Alex Ross, Gregarious, Inc. - Next-Level App Marketing Tips and Strategies
The Sub Club PodcastJuly 14, 2021
19
01:07:4393.23 MB

Alex Ross, Gregarious, Inc. - Next-Level App Marketing Tips and Strategies

Alex Ross is the co-founder & CEO at Gregarious, Inc. Gregarious is the company behind Greg, an app dedicated to helping people grow healthier and happier plants. Greg’s community has grown from 100 beta users in August 2020 to over 50,000 monthly active users today. Alex graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and studied data science and statistics at MIT. Alex has worked for companies such as Cisco, The Daily Aztec, and Cannon Trading.

Watch the video version of this show on YouTube »

Alex Ross is the co-founder & CEO at Gregarious, Inc. Gregarious is the company behind Greg, an app dedicated to helping people grow healthier and happier plants. Greg’s community has grown from 100 beta users in August 2020 to over 50,000 monthly active users today.

Alex graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, and studied data science and statistics at MIT. Alex has worked for companies such as Cisco, The Daily Aztec, and Cannon Trading.

Prior to founding Gregarious, Alex spent 4 years as Director of Engineering at Tinder. Alex also co-founded Enplug, a digital signage company that was acquired earlier this year.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The two critical steps in making a successful app
  • An ingenious strategy for partnering your app with retail companies
  • Why you should involve your customers in content creation

Links & Resources

Alex Ross’ Links

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David Barnard: https://twitter.com/drbarnard

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Episode Transcript

Alex: 00:00:00


The two steps in making a successful app business are make something worth using, and then put it in front of the people who would use it.


If you have a plant, and you don’t know what to do with it, we solve that problem.


So, what we did is we reached out to a bunch of plant retailers, “Hey, we will help your customers have a positive outcome with your product.”


Can you put in our little QR code? And now when these retailers ship out a new plant, every single one of them has this little QR code in it.


It led to our first 15,000 users, I’d say. 


David:
00:00:30


Welcome to the Sub Club podcast. I’m your host, David Bernard. And with me as always, Jacob Eiting. Hello, Jacob.


Jacob:
00:00:53


Happy to be here. 


David:
00:00:55


You sound incredibly happy.


Jacob:
00:00:57


It’s great. It’s a Friday, David. The sun is shining. They’re grilling a bunch of chickens in my hometown. I got nothing to complain about. It’s gonna be great.


David:
00:01:05


Our guest today is Alex Ross, founder and CEO at Gregarious, makers of Greg, an app to help you grow healthier and happier plants. Prior to founding Gregarious Alex spent four years as director of engineering at Tinder.


Alex also co-founded Enplug, a digital signage company that was acquired earlier this year. Welcome to the podcast, Alex.


Alex:
00:01:27


Thank you guys. Good to see you. Thanks, David, Jacob.


Jacob:
00:01:29


Hi. 


David:
00:01:30


So, I’m going to try really hard this whole podcast and not call you Greg, but I’ve made that mistake.


Jacob:
00:01:36


I was thinking like, I get like annoying company name questions. Sometimes. I’m like, I’m sure you get more worse than me.


Alex:
00:01:43


But I’m considering just legally adopting Greg as alias or something. 


Jacob:
00:01:48


Yeah. You know, I mean, that’s a news cycle right there. A little bit of earned PR. 


David:
00:01:55


So I wanted to ask you, so obviously, you know, director of engineering at Tinder that’s, I mean, what a rocket ship that must’ve been quite a wild ride. So, tell me a little bit about, about how you ended up at Tinder and then, you know, if you do have any fun, war stories from there, that’d be great to hear. 


Alex:
00:02:16


Yeah, definitely. It was a rocket ship. Definitely some war stories, some wins, some losses. So, I came across Tinder and I was looking to get into like a consumer application. so I was interviewing with Uber and Twitter, and then I came across Tinder on an angel list. Actually the head of recruiting at the time reached out to me and I kind of took it on a whim.


To be honest, I had not used the app before, before even interviewing or anything. that’s kind of a challenge for Tinder is like, do you, how many of the teammates need to use Tinder? Because a lot of people are married and in relationships, and those are great people to have on the team. And so it makes it odd, and kind of difficult or complicated. 


But, basically I joined when it was around 70 people, if I recall. So, it was a pretty small team. There was already a global user base, so it was one of the scrappiest, global brands I think probably has ever existed. Because this was all right before Tinder or right around the time that Tinder launched its first monetization efforts.


And so there wasn’t really awareness as to like, great, there’s this like large, global, many millions of people are using this thing, but is it going to make money? Right? That was still an open question at the time that I joined. So, yeah, basically I joined and it was very, it was definitely still a startup.


And, so there was not a lot of structure and I think my manager changed on the first day, like the person I was talking about working with's desk changed, but I had a great time and basically I ended up creating the growth team. So I became very focused on, growing the international user base.


One of the coolest things that that team did is we decoupled Tinder from Facebook. And this was from Facebook login because like Tinder came to, came to fame by having, you know, you tap one button, it imports your Facebook photos. It basically made online dating as easy as it possibly can be because like you push a button you’re in and then you’re dating.


Right. And by making it that simple, it made it so you felt less than desperate by using it. I think it was like one of the important psychological dynamic, because if you feel like you have to work to start using that application, then maybe it means that like you aren’t having as much success in dating in the real world.


So, by making it simpler, it made it less stigmatized. More cool. Right? And so when we decided to then allow people to create accounts with a phone number that introduced all this complexity around like, well, are people going to want to do that? Then they have to add profile photos. They have to type in their name.


You have to introduce an onboarding process. You have to worry about spam. So, in any case, my team led that decoupling of Facebook and Tinder, and this was like pre Cambridge Analytica, pre GDPR. So it was definitely pressure. And it was like, it was a lot of good foresight and it did lead. It was a very successful project.


So, that was kind of what I cut my teeth on it Tinder. And then from there, I ended up creating the trust and safety team. So we then kind of took on anti-spam, which is a major problem for any global consumer or especially a brand that you’re introducing people to each other. Like you’re introducing strangers to each other.


That is a spammer’s dream.


Jacob:
00:05:32


There has got to be just so much abuse on 


Alex:
00:05:34


So much, and it was all stuff. I agree. Yeah. 24 7. and so we ended up creating a team kind of bottoms up. This is a cool effort. Cause it wasn’t like an executive side, like, oh, Tinder needs to needs to create this team. But rather. A collection of engineers that were very motivated to solve this problem.


So, we created a trust and safety team again, before, before GDPR, like this was before the world was really focused on, privacy and data security and protect users. Very consciously.


Jacob:
00:06:01


It’s it’s interesting. Cause now, you know, even with like clubhouse recently have had issues here. I think now the expectation is you need trust and safety from day one, which even five or six years ago, wasn’t really the case. It was kind of like, well, I’ll just grow and then you’ll solve it later.


So, that was, I would say early days for even that concept of like a whole dedicated team to those, those, those aspects of, yeah. If you’re meeting people in public mind, God, like you need good 


Alex:
00:06:28


Real. Yeah. You really need to continuously try to protect people. Cause there are, there’s a rare selection of people that are not great. Right. So


Jacob:
00:06:36


Yeah. 


David:
00:06:37


So then, tell us a little bit about the transition from being a tender to founding a company, because you had founded companies before and plug, and been at, other large companies before Tinder, but Yeah. What, what led you to, to found Gregarious? 


Alex:
00:06:54


Yeah. I actually saw Jacob and I shared an experience interning at Cisco systems. Is that right? Did you, yeah, 


Jacob:
00:07:01


Wait, when were we at the same? Like onboarding. 


Alex:
00:07:04


No, no. I was actually in the finance organization, so I was doing internal auditing. it was crazy. I was on a team that like investigated other people for like, you know, abusing their corporate cards and stuff like that. So there’d be like


Jacob:
00:07:19


Interesting. internally. 


Alex:
00:07:21


Internally. yeah. it was a very, 


Jacob:
00:07:23


We’ve had interns on that team. 


Alex:
00:07:27


It was a unique, it was definitely the only inboard,


Jacob:
00:07:29


Yeah. Wow. I was testing, I was testing phones, so I’m actually not sure which one of those is more boring. I think actually you might’ve had me. So 


Alex:
00:07:38


That’s for sure. yeah, so I got exposure is Cisco is interesting for anybody who doesn’t know cause you have to drive between meetings. Right? Cause the campus is so large. 


Jacob:
00:07:48


Campus. 


Alex:
00:07:49


Yeah, Yeah, Talk about, oh my gosh. Culture. 


Yeah, so the, the process leading up to, to starting Greg was very deliberate. because I had done a startup before and that company had gone to success a successful outcome, but it was a lot of hard work was honestly grueling.


Definitely like, hardest challenge of my life. And so I knew that I wanted to be involved in starting a company and building a culture from the ground up again. but I knew that I wanted to do it differently. and so basically there was a lot of preparation thinking about really the main thing I was thinking about is what is the industry that I want to be working in, because I think that startups often don’t go the way you expect.


But you can learn so much. And so I was really thinking like, okay, what do I want to become an expert at? Right. Like what do I want, if it doesn’t work out in the way we expect, what would I like to have learned four years, five years, seven years worth of information about.


And, I really kept coming back to science. and I wanted to, to kind of use my engineering experience and pivot that into, more real world, like physical phenomenon. Right. And like learning how the universe works. 


David:
00:08:59


That’s amazing. 


Alex:
00:09:00


And so that’s really, a lot of the thesis of Greg is that we apply computer science and software engineering to this specific domain of how to plants work.


Right. And, and basically the, the dots kind of connect looking backwards, but it was a process of discovery of like, what’s an area that’s emerging and like kind of changing, like where is there an opportunity, right. Because I think it’s helpful to position yourself at a place where either you can cause change or this change already happened.


And, right now, like a lot of people know there’s climate change. and there’s also a lot of, rapid things happening in plant science world, specifically around like CRISPR and plant genetics and stuff like that, really at the deep end of it, which we can get into, but it’s like way deep. but, but basically, this was before the pandemic.


So we were actually looking into plants before COVID and already there was like the rate of people bringing plants into their homes was growing by 50 to a hundred percent per year. And we wanted to validate like, 


Jacob:
00:10:03


I really like, that seems like that seems like a thing that would be fairly stable, like, is it, is it, is it a, is it a generational trend, like millennials or younger folks being? I have a lot of people on Twitter. I follow that seem very interested in plants more than I’ve ever been. 


Alex:
00:10:20


There’s a couple converging trends. Yeah. I think that part of it it’s associated to like the mental wellness movement. So it’s kind of this trend line follows a one that’s very similar to like meditation and yoga just five years later. So I think it’s a very, it’s a lot of adjacent interests there, but then there’s also an aesthetic component to plants where like, people are kind of decorating their spaces and they’re getting more like trendy in how they, you know, how they, even people who are eating, like you want to have like a space that you invite someone into and it’s very nurturing.


Right. so yeah, there was definitely a generational kind of tailwind already happening. And then COVID just like crammed that up. Right. Cause then everybody’s on zoom and you look in the background, some people have plants and you’re like, oh, that looks kind of nice. Like I’d like that.


Jacob:
00:11:04


I have this. I have, I still have this like barren white wall back here. That is embarrassing. Yeah, 


I need, that’s why I was excited. I, I, I installed Greg today and I was disappointed. I couldn’t buy the plants in the app yet. So we’ll have to talk about that as we get a little 


Alex:
00:11:17


That’s something that is coming. That is the client segment. Yeah, definitely. yeah, so we kind of saw an opportunity and we did some due diligence, some interesting things I think, to identify like, is there a revenue opportunity in my favorite stat that I like to share that blew my mind when I learned it is home Depot, is a publicly traded company.


So you can look up their, you know, annual statements and you can see how are they making money. And if you look up their statements, you’ll see that they make more money on indoor garden than on any other product segment. Like home Depot sells lumber, paint appliances, all these other the 


Jacob:
00:11:54


That’s like, that’s like actual revenues. Is that also margin con? Cause I would imagine these are high margin items as well, I would guess. 


Alex:
00:12:01


Yeah. Depending on where you fall on them. But yeah, they’re, they’re, they’re pretty hard margin. and no, we only looked at revenue, but they make like last night, like $11 billion per year in revenue. Which is, and, and they’re like 10 or 


Jacob:
00:12:15


Store, right? That’s, one. 


Yeah. And there’s like, every town has four of these. 


Alex:
00:12:19


Exactly. Yeah. And home Depot is like 10 or 15% of the plant retail market. Probably. It’s hard to estimate.


Jacob:
00:12:26


Okay. Yeah.


So, it’s like roughly like a hundred, a hundred billion dollar a year kind of thing in the US. 


Wow. That’s it. That’s the size of in-app subscriptions for anybody. Who’s curious, like, roughly like in that ballpark.


Alex:
00:12:39


Yeah, yeah, exactly. Like Apple’s app store, subscription 


Jacob:
00:12:42


Oh yeah. Sorry, app store. It’s not even subscriptions. I think that’s the app store broadly. 


Yeah.


Alex:
00:12:47


So we combined the plant Tam with then the app store growth in subscription revenue. And there’s our business model.


Jacob:
00:12:56


There you go. Did you, did you, I mean, yeah. You mentioned like wanting to get into something physical into something science related. Did you have like a passion for plants or was this something that is like deep in you or, or was it more like me and an app subscriptions, which is like, wow, this looks like a good thing I can work on and I actually care about it and know a little bit about it.


Right. So how, how did it, how did you go? Like, Yeah.


This is what I want to do. 


Alex:
00:13:17


That’s a great question. It was like 75% the ladder. So the same as you, where I was kind of, I got exposed to it cause I started getting plants and I realized I did like them, but there was no brand to guide me. And there was definitely no science to help me keep them alive. Right. but I, I grew up in the mountains and so like, I, I, my family, 


I lived in Mammoth Lakes, California for any of the listeners know where that is.


And so I, you know, I, I went on like a solo backpacking trip, like shortly before starting all of this and kind of communed with like being in nature with no people around me. And maybe that put me in touch with the plans a little bit more. but it was mostly, kind of identifying, this is a realm of science I’d like to work in because plants are mostly.


Physics-based, this is something a lot of people don’t don’t realize, but because they’re stationary, you can almost view them as like, like a civil engineer would a bridge. so there’s not, so you can kind of really think about like the water physics, the light physics. And so they’re a really great vehicle for learning, just physics generally, and also how like the sun and earth orbit matters to that plant and that location.


There’s so much science there that we learned that there’s a depth. That was, we were very interested in diving deeper into


Jacob:
00:14:31


Yeah. Not to mention, not to mentioned biology, right. 


Alex:
00:14:33


There is, but 


Jacob:
00:14:34


As an intersection, right? 


Yeah. 


Alex:
00:14:37


Yeah. Biology is difficult though, right? Like if you’re like an engineer, who’s trying to approach it,


Jacob:
00:14:41


Right. 


Yeah. 


Alex:
00:14:42


it’s messy, you know, I 


Jacob:
00:14:44


Yeah, exactly. 


Alex:
00:14:46


Yeah, yeah,


Jacob:
00:14:47


But if you think about it, it was a closed system, right? Like yeah. 


You have it. It’s potted, it’s planted, you know, lumens in, you know, water in, you know, nutrients in, you can, yeah, you can, you can make some approximations, right. 


As we like. 


Alex:
00:15:02


The closed system is really important. I can. so what Greg does is Greg predicts when a given plant is going to need to be watered. And that’s like the super simple, like simplified functionality. It’s one of the main things you need to know. 


And the way we figured that out talking about closed systems is kind of a fun fact. you can very accurately measure the amount of water that a plant loses by weighing it on one day and then weighing it the next day. And the change in weight is the water lost in grams. And it turns out, so what we did is we did that for like 700 plants for like six months. And we, we then graft what was the grams of water lost per plant per day?


And you get this beautiful pattern. It’s like it random, like this is a very clear, like almost a heartbeat of a plant, which is a great fit for like machine learning.


Jacob:
00:15:56


Yeah. So, so, so how did, how did you pull this off? Like practically, did you have like a big garage or warehouse or something like that? That’s, that’s more work than I usually do for software. 


So tell me what that process was. 


Alex:
00:16:09


It definitely did. So at one point I had like 150 plants and they all had a plastic, little pots and I had like labels. I named them like a one through nine and then C one through whatever. Cause I had to keep track of it. Right. It’s all in our progress database. And but that didn’t scale. And so like me and my co-founders, we were all measuring every day, every single day, hundreds of plants, but that didn’t scale.


So then we went on Craigslist and we started saying like, Hey, we’re looking for people to weigh their plants every day, twice per day for a couple of months. And we had hundreds of responses, like people, people care about their plants and they thought that it was cool to be doing like citizen science.


Right. And so we ended up with people in Berlin and, and you know, Sydney.


Jacob:
00:16:48


All right. Cause it doesn’t have to be local, right? 


Yeah. 


Alex:
00:16:51


And actually it needs to be in like Southern hemisphere versus Northern hemisphere because the location of like the sun and solar radiation effects that. Yeah. So we needed a global distribution for sure.


David:
00:17:01


This is like way off topic for, for subscription apps. But, but if you, if you squint it’s, there are a lot of similar problems in understanding user patterns and user life cycle. And like, there’s so many hard to understand variables. 


Alex:
00:17:18


Yeah, 


David:
00:17:18


But one thing I’m curious about on the plant science, like how much does like humidity and other things play into that.


So if you, if you have, you know, 40% humidity, one day and 60%, the next does that actually impact things. 


Alex:
00:17:31


No humidity. We don’t really need to model humidity very much. it’s actually, there’s a couple of things that are misconceptions. You don’t really need to worry about missing or humidity and you don’t need to worry about fertilizing. Like all of that is overdone. for the most part, like there’s some cases where it, matters, but, I’d say for like 99 out of 100 plant types that you’re likely to own doesn’t matter.


And even more people don’t realize that the humidity reading that we see in the weather is what’s called relative humidity. And it, it not actually like super scientific way to measure, like how the water in the air relates to a plant. You need to look at absolute humidity, the whole totally different calculation.


There’s basically relative humidity changes according to the temperature. And so I see as humidity, you can almost, and to be honest, like, ignore, except for a couple of plants, like really evolved to be in, like, you can picture it. you know, in England, like, United Kingdom, like BHAG, right. Where it’s just so much water, like, okay, well does like some, some ferns like are from like the Pacific Northwest, like Washington area where it’s like constant rain forest, those types of plans.


Yeah. You’re going to have a hard time if you’re not, in a very human environment, but the vast majority of EBI don’t have to worry about it.


Jacob:
00:18:47


I have, I have more questions on the plant physics, but I think, I think I will let, I will, I will have to like save my curiosity.


David:
00:18:55


Well, we’ll have to do the, we’ll have to jump on your podcast and talk, talk points. 


Jacob:
00:19:00


Plant Club, just invite V2 to newbies on there. Just to ask questions. We’ll be there. 


David:
00:19:05


So from, from all of this, you, you started to alluded to it a bit, but one of the things I was really impressed talking to you a couple of months ago, was just how I’m vicious. Your plans are with Greg. So you’re, you’re kicking it off with a consumer subscription app. but tell me a little bit about like, where you want to go from there.


Alex:
00:19:25


Yeah, definitely. That’s a part of like, going back to like how we started it, why we started it. I have seen, or like I’ve worked at companies and like not naming names that are very, very revenue focused. Like just purely prime directive is we just need to make coin and as much of it as possible. Right.


And then the question is, well, if you get there, then what do you do? Because if you do accumulate a level of avenue and a lot of influence, you kind of inherit a social responsibility, right? Because like you’re accumulating all these resources. If you’re like a Facebook or an Instagram, I think there’s like general consensus.


Like you kind of need to think about the impact that you have. Cause you’re too big to not think about it. Right. And so with Greg, like we really thought about if we manage to navigate this very challenging process of getting to scale. Well then what? Right. And our goal what’s really interesting that people don’t realize is that plants in our homes are just plants that were taken from various places in the world and put in our homes, right?


Like there there’s no such thing as a houseplant, it’s actually just like a giant jungle tree that somebody took a cutting from and then transported it to England and then ended up the United States. Right. so the physical principles that govern, being able to predict how to keep those plants alive is, are the same as the physical principles required to predict how to keep like crops alive.


Right. like plants that are grown for our food system of which there are like billions. Right. And those plants, like it turns out plants are really like an infrastructure piece of our planet, right? Like plants are our like big support system on spaceship earth. 


And it’s kind of interesting. 


Jacob:
00:21:10


It’s, the, it’s the first stage of catalyzing, the sun’s resources, right? Like, 


Alex:
00:21:15


That’s exactly it. And a lot of people don’t realize this, that basically all of life gets its energy from the sun. Like that is the input of all of energy into what we know as life, as you know, maybe there’s more on other planets that works differently. But as far as we know, all of life depends on solar energy.


Jacob:
00:21:31


Yeah, Alex, you’re leaving out some very, very, sensitive, bacteria that live by vents. Okay. 


That, that 


Alex:
00:21:40


I love that you noticed.


Jacob:
00:21:43


I’m D I’m disappointed in myself that I can’t think of what they’re called. They’re extremophiles some kind of, I 


Alex:
00:21:47


Yeah. 


Jacob:
00:21:48


All, it’s all, it’s all discovery documentaries, so 


Alex:
00:21:51


There’s a vanishingly small number of, like living things that, thrive on geothermal energy from the earth score. Right. But that’s like less than like 1% as far as I know. 


What people don’t realize as an example is that like plants. 


A lot of people think that plants are just taking things out of the ground that is sucking nutrients out, sucking water out. They’re actually also putting things back into the ground at all times. And so plants, like, for example, they photosynthesize. So they take energy from the sun and they are the only thing on the planet that takes energy from the sun and then converts it into energy that all other life can use. And it’s not only insects and birds and mammals like us, but plants are also depositing sugar into the soil.


So it’s a bi-directional flow and that sugar feeds the bacteria. 


Jacob:
00:22:38


Is that an active process while they’re alive? Is it, or is it during decomposition? 


Alex:
00:22:42


No, that is an active process. Like plants are actively depositing sugar into the soil and that, that those sugars feed the bacteria and fungi and those bacteria and fungi are responsible for breaking down the, inorganic, nutrients like nitrogen into a format that plants can absorb because plants can’t just like stop nitrogen.


Now they depend on. Those organic, you know, facilitators. And so it’s a very symbiotic relationship and there’s growing awareness now that like having a quote unquote, living soil is crucial for our planet. And I’ll tell you like an example of how, how much awareness there is around this. during my due diligence for Greg, I went to a plant genetics conference.


This is like for any engineers in the call, like imagine like AWS reinvent, accepted the geneticists. Right. And so they’re like presenting, like how they run their projects. And it’s, it’s a really cool parallel world, but half of this conference was dedicated to soil like microbiomes, because that’s how important it is.


It’s like truly like a resource. It’s an infrastructure for our spaceship earth. Right? 


David:
00:23:49


That’s amazing. So, so one of the things, yeah, you and I talked about was not just, you know, consumer subscription to then like funding science, which is kind of what you’re talking about now, but then also the potential to take this from, from B2C to B2B. So like you have, nurturing these who have to manage the planets before the people buy ‘em.


You have office buildings that have thousands of plants. You have, you know, commercial facilities like there’s, you know, plants existed on so many different layers of are of, of, of use, So tell me a little bit about kind of the long and short term plans of potentially transitioning or not transitioning, but, but kind of building on top of what you’ve done for consumers to then expand into more B2B, use cases.


Alex:
00:24:42


Yeah, definitely. Some other examples. people don’t realize that cities have to like municipalities have to maintain the plant inventories, right? Like there are people who manage the inventory of plants. Exists, you know, or there are small businesses. there are people in most towns, I grow food for their farmer’s markets, for example.


And so those are like smaller scale farmers and then there’s large scale farmers, right? And there’s a real dearth of like talented software teams, writing applications for any of those parties. And that’s really the long-term opportunity to be spotted. If we can pull together a talented team to make products for those people, that’s a longterm opportunity.


And my, my thesis on this, which I think we’re aligned on is that, like delightful, simple consumer user interfaces, like simple software is appreciated by everybody. Right? 


Jacob:
00:25:35


Okay. 


Alex:
00:25:35


like enterprises don’t want to use complicated 


integrative 


Jacob:
00:25:40


There’s tastes now in software, right. And all levels of, employment. I think it’s, it’s a bit of like our gen my generation aging into the, the enterprise buying world. And, also just like people have enough software experiences in our lives. They’ve learned to discern like, oh, this is good.


And, oh, this is bad. and I think there’s, yeah, I think it’s really, I mean, we I’ve, I’ve done it a ton in making revenue count. I came from the compute super subscription world. I learned a ton of lessons about onboarding and, and, and, and creating delightful experiences and like, you know, playing, playing against and into people’s like, you know, habits and things like this that you carry into the enterprise world or B2B world, and it can really supercharge software.


And it’s probably what we’re going to see. Yeah. I think. I think there’s still, there’s always this like technical leap or not technical in the sense of computers, but technical in the sense of processes and whatnot, when you leap from consumer to, to selling to businesses. But as you said, you bring those teams together, you, you build your data set, you learn more about 


Alex:
00:26:45


Right, 


Jacob:
00:26:46


Act of growing plants, then someday you, you, you can, you 


Alex:
00:26:49


Right. 


And there are some, some famous examples of this. I definitely see it with RevenueCat. Cause like you compare the UI to a SAS that was created 10 years ago and it’s just more of delightful. Right. It’s like simple. And I know to use it. I’m not like getting a headache while I’m on it, but it’s nice.


Right?


Jacob:
00:27:05


It’s very nice. Very nice of you to say 


Alex:
00:27:07


Yeah. Bye-bye 


But, but like some examples like strike became famous, right? Because like they had a good 


Jacob:
00:27:14


Same. Yeah, yeah. Say my mindset. 


Right. Just like, make it easy, make it simple, make the, make the shortest possible path to value. Right. 


Alex:
00:27:25


Or, slack would be another example. Right. Whereas it was almost a consumer level application that just took off like wildfire because individuals liked it. 


Right. 


Jacob:
00:27:34


And then they added enterprise grid, whatever they have now, or whatever to sell it to, to, to 


Alex:
00:27:39


And then nothing is things, 


Jacob:
00:27:41


Need that to begin with.


Alex:
00:27:42


Right? 


David:
00:27:43


Yeah. 


So it’s just, it’s really cool that there’s, there’s just such a direct path from selling to consumers right now, and then selling to municipalities who are managing their plants in a few years, and then selling to, you know, the, the company should have to manage this at scale and then selling to farmers.


That’s really cool. One of the things that, again, that you’re not talking about, you and I talked for like two hours a couple of months ago. And so there’s, there’s so much that I would, I would’ve loved to have recorded that and released it as a podcast. But, 


Jacob:
00:28:20


Glad I can glad I can contribute. 


David:
00:28:23


Yeah, one of the, one of the fascinating things that you talked about was kind of your view on marketing. And so I’d love for you to talk about that more broadly, but then specifically what you’re doing with nurseries is just such incredibly smart marketing. Like, I mean, it, let me say tangent for a minute.


So it’s just so obvious talking to you that you’re not the average like app founder, you know, like none of my apps have had even, even like when, when hundredth of the due diligence and market 


Jacob:
00:28:55


Why I was gonna say, I’ve never, I’ve never bought some, like, I’ve never had a physical warehouse of plants


David:
00:29:02


Yeah. and so it’s just, it’s just so clear that you, you think about things in a way that, that most, you know, at people don’t most software people don’t most even founders don’t. and, and so I think, you know, we’ve talked about this on the podcast before, is it just so many apps are trapped in this?


You know, we just, we have to advertise on Facebook to grow. We have to do this. And like that clay book, I’ve just, you know, dumping money, a bunch of money in ads, I think leave so much on the table. And so I just love that you’re, you’re going to do that. And that we’ve talked about that, you know, you’ve got to do paid marketing and, and maybe I’ve already started experimenting with it, but, but yeah.


So tell me about what you’re doing with nurseries and then just kind of, you know, some of your thoughts on, on marketing and virality and stuff. 


Alex:
00:29:51


Yeah, definitely. I think broadly, like what I would, I think I’m definitely aligned with that where, your broader point is that like building an app is half technical and UI design and getting the product really, really, really right. Right. But the other half that people are often uncomfortable about is needing to get it in front of the right people.


Right. And so in my mind, the way I break this down is the two steps. Like I have a theory that like the two steps in making a successful app business are make thumping worth using, and then put it in front of the people who would use it. Right. And it’s like remarkably hard to do either one of those, but, Once we had, the beginning signs of retention.


So we got our first, like, I don’t know, 5,000 users by like posting on Facebook and on Reddit and like that kind of stuff. Then we started thinking about, what is like the most optimal time for people to be introduced to grade. And what we came up with is, well, we solved the problem of, if you have a plant and you don’t know what to do with it, how to keep it alive, we solve that problem.


And so the most natural moment would be when you get a new plant, right. Because it’s like, that’s a moment. And you’re like, oh crap, I have this thing. What do I, how do I keep it alive? And, so what we did is we reached out to a bunch of, plant retailers, like online in-person brick and mortar all over the place.


And we basically said like, Hey, we will help your customers have a positive outcome with your product. Right. And so let’s do this trade where like, we will give them. at this point we had a subscription tier. And so we said, we’ll give them free subscription tier for N number of months. At first it was six.


And now it’s three. and in return, can you put in our little QR code flyer, like nicely designed four inches by four inches recycled paper card that has a QR code and it takes you to download. Great. Right. And so we did that and now like when these retailers ship out a new plant, every single one of them has this little QR code in it.


And it’s almost like a digital companion to your unboxing experience. Right. And so that was definitely like a very natural fit and it, it led to our first, probably like 10 or 20,000, 15,000 users, I’d say.


Jacob:
00:32:10


So can I ask, like, did you do that yourself? Did you have somebody on your team? Cause like, yeah. I’m, I’m in the camp that that’s outside of my experience. I don’t like calling the pizza person. Like I, you know, I, I don’t know how to do that. So how, how did you, how did you delegate that and, and 


Alex:
00:32:24


Yeah. 


Jacob:
00:32:24


The resources and a small team to pull that off. 


Alex:
00:32:27


Definitely. so I I’d say I provided the, the oomph behind it. but then I have a good friend, who I’ve worked with in the past named Colin, who does like growth marketing stuff and that’s his comfort zone. Right. And so I definitely did reach out to a bunch of the biggest partners in the beginning.


Because the thing is that like with early stage stuff, founder led sales can be great, right? Like you don’t always need it. It’s better if you don’t need it to be Frank. but, we were so early and we had no partners at all that I was like, I ha this is crucial for us. Like, we need to have a better source of user acquisition.


That’s like our next major challenge to solve. And so I did reach out to them and then call in kind of like took over and scaled that. Right. Cause like, I, I ultimately like I needed to be writing code and stuff. and so now he owns that relationship and he’s been able to keep that going further.


Jacob:
00:33:22


Yeah, it’s just one of these unique channels. you know, I don’t know, you can, as a, B to C app founder, I think David’s points exactly on, I think we’ve a lot of us have settled into this world where there’s one or two channels to like get growth and that’s paid, paid marketing.


There’s a lot of good, growth resources out there. oh yeah, there’s a lot of good growth books. I’ve read, moving into the B2B world that say there’s like seven channels or whatever. There’s only like so many like ways to get and in and in, and in B to C we tend to be like, well, yeah, there’s these two, essentially, but it’s not really true.


Like you can try seven, I guess the trick is finding stuff that two things, one is approachable. Like, that’s why I asked about you. How did you make it happen? Well, you were able to start it off and then you had somebody to work with you to, to, to bring it to scale. But then the other thing is it has to move the needle. Right. And so, and so you have to figure out and like for a price that’s reasonable, right? And, and that sometimes is hard to find as well. Because I think with this, you have this adjacent high velocity market of users. You have a place, your users are going every day, which isn’t maybe always the case for all apps.


Right. It’s hard to find there’s no meditation store that people are going to day. Right. 


Alex:
00:34:33


Yeah. I thought about this. 


Jacob:
00:34:34


That’s your, that’s your advantage? You know?


Alex:
00:34:37


I thought about parallels. Like I wonder if like fitness apps have tried partnering with gyms. I’m thinking like fit. 


Jacob:
00:34:44


I’m sure the gyms wouldn’t be as eager maybe. Right? 


Alex:
00:34:48


Well, I mean, possibly I’m just thinking like, if, if like, 


Jacob:
00:34:51


This also like there’s also this like benefit right from the, for the 


Alex:
00:34:54


There has to be. Yeah, yeah. But I would just, I just like theory, graph, like I’m thinking if there’s an app 


That helps you track your workouts. Like I use football, I’m a user, it’s a great app and, and it’s a complete compliment or a gym. Like I can’t do gym without, I can’t do football about gym. I don’t really do gym about that.


So, I, there might be a thing there, or like with meditation, I’d be curious if, like yoga studios. 


Cause here’s the thing is 


Jacob:
00:35:21


Find the adjacencies right. 


Alex:
00:35:22


Yeah. And so here’s the thing about a mobile app business that I have found is that one of our strengths is that we’re building an audience, right? Like mobile apps only really work with retention.


And so you’re like building up this audience of people that are committed to your app and your brand over time. And these smaller businesses are looking for ways to get audiences. Right? And so in the scale of a mobile app is such that you might actually be able to accumulate an audience that is valuable to those small businesses.


That can be a part of that trade. And so we’ve actually talked about that with our partners where we basically say like, well, you’re referring users to us. We can refer users back to you. And our scale is large enough that it could actually be a meaningful number. so I think you can kind of get, it’s definitely a B2B strategy where it’s like, I’m thinking of the strategic value I can provide to my partners in return for them providing value.


Which might be why it’s less common in the, in the B2C, like mobile app world, right.


David:
00:36:16


Yeah. Any other, experiments that you’ve done or kind of things that you’re working on in the, in the marketing realm that you’ve seen fail or things that are being successful right now 


Alex:
00:36:27


We really want to tap peer to peer referrals and that has not been easy. And so that, that is one 


Jacob:
00:36:33


Have you seen, have you seen the new store kit to stuff? 


Alex:
00:36:36


Not 


Jacob:
00:36:36


Yeah, they did. This is, I don’t know when this is going to go out, but they, they dropped in, in, in the dub DC, this, this, this week they announced there’s a new API. That’s going to make that kind of possible. 


Now you’ll be able to, you’ll be able to like extend somebody else’s subscription, based on some sort of like action. I think I, I, I don’t know if they made it as like, for extending, for like a customer support use case. So there might be a case maybe Apple’s like, no, we didn’t want you to use it for incentivized referrals, but it could 


Alex:
00:37:09


Yeah, 


Jacob:
00:37:09


Make incentivize referrals work and like a really smooth way. Sorry, I’ll derail. But, 


Alex:
00:37:14


I love it. 


Jacob:
00:37:15


It’s, kind of a change.


Alex:
00:37:17


Well, it’s probably useful to listeners. we have definitely hacked around incentivizes invites using promotionals that will say RevenueCat has been helpful.


Jacob:
00:37:26


Oh, so, and so you guys are, you guys are pushing folks, but they have to go through like this, like a user-driven process, right? 


Alex:
00:37:33


They do. Yeah.


Jacob:
00:37:34


Is friction.


Alex:
00:37:35


It’s friction. It has been fine, but it’s not quite as productive as we like. So that one. 


Jacob:
00:37:39


Have a lot of users that get confused about the process. I would imagine. 


Alex:
00:37:42


Yeah. And it’s like a deep Linky thing. So it’s like not super transparent. the thing that’s worked better, the one that I’m most excited about is I love this one. we, created, user generated content loops. so, basically people, there are certain things you can do in our app that like publish web pages on the web.


And so for us very specifically, People like Greg, we don’t have a database of like 


every plant in the world yet. Right. There’s like 400,000. It’s really complicated. And like, that’s actually, one of our core IP is, is developing that database. And the only way we can do it is if we allow users to contribute to it.


Right. and we need to be like a crowd source, like model and we get really good at curation so people can create new species in Gregg. And then we curate that and then we publish that page on the web and then it starts showing up in Google search traffic for other people searching for information about that species.


Right. And so I love the theory of this and like check back in, in a year to see how it turns out. But I love the thing. Because it’s like, okay, a user publishes a web page, which then more users find our app through. So then they join the app and then they publish more webpages. And then so more users find the app and then they publish more web pages.


Right. And so it’s like a very like positive reinforcement loop. And I think those types of recursive positive reinforcing user growth loops can lead to very healthy, growth curves, right?


Jacob:
00:39:08


Yeah. I mean, that’s the, the challenge of these apps. You said it with retention is the big thing. I think you, you you’re you’re you’re you’ve got some tables. Keeping a plant alive plants live a long time. Therefore, hopefully your app gets used a long time, but then, finding these things that can take what is inherently like a decaying process, which is people leaving your app and turning it into something more stable, which is how you build this, like yeah.


Long-term business. And then, you know, for, in your case, like use this as a platform to move into other segments and whatnot. but, but but moving away, from this, like get them in, monetize them, let them go. Right. Model, which like, it seems just like the whole world is pointing us against right. With, with the way that ad tracking is getting less easy to do and all this stuff.


Alex:
00:39:54


Yeah. 


Jacob:
00:39:54


So I was gonna say SEO, that’s one of the seven good channels. Right. So you’ve hit at least three, 


Alex:
00:40:01


Do end up dependent on, on Google. 


And


Jacob:
00:40:05


It’s something can change in 


Alex:
00:40:06


Yeah, 


Jacob:
00:40:07


Or. 


Alex:
00:40:07


But like I’ve been wanting, I’ve been watching SEO for a while and I think that generally, as long as you’re not doing shady things, you don’t have to worry about much. Right, 


Jacob:
00:40:16


Content that people click on and find useful it will work. Right? Like, but when I did our blogs for revenue cat, initially the ones that got really good traffic for us kind of got us off the ground. Like I didn’t, I didn’t think, like I thought a little bit like, oh, what are people going to Google?


Whatever. But no, I was just like, I’ll just make plus that people will read and spend time on and share. And like that’s all it took. And you’ll find the posts that some of the posts that I did that were intentionally like, I’m trying to be like, SEO smart. Didn’t do that. Well, the ones where they were just really good posts and like contained a lot of really good content and get referenced a lot. Those are the ones that still generate traffic for us. So like, which is nice because you don’t have to be like an SEO master anymore. You can kind of just make good stuff and do 


Alex:
00:40:56


Yeah. 


Jacob:
00:40:56


Things. Yeah, 


David:
00:40:57


Yeah, I was going to ask, I think we talked about this, but have you, have you done some paid marketing and how’s that gone for you? 


Alex:
00:41:05


Yeah, definitely. We did use paid marketing to like, scale up, by like a two X factor. So did that add a little bit of extra? And, so we’ve been running on Instagram and Facebook, and it’s been pretty productive to the point where it’s almost NetSpend zero. it’s like we spend a dollar in advertising and then we make a dollar in revenue.


We’re still very early. And so we haven’t had enough months. Like the, the, the pain point is if you do a trial. It’s actually a much longer, payback period or like what finance people would call a float. And then a lot of people expect, because let’s say you have, we’re generous. We have a 30 day trial, which is like a bit much for a mobile app, but we do it.


And so 30 days, and then the user subscribes, and then you get paid and then apple will pay you a month later. Right. So you actually end up with like up to a 90 day float. and so that’s not as tight as I would like hope for, but it’s better than nothing. And I think that’s the key is that like, because we’re a revenue generating app we’re able to do the ad spend in like a reasonable way.


I think if that weren’t the case, then it’d be very difficult.


David:
00:42:12


Yeah. And, and at some point, I mean, with, with your other strategies of referrals, of SEO, of building a base of users, that then you can get more and more partners, you know? So, so if you went to home Depot, 10 million active users, then that’s a much more attractive proposition to them. so at some point, you know, spending at a loss might actually make sense, but it’s amazing that the subscription, model enables you to even spend break even, but keep that flywheel going, which is it’s.


That’s incredible.


Alex:
00:42:52


And I think the NetSpend break, even that creates an interesting exercise because then it’s like, it becomes, we didn’t get into like financing, but like if you fundraise That’s then a good reason to fundraise because then if you have more capital, you can put that capital to work. Because if you know, you’ll make, if you have a dollar, now you’ll have a dollar again in 90 days, as long as you can carry that float.


Well, then at the end of 90 days you have a dollar and a user 


Jacob:
00:43:17


Yeah, which is like, has, has value, right? Like you’ve increased the value of your user base has adult, you know, dollar per user active value essentially in the venture market or revalue reevaluate. Right. So, it, it does make sense. So yeah, I w I want to ask, like, You guys, it seems like your apps pretty developed for how long you’ve been working on it a year and change.


Right. and you mentioned, you mentioned this, like finding iterating to like a retention goal. Like how did that go? Did you start with just like the basic function, like the most basic thing and then add stuff until you got, and what, what I guess specifically, like what metric were you looking at to say like, okay, retention is good now. 


Alex:
00:43:58


Hmm. Yeah, that’s a great question. So we did start with the most basic core functionality, and I think one of the things that we did that I would do again, 


We just solved our own problem. So like I, so we, we started at the beginning of COVID, so like New York where I live, locked down basically the day, almost the day that I left Tinder.


Right. And so and so I remember I’ll never forget things were shutting down. So I ran to the nursery nearby plant nursery, and I bought like 30 plants. Cause I was like, I need to have the problem in order to be deeply motivated to solve it. Right. Cause like, if you actually have like over 10 plants, keeping track of them kind of socks a little bit, it’s hard.


And so I knew that I needed the problem and that motivated us and, and our whole team really, we basically just wrote like a prototype app to solve our own problem. and once it was working for us is when we started bringing like beta users in, we did like a test flight, version for a month brought in like maybe a thousand or I think it was 2000 beta users total and there in like August, 2020.


And. 


Jacob:
00:44:59


Did you, how did you get that list for the beta? Just Facebook and 


Alex:
00:45:04


Facebook. It was, it was mostly Facebook like groups and stuff like that. 


Jacob:
00:45:07


Mm. 


Alex:
00:45:08


Yeah. and it posted on Reddit. Reddit is hard. but, we did a little bit 


Jacob:
00:45:15


Rip off middlemen made easy. That’s my favorite. We posted, I posted right. It was where we launched two and I have this, this favorite hater quote that I have like screenshot it on my desktop that I will hold on to until we IPO. 


Alex:
00:45:27


The hater codes or something people should be prepared for, I think,


Jacob:
00:45:30


Yeah. 


Alex:
00:45:32


But let’s see. So we solved that. Here’s the key is that we specifically, for our app, we wanted to solve the retention piece first. And so he chose the behavior in the app that would be associated with retention because the way that I personally think about retention is that right.


What happens is you have a trigger. So a person needs an external trigger to think about opening your app. Right? So it could be a feeling that they have like Tinder, it’s a feeling I’m bored or I’m lonely. And I want to see people, and that’s an external trigger that causes a person to think about your app.


Then you need value to them to actually open your app. Right? Like, okay, I have this trigger in this app can adjust that trip. Sure. So for us, we didn’t have like an emotion, but we did have, the need for reminders. And so basically we, leveraged push indicator very heavily. Our whole app is like a water reminder app right now that’s the core value.


And so we built that specific functionality, water reminders before anything else, because we wanted to validate, is that a sticky behavior? Is that something that people will actually want to do and use over like six months? Right. And because we knew we wanted to get six months of data, we had to build it first.


Right. Because you have to really think about how long it’s going to take to get that validation. and we were bootstrapped. And so we knew that like, well, we can’t bootstrap for forever. Right. And so we needed to front load the questions that we knew investors would be asking when we went out to fundraise.


David:
00:46:57


So speaking of which you just raised $5.4 million seed round, how, tell us about the process. It sounds like you were, you know, having been at Tinder and been in Silicon valley and in the industry, that was your goal that you didn’t come into it thinking you were going to bootstrap this forever. and you were specifically kind of building up some of those retention numbers and other things that you knew investors would ask for.


So, how did fundraising go having kind of iterated into that direction? 


Alex:
00:47:35


It’s definitely hard as hell. I don’t know, like you don’t ever say that it’s not. but it wasn’t, it wasn’t like excruciating. I think recruiting is actually probably a little bit more difficult, especially right now. There’s a lot of, a lot of movement in the, in the why people are working, how they want


Jacob:
00:47:51


It’s easier. It’s easier. to write a check than it is to take a job. I think, you know, like to give it to somebody to do, do 


Alex:
00:47:57


You can write multiple checks. Right?


Jacob:
00:47:58


Yeah. It’s not your, it’s not your every day, you 


Alex:
00:48:02


Exactly. Yeah. So, let’s see. We actually, to go back to your first point, we weren’t, completely, we hadn’t decided that we were definitely going to raise VC capital. and so there was like, like we did work through that as a team and we ended up deciding, various specifically. 


Our mission is one that we believe would benefit from us being good at raising capital, because we think that if we can bring capital and talent to this industry and this problem domain, that’s a good thing.


And then even from a life perspective, like we wanted, we want to move quick, we want to be able to grow. You want to be able to like, build delightful things for lots of people. and so that was, that was the main motivation behind the VC capital. I think it’s a big trade-off. so we, we definitely did not take it lightly and we did deeply evaluate 


Jacob:
00:48:49


Closes, off a lot of paths, 


Alex:
00:48:51


It does. Yeah, 


Jacob:
00:48:52


You kind of really narrows what your future, I mean, 


Alex:
00:48:55


Yeah, 


Jacob:
00:48:55


You on a trajectory to something potentially much, much bigger, but it 


Alex:
00:48:58


Yeah, 


Jacob:
00:48:59


Of like brings down your, your options. 


Alex:
00:49:02


It does. Yeah. And I think you just have to think about like, am I okay with needing to focus on eventually providing an exit to these people who trusted with their capital, right. Yeah. And I think maybe something that people don’t think about is like the CEO, whoever is fundraising. Like you, you build a relationship with your, your, your VC partners, right?


Like I consider them like life journey partners at this point. And so it’s not that like, it’s certainly not an adversarial relationship. It’s more like I have a true responsibility to these people because we had a clear, like, this is the agreement is like capital and then they have obligation to their investors too.


And so, you know, I’m aligned with that and I think you’re right. You just have to think about like, is that, is that aligned with my vision for this, this journey, right. 


David:
00:49:45


And then speaking of, of an exit, you shared with me, you have a very unique approach to employee equity. 


I’m actually curious to hear at, Jacob’s take on this, having gone through the whole thing, himself, but Yeah. Tell us about your equity structure. 


Alex:
00:50:05


Yeah. We, we definitely are, experimenting and trying something different and I think there’s pros and cons.


Jacob:
00:50:12


Investors love that, by the way. I’m sure those were easy conversations. 


Alex:
00:50:17


Surprisingly most investors were, were okay with it. I definitely had a couple that were concerned about, the implications in the medium term, but here I’ll get to what it is. 


So, yeah. Okay. So basically, like we, wanted to distribute as much of the financial ownership of the company across as many of the early teammates as we could.


And the reason for that is like the real thought that I had that whether or not other people think about this kind of thing, I would, I would encourage people to ask the best, which is, if I have an exit, how big of an exit would I really want to feel very fortunate about. Right. And like, really think about like how much money do I actually need.


Right. Because I think that there’s a lot of people who get caught up with like, I want a billion dollars, right. Or like, I want like a hundred million dollars. I’ve been fortunate enough. Like we pointed out earlier, my first company was acquired for like a fine amount and then Tinder totally exploded. I didn’t own as much of it, but it is still a positive outcome.


And I can say that like they didn’t change anything. And I know it’s a very cliche thing to say, but I think it’s a productive exercise that if anybody was founding a company, I would recommend asking, at what point am I again, feeling fortunate about the outcome, right? And then what we really thought about is our ability to recruit a great team.


And basically the decision that we made is that, there’s really two aspects to equity. and I’d be curious again, Jacob’s take on this there’s there’s compensation for risk. So early teammates take more risks, quote unquote. Right? And so that, that’s a typical, like reason for, founders taking a large, large 


Jacob:
00:51:52


Costs risk mostly. 


Right. But 


Alex:
00:51:54


Opportunity cost and risk.


And then the other dimension that I think about is. Where, early stage companies are hard for everybody who’s involved. And my prior experience pointed towards like the first 20 people who joined the company, or at least definitely 10 or 15, all worked, pretty much as hard. And definitely at least not like 10, it’s impossible to work 10 times harder. Right. 


And so, 


Jacob:
00:52:19


And with less M with less glory, to be honest, 


Alex:
00:52:22


With less boring. 


Yeah, 


Jacob:
00:52:23


Don’t, they don’t get all the likes on follows on Twitter or whatever. Right. 


Alex:
00:52:27


Exactly.


Jacob:
00:52:28


Try to distribute it, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s a grindy place to be for sure. 


Alex:
00:52:33


Not getting the glory is like a, it’s definitely a double edged sword because I think that that glory is also a responsibility. Right. But, yeah. And so basically we decided to try this approach where we wanted to do this exercise of distributing that equity as equally as possible. 


And so he set up a mathematical curve where whenever I make an offer, I just look at this math equation.


What is the amount of equity that this next person gets. Right. and, and so, and we did that and basically projected out like, okay, each person gets to like, like if we reached a billion dollar company, each teammate should have an outcome of something like $10 million or more, right. Like something, something above that number.


And it was really important to map that out because otherwise it can go forward. And, yeah, basically that, that was our exercise. I mean, basically they decided like, okay, can we, can we turn that around a little bit? And, the side effect that I like, so again, we’re, we’re early in this, like, we’re, we’re an eight person team we’re in a 15 and it may turn out to be complicated.


And again, we check in in a year, but what I like about it is it, did enable a completely transparent cap table. Right. 


And that’s nice. Cause like, I don’t think it’s like maybe required, but I do like being able to show people like this is who owns this 


Jacob:
00:53:50


Who owns with you? Right? 


Alex:
00:53:53


Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so that’s a positive side effect.


But there’s definitely it’s complicated.


Jacob:
00:54:00


Yeah, I well, so David, my take is actually we do something very similar that’s I like also like, so interestingly and, and inside, inside baseball, I think, it it’s it’s we, we did, something similar. No, we weren’t as scientific with it for the first, like we had like a rough rule, but it was like the same, like X, each number, like the number like decreased, like, but this backoff curve, I’ve found it a very, it’s a very hard problem to reason about, because you want, you want to think about this, you want the hundredth employee to have some skin in the game.


Right. But you, you need to balance that with like, Hey, like come join this company that you’ve never heard of. And like probably has like worst benefits and you know, who knows it’s going to be, it’s going to be a mess. Right. And so like, finding that balance is really hard. and, and, you know, Looking at where we’re at 30 people now, and the complexity definitely grows. And then I think also you start thinking about like recruiting leverage and like, what, you know, what, how much equity do I need to offer to be able to like, recruit these different types of roles and things like that. And your systems get more complex, but, but, but it’s still, did you guys, did you do something special on special on founder equity to create like more, more room on the cap table?


Or did you ha how many co-founders do you have?


Alex:
00:55:11


That’s such a blurry line. I don’t know if this is just me by name or no, like, well, is that the fourth person? Like, I mean,


Jacob:
00:55:18


I guess that’s true. yeah. 


Alex:
00:55:20


Yeah. 


Jacob:
00:55:21


A, maybe that’s a, it’s a YC thing is where they’re like very clear, like who are the co-founders and who are not But, but yeah, I, I agree. It’s probably mostly a, a label.


Alex:
00:55:32


I feel like we have six co-founders. realistically there were, there were two of us that were like, thinking about this, you know, like that’s not true. There were three of us that were thinking about this, like two years ago. so we, I, I called them co-founders and so we’re all on this same plans.


Like we have this graph where like, I am the first black. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, It’s 


Jacob:
00:55:51


Interesting. 


Alex:
00:55:53


Like as much as possible. And so the hardest, this plan is definitely hardest on the first three people and it requires incredible cultural buy-in to that because it means that the outcome, like, I, I definitely worked on this for a lot longer than like the people who are joining today.


Right. And like, it was stressful and hard, but here’s, here’s my, my, my personal take. And, is that I actually think the risk of doing startups and I feel like YC, you may agree with us. The risk of doing startups is like so much lower than most people realize for people who have the fortune of having a safety net.


Right? Like if you’re, if you, if you have a family and you don’t have savings, then like, of course that is a, that is a risky proposition. for people who are relatively early or mid stage in their careers and they have savings and they’re not actually gonna end up in a really dangerous spot, then I think that startups are almost always a net positive.


If you really apply yourself, because the amount that you learn and grow by solving that many problems, only accelerates your career. Right. And so going back to the risk versus there’s also opportunity costs, and then there’s effort. I personally discount the risk for people who are fortunate enough to have that safe space.


I discount that risk almost to zero, because I think that it’s just such a, even this time around for me, my second startup, I have learned so much and it’s been such a good life experience that even if it didn’t work out tomorrow, net win. For sure. Sure.


Jacob:
00:57:17


Yeah. 


David:
00:57:18


So part of the reason I brought it up was that I, when I joined and I’ve told Dick at this, when I joined revenue, this is way inside baseball. Goodness a open, an open enough on the podcast. But when I joined Romney, I thought more along the lines of you, Alex. Like I thought, well, why is Jacob getting so much more of the company and, and revenue Katz, like the first 10 employees and then the next 20 it’s actually, it’s very generous compared to the industry, like take a, did an incredible job and has been great with equity.


So, but, but early on you, you’re at a startup and you’re like, wow, I’m working really hard. He’s working really hard. Like why, why, why is the outcome going to be so different? But honestly, 18 months in and Jacob having raised a series B and like taking a lot of the hardship, like you as a founder are going to have to do things and be under amount of stress.


And like, there, there really is. 


And I, I don’t, it’s probably somewhat true for maybe those, you know, those first early employees, how carry a little bit of that load, but the F but a founder just has to carry a different load. And so. 


Jacob:
00:58:29


It’s always going to fall on that first two, you know, whatever people on the cap table. Right. Whatever it’s going to keep rolling until it hits you at some point. And, you know, as it gets bigger. yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, I don’t know. It’s an, it’s an interesting, this could very easily devolve into like the nature of capitalism and ownership.


Right. Because it doesn’t, it plays very much against this, like, you know, constant, like Marxists debate about like labor versus capital and like, what are the value and what is like value and like, cause you know, you like, you had this whatever period it was one month, one year or whatever. That’s like such, you know, if you build the Greg of your dreams, which is a billion dollar company, that’s touching all parts of agriculture and plant, like how much, how much of that is from that one month.


Right? Like, why do you get, why do you get such an outsized return? Right. And not, yeah. I don’t know. Maybe it’s, you know, maybe that maybe that’s when the, the, the there’ll be at my gates with pitchforks and stuff like that. Not all deserve it, but like, but yeah, no, it is, it is, yeah, I mean it’s and for, for, you know, I think folks, our listeners is interesting because when they’re trying to make this decision of like, am I building a, B Corp, am I building an LLC with my friends that we’re just going to share revenues?


Am I going to go venture? Am I, you know, one thing I kind of went into venture a little blindly, like, I didn’t understand all of these aspects before I filled out the YC application. That was basically like, I’m doing venture, I’m going to fill out the YC application. And luckily they kind of like. Taught me like, okay, this is what this means.


And like, I’m still learning it as I go. Like, and now I think I kinda know like what I’m in for. but I think it’s something undereducated on and like, it’s hard to do without firsthand experience. And like you’ve been in other startups and had exits and things like this, which are great educational experiences.


But, it’s not something to be thought on lightly because it really will kind of, it’s really hard to change paths after a certain point. Right? Like you can go bootstrap to venture, but going back is almost impossible. you can even even doing something like an LLC where like you split it between a few people.


Well, okay. Somebody leaves, like, what do you do? You know, there’s not a clear path for that. These are really things like you have to understand, when you’re, when you’re taking your app into a business or deciding what you want out of, you know, your work and your life. So, 


It’s great that you’re playing with it though.


Like, I think it’s great when we’re, when I think it’s founders, sometimes we don’t push the limits enough with, with just the status quo. But it’s, it’s how, it’s how things get better, like is, is, is by, by, you know, people with a little bit of leverage thing. Like we should do this, right?


Alex:
01:01:09


Exactly. And I think that that’s the key is that I don’t think that like, our approaches is better. It’s an experiment and I think it has trade-offs that are equal. It’s just, what is your desired outcome? Right. And so what, what we were really solving. Is, we wanted to end up with a team in four or five years of people who are very bought into still being at the company.


Right. Because we really wanted to build a place where like, we’re not trying to graduate out into an exit to like another giant enterprise, like are very clearly Telegraph to our VCs that our desired outcome is an IPO. We do have to provide an exit to our investors. and who knows what will happen?


Like, gosh, that’s like, so, so pie in the sky, right? hopefully we get there. but in any case, that’s the problem we were solving for us. I was thinking about like, ultimately I’d wrap this up into working backwards where like we thought about our end state and I wanted to have, you know, a hundred teammates that were like, I felt very authentically, really just as bought into this as I was.


And so I optimize. For that objective function. Right. But then it comes up other trade-offs where like, David you’re completely right. That like the amount of stress that I have gone through in the last, you know, year and a half is soul crushing. it’s like acknowledging, and even I do have thoughts, like, well, why don’t I own like twenty-five percent of the company or something.


Right. I definitely do not. but I am very at 


Jacob:
01:02:32


Which, by the way that’s, that’s that’s, I mean, I don’t own 25% a company anymore because like a deletion and all that stuff. But like at that stage, that’s, that’s, that’s pretty like very open-handed right. Like you’ve shared a lot. I know you’ve got other founders obviously, or, you know, but I, that was the clarifying thing that makes what I think what you’re doing so unique is that you started with employees zero, right?


Which typically. More of common practices that you have some like group that you call co-founders, they get some, like chunk of the pie. And then like you have like an option, you set aside some amount of equity for, for employees and you work backwards from there. Like we set a goal to be at a certain percentage of employee ownership by the end, and we worked backwards from there.


But I think that’s the whole point is that you do have to start with this end state and that’s not just for equity planning, that’s for all of this. Like what is the end state have an idea because you got to convince a hundred other people to go there with you. You’ve got to like convince yourself that you’re going to want to do this that whole time.


And so, you know, we’ve, we’ve, we’re pretty settled on that, that IPO path as well. Like of course it’s a very far journey and like, lots of can happen between here and there. And like, I can’t promise that I, it, it is an unlikely outcome just by the definition of it. But if, but it’s useful, even at this stage to be like, that’s where we’re going, we get there.


I don’t know what the journey’s going to look like, but that’s where we’re going. So I, I think it’s a smart way to run it. 


David:
01:03:48


Yeah. And then what you said earlier, Jacob is so true too. And I think a lot of the people listening will fall on a pretty wide spectrum from just, you know, indie developers. Like I was, you know, a few years ago where I still had to think about this and I actually made mistakes around this. You know, oh, let’s build an app together.


We’ll do it. 50/50, no exit plan. No, like what if things go wrong? What if we bring in a third person? And I learned through hard knocks that like, you, you need to look at that in-state and figure out what can go wrong between here and the in-state and, and make some decisions early on that account for those things.


Because if not, you’re going to put yourself in a bad spot. So, so anybody working on a, on a business, or any business needs to think through these things? Like How do you split up ownership? How do you manage potential exits? How do you invest the ownership over time? So that if somebody leaves early, they’re not having an outsize return on a minimal investment.


But anyways, I really appreciate you opening up about this, Alex, and then Jacob, I kind of put you on


Jacob:
01:04:59


It’s fine. 


David:
01:05:01


I think what you’re doing with revenue Canada is great. And I mean, I, you know, I felt like I was, you were very generous with me on stock and, and, and the first 


Jacob:
01:05:10


We’ll go ahead and we’ll go ahead and link to David’s compensation package in the, in the, show notes. 


Alex:
01:05:14


I love the point that like, it is, it is philosophical, right? And I think it is worth like entrepreneurs talking about the options. It’s fast. Sometimes there are companies there’s like the whole open comp model, like buffer, you know, actually in their, their salaries and equity and stuff. and, that’s an interesting approach, too. 


Jacob:
01:05:33


Yeah. Being intentional about it, I think is my advice. 


Alex:
01:05:36


Being intentional. 


Jacob:
01:05:37


Just don’t fall into it. Like not, not having a point. Right? Think 


Alex:
01:05:40


I agree. 


Jacob:
01:05:41


All, not a lot necessarily, but do think about it.


Alex:
01:05:44


Well, and really like what is your desired destination? Can you kind of picture that world and then reverse engineer? What steps will get you there? Because that’s really, that’s also product development. It’s company strategy financing. Like if you are raising capital, you have to be able to discuss where is this capital going to get us? Cause it’s not going to last forever. It’s always going to last less long than you think it will, right?


Jacob:
01:06:06


Right. 


David:
01:06:07


Yeah, well, there is so much more I wanted to talk to you about, but I think that what we did talk about was really fun and interesting and honestly, really different. You know, we’ve had a lot of podcasts that talk about monetization and talked about retention or other things. And so hopefully this is a really unique take that I think a lot of people can get get some value from.


So, yeah. Thank you so much, Alex. And, definitely looking forward to talking to you more in the future as a RevenueCat customer. So, I’m going to put links to your Twitter and to the Greg app in the show notes, but anything else you wanted to share as we wrap up? You’re hiring, right?


Alex:
01:06:49


We’re hiring senior engineers, staff engineers, and a product designer and a head of brand. So, if anybody wants to apply machine learning and help machines grow plants so that we can make the ecosystems and the food system a little bit better, reach out to us.


Jacob:
01:07:04


That’s a great pitch. 


David:
01:07:05


And get early in a very unique experiment where you’re going to get more equity then you typically wouldn’t have startups. That’s, that’s a huge pitch.


Alex:
01:07:15


It is. Yeah. 


David:
01:07:16


Yeah. Okay, cool. Well, we’ll put links to your hiring page in the, in the show notes as well. So, but yeah, thanks again so much for being on the show. 


Jacob:
01:07:23


Yeah. Thanks, Alex. 


Alex:
01:07:24


I loved it.