Episode #264: Sammy Courtright, Ten Spot, “How Do We Get People To Feel Like They Work For The Same Company When They’re No Longer In The Same Place?”
Guest: Sammy Courtright is the co-founder of Ten Spot, a startup uniting teams around common interests or collaborative projects, combining virtual experiences with sophisticated engagement tools to create perfect space for building a strong culture.
Date Recorded: 9/30/2020
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Summary: In episode 264, we welcome our guest, Sammy Courtright, co-founder of Ten Spot. In today’s episode, we’re talking about workforce engagement and solving some of the problems with distributed teams.
Sammy tells us the backstory of Ten Spot and the re-branding process they’ve gone through to focus on technology to help the company streamline and scale. She explains the business model, how important it is with the modern workforce to make sure teams are engaged and connecting, and how Ten Spot is bringing engagement to the table. We discuss what’s on the horizon for the company, including some thoughts on international expansion.
As the conversation winds down, Sammy shares the difficulty of navigating 2020, which not only includes trying to run the business, but extends to securing critical funding.
All this and more in episode 264 with Ten Spot’s Sammy Courtright.
Links from the Episode:
- 0:40 – Sponsor: Capsule
- 1:31 – Intro
- 2:38 – Welcome to our guest, Sammy Courtright
- 6:25– Overview of TechStars and signing up for it
- 8:14 – Early stages of the company
- 8:29 – The Meb Faber Show Podcast – Episode #97: Phil Nadel, “If You Try to Pick Winners, and You Only Invest in a Handful of Companies, Odds Are You’re Going to Lose Your Money”
- 8:53 – How Ten Spot company looked before TechStars
- 10:38 – Least and most popular offerings early on for the company
- 12:36 – Securing the domain and rebranding
- 14:25 – What 2020 has been like for Ten Spot
- 16:28 – How the company offering works
- 18:57 – Business model
- 20:20 – New offerings for existing or new customers
- 20:59 – How to Make a Career Pandemic-Proof
- 22:36 – Opportunity to create master classes and influencers through their platforms
- 23:53 – Future plans for the platform
- 25:29 – How involved they are with companies using their platform
- 26:26 – International expansion strategy
- 28:45 – Celebrities’ willingness to jump on during the pandemic
- 29:19 – Most challenging parts of expanding
- 31:49 – Most memorable moments of building the company
- 33:55 – Fundraising for the company
- 35:52 – Advice for other founders
- 38:09 – Learn more: tenspot.com Promo Code: Meb for 10% off; on Social at: facebook, Instagram @tenspot, LinkedIn, twitter @tenspot, YouTube, or email Sammy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Transcript of Episode 264:
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Meb: What’s up, friends? Great show today. Our guest is the co-founder of Ten Spot. Ten Spot’s a start-up uniting teams around common interests or collaborative projects combining virtual experiences with sophisticated engagement tools to create perfect space for building a strong culture, particularly useful in 2020.
There’s a special offer for listeners show visit tenspot.com for more information request a demo. Make sure you say “Meb” to get 10% off for the end of the year. In today’s episode, we’re talking about workforce engagement and solving some of the problems with distributed teams. Everyone’s remote today. We get into the backstory of Ten Spot and the rebranding process they’ve gone through to focus on technology to help the company streamline and scale.
We talked about the business model, how important it is with the modern workforce to make sure teams are engaged and connecting. And now, Ten Spot is bringing engagement to the table. We discuss what’s on the horizon with the company, including some thoughts on international expansion. This conversation one down.
We chat about the exceptional difficulty of navigating 2020 which not only includes trying to run a business but extends to securing funding too. Please enjoy this episode with Ten Spot’s, Sammy Courtright. Sammy, welcome to the show.
Sammy: Hi, thanks for having me. How you doing?
Meb: I’m great. I’m here in the land of milk and honey, LA, which used to be home for you. But now we’re in the world are you?
Sammy: In Manhattan, New York, in the thick of it.
Meb: Give me the boots on the ground update what’s going on in Manhattan? Because I see all these like idyllic pictures. I feel like zombie apocalypse for a while. And now I see these photos and it looks amazing, actually.
Sammy: So reporting live from the Lower East Side as I look out my window there is outdoor dining. There is a lot of people hustling and bustling around. You know what? The city is coming back to life. To your point, yes, it did look like a zombie apocalypse for quite a few months here. I have to say, staying in the city throughout this whole thing has been transformative.
I wish I set up my camera like in the corner of my apartment to measure traffic and cars, etc. Because I’m right near the Brooklyn Bridge. But I didn’t, but now it’s picking back up. We’re getting that traffic. The horns honking, it feels a little bit more like the old New York.
Meb: This is gonna be a lot of fun. Let’s rewind a little bit pre-New York. Give me a little bit of the two-minute origin story up till Fit Spot. What were you up to? Give me a quick summary.
Sammy: So I’m from Australia originally. Have you been there, Meb?
Meb: Whereabouts? I’ve been twice, both times pretty excellent. Byron Bay, one of my favourite places on the planet. Feels very California-ish. But the other time I said…you know what? I used to travel a lot. And I said, I’m just gonna pretend like I’m a local for like two weeks in Melbourne. And it kind of felt like home. I mean, it was a lot of California vibe to it. I loved it. Great country.
Sammy: I’m from Sydney. So close. Just a short plane ride away from Melbourne. But yes, so from Australia originally, I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 to go to college, to University of Miami, in Florida, not Ohio. After graduating, I moved out to Los Angeles. That’s when I started a jewellery company. I exited that after two years. Met my co-founder, Jonathan, and we started working on what was Fit Spot and now Ten Spot. And then we moved around a lot in this kind of gets into the journey of the company.
We moved to Atlanta to participate in TechStars. We were the first cohort to go through the Atlanta program, which was incredible. And then we stayed there, which we thought was supposed to be for 90 days. It ended up being two years and then moved to New York, and here we are.
Meb: Awesome. Well, let’s spend a little more time on that. What was the origin story? Fit Spot at the time, you guys, what was the initial inspiration?
Sammy: With Fit Spot, we were bringing on-site services to workplaces. So anything from comedy classes, to happy hours, to yoga, group fitness, you kind of name it, we deliver these really unique community-driven experiences on site. And that is what we went with through TechStars. And then as you can imagine, the name Fit Spot alludes to just physical fitness, right? That’s immediately what you think of.
And we needed a name that wasn’t so limiting, especially as you get on cold calls with sales prospects, and you’re seeing Fit Spot and they’re like, “Oh, physical fitness.” And you’re like, “No, we do all these other wonderful things. It’s a lot more diverse, the programming.” So we landed on Ten Spot. And yeah, we recently rebranded in July of this year.
We actually came up with the name in October of last year. But with the pandemic, it seemed a little insensitive to go through that entire rebrand in March, when it was slated to be released. So now we’re Ten Spot. And we have really focused because the onsite service component is, frankly, not happening at the moment. We really began to focus on our technology offering. So we’re a workforce engagement platform. We help companies connect, engage and manage their distributed teams.
Meb: All right, so we’re gonna drill down into all those things we started talking about. TechStars, for those who aren’t familiar that are listening, give us a brief overview of the program, you guys applied? What was the criteria of what they’re looking for? It’s kind of all over the world, right? They have outposts in a number of different cities. Give us a kind of overview of everything going on with that program.
Sammy: Yeah. And it’s grown dramatically. Like I said, when we were going through the application process, I believe we initially first applied for TechStars, Chicago. And then we were referred to the Atlanta program, because it was one of the first programs that’s getting started in Atlanta. They didn’t have anything in LA at the time, isn’t it so ironic? And so we moved to Atlanta, and then literally like a year later, they have all these incredible programs with Disney, etc. And we were like, “Oh, cool.”
The TechStars program was in partnership with Cox Communications. I guess part of the interview process is you do a video interview like this. You talk about your company, what you’re doing, traction. Essentially walk them through a pitch deck, if you will. And then you do in-person interviews. So, I went out to Atlanta and got to meet the directors that were leading up the program.
And then from there, you have a few other conversations with other folks on the TechStars team. And then they let you know that you got accepted. It was incredible. So the program is 90 days. But to be honest, when we hit demo day after the 90th day, they were like, “Hey, we have this office space that we had been working in for the 90-day program. And it’s available until the next cohort starts. Would you wanna hang out?”
And we were like, “Yes, we would.” You never say no to free office space. And we would also get exposure to some of the other companies that hung around Atlanta as well as the network that we had started to build. It was a wonderful and a really life-changing opportunity for our company, also as a founder to go through it.
Meb: That part of the country, I love Atlanta. It was supposed to be in Georgia and South Carolina this past summer, but postponed. All right, so TechStars and you guys had bootstrapped I guess at this point. Had you started to raise some funding? Where were you kind of the process of building the company?
Sammy: So, TechStars in particular, I’ll use that as the example, they do invest in your business. We actually, so, Phil Nadel, who is previous guest on your show. He’s the reason why we’re connected today. He was involved as one of our earlier investors. So forefront ventures was involved with Fit Spot.
So at that stage, yeah, we had raised a smaller round. And yeah, we were really just getting some traction, throwing some fuel on the fire, building out that sales and marketing team and growing from there.
Meb: Talk to me a little bit about the pre-Ten Spot rebranding and then current world. So what did the product look like at the time? You mentioned, I think some of the customers may have been either companies, or commercial real estate, I believe. Is that both? Kind of walk through kind of what it looked like, and the offering, and kind of the build-out and sort of the overview of the biz?
Sammy: So you’re absolutely right, we sold to two different channels. We sold two companies directly and then we found a really effective way for us to scale sales, was to sell two commercial properties. It was the same offering. However, the language for the commercial properties at the time, they felt like they were very much competing against the WeWorks, The Industrious’, all of these incredible collaborative co-working spaces.
And they wanted to have similar amenities. They just couldn’t afford to necessarily redesign their entire property, to have it cost a lot of money. So they were looking for a very quick, efficient scalable amenities partner, and that is what Fits Spot offered. We sold to both of those channels and the offering, so we had the on-site services. Anything from group fitness classes, educational workshops, corporate headshots, happy hours, you kind of name it.
We deliver these really fun and customized experiences on-site for companies or for the commercial property to participate in. And we had a technology tool that manage the whole thing. We’re nationwide, work with over 450 customers at this stage. Our technology component was there to streamline and scale the entire operational side of give either commercial property or head of HR, Chief of Staff, whoever was responsible on the company side the visibility into the metrics behind the services that we’re providing. What type of engagement are we seeing? What’s the happiness?
Meb: What were some of the outstanding or most popular offerings? Because I’m always surprised, imagine you guys have done dozens of different sort of amenities and benefits, and activities. What were some of the most popular? What were some of the least popular?
Sammy: We did have a fool proof plan with this. So we rarely did the least popular because we surveyed the entire demographic prior to putting together their programs. So we definitely weren’t flying blind there.
So we tend to deliver what people would want show up to and then told us that they would show up to. So some of the most popular services, let’s start there. You can never do wrong with any type of happy hour, anything that involves alcohol. Let’s be real. People thoroughly enjoyed those.
And it’s beyond just a happy hour and serving booze, we always tried to add an additional layer of icebreakers or community building throughout it. So we’d have an emcee or plant or someone there that would bring people together, get conversations started so that people could cross-pollinate and get to know one another. People that worked on different floors in different departments.
So happy hour’s wildly popular, any type of professional or personal development is still today, and this is something, you know, as we go through this pandemic, and was extremely popular. People want to learn how to improve their skills improve themselves at work. So those were really popular, least popular programs.
Meb: Pottery class.
Sammy: Yeah, I guess if you don’t have extremely vocal individuals. So we switched that into a stand-up comedian doing a set, a 30-minute set or an hour set. That was fun. But we did do one, a puppy adoption event combined with a yoga class. And the idea initially from the customer was, “Hey, let’s have the puppies intermingling. That’s how people will get to know them, love them, and want to adopt them.”
And, in theory, I was like, that sounds so adorable. Then there’s people doing yoga, and there’s chaos, just total chaos. Dogs everywhere, going to the bathroom on people’s yoga mats. I mean, everyone was very good humoured about it. But then we ended up putting up the puppy pen, and then people would go over to the puppy fence. That was a little bit smelly.
Meb: All right, so this is going well. You’re building it out. You’re raising money. I wanna hear about the rebranding, because that’s a good domain that cost you guys an arm and a leg. And then I’m gonna tell you a funny story afterwards unrelated to you guys, but great domain. How’d you guys get it?
Sammy: I was gonna tell you, I know that you love domains because I listened to some of your previous episodes. You’re gonna die when I tell you how much we spent to get tenspot.com. We spent $5,000. Just for everyone listening, that is very nominal for a domain, it was taken at the time. So, you know, timing is kind of everything with this, in particular the domain world.
And right when we were interested, this is back in October of 2019. When we were interested in the name and excited to see if it was available, it was going up for that renewal process where it enters this abyss. And if the owner doesn’t claim it within 90 days, then it gets sent out to a bidding war and anyone can take it. We were interested right at that time. And we put in a bid and we got it.
Meb: Funny story, long-time listeners know I’m full of terrible ideas. And one of which many years ago was, I love the site, which is now a much bigger site and much more developed, Fiverr where you could pay anyone five bucks to do anything. And at the time, it was only five bucks. Now they’ve got all price levels. But it was like the seven-minute ABS for me. I was like, “Why not raise it to like 20 bucks? People will do a lot more stuff for 20 bucks than for 5.”
And so I was trying to get 20 Spot. And the guy squatting on I mean, this has to be five, seven years ago, was a cafe in San Francisco. And it probably still exists. I have no idea. And I kept peppering him with offers and ideas. He’s like, “Dude, just go away. I’m happy. I have this café. Everyone loves it.” So shout out to the 20 Spot crew if you’re listening.
Anyway, that idea went nowhere, as usual. So I was smiling when I saw you guys do the rebrand. So you’re now Ten Spot. Fall of 2019, the future looks bright. And then the new decade turns the corner. Walk me through what this year has been like? I know it probably feels like a whole decade wrapped in a year. Nine months, we still got three to go. I keep jinxing myself. Tell me about this year. Tell me about the company, what you guys have been up to.
Sammy: Sure. So, right as I mentioned in October of last year, we were like Ten Spot. This is it. This is the future. We know that this is gonna be our name. We want to tweak our business strategy because my co-founder and I, we began hiring like mad and we were hiring people all across the U.S. and we recognized the same issues that we were facing with distributed teams our customers were facing.
And that question inevitably is well, how do we get people to feel like they work for the same company when they’re no longer in the same place? And that kind of draws us very nicely into the environment that we are in today. We really wanted to focus on the technology component.
Our tech has always existed but it was making it more robust. So that distributed teams, the people that weren’t able to experience our services on site were able to join in and still feel like they were part of the community that we were creating. All of the services that we previously hosted on site are now available VR platform. But we have this additional layer added to it where you and I, for example, could create a group.
And we could participate in a service together. Whether it’d be a cooking class, a comedy show, you kind of name it, we could participate together as that group. We could compete against other groups. We could sync wearable devices if it’s a group fitness class. We could…we have leader boards and all of these other engaging shout outs, elbows, instead of high fives, to encourage people to connect along the way.
So, we’ve really focused on making our technology more elaborate to accommodate the current circumstance. And it’s been really exciting opportunity, because my co-founder, John, and I felt like all the data indicates that distributed teams aren’t going anywhere. And this was even back in 2019. But throw in a global pandemic, and we’re really excited to solve this problem.
Meb: Walk through the offering. Tell me what the focus is. Is it companies? Is it still partnerships with commercial real estate? We were probably a half remote team going into this and they’re 90% remote now. But is it big companies, small companies? And then kind of walk through how they would on-board? And is it tailored? Is there a set outline of ideas? Give me the whole kit and caboodle?
Sammy: Absolutely. So, let’s start from the sales process. Who would we go after first? To your point, yeah, companies are still very relevant as our commercial properties. When we sell to companies, there are the usual suspects. So the folks that get culture, have distributed teams, and understand why this is important, an important offering to have. But then on the other side of this, through this pandemic we’ve recognized companies that have never had distributed teams ever.
Think law firms, accounting firms that are like, “What is this new world? How do we operate? Our employees are asking for something, we don’t know how to deliver it, how are we gonna get people together?” So we’ve kind of been able to service both of those sides. And that’s been a really interesting observation throughout this. So we walk you through the sales, demo products, etc., and you sign the deal. And now you are a Ten Spot customer. So on-boarding wise, you get an invite code 10 Spot 123.
And you set yourself up and you have access to our entire platform. So when you log into the platform, yes, you get access to over 30 live and on-demand services per week. You also have the ability there to make connections. If you’re new to the company, you’re paired with a buddy and they can participate in particular services with you. You can shadow them for a couple of days on the job.
There’s peer-to-peer learning opportunities. If you find that I’m really good at UX UI. I’m not, but hypothetically, I’m really good at UX UI and I can run a 15-minute tutorial on tips and tricks that I’ve learned that my peers can observe. You can do all of that through our platform.
So there’s like that new employee connections that we’re facilitating. And then if you’re already an employee at the company, we have wonderful tracks for you to explore what content most interests you, and new groups that you can be a part of, affinity groups that you can create, we have our book club, available on there as well that people tune into.
As the employer, so as the individual that is paying for these services for your employees to have access too, you get information on employee sentiment, ENPS. We are pulling engaging what people are doing on our platform day-to-day so you can learn a little bit more about what’s working and what is not working rather. Yes, so that’s all facilitated via our offering.
Meb: Let’s say I on-board in what’s the kind of business model? Is that a headcount per subscription? Is it different tiers? I mean, it sounds like you get a little bit of the full buffet when you sign up. Tell me a little bit about the business model for all those CEOs listening?
Sammy: Per employee per month is the pricing model here. However, to your point, yes, you do get access to a really robust offering. We do have other integrations such as Will which is a mindfulness and resilience platform. We integrate with them as well as the Pongo and nutritional program. So for an up-sell, if you will, you can have access, or rather your employees can have access to wonderful third party partners that we integrate with that we really feel are the masters in their domain.
Meb: What’s sort of the sweet spot for you guys as far as companies, is it infinitely harder to on-board someone who has 1,000 or 10,000 employees versus someone who has 10? Is there a minimum size you guys target? What’s sort of the overview of who the ideal customer is as well as you were interested in signing up there listening?
Sammy: Two hundred and fifty to 5,000 employees is our sweet spot. If we get above that, we would talk about, “Hey, let’s get involved with a particular department first.” So hypothetically, if we were to work with a Salesforce, we ideally would like to start with, say, the marketing team, the sales team and really build that flywheel internally, and then be able to expand our product across the entire company. But 250 plus employees.
Meb: It seems obvious, of course, that companies would want to integrate something like this, particularly where 2020 is going. Do you have any insights or feedback on building this out as far as surprises or not surprises on the actual offering with the companies as you’ve started to on-board a bunch of these, where they’re more interested, or the people love certain aspects of it. Any general overview thoughts you can give us?
Sammy: We have noticed a real interest in this peer-to-peer learning, which has really excited us. And we’re kind of obsessed with this idea moving forward. People want to learn. And I read this hectic article on “The Wall Street Journal” about how you, in order to remain relevant in your job, you have to renew your skills every four years. And that’s really expensive to go back to school.
And then, if you’re going back to school, and hypothetically doing that full time, not being in the job market, where you get exposure to practice those skills, and also it cost a lot of money to go back to school is a real conflict. So we think there’s a really interesting opportunity and things that we’ve learned that people are interested in is a lot around personal and professional development.
And we think that internally at a lot of companies, your colleagues have some of those skills that you might want to obtain. And whether it be through job shadowing, or pure masterclasses, or even just a webinar hosted by one of your colleagues that might be the head of the department or even not just an expert in particular topics, we’ve really noticed a desire to learn from one another through our platform.
And I think that if running this business, that is something that I try to pay attention to as well. I think who on my team could run one of these? What is my team interested in learning more about? How can I improve and develop and grow their skills? So that’s been a really interesting observation. I think as well, as we move to this distributed teams aren’t going anywhere. We know this. This is the future. And it’s the now, people still want to be connected.
People want to like where they work, they want to get to know the people that they work with. We’ve noticed so many people facilitating these groups and interactions with one another so they can feel like they’re having those watercooler conversations that inevitably no longer exist, but can happen through our platform. So this would be a couple of the more interesting takeaways.
Sammy: The internal sort of masterclass idea is a really thoughtful one. It combines the psychological trait of people that are there, the current employees who are clearly good at what they do because they’re still employed, nothing people like doing more than being the expert and teaching like, “Hey, look, this is how to do this.” But you have so many companies where a new employee comes on, and you’re starting to see this more with internal slacks, and wikis, and ideas, and they’re just thrown in the fire.
And they’re like, “I have no idea what to do.” And the ability to have sort of that internal series of shadowing and getting to learn from other people seems so obvious, but I don’t know hardly any companies that do it. They have a training maybe where they just put you with someone, but rarely is it actual a fair amount of content.
Meb: We agree, we think there’s a really interesting opportunity in this space and something that we’re diving in now with our current customers that have requested more of it or have asked to host or be featured. And it creates a really awesome influencer network that previously people associate influencers as people on Instagram or more of that B2C play. But these are like the B2B influencers that genuinely can contribute to career development and growth. There’s a reason why it doesn’t exist. And we’re going to figure out that part. It’s a really interesting opportunity to bite into.
Meb: 2020 has been quite a year so far. We’re here, we’re recording this the last day of September. So we’re turning the page on the final. As you look to the horizon, what’s going on with you guys as far as future plans build out? Is the tech mostly built? Do you spend a lot of time on the content? Is it focus on on-boarding new customers? What’s kind of the next 3, 6, 12 look like?
Sammy: There is the request for international expansion. As you can imagine, that doesn’t seem like a barrier as much as it used to be, especially when it was on-site services, there was more heavier logistics involved with international expansion. Now, it’s just a click of the button. That’s really exciting opportunity for us. In regards to the technology, of course, it’s always iterating, always growing, and building. But we do have majority of it built out.
And as we explore different avenues such as the peer-to-peer learning, that’s really where our customers kind of dictate the direction the features that they’re looking for to make it super successful. What else is on the horizon for us? The opportunities are pipelining. I’m super pumped that during this pandemic, and I know it’s unfortunate and fortunate that we’ve built such an incredible pipeline of companies that are genuinely looking for solutions.
I feel like when the pandemic initially started, everyone was like, “Quick pick your tools. Now’s your time.” And it was like, Zoom, shove it down your throat and all these other things. Let’s just try them all out. And now I think people are recognizing, okay, 2021, what do we want to be part of our tech stack? What does our company needs to have in order to be successful to manage, engage and connect our distributed teams? And we’re really excited to be part of that journey with a lot of our customers.
Meb: How does the content aspect…maybe talk to me a little more about that. Say we on-board and we wanna start doing some of the shadowing or masterclasses? Are you guys involved that much or is it simply like the tech is there and you can just start creating the company on their own just starts firing away? How does it actually work from a company standpoint?
Sammy: As you’re on-boarded, you have the option to have our account managers facilitate a lot of that pairing, if you will. So if we’re talking about the job shadowing pairing, it is an algorithm. So it’s part of our tech already, but if there’s specific pairs that you want to connect, we can facilitate that. Otherwise, it’s all done via our technology. You’re on boarded, and we understand your objectives, what you’re looking for.
Our tech begins learning your behaviours and understanding what you’re engaging with the most. And then we start putting you down the journey of like, “Hey, this is your learning. This is your fun. This is your Connect. This is your engaged.” And it takes you down a really nice path as a customer.
Meb: So thinking about 2021, thinking about expansion, how do you even make the distinction on international? Would you mentally say, “Look, we’re gonna expand specifically to Australia?” Or are you gonna say, “Hey, look, we’re just International. And if you’re located in South America, Africa, Europe, wherever just hit us up?” Is it like an intentional specific expansion into certain cities and geographies or how’s that work?
Sammy: We always start off with the initial dialogue with our current customers or customers that are interested in bringing this internationally. And it’s like, “Hey, where are you based there tends to be a theme.” It starts off in London, Europe, and then it’s like Asia, Australasia. It doesn’t really matter. But I’ll caveat that with, some of the content that we provide is available in the time zones of the U.S.
There would be some finessing, albeit everything’s available on demand. We have encore performances and programming available. There would be a conscious effort of catering and expanding those time zones to ensure that everyone across the world could be able to tune in live, if that’s what they so desire. Because the live is really engaging, where you can have those groups. You can chat with each other text and video chat while the service is taking place.
Unique elements to the live portion that we would hate for people to miss out on. So that would be probably one of the bigger factors. But besides that, not super complicated.
Meb: What does the rest of the year look like? You had any live things you’re particularly excited about? David Blaine coming on do a little magic. You’ve got Chappelle doing a little comedy. What’s the…
Sammy: You know what? Don’t joke because of COVID we’ve been able to get so many great people that are literally like, “Hey, I was supposed to be on tour and I’m not. Sure, I’ll open, you know, and do a set for Ten Spot.” It’s been pretty wild. So maybe not at the calibre that you’re discussing.
Meb: Well, it’s always a surprise. I mean, if you look at Cameo and all these people that are willing to do things, I mean, it’s like the old Fiverr 20 Spot idea willing to do things for not that much money. It’s always fascinating. So maybe you’re onto something there too.
Sammy: Have you done a cameo yet, as in paid for one?
Meb: I’ve received I’ve never commissioned one, but I’ve seen many and they’re great. Shooter McGavin was recently on that one, my family. Roger Stone, oddly enough, but the live stuff is interesting, because, you know, we used to do a ton of workplace activities. Ours is obviously much more casual because we have less than a dozen people.
So I always curious to me to see which ones people gravitate towards. Obviously, the booze is a no-brainer. It’ll be fun to see how this world develops. I mean, who knows? 2021 we call be holograms. At that point, I’m not sure. This is an answering transformation. You guys been at this for a few years the business, rock and roll and doing a little funding rounds, a little bit of a pivot evolution maybe. Not as much of a pivot, maybe an evolution.
Sammy: One would call it expanding the umbrella.
Meb: Umbrella is a hard metaphor in LA. It never rains here.
Sammy: I know if you know that thing that you put up when waterfalls from the sky, that?
Meb: People lose their mind here. Tell me some of the most challenging parts of this process. Anything in particular that comes to mind since the founding? What was the origin date? 2017.
Sammy: Yes, and I was thinking of challenges. This year particular, I mean, it’s been a really shitty year, there’s a global pandemic taking place. So much unemployment and health risks, and it’s been devastating. This year has been a challenge personally and professionally. It’s been really difficult. The positives that we’re really excited to be on the right side of the equation of this but it hasn’t been easy.
And there’s companies that went through even our TechStars cohorts that they couldn’t even make it past month one. If we just moved into this gorgeous office and everyone was together when we were having so much fun. And I know that sounds really petty. We’re fortunate to have our lives but that’s entirely gone. And you don’t really know when it’s coming back again. And that’s okay and you kind of have to be agile.
But navigating this year has been exceptionally difficult, and making sure that we’re able to keep our customers happy and providing value during this time, in a time where they are chopping everything that doesn’t either generate revenue or increase productivity. We’ve been really grateful to be included on that list. We’ve retained throughout this, 85% of our MRR. So we’re thrilled but it’s been shitty.
Meb: I was smiling as you said, “Can I curse?” Because my son who’s three isn’t wandering around his new phrases “dadgummit” because my mom is from North Carolina, I think he picked it up from my mom. That’s about as R rated as he gets that he knows how to say.
Sammy: I love it. It’s wild how they… I don’t have kids, but my friends that do, I said something like someone left his wife like it was talking confidentially to my friend and her kid was there. Now in school, “I left my wife, I left my wife.” And I’m like, “Oh my gosh. I just said it in passing. It was a story.” Now I’m being held accountable for this kid’s potential future divorces.
Meb: As you’re talking about the agony and ecstasy of being a founder, I feel like everyone, when you talk to entrepreneurs, when people are starting businesses, everyone comes into it knowing, or at least being told that it’s gonna be hard. It is, and you know, like, universally, it’s really hard. It’s like the hardest thing on the planet.
The fact that you guys are surviving is the biggest compliment that anyone could have, being around because like you mentioned, it’s a high attrition world pre-pandemic. Forget about actual pandemic occurring too. So that’s always a big compliment. We always say to people that at least you’re alive and functioning.
On the flip side, any particularly memorable moments of this journey, usually positive that could be negative too other than the struggles of 2020. Anything come to mind particularly memorable?
Sammy: Sure, we were really excited. We were working in a, to be honest, kind of crummy office in earlier 2019. It’s in the middle of Soho, so great location, but it was definitely a residential apartment that had been converted to an office space. And legally, in order for it to be an office space, you just have to have a couch in there. So we had this huge old couch sitting in the middle of this tiny office and people were sitting like two to a desk. It was terrible.
We had our investors let our series A round come in and one of them walks in and goes, “So when are you getting out of this place?” And we’re like, “Yeah, we feel the same way.” It wasn’t the easiest place to attract top talent because people care about the space that you’re in, and the energy that it creates. So we moved into this awesome space in Soho down the street from the previous one. But it was just a total upgrade.
And my co-founder and I looked at each other we had everyone in the space, we’re like, “This is awesome. This is what we wanted.” We want everyone together in the same space. We had a private telephone booth so people could actually have conversations and sales calls without being like, “Everyone. This is a big deal. Just psst, I got the decision-maker on the phone.” It made a huge difference.
And we’re finding ways now, ironically, of how we can emulate those moments that were in the workplace, and how can they happen virtually. But I don’t know why. But that indicated to us that we were like, we’ve done something right to be able to get an opportunity to bring everyone together like this. So that was a really memorable positive.
Meb: We’re going through a similar struggle and transition about office. For many years, we had the same office. And now I was looking at the zoning laws, I said, “Why can’t we just get like a beach house that everyone could go work in and out of just streaming.” Well, Meb, that’s probably illegal. So you’ve got to check. But going through some of those similar ideas and discussions here in LA, and thinking about what you want out of a space because where we used to have a lot of people coming in every day, we probably have less, but it will be more fluid kind of come and go.
Anyway, I love that part in New York. What was it like doing the fundraising? Was it easy, miserable? Did you have to talk to 200 different VCs? We get the full spectrum of experiences for people. How has the investors been as partners?
Sammy: If anyone tells you it’s easy, like I would love to meet those individuals, because there’s always a moment where it’s like, this feels like it’s going in the right direction. And then it either doesn’t or you have to take 2 steps back to make 20 steps forward. Anyway, my co-founder, John and I were living in Atlanta at the time. And we recognized that that is not where we needed to be to raise money we needed to be out in the bay or in New York. So we were traveling so much, hence the move to New York inevitably anyway.
So we camped out in San Francisco for three months, took and we said we’re not leaving until we wrap this up. So we brought carry-on suitcases. We holed up in the Holiday Inn and took as many meetings as possible. Our lead investors, Jazz Venture Partners out in the Bay Area are incredible partners to be working with.
They focus on human performance, which is obviously our total sweet spot. So we fit beautifully into their portfolio. It even actually opens up a wonderful partnership opportunities within other companies within their portfolio too. So they were great, but it’s no walk in the park. You learn so much from every meeting. I’ve never pulled an all-nighter in my entire life.
This is like on my user guide when people join the company. And we ask people like, “Tell us a little bit about yourself.” I’ve never pulled an all-nighter in my entire life. But I was like three to four hours out during a lot of those nights in San Francisco. Because we were there and we said, we’re going to be here, we wanted to back to back these meetings.
So if there were requests for specific data to be added to the room, we would be up all night throwing it in there so that we could have the meeting within 48 hours, so that we could keep the momentum going. You know, time kills all deals. It was a lot but we wrapped it up. And it was great. And we were so glad we landed on the partners that we have today.
Meb: Any suggestions for those going through it? You have the experience of doing both in incubator bootstrapping, as well as doing a traditional round for the companies, entrepreneurs listening to this, any general suggestions, things to do, things absolutely not to do?
Sammy: Like I said, I spoke really positively about my TechStars experience. I know that that is a limited opportunity. They only select 10 companies who are cohorts that might not be an opportunity that makes sense for you as a company, and that’s perfectly fine. A lot of the times I did hear people during my time there being like, “Oh, I’m not going to take that meeting, because they’re a little later stage from an investor perspective,” or, “I’m not going to take that meeting, because based on their portfolio, we don’t seem to be necessarily the right fit.”
And I was like why the hell not grow the network. Be smart with your time. Of course, if there are individuals that invest Series B and beyond and you’re having conversations now, then keep it a short, brief conversation, “We’ll stay in touch. I’ll keep you updated. I’ll give you notes on our quarterly reports.” Just stay in, keep those relationships going.
We found that the better that we were with that, John and myself, the easier it became when it came to the series A conversations. People were like, great to hear from you. Again, let’s set up a time it wasn’t a cold email. It was more of a warm or friendly, even keeping tabs on us. Let’s continue the dialogue. So I would say nurture those relationships and take the meetings especially early on. You never know where they’re gonna lead. They can introduce you to someone else.
So be careful with your time. But also, I would say build relationships.
Meb: Take the meeting advice is similar. We phrased in a slightly different way. We talked to so many young people in particular, who are afraid of making the effort of the outreach or want to avoid the embarrassment. A great example a former podcast guest offers in the investing world, was one of the most famous investors in the world. They’re all at a luncheon was sitting down in the spot sitting next to him was open because everyone’s too scared.
He said, you know making the effort just sit down and made a connection that he’s had for the rest of his life. So these sort of serendipitous moments, you never know just kind of showing up what you’ll find. And, Sammy, what is the minimum company size you guys will on-board?
Sammy: Two hundred and fifty employees.
Meb: You’re gonna have to make exception for us. We’re talking about this after the podcast. But where do people go? They wanna find out more information, they wanna get a demo on-board. What’s the right way to follow you guys, where you’re up to?
Sammy: Well, first and foremost, because we got tenspot.com you better go to that domain because we’re excited about it. Otherwise social media handles are also Ten Spot. I’m on LinkedIn. Sammy Courtright. My email is Sammy@tenspot.com. Shoot me a note. I would love to have a conversation.
Meb: Awesome. Sammy, thanks so much for joining us today.
Sammy: Thanks for having me. This was fun.
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