24 Jun June 24, 2020 – Boostopia Justin Winter and Blendification Dan Bruder
We asked, ‘How can we take this cost center and flip it to a
department that makes us money?’
Justin Winter is the co-founder and CEO of Boostopia, a SaaS platform that allows you to manage your newly work-from-home customer support team with the world’s first support department operations platform. Justin exited his prior company after growing it to $22 million in annual sales to focus on a new problem. Boostopia is the missing link to your support help desk software built for managers to understand, manage, and improve both your team and customer experience. The company has also launched a ‘Support Operation Audit’ to support organizations going through the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn. It includes a free audit of customer’s existing support department plus free recommendations on projects and adjustments to quickly save money and improve their customers’ experience. Justin has a rich history as an entrepreneur. Prior to founding Boostopia, Justin was the co-founder of Diamond Candles, the fastest growing and largest online home fragrance brand in the world, and grew its revenue run rate to $12M within just 12 months of launching in 2011 despite not taking any outside funding.
Dan Bruder – CEO of Fusion Dynamics and Author of The Blendification® System
We can’t stop at defining the culture. We have to build a plan
and then really execute on that.
Dan Bruder is the CEO of Fusion Dynamics Group, an international advisory firm focused on strategic planning, leadership development, company culture and organizational communication. He has an accomplished background in executive leadership, strategic planning, entrepreneurship, sales and marketing operations, brand development, customer service, and corporate finance. Drawing on his 30-plus years of personal leadership, Dan has created the Strategy Whiteboard™ System, Blendification™ System, Purpose System, HiPo System and CEO Roots Group™ System, leveraging technology and dynamic workshops, enabling companies to develop an aligned focus with built-in leadership development, implementation, communication, and accountability. He is a faculty member of Colorado State University’s Executive MBA program and the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Graduate Leeds School of Business. Dan is also the author of the new book, The Blendification System: Activating Potential by Connecting Culture, Strategy, and Execution 1st Edition, which aims to help break down and rebuild core concepts within your company’s DNA, and set the foundation for an energizing, engaging, and impactful organization.
Highlights from Justin’s Interview
Let’s start by talking about what Boostopia can do to help you in these unprecedented times. So Boostopia is working on building tools for customer support departments to manage and optimize their support departments and engage their teams that they have. So when this whole thing started going down for a lot of our customers and a lot of people that we’re talking with, there is this new challenge of figuring out, “Gosh, we were all in the office and now everyone’s got to go home. How are we going to just work together? How are we going to understand how to continue to do what oftentimes we’re doing in person?” So with what we’re doing and what we’re building, we’ve naturally been able to continue to help people through this challenging transition time.
But we’re not just for companies that now have to be working from home. The majority of our customers were just normally in an office, even before this. So the way I’d lay it out for those less familiar with customer support departments and operations, particularly if you’ve never managed one or worked inside of one, regardless of your industry; whether it’s an eCommerce company, B2B software company, it’s a service or whatever it is, every company inevitably has a customer support department, even if that’s just one person part-time picking up the phone when a customer calls. What probably most people are familiar with are some of the names around the customer support ticketing tools and software that are out there; so systems like Zendesk or Freshdesk. It’s just the systems that the agents live in to do their job; answer emails, phone calls, and chats.
So my prior company has been growing, and we got to a point where we’re at about 20 full-time agents. So managing and growing and scaling that team and trying to figure out how to treat our customers better was one of the hardest parts about running that company, and it led me on this search to figure out why is this so hard and why is my ticketing system really not helping me with managing things? We ended up finding that basically when you get to the point in your business where you have hundreds and then thousands of full-time support agents, there’s this software out there called Contact Center Workforce Management Software. This software looks like it was made back in 1995, requires multi-year contracts, and it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also, you have to have full-time MBAs and data analysts running these tools; doing things like helping the managers coach and train their agents with how they’re performing, managing and optimizing the schedule of who should be doing what and when, based on predictions around phone call volume, email, chat volume.
At least for me, in my experience, and everyone that I knew that had one person up to maybe 50, obviously that wouldn’t really work. But we knew that the cost of going from just one full-time agent to two full-time agents, at least in the US is easily $40,000 a year. So if there was a way to help small companies optimize their systems and their processes, better engage their agents so they’re not treated like commodities who aren’t motivated to come to work, who’ll probably leave after 12 months because it’s a sucky job. If we could fix that, we could create a whole lot of value not just for those companies to help them, but then help those companies to really just serve their customers better and improve their customer’s experience with them. So that’s our focus and that’s the opportunity as we see it. It’s why we’re excited and motivated to get up every day and do what we do.
Let’s talk about the birth of Boostopia now. So my first company was an eCommerce company in the home fragrance category, and I was the first customer support agent myself. I was doing it 10 minutes a day, then 30 minutes a day, and then two hours a day. I hired our first part-time resource to handle that. Pretty quickly, over the course of a couple of years, we grew from $1 million in revenue the first year to $5 million to $15 million to $22 million in the fourth year; so really quick. We were on all these ticketing systems. But by the time we got to three or four people, we started to ask questions about just what was going on in support. We anecdotally knew, but we were asking questions like, what are the top 10 reasons why customers are reaching out to us in the first place? So asking questions about what’s happening, so we could understand how we could improve our team and the experience our customers had, set me on this journey to find those answers. We tried using the built-in reporting that our ticketing system had, and after a couple of months and a bunch of gnarly spreadsheets, we kind of answered that initial question. But as soon as we did, we were like, “Well, great. We know that we have 327 people reach out every month, asking us how to return a product. But this only does us so much good because I got a bunch of different team members, and I really need to know this information apples-to-apples because I could have someone taking 20 minutes to serve a customer and I could have someone else only taking five minutes. If I don’t know, I can’t train, I can’t improve.”
So we ended up just at this impasse of being hamstrung with this black box of the customer support department that was extremely frustrating. So we weren’t able to really have any semblance of a management and coaching function, beyond just stuff that naturally rose to the top, which we know is only ever a fraction of it. So during that time and in growing that company, I exited the company. As I was looking to figure out the next thing, I started talking about some of those challenges I had thinking through those things and talking to friends at other companies; mostly eCommerce companies to start with. It was the same thing everywhere: customer support was this department relegated to the back of the office, it was the lowest-paid people in the room. The team being overwhelmed back there was this good problem to have because that meant you were selling a bunch of stuff. But the way companies were solving the problem of trying to figure out what a ‘good customer experience’ looked like, they would just throw more people at that department. So when you are paying these people the lowest in the company and they are relegated to the back office, they’re going to be the least competent and least trained people in the world dealing with your ‘unhappiest, most vocal, pissed off, gonna tell the world, gonna ride on a ladder and then post it on Twitter’ customer. I think as the CEO, I didn’t want to talk to those customers. So it’s like that department was to handle the crap we didn’t want to, they were the proverbial garbage men of the department.
So if done right, they should be up selling them something, not even accepting the return. For example, “Mam, I’m sorry that the sweater is the wrong size, what you need is the full bodysuit.” Even specifically with that, we were very direct response and marketing-focused as an eCommerce company. So we struggled with that question of how can we take this cost center and flip it to a department which makes us money. That seems like a no-brainer! But when in practice, we tried and tested things like chat on the websites or being more aggressive with phone access or some of these things. But even if we thought we were helping people maybe buy more stuff, we didn’t know what those conversations cost us. So let me give you a great example. If you’re running Facebook ads for a company, you come into the weekly meeting and you say, “Hey, everyone, I got awesome news! Me and my infinite wisdom running Facebook ads, I drove $100,000 in revenue last week.” They’ll say “Oh wow, that is so exciting. Great job! Keep it up.” But then the Head of Finance over there in the corner raises her hand and says, “Well, quick question, how much did we spend to get that $100,000 in revenue?” You say, “Oh well, I spent a million dollars.” Well, then that good news is actually extremely bad news.
So we ran up against this challenge that we couldn’t double down on trying and testing and figuring out how we could have conversations that made us money if we didn’t understand our underlying cost data, which pushed us right back to just the operation of running support. How long it takes us to do different things? How long it takes different team members to do different things, based on how much we pay different team members? It was a mess, we didn’t have that foundation so we couldn’t move forward.
We bootstrapped Boostopia as well, it’s been a journey. Things like this, sometimes they go faster than you expect and sometimes slower. This has been maybe slower than we’ve expected, but I’m glad it has been. So we started a bit unconventionally as a software company and we said, we understand intimately this problem because we lived it. Two of my three co-founders had worked together with me at that prior company, so we had a great working relationship and wanted to keep working together. So we understood the problem, but we didn’t have a clear vision about what the software or what the product would look like that would solve a lot of these problems. So we started off basically being fractional part-time support managers inside of these companies that had either no support leaders or junior support leaders. So literally, companies with one support agent up to companies with maybe 20. We would come in and we would have regular phone calls at dedicated Slack channel. We would be their strategy leader and their process optimizer, and we’d work with them to be improving things. So that’s really what we did for our first two years.
Then in doing that, it was just three of us at the time, we really lived that problem firsthand and we formed what does the product need to look like that’s going to solve this? With that information, we recruited our final co-founder and our Head of Engineering, who served with us just a little over a year ago, who started working on the product. We launched that in beta with our customers at the end of this past year. We’ve been live here now for a couple of months. We launched the new marketing website about two weeks before the pandemic hit, so great timing. But now the software is live and we are staying quite busy during this season with people looking to save money and make money when it comes to their support departments. So now we have the software, and then we still have our complimentary service add-ons for those smaller companies in particular where the Head of Support is the founder or the Head of Operations, and they want a part-time resource to help use the tools we’ve built to help develop that world-class support operation.
So we’re working on a lot of marketing now. From our websites, you can see that the majority of our early customers are eCommerce customers, but we have B2B software companies, consumer marketplaces; it’s really any company that has a support department. Because of that, we know that our primary users are support managers and heads of operations at smaller to midsize companies. So we definitely have a mix of cold sales development, pulling off a list of who those people are, and reaching out cold and trying to offer value and be helpful and start a conversation. Then we also are increasingly working on programs like a paid lead generation to get the word out there. So we’re playing the ground game and the air game, all at the same time to have a nice mix of go-to-market strategies. Podcasts are one of the ways we’re getting the word out there. We love forums like this because it’s an opportunity for us to just try to genuinely be helpful. If there’s an opportunity beyond that and it speaks to someone, that’s all well and good too. But we love being able to do stuff like this and are trying to do that more here in the second part of the year.
For me, I would say one of the things I learned early on was just the value in working at something louder than everyone else. In college, I sold Cutco knives, I’m one of those guys. So Cutco Cutlery and their marketing arm, Vector Marketing, their primary sales distribution channel is recruiting recent high school graduates and college students on summer break and winter break to sell these premium expensive and high-quality knives, cookware, and kitchen accessories through one-to-one in-home preset appointments inside people’s homes. So you can buy from the website if you’re an existing customer, but the main way they do things is that. It is effectively a commission-only role. There’s a lot of people who try it for a week or two and then things don’t work out, but the income opportunity for your an 18-year old kid, and I wasn’t necessarily in the highest cohort of these things, but you could make tens of thousands of dollars in a summer. You’re cold calling your high school friends’ parents inside your networks to say, “Hey, Mrs. Jones, I’m working on paying my way through college and so forth. I would love to swing by, you don’t have to buy anything. Would tomorrow or the next day at 2pm or 3pm be better for you?” So you’re learning all these sales skills, they do so much to invest in the training of all the students. It was one of my most valuable and hardest experiences, I sold $96,000 worth of knives over three years.
So that’s my number one. I was horrible my first summer, up until probably the last 30 days. I just got to a point where just the anxiety and the challenge, because I’m an introvert for sure, of making these calls and doing all this, it was just hard and it wasn’t working for me. But I got to a point where it’s like, “I gotta push through this.” Then in a 10-day period, I sold $10,000, which up until that point, I had sold like $1,000 over the course of two or three months. There and then in the resulting couple years as I was doing that, just the value of that. I wasn’t the smartest kid in my training. I had my office in Richmond, Virginia, I didn’t have the wealthiest network or whatever. But I just stuck around longer than everyone else. So I think if you have something you believe in, that you have a high degree of conviction in, you’ll figure out a way to live another day and just move the ball forward one inch. The majority of people, they’re just going to bail. So picking the right things and sticking to it, I don’t think enough can be said for just pushing through those challenging times.
You can find out more online at Boostopia.com. We put together something special for you all if you’re interested in learning more about what we do, we wanted to offer a free support operation audit. If you have one person or 100, I’d love to love to put my team together to work for you for free to put together a free support audit. You can also find me on Twitter, @JCWinter is my handle.