Always try to innovate and find ways to make your software better. There’s a lot of competition and it’s critical that you provide new ways to save time and generate more and better responses which can dramatically improve many businesses.
I had the pleasure to interview Henri Isenberg, COO of ReviewInc. Henry was instrumental in leading the design, development, and creation of one of the world’s leading SaaS companies. With over 24 years as the Chief Architect and VP with Symantec and the author of the original Norton Utilities and Anti-Virus, Henri’s passion for innovative technologies has labeled him a visionary. His exceptional record of success in guiding the development and commercialization of new tech opportunities has secured ReviewInc as a top Online Reputation Management Software System.
Thank you so much for joining us Henri! 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?
Thanks for having me Mitch, it’s a pleasure to be here. I was raised in Southern California, where I majored in Computer Science at UCLA. My passions growing up were computer science and programming. I was recruited out of UCLA to work for Symantec and commuted to Silicon Valley for over 20 years to work on Norton Anti-Virus and Norton Utilities.
I left Symantec at the height of the great recession in 2012 and had high hopes that my executive pedigree would be attractive to start-ups in Southern California. To my great disappointment, I heard the word “overqualified” again and again. The frequent rejection was painful and in sharp contrast to the many successes I had during my career at Symantec. As the months went by, I feared my productivity was slipping away. My life savings were heavily invested in the stock market, which had lost much of its value in the preceding years.
My dreams of joining a start-up faded. As I thought I was hitting rock bottom, a friend invited me to be his guest at a charity event where he hoped I could network and perhaps find some opportunities. At that event, I met a former colleague from Symantec who invited me to discuss an idea for a SaaS start-up, which eventually led to ReviewInc.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
A friend of mine had a digital marketing company that received an unfair and biased review that was hurting their sales. We realized there was a need for a software system that helps businesses manage their online reviews and increase their business reputation. The opportunity was for the software to empower the happy yet silent customers to write reviews to drown balance out the few negative and typically , biased reviews.
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?
I was introduced to Ron Laughton, a brilliant fellow technologist who had worked as an Assistant Vice President of a trillion-dollar investment firm. Together we built an alliance to create a new review management software. We started from nothing, investing in some IKEA tables, two laptops and an internet connection housed in a 150-square foot office building in the middle of nowhere.
With no salary, long commutes to the office, and none of the infrastructure and support that I had grown accustomed to, we had to do everything ourselves. Aside from creating the software, we had to develop our website, marketing materials, company logo, legal terms of service, an accounting systems, company handbook, customer service, sales team, recruiting and hiring ourselves- all on our own. But before we could do any of that, Ron built the software, and I was cold calling, trying to build sales.
In the first year and a half, we had numerous heated debates about priorities, strategy, and direction. And the fact that we could not take any salary created even more pressure to give up. The drive to continue was very simple: We heard our customers’ stories of pain trying to deal with bad reviews which confirmed the growing importance of online business reputation management.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We were constantly in touch with our customers’ needs and improving our software. We persisted and hired a team to help, which gave us the breathing room to formulate our strategy and build better software. Finally, everything took off. Things got even better when I decided to jump back into programming again and I rediscovered my passion. The combination of maintaining our vision and focus, persistence, willingness to accept tasks outside of our comfort zone lead us to where we are today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take-aways’ you learned from that?
When we built our blog we grabbed photos off the internet until we received a threatening letter. The amount they wanted for our mistake was so high, we thought our venture was over. Fortunately, with the help of an attorney, the matter was settled for not much more than the cost of licensing the images and a couple of hours for attorney fees. We learned our lesson, which turned out to be not so funny.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The experience that Ron and I brought to the company and all the lessons we learned from our previous corporate lives helped shape the software and culture of the company. For example, both Ron and I had cybersecurity experience which is critical in securing and warehousing data. Ron’s experience with big data and high-volume transactions helped ensure that our architecture was designed for reliability, speed, and growth.
My experience as an executive with large teams and a billion-dollar product line helped us shape our hiring practices and company culture. We don’t micromanage any of our employees. Instead, we empower them and trust them to do their jobs while holding them accountable for results.
Most importantly, we require everyone in the company to stay closely in tune with our customers and their specific needs. In this way, we have been able to develop software that meets the needs of both small businesses and large enterprises.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I recommend using a reward system to motivate yourself and employees. You should set realistic, smaller goals to help everyone feel productive. In addition, make sure to celebrate your accomplishments at least once a month. We have a monthly all-hands-on meeting where we review our key metrics and recognize individual accomplishments and personal events.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I would attribute my success to my business partner Ron Laughton and my wife. In general, I had been very open to sharing my thoughts and feelings regarding my business struggles. Their understanding and support made a world of difference in motivating me to keep persisting.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the 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 thousands of businesses using our software, which has been customized to meet their needs over the last 8 years. The software has been used to manage reviews from millions of customers and helped our customers secure much higher ratings.
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 monthly subscription-based software company and do not require a yearly contract. Therefore, we have to show value every month.
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.
a) Make sure the software actually provides value and solves a big problem.
b) Always try to innovate and find ways to make your software better. There’s a lot of competition and it’s critical that you provide new ways to save time and generate more and better responses which can dramatically improve many businesses.
c) Create realistic goals. Set short-term and long-term goals so that things are constantly moving forward.
d) With software, attention to detail and maintenance are important especially when your integrity is tied to providing real value.
e) Be sure to include built-in metrics within your software to make sure that it is stable and fast.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would create an educational program that helps young adults discover and build on their passion. For some it may be sports, science, debates — but for me, it was coding. Where you can create something of value out of zeros and ones — the coding that runs our communications, our banks, transportation, entertainment, and much of our entire digital world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!