“It’s likely going to be a marathon and not a sprint. ” With Mitch Russo & Leland Putterman

Know that if you’re starting a company, it’s likely going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Have a mission you believe in and people you want to work with. Know that the next day will be different. And as I said earlier, solve problems as they get in your way. As part of […]

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Know that if you’re starting a company, it’s likely going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Have a mission you believe in and people you want to work with. Know that the next day will be different. And as I said earlier, solve problems as they get in your way.

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 Leland Putterman.

Leland has been in the software and services industry for over 35 years. He currently advises or is on the Board of Centro Media (digital media), Solarsense (alternative energy development), Realnex (real estate software), Spruce (apartment digital services), Patchr (circuit board design) and Trivie (training reinforcement) where he is a co-founder & Executive Chairman. He helps these companies with strategy, marketing, sales and general mentoring. Previously, Leland set the strategy for Acorn Performance Group and oversaw its daily operations. He brings extensive experience in managing large organizations that deliver software solutions and consulting services to corporate customers. Prior to Acorn, Leland was at BMC Software, where he served as an Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer. There, he was responsible for worldwide marketing operations and grew the division to 275 employees, as BMC evolved from a mainframe product vendor to an enterprise software company. Prior to BMC, Leland worked for Oracle in various senior management positions, including Vice President of Product Marketing and Regional VP of Sales. He received a B.A. with Honors in Economics from Princeton University.

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?

I’ve been in the software space for over 35 years. I started my career at IBM in sales, left after 3 years to help start Oracle sales in Texas and ultimately was a Regional VP of sales for Oracle and then a VP of Product Marketing. I left Oracle to joint BMC as an Executive Officer where I was focused on helping them get into the open systems market. I left BMC in 1999 and ultimately ran Acorn Systems (a leader in Profitability and Cost Management) for over a decade. Along the way, I’ve served on the Board of over a dozen companies, mostly small. We started Trivie in 2012 as a consumer trivia game. The idea for Trivie came about in a conversation in the early 2000s about games of skill played simultaneously by millions of people. The technology wasn’t available at the time to do this but by 2012, we revisited the idea and decided to create a company that could do that.

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 we came up with the idea of Trivie, consumer games were being downloaded and purchased for 99 cents. From the time we started the company until we launched, that changed for word and trivia games. Downloads were primarily free with “in-app” purchases as the monetization. We weren’t instrumented for that, but we decided to launch our product and we got over 3 million downloads. Problem is we weren’t making much money. We had a lot of unsolicited emails from people asking if we ever thought about offering Trivie as a corporate training app. We researched it and determined that the big elephant in the room for everyone in training is the human biology problem — people forget. And they forget their training fast. We had our MISSION — ensure that people remember their training, reduce training costs, reduce incidents that occur because people forget their training.

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?

We all read about successful companies. The vast majority of them have problems and then they figure things out. We’ve had some of the typical issues…access to capital, we’re evangelizing a solution that doesn’t exist so that’s always hard, etc. Our entire team has intestinal fortitude. When the times are hard, we worked through them. When you hit a problem, you solve it. When you have a roadblock, go around it. Figure it out. That’s what we did when we first pivoted Trivie to corporate training. The game app just was not going to make it financially, so we figured out a way to leverage the money we had spent building a unique, scalable solution into another app.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We have grown the business over 80% in the last 6 months and we are closing business during the pandemic. Our solution is something I wish every company had because they need it now. We help ensure effective training and also effective communication. Those are critical now.

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?

I was doing a seminar when I was at Oracle and after the seminar was over, I asked for questions. Someone in the front row asked, “What does Oracle do?” At the time, I was 20-something and I likely was incredibly unprepared for the question. I’m sure I answered with something. Looking back, I should have answered with a question like “we just spent an hour talking about Oracle and it’s capabilities. Can you be more specific?” Patience is a virtue. With Trivie, we are constantly thinking about ways to better message our solution. When COVID hit, we had an epiphany that companies could use Trivie to dramatically improve the effectiveness of corporate communications (not just training). In a world of remote workers, this is a must-have solution if companies want to ensure that their employees are reading and understanding what they’re being sent. It’s also critical to maintain your company culture even though your people are isolated physically from each other.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have an incredibly elegant solution (easy to use, easy to implement (less than a day), it has incredible impact on the knowledge retention and communications of a company as well as the culture and it is inexpensive. In a normal training setting, a person may only remember 20 percent of their training one month after. With just under 10 minutes of Trivie use each month, that retention rate jumps up to 90 percent.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Know that if you’re starting a company, it’s likely going to be a marathon and not a sprint. Have a mission you believe in and people you want to work with. Know that the next day will be different. And as I said earlier, solve problems as they get in your way.

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’ve been very fortunate to have worked with and for an amazing group of people. One of my bosses at Oracle taught me the importance in negotiations of a quid pro quo…getting something when the client or partner is asking for something. This has so many strategic implications for success. As we negotiated deals at Oracle, inevitably, the client would ask for something and we would respond with an ask, normally something like “can you get us payment when we close the deal?” That’s something that’s easy for the client to say yes to and it means a lot to a small software company.

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 currently have over 250,000 licensed users on our platform and we anticipate growing to over 1,000,000 by the end of this year. How to build a community of users? Step 1. Build a solution that solves a big problem. Step 2. Create a market message that is clear, concise and compelling. Step 3. Have a great team. Step 4. Communicate well.

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 tried multiple monetization models and our primary pricing is monthly subscription. We have other models as well, depending on the use case. I would suggest to your readers that early on in a company’s existence, pricing should not be a friction point with clients.

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.

1. Pick something that either has a market but you have a way to improve it or that doesn’t have a market and you can create it. Both have their own set of challenges.

2. Solve a problem that’s big, like people not remembering their training. I see startups trying to build an app that has a very small addressable market and the likelihood of success is low if you have to attract a high percentage of a market to be successful.

3. Continue to solve problems. Some companies view problems as an opportunity to gain more revenue, like consulting services if the product is hard to implement. For long term success, if your product is hard to implement, you should make it easier to implement.) In fact, the best companies continuously improve the ease of use with automation.

4. Figure out your distribution. Know who you’re going to try to sell first and who you’re not going after initially. Start-ups need focus in sales and in development. Early on it’s a resource challenge and you have to FOCUS.

5. Hire great people and communicate well. Every company I’ve been with has done a world-class job at these two things. Great teams create great success. When I was a hiring manager at Oracle, I had a list of the skills I was looking for each position I needed to fill. If you do these things right, you will create a great culture too.

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 know this sounds self-serving, but we are really passionate about our mission — that people actually remember their training. My movement would focus people on making sure that they “Trivie” after every important training event so that they remember it. Think of the good that would happen. Lives saved because people remembered their CPR training or safety training, lives not ruined because people remembered their sexual harassment training, bullying reduced or eliminated because we didn’t just teach anti-bullying, we reinforced it, we discussed it. If it’s important enough for people to take time off and train, it should be important enough to spend 5–10 minutes a month reinforcing that training and ensuring that people remember it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow along on both Twitter (@TrivieInc) and Facebook (@TrivieGame).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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