Jon: Hi, I’m Jon Thomas. Thank you for joining us on My Marketing Fix. Today, I’m really excited. We’ve got a great host here with us. His name is Brad Gamble. Brad, who are you and what do you do buddy?
Brad: Hey Jon. Brad Gamble, I’m currently the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for a new startup here in Gainesville, Florida called ApexTek Labs. It’s an engineering design firm; started almost a year ago now. That’s my new company and we’re trying to do great things.
Jon: Fantastic. There’s a lot going on downtown for sure. It seems like every time you pick up a copy of the paper, or if you get an email from the local Chamber of Commerce, there’s certainly a strong startup scene happening down there; especially coming out of the University of Florida in Innovation Square. But, you’ve been in Gainesville probably about 10 years now and you were doing sales and marketing for Infinite Energy I think for a number of years. What kind of things did you do there?
Brad: Sure. Actually I moved to Gainesville from South Florida in 1997 to finish going to school at University of Florida and was hired as a sales representative at Infinite Energy, which at the time was a small retail and wholesale natural gas provider based here in Gainesville, and actually spent 15 years with Infinite Energy. The last eight of those years I was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing and the company grew just exponentially. I think I was about the 20th person they hired and its grown to high to today about 350 – 375 employees and the company is doing $500 – $600 million dollars a year in business with probably about $110 – $120 thousand natural gas and electricity customers throughout the United States. The company is incredible. When I left Infinite Energy about a year ago, I remember in my farewell speech, I talked about how I feel like I received probably 10 master’s degrees while in my time there. It was just an incredible experience.
Jon: Oh yeah, I can imagine. That type of growth too, to be involved in something like that it’s just a learning curve—the things that are going on because I’m sure your on boarding sales people. How big were your sales teams?
Brad: I think at the peak I had about 100 sales reps; the majority of those were telephone reps. We had a very large inside sales department or call center in Gainesville. We had a smaller call center up in our Atlanta office and had anywhere from 10 – 15 outside sales reps as well and then had a marketing team of about probably 8 – 10 people. It was a pretty good sized team. Its crazy thinking that there’s 110 – 120 people all trying to grow the business at the same time.
Jon: Yeah that’s a large number of people to try and manage. I’m assuming that they’re in two locations here in Gainesville and Atlanta most of your inside sales people were probably in some type of cubicle-type setting, so you’ve got little warrens of sales people kind of everywhere that you got to try and manage.
Brad: Yeah we had about an 80 seat call center—well still do at the main office here in Gainesville; just a beautiful campus, beautiful building. We had actually a raised stage, we called it the fish bowl, that was right in the middle of this 80 seat call center and it was just a sea of cubicles. They weren’t super tall, so you could still see everybody’s heads and we do games and play music and do anything we could—had our morning meetings to get the whole team fired up and really make things happen that day. It’s an incredible environment.
Jon: I bet. I bet it is. Now today is different but when I first got into inside sales we spent a ton of time on the phone and I’m assuming that you guys did too probably with some digital media as well with email and different stuff like that. Is a majority of that stuff online or is it just good old-fashioned pick up the phone and talking to people?
Brad: It’s amazing how it has changed over the years. I remember in the late 90s everything was phone-based. The vast majority of sales were outbound and that’s a very, very difficult job to do; the outbound call businesses and outbound call residential customers trying to earn their business. As the years went by more and more people wanted to shop online; less and less people wanted to actually talk to somebody. That’s where we really grew our digital footprint and really that’s what helped catapult the company into these huge, huge customer accounts that they gain by having an online presence. We learned that probably in 2005 – 2007 timeframe. Being in the deregulated energy business most people don’t want to talk to somebody; you want your gas turned on, you want your electricity turned on and be done with it. Developing an online presence was critical to our success and I had just an unbelievable marketing team there. They would focus on social media. They would focus on our web content or web management/designers/copywriters. It was really incredible what that small team would do to help our digital presence and that’s what we have seen even today. So many people are shopping online; so few people actually want to call in and talk to somebody. As sales and marketing industry itself we have to adapt to that and that’s the biggest thing is being able to adapt.
Jon: For sure. Think about it, Christmas is right around the corner and I don’t know about you and your family but I would think that probably 95% of everything we purchase for the family will be through Amazon Prime just about.
Jon: You can’t beat the shipping.
Brad: That’s right.
Jon: And just the ease of use on it. You left Infinite Energy and now you’re working in the startups downtown. You work for a couple of different startups don’t you?
Brad: Yeah actually my real desire was to get into the downtown startup scene. Working west of I-75 on the west side of Gainesville, and not doing actually any business in Gainesville for Infinite Energy, very rarely did we actually reach out to the Gainesville community. You kept hearing about this vibrant startup community you read about in the paper and stuff and online but I really wanted to dive into it. Actually the CEO of Infinite, Darren Cook, introduced me to one of his friends named Augie Lye, who was a serial entrepreneur, had started several very successful companies in the Gainesville startup scene. We met, hit it off, he told me about a new company that he was starting—the new company being ApexTek Labs and what his vision was for the company. I met his lead engineer, Cliff, and us three hit it off, fell in love with their designs and what products they wanted to look to develop, and from a sales and marketing perspective it’s a dream to have an amazing product to sell. That’s what I started to see what their visions were for their products lines and came on board about 10 months ago and right now the three of us plus a team of interns, most of which from University of Florida, are clawed and scrapping trying to get something out in the market.
Jon: Now before we started recording we were looking at the honeycomb behind you. That’s one of your products?
Brad: Sure. Actually this is called HEXOshelf and what this is it’s the world’s first modular hexagon-shaped storage system that anybody can put together. You can see in the distance here it does kind of look like a honeycomb and we can build these with a 10 cell unit, 18 cell unit, 50 cell unit and this is just one of the ideas that came out of our team. We do a lot of whiteboard sessions and one of the whiteboard sessions originated with I was looking for wine storage and everything is so darn expensive online. There’s got to be a better way to do it.
Jon: Practical uses.
Brad: Yeah and it’s perfect for wine storage. We’re actually doing a Kickstarter that’s going to start next week because right now we’re 3D printing all of our clips and all the components and accessories for the HEXOshelf. We need to be able to have molds made so we can do injection molding to keep the costs down. We’re going to do a Kickstarter that will start hopefully next week it will go out and the goal is to raise enough money to begin manufacturing this product, get our molds made, and take it out to the market and see what happens.
Jon: That is awesome. That is really awesome. You said that demo you have behind you; you guys actually built the whole thing right there in your office downtown?
Brad: We did. We actually have a manufacturing space that we just moved into about three months ago in downtown Gainesville and the office side of the manufacturing space is being renovated right now, so we’re using some temporary office space here in the heart of downtown at the Sun Center. We had our team that did the CAD designs—did the solid work renders on it and we probably went through 50 different versions of our clips and components on our 3D printers that we have; finally came up with a design that we believe works, it’s very strong, very light weight, and now it’s just a matter of getting the molds made for it. It’s pretty cool seeing it go from whiteboard to prototype to hopefully something that you’ll be able to buy in IKEA one day.
Jon: Yeah that’s pretty cool. I’ve got to ask you though, how many bottles of wine did you fit into it and who brought all of the wine and when’s the party?
Brad: Well this one will fit 18 bottles of wine. Unfortunately, we don’t have 18 bottles of wine in the office here but we can simulate the weight with water bottles.
Jon: I think I like the wine better.
Brad: Yeah, well, water into wine.
Jon: Yeah there you go. Do they let you play with the 3D printers or is that strictly for engineers?
Brad: It’s pretty much for engineers. I’m a sales and marketing professional surrounded by incredibly bright engineers, so they don’t let me touch very many things in there.
Jon: No Brad, no.
Brad: I give the average Joe let me just try and play with it and see what happens and I’m usually the one that breaks stuff, which is good, because if they develop a product that I can break that means that your consumer can break it so it’s actually a good test.
Jon: Like the test dummy—here’s a sales/marketing guy, let him play with it. That’s pretty brilliant man. You guys are working on your products and developing different types of stuff like the wine rack in the back. What are some other focuses that you guys have? I know you talked about that you guys are going to do a Kickstarter next week, is that to raise money to build it or is that to kind of generate interest to get some buzz out there?
Brad: It’s both. When you do a Kickstarter you need to raise funds in order to move the project forward and the reason why we’re raising funds is so that we can get molds made so we can injection mold the clips and the components of the shelving unit which will drastically bring the price down. One of the big benefits of this is the fact that it’s very affordable, but, it’s also a market test. If you launch something on Kickstarter and it doesn’t go anywhere well that’s a good indication that you might not have a product that’s suited for taking the market, which is good because you fail quickly, you fail fast, and you fail cheap but we’re hoping that this thing takes off. It’s pretty unique and there’s nothing else like it in the market right now.
Jon: That’s awesome. Make sure you send me a link to it and we’ll put it in the show net so people can take a look at it. Have you worked with Kickstarter before? Have you done one? I know generally what it is; I have not actually put one together.
Brad: This is my first Kickstarter campaign from start to finish. It’s a lot of work—I had no idea. I have been on Kickstarter hundreds of times just looking for cool products and seeing what’s out there, but, you want to put together a quality video, you want to put together a quality campaign, good graphics, and a great story behind it and you want people to be interested in it. You don’t want a 10 minute video where you’re just reading from a script and talking about boring stuff; you want to actually have a nice, short, impactful 2 -3 minute video that makes people want to continue watching it for 2 -3 minutes and then hopefully support your campaign. That’s been the real challenge. We have done everything in house. Our video is in house, all of our shots, all of our designs, everything has been in house. We’ve looked at a lot of successful Kickstarter campaigns to see what they’ve done right and we looked at some unsuccessful ones to see what they’ve done wrong and hopefully we’ll be batting a thousand after this one leaves the shop.
Jon: Yeah that’s awesome. I wish I had done that before. I like to watch the video. Did you shot it all yourself?
Brad: Yeah. One of the members of our team is a videographer and he does some graphic design as well. We did all the video and it’s amazing how many hours of taping it takes to come up with a two minute video. We did everything in house and it’s been a great learning experience especially for somebody who has never done a Kickstarter before.
Jon: Is there a time limit on it too? So when you go live with the Kickstarter you’ve got 24 hours or 4 weeks?
Brad: You can set the time for how many days. I think it’s up to 60 days is the longest that you can have a campaign out there and we’re going to start it at 30 days because if you don’t make it after 30 days you’re probably not going to make it and we just don’t want to have it lingering out there. It’s all about how much hype you can build. If you can build a lot of hype in the beginning and get your funding coming in quickly that really helps. There are studies out there that if you have 30% of your funding by day three or 60% of your funding by day 10 then the likelihood is very high that you’re going to hit your funding goal for the campaign.
Jon: I gotcha. Now, can you externally market the Kickstarter?
Jon: Is that something you guys have a plan for so you’re going to promote it through an email list or through Facebook or Goggle, whatever?
Brad: Yeah. We’ll of course promote it through our own personal networks; Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, all of your networks that all of us and our company have. Friend and family are a big thing and they’re reaching out to bloggers. The origination of this was to create a wine rack but you can store anything in there. In the video it will show some of the other use cases; you can store shoes, you can store tools and crafting supplies, stuffed animals. It’s limitless how many things you can store in here. So we’ll be reaching out to bloggers, whether it’s wine enthusiast type bloggers, bloggers that would contribute to tech crunch and a lot of the websites out there that are always looking for new content, so that’s part of it as well. You definitely want to have your plan in place and we’re putting our plan in place to make sure that we blast this thing as loud as humanly possible.
Jon: That seems like Gary Vaynerchuk would probably be a guy that would be interested in a wine storage.
Jon: That’s interesting. Now, we had talked previously and you told me in addition to working with Apex, Brad, you’re also doing some interning for beginning startups or young entrepreneurs.
Brad: Yeah absolutely and when I left Infinite Energy after 15 years part of me just really wanted to give back. I’ve been so blessed to be part of the Infinite Energy for so many years and the CEOs and the leadership there they were mentors to me. There was this huge startup community with all of these incredibly bright engineers and entrepreneurs in downtown Gainesville and I went out there and just started meeting people and offering help. If there was budding engineering entrepreneur that came up with a new idea for a product and how to prototype and had no idea how to take it to market or had no idea how they could build a story around that product I’d meet him for coffee, we’d grab lunch and I’d just help him out and obviously no strings attached. I just wanted to help people and it’s amazing how many people you meet when you do that. I mentor a few different entrepreneurs downtown; some startups, some more established businesses and it’s nothing formal. They’ll call me up and say “I need to bend your ear for an hour. Can we grab lunch or can we grab a coffee?” and that happens often.
Jon: That’s pretty cool. Do you ever work with them on pitching their ideas to venture capitalists or is that something you guys are doing now or done in the past?
Brad: Yeah and funding is a big deal. As the CEO of Infinite Energy says, “Profit is the lifeblood of your business. If you’re not making profit you probably won’t survive.” You can either make money for your company by selling product or you can make money by getting investment capital or seed money or something that will extend your runway out as long as possible.
Jon: It’s all about the cash flow.
Brad: Yeah. But the common theme throughout all those different types of funding is you have to be able to communicate your vision, sell your passion, and tell your story. And that’s where I found a lot of incredibly bright engineers and young entrepreneurs—they struggle with that.
Jon: I would think that’s a whole different side of your brain that that’s just not the way they’re swinging.
Brad: You’re absolutely right and that’s really where I have been able to help is working on somebody’s 30 second elevator pitch to where if they meet somebody in the crowd in 30 seconds they can get them interested in what they’re doing. Being able to articulate the vision of their company, why they started the company, their product, why is this product meaningful and interesting. It’s a lot easier said than done especially if it doesn’t come natural. Very few people I have found are unbelievable engineers and incredibly charismatic well-spoken communicators and UF has some of the best and brightest. So these young engineers and entrepreneurs can either try to learn it themselves become equipped to sell their vision or another thing that’s worked is finding somebody who you can partner with who can do that; find somebody in the college of business, find somebody in advertising school or something like that that has that charismatic well-spoken bug or gene that you can work with. First and foremost I tell the guys and girls, you have to find somebody you can trust, somebody that shares your vision, somebody that compliments your skill set—that’s the most important thing because a lot of relationships do crumble when you lose trust or you don’t share the same vision of your company.
Jon: Oh sure.
Brad: That’s really been something that I’ve worked on with a lot of young entrepreneurs is don’t be scared to walk up to somebody, introduce yourself, shake their hand, look them in the eye and tell them what your passion is. It’s amazing how open and receptive somebody will be to that.
Jon: Oh for sure because when you’re talking about something you’re passionate about you’re not working at that and if it comes through to people whether an infinitely type thing like fishing or it’s some type of engineering, which I don’t have the brain for. Do you listen to a lot of podcasts yourself or how do you consume your different learning media?
Brad: I read a lot. I read everything I can get my hands on. It’s interesting going from a small company that turned into a very large successful company back to a very, very small company again. It’s been a challenge, yet, it has been really exciting forcing myself to learn everything that’s out there now in this age of digital marketing, design, how to write. I love to write but sometimes my writing style it was great 10 or 15 years ago but now it’s short, impactful, and you have to grab their attention in five seconds or else you lose the type of writing.
Jon: If you have five seconds.
Brad: Yeah, maybe three, maybe two.
Jon: For sure. There’s a guy and I forget his name but the name of his company is called Gimlet and their podcast is called Startup. It’s folks that came out of MPR with this American life and the whole podcast is them starting this company which is a distributor of podcasts of media and it’s these live interviews with him talking with these very successful venture capitalists out in California, like live on the side of the road, and the guy is just going “No you got to give it to me fast. Alright, start over. Do it again.” And this is a guy who’s obviously great at communication—has been in communication all of his life and he knows what he’s doing. He’s left his job and he’s going to start this media company focused around podcasts and then you got somebody right there on the street putting you on the spot—you got to do it man.
Brad: You have to.
Jon: It’s certainly got to be hard for somebody who is young and very talented at what they do to graduate from Yale and I got this great idea but how do I get in front of people and give them an elevator speech with probably only people like us really know what that is.
Brad: I’ve challenged some folks I have worked with to write your elevator pitch and then say it 50 times standing in front of the mirror. Commit it to memory; it sounds boring and tedious and maybe a waste of time but you’ll be amazed once you do that how much your confidence goes up, how much your passion can come through when it’s just second nature giving somebody that pitch.
Jon: Oh yeah definitely and it’s a must. I think really any type of profession that you’re going to be in you got to be able to sell yourself because if you don’t nobody is going to do it for you.
Brad: You’re right.
Jon: What do you think as far as marketing demos for startups, obviously your personal interactions like your elevator speech, if you don’t have a lot of money but you’ve got an idea where are places to go? I really like the Kickstarter idea because like you said you’re creating buzz draw so you’re seeing if it’s going to work or not work right off the bat. Do you do list building or Facebook or any type of things where you suggest people to get out there and start talking about their product or forms online?
Brad: Yeah. Anytime that you can provide interesting content to a conversation you’re going to be listened too. The great thing if you’re bootstrapping as a startup social media is free. You can blast it out to as many people as possible, but that’s great and all but if you don’t have a great story to tell nobody is going to care. So really it’s giving your input, giving interesting and helpful content to conversations that are already happening. That’s a great way to increase your following and to get some sort of feedback and some sort of interest in your product. Now, one thing that I think people forget is that you can still drive somewhere to talk to somebody, call somebody on the phone and talk to them—it doesn’t have to all be digital. In addition to the HEXOshelf that we’re working on we have a couple different technologies that we’ve developed for the solar power industry and these new products are revolutionary. And what we have done, we went to two trade shows, we exhibited our products, had an unbelievable response to them and we have called on and drove to meetings and just met with as many people as humanly possible face-to-face in the solar industry. And you have to look at who is your target market, so in solar, the vast majority of the solar industry are companies that have been around for 15 or 20 years that still like to do face-to-face business. I don’t care how many social media posts you do or how many blog posts you do you’re not going to grab the majority of that target market. You have to be able to adapt your strategy towards the market that you’re trying to go after based on what your product is.
Jon: Oh yeah definitely. I think in sales toes-to-guts is going to beat anything every time but obviously any type of touch where there’s digital media or on the phone is good but I don’t think you can beat that in-person meeting because you get the inflection of their voice and their facial—just their whole mannerisms and all that so you know where you’re at. Well great man, I really appreciate you coming on. We’re kind of coming up on our time. Where can our listeners find you and your company and the things that you’re working on, either on Twitter or Facebook?
Brad: Sure. Well we have a couple of websites: ApexTekLabs.com is our main page. We also have our HEXOshelf that we mentioned earlier, our site is about to go live, HEXOshelf.com. We do have a Facebook page that we are bringing out for the HEXOshelf and on our HEXOshelf website you’ll actually have a link that you can get to the Kickstarter campaign if people we to go to that website. So here pretty soon we will start blasting all that out to everybody.
Jon: That’s fantastic. Make sure you send that stuff to me when I post the video and we’ll include all of that in the show nets.
Brad: I will. Awesome.
Jon: Great Brad, I appreciate it bud.
Brad: Hey thanks a lot. Appreciate Jon, take care.