#24: Starting a Mission-driven Company with Ryan Naylor
Ryan Naylor is currently the CEO and founder of VIVAHR, a startup created off the back of a horrible Shark Tank experience because he vowed to go deep and discover who he wanted to be moving forward.
Before Viva, he started and ran a marketing agency, a job board, and a watch company.
What You Learn
- How he became interested in entrepreneurship
- His first job (he made more than his other friends!)
- Graduating at the start of the Great Recession
- The travel bug which started his first company
- The reality behind Shark Tank
- The most important thing he learned as a result of Shark Tank
- How that led him to create his current company VIVAHR
Guest Introduction (0:00)
Welcome back to another episode of the We Live to Build Podcast. Our guest today is Ryan Naylor, an American entrepreneur based in Arizona. He’s currently the CEO and founder of VIVAHR, a startup created off the back of a horrible Shark Tank experience because he vowed to go deep and discover who he wanted to be moving forward.
Before Viva, he started and ran a marketing agency, a job board, and a watch company. Ryan’s story is full of ups and downs, and I know you’ll enjoy this humbling journey. We talk about how he became interested in entrepreneurship, his first job, where he loved making more than all of his other friends, graduating at the start of the Great Recession, the travel bug, which started his first company. The reality behind Shark Tank the most important thing he learned as a result of Shark Tank how that led him to create his current company, VIVAHR, and much more.
So, let’s give Ryan a warm welcome.
Welcome to We Live to Build. My name is Sean Weisbrot and I’m an entrepreneur, investor and advisor based in Asia for over twelve years. Join us every week to fast track your personal growth, so you can meet the ever-increasing demands of the company or companies you are passionately building. Time waits for no one. So, let’s get started now.
Ryan’s entrepreneurial journey (1:58)
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I know you haven’t really spoken too much in depth about this topic so far, so I’m really excited to hear the story and hopefully it’s something people can learn from. So, thank you very much and thanks for coming.
Yeah, I’m excited to share a little bit more, especially my entrepreneurial journey is probably not a traditional one, so I’m happy to share those details.
Great, so then, tell us a little bit about what your childhood was like growing up. What made you want to become an entrepreneur, or who is your inspiration for all that?
Yes, I grew up in Northern Utah community that really celebrated entrepreneurship. A lot of independent business owners, small business owners, kind of in the community. It definitely was not a big employer town where there’s a big employer and a lot of people work there; everyone is pretty independent. So, I observed that at an early age, but probably where it all started was just being an early teenager.
My first job was picking radishes at the local farm, and you were paid for performance and it was entirely motivating to be the best radish picker possible. And when season of radishes went out and we started picking peas and corn, you got paid by the pound and it was motivating. I found that I thrived in that environment. And so, at an early age, it was paid for performance and I just fell in love with that concept.
So fast forward. In high school, I was really struggling and I had a career counselor say, “Hey, you should really consider we’re going to start an entrepreneurship class. It’s our first time ever doing it. What do you think about it?” And I jumped in, fell in love with it, and went all the way through to college, where I found a program where the Hudson School of Business at Utah State University offered an entrepreneurship degree. So, everything in my life was packaged up from just early years all the way to kind of build me to be an entrepreneur.
That’s so interesting. I think as an American from other parts of America, being from Miami, the idea of picking vegetables on a farm is so foreign for me. So, it’s really cool to see that you did something that I think is very character building. Where probably working in the hot sun, right, for long hours doing, that really builds you up.
Yeah. It’s that quintessential kind of American dream. You wake up early in the morning, hop on the bike, ride a mile down the highway to the farm, get off, start working, and you’re working long hours. But my favorite thing to do is take my money. And they’d pay you every Friday with cash based on your performance and go over to the local Ace Hardware and compare paychecks with my friend who is working there. And, you know, I always made significantly more than he did, and he had a ceiling on what he could make. And I thrived in that. I thrived knowing that I was getting more out of my time because of my work ethic. He could work as hard as he wanted. He wasn’t making any more money.
I had this conversation with my fiancée and with a number of my friends before where they’re like, “Yeah, I want a job that’s stable because I know that money is coming in.” And then my response to them is, “Yeah, but you’re limited to what your boss thinks you’re worth. And if you agree with them, then you’re essentially selling yourself, and you’re selling yourself short.” So being able to be in control over how much you make is a fantastic thing, especially at your age.
I never really had a job until I was 16 or 17, and it was an hourly wage. I was working for my dad. He’s a dentist. So, I was helping out in the front office with insurance companies and filing claims and all that kind of stuff. And it felt great to make money, but $7 an hour sucks. I think, looking back on it now, although at the time it was great.
So, let’s get into after college when you finished your degree, what was the first thing you did after that?
Deciding to build a business (6:07)
Well, I graduated at a really interesting time. I graduated in 2008 and the economy was tanking in December of 2008. My business school really prided itself in its job placement rate. So, they had a 94% placement rate of new graduates had jobs before they walked and got their diploma, which was a major statistic they were super proud of. When we graduated, less than 8% had jobs, and it’s because the economy was falling apart right at that very moment.
So, I was newly married. My wife and I kind of had to have one of those moments where we said, “Okay, we both graduated the same day.” And it was, “What are we going to do?” And I knew I wasn’t going to get a job. They’re just. I didn’t have any industry experience. No one’s going to hire a kid in entrepreneurship to come in and work. So, I said, “Well, I’m going to practice what I love.” I’ve learned it all through high school, through college. Let’s do this.
So, we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. And the reason we did that is I did some research, and this market had one of the highest densities of small business owners in America. And I knew I wanted to be in a business that served and catered to other business owners. I wanted to be in business to business. I knew I was passionate about that, and I was passionate about small business. And so, we didn’t know anybody. We picked up our stuff, got in the truck, and drove down here. And I think within 90 days, we started a business, bought a house, and had a baby. So, it was pretty crazy. Life changing moments, all really packed tight together.
So, you said you graduated in December 2008? I graduated in May 2008. Are you 34?
No, I’m 36. So, I spent two years right after high school serving a religious mission in the Dominican Republic, knocking doors. I think that’s a big part of my entrepreneurship that came from there as well as I essentially had an associates degree out talking to people, and I felt very comfortable going and making friends and introducing myself and getting to know people in different walks of life. And so, the ability to learn that skillset really helped translate into entrepreneurship.
I’ve always found it very easy to move in between different age groups and religions and cultures and languages, and I think that’s been really helpful for me to be successful in my own life.
Ryan’s first business (8:41)
So, you said you moved to Arizona and you started a business within 90 days. What business was that?
Yeah. So, I came down here and started a small business marketing. So, at the time, your everyday contractor relied 100% on business through the Yellow Pages. And my goal was to say, how can I convince them to stop paying for Yellow Pages and pay for digital marketing? And today we kind of chuckle about that. “Oh, my gosh, I want to shoot fish in a barrel.” It was hard. It was way more complicated than it should have been, because we didn’t know what we know now. And the way Yellow Pages was positioned was, it’s where you are, if you’ve got a full page in the plumbing section and you’re the first contractor, you lose that position if you stop paying and then pay the next year, it’s all by seniority.
So, they didn’t want to lose their position in rankings. If the digital marketing fell through and then they went back to Yellow Pages, they might be position 14. And that was a really good sticky point that Yellow Pages had on these contractors. They did not want to lose their bread and butter. Anyway, we got through it and was able to do a lot of free workshops, convince the Phoenix Library system to let me do free trainings and coaching and mentoring for small businesses and they could come in and ask me anything for 2 hours and I’d teach them. And that just created my referral flywheel that was able to help me grow a marketing machine.
It’s really cool that you decided to do something like that because it’s not something that most people would think to do. And I think you said this was 2008, 2009, so, it sounds like you are kind of doing a precursor to blogging for social media as a way to bring people to you, and you’re doing it in a way that those business owners needed because they were already not very digital savvy. So, I think that’s a really cool thing to do.
Like, for me, with my business, my podcast is a really great way to bring in leads for my startup. So, this is what I’m doing instead of creating blog posts. And I think it’s really cool. And I also do mentoring on the side for startup founders because I know that they’re going to also be potential users of my platform, but also because I was mentored by someone when I was younger and they completely changed my life in a very short period of time. And so, I want to give back to other people and help them learn what I’ve learned. So yeah, it’s a fantastic thing.
So how long did you do that business, and then, when did you decide to move on to something else?
Yeah, so that business ultimately, I went through a couple of branding changes myself and it still exists today. I’m a director of operations that runs it. It’s Blue Aspen Marketing. And I’ve been able to build that up to a business that’s kind of self-sustaining. We build the right processes and frameworks and customers and gosh I got businesses. I was just laughing. I had a contractor; we’re going through a remodel here at my home and the contractor I chose was the first contractor that I sold a website to when I moved to Arizona.
He’s been a client of mine for twelve years and it’s just been great, really, really loyal customer base because he started with a deep foundational element to teach. And I think there’s a sense of inherent trust. When you can teach someone, you trust them. Look back at your college professors, your teachers, you naturally trusted what they were telling you because they were teaching you something. And I think that in business that’s been one of my ultimate ways to beat out competition was, I’m more committed to teaching the client than they ever will be. And that’s gone a long way for us.
Yeah, definitely. I think when you learn something and you freely share that knowledge to other people, they’re much more likely to trust you. And again, I think that’s one of the reasons why the podcast is so great, because I’ve learned so much about psychology and the world through my travels, that by giving people the opportunity to hear from people like you, then they get a chance to expand their own horizons, and then they go, “Hey, this guy’s not just building another startup. He’s also putting a significant amount of his energy into telling people about what he’s learned and talking to people and getting them to share what they’ve learned.” And so, it creates tremendous amount of value for everybody.
How did Ryan reach Shark Tank? (13:09)
So, I want to move closer to Shark Tank. What was the business you created that made you go into Shark Tank?
Yeah. So right before my wife and I had our first child, we decided to go spend a couple of months in Europe. Kind of go stay in hostels, do the quintessential backpacking, train rides from country to country, city to city. And we just fell in love with some of the styles in Italy. There was a watch. It was super popular there. They were starting to incorporate a lot of, like, silicone bands as is kind of the watch strap and bright colors, and, you know, you’re on the subway early in the morning, and you got people in suits and ties, and they’re wearing like, a bright green silicone band watch. And now that was totally new. There was no one in the United States was doing this bright colored watches. This is in 2008, end of 2008, and it was kind of revolutionary.
So, I started blogging about it. I actually created a Blog Spot account and blogged about the styles and fashion that I was seeing. And I noticed there was a couple of posts that were getting a lot of traffic, and I saw an opportunity, you know, an entrepreneur when I got home and seen the analytics. So, I actually started sourcing product out of China and found some bright colored silicone bands. Now, at the time, at that moment in time, you started seeing the NBA wearing Power Balance bands, started seeing baseball players wearing the necklaces, the braided necklaces. And the idea was that it was negative ion energy to help with your balance. And it’s kind of an Eastern medicine, calming your free radicals from all the fluorescent lighting. Everything happening.
So, I saw an opportunity to say, “Let’s create negative ion watches with these bright colored bands.” And so, we did it and ordered them and started selling them like crazy, and just out of nowhere, got a phone call from a Shark Tank producer saying, “Hey, listen, someone submitted an application for you,” whether it was a customer, it was a referral, and we’re sourcing deals because we had a contract with ABC. We were losing it, and now they just renewed for a new season, and we’re kind of a little behind schedule because we weren’t planning on renewing that new season.
So, I got introduced to Shark Tank by a cold call, and I honestly thought for at least three days, it was all prank. I thought it was a friend pranking me the whole time. I was wondering if it was a radio show. I thought something was going sideways. But this became a side business that I literally did while watching Sports Center at night on my laptop. And it was just kind of a fun side project. I’d learned a lot about digital marketing. I was doing it for other people, super focused on search engine optimization, and I was able to do it with my own brand, my own little ecommerce site. And we started selling two, four, 6000 watches a month. Like we are just crushing. We’re in Parenting magazine, we are in L magazine, all within the first year of this thing rolling out.
So, when we got into Shark Tank, we had a lot of momentum going into it. And it was really exciting for just a scrappy little side hustle that was taking over our living room, our garage, and every square inch of our house with containers of shipments from China.
Ryan’s Shark Tank experience (16:27)
So, you accept to go on Shark Tank. What was the process of preparing for Shark Tank? How long between the call and actually being on the show, and then, how long between the recording to the airing and talk about the experience, the day of and all of that?
Yes. So, the process was not a quick one. I don’t remember the exact sequence of events. We went from kind of a phone screen interview to a written application with a series of questions about the history of the business and financial data. And then, we went from there from a series of questions where you kind of record yourself answering some questions, doing a little live pitch. And they liked that. And that basically got them to the round where they started interviewing me via Skype with their junior producer panel.
And I think we just had a creative story to tell, something that was outside the box. And so, they invited me, and I think it was in July, to go and record. And how they position it is, “We’ll fly you to Hollywood” and that doesn’t mean you’re going to record. And if you record, that doesn’t mean you’re going to go on air. And so, they kind of keep that carrot in front of you to kind of step in line and obey the rules of the process all the way through of privacy and don’t talk about it with anybody, and they scare the crap out of you. You signed nondisclosure agreements, probably 60, 70 pages worth of legal docs. You have no idea what you’re signing. So, you get to Hollywood and they lock you all up into a hotel and they say, “Every day we’re going to give you an envelope with some cash to be able to pay for lunch and breakfast, cross the street at the mall. You’re not allowed to talk to anyone else.” And I think they just kept this heavy stick about this fear element, like you’re not allowed to talk to anybody. Don’t be friends with anybody. If you see people in the pool, don’t talk about Shark Tank.
Well, what do entrepreneurs do? They talk. So, everyone was in the lobby and at the pool talking about getting ready to record on Shark Tank because they recorded an entire season within five days and they put everyone on the same hotel. So, we were all there together, became really good friends with several of the other folks that were there recording, and came to recording day, and my experience was I was going to use my negative ion as a differentiator to drum up some attention. So, I wanted to test someone’s balance, one of the sharks I wanted to invite one of the sharks the stage and test their balance.
Now, the plan was to use Lori Greiner and I worked with my producers. We talked about the script. We practiced the script 50 times together. So, my junior producers, in confidence, we’re like, “Hey, we’ll give you some advice. What are you thinking? This is just between you and I. We’re just going to practice. You can trust us.” Well, when it comes time to the moment where you walk into that little chamber where you got the sharks on the side glass and your double doors are opening, and walking down the carpet, right before I’m about to walk out, the executive producer comes and taps me on the shoulder and says, “Ryan, you’re going to be great. Don’t ask Lori to do the balance. How the heck did he know that? And why was he telling me that? As the doors were literally opening, the set producers yellow counting three, two as he’s tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Don’t use Lori.” My heart just starts racing.
I was totally fine until that moment, and I was like, “Is he trying to rattle me, or is this some insight? He wants my best look,” so I get out, the doors are opening, and he says to me, “Ask Kevin.” So, I walk out to this carpet, I get started. I start my three minutes. They tell you get three minutes of uninterrupted pitch to get through as much information as you want. And I’m about 18 seconds into my pitch, and Mark Cuban interrupts me and says, “I’m out. This is a scam,” and it threw me off. It threw off my game. And it really made me question how real this reality show really was.
So I go through my pitch, even though he and I start a little banter, and I ask for someone to come up and do a balance test. And Kevin says, “Hey, how about me?” And he comes up, and the idea was, you stand in on one leg, you put your arms out to the side. You’ve probably seen it at the mall. Everybody’s seen someone doing this. And you push on the arm, and you see if they can hold their balance. And no one ever does. And then you put the product on them, and it’s supposed to calm your nerves down, and it’s supposed to help with your balance. And the problem is, he wouldn’t let me do a first test. Instead of resisting me pushing on his arm, he just kept dropping his arm, I said, “No, Kevin, what you need to do is you need to resist. Don’t let me push on your arm.”
And he’d start laughing and be really loud and say, “Well, obviously, this is a scam. It’s not even working.” I’m like, “Kevin, you’re not even holding my product yet.” I’m just trying to get you to stand on one foot. And he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t cooperate. And he kept calling it a scam. It was for show. And in that moment, I knew this was not about me. This was about them. And I lost the passion in the moment, which is sad to say, I really did. And I just said, you know what? Whatever comes at me, I’m not going to worry too much about it.
Lori, I think, felt bad about it because she volunteered and said, “Why don’t I come give it a try?” Because she saw what a disaster was happening, and she came up, and sure enough, it worked. She got on one leg. She didn’t have her balance. I gave her the product, she did it, and she goes, “Wow, I can really feel a difference. Exactly what it was intended to do.” And, you know, and that was kind of my experience. It was, you plan for one thing, they throw you a curveball. It was just back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And there was a lot of comments and statements and questions that they shouldn’t have known unless it was 100% leaked to them through this confidence relationship you had with the junior producer. So, I just realized, all in all, it was about them. It was about production. It was about a show. It wasn’t about the reality of the show.
It sucks to hear that because when you watch the show from home, all you see is them trying to show that they care about what the people are saying. Although, sometimes there’s definitely people that aren’t on their game and they make mistakes, and, so they’ll give them hell for it, or they’ll all go out and the person will go home basically crying. But for the most part, you feel like Shark Tank is designed to help give any person, the average Joe or Jane, the opportunity to get out of the struggles that they are having and to really grow. And they have these segments where they talk about people that they’ve worked with in the past, like this squeegee guy that did like $100 million in sales through Lori, like these kinds of things.
So, the last person I spoke to, Lori Cheek, she didn’t go into such detail about her experience, but she told me a little bit more about what happened afterward, and it seems like you and her have a similar experience and that you were both sued after being aired on the show. So, what happened that you got sued?
The negative effect of bad publicity (23:35)
So, I filmed in July, and my episode did not air until the following February. So, it was quite some time. In fact, I kind of gave up. I thought my episode just didn’t make the cut. I wasn’t upset about it. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t upset. And I got a call, I think it was on a Thursday night from one of the executive producers on the cell phone. And he said, “Hey, listen, this is Clay. We’re going to air your episode tomorrow and it’s not going to look good.” But in fact, I sold him a bunch of watches. He wanted my extra inventory when I was done pitching it because he wanted to give it to his kids.
People like the product I sold out of every piece of I took with me because everyone’s giving me cash to buy my extra watches. Everyone loved it. So, I got to know him a little bit while I was there. And he said, “I really enjoyed our time together, but I just want to let you know that the way it got edited, it puts you in a tough position.” And I said, “Okay. I don’t know what that means, but okay.” So, I told my wife, I said, “Hey, listen, it looks like the episode is going to air tomorrow.” And I didn’t share that additional info that it’s not going to be the best experience out there.
Anyway, she was there and she had a surprise party waiting for me when I got home that night from Friday, loaded with neighbors and friends and people that I thought were friends. That kind of environment where they’re friends with you because they heard you’re on TV and the house is packed, the backyard is packed, people got food and drinks, and it’s a great environment until you realize this could get really ugly real fast.
And sure enough, the episode was pretty nasty. They attacked me as a person and my integrity, which was really frustrating because I really pride myself in trying to be a really good, hardworking, ethical, and honest man. And the episode hated me as Mark Cuban, calling me snake oil sells me. He called me a liar several times, and they emphasized that in the editing of the show. But they didn’t talk about how many other compliments I got during the recording because, of course, they didn’t show that component. And it ended, and you got the old pat on the shoulder from everyone as they’re leaving, saying, “You did a good job. You held in there and it was fine,” whatever. I wasn’t too upset about it.
But what happened afterwards was pretty nasty. It was amazing how many people felt the need to bandwagon and jump on my back because of that experience, people I’d never met, never known, I hope to never know, were calling and leaving harassing voicemails at my office. They figured out my office number. They were emailing it. They found my wife’s blog at the time, where she was documenting the life of our newborn baby girl and commenting about how she should feel ashamed of being married to me and commenting about my newborn daughter that’s only got a few months old pictures on the web. And it just it got ugly really quickly. And I saw the dark side of America, and it wasn’t pretty. It really was really a sad thing to see.
But through that darkness came some bright light. I generated more business from my marketing company than I ever could have imagined. We started getting flown out all across the country, all across the world, to go meet with different companies to help them do their marketing, because they loved my approach on the show, because I commented about how I was able to build my company just from a laptop by doing search engine optimization. So that was a really great experience.
But what ensued was letters after letters of lawsuits of people suing us for saying that they bought my product with medical intent and that it caused harm beyond repair, and suing me for thousands, hundreds of thousands, one of them was like $7 million.
Every single time I got this, I called the attorney up directly, and I said, “This is bogus, and I will countersue ten times whatever you’re asking for,” because our courts should not be full of bogus lawsuits. You’re nothing more than just a flash on a billboard trying to take advantage of people and get your 40% share. And all of them dropped. And the best part was, three out of the four kinds of lawsuits came our way. I hadn’t even shipped the products to them yet. They had purchased it, but we were out of inventory because we sold so many, and we are on back order. And they still filed the lawsuit in the timestamp before they’d even gotten the product shipped to them. That is America.
And that’s what disgust me, is there’s too many opportunists out there that like to piggyback on negativity and not think for themselves. And unfortunately, it jaded me. That’s the hard part about it is it jaded me a little bit on not wanting to trust my neighbor. You know what I mean? Like, you lost a sense of trust of brotherly love in your community because you just felt like everyone’s going to get you.
I’m actually not surprised that you had that kind of an experience. I used to do social good projects in China, and there was a group of foreigners, like Americans, other people. I don’t know their actual identities, but I know that they weren’t Chinese. And I was working really hard to do something good for society, and I was finding massive social success, not financial success. And these people were creating memes with my face, putting it on the body of a robot, and having me say something stupid. They did all sorts of ridiculous, nonsensical things because they were jealous of the fact that I was doing something good and that people knew who I was. And someone had said to me, “You think this is bad? Wait until you do a for profit business.” Then you’ll see how bad people are. So, the fact that you had this mountain of negativity kind of toppling over the goodness is, it’s sad, but it’s how human nature is. But as you said, you also saw a lot of people going, “Hey, I love what you did with your marketing. Let’s pay you.” So thankfully, you were able to get past the mountain of crap, and you had positivity on the other side, and thankfully, you were able to prove that these lawsuits were ridiculous.
Unfortunately for my other guest, Lori, she just had one guy who sued her multiple times. They were thrown out each time, but it cost her everything because she went broke basically defending these frivolous lawsuits. So, what happened with that business? Are you still doing that today or did it kind of fade away over time?
Yeah, similar experience. So, one of the four lawsuits was from a Fortune 50 company called Exxon Oil and Gas. And they came at me hard. The reason was I had named the company ESSO Watches E-S-S-O. It’s an Italian phrase. Like, if you’re an American, you’re like, “Oh, that’s legit.” That’s kind of the phrase, the Italians, and he’s like, “Esso”, “Oh, that’s cool.” And so that was the name of the watch company.
Well, Exxon oils the trademark, Esso. Because it was Esso oil and Esso gasoline. It originated out of Canada and was filed gosh decades and decades and decades ago. And they felt that I was infringing on their trademark. I obviously didn’t think that. I’m selling a fashion accessory; they sell petroleum, quite different. And the cost to defend myself in that really took us down a path that a side business couldn’t support and didn’t need to support. So, we ultimately settled with them and shut down operations.
Using the bad experiences for motivation (31:40)
So, during that whole experience, though, it gave me so much life. And I know we’re kind of talking to the negativity side, but, man, I really got fired up on doing good. I saw the negativity, and I’m like, you know what? Those people that called me and fed me with light and life, I love those people, and it motivated me.
And I realized I need to chart out what are my core values? What are Ryan’s core values? What do I believe in that no one can strip for me no matter what? And the number one thing that came down to was my passion for the family unit, whatever that means in your dynamic. I believe people and humans are stronger when they have a family environment, when there’s a family structure and what can tear the family apart. And I started going backwards and saying, well, infidelity can tear apart, illness, okay, financial stress.
And I started to go, okay, what about financial stress? Why? And I started piling that on the back and back and back. And it came down to if people are fully employed, they’re not unemployed or underemployed, but they are gainfully fully employed, the chances of their home and their family unit going into disarray are substantially lower. So, what can I do to help people be fully and gainfully employed?
Remember, I graduated at the moment of this economic collapse where unemployment was everywhere. It spoke to me, and so I was able to come out of this strong and was able to build employment, job fairs, software. I’ve been interviewed on over 300 television programs all about how to help people get back to work. And that’s what VIVAHR is today. All of this has led to me creating a very stable and scalable company that centered around company culture and helping small businesses be empowered to hire the right people and pay them what they deserve.
More about VIVAHR (33:42)
Well, that’s a great story. I’m sorry I spoke too soon about that last lawsuit. I didn’t know about Exxon having that trademark. But I’m glad that you had the opportunity to go deep inside of yourself and figure out who you wanted to be after that experience and reinvent yourself in order to create something that has been helping people. So, what exactly is it that Viva does right now, and what was the hardest thing about starting it? What was the most incredible lesson you’ve learned from it so far?
Yeah. So, VIVAHR is a recruiting and hiring software. So, we empower small businesses to compete for talent with tools at a fraction of the cost that big employers have. So, we’re in the industry of applicant tracking system. Now, historically, your bigger companies would spend $20,000 to $80,000 a year for licensing for a software. So, they had the advantages because those applicant tracking systems could post jobs to Indeed, and all the big job boards, and they monopolized the Internet, the search results for customer service jobs. And if you’re a local small business owner trying to hire for a customer service rep, it’s hard to get priority placement because you’re coming into it second string. So, you’re forced to pay for all of your traffic. Your cost, the higher is actually going up.
So, we built a platform that said, “hey, why don’t we cater to the small business and do it in a way it’s a fraction of the cost.” So, that’s what we did. And we layer into it some company culture landing pages so you can tell a culture story at the job level. They don’t have to go to your careers page or go to your website or go to your social media. They can actually see it right in the job. There are photos, videos you can embed right into the job posting itself to kind of create a better experience with conversion rates.
So as far as kind of, ‘AHA’ moments and growth for us. I think the biggest thing is just the feedback from small businesses knowing we made a difference. Like we’re all about learning good and bad from our customers. Every milestone we go back and we analyze what it took to get there, what was success, what was failure, and how did our customers react to it. And that constant feedback and nurturing from our customers really goes a long way.
I love how you said that you’ve built something that allows companies to show their culture to potential applicants. I remember when I was younger and I was looking for jobs in the US. Using Monster.com and Indeed.com and all of these it feels so sterile looking at these job offerings. And a long time ago, I had an idea for something similar where the applicant could have a video to introduce themselves. It was a separate platform I had an idea for. I never built it. But having the company be able to create audio and video and pictures and things that shows applicants, this is who we are, this is what we’re about.
It makes it a lot easier for them to make a quick decision whether or not they want to work with that company. And that could save tremendous amounts of time and money for both sides. Because if you end up offering a job to an applicant and you think that applicants right for you, but then after hiring them, you realize that they’re not a good fit or on the other side for the individual. If you get an offer with a company that you think sounds good and then it turns out to not be good, it’s a huge headache and it costs a lot of time and energy and money to replace them after training them and trying to deal with finding somebody else, I think it’s a fantastic feature. How did you come up with that idea?
Well, kind of the first iteration was a job board called Localwork.com, and it was an Arizona only environment. And we ran it for five years and we were able to help over 100,000 people get jobs in the state of Arizona through our platform. Our customers were American Express, Chase Bank, PayPal. I mean, we have some big companies. State Farm, I think, was our biggest client. We probably helped them hire over 15,000 people in that time frame. And it was, it was an incredible experience.
But because of our continued focus on feedback not only from the job seekers and the employers, we realized that our top 5% of job postings came from companies that talked about who we are as a company and what we can achieve together, meaning they put purpose ahead of roles and responsibilities, because you find a lot of job postings. Like you said, sterile is a good word. It’s usually is all about what you’re going to do for me, it’s not about, here’s our purpose, here’s why we have that purpose, and here’s how we can accomplish that together. When you can have that dialogue, it creates an emotional attachment to a job seeker to where if they’re looking at five different job opportunities, they’re going to remember yours ahead of everyone else. And when you call them to set an interview, they’re going to put their best foot forward for you. And when the next person calls, they’re going to say, “No. I’m kind of far down the pipeline already with this company that I really like.” They’re already emotionally vested, and that’s what we do. And we saw that.
And so, we’re like, you know what? We need a product that can scale nationwide and bring your company to life, hence the name Viva. We want to bring the company to life through company culture.
I think it’s fantastic and definitely a unique differentiator, because, again, if you look at the other platforms that are much larger than VIVAHR, they don’t have a nice UI UX, and you don’t feel a connection to the companies you’re applying for. It’s just about, this is the salary, this is the location, this is the job, and this is the opportunity, the responsibilities and duties and things like that. I think especially for our generation, I guess you’re probably pretty close to the cutoff of being a millennial, as am I, but I still identify as a millennial.
I think our generation is creating a fundamental shift in the way business gets done, where it’s a lot more about, this is who I am, this is what I need, and I need you as my employer to understand who I am and help me get to where I want to go. And if you can’t do that, then I don’t really want to work for you. And so, I think you have a great idea, and you’re putting it in at the right time, because the millennial workforce and now the Gen Z is starting to come into the workforce, it will be probably even more accelerated in this shift of how business gets done. So, I think you’re properly positioned for that. Congrats.
I appreciate it. I think there was a big shift a few years ago to be customer centric. You think about just the change in how businesses approach marketing, the language, how they approach their product. It’s very customer centric. The scalability for selling a product now is all about ease of use for the customer, eliminating pain points, the user experience of a product. Right. It’s very customer centric. What you’re starting to see is businesses are realizing we probably need to turn the tide and be more employee centric. And when we can focus on being employee centric, we can develop and harness a better culture which ultimately can deliver a better customer experience.
Important lessons and advice (41:19)
You’re absolutely right. So, what is the most important piece of advice that you could give people?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. I started to panic over little things. And you know what? A day later, a week later, month later, year later, you don’t even remember it. So, in the moment, don’t sweat the small stuff.
What is something I didn’t ask you that you wish I had asked you?
Probably about why family so important, knowing that that’s, like, the cornerstone. That is the anchor point of what it is. I think it’s always important to go back to the why. Why does that matter so much? What is it about out that frames it up?
Go for it. Why is family so important?
Balance. You know what? When we’re too self-centric, I think we lose perspective in everything around us. And unfortunately, in my personal belief, I think we’re just better as a society when we can think of others first. And family does that. Family forces you to think about others before yourself. And I think that that’s just a better societal way to live, is how we can create better harmony and balance when we serve others and those around us.
Yeah, it’s fantastic. I had my fiancé say something similar to me the other day. She forced me to take a day off work because she wanted to spend time with me because we’re in her hometown right now. It was strange to not work one day, but it felt good by the end of the day. Like, I’m looking at my phone, like it’s only 2:00pm. Like the day moves so slowly when you don’t have anything to do. But then you start to appreciate how much time you have when you’re not glued to a phone or to a computer where time goes very fast.
So how can everybody follow up with you online?
Yeah, check us out on social media. Feel free to follow us, engage us, comment through. If you have a question for me, it’ll get back to me. My team is really good at passing those messages along. So, everything is at VIVAHR.
Brilliant. Thanks, and anything related to this episode will be listed at welivetobuild.com/listen. So, thank you very much for your time. “Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint, so take care of yourself every day.” Thank you.