Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 27: Brandon Bruce and Jack Sundell

When your customers are grabbing your Minimal Viable Product out of your hands, it’s time to launch the product.

The latest guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere explained why.

The radio show airs on SiriusXM Channel 111 (weekly Thursdays at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern). It follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Brandon Bruce headshot

Brandon Bruce

Joining me in SiriusXM’s studio in New York were

Jack Sundell

Jack Sundell

Listen to the full interviews with Brandon and Jack by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interview are below.

Brandon Bruce is a co-founder of Cirrus Insight, a plugin for Gmail and Outlook that allows Salesforce apps to be used inside an inbox. Before starting Cirrus Insight, Brandon was director of gifts and grants at Maryville College, and operations manager of Rangefire Integrated Networks.

Brandon explained how he knew it was time to launch:

Brandon: … customers told us that it was ready. They said, “We know it needs more and we want more from it, but it’s ready enough and we find value from it.”

One customer found the website — they weren’t supposed to find it. … They put their credit card in and paid for the app. We said, “We’re not going to charge you yet. We’ll refund the money.” They said, “It’s OK, I’m going to buy it once it’s for sale so I’ll be your first customer.” That was a vote of confidence. We figured there’s a company behind the app.

Steve:  You tested with customers, you got customer feedback, you listened … Your thought, “We need to fill out our feature set because our plan said so” (but customers said) “No you don’t. Features 1,6, and 12 are good enough now.”

Brandon: That’s exactly what they said. I’m glad that they did because it got us to market first; we captured a lot of mind share. People said, “Well, if you want Gmail and Salesforce, then Cirrus Insight is the app for you.

They were telling us, “This is what we need and want. These are the features we need and want. This is a great product and is saving us a lot of time and it’s getting better data in Salesforce. We can run better reports and it’s elevating the whole business.”

We thought, “Well, that’s a big win for them. There’s value there in the marketplace, so we decided to get it out.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Before opening The Root Café with his wife Corri in 2011, Jack Sundell was in the Peace Corps. Stationed in Morocco he taught English and organized activities at an after school youth center. When he returned home to Arkansas, he volunteered at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville and quickly fell in love with producing and cooking  fresh food.

The experience stoked a passion in him for opening his own café, but rather than jump in to the farm-to-table venture, Jack took three years to launch. He said it was time well spent:

Jack: We learned a lot about hard work, about the importance of working to build community, the importance of building capital on the front end and trying to stay out of debt. The real driver was that we wanted to fund the café without borrowing money, so we decided to spend these three years doing a capital campaign.

We would do things like fundraisers where we would just invite a lot of friends to come and they would donate to this project. We did canning and food preservation workshops. We did catering out of a church kitchen. We also did something we called the share campaign, which was a lot like a kick-starter or a crowd-funding campaign, where we basically pre-sold our food and promised that for every $10 that someone donated, we would pay them back with a meal once we opened.

Steve:  So while raising money, you were running a branding and a customer-acquisition campaign. People knew you were going open a restaurant for three years?

Jack: Right! It helped us build a great mailing list. It helped us get our brand out there. It helped raise awareness of local foods in general, so all of those things turned out to be really great.

It also helped us create a network of farmers, which was another one of those things that we didn’t realize was important, but through all the catering work we had done and the food preservation workshops, we had connected with lots and lots of the farmers that deliver to Little Rock.

Steve:  Those farmers are your supply chain?

Jack: Right. We purchase every week from 25 or 30 different farmers and producers and on an annual basis, maybe 50 or 60. There is no way that we would have had time to establish all those connections once we were in the trenches of actually opening a restaurant.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Building a partner network was another crucial thing for Cirrus, Brandon said:

Brandon: People said a SAAS (Software as a Service) companies like ours, haven’t had a lot of success selling through partners. But it just made sense to us that partners could be like an extended sales team before we could afford to have one. We developed these relationships …

Steve:  These partners sold your product for you because it complemented some of the other products they sold?

Brandon: Yeah. Our partners are Salesforce consultants. They’re implementing Salesforce and would tell the client, “This is the way to boost Salesforce. “You’re using Gmail or Outlook, and you’re scheduling appointments with customers on the calendar. That’s where you live, and all that data really needs to go into Salesforce and vice versa so you need Cirrus Insight”. … and those folks help drive a lot of sales for us. So we use a partner channel, we do telesales and we do a lot of email.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

A crisis showed Brandon and his co-founder, Ryan Huff, that they had achieved success:

… Ryan and I … both have young kids and we decided well, so far, so good. We’re about a year into building the company and let’s take the kids to Disneyland and, of course, it’s while we’re at Disneyland that it’s one of the biggest power outages in history took our app down as well as Netflix and Instagram and Foursquare and other far better-known apps down. 

For 30 seconds or so, we thought maybe we’d have a breakout sales day because we had about 100 calls and then we figured, no, something’s actually wrong.

Meanwhile, our customers cared that Cirrus was down.

… We were at Disneyland on our phones with not a lot of ability to do anything. Not that we could have done anything back at the office either, because it was out of our control. That was a very challenging day. The silver lining to that was that the feedback that we got from the customers was stuff like “people have stopped working at the office because your site is down.” We thought, wait a second, Google is still up, Salesforce is still up. You can just work the way you did before but they said “no, it’s become such an ingrained part of our workflow and it’s so important, we won’t go back to the other way. Until the app comes back up, everyone’s going to kind of hang out.”  

We thought, it’s a must-have application now for companies.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Jack went the hands-on route to learn about the restaurant business:

Once we had figured out that we were going to go forward with the idea of opening a café, I worked in a couple of places in Little Rock that were really similar. Kind of the fast, casual model where you order at the counter, find a seat, they bring you your food. I picked a couple of those places in Little Rock that I thought would be good for learning my way around.

… (It was) a lot of trying to learn how orders happen, how did they make sure they had the food they needed to produce the menu every day, how did they make the schedule so that employees knew when to come to work. 

… It was a huge learning experience…. Behind the veil of a restaurant there’s a lot of things that go on that once you see and you realize, “Gosh, that’s really a smart way.” It’s not that every restaurant reinvents the wheel. There’s almost never a situation where someone opens a restaurant without ever having had any contact. This is all knowledge that’s been passed down over generations.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

And he quickly learned that running an eatery is about far more than the food:

Jack: Really when we started there was this goal, and we did whatever felt right at each turn to reach it. If I had known, for example, when I was in college that I would be operating a restaurant some day, I would have loved to take some accounting and bookkeeping courses. It would be so helpful to know more about electrical and plumbing (because) anything that I have to pay someone $75 an hour to fix now, when it goes wrong, I’d love to be able to do that myself. 

… (Also) it never even occurred to me to go to culinary school when I was in college or going to college, or getting out of college, but it’s fascinating, and there’s so many culinary schools that offer a great education, so I could have done that instead of just bouncing around with an undecided major in college. Then, I think it also really would have been helpful to identify employee management …

Steve: How many people do you have?

Jack: When we started, there were about four. My wife and me, and two employees, and now we’re at about 18. … We have a front of house staff, we have a back of house staff, so it’s just a really steep learning curve, how to attract, how to motivate, how to maintain great relationships with employees because really, if you think about it, employees are your ambassadors.  

They’re your representatives all the time, and if you’re ever not going to be there, you have to trust that your employees are going to do the kind of job that you would do if you were there. Trying to teach that, trying to verbalize it, trying to instill it as a philosophy, we found it to be a really difficult thing.

It’s a challenge but it’s also really rewarding, and now we have really an incredible staff that we’ve built, it’s taken us four and a half years to get to this point. But we’re open today and I was able to come to New York to do this interview, so I think we’ve come a long way.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here.

Listen to my full interviews with Brandon and Jack by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are EverywhereMichael Mondavi, founder and coach of Folio Fine Wine Partners, and Magdalena Yesil, founding investor and board member of Salesforce.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. 

Want to be a guest on the show?  Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

4 Responses

  1. Hi Steve, I’ve just began to read your blog as I’m just learning about customer development for my augmented reality startup,… and I have to say this is one of the best posts I’ve encountered.

    Really great lessons about listening to the market and ignoring your own top-down master plan. And about the importance of learning over everything else (except perhaps over-learning ;)).

    Keep up the great work sir.

    Cheers Alex

    El jueves, 7 de abril de 2016, Steve Blank escribió:

    > steveblank posted: “When your customers are grabbing your Minimal Viable > Product out of your hands, it’s time to launch the product. The latest > guests on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere explained why. The radio show airs > on SiriusXM Channel 111 (weekly Thursdays at 1 pm Pacif” >

  2. […] Read excerpts from the interview or listen to the recordings here. […]

  3. I love to hear/read the experiences of other entrepreneurs. What a great resource this blog is for someone starting out! Reading lessons learned by others is, I feel, one of the best ways to learn and prepare oneself for future ventures.

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