DailyTekk has long been a fan of Contactually, the startup that brings you better relationship management in your email, ever since we discovered them while researching resources to feature in a roundup titled 50 Ways to Make Email More Productive and Enjoyable. I’m sure glad we asked Zvi, the CEO and co-founder, to tell us about his startup journey. Has anyone else out there turned a door into a desk?
Prior to Contactually, I was running a software development firm. Like most services businesses, all of my clients came via referrals. I knew how important it was to keep these relationships warm, but I was so focused on the top of my inbox, I would never be able to tend to these crucial opportunities. After trying every CRM and contact manager, I know there was an opportunity to build a product that fit this need. One of the first things I did was, as myself and my co-founder are engineers by trade, we brought on a third co-founder who immersed himself in customer development, which definitely contributed to our initial buzz.
Startup legend tells us how Amazon, for cost and efficiency, turned old doors into desks. Well, when we moved out to California temporarily, our incubator had run out of normal desks. So, all three of us huddled around an old door on top of two sawhorses. While it was an uncomfortable situation, it’s a fun thing to compare our early days to Amazon. We now have an office right in downtown DC where everyone has enough space, and we even bring our dogs into work!
We’re a bit of a special case, as I the CEO, am also heavily involved in growing the DC startup community by co-founding both ProudlyMadeInDC and the DC Tech Meetup, which is one of the largest such initiatives in the country. So Contactually has been incredibly well received, with every tech entrepreneur and influencer being well aware of what we’re up to. As such, we’re part of an ever-growing community that we have woven ourselves into.
The highest high of starting and running Contactually comes from our users. We’re luckily at the point where we hear about how much users love Contactually. But nothing compares to hearing a user report tangible results, like the extra 1.5 MILLION they made in sales that quarter. Feedback like that makes it all worth it. In terms of the lowest low, it’s a challenge getting the right investors to invest in your product, and it took a lot of hit-or-miss in order to secure our initial round of financing. I remember hearing a few bad responses in one day, and spent an evening catatonic on the couch. I’ve learned how to handle being turned down – if everyone was so eager to invest in our yet-to-be-proven idea, then someone else must already be doing it.
We’ve had a number of great investors and advisors. I think for us, one of our most effective mentors has been Aaron Batalion, CTO of LivingSocial. Every time myself and my technical co-founder met with him, we’d have a totally different perspective about how we should go about building the product. He engrained in our heads that we should be focusing on whatever gets us more users, and more activity, instead of spending too much time making improvements that users won’t see, we should be “buying more time” with our runway.
We definitely aim to stay in “startup” mode as long as possible, even though we can see when we’re going to be cashflow positive. We want to keep as small a team as possible, particularly on the engineering side. While we ensure there are times to socialize and having everyone in one chat room, it helps keep each other in sync. On the engineering side, for the foreseeable future, we’ll stick with Facbook’s motto: Move fast and break things.