Today we have some news to share. This announcement has been months in the making.
DoInbound is becoming ZenPilot.
Our mission is simple: We help marketing agencies develop processes and systems so they can scale without reinventing the wheel for every client.
And we're changing things up quite a bit. More on that later in the post.
We're crazy excited about what is coming! But before we jump right into where we're going, we wanted to share some of the real life back story that brought us to this moment.
This podcast and blog post are an attempt to pull back the curtain and share how we got to this place of renewed focus and a new vision.
We're going to be real and share that if you've ever experienced doubts, struggles, and uncertainty in business, you're not alone.
But we also want to encourage you. If you find yourself in that place right now, know it is only a season.
In the world of running your own business, things can get rocky. Our story is no exception.
A few months ago, Gray and I were in a dark place. We both felt like we were stuck on a hamster wheel and couldn't break free. After four years of grinding, we thought things would have been easier by now.
We started DoInbound back in 2013 as a side hustle. GuavaBox, our inbound agency, was starting to really take off. We found ourselves at that breaking point where we needed to standardize our business processes.
I'd searched high and low for the perfect project management tool. Somehow I thought that a software tool would cure all our operational ills.
But after dozens of free trials, we still came up wanting something better.
At this point, a college friend reached out to me. He was itching to try his hand at software development and asked if we had any project ideas.
Together, we sketched out our vision of the ideal agency project and process management tool. And within a few months, we had a working prototype.
Over the next two years, we worked on improving the prototype. We brought on early customers, collected feedback, and kept reinvesting.
This was an exciting time!
The pain that we felt while we were growing GuavaBox was a pain that other agency owners felt, too. Everyone was looking for a way to document their processes and systems so they could continue to grow.
Around this time, we launched our podcast, Agency Journey. Each week, we release an interview with an agency owner or consultant.
The podcast took off faster than we expected!
It turns out that there were agency owners from every corner of the world who were looking to learn.
As the episodes built up, so did the feedback from the audience. People loved listening to the real life stories behind successful agency brands.
These stories inspired people to keep pushing through hard times. The techniques and tips that our guests shared helped listeners grow and avoid making the same mistakes.
Business is Personal
For Gray and I, there is no separation between business life and personal life. We were best friends before we were business partners (and, let the record show, still are!).
We treat each team member like family. And we take personal ownership of the experience our clients have.
The things we value as people are the same things we value in our business.
In 2017, we spent most of the year investing heavily in new features and growth. We spent more than we ever had, we released feature after feature, and we made serious progress on our roadmap.
On top of that, we kept bringing on more and more agencies.
This combination of increased capabilities and increase in users brought on a new set of performance issues. People had the features they had asked for, but we struggled to keep the app running at the speed that they were used to.
We were in a place where users saw value in the problem that we were trying to solve, but when they got into the platform, they experienced issues that blocked them from realizing that value.
This meant that they often canceled after just a few months. Ugh, churn.
When our customers started complaining about the performance of the DoInbound tool, we did everything we could to make the experience better.
After working with our tech team, we determined that the best solution was to rebuild the app. This meant starting from scratch and building from the ground-up.
Talk about a gut punch.
This would be our third rebuild in four years. And it would take months to complete.
Looking at a churn rate in the 11% range forced us to do some quick math. We had a short runway to fix the issues and maintain the ability to keep paying everyone on the team.
As we weighed the option, these questions haunted us:
- What if this rebuild doesn't work and we are facing the same problems 6 months from now?
- Will our customers stick with us through this rebuild?
- Will we get a bad name because we can't get our act together?
- How much longer would our families need to wait to see security from the company we were building?
We'd invested over $750,000 of our own money into the company when we reached a decision point.
We realized that we had built a business where we couldn't control the customer experience.
And this was the big question:
Do we double down and focus on building a world-class software tool or do we sell to someone who can take it to the next level?
Finding Our Stake in the Ground and Making Hard Decisions
My marketing professor in college had a saying that he seemed to use in every class "If you lose your focus, you'll lose your shirt."
He applied it to brands and marketshare. But it is just as applicable for entrepreneurs.
From the beginning, Gray and I got into business to support our desired lifestyle. Our vision is to build a business where we'd have the freedom to deliver real value to customers.
We wanted the ability to pivot when things aren't working so we could refocus on value. But not only would this business serve our clients, it would also allow us to be around our families and serve our communities.
So when we came to this decision point, we had a clear "why" in mind. But we had a lot of options to explore.
We narrowed it down to four options:
- Double-down on the software, likely by bringing on capital.
- Sell the company to an investment firm or corporation that had the capital, talent, and experience to take it to the next level.
- Merge with another company in the agency / marketing space.
- Partner with an existing PM tool and focus on training agencies to operate with processes.
Based on our "why" and the horror stories we'd heard from other SaaS founders, we eliminated #1. We felt that it didn't make sense to spend 4 years bootstrapping and then make that jump. By controlling the business, we can make decisions based on our "way" rather than based on other people's motivations.
We took a long look at the process of selling the business through an M&A consultancy. We spent hours filling out all kinds of forms about our business and our target market. But we wound up never listing the business for sale.
The third option seemed like the most promising at first. We had conversations going with a few good fits. One opportunity went all the way to a full day on site meeting with the CEO and CTO. But ultimately things didn't work out.
After working through all three options, we were feeling pretty discouraged. And that is probably an understatement.
Getting Sea Sick and Chilling with the Whales
I started this out by saying that when you're running your own business, things can get rocky.
But rocky times can be overcome when you know where you're going and what you're doing. The turbulence is just part of the price you pay for the experience.
Those that pay the price make it. Those that no longer can stomach the cost move on.
But what made this season especially challenging for me was the not knowing what was next.
I'm a visionary. I'm always planning and thinking of new ideas that we can try to implement into the business. I can see where we're trying to go and have the creative vision to try new things to help get us there.
But when we didn't know which direction we were going, I felt lost.
It felt like I lost my sea legs. All of a sudden, the rough waters of our stormy season got to me. Instead of keeping my eyes fixed on the lighthouse on the share, I was tossed in all directions.
The anxiety of not having a clear focus to guide my daily decisions caused me to doubt everything. Specifically my own abilities.
In this season, I felt worthless; like no matter how hard we tried, I couldn't actually help anyone. We were destined to keep failing, because I was a failure.
When Gray and I would talk, our conversations were dominated by negativity and uncertainty.
As my grandpa used to say, we were lower than whale shit.
Renewing Our Shared Vision
Fortunately this season of feeling sorry for ourselves didn't last forever.
Being lacrosse teammates in college, Gray and I have been through adversity before. A benefit of our relationship is we don't allow each other to wallow for too long.
After we worked through our top three options, we needed a game plan. We needed a new vision.
This brought us back to the drawing board for a fourth time.
It forced us to examine our mission.
Agency owners are our people. Our mission is to help them develop processes and systems so they can scale without reinventing the wheel for every client.
Our journey validated the need for our mission and our passion for our people.
That was not what was broken.
Our vehicle was broken.
To this point, our vehicle was a software tool.
But the problem that our people were experiencing and that we were trying to solve was much bigger than that.
We knew that already. Over the last four years, we've offered training courses, group cohorts, and templates packages. Each of these were designed to help agencies leverage processes and systems within a specific area of their business.
The training was initially intended to augment the software.
But in reality, the training was more impactful for most agencies than the software!
While we struggled with the software, the training was making a huge positive impact on our customers, their agencies, and their lifestyles and our training revenue kept growing.
But what we were missing was the full experience.
As we stepped back, we saw the need for a full immersive experience. Something that touched each area: Vision & Target, Processes & Systems, and Demand & Sales.
Software, while critical, is only a piece of this puzzle.
With this new vision in mind, we set out to create a program that would focus on transformations.
Most agencies are stuck in a state of chaos.
We want to help them transform their organization into a machine with a clear vision of who they help and how they help them.
We want to help them feel the confidence of an organization that can grow.
The vehicle will evolve with time, but the outcome will stay the same.
That is the core mission of ZenPilot.
We've been testing out this new vehicle over the past few months. It has been so encouraging to see the progress people are making with just the beta layout.
The theme of this pivot is simplicity.
We're simplifying who we help: marketing agencies who are ready to grow, but need help streamlining their operations.
We're simplifying how we help them: creating one program that will iterate and improve over time and leveraging community to push each other forward.
We're simplifying how we market: creating one simple funnel and only working with clients who are a great fit.
We'd love to have you join us along this journey.
We'll be sharing what we've learned and how the transition is progressing.
If you have questions, comments, insults, loose change, or anything you'd like to share for the good of the order, chat with us and let us know.
If our story resonated with you in any way, we'd love to hear about it!