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When Keap CEO Clate Mask and co-founder Scott Martineau started the company, they had no idea what they were getting into. It took years of hard work, financial struggle, and hustle until they experienced real business growth.
Clate and Scott don't want it to be that hard for other small business owners. That’s why the Small Business Success Podcast is about the entrepreneur’s business journey. Clate and Scott will take you from entrepreneurship’s dark side to its mountain tops as they talk to one another and interview small business owners from around the globe. It’s a movement to organize the world to increase the likelihood of success for small businesses. Join the movement!
Clate Mask: Hey, everybody this is Clate Mask and Scott Martineau, cofounders of Keap. We are super excited to start the Small Business Success Podcast. This is something we've been wanting to do for a long time, and on this first edition we're going to talk about why we're doing the Small Business Success Podcasts.
Scott Martineau: So we thought it would be really appropriate for us to share our – to start out by sharing our story. The story of our business as we grew it. One of the things that you'll find in this podcast is we're going to take you on the journey of a lot of entrepreneurs. We're going to take you to their dark side, the dark side of their journeys. We're going to take you to the top of the mountains. But we thought it would appropriate to just start with the Keap story, and give you an idea of where we've come from as a foundation.
Clate Mask: Yeah. We – when we talk about the story we're really saying why did we do this; why did we start the company in the first place. To be totally honest it was because we didn't want to have a boss, and we because we wanted to be able to get out of debt.
That's why we started the business. Those grand, noble goals were the reasons why we started. We didn't have a big vision for the company in the first place, but what happened was our journey in those early days taught us things about small business that we never could have learned by reading books or talking to others. It was like we needed to go through that, and we learned some really awesome and painful and valuable lessons as we went through the first few years of the business.
Scott Martineau: Our story is a lot like tech companies maybe that you've heard. We started as a – just an idea in a spare – literally in a bedroom, and Clate didn't actually start the company with us. It was me and my brother Eric, and a third partner. We were just like let's stick it to the man, let's go out and do our own thing. We had this really raw ambition, and we decided to do custom software development.
Clate Mask: They kept coming to me and saying, "Come join this business," and I'm like, "How are you doing? Are you getting paid?" "No, we're not paying ourselves, but it's really fun."
Scott Martineau: Yeah. Clate had a law degree, and a business degree; so we really wanted him, but he didn't really want us at the beginning.
Luckily, he came and joined us and we had a really challenging season where we were building customer software, Clate was the – he's a highfalutin CEO today of a $100 million company, but at the time he was everything but billable hours. So he was our janitor, he would go shopping, he'd clean the toilet exceptionally well, he was our sales team.
Clate Mask: I basically did everything but write software and they did nothing except write software, and that was the arrangement. It sounds nice and complimentary. The reality was I had no idea what I was getting into. It was so freaking hard that I – if I had – a year into what we were doing if I had known it was going to be that tough I never would have joined. It was really tough.
Scott Martineau: We had a honeymoon phase in the beginning, which was all – it was all fun and games, we were just cruising along.
But I'd say – I don't know, in the first couple of years we really started to hit the wall. What actually happened is we ended up buying out our partner, which was a really challenging experience, and just after we bought him out we took a loan the three of us to buy him out.
Clate Mask: Mortgaged our three houses to do that or second mortgaged our three houses to do that.
Scott Martineau: Yeah. Then we lost our biggest client that was probably – I don’t know what percentage of our revenue they were at the time.
Clate Mask: They were about 60 percent of our monthly sales at the time.
Scott Martineau: It started getting really hard. We had this dark period where it was just – we had many times where we were like is this going to – is it ever going to make it. I remember Clate came in one day and he's like, "Guys, I don’t know what I'm going to do. Charisse, woke up this morning she's like Clate it is time for you to go get a real job. This is not working out." Clate had been saying for a long time, "It's getting better," and Charisse who is my sister is like, "It ain't getting better here at home." So Clate came in and was like, "I told Charisse I was going to go actually look for a job today, and I'm not – I don't have any intention of doing that," and there was that anxiety.
Clate Mask: I actually did have the intention. I just couldn't get myself to do it. I got in – I got there at work, and I just started doing my work. Before I knew it the day was over, I was driving home, and I was like what am I going to say to Charisse. I walked in the door, and she looked at me and just – I could tell, she just looked different, and she said, "You know what, everything's going to be okay. Just keep working at it. It's going to work out." That was about two years – two and a half years into the business, and it was at the deepest, darkest point. It's easy to laugh about it now, the truth is we were sacrificing everything. Health, money, relationships, it was all – it all felt like it was going down the tubes. I felt trapped in the business, and I really couldn't get out of it. I knew that leaving it would actually be worse, because we had loans, we had personal guarantees on the office space. So we were just buried, and yet I really did believe we were starting to get – things were starting to come out of it at work, although Charisse certainly didn't feel it at home.
Scott Martineau: I don't know that we foresaw the taxing – the taxes that would be extracted from us, not just from the government.
Actually we weren't really making enough money to pay taxes. But we – when you go for – we had two different seasons where we went for four or five months with literally no take home pay. It just starts to drain us. I remember when Andy came to me and, "Scott, you have got to stop going to Circle K, it's killing us." By the way this is back when the thirst buster was 39 cents. But I remember that, and that feeling are we going to use the house and so forth. Anyway, so I – we have – we had this period of just extreme struggles and challenges, and we've looked back on that many, many times, and we've asked ourselves would we have done it differently. I think for us, and we'll share our story of maybe how this came about. But for us we recognized that has become the foundation of the purpose of why are company exist. We felt like we had to go through that, there was no – like you said we can't read it in a book.
Clate Mask: Totally, and I was – at the time I would say I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.
It was so difficult, and yet I look back on it now and I just say that it was the most valuable thing we ever could have experienced. Because what it did was it gave us a love for small business success. It gave us just a reverence for entrepreneurs and what they do. It gave us – frankly, maybe even more than our love and passion for small business success; it gave us a total hatred for small business failure. I say that in a way that I think few people can really understand unless you run a business. But that – the way that small business failure crushes the spirit and the dreams and the goals and the ambitions of good, creative, smart, hardworking people to me is just a travesty. I hate seeing that.
Scott Martineau: What was amazing is the plight of the entrepreneur started to take shape for us. I don't know that – maybe we knew a little bit about it before, but it started to take shape and we had a really pivotal experience where one of our mentors, Michael Gerber, we really appreciate him for how he made – helped us make this pivot. But he took us to an event...
Clate Mask: One thing real quick to inject here. It took us about three years of just brutal struggle, absolutely brutal struggle every single day being a question of are we going to make it tomorrow. Are we going to be able to pay the rent at the office? Are we going to be able to pay our mortgage? I can't tell you how many days I paid on my mortgage on the 30th day that it was late so it wouldn't hit my credit, and my parents credit who had cosigned on my house by the way. So it was just a really tough three years, and then what happened was after that we had about two years where things were actually pretty good. We were feeling successful, we were making good income, and I was feeling like we're actually living the dream. This is starting to work, and that was the point where we had gone to a conference, and we were now – we were patting ourselves on the back, because we had – we were past the stage of just thinking we're going to pay off debt. We thought we could actually build up this business and sell it, and make some good money, and maybe even become independently wealthy by selling the business.
That was the place we were in when we went to this really pivotal conference that changed everything for us.
Scott Martineau: Basically, I won't spend a lot of time on the event, but Michael Gerber had this event called In the Dreaming Room, where he forced everybody to get very clear about the purpose of their business. He said, "Don't – do not go into business and just show up and start doing it, doing it, doing it," which by the way was exactly what we had done. He said, "You've got to get really crystal clear about what's the meaning behind what you're doing," and for us it was the clouds parted, and we recognize we were at this place where we could finally see why we existed. The challenging thing was, as Clate mentioned, is we were at a crossroads. We had a decision to make. Did we want to ride this out? What truly happened is we felt duty bound, and really mission bound to go and to help attack the plight of the entrepreneur. We said, "Our company exists to go make starting a small business easier." I don't think we ever felt like we could take away all of the challenges, but we felt like does the tax have to be so high to get a small business to be to the successful point.
Clate Mask: So that was where we really started to develop the vision for the company, and what we could accomplish in the world to help small businesses succeed, and to have it not be so difficult. Like I said it was really born from that hard experience that we had, but then also as we started to see the success. Because as you start to see the triumphs and the fun and the excitement, and the freedom to do things in life that really is what draws people into start a business in the first place, and yet they get buried. We start and we think great we're not going to have a boss, and we're going to have freedom, and we're going to have time, and control, and money. Then the reality is you just get slammed, and many, many businesses never get through that, and those that do many times come out so wounded that they don't actually have that joy, satisfaction, fun and really get to that freedom that they're after. So that really was what drove us to create this bigger purpose.
This vision that we have for the company, and I'll just say the last eight or nine years since then have been – they've been an amazing ride, and the things that we're doing to help small businesses succeed get us excited, and fired up, and passionate every day. But we feel like we're just scratching the surface. We have so much more that we want to do, and we feel like we have this sense of the – our manifesto to the world of what we can do to help small businesses succeed.
Scott Martineau: So as we sit here and look into the future we feel like the world doesn’t have enough businesses and organizations who are focused on helping small businesses succeed. We want to stand at the middle of a movement that is essential to organize the world to be – to increase the likelihood of success of small businesses. We look around and it's no wonder that small businesses have – are having challenging times growing, because the world just isn't really built yet for them. So we'll be – you'll hear a lot as Clate and I talk throughout this podcast our passion for this.
Our entire existence as a company. We're a software company, but behind all of it is a very strong purpose to help small businesses succeed. We – you will hear and feel evidence of us stepping up to lead a movement that allows you to be more successful.
Clate Mask: So what we'll do with this mob as a success podcast is we'll share some stories about our business, but mostly what we'll be doing is we'll be interviewing successful small businesses. Because that – I think the thing that we've learned over the years as we've built the company, and today we've got 650 employees, and we're over $100 million company, and we feel like we're really just getting stated. We're just scratching the surface in what's possible to help small businesses succeed. But we've learned a lot as we've gotten through this, and we've seen a lot. But I think more than what we've learned running our business it's the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that we've worked with. We have over 100,000 users on our software today, and we are – we've been able to talk with many, many, many more who are not using the software, and
we see consistent predictable patters and problems and pitfalls that small businesses face. So we just – we feel like there's just an amazing opportunity to shine the light on what happens in small businesses, the highlights, the low lights, the things that – the gritty savvy, tenacious entrepreneurs are doing to be successful, and to push to the challenges, and to get to the other side. Then we really want to shine a light on them, and just honor them, and help them to feel that congratulations, and the appreciation for what they're doing in the world, and making their business successful.
Scott Martineau: Our intent is to create some variety as well. We'll do some Q and A sessions, we'll do some short episodes, some long, and our hope is that as you're traveling to and from work or if you've got a spare minute here or there we want you to tune in. Our intent is that you will – we will basically use this canvas of business owners and the experiences they go through to help illustrate the points that we've learned.
We'll cover a lot of different areas of business, marketing and sales, and hiring employees, and leadership, and creating a great culture. We'll talk about operation, we'll talk about finance, there's really no area of entrepreneurship that we don't intend to go to. This will not be about an Keap, the software, we will probably never talk about that I'm guessing, maybe.
Clate Mask: It probably won't be nearly as much about Keap the company. We – that's really not what we're trying to highlight here. Although, Scott and I will be able to help injecting little stories and different things here and there. So we'll certainly do that, but we'll cover things like what it's like to work together as family members. We'll talk about things like how do you actually grow when you're hiring that first employee or the next employee. How do you know which employee to hire? There's so many different things that over the years people have come to us and asked us for advice or thoughts or suggestions, and I've got to be totally honest. We've gotten to a point where it's really sad and hard for us, because
people will say – I get many, many emails per week saying can I take you to lunch. Can we just go grab a quick coffee? Can we – what about breakfast? I hate to say it but I can't do those things anymore. It truly pains me because there's nothing I love more than spending time with entrepreneurs. So we just thought let's take the questions, let's take the ideas, let's take the success stories, the problems, the challenges, and let's highlight them in the Small Business Success Podcast, and give our listeners or give small businesses an opportunity to learn from what small businesses are saying. The things Scott and I share in advice and answers to questions, and the things we're learning today as we continue in our journey and growing a business. The thing we love about entrepreneurship is the way that it just helps you to go grow and get better, and we love talking to entrepreneurs. So we're going to shine a bright light on that, and we know that you'll get a lot of benefit and a lot of value in applying the lessons to your business.
Scott Martineau: Yeah. I think that last point you made, Clate is very important.
If you show up to these podcasts, and you listen to the stories of other entrepreneurs, and listen to our – the things that we're sharing, and you become good at applying the lessons that you're learning from them. It may be in a totally different field to our business. Our commitment is you will find metaphors in their business that will be completely applicable to you. We'll leave you with amazing tactical suggestions. I think probably most important is an inspiration. You'll walk away being – feeling inspired by these stories, and recommitment to creating success in your business. We're hoping that you'll feel a part of this community that we're trying to create of businesses who are committed to being successful. We feel like that's super important. A lot of business owners feel a little bit alone in the world. You may not be completely understood by your family or friends, and we want to create that community for you.
Clate Mask: I'm confident that if you are serious about growing your business, and you've got just a real intentionality about building a business you'll love the Small Business Success Podcast. Partly because I know there's nobody that is as passionate about this as Scott and I are, and partly because I know some of the entrepreneurs already that are going to be talking, and their stories are just so great. The things that they learn, the struggles, the challenges, but also the triumphs, they're so cool. Honestly, as we've talked to some of them, and I'm talking to different people I just think the reason why this is so powerful is because there's no blueprint when you're trying to run a business. As an entrepreneur you are charting a course, and if we can give you just a little dose every day of things that other people have learned we know that it will be super valuable to you. But I also want to say Scott was alluding to this, this isn't for people who are just strolling along in small business, and they're not really ambitious and driven to make improvements. We actually – we love the tenacity and the grit and the drive of the entrepreneurs that are starting and growing small businesses.
So if you've got that, and you want to get a little shot every day of excitement and enthusiasm, but also specific tactics and ideas, you're going to love the Small Business Success Podcast. I know we're going to have a ton of fun doing it, I love getting time to talk with Scott. The reality is a lot of times we'll go days and not see each other in the business because we're busy doing different things, and I look forward to getting together and doing these podcast so that we can come together and talk and share and learn, and do that for the benefit for all of the listeners out there who are serious about growing their business.
Scott Martineau: We're very stuff today, but I – I also guarantee I will make an attempt to roast Clate on every – roast or haggle with Clate at least on every podcast. We'll keep it interesting. So if what we're talking about today is calling to you, if you feel like this could benefit you in growing your business.
Clate Mask: Or somebody else by the way, because make sure you get this out to people who maybe – maybe it's not for you, but it's for somebody who's really struggling or who needs that – needs those ideas.
We want to make sure we get this into the hands of every small business owner that's serious about growth.
Scott Martineau: So go ahead and subscribe to the podcast and just look forward – we will bring to you a steady stream of these inspiration stories, answer your hottest questions, celebrate the experiences of small businesses, and ultimately help your business to be successful the way that you've always dreamed it would be.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Here's to your business success, here's to small business success everywhere. Scott and I feel like we're the most fortunate people in the world to get to do this. We love it, and we're excited to share with you and draw out the stories of successful entrepreneurs out there. Make sure you join us for the next podcast, next edition of the Small Business Success Podcast.