How to Grow and Thrive as a SaaS Startup With Tom Kulzer, CEO of AWeber

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Tom KulzerTom Kulzer is the CEO and Founder of AWeber, a company he started in 1998 to guide small businesses in fostering more engaging customer relationships and designing effective email marketing. Tom grew the company from zero to 300,000 clients through his unique take on market strategy and team building. Due to his dedication to building a thriving and unique workplace culture, AWeber has been voted one of Pennsylvania’s Best Places to Work 10 years in a row.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Tom Kulzer’s introduction to business that began as his newsletter
  • The origins of AWeber and Tom’s initial approach to emails
  • Getting the first 3,000 sign-ups for AWeber
  • Knowing when and how to be transparent with customers
  • Why you need customers more than investors
  • The dangers of growing too fast
  • Hiring the right people to grow with your company
  • Why entrepreneurs need to let their businesses shine more than themselves

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In this episode of the Ecommerce Wizards Podcast

Bootstrapping can be a formidable method of financing a startup. There are many unknowns and hurdles to overcome, especially when it’s your first venture. For SaaS companies, getting your name out there and establishing a demand for your offering is also necessary.

Tom Kulzer started AWeber 25 years ago and turned a startup into a reliable software company. His email marketing strategies are already respected, but now he explains how he grew his business from the ground up.

In this episode of Ecommerce Wizards Podcast, Guillaume Le Tual invites Tom Kulzer, the Founder and CEO of AWeber, back onto the show to talk about how he nurtured his startup. They touch on the early days, how Tom cultivated his initial audience, and how he established customers. The two also discuss the potential pitfalls of a budding business and finding people to grow with the company.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Guillaume: Hello everyone. Guillaume Le Tual here, host of the Ecommerce Wizards Podcast where I feature leaders in e-commerce and business. Today’s guest is coming back for a second time. Tom Kulzer is the CEO and founder of AWeber, which is an email marketing automation software. It’s quite a household name in the field of email marketing automation and has been around for so long. I’ve known about it for so many years even before meeting Tom here. He created this company 24 years ago, it’s an eight-figure business and super successful. And we’re going to talk today about the startup years of the SaaS, software as a service, and what inspired the founders on their journey to create a successful SaaS software. Tom, welcome back for a second time.

Tom: Thanks for having me.

Guillaume: Thanks for coming again. You have a very successful startup company. I mean, anybody who starts up a company unless they have dreams of opening an IPO or something like that, more or less, aims to end up in your current situation as a very successful household name in the field with an eight-figure business and a very respected company. So let’s dive into your early years. Walk us through the creation of this company, especially, year one, year two, really the struggle where you got to build a product, then you got to find a customer, you got to market it, how long until you got profitable, the sources of funding and so on?

Tom: Yeah, it was an interesting path. Well, actually, I kind of started a little bit before I started the company. So I was in college at the time, I started going to school at Penn State for mechanical engineering and I ended up switching to finance. And along the way, I had always been kind of interested in entrepreneurism and just learning about stuff, and growing businesses and how businesses ran. I was the one that would go to the movies and sit there and calculate like, five bucks a head or 10 bucks a head, or $25 a head these days. Okay, how many people are in here?

Guillaume: How much money they’re making?

Tom: Yeah, I was always calculating that sort of stuff. So while I was in college, it was basically an email newsletter that I started. I was curating that. People would send in questions and I would kind of pick the best questions and I’d send them out to everybody and they would respond back. This was really before the discussion boards, and all that kind of stuff was out there. I would curate all the answers that came back to me and I would put together a newsletter. It was basically like your stack overflow kind of site before any of that sort of stuff existed and it was all email-based. So I had kind of grown this audience over a course of a year or a two year period where entrepreneurs kind of got together. So I was kind of doing this on the side and at the same time I had found this tech product that was a wireless modem connected to your laptop via a serial cable back in the day. You may recall what a parallel port looked like with the big giant kind of beefy serial cables but a little bit smaller, it wasn’t quite as many pins but it was still big, beefy cable by today’s standards. And it would connect into your laptop and you could velcro this thing to the back of your laptop in order to get internet. And it was state of the art, it was 19.2 kilobits per second.

Most of us were still doing dial-up back then and I was going to computer shows and I was packing this product as a reseller and it did pretty well and had a lot of interest and it was obviously something that cost money on an ongoing basis. So I usually didn’t sell most of the stuff right then and there, it was like over a period of a couple of weeks or a month afterwards where people kind of evaluated and looked at what else was out there, it really wasn’t much, and eventually bought, but that required follow up. So being a college student, being busy and doing a variety of different things, I wrote a little Perl script that automated the follow up process for people. Or for me to the people that I had interacted with at the trade shows and other events that I’d gone to where somebody said, ‘Hey, I’m interested in this, send me some more info’. So I’d stick their name on a little list and it would start to send out a series of follow up messages that I had written and were generally relevant. Pretty much everybody has the same questions as you do every business. If you do any business enough eventually it becomes kind of, I don’t want to say formulaic, but like the questions most new users have are generally the same vein. If they don’t directly ask you, they still have them, they just didn’t ask them out loud, so to be able to answer those is good.

So I developed this email process to follow up with people and it worked really well. And I ended up sharing that same script that I ran, or I basically ran this for a bunch of other resellers that were selling this wireless modem product as well. So that they could dump their leads into it and the messages would go out and it would come from their name, etc. So it was what modern marketing automation looks like today on a more basic level of all plain text, etc. And it worked really well for people and my payment for running that for them was they needed to share what copy worked well for them. So like what questions were people having? What answers were they giving? How are they getting the sales? And similar to my newsletter we kind of curated what worked well for people and shared it with everybody that was using the same follow up process in this company as resellers, and it worked really well.

One thing led to another and I was screwing around too much on all these little side projects and not focusing on school enough. So I ended up quitting the wireless modem thing to focus on school because degrees are important and knowledge is good. My parents were supportive, making sure I got a good college degree and had something to fall back on. And as soon as I stopped doing the wireless modem thing I stopped running this email script. So all these people that I had been running this automated follow up thing for them started coming to me saying, ‘Hey, I know I was getting this for free before but if I paid you would you continue running it even though you’re not still doing the business?’ And I was like, mm?

Guillaume: Yeah, so your idea for your next business came from a previous business? You think it’s your main thing but actually it’s just the segue to what will then be your main thing?

Tom: Exactly. So long story short, it was the lead up to the idea that ultimately became AWeber. So I spent a number of months putting something together. Aweber was initially called the Automated Web Assistant, because it just kind of did stuff for you, it did this follow up process for you. Automated Web Assistant is a really long name and long domain name, etc. and it just kind of got shortened to AWeber and the rest is history. But I started the company based off of something that I had kind of done on the side as a freebie and when I stopped doing it a bunch of people said, ‘Hey, I think that’s valuable, I’ll pay you money for that’. So when I launched AWeber, I already had an immediate dozen to two dozen people that started paying me for it. And I had been talking about it in that newsletter that I was curating before, so I had this audience that was already kind of tuned in to what I was doing and tuned into what I was building. So as soon as I put it out there I had several 100 signups like right away.

And it was just me that was running it. I did all the initial coding and I didn’t go to school for computer science, I had some mechanical engineering and finance, it was all just self-taught, you know, reading books and spending time in the library because that’s where a lot of knowledge existed back then. It wasn’t necessarily online because that all predated Google and so forth. There was a lot online but not as much as there is these days. I grew up myself. So I ran the whole company myself for the first two years. If I had to do it over again, looking back, I wouldn’t do it again.

It was like 2000-3000 customers before I ever hired anyone else in the business. I always get the eyebrows when I talk about that because, now, looking back on that I should have hired sooner but as a kid that had just dropped out of college, hiring someone and being responsible for their well-being was really scary. At the same time the tools around like payroll was really intimidating, and payroll taxes are really intimidating. And there weren’t nearly the number of tools to automate and all of that stuff as there are today, I think a lot of that is more accessible. I think the barrier to entry to starting a business is a lot lower these days and I think that’s excellent. I love helping small businesses, that’s what we do, we help small businesses to communicate with their customers in the world at large. And I think that the tools have really evolved but you know, that first hire was a big deal and was a part of our customer solutions team. There was a friend of mine that I had known for a number of years and I was like, ‘Hey, you want to come help me do this thing?’ And we did and we kind of grew from there.

Guillaume: Just hitting 2000 or 3000 customers is a success milestone for any SaaS startup for sure. So you started with a dozen or two customers just because you were giving it away for free and now they accepted to sign up and then you just kept going. You had that newsletter that you say gave you exposure, but how did you get to 2000 or 3000 customers? Can we dive into this a little bit?

Tom: Some of it was that base need, you know, the folks that were selling the wireless modems had a couple of dozen right there and spread to a couple dozen more pretty quickly through the newsletter that I was running. So I’d already kind of built an audience even before I had anything to sell. I never built the audience to sell stuff to, it was more for my own learning and I learned a lot. It’s like anybody that teaches, you have to know the subject really well and I think a lot of people put off teaching others until they think that they’re experts in something. Whereas I think there’s a lot of value in going through that educational process yourself and communicating your discoveries along the way because so many other people are having their exact same discoveries, or are on that same path at the same time, so you can discover that together. And there’s a lot of power in that self-discovery together.

There were these folks that I was communicating with and talking with were building their own businesses when they realized, ‘Hey, maybe I should be doing this email thing, and maybe I should be building my own audience’. And so it just kind of inherently organically came out of that. We had a reseller program early on where you can earn a commission for referring AWeber to other users and we still have that today. We have an advocate reseller program where other businesses, consultants, etc, can recommend our services to others and earn an ongoing commission for that referral. And that works great. It’s a built-in kind of word of mouth that kind of helps the goose even more than the organic word of mouth. Like if you do cool stuff for customers and make them experts, make them really good and look good, they’re going to tell other people, ‘Hey, this was the tool that made me look really good’. That’s excellent, we want people talking about AWeber and telling them what they did that was really great. So it wasn’t any one particular thing, it was like a combination of a bunch of different things. And as much as I focused on the software engineering and the writing code early on, I was also just out there talking in the community about what we were doing, what I was seeing other customers doing that worked and didn’t work. Because I think there’s often a lot of lessons in this stuff that doesn’t work for people.

So just being out there and being present was a big part of that early success. And like every business there’s an element of timing and luck that are involved in it. There wasn’t any other product that did what we did at the time, so the fact that we were out there doing this was really novel in those early years. There’s other products that do similar things and focus on different audiences and that sort of stuff these days. But back then there was literally no one else that did any sort of sequential, automated marketing automation like we do today. And that was really, really helpful and kind of goosing those early years from an overall success standpoint.

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Guillaume: You were riding a wave. This was new and you were among the firstcomers to this but also what you’re saying is a pattern that I’ve heard from other SaaS founders who were successful and did multi seven-figure or eight-figure businesses with a self-funded approach of sharing their journey with an audience. And that’s part of how you create the audience and awareness and not wait until you feel comfortable enough to call yourself an expert instead of sort of looking back at how you did it and then you sort of create a plus backward of ‘Here’s how I did it’, more like sharing the journey along the way which might create a lot of tension.

Tom: I think there’s multiple angles to that. I think today when I talk about sharing knowledge and learnings along the way, I look at that as like marketing learnings and that sort of stuff. I think there’s a big kind of push in the entrepreneurial community these days of being exceedingly transparent with stats and metrics around their business that I don’t necessarily see is entirely beneficial to your overall growth. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re growing this business and we’re making all this revenue, and we’re making all this money, and we’ve grown all these customers, and we’ve grown all of our team’. And at a certain point it’s like, why aren’t you doing this for me? Or, why aren’t you doing that for me? I think I feel like it can be self-destructive to some point because like, it’s really great when your hockey stick is up into the right. No business is like that forever, at a certain point you become a business that has modest incremental growth and so forth.

I think that that can be really off-putting to folks when you’ve been really transparent and then suddenly are not, or where your metrics might not continue to live up to what they did in the past. I think you really have to depend on what your audience is too, like if you’re growing a business to help underserved markets or something like that, your transparency can also come across as gloating. It really depends on what your audience is, it can make you a target in ways that I personally don’t like. I’m pretty private in my personal life and I’m out there publicly from a business perspective. But my personal stuff is my personal stuff and I think a lot of people in today’s social media age way overshare. And eventually you don’t have separation of that kind of mental state and it can become this always ‘on’ from a business perspective and you’ve always got to be putting this persona forward whether that’s your real persona or some business persona. And I think that that becomes really hard for a lot of people. That’s why I think a lot of entrepreneurs have issues in dealing with the stress that’s involved. It’s lonely in a lot of ways. You know this, like, I’m preaching to the choir here and the problems that you and I run into are not the problems that most of our friends run into on a daily basis in whatever business they’re in or whatever they work.

Guillaume: Very interesting because they certainly say I’m not alone because they all live the same thing. There’s only one CEO per company and you feel alone but you’re not alone at all, you need to find a peer group like a CEO group.

Tom: Absolutely. And I think that’s a really important time. I’ve been a part of a number of different groups over the years as AWeber has grown and the problems that we deal with have kind of evolved over the years, but I think it’s really important to get support as a leader both from a professional standpoint to help you continue to grow. Because every stage of your company’s growth requires something different from you as a leader. Just the social, personal, business, professional dynamic that running a business really is, it’s really hard to separate personal from business because they’re so intertwined at a certain point. Like, I have young kids and I try to dedicate time to them and that’s really, really important to me. But there are certain things business wise where if something’s going on that I have to be a part of, I have to be a part of it. Like, it can’t wait for whatever else is going on, that’s part of surrounding yourself with a really good team that can deal with issues and that sort of stuff. But sometimes as a CEO or as a founder you just got to be there regardless of who’s awesome and already handling issues. You just have to be present. So it’s a balance.

Guillaume: You are correct. Your personal personal life and your business life, you underwrite everything as the founder initially at least.

Tom: Yeah.

Guillaume: And even after a certain number of millions you can even get into private banking. That’s just the new way of not having boundaries between the business and the personal life, until you can decide to step away from this progressively if you always leave enough cash and equity in the business than the bank. You can decide to take 50% responsibility away from you of all liabilities and each year an extra 10%, less and less and eventually have zero personal liability in the company, and it’s its own entity sort of. But that’s another discussion.

Tom: Yeah, it’s a whole different discussion.

Guillaume: It’s an interesting thing to talk about because you’re talking about the intertwining between personal life and business life.

Tom: Yeah. Just talking about the whole finance stuff, it’s the bootstraps, you know, grow within your means versus raising outside funds, whether that’s from loans or angel investors, or VC, or private equity kind of stuff. I think growing a bootstrap company is very different from growing something that’s raised funds. I have had a lot of discussions with entrepreneurs that are like how do I raise funds? And it’s like, ‘Well, do you have an idea of what people are going to pay you for? And it’s like, ‘Well, yeah, I can get investors’. And it’s like, ‘No, no, that’s not what I asked. Do you have an idea that customers are going to pay you money for?’ And often, they don’t surprisingly understand. Why get investors? And it’s like, investors aren’t your customers. Customers actually pay you money.

Guillaume: They are a prototype like you.

Tom: They are getting value out of what it is that your business is producing. And I think that too many entrepreneurs look at success as raising funding. You just got a ticking time clock that’s going to implode your company if you don’t figure out how to make revenue before whatever funding that you raise runs out, or before you can convince somebody else to give you more funding. And I can’t tell you over the 24 years how many different competitors that we’ve seen come into our space, raise a bunch of money, make a splashy entrance, and then flame out as a result of not getting enough customers to actually make the business viable in the long run. Whereas, like, we’re going to keep ticking along regardless of what’s going on in the bigger ecosystem, you know, of downturns, etc. Like, I’ve weathered multiple economic downturns at this point.

Guillaume: Like the 24 years you’ve been through several recessions.

Tom: And that’s not something that I look forward to, certainly, but it’s having a stable customer base that you’re providing a tremendous amount of value to, that, as a business helps make that stability and something that you can continue to run and operate and grow stably over many, many years.

Guillaume: Well, they’re both very valid paths. You can raise money, or you can be self-sustained or self-grown. That’s a path that I’ve picked but it’s a way slower path.

Tom: Not always. But yeah.

Guillaume: The other one is it gives you a rocket booster, but is your company ready to handle a rocket booster or will it actually just tear apart because there’s too much force and too much talk going on? Cash is just an accelerator, are you ready for a rocket boosting acceleration or would it break apart your company? That’s pretty much it. So yeah, you said it’s a time bomb, you’re not profitable, most of those startups are totally not profitable to just focus on customer acquisition. But sometimes it’s a freebie model with the freemium that you can upgrade to a paid version and then you might acquire, acquire, acquire, but at one point you need to become a profitable company, you cannot just keep running as a deficit company.

I don’t know if what Elon Musk is saying is true or not, you have to verify a little bit from other sources, but apparently, Twitter will be losing money. It’s like at one point you’re not a startup anymore but you have to be profitable as a company. It is early in the years that you lose money to grow faster but eventually you have to become profitable. And there’s a lot of disaster and horror stories in this before the company is profitable. And like you said, you either burn out all the cash, which is a time bomb, or you find people to invest again and at that stage if you’re not profitable you’re at risk. So either you find somebody else to give you another shot of stimulants so you can keep growing at that crazy pace or the company just falls apart and dies. It was just horrible. But the faster you can go to profitability and not rely on additional shots of money to reach profitability, the better that is. Ideally, you raise once or twice and you’re done raising unless you go all the way and say we’re shooting for the star and so we’re going for a $10 billion valuation. Fine, go all the way around the E if you want.

Tom: Yeah, there’s definitely different philosophies around on how to build and where you’re creating overall value there. I’ve always grown through the lens of providing a lot of value to our customers and our team, and you do that on the pillar of having a great product.

Guillaume: It’s less stressful, because you accept a slower growth but you have recurring revenue because of the subscription model and so you have predictable revenue. And anything you need to hire or to reinvest in development is less stressful. Your company can not explode, it’s not at risk of dying from running out of cash again from the next injection of cash or raising capital. But when it works well it’s a very interesting system to be self-funded, but for sure, it will be a slower path than if somebody just gives you $10 million to play with. But you can still crush your business with that too.

Tom: Absolutely. If you give somebody 10 million bucks to spend on a business that’s never handled that kind of cash, you know, that can go segue. Even just looking at the team dynamics of growing a company over the years, to go from one person to two people is a big change. To go from two people to five or six people is another big change, to go from five or six to 25 is yet another lifecycle change.

Guillaume: Yeah, because where you introduce your middle manager. So as a founder if there was a problem you handled it personally. When you reach 20-30, a founder you’re not hands-on on almost anything anymore. So when there’s a problem you have to lead through others. It’s your five managers or the middle management who will then be the ones handling it. So your leverage on performance is not hands-on anymore like when you were five or 10. You’re 25 now and you have to lead through other people to get results. And that’s more difficult because you have to understand the levers of, how do I get the result? In the end you’re more like the coach and the visionary. You’re not the athlete anymore, you’re the coach.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what it is. And that progression continues, and at the same time you think about those multiples and how they work, but when you raise funding that also compresses the timeline for which you’re doing all of those things as well. So think about taking your company from five people to 50 people in one year, that completely changes the dynamic of how people interact. A lot of startups talk about their culture, and this and that, and it’s like if you just quadrupled the size of your team, you don’t have culture. You might think you have culture, but it’s been so watered down by everybody that just came in, you’re hiring faster than you can possibly bring people in and educate and get people on the same page from a cultural standpoint.

Guillaume: You do have a culture but if you have a new one that you don’t know what it is, that’s different.

Tom: It’s probably a culture of chaos. Those are all considerations about how to grow a company over the years.

Guillaume: That’s totally true. If you grow super fast unless you have the structure in place from the onboarding, to the job structure, to how that thing grows, you will be at risk of growing too fast, it is a big risk for the company. Everybody needs to change how they behave, the process might not be applicable anymore, you need to throw out of the window all the processes and you need to rewrite them. And that too is part of the challenge, like, if the old way of operating doesn’t work and the new way is operating, how many weeks do I have to write that thing?

Tom: Yeah. Well, when you’re one person you don’t have much written down because it’s all up here. Even when you’re five it’s probably osmosis to different people and shoulder surfing stuff and then as you grow from there, more and more has to get written down and you become playbooks. I talk about the airline pilots and how you have this handbook and a checklist that every time you take off oftentimes the pushback that you get is like, ‘I’m an expert. I know how to do this’. Somebody might say, yeah, but airline pilots are experts too, would you prefer they just take off on the airplane or would you prefer that they checked all the boxes and went down an actual written checklist before they took off every time? They’re like, well, I’d prefer they use a checklist, or just like, well, our customers would prefer you use a checklist too so that you don’t mess up their email campaigns, or you don’t mess up their landing page and those sorts of things. So you have to impart the value of why these things exist and why they should be followed. Because otherwise people just go off script and make up their own stuff and then they shoot themselves in the foot. Because they try to bypass it.

Guillaume: Or they forget one step. There were 20 steps but they did 19 right, but the one they skipped should not have been skipped and it matters.

Tom: And why we talk about that airline pilot analogy is, everything that’s in that checklist is there probably because somebody died because someone messed something up. Fortunately, no one’s likely to die if you screw up an email campaign but it’s still going to be a bad day regardless, let’s not mess those things up. So like anytime that something goes wrong, where we learned from missing something that wasn’t on a checklist before, that gets added to the checklist so that the next person that comes along whether it’s you doesn’t forget, or somebody new comes along and is able to iterate and go through that process in a consistent and excellent manner each and every time. And that’s also like creating those sort of checklists and processes as a person in a business, as an entrepreneur, or as somebody that’s an individual contributor is extremely valuable.

I often have this conversation with team members where we talk about the bus factor. So like, if I can’t run you over with a bus and have things not continue to run, you become a liability in the business. And not that we want anyone to get run over by a bus, obviously, that that’d be bad personally, professionally, whatever. But it’s about thinking about how you systematize what it is that somebody does so that other people in the business could do it as well and could fill in for when they’re on vacation, or when they’re out sick, or when they’re their kid is to be picked up at school or something like that. So that that part of the business and that part of their responsibilities can be picked up by anyone and continue without any skip or without any decline in quality. And that person is actually much more valuable the more they’re able to systematize that because you know what I can do with that person? I can put them in a different role to systematize that other role and bring that same operational efficiency and value there, and have somebody else come into that role and just run it.

Guillaume: Yeah, and you can keep leveling up that person and growing that person so that person can grow with you to the next role or the next business venture, or whatever it is, it’s fantastic. And so when everything like this is systematized to the point where if somebody died, would that thing keep going? But there’s also some other benefits, like, it avoids any kind of internal fiefdom or power structure or sidle system being created in the business. So that actually we have something that is more healthy and as a company in general, you don’t have any kind of toxic thing or sidle power going on in the company. So you may want this in addition. It is just the right thing to do for the business to continue to do that. Everyone should be replaceable, even the CEO in the company.

Tom: Absolutely. I very much hope that how I’ve systematized what I do and how our team operates and how we have such an excellent executive level team and all that around. Should, heaven forbid, I get hit by a bus everyone keeps on doing their thing and no one really misses me. They might personally miss me, maybe, hopefully, but the business should keep doing its thing and customers shouldn’t notice. I look at that as a good thing. I would look at that proudly if, heaven forbid, I got hit by that bus.

Guillaume: Yeah, that what you’ve built will continue without you. It’s sort of one of those major milestone entrepreneurship. The business you build at first, is sort of your own job, you created your own job. Eventually it becomes a business where you have employees who fulfill the deliveries and sales without you. And then at one point it does run without you, it can continue without you. It’s my major goal I have been aiming towards for a little while now. I think I’m more or less there perhaps in a slightly premature way. I would want to test it exactly. I think I’m there, it’s just a little shaky maybe and let’s give it an extra year or two but it seems to be firmly there. But I think I’m there in a tentative way.

Tom: Absolutely.

Guillaume: So yeah, can that business continue without you? And that’s when you’ve created a real business that has real value, that is investable because it’s gone beyond the founder, like sales happen without you. As the founder or the CEO you can come in and be the face of the company or to close big deals or be there for big relationships. Of course, you’re there to help the company thrive but it should still be possible for all these daily operations to happen without you; from sales, to fulfillment, to new product development, new feature development, and everything.

Tom: I think you made a good point there as well. Being the face of a company I think is something that business owners struggle with as well. There’s two dichotomies of a lot of folks in today’s social media aware world, as a founder or an entrepreneur really make a company all about them. You hear, particularly in the tech business, about all these tech books that are running businesses and oftentimes the personality that runs the business is bigger than the business itself. I’ve been very deliberate probably to some degree, as a part of my general private nature of being very deliberate, you don’t look at AWeber or hear about AWeber and go, ‘Oh, Tom Kulzer is over there’. Like, ‘Oh, I know him and I see him on social media all the time. Most people don’t even know who I am. I get no greater satisfaction than going to conferences with our team and walking around and meeting people and being like, ‘Oh, hey, what do you do? And, ‘Oh, I work at AWeber’, and they’re like, ‘Oh, what do you do there?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, I’m the CEO and founder’. And they’re like, ‘Oh, I had no idea’. That’s great to me that it’s not about my personal brand, it’s about what our team is doing, what our product is doing for customers. It’s not just the Tom show.

Guillaume: Yeah. And it separates you from the company also which is a very desirable thing. It’s part of the decision that you have to make, but at the same time if you position it right like the Gary Vee guy, if you go and hire his media company you don’t expect to work personally with Gary Vee. I don’t think so. So there’s still a way to make it happen with a personal brand style if you want to go for that path and still not have the fulfillment and delivery depending on you. But I agree with you. I have the same deliberate decision as you did earlier, it’s not about me. I want to position the company so that the company wins deals, that it is a credible company, then the sales rep or the next sales rep can go and do sales deals because of the positioning of the company or the portfolio achievement, technical recognition, certifications, and so on and it’s not about me. So even though there is still a face of the company aspect like podcasting, the company is its own thing. The client doesn’t necessarily ask to work with me, or I may throw in one consultation or something, but I agree with you. That’s the same choice I’ve made, that company sort of grows without me and they don’t necessarily ask for me.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And it has to be a conscious decision. I think some people kind of stumbled into it to some extent but I think it’s an important consideration as you grow a company over the years. I think early on you just want the thing to survive but after that as it starts to grow you really have to think about, what does the future look like there? I don’t do what I do today because I have to, I do it because I really like to. And I think that’s an important element as well on how you interact with the business and how you interact with customers. There’s nothing I love more than talking with people that use our product and that have problems that they’re trying to solve in their professional world that we can help with. Being the problem solver for them is really cool and to be able to connect people the way that we do is really cool. I take a lot of personal satisfaction out of that and I think that that’s what’s really kept me doing this for 24 years. And I think that’s the balance as well so you don’t burn out or flame out over the years and make sure that you’re really doing something that you’re passionate about and you really enjoy. And if you don’t think about how you can turn it into something that you can and iterate towards something that you can.

Guillaume: Yeah, exactly. Not the mindset of oh, if you win the lottery for $3 million, you retire and stop working and never do anything productive for the rest of your life. If you have super rich billionaires like Elon musk still working, the richest man in the world for a while, you will be like, okay, let’s go back to work. It’s the same thing, you want to work, you want to do something with your life not because you have to. It’s the next level of intrinsic motivation of working on something that you believe is worthwhile. I think that’s a lot of fun to be in that specific place in life.

Tom: Absolutely.

Guillaume: So we went over all kinds of super interesting entrepreneurship topics that other people starting businesses will live as well for sure. They will need to make all those choices. Any last thoughts to sort of wrap up this episode, Tom?

Tom: We had an all-hands conversation the other day, earlier this week actually, where we always get together and have thought-provoking questions that we discussed in a small group. What was one of the best life lessons that had been imparted upon me and one thing that I shared with our team was not necessarily a life lesson, but it was a quote. I’m not necessarily a hockey fan, but a friend of mine used to have this quote at the bottom of all of his emails from Wayne Gretzky and it really has stuck with me over the last two plus decades is, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t Take”, and as an entrepreneur, I think a big part of seeing success over the years is just taking shots. And most of the time they’re probably going to miss, sometimes you’re going to get it in and sometimes you’re going to get it in enough that you’re going to win the game. But you’re not going to win games if you don’t keep taking shots. So when you get knocked down, get back up again and keep on going. So I wish all the entrepreneurs out there a lot of success.

Guillaume: Awesome. Well, thank you Tom for being here today. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way?

Tom: I’m on all the social media places. I’m not hard to find, if you punch my name into Google, is probably the best way to get all my socials and I would love to hear from anybody that’s listened.

Guillaume: Awesome. I enjoyed having this chat with you, Tom. Thank you.

Tom: Thanks for having me.

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