Brandon Bruce is the CEO and Co-Founder of Uncat, but he’s also a co-founder of multiple brands and businesses. On this episode of We Built This Brand, Brandon shares what drew him to serial entrepreneurship, and how he’s successfully scaled his approach to branding across multiple endeavors. Chris and Brandon explore the inherent risk of starting a business, and how permission-based marketing and relationship building are key when building up brand awareness.
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(01:10) Chris introduces Brandon, who is the CEO and Co-Founder of Uncat and a prolific Knoxville entrepreneur, and Brandon shares the story of how he and Chris met
(05:15) Brandon shares how he got started on his journey of founding multiple successful businesses and brands
(07:34) Why being an end user before developing a product for that end user is advantageous
(10:43) Brandon shares how he approached branding when he was first starting out with Cirrus Insight
(16:11) Chris and Brandon explore the importance of having a unique name and how to handle it when you encounter other brands with a similar name
(17:47) How Brandon made the choice to sell his first business, and the thought process behind that decision
(21:00) What Brandon did after successfully selling his first start-up
(24:19) How the projects Brandon took on during his break wound up developing into various brands and organizations
(32:10) Brandon shares what he’s working on at Uncat
(40:08) Chris and Brandon explore the power of permission-based marketing and relationship-building in marketing a brand
(45:38) The challenge of identifying which marketing strategies are most effective for promoting your brand
(52:45) The brands that Brandon is loving right now
Brandon Bruce is a software entrepreneur. He was previously co-founder of Cirrus Insight which was #41 on Inc. 500 list in 2016. Brandon loves making software that people like to use. He is an ultra runner and cyclist, and he’s the CEO of Uncat.
- Uncat: https://www.uncat.com/
- Startup Knox: https://startupknox.com/
- KTech: https://www.knoxtech.org/
- Knoxville Entrepreneur Center: https://knoxec.com/
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris: Welcome to We Built This Brand. I’m your host as always, Chris Hill, and today we’re interviewing Brandon Bruce. Brandon is the CEO and founder of Uncat. And prior to that, he has quite the career, starting with Cirrus Insight, which he helped get off the ground and actually grow into a company that ended up selling, as well as his involvement in the Knoxville area community with entrepreneurs, Everything from Startup Knox to KTech, to Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, to all these other things that he has done. It’s just an incredible story.
He’s got a great background and he is heavily involved in entrepreneurship in Knoxville, so definitely a great guy to talk to. And this was just a very illuminating conversation around what it takes to not only build a business but what it takes to create good branding and how to continue to grow a business over time and be curious and grow a business. So, I definitely love this interview. I love this conversation with Brandon. He’s a good friend. And yeah, I really hope you enjoy it too, so let’s get into it.
Chris: All righty, today on the podcast, I’ve got Brandon Bruce with me. Brandon, thank you for coming on We Built This Brand.
Brandon: Yeah thanks, Chris. It’s great to be here. Good to chat with you, as always.
Chris: Absolutely. Absolutely. Man, we met—where did we meet? I think it was—I feel like I met you after—when I was at Lirio. And—
Brandon: Okay yeah.
Chris: —if you remember that. I feel like I met you there. I bumped into you a few times as you were like, an executive at Cirrus Insight and everything. But, like, we really got to know each other around Austin East.
Brandon: We did, yeah. And I was trying to remember, yeah, how we first met. It could have been around or through the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, right, because we were both going into lots of events and networking and stuff like that. But yeah, the first project we got to do was at Austin East Magnet High School, which was super awesome. So, that was through junior achievement, and so a senior class there in entrepreneurship had the assignment to sort of start up, run, and then shut down a business in the course of a semester. So, talk about a roller coaster, right? It’s a quick turn.
And so, historically, students in those classes had sold sweatshirts and hats and lanyards. And this class did some of that too, but because I had met you, I threw a curveball at them and said, “Hey, have y’all ever thought about building software?” And they were like, “Well, no. No class has ever done that before. Like, what would we build? We only have a semester.”
And I said, “Well, Austin East has got a great brand. You got this road runner, you got these amazing logos, the whole community knows about them, you get this great alumni network. And so, what if we built a mobile app”—because you had expertise in that—“What if we build a mobile app with a bunch of Austin East stickers? And people could grab the stickers and throw them into their text messages and WhatsApp messages and everything else.” And they were like, “Oh, that’d be kind of cool.” Like, you could post them on Insta and everything else.
And so, they got into it. And so, they started grabbing the existing logos they had, but then embellishing them based on the sponsorships that we got. So like, Hard Knox Pizza, for example, was a sponsor, so then it was the Road Runner carrying a box, eating a piece of pizza in a sticker. So, then when the sticker goes into a message, Hard Knox gets a nice shout out and all those sponsors then contributed to the students building the app. And so, the cool—to tie up that whole story, the cool thing was, I think the students learned a lot, it was unique, they got to play with a mobile app, experience in operations, graphic design, right, some light coding, et cetera, taking it to market, promoting something that was non-tangible, which was pretty cool, and then the upshot was, they grossed more revenue than any other Junior Achievement se—[laugh] senior entrepreneurship class that we have on record for that year, right? So, super awesome. They raked in a pile of money that they distributed for scholarships, which was super awesome. So yeah, man, that was great. We got to do it again.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, it was—I just remember that being a really cool experience because, like, I love being able to give back to the community and be able to be involved with young people, high school, middle school-aged kids. They have a special place in my heart, just from even personal life, like, serving in church and then also, where I can in other places. And so, it was really fun to do that with you.
Brandon: Oh, it was. And we—I mean, I certainly learned a lot. And I taught high school a couple years ago. I taught a full year of entrepreneurship to seniors and juniors and a few sophomores. And yeah, you came in and hung out there too. And so, I learned a lot from that class because, like, we did some case studies of various types of businesses, but when it came to case studies of, like, social media companies, that’s really where the students were like, you all lead because you know a lot more about it than I do because they grew up with it right? They’re still, like, newer for me whereas they’re fully into it. I had a student with a couple hundred thousand TikTok followers. So, when it came to TikTok, I was like, “You come up [laugh] in front of the class and explain it because you know, like, a million times more than I do.” So, yeah. Now, it’s always a great two-way street where it’s fun to go in and spend time with students.
Chris: Absolutely. Well, today on the podcast I brought you on because you’ve had a pretty cool career of going from starting a startup of your own, selling it, and then becoming an entrepreneur multiple times over now.
Brandon: Can’t get away from it. It’s too much fun.
Chris: [laugh]. Right? I thought it’d be really cool to talk to you today about that journey and really about how you go about building not just one brand, but brand after brand and keep coming up with new ideas for businesses. So yeah, love to dive in there and talk a little bit about your early career. So, it looks like—what were you doing prior to your first startup? Like, set the scene for us?
Brandon: Yeah, so prior to Cirrus Insight—which is a startup I did with my best friend from college and we started it in 2011—prior to that, I was working at Maryville College. And so, I was doing advancement, or development, which is basically sales in the nonprofit world, right? So, talking with alumni and other supporters of the college, and they were contributing to scholarships and big capital development projects in the annual fund. And then the opportunity came to get involved in building this app with my friend Ryan. And so, he had developed a lot of expertise in the architecture and coding on the Salesforce platform and he saw a gap in the market where there was not a connector between Salesforce and Gmail.
And this was early days for Gmail, in the sense of, like, plenty of end-users had Gmail accounts; not too many businesses, yet, but more were taking it up every day. So, if a business wanted to go to the cloud, they were going to Gmail because Microsoft Office 365 didn’t exist yet. And so, we wanted to develop a plugin. Ryan started doing that, to get it out to market as early as we could because we both saw the opportunity. And it was an exciting time because cloud was starting to pop.
And so, to the extent that businesses were going to Salesforce, which is the market leader in CRM, and to Gmail because it was a really solid platform for cloud-hosted email, then we were there sitting in the middle and we could move data between the inbox and the calendar and Salesforce, and vice versa on behalf of these sales teams. So yeah, so before that, Maryville College, and then I was all-in with Cirrus Insight.
Chris: That’s a neat connection because it sounds like you were already in a field that could use your product, and then that became, ultimately, what you ended up selling and creating.
Brandon: Yeah. I remember when Ryan called just to kind of run the idea by me, and I was like, “Well, I don’t have a lot of operating experience with Salesforce itself, but with CRM in general,”—right, we used a CRM at the college, I’d used some platforms with previous companies so I was like, “I get the problem you’re talking about,” which was essentially, as an end-user, you spend most of your time having conversations like we’re having now or in the inbox or the calendar, and it’s an afterthought to go into the customer relationship management system—which is a database—and make an update. Like, “I talked with Chris. This is what we talked about,” et cetera. And so, what we were building was a way to sync data.
So, like, okay, we exchanged ten emails. They all end up cataloged in the CRM, so we can keep track of the relationship, but also so that I could see your profile in my inbox. Anytime you email me or I emailed you, it would say, “Oh, it’s Chris and the last time he bought from us was this, he has been a customer for this long, he works with so and so,” and so provides this nice, kind of, 360-degree view of who you’re talking with, versus just a blank email screen. So yeah, that’s how that one started.
Chris: Yeah and that, I mean, that’s quite the risk, too, like, going from, you know, a known, secure job to all of a sudden—I mean, maybe, I’m sure there’s some, like, bonuses in there for doing fundraising stuff, so you’ve got that little bit of uncertainty financially, but, like—as a salesperson, essentially; I could be wrong—but most people do, but, like, you have some used to risk, but then all of a sudden to be in the deep end, in that chasm of, like, how are we going to make money on this? Like, that’s got to be quite the challenge. What was that like?
Brandon: It’s what I wanted for a long time, right? So, to get involved with a startup that had that kind of risk profile, right? Like, high potential. I’ve always liked the quote that I learned only after we started, but you know, “An entrepreneur works 80 hours so they don’t have to work 40.” Like, I like the idea of basically going all-in on something and just, like, hey, we’re just going to work on this all day because this is what we want to do. And there’s sales work to be done, and there’s customer service work to be done, and we got to patch this fix on the app, and then we got to reach out and do partnerships, and sponsor a conference.
And so, it was just a million things to do every day and I liked that aspect where it felt really scattered because it also felt like—for me, and certainly Ryan felt this way too—we were always learning. Like, there wasn’t a day where it was like, “Oh, I just dialed it in today. I did the same thing I did la—yesterday.” It was always something totally new and different. So, it was an experience in accelerated learning.
And it was a total emotional roller coaster in the sense, especially in the early days, but really throughout the life of the company. In the early days, like, you get a sale and you feel like you’re on top of the world. Like, this is trending, right? The line goes up because you’ve only been in business for five days. That’s, like, a sale moves the needle. And then the next day, there’s no sales, so it’s like, “Uh-oh.” [laugh]. Like, maybe that was it. Maybe no one else is going to come. And so, there’s an excitement there, but there’s also a—you know, it keeps you on your toes, keeps you hustling.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. When you think about that first brand that you’ve built, like, building Cirrus and everything that you did there, what goes into building a brand when you first start? Like, did you think about the—I mean, you thought about the name, but, like, what did you really think about as far as, like, building a brand when you first started Cirrus?
Brandon: So, Ryan had previously run a consulting group called Cirrus Consulting Group. And so, he was pretty all-in on the concept of Cirrus because it’s a high, wispy cloud and we were going to be in the clouds. And so, Cirrus came with it. And originally, it was going to be called Cirrus Connect. And so, the first logo almost looked like a hurricane, right, with two clouds spinning and one was a C faced one way and one was a C faced the other way and they were interlocking.
And then either because there was some sort of conflict with some other existing brand or because he just decided he liked insight better than connection—insight felt maybe a higher level value—it changed to Cirrus Insight. He kept the two interlocking Cs because—it was like, it still looked fine—and then it became Cirrus Insight. So, it’s funny to think about it because it became very popular in the Salesforce market. We were the third most reviewed app behind, at the time, DocuSign and EchoSign, which are obviously, like, huge applications out there. And then, you know, here’s our little company. But people really liked it, so they left us a lot of nice reviews.
But when you think about brand, right, it’s two words. Both words are on the longish side. Cirrus is not necessarily something that everyone knows how to say or spell the first time properly, right, so some people would call and say, “I’m calling for Cyrus.” It’s like, it was… close, okay. I heard people calling, “Hi, I’m here for Citrus Insight.”
And I was like, “That’d be such a great brand if I was in, like, the orange juice futures market.” Like, we provide insight into citrus. Got my finger on the pulse of the citrus market. And then one I kind of liked is sometimes people call and say, “I’m interested in Serious Insight.” And I was thinking, “Aren’t we all?” Right? Let’s stop playing games. Let’s get Seriou—this is Serious Insight. So, I never objected to that one.
But yeah, nevertheless, you know, it was popular, so as the name we stuck with it, Cirrus Insight. We changed the logo a couple times, the thing that came with the logo. So, used to be those Cs and then over time, we adapted it. I mean, a funny internal [laugh] story that I don’t know we’ve told before, but we sort of had a bun—we had sort of a little internal design charrette, right? So, here’s a bunch of logos that could work.
And then one team looked at them first. And then it was like, “Hey, the first team liked these. What do you think, second team?” And so, the first team really liked this one logo. And I was looking at it and I was like, you know, there’s something about it that I just don’t love. And they’re like, “Yeah, but the rest of the team really liked it, so… you know?” And I’m like, “Yeah, but I’m a co-founder so maybe my vote counts for a lot.”
But I couldn’t put my finger on it. Like, what’s the issue here? There’s some problem with it. So, I don’t know if at that time, you could sort of take an image and compare it with existing images. But instead, I was just doing some searching, like, “Hey, show me an image that looks like this, like this.” And it popped up, and I was like, “Now, I know what the problem is.” Right?
So, the Google search revealed that it was very, very close to a logo that I had seen before. And I’d seen it before in a restroom because it was the logo for a company that makes urinal cakes. And I was like, “I found it guys. We can’t use this.” Too similar, plus I don’t love the association. So, we ended up having—not using that one, as nice of a logo as it was, and we came up with one that sort of used an envelope and winked at you, right, so it had more to do with the inbox. And that one we stuck with for quite a while.
Chris: That’s brilliant. And I’ve always jokingly said, like, to be good in marketing, you kind of have to have a dirty mind. Like, you have to be able to make those bad associations because that’s how you make sure you put out a clean logo that doesn’t get you in trouble. But yeah, that’s great.
Brandon: Before that, I should have mentioned, no sooner did we launch that we got a letter in the mail and it was from a company that does—you’ll see their name on ATMs. It’s Cirrus, right? They’re a big financial clearing house. And so, they sent a letter. And it was a nice letter.
It just simply said, “Hello. We’re Cirrus.” Right? “We’re a huge company. And so, just to be clear, you guys focus on the data between the inbox and the CRM. We don’t do that, so that’s fine. But we do everything finance, so you’re not going to do anything finance, right?” And we just wrote back and said, “Right.” [laugh].
And they were like, “Then you’re fine. Then you’re fine.” But you can imagine if we had said, like, “No, we’re kind of interested in transact,” they would have been, like, “Yeah, no. Mm-mm. No, no, we’ve got a big legal team that would like to speak with you.” So anyway, at first, when we were opening the letter, it was like, “Oh-uh. Like, we just started yesterday and we already have, like, a cease and desist?” But it was more of an informational. “Hey, stay in your lane. We own the finance lane.” And we’re, like, “Yep, you can have it. That’s fine.”
Chris: Having a background doing craft beer podcasts, like, you see that happen all the time. Like, it could be the naming of a beer, it could be the naming of the brewery. I mean, we have Mar—the reason we had Saw Works brewing is because it used to be Marble City, and Marble Brewing out in Arizona didn’t like that very much. So yeah, I mean that’s always a challenge coming up with a unique name that's, you know, interesting to people. I mean, even towards the end of Cirrus before—I mean, it’s still around, but, like, even before you all got acquired, like, Cirrus Aircraft came to Knoxville. So, then you had two Cirrus businesses in town and everybody said they worked for Cirrus.
Brandon: And that was a tremendous amount of fun, right? So when Cirrus Aircraft first came to Knoxville and set up their initial office, right, they were still building out their campus at the airport. But then out of the clear blue sky—pun intended—we started to get some phone calls, right? And people are, like, “No, this isn’t—you know, this is the other Cirrus. We’re the Cirrus Insight, not the Cirrus Air”—but these were people calling interested in buying jets, right?
So, we joked internally, like, we should really try our best to, like, sell the jet, and then call Cirrus Aircraft and be, like, “Great news.” Right? “We sold you a jet, and so just kickback some of the commission to our team.” But that was just an internal joke. Never happened. We always just said, “Hey, you got the wrong number. You got to call these—they’re great. They’re here in Knoxville. You [got to 00:17:17] call them over there.” But it was funny when that happened because we were like, “Oh, I guess people are just looking at the beginning of the name and they’re calling us.”
Chris: Yeah. And it’s the established Cirrus in town. If you’d look up Cirrus Knoxville I’m sure it probably comes up before Cirrus Aircraft.
Brandon: It might. I’m not sure if it does anymore or not. But yeah, I mean Cirrus Aircraft is a huge company, right, and a super awesome plane and so it was fun to be sort of mentally affiliated with them [laugh].
Chris: We’ve had the good fortune to get over to their facility and actually fly over there. So it’s—
Brandon: Oh nice.
Chris: It’s pretty awesome. But yeah, that’s so cool. So, um, so yeah, so you built that brand and then it came time to sell the business. Like, how did you make that decision to sell Cirrus?
Brandon: Yeah. I mean, the growing the company, every aspect of it, had an emotional component, right? I think especially when you’re early in a business, or in my case, a co-founder, like, it’s a lot of identity is wrapped up in the fact that’s what you do. So, it’s what you’re known as in the community and how you start thinking about yourself, right? Like, this is what I do with most of my waking hours is work on this.
I think it was one of those thing—I, in some ways. I call it a seven-year itch, right? We started in 2011, and when 2018 came around, it was like, okay, it feels like time. It just feels like time to make a transition. It was not a decision we took lightly. We talked—Ryan and I talked about for a long time over the course of many months, but then multiple factors were starting to weigh, and we were like, “Okay, let’s run that process and, you know, go to market with it.”
And certainly, you know, everything is important at that point because it’s a whole business as a totality. So, you’ve got your revenue and your customer base and quality of earnings and your website and the app. And the codebase itself, but certainly a huge part of that is the brand, right? When people think of or say the name Cirrus Insight in the Salesforce ecosystem, what do they think about, right? Is this a—do they have a positive affiliation?
Did they have a good experience when they stopped by our booth at the expo? When they see the logo, do they know what it stands for? Do they know that it’s an inbox plugin? All those things, you know, certainly weighed, so it was helpful to us to have, you know, thousands of really nice customer reviews, a lot of blog posts out there, mentions on, you know, dozens and dozens of podcasts, for example. And it’s like, “Hey, we’re talking to the founder of Cirrus. This is what they’re all about.” And so, it was great to have all that out there. So certainly, the brand was a big part of it.
Chris: Yeah, I’ve heard that acquisitions can be an emotional experience because of that. Like, it’s a very, almost intrusive, maybe? I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it, but it can become very personal because all of a sudden, somebody’s looking at you and going, “This is what I think you’re worth. And this is what that thing that you’ve worked on for seven years, I think is worth.”
Brandon: Well, and you’re starting to evaluate things that previously you didn’t attempt to evaluate or even explain to folks, right? Like, the logo is the logo and our brand and how we represent ourselves out into the public is how we do it. It’s part of the culture of the company now. And then all of a sudden, you’re trying to kind of explain it to somebody. And so, it’s a very meta activity of, like, “Well, I’m nice to people because I’m nice to people.” It’s like, “Yeah, but why? How would you value that?”
It’s like, “Well, really highly.” It was important to be nice to people for the last seven years. That’s why they like us. So no, for sure. I mean, I think it was that way for the whole company because, you know, we all worked so closely together, right? We looked after each other and then someone had to be out of the office, cover for each other. And, you know, over the life of company, seven years, and we had, at our peak, probably close to 75 employees; you know, a lot of life happens with that number of people. And we all felt close to each other. So, yeah, no, it was a big deal.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, definitely a big deal. And remember it made waves in the news and everything, of course, when you sold it. And what did you do after that?
Brandon: For a little while after that, I was like, man, I’d like to just unplug a little bit. I mean, I didn’t do a lot of that because I still kept up with, you know, messaging people and so forth, but I did spend some time going on some long hikes in the woods, just sort of like, “Whoa, that was a lot.” You know? Because we really—part of the culture of Cirrus Insight—which is not unusual for startups, it was certainly the case for us—it was a culture of hustling, right? I mean, we tried to work smart, for sure, but we also had the chip on our shoulder that said, look, we’re competing with firms that have raised a tremendous amount of capital, that are backed by really smart people, typically, they relocate on the coasts.
And we’re, like, hey, we’re here in Knoxville and we’re going to get in the ring, we’re going to battle it out, you know? We’re going to try to sell against them in deals and we’re going to try to develop faster than they can. And so yeah, there was just a lot of big days. And, like, I say, that’s what I wanted, so it wasn’t, like, “Oh, man, you had to work really hard. That sounds hard.”
It was like, no, I loved that. Like, I have such great memories of getting up at four in the morning, hitting it for three hours, getting the kids to school, doing the normal work day, doing dinner and stuff with everybody, activities at home, and then hitting it again until about ten o’clock at night, and then rinse and repeat. And you just do that every day of the week. And I thought it was great. It’s like, you know, what better schedule than that?
Because it was like constant interaction with clients and customers by email, and GoToMeeting at the time, and then Zoom calls, and go into conferences. And so, it was frenetic in one fashion, but it was also, like, a really nice feedback loop where you’re just constantly hearing from people, like, well, how does your company work? So, it’s a great way to spend time if you’re sort of innately curious, right? If you want to know, like, “Well, how do you guys do sales?” “Oh, cool. It was good to meet you.” Like, “Next time I’m in St. Louis or whatever, we should hang out.” And, you know, you should use our app also, right? Try to close sales that way.
Chris: Yeah, I’m sure stopping all that just has to be, like you said, I mean, it was like, “Whoa.” Like, there’s a rush to being still, I would imagine. I know from personal experience, at least, it’s like, when you actually intentionally slow down, it just is, like, what’s happening? What do I do [laugh]?
Brandon: I emailed a friend in Atlanta and just said—because he had been really helpful to us just with advice through life that accompany, and so I emailed him and said, “Hey, by the way, we did do a sale.” And he’s like, “Oh, congratulations. What are you going to do now?” And I said, “Well, I’m going to take a little break, but I’m having meetings with everybody in town and catching up on their startups and thinking about, you know, next steps. I’m going to take a break.” And he simply wrote back and said, “That won’t last long.”
And it was one of those, hey, for better or worse, this is how we’re wired. It’s in the DNA, you can take a break and you probably should, but you want that energy. Like, you got energy to spare, you got to get it out there and work on stuff. So yeah, after that, it was really the start of have lots of, kind of, projects. Because everything starts as a project. Cirrus didn’t start as, like, hey, let’s go build a company and see if we can make something of substance that really sticks around for a long time and serves tens of thousands of users.
It was more of just, like, hey, I got this idea for an app. Ryan’s coding. He’s like, “Do you have time to put together a website?” It’s like, “Oh, I’d love to.” Like, to work with him and also just a chance to hack a little bit? Like, yeah, I’ll put together a website. And it’s like, hey, people are starting to come to the website. Like, oh, they want to use the app. Okay, well, let’s let him use it. Now, they’re asking if they can pay for it, and let’s do that, too. And so, you know [laugh], all of a sudden, it’s like, now you’re in. Now, you got to start up.
Chris: That’s awesome. And then those projects turn into other things, right? So, what happened with those projects? I know, like, for a while you were with Startup Knox. I think you’re still helping with that. Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, KTech, those are just some of the things that you’ve been working on. Like, how did all that build out and how has that grown for you?
Brandon: Yeah. I mean, it’s been a great experience for me to have a chance to serve on a lot of boards. So, you mentioned a few, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Junior Achievement, the Muse—our children’s science museum here—KTe—so, Knoxville Technology Council, KTech, was an idea that both I and John McNeely had. I sort of came to him with, hey, we should have a technology council in Knoxville because lots of other communities and states have one. We don’t have one; we should have one.
And he said, “I’ve been thinking the same thing,” right? So, it’s one of those the idea is in the water and once we started rapping about it, we just decided, well, let’s just do that. Let’s just start it. And so, that was one project. We’re both [unintelligible 00:25:15] time and energy getting that off the ground and now it’s happening, right, and it’s been out for three, four, maybe even—this could be even year five of KTech, which is crazy to think about. It’s pretty awesome. So, that organization is thriving.
Yeah, Startup Knox was an idea I had was John Bruck when we were coming back from Cincinnati from a conference up there. And one of the things we saw in Cincinnati was this ecosystem chart that looked like a subway map. So, it was like, “Here are all the resources for entrepreneurs in Cincinnati.” Super colorful, tons of resources, a little bit hard to navigate, sort of like a subway map, but we liked the idea. And it was like—and so then we started talking on the way back, we’re, like, “Well yeah, but you know, Knoxville is a little bit of a smaller city in terms of population. We got a lot of resources here for entrepreneurs.” And like, is there a directory? Is there, like, sort of a go-to resource?
And we were like, “I don’t think so.” So, we basically put together a little ecosystem map right here, educational resources, pitch competitions, funding sources, you name it. We put that together and that was nice, distributed that, printed workbooks, PDFs. And then I started to think it’d be fun—and part of this was probably inspired, knowing you and other folks that are doing cool, creative stuff, so I was like, [unintelligible 00:26:27], podcast. I should interview other entrepreneurs and just hear their story, right?
I’ve told my story a little bit and I was like, I want to know what it’s like to be a maker and have a company that does, you know, jewelry? And then what about this other person’s software company? What about this company that’s, you know, now one of the biggest companies United States that, you know, started in gas stations and now is the biggest seller of diesel fuel? What about the folks that sell manufactured homes? You know, what about this Invisible Fence? That’s kind of a big deal. PetSafe’s a huge company now.
So, it was a neat opportunity to interview companies, startups, if you—in every range, from folks that started 50-plus years ago, right—so Mr. Haslam, Mr. Clayton, Mr. Boyd, and then a bunch of other folks that are very early in the journey where it’s like, “Yeah, we started six months ago. You know, we got a patent; we’re trying to figure out how to license it. We’re trying to figure out how to go to market with this.”
And so, I did. I don’t know what it end up being. It might even be, like, a couple hundred episodes of Startup Knox. I did a bunch of them and then when I taught at high school, then each of the students brought an entrepreneur on campus to interview them and we recorded those, and so all those interviews became part of the podcast, which is pretty neat. So, you get to listen to a high school student interview an entrepreneur in Knoxville—most of them were in Knoxville, some were remote—about their experience growing their company. So, you know, everything from a thriving hotel in Gatlinburg to an early-stage tech transfer out of Oak Ridge National Lab here in town. So yeah, that was a neat project, too.
What else? There’s a whole bunch of them. One of the ones that I’ll mention because I just went to a little celebration dinner with them and they’re about to start their ninth cohort is 100Knoxville. And so—and you and I have talked about that one before, but that was an idea that came from Memphis. And the story is kind of fun, which is, I was at the 3686 conference in Nashville, which is a big statewide entrepreneurship conference—which is coming up, by the way—so it’s in September. I don’t know when this episode will air, but it’s there.
And so, I went to that conference and I received text messages out of the blue from a number I didn’t recognize, but it just said, “Hey, we’re getting a bunch of people from around the state together for dinner. Do you want to come?” I was like, “Sounds great,” because I like to eat and meet people. So, I showed up and there were folks from all over the state. And so, I kind of put the question to the table, like, “Hey, what’s good that’s happening in your neck of the woods, and I’ll share some stories from Knoxville.”
And Memphis kicked it off and just said, “Have you heard of the 800 Initiative?” I was like, “No, I’ve never heard of it. Tell me about it.” And they basically broke it down and had a really nice elevator pitch where they said, “Look, we have 800 black-owned businesses in Memphis that have employees, about 39,000 sole proprietorships. We’re going to work with 50 of the 800 and help them double their revenue, and we’re going to work with 200 of the sole proprietorships and get them up to 100k a year in revenue so they can hire their first employee.” Full stop.
And I was like, “Wow, what an awesome program. Like, we should do that in Knoxville.” And they’re like, “Oh, we’d love it if you did. And if we can help, we’ll send you all the information. Like, the whole playbook, you can talk with all people that were part of the founding team, including the mayor of Memphis.”
And so, I was like, “That sounds like a great opportunity.” So, we started chatting about it in Knoxville, having some meetings. Pandemic started, so we had some Zoom meetings, and kind of came up with 100Knoxville, one because our population is smaller than Memphis, our black population is smaller. So, they had 800 that had, you know, ongoing businesses with employees and they are about 100 in Knoxville. So, we decided, okay, we’ll call it 100Knoxville and we’ll work with many of those as entrepreneurs as possible, to help them just grow their businesses, right, connect the networks, which is what the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Knoxville is all about.
So, with the support of the Chamber—and TVA was the first funder and they said, “Look, we’d like to support this. We like the idea. How can you put $25,000 to work?” And we said, “Well, we’ll do a cohort. We’ll do a cohort of five entrepreneurs that will come in, we’ll do a five-week, like, accelerated sprint with a bunch of mentors from the community and each of the entrepreneurs will get $5,000 toward their business. They can invest however they want. It could be in marketing, could be in making that first hire, it could be in a piece of equipment that they need for their business.”
And so, that’s what started it. And now we’re about to start cohort nine, which is super cool. So yeah, some really neat stories of—you know, all credit to the entrepreneurs, right? These folks, they’re out and doing it. They’re hustling, they’re putting together businesses.
100Knoxville is designed to be that little booster, right? Help them just get to speed faster, get out a little bit faster. And so, connecting them with customers, connecting with funding sources, and a lot of just mentorship ideas, operational efficiency, stuff like that. So, it’s a neat program. Obviously, I like what’s happening with it. And now KEC is running that program and is doing an awesome job.
Chris: Yeah. And that’s really cool. That keeps going. I think I saw something on your LinkedIn just about that cohort today, so that’s really cool. That’s really neat that you’re involved in all that.
Brandon: Now, and to your overall theme for the podcast, it’s a great brand, right? People around town now we’ll talk about, “Hey, 100Knoxville. I was, you know, cohort four.” Like, I’m in there, and I’m connected with the other cohort and we’re working on something, right? We’re trying to have this big revenue impact over the course of a certain number of years.
Our original target was, hey, let’s have a plus ten million revenue impact over the course of five years. And so, well, we’ll have to do a look back, right, and track that and see if we get there. And hopefully, we’ll meet and exceed that goal. And if we’re short, we’ll be, like, “Okay, how can we double down?” But all the feedback we’re getting from the program, from the participants, from the mentors, from area businesses who are connected with [stuff 00:32:04] it was like, “Yeah, keep doing it. It’s working.”
Chris: That’s awesome. That’s really cool.
Chris: So, you go from all that and now you’ve started another company. Uncat.
Chris: Tell me about Uncat. What is it?
Brandon: [laugh]. Look, any excuse to use cats and branding is a good reason to start a company. So Uncat, that idea came from Adam Slack, who runs a bookkeeping firm in Knoxville called Two Roads. And when he and I had lunch about three years ago, he was talking about—I was asking him, like, you know, what tech have you implemented? Because he’s a very well-known—they were the first Firm of the Future that Intuit announced back in 2016. So, it’s like, super awesome, great growth.
And then classic question, right? What still keeps you up at night? What are the problems you’re still trying to solve? And what came up was uncategorized transactions. Like, look, at end of every month, all these transactions, you don’t know what some of them are, so you got to ask the clients. You export a spreadsheet and send them an email and chase the client and try to get him to respond.
And then they finally do respond, then you copy and paste all their answers into QuickBooks. He’s like, “It’s a terrible process. It doesn’t make any sense to do it that way anymore.” Do you think we could build an app for that? Could we just automatically sync uncategorized transactions from QuickBooks into an app, let the clients respond to them, upload receipts and stuff, and then the accountant or bookkeeper can come in, look at the responses, and say, “Oh, if that was what it was for, we’ll put it in the correct account and then sync it back into QuickBooks.”
Then you can close the books and generate accurate financial reports and file taxes properly and the whole thing. And so, I was like, that’s a great idea because I used to receive those same spreadsheets when I was a client. Like, I know what you’re talking—yeah I was like, “I totally know what you're talking about.” And so, we were like, “Okay, you know, can it be built?” That was the first question. I was like, “I have no idea.”
So, we started looking at the QuickBooks API and started working with my good friend Jared, who’s a great computer scientist and architect, a PhD from University of Tennessee. And so, he was like, “Oh, yeah, I’d love to start, you know, building this with you guys.” So, we started building it and now it’s a really nice application that helps out quite a few people. I think we’ve got, like, 15,000 users on the platform. So, it’s a mix of accountants, bookkeepers, and their clients, right? So, they’ll connect their clients to the platform.
And to the point at the top, you know, ‘Uncat’ evokes uncategorized—which it’s supposed to—but also, we decided to adopt a cat as the primary sort of branding mascot, or as we affectionately call it, a mascat. So, any excuse to put a cat gif in an email, or put it at the top. Our—the Uncat logo is sort of an homage to, like, the FedEx style logos, where it’s the logo, but there’s something else to see there. So, the U in Uncat, if you turn it 90 degrees, it is a question mark because these are uncategorized transactions, so it’s kind of a mystery. And I thought, [Kaylee 00:34:43], the graphics designer, did a great job with that. I was like, that’s clever. I really like it.
And then I was on a call actually, like, a month ago. And the client said, “Ah, I love what you did with the logo, how you made the U a cat tail.” I [laugh] was like, “Oh, that was not intentional, but now absolutely, it’s also a cat tail.” So, I was looking for, like, an image that would show a person herding cats because a lot of accountants will describe the process of communicating with clients and trying to get information back, it’s like, “Ah, it feels like herding cats. Like, it’s so difficult to wrangle it and nail down that information.”
And so, I was like, “Okay, I’ll try to use that as a motif.” And in the course of, you know, searching around, it ended up being a cat doing the herding. And I thought, “Oh, that’s, like, ironic, right?” It’s a cat with a sombrero riding a pony. And so, yeah—now that we put that up at conferences on a big banner and stuff—and so now, sometimes when I ask people, “How do you hear about Uncat?” They’re like, “Oh, like, I saw you guys at a conference and then I was trying to remember, like, what’s the cat app? Like, I need the cat app. And so, I Googled for it and there you were.” And so, you know, now I’m checking out your software. So yeah, people definitely remember the cat part of it, which is the fun part of the brand. Makes people smile.
Chris: I think you should, for your next marketing initiative, do something where you have a dog dressed as a cat, so that it’s an Uncat.
Brandon: That’s true. Yeah, some people will be, like, “So, Uncat. You got something against cats?” Was like, “No, and I love cats. Had them my whole life.” I’ve got two cats. They join me on demos. I’m kind of surprised they haven’t jumped on the computer during our conversation because they know when it’s like, “Oh, you’re on a video call? I'd like to walk on the keyboard now.”
But yeah, no, people come by, and, you know, they want to share pictures of their cats and swap cat stories. And I think it’s great because, you know, at the end of the day, you know, people want to have a really positive experience with a company. It’s not just about we make an app and it saves you time. It’s like, well every app is supposed to save you time, so that’s pretty much table stakes. And some of this was just learned over time, and especially from some of the team at Cirrus Insight, we’d go to conferences, and one of our most successful folks in a conference environment, James, was just brilliant with people. He’d just connect with them really fast, right?
Because you don’t have long at a booth to make a connection with somebody. And so, I’d watch him. It’s like 30 seconds after he’s meeting somebody, right, they’re, like, laughing, high-fiving, sharing pictures of kids on the phone, taking a selfie in front of the booth. And I’m like, that’s pretty amazing. What’s going on here?
And he was like, “Look, people are here certainly because they’re here for the sessions. Like, they do want to learn something. They’re here because their company sent them, so they’re supposed to come back with some takeaways, some ideas of apps they might be able to use.” But he’s like, “But they also want to come here and have an awesome time. They want to be entertained. They want to feel good about themselves, the work they do, the experience they’re having. So, rather than trudged through an expo with 100,000 people in it, you know, if they’re stopping at our booth, they’re going to have a great time.”
And I was like, “Yeah, I think you nailed it.” Like, that’s exactly. So, when people show up to the Uncat booth, I’m going to tell them all about the app and I’ll answer their tech questions, but they also just want to laugh, they want to get a piece of cat swag they can take home to their kids or put on their desk and just smile.
Chris: I mean, having a positive experience with the brand, I think goes a long way to helping people, you know, remember your brand and engage with it in the future. If you have something funny or memorable, they’re going to continue to, you know, track with your brand, even if they may not necessarily even use your product. If it’s a cute cat thing and you do a bunch of funny cat memes are probably going to keep tracking with you on that.
Brandon: Right. Oh, no doubt. And you know, I think it’s good to [clear throat] everybody, pretty much everybody has competitors in the market where you’re going to compete with some folks, and I always—you know, when people say, “Well, how do you compare with so and so,” then I’ll try to give an honest, like, “Hey, they’re pretty good at this stuff. We don’t do that stuff. We don’t touch it. We focus on this and we believe that the thing that we focus on, we think we’re the best at it, and here’s why.” Right?
And just lay it out, they’re going to make their own decision. But anytime someone brings up a competitor, like, it’s definitely a best practice, in my experience, and certainly it’s the advice that I’ve been given in sessions and from consultants and stuff is, is like, you don’t really want to go after a company’s brand, right? I mean, unless you got a great reason to, like, “Uh-oh, have you heard that there’s a big problem?” Like, then it’s like, okay, that’s fair. But otherwise, like, when people say, “Oh, you know, what about this company?” Then I can honestly say because I’ve gone to enough conferences now, like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve met their founders. They’re great folks. Yeah, really cool. Oh, yeah. They’re from Texas. They’re from California. I really enjoyed chatting with them. So, they’re good people, right?”
So, then it’s like, “Oh, cool. So, you guys know each other. So everyone’s—like, this is a safe space. Everyone’s friendly, then?” “Oh, yeah. You could work with them, you could work with us, everyone’s cool. And now let’s just compare the experience you’ll have with the tech. Like, how can we help you?”
And you, you know, sort of give the—you’re giving the customer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to, like, hey, you’re smart. You can make a good choice. We’re not going to try to trick you into buying one app or another app. This is what we do, this is what they do. You choose. We’re here if you need us.
And I think that helps to develop a level of trust where even people come back later, right? “I looked at you guys, like, a year ago. Didn’t think I needed you. Now, I’ve got this client. I absolutely need you. And we had a good demo.” And it’s like, “Okay, great. Welcome back.” Like, that happens so often. Folks come back after a year, two years, three years, and if they had a good interaction, it wasn’t the right time, if they feel like, “Yeah, I saw you at the booth and you guys were cool. You’re friendly and looks like you made a lot of progress.” Like, “Yeah, we’re still here.” You know, then they feel good about doing business.
Chris: It’s that permission-based marketing, I think right now is a lot of what we’re seeing in the industry where people want to be the ones to initiate the engagement, they want to be the ones to be a part of that, and if you come at them too hard, they’re going to back away. And so, being that friendly person, being that nice person and attracting them, I think that makes a lot of sense. Just by having those relationships. I mean, we, what are we without our relationships anyway? I mean, even a brand, what does it stand for if it doesn’t have good standing or good relationships with its customers?
Brandon: Right. And look, most of us small businesses, right, are going to get most of our customers and certainly our best customers by referral. And so, not only is it permission-based, but it’s not even permission to talk to us [laugh]. It’s, you’re talking to another customer. And so, you know, the best customers are going to come because it’s like, “Oh, Chris told me about this. I trust Chris. He’s using it. He says it saves them time. I believe him.” So you’re, like, 95% of the way to a sale before they even contact you, with a referral.
And that’s why it’s like, it’s that little ripple that goes out into the world. You can have one customer with a great experience. They’ll take care of you because inevitably they’re going to tell somebody. Somebody’s going to ask them, “What do you use for the uncategorized stuff? It’s driving me up the wall.” Like, “Oh, yeah. Don’t do spreadsheets anymore. I just use this little app. It’s super great.” “Oh, how do you find it? Well, what about customer support?” “Oh, yeah, they’re on it. And they’re really nice about it.” “Like, okay, cool. Yeah, sounds good. I’ll sign up.”
And so, that’s the best. The chicken or egg part of it, or the Catch-22 part of it is, like, you know, the permission-based, like, hey, they want to reach out to you first. It’s like, yeah, but how do you even get on their radar, right? So, sort of the low-level, you know, climbing the marketing ladder, how do you just generate awareness? And that’s a big part of the game, I think, certainly, the way I think about it, and talking with other founders.
It’s like, oh yeah, yeah, everyone’s online now, and everyone’s got a phone now and all this other stuff, but it’s like, it’s very noisy. I mean, how do you just get in front of people and let them know? You’re not even trying to sell them something; just want them to know that you’re here. [laugh]. “Hey, we exist. If you want to talk to us, you can come to us. We’re not going to hammer you, but we just want to let you know, we built something that has value.” And so, it’s thinking of ways to get out various channels, ways the message that will resonate with people.
Chris: Just out of curiosity, what are you doing to that degree? Like, how are you finding those new customers and making noise in spaces?
Brandon: Hacking at it like any startup founder. You know, one of the things I’ve mentioned conferences, you know, I believe in conferences. They can be expensive. That’s the hard part because not only do you have the cost of conference and the booth, but you got to fly there and you got to stay in a hotel and you got to get meals and all the things, so it adds up. But having that in-person opportunity to meet somebody, shake hands, hear their use case at their firm, and then show them the software, right? And then like, that’s pretty strong, versus I hope they find our website someday.
And so, showing up, being visible at those, at many of the biggest conferences, especially over the course of the few years, I think has been valuable/ because we were even advised by some people in the industry, like, “Hey, look, this is a risk-averse space, right? Like the books got to be right every time, so people will look at software and then they just want to make sure you’re going to be around next year. So, come now, build some awareness and come back next year so people see again, and then they’ll get curious.” Like, “Oh, you’re back? Oh, great. You made it.” Right? “You crossed the Rubicon, you survived your first year.”
So, now that we’ve been in market two-and-a-half going on three years, it helps for people to say, like, “Oh, yeah, we saw you. We thought we might want to use it. We just want to make sure that you’re around and that you get good reviews and that we can trust it.” So, conferences has been part of it. It is part of a marketplace. We’re in the QuickBooks App Store, so people are looking for things to help them, right, reporting software, expense management software, AP/AR software, then also hopefully see Uncat and say, “Ohh, yeah. That. I need some of that.”
And so, we definitely care a lot about the reviews on the App Store, just, like, anybody that sells in a marketplace, right? If you’re on iTunes in Apple or the Salesforce AppExchange or the Play Store, any of those, I think, are important channels. We’ve been doing a lot of joint marketing with other partners. And we did a lot of that at Cirrus Insight, too. So, sort of anyone else that’s selling to the same customer in the same marketplace, we will offer, like, “Hey, we’ll get the word out about your app, you get the word out about us, and let’s do it around a joint webinar. We can both show what we do.”
And I think a lot of people sign up for those because it’s almost inherently or implicitly more educational than signing up for a single company webinar. You show up for one company, you know you’re going to get the pitch. Because, like, what else is going to happen? You show up to see two or three apps and it sort of feels like well, they got to cut the time in half or in a third, so they’re just going to show the highlights. And honestly, even if I’m not interested in one of the apps, I might be interested in the second one.
And so, I’ll go and I feel like I’ve gotten bang for my buck as a customer just showing up in learning about multiple apps in one webinar. So, we've been doing a lot of that this year, reaching out to other companies and seeing how we can be helpful and vice versa. You know what else, I mean, we’ll sort of post you know, I call them proof of life on social that’s not, like, our primary channel, but it’s basically letting the world know, hey, we’re still here. We’re here. We’re around.
We competed in one, this little bracket challenge that was around March Madness, so that was kind of a cool way to get some additional press. And so, we tried to sort of, you know, send our supporters there, like, “Hey, make sure to vote for us every round.” And so, that was super awesome. We got a lot of nice grassroots support for that. So yeah, really looking for any opportunity to build awareness.
Chris: It’s quite the long haul. I mean, I know even in at HumblePod, it’s a challenge to be—to find a way to make yourself aware. Because you can’t just tell someone, “You need a podcast.” Not everybody needs a podcast. I know it’s a shocker, but not everybody does. And so, finding ways to get into that audience and stuff, I totally know what you’re all going through. Because not everybody needs Uncat, but those that do find a lot of value in it. As you’re talking about it, I’m going, “Should I—I should tell my bookkeepers about this.” It’s much better than the random [laugh]—
Brandon: Please do. Yeah, for anyone listening, please, please do. Please do.
Chris: It’s much better than the end-of-month texts going, “Hey, what was this expense in this again?”
Brandon: Yeah, and provides a cadence. It’s a way to stay on top of it so that when end-of-year comes, tax time comes, month-end financials come, it’s like, “Hey, we got this. Like, we do this. It’s part of what we do, so it becomes part of the culture.” So yeah, that’s the goal, certainly.
But yeah, I remember hearing the quote, years ago, someone said tongue-in-cheek, like, “50% of marketing works. We’re just not sure which half.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s part of the challenge.” So, it’s like, I, like, everybody, when someone joins a demo be, like, “Hey, how did you hear about us?” Sometimes I say, “How did you first hear about us?”
And frequently—not always—frequently, man, it’s a mishmash. It’s like, “Well, you know, I think I got an email from you guys, some outreach. And then I might have seen a post. Like, one of the influencers posted on Twitter, said something nice about you guys? Anyway, I was on the App Store, checking it out and I remember seeing you at a conference two years ago.”
And so, you’re sort of like, well, do I invest in all four of those things? Was one of them the most important? You know what I mean? And then others will just say, you know, whatever, “I saw a video on YouTube so I thought I’d check it out.” And then it’s like, oh, well, is that now our most important channel?
And you kind of have to have a longer conversation to find out, like, what video on YouTube? Was it my video? Was it an influencer video? Was it an ad we bought that pre-rolled before a different video? So, it’s always—that’s an interesting nut to crack is—and obviously, people are experts in this but attribution, right?
And a lot of attribution goes down to choice. So, if somebody is direct, like, you’re on an AdWords campaign and someone clicks on an ad, they come, they convert, and you can be, like, well, it looks like it came from there. You’re not positive, positive, but you’re trending. Most of the time, it’s like, okay, they came from four places. How do we want to partition the attribution? Was the video the most important thing or should we be doing conferences all year round? [unintelligible 00:48:03] combination of both. So, some of it, yeah, in all honesty, is scattershot. We’re just trying a lot of things to try to be out there, that we exist. We’re waving the flag.
Chris: Totally understand that mentality towards trying to grow business and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what works when. Because I mean, we run into the same things, you know, building our business, so.
Brandon: Yeah, well, and you’re just open to—I mean, mostly you just open to something working, like, a little bit, in which case, you do a little bit more and keep doing it. And sometimes things will work dramatically well, and then you’ve got, like, a little breakthrough, and maybe you established the channel. And then some things work dramatically well and peter out really quickly. So, it’s like, okay, that worked and it lasts for a month, and that’s all… that’s all you get.
So, it’s just, again, it’s curiosity, I think, is what makes it fun and just say, like, well, we’re going to try this thing. And it may flop, but if it works, then we’ll double down and we’ll do it over and over again. So, back in the early days of Cirrus, we were running some, like, you know, like, whatever, five ten dollars a day AdWords. And we were like, “Okay, we closed a sale. We’ve got a little bit more budget. Let’s go ahead and bump the budget five bucks for the next few days.” Okay? So, big campaign here, right?
So, we bumped the budget by $5. A bunch of traffic hits the website, crashes the server. And we’re, like, what changed, right? Super weird. And Jason, who ran marketing for us was like, “Well, it looks like Google spent more than we authorized, sent us a bunch of traffic, but then since we hadn’t authorized it, they refunded us.” And we’re like, “That’s super weird. Do you think it’ll work again tomorrow?”
So, we boosted up the server, right, three more instances on the web host, and then did it again. He just jiggled the budget by $5. Sure enough. So, when we changed it by $5, Google would spend a thousand dollars and then refund us $995. And that worked for one week.
It was a bug, obviously [laugh], right? Like, we did not invent anything here, we were just curious, like, what happened. And then we were willing to rinse and repeat. Don’t feel bad for Google in this story; they’ve done just fine. We’ve spent a lot of money with them over the years, too.
So, but for that week, it was like a boon. I mean, here’s this early-stage startup. We have, like, a team of six, and now all of a sudden, we’re getting all this traffic to the website. It was super awesome. So, we loved that.
You know, we also intentionally routed traffic through the Salesforce AppExchange in the early days because that was part of the algorithm. So we, sort of by watching and paying attention, we figured out, hey, it matters. Our ranking depends on the number of people that install from that source and the number of reviews we get. So, we sent everybody, like, go leave this review, please. If you like the app at all, leave us a review.
But also, even though they could install directly from our website, we would take them from our website to the AppExchange, where they clicked the button to take them back to our website. Which sounds, like, terribly inefficient because it was, but we got counted every time that way. And so, then the algorithm would—“Hey well, it looks like a lot of traffic.” And so, we were able to get ourselves up to the number one rank for, like, four months. And that was a nice little self-fulfilling prophecy.
Because when you’re number one, people are intrigued, so they check you out and then that’s more traffic, so it keeps you at number one. And so, we did that for a while till they changed the algorithm. But yeah, it’s just little fun things like that, just seeing what works.
Chris: Growth hacking, if you will.
Brandon: Yeah, for sure. I mean, the biggest one from a sales standpoint was sending out an email from our new marketing automation. We had never used one before and we’re, like, let’s send an email blast. What should we tell people? And we’re like, let’s tell them about the new version we’re coming out with. Like, a product announcement.
So, we said, “Look, we’re coming out with version two. Anybody wants to see version two, grab time on our calendar because we’d love to show it to you.” And we had a link to the calendar and you could book time. And everyone’s thinking, listening to this podcast, like, “Yeah, duh,” but at that time, there weren’t that many calendars on software websites that you could just book time with the sales team. This was still, like, a relatively newish thing. So, we’re like, “Let’s try it.”
So, we sent out this email, and then Daniel, our lead salesperson walks in, was like, “Did you guys send an email?” And we’re like, “Yeah. Why?” And he’s like, “Well, I’ve been giving some demos, but when I just got off my last demo, I realized my calendar was fully booked next week.” So, from sending one email, we booked 40 hours of meetings on his calendar.
And we’re like, “Ooh, like, game time. Like, we’ll do this again. Like, let’s do it again next week. Let’s book your calendar again.” Because that scales, right? As soon as his was booked, it’s like, we need more salespeople. So yeah, that was a rinse and repeat for the life of the company because that never stopped working. So, that was one we held onto. That was a good discovery.
Chris: Well, man, that’s awesome. Well, we always wrap up the podcast with a question and sounds like you've listened a little bit, so you may know what I’m about to ask. But I always like asking this question at the end, which is, what is your favorite brand right now? Just a brand that you’re crushing on, that you use all the time, or that you just love to see new content from.
Brandon: So, the brand that I interact with pretty much every day and I feel a little bit low when it goes into off season is the Premier League. I’m big into the English Premier League. I watch soccer highlights pretty much every day there’s a game. So, a lot of them on the weekend, obviously, but sometimes they have some midweek games. And so, I’m really impressed with just the quality, right, there’s definitely a big focus among the teams. It’s high quality soccer, so I love watching it.
But you can tell they pay a lot of attention to the experience that their fans are getting in person. I’ve never been to an in-person game, but it’s on my list of, like, I’d love to go over the UK and watch a bunch of games in person, you know, across a whole bunch of teams. But also just the viewing experience, like, I’m here in the states, like, so, you know, a random person that loves soccer and loves to watch soccer highlights. And so, they package the highlights really nicely, they cater to an American audience. They’ll have their broadcasting team come over and do live shows out of some of the big markets in the states, like, Atlanta, DC, New York, et cetera.
So, they’re very intentional about building a global audience. And so, it’s cool. So, it’s fun to think back to, like, my early days playing soccer as a kid and now how big the game is, obviously worldwide, but increasingly so in the US. So yeah, super bullish on that. And from a local perspective, all about One Knoxville, right, our soccer team here.
So, I’m a small partner in that team, but I just love it. I love going to the games, you know, supporting the team, getting out seeing friends from the community, right, at the game saying hey to everybody. And yeah, and it’s really neat to have a team here in Knoxville. We were one of the few cities a couple of years ago when Drew McKenna and the others started the team, we were one of the few Metro markets of our size that didn’t have a soccer team, a pro soccer team. And now we do. So, all credit to them for doing it, but I’m excited to see what will happen. Hopefully, we pull off a few wins here and get in the playoffs.
Chris: Yeah, I got to see them talk at, I think it was Drew or one of the head One Knoxville folks came and spoke to the Manchester United Group. And I’m not personally, like, a, like, diehard Man U fan, but one of my best friends is and he had me come and help him with some stuff for one of their events and we got to have him come and talk to us and stuff. And it was just neat. I mean, the passion for the team, the passion for Knoxville, like, that’s really cool. And I’m not as big of a soccer fan. I do enjoy watching it but, like, I can definitely relate on, like, a Formula One level. Like, that’s kind of like my—
Brandon: Yeah, exactly.
Chris: Diehard sports brand.
Brandon: Well, I love just the intentionality that the whole organization has brought to being part of a community from the start, right, since beyond—it’s sort of like the Formula 1 special on Netflix, where it’s like, I’m not—I didn’t come to it from a car racing background, but I loved the show because it’s about the people, less about the car—you know what I mean? And so, One Knoxville has done that. Because it’s really about the community. And it’s like, it’s soccer as a reason for everyone to get together, but it’s always community first. And so, they’ve done a great job of, like, a lot of intention around the branding, the colors, the logo, so really excellent merch. And they really punch above their weight for a new team. The level of support they’ve gotten from Knoxville and even beyond, from the region, is really remarkable. So, it’s fun to watch what they’re doing.
Chris: I think it’s cool even how they’re engaging with youth, like, youth sports and youth activities. My wife has been telling me about how that’s pretty much all the kids play One Knox soccer now. It’s not [Crush 00:56:37] or anything else or [AYSO 00:56:39]. I only hear about One Knox soccer being the game in town, so to speak.
Brandon: Yeah. No, they’ve done a great job. And Sam leads that. He had experienced doing that in Chicago. He was doing a great job of building the adult rec league and now certainly a huge focus on youth. So, making sure young people have the opportunity to get out and play soccer. And so, it’s great because it’s all under one… you know, big brand, so it’s like, yeah, they have a great experience playing for their team, but then they also can come and watch… you know, watch the big kids play. Watch the pros. And so, that’s a neat, like, continuum in the community.
Chris: Well, Brandon, thank you so much for coming on. Before I let you go, is there anything you would, like, to promote or is there anything that you want to let people know more about? Like, how can they get in touch with you?
Brandon: Oh, sure. Yeah, I’m easy to reach. I’m six-eight, and so if you see me around Knoxville, just say hey. But otherwise, my email is just email@example.com. I’ve had that address since forever, probably, like, 20-plus years, since the internet started as far as I’m concerned. So, you can always reach me by email there.
I would say social, but really I’m still, I’m of the email generation, so I’m in the inbox more than I am on the social networks. But yeah, if any, you know, other entrepreneurs that are listening, if they want to connect and chat up the resources in town from the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center to 100Knoxville, the KTech, et cetera, that’s what we’re here to do. A rising tide lifts all boats, so Knoxville’s got great momentum. I’m excited about it.
Chris: All righty. Well, Brandon, thank you much for—thank you much. [laugh].
Brandon: That works.
Brandon: That could be your signature sign-off. That’s part of the brand.
Chris: [crosstalk 00:58:06] much. Oh man—
Brandon: He said it again.
Chris: —that sounds so redneck now that I’m saying that. Thank you much [laugh]. This’ll be an outtake.
Brandon: Broadcasting from Knoxville, Tennessee. On the banks of the mighty Tennessee River. That’s what I would say in my intro.
Chris: Yes. Oh, man [laugh]. Well, Brandon—
Brandon: No, great stuff. Always great to be with you. And yeah—
Brandon: —I mean the big takeaway, people need to keep listening to the podcast. Keep doing it.
Chris: Absolutely. Brandon, thank you so much for coming on. And yeah, thank you all for listening.
Brandon: Yeah. See you next time.