Ship early and often — that means get something out into the world as quickly as you can, get data, and refine from there. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” they say, and this is especially important in building on top of the internet, the greatest feedback loop ever created.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Laczynski, co-founder and CEO of Zype.
Ed Laczynski is the co-founder and CEO of Zype, the infrastructure for digital video. He is focused on Zype’s vision, talent, and corporate strategy on the mission to connect the world’s streaming video.
Prior to Zype, Ed was the SVP of Cloud for Datapipe (acquired by Rackspace), building one of the world’s fastest-growing and pioneering enterprise cloud management companies. Before then, he was the founder of LTech, an early cloud backup and management software startup and early Google and Amazon Web Services cloud partner, which was acquired by Matlen Silver Group in 2009. Ed has also held product leadership positions at Volt and Credit Suisse.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure. I was fortunate to grow up with a techie dad. He worked at Hewlett-Packard, the original Silicon Valley company, and instilled entrepreneurial values in me from a very young age. He used to bring home computers like the IBM XT for me to play with when I was really young, around 6 years old. As soon as I got my hands on that computer and learned to program on it, I knew I wanted to be doing something in technology. I owe so much to my dad and his encouragement of me to explore this passion at a young age.
I also grew up “analog” and witnessed the digital transformation of society as I grew up. I got involved in the Internet relatively early (in the late ’90s) and went to work at a bank building their first internet-facing systems. I had some great mentors along the way to help me figure out how to build on my skills and start building products and teams.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My co-founders and I had built several streaming video services for media companies in the mid-2000s. It was very complex and costly but we knew we were onto something. We saw that there was an opportunity to build an awesome video API that would make it easier for future developers to build great services. But the timing wasn’t quite right.
It wasn’t until a few years later, about a year before we launched, that I had the real “aha” moment. I was watching a New York Rangers game with my family on traditional cable TV. I looked down and my 6-year-old son, Luke, was watching Power Rangers on my iPad. It was then that it just sort of clicked for me that the video distribution landscape was going to change, permanently and drastically, and I knew it was time to rally a team to build that API that we thought of years earlier.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Building a company is incredibly difficult. You always hear stories about overnight success, but the reality of it is that most entrepreneurs have to fail many times, and it takes many years — decades even — for the majority of great companies to emerge and find their potential. When starting Zype, we had a few scary moments where we faced several challenges, such as a financial constraint, an important team member’s health issue, or realizing that our sales strategy needed to be completely rebuilt from the ground up.
However, I’ve been grateful to have a great support system — a great team, a supportive family, and thoughtful investors — that have been there for us in the good times and bad. That is what makes the drive possible. But what really motivates me is seeing the products that we build being used by so many people. Today, over 70 million households watch video on a Zype-powered stream — and seeing that validates that what we’re building is a force for good and proven method of building a durable company.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going well for Zype. While it is bittersweet because of the global pandemic and how that is impacting so many lives, this year has been monumental in how enterprises use and value digital video and streaming. The demand for digital streaming solutions has surged, and we are proud to be part of the streaming revolution. We are solving the complexities of digital video infrastructure and distribution, and enabling so many people and organizations to thrive despite not being able to be physically present together. I’m incredibly proud of how the Zype team responded to the many challenges of 2020. This year we achieved many major accomplishments, including a new product launch, debuted a new brand, grew our streaming footprint by over 400%, hit 15 billion video API calls per month, and ended the year profitably. I’m proud of the grit our team showed and how we truly rallied in mid-March when we went fully remote — all without skipping a beat. We figured out how to adapt to a remote work culture very quickly, and without losing sight of our core values. That is a big success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes Zype stand out is our customer-centricity, which is rooted in our core values — defined as courage, hard work, awesomeness, resourcefulness, and thoughtfulness.
However, 2020 was all about courage for us in many ways. The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work and created a tremendous amount of demand for video streaming infrastructure. Because of this, we saw a wide range of new, non-traditional customers interested in video streaming strategies. While our traditional customer base are enterprises — larger organizations with marketing teams, engineering resources, and product management capabilities — in the early days of the pandemic, we saw a large demand for our services from small businesses. In our customer-centric fashion, we wanted to offer new customers a service that was a better fit for them.
We had interest from organizations such as group fitness companies and local gyms — businesses that are certainly smaller than the enterprises we usually work with. These folks were faced with empty gyms and membership suspensions and cancellations. To help do our part to help the fitness community that we are proud to be a part of, we created a new low-cost, self-service product called Zype X. We built a new automatic onboarding system to support it and conducted weekly learning sessions with the community during peak pandemic months in late spring and early summer this year to ensure new customers had all the support they needed. Our team of Zypesters from all departments contributed to this effort, and it’s something that we’re really proud of. It speaks to how fearless and creative our team got when navigating unique challenges in order to support our customers.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find ways to force yourself to disconnect. Focus on your interests and hobbies, and lean on support systems outside of work, like family and friends. One thing that really helped me become a better CEO, a better dad, and ultimately a better steward for our company’s mission was to volunteer as a coach. There is nothing like sitting on the sidelines during a game or running drills during a practice with a bunch of screaming kids to force you off your phone, into the world, and get perspective. Coaching has become a true passion of mine and where I can refocus on other passions in life — such as spending more time with my kids and getting involved with the community.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have over 200 B2B customers that stream to more than 70 million households. Zype is the infrastructure for digital video — we are focused on the companies that are building video streaming into their mission-critical products and services. We work with a wide range of organizations such as media companies, fitness, health, sports, and enterprises, to integrate a video-first strategy that helps them thrive. To do this, we have to make sure we deliver a ton of value in a customer-centric fashion. Customer support and excellent service has been at the forefront of our offering. Whether it’s our help center for developers and product teams, our email, phone, and even whiteboard sessions, we are very focused on understanding our customers’ needs and helping them design a solution that works for them. I think a lot of our success is rooted in how we meet our customers’ needs and work to understand and solve their challenges.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We are a SaaS. We sell a subscription to our suite of products — our platform — on a monthly or annual basis, and then charge for usage on top of that for key streaming services like encoding, content delivery, and transaction processing — think ad calls or viewer signups.
Initially, we had considered also selling advertising directly but, instead, found that we could be more successful if we partner with ad networks and ad tech companies. Today, we work with some of the largest advertising companies in the world, like Google and Freewheel so that our customers — the streaming enterprises — have choice and flexibility.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Ship early and often — that means get something out into the world as quickly as you can, get data, and refine from there. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” they say, and this is especially important in building on top of the internet, the greatest feedback loop ever created.
- Know your customer — when we first started Zype we built personas — prototypical people who might be interested in our service. Today, those personas have shifted and are quite different than those we created in 2015, from who we’re working with today. However, it all started with a thesis of who our customers were. It then took us actually going out and talking to the customers that we were trying to serve.
- K.I.S.S when it comes to business models — I can look back at any failures I’ve had, large or small, as a function of “trying to do too much at once”. This is especially true with business models. I advise many early-stage CEOs, and an error I often see is when they present 3 or 4 different plans to generate revenue, often conflicting with each other. My advice? Keep it simple and choose one way to make money and run with it. Other revenue opportunities will emerge once you have something in the market that people are paying for.
- Pick your SaaS type and build around that — One of our early investors Peter Bauert (formerly of Runa Capital) told me that there are three types of software businesses. Those that help customers make more money, help them save money, or help them become “compliant” — or secure, regulated, etc. Once you know your SaaS type, there are playbooks and resources, and helpful learnings out there to follow that will make your journey easier.
- Traction favors the bold — To get your first 100 or 1,000 users or paying subscribers to your SaaS, you have to think creatively. Techniques like “engineering as marketing” where you build a free tool to get users, paid marketing, affiliate programs, surveys, user acquisition incentives, other tactics have all been used by successful early-stage SaaS companies. These strategies are used to seed initial growth, quickly learn from more users, and ultimately build a platform to scale on. If you merely build it, customers won’t come. You need to find ways to cut through the clutter and go out and grab their attention.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can visit our website at: www.zype.com, or reach out on Twitter (@zype), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/zypevideo/), or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/zype-inc/). You can also connect directly with me on Twitter (@edla) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/edlaczynski/)
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!