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55: Practicing Tenacity with Eric Martell

Published December 8, 2020
Run time: 00:47:32
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With experience building two tech-based companies from the ground up, serial entrepreneur Eric Martell has gathered an impressive collection of analogies around succeeding in the startup space. He joins the show to chat about building his recent venture Pear Commerce, marrying product philosophy with business philosophy, hiring people who buy into your mission, investing in repeat customers over acquiring new ones, and using tech to scale, before finally nerding out with Tim over database tech.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Why the value you’re providing your customers isn’t the tech
  • How to find the right developers for the right stage of your company
  • Why moving fast is better than moving perfectly in the early stage
  • When to invest in new customers and when to re-engage previous customers
  • How to open up opportunities with accelerators and how to be successful without one
  • How to open doors simply by having the courage to ask
  • How using tech not only as the basis for your product but also the basis for marketing is the best lever for growth

This episode is brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group, where we make sense of mobile app development with our non-technical approach to building custom mobile software solutions. Learn more at https://jmg.mn.

Recorded November 23, 2020 | Edited by Jordan Daoust | Produced by Jenny Karkowski

Show Notes:

Episode Transcript:

Tim Bornholdt 0:00
Welcome to Constant Variables, a podcast where we take a non technical look at all things technical. I'm Tim Bornholdt. Let's get nerdy.

Today we are chatting with Eric Martell of Pear Commerce. Eric knows a thing or two about working in the tech space having founded two tech based startups, first with Eat Street and currently with Pear Commerce. He's helped other companies succeed in the startup space as a venture partner of generat8r, a nationally ranked accelerator with over 100 investments to date. He also was named an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2015. We jumped around quite a bit in this episode because Eric has a wealth of entrepreneurial wisdom to share and because both of us are just kind of like that. So without further ado, here is my interview with Eric Martell.

Eric Martell, welcome to the show.

Eric Martell 1:08
Tim. I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Tim Bornholdt 1:11
Yeah, we were joking beforehand that hopefully between the two of us, people don't use this as their last podcast before they fall asleep at night. I think we'll be a little more exciting than that, though, right?

Eric Martell 1:21
We're gonna give it our best. I mean, hopefully, you know, a bad joke or two keeps people awake.

Tim Bornholdt 1:28
Oh, yeah. I am full of those. My wife and I watch RuPaul's Drag Race andlike that whole show is just one bad pun after another. So I'm all on board with the bad puns. That's no problem at all.

Eric Martell 1:40
I have a bunch of leftover Halloween candy from a few weeks ago. And they all have like those really, really terrible jokes on the wrappers, kind of the popsicle stick joke style. So I mean, I've got a few of those up my sleeve too.

Tim Bornholdt 1:56
You have kids, don't you?

Eric Martell 1:58
I do not. Nope, I don't have two dog children.

Tim Bornholdt 2:01
Well, there you go. Cause I was gonna say if you had kids, then you've got the dad jokes stuff down, but you've got dog kids, so you can at least tell them bad jokes. And at the very least, they'll just smile and wag their tails and be happy you're there.

Eric Martell 2:12
I was gonna say the easiest audience you can possibly get.

Tim Bornholdt 2:16
I love it. Let's jump in. For anyone who may not be familiar, tell us about Pear Commerce and just maybe give us your origin story as the founder of this new venture you're on.

Eric Martell 2:28
Sure. So I guess, you know, by way of how I got here, it's been now 11 years since I started my first company. This is my second startup. And being a second time founder kind of afforded me a little bit of perspective into the kind of business that I wanted to start when I put my flag in the ground and said, Hey, we're doing this again. And my co founder and I had been looking for an opportunity that we thought would basically check a couple boxes for us. And the first was, you know, a problem that we were going to be really excited to tackle ourselves. The second checkbox was something that had never been done before. We feel like what we do, which I'll get into in a second, is pretty much completely unique. And the third piece, and this was sort of like the extra credit bonus box that we wanted to get checked, was to bring efficiency into an antiquated system that previously, you know, basically kind of needed a connector or a middleman or some kind of technology solution to unlock efficiency between two different parties.

And so with that profile in mind, Alex and I started brainstorming ideas. And we came up with Pear Commerce. And Pear at its simplest, basically takes advertisements for the physical products that you'd see on the shelf at Target, on the shelf at a grocery store, and takes their advertisements and actually links directly to the ecommerce shopping carts of the retailers that sell the product. So to drive it home with an example, if you imagine that you see a Haagen Dazs ad, right now Haagen Dazs ads on Facebook take you to HaagenDazs.com. They'll tell you a lot about the ice cream, but they won't give you an option to actually buy that ice cream on the spot. Our software allows Haagen Dazs to present the shopper who clicks on the ad a list of options such as Target or your local retailers or Walmart or even Amazon and with the click of a button on the part of the shopper selecting which retailer they'd like to buy the product from, we can get the product directly into the shopping cart, send you off to that retailer's website and basically connect that ad with the actual option to shop and eventually buy that product. So we're playing the part of a connector between an advertisement for a physical product and the retailers who sell the product for mutual benefit. That being the retailer's benefit from the advertising efforts of the brands that send them traffic and the brand's benefit by actually taking their digital ads, which were largely informational before this, and making them shoppable and actually allowing people to go through and purchase at the end of the day, which is obviously a significant step forward.

Tim Bornholdt 5:17
That's a really cool idea. One thing that you mentioned at the beginning was you have a co founder, and that the idea was born out of the two of you thinking about that. Talk a little bit more about that relationship. Like how did you know, like you had the partnership before the idea, how did all that come around?

Eric Martell 5:37
Yeah so that kind of takes me back to the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. Alex and I started our previous company together too, which I certainly won't go on too large of a tangent, but actually had some remarkably similar characteristics. So our previous company, we provided online ordering and delivery for local restaurants in college towns of 100,000 to a million residents. So you can think of it as kind of like a Doordash, or a Grub Hub, except for smaller cities and primarily Midwestern college towns. And if you think about that business, we were connecting diners to restaurants to drivers. So we were very used to playing air traffic control, which is why we came up with an idea that we get to play air traffic control again in. And then as far as the other things that motivated us to start Pear Commerce, we just wanted to play bigger and bet bolder than we did last time that we built a company. So Alex, and I have, you know, the business partners now for a decade, pretty lucky because it gets all of the, you know, getting to know you out of the way and we were able to hit the ground running as soon as we started our new business.

Tim Bornholdt 6:48
It sounds a lot like when I talk with my business partner, Rob, we are always looking, you know, obviously got to keep your eye on what you've got now. But you also want to kind of look ahead too and assuming all the pieces fall into place as we optimistically do as entrepreneurs sometimes it's just interesting to hear how the next iterations evolve. It seemed like there was just pure focus on the previous venture. And then as soon as you were done, you were like, Alright, what's the next thing? Let's find something else and let's go. That's just fascinating.

Eric Martell 7:22
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, with one big asterisk, which is, after I left my previous company, I spent the better part of six months playing video games on the couch and recharging my batteries and catching up on some sleep and losing some weight. But, yeah, you know, once you get the bug for building products and creating companies, and really kind of bringing value to your customers, it's pretty hard to get away from that. So I always knew that I wanted to start another thing.

Tim Bornholdt 7:50
And you know, speaking of starting things, like we've talked about, you've got a background with entrepreneurship. You also have a background in software development. Did you always know you wanted to kind of marry the two together and be an entrepreneur in tech?

Eric Martell 8:04
No, not at all, actually. So when I went off to college, I did know that I wanted to be a programmer when I grew up, I guess. So that was always kind of an early focus. But candidly, the entrepreneurship thing happened on accident. And that was because I had ordered a sub sandwich from a local sub shop in Madison, Wisconsin, when I was either 19 or 20 years old. And they were using a Yahoo shopping cart, which these days, I mean, I don't even know if that still exists. But you know, it's been kind of replaced by Shopify at this point. But it was a totally crappy experience. I had a really hard time ordering, and then they actually messed up my toppings and they charged me too much. Just like, altogether, like the worst. And I, you know, approached the restaurant and said, Hey, you know, I mean, can we provide you better online ordering? You know, me and my friends will do that for you. And our goal originally with that company was to sell it for a couple thousand dollars, and put on our resumes like, Hey, these guys actually sold the company for a couple thousand dollars, so that hopefully, Google or Mark Zuckerberg would hire us and we could go work for a big tech company.

And then all of a sudden, there were lots and lots of people using our software to order sub sandwiches, and it was sort of like, Oh, off to the races, there might actually be something here. But yeah, I mean, I'm just really grateful that, you know, I kind of stumbled into entrepreneurship because that was not by any means like a super conscious decision from day one.

Tim Bornholdt 9:30
That's really funny. I see so many parallels to how when we got started too with JMG. I didn't think we were gonna be entrepreneurs. I was gonna work in a TV station. And then all of a sudden, it was like, Well, I guess we could do this tech thing and see if something happens, and then yeah, fast forward to now it's remarkable, like the accidental entrepreneur. Do you miss coding? Do you still get to code? I should ask you that. Are you still developing actively or are you managing?

Eric Martell 10:00
So the question of whether or not I miss coding, I wish I were so fortunate as to miss coding right now. I'm doing a lot of coding, because our new business, there's four of us, two in sales, and then myself and Alex are, you know, kind of wearing the founder hat, which entails fundraising, managing the company, company strategy, you know, just the day to day operations. And then also, because both of us are engineers, product building, and in our case, as you can imagine, if you're connecting physical products to well over 1000 different retailers nationwide, I am consuming API's and scraping websites, you know, from dusk till dawn, and from dawn till dusk. I guess that's 24 hours, pretty much constantly, you know, in order to make our product work.

So one of the big goals here, although I do love to code, is probably to, you know, fill out the team in such a way where we're doing a little bit less of the product work ourselves. But today, I'm very much an active software developer, as well as a founder in a startup company.

Tim Bornholdt 11:08
So like you said, the goal is to kind of fill out the team then. Ideally, would you resign yourself just to kind of be like in a darkroom coding all day? Or do you like getting out and talking to customers and doing that side of the business? Because I just know as an entrepreneur, you're wearing 1000 hats. And I know, that's one area early on, we struggled with was like, Yeah, we got a sale, and then it's like, Oh, now I got to build the thing. And then, Oh, we need to make sure after we're done with building this thing, that another thing is ready to be built right afterwards. And balancing all those, you know, plates, there's just a lot of spinning things. So I mean, at some point, do you have one area of the business that you're looking to move into or are you kind of just playing it by ear and see what happens?

Eric Martell 11:48
Yeah. So you know, I think that the definite future for both myself, and I believe I shouldn't speak for him, but like Alex, as well, would be to have a focus on the product in such a way where we can drive it to accomplish the strategic goals of our business. But that is to say, moving almost exclusively in the direction of big picture, company strategy, recruitment, you know, fundraising, some of these more, you know, kind of traditional founder activities. And that comes from two places. The first is, we're the ones who fell in love with the problem in the first place. In a lot of ways, you know, it's our creativity that is either going to cause this company to be successful or cause this company not to be successful. And the second piece is, you know, at least speaking for myself, there are people who are way better at doing the coding side than I am these days. I have been kind of an on again, off again, coder for the last decade or so. But back at Eat Street, my role was much more in operations after the first couple years where I was one of the primary builders. And, you know, I mean, we believe that, you know, if we can continue to invest in our technology team, or really get that started and start growing our technology team, we're ultimately going to end up with better results than necessarily, you know, kind of trying to fit me as a square peg into a round hole. So it's knowing oneself and knowing where you excel and where you have, you know, gaps. But right now, I'm just happy to say, it's not an everyday startup that gets to have two competent coders as founders. And that really has benefited us because it means that we haven't had to make step one finding somebody to make our products for us. We're able to hit the ground and build them ourselves. But that probably is not going to be the long term story.

Tim Bornholdt 13:41
I like the caveat of having two competent developers having, you know, both of those adjectives are important because most people have zero competent developers. And if they have developers, sometimes they're not so competent. So that kind of leads me to, like you said, you know, you kind of got a cheat code in a certain way, as opposed to most of the people listening to the show, I think are more in the the non technical founder or project manager in a big company that's looking to just kind of get an app built. So I know a lot of people just don't have that technical knowledge. How do you think they should go about finding a tech partner? I would think that as a technical person, you have a more unique perspective, just having friends that are, I'm assuming, developers as well, and hearing all the different horror stories of people finding jobs and all of that. So just kind of moving the conversation in that direction. What tips and what advice do you have for people that might be looking for that technical team?

Eric Martell 14:37
Yeah, so I'm gonna, you know, kind of throw out a disclaimer from the start, which is, I'm going to think of this as, you know, somebody who's building an app that is facilitating real world moving parts and that the real secret sauce of the company, because of that, is likely not to be the technology. And what that means, you know, to illustrate with an example, is like an ecommerce company, where like, you know, you want your technology to work great. I mean, you want it to actually be exceptional. But at the end of the day, the value that you're providing to your customer is the fact that the item that they purchased online shows up at their doorstep in a timely fashion and works the way that they expected it to. And, you know, cost an amount of money that the customer found to be compelling enough to pull the trigger and actually buy it. You know, the counter example would be if you were going to start a company whose specialization was in artificial intelligence or machine learning, at which point, I'm probably not even the right guy to ask that question to, because I've never built a company like that. But for your kind of standard, call it like a class of problems that's been solved, I mean, you know, ecommerce has been done before, like, even you know, social messaging apps, like those have been done before. And therefore, there's a lot of groundwork, you know, in how to build these successfully, then I would say, the first thing that you want to do is find somebody who really buys into the compelling, you know, problem and mission statement of your company. So I'd say, you know, more than the pedigree of having worked at Google in the past, or being, you know, a college educated programmer, I would find somebody who's just as passionate as you are about what the company is looking to accomplish. Because it's been, you know, shown time and again, that software developers in particular are like 10 times more productive when they're working on something that they care deeply about, relative to just punching the clock from a nine to five.

The next thing that I would focus on is somebody who can move quickly and accomplish, you know, say, 90%, of the feature set and the goals of the business practically as little time as possible. So again, to illustrate that with an example, if you have an ecommerce shopping cart, and you find somebody who thinks that they can get a shopping cart up and running for you in a matter of a couple of weeks, and start actually selling and interfacing with customers, that's going to be a tremendous advantage in the early days, because you're going to be able to start collecting customer feedback, relative to a perfectionist who says, I'm going to build you the most elegant, wonderful shopping experience ever. But it's going to take me a year. And even at that point, you know, it may be plus or minus a couple months. Even though eventually, your company wants to have that category number two product, you know, the elegant, insane, best shopping cart that anybody's ever experienced, it's probably not very practical to go there right off the bat, because you're going to lose so much time. And heaven forbid, but it happens to all of us, when you turn the lights on for your digital store, and there are just crickets because nobody's actually buying from you, you've built a solution, and you know, it's not getting any practical use.

So one thing that I always focus on is finding the right developers for the right stage of your company. If you're just getting something off the ground, don't worry about having a perfect product, don't worry about having zero technical debt, if you're familiar with that term, which basically means people did the right stuff early on so that you don't have to come back and fix problems later on. Don't worry about any of that kind of stuff. Because if you can get your first thousand people to use your website or your app, for whatever its intended purposes, even if it's a little bit clunky, the world of opportunities as far as resources available to you is going to open up and you can always improve it. But if you kind of pigeonhole yourself in with an early stage perfectionist, who's going to want to move more slowly in favor of higher quality, even though that's like, kind of, in a lot of cases, the intuitively correct way to go about accomplishing something, there's this weird exception to that rule in startup land that basically says, you know, moving fast is much, much, much better than moving perfectly. So I'd find a developer whose philosophy kind of aligns with that way of thinking as well. So the gist would be, you know, hire for speed over quality and find somebody who cares just as much about what you're trying to accomplish as you. And if you have those two pieces, I'd say that you're off to a really good start.

Tim Bornholdt 19:11
I love it. Like you said, especially with those early days, speed is everything, exactly like you said having that shopping cart. I can't tell you how many times people just stress out over, Oh this button needs to go here and not here. It needs to be four pixels over and it's like, Does the button work? Like that's the important part. We can A/B test till the cows come home. You're not gonna have anything if you just don't even have a site up.

But one question I wanted to throw your way too because I know you've been through the whole cycle of it, so the move fast, break things, we're all very familiar with that when you're talking about MVP. You and I did a panel with Twin Cities Startup Week about kind of moving from that MVP mindset to like a series A mindset and you did say, you know, there's a difference between moving fast and moving perfect. Where is that point in a business? When do you start to worry about that long term quality and going back and maybe paying back technical debt and doing all that fun stuff? Is there like some kind of signs that you look for to move into that kind of phase of your team?

Eric Martell 20:17
Yeah, so this is an interesting question in that it kind of marries, you know, a product philosophy and a business philosophy together. And, you know, a good company, at least it's my opinion, that should be pretty much, you know, intrinsically linked from day one. So, in a lot of cases, when a company is just getting up and running, you want to get it in front of people as quickly as possible to get their feedback to see if they actually want what you're selling. And so in a lot of cases, in the world of raising money and getting a company off the ground, we would call that a pre seed or a seed stage where basically, you have like a really good idea. And what you're trying to do is validate out that your idea is as good as you think it is, by having people actually bite on it. In a lot of ways, the analogy that I've heard is that, seed is about, you know, putting together the recipe for a cake that you're gonna bake, and then series A is more like, Okay, you have the recipe, now you're gonna bake the cake. And then from there on, you know, Series B, series C, it becomes like baking multiple cakes. How do you build a cake factory, like those kinds of questions.

I would say that the expectations in terms of investors and candidly, like your own expectations as founders, in order to be successful, should originally just be getting usage, like people using your app for the first time and getting their feedback. Eventually, what you're going to find, and this usually happens around the series A point, is that it's a lot less expensive to reengage somebody than it is to get somebody new to try something, and you kind of got to get both. But you know, again, to illustrate that one with an example, if I'm an ecommerce website, it's a lot easier to get somebody to buy something again after they already have an account with me than it is to get a new person to go and make a purchase from me. And in the case of how that affects your company revenue wise, obviously, a purchase is a purchase, so why not take advantage of the customer base that you've already built. And this brings me back to the point of when you start basically paying down technical debt and fixing bugs and really investing in products, it's when you notice that your retention numbers are a bigger opportunity probably for you than the new customer numbers perhaps are at that exact moment in time. Meaning if I have 10,000 people who have already bought something from me, and you know, of them, like 2000 of them are really frustrated with me, because they didn't have this feature, there was a glitchy process in the process of buying from me, then it's time for you to invest. Because if you can get those 2000 people to purchase from you again, that's going to be way less expensive, and, you know, fuel a better business dynamic, than, you know, just constantly paying to get more and more people through the door through marketing only to have them have kind of a crappy experience.

So I would say that it's at the point when you as a business owner recognize, Hey, you know, people aren't really coming back as much as I want them to. They you say, Well, they're probably coming back because my product sucks, or at least my product, you know, needs improvement. And that is the point when I would really start moving in the direction of focusing not only on learning from the new customers, but from trying to reengage your existing customers. And that usually means, you know, significant investments into the product itself.

Tim Bornholdt 23:42
It's just fascinating because I I'm a big sucker for a good analogy, and you pumped out two of them there that I'm gonna steal.

Eric Martell 23:51
For sure, dude, I just hope that I'm not rambling on for too long. But yeah, school of hard knocks stuff.

Tim Bornholdt 23:59
Well, yeah. I mean, even the analogy of the seed round being kind of the recipe for getting the cake and then series A being actually baking the cake, I know a lot of first time founders that would find that analogy very, man, talk about a bad joke, delicious.

Eric Martell 24:18
I love it.

Tim Bornholdt 24:20
Well, talking about some earlier parts of your career as well, you used to be managing director over with generat8r. And so it'd be hard to have you on the show and not talk a little bit about accelerators and how that might be useful for people, especially people building apps. So, you know, there's obviously a ton of accelerator programs out there. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs listening here that think they need an accelerator but are having trouble getting into one? I think, we could talk about this for probably hours, I would imagine.

Eric Martell 24:56
Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Well, a couple thoughts. First of all, obviously, we're living in kind of a weird time of the world right now with COVID. And in some ways that actually opens up opportunities with accelerators, because a lot of accelerators require you to move to wherever that accelerator is being hosted, in order to participate. But right now, basically, every accelerator is going remote. So part of my advice would be if you're interested in accelerators, but you're not getting into the local ones, I mean, wident out your net. In fact, you know, I think that that piece of advice, you know, kind of applies to starting a business broadly. I mean, it's probably going to take 10 times more sales calls that you would expect to get your first customers. It's going to take 10 times more investor conversations. You're going to hear no 90% of the time, whether or not you're, the world's greatest founder, or you're just getting going and learning how to get going. So the gist would be, you know, persistence, when it comes to getting into an accelerator is going to be the number one attribute and especially given the current world that we live in, apply for a reputable accelerator in Alaska, if that's what it takes. And you know, especially again, if you think that's what's going to be necessary to make your company successful, or get to that next major milestone.

But the second piece, and by the way, I mean, I loved my time at generat8r. I was there for two years, I supported 10 companies in the formal generat8r program, helped out a lot of other companies as well, along the way. It was awesome. But in the same way that founders sometimes I think look at investors and tend to forget that they're human beings too, you can find yourself kind of falling into that trap with accelerators, where you say, Oh, my gosh, you know, this sounds so amazing, like, the services that they provide are so awesome. They're gonna, you know, accelerate my business in a way that I never could on my own. You have to remind yourself accelerators are nothing but teams of humans who have worked very, very hard to build out the resources that they built to provide to the companies. So like, for instance, when I started the generat8r Minnesota office, I was reaching out to a lot of the mentors that these days talk to the generat8r Minnesota companies and saying, Hey, you know, I'd love to buy you a coffee, and, you know, get you involved in generat8r. But there's nothing magic about the fact that I did that, as opposed to a founder themselves doing that. So the point is, you can be very successful without an accelerator. Now, I think accelerators are really helpful, because basically, what you've done is taken a lot of the legwork that a founder would have to do and you know, put it on a person like myself or the other generat8r employees to have basically created those opportunities while you're busy working on other stuff as a founder. But you as a founder can get to all of these same mentors, you can get to all of these same investors, you can get to all of the same experts that an accelerator will provide you through a little bit of tenacity and hard work on the part of a founder. And so if you're hearing no, try more. If you keep on hearing no, then forget them. Go ahead and build your own destiny, because the same people that accelerators will hook you up with, you can kind of make your own destiny by actually building those inroads yourself. And I don't mean to make it sound like trivial undertaking, because it certainly isn't. But if given the choice between trying to, you know, create for yourself the same benefits of an accelerator or shut down your business, I mean, I would strongly encourage you to pursue the mentors that you think are going to be the most helpful with just a LinkedIn message and asking them to meet up. And, you know, you might be very pleasantly surprised to find that you can build your own network that an accelerator would be providing to you just through your own tenacity, if you really put your mind to it.

Tim Bornholdt 28:53
I've been mentoring some students at Prime Digital Academy, and they're all talking about, how do you find a job because obviously you go to school, you want to come up with a job on the other end. And I can't tell you the number of times I've told people, just reach out to people at companies. Just go on LinkedIn, you can find all these people, they're all there, even if it's just their name and all that, you can still track down their information and their emails and get in touch. Take them out for a virtual coffee. When when we're in the after times, we can maybe take people out for coffee again. But it's amazing that people don't take that extra step or they get this kind of FOMO or I don't know what the right analogy is for the feeling people get, like just nervous or scared that they're going to get rejected and they get the imposter syndrome. That's it, where people think they're going to just see right through them. And I think most investors and most mentors and most developers, I don't know very many people that would be like, Nope, not going to meet with you at all. You know, if you're going up and talking to like Mark Cuban or somebody like that, you probably have a little bit of uphill battle, you know, trying to get your way in there. But it's not impossible. They're all just people. And I think at the end of the day, everybody wants to help and give back as best they can. So you kind of have to be strategic about who you go after. But yeah, I would agree with you that with accelerator programs, you get some of that baked in, and all that legwork has already been done for you. But there is nothing holding people back from going out and getting that stuff done yourself. But like you said, it's just gonna take a lot more work.

Eric Martell 30:35
Yeah. And I mean, Mark Cuban responds to random people on Twitter. So there you go. And for the most part, especially speaking very specifically about venture capitalists, the professional grade of startup investors, they're managing money that other people gave to them with a goal of making more money by investing that into companies. And then having those companies succeed. It borders on dereliction of job duty if they're not open to, you know, conversations with you as a founder, because it means that they might be rejecting the next Uber before the first conversation even happened.

I mean, one of the biggest takeaways of 11 years of doing this has always been how surprised I've been as the doors just continue to open if you actually have the courage to ask. Even, you know, 11 years into it, I'm surprised sometimes if I shoot out a random email, who will actually respond to that. So keeping in mind, a lot of people, especially in the investor community who want to find the next big thing, are very strongly incentivized to basically talk to everybody. You, as a founder, have an awesome opportunity to really talk to some of the best in industry, because it's their job to take your emails.

Tim Bornholdt 31:55
Yeah, I think a lot of times, being a founder is, not fetishized, but a lot of people there's a look at it in a certain light of it's just nonstop fun and cocktails and all that good stuff. And that's what a lot of it is is a lot of hard work, like sitting down and finding these people, making phone calls, getting out there, doing it. Is that still part of the job that you enjoy is kind of sitting down and actually building those networks? Or have you kind of gotten to a point in your career where you have a lot of the networks established, and you can kind of raise your hand and the whole world responds? How does it work for you?

Eric Martell 32:34
No, I'm certainly not to that point, Tim. And yes, I do enjoy that part of the job. In fact, it's funny for me, but I mean, hopefully, it's encouraging to some earlier founders who are just getting going, it was my least favorite thing. And very fortunately, our third co founder at Eat Street, Matt, who is still there as the CEO, excelled at this from day one. But that was my least favorite part of the job was like network building, like reaching out to strangers. I mean, I just kind of came into this whole business like a little less confident, a little more shy. And I'm actually to a point where I feeling like, in the last couple of years, maybe I've just hit my stride. I think I have room for improvement that way, but I've finally turned the corner on going from dreading it to enjoying it, but it took almost 10 years. But even in the early days, even though every single time that I press send an email by heart rate was jackhammering, it was positive reinforcement that got me from there to here. Because, you know, so often, really amazing things happen when you just push yourself out of your comfort zone and were bold enough to reach out to somebody or try to build it in road to somewhere that you felt like you had no reasonable place doing. So, to answer your question, yes, I do enjoy it now. But I have not always enjoyed it.

Tim Bornholdt 33:56
Yeah, that positive reinforcement's a good point to make, because, you know, the worst thing that you can get is no, right, if you reach out to somebody. You can get a no. More often than not, you're going to get just silence. And then occasionally you're going to get those, Yeah, I'll take a chance and hear what you have to say. And that's the kind of stuff that just keeps you driving forward. Because as an entrepreneur, your biggest job is to be a leader and to express that vision that you have of changing the world a little bit differently in attracting customers and teammates and getting all that infrastructure built around you to help bolster that cause. And kind of going back to what you said earlier, you know, a motivated developer's probably 10 times more efficient than an unmotivated developer. And the same goes for once you get rabid fans, it kind of helps that snowball going and it helps keep you going as on your end you're kind of filtering out those 999 no's to ultimately get to that one yes, where then you can go on Forbes and say that you were an overnight success.

Eric Martell 35:03
Right. Yeah. I mean, no doubt about it. And when you read about people raising these tremendously large financing rounds, you got to keep in mind, you know, there's a very good chance they've been told "no" anywhere from one to 100 times before somebody gave them the choice but the "no's" don't get reported and the "yes" does. So, yeah, it's a practice in tenacity. I mean, there's just no two ways about it.

Tim Bornholdt 35:25
It's part of the fun. Well, I know, you've got to leave here in a few minutes. But I did want to squeeze in one more topic of discussion here. And again, we had talked about you and I were on a panel during Twin Cities Startup Week, and it was mostly around scaling. I'd love to talk a little bit more in depth on any particular techniques or strategies that you have used for scaling Eat Street and and Pear Commerce. When you think about scale, I mean, I like to think about it from the technical standpoint. We can talk about, you know, whichever direction you want to go, but I think it might be interesting for our audience to hear, you know, technical people talking about, what are the things you're worrying about from your technical stack, you know, from the back end to the apps to whatever you have working on it? You know, what do you think about when you think about scaling your tech stack to be able to go along with the growth that you're experiencing with a startup?

Eric Martell 36:23
Yeah, absolutely. That's an awesome question. I'll give a business tech, kind of, marriage question. And then I'll give a pure tech question after that, or answer after that. So the business tech marriages, very often, especially people who kind of were hired on as a developer, don't think of their role at a company as being actually growing the business so much as keeping the business alive, keeping the lights on, you know, making sure that the website loads. And tech, in my experience, and this has been in both companies, has been the number one driver of business growth, which is not to say, again, that we have such a magnificent website or app that everybody's walking around and saying, Oh, you have to use this. But rather completely outside of the tech stack entirely, using technology to get new people to try your business. So I'll drive that home with an example. You know, and I think I'm allowed to do this because the statute of limitations has passed, and I don't think that it was ever wrong in the first place what we did. But the University of Wisconsin, you know, gave you once upon a time, and I don't know if they still do, the ability to look people up on their website. So you could search for Eric Martell, and you can see what his email address was. They didn't just give you a list of 40,000 email addresses; you had to search for everybody. So we downloaded the most common first and last names, I think, you know, 5000 of each. So 5000 times 5000 is 25 million, and we ran for a week straight, once a second, or however that came out to be, you know, searches on their service, scraping it and putting that into our database. And then all of a sudden had every student at the University of Wisconsin's email address, and used it to say, Hey, here's our service. And by the way, like, we're launching a couple really awesome restaurant specials right now where you can save money, head on over to our website, and go ahead and order your food. And again, I mean, Eat Street does nothing like that these days. But to get your business off the ground, I think, it's safe to say the three co founders, me and the two others would agree, the business probably never would have even gotten its first 100 transactions if it hadn't been for that tactic. So using technology, not only as the basis of the product, but also as the basis of marketing, especially when you're a scrappy startup that can take risks and do crazy stuff, like what I just described, is actually going to probably be the best lever for growth that you're going to have access to.

So that's the business technology related answer. In the world of pure tech, I'm really gonna nerd out here. I'll say that my experience has been the database is the biggest bottleneck like 90% of the time, because I think AWS has done an amazing job. I mean, we host on Amazon, but I'm sure it's the same across any hosting platform, where, you know, you could scale horizontally, you can fire up more app servers. And those could, you know, just basically like handle as many HTTP requests to your website, or your app or your API, as a person is ever going to come up with, or a business is reasonably going to get. But if those app servers are sitting on top of a database that itself cannot handle the amount of reading and writing, you're gonna find yourself in a bottleneck. So the way around that, and again you're talking to like a C+ developer when I say all this stuff, the way around it is, have a mind for your schema from day one and try to structure data in such a way where each API endpoint is only returning one or two queries worth of data. Do something in the caching layer to prevent your database or just keeling over and dying. Pear Commerce has been really fortunate, I mean, partially, because we're so small at this point still, but we've had, you know, near perfect uptime, but you know, for the hour or two that Eat Street would go down here and there, I would guess that you could diagnose the database or the database plus caching, as you know, 90 plus percent of the time the villain for those outages that we had over the course of 10 years building that company.

Tim Bornholdt 40:59
I'm laughing for many reasons. First of all, that is one of the coolest stories I've ever heard of scraping that database of emails. I went to the U of M, and they had a similar like, everyone had an X 500 email address, which was always like the first four letters of your last name and then four sequential numbers, like 0001. So like mine was born 0089 and yeah, you could pretty much infer. They started trying to do stuff to obfuscate that a little bit. But once you know the pattern, oh, man, yeah, you can have a field day with sending out those emails.

But one other thing I wanted to say was with regard to like that outage you were just talking about last weekend, my wife and I tried ordering Doordash and we got our order in but you could tell things were not exactly working correctly. And eventually their site, all their stuff was down for like an hour and a half and my wife is just sitting there freaking out. And in my mind, I'm sitting there like, Okay, there's like probably 30 DevOps nerds right now that are all like just being screamed at by everybody trying to put the site back online. And I'm sitting there in my head, like, Oh, it's probably database. It's probably, you know, because day one of the lockdown again, basically. So everyone's like, Well, I might as well order in dinner, why not? And then, yep, you get like a million requests you weren't expecting to your API and everything kind of tanks down. Yeah, it's just interesting thinking about that scale. Because when I think about scale from a tech standpoint, we do have all that, like you said, we have Amazon Web Services now. If you're really worried about like most scaling problems, like those have been solved, more or less. Again, if you get up to the size of like a Facebook, you've got other issues to worry about. But you know, it just becomes this kind of ever expanding, concentric circles of like, Okay, we got to make sure database is always in the middle, like make sure that's online and make sure you have the the servers around it to support that. And it's just like a never ending cascading effect of making sure your tech is in place. And yeah, I just I think that's a really interesting hearing, from your standpoint, what you're focusing on and what from day one, as a tech person, you know, the area that you're worried about is the database. Because it seems like that's what everybody's worried about.

Eric Martell 43:28
Yeah, and again, this would be that artificial intelligence style startup that I'm way out classed to even talk about, but, you know, whoever can basically accomplish for databases what AWS and Docker have accomplished for application servers, you know, should be a very, very wealthy individual at the end of that ride.

Tim Bornholdt 43:50
Yeah, it's funny, like, for all the advancements that we've made in technology over the last, you know, 50 years, and even in the last 20 years, when we're talking specifically about web technologies, it's like, there hasn't been a whole lot of advance. I mean, we've had like graph qL has been kind of nice to have as a way to, you know, mitigate some of those issues. But we're still kind of sitting on 20 year old tech when it comes to databases for the most part, and it will be interesting to see if we ever move on from that or what the next thing is going to be because there's always the next thing.

Eric Martell 44:25
100%.

Tim Bornholdt 44:27
Well, Eric, this has been a fascinating show, and we were worried about everyone falling asleep, and I hope that us nerding out about database tech wasn't the last drop of NyQuil for people. But I personally had a good time.

Eric Martell 44:43
Oh, I had a great time. And yeah, I mean, I guess for the non technical people, you could take the database section and put it on the Calm app and fall asleep listening to two guys getting really excited about that. But yeah, this was great, Tim, I had a really great time. Thank you for having me.

Tim Bornholdt 44:58
Is there anything you want to leave, any parting words of advice or anything you'd like to share on how people can get in touch with you or anything on that level?

Eric Martell 45:07
Yeah, absolutely. So again, I mean, it's been kind of a key point of several things that I've said, but just, you know, be tenacious. Anybody who is ever prescribing, here's the way to get from point A to point B with a startup, in my opinion, is probably blowing smoke only because there are so many ways to get from point A to point B. And so, you know, going on your gut and not giving up when you face challenges is probably a lot more important than any codified best practice. So that would be kind of, you know, my parting thought. I try to remind myself of that every day, because it's really easy to like, just get caught up and think, I'm doing everything wrong, or like, you know, this is crazy. But, you know, just keep on pushing. And you'll get to where you need to go.

As far as how to get in touch with me or anything like that, my email address is pretty simple. It's Eric with a "C" for cool at pearcommerce.com. And then Eric D as in dog Martell on Twitter. I would love to be helpful to anybody listening to this podcast if I can be in any way.

Tim Bornholdt 46:16
I love the "C" is for cool. That's fantastic. Eric, thank you so much for joining me today. This was an awesome episode. Thank you.

Eric Martell 46:23
Awesome. Thanks, Tim. I had a really good time.

Tim Bornholdt 46:28
A big thanks to Eric Martell for joining me today on the podcast. You can learn more about Pear Commerce by visiting PearCommerce.com.

Show notes for this episode can be found at constantvariables.co. You can get in touch with us by emailing Hello@constantvariables.co. I'm @TimBornholdt on Twitter and the show is @CV_podcast. Today's episode was produced by Jenny Karkowski and edited by the acute Jordan Daoust. If you have a minute quick before you leave, we'd really love it if you left us a review on the Apple podcast app. It doesn't take much time at all and seriously, it helps people find our show. So just head to constantvariables.co/review and we'll link you right there. This episode was brought to you by The Jed Mahonis Group. If you're looking for a technical team who can help make sense of mobile software development, give us a shout at jmg.mn.