As an entrepreneur, Zvi Band had a pretty good thing going for himself. Back in 2009, just out of school, Zvi was working for a government, consulting firm but then started his own. Quickly, his client list included Ford, the New York Stock Exchange and Volkswagen to name a few. Although he knew the right people, he didn't feel like that was what he was meant to be doing. As an independent contractor, he constantly felt the need for an assistant to keep up with his contacts and maintain his relationships.
That's when the idea for Contactually was born. Founded in 2011 by Zvi Band, Contactually, now with 55 full-time employees, is an intelligent customer relationship management (CRM) platform to help professionals stay engaged with each other.
When starting Contactually, were there challenges or anything you didn't expect?
When you're starting a business you don't necessarily know who the target audience is going to be. For example, specifically for Contactually, I started it to create my own niche with entrepreneurs, but early on I started seeing all these real estate agents coming on board with the application. I knew nothing about real estate and had never worked in real estate, but we started experimenting and now real estate is one of the biggest industries that we service.
We're now considered one of the top CRM apps for real estate. We serve other industries too, but if you had told me when we started back in 2011 that we'd be one of the top CRMs for real estate, I would have asked you what a real estate agent does.
In terms of challenges, one the of the things that I really didn't expect is that early on we spent too much time thinking about how we'd get the company to survive another month or two or three, and not necessarily what we wanted the company to look like in three years. We made a lot of short-sighted decisions about how we'd stay alive today, and not making sure the products or the business could be the best they could be in a few years.
How did you go about correcting that?
We built a product and very quickly slapped it together. We'd build entire features in a day and we didn't necessarily make sure everything worked. We were just trying to 'move fast and break things.' We just wanted to learn as quickly as possible.
The next thing we knew we had thousands of paying customers, but they were encountering all these bugs and issues. When we started the company we didn't care about that too much. We were like, "We'll fix it later." We found that we had to go back and spend a lot of time making sure the product was as good as it could be.
How does Contactually's CRM differentiate itself from its competitors?
The core differentiation is that it's all about making sure you're building relationships, not just closing transactions. Most CRMs on the market are all about how to move a transaction from the very beginning to being a paying customer, and that's it. We're more focused on how to build and keep customers for life, or if a lead comes in how do I stay in touch with it.
For example, the statistics according to the National Association of Realtors say that 88 percent of buyers would work with their broker again at the time of the sale. However, in reality only 12 percent of buyers actually do work with their agent again. So what's happening is that 6 or 7 or 10 years go by with no communication.
Contactually differentiates itself by almost being a personal assistant that is looking at all of your email communications, phone calls and text messages. It then alerts the user to follow up with this person or that person today.
What's your vision for Contactually and what is your management and leadership style?
From the very beginning, my co-founders and I wanted to build a company that we'd want to work at and enjoy coming to the office every day. We wanted a casual, laid-back environment but with a strong sense of mission and purpose. It's very important to be a support for your team so I very much believe in servant leadership. We hire really great people, outline the goals that we want to hit as a company, stay out of their way and then do whatever we can to support them.
I'm not telling them what to do on a daily or weekly basis. They can figure it out on their own. I'm there to do everything I can for them to accomplish goals for themselves and for the company.
I've been subjected to people that micromanage and control your task list, but we wanted to hire people that bring in the initiative themselves. That's been really important. I don't know what any one person is doing at any one point in time, but I know he or she is doing what's best for the business and can tell me what is needed.
What are some of Contactually's biggest successes?
We are very thankful that 10 of the largest [real estate] brokerages in the country are customers of ours. One of the great things about serving small business owners is that you're truly making an impact on people's lives. If you work with a large enterprise and help them make a million dollars, they may not even notice it. However, if you help a small business or a real estate agent close five more deals, you have made a material impact on their lives. We see that all the time and it's one of the most rewarding things for us. We're thankful we've built a company that's gotten to the point where we're not just going to disappear tomorrow. We now have 55 people coming in every day who are incredibly passionate about what they want to be doing. It's great that they're still working on an idea I wrote down seven years ago.
What advice would you give to the entrepreneur starting out?
There are a plethora of things, but I think one of the most important is to know that your biggest cheerleader and your biggest detractor is the same person, you. You'll have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and it can all be going on in your head in the same day. I've found that being more mindful and aware of your emotions and separating them from reality is really important. You have to motivate yourself and believe that this is the best thing you could be doing. That to me it the most important experience. I've had times where I've thought the company is going to be the next big thing, be huge and keep growing. And I've had times when I think the company is going to fall apart, we're going to fail and I'm going to lose my job and get kicked out of my house. All those feelings can happen in the same day, and in reality nothing changed in the business. Just be mindful of what you feel emotionally versus what the reality is.
What's the future for Contactually?
I still think we're only scratching the surface with what's possible, knowing that relationships are a core asset for us. We don't just want to be serving real estate agents, but multiple industries. We know the product, and with developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, our product is still just scratching the surface of what's possible. My job as CEO is to make sure we're hiring the best people and that the lights stay on long enough to see these things achieved.
To learn more about Contactually, go to contactually.com.
This article was written for Small Business Pulse.
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