Nick Franklin of ChartMogul

Founder Coffee episode 045

I’m Jeroen from Salesflare and this is Founder Coffee.

Every few weeks I have coffee with a different founder. We discuss life, passions, learnings, … in an intimate talk, getting to know the person behind the company.

For this forty-fifth episode, I talked to Nick Franklin, Founder and CEO of ChartMogul, one of the leading platforms to track and analyze subscription metrics for SaaS and mobile subscription companies.

Previous to ChartMogul, Nick worked at Zendesk and he started up its EMEA and then Asian operations as a general manager. He experienced firsthand how difficult it was to track and analyze their metrics and he built up a system for it internally. It wasn’t user friendly however, nor did it answer all his questions quickly. So after 5 years at Zendesk, he went out on his own and started ChartMogul.

We talk about the joys of building stuff and hiring the right people, how he’s looking to go deeper in the current niche, his plans with implementing EOS, living in Korea, and developing your own inner confidence.

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Jeroen:

Hey, Nick. It’s great to have you on Founder Coffee.

Nick:

It’s great to be here. Yeah. Thanks a lot for having me.

Jeroen:

Yeah. You’re the cofounder of ChartMogul. For those who don’t know yet, what do you guys do at ChartMogul?

Nick:

Yes. At ChartMogul, we’re building the world’s first subscription data platform. What that means is that we’re building a platform to allow you to calculate your subscription metrics and manage and measure your subscription revenue. So we’re allowed to do things like subscription analytics, as well as just revenue reporting in general.

Nick:

So we plug into your startup’s billing system. This might be Stripe, or Recurly, or PayPal, even the Apple app store, Google Play. You plug those things in. That gets all ingested automatically and parsed and normalized. Then once we have that, we automatically calculate a lot of common SaaS metrics like monthly recurring revenue, churn rate, lifetime value, and things like that. There’s a whole bunch of advanced tools for doing the segmentation cohort analysis and also for pushing that data out into all the systems as well, where it can be useful. So kind of like a subscription analytics data platform for subscription businesses. Over half our companies are SaaS businesses and a lot of mobile subscription companies these days as well. We’re about 42-43 people, a remote company, five years old. That’s the shorter intro.

Jeroen:

Yeah. Cool. I didn’t know you were going beyond SaaS companies. What does mobile subscription businesses mean?

Nick:

Yeah. So this could be a fitness app, meditation app on the iPhone, e-learning online education, a language learning app or something like that. Anything really mobile. It’s not just mobile, but that has been the trend in the last couple of years. We’ve always been around two thirds SaaS, and one third consumer. The trend in the last couple of years has definitely been towards mobile subscriptions versus desktop subscriptions. A lot of those. Especially this year with the lockdowns and stuff, a lot of people signing up for dance classes, virtual dance classes on the iPad or things like e-learning, remote learning and things like that. That’s definitely been the trend there. Our bread and butter is probably B2B SaaS. Maybe for people like you and me, it’s less exciting than these other ones, right? Like iPhone meditation or these kinds of apps are kind of a bit more fun because they are different from what we do in our day to day.

Jeroen:

Yeah. I understand. I had a question, but now I forgot. What is the main thing that you bring to these businesses actually? I don’t know whether it’s different from B2B SaaS to mobile subscription businesses, but what is the reason that people come to you, to ChartMogul? In the most simple way.

Nick:

Yeah. There’s two or three parts to it. First of all, the first part of the value that we bring is mostly around automation. So you might say you’re a subscription business that builds your customers using Stripe, but then you also have revenue in PayPal and maybe in App Store and Google Play. Who knows multiple systems, or even if it’s just a single system, you want to be able to calculate a bunch of business metrics. You want to be able to calculate your cash flow, your monthly recurring revenue and churn rate, and a kind of a bunch of general high level management metrics that your leadership team are interested in tracking for the performance of the company, and also your finance team are interested in for budget planning. If you have investors and other stakeholders, they’d be interested in just kind of getting a sense of how one of their portfolio companies is doing.

Nick:

So we effectively automate the process of giving you that stuff in real time. We give you all the kind of most useful metrics that a subscription business needs in real time with either no or very little coding required. Whereas previously, that would be a lot of work in Excel and then it’s out of date, or it’s not up to date, or what would be the data science team having to build that out. Build and maintain scripts and a data stack to give you all that kind of stuff. The first piece of value is around just automating the process of calculating the stuff and keeping it up to date. The second piece of value is around going deeper than that. It’s around insight and kind of discovering things that might change decision-making, like looking at pricing, looking at your various plans and comparing the performance of the plans.

Nick:

A very common use case is after people use ChartMogul, they end up changing their pricing to better optimize their business. It’s helping with the support decision making within the organization. You can also plug in other data sources, not just the payment billing systems, but things like HubSpot for marketing channels. So you can then see which marketing channels have a higher lifetime value or better retention rates. The customers come from which channels, and that also helps support decision making within the growth marketing teams. So, that’s the second piece of value that it supports. It’s kind of these two things. Automation and then sort of supporting decision making, I guess. The two main, two primary pieces of value that we bring to our customers. It’s kind of the same, regardless if it’s B2B SaaS or mobile consumers.

Jeroen:

Understood. Cool. How did you get to the idea of starting ChartMogul? It was five years ago or so, and you figured that you needed a better way to do one of these two things? How did that happen?

Nick:

Yeah. So the backstory is that I started by creating a product and a little bit of engineering. But I’m not a very good engineer, so I worked mostly in product in a startup in the UK. While I was there, I became a customer of Zendesk, the support ticketing system. After Zendesk did their series A, they reached out to me and I ended up joining their team in the UK and built up the start of their UK operations. Then I moved to Asia, started the Asian operations opening offices in Tokyo and Manila, Philippines to kind of build up the sales and support for the product. Then Europe and also the Asia region for Zendesk. I spent five years at Zendesk on the commercial side.

Nick:

While I was there, you know, you get measured. If you’re in a sales role or sales management, sales leadership role, you get measured on how much MRR you bring in, in a given month or given quarter. We’d built some dashboards for showing internally as kind of custom stuff to show how well you are doing. So, it’s quite addictive. So these dashboards, the user experience wasn’t very good. We were using things off the shelf. We were using a SaaS product, but it wasn’t really meant for subscriptions businesses.

Nick:

It was just meant to do any kind of analysis on the use of that. But the user experience wasn’t really very SaaS-y, in a way. I think the whole idea of SaaS is to create these well-designed, beautifully simple user experiences and that’s what we were trying to do at Zendesk. I think that’s what most SaaS founders I know are trying to do. Trying to take something that’s usually quite unpleasant, in terms of its user experience, from the old enterprise software—has a bad reputation for being not particularly well-designed or user-friendly in terms of the look and feel—and then taking that and making it simpler and more friendly and bringing it online.

Nick:

Anyway, to get to the point, we had built something internally. And because of the numbers that were in there, it was a little bit addictive to keep checking that. But the user experience wasn’t very good and it wasn’t a very empowering experience. For example, when I was responsible for Asia, it would have been good to be able to see, “Okay, well, which markets are performing better ?” Like, “What’s the average revenue per customer in Singapore versus Hong Kong?” or something like that. But it was hard to play with the data and slice it up, so any time you want to do anything, you have to maybe send an email off and ask the data team to build your new report. And then, you have to follow up two weeks later when it doesn’t get done, or something like this very typical, traditional thing that would happen in companies.

Nick:

Whereas, ideally the people that actually want to understand the thing could just click around and get the answers to their questions themselves. So, the idea came from there, that experience of seeing, “Okay, how is MRR getting measured?” and these things and the potential power there. I just figured maybe if I built something just for subscription businesses, added some SaaS product, I could give a more empowering user experience to people, but make it for niche businesses. And also, as my heart is really in product, and I spent five years doing sales and support; I wanted to get back into product. So yeah, I left Zendesk in the middle of 2014 and threw myself into starting this business.

Jeroen:

Oh, returning back to the product base, yeah?

Nick:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

I can see how starting your own company is a good way to get back to building stuff.

Nick:

Yeah. That was always an ambition as well. So I guess I could have gone back and I could have gone back to being a team member within another company in product. I would have been happiest doing that as well, but I also had this ambition of trying to see if I could start a startup and make it work. I had an itch to scratch, so I just felt like I had to do it, had to try, and I got to that point. I don’t know. I think I just turned 30, or something like this, or was about to. I just felt like I should just go for it. Otherwise, I’ll regret not quitting my job and going all in.

Jeroen:

Yeah. Have you always been into building stuff? Obviously, previously in your career, you were product managing and doing some engineering as well. But before that, did you always like doing that or is it just something that grew on you?

Nick:

No, I always liked building stuff. Yeah, always, always. Yeah, from when I was a kid. I used to make stop-motion animated short films using a Super 8 mm camera and then webcam came out. We bought a webcam and you use that for doing stop-motion animation. I thought I’d go into film; I studied film production. But then, I got excited about software and technology when I was in university. In university, I was doing animation and illustration, but I got more interested in software. I ended up building a social network for artists when I was in university because I wasn’t a very good student. I was quite disinterested, at the time, in my study, so I started learning PHP, mySQL, LAMP stack, and building that and then launched that.

Nick:

We actually got on TechCrunch, which was pretty cool and did okay for a while, but it was never really a business that would take off. So I think I actually sold it for a token amount of money at some point and moved on. And then, I got a job after university. So yeah, I’ve always been doing something. I always had it in my mind that I might want to try and start a business because it allows you to build whatever you want to build, I suppose, as long as it’s partially viable.

Jeroen:

Yeah. And if you ever stop with ChartMogul, would you then consider going back into things like video and animation? It seems like part of your heart is there as well.

Nick:

I don’t think so. I think I prefer product. If I look at the companies I really admire, I like the combination of tech hardware and software like Apple or even car companies, or Dyson or something where they mix hardware and software together. It’s cool, but it’s a romance just thinking about it. It doesn’t make any sense for ChartMogul. It’s purely a software company. If I was to do something different, it would be to try to do something where hardware and software come together. Elon Musk’s businesses are also a combination of hardware and software. But if I wasn’t to do this, it wouldn’t be to go into film production. It would probably just be something else in the technology sphere. Yeah, for sure.

Jeroen:

Why do you think hardware and software? Because it feels more tangible than a software product?

Nick:

I don’t know. When you do 3D computer animation, you also spend all the time doing 3D modelling and also CAD modeling and stuff like that. I’m familiar with it. Using solid works and some manufacturing techniques. I don’t know, just something. Yeah, it’s tangible. Hardware is usually consumer, right? I’m not sure actually, but the hardware that we see is usually consumer products. But I guess, there’s a whole ton of B2B hardware as well, but I’m just not as familiar with that anymore because that’s not been my focus. We don’t really buy B2B hardware.

Jeroen:

Yeah, no.

Nick:

Maybe monitors or something, right? For the office.

Jeroen:

Monitors, right. Yeah. I was also looking around here and today I’m in the office and wondering B2B hardware, what is it?

Nick:

Well, it’s like the machinery.

Jeroen:

Machinery?

Nick:

Lots of stuff. You know, industrial?

Jeroen:

Yeah, yeah.

Nick:

Lots of stuff. There’s all sorts of stuff. I don’t know what’s bigger, consumer, airplanes? Tons of stuff, but I just don’t know, just kind of interest, right?

Jeroen:

Got it.

Nick:

Like I’m into motorbikes or I used to be. I’m through with them now but yeah. Yeah, I think it’s partly the tangible part, but then I do also love software as well. So I think businesses that mix somehow tech together, robotics, it’s interesting.

Jeroen:

What is your plan currently with Chart Mogul? Are you guys planning to go into more niches, let’s say? Because you mentioned you were doing B2B SaaS, some B2C SaaS next to that, and now growing the mobile subscription business. Or are there other plans that you’re making, maybe expanding into hardware? Probably not.

Nick:

No, probably not that. But our plan is to actually go deeper into our current niche. So we’re not going to add new markets anytime soon. Our plan is to be the very best product for doing subscription analytics, for managing your subscription billing data, for basically getting value out of your subscription revenue, subscription payments, subscription billing data, extracting value from that. And going super deep on that. There’s still a ton of stuff we haven’t done.

Jeroen:

Yeah, for example?

Nick:

I mean, I think we have a stronger product market fit for a small SMB SaaS with 10, 30, 40 employees, than we do for a SaaS company that has 400, 500 employees or more. At some point the requirements become more and more complex over time and they will acquire more and more flexibility. So we’re building that flexibility. We have large customers that do a hundred million or more in annual recurring revenue. And we want to be able to be a really strong fit for those types of businesses, as well as the startups where we have lots of those too. So, there’s just a ton of stuff that we need to get better at and provide some more functionality, improve the functionality we already have, add more flexibility, add more performance and power and stuff. It’s also like a product, if you have a few hundred thousand subscribers, it’s slower than it is if you have a few hundred subscribers or whatever.

Nick:

So there’s just a ton of stuff to better serve the existing market that we’re already serving and to get better at that. And I think the bigger gains for us is about really focusing on that core that we’re already good at. But we want to get really great at it where it’s just a total no-brainer if you’re a SaaS company or a subscription business, digital subscription business. We don’t put so much focus on physical products. There are the subscription Dollar Shave Club type businesses, that’s not our niche. Our niche is really digital subscription products. And I think the best thing we can do and the best way we can serve our customers and grow, is through narrowing and increasing our focus. And we’re hiring more engineers, more product people, et cetera, in order to just double down on that and just provide better products.

Jeroen:

But what is exactly in the core? Do you consider helping salespeople to identify the right leads or identifying churn or something like that? Is that also part of the core, or is the core really around unlocking subscription data to get insights?

Nick:

I think it’s two things. It’s the two pieces of value I talked about before. Automatically making it as quick and easy as possible to get accurate metrics in the way that you want them. Even that is a hard thing in itself, people like to measure things in different ways. There’s something called committed or contracted MRR. And then there’s something called MRR or realized MRR. So there’s different ways to measure things, and there’s different metrics that different types of companies care about.

Nick:

Like one thing that we should do a better job at is providing better reporting and more value for B2B SaaS companies that don’t have any monthly subscriptions. So purely annual contracts or two year contracts, these kinds of SaaS businesses. I’ve seen a lot of those. And we have a lot of those as our customers, but we could do a better job of servicing those customers, looking at better reports around annual churn, annual retention. These kinds of things where right now it’s a bit too geared towards a monthly subscription model. So we need to add more flexibility there.

Nick:

For example, it’s just one example of 10, 20 different things that we need to improve in order to better service our core. In terms of helping sales reps identify needs, probably not. I think there’s a whole industry that does that, like Slice. It used to be called Slice, it’s not called that now. Infer, it’s called now. And that was one of the first ones, but there’s tons of lead scoring tools. MadKudu, a cool company. And there’s things that plug in, it’s a CRM domain and things that plug into the CRM there. Identify churn, I mean, I’m not quite sure what that means, the other point you made.

Jeroen:

Yeah, identify churn.

Jeroen:

No, okay. I get it. You’re staying with the data. That’s your core, and you’re building around that. In terms of funding, you guys raised, I think, you mentioned about three seed rounds. Not really raising as seriously there right now, I don’t know about that, maybe that’s something private? But what is your plan there, are you planning on taking more money? Is it something you’re holding off now? Is there something you can tell us about that?

Nick:

I mean, we’re cash flow positive right now, more or less. Some months we burn more, but we don’t have an immediate cash crunch. We’re 40 plus people with good growth, so we’re able to hire more engineers and more people, more marketing, more sales and things like this, as our revenue is growing quite healthily. I think with raising additional capital, we look at it and we assess this periodically about our capital needs. But also you have to look, okay, what would you do with that additional capital? How would you spend it? Would you get a healthy return where it makes sense for both the investors on the company, all the stakeholders involved.

Nick:

So far, yeah, we’ve been really lucky and happy to have great investors and we’ve spent their money to get where we are. And we’ve also spent our customers’ revenue to get where we are as well. We pretty much invest everything back into the company. I think if we felt we were capital constrained and we weren’t able to be as ambitious as we want to be because we don’t have enough money, then I feel that would be a good reason to raise more. Or if we felt that we could pump 10 million, 20 million into sales and marketing and would get a healthy return in terms of the delta between what we’re doing now, and what the output would be if we pumped more capital into sales and marketing, and would that be a good use of capital? Would it be a healthy growth? So we assessed that, and I guess so far, the answer has been, we’re comfortable, and we have enough capital coming in, and remaining from our last round. But we’ll see what the future holds.

Jeroen:

Yep.

Nick:

What makes sense in the future is to be decided.

Jeroen:

Sounds good.

Nick:

Yeah.

Jeroen:

What, if you would say, is something that keeps you up at night lately? Not capital, apparently.

Nick:

Keeps me up at night? This is probably not a good road to go down in terms of the conversation, but over half our revenues, 55% of our revenues are from the U.S. market. So I would say I have a vested interest. Apart from knowing lots of lovely people who live in the U.S., I also have a vested interest in that, in the U.S. being a stable and healthy and strong economy.

Jeroen:

Yeah, yeah. Is it the U.S. dollar being a bit lower is what you mean?

Nick:

Just in general. A strong U.S. economy, and a stable and strong U.S. economy, and the dollar, too, is just good for us. We make our revenues in U.S. dollars and we earn. Half our customers are in the U.S., et cetera. So definitely, I want the U.S. to do well. I guess looking at the news recently, I guess is a bit worrying. Although actually, things have been very healthy for us. There was a bit of a rough patch around March, April. But since May, June, July, it’s all been good. This month, things are very healthy. They’re going very well. I mean, the data looks like, in terms of what we see with our sales, it seems healthy. But just looking at the news, the economic news and stuff.

Jeroen:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I feel you.

Nick:

Just a bit. Don’t worry. I’m an optimist. I hope everything goes well.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Nick:

But it’s a dangerous conversational road to go down, perhaps.

Jeroen:

I completely feel you. We also make a big part of our revenues in the U.S. The U.S. dollar is a bit lower, which makes for less Euros for the money we normally make. Plus, yeah, it’s not good for businesses in general, or customers. It’s not that we’re seeing a lot of churn. But it’s not like things are flourishing, either. So a similar situation also, with two down months, and then things back up. But the situation is not amazing.

Nick:

Yeah. Europe is a big trading partner. We’re a European business, primarily. Headquarters in Berlin. U.S. is a big trading partner of Europe.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Nick:

We rely on them. Obviously, yeah, the coronavirus stuff this year has been stressful for everyone. Also, in general, we like to do annual offsite. Of course, we’ve had to cancel that this year. So I don’t get to see the team. I just get to see the teammates I have around me here in Seoul, which is just two other folks right now. Although we are hiring a couple more people, so it’ll be a bit more of a community here. But we’re pretty distributed and pretty remote. So that’s a real bummer. I hope we can do it next year.

Jeroen:

Yeah, yeah.

Nick:

Praying we can do our annual. On the one hand, we saved some money doing it. But would rather spend the money and do the offsite. It would be fun to see everyone.

Jeroen:

It’s also a similar situation here. Main thing with working remote, the working remote itself is not so much an issue, but not seeing teammates kind of puts a pressure on the atmosphere a little bit.

Nick:

Yeah. You want to do that periodically, right? You want to do leadership offsite and a whole company offsite once a year and these kinds of things. Not being able to do that is definitely a bummer. Yeah, it’s definitely not cool.

Jeroen:

Yeah.

Nick:

But anyway, I mean, these are minor complaints. Some of the industries that are directly impacted are like in a bad space. We’re extremely lucky that we can continue, like continue working.

Jeroen:

For sure. What is it that you spend most of your time working on right now?

Nick:

These days? I think there’s two main focus areas for me in my day-to-day, and that is product and people. People and product. I should have said people first, because it’s clearly more important. We have a head or a lead, like a VP or a head of some, or director for every department at ChartMogul, except for product. I lead our product team. It’s four product managers and myself. So I’m still heavily involved in product. Every other department has a leader that fully owns sales, owns marketing and owns customer success, owns finance, and creative team owns engineering, et cetera. I just have to give my input or weekly leadership meetings and one-on-ones, these kinds of things. But I don’t have to run the day-to-day of any part of that business.

Nick:

But the product part, I am quite heavily involved in. I do a lot of reviewing and even QA and stuff before releases and these things on the people side. Yeah, I mean, always looking about. Everyone on our leadership team is currently reading a book called Traction. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book, but it’s about the EOS, entrepreneurs operating system.

Nick:

We’re all reading it, and I think most of us are done by now. We’re going to discuss, do we want to implement the EOS or some parts of it, or which parts of it then? It’s just a way to run your business in an efficient way. Although you could come up with your own systems and processes and ways to run your business, it’s a bit like buy versus build, right? The people that wrote this book, or the person, I guess, it’s only one person, but the people that are behind Traction and the EOS, they’ve spent a lot of time consulting and thinking about the best way to run a business. Whereas we, I spend a lot of our time, we spend our time thinking about just ChartMogul product and customers. We don’t necessarily think: “What’s the best way to run a business?” So if you can take some of these things that they’ve thought long and hard about and implement them, you can definitely get some positives.

Jeroen:

Yeah, yeah.

Nick:

Kind of think about that. It helps us scale a bit more in a bit more of an organized way, moving towards, like quarterly plannings for different teams and performance reviews and things like that. So yeah, definitely people and product, I guess. That’s the answer.

Jeroen:

A previous guest on the show, David Henzel of MaxCDN is a huge fan of EOS. If you ask him what he would do if he’d start any business again, it’s always implementing EOS. And he’s starting quite some businesses right now, all based on EOS. If you want any advice on it I can connect you both.

Nick:

Oh, yeah. We would love to. Yeah, for sure.

Jeroen:

I even think he uses it in his coaching business now. He launched a coaching business called Up Coach. And I think that’s also partly based in the US, but not sure.

Nick:

I’m definitely new to it, so I’m not an expert. I’m on my second run through it in order to make it stick, because there’s a lot, it’s pretty dense. There’s a lot in there. Some of it we’re kind of naturally doing already, but a lot of it we’re not, but it’s important. I like the idea it’s about working on the business, not in the business. So I think by default, the trap is just to always work in the business, right? Work on computers, answer emails, answer Slack, do a bit of this, do a bit of that. But if you don’t consciously step back and try to work on the business and, “Okay, how are we actually working together?” How is this actually going, now and again. At least that one quarter, it doesn’t happen. So this is a good framework for that.

Jeroen:

Yeah. We actually do that every two weeks. This afternoon we’re at that again. We have a team meeting and then we write down what’s not going well and what’s going well. And then for the things that are not going well, we look for solutions and that’s often changing a process somewhere or something. And we learn from the things that went well. It’s a bit of a combination of being in the business, but a lot of it is working on the business as well.

Nick:

Yeah. Right, right. That’s good. Yeah. Every two weeks is better, probably.

Jeroen:

Yeah. It’s quite often, I must say. But it’s good to be close to reality when things happen.

Nick:

Probably means Salesflare is better run than ChartMogul.

Jeroen:

Oh, that I don’t know. I have no idea how ChartMogul is run. Making no judgements.

Nick:

Me neither, I’m just kidding of course.

Jeroen:

So what is it that you do actually next to work? You mentioned you’re based in Seoul. Any fun stuff you do in Seoul, or are you into sports or something? You said you went into motorbiking, but not right now?

Nick:

Not anymore. And this is probably for the best. I had a German license, I was in Berlin before. But when you convert that into a Korean license, they dropped the motorbike from the license. If you want to ride a motorbike here in Korea, you have to take the test here in Korea. And that would be a whole adventure in itself, I think. I do take Korean classes, but I think taking the motorbike test would be interesting. So for now it’s not happening.

Nick:

That was more back when I was in the UK. But I have a daughter here and I like to spend as much time as I can with her. So after work or on the weekends, I spend time with my daughter. Since this year, I haven’t been able to travel, of course, internationally. So I’ve been doing more road trips around Korea. A water park or beach, or something like that. She is five years old so she loves doing anything, basically. And then I like going to the gym.

Nick:

I don’t know. It’s funny, it’s one of those things. I have a younger brother, who’s like 10 years, nine years younger to me. He started going recently and he’s, “This is so much work, how can you like it?” I was like, “I think I started around nine years ago and I hated it, but you just keep going and it’s a habit.” I think about once you’ve been doing it for five years, you start to really just love it. It’s like a meditation for me. I just go there, relax.

Nick:

I don’t really do much running or cardio. That would stress me out. But just weight lifting and stretching, it’s very relaxing for me, I guess. I do that. We were chatting before we started recording that you had also visited, Seoul and the food here is excellent. Seoul has a lot to offer. Yeah, Seoul has a lot to offer in terms of food and places to go, and stuff like that. And yes, it’s meeting friends after work and having some Korean barbeque, or whatever. It’s a big city with a lot to offer.

Jeroen:

Having some Korean wheat beer with some soju in there?

Nick:

Mixing beer and soju.

Jeroen:

They often drop it in a beer no?

Nick:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. They call it somaek. Your listeners who are not familiar, soju is like, I guess a rice wine, a bit like the Japanese sake, but it’s the Korean equivalent, soju. And then the Korean word for beer is mekju. Somaek just means beer and soju mixed together. It’s just a way to make beer stronger, basically. It’s just a way to get yourself going faster, but it’s a common thing.

Jeroen:

Yeah. No, I remember my wife was there for a month. She did an exchange within her company. They have a department in Korea. Well actually, a company that they bought. And we would join these people then also, Korean barbeques and drinks and stuff. You have this idea of Asians, that they are a bit more, how can I say, held back or something? But, there was always a lot of atmosphere, especially helped with the beer and the soju, and the food was amazing. Of course, all these, for us Westerners, funny things about hierarchy that are not really as much present, at least not in Belgian culture. I know in Italy for instance, it’s a bit more. But a really nice experience, really loved it. We’d love to go back. How long are you there now?

Nick:

Let me think. About a year and a half now, yeah.

Jeroen:

What made you decide to move to Seoul?

Nick:

As I said, I have a daughter and her mother’s Korean. So we decided that we want to raise our daughter here. That was the main catalyst. But it’s been great. I mean, it’s one of the luckiest countries. I mean, this wasn’t really in the decision making, but they’ve dealt with this virus very well. You wear a mask everywhere and you have to follow a lot of rules. They check your temperature and they track your movements everywhere you go, and these kinds of things. But, they haven’t had a full lockdown or something like that. So it’s been good there and we’re hiring some people here to build up a small cluster. We’re pretty remote, but we’ve got a cluster in Toronto, one in [inaudible 00:40:14] and now one here in Seoul, which is cool.

Nick:

So, it’s great. And I started taking some classes. I guess that’s another thing that I do. I take two classes a week. It’s not really enough to learn Korean quickly, probably take me five, 10 years at this rate, but it’s good to get back to learning something, especially something that’s way, way outside my comfort zone. I’m typical English, British person who only speaks English and is really dumb when it comes to foreign languages. I really find the process a little bit hard. It’s not something that comes naturally. It’s like I have to force myself, but it’s rewarding. I guess I’ve been studying about seven, eight months now. It’s rewarding to be able to use more and more. I can get by more and more in day to day life, so that’s pretty fun.

Jeroen:

Yeah. Otherwise it’s not super easy to get by in Seoul.

Nick:

Yeah, right.

Jeroen:

I remember taking my phone and translating a lot of things with Google Translate.

Nick:

Yeah. When I first moved here, that was basically open every day on the phone, the Translate thing. These days, it’s getting less and less I have to use it day to day. But the jump between being able to just get by and actually have a conversation is so extreme. So, with three or four months of study, you can learn enough to get by, but then learning enough to actually have a full-on conversation with a local would be like, I think two years of full time study. And obviously I have a full time job, so maybe it’s five years of evening or morning, I do morning classes. I think it’s a long way off, but it’s fun. It’s something to work at that’s not purely SaaS.

Jeroen:

Yes. I do my Duolingo every day. I don’t know if we have Duolingo English-Korean.

Nick:

Yeah, it does. Yeah, I did that before I moved here. The Korean Duolingo course. It’s good.

Jeroen:

You finished it?

Nick:

Yeah. I think Duolingo has different layers, right? Level one and they only have the initial level with the Korean one, so it doesn’t go deeper. Maybe it’s not as long. Which one are you doing?

Jeroen:

My wife is Brazilian, so I’m doing Portuguese and I am trying to complete level five on everything now. But it’s a lot of work, especially because these skills, they often start cracking, so you need to redo them.

Nick:

Oh yeah. Yeah. Tell me about it.

Jeroen:

I’m already at it for two years and a half or something now.

Nick:

There’s a slight jealousy there of people from places like Belgium or Germany or Denmark or continental Europe where they all speak English plus they speak their own language. Plus they often also speak a bit of German, a bit of French, a bit of something. I don’t know. Maybe they’re just not as lazy as we are in England about this, or there’s just more, I guess, more of a focus on it.

Jeroen:

More of a need. Imagine coming from a place like Belgium. In the Flemish speaking part, we are about six million. And then we can converse with the Netherlands, which are about, I don’t know exactly, 15 million or something. So, Dutch is what we start with. Then when we are 10 years old, we start studying French, so we can speak with the people on the other side of the country and get a good job in the capital if you want. Then we start adding English when we’re 14, because the rest of the world – sort of a way to communicate. Then we start adding German because we’re 16. Because a very small part of the country also speaks German. And then, depending on the level of education you like, if you are a smart boy or a girl, then you go into things like Latin and Greek, because that’s still a very traditional way of how things work. And then you can add on other languages if you like.

Jeroen:

I went studying in Italy, so I added Italian. Studied a bit of Spanish, but that’s completely gone. And now, the added Portuguese is so I can speak with everyone when we go to Brazil, it’s not because I wanted to learn more languages.

Nick:

Yeah. That’s very good. Anyway.

Jeroen:

Yeah. If you are in Great Britain, why would you learn anything else? There’s no real force there to make you do this, right?

Nick:

Yeah. There’s not a forcing mechanism. I think we were given French, German or Italian as the choice and I did Italian and then it’s, I think, one hour a week. So, it’s like one hour a week in a class of 30 kids with some homework, probably. Of course, I didn’t learn Italian. There’s still like a little bit I can remember, but then you don’t learn. You don’t learn the language.

Jeroen:

Parlo Italiano, or something.

Nick:

Yeah, it’s a token. I can still remember how to order some red wine, something like that.

Jeroen:

I will not ask you to do it.

Nick:

Yeah. Because it will sound funny. It will sound weird. It’s just like a couple of sentences you learn. But anyway!

Jeroen:

How’s Seoul actually when you’re working in tech? I’m forgetting names now, but I had the co-founder of this chat messaging platform. I’m going to do a quick search here.

Nick:

Oh, yeah. I think I know the one you mean. Sendbird?

Jeroen:

Sendbird, yes. It’s been a long while. John came on the show and he told me a story about how he was the first startup in Korea to take investment outside of Korea, that there was really no such thing as startups. Nowadays, when we go to startup conferences, at least when we can, there’s this Korean state fund that you could talk to that has enormous resources now. How is Korea exactly developing in their plans to become a sort of new tech center with startups?

Nick:

I don’t know. I think Sendbird is quite internationally focused, right? I’ve seen them around. We used to be in the same building as them although we’ve moved to a different one now. And I’ve spoken to some people there but I mean I’m not an expert on it. Korea has a very healthy domestic technology industry. So unlike Europe, where we use all the stuff that’s built in the US and mostly Google products, Facebook products, Apple products, for our services here, they have a domestic company. So for search, they have Neighbor. For e-commerce, you don’t use Amazon here. You use Coupang or Neighbor or something. I can’t remember now. But I generally use Coupang. It’s extremely good service. For tech, for mapping, they use KakaoMaps or Neighbor maps. Google Maps doesn’t really work properly here.

Nick:

And for messaging and social, use Kakao. So they have their own domestic stuff, which is cool. I mean, it’s hard when you first come here. You have to learn how to use it, but they have their own domestic stuff. That means they have a very healthy technology industry versus and then a lot of smaller companies supporting that as well. So in terms of international SaaS startups, there are a few. We even have some customers here. They’re pretty cool SaaS companies that use ChartMogul and have an international focus. I’d say it’s pretty healthy. I mean, loads of apps getting released and new services, like local scooter services. Like Lime, I use the scooters a lot. I would say Lime is one of the least good ones. I know in the US they have, in my opinion, I’m not rubbishing Lime, but they have some local ones that seem to cost less and better quality scooters and stuff. So they’re quite competitive in those sets.

Nick:

So I’d say this is a super high tech country or society. If you want to take a subway or a bus even, or a route, it’s going to tell you down to the second when the bus is arriving, if it’s full, if you’ll be able to get a seat on the bus. And in a year and a half, I’ve never once had a late subway train. It’s just perfectly accurate. Everything is extremely diligent. So the use of technology in their own country is really high.

Nick:

So I guess the level of people that must have engineering skills to support all of this must be higher than in Europe for sure. Yeah, because technology is deployed all over the place, where as in England, it wouldn’t be. I don’t know about startups, what that means in terms of startup ecosystem, but in terms of their deployment or taking advantage of what technology offers, they are definitely, I think ahead of most Western countries. In terms of launching new internet startups that are global, I’d say that it’s definitely behind Europe and the US, for sure.

Jeroen:

Yeah. Looking more at the domestic markets.

Nick:

Yeah. Or Asian.

Jeroen:

Asian markets.

Nick:

Yeah. I like Neighbor and Kakao, they have reach outside of just Korea, but it’s Japan or Taiwan with lines. But yeah, I’m not really expert because my focus has been more on ChartMogul and our markets. I only moved here a year and a half ago, and then Corona happened. So the networking events haven’t really been happening this year. So last time I went to a local networking event was the end of last year.

Jeroen:

No worries.

Jeroen:

Slowly wrapping up. What’s the latest good book you’ve read and why exactly did you choose to read it?

Nick:

This Traction book. I think it is the one I read, and I’m going through it again. We read it because we had someone join the company who recommended EOS and that kind of stuff. So I say that’s the one I’ve already talked about. But I think it’s interesting to read. It’s not exciting suspense. It’s not fiction. So it’s a little bit of work to go through it, but it’s pretty valuable. I’m not a massive reader. I know as a CEO you’re supposed to read, whatever, 50 books a year. I don’t know what the number is.

Jeroen:

50 is a lot.

Nick:

Whatever the nonsense is on Business Insider or Forbes or whatever. Forbes usually is like, “This CEO wakes up at 6:00 and does this, and then reads a book. And then da, da, da.” It’s like, I don’t actually do that. I’m not reading tons and tons of books, sadly.

Jeroen:

The EOS one about traction. Okay, cool. Is there anything you wish you would have known personally when you started out with ChartMogul that would really help you if you do it again?

Nick:

Oh, so many things. Yeah, so many things,

Jeroen:

If you pick one thing, just the first one that comes to mind.

Nick:

I think trusting your gut. I think when I first started, I didn’t really know what I’m doing. I still don’t know what I’m doing, maybe. But when you start, there’s a lot of noise. And it’s all good, but it’s not really always relevant to you. So there’s a lot of stuff on Twitter, on blogs, SaaS. There’s also great resources like SaaS, but it’s also their own lens. Like Jason Lemon is awesome, but there’s a lens there around this way to do that, or, “You need to hire these people, or you need to raise this. Need to do this. These are the things you need to do.” And there’s just so much on the blogs, different blogs and stuff happening on Twitter.

Nick:

And it’s easy to think, “I should do these things, because this is what all the successful SaaS companies are doing.” But developing your own sense of what is right for your business and what makes sense for your business and just being ultra realistic about that and just trusting your own gut and saying, “Okay, actually we should hire that …” – getting good at assessing who you should hire. The people part’s definitely the most important part of running a company, getting that right. getting the right people in the company. And I think just getting good at knowing what people to bring in and who you want to work with well, and these kinds of things. I think when you first start, you don’t have as good a sense about your own inner voice or your own inner confidence.

Nick:

And so it’s easy to get swayed by outside voices, I guess. Whereas after doing this for five, six years, kind of have a good sense for the culture of the company, what we want to build, what type, what kind of people will be able to help us build that, what type of people are going to take us to the next level or to contribute and bring value and to be a good fit for the company.

Nick:

And also focus. You said earlier do you plan to expand to other markets? I think one of the biggest strategic mistakes I made was thinking a few years back that maybe the subscription market isn’t big enough and we should maybe also look at e-commerce analytics as well, because of the way we built the platform. It was flexible enough. We never really launched that, but we started some work on that, and I think we realized, actually, you know what, we need to put all our energy into our core and just focus on just our core. That’s what got us there, and that’s what’s going to get us to the next stage as well.

Nick:

So it’s like not being distracted by shiny things and just thinking, actually, we’ve got a pretty good thing going on with the subscription space, and let’s just stay 100% focused on that. Even within that B2B SaaS itself and just really targeting B2B SaaS as a core, and just improving the solution that works. And when you’re starting, it’s like, okay, thinking too much like how do you scale into a hundred million dollar business? But it’s like, first of all, you got to get to $10 million business first. So how do you do that? Well, I think focusing on your core customer segment is the best way to get there.

Jeroen:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Those are some really valuable points, I would say.

Jeroen:

Thank you again, Nick, for being on Founder Coffee.

Jeroen:

It was really great to have you.

Nick:

Yeah, thanks so much for having me.


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