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What did it take to get CEO and co-founder Clate Mask on board with Infusionsoft? Clate always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but first he went to law school and got an MBA. $100,000 in debt, it took almost a year for his brothers-in-law Eric and Scott Martineau to convince him to join the company. Clate talks with Director of Content Carey Ballard about how the business has grown since 2001 and the times that have brought him absolute joy.
Clate Mask: Hello everybody, welcome to the Small Business Success Podcast. This is Clate Mask, Co-founder of Infusionsoft.
Carey Ballard: I'm Scott Martineau, just kidding. I'm not, I'm Carey Ballard, Director of Content here at Infusionsoft. We're going to switch things up a little bit this time.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Good to have you here with us Carey. Carey, is usually – Carey's always involved in the production of the Small Business Success Podcast. So she's getting to feel what it's like on the other side of the microphone here. How is it, Carey?
Carey Ballard: I can't wait to get back on the other side of the glass.
Clate Mask: [Laughter] Alright, so we're going to talk about a couple of things. Carey, you and I were talking right before, and you just said let's talk about some of the things that led to you joining Infusionsoft. Because my path is a little different than Scott's and Eric's. So let's talk about that.
Carey Ballard: I think a lot of people want to know that, because that's a great story there.
So you've mentioned in earlier podcasts that you are – I would say reluctant to join when the brothers came to you with an idea. So can you tell us…
Clate Mask: Yeah, because we weren't making any money. [Laughter] They wanted me to join this party where nobody was taking home any money. That didn't sound so exciting to me.
Carey Ballard: You wanted money and security; that was the path you were on. Can you tell us about that?
Clate Mask: Yeah, I needed it. The reality was I had $100,000 of student debt between me and Charisse. I had finished a law degree and an MBA, and she had finished her degree. We walked together, that was a great celebration, and we were saddled with $100,000 of student debt. So for me I was – I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to get into entrepreneurship, but I always believed that was going to be a few years down the road after I'd been able to pay off my debt. So when they were saying, "Come and join us, come be a part of Infusionsoft." I was like, "I can't do that."
Carey Ballard: When you say you wanted to in entrepreneurship how did you view that before you went on…?
Clate Mask: Growing up I always was intrigued by my friends, family members that ran their own businesses.
So I always liked the idea of being a business owner, but I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do in business. I just believed I wanted to run my own business at some point. I think that was mostly just watching the experiences of friends and their parents. My mom was an entrepreneur late in – in my late teenage years for a few years. She had an interior design business, and I saw that as well.
Carey Ballard: So you had a lot of first-hand knowledge of it around you.
Clate Mask: Yeah. I – just watching people, but I also had a ton of ambition and drive to – I don't know. I think I had – nobody else in my family had gone to graduate school, and so I wanted to do that. I felt like I wanted to do more schooling. Somewhere along the way I got the idea I wanted to be in – I wanted to go to law school even though I didn't really believe I was going to be an attorney for a long period of time. In fact, that was a fun story by the way to tell Charisse that.
We were actually starting law school, and I told her, "I don’t' think I'm going to practice law very much, if at all." She was like, "What, then why would you do this?"
Carey Ballard: She was looking at the debt pile up. She like wait a minute, we might want to reconsider this a little bit.
Clate Mask: Yeah. So I – what I ended up doing was I did a law degree and an MBA. The law degree's normally three years on top of your regular college degree, an MBA is two years. But you can do both of them in an extra four years. So I did eight years of college. That was a lot of college, and I worked through much of it. But two of the four years I wasn't allowed to work. I had to sign something that I wouldn't work, and so I just racked up a lot of debt during those two years. Then Charisse, of course, was going to school as well.
Carey Ballard: Yeah, it all adds up.
Clate Mask: Yeah.
Carey Ballard: Then somebody came to you with a great idea, and yet somehow they sold you that great idea. So I want to know how that happened.
Clate Mask: This is what happened. So they were running this software business in Arizona. I was up in Utah, and I was working for a software company, and I had – so what ended up happening for me
and my path out of college was I got – the summer before last year of law school and business school I started working in business development for a software company, and I loved it. It was really, really fun. I decided I – why go work in law for a few years. I like this a lot more, and so I was doing that and having fun, I was there for a couple of years, and I was trying to pay down some debt. I was making some progress, but not a lot.
But I was seeing in this software company the ability to – I was starting to realize this is the kind of business that I want to start. This is the kind of business that I want to lead. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur from my younger days, now I was seeing I wanted to be in technology. It was just so fun, so fast value creation at a rapid pace. Everything was just fun and challenging and exciting.
Carey Ballard: It just fit, just felt like it fit.
Clate Mask: Yeah. So I was doing that, and then they were running – they were starting this software company in Arizona, and they kept telling me come join us.
After nearly a year we ended up leaving Utah and coming and joining Infusionsoft.
Carey Ballard: Quite a courtship you know.
Clate Mask: Let me tell you, I'm going to give Scott a bunch of crap here.
Carey Ballard: It's fine, he's not here.
Clate Mask: When I say they had a business, that's being pretty generous in what was actually going on. They were mostly playing video games and doing a little bit of custom software development on the side. So I was like, guys…
Carey Ballard: They needed you badly at that stage.
Clate Mask: They were really good software developers, but they weren't great on the business side, and there were three of them. So I was advising them and consulting them, and I was just helping them do marketing. I was helping them do lead generation. There was – for those who remember there used to be this paper click ad platform called Go To, and this was back in the late '90s early 2000s. It was the precursor to Overture, which was the precursor to AdWords.
It was – so I was teaching them how to generate leads and follow up on those leads.
Carey Ballard: Survival.
Clate Mask: Yeah. They weren't doing a very good job of it; so I ended up saying, "I'll come help you guys on a consulting basis. You guys pay me and I'll do lead generation, and help you on the sales and marketing side." Then that gradually turned into – I joined full time as an equal partner and owned a quarter of the business. We said let's start to really build this thing, and so it was 2002. They officially started the business in August of 2001, and I joined full time in July of 2002.
Carey Ballard: So a full year pretty much.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Just _____. Started doing consulting work in April, and then full time as a partner in July.
Carey Ballard: So you pulled the trigger, you're now there full time, and when did you say to yourself what did I do. Because I know you had a couple of those.
Clate Mask: Yeah, I had a lot of those. But I never – you and I were talking for just a minute before, did I ever regret not going to law, no. I really didn't want to go practice law.
Carey Ballard: We're glad.
Clate Mask: Yeah. I didn't really want to do that.
I took the bar exam, and proved to myself that I could if I wanted to do that.
Carey Ballard: The world's full enough, okay.
Clate Mask: But I didn't want to do that. What I did frequently think about is maybe I should have done business consulting. Because I had – with my MBA training I really enjoyed business consulting, and thought for a while I would go into that. So I had some – when things were really tough there were times where I was like, "I should just go get a job and pay down – go back to plan A, which was to pay down debt, then go into entrepreneurship."
But deep down inside I just believed – I believed that we would get out of the hard times, and I believed that I could pay down debt faster by owning part of this company and making this company worth something, and then being able to sell it. So for a long time – I've shared before, long time my vision was as grand as build this thing and sell it as fast as possible.
Carey Ballard: Exactly. Then that debt disappears faster.
Clate Mask: Yeah. Take care of the debt. That was my motivation for getting into business when I did.
I always wanted to get into business and business ownership, but to do it when I did it was to pay down debt. Then the grand irony after about three years of working through all the hard stuff, and starting to make the business really worth it then we didn't want to sell it. It was we love doing what we're doing.
Carey Ballard: When did you – that's a shift. That's a trigger in your head that changed. How did that – what did that feel like?
Clate Mask: It wasn't overnight. After about three years the brutal, dark days of survival were over. But we were not yet to things are just going great.
Carey Ballard: Where were you at exactly? From the business side so people can _____.
Clate Mask: We were – it was – I'd say – I started in summer of 2002, and I would say that by about mid-2005 we could see this thing's – we're out of survival mode, this thing can really be successful, and we could build this and sell it for millions of dollars and have it be a great financial independence event for us.
So we had about – probably 12, 15 employees at that point. We were – 2005 I think we did about $1.6 million in revenue.
Carey Ballard: So pretty healthy.
Clate Mask: Yeah. So we were definitely pass survival, things were going well. But we weren't to the point yet where were like we don't ever want to sell this. That took about two more years. It was about the end of early 2007 when we said, "We love this business, we want to keep growing it, and we want to do this for a long time. We don’t want to sell it."
By that point we had about 60 employees, and we were a round $7 million in revenue. We'd gone from $1.6 million to $3.7 million to $7.1 million over the next couple of years. So we've gotten to the point where we had hit the revenue level that we thought we needed to sell the business and achieve all of our financial goals that we had.
But we didn't want to do it anymore. We were like we don't want to sell, we love this, we want to keep doing it. That was – so that was really a five-year journey; three years of dark days, and then two years of coming to grips with what our real vision could be for the company, and that's when in 2007 we set the vision and set we're going to revolutionize the way small businesses grow. We're going to change the world through sales and marketing automation and do something on a really big scale.
Carey Ballard: So it sounds like, and I could be wrong, but it sounds like there may have been a shift and your identity became connected to the business. Does it feel like that, a part of that happened?
Clate Mask: Yeah. In the dark days my – it was very – it was a very fearful, scary time, because we were just fighting for survival every day, and I don't think that it was identity that was wrapped in it. It was all the risk and all the…
Carey Ballard: Survival.
Clate Mask: Yeah. All the personal guarantees and everything that we were – it had to work, it just had to.
The truth is during that time I would have walked away if I could have, but I couldn't, I actually couldn't get away from it. So then in the next couple of years it actually started to become we're making a name for ourselves, everything had changed from people saying go get a real job to congratulations you guys are doing really great stuff, and so we – that's when I think the ego and the pride starts to get wrapped up in it. You start feeling pretty good about yourself, and patting yourself on the back.
But the – I think the identity of the business really that wasn't until we saw the vision, and we could see – 2007 we could see this is a really big cool thing that we can do, and I think at that point it becomes a little bit different. Less – it's less about us, it's more about the market we're serving, what we can accomplish. But that – then it becomes that's what we do. It's no longer our career or it's just – this is who we are.
Carey Ballard: Exactly. That's great. It shows the whole journey and how important it is to get through the tough stuff for those who are struggling with it.
That's great. So all of that – we talked about some of the dark stuff, and you making decisions to join, and I'm glad that you didn't have too many of those I'm going to bale, so really good to hear. But what are some of the moments that you think were the most unexpectedly joyful moments for you, and at what stage? I'm talking pure joy, something that gets you really in your heart and you remember.
Clate Mask: Yeah. There's a bunch that have to do with our employees. I think one of the coolest things is when you see people who have come and joined the company, and have taken risks when things are really, really questionable whether or not we're going to make it. To see people come on and do great things for the company, things that we couldn't do ourselves, to see them feeling fulfilled and excited. I think to me watching employees who didn't get paychecks on time on a couple of occasions when we couldn't make payroll.
Employees who made big sacrifices in different ways. To see those employees have big wins in the company whether it was a project they were working on that we got out the door that we just couldn't do ourselves. We needed them to do it, they needed to do it. Whether it's them growing and developing in ways where they say I can look back and see how much I've developed since I've been here at Infusionsoft. Another big one for me is when those employees got to sell shares. I have a huge – I love capitalism, I do.
I absolutely love it, and I make no apologies for that, because I believe in – I'm a conscious capitalist. I believe in a very – I believe in a brand of capitalism that's all about benefitting and blessing the lives of everybody that's associated with the business. Employees, customers, partners, shareholders, advisors, everybody, and so I believe in that, and when people are all working together to create something great, and those people get financially rewarded that's freaking awesome.
I love it, I love seeing it. So when we had employees who got an opportunity to sell shares, and do really cool things. One of those employees is on a vacation right now in Ireland because of that opportunity, and other employees I know have bought a house or built a swimming pool or paid off a bunch of debt or whatever that is. So to me, there's a ton of joy that comes in seeing everybody work together to do great things, and get financially rewarded.
Carey Ballard: I love that. That's fantastic, and I'm also grateful for it so thanks for sticking with it. I appreciate it. Alright, we're wrapping up on time here so I want to say thank you for switching the tables a little bit.
Clate Mask: Yeah, that's Scott – I mean Carey. [Laughter]
Carey Ballard: I look just like him, it's fantastic. So easy.
Clate Mask: No, thanks for doing it. This has been really fun and while Scott's off gallivanting in Europe then we'll do a couple more of these.
Carey Ballard: Sounds good, alright.
Thanks again, thanks for listening. You just tuned in to another session of the Small Business Success Podcast.
Clate Mask: Don't forget to rate us, write a review, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.