The Reality of Building a Slow Burn SaaS Business
Michael Kansky is the founder of LiveHelpNow, a customer support platform that provides small businesses with help desk, live chat, and more.
In 1997 Michael immigrated to the United States from Ukraine as a refugee. To help himself get a job, he signed up for a computer programming course.
As a final project, he built a dating website. And people started using the site. At one point, he had around 1,000 users.
When a user asked for an easier way to communicate with other users, Michael built a basic chat feature, which he also started using to support end-users.
In 2005, he realized there was a growing opportunity with live chat, so he took what he'd learned and launched a new product.
But it was a complete hobby. Michael had no business plan or customers. But he loved building the product and seeing people use it.
Eventually, in 2009 in started charging for his live chat product. About a third of his customers switched to a paid plan – which generated around $10K MRR.
Today, Michael has bootstrapped his business to over $3 million ARR, but it took him 12 years to get there. And for the last 4 years, revenue has been flat.
We often hear stories of entrepreneurs who launch a product, spend no money on marketing, and hit their first million dollars almost overnight.
But that's not the experience for the majority of SaaS founders. Michael's story is about the reality and the long hard slog that most founders have to go through to find success.
In this interview, we talk about the realities of building a SaaS business, the big lessons Michael's learned, and what he's doing to start growing again.
I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
Omer Khan: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talked to Michael Kansky, the founder of LiveHelpNow a customer support platform that provides small businesses with help desk live chat and more.[00:00:37] In 1997, Michael immigrated to the US from Ukraine as a refugee to help himself get a job. He signed up for a computer programming course as a final project. He built a dating website and over time people started using the site. At one point, he got to around a thousand users. [00:00:59] When a user asked Michael for an easier way to communicate with other users, Michael built a basic chat feature, which he also started using to support end-users. In 2005, he realized there was a growing opportunity with live chat. So he took what he'd learned. And launched a new product, but it was a complete hobby. [00:01:22] Michael had no business plan or customers. He just loved building the product and seeing people use it eventually four years later in 2009, he started charging for his live chat product. And about a third of his customers switched to a paid plan. Which generated around $10K in MRR. Today, Michael has bootstrapped his business to over $3 million a year, but it took him 12 years to get there. [00:01:50] And for the last four years, revenue has been flat. We often hear stories of entrepreneurs who launch a product, spend no money on marketing and hit their first million dollars almost overnight. But that's not the experience for the majority of SaaS founders. Michael's story is about the reality and the long hard slog that most founders have to go through to find success. [00:02:16] In this interview, we talk about the realities of building a SaaS business, the big lessons Michael's learned along the way and what he's doing to start growing his business again. So I hope you enjoy it. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Kansky: [00:02:30] Thank you. Thank you, Omer, it's it's it's an honor to be here. I'm a big fan.
Omer Khan: [00:02:34] You have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us.
Michael Kansky: [00:02:38] I do. It's not very inspiring. It's pretty basic. My quote is “It is what it is”. So I use it almost every day, almost every day.
Omer Khan: [00:02:45] Why is that important to you?
Michael Kansky: [00:02:48] Because sometimes I find myself, I'll used to find myself getting hung up on things that are just not outside of my control. I can't control everything. There are situations I cannot control. There are people I cannot change. So I, I tend to grow up right there by saying it is what it is. Life's too short. Just move on.
Omer Khan: [00:03:11] Love it.
Michael Kansky: [00:03:12] It makes me, it makes me happy.
Omer Khan: [00:03:15] So tell us about a LiveHelpNow for people who don't know about the product, just tell us what does the product do? Who is it for? And what's the main problem you're helping to solve?
Michael Kansky: [00:03:26] So LiveHelpNow is an omni-channel customer support platform, enabling call centers of full size to connect with customers on any channel they prefer. We cover every single channel here at LiveHelpNow, whether it's chat, email, text, (inaudible) , self-help knowledge-base AI powered, chatbots, social media integrations, you name it.[00:03:51] We got it, so whatever customers, the desire to contact the brand on whatever channel, whether it's chat or text or social media, this will all come into one easy to use platform for operators to respond to the target audience for us, our senior leaders in customer service, our organizations, centric organizations that value the power of enabling customer service agents to be the best they can be in their jobs. [00:04:27] So the, the, the ones that looking for a software that would enable patients to be the best they can be by giving them tools to be the best they can be. And that's what we do.
Omer Khan: [00:04:41] Awesome, so the company was founded in 2005. And tell us in terms of like, how many customers do you have and where are you in terms of revenue?
Michael Kansky: [00:04:52] So currently we are at 2,500 customers and the revenue is over $3 million ARR.
Omer Khan: [00:04:59] Awesome. So let's go back and I want to kind of uncover the story in and how all of this started, but I think that. We should probably go back to around '97 when you first arrived in, in the U S so just help people sort of set the scene because that, that was kind of an interesting time.[00:05:24] And I think there was a few things that really sort of set the scene for you starting to build this business, then.
Michael Kansky: [00:05:31] Yeah. So, so in 1997, I immigrated from Ukraine as a refugee and before I immigrated, I kind of got the gene of loving the computer and the personal computer. And I think it came from my mom who was just a brilliant mathematician working with really large IBM machines with punch cards.[00:05:52] And then the later was personal computers. So I just loved computers. Once so when I arrived to the United States in '97 I immediately enrolled myself into accelerated computer course, computer programming course seven months accelerated course. And at the end of which the teacher said that the centers, you guys already a go find yourself a job, but before you do, why don't you create some practice application, practice website, just for the hobby, just to practice your skills before you apply for a job. [00:06:27] And so I take, well, let me just create a dating website. So I created dating website, I used the amount of some kind of draft results or some other means to grow to a thousand users. And those are thousand users that started asking me for other features. One of them will was, you know, we would like to communicate with each other. [00:06:47] Why don't you put in some kind of chat tool into the platform, which I did. And then the next thing I thought, well, if they like to talk to each other, it would be great. If they could also talk to me to website operator to see what kind of things are maybe broken or maybe things that they would recommend for us to, to improve upon. So I repurpose the same chat tool for them to be able to chat with me. And the next thing obviously we thought was we if I like it. If I, if I find it useful to talk to my website users, I'm sure there are other website operators would find it useful, useful as well.
Omer Khan: [00:07:25] So when you sort of went through that program and you started to learn to code, what language were you working with?
Michael Kansky: [00:07:30] It was Visual Basic ASP.Net and IAS powered languages.
Omer Khan: [00:07:37] And, and then, so the, the dating website you built that was like a dot net stack as well. Got it. That's not bad getting a, a thousand users for a, a website. You just, you just kind of feel.
Michael Kansky: [00:07:51] Everything was easy in '98, '98, '99 marketing was released.
Omer Khan: [00:07:57] There weren't that many websites around. So you've got this a site built. And at one point it took several years before this turned into from a dating site to a chat application. Right.
Michael Kansky: [00:08:16] Correct, essentially in 2005 is when I decided that, let me, let me take the code that I built for this application, the chat application for a website to just talk to website operators, let me take it out of there and, and, and morphed it into another product which is what I did in 2005.
Omer Khan: [00:08:36] And then for between 2005 and 2009. You weren't making any money from this app? It was, it was basically a free product and kind of like a side project for you, right?
Michael Kansky: [00:08:50] It was, it was a complete hobby. There was no business plan, no revenue model, not capital. It was only me in my basement working at night to, to build it.[00:08:59] And my understanding why. That understood that if I want to do it, let me do it. So the company or the website that I essentially eventually published this product under was, was called Zaza Chat, z-a-z-a chat. The name came from one of the first words that my first son used, he kind of kept repeating the word zaza. So I just went with thousands as a chat that come and that's, that was the live chat app.
Omer Khan: [00:09:27] That's awesome. So what kept you going for those four years? What, what was the driver to, to come home and kind of lock yourself away in the basement and work on this product? You weren't making money. It wasn't like you were sort of, you know, setting out and saying, okay, I'm going to. Turn this into a business in the next year or something. So what was the motivation in those four years?
Michael Kansky: [00:09:54] It's just such a great question, but he had to play an expected one that did never asked. I was never asked us before. It was obviously not money because it wasn't making any he was, I guess it was. The fascination and self-fulfillment and just instant gratification of building a feature that is immediately consumed. By user on the other end and you get feedback almost immediately. So, so you build in this product for them, maybe in 2005, maybe it was 10 companies with 15 companies using it. And you're building this feature on feature upon feature specifically upon those users requesting this particular functionality.[00:10:45] And then you get feedback almost immediately. Oh, the school. This is exactly what we wanted. Awesome. Great job, Michael. So I think that's, you know, self-fulfillment is probably was the, the, the motivator there, purpose we haven't got, sorry.
Omer Khan: [00:11:01] Right. Yeah. I think a lot of developers are like that, that, you know, it's about, you want to, you want to build something that, that creates value that helps people and it's this fulfillment from just creating something and being able to write code that you can see a problem and I can create a solution that solves it. And then the next part of that is if you have people actually using the product, even if they're not paying for it that on his own keep keeps you moving forward.[00:11:30] And obviously, you know, it'd be great if we all got paid for that work, but for a lot of people, I think, yeah, exactly. That's not, that's not where it starts.
Michael Kansky: [00:11:38] Not for me. It wasn't funny for sure. No, but you, you completely nailed it. I think that's acceptable.
Omer Khan: [00:11:45] So in 2009, this is four years later of kind of working on this as a hobby, you decided to start charging for the product.
Michael Kansky: [00:11:54] I was sort of forced to charge because in 2009, it cost me personally about $40,000 a year to run it. It was, was all the server costs and the bandwidths and you name it. So at that point I had a kind of decision to make either I will solve the idea. To someone who will make it a business, which I have no experience in how to make it a business, or I will at least try before I sell it to someone else to turn it into a freemium model.[00:12:28] And that's what I did. I 202 freemium model. I remember as it happened, like it happened yesterday. I flipped a switch and Zaza Chat became a free product was limited functionality and paid product was unlimited functionality. And I flipped the switch around 8:00 PM at nine o'clock about a third of that point, it was about 800 websites using the product. Third of them were happy to pay the paid subscription. At which point you can consider it that one hour success because in one hour I knew I no longer have to consult. I no longer have to work for someone else. I had enough income to make it a primary source of income.
Omer Khan: [00:13:12] What did that convert to in terms of MRR at the time, what were you able to hit?
Michael Kansky: [00:13:16] Yeah, about one120, 120 MRR per month. That's what it turned into. Yep.
Omer Khan: [00:13:24] And, and again, eight
Michael Kansky: [00:13:25] Sorry a year, YRR I'm sorry, 10,000, 10,000 a month.
Omer Khan: [00:13:29] Okay. This was, I mean, this wasn't like overnight success. This was four years of working on the product before you got to this point
Michael Kansky: [00:13:41] But no complaints. It's still fun.
Omer Khan: [00:13:47] How did you figure out what to charge at the time?
Michael Kansky: [00:13:50] Yeah. And I know you, you like to ask a lot mistakes. That was probably one of the mistakes that I've made is the place in the product because when I priced the product. I have posted from my perspective. So I was, a consultant programmer, consultant for the company is making 120, 130,000 a year or so.[00:14:11] So I thought, what I, what would I pay for a product like this? What would, would not hurt my wallet? So that's how I approached. I approached pricing this solution and I ended up pricing too wrong because of that. So instead my recommendation for, for companies out there that are at that stage when they would like to think about pricing, is it official? [00:14:36] It's better to price high than low because you can always go down and it's very hard to go up. So what I should have done is I should have asked those 200 users, 200 websites or 800 at that point that use the product. How do you value this product? What would you pay for it? What value does it produce to you? [00:14:56] What do you gain out of it? Which features do you use? Which ones you don't use? That's what I should have started and not just crushed into, Hey, let's just price with 20 bucks per month. I think it's good enough.
Omer Khan: [00:15:07] Yeah. So it's a 20, 20 bucks mentally for you was the, the ceiling. And so you were like, well, if I charge 25, I feel uncomfortable with that. I wouldn't pay that. So I'm going to stick with a number that I'm comfortable with.
Michael Kansky: [00:15:23] Oh, it was a mistake. Yeah. Okay.
Omer Khan: [00:15:25] So that means you've got how many customers, there was a few hundred customers by that time.
Michael Kansky: [00:15:29] There were 200, 200 customers. Yep 2009.[00:15:32] Okay. And
Omer Khan: [00:15:33] then how did you find more customers and how did you grow the business, because you know, when we were talking about this before we started recording you, you were just saying, look, you know, I didn't have a strategy. I'm not sure I have much to teach here. And when we started unpack packet, it was like, well, I think there's a lot of people who are you know, in the situation that you were in, then they can build a great product, they're driven by it. They'd love to get, you know, generate some revenue from it, but they don't really know much about marketing. And they're not really sure like where, where they should sort of find those customers. And it was, I think there was just really interesting because you just tried a bunch of stuff, Right?
Michael Kansky: [00:16:12] Everything under, under the sun.[00:16:14] Yeah. Everything imaginable and unimaginable. So the first hundred, 200 clients came from a listing Zaza chat as a free live chat software on a website called techbargains.com. So to give you an idea who, whoever doesn't know what Techbargains are techbargains.com is the aggregate for any kind of promotions out there on Best Buys, amazon.com, walmart.com, whatever products on sale majority at that time were in computer space like PCs from Dell software packages installed. So that's what Techbargains were. And I basically send them an email and said, Techbargains, I have the zazachat.com that is a free live chat software. Why don't you list it for users? [00:17:05] It's completely free. And they did. And they kept Zaza chat on, on the first page for a day, which produced about 200, 250 clients. That probably, probably wouldn't be surprised if they still was. So that's, that's kind of one of the tactics. There was no strategy I want to be clear now, at this point of my career, I understand the value of strategy to be strategic on the marketing starts strategic on your sales side, strategic in the blog and development, and on all the, all the other facets of the business. [00:17:39] Then I was purely tactician. So here's the website where people go that that could potentially be my customers. Let me put the website there, but I'll link there. So that was kind of a tactic.
Omer Khan: [00:17:52] You told me about tech bargains.com and then we sort of looked it up earlier. I was like, are you sure this is the site that the latest deal was like Lysol disinfectant spray.[00:18:02] I was like, but now I just got to refresh the page and you know, there's a bunch of things like phones and laptops and stuff like that. So. How did you even find this site?
Michael Kansky: [00:18:14] Because I was a shopper myself. So that's where I would look for, for coupons and promotions for PCs that I need to buy TV's I need to buy. So I knew the site and I knew it was popular.
So that was basically going on a limp there and shooting to see what sticks, you know, and then it did stack. So they that they did work, but again, those are small gains, but the beginning stages, when you just need customers, no matter how they, what the source of the customer is, you just need to get customers. I think it's good to do whatever it is in your disposal to, to get customers, including Techbargains that kind.
Omer Khan: [00:18:56] Did you have to like significantly, like discount the product where you just sold it for 20 bucks a month. Like you were doing on your own website.
Michael Kansky: [00:19:06] I just sold it for 20. They do not have to discount or talk about Zaza chat corrected at the beginning.[00:19:11] Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it was, it was free for four years and then you didn't have to discount just, just, I think it was $20 per month. For all the features that the product was often, and that was the price of the model.
Omer Khan: [00:19:25] You also used a bunch of reviews directories to, to find customers. So tell me about what your experience was there and what type, which type of sites you used.
Michael Kansky: [00:19:35] Yeah. So in 2011, I decided that Zaza Chat was just not strong enough brand. Just the name wise. So I, I'll be granted the 2011 to company, whether it is now is LiveHelpNow. And I basically ran two companies. A lot of now was kind of in a new entity. And Zaza Chat was still coexisting was this new LiveHelpNow entity, even though they were sharing the code code base.[00:20:05] So I had to grow LiveHelpNow somehow. So I went to my roots of being a good, good enough tactician. And I found the company, which I think was one of the first, if not the first review-powered directory site, there are many now like G2 and Capterra and Software Advice and others. So top 10 reviews was the directory. [00:20:28] Then in, in 2000, the late two thousands that I offered to review LiveHelpNow. And they agreed and they reviewed LiveHelpNow. They tested the software up and down and they listed LiveHelpNow as number one chat desk solution on the market than it was 2011. That basically started LiveHelpNow. Now, essentially an hour later, after that listing went live, we gained about a thousand clients within three months of that listing going live .
Omer Khan: [00:21:00] Paying customers.
Michael Kansky: [00:21:01] Yes. Paying customers. Yeah. And that we talked about it before interview that social proof, that that was so important then, and they ever so more, more, more so important now with when the companies or purchasing managers are shopping for a particular software package, they will be sure to visit those directory sites where you have those reviews for software packages, such as G2, Software Advice and Capterra..[00:21:32] It's just in my opinion, it's just, there are just too many of them now. And then that hope for any, some kind of consolidation happen or maybe business model will change in some of them, because they've now in order for you to compete, you will have to pay essentially individually to all of those websites separately to be listed anywhere closer to the top.
Omer Khan: [00:21:55] Yeah, because there's review sites like Capterra, G2 and you know, the others, they can be a great place to find leads customers and so on, but it becomes a problem over time because they start to. Number one, they start to compete with you because they're trying to get the same traffic from whether it's SEO or PBC.[00:22:23] And so they're bidding for the same keywords and they're trying to drive people who are looking for help desk software to their site instead of your site. And then the other challenge you have is that. Over time, you get more and more products listed there and it becomes harder for people to find your product in that listing. [00:22:51] And then they're charging you to have higher placement in there because they showing the paid listings first. So you always get to the point where it's like, can I even. No, can I even acquire a customer profitably here? Probably not.
Michael Kansky: [00:23:08] And that's why I I'm just a big fan of, of you as a person. I couldn't say it better. You'll nail you nailed it perfectly. How do you compete when you just won of hundreds on the page? It becomes very hard because you're, it's, it's no longer about you have an, a listing it's now something else, because once someone clicks within G2 on your profile and gets redirect to your website, you almost have to be so different vastly different to any anybody else listed on the same page.[00:23:47] So you'll you attract enough attention for them to at least to consider you. And then give, give you a cry. And then it becomes very hard because we have the space there are hundreds of companies and we all can say we do this and they do that. Just like them. It, it, it, it becomes a kind of a me too world. [00:24:08] Me too. Me too. Me too. So you end up looking for that differentiator, all inclusive, different chair, almost instantly. And sometimes you never find one.
Omer Khan: [00:24:20] Yeah. Yeah. It's an interesting conundrum to be in. What else did you do apart from review directories to, to find customers?
Michael Kansky: [00:24:30] Yeah, so, and that's, that's a little to teach the whole life of growth, the entire growth came from organic tactical methods. We had no sales team. We had no customer success team ever. We had very little. If the marketing department I had just started a year ago, it was two people hired. So there was no marketing department. So that's kind of a cool story, was 3 million YRR achieved was actually no marketing, no sales and purely tactics.[00:25:04] So the other things that we did is SEO. So obviously searching optimization was a key for, for a long time until recently. And the tactic, there was finding a long tails that are worth putting a pillar page functionality around. So I don't know if she know what pillar pages are. It's a really good tactic. [00:25:28] There's a lot of content around it online, but, but basically if you'd like to promote a green shoes, if you're selling green shoes, then you would create this what we call pillar page that will have everything about green shoes, it will be focused on green shoes and I knew would put six or so, you know, the more the merrier, but maybe six to 12 blog posts around that, promoting that page. [00:25:52] So, so the green shoes becomes a top page. It's a very effective tactic, even today, very reasonably in a reasonable amount of time within three months, you can promote a more or less competitive term to be on top of Google by using this.
Omer Khan: [00:26:07] Yeah, because I think what a lot of people do with SEO is they will. That they'll sort of figure out, okay. I need to target a particular keyword, like help desk software. And then they'll, they'll try to create some kind of content targeting that, and then the pillar pages, as you just said, sort of takes it up a level where you can basically say, I want to have one page, which is kind of like my landing page for help desk software.[00:26:37] And then all the other content that I create. If I've got a hundred blog posts, which cover all kinds of things, whether it's help desk software or some maybe long tail type keywords. I'm going to have internal links all pointing back to this one page, which tells Google when it comes to help desk software, this is the one page that's most important.
Michael Kansky: [00:26:57] Exactly. Exactly.
Omer Khan: [00:26:58] It's interesting because I think that still works to, to some degree because it's not really a hack. I mean, it's basically, you're, you're kind of making it easier for someone to discover all the content that you have about a particular topic. And it seems to be something that Google likes as well.
Michael Kansky: [00:27:21] Exactly.
Omer Khan: [00:27:21] And so how well did that work and for how long did that work?
Michael Kansky: [00:27:30] So it worked really, really well. Again, organic growth from 2009 to 2017. In 2017, it was like a switch and the company growth just stopped. So from 2017 to 2021, they, if you look at our YRR, it's just going to, it's just going to be amazing year after year.[00:27:55] It's really out with 10,000 YRR plus-minus. So it's just, the company is completely stagnant at this point. We have very little short view, always had very very little churn.. So that's what kind of saving us right now from shrinking. But we are stagnant and stagnation is because, you know, tactics work only for so much, you know, for so long when you startup. [00:28:21] I probably, you know, and I started other companies from life of now from the days of Zaza Chat, LiveHelpNow, the companies where I also use this type of tactics and they perfectly, in my opinion, they perfectly fine for startup when you just want to get customers. But at some point in the company life cycle, you have to think strategy. [00:28:42] And then I kind of missed that boat. So, so right now, only now within six months, I focus on strategy. We brought in a very talented CEO, Jason O'Neill, who is just incredible. And so he's just completely taking all the, to do's that I have to do on daily basis. So now I have free time and growth and vision. [00:29:08] So COO is taken care of. We never had customer success, we hired now customer success team was extremely talented, a talented lady from Barcelona that will lead our customer success. We hired to involve them to involve the salespeople. This month and we restructured the entire team to have very clear organizational chart was very clear. [00:29:28] I'll come to power mobility objectives. So those pieces did not exist from 2009 to today. So it's 12 years of the company just growing with no strategy. There's no marketing plan. There's no sales plan. There's no revenue model and we reached 3 million YRR which is good. It's a good story but the lesson here is you can do those tactics, in the beginning, to get customers and get traction. But once you do keep you keep your eyes on the ball and strategize.
Omer Khan: [00:30:03] So 2017, you were doing about 3 million. AR and 2021 you're doing about the same.
Michael Kansky: [00:30:14] Exactly.
Omer Khan: [00:30:15] So you, you said, you know, tactics can only take you so far and you know, you have to try all this stuff. And obviously, now you're putting, you're building a team and an infrastructure around you and, and kind of positioning yourself to now.[00:30:32] Grow the business and, and, you know, get it to the next milestone where there's five or 10 million. And it'll be interesting for us to follow up and see how that goes. But looking back, I want to try and unpack. Why do you think that happened aside from, I mean, even the tactics, like, you know, surely there were tactics in the last four years that you could have kept trying that would have maybe not grown the business. [00:31:03] Massively, but maybe, you know, by a couple of percent every month. So what, what happened? I want to try and understand what are the lessons here from like, why it was flat and also why nothing has worked in the last four years? Yeah,
Michael Kansky: [00:31:21] I think I, I have a good understanding of what it is. I probably will have gained more insight as as we implemented these new strategies, but I think because of how flat the organization always was, was me at the top, divisionally, the doer, the order taker, an order placer, and then everybody else under me dead flat organizational chart, doing the summary on the chart. It's just, I don't know what to call it. It just locked me up so much in just daily tasks.[00:32:01] If, if you have a question, if you don't know how to proceed, ask Michael, if you don't know what to do here as Michael, if you don't know which he should develop on how to do it as Michael and that kind of limited or moved deemed completely inaccessible my ability of be the visionary, be the grower of the business. [00:32:24] And I think that's what stopped the growth. And if I was to. Follow the advice, which are you going to ask me later? What was the best advice we got was the best advice is hire general manager. Why are you managing all these people? Why are you managing your marketing department? Your development department knew everything. [00:32:44] You're customer success, you're developer, you're CEO, you're COO and CMO and everything else. Why are you doing, why are you torturing yourself? Get a general manager, good general manager, and COO can free you up of all those daily tasks. So you can focus on business in the growing business and think that was the best advice they only now followed. [00:33:05] And the reason I didn't follow before is because that horrible habit of, if you want to do something right, you get, if you want to get something done, right. Do it yourself. And I think that that's what prevented me from letting go. And actually finding personal, like what I found now to, to, to let go and tell him to deal with this for me. [00:33:29] And I don't know if you have time for a joke, but it's a really good job and you can cut it out later. It's about hiker that hikes and falls down the cliff and manages to hold on to vine. So he, he hangs on that vine barely and he cries out. Is there anyone there, please help me. Is there anyone there that needs a voice in the sky? [00:33:54] Yes. I'm here. You can let go. Who is this? Who is this? This is God. You can let go. And the hiker thinks and says, is there anyone else there? So that's me. You know, the one guy can entrepreneur holding on, on, on all the vines in the business.
Omer Khan: [00:34:18] So deep down, you knew what you needed to do, but actually doing it wasn't easy.
Michael Kansky: [00:34:24] Most challenged. Yes. And I'm sure there are other people like me. And I'm again, I'm not the one to teach. I'm just, I'm just letting go now after 12 years. So yes, I, I could, as two people who, who knew that, that this is important earlier because you probably are writing now much larger businesses.
Omer Khan: [00:34:48] Yeah. I think one path was to hire a general manager, which is, you know, kind of what you went down. The other one would have been to kind of evolve into a different role and you playing, you know, the role of the CEO. But I think, I think it's important. I learned the times we sort of assume, okay, I'm the founder, I'm going to build this business.[00:35:13] And then, you know, I'm going to be the CEO. And it's important to have self-awareness about not only about your skills and your strengths and all of that stuff, but also. What are the things that energize you? What are the things that are easier for you to do than other people and maybe the CEO role isn't right. [00:35:40] Because there's other stuff that you could be doing and you could be doing better. But you have to let go. And I think just, just knowing yourself too, to know what's right for you and not just following the path that you see, everybody else sort of seemingly do is kind of a really important part of this.
Michael Kansky: [00:36:00] Completely. Couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more.
Omer Khan: [00:36:04] Now, the other thing I want to ask you, and I want to understand what if this was also. A factor to you kind of hitting a plateau with growth was that sort of happened around 2017, two years before that in 2015, you started a second company, right? So that's called Help Squad.[00:36:27] That's not a SaaS business. I don't think we need to potentially like go into a bunch of detail there, but how much do you think starting that second business compounded the problems that you started to see from 2017.
Michael Kansky: [00:36:43] The fact on this and, and you know, Jason, our new CEO well, you know, him and I talked about it on many occasions.[00:36:52] I think that was catalyst for closing the, the, the growth trajectory or in 2017, because it wasn't just one company. So the, the reason, now thinking back, the reason I started this not only helps squad, but other four companies besides LiveHelpNow is because I thought, well, lots of miles kind of not growing that much anymore. [00:37:18] Let me start another company. And that will induce the growth. So, okay. And then I'm going to start another one to grow even more. So instead of focusing on what was working, which was life up now, which, which is the heart and the money maker, instead of focusing on that, putting all my energy to that business to grow it, I decided to start a new company and that's, that would be the, the catalyst for growth, which. [00:37:49] In the hindsight out of four companies that I started, Help Squad is successful. So maybe it wasn't such a bad decision. You know, you have to see, but I think you're absolutely right me now. I have six, every CEO and six different companies. At once while being actively involved, operationally know at least three of them. [00:38:10] So it's like having three kids. Then I do have boys, which I love, and I know it's hard without my wife wouldn't be able to manage them. So now we managing three kids of course the growth will be affected, which it did.
Omer Khan: [00:38:25] Yeah. And I guess when you started Help Squad in 2015, LiveHelpNow is still growing.[00:38:30] So it wasn't like, yeah, but yeah, I mean, had it slowed down enough, like, okay, here's a thing I want to kind of figure out is in 2015, did you start Help Squad because you just entrepreneurial kind of, you know, shiny object chase said, I got this new idea. I'm going to go and build this thing. Or was it because you saw already the slowdown in growth in, in a LiveHelpNow. And you didn't believe that there was much more than maybe this was it. This is where it was going to go. And maybe I should go on and focus on something else because we see that all the time. It's like, you know, you, you, you kind of build a, somebody builds a product, they get it out there and they get a little bit of traction, but it stops at like 10K MRR. [00:39:19] And then they're like, okay, that's about it. So maybe I'll go and build another product now. And maybe I'll, I'll do this. And that might be the right thing. But in many cases, if you just focus on that one thing and, and, and again, go back to what you said about the pricing at the beginning. If you didn't mentally put the ceiling in your own head of where this business can be, maybe, maybe it's the opportunity is much bigger. [00:39:42] So which one, which of those was it for you in terms of why, what drove you to start Help Squad on that time?
Michael Kansky: [00:39:51] It's it's it's it was a compound effect of all those factors. Cause LiveHelpNow is not growing as fast as it did in 2012, 2015 or 2011. And LiveHelpNow is now not one of five companies out there about one of 50 companies out there, basically providing the same software. Also me being the entrepreneurial at heart, listening to customers, which I really love doing.[00:40:20] Telling me, Hey, I have the love your software. We don't have enough people to cope with the chat volume or ticket volume or SMS volume. Can you recommend a company that we can outsource to, or offload some of our service requests to. So me being an entrepreneur and shiny object chaser, well, let's just start another company called Help Squad already have a domain for it. Let's do it. [00:40:46] So, yeah, but it was, you know, like you said, you mentioned all of those factors that attributed to this birth of this new company and other companies that, that burst over time based on customer requests. And shiny object chasing. So, and such a relation of the global market that, that previous company is in such as LiveHelpNow.
Omer Khan: [00:41:14] Now we're going to have to wrap up in a couple of minutes, but before we do that, I want to ask you if anybody was listening to this and they're thinking, Oh, you know, Michael started out and he's charging $20 a month and he's going to sites like techbargains.com, to find customers. Like he must be targeting like, you know, small businesses, but the majority of your revenue comes from enterprise customers today. Right?
Michael Kansky: [00:41:43] Very large customers. Yeah.
Omer Khan: [00:41:46] So where did that come from? Like w was that through the review directories that you were attracting these types of?
Michael Kansky: [00:41:52] Yeah, so majority of customers that we secured enterprise level came from this top term of use listing in 2011, which is still active to this day.[00:42:06] We still definitely enjoyed an influx of enterprise level customers, because like any other customer, whether it's enterprise or small business, the first thing the customer will do when they searching for hub desk solution or any other software, they would probably go on Google and type best, Oh, you know, access software for. [00:42:26] A dentist or back best tech software for SaaS or whatever it may be, or just best tech software. So and that surge currently will end up in a very saturated, convoluted, confusing world of G2, Capterra and Software Advice before and 2011 through 17, 16, they would end up on this one site called Top 10 reviews, which is now business.com, which I think the hindsight was really bad decision on their part to rebrand the businesses comeback. [00:43:00] But it's not a story, but yeah, so that, that's what enterprise level it came from. And then another factor is. In the call center, world agents or people who work for a specific call center constantly move these a lot of movement. So they go from one call center working for one company to another call center, working for completely another company. [00:43:24] And they would bring the advice of, Hey guys, you're using this not so good software to service your requests in the previous call center we use LiveHelpNow, which is so much better. So that is, was also, which is what you can classify the word of mouth that moves us from one enterprise to another enterprise along.
Omer Khan: [00:43:45] But even though you started finding enterprise customers, your approach to pricing also came back to bite you with those customers, right?
Michael Kansky: [00:43:54] Didn't changed. Yeah. My approach to pricing glued by the business. Yes. This is something we working on now. And like I said before in the interview, this is a big mistake.[00:44:05] Pricing is a big mistake. Like I said, it's easy to go down. It's easy to offer coupons or promotions or whatever going up is very hard. So. And that's what we tried to figure out. How do we raise our pricing? Because, you know, if you buy all of the features of our solution, including chatbots and self-help knowledge and tickets and email and checking SMS, all you'll pay for license $45 per month, which is probably 20% of our closest competitor price was also confining your features yet when enterprises look at our competitor that's priced at $200 per license versus $45 per license. They might think that there's something suspicious. They just wait too long. We probably don't want LiveHelpNow. We want this other solution because it's so much more expensive.
Omer Khan: [00:44:54] Yeah. It's more expensive. It must be, must be better.
Michael Kansky: [00:44:59] So those are the teaching. That's probably the most I can teach your audiences.
Omer Khan: [00:45:08] You and I going to stay in touch. And I'm going to kind of find out what you guys start doing and get this growth curve moving again. And maybe we'll get you back at some point too, to share what you've done there.
Michael Kansky: [00:45:21] Yeah, I think Omer, I know you're extremely brilliant guy. I was putting CEO in place or organizational chart in place, accountability chart in place sales team, inbound, outbound customer success team, and restructuring.[00:45:38] Often, those are the pieces that would probably be worth to visit in about 18 months to see if those were the right pieces in place, put in place today.
Omer Khan: [00:45:48] Totally. Okay, great. So let's wrap up and move on to the lightning round. So, you know, the drill, you're listening to the show. I'll ask you seven questions just to answer them as quickly as you can.
Michael Kansky: [00:45:57] Sure.
Omer Khan: [00:45:58] Okay. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
Michael Kansky: [00:46:05] Hire a general manager, CEO
Omer Khan: [00:46:07] What book would you recommend to our audience and why?
Michael Kansky: [00:46:09] So this book has a bad word. So you're going to have to believe that probably, but the book is “Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson” and the way, the reason I love it is because it teaches you how to embrace failures. And it provides notions that suffering has value and problems make us happen.
Omer Khan: [00:46:29] What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?
Michael Kansky: [00:46:34] I think there are two necessary in my opinion, curiosity is one and you have to have a romantic partner that inspires you and understands you.
Omer Khan: [00:46:44] That's a great answer. What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
Michael Kansky: [00:46:48] I like to listen to classical music or piano, violin, cello, just to help you focus.
Omer Khan: [00:46:56] What's a, maybe I shouldn't ask you this question cause you already do this anyway, but what's a new, crazy business idea. You'd love to pursue a few other time?
Michael Kansky: [00:47:04] It's crazy. I have this finished project called chargify.me it's a service that transforms stock traders' performances into an easy to read charts. So it's like a stock trader becomes a chart. So I'm determined to finish this one day.
Omer Khan: [00:47:22] Well, what's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?
Michael Kansky: [00:47:25] I love playing this video game called Overwatch on X-Box play more than one hour a day. Just helps you unwind. I think it's an incredible game.[00:47:35] And another thing is I have a dog cockapoo called Emman. Love the breed.
Omer Khan: [00:47:43] Awesome. And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?
Michael Kansky: [00:47:47] I love peace and isolation. I have a cabin in, in a small cabin, in the mountains, in the very secluded and beautiful spot, surrounded by mountains by lake. So this is my passion and my sanctuary.
Omer Khan: [00:47:59] Love it. Yeah. Michael, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for joining me and teaching us a bunch of stuff. And I think you, you kind of didn't think you had anything to teach. I think there was a lot of useful stuff that you, you covered here.
Michael Kansky: [00:48:12] Awesome.
Omer Khan: [00:48:13] If people want to find out more about live help, now they can go to livehelpnow.net and.com. And if people wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?
Michael Kansky: [00:48:24] Well, my email is fine. It's my initials, mk[at]livehelpnow[dot]com[00:48:29] Omer Khan: [00:48:29] Awesome. Michael, thank you so much. And I wish you and the team all the best of success and yeah, we should we should stay in touch and see how the the plan goes and how you get this kind of growth engine firing up again, and also I can keep track of all your other crazy projects.
Michael Kansky: [00:48:50] I'm a big fan. I think you're great. Thank you.
Omer Khan: [00:48:53] Thank you. I appreciate that. All the best. Cheers.
Michael Kansky: [00:48:56] Thank you. Cheers.
- “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson