Start Testing Right Now
The Inventive Journey
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Start Testing Right Now
"You can test just about everything nowadays..."
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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can test anything right now people get all of these hang-ups well i'd have to develop it i'd have to build this i'd have to have money and you don't have to you can go out and start talking about it you can identify your target market and start running ads or posts and talking to people and see if it resonates so i just say the minute you think you're on to something start running tests [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey and i am your host evan miller the serial entrepreneur that's also the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help start us in small businesses with their patents and trademarks and today we have a great uh guest uh that has a great journey to tell today it's uh melinda and i think is it cooler or cooler i always want to i always get confused yeah kohler okay just wanted to make sure i didn't uh i was going to say kohler they're like well maybe i misremembered so we got melinda cooler and uh so she has a fun journey so she started out uh she did some uh or did some uh english or esl and spanish teaching and later language learning uh went over and did some things with disney fell in love with technology and that then took her on the path to where she's at today so without giving away too much of her surprise welcome to the podcast thank you yeah i'm excited to be here so i gave i'm sure what was a a a horribly inadequate uh introduction to yourself but nonetheless that's what you get but um with that um why don't you tell us a little bit about your journey kind of where uh where you went and then how you got to where you're at today yeah absolutely i mean you're right i did start in education i uh taught esl in italy and spain did some teaching out here in the states and got recruited directly from teaching into tech uh it was completely spontaneous i had no idea that i would wind up uh working in startups but around the outset of the ipad i went to visit a friend after work who was the lead engineer at a small startup called tall chair and they were in talks with disney to build interactive books on this new ipad and i met the team and wound up joining a week later to lead the production of the books oh cool so so you you're in the teacher so how long were you a teacher for again uh i did various teaching for about five years all right so you're a teacher for about five years and we and then i assume at the time you're a teacher your friend approached you and said hey we're in talks with disney they want us to do interactive books did you was it just a personal connection or what made you what made you want to or what made them reach out to you or want to have you involved because you know they're what and nothing against your skills there are plenty of teachers a lot of teachers out there and you know it doesn't it's on the one sense it makes sense and on the other it wouldn't have been necessarily okay i'm going to do interactive books i'm going to go talk with the teacher about it and i make sense but it wouldn't have necessarily been i might go talk with you know somebody that's in the electronics industry or the book industry so what made him reach out to you yeah you're exactly right so um i have a love for storytelling uh i have a degree in english and a master's in spanish and had long been sharing all of my stories with my friends um and even though i wasn't working in tech i always was coming to the dinners and get togethers with new ideas and at one point had worked with that group of friends to kick off a project called um fashion411 because i wanted help when i transitioned from life in spain to life in san francisco actually we did quite a bit of work on fashion 4-1-1 and then a year later i had no absolutely nothing about fashion but i i would assume that europe and spain and that would have been more fashionable in u.s so why did you need help when you moved to san diego from spain well and that's exactly the problem people in san francisco don't dress up so i was coming from a culture where i knew how to dress dress up to move to san francisco more to be in san francisco which didn't make sense all right got it yes exactly and the ironic thing about that is about a year after we had started building it there was an app called go try it on which got purchased by rent the runway and we all just kind of threw up our hands and well that could have been a good idea so he definitely had me in mind as this storyteller and interested in tech and had already kicked off and led a group of our friends who were engineers to start building something so you're right it was more than just being a teacher right now and again nothing gets teachers yeah my sister is a teacher and i also my mother-in-law is a teacher so if they're listening i wasn't saying anything different against teachers i was just saying or just trying to connect the dots there so i know that makes perfect sense so so then you you start up you they bring you on you move over you work with the interactive books and you work with you know disney or via them with disney which is obviously a you know everybody knows who disney is and it's a cool thing so then pick up with their journey from there didn't mean to interrupt yeah um it was amazing we built 20 different books that year four of them with disney two of them with fisher price i got to go to the pixar campus and the fisher price campus um everybody loved what we were building uh both disney and fisher price chose our platform at the time because it was the best out there for building interactive books and after building and releasing and marketing um both disney and fisher price came back to us with the big news that the cost of making these books was about the same as making video games and video games sold and interactive books weren't selling at least the ones that we were making weren't selling at the rate that they would need to be uh the whole thing just kind of collapsed so my first startup was also the first startup and only startup that i've seen completely uh fail uh due to product market fit i mean once disney tells you yes and then no there's no market for it that's kind of for us that was the end yeah so and and that's i think that's an interest so if you were you're you're doing it disney is a dream and you got to go which is maybe it just sounds cool is it pixar campus cool is that an interesting place or is that just it sounds a lot cooler than it is uh i mean it is really cool because they have giant life-size characters here and there and we got to see john lasseter's office which was filled with toys and things we got to see all sorts of awards and storyboarding so it was as cool okay it was very cool i it just pixar just sounds cool so but you got to do that you got to go on the campus you they loved your technology and then they promptly or impromptly turned around and said and we'll take a pass type of a thing and so yeah yeah was it a all our eggs were in the disney basket and once you know once disney fell through you decided well part ways or did you keep trying to keep doing something with the business or how did you kind of wind that one down yeah so it was mostly disney and fisher price that were funding us at that time uh with all of their projects and the contracts to keep building those books on the platform and all of the eggs were in those baskets uh we did have other smaller clients but the cost to continue building the software and continue building the books without those clients yeah was too much and didn't make sense as a business model and our other clients were having the same challenge too even at their uh smaller level that it just it takes a lot or at least then now technology for building interactive books is gonna be much easier to work with but yeah you did that and you said okay now we're going to what you wound that company down and then where did it take you from there did you go back to education did you decide i'd love to start up i love technology i'm going to keep working or how did that go yeah i loved the startup life i loved the discovery process the building new things and i immediately joined a new company uh which is a very funny company it's called i cracked they were the uber for on-demand iphone repair and services um this is before applecare came out so i joined the team and they kind of had some ideas of the initiatives that i would lead and around the time that i joined there were right join the team did you were you joined as a founder joined as a sales person joined as a team uh i joined i joined as a growth lead working uh with the co-founder okay to uh help scale the on-demand workforce population okay but the the model that they had in mind for me to scale that population changed immediately as soon as i got there and kind of dug into it a little bit i came back and proposed a new model built a new growth team and we wound up scaling the on-demand community from 200 to i think 1200 uh around the time was around the time that i left i was there for about a year and a half uh i loved it the community was fantastic uh all of the we called them itecs and they were an amazing group of people super tech savvy about the mechanics of things and really in need of that supplemental income so it was really cool to be able to uh supply that additional income and kind of join the uh you know on-demand economy for that group of people so you did that so how did that business go or did you make an exit or did applecare come in and kill the business or how did that go well they kept going after i left um yeah applecare came out and the numbers definitely started to change and got more challenging we were explosive growth explosive growth we had just started launching um i cracked internationally opened offices in london and germany those offices wound up failing they pulled back i saw the writing on the wall and at that point had my first idea that i wanted to test for what is now lessons up uh so i decided to go test my own idea and we parted on great terms i've actually worked with several people uh from my original growth team there over the years so great people so lessons no not to jump in so he lessens up he did that or sorry not lessons up but he did i crack and you did that you wound it down so what was the what was the genesis of the idea or how did you come up with the lessons up or how did that start out or what did that look like yeah so i mean at that time i was working closely with a community of people who went and visited people to fix their iphones um i was also working closely at icracked with our customer support operations and learning a lot about customer support operations in general and saw that there's always a percentage of the population that is underserved by customer support and i also at the same time had people in my life turning me into their personal customer support friends and family because they didn't know where to go so i thought well if i can build an on-demand workforce to go and fix iphones i could probably build an on-demand workforce to go and teach people how to use their iphones to meet that need for those who are just completely underserved by customer support and we haven't jumped into it maybe it's a good time and so maybe the 10 second or 20 second summary of what is lessons up or what or how does it do it so that way it kind of gives a context for what people are you know what you're what you moved over into yeah absolutely so we officially launched lessons up this year even though i did that test back then uh we teach technology i have a community of tech instructors who do lessons over phone and video personal one-on-one typically with seniors and we're starting to develop community programs as well to support um companies and communities who need tech training and not tech support so if i were to simplify that you teach elderly populations how to use technology we help seniors use technology all right so and i get it's more complex i would just simplify it for bible yeah that's great so you do that and and so the and lots of interesting things may i'll jump into just a second so how did you get it up and going how long did it take to develop to develop the curriculum how did you figure out which technologies seniors would you know i guess i shouldn't say only seniors but people would want to use whether it's a laptop whether it's an iphone whether it's an ipad you know how did you kind of figure out what was the most helpful or what they would want you know what would be worthwhile to train them on or to help them yeah yeah great questions so i definitely came from the mindset of let's just run a test um with the growth team that's all that we did i had five people on that team each of them ran three tests a month so that we could compare and figure out what was going to work to scale the on-demand population so when i first set out to do this i didn't think through some of those big questions first i first decided to kind of go and explore and see what happened and what happened was shocking and kind of created the path i did a single post on nextdoor at that time next door was a newer app very few people were on it but the people who were tended to be the older generations they love knowing who's in their neighborhood and what's going on so this was 2016 and i was also living um in an area of oakland that was more populated with elderly so i just put out a single post offering lessons in technology and had an outpour of responses and then developed curriculum by giving lessons and figuring out what people needed it definitely helped that i'm a teacher and i developed a lot of curriculum for esl which is very similar to uh learning tech it's like learning a new language so i kind of had a fallback structure uh which i can talk talk about too if that's helpful sure go ahead yeah so uh the idea is to kind of go in and first whoever i'm working with understand what technology is in their life so you know identify the tools and then talk through the challenges and then identify some learning goals and then start there with those learning goals so that was the very basic model that i went in with that i kind of brought with me from all of the curriculum development that i had done and it worked i wound up creating a methodology for customized lessons to meet needs for a large population with varying levels of tech literacy so question on that and kind of an aside but so if you're you're teaching elderly people and i get i don't know is there a better way to reach virtual might or is it elderly or older population people that are technology challenged which would include other but probably my wife to a degree although she never listens to the podcast so i can always talk about my wife because i get to hear from me enough for mom but i love her so no no offense but you teach people how to use technology it almost seems but your lessons up is you know lessonsup.com is that where most people find you how do peop if they don't know how to use technology then how do they find you to do it or is it like more of you know i want to have my i want you face time with my grandparents right and so the grandkids want to so we order that you know order our the grandparents a lesson in order so they know how to facetime and how they do you know how does that work or how do you find people in order to teach yeah um such a great question because it gets right into who are we really marketing to when we market lessons up uh i got lucky in 2016 with the app next door it's a little bit different now in 2020 because there's a lot going on on next door these this day and age but there are still plenty of online spaces that are senior friendly pinterest facebook next door so it's just testing ads and posts if we want to meet seniors where they are there is also like you said marketing to the younger generations people who don't have time to teach mom or grandma how to do x y and z on the iphone uh that's also a very valid marketing tactic for us and then there's also partnerships uh working directly with senior spaces where there's already a trusted relationship um between seniors and the like a senior living home or senior centers so then one other and i i just find the idea the concept and technology interesting so i'm bouncing around a little bit but so when you do that you know if i were to if i've learned anything from shark tank or or other experiences they always hammer you on it's hard to scale right meaning it's hard to duplicate yourself and it's hard to find so if you do more of online lessons and more of teaching them be it be a technology or is it more of a hey they need that face-to-face interaction somebody to sit down and show them how to do it and if it's a ladder how do you find good qualified people to do that yeah so we do have 11 tech instructors they all come from education or similar backgrounds so some of them are teachers or some of them have worked in tech support one was in health education so they have experience with instruction and they're also tech savvy uh we have a vetting process and a training process but you're right it the hardest thing is always duplicating yourself um i found some fantastic tech instructors who the experience that i created uh is designed to help seniors build skills over the course of a few lessons uh there's a lot to learn and it's daunting to try to do it at once but if you're doing a good job they will come back and uh sign up for their full program of you know four to six lessons or however many it may be depending on learning goals and so yeah our tech instructors are doing that so it's been great to see all right so if you take the the next six to 12 months so got it you know made your leaps between the different things land on this building it going well find your instructors what's the next six to twelve months look like for you guys yeah uh it's more marketing tests to grow the user population and tech instructor population to scale to meet those needs uh so the the more in the interesting challenge which hopefully we'll get to take on is that the partnerships that we have in progress have massive needs uh when we talk to some of the retirement communities or senior centers or some of our health affiliates like the national digital inclusion alliance or our partners at the sf tech council they're talking about millions of seniors who need tech literacy support especially with essential services like telehealth and when i tell them that i have 11 they get very excited about the program and when i say that i have 11 instructors they kind of look at me like are you crazy yeah so it's uh doing a few small pilot programs to get it just right for massive demand and then yeah scaling the tech instructor community to meet that demand but it is going to have to be similar to um other on-demand workforces and yeah luckily one of my co-founders helped scale the um uber driver community and then uber eats community and then i've had some experience scaling on-demand workforce as well so we're ready all right well that's awesome and i think that that one that one's one that i i think that's the common thread is it's hard to duplicate yourself so you have to figure out a process to get i always look at you know somebody always talked about you know if you can get the 80 20 roller you get somebody that can do 80 as good as you are you're doing great in the sense that nobody's ever going to be exactly the same as you and to have the expectations they're going to do it exactly the same as you would it's unrealistic but if they can do at least 80 as good of a job then they're probably going to do an awesome job and do seller their position anyway exactly and it's true it is hard to uh let go of and i you know in the early stages of routing customers that i've talked to to lessons there might be some nervousness and a lot of check-ins with the tech instructor well are you sure because you know this person isn't even on the internet on their iphone yet so you're going to have to do actually like yeah you know they've got it okay gotta gotta trust so all right well cool well um so we reach in unfortunately or fortunately whichever you look at the end of the podcast um so i always end the podcast with two questions so i'll hit on those now so the first question i always ask is what is the worst business decision you ever made well it's funny i mean i had mentioned that i tested lessons up in 2016 and the worst business decision that i ever made was not just stopping everything and building it then i did the test had the outpouring of response created the methodology did all the lessons and then um some friends from i to join another startup were really excited about it convinced me to go join and i put my idea on hold and there was always that sense of okay now is not the right time to start my own company and that's that's wrong it's always the right time to start your own company now is always the time um so i wish that i had started sooner and just kept with it then but i i think that you know and i and i probably feel a little bit the same way so as i and i do an not hijacking your story at all but i do you know miller ip law and i did um you know and i'm a serial entrepreneur and yet for a while there i you know i went and did and i'd not be griping but i wouldn't work for some big law firms and you know worked with the top 100 i worked with an amazon and an intel another one name recognition you'd be like oh those are awesome companies and it was it was a great experience and yeah i'm probably the same way in the sense that what i love and enjoying my passion is much more running my own companies doing the startups figuring out how to grow it servicing clients providing good customer service making sure they're happy and all those things and you know what that's what it drives me and yet i probably waited too long in the sense that you always always can make an excuse for why is now is not now right why now is not the right time and yet never if you have that excuse nev you're never going to have the right time and vice versa now as as you said now is always the right time so so okay second question i'll ask so somebody that's wanting to get into a startup why don't you get into smart small business or just getting into that kind of that phase of life what's the one piece of advice you'd give them well if they're thinking about starting their own startup the advice would be you can test anything right now people get all these hang-ups well i'd have to develop it i'd have to build this i'd have to have money and you don't have to you can go out and start talking about it you can identify your target market and start running ads or posts and talking to people and see if it resonates so i just say the minute you think you're on to something start running tests one thing the one thing i'd build on to that that i think people make is don't run the tests on friends and family because they're always going to be way too nice so that's very true yes yes it's key you've got to like figure out who your target market is how to reach them and go run the tests there yeah because that's the one lesson i've seen too many people hit is oh everybody says it's great well who did you ask well i asked my friend i asked my parents i asked my spouse and you know they can be maybe a good initial sounding block but they're always they're never going to tell you that your idea is a bad idea because they're much too close and one they don't want to hurt feelings and so i think that to your point there's a lot of avenues you can test things and go out and get that cluster feedback and that's one thing that i've learned on a few of the businesses i've done as well is that never too early to get that customer feedback because it informs a lot of the path you'll take in the road and what you'll do so i think those are both good lessons or you know worse decision was a good lesson learned and also that's a good lesson learned as well so well people who want to reach out to you they want to get involved they want to invest with you they want to be a customer they want to give it you know give it as a gift or anything else what's the best way to connect up with you yeah come chat you can email me at melinda lessonsup.com that's m-a-l-i-n-d-a and if that's too hard to remember you can just give me a call at 510-671-0357 the website all right well that's plenty of different ways to reach out to you and certainly encourage people that want to reach out to connect and to to use the service support the service and or to help it to grow so well i appreciate you coming on the podcast it's been fun to have you on and always always plenty of things i wish i had time to touch on and always figure i'll get to the we'll have to have you back on some day for those of you that are interested in applying to be a guest on the inventive journey i'd love to hear your journeys and be able to have you guys share them with us um so go to inventivejourney.com to apply to be a guest on the podcast for those of you that are listeners make sure to subscribe so you can get the new uh notifications of the newest episodes of the air and for any of you that are startups or small businesses that need help with patents and trademarks certainly feel free to reach out melinda thank you again for coming on it was fun to talk with you and it was great to hear your journey and wish you the best of journey going forward thank you devon same to you English (auto-generated) All Sales From Miller IP Law Recently uploaded