Josh Kligman of Yearly: “Be Patient”

Be Patient: We are running as fast as we can to build the best nonprofit annual report tool possible and we want nothing more than 10 million nonprofits worldwide to use it as soon as possible, but we’ve been told there are always unexpected obstacles to overcome, meaning success can’t happen over night, and it’s […]

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Be Patient: We are running as fast as we can to build the best nonprofit annual report tool possible and we want nothing more than 10 million nonprofits worldwide to use it as soon as possible, but we’ve been told there are always unexpected obstacles to overcome, meaning success can’t happen over night, and it’s true. We are staying focussed and in it for the long haul.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Kligman.

Josh Kligman is the Co-Founder of Yearly, a drag and drop report builder for nonprofits to create stunning, digital reports. Josh has 20 years of marketing and sales experience in radio, ad agencies, AOL and nonprofit marketing. He loves his family, the New York Jets good old fashioned rock & roll. Yearly can integrate your stories, videos, social media, polls and more to impress your stakeholders.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always wanted to create a product or service from scratch, like Yearly for nonprofit reports, and mold it the way I believe customers would want to use it, which is putting them first in terms of brand experience and service. We were hearing that nonprofit organizations were spending too much time and money developing annual reports, so we thought about how we could create an experience through software that fixes that problem, plus leave customers with a good feeling about the process. That’s a tall task because it’s usually the opposite of how they feel when they are developing such a heavy project.

I was about three years old when my parents first took me to Disney World and by the time I was a teenager, I was on my fourth trip and I loved the entire experience. Walking through such a large Newark Airport, with my sister, and getting McDonald’s as a “treat” for breakfast, flying Continental Airlines (now United) back when they served a pancake breakfast and visiting the parks, all added up to such a deep and loyal experience with those brands that I carry with me today. Yes I had breakfast twice, and it will be hard for you to say something negative about United Airlines without me taking it personally, because of the positive experiences I had growing up. The experiences kept multiplying. I knew I wanted the same for Yearly, so that laid down the foundation of our brand.

In college, I started Campus Movies, a newsletter with movie times delivered right to student’s dorm room mailboxes. I sold advertising space to nightclubs and CVS/Pharmacy and if other kids had questions about the movie times, I was there to answer their questions as fast as possible so they could grow to enjoy their experience with this brand. That same “Ritz-Carlon” customer service carried over to my work selling radio spots and my work at advertising agencies. In fact, I had the pleasure to hear the head of customer service from Ritz-Carlton speak and I never looked up from my note taking. I knew I could bring that level of expertise to Yearly.

In 2018, my partner and co-founder Jeff Rum had a few nonprofits clients looking to create more interactive and engaging digital annual reports that were more than just static documents. He realized there was demand amongst nonprofits, foundations and associations for software that can help them do just that and began by selling subscriptions in 2019.

Once COVID hit, cold calling potential customers was met with voicemails and struggling budgets, so to save (and jump start) our new business we flipped the model. We made the service free, which it remains today, and began to focus our revenue on selling premium services, like designing digital annual reports for nonprofits. That also helped nonprofits too, of course, which at its core is right off the page of notes from Ritz-Carlton.

I believe that unparalleled and unexpected experiences customers have with brands, especially when using a product or service that has a history of cumbersome, timely and costly effects, can stand out. That usually leads to future business and referrals so I carry that mantra with me today, to help nonprofits create annual reports without the hassle of so much time and money being wasted.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Customers tell us there’s no other design platform out there catering to nonprofit reports. That’s true, but it’s truly disruptive because Yearly is going against the grain of how annual, impact and donor reports are made today. Nonprofit marketing and communication professionals typically hire a freelance graphic designer, small graphic design firm or advertising agency. There is a lot of time spent back and forth to get the layout and the design just right, and then sometimes commercial printers get involved. Before you even get to printing they spent a few thousand dollars.

What’s disruptive is the idea of creating a platform where you can create a nonprofit digital report yourself without any design skills, faster and cheaper, and you’re going against the norm.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I would call it more costly or ironic than funny, but after we spent months working out the bugs with a few nonprofits that were willing to test with us, we finally were ready for market, or so we thought. We earned a paying customer and of course the features they wanted to use had new bugs and errors we weren’t expecting. We learned a lot there about trial and error, a good life lesson.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My dad, all the way. Charlie Kligman started telling me in high school to “make it your business” when it’s crunch time and that gives me all the incentive I need when it’s hard to push through projects. He has been a mentor to me by teaching me intangibles like business acumen, responsibility and even decision-making skills. Deciding between two payroll services for my business is hard enough, but I learned how to analyze complex problems and drive towards decisions by a combination of street smarts and gut feelings by watching him for years.

I can pass that on to my kids over a lifetime but I can’t teach it in a classroom or give you the instructions here, so these lessons are invaluable to me in business and at home.

Separating work and home is another balancing act my dad taught me. His mother Sylvia said to me, “Work is the most important thing” and she was all about family, don’t get me wrong, but coming from the depression era she was trying to set an example to work hard. On the contrary, what she actually practiced was getting the family together often and what my dad showed me, by always being there and never missing a batting practice or tennis lesson, helps me grow my business by giving me a sense of responsibility and drive, and also to have a cut off point and just go home and play.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

When people talk about disrupting an industry, what they really mean is that companies and people are finding ways to do things that are new, in a way that hasn’t been done before. They are breaking the norm and removing barriers to conventional ways. If you used a travel agent to book a trip in 1990, it was a big change to your booking process when you switched to online sources, because the new internet companies were bypassing the traditional route and giving you an alternative that was faster, easier and in some cases, less expensive.

The negativity usually comes in when it means the disruption could cost other people’s jobs, if their role becomes obsolete. However, those skills are often transferable to the new way of doing things and their level of expertise should be welcomed by the companies that have found a new way. It may also be troublesome for those business owners, say the head of a 1990 travel agency, but the silver lining is that there is a new way to conduct business being paved and they can jump on board.

In the nonprofit world, there are amazing technology companies doing good, like GiveButter, a modern take on fundraising and Charity Charge, a nonprofit credit card company. They both are finding ways to shake up their industries and benefit nonprofits along the way. Traditional fundraising companies and credit cards that cater to nonprofits stand to lose business, or can choose to fight for it, and that is the beauty of our economy and the opportunity entrepreneurs have.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Keep Saying Yes: My wife told me that as opportunities present themselves, say “yes” as often as you can and where it makes sense. You might feel too busy to speak at the next virtual conference, but then you might miss out on a new client.

Be Patient: We are running as fast as we can to build the best nonprofit annual report tool possible and we want nothing more than 10 million nonprofits worldwide to use it as soon as possible, but we’ve been told there are always unexpected obstacles to overcome, meaning success can’t happen over night, and it’s true. We are staying focussed and in it for the long haul.

Be Resilient and Flexible: When COVID hit and we couldn’t sell our software as easily to nonprofits, I took advice from my partner Jeff. He said, “why don’t we offer this for free and do something great for nonprofits, and let the premium business come to us rather than cold calling?” We had no one to answer to but ourselves, so we just did it.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re looking to see how we can provide more value to nonprofits that are creating digital annual reports. Not only will Yearly keep our self-serve platform free, but we are looking to introduce a subscription for those that want to get more out of the tool. The better we can help nonprofits use reports as a successful fundraising tool, the better we are doing our job.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I came across articles recently stating that women don’t get the same response from contacts and investors, which is ridiculous. As we search for investors, we have come across all types of angel investors, new crowdfunding websites and accelerators. I would encourage them to seek out more applications from female founders and increase their diversity. Some are even focussed just on female founders to help provide increased opportunity.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I’m a big fan of Guy Raz’s “How I Built This” podcast on NPR. He interviewed George Zimmer, founder of the Men’s Warehouse, and more recently, Generation Tux, and it struck me on three levels.

First, George was unfairly ousted from the company he built. Could you imagine creating a business and having it ripped out from under you years later? That interview taught me not to take work so personally.

Second, George is resilient. He left Men’s Warehouse and said something like “I’ll show them,” and got ready to compete. If I can be half that tenacious and resourceful with Yearly and help nonprofits, I’ll make it.

Lastly, Guy’s entire podcast series is just as fascinating, especially Sara Blakely’s story of how she started Spanx. She got her product into Neiman Marcus and stood in the store, moved her product to the register, and watched sales increase. Sometimes you need to just make things happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Well, I talked about my dad’s advice earlier to “make it your business” but my wife said something to me when we were in college that carries just as much weight. I was struggling with a class and I needed to nail the final exam, I couldn’t have been more nervous walking with her across campus on judgement day. She stopped me just before the door and told me, “you can do this.” It might not be a wild life lesson, but a simple shot of confidence catapulted me through. I aced the exam and since learned that my friends and family believe in me, and when I’m getting ready for a big pitch at work today and feel nervous, I can think back to moments like that, take a deep breath and go for it.

I also remember my high school guidance counsellor calling me “tenacious” and my mom just loved that. She told me to use that in every job interview, because she thought it was spot on. I take that encouragement from my mom to heart every day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

So many people need basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing, even in neighborhoods where you don’t think it’s a problem, it is. There are plenty of organizations to donate money, food and clothes. One great nonprofit in Washington, D.C. is Food & Friends, but what if there were more long-term partnerships between larger corporations and every day retailers where lots of transactions are taking place, such as restaurants?

When you get your coffee and bagel for 7.50 dollars at a local shop, what if you were asked to round up to 8.00 dollars for a donation, like they do at the supermarket, and then a credit card company who processed the transaction, or another third party corporation, matches the amount and the total 1.00 dollar donation goes to helping people in your neighborhood? Small incremental giving with local benefits can make a difference and I hope someday when Yearly grows, I can focus on facilitating a similar model where I live.

How can our readers follow you online?

The Yearly blog is the best way, we talk about trends in nonprofit marketing, mainly related to annual reports.

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

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