Scott Payne, CEO of SDP Solutions sits down with Jeff Solomon, cofounder and CEO of Velocify, formerly known as Leads360, to talk about his journey into the mortgage world as well as implementation of systems and processes used in lead management today. He shares his insights on many topics from building mobile apps to establishing a business to features such as form builder, web dialer, and best practice templates.
Velocify is coming up on its 15-year anniversary and Jeff has done almost every role of Velocify including CEO, board member, head of product, head of marketing, enterprise sales, chief motivator, janitor, everything in between. Jeff is a super successful entrepreneur who is now the CEO and founder of AudioJoy, a mobile audio content platform and Afinity, a mobile engagement and monetization platform both based in LA.
Jeff, will you start by sharing some of your background and history?
I'm a serial entrepreneur. I didn't start out that way. I actually had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated college. I didn't really study anything particular. I certainly wasn't studying technology, which I ultimately ended up in. I've told the story a few times, but I graduated college and my dad was like, "Well, what are you going to do?" And I said, "I don't know." And he said, "Well, I have this friend that owns this plastic manufacturing company in LA, and he's a good dude. You should go meet him. Maybe he has a job for you."
I went to meet that guy. He's like, "I have no idea what you're good at. But your dad is a smart guy. So, I'll just hire you, and you'll figure it out." And that was how I got my first job. And it was actually a good job because I learned a lot about bringing products to market. And I learned a lot about what I didn't like, which was the slow, painful process of bringing a manufactured product to market. It was just not for me. But I did all the moving pieces and during that time, I somewhat started to get an idea of what software could be because the internet was kind of going off at that time. This was 1996. And that led me ultimately to learning about software and getting into that space. And I started my first company a couple years later and with a bunch of friends, who ultimately, a couple of those people were, or one of those people was a cofounder in Velocify. We started that company, raised all the money, completely crashed and burned, and it was a very painful and emotional experience which left me depressed for a period of time, but it was a good learning experience. Out of that, I started another company. It was more of a consulting company on the software side. And from that, we spun out sort of incubated, if you will, Leads360, which was ultimately called Velocify. And that's kind of how we got to that point. And since then, I've done a ton of other companies. I teach entrepreneurship in high school. I've been doing that for five years. I started an accelerator in Venice called Amplify, which is still around on its fifth fund. I've been around in LA, small pond, decent sized fish. I’m not the biggest guy around, but I've done a lot of other things.
Will you talk about the app you created for kids, called Where’s Mommy?
At one point, I really got interested. This was sort of when I was transitioning out of day-to-day from Leads360. I was really just fascinated with mobile and I wanted to learn how to make mobile apps. I went to a Startup Weekend in San Diego and pitched this random idea for an app where I had really young kids at that time. I had five year old twins. I had this idea for an app where the kids would have to identify what a picture was. It's called Where's Mommy? I cobbled together a couple developers at that event and we built this app. I don't know if we won the competition or get second place, or what ended up happening, but we actually launched the app. It was live for a while and we did a few iterations. Your kid liked it. In its peak, it had over a million downloads. It was kind of a cool first attempt in learning at how to make mobile apps. Since then, I've spent a long time in mobile. That's been a big part of my focus over the last 10, 12 years.
Just to give everyone some context, when Nationstar purchased Leads360 at the time, Jeff was the sales guy who came in and did the demonstrations on site. Back to the early days at Leads360 and Velocify, Jeff talks about how the idea first came about to start a lead management system. It was kind of incubated in the consulting company.
Will you give a little information about how the Lead Management System actually first came about?
A lot of the credit for that goes to a guy named Scotty Hewitt, who you probably know. He'd been around for a long time in sales and he was doing some freelance sales work for us at that company. That company was called ThinkLogic, which incidentally, the guy that I had brought in to help me on that business, I ended up selling off the company to him and he's been running it ever since. And it's still going. He's done quite well with it. It's kind of funny. But anyway, Scotty was doing some just sales to try and get us business, anything. We would build whatever you wanted. That was kind of the business and he was out there and the mortgage boom was kind of happening. He was getting all these mortgage companies looking for tools. After two or three clients came in, I thought hey, there's something similar about what we're building here. It's really the same thing over and over again, maybe there's a product to be had.
At the same time, my other cofounder at Leads360, Charles Chase had just graduated from SC. He was kind of consulting with me and hanging out, trying to figure stuff out and he kept telling me, like, "Look this consulting business, ThinkLogic thing is cool, and you're making some money and everything, but you're never going to be able to sell it if you don't have a product. It's not a really scalable business," which I knew. He's like, "We got to build a fast product." I didn't really even know what that meant at the time. But after a couple weeks of kind of talking to him and hear from Scotty, I basically realized what he was seeing in the market and what we were building for these mortgage companies was essentially a fast lead management platform. That was how we put those pieces together. We said, "Let's try and build one that we can replicate for each client so we don't have to customize it each time." And that was how we started the process of building out that software.
This was back around early 2000’s. Back then, people used to get leads from different lead providers on a fax machine and they would go pass it out to the salespeople.
Can you talk about what you were encountering while talking to different mortgage companies at the time of the early 2000’s?
They were getting them by email, or fax or spreadsheet. At the time, it really wasn't necessarily about the speed, although we obviously later learned that that was a critical aspect and so we built that into the product. At first it was just a tool to organize that stuff and keep track of who got what and what they did with them. It was just a simple tool to manage that. That's what we were building these little custom one-offs. We were like, "Well, we could build this actual platform that could handle this for multiple clients." And at that time, we were kind of a scrappy shop. We build stuff inexpensively. We weren't like the cheapest guys in the block, but we certainly weren't building enterprise software at that time.
I didn't really have anybody on my team that could actually build an enterprise software. And Charles had worked at this company. At the time, it was called CyberU, but later became Cornerstone OnDemand, which ended up being a huge IPO and big success. He worked there for a number of years before he went to get an MBA, and he worked with this guy, Tony Christopoulos, who was the lead architect at that company and had built the very first version, like enterprise version of that platform. And he was like, "Well, maybe we could go get that guy to come and help us build this thing." And so, we went to this great trip we took to Vegas with that guy and we kind of pitched him the idea. He was thinking about leaving there anyway. He had gotten a good amount of his stock, but still he probably left a lot on the table by leaving there when he did, but he gained a lot too by coming over. But he was kind of onboard, but his wife, who's still his wife is a great woman, is also kind of a ballbuster. And he was like, "Dude, I don't know if my wife is going to go for this. I got a good salary here. I'm not jumping into a startup that has no money." He's like, "I don't know if we're going to pull it off." I told him, "Let me try and work that out. Let's go to dinner. Let's take your wife to dinner and I'll take my wife and we'll see if we can get her onboard and if I can sell her."
So of course, Tony, if you ever met Tony, he kind of marks to his own drum a little bit. He knows you got to deliver for his wife. But at the same time, he's kind of a little on the selfish side. So, his wife is pregnant with their second kid, I think, first or second kid. And he's like, "Yeah, let's go for sushi." And I'm like, "Dude, we can't go for sushi. Your wife loves sushi, and she can't eat it." And I'm trying to convince her to let you leave this cushy job that's probably going to be a big success to go to a sketchy startup. That's not a good idea." "No, no, it's all good. Don't worry, she'll be fine." And so we get there, and of course, she was pissed because she couldn't eat sushi. And we were like pounding sushi rolls and whatnot. Anyway, so I had like an extra obstacle to work on with her. And ultimately, that conversation went well and she believed in me in what I was doing and she was like, "I'm okay with it." So, he came onboard and helped us build that first version.
Having that group is a big deal to get. You had mentioned the pitch that you did, the 60-second pitch when going out and looking at potentially raising money, when it first started.
Will you talk a little bit about that raising money experience at UCLA and the business ecosystem surrounding it?
We came to a point maybe a year in where we were like, I think we could raise some money. We were doing good revenue, probably in the 300,000 a month kind of range. So, it was like the business was jamming. And I was like, I think we should raise some money. And at that time, the whole venture community was nascent in Los Angeles. It wasn't like it is now where there's a ton of venture investors. There's a bunch of seed funds. There's a lot of angels. There's incubators. There's accelerators. There's like a whole ecosystem. That didn't exist back then. Going and having no experience and no relationships, it was very difficult to how are we going to do this. And I kind of just started researching and I found this investment group that's still around, the Tech Coast Angels. And I went and pitched them and they liked it. They're very pretty conservative guys. And so, they weren't ready to write checks. But they were like, "Well, we have this fast pitch competition in Anderson coming up at UCLA. And you should enter." And I was like, "Okay." So, I was telling someone that story last night, as I was thinking about this podcast this morning, and I remember, we had a session with these guys before the event to go over the rules and practice and get clear on what we were doing. And there was 20 people in that meeting. And they said, "Listen, it's going to be 60 seconds. And at 60 seconds, the mic is going to turn off. So, people will not be able to hear you. So, you need to finish your pitch within 60 seconds." Very clear. And you need to give us all bunch of other pointers. The pitch was like, I just nailed it. It was stellar and I won that competition. There was like three categories. I won all three categories.
Here is a quick preview of what this 60-second pitch sounded like.
At Leads360, we don't sell leads. We sell software to turn leads into customers. Over 10,000 subscribers use our customizable and easy to use lead management software to distribute, track, analyze, and convert more leads into profitable customers. In 24 months, we've grown to over 300,000 in monthly recurring revenue. We bill nearly 80% on credit card, and no one customer accounts for more than 5% of our revenue. We're already profitable, and we've only scratched the surface of the market. We are seeking money as well as advice. We're looking for an investment of $1 million to fund rapid growth initiatives including sales and marketing, new product development and infrastructure. I'm Jeff Solomon. I run a successful software company, and I need help getting to the next level.
On the panel of judges was a guy named John Babcock who was, at the time a venture partner at Rustic Canyon, which is one of the few VCs that was active in Los Angeles at the time writing checks. And from that, I was able to get a couple other VCs, one from North Cal, one from San Diego to get interested in. We had a couple of term sheets and we negotiated and ultimately we did go with Rustic Canyon for that first round. I think the first round was three and a half million or five million, I can't remember, something like that. And looking back, based on where we were, if I was raising for that company, right now, our valuation would have been 10X, what it was at the time. It just was a different time and the terms would have been significantly more to our advantage. They weren't terrible, but they weren't great. It's just funny how times change, like SaaS company doing 300,000 in monthly revenue right now is raising at a huge value, at least 30, 40, 50 million.
So now, company has started and if you go to the Velocify today and you walk around the floor, there's pictures on the wall of kind of the evolution of Velocify over time.
Jeff, will you speak a little bit about what that the first location of Velocify was like?
We got this little office. It was an office that we had gotten for ThinkLogic and we were running that business out of there. It was like around the corner from my house at the time in this industrial little street, which was technically Inglewood. The company that leased us that particular building was a manufacturing company. They made like, I don't know, like turret arms or something random and they were running 24/7 and it was loud. And they had this one building. It was maybe like, I don't know, 2500 square feet that they weren't using. And so, they leased it to us and it was a cool spot. It had a nice little front yard and everything. It had a chain link fenced around it with barbed wire on top and it was a ghetto little building and was not appropriate for bringing clients necessarily. Although we did close some big deal there before we moved.
The biggest deal we got which really kind of like accelerated us was we closed a small group of loan officers at Citibank. I remember they sent out their team to evaluate the company and the tech and do their whole due diligence thing. And they sent this guy out. He came to the office. He wasn't pleased with what he saw, but he was more of a security guy. And so, in the end, he was like, it's secure. It doesn't look good. The doors are strong. The windows are solid. There's bars. This is a good company. This is a good business or a good building to hold our people. We're okay. So, they approved it. And it worked out. We hired people there. And we had our late night deployments there and there was a lot of love that we had at that building for the first couple years.
Now you have your first client going live, so will you talk about some early obstacles regarding training when first going live?
The earliest thing we saw was the training. We basically realized that we could build a great piece of software, but if the people didn't know how to use it or didn't use it properly, it was kind of worthless. We very early on realized that there was going to be a cost to operate the business in having talented people that are essentially training and onboarding and constantly helping these clients get the best from the platform. We invested heavily early on in a team of people, We call them CSR, client success managers. They basically did implementation, training, set up, and they did testing. They just constantly were working with people to make sure that they were using the system right. When they use the system right, they were almost 100% across the board in terms of the number of clients, more successful than they were before they had the software. And the cool thing about our product versus other software products is it was very easy to tell if it was working or not. You either close more leads or you didn't. We were able to prove pretty easily like this is working for you. You should grow your staff and you should spend more money with us and stick with us. That worked well.
User adoption training is super important when implementing it, really any type of software, especially a lead management software where a lot of money is invested into leads and they need to be tracked and worked the right way. Fast forward to where Jeff has a couple of clients using the system.
Will you talk about how the software evolved and how the product evolved as you started working with more and more clients and improving relationships with lead providers?
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We certainly listened to what the clients were saying, and we learned a lot that way. I think a big catalyst for the evolution of the product and the business was our relationships with the lead providers, particularly LowerMyBills. We got hooked up with them because our clients were using those companies LendingTree, LowerMyBills, NestEgg, all these different guys to get Leads but LowerMyBills was really progressive and Matt Coffin, who was the founder of that company, was trying to figure out how to sell more leads and get people to stick and he had a real issue with retention because these mortgage companies would buy $20,000 worth of leads, they wouldn't be effective with those leads. And then they would call up their sales rep at LMB and say, "These leads suck, I'm out," and they would bail. He came to the conclusion that software was needed. He saw that some of the clients that were using Leads360 were actually being more effective than others. And so, he was open to developing a relationship with us.
That was a key relationship for us because one, we got a lot of referrals out of it. And we started to capitalize on that across all the lead providers, but LowerMyBills just would very often send us referrals. And secondly, he had a team member on his side that was sort of a product guy. He's got Brian Dressler and that guy was basically tasked with working with us to try and improve the product to the needs of LowerMyBills and LowerMyBills clients. So, that included everything from how do we get leads from LowerMyBills in real time, like posting leads into the system. How do we make sure that leads get distributed to the right people? How do we make sure that we track that they got called? So, all the things that they saw were breaking down from their clients, they said, "We need to build ways to solve that." And so, we had a direct feed of what to build next. And we worked with Brian and a bunch of mutual clients, and the product evolved very rapidly because of that relationship.
Will you talk about some of the products and features that you felt put Velocify on the map? As technology was being built out, will you share your thoughts on what was the big turning point with the software to really go after some of the bigger clients and then to start expanding more into the mortgage space?
The biggest thing was probably always has been, or at least for a long time, was the distribution engine. Not just bringing in leads and then someone manually assigning them to people, it was a system that will automatically assign them to people based on rules. It started out simple, where it was like, there was a simple set of rules, and then it evolved and there became much more complex rules. The distribution engine became intelligent enough to give leads to people and then take them back and give them to other people based on things they did or didn't do. That whole engine became incredibly sophisticated and incredibly complex. I don't know if there's anyone that could have built it other than Tony at that time. And that was a huge selling point, especially for the bigger clients. If you're dealing with thousands of leads and hundreds or in some cases, even over 1000 loan officers some of our clients had at that time, it was unmanageable without it. So, that was a big piece. And then the other thing that we did that really was Brian Dressler's suggestion was I can't remember what called them. Essentially, it was a way to track the event that you did. I think we called them actions.
The action was basically that I called and left a message or I called and no answer or whatever. You could customize the actions. But the key to that tool was that by taking that action, it triggered off a bunch of other stuff. Instead of like a typical CRM, you'd log what you did, but then you'd have to then do something with that lead to set it up for the next thing. Whereas in our case, it would like say I called and left a message and then it would queue up the lead automatically for the next either that same person or the next person to call three hours later or whatever the schedule was. It really allowed the loan officers just to take the actions or do the events that were prescribed by the company. And then everything else was queued up. And so, they never really had to think about like, "Oh, what do I do next?" It's like, "Oh, here's what you do next." That became a big core component of the platform is really trying to simplify the day-to-day for a loan officer in terms of getting a hold of the leads. Once they were on the phone and trying to close the deal, it was sort of their style, their sales effort and all that. But to get them on the phone, which was the key first big step in closing a lead, that was what the tool did.
Status and actions are definitely a game changer. Let the user take the action, simply what to do. So easy.
We used to have this side of the story. Every time we would release, there's a lot more tools for releasing software these days and it's a lot simpler. But at that time, it was a late night. We had to push up code. The way the database was built, we had to run these complex scripts to update the database for every client. At the peak of the business, we had a couple thousand clients, so it was a couple thousand databases and you'd be updated. So, it was like a four-hour or five-hour process to get this released. And we had to QA it. And so, we had these QA databases that had test dummy data in it and we had made a bunch of actions and statuses that were silly. And it would pop up in a database from time to time. The one we had this one where someone had put in an action called kick dog. And so, you pull that action and it does all this stuff, but everybody would crack up that night. One of the morning, we're dead testing this thing and someone's like, "Oh, I just kicked dog." Everybody cracked up.
They were fun nights. My wife would make us a huge thing of meatballs or she would make lasagna or some sort of dinner. She'd bring it like 10:00 or 8:00 or 9:00 and we'd eat dinner. And then at that time, Tony would be deploying to all these databases. And we'd wait two or three hours and play games. We'd screw around and then by 11:00 or 12:00, we'd start QAing and then by 1:00 or 2:00, we'd be done and we go home, if it works. Occasionally, it isn't working, get the roll back. But we did those nights a lot. That was a key component to the culture of the business, which I think is one of the reasons why I was so successful is because the people that work there like we were so close. We're so focused and close.
It's always been a great culture. Back to 2010, Velocify added the Dial-IQ feature into the system. This took the system to the next level, really became a larger enterprise clients like Nationstar at the time.
Will you talk a little bit about how that came about and where this all came from to include the Web Dialer into the system?
We had for a while this like click to call thing, which was very basic. It just showed the phone number you could click and it would call and that was a very limited function. We had thought about integrating dialer technology either partnering or building and we spent a while. And I had a product manager. I had tasked her with doing research and figuring out what we could build, how we could build it and she did a bunch of stuff. She and I kind of came to the conclusion that we needed X, Y and Z features for first version. And I did some research on companies that could handle this part and we stumbled upon this company that no one knew about at that time called Twilio.
I flew up to San Francisco to meet Jeff Lawson. He had just started this company. He had next to no clients. Well, I remember spending the day with him. And he was telling me about how he started the company and he wanted to do this stuff. And we were way bigger than Twilio at that time. We were bigger than them. And they needed some big Cornerstone clients. They were very interested in working with us. We were confident that we could generate a ton of minutes for them, which is how they made money. We basically built our first version on top of their platform, while they were building their platform. We were helping them define how their system would work. There was a period where for a while we were, by far their largest client, long before Uber in any of these guys. And I think back, I should have told Jeff, in hindsight, I should have said at that time, I should have said, "Hey, why don't we swap stock. I'll give you 5% of the stock of our company, give me 5% of stock at your company and get into bed a little bit," and I'm pretty sure he would have done it. And that would have been a huge windfall for me and Velocify had we done that. That would have been a nice one. But interestingly, we came to this point where I and the product manager was like, we have to build this and it was a big investment. Right? And we were banking on this company, Twilio, which we didn't know was going to do, as well as it did. There was a lot of pushback.
I remember being in a board meeting, or I remember being at a board meeting, telling you got to do this. And they were kind of like, no. They were like, no, we're not going to do this. And at that time, I didn't have nearly the same control that I did the company in the early days. We just didn’t make our own decisions. The board had quite a bit control. And so, it was something where they needed to be really sold. And I remember talking to Nick, who had hired later, he became CEO after I left. And I was like, "Dude, we got to do this." And he's like, "I'm sort of behind you, but got to sell it.” I spent the next week building this presentation around, I wish I probably still have that presentation somewhere where I was like, what the dialer is, because I didn't even fully understand what we were trying to do and why we needed to do it and how big it was going to be for the company. I built this huge presentation. And I went into the board. I was like, "This is an absolute month. We have to do this." It was a tough day. They were not like, "Oh, yeah, cool. We're onboard." It was very, a lot of pushback. We finally got the okay to do it. And obviously in hindsight, it was a huge decision to do that, and it's transformed the company, and became a Cornerstone to the product. It almost didn't happen or it didn't happen at the right time. It almost certainly didn't happen at the right time.
Scott Payne talks about “no hold transfers” in his blog: Optimal Lead Distribution Strategy for Customers and Sales Reps
It definitely was a turning point and really was a game changer for the product itself. Its really what it's evolved to this point. I have a blog post that talks about one of the key features that exist today, which is a no hold transfer that allows an agent not to put a customer on hold when doing a transfer. That’s a big game changer as it relates to getting a really good experience. They don't even know what transfer is going on in the background and yet, you're still able to run through distribution programs to find the right agent to send the lead to and ultimately the call. The customer never sees that whole time.
Jeff, will you tell us about your favorite feature, the form builder, which you helped to build and implement?
The fundamental structure of the platform was based on this thing called the form builder, which allowed any customer to customize the fields that they wanted to collect in their platform. They could obviously customize the statuses and the actions and the distribution and all that stuff. But the form builder was a key component of the platform because it allows us to be flexible in every client we went into. In fact, we were able to sell into other verticals because of that. We went into education, it was different than mortgage. Any CRM has the ability to make custom forms. But we had this vision or I kind of had this idea, and we never ran with this product, but some of our clients used it in this way where they had different needs in their business, they had their sales needs, but they also had some other function their company.
They implemented multiple lead managers, multiple instances because they wanted different forms and they wanted different rules and all that kind of stuff. The idea, which never came about and probably was a good thing that ever came about it would have been a distraction. And would taking the company in a different direction was the idea of having multiple forms inside one system so you can essentially manage different kind of business models inside a platform. And we never did it. We did scope it quite a bit. What was interesting is that that need I saw throughout my career after that, being something that was needed in CRM in general. There was a company maybe four or five years later after I left called RelateIQ. RelateIQ was a CRM product that had this concept of didn't call it forums, but they had the same concept where you could have multiple forums for different purposes. It would all tie into the whole CRM. They ended up launching that company. It might have been a YC company, I'm not sure and didn't get that big. They grew to maybe like 5, 10 million sales, sold it to Salesforce for 100 million. Salesforce ran it as Salesforce IQ for a number of years. Recently, and maybe like two or three years ago, they shut it down and just migrated to Salesforce. They solved a real problem with that product. It was the best. It was the best CRM that I'd ever used. I paid for it several different companies. It was cool to see that idea come to life and actually work in the use cases that it did and it's now a need again, because Salesforce shut it down and none of the other CRM is really do it like that. It's always something I've had in the back of my mind, like there's a hole in this area. We saw it back to the Leads360 days. I've seen it since and I don't know why Salesforce got rid of it. But it was a great components of the platform that I always really had a lot of love for because of that capability.
Jumping back to kind of the functionality of the system and how it relates to users, user adoption is always one of the biggest obstacles when launching a new product like Velocify or Lead Management System. There were some techniques that you used in the early days. You talked about about hiring, training, or doing some more training upfront.
Will you talk about some of the techniques, like best practice templates, that you remember going through of trying to get people, users who are stuck in their old ways of always kind of doing the way they always have?
We came up with this idea of what we call best practice templates. We essentially prebuilt these templates that had the form, the actions, the statuses, the distribution rules, the drip email. Everything was built out based on your vertical or your type of business. Maybe we had a couple for mortgage, or maybe there was one for mortgage, and one for different categories. It was built around what we saw worked generally the best for most companies. We had a lot of data to support that that worked. What we did, especially with the smaller companies, but even some cases on the bigger companies, we said, "Look, we're going to start with the best practice templates and we're going to lock it down, so you cannot mess with it. This is what you do. If you get good with this, then we'll open unlock it and you can customize it." What we found is that if we gave someone a blank slate and said, like have fun and even if we help them, they hung themselves. They would get too crazy with how flexible the system was and it just made was a mess. We stopped letting people do that initially and started telling them what to do and then from there, fine tuning it when they got good and it got even better. We found that for 99 to have 100 clients, if all they did was use the best practice template and never did anything else, they would be exponentially more effective than they were before they had us. That became a key cornerstone of how we'd launched the product. It also helped us scale because it was very, very difficult to go into a client and spend a week and 100 hours customizing the product for them and then falling on their face. So, it was a lose-lose. This helped us ensure that they were successful. It was simple to set up because it was preset, it was fixed. We knew exactly how it was going to work and look, and we could train on that very, very efficiently. It was a genius concept.
Large organizations that have 1500 loan officers or so have talked about ways to tackle the adoption pieces. There has a few different templates of different strategies. So, user profile A has this type of strategy where you call leads once a day, versus user B has the ability to two or three days. But essentially, you could set up these different profiles in Velocify through prioritization view and allow loan officers to enroll in which one they thought would best fit their profile. It was a way to use that best practice to hold it, but use it across the organization to hopefully get user adoption to find someone to kind of fit their profile versus trying to fit into one kind of mold.
Will you now share what it was like at Velocify in 2008-ish when the mortgage collapse was happening?
It was scary. We definitely nearly went out of business. In between 2008 and 2009, we essentially cycled through 100% of our mortgage clients, meaning 100% went out of business, or left or went to zero loan officers and we got filled with new companies too, but the net loss in mortgage was significant. And at that time, we were not very diversified. We had a handful of insurance clients but minimal and no education clients. And we were running out of money. I was trying to raise some more money from Rustic and I remember being just very stressed and overwhelmed. My wife was pregnant with our twins and we were going to Hawaii for the like babymoon, and we were out there. It was basically like, a couple weeks left. We had already done a massive layoff at the company, which was very difficult, emotional and stressful. And so, we've cut way back. We're still running out of money and we were not growing at any speed at that time. I remember being on the phone in the hotel in Hawaii with John and just like, "Dude, you got to put more money in or I'm just going to shut down the business. You're going to lose your investment. I'm going to walk away like it was a battle." And I came back and they did put a little bit more cash in and that got us over the hump. It was a scary time for sure. It was tricky.
We started to move in other verticals and we had a lot of success. I mean, there were a lot of different clients in the end on the platform. But it never was as good as it was for mortgage. That was always the bread and butter and the mortgage companies were always the ones that had the most success and were the easiest to onboard and the most likely to retain and the most likely to grow. Just the lead industry was still very large for that space. It just worked the past that's where it really, really, really shined. We always were a mortgage software in that way. We had to diversify to manage the ups and downs in every category had. Insurance had ups and downs. Education had ups and downs, mortgage, every category we went into. At the time we met, I had moved into enterprise sales. We didn't really have an enterprise sales team. It was all inside sales. I'd moved into that role and in this guy, Tim Dunlea and I were heading around, trying to close bigger deals. We closed some random stuff. Like I remember, we closed this deal with this company that sold cremation services. But it was a big company, they had like 1000 sales reps and they would basically presell cremation services like, "Hey, your loved one is going to die at some point, you should have this planned out. So, you're not stressed out when it's happening." That's basically the pitch and they were killing it. They were using paper. It was adapted so, we get the software to work for them. It worked for a couple of years and we were trying to find anybody that had a consumer direct sales force. That was the fit.
Looking back to where it started and what it's evolved to now, will you provide insight about what you are most proud of?
I really spent a lot of time building that company culture, everything from recruiting, to these late nights deploying, to office events, bringing in meals, having book clubs, going on trips to amusement parks. We used to do a thing every Halloween, we'd go to Knott's Berry Farm. Everybody would drive out or we'd get a party bus when we got bigger. And for at least, maybe eight years, every Halloween, we did that as a group. And we ate dinner and we hung out. It was like a huge thing that everybody loves. Everybody knew. We did a lot of that kind of stuff. We went and played golf together. We did paintball together. We did just tons of stuff as a team. I think that was really the key because in any startup, there's a lot of ups and downs. It's rare that you're just constantly good.
The thing that keeps everybody together, it's really two things: It's having this tight culture where people feel like what they're doing is important and what they're doing is aligned with everyone else. That leads to the second piece, which is that you really have to be effective at getting everybody onboard with what the priorities are and what the most important things are because in a lot of startups, and I see this even to this day in the companies that I work with, you have people that are not clear on what the priorities are and what the most important things are, and what the vision is. And so, they're working in silos. One person is building one thing and then wondering why this other person is working on this thing that kind of has nothing to do with the thing they're working on. They're like, "Well, why should I work on this thing? If that person is doing that other thing, and that might be cool, but like, that's not what I was told is the most important thing. So, why are we doing that?" I really spent a lot of time to try and make sure that everybody knew what we were doing and they did. They felt like anything they were working on, anyone else that was doing something was complementing that. If it was a piece of software, somebody was working on the documentation to onboard that new person. The thing about a company in general, but especially in a startup, there's a misconception that you always need to build it especially in software companies. We got to get the tech team to build this thing. The truth is that building it doesn't mean it's going to work. There's a lot of other pieces. It could be someone's got to write training materials, somebody's got to onboard clients, somebody has to go sell those clients, somebody has to enter data in the system, somebody has to configure it somebody has to write help materials. There's all kinds of things that need to happen to make that product come to life and if everybody's not working on those other things simultaneously, you get to the point where your products out and ready, and you're like, we can't launch this because nobody wrote any training materials. We can't launch it because nobody updated the website with that piece of information. We can't update this.
That's a huge problem in companies. And I think a lot of founders and CEOs forget that they need to get everybody on the same page, because it's like a ripple effect. One thing affects everything else. And so, if everyone's working on different projects, which sounds cool, because you're like, oh, we can do 10 things at once. Yeah, but then every one of those things is done poorly.
“I was a Velocify employee for four years and can really attest to the culture. They was such a great company to work for, and really built a really good foundation for the company. “
In closing, Velocify was purchased by Ellie Mae back in 2017 for 128 million and cofounders usually make up pretty well when these types of things happen.
Jeff, will you share something fun that you were able to do or purchase to celebrate the long 13 years in working with the company?
It was a good outcome. We had a pretty reasonably clean cap table. All of the people that had stock and the founders and the investors too, everybody did really well. In some cases, there's a real nasty cap table and so people kind of get screwed in startups. It happens a lot, but it worked out well for everybody. Probably, the main big thing that I did is that I bought a house not far from my other house and I tore it down and I basically built a new house from scratch, which was always something I wanted to do. I designed every nook and cranny of the house from where the plugs went to how the Cat5 cable was run to where my speakers would be to how the desk would fit in, like everything. And it took a little over a year. But it was super fun having a great time. It's a great house.
Jeff Solomon shared some of these stories from back in the day and provided his expertise and insights on different ideas and stories from the lead management world.