Episode 2: Zach Green, COO, Mysa
In Part 2 of the Mysa growth series, we talk to Zach Green, one of the founders of the company and its COO. Mysa is one of the fastest-growing companies in Atlantic Canada and has taken the world by storm with its line of smart thermostats. In this episode, we go deeper into the details of Mysa’s story and the keys to its growth and success.
Joe: In terms of dealing with investors, what’s your approach there?
Zach: I think being aligned on the overall strategy of the company, finding people that understand this is a company that’s going to fight climate change, as opposed to trying to make … And finding investors that think of like … this is gonna be a long-term, big success, as opposed to a smaller company that’s profitable. Like just trying to make sure that everyone’s aligned on those two things.
Joe: What have been the marketing challenges for you folks?
Zach: We are now honing in on a more regional strategy of holistic campaigns in Newfoundland, Quebec, BC, like Washington, like Facebook campaigns, local PR. We may even do some offline media. We don’t know yet, but trying to be more holistic and targeted in regions as opposed to being broad, because that didn’t really work for us. People are like, “What’s a baseboard heater?” So we’re just wasting ad dollars.
Joe: I guess we’ll dive right into it. Can you just talk about your role with Mysa starting out and then kind of what it looks like today?
Zach: Yeah. So early days … Josh started Impart Homes like seven or eight years ago. He was doing these energy audits. Did he tell you that? Like how he was going to people’s houses and upgrading installations and all that.
And right around the time that I was about to graduate from MUN, he was kind of honing in on this thermostat idea, and I thought that was pretty cool. I did engineering, mechanical engineering and no one at the time could get jobs, because 2016 oil’s down. No one’s getting jobs.
I was like, “I’ll just join my brother and I’ll help him get this business off the ground.” In the very early days, Josh was really focused on building the product, and I did everything else. So Josh was the one working with the developers, the engineer, design. Then things that I was doing early days was getting the website up and running, meeting with various incubators, doing government grants, just as much as I could do so Josh and the developers could focus on developing, and I did everything else.
That also went into, I think, manufacturing as well and shipping. I was pretty involved in the early days in doing that. Going into Toronto, trying to kind of manufacturer and stuff like that. That wasn’t product development I was doing in the early days.
Zach: Yeah. Then as this kind of evolved, we basically have hired people to take away things from me. Early on, we hired someone in charge of marketing and sales. They took that away from me. Then we hired someone in charge of manufacturing, and they took that away from me, and then customer support as well. But I still oversee the manufacturing, the customer support and also recurrently IT in the company.
Joe: With Josh, I had kind of a good overview of the business. Like I mentioned, he had said about your contribution to the marketing approach that you took. Can you talk about that in terms of what you put together as a strategy and how you guys were able to be successful in your marketing?
Zach: Yeah. It sounds like there was more of a strategy than there was. Basically, we knew we needed private investment to really finish the product and get it to market. The private investors at the time were saying, “We like the idea of it, but can you show us customers actually want your product?”
Then it turned into how do we do that? At first, we were going to do a Kickstarter campaign. We spend all the money on the video, and then you do your campaign and you promote it on Facebook and all that stuff. That was pretty popular back then, like Kickstarter was really on the go. But it’s actually a lot of work and it’s not really iterative. Like you kind of got to do all the planning and then launch it and hope that it succeeds.
But in leading up to the Kickstarter campaign, we launched a website, and I decided, for whatever reason at the time, to make it so that you could pre-order the product. Then I was trying to get people to go to that pre-order site, and so I was buying Google ads, just saw it online, buy Google ads, and someone in BC overnight bought a thermostat.
That was kind of mind-blowing to me that someone would pre-order a thermostat from a website. I was like, “If I got one, can I get two?” Then the second day someone came and then the third, and it just kind of snowballed into the point where we got like 100 pre-orders over the course of a couple of weeks. It was very organic. It wasn’t like a lot of strategy behind it. We actually collected, I think 20,000 in pre-orders. We didn’t charge the card, we just showed to investors that we have 20,000 worth of orders, could you fund the business so we can get the product to market?
That’s really the strategy behind it. It was very organic and very kind of just iterative. Once we got the first customer, we had a chat on the site. So if someone asked the question, I would answer it, and then I would add that right to the site the same day, and so the next customer wouldn’t have that problem. So it was just iterative for like really a good couple of months there, just trying to get orders in. That’s what really kind of was, I think, the true success to Mysa in the early days was getting that to convince investors to put money in.
Joe: That was all through Kickstarter, you said?
Zach: It wasn’t Kickstarter. It was actually a pre-order site called Celery. We worked with Kickstarter, but this was the prelude to Kickstarter, and we realized that this is actually working. We didn’t need to do the Kickstarter because that’s a lot riskier, right? Like it’s public. An investor literally said, “If you fail Kickstarter, we will not invest in you.” So I chose not to do Kickstarter and decided to do this thing that was kind of our own, but it worked beautifully.
Joe: Right. I think Josh mentioned that. Where were you in terms of pre-orders before you actually had the product ready to ship?
Zach: By the end of the day, it was almost 600 grand in pre-orders. It was crazy.
Joe: He also mentioned there was like a three-month window where you were kind of waiting for that first sale. I think it was Christmas Eve, I think.
Zach: Yeah. We knew we needed to get some sort of traction sometime in September to get our investment. It was really just like, “Do we do Kickstarter? Do we do that pre-order site?” It’s like a three-month window for it. It just kind of turned on one day, that someone’s willing to pre-order. I remember being at Christmas Eve service and just seeing someone in the States buy 10 thermostats. I was just like, “This is awesome.” That was pretty huge.
Joe: How were they finding out about that? Was that through the pre-order platform that you posted it on?
Zach: Somebody would just Google “smart thermostat for baseboard,” and I was buying keywords in Google. So we didn’t have a presence. We didn’t have any organic search. Our website was brand new, so I was buying ads for that. Then as soon as it started working, I did a whole two-day course on Udemy on how to optimize Google ads, so I was able to get even more ads and do it cheaper, and that was pretty cool. So yeah, during Christmas break, I watched an entire Google ads course for Christmas break to try and ramp it up.
Joe: How did you handle that, like the Google Adwords aspect, targeting the U.S.A? What was the geographical focus for you?
Zach: I obviously added North America. It was targeted in the south where people were searching for the product. People wanted a smart thermostat for baseboard, and I was just buying those keywords. I wasn’t showing Google display ads to people that were in the unaware stage. It was people who wanted a smart thermostat for baseboards, and I was able to buy that keyword pretty cheaply.
Joe: Yeah, because there were no competitors-
Zach: No competitors at the time yet.
Joe: Because typically that’s a big challenge, right? You’re trying to target this huge area and your digital media budget either has to be big or it gets snatched up really fast. Right?
Zach: These were highly motivated, high intent, early adopters, and that was really the people willing to wait a year for the product.
Joe: You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, I’m just curious. What would have been your monthly media spend at that time?
Zach: We were putting like two grand a month on credit cards with no private investment, just mine and Josh’s personal credit cards. We were like, “We better get this investment because otherwise, we are toast.”
Joe: So two grand targeting North America, that’s … You guys are lucky because I guess the fact that there wasn’t a lot of … The demand was there. People are searching for it, but there wasn’t other competing bids and stuff.
Zach: Yeah, the entire strategy, once we got, it was like, we need to get private investment. Let’s do what we can and let’s hope it doesn’t turn south. And luckily it didn’t.
Joe: So initially kind of self-financed marketing campaign to show the demand, the pre-orders, and then bring in the private money to properly scale the business.
Zach: Yeah, that was the entire game plan. It was ‘we need private investors, and we get short traction’, and whatever we do with short traction to get that investment. We did that.
Joe: How long were you kind of wearing the marketing hat?
Zach: Up until August of 2017. So about a year.
Joe: About a year, okay. And where did you guys go from there? You brought somebody in-house?
Zach: Yeah, actually funny enough, it was actually my prof. In my last semester of university … So here’s the timeline. This would have been in January of 2016. I took an entrepreneurship course that month, and we ran the idea of Mysa through it as a business case. You could choose any business you want. We chose Mysa. I was doing that during school, and my prof there, he really liked Mysa’s story, and after about a year, we brought him on board. He’s a really data-driven engineer, marketer, and he took it over since then.
Joe: And he’s still doing it?
Joe: What’s his name?
Zach: Daan Goossens. He’s in charge of all of our marketing and sales now.
Joe: Cool. Might be my next interview.
Zach: Yeah. He couldn’t believe … He was like, “This is never going to work.” and it was like, “I’ll try it.” And then it happened.
Joe: What’s not going to work, exactly?
Zach: He couldn’t believe that someone was going to pre-order a thermostat a year in advance. Like, there’s no way you can convince people to do that.
Joe: It’s not like it’s a car, though? Like it’s what? An $80 risk?
Zach: Yeah. Oh, the beauty though is we weren’t even charging the credit card. We were only filing the number. An ideal risk for a lot of people, right? Because like there was no upfront cost to them. They were just holding their spot in line with their credit card, because then we use the private investors to fund the development and the first inventory.
Joe: Right. So when the product was available, how did that work? You say, “Okay, can we charge your card now?” Is that-
Zach: Well, it was already authorized. And we just said, “We’re charging this card next week.” Then we charged a bunch of cards, and 400, 500 grand came in the account. Some cards got declined, but it was fine.
Joe: Did you see a drop-off? Was there much of that going on? People over the course of the year saying, “Meh, I’m gonna take my name off-“
Zach: There was some people who were like, “I’ve been waiting too long, guys.” Because we said in January when we started this, that we were going to ship in September. We missed September. We said, October. We missed October. We kept getting delayed, delayed, and then February, some people bailed out. Some people said not worth it, but 80% of people was fine with it. And really the pre-order customers were really just the early traction, and they were also helping define the product. Right? Like we were showing them images, like “What you think of this?” Didn’t like it, changed it, and then we were iterating with them. Then some declined, but that was fine because we were able to keep going with the new customers after that, and it was shipped like same day.
Joe: What’s your part now in the marketing piece for Mysa?
Zach: I would say very little, very high level. I wouldn’t be like, “We should do this campaign,” but I was like, “Maybe we should consider going in Best Buy and Home Depot.” I just basically give them ideas, I don’t really involve in day-to-day execution anymore. And not a lot of ideas, just some ideas. It’s not like I’m not taking credit for it, but yeah.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. Cool. I had heard through the grapevine, I think one of your writers is Brad Pretty. Brad used to work with us. Is Brad still with you?
Joe: So Brad was a writer for us. I think I had a chat with one of you folks back when you hired him, but that organic search and content writing and so forth, like I’ve just heard through the grapevine you guys have done that really well and seen great results with it. Can you talk about that at all?
Zach: No, I mean, I think it’s still in the… certainly in the early days I was driving like 30 or 40% of the revenue. Because what was great was I was buying ads for smart thermostats for baseboards, but then we were writing organic content so we could stop buying ads, and that worked really well.
Joe: And is that where you’re at now? Is it like you have a lot less dependence on Google Adwords?
Zach: Yeah, like Google ads, it’s kind of like 8% of revenue now. It was maybe like 10 to 15% and it’s going less. Every year is more organic. Like if you search now ‘smart thermostat baseboard’, it’s like Mysa and then our Amazon listing and then our Best Buy listing and then like five of our blog posts. So we’ve just kind of honed the keywords that are relevant to us now.
Joe: How long did that take to reduce the dependence on Google Adwords?
Zach: I would say it was a good two years of just like … Or a year and a half of just writing content that kind of matched the keywords we were buying. Like, for example, a blog post that brings in like hundreds of thousands of dollars is ‘How to Install a Nest on Baseboard Heaters.’ We have a blog post that says, “Don’t do that. Buy Mysa.”
Joe: That’s what you’ve got to do. What would have been the type of volume and pace of content publishing?
Zach: Back when there was a lot of low-hanging fruit and we had like Brad focused on that as opposed to other things, we were trying to do blog posts weekly. At the time, there was so much like … I think even Daan says this was very unique where there was so much low-hanging fruit and so much demand. You usually don’t see that. Right? You usually don’t see such … this alignment in a market. If there’s demand, usually the competitor’s already doing a good job. And there wasn’t. There was a lot of demand and no competitors, and we just used the early tactics of Google ads and organic traffic to get to where we were.
Joe: What marketing touchpoints have you added to what you’re doing?
Zach: Yeah, so once we kind of did Google ads, the next one that worked really well was … it’s less and less more effective these days, but Facebook ads was pretty good back in last year. Amazon ads are really good, so we’re on Amazon, but Amazon has now a whole new advertising platform and it’s actually kind of new, so we’re making a killing on it because not a lot of people use Amazon ads.
Now it’s really working with the retailers to kind of use their marketing programs, so that we can get their reach. Like Best Buy has American campaigns where they’ll send it to their email lists and stuff like that, so we’re into that stuff now.
Joe: What have been the marketing challenges for you folks?
Zach: Our current suite of products is pretty niche, so you can’t just show an ad for smart thermostats, because it is unlikely in North America, you’re going to have that heating system. So you kind of had to be geographic with it. Everyone in Newfoundland has baseboard heating; that is not true in other places of the world.
We are now honing in on a more regional strategy of holistic campaigns and Facebook. I mean, in Newfoundland, Quebec, BC, like Washington, like Facebook campaigns, local PR. We may even do some offline media. We don’t know yet, but trying to be more holistic and targeted in regions as opposed to being broad, because that didn’t really work for us. People are like, “What’s a baseboard heater?”
So we’re just wasting ad dollars or even Google ads. We tried experimenting with buying just like ‘smart thermostat’, but we were just wasting so much money on that traffic because they didn’t have baseboard heating. So it was a blessing and a curse because it allowed us to get custody early on, but it’s been kind of a hindrance scaling it. Right? Because most marketing channels are very mass market. You just buy all the ad space you can and show the people, right? We can’t do that. So we had to find different approaches to be kind of tailored and unique.
Joe: Yeah. That totally makes sense. And the PR, you mentioned that … so just say Forbes article and the different publicity that you’re getting. Is that coming from your team kind of looking for those opportunities and trying to get those profiles? Or is that stuff just happening organically?
Zach: No, the big ones that you’ve seen, Forbes and stuff, those have been organic. And even those, we tried to get on the list early on. But they were like, “What’s a baseboard heater?” Maybe the game has changed just a bit where you’re seeing all of these big publications move away from pure impressions to driving affiliate traffic. Right?
So Forbes, for example, they were about primarily display advertising, showing ads on their site. A lot of people have ad blockers these days, and so that’s not really effective. So you’re seeing NBC, Forbes, TechHive, they’re moving to affiliate where if they refer someone to Amazon, they get a percentage of the sale. So I think that’s helping us because people are seeing that we’re doing really well on Amazon, and so we’re going to post about it so we can get some affiliate traffic. Because if you go to that Forbes article, they don’t actually list GetMysa, our website. They list the Amazon link, which they earn a commission from.
Joe: Ah, okay. Interesting. So based on that Forbes profile, has that opened up a new train of thought around like, okay, what other affiliates are out there and can we get our …
Zach: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s great to see Forbes and NBC and all these other ones and we’re actually going to layer them in as more social proof, like if you see a company mentioned in Forbes, they must be a real company. We’re doing that with resellers. We’re like, “Hey, mentioned in Forbes, NBC. We’re a real company. We’re the best solution for this product category.” So it’s more just getting it and using it as kind of social proof.
Joe: What is the geographical focus today and how did you decide on that geographic focus?
Zach: It’s really just been being broad at first, and then you can actually see the hotspots in our sales. It’s very clear. There’s Washington, Quebec, parts of New York, Cabin Country in Ontario, Newfoundland. Our sales, it’s funny, you could see that trend two years ago, and the percentage of stuff has not changed. It has basically remained the same regions. So a big proponent of our business is working with utilities to offer rebates so people can get the product much cheaper, and so designing campaigns around where we already have rebates. I mean, that’s a no brainer. Right? And so we’re really just being more holistic about it.
Joe: Right, okay. Like the ‘Take Charge’ campaign here locally.
Zach: ‘Take Charge’, locally. In BC, where we saw a lot of growth in the last two years. BC Hydro, their main utility, came out with a $40 rebate. So we were just buying so much Facebook ads to promote that rebate, and we actually blew their expectations out of the water because we were doing like the … They were just thinking that it’d be organic, people would see the product, but we were promoting that rebate with our product in all of our channels.
Joe: You blew what out of the water? Sorry.
Zach: Their budget. They were like, “Oh, well I’ll maybe have 1,000 customers use this rebate,” and it was something like 10,000 customers, like 10 times they were thinking because we were promoting it on our side.
Joe: That was a win for them too, I’m guessing.
Zach: Yeah, they were very happy.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s another great channel. If you were to kind of layer it out, like direct to consumer versus going through like a utility, what does that ranking look like?
Zach: Our bread and butter right now is still direct to consumer. That’s where we still earn most of our money. I think over time it might flip to be more heavy on the retail, heavy on utilities. But right now we do a really good job, like Daan, he’s done a wonderful job on our e-commerce. We like it there because we earn the most money, and it’s the best … like, a customer can buy from us, we can have that dialogue. Like, before you buy the product, you’re talking to a customer support or once you buy the product, send the information about the product installation setup ahead of time. When you sell through like a retailer, you kind of lose that customer relationship to a certain degree. We really like going through our website a lot, but I really see, like in my opinion, utilities and retailers as acquisition channels, like get our name out there, acquire new customers, and then we can maintain that relationship with them through the app and stuff like that.
Joe: Got you. Do you have a good sense for what your key target persona is? You guys talk a lot about energy reduction and that green message. Is it millennials primarily? Is it across the-
Zach: Different demographics and for different reasons. So there’s people like me and my brother who are the young tech enthusiasts, maybe first house, want to spend money on their house and they buy tech gadgets. The energy savings for them is an afterthought. Right? It’s more about the cool tech part. That’s a large portion of the market for us.
Then there’s people like my dad who just purely see it as economic, saving money. So they’re a bit older, more salvaged, 45 to 50. There’s really those two. We’re actually having good success marketing to women and advertising the comfort piece and the aesthetic piece. So, it looks really nice in your house and we did a lot of campaigns in the summer about home renovations and aesthetics. Those did really well with women audiences.
Joe: Say with the utilities, that strategy, what are the challenges to that? I’m guessing like slower decision-making, it’s probably one issue.
Zach: Yeah, some of that. A lot of the utilities, they get funding and some of the requirements are it has to be the Energy Star certified product. It’s great, but then Energy Star does not certify baseboard heating thermostats yet. So there’s been a huge stumbling block in the U.S. market in particular getting these rebates because we’re not Energy Star certified. But we are working with Energy Star to work with them to develop a standard so we can get that Energy Star certification to be eligible for more rebates.
Joe: Okay. Have you had success with utilities in the U.S. as well, or just Canada?
Zach: Yeah, in Washington, there is a utility called PSC and they’re rolling out a $75 per thermostat rebates. So customers [inaudible] bucks in Washington state, which is awesome. Yeah, there’s a lot of volume.
Joe: You’re selling in U.S. dollars. I guess you’re doing both, are you? Canadian and U.S.?
Zach: It’s nice for our Canadian company because we get the exchange rate benefit.
Joe: Yeah, no kidding, man. That is awesome. We work with US companies and the key value proposition is the currency… savings from the currency exchange.
Zach: Yeah, undercut the U.S. people completely.
Joe: Exactly. Especially when you’re breaking into a market, you want to get those initial customers.
Zach: Yeah, for sure.
Joe: You guys have also, I think, been unique in that you rely almost wholly on an internal marketing team, which seems to be working really well for you guys. Is that the case? Or is there some kind of, you know, ‘We go outside when we need this type of marketing service, but we do these types of things internally’?
Zach: Do you know Loren Pike? He’s my father-in-law, actually.
Joe: Oh, okay. Yes, I do.
Zach: He was like, “You guys are weird. I’ve never seen a company have an internal marketing team before.”
Joe: Well, it’s more so, I mean … It does exist but starting out, I think what’s unique it seems like boom, right off the top, you guys just went straight to an internal team and has success with it right away. That’s what I think what’s more unique is how successful you guys have been so quickly.
Zach: In the early days, the main benefit was being so iterative and agile. Right? The product was changing very frequently. The marketing campaigns … We didn’t know what our customer was, so we were iterating that. We didn’t know where to channel our … Like it was just really fast iteration and having the internal teams, that was key in the early days.
We keep growing our internal team, and we like that a lot because we think, well … We’ll go back to like the tactics, but just creative. We think design is really important, so we put a lot of emphasis on design, and you can see that in our products and our marketing. We think design is really important, so we choose to keep that in house.
We have had had success with consultants kind of guiding an internal team, so we do outsource some things, like high-level, like Facebook planning or Amazon planning. But yeah, just the speed of iteration … Just for example, that rebate I was telling about Washington, we only heard about that last week and now this week we’re going live with a campaign. Right? I think it’d be very hard to do if all of our marketing efforts were outsourced. Right? So just the speed at which things are changing and things like that, we find having an internal team helps the most.
Joe: You had the kind of creative ready to go, just change headlines or kind of details and out it goes?
Zach: Yeah, changed out the logos, added the details and launched the page within a week or two. Like, that’s pretty awesome.
Joe: That is, yeah. It makes sense. In terms of those higher level, say Amazon planning, have you had to go outside of Atlantic Canada to get that kind of expertise?
Zach: Yeah, so we actually work with like a lot of consultants outside of Atlantic Canada. Some are in the States, some are in Ontario, some in BC, I think. But we’ve kind of worked pretty well, because we’ll find no one truly cares about it as much as we do. There’s been plenty of times where they start off. We’ve had before they start off good and then kind of taper off, or we have a really good account person and then they leave and we get a junior person out of nowhere. But we find what works really well, is getting the higher level strategics kind of coaching our team, more junior. I find that relationships work really well for us, and we do that in other parts of our business as well.
Joe: What does that look like? I mean, are they doing workshops or …
Zach: Like weekly calls, monthly calls, strategic reviews, looking through things and stuff like that.
Joe: Got you. Okay. Just more high level, keeping an eye on numbers and making suggestions and high level tweaks and so forth.
Joe: Okay, cool. The other topic that I was kind of impressed with was just hearing Josh talking about the whole supply chain piece, which is obviously a big one. You mentioned Josh was focused on creating the product and you were there to take care of everything else; marketing, operation and supply chain, and so on.
I’ve heard the part about going to Ontario and just walking in, the two of you and saying, “How do we do this?” And then ending up kind of going, I think, direct to China. Just talk about that in terms of how you figured all that out.
Zach: There was a lot of reading, a lot of blog posts. There is actually a local guy, Morris Tough with BlueDriver. He was helping us out and gave us some advice in the early days. There’s other people around locally that were helping. A lot of it, in the early days, it was just figuring out, and it was pretty crazy. We just went up there, flew up there. I was like, “We need to bulk up, we’re going to spend $500,000. Are you interested?” And we had a lot of interest.
In the early days, we just stumbled through it. That’s how he chose the one in Toronto, because the main reason was so we could learn faster, like we could just fly up whenever there was an issue and learn and watch it as opposed to being in China. Right?
So we kind of learned the process in Toronto, but then we went over to China and we found some manufacturers through some other references that we knew. But really what’s been the key to our success once we pass it off to someone else was, there’s a lot of great people here who have worked in oil and gas in supply chain, in procurement, in contracts and all that same skill set is relevant to buying what we do. For example, our VP of operations, her name is Nola, and there’d be no Mysa without Nola because she’s saved our butt many times. She came from oil and gas, and she’s just … All that same skills that she learned there was directly applicable to what we were doing. So that was really instrumental.
Joe: What does that look like today? Obviously, COVID has put a damper on travel, but before that, travel back and forth to China, is that a regular part of the job?
Zach: Not right now, but it was the early days. Because we go to China, set things up, but we kind of slowed things down a bit, pushed out some timelines so we could do things a bit slower remotely. Instead of someone going there and approving the samples on the spot, we had them mail the samples to us, and that takes time, but it’s been working. We’ve gotten through it. We have a really good manufacturer that we’ve been working with two years and to be honest, they know how to make our products better than we do. So they’ve been good to deal with.
Joe: Now you’re communicating directly with this person in China?
Zach: Yeah. We have a whole manufacturing supply chain team, and they have a whole manufacturing team and they’re talking every day, sometimes even at night.
Joe: Got you. And in terms of communication barriers, is that an issue? How did you sort through that?
Zach: There were no big issues. There are some places in China where you can get your product made and you wouldn’t tell anyone you did it. But where we chose, it was a really good manufacturer, they had a lot of great quality control. You can tell they treat their employees right. So that helped, was going to a really reputable manufacturer in the early days.
Joe: So in terms of you, and for you personally, what were the biggest headaches and challenges so far?
Zach: There’s a lot of great things at Mysa, and there’s some not great things. Like we’re missing a part and we can’t get our product made or something. It’s just like managing the highs and lows. You can’t get too excited and you can’t get too down, and just managing … There’s just so many things that me and Josh see on a day-to-day that just get a bit overwhelming some days.
But I think the hardest part, in my opinion, was getting it all set up, like the first product, getting it certified, getting a design, doing the software the first time, getting the factory. All that was really hard, and we worked a lot, but once we got past that, it’s just been more different challenges. But we have a team that takes care of it, so it’s been good.
Joe: That’s a great thing about a team too, is that people come in, they have a fresh enthusiasm, and I think sometimes they don’t realise, but they’re carrying the leadership at times.
Zach: You are hundred per cent right. Certain people have the energy to keep it going, and other people maybe take the backseat a bit. I’ve certainly seen that new employees take the lead and then you’ve got more new employees and they take the lead.
Joe: Yeah. The owners or the founder go through cycles. And there’s times when you are feeling fatigued. That’s the great thing about a team, there’s no doubt.
Zach: I would say the key success, a hundred per cent. In the early days, we assembled a really strong team from the very early days, bringing in the senior managers. We actually had a lot of senior managers pretty early on. It was mostly senior managers at one point, but that was good because they took a lot of responsibility and they grew their teams. Right? Yeah, that was instrumental for sure. I’ve seen some companies local here and I’ve seen kind of the opposite approach where they’re calling more of the shots, and me and Josh did not do that.
Joe: I know how hard it is, on a smaller scale, recruiting talent and being able to discern, “We’re hiring this person, not this person”. Going through that process of onboarding them and getting them to a point where they’re self-managing and productive. But particular, that recruitment and identifying that talent, was that on you guys to do that?
Zach: In the early days, yep. We were doing that a lot, and almost all of them came from references that we knew. Like we knew this person, you should talk to this person, they’re great, and they’re looking for a new challenge. Brought them in and they really helped. Then that person knew two other people as well, right? Then just making sure that everyone kinda had the same viewpoints and way of doing things. I often say to Josh … Maybe this sounds kind of not humble at all, but I feel like Mysa has a high percentage of smart and really nice people, and those are the two things I think are really important. You’re really smart and you got to be nice to work with. It really makes it easy when everyone is like that. It really makes the job pretty easy when everyone is really smart and nice to get along with.
Joe: Yeah. I think the other thing is being fair and setting expectations, but also enforcing those expectations. I’m sure you’ve had to do it in terms of moving people along that didn’t turn out to be a good fit. That’s a part of maintaining a great team as well, I think, is making those hard decisions when you need to.
Zach: Yeah, that’s happened a couple of times.
Joe: In terms of- from a leadership point of view, it sounds like you’re moving more into a high-level leadership role now with the business. How do you find that role and what are the challenges with that?
Zach: I read a good quote of the day. It was like, “What is the job of leadership?” And it’s to listen to everybody and then make a decision that’s best for the company. So, kind of had this problem yesterday, where people were making decisions for their own department, not necessarily the entire business, and so haven’t listened to everyone and work with imperfect information and trying to distil, come up with the right solution that works for everybody. That is a big part of our job. Another one is like just setting examples as opposed to telling people what to do. I think me and Josh are good to just live the culture, set examples.
Joe: For you guys, what is that a guiding key metric? For example, I’ve heard people like Elon Musk say ‘forget about the share price’ and I’ve heard Jeff Bezos say the same thing. They don’t get caught up in share price. They have a different focus. I’m just curious like what is for Mysa, and for the management team … what is your key focus?
Zach: Well, for Josh … Mainly Josh and the reason for our existence is.. are we fighting climate change? Is our products, is our company working on things that make a difference in climate change? I also resonate with that one a lot, but like, it’s more Josh’s vision, and that has helped attract more people who also want to fight climate change and stuff like that. We’re only going to develop products that help that. We’re not going to develop products that don’t do anything to climate change, so that one for sure is huge.
Other ones that are also there, that may not be the biggest focus, but I really like helping the local tech economy. I think that’s really important. I think it’s pretty cool to employ 80 people in Newfoundland, that jobs that didn’t exist five years ago. I think that it really helps me get going in the morning.
Every once a customer comes in and comments, we read every single review that comes into Mysa. We have a Slack channel. Every employee is in it, and we read every good review and every bad review and we try and fix the bad reviews as fast as possible, so customers would really like their product. And those are really three things. And you focus on those things, I think, it’s cliche, but the money will come after. Right?
Joe: Yeah, Josh shared that. I thought that was a really cool idea. It’s having two or three focus groups every day. But a lot more efficient obviously.
Zach: That was key in the early days, was every sale came into the company and everyone looked at it and every review came to the company, everybody looked at it. Those two things were like a feedback loop that was just happening. I didn’t even know we were doing it. Right? It was just something I just wanted to do that I thought was cool, and then it turned out to be a huge thing.
Joe: In terms of dealing with investors, what’s your approach there? I guess two things. What are the things they care about and what do you focus on in terms of dealing with them?
Zach: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think being aligned on the overall strategy of the company, finding people that understand this is a company that’s going to fight climate change, as opposed to trying to make … And finding investors that think of like … This is gonna be a long-term, big success, as opposed to a smaller company that’s profitable. Like just trying to make sure that everyone’s aligned on those two things, I think are really important.
Joe: What keeps you up at night in terms of changes in the marketplace or threats and so forth?
Zach: I sleep really well, but I’m trying to think, but I think that a lot. I think our strategy of trying … So we have the baseboard heater and we have this window AC one coming out. Right? I think the strategy we’re taking – of taking a bunch of different products ‘will we dilute our efforts and… that companies that only focus on those products will beat us?’ right? And so I just wonder, if we are not focused on the right things, will we eventually stall out? Due to competitors that are solely focused on one thing, or if we don’t get the growth we need … Like we’re investing in things that customers don’t really care about and we stall out. I think those kinds of things- I think about a lot.
Joe: Do you guys do any formal research, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative, to determine what that customer’s interested in?
Zach: Not yet. That’s something we want to start doing, is hiring research people to understand the landscape better. Right now, a lot of people, not just me and Josh, a lot of people just read as many blog posts. I read every tech review site I can daily and just try and get a pulse on the market. And what for us and, me and Josh, is just building, what we wanted. It turned out a lot of people like me and Josh wanted what we wanted. And that’s actually how we were able to meet the customer number one. Remember, my dad is actually, and we were able to work out all the kinks with him. A lot of people, like they … Companies, they build products or things that they don’t use themselves, and I think that’s really hard.
Joe: Yeah, it reminds me, in a way of Apple, I’ve heard Steve Jobs say way back … building something we like as opposed to being short term growth-driven or totally externally driven, or whatever type of other influence that might influence product development.
Zach: Yeah. I want to be more like Apple and focus really good on the product experience and have a long-term view and have things work together. I think if you do those over a long period of time, I think those are really important. But it kind of goes back to your question, having a long-term view. It’s hard to always remind people about that. Right? It’s like, if we focus on these right things, we’ll do the right thing, some people are like, “Oh, we should focus on this specific tactic really quickly,” and stuff like that. And I mean, Josh doesn’t really like that kind of thinking, so that can be always a challenge.
Joe: With these other products, Josh mentioned different ones, I assume the goal is to cross-sell those products to existing customers. Is that working? How have you found that strategy, as it plays out?
Zach: No. The early days of our premier with the AC product. 80% of them were returning customers. Because they liked the product and they got an AC, so they were like, “Oh, I’ll just buy a Mysa AC as well.” It definitely is repeatable and scalable, it’s good.
Joe: Let’s say five years from now, or two years from now, how many products do you think you guys will have?
Zach: I hope we release one or two products per year. That’s kind of a good cadence, I think.
Joe: Just remind me, where are you now, in terms of product line?
Zach: We are just about to launch our third product in May.
Joe: That’s another Steve Jobs quote that really stood out to me … When he came back to Apple he said, “We have way too many products. We need to pick five things.” And they sort of got rid of the other things they were doing. He talks about that ability to say no, the power of no, the ability to focus on a finite amount of objectives. I don’t know where they are with that now, but that finite list really, at that time, help the company do a dramatic turnaround and really go deep and make five incredible products.
Zach: Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s like, there’s like other smart home companies that started thermostats, and then they branched into security cameras and stuff like that. I think they kind of lost their way, and me and Josh through, right now, we’re laser-focused on thermostats and HVAC.
Joe: Yeah, because I think if it’s a good product line it’s gotta be connected. And you guys are seeing like 80% of current customers buying the products on a repeat basis. If you’re going into other products that are unrelated or had different markets, I guess the question becomes ‘are we diluting our focus? Are we gonna erode the momentum that we have?’
Based on what you’ve shared, it sounds like you’re developing the right products, and you’ve got repeat business coming in real strong. I think that would encourage me a lot to say, “We’re building out in the right way.”
Joe: So just in closing … The other goal with this channel is really to provide inspiration for Atlantic Canadian businesses during an unprecedented time. There’s still a lot of uncertainty for business here in 2021. What would your advice be to the business community now in terms of how to operate and think, as we hopefully come out of this COVID period?
Zach: Everyone has said this to death, but going online and going digital. That’s the way because customers don’t know you’re located in Newfoundland. No one really knows and people will buy online. Right? It’s easy to reach people. If you can reach people in Newfoundland it is just as easy to reach people and BC, right? There’s no difference. I think the more you embrace the online, the better.
We work with people in Florida and California and BC all the time. Because we’re all online, there’s really no difference. Even, for example, Home Depot, pre-COVID, they said, “You would have to fly down here numerous times to get a deal done,” but we did it all virtual.
So I think just more companies embracing going online and those types of channels, I think can only help Atlantic Canada because the market is kind of small, right? In Newfoundland, like 500,000, 2 million in Atlantic Canada. Still kind of a small market. There’s millions of people in the States and other parts of the world. Right? And if you’re online, there’s no difference to them if you’re in Newfoundland or if you’re in BC or California.
Joe: I’m sure there was moments, last year, maybe this year, where you had your own worries and questions about your own business. How did you manage your personal approach last year?
Zach: I think the answer to your question is we were very adaptable. We went straight to online and Zoom within like a day, and we didn’t skip a beat. There was no question of we’ll kind of lull right now until we’re back in the office. It was purely online. Work didn’t stop. But in addition to that, we really focused on the people. Right?
So, for example, one of my direct reports, she was saying that school was closed and her husband lost her job, and she stressing out how she could do all that plus the work. And I was just like, “Just focus on your family and you can fit in work behind that.” And till this day she still says, like, she was in tears when I told her that. Right? Because she’s like our most loyal employee and she’ll do anything to keep the company going, and so like letting our employees focus on their families and themselves first and business second, I think that was huge for us.
Joe: Okay, Zach, I know you’re busy. We’re almost at an hour here, but really appreciate your time and really enjoyed the conversation.
Zach: Yeah. I don’t get to have this conversation very much, so I like it. Thank you for interviewing me. It was awesome.