In part one of my conversation with Ivan Matkovic, the founder and CEO of Spendgo, he told us about his marketing platform that helps retailers and restaurants offer a first class engagement experience to their customers.
In this second part of our conversation, he talks about how his idea transformed from a simple thought in college to a robust solution for small and mid-sized businesses—and how although his company was prepared for the shift to remote work, he sees problems down the road for new startups.
More information: https://www.spendgo.com/
Ivan is the CEO and Founder of Spendgo, a leading loyalty and marketing solution for restaurants and retailers. He is an experienced executive within the technology, marketing, and hospitality industries.
Ivan is a firm believer that you start with customer experience and then define your solution stack from there.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Ivan Matkovic 0:00
Why, why am I dealing with paper receipts and my roommate sold his car, I took what money I had. And my marketing professor gave me a few $1,000. And I was like, I’m gonna go solve this receipt problem.
Alexander Ferguson 0:24
Ivan, I’m excited to continue our conversation now hearing more about your journey as a leader. 10 years you’ve been running this business, I imagine it’s not been the same as you started out. In my talk to me about like, how has it evolved? How has it changed, you tell me about your story.
Ivan Matkovic 0:42
So my favorite story to tell is actually where I started Sango. So it was out of college, my parents would make me fill out expense reports when I spent their money, and I got to do whatever I wanted with my money, but their money, I better get an expense report before the end of the month, so they can approve the truck checks otherwise. And, you know, it was out of that, you know, the Apple store really brought like digital receipts and some e commerce features in store for the first time. And I was like, Why? Why am I dealing with paper receipts, and my roommate sold his car, I took what money I had, and my marketing professor gave me a few $1,000. And I was like, I’m gonna go solve this receipt problem. And, you know, built this awesome digital receipt tool, and I was gonna, you know, go be Mark Zuckerberg or whatever. And what I found out was, oh, shoot, integrating with point of sale systems is really hard. I wish I had done that first. And that was really the inspiration for how we got into creating a patent and solving for the integration problem first. From there, what we found was, you know, some of these features and capabilities just weren’t enough on their own. So that’s when we pivoted about four years ago to being really a marketing solution and marketing company, you know, early on, we’re just trying to figure out the tech and you know, getting some initial buy in, but I’d say four years ago is really when we said hey, we’re going to be a loyalty marketing engagement company. And I’m seeing a lot of success from there
Alexander Ferguson 2:22
that you mentioned, a patent patented technology that’s like one of your core abilities that definitely differentiates you. It’s a great way to then take something you’ve invested in and then pivot to a new opportunity. Yeah, exactly. For for that initial growth, okay, your clients that you get on for the first part of the company that goes into the second, I mentioned that they can transition. Can you is there any learnings that you can share of being able to scale up and get more clients any tactics that you’re like, Okay, this really worked another entrepreneur.
Ivan Matkovic 2:54
Yeah, so for us, we’re on the b2b side. So our tactics are very different than someone who’s selling b2c. What we found was relationships and referrals, from other folks that people in the organization already trusted made a difference. And it’s theirs. In a b2b sale, it’s very similar to fundraising to a degree, right? They want an introduction and somebody who can vouch for you, you have to make a compelling business case. And you also everyone asks you, well, if Google does it, why would we you know, what, what is their stopping Google from doing it? Right? And, you know, everyone, every customer says, What is the stock XYZ big company and us just using their feature instead of yours? So you kind of always have to make the same pitch and same case, it’s very similar in that sense, and no one buys on the first day, right? So a lot of times, you’re pitching them this year, hoping that next year, they’re going to say, yes. So you know, what we found is that relationship building was still the most effective. You know, especially the mid market and enterprise side, on the SMB front, it really comes down to scaling partners, and making sure that your solution is easy for the partner to sell. A lot of times people forget about, you know, oh, this is going to be a great partnership. If only you sold this to X percent of your existing customers, he would kill it. Right? And, you know, we really taken the approach of well, who’s that salesperson at this organization, calling the customer at the end of the day? And how do we make it compelling for them? How do we make them look good? And that’s always how we think about it. When we approach a partnership,
Alexander Ferguson 4:41
those are two really powerful things First, on the larger side, when you’re approaching them, it’s it’s the relationships and not assuming that in three or six months, you’ll like our sale done. It could be a year or longer and it’s just keeping up with them. The SMB having those partners I’m imagining it’s other distributors as the selling point of sale or other
Ivan Matkovic 5:05
payments or online ordering things that you know, we are a great add on for a natural partner for.
Alexander Ferguson 5:13
And you’re like getting in the mindset of that that sales person, how can you make down? That’s what you found as was the winner?
Ivan Matkovic 5:20
Yeah, exactly. If that person doesn’t say it, then it doesn’t matter, right? I can have the best relationship in the world with the executive team, that person on the front line isn’t thinking about us and isn’t going, these guys are going to help me win deals, they make me look good. You know, they’re not going to bring you into any conversation, right? You, you know that that person’s thinking, I want to look good to this customer, so that they tell the next guy that we’re awesome, and make my next sale easier, right. And, you know, getting that first deal together is really, really hard. But once you get the first few and if customers are happy word spreads in the sales organization. So it’s about building that initial success and being really high touch to make sure the first ones go home. There’s no shortcut. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do the hard work. And that’s that’s the best shortcut there is.
Alexander Ferguson 6:19
Yeah, we all wish for something else a different answer. Yeah, that’s that’s the truth of it. Now, your job as a leader is to be able to build the organization that that can happen. How is the team of all how many team members do you have today?
Ivan Matkovic 6:32
So we are 15 people that work directly on what’s Vango. But the team scales up to about 50, depending on what the requirements are for customers,
Alexander Ferguson 6:43
gotcha. Any tips and thoughts that you can share on developing a good team that can execute on the vision?
Ivan Matkovic 6:50
Yeah, so we’re super lucky and that our technical leadership actually started with us in the US, and then they ended up moving overseas, and were able to open an overseas office with someone that we had a great relationship with, with someone that we trust it to manage folks, it’s really a, we feel a big differentiator for us, because most organizations that hire overseas development that tends to be looked down upon. For us, we haven’t found the same drop off of effectiveness. And for us, you know, we have a great relationship between our US development team and our overseas one, because we have a few core people that really facilitate that communication. And, you know, we basically get the advantage of we’re developing 24 hours a day, like we’re non stop, because it’s just a seamless handoff and transition between organizations. Not everyone gets that. So, you know, the probably the lesson is finding people that you really trust and have relationships with to build remote offices or remote teams like that. Nowadays, you know, and this is something we’re starting before. COVID is really this notion of complete remote work. So no notion of, you know, San Francisco versus Indian developers just a development team. And there’s no home base, right. That’s something we’ve been moving to prior to COVID. So it was an easy transition for us. But what I find is it really comes down to how committed the management is to remote work, right? And if the management still going into office, well, there’s going to be an implicit bias towards going into office, because you’re going to get noticed, and you’re going to get the promotion where someone else won’t, if you’re really committed to that remote work concept. The management and the hiring decision makers need to also be remote.
Alexander Ferguson 8:50
Looking forward, what challenges do you see that you’re going to need to overcome for continued growth? Maybe even considering the circumstances? And what are your thoughts on that?
Ivan Matkovic 9:03
Yeah. You know, in a, in our industry, a lot of it is relationship based, like I said, and it’s really hard to build relationships remotely, right? You look like anyone, you know, to a degree, right? You’re all reaching out through this computer screen on LinkedIn. And it puts even more onus on referrals and reputation, which, you know, we fortunately built over time, right? And people like us, and, you know, no assholes on our team type of thing. And we’ve been able to build that, but if you’re brand new, I see that as a really big challenge, right, especially starting a new venture where you have to break through and be trusted against all the other people on the internet coming at the same time selling to the same person. And, you know, unfortunately, again, it comes comes down to the relationships and finding the best way to build those. So create value for the other person, I guess is not value from your product. But value in general, is really one way to set yourself apart.
Alexander Ferguson 10:13
Community communicating now completely remote, you made a good point of seemed like everyone else, it’s hard to stand out any thoughts on on kind of tactics that you think are going to work? Well moving forward to keep those relationships alive and the way you communicate?
Ivan Matkovic 10:29
Yeah, I mean, it’s something I like to use personally, is when I notice the brand that I’m engaging with, whether it be a partner or client, and I noticed them do something cool or interesting. I just congratulate them on that. Right? Everyone likes to be congratulated about something. And it’s not like the the BS, congratulations, you get on LinkedIn invites and are like, Oh, I’ve seen your business do really successful in, you know, insert company name here, right? It’s more about saying, Oh, I saw you launch a blog. That’s awesome. Congratulations, or I really liked this piece of content that you published and reference the content specifically. You know, again, like it, it’s not trying to hack everything, right, and do like just the quick volume game. Especially on the mid market and enterprise, it’s really about standing out and providing something genuine and people can smell through it.
Alexander Ferguson 11:33
And this is everyone’s moving to digital. There’s just so much now of that.
Ivan Matkovic 11:37
Yeah, the number of lead gen companies that reach out to me about how many new deals I’m going to sign and this great list and that great list. It’s just unbelievable.
Alexander Ferguson 11:49
So talking about how you learn as a leader, are there any good books, audio books, podcasts that you would recommend or you found has been helpful?
Ivan Matkovic 11:59
No. So you know, it’s probably a lot of my reading is probably tied up in more article based content as opposed to books, it’s, you know, finding case studies or examples of people doing something interesting. That’s really more of a short form factor content is what I found to be effective for me on the reading side, you know, but I still like reading The Economist and all that just keep up to date on things. In terms of podcasts, I like to listen to the startup chat. It’s a great like, you know, SAS podcast, they talk about different subjects in 15 minute increments, so really digestible. And then you can always dive deeper from there, you know, reading a blog about it, or something like that. But it just kind of gets you going and kind of starts the rabbit hole about a subject that you might be interested in. And then the last thing I like to listen to, it’s not really business oriented, but it’s a podcast from box called the weeds. It’s really dive into different subjects and just kind of break it down and analyze it. I’m a little bit of a nerd. So it’s nice to just see someone break down a subject that has nothing to do with what I’m doing and see the questions that they’re asking, and how can I take that same approach to my own problems? Right, I really am a big believer in breaking out of my day to day routine, and listening about other problems and learning how people are solving other problems and see how I can take that to solve my
Alexander Ferguson 13:28
last question I have for you avant is what kind of tech innovations you predict we’ll see in the near term next year. So and in the long term, 510 years.
Ivan Matkovic 13:37
Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest, I was really big on augmented reality prior to COVID. I mean, but now with people kind of staying at home. You know, it’s really interesting how this kind of flip the switch to more virtual reality is being kind of what I’m more, I guess, aggro about in terms of next steps and engagement. I felt like, you know, people organically like to engage in the real world, right? That would be their preference. And I always kind of felt like the innovations and augmented reality, we’re going to outpace virtual reality. But with people stuck at home, you know, maybe that switches and with people working from home more often, maybe that switches in terms of which one really progresses, you know, as the kind of dominant engagement form factor. I mean, both are going to exist, right. But, you know, I always felt like augmented technology was going to outpace virtual reality.
Alexander Ferguson 14:43
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