Have a passion for the problem you’re trying to solve. Have core values that guide your business before you write a line of code.
I had the pleasure of interviewing R. J. Talyor. R.J. is founder and CEO of Pattern89, an artificial intelligence-based software company that optimizes paid social media advertising campaigns. Previously, R.J. was the driver behind ExactTarget’s mobile strategy, including the launch of SMS marketing in 2002 and spearheading mobile marketing during the launch of the iPhone. His leadership was also instrumental when Salesforce acquired ExactTarget for $2.5 billion in 2013, where he became the vice president of mobile products.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your back story and how you got started?
I’ve worked in the marketing tech space for 16 years, including ExactTarget, Salesforce, and a location-based social ads startup. I’ve always been driven to help marketers adopt the newest tech.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
When I was working for the location-based social ad startup, we noticed a frustrating trend: Marketers would create ads, they’d work for one week, and then they’d stop working. Marketers were then creating new content to try and improve, but they were just guessing at what would work. I asked myself, “Why isn’t this working now?” Entrepreneurs go where the pain is, and that pain point was marketers didn’t know what was working in their ads. Pattern89 came from trying new AI capabilities to help marketers understand what works in ads, without having to become a data scientist to understand why.
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?
The first product we introduced helped marketers launch dozens or hundreds of ads at the same time to test what elements were the best performing. We ended up sunsetting that product because customers don’t want to test, they just want the answers from those tests. That was a rough realization, but we had built up AI models for this product, so we moved to the solution that we have today that instructs marketers on what to do.
How are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going really well. The fact that I iterate quickly has led to today’s success, which can be overwhelming for some people. We test and implement at a fast pace, then move on to the next. One of our values at Pattern89 is “experimentation without fear of failure.” We aim for speed rather than completeness; we’re always trying new things.
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?
It wasn’t exactly “haha” funny, but we tried to trademark the original name of our company and were blocked. Not checking the trademark thoroughly enough and realizing we couldn’t get the trademark was a learning experience.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are 3 big things: 1. We developed core values when we first started the company, and we repeat them at every weekly team meeting. Everyone knows them by heart and has bought into them. We adhere to these values when making company decisions. 2. We built Pattern89 AI-first, rather than pending AI after the fact. The platform isn’t just a buzzword, it’s true AI. 3. The “silicon prairie” is a term that is gaining more ground, but it’s still unique to be a tech company in Indianapolis.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Find pockets of time to reserve for you for actual entertainment and self care. Read non-work books and exercise, or anything that gets your brain out of the business so you can come back in refreshed.
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?
Other than the obvious — my parents — is my wife. Having a partner who’s alongside you for the journey is rare. It’s a big commitment from her. The Indianapolis-based venture studio High Alpha has also been with this company since the beginning.
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?
Pattern89 has almost 1,000 users all-in that have joined us by our boiling down to every step of the funnel. We build community through thought leadership and by being a leader on AI in ethics. We also build fun tools that people can play with to not only learn the value of ad assessments, but to also learn about and know us.
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 have a SaaS subscription model. We’ve considered other options, but this is the one that works best for us.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Have a passion for the problem you’re trying to solve.
2. Validate the solution you created with as many people as you can before writing a single line of code.
3. Validate with more people. When you think you’ve validated enough, validate even more before investing additional time and money into the venture.
4. Find early partners who believe in your vision.
5. Have core values that guide your business before you write a line of code.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would start a listening movement to encourage — or force — people (including me) to listen without the ability to respond or speak for a period of time. I think more engaged listening could solve a lot of business, societal, and personal challenges facing the world.
Thank you for all of these great insights!