The SaaS Podcast

Piano: Pivot or Persevere? How a SaaS Startup Found Success – with Trevor Kaufman [332]

Piano: Pivot or Persevere? How a SaaS Startup Found Success

Trevor Kaufman is the CEO of Piano, a platform that provides paywalls, personalization, and analytics for hundreds of media companies and brands.

In 2012, Trevor became a seed investor and CEO of a small 2-person company building a micropayment solution for digital content creators.

But about 18 months later, he realized that the economics of their business model didn't work unless they could build a massive customer base.

So they pivoted and moved to selling their product to large media companies.

But they struggled to find customers. Either those media companies weren't interested in selling subscriptions, or if they were, they often had built their own internal solution.

All this time, Trevor was funding the business out of his own pocket.

He had sold a previous business, which helped. But he still wound up selling his house to keep the business going.

At the time, it was a scary thing to do. But Trevor believed that he was solving the right problem. It was just a matter of time.

And that bet eventually paid for him.

Today, Piano generates $80 million in ARR. The company has around 800 customers worldwide, over 600 employees, and they've raised $222 million.

I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

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[00:00:00] Omer: Welcome to another episode of The SaaS podcast. I'm your host, Omer Khan, and this is a 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 Trevor Kaufman, the CEO of Piano, a platform that provides paywalls, personalization and analytics for hundreds of media companies and brands.

In 2012, Trevor became a seed investor and CEO of a small two-person company building a micropayment solution for digital content creators. But about 18 months in, he realized that the economics of their business model just didn't work unless they could get a massive customer base. So they pivoted and moved to selling their product to large media companies, but they struggled to find customers.

Either those companies weren't interested in selling subscriptions, or if they were, they often had built their own internal solution, or this time Trevor was funding the business out of his own pocket. He had sold a previous business, which helped. But he still wound up selling his house to keep the business going.

At the time, it was a scary thing to do, but Trevor believed he was solving the right problem. It was just a matter of time, and that bet eventually paid off for him. Today, Piano generates $80 Million in ARR. The company has around 800 customers worldwide, over 600 employees, and they've raised $222 million. I hope you enjoy it. Trevor, welcome to the show.

[00:01:37] Trevor: Thanks for having me.

[00:01:38] Omer: Do you have a, a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us?

[00:01:42] Trevor: It's funny you ask. I have two, two favorite quotes. Two, two favorite business quotes, both of which are from my dad. My dad was like a, a sixties and seventies madmen era creative director, and he, he said two things about business that I was like, were three things, I guess.

He said, make sure you're not working for your own people. He said, if your client knows more about their customer than you do, you're a commodity. And he said, the best way to win any pitch is to sell the client on a vision of what they can be that's bigger than they've dreamed of so far.

[00:02:18] Omer: Wow. Those are, those are really good quotes.

[00:02:20] Trevor: Yeah. Yeah. They stuck with me, as you can tell.

[00:02:23] Omer: Yeah. Awesome. All right, so tell us about Piano. What does the product do? Who's it for and what's the main problem you're helping to solve?

[00:02:30] Trevor: So, Piano's a very powerful, elegant, privacy-compliant analytic solution. That's married with a very intuitive rules engine that personalizes user experiences.

I think we're now the most widely adopted digital rules engine in the world. We do at least for business, we do well over a trillion page views a year. It's effectively, you know, running on a data store, which is a DMP and CDP analytics tool. And so, we we're all of that in marketing automation in one, really elegant solution and we use that to solve particular business problems like paywalls for media companies, or most recently checkout personalization for airlines. We've got about 800 clients around the world. It's about an $80 million company. And we have now a little over 620 employees.

[00:03:18] Omer: And funding-wise, you've raised about $222 million to date.

[00:03:25] Trevor: I think that's about right including debt.

[00:03:27] Omer: Yeah. Okay, great. So, I, I know there, there's a journey that you went through to, to get to. What Piano is today, and it started with a company that you were running called TinyPass. But before we get into that, why don't you just tell us about what, what's your background? What were you doing before? You became the CEO of TinyPass?

[00:03:47] Trevor: Sure. My background's in the agency business. I started a couple of digital agencies in my life. The, the biggest one being a company called Schematic that I founded in Los Angeles. And sold to WPP in 2007. And then within WPP we merged that together with some other business.

And I ran that conglomerate, which was called Possible Worldwide before WPP eventually merged that into Wunderman Thompson. And I left in 2012 to go join TinyPass.

[00:04:16] Omer: What was TinyPass? How did you come across the business?

[00:04:20] Trevor: So, there was a guy named Dave Moore who ran a business called 24/7 Real Media within WPP. And he called me up once and he said, we've invented this thing now called programmatic advertising, and it means that CPMs for premium media are never gonna pay for the production of premium content ever again. And he was the chairman of the IAB that year, the internet advertising board. And he gave a speech in which he said that and everybody said, well, what should we do?

And he said, you all ought to go behind a paywall at once. And he said, let's design paywall experiences for these media partners of ours. And I said, Oh, I don't know whether it's as simple as a paywall. Maybe it's a Micropayment solution or something. So, we tried incubating something within WPP, but that was just kind of a distraction from our day jobs. And we eventually hung it up.

But one day a friend came to me and, I just read this article on Business Insider that about this little company in, in Tribeca. It seems like they're doing exactly what we talked about. And sure enough, there was an article about this company called TinyPass, which was two guys in a little room above Nobu on Franklin Street.

And I said, Let's go get a beer with them. And we did, and I sort of fell in love with them in the idea and started seed financing the business. And then over the course of a year, wound up helping them more and more and extracted myself from WPP and joined them as CEO in the 2012.

[00:05:51] Omer: Let's talk about that journey, coz how long did you work on TinyPass before Piano?

[00:05:57] Trevor: We worked on TinyPass for about a year and a half. And kept signing up little strategy blogs or you research businesses or rodeos or all these funny long tail businesses who were, had very small audiences paying small amounts of money for access to content. And we, we kept looking at this, I kept trying to do this analysis of exactly how much we would need, and it was a massive number.

And so, we pivoted, I guess about a year and a half in to being purely focused on, on enterprise software sales or, you know, decent sized publishers. And, and so I think we, we met with the Piano media guys in 2014 and merge the companies together at the beginning of 2015.

[00:06:50] Omer: Can you just explain what you just said there about trying to understand the economics of the business and it had to be massive? Can you just break that down for us? Because I think that's, that's an interesting lesson, I guess in terms of you can go into a market and be very excited about a product and be signing up customers and things look kind of great, you know, you seem to be headed in the right direction.

But when you take a step back and you actually look at this and say, can we actually build a viable business out of this? It's not always that clear cut. And, and I think this was a, a realization that you came to you, I guess at some point while you were running TinyPass.

I think

[00:07:34] Trevor: there's a time when you started business where you were so excited about initial customers, about anyone hearing about having heard about you.

Right, that it's easy to ignore some fundamentals about the economics. You think if I get some customers and get some traction and people start talking about this, everything else is gonna work itself out. Right? And, and what I learned at that point was if you, if your business model is a percentage of sales, sales need to be really, really high for that to be a, a viable market.

Right? So, if you're a credit card processor, right, that makes a lot of sense. If you're showing billions of videos or, or some, that makes a lot of sense. But, but in a world where it's subscriptions to content, that's an example of market that's just not massive enough, in my view, for kind of a, a percentage model to be logical.

And I, I am, I'm very, I'm always very skeptical of some businesses where, you know, there's a, perhaps there's a, like for example email newsletters, charging for email newsletter. You can have a million paying subscribers to email newsletters if they are all paying about $50 a year on average, and your model is you take 10% of that.

Well, that's a $5 million business, right? Even though you might be a household name, you might think it's really big in some ways. You might be having the effect you want on the world, it's still not a great business at the end of the day. So, we realize that our job should be to sell software for a subscription price rather than try to share in what were basically some small economics. On a, on a, you know, in terms of the little companies we were working with at that point. And of course, large companies wouldn't wanna share their subscription revenue with us, so it, it made a lot more sense to, to charge a SaaS feed of big customers than to try and take a percentage from small ones.

[00:09:38] Omer: Okay, great. So you came to that realization and then, What did you do? Did you change the business model?

[00:09:45] Trevor: Absolutely. We, we stopped servicing small customers. I think it actually took us several years to wind down the small customers that we worked with and moved to, to just working with large customers.

It, it really takes a long time. We, of course, one of the funny things about subscription is once you have a subscriber base, that has real value and you never want to get rid of it. Well, for all of our small mom-and-pop content companies, again, these sort of rodeos and, and technology blogs and such that we were working with stock advice, all kinds of funny things.

Accent training videos for all those clients. We, we couldn't, we had real trouble moving their subscribers from our kind of bank accounts onto theirs effectively from our payments onto theirs. So, it was very, very difficult to, to shed the long tail business. But we eventually did.

[00:10:36] Omer: So, you move into a subscription business model and then you came across the next challenge, which was realizing, Most of the companies that you were talking to didn't want to sell subscriptions?

Was that when the business was still TinyPass, or, or…

[00:11:00] Trevor: It was, yeah. We, we would run around to digital publishers of all kinds, and we would say, you insert client name here, Readers Digest, you know Hearst Magazine, you wanna be charging for access to your content. And they would say, Yeah, we're not doing. We think digital advertising has a great future.

The web is meant to be, information is meant to be free, was a thing that was running around then, which was a misquote from Clay Shirky. And so people just, it was not at all fashionable to have a subscription business at that point, which of course now it is quite in vogue, but it certainly wasn't then.

And we couldn't get, you know, we would have a hundred meetings and literally, you know, out of that sort of two companies would be somewhat interested. And to make matters worse, some of the companies who were natural subscription businesses, like a Wall Street Journal, we were a little too late for them. They had already built their own internal tools. So we, we had quite a struggle in the beginning.

[00:12:03] Omer: You're running this business, you are excited about the product and the opportunity. You realize that the business model that you had wasn't working or wasn't gonna be an interesting business. So, you switched to a SaaS model on this. The pains that come with making that transition.

And then you realize that this is a real, you know, you're pushing a rock uphill trying to persuade these media companies to start charging for content because they're still going down the, the ad revenue path and. How were you funding this business during that time?

[00:12:39] Trevor: I was paying payroll out of my own pocket, so I I had sold schematic to WPP and so I, I, I had some money and wound up selling my house to fund the business, and, you know, it was, it was a tough time. It, you know, in, in, in retrospect it was smart, but, you know, we, there was no proof. It, it was difficult.

Yeah. I believe that it's easy to, you're very lucky if you find something that customers believe that they want, but yet no one else has stepped in to fill that need. Right. So, the only alternative is something they don't yet know they want. Right, and that's where we were. We really believed that companies were gonna have to charge for content, that there was gonna be a, a subscription business that we would be accustomed to paywalls, in effect, everywhere that there was a replumbing of the media, of the digital publishing business that needed to take place.

We feel like we're still in that process, but years ago, nobody agreed with us. We were a little too early.

[00:13:44] Omer: Is that what kept driving you that, that belief because you're, you're going in and you're, you know, what I see is, you know, it's a startup trying to find traction, trying to get to product market fit.

Generally, the sound, the signs aren't that exciting. When you're saying you're having a hundred meetings and, and, and struggling to, to close, you know, one sale, was it that belief that kept you going and, you know, had you continuing to pour your own money into the business? Or was there something else?

[00:14:15] Trevor: You know, I'm really not sure Omer exactly why I kept going in the face of some pretty, some pretty clear market evidence that people didn't want what we had to sell at that time.

I, I think I, I'm maybe being too stride and I mean, in Europe clearly there was a more robust digital subscription content business than in the States. And as we started to talk to companies in other countries, we got an inkling. What we did might be more valuable. I, I guess I just, I had real faith in my colleagues.

I mean, I really thought that we could build a better product and thought that even if there were a lot of bumps in the road or, or twists in the road, I guess as we changed to different directions that team could build great stuff. And that it was just a matter of us finding out enough in the markets, having people know about us enough and continuing to develop a product that we'd eventually hit it.

And, and I think it was really that faith in the team that made me think we needed to keep going no matter what. I should just also say Omer, you know, I had an experience in the agency business. You'll remember the.com crash right in, in what, I guess 2002. Yeah. And, and really at that point, it's hard to imagine now, but the internet seemed ridiculous to people. Right?

It was after pets.com and like a great way to get fired at a company was to spend money on building a website. Right. And I had a web development agency at that point. And, you know, we had the tax authorities come in and try and figure out how much they could liquidate all our monitors for in the middle of a workday one time in Los Angeles.

And it was dire, right? But, but yet we made it out of that. Right. Eventually, things turned around and I guess I just had faith that a similar, similar thing would happen with Piano.

[00:16:18] Omer: I think that's, that's one thing that I've seen in a lot of successful entrepreneurs is this ability to keep going. Just taking that one more step I mean obviously it doesn't always work out.

[00:16:32] Trevor: Yeah. And there's some guys who do that and fail, right? Terribly. My, my friend Reggie who started Cvent, you know, he was that business, they went, almost went out of business and he was sleeping on friends couches and now it's a phenomenally successful Vista Equity-backed business. And you know, Vista bought it for over billion dollars.

And Reggie did great and good for him because, you know, he kept that going business going when nobody believed him.

[00:16:58] Omer: So, tell me about the, I guess the merger with Piano media. How did that come about?

[00:17:05] Trevor: So, we had gotten some outreach from an Austrian VC firm called 3TS Capital Partners, which is still a Piano investor and, and been really great and, and they had wound up with a company in their portfolio called Piano Media.

And they came to us. They, they were having some technology problems, some product problems. They had lost a pitch to us to build all the paywalls for Time Inc. Magazines at the time, and they reached out cold and, and we had a meeting and they said, eventually it got to them saying, look, we, we, you know, might have a little bit of a management issue.

They were, their CEO had resigned, and we have a technology problem, but we have investment capital, and we have some good customers. Why don't we merge these businesses? And you can be CEO, the combined business will standardize on your. And the one caveat that they asked for to save face in the transaction was that even though TinyPass would be the surviving corporate entity, cos everybody wanted to be a USC Corp, not an Austrian GmbH, they said even though TinyPass is the gonna be the company, we've gotta call it Piano Media.

And I said, well, I, I don't like the media part coz we're not a media company, but we can call it Piano. And since then we've really leaned into the Piano identity and name and, and it, it feels like we started a company called Piano.

[00:18:31] Omer: So, Piano Media, what type of business was this? Was this an agency?

[00:18:35] Trevor: No, it was exactly the same type of business really. So, it was a, it was a paywall software company. Very strictly, the CEO and founder had the idea that, you know, in a lot of European countries, there are several big newspapers that occupied different parts of the political spectrum.

And so, it's great to be able to read all of them and he with a kind of news consumers mindset said it. Let's create a bundle that is one price for access to all of these different publications. He built that business but then publishers didn't like to collaborate. Big ones felt they were subsidizing the small ones. Small ones felt that they were getting lost.

And so those alliances kind of fell apart and they started building software like ours to help individual media properties charged for subscription. And we were just doing a little bit better in the market. And so, they and, and they had a little complexity on their side. So, we put the businesses together to help solve that.

[00:19:36] Omer: And then this combined business, what was the size in terms of revenue, number of employees?

[00:19:41] Trevor: It was about 45 people, I guess, and about $5 or $6 million in revenue.

[00:19:48] Omer: There, there was a point where you pivoted from focusing on the paywall/micropayments as being the core offering into something broader. And from what I understand, when you and I were talking about this, this was really something that evolved as you had customer conversations where people were saying, look, we don't want this, we actually want something like this. Can you tell us about that? Like how, how did that, how did that come about?

[00:20:20] Trevor: Yeah, I mean, I, I think this is pretty core philosophically, you know. What, what I have found, first of all, from a, from an end-user point of view, the entire experience is kind of one thing, right? You, you don't really think when you're on a website, maybe if you go into a commenting platform or something, or maybe if you sign in with Google, but you don't think I'm right now the subject of an AB test.

And I'm having content recommendations customized to me, and someone is doing various kinds of analytics of various types behind the scenes. And when I, my identity is being tracked throughout as me being a consistent person and there's somebody else managing the billing to my credit card and the payment processing integration and gift subscriptions and promo codes and my email newsletter and all of these different things, right, that are, are part of that commercial experience you have with the publication.

And, you know, in the absence of Piano, that's eight to 12 to 15 different vendors, right? And, and first of all, we saw our problem not as providing a piece of software, but our problem was helping these companies make more money. And to do that, to get readers and viewers engaged and returning and understand what they wanted and would pay for to get to know them, ask them questions.

All of these things became expansions to the platform and effectively more software. Even though what we were really trying to solve was just this fundamental problem of how do we build the age-old media problem of how do we build an engaged loyal user base who's willing to pay for what we do, right? So, the problem's just a big problem.

I always joke, and, you know, Pinterest is a great thing, but I always joke about what I, I consider, I, I think of in my head as the Pinterest problem, which is you build Pinterest. To me, it kind of seems like what it is. There's maybe not a lot more to build necessarily. It's a brilliant way of creating these boards.

How much more do you do? Well, I guess, you know, there's lots of other things, but with Piano, there has always been more that we've wanted to do. And so, as we've kind of tried to solve more of the problem and help our clients make more money in advertising, in e-commerce, in subscription revenue, that stack has grown.

And you know, the entire time, as I've been excited about that and the design of that, we've said media companies who rely on readers is a great business for us, but at some point, will have sold to all of them. And you know, we certainly haven't done that yet. But you know, there are the top five newspapers in Japan as far as I'm aware, are all piano customers.

Right there, there are a lot of clients in the world who are using some part of our stack. And so now we have tried to make what we've done the entire time abstract enough so that we can sell to other types of businesses. And that's what's been exciting over the past year or so, is the, is the growth outside of digital publishing.

[00:23:37] Omer: So, what I'm trying to understand is when you, you merge with Piano Media, and the focus was still on, I guess, paywalls as the core offering. Was there a point where you, you pivoted into becoming this broader platform or was it more organic where customers would ask you for this feature or that feature and you'd start building it and then you know, this thing evolved and became much bigger?

Or was this always the vision from day one? And the paywall was just the first piece of that?

[00:24:16] Trevor: That's a great question. We wound up building more features organically. There are two ways to grow, right? One is you can sell the same software to lots of people in lots of different industries, or you can sell more and more to the same limited number of customers, right?

And, and we found that our expertise in digital subscription for publishing was very, very valuable as that business was starting to grow. If a digital publisher goes and hires a subscription expert, that person has worked on one or two subscription products in their lifetime. You know, we actively manage more than a thousand at the moment, so we, we see a tremendous amount of data.

And we can really dig into the problem very deeply and be experts. So, we made a decision relatively early on, to continue to try and solve this business problem for customers rather than try and solve a kind of product software problem across every single industry. So, it happened much as you're describing Omer.

You know, we, we first built software that would do recurring billing and revenue recognition reporting because that was very new at the time. Zuora, you know, across the country, had just started, but didn't, you know, wasn't really on the, the radar of most of our clients at that point. They needed that subscription software then they said, yes.

Well, how do we determine when we want to make that paywall pop up? And by the way, we want it to be different if you've come from Facebook and we, we want first to click free from, from Google and we want you know, you, we wanna ask you to register after three pages and then pay after 10. And so we created a rules engine to do that.

And then people said, Okay, well I've done all that. Now, why do I have to pay some other company, a quarter of a million dollars to create, to enable people to log in? Can't you guys have a login function? And it, it just sort of went from there, and then after the company had been growing pretty well, we realized we had the opportunity to borrow money and make acquisitions that would enrich the platform, both from a data and from a functionality perspective.

And so, we started doing that and that that grew the stack as well. So it happened really quite organically just based on frankly, what we thought we could, could sell to the same customer base that would help them with this fundamental problem.

[00:26:43] Omer: When you merge these two companies, I think you said revenue was about 4 or 5 million?

[00:26:48] Trevor: Five or six, yeah.

[00:26:49] Omer: Five or six. How did you get to that first $10 million in ARR? What were the growth channels? Were you, was this mostly outbound? Were these kind of like bigger deals that you were trying to land? How did you go about finding the right customers?

[00:27:07] Trevor: Because we had picked this one specific vertical of digital publishing. The growth for us really came from networking and primarily at conferences. Right. And it, it was convenient for us. There were businesses like Digiday, who became a customer as well, who were throwing really definite, holding really definitive conferences in the media business or associations like WAN-IFRA or FIP or various organizations that would gathering together European customers.

And so it was really a very easy barrel for us to fish in. I mean, of course selling software is always difficult, but we defined the audience quite tightly, right? We knew who our customer was. It was a, a media business that was charging subscription somewhere in North America or Europe. And, and that's what really drove the significant growth in the company. And then we, we built that into Latin America and Asia as well.

[00:28:05] Omer: What was, what was the typical sales cycle? How long did it take to close these types of deals and what did that, that sales process looks like? Or how easy or hard was it to sell to these customers? Because we, we've worked in similar spaces and we talked about our backgrounds and in sort of media to, to me, it sounds like these things could potentially just drag out forever, where you've gotta talk to so many people and it's touching so many parts of the business.

And trying to convince all the right people to take a bet on this new product or platform can take time. So, what was, what was that experience for you?

[00:28:45] Trevor: It's, It's such a great question about the sales cycle and the difficulty of selling. For us, our sales cycles are usually about six months, right? But so many customers in our business will launch a sales cycle, fire the people who began by the time we're done, right? The people who began the sales process are no longer there and the company's changed strategy or been acquired, right? So like Gatehouse newspapers was a big customer of ours. They bought Gannett and then changed the name of the company to Gannett, kind of TinyPass Piano Media style.

And the, all the Gatehouse team is now gone. And so, you know, that things like that are very difficult. We did all of NBC's sports. Pay per view content online in this thing called NBC Sports Gold. And then they moved all the great stuff in that over to Peacock. And so, you know, again, so we have all these structural problems, right?

Where deals are difficult to close. And even when they do close sometimes there's so much consolidation and change in the media business that, that we can wind up through no fault of our own losing the customers. So that's just a facet of the way we wind up doing business. But, but, but you know, we, we take the good with the bad in, in, in digital publishing.

I, I think, you know, selling software has been challenging, but the one advantage that we've had is we're not just selling a tool that is abstract. We're really selling the customer on a new revenue stream. Right? Or an enhanced one versus the subscription revenue stream that they have already and, and the power that we can provide them with to do site licenses or promotions or gift subscriptions or all of these frictionless purchases, the way we handle payment retries or, you know, all of these things that can increase their revenue. That's a, there, there's really a very direct story there between using Piano and then having a relatively small team at the company drive a lot of additional revenue for the business that, that has helped us a lot in, in the way we approached our customer base.

[00:31:04] Omer: Over the last few years, you've, you've acquired I think two or three companies?

[00:31:09] Trevor: Four.

[00:31:10] Omer: Four companies. What led you to acquisitions? Was this, was this kind of the next level of growth that you were looking at, whether you some strategic acquisitions to acquire some technology or some people? What, what, First of all, what were the companies that you acquired?

[00:31:26] Trevor: Our primary investor is a private equity firm in Washington DC called Updata Partners who've been absolutely fantastic. And, not too long after they invested, part of their, their thesis and part of the things they, one of the things they encourage their portfolio companies to do is, is make acquisitions.

Cos when done correctly, it can be accretive. Right. So, part of it was definitely just financial motivation. So, after they had invested, there's a company in our business that was called Ccents, that had, that I respected a lot. They had several really great technologies at the core of the business. One was DMP, so real-time segmentation engine that they used to say, okay, Omer is looking at a lot of automotive articles, were gonna put him in a, in an automotive interest category and he'll sell for more than to an advertiser than, than if he were just a notch, completely unknown. Yeah. He had a content recommendations capability as well, where they were indexing the content of every single article that you read on a site like the Wall Street Journal and using that to inform an algorithm that drove content recommendations that raised the click-through rate on those homepages quite dramatically. And, and Wall Street Journal still uses that today.

So, I noticed that they had, they had run into some trouble management team trouble kind of overall operational problems where they were trading on the Norwegian stock exchange for less than the cash they had in the bank.

And that seemed like a great opportunity and began a very arduous and complex process to do a public-to-private transaction in Norway from the States. But it was one of the best things we ever did. Another one being an acquisition down the road. But really what we got out of that, in addition to some marquee customers was just, and, and some great tech was a tremendous team.

I mean, I can't imagine our company today without some of the people that have come to us through acquisition. So, you know, we did it for financial reasons, really great kind of financial engineering in terms of an accretive deal. We did it for customer reasons. That technology, that real-time segmentation tool, powers all the targeting that we do now in our platform.

So that was great. And lots of our customers are using that content recommendation capability and content intelligence. So that's fantastic too. And, you know, got us things like great office and great team in Japan we never would've had otherwise. So really, really tremendous on almost every level, I guess.

[00:34:03] Omer: So, what's next? What's, where, where is the, the next level of growth gonna come from for you? Are you still, are you still betting on publishers investing more and, and doing more with subscriptions? Is it the platform now is, is generating revenue in, in other ways? What's, what's, what's the belief or the bet now going forward?

[00:34:27] Trevor: Our company really started with two, two parallel ideas, and that's still really true. One is we wanted to help digital publishers and, and keep working on the business model for digital content, and that has not changed at all. And I think there's all kinds of, particularly with the death of the third party cookie, you know, coming closer and closer and privacy concerns, I think.

There's gonna still going to be a lot of innovation in publishing this world we're in now, where we stop everybody and say, is it okay to set cookies on you and. There's such a huge barrier to subscribing. In effect, it's quite expensive to subscribe to things, but a lot of people would sort of pay something.

The rise of a lot of digital wallets with crypto. There are all these dynamics that I think will continue to change the digital publishing business and help us help digital publishers, you know, better than, than we do today. We still have not, I feel like we're still scratching the surface on the fundamental problem of helping media companies be successful in a world where platforms are taking so much of the money away, right?

So, there's a lot we have up our sleeve in that arena, whether it's different analytics analysis that we're doing, whether it's different ad models or different partnerships with advertisers, or still these kind of micropayment and credit ideas that we keep experimenting and innovating it.

So definitely we want to keep working in that sector. But secondarily, and also importantly, we have lots of clients in other industries who use our analytics platform. We have 20 banks on the platform, Deutsche telecom lot, just lots of really fantastic and interesting businesses who are using us for analytics.

Again, in a world where I'm not sure that everybody's completely satisfied with the analytics solution from Google, whether that be for privacy or data reasons or sampling or quality of the toolset. So, you know, we're really developing our analytics and data visualization and you know, the power of those tools.

There's so much yet to do there, right? Across industries. Some of the most interesting conversations I'm having right now in two weeks I'll be off to the World Aviation Festival, are with airlines who are having tremendous shifts in their business because the old GDS system of booking flights is now starting to shift and change, and the relationships airlines have with customers are starting to become more direct and they want to personalize more and they want better data on users.

So, there's just a ton of opportunity out there at the scale we are to compete more aggressively with companies like Google or Adobe in the analytics, in the MarTech space.

[00:37:07] Omer: I mean, you, you're closing in on, you know, hitting a 100 million at some point.

[00:37:13] Trevor: Please knock on wood Omer.

[00:37:15] Omer: Yeah. It's a good thing you didn't all those years back to say, I'm not gonna throw any more money at TinyPass.

I'm gonna go and do something else. So, one question before we go into the lightning round. As you look back at this journey for the last, I guess, 10 years, what’s been the hardest part of, of building this business?

[00:37:35] Trevor: The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is what you put everybody else around you through. You know, you have these wonderful people who are kind enough to throw in their lot with you and have confidence in you, and you can't always please them, right? Some don't make it along the way because they lose interest, or you do. Some, you know, work very, very hard and make tremendous personal sacrifice.

Sometimes you tell somebody something and two weeks later you have to come back and tell them something else and they have to adjust. The hard part about being an entrepreneur for me is I would like to be only stable, patient, generous, and, you know, it's a, to, it's a really difficult business and you don't always have the luxury of being all of those things and that, that's hard.

I wish that entrepreneurship had been easier on my colleagues and my family. That's the tough part for me.

[00:38:34] Omer: All right. Let's wrap up and get onto the lightning round. I've got seven quick-fire questions for you, so just try to answer them as quickly as you can. You ready?

[00:38:42] Trevor: Yeah.

[00:38:42] Omer: Okay. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

[00:38:46] Trevor: It's not the size of the deals you do, it's the volume.

[00:38:48] Omer: What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

[00:38:51] Trevor: For, for me, you know, in entrepreneurship, the best thing that I, I feel like I can do is, is get lots of input. And when I have downtime, I, I read art books and coffee table books because that inspiration fuels me and fills me up.

[00:39:07] Omer: Yeah, I think there's something about just like getting away and thinking about something completely different that either connects the neurons in interesting ways when you get back to work.

[00:39:17] Trevor: Yeah. You have to not lose your sense of wonder. Right? Like the, the, I I tell my, I was telling my sales team today, there's no sales without excitement.

Right? And, and if you lose your excitement, it's all over. So, you, you have to keep that energy and excitement and enthusiasm and, and for me, consuming other people's creativity is such a great, is so affirming.

[00:39:40] Omer: What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

[00:39:44] Trevor: Determination.

[00:39:45] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

[00:39:48] Trevor: I keep a giant sketchpad on my desk so I can write things down as quickly as they occur to me, so I don't have to open up an application and type. That's, that's, that's been the best thing for me.

[00:39:59] Omer: What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the time?

[00:40:03] Trevor: I, I have new business ideas all the time for social networks, for other things. The one everybody always likes. Is a video conferencing restaurant where there's like booths pressed up, pane of glass in Los Angeles and other booths pressed up against a pane of glass in New York City. And so you could take somebody to lunch in the other city and speak to them really fluidly in a telepresence way and buy them lunch and order from a waitress across the country.

I, I think that'd be really fun.

[00:40:31] Omer: Cool idea. What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

[00:40:35] Trevor: I'm a really, really serious and avid cook. I used to cook professionally, and I think a lot of people know that though I talk about it all, I, I make kitchen analogies all too much.

[00:40:46] Omer: And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

[00:40:49] Trevor: Oh, that's the same question. I really love traveling. I like to believe that, you know, being in, in motion slows time down. And it's absolutely one of my favorite things to do and I'm always stealing a little extra time on work trips to go to museums or go sightseeing, and it's, it's it makes it all okay.

[00:41:08] Omer: Congratulations. You got through the lightning round.

[00:41:10] Trevor: Thank you.

[00:41:10] Omer: So, if people wanna find out more about piano, they can go to piano.io and if folks wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that? Would you hang out?

[00:41:20] Trevor: They can go ahead and contact me on LinkedIn or email me at trevor[at]piano[dot]io.

[00:41:26] Omer: Trevor, thank you. It's been a pleasure. Thanks for sharing this story and condensing the last 10 years into, into useful nuggets and in the last 45 minutes or so. So, I appreciate you doing that. Congratulations on, on the success you've had with the business so far, and I wish you and the team the best of success in the future.

[00:41:44] Trevor: Thanks, Omer. I was honored to be on your show, and I had a lot of fun.

[00:41:47] Omer: Cheers.

[00:41:48] Trevor: Take care.

The Show Notes