’s a perfect end note. That is fantastic.

Sujan: Awesome.

Christie: Man. You have just dropped all kinds of knowledge in this video series, thank you so much. So if you all out there want to learn more about Web Profits, it’s webprofits.com, correct?

Sujan: Webprofits.agency.

Christie: Oh, dot agency. I’m sorry.

Sujan: Didn’t get the dot com one somehow.

Christie: Oh, how did that happen?

Sujan: I don’t know.

Christie: We’re gonna have to talk to some people. And Ramp Ventures is rampventures.com?

Sujan: Dot com.

Christie: And mailshake.com.

Sujan: Correct.

Christie: If you want to learn about those services. And we can learn about you at sujanpatel.com, and how else can they find you on the web if they want to reach out to you?

Sujan: Twitter, I’m pretty active. LinkedIn, what have you. Yeah, my website, if you have any questions or anything, feel free to fill out that contact form or whatever, I answer every one of my emails that I get through there, even if it’s vague … if you send me a vague question, I’m gonna push back and say be more specific.

Christie: Be more specific. Excellent.

Sujan: Awesome. This is a blast.

Christie: This was a blast. I mean, thank you so much for sharing all of your information. I feel like I have learned so much today and I know everybody out there has probably learned just as much, if not more to help them become customer obsessed companies. So thank you for joining us today, Sujan, thank you all out there for watching, and we will see you next time. Bye.