This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Adam Robinson. Adam is a serial entrepreneur who has started and bootstrapped multiple companies to 7-figures, most notably, Robly and his latest venture, Get Emails. But, he didn’t start out down the entrepreneur path. He was a trader and investment banker for almost a decade before he made the leap to entrepreneur.
In 2017, he made a major change at Robly, where the company changed from everyone coming into the Manhattan office ever day to becoming a fully remote organization – and Adam decided to go on the road working remotely while traveling the world.
I am really excited to explore what this change was like and what he learned in addition to his insight on entrepreneurship and how to bootstrap a multi-million dollar company in today’s episode.
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When Adam graduated from college, a friend of his convinced him to go up to New York and get into the trading and investing markets. He managed to get a job at Lehman Brothers. He showed up in New York and was sharing an apart with a few other guys. These guys happened to working on building a business by the name of Vimeo. Adam watched this group of guys begin to flourish and see them really enjoy the fruits of entrepreneurship.
While this was going, Adam was doing great at Lehman. He was trading credit default swaps which were the instruments at the center of the 2008 financial crisis. Even though he was doing well, he felt that he had a calling to pursue and build his own business.
He managed to save a decent amount of money and in 2011, he left the investment/trading business to start his own business. He invested in several businesses and lost his money. As he says, “The overconfidence of being a Wall Streeter is a real thing.” He didn’t know how to build a team, operating an organization, etc.
Fortunately, one of the things he invested in got some legs and eventually became Robly.
At the 7:30 mark, Adam talks about how Robly came about and some of the biggest lessons he’s learned on his entrepreneurial journey?
- Robly came about in a what Adam calls the “luckiest way”
- Adam made a YouTube video, and the CEO of a failed company, that Adam and his brother were trying to essentially copy and do a better job with, found it and invited him to come meet with him.
- The CEO showed Adam everything that his company had done wrong and how it could be done right.
- The CEO essentially gave them the structure of the machine and also showed them some insight and a niche of how to get customers.
- The big lesson is that “Unless you are very confident that you have an unfair advantage when you are starting, or if you think that if it works out 10% as well as you think is possible that it’s still a great business, keep going.”
- The key to success was developing one of the first “remarketing” features in the space.
Successes and Failures?
- The main strategy of working the list they had and staying very true to the niche of servicing customers that measured success by “open rate.”
- It was the success and failure at the same time of Robly to date.
- Adam had 30+ people dialing every day to sell them.
- The list ran out faster than Adam thought and trying new lists to market to, outside of the main channel, were not working near as well, so margins began to shrink.
- The big lesson/failure here was that while things were going well with the main channel, they should have been developing an offering for several other channels/customer types.
- Because of this, Adam was forced to let go of about 25 of his staff and decided that it would better to make the company a remote work company.
- Going remote worked out tremendously for the company and the team.
Tell us about Get Emails…
- It is a technology that allows customers to identify up to 35% of the anonymous traffic on their website and get their information to be able to market to.
- It works because the people identified have opted in and are Can-Spam compliant with lists that can be shared, so they can be given to a business to market to and see who is on their site that may not being captured.
- This is only legal in the U.S. currently because of the U.S. Can-Spam laws.
- The only rule is you must have an opt Out link in what you send out to these leads.
- It is the ultimate niche business.
Talk to us about the results you realized from going fully remote as a company?
- It would have been hard to do with 35 cold-callers.
- When they scaled down, it made more sense.
- The effect on the employees when it was done, was night and day. The productivity went up tremendously simply by taking out the daily commute into an office in New York.
- They eased into it, first going 2 days remote, then 3, and then ultimately full remote was the right way to do it.
- Having a good operations manager/leader in place will make it easier for you.
- The employees are happier, turnover
- The cost is potentially some missing creativity/idea generation that you get when you have a bunch of people in the same office all day, but it is minimal – and the overall benefits outweigh it.
What is your best advice on how to be effective as a remote CEO?
- You must do everything possible to stay connect to people.
- You must make sure and even over-invest in ways manage and measure accountability.
- Manage things on a week by week basis with the employees. Have them articulate what they will do over the next week and then when you meet the next week, have them report on it.
- Track deliverables clearly and concisely
What is most important when hiring a remote workforce?
- The ability self-manage is the single most important skill to have.
- You need to figure out how to identify the self-management quality when interviewing
- Having solid remote work experience on a resume is one thing to look for.
- Interview for examples of times in their life that really required self-management
Was there anything that you learned as an investment banker that helped you on your entrepreneurial journey?
- [Laughs] Almost nothing
- Adam was shocked when he went out to start a business and sell real products to clients. It was a rude awakening, as nothing he had done really prepared him.
- His experience would be beneficial in raising capital is needed.
- Adam learned through self-education
What is something you think every entrepreneur should know?
Start with an unfair advantage. Find that hack or niche or thing that gives you a real clear advantage.
You must have cushion for the mistakes you will make.
Best Quote: A sign that you are on the right track in business is that it will feel so much easier from the beginning vs. trying to force something through. If you haven’t felt that feeling, you need to dig deeper and find a bigger edge or differentiator.
Adam's Misfit 3:
- It’s all about the team. Not just in your professional life, but personal life. Find the best people to put around you in all aspects of life.
- The brand is far more important today than it has been ever, especially if you are in software.
- A sign that you are on the right track in business is that it will feel so much easier from the beginning vs. trying to force something through. If you haven’t felt that feeling, you need to dig deeper and find a bigger edge or differentiator.