Patrick Campbell of ProfitWell

Founder Coffee episode 009

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

Every two 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 ninth episode, I had a chat with Patrick Campbell, Co-Founder of ProfitWell, the company that helps you with analyzing and boosting your subscription revenues.

Before founding ProfitWell, Patrick had quite the well-rounded career. He was a coffee master at Starbucks, a strategist at Google and an intelligence analyst for the US Defense Department.

We chat about his animal cracker hustle, US politics, optionality and about solving the world’s problems.

Welcome to Founder Coffee.

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Jeroen: Hi, Patrick. It’s great to have you on Founder Coffee.

Patrick: Yeah, it’s great to be here.

Jeroen: You’re the Founder of ProfitWell, which used to be Price Intelligently if I’m not mistaken. What made you make that switch?

Patrick: Great question. We still have the Price Intelligently product and still have that brand, but we started releasing other products in the subscription space too. So ProfitWell’s a little bit more all inclusive versus just Price Intelligently, which sounds like something for ‘pricing’ only.

The short answer to why we made the switch is, basically because we have multiple different products to help subscription businesses now.

Jeroen: Okay. So for those who don’t know, what does ProfitWell do in short?

Patrick: In short, we basically help subscription companies grow and we do that by giving away free subscription financial metrics. It plugs right into your billing system and you get all your MRR churn and all that stuff for free. Then we help you find problems in your business and for some of those problems, we sell products to help. For others, we just have a lot of really great resources to basically help you solve them.

Jeroen: So you plug into things like Stripe and Green Tree, and tell us things like which of our credit cards are going to fail somehow? But there’s more than one product, right? Like one which is similar to marketing automation. Not sure how you put it!

Patrick: Yeah, so it’s a customer success product that basically helps reduce your churn algorithmically. There’s a lot of different reasons that a product churns. You know, everything from credit card scaling to you know, some people just not wanting your product. So we started it off with just attacking credit card delinquencies and then from there we’ve been basically been going after churn as well.

What’s cool about it, is that you just turn it on and it does the work for you. You don’t really have to do anything. We’re using all of our data to basically crank from there.

Jeroen: Do you have a front end script now as well which tracks the clicks and stuff?

Patrick: What do you mean by front end script?

Jeroen: For instance, something that we would put into Salesflare and then be able to see who is probably going to convert, based on their clicks or who is going to churn.

Patrick: So we are coming out with engagement data for free right now. That will help you basically determine who’s gonna churn and some other pieces. We’re gonna be attacking top of the funnel data soon. Our whole vision is just to kind of go a little bit deeper and offer complete end to end analytics for free.

Basically from the top of the funnel, all the way through to your engagement data, we want to allow you to see everything connected in a nice, comfortable and kind of turn key manner — all focused on subscriptions.

Jeroen: I see. How did you get into this? Did you have a sales business before?

Patrick: Not really. I worked at a big tech company. I worked with the intelligence community in Washington DC, here in the States and then I worked at Google actually, in Boston.

Yeah, it was one of those things of course. I did work at another startup between Google and Price Intelligently, but they weren’t a SaaS company. I was working on a kind of Econ modeling and pricing. Then what ended up happening is, you know, just obviously the customer as well as the data just kind of started guiding me in this direction.

Jeroen: So this is your second start up?

Patrick: Well, this is the first company that’s mine.

Jeroen: Oh, okay.

Patrick: So yeah, this is the second start up I’ve worked at. The previous one was a very traditional kind of venture backed company, you know. We raised 30–40 million dollars. I was there when we were about 60 people up until we were about 100 people.

Jeroen: Cool.

Patrick: Yeah, just a different type of vibe.

Jeroen: You left Google for this company?

Patrick: When I was at Google, I was cranking out some really cool stuff and made them a ton of money and it was one of those things where it didn’t make sense to work my ass off and not get some of that money. It was one of those things where it was also kind of, I mean, it wasn’t all about the money.

There was a project that I worked on, you know. It did really well and just for different priorities sake, they made the right decision, but for different priorities sake they were going to shut the project down.

To me it was like, if I’m going to work my butt off for this type of work, I can do it on my own. Naively or very intelligently, I don’t think I was making a conscious choice as much as I would want to believe at the time. But I knew I had never started a company. I did some little things when I was a kid.

I ended up going and working for another company, which is great, because I think if I would have started a company right outside of Google it may have been a success, but probably wouldn’t have been because I just didn’t know enough.

Jeroen: You mentioned that you did some things as a kid. Where did you grow up and what kind of things did you do?

Patrick: Yeah, I grew up in Wisconsin, which is king of like central US and the north of Chicago. I grew up in a nice farm community, but I did a lot of little things that you might do, like a lemonade stand, paper route, etc.

I had a little recycling business, where I would go and tell people, “Oh, I’ll take recycling off your hands.” Then I would get the money for the recycling. I mean, I think that was the first experience I had.

My parents were blue collar. They worked every day and they worked long hours and my mom traveled a lot. From a really early age I had to basically make my own lunch for school and do a bunch of other things. I remember it was kind of out of laziness, but also out of, I think, entrepreneurship. I would just take a giant bag of animal crackers and then basically trade them with other kids for different things in their lunches.

I would create my own lunch without having to make it. That was my first foray into entrepreneurship, I think, when I was in like at a low grade, like third through fifth grade kind of a thing.

Jeroen: How old were you then?

Patrick: Gosh, I don’t know. I think I started going here in fifth or sixth. So I had definitely had to be under 10. Say, five to eight years old maybe.

Jeroen: You were already creating your own lunch by trading at that age?

Patrick: I was trying. Some days no one wanted to trade. No one wanted any animal crackers so it was one of those things where, you know, you needed to just eat the animal crackers for that day.

Jeroen: Were they tasty animal crackers?

Patrick: Yeah, I don’t know. I was obsessed with animal crackers when I was a kid. I don’t know why. There’s this place called Sam’s Club in the States. I think it’s in Europe as well, but they would just sell these giant bags of animal crackers, just like enormous bags because they were bulk and my parents, we bought in bulk to save money and it was one of those things where it was like, “Oh, that’s a lot of supply that I can go after demand with.”

Jeroen: Are there any of these things you did afterwards as well? Before you went to college or started working?

Patrick: I’ve worked since a really young age. In the States, I believe when I was growing up you couldn’t officially work. Like you couldn’t be on the payroll until you were, I think, 14. I remember that really bothered me because I wanted a job.

Little did I know, but it was one of those things where I wanted capital because I lived in the rural world and it was one of those things where, you know, you had a paper route and that was okay, but that wasn’t a lot of money.

You didn’t have a lot to invest in trying to build something and so, I ended up working at 14 in a restaurant and then in college, I did a lot of different stuff in order to make cash. It’s funny, but it wasn’t my own venture where I had one of the most transformative work experiences. I actually worked at Starbucks for about five years.

Jeroen: Oh, yeah?

Patrick: Yeah, this was back in the last couple years of high school and the first couple years of college. It’s kind of like a retail or kind of a food job, but what was really fascinating about it, is the number of people that I got speaking to. You know, especially when they were aggravated because they didn’t have their coffee yet. That was something where I learned, and also, it was just a great company to work for in the States here.

I just learned so much about customer service and so much about what makes a customer happy and what doesn’t. That was just an amazing experience for my kind of trajectory into being an entrepreneur and a CEO.

Jeroen: Yeah. If you worked there for five years, did you kind of grow in the ranks at Starbucks?

Patrick: Not really. I mean, I was a coffee master, which is not an easily received honor. You have to do a bunch of courses and stuff like that to learn about coffee, but I was mainly just like a front line person. This is what was kinda cool about Starbucks. They give a lot of opportunities to people who aren’t going to school and need a full time job, but one that pays well. They normally favor people whose aim in life is to try and become a Starbucks manager or try to be a retail manager of some sort.

The supervisors and the managers, at least when I was there, they were people who were kind of trying to rise through the ranks of the Starbucks hierarchy. It was one of those things that kind of aggravated me, because I was like, “Oh, I can do this. I can do this.”

In retrospect it was actually really good not rising in the ranks there because it gave me enough flexibility to focus on what was important, which was learning as much as humanly possible.

Jeroen: What was exactly your ambition when you were doing all these jobs?

Patrick: I think when I first went to school, or when I was in high school, I wanted to be a surgeon. I wanted to be a doctor. It’s kind of the traditional, you know. You come from a poor family, they want you to be a doctor or something that’s very safe, secure, and makes a good amount of money.

I think that I quickly learned, particularly in high school, that I didn’t want to be just another doctor. I wanted to specifically be a cardiovascular surgeon but then things changed.

Jeroen: Oh.

Patrick: I know it’s funny, now that I’m thinking about it. I remember actually, in kindergarten and in the first grade when you write down what you want to be, I don’t know why, but I latched on to cardiovascular surgeon.

That was the one thing I wanted to work with, hearts. When I got into high school and I did this shadowing where you go and you visit a doctor, a couple doctors and just learn from them as a kid who wants to be a doctor. They were basically doing this cath where they go in through the leg into the heart, and either spray some dye or remove some plaque and stuff.

I remember looking at the screen. I wasn’t actually looking at the heart or anything, but I was looking at basically a video heart and I was like, “Ugh.” I got lightheaded. I was like, “Oh, I can’t …”

I found that out and I immediately had saved myself a ton of time and money because I was like, “Ugh, this is not gonna work out.” Then in college, I wanted to be a lawyer because I went to school on a debate scholarship. It was one of those things where I was participating in debates for about 40 hours a week the whole of four years to basically earn my scholarship. I thought I wanted to do that as I got closer and closer to the government, and the law. Then when I went and worked for the government, it’s one of those things where I was just like, “Ugh, I don’t like dealing with bureaucracy.” I finally realized that like bureaucracy is literally the worst thing I ever want to deal with.

That’s what kind of started getting me closer and closer to tech. So yeah, I didn’t grow up being, “Oh, I want to go into business.” I think I was pretty entrepreneurial just because I needed to be, but it was one of those things in college. It wasn’t like, “Hey, I’m taking a bunch of business classes.” I was an Econ and a Math guy, which obviously helps with business, but it was one of those things where it wasn’t like I grew up looking up to Steve Jobs or anything like that.

Jeroen: So did you study law or economics?

Patrick: I studied economics.

Jeroen: Economics, okay.

Patrick: Yeah, there are some programs that are pre-law. But in the States, it’s mainly your undergrad where you don’t need to take any courses in college to go to law school, or those type of courses. They look at your transcripts and then they look at your score on the LSAT, which is an entry level exam. So yeah, I studied Economics and Math with some Political Science and some Rhetoric mixed in there as well.

Jeroen: You wanted to be a surgeon. You tried law, but didn’t like it. You studied Economics and then eventually ended up in more Engineering stuff?

Patrick: More Math than anything, yeah. I would never consider myself an Engineer. It was one of those things. I think now if I went back I’d be like, “Oh, why didn’t I study Engineering?” At the time it was one of those things where I was like, “Oh, I don’t even know what those guys do.” It was when I was very naïve about it.

Jeroen: I mean, you ended up in tech so you did end up in sort of an Engineering space, I guess.

Patrick: Yeah, totally. When I worked in the intel community and at Google, I was never an Engineer but I learned how to use Python and a bunch of other scripting in order to deal with data sets. When I was in school, I obviously learned some of the things like SPSS and some of those other tools too. The way I describe it is like, you know, I’m data technical. I’m never gonna be a full stack Engineer, at least as of right now. It’s one of those things where I’m pretty nimble with scripts when it comes to data manipulation.

Jeroen: Yeah. Is there anything you learned in the intelligence community that you’re still using?

Patrick: I can’t share that. No, I’m just kidding.

There is plenty I can’t share, but no, I think what’s really funny is that we spoke of kind of transformative experiences in Starbucks, you know?

Whether it sounds cool or not, it was pretty transformative. I think working for the intel community was also equally transformative because being the kind of smart person and working with data and things like that in your college career, is great. But that was a job where basically within three months, I had learned an insane amount about logic, about research, about frameworks, about finding targeting, and thinking about a problem specifically.

I would say that the experience is number one in terms of making me an effective operator because it’s very unemotional in a good way. Meaning you try to stay as dispassionate about what is going on or the problem that you’re facing. Then from there, really focusing on understanding the causes and things like that of what a problem is, or trying to figure out a problem.

I think that was something that really helped me. I think what was great about it, is it kind of cap stoned what I had learned so far too. Because in Econ, you kind of learn that as well, and rhetoric, which I had studied, and debate we kind of learned the same things when it comes to argumentation. All of a sudden, I had this last piece of the puzzle to really teach me how to think, which was really effective for me.

Jeroen: You think you use what you learnt, at ProfitWell now?

Patrick: Yeah, I mean I use it every day. I think it’s one of those things where just yesterday we were trying to solve a problem and we had one customer come in and say something. The whole team was like, “Oh, we have to change …” Not the whole team, but the whole sub-team, I should say, was like, “Oh, we should change this, we should change this.”

I said, “Okay, let’s hold on a second. This is definitely something that might need to change, but let’s think through the problem. Let’s look for the causes of the problem. Let’s validate or invalidate.” It just helps with that basic thinking through of something that’s coming up rather than, like I said, kind of going crazy with it.

Jeroen: What are your ambitions with ProfitWell?

Patrick: In what sense? All senses or is there something specific you’d want to know?

Jeroen: In all senses. Like where do you see this go?

Patrick: That’s a great question.

I think for me, I’m very fascinated by problems. Admittedly, when I first started Price Intelligently, which is now ProfitWell, I was on this like, “Hey, I want to make a million dollars. I want to make a bunch of money.”

I think what I quickly learned is, if it’s all about the money, there are much more effective ways to make money than by building a freemium SaaS business. I think that’s what I really learned by starting to build this. I’m very fascinated by solving problems and then going after bigger problems.

It doesn’t mean I need to go cure cancer, or it doesn’t need to mean that I need to go do those types of things. It’s just that I needed to latch on to a problem and really go after it. For me, in particular with ProfitWell, I think there’s a fundamental failure in how we think about a subscription business’s growth. I think that we as a community, talk about this and basically get romantic about certain ways to grow and certain ways not to grow.

The way I like to think about it is, with ProfitWell, I want to kind of find the unified theory of subscription growth. What that means is, basically we need insights from top of the funnel all the way through engagement data, and based on having that and doing that across a very wide swath, or a very wide percentage of the subscription space, I can start taking that knowledge and basically creating really good products to help people grow better.

A lot of the tools that we use are what I like to call the workflow, or framework tools, where the onus is on you as an operator, to go figure out and become a master at customer success, at PPC, at all of these different pieces. I just don’t think that’s a good idea and I don’t think that’s effective because I think that you should be a master at your customer and at your product side.

That’s the thing that you do best or should do best in your business. All the other stuff you should either outsource to people who know what they’re doing, or you should use smart tools, and unfortunately just smart tools don’t exist quite yet.

That’s what it really comes down to. I think there is a unified theory of subscription growth and we’re on a mission to find it.

Jeroen: So basically you want to make very strong subscription products, or you want to help subscription products and at the same time, help these businesses build stronger customer relationships.

Patrick: Yeah. This goes a little bit deeper, but I think frankly, we want to also do this in a way where it’s completely anti-active usage. What I mean by that is I think that I don’t want to help you have a stronger relationship with your customer in the sense of creating a better help desk, right?

Let’s talk about Retain for a second. With Retain right now, I can go, “Listen, you have this problem. I can see it in your numbers, or you can see it yourself in your numbers. It’s a really big and important problem, and it’s mechanical.” We’re really good at solving that mechanical problem. You can just turn it on and we automatically reduce that problem and take it away.

That’s the type of product that we like building. Overall, that type of product is something where we have a over indexed amount of expertise compared to our customers and it allows us to be the best in the world at it, and allows you to not have to worry about it because we got your back essentially.

That’s kind of how I like to think about the product and I think that’s where a lot of SaaS products should and are going. Either it’s really in your work flow or it’s just removing a problem completely from you.

Jeroen: Totally agree. We’re actually trying to do both. We’re trying to be with Salesflare in the workflow, and we’re trying to go more and more into a space where we use data to help people as well and remove a problem. But I can see that you’re totally in that outer space taking the problem away and you just turn on ProfitWell, we pay ProfitWell, and things just go away, right?

Patrick: Yeah, exactly.

Jeroen: The problems just dissolve.

Patrick: Yeah. Even about workflow products like you’re creating with Salesflare. But right now what’s really cool about what you guys are doing, is talking to customers. I can’t do that for you right now. Maybe one day, right? That’s what you’re saying to your customer.

“Maybe one day we’re gonna do the actual sales for you in a very cool way,” but probably not because relationships are something that are so important, “but I can take away all of these little bits that you shouldn’t worry about. The data. All of this little stuff that takes time and money that you shouldn’t have to worry about and you can be better at customer relations, which is great.”

Jeroen: Yeah, totally agree with that. Are you planning to raise money for ProfitWell?

Patrick: I think right now, we are not planning on raising cash. We’re about 45 people so we’re kind of okay running without that kind of money. As I like to say, money is not the limiting step, or the limiting factor right now in our business. It’s one of those things where we have plenty of problems. Don’t get me wrong, but we’re also not too inclined towards it like some of the bootstrappers who are very ‘chip on the shoulder’ kinds about funding. They’re very much like, “Oh, we’re never going to do that. We’re never going to do this.”

We’re not like that at all. I think money’s a tool, right? It’s just like a CRM, or it’s just like other things where it helps you do your job better depending on what you’re trying to do. So I think the circumstances through which we’ll raise money are if we have a direct need in terms of understanding our unit economics so good that we just need to throw money on the top of the funnel, or if we just all of a sudden have some crazy competition.

We have some pretty good competition but it’s one of those things where it’s not an unreasonable competition.

Jeroen: You don’t need the money right now so you can just stay self-funded and make your own decisions.

Patrick: Yeah, and it gives us a lot of optionality. I mean, I’m a big fan of optionality. I think that’s something I picked up on when I was working in the intelligence community where having optionality is something that’s super important.

Jeroen: That’s funny, I actually had a talk with Louis, one of the previous talks and he also talked about the concept of optionality where he always likes to build scenarios that keep different options open and never really commits to one scenario that needs to happen. Right?

Patrick: Yeah, I think that can be dangerous, right? You have to be really careful about what option you choose because you can protect optionality to the point where you basically do nothing and say, “I can’t make a decision because I want the ability to make a decision later.”

I think for us it’s there are certain decisions like raising money, which depend on the pressure we’re feeling. I can summarise this a lot more succinctly. I think it just means basically don’t do something just ‘to do something’. Have an intent and once you are going to do something go all in, right?

For us, it’s we’re all in on boot strapping right now and that might not be the right decision and we’re always tracking the data, and tracking whether that’s the right decision we’re making constantly. Eventually we’ll get to a point where it’s like maybe, “Hey, this makes sense,” and then we’re going to go all in on funding but we’ll see how long that takes.

Jeroen: Yeah, cool. What is it that you spend most of your time on right now at ProfitWell?

Patrick: Most of my time is being spent on kind of building the marketing team. We haven’t had a team up until now. I think I just mentioned this before, a few months ago. We literally just hired our first Growth Manager; not even a month ago. It’s been something we’ve been cranking and really just kind of pushing things forward.

I think it’s one of those things where we’re constantly kind of re-evaluating what we should be doing and how we can best build a team from the right structure. Then I’m doing all the classic CEO stuff. Making sure the trains run on time and making sure that all problems are unlocked and things like that.

Jeroen: Got it. How did ProfitWell grow actually before you had a marketing team?

Patrick: Your guess is as good as mine. No, I’m just kidding.

I think it’s one of those things where we have essentially always been a content shop. What I mean by that is we basically started writing a lot, really early on. Mainly because we were trying to figure out a lot of this stuff, you know? Not only pricing, but different problems to solve within a business.

We started writing some post. I call them the bottom of the top of the funnel; they were things that you’d find if you cared about it. They weren’t like, “Hey, this is what it’s like to build a company,” or, “Here’s this founder’s story.” They were very, “Hey, this is how discounts affect this …” You know? That type of stuff. What that allowed us to do is frankly, just learn as much as humanly possible.

Then from there, that allowed us to really kind of get a good niche hold on the market because we only wrote posts that were pretty in-depth. I think we’ve written one kind of fluffy post in the past four to five years and it did really well, and it bothered me that it did so well because it was a really fluffy post.

Jeroen: What do you mean by a fluffy post?

Patrick: Well, we did like a quote wrap up. Like, “Hey, here’s six quotes on pricing.” I was like, “Oh, this is crap. This is terrible.” One of the quotes was from Fergie, some were from people who had nothing to do with software. I told the person who was doing it that, “This is not going work. It’s just not going to work,” and then it worked really well.

Jeroen: Yeah?

Patrick: We were like, “Ah, crap.” It’s important obviously to have diverse content and so that’s why for the longest time we were able to really grow with just this deep seated content and then when we launched ProfitWell.

It was kind of a similar story where we were just writing and writing more, but we were kind of diversifying our content a bit, not just talking about pricing. Now we’re going all in.

We’re basically going all in on a specific content strategy that we’ve been developing and really building out the team, and then, focus on what’s allowing us to grow the numbers. That’s kind of a tangential answer to your question, but yeah, that’s kind of how we were growing.

Jeroen: If you say we were writing, was that you and someone else?

Patrick: Well, in the early days, yeah I was. But I always hate using the word ‘I’. Every time I say, “Oh, I like this,” or, “I do this,” I cringe a little bit because it’s always a collective effort here. But in the early days, it was just me.

It was just me working on the company end. I was the one writing everything, I was the one distributing everything, and about a couple years ago we did start basically bringing on other writers so we’ve had writers now for a couple years, but I still do a lot of writing. Mainly because it’s both cathartic as well as something that lets me think and learn more. I don’t know if there’s a phrase, but I’ve heard of this thing where if you don’t know something, figure out how you can teach it. Because once you can teach it then you’ve, maybe not necessarily mastered it, but you’ve at least gotten the learnings down.

Jeroen: Yeah. Do you actively make time for writing during the day?

Patrick: I’m a very zone writer, if that makes sense. Meaning, I have to kind of, be in the zone, and it’s really hard to do that when you’re handling 1,000 little paper cut issues in a business. It’s one of those things where I do make time, but then I’ll always have stubs, I call them, which is story mini outlines that are maybe incoherent and little lines here and there that I think would be really good for a post.

I always have a bank of those. Normally those come when I’m running or when I’m working out, or when I’m just walking around Boston and I’ll just type into my phone and be like, “Oh, that’s a really good idea. Let me write that down.” Then what I’ll do is, I’ll take that bank and basically stub out the outlines and set aside time to actually just write five or so of those posts because when you kind of get into the zone, you can. I don’t know how much you write in particular, but I’ve actually really shared your GDPR post around because I thought it was good.

Jeroen: Thanks!

Patrick: It was one of those things where, when I write it’s kind of like building momentum. The first post is never really that great, but then the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth one are really good. Then you can go back to the first one and fix it.

Jeroen: So it’s like a day you reserve for writing?

Patrick: Yeah. Normally it’s on the weekends too, which are a little bit chiller and I can work on writing the posts.

Jeroen: How does a normal day for you look like?

Patrick: Terrible. No.

Jeroen: Terrible?

Patrick: The last couple of months have been really bad. This is how I explained it to someone who was like, “Oh, man, how’s it going? You seem like you’re really stressed and working a lot.” What I explained to her, was that there’s two types of work. If you had to categorize, there’s certain work that is strategic and then there’s some mechanical work, and they’re both very taxing. The strategy end is all about for instance, how you’re going to set up your adwords campaigns, and then there’s the mechanical work of actually putting your adwords campaign in the account.

The past couple of months, because we’ve been building this team up and I’ve been really hands on, it’s been both strategic and mechanical work — mostly on the same day.

I’ve been working insane hours, like 17 hours a day. I’ve been in the office until midnight. I’ve even been sleeping in the office. But what’s kind of cool about it is, I love it. I love what I’m doing. It gets exhausting and it does catch up with me. So normally on Saturdays or Friday nights like today, I just do nothing and crash.

I don’t have to do those things and we probably would get the same results, sadly, but I think it’s one of those things where I just really love what I’m doing right now. So I sit down and I’m working on something, and I look up four hours later and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, how much time has passed?”

I’ve created four hours worth of work, which is great, but it’s been one of those things where it’s just been back to the grind, which hasn’t been the case for a while now.

Jeroen: How long have you been working on ProfitWell? When did you start?

Patrick: So the whole company that we started with the first product, Price Intelligently, was five and a half years ago now.

Well, maybe it was six years. Oh wow, it’s going be six years in June! So yeah, June 2012. It was on June 15, 2012 that I had the last day at my other job. Then yeah, it was like nine months of just me and then we hired Peter, who’s our GM. He’s been here ever since!

Then ProfitWell came along. I think the idea for ProfitWell came four years ago and the first MVP was shortly thereafter. Yeah, we’ve just been cranking from there.

Jeroen: Yeah and still working that hard.

Patrick: Yeah, it ebbs and flows. I just think that for me, it’s not always going to be like that. But I learned very early on and I think it’s given a blue collar background and those types of things, that it doesn’t matter what I’m doing; I will have to work hard.

When I was at Google I would actually get, not yelled at, but I would definitely get kind of reprimanded for how much I was working because there was no work life balance that I kept. It’s amazing, but I just found myself working on things always. Sometimes it’s just reading, sometimes research or something else. And it’s not always strenuous work.

I don’t know if I could work digging ditches for 17 hours a day. Obviously that would be a lot more taxing, but it is one of those things where if I love what I’m doing, which I really do — especially on the marketing side right now, I can work that long and be happy.

It does catch up, don’t get me wrong. It compounds and by the weekend I’m absolutely dead. I don’t do anything on the weekends except rest. It’s a labor of love.

Jeroen: Do you have a wife and or kids?

Patrick: If I had kids, this would not work.

I don’t have a wife. But I do have kind of a partner. We’ve been together for, gosh, it’ll be three years in May and she also has a pretty good understanding of how I work. She does commercial real estate, which is not a nine to five job, if that makes sense. We’re pretty aligned and I was very up front when we started dating.

I was like, listen, this is how my day looks like. This is when I wasn’t working as much but I was still working very hard. I was like, “Hey, this is a specific point in my life where I’m trying to build this.” We’ve been on the same page ever since, which is great.

Right now, since the last three months have been very strenuous in trying to build this up, we have a basic agreement where she gets, or we get I should say, one night a week and then one weekend day where my phone’s off. It’s just us and our dog. I know that sounds crazy, but it is needed.

You know, I go home and we still have some other nights during the week. But it’s one of those things where I just wanted to protect that time. I don’t foresee this pace lasting terribly long. I think maybe by mid-year, we’ll have enough people on this team and the processes will be in place enough, for me to relax a little bit. Or at least it’ll be a lot more manageable, but it’s just kind of a nature of the position and the business.

Jeroen: Currently it’s like full on, working and sleeping. Are there any other things you do next to this? Like, what do you like to spend your time on, when you’re not working?

Patrick: I can’t even think about that right now!

I mean, when I do have time, I really like working with my hands. What’s kind of funny is that we’ve built a lot of stuff in the office. Since we’re bootstrapped, it kind of works out well. We’ve built these barriers for sound protection, for instance. So we built a couple of call rooms.

I really like that type of work because it’s a very different style. You know how I talked about strategic and mechanical work? Well, that work is completely different. It’s more tactical! You’re using your hands, I mean, there’s still a lot strategy and still a lot of mechanics, but it’s just a very different type of mechanics than building software products.

I think I get a similar feeling that a computer scientist or engineer would get where it’s like, “Oh, I built this thing. This is good or this is bad.” I really like doing that type of stuff!

Right now, honestly, while all this insanity is going on, I’m trying to get back in shape. I have definitely sacrificed my personal health. Saying sacrificed makes me sound more of like a martyr, but I think it’s more like I’ve definitely chosen to forego really caring about my health the past five to six years. I’ve gained a ton of weight since starting the company. I’m trying to get that in check.

Jeroen: So you’re going to start with sports again or working out regularly?

Patrick: I’m pretty good about it a few times a week. But now, just really trying to get my nutrition in check and thankfully we’re in a good place where I can at least do that. I’m on the right track, but I’m not quite there yet.

Jeroen: Yeah, I think that does happen with all of us. Now imagine there wouldn’t be ProfitWell, you sold it for a ton of money, how would you spend your life?

Patrick: Frankly, I can’t imagine not working. I think for me, and this what’s a terrible and scary thing too about the company, is work addiction. If you move me to a place where we might not sell for some reason and we’re like, “Oh, well, what else are we gonna do”, I will actually say that there are a few more ideas that I’ve thought of or think are interesting. But of course, you would need a successful exit in order to work on them. I think if and when we get sold, I think I would commit to taking a minimum of six to nine months off. Even if I was like I want to start working on something else, I would just make myself do that, even if we fail at a later point in time. Even if we have to shut down, I’m still going to try and tap into my savings in order to take that time off just to reset my palate.

One thing that’s really fascinating to me is, as is to a lot of people, is kind of like how we do elections in this world. Particularly the United States. I think that what I would love to do, is lower the barriered entry to running for office in the states because I think that’s one of the problems today. If you think of the problems that we have with our elections, they’re the most logical conclusion. Now if you take it to it’s Nth degree, it is that the money is really where the power is and we can say, “Oh, in the perfect world, we wouldn’t have that problem.” We would pass laws to do it, but it’s like water, you can’t tap water pressure. It’s something that’s going to come out.

Money is going to flow somehow so I think I would love to produce the amount of cash it takes to run for office. The way you do that is through basically better targeting, better understanding of the electorate, et cetera.

The reason that people use money in the States for elections, is to basically sell ads in order to convince their constituencies to vote for them. I want to make that more efficient because I think if we lower that barrier, you get better candidates, and if you have better candidates theoretically, you would essentially have a better government. That’s something I think about a lot. Kind of going back to the debate days and the lawyer aspiration days.

Jeroen: Don’t you think that if this technology would be available to target ads better, that the candidates with a lot of money would also use it?

Patrick: Oh, absolutely. But I think that there’s only so much saturation that you can have in an election right? Meaning, there’s only so many ways you can advertise. It’s just like running ads for a business. There’s only so many ways we can advertise now, right?

There’s more density in the market for selling software and so for me, I think that if you lower that barrier it’s never going to be zero. You’re still going to have to garner enough money to run them. But I think the other thing is that the way that these ads and the way that the polls work, and we saw this in the latest presidential election, it’s very archaic. It’s not great. It’s good, it’s some basic statistical models and some advanced statistical models, but the inputs into those models aren’t right anymore because of a whole host of technological factors.

I think if we can put better the inputs into those models and have better models, we can resolve the problem. Let me put it this way; if we get to run for Senate right now, which is the upper house of our legislature, you need to raise a significant amount of money every single week that you’re in office, like a million dollars a week!

It’s a crazy amount of money. There’s some people who have gotten appointed because someone left or someone got promoted, or something like that, and people ask them, “Hey, are you going to run for re-election?” Most of the time their response is like, “I can’t because I can’t raise as much money as required.” If we can lower that barrier theoretically, even if it improves by a factor of two or a factor of three, you all of a sudden have a better pool and we don’t get into these situations where things are so crazy, or they’re not as crazy I should say.

Jeroen: Will you consider going into politics yourself or would you prefer only empowering other people?

Patrick: I don’t know. I think that every time I see an election, I’m kind of like disenchanted with that type of life. I do think that there are a lot of injustices that I really care about, but I think at this point, I’m too much of a moderate to be successful.

Mainly just because when I look at a crazy liberal person, or a crazy conservative person espousing some views, I can look at both of them and say, “Oh, this part of your point I think is really good, and this part of your point is terrible.” I can do that for both of them and unfortunately that logic just isn’t really rewarded. At least as of right now, but maybe if we are able to lower that barrier, it’ll make it more of an interesting journey.

Jeroen: That’s a big issue in politics now as well, I guess. That the extremes get just too much attention.

Patrick: You know what it’s funny. Not to sound like a Trump supporter, which I’m not, but it is really the media’s fault. Not liberal media, not conservative media, but both the media. If you look at what happened, I don’t know how much you know about US politics, but since 1994, and then with the birth of the internet, and we’re seeing a lot of this right now in the last election cycle where basically people with extreme views, get rewarded. Because it’s sensationalist, it’s almost like a tabloid where, oh, this is going to sell headlines, this is going to sell papers. I think what ends up happening now, is that just about anyone has a voice.

A little blog can break a major story, which is great for a lot of reasons. But we didn’t get the fourth estate that we were promised, which was, “Hey, we’re going to have so much information and so much access that the crazy ideas are going to be clearly shown that they crazy and wrong, and the good ideas are going to rise to the top.”

We have an inverse that’s happening where the bad ideas are rising to the top. I think that says a lot about people because if this stuff didn’t work, people wouldn’t do it. We’re kind of rewarding it. That’s why I think that if we assume that human nature is going to stay constant, which it will, and there’s not a lot of success showing that it won’t; if we make that assumption then what ends up happening is that we put ourselves in a place where we can’t do much about it.

That’s where my Econ background comes in. It’s like, play within the rules of the game. What are the rules of the game? The rules of the game are defined by human nature. You’re not going to cap money. I mean, you might make some caps, but you’re never going to get all the money out of politics, at least in the states, and based on those two factors, like how do we still fix this problem?

We fix this problem by working within the system, and we’re working within human nature, and basically just making people more effective.

Jeroen: Well, I’m actually both a US citizen and a Belgian citizen because my parents are Belgian, but I’m born in the US.

Patrick: Oh, cool!

Jeroen: I can vote in both countries.

Patrick: That’s amazing.

Jeroen: I must say, that in the US, politics go much more to the extremes than in Belgium. We have it here as well. There’s parties supporting the extremes, but it’s just so much more extreme in the US and that’s kind of scary. I always feel that the US is a bit ahead in that respect and that other countries here in Europe will also eventually go that way.

Patrick: Well, I think what’s insane and scary, is that the world would probably be better if this didn’t happen. But with World War II, it made Europe really sensitive to some of these extremes, right? I think that in the US we’ve been very insulated.

Since the Civil War, there really hasn’t been a war fought on our land. We definitely fought in wars, but not ones that we felt, and not on demagogues that we felt. So I think that it’s going to probably stay consistent — at least in the States. In Europe, I think you’re right, we’re starting to forget what happened only 50 years ago.

Jeroen: Yeah.

Patrick: You know, with Berlusconi and the Brexit movement. All of these things might be okay, right? Because just from a philosophical standpoint, I’m a big fan of the will of the people, but when the media aspect comes in, or the time span of content that I published, interferes with the will of the people, then you have problems. That’s what is kind of scary. We’re not handling the reciprocals of time, in Europe in particular, and you’re exactly right, you’re starting to see the rise of some of these things. Hopefully it doesn’t have to get so bad that we pull it back or hopefully technology catches up to basically improve it.

Jeroen: Yeah, I guess it’s also a matter of scale. In the US, these kind of problems directly have a big scale, while in Europe it’s one country at a time which is much smaller.

Patrick: Yeah, totally. I don’t know. We’ll solve all the problems in the world one day. Right? That’s what we’ll do.

Jeroen: Yeah, we will.

Patrick: If more of us have the will. So I knew Aaron Schwartz a bit here in the States, who was a big advocate for dissemination of knowledge and things like that. I think that the one thing I learned by observing his story and just basically being in his presence more, was basically that we have a lot of skills and a lot of really powerful ideas in the tech community and it’s really important to apply those things to marketing automation and building a business.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean, there’s a lot of value there and it’s going to make us a good living, but there’s a lot of things that we can be doing either just through conversations or through building technology eventually, or when we’ve quote-unquote made it. Dedicating time or money to these other things that are going to not make the world a better place in the sense of curing cancer, but are going to make the world a better place by just making people’s lives easier. I think we need to dedicate more time to that in general.

Jeroen: Yep, I agree. Slowly wrapping up. What was the latest good book you’ve read and why did you choose to read it? Was it about politics or was it about something else?

Patrick: No, I actually read Radical Candor. Have you heard of that one?

Jeroen: Nope.

Patrick: It’s a book about a woman’s journey, who worked at Google. It was just a really good book on communication because at 45 people, we’re starting to reach the size where there’s definitely different personalities in the office. I picked this book up because frankly, we have one executive who is very direct. If he likes something or doesn’t like something, he’s not going to sugar coat it. He’s going to be respectful, but for some people who are more sensitive, it comes off as aggressive, right?

Then we have another exec in the office who has everything that comes off as positive. Even when he’s giving you negative feedback, it’s almost like, “Oh, he actually liked what I did, but he wanted me to tweak it a bit.” In reality he’s trying to say, “This was really bad. It can’t happen again.” He’s not quite saying that.

I’m explaining it a little bit more dramatically than reality, but this book really kind of bridges the gap of how should you be giving feedback or how should you be communicating. The idea is Radical Candor, which is on a very basic level. I’m not going to do it justice. Making sure your team knows you’re in a really good place, but not sugar coating things and making sure they realize that this is good or this is bad because you don’t want to leave ambiguity with those types of things.

Jeroen: How does it work? You kind of make them feel that they can make mistakes but still when they do, you honestly communicate about it?

Patrick: Yeah, I think. I mean, for some people, this is going to come off super obvious. But what I’ve found at least and this isn’t necessarily the core of the principle, but it’s at least a nice little tactic that came from it, is when I’m about to give someone feedback, I attempt to make them feel safe — which I know sounds kind of wishy washy.

For example, I’ll be like, “Hey, I know your heart was in a really good place. You did this really quickly, but this can’t happen again. This part. We can’t do this.” Even that little tweak, it helps even mildly, you know; not soften the blow necessarily, but it helps in basically showing the person, that, “Hey, I know you’re well intentioned, but this was still bad.” Right?

When you were saying, “Hey, this is bad”, a lot of people’s reaction is, “Well, I’m trying,” or, “I worked really hard,” or those types of things. It makes the landing of that feedback really negative. They make it feel really personal because it’s like, “Well, I worked really hard on this and I thought about it and it still can be bad,” but it’s one of those things where you’re recognizing the effort at least, or that their heart was in the right place.

Jeroen: Yeah, got it. That’s really good! Is there anything you wish you’d have known when you started out with ProfitWell?

Patrick: I think there’s a lot of little things. I think the biggest thing that I need to keep reminding myself of, is that growth takes time, or just building takes time. When you have a vision, you’re like, “Well, the vision’s there. Why isn’t it happening? It’s in my head.” Right? It’s right there! Why aren’t we all on the same page?

I think it’s just one of those things where it just takes time. I think the other thing is that people are not complicated necessarily, but when something’s in your head, it doesn’t mean it’s in someone else’s head. You saying it once doesn’t mean that they get it or that it’s being imbued in their work. You have to keep repeating and you have to keep aligning the team essentially.

Jeroen: Yeah, so it’s all about communicating and having patience?

Patrick: Yeah.

Jeroen: Cool. Thanks again, Patrick for being on Founder Coffee. It was really great to get these insights from you!

Patrick: Thanks, man. This was great! I normally don’t get to talk about this type of stuff so I appreciate it.

Jeroen: That’s good to hear!

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Jeroen Corthout