In this episode, Milan Reinartz (Intelligent Video Solutions) talks about:
- How and why he became an entrepreneur
- His journey building two media startups: Postr and iVS
- The strategy he’s used at Postr to increase user retention and speed up growth
- How he’s built an organisational culture that is focused on pace of work
- Why transparency in a startup is key in aligning priorities and helps everyone determine how to do their work
- How he’s grown iVS by 500% in less than 1 year
About the guest
Milan Reinartz is the CEO of Intelligent Video Solutions (iVS), the largest B2B video publishing and monetisation platform in South-East Asia. Prior to joining iVS in 2019, Milan founded Postr in 2014, which was a leading global lock screen SDK business that brought rewards, personalised content and offers to major telecoms’ users in over 7 markets.
Find him here:
Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:
Milan Reinartz 0:00
We operate fast we get a lot done. And I think you’ll find that most very successful startups or even somewhat successful startups have a pretty fast pace. And I think your pace is a direct multiplier or almost direct multiply of your outcomes. And then that gets accelerated by focus. So if you bring a lot of focus and a lot of pace into your organisation that makes a huge difference. And perhaps that’s somewhat culturally driven as well. But the other thing is just good people. Really good people who understand what they’re doing, who maybe to some extent, been there done that, who have the experience, learned from their experiences.
Ricky Willianto 0:33
Speed is everything in a startup, but having just speed without a clear direction could spell disaster. Milan Reinartz, the current CEO of iVS knows this rule by heart. He believes that the best way to multiply the pace of your business is by firstly having a clear focus, and then backing it up with a team that is fully aligned with that focus. It is this formula that helps iVS grow by 500% in a span of less than a year. Tune in to growth multiplier to hear more from Milan. My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry and the host of the growth multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways, startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoyed the show. Hi, Milan, thank you so much for joining me today on growth multiplier. Before we begin, can I get you to share a little bit about yourself and maybe the kind of projects that you’re working on?
Milan Reinartz 1:38
Yeah. Thanks for having me. Good to be here. I’m originally German, I lived in New Zealand for 12 years before I came to Singapore. So I feel like half kiwi, I guess I’m an ad tech entrepreneur. One could say that wasn’t the plan. But I guess what I have now if you want to put put me in a box. But yeah, and right now I have the pleasure of being a CEO of a company called iVS Intelligent Video Solutions formerly known as AI video smart which is monsell and kickstart ventures portfolio company that we are looking to scale in Southeast Asia and beyond, as well as doing some angel investments and, and helping a few other companies out on the side.
Ricky Willianto 2:17
Sounds good. So today, Milan, I think I’ll be keen to talk about two companies that you started that will be interesting for our audience, I think one is Postr. And the other one is iVS. So before you join Postr, I see that you’ve actually worked as a designer or UX professional before you kind of go into this crazy thing called enterpreneurship. So tell us a little bit about you know, that journey that transition from working full time into deciding to go on your own path and build your own thing.
Milan Reinartz 2:42
Yeah, so it was a weird story. So I don’t have any entrepreneurs in my family. Really, my father’s a scientist and my mother is an artist. So I kind of grew up figuring I’m gonna have to follow you know, my parents footsteps as I guess a lot of people do and, and I was always quite good at maths and sciences, it’s at school, I was generally quite good in school in my younger days. without trying too hard. also find a little bit of pressure I guess to follow in my in my parents footsteps on my father’s footsteps, in particular, but I felt more drawn to the creative side, I always loved drawing and later in my teens, I was an art graffiti and so I was definitely a creative kid. And so when I came to New Zealand on a student exchange, I just loved the independence and being away from my parents, I think I just turned 16 shortly after I arrived and I enjoyed it so much I just ended up staying in New Zealand for what turned out to be 12 years. And so luckily in New Zealand, the schooling system is very self selective in terms of subjects so the students from an early age onwards can choose which subjects they choose. And so I heavily focused on creative subjects. And at some stage I kind of figured I had a friend in Germany who was doing graphic design from a young age and he kind of inspired me to to, shout out to Paul, puts out here if he ever hears this my friend Paul and so he kind of inspired me to do graphic design or design and so I ended up studying design and while I was at university my parents only gave me very money they gave me 100 New Zealand dollars a week to live which is roughly like 400 Singapore dollars. And as you know it’s not really enough to live right so I was kind of flooding with other people in kind of shitty apartments and you know, living off scrappy food and so it was a tough time and I wanted to make more money and I started to do some trading have there’s a platform called Trade Me is somewhat like eBay I guess of New Zealand and, and so I used that and I started with like phones and laptops that I’d buy stuff cheap, fixed up myself or get my friends to fix it up and then sell it for more and then eventually I graduated to selling secondhand cars so Toyota’s and Honda’s so there’s this phenomenon in New Zealand where where a lot of backpackers they go there and they, they put a mattress in the back of the car and then they travel around for three months, six months, nine months. Even 12 months, even a year, right and they kind of have lived out of the back of their car and backpackers hostels, and it’s a really beautiful country, right, but it’s not very densely populated. So it’s, it’s quite empty. So it kind of, I guess it makes sense, you know, you drive around and you can stop anywhere and sleep in the back of your car. But then what these people are usually Europeans or Americans, Canadians, they’re usually there between high school and university. So they’re not super, you know, financially savvy or, or even concerned about it, they’re coming for the experience. And so they buy a car for three $4,000 because it’s cheaper than renting a car for half a year. And then they have their flights booked half a year in advance. And by the time they leave, they turn up in the city where the airport is, where they leave is usually Auckland or Christchurch. And then they’re in a rush to sell their car within two, three weeks. And two, three weeks is not a very good time to sell your car. So I was kind of taking advantage of that situation and buying cars for very cheap from people who are in a rush to sell them, and then fixing them up or getting my friends to fix them up for giving them a box of BS or something, and then sold them for pretty large profit. So it’s usually about 100x profits. There’s not really a business but but I ended up making a nice six digit sum before being 20 years old. And so that kind of gave me the start. And then I lent some money from the bank and bought my first apartment and borrowed against that bought another apartment and eventually bought land and eventually bought a house. And so all that kind of, I guess taught me about taught me about p&l management as such. I mean, not that I didn’t even have a spreadsheet, it was all just in the back of my mind. But that also made me realise that I’m entrepreneurial. And then and then I finished my University was lucky enough to get a job at Saatchi and Saatchi, which is you know, one of the top creative agencies part of Publicis groupe, they had a great boss, Scott Henderson, a good friend still who kind of coached me a lot in that discipline. And, and while I was there, I sort of realised, okay, I mean, it’s a cool job, you know, there’s lots of cool people, and it’s a relaxed environment, and you’re doing fun work, but you’re still working really hard. You’re working 14 hour days, and you know, tight deadlines, a lot of pressure and you know, making like 50 grand a year. And so I kind of realised, I made more money during University flipping secondhand cars that I’m making now, working, working very hard in an agency. So I think that’s what gave me the motivation to say that, hey, look, I think you you are made for something else you made to do something else. And I didn’t want to be a secondhand car salesman all my life. So I got involved in the startup scene. And I guess, yeah, the rest is history.
Ricky Willianto 7:37
So just a fun fact, my dad actually financed most part of my younger life selling secondhand cars. Yeah, no, seriously, I am quite familiar with the industry. My dad was doing it for I think, 15 to 20 years. I’m curious to hear about like, how then do you actually discover the idea for Postr? Because it’s quite a big shift from what you’ve been doing? Right, what you’ve done as well, like you were doing all this, like flipping secondhand cars. And then you will find like in creative industry, how do you get into Postr and maybe tell us a little bit as well about what Postr is?
Milan Reinartz 8:06
Yeah. So I mean, I wanted to do something related to advertising because I felt that I understood it. The irony is the part of advertising that relates to Postr actually has nothing to do with what I was doing in an agency It was a creative and Postr was more about media sales. But I mean, it was really as simple as you know, I want to do something related to advertising, media, marketing. And apps seemed like a cool space, because like apps are in now, right? Like it was just like a couple of years after the first iPhone came out and first Android phones. And suddenly, the actual idea came from one of my best buddies back home in Germany, one day sending me a link to this company called Locket in the United States. And they were putting advertising on Android lockscreen through an app. And if you accepted you, you get I think, coins that you can then use for gaming vouchers or Starbucks coffee, things like that. And I just thought it was an awesome idea. And I was like, let’s do it. You know, I just wanted to do that. Actually, before that I got involved in a few other startups. So we did one kind of blahblah car carpooling type of business that didn’t quite work out because the unit economics just weren’t making sense. So that was that was hard to make any margin in New Zealand. And, and sort of moonlighted as a designer for other for other startups, but then Postr what was the first and only one that I really started myself. I didn’t start iVS, by the way, but we’ll get to that later. So yeah, there was a story I just kind of was looking for something to do. And this idea seemed to fit the profile I borrowed from a US company. But the key difference, I guess, for us was that we, we started by giving people extra cash, and they can use the cash to just cash out or give it to a charity, but we pretty soon pivoted to doing business to enterprise partnerships with major telecoms and give users free data. So basically download an app from, let’s say, singtel, right, we actually had to deal with singtel as well. So you download the app, you opt into receiving personal advertisements on your lock screens as your screensaver, the first screen before you open your phone. And if you accept that you get 500 megabytes every two weeks, from your telco provider, that was basically the deal.
Ricky Willianto 10:11
And how did that begin? So you had the idea you heard, you know, from your friend in Germany about this other company in the US, that’s kind of like, you know, doing an interesting business. How did you start this idea in New Zealand? And how did you grow it in its early days,
Milan Reinartz 10:28
so it all happened in New Zealand, and I was still working at a design agency, pretty cool. design agency is called design by insights, great bosses, and I learned a lot about culture, the kind of culture that I now aspire to create. And they were great team. I told them, and they let me do that. They were like, yeah, cool, you know, take longer lunch breaks, do what you got to do, as long as you get the work done. And so I just started by myself just kind of designing the workflow and trying to find co founders. And so I found a couple of co founders, one was a designer, because I wanted to be the CEO. So So I think there’s a lot of naivety, you know, like I made all the mistakes in the books, I’m sure we all make mistakes in the book, I’m sure. And so I started with one designer who dropped out fairly early, he went back to the US, he was an American. The the other one Mark, who, who was my long term, co founder, and Postr was actually the father of a guy that I mentored where it was as a junior developer designer and asked if I had, you know, any good developers for Java needs to be Java since Android. At least that’s what I thought back then. And so yeah, I convinced him and then eventually, we both gave up our day jobs, we started to make a bit of money, raised raised a bit of cash, raise the sort of pre seed round, and yeah, and then then just do it full time. I mean, it sounds like it’s a it’s an organic progress and every first time founder, unless it’s always your ambition to become a founder, and you’ve done lots of research. I think it often happens that way that you just, you just try, you know, you just try you take advice from angels from Angel clubs, you talk to other founders, whoever you can get ahold of grasp at straws and try and make it work.
Ricky Willianto 11:59
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that’s, that’s how it’s done. Right? But for you, you’ve kind of like moonlighting at this project, essentially, before you can like go into this full time, right? So how did you get the confidence, at which stage of the company did you get the confidence of, Okay, I’m gonna go and work on this full time and ditch my full time job?
Milan Reinartz 12:17
I actually think moonlighting is I mean, moonlighting, hopefully legal moonlighting right. So I think that’s actually a really important story to tell as well, like, I think, especially if you don’t have tonnes of money, it’s much better to start as a side gig in the beginning, for two reasons. One is you don’t want to give up your main income stream, especially if you’re young founder, right, and you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t want to put yourself in a financially distressed situation where you become ineffective and unresourceful. And you start to be too worried about food or borrowing money from your parents. And therefore I think, as a piece of advice, in general, don’t give up your day job before you know that the business has a good chance of surviving, right? And then the second reason is that, yeah, you don’t really know if the idea is going to work. So at the beginning is just an idea. So it’s a good way to kind of validate your idea. And usually you don’t need that much resource or time to do some basic validation of your idea. So I think that was actually probably one of the better things I did. But then how when we quit our day jobs, I think, I think we were raising a 300 or $400,000, angel round, and I got close and had a few soft commitments. And I knew it was going to take a couple of months for the money to really come in. But I just decided I’m going to take the leap of faith at this point. And it was the right decision as well.
What was the stage of the company when you were closing that first, you know, round of angel funds, were you already having some users?
I think we already had over 10,000 users and close to $10,000 revenue, which I also think it was the right thing to do back then. Right? It was much easier to raise money and also stand out against other startups who pitch to these ads and engine networks, because we actually bootstrap pretty well, in the very early days to kind of create some proof that there could be product market fit. The challenge is always that, you know, it’s one thing when it’s just you as a founder hustling to get a bit of budget and hustling to get a bunch of users. The hard thing then was that it’s really all about retention of users sustainable, repeatable revenues and so forth. And at that point, we definitely didn’t have that yet. But of course, we thought we’re gonna make it happen. So
Ricky Willianto 14:20
how long did you guys bootstrap for? At the beginning?
Milan Reinartz 14:23
I think there was maybe like a three month planning phase, and then about six months, initial rollout, bootstrapping phase, and then we raised the first money, so things slightly less than a year.
Ricky Willianto 14:33
And how did you get from zero to 10,000 customers?
Milan Reinartz 14:36
We invested some of our own money. So I think we put from memory $40,000 in between the founders, and we invested more than half of that in user acquisition. So basically ads on Facebook for downloads.
Ricky Willianto 14:49
So you primarily leverage on Facebook as a way to
Milan Reinartz 14:52
Yeah we tried some other stuff. We realised nothing really worked other than Facebook ads back then. I mean, not as influencer marketing and all all kinds of other disciplines, right? But I think back then it was the early days of smartphones. So Facebook was then it was a good way to do it. And yeah.
Ricky Willianto 15:09
And so what happened after you raise the first 300k? What do you do with the money
Milan Reinartz 15:12
Quit my job and paid myself a salary hired the first few people, probably all wrong people. And I mean, not all the wrong people. They were great people. But in terms of org structure, I think where in retrospect, the mistakes started, right there. I just had no idea how to run a tech business, frankly, speaking, right, and a lot of confirmation bias thinking that I know how this should work. And then also this was pre pivot. So we then pivoted to selling to telcos in the resource requirements changed a lot, very quickly. Yeah. Which then caused us to have to restructure quite a bit.
Ricky Willianto 15:43
So after you’ve raised the first three k, , were you focusing more on acquiring users or were you already thinking about, you know, building the b2c or b2b model in your business?
Milan Reinartz 15:52
I think it’s already six years ago. So it’s hard to remember the exact timelines of events. But I believe that the telco play came after the first seed round, but we did realise pretty quickly, that we had retention issues, because people were earning about somewhere between like $1 and $3 per month for viewing like 500 to 1000 ads per month. And so, from a user perspective, that kind of sucked, right, like some people were really loyal, we had some people on the original app who stayed loyal for ages, we actually tied the earnings to the ads viewed, which we also realised was an issue, because programmatic advertisers don’t want incentivized advertising, right? So if advertising is incentivized, and the value of the advertising actually is diminished, because from a, from an advertiser’s point of view, they don’t want you to look at ads, because you’re getting paid for it. They want you to look at ads, because they’re relevant to you. And things like frequency capping and other metrics that are important to advertisers, which I did not know.
Ricky Willianto 16:52
Yeah, the alignment of incentives in your business is super important. Otherwise, you’ll get super wonky result that is just completely skewed right from the intention of the business.
Milan Reinartz 17:00
Totally. Yeah. So I mean, the biggest problem definitely was retention. I think we had something like 25% 30 day retention, which is not quite good enough. It’s not terrible, actually, if you look at Android app standards, on average, 8% or something, but then you also know that the vast majority of apps never really go anywhere. And so then I had one investor, actually, who later joined me as Chief Operating Officer Roger shakes, great guy, deep respect for the man till this day, he was an investor and also the guy who kind of came up with the token model. So he was telling you one day I think over beers, as we were talking, he was saying, like, Hey, dude, like, will it be cool to give people data, because data is like, actually, in a way free for the telco like they just have in telco infrastructure, data infrastructure, and it doesn’t cost them anything more to give an extra few 100 megabytes. So what if we do these with telcos? And I think we actually were the first in the world who did exactly this model Unlockd in Australia followed pretty soon after, but I think we were the first to really do exactly this model where we did white label apps with telcos. So the first one was skinny mobile, with skinny, which is a subsidiary of New Zealand Telecom, now called spark where users earn 200 megabytes or 200 minutes for having excellent locksmith, it did two things. One, it brought retention way up. So we, we suddenly had like 60 70% 30 day retention, which was amazing, that also deteriorated over time. But in the beginning, it was extremely healthy. And, and the other part is that from a policy point of view for Google ads, and so forth, we weren’t breaching policy anymore, because the data or earnings were unrelated to the ad consumption. So the reward was simply a reward for having the app. And the ads were, were just a feature of the app. And we also introduced content. So it was not just ads, it was ads and content. So was ads within the content experience. So we started to really comply. And this is the point where we met some product market fit and realised, okay, we can scale this up now. And then we started to raise more money. So we did a $3 million New Zealand dollar round, and started to really focus on scaling it up.
Ricky Willianto 18:56
Tell us a bit about how you close the first deal with the telco. I mean, like that must be quite a bit of an undertaking, because you have never done anything like that before, right? You were not doing sales before. And now you’re doing a b2b sales, no less to like a large corporation, like, you know, a telco. How did I go?
Milan Reinartz 19:11
Yeah, good question. I mean, it was it was through the guy, Roger was talking about my chief operating officer, and he was an astute businessman and linked in to the industry. So so it was really him opening his networks, and he was already friends or done some consulting or something for for for this telco which was like, MNNO, so mobile virtual network operator. And so he just walked me in the room, right. And so we just pitched to this guy, and noted all the details, agreed on a revenue share. And that was it. It was surprisingly fast. It’s a win win model. Right?
Ricky Willianto 19:42
Yeah. I think that makes sense. I think that’s one thing that probably a lot of business did not think about. I think once you have a really good business model that makes sense for all the partners involved, it’s just so much more seamless to close the deal and get the conversation going, especially if you’re coming first in market. So yeah, I think having that great business model to begin with was definitely helpful, right?
Milan Reinartz 20:01
Totally, totally. I mean, that’s the other thing is well, definitely the hire of Roger was in retrospect one of the better decisions I made along the way. So the thing I learned is that having good senior people who understand the industry, especially in enterprise sales or sort of b2b, b2e businesses, having good people with experience, is it’s super important. It just massively changes your outlook on how you can grow the business. Right, especially if you don’t understand the industry. So I had absolutely zero understanding of the tech industry at that point in time. Right. So. So having Roger on board made a huge difference for me.
Ricky Willianto 20:35
Yeah, I think that’s one of the hardest things as well, for founders, especially when it’s your first company, and you’re still at early stage, like feeling like the need to hire someone super senior and super experienced sometimes feel a bit scary, because they cost a lot of money. It’s a lot of risk to the business, because you don’t know if they’re going to keep your company agile and fresh as a startup, or they’re going to bring a lot of baggage with them. Right. So how did you implement this learning in your other ventures? Eventually?
Milan Reinartz 21:00
That’s a good question. I mean, I think that hindsight can be annoying, but it’s also the most amazing thing, right? So experienced teachers. And I mean, there were a lot of, I don’t even know where to start. So there were a lot of learnings. The more interesting thing I think, the mistake and having the humility to, to acknowledge those mistakes to yourself. Because as I think most reasonable and smart people know, if you think you know, everything you stop learning, and yeah, in retrospect, some of the some of the big mistakes we made were We were too unfocused, we were trying to do too many things, too many markets, geographically dispersed. So we’re trying to do business in Latin America, and in Southeast Asia and Africa, and Europe, and New Zealand, Australia, as we spread across five continents, we did this, we did this in Germany, in Portugal, we were very close in Austria. And in France, we did deals in Indonesia, and Singapore, were closed in the Philippines. And in Hong Kong, we do, we were very close to these in Nigeria, and but regardless, the problem was, we eventually were really struggling to keep up with it. And then when we couldn’t raise the next round fast enough, it sort of started to get a little bit difficult to maintain. And that’s one really big learning in retrospect, I mean, while we did in the end managed to this was after I left the business already, we managed to sell it to an American company doing something similar. I think we could have done a lot better if we were more focused on one geography and really work on saturation there. And this is something that certainly I’m applying now in iVS in my new business is to be a lot more focused, both in terms of geography as well as in terms of product, also, because I think, you know, when you’re young, I mean, I don’t mean young in terms of age, but young in terms of entrepreneurial experience. I mean, at least if you’re like me, which is always going 150 miles an hour and being super high energy and super high confidence. And I certainly had a lot of overconfidence bias and kind of figured, you know, I’m the Golden Boy, I can get anything done. I stole that from another podcast I have today. I think you have that overconfidence bias, and it can end up costing you a lot. And so that’s one learning another big learning is leading from the back. So in post, I was always leading from the front and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being on the road, I enjoyed doing all the sides. But then like people would tell me like, you know, Postr is you Milan, like you are Postr, you know, it’s all you doing. And I took pride in that back then. But in retrospect, there was not a good thing. Because I mean, for many reasons. Firstly, it created too much pressure on me to deliver which damaged my personal relationships, because I didn’t have enough time and bandwidth to pay attention. It also I think, made me a worse leader for the team. Because I was on the road too much selling too much rather than focusing on culture and team building. It also meant that I lost oversight to some extent on where to focus, you know, and on on what’s going on, and how is the team feeling? Where are the gaps. And so the big learning out of that is that now I really try to lead from the back, I try to slow myself down while speeding, everything is up. Not you know, not by whipping the leash, but rather by structuring things correctly, you know, by thinking by always living in the future. So the present is my past and kind of staying in the background as much as possible. And letting senior management kind of, you know, run the business, then I think as founders in general, I think if you can do that, from the get go, that’s a smart thing, even to the point where you don’t always need to be the CEO, right? Like if you start out being the CEO of at some stage, maybe you realise maybe there’s a better CEO for this. You don’t need to be the CEO if your passion is product then do the product. I think I think doing what you really love and what you’re really good at. The combination of those two things is super powerful. So if that means that you know that You take a step back also in terms of org structure, I think that’s also better than trying to hold on to something that you think you should be. And I mean, yeah, I like I like having the overall p&l responsibility, I actually really quite like p&l management and forecasting and strategy and, and so forth. But the other thing I’ve learned to really enjoy and I’m spending a lot of time on is culture building, and strategy and, and working with the key management with the core leaders in the business on aligning on a path and then keeping everybody aligned, but kind of stepping a little bit in the background from the day to day. Yeah, those are a couple of things. Many more.
Ricky Willianto 25:41
Yeah, I think I think you made a really good point, I think it’s, it’s really hard actually, for founders to know when to shift gears, I think I feel the same way as well, I think when you are a startup founder at the very beginning, you are always the face of the company, because there’s no, right. There’s no one else talking to clients, there’s no one else who’s kind of leading the team, and you know, talking to investors, so you’re so used from the very beginning to become the face of the company. And when you hit that product market fit, and you start to scale, having the ability to recognise the need to shift from like being that front men, to focusing more on the organisation and helping the organisation really scale either from a culture perspective, or process and structure perspective. It’s just so hard for any founder, right? Because, again, you are so used to, you know, being on the front, and you’re trying to just keep the growth going. Right, you think that, you know, the success so far has all been attributed by the fact that you are the lead person, right, the lead man right in the in the band, but then you need to shift gear and like, rethink, how do you strategize for scalability and sustainability is is a really hard thing to do. And I think this is kind of a nice sideway to talk a little bit about iVS, as well, which is the company that you’re currently leading, right. So the setup of this company is a bit different for you, right, you enter after the company has been founded. So share with us a little bit maybe what the company is about. And you know, like, how has it grown so far since you’ve taken over?
Milan Reinartz 27:01
Yeah, so iVS is a very different story in terms of how I got into it, but in a way a similar type of business. So it’s a similar business, because it’s also business to enterprise. We are a b2b video player. So if you’re looking at me on a video player right now. It’s just a box that displays video, but with the key USP that we provide publishers with a free video player and, and fully fledged free infrastructure, meaning CDN delivery, as well as hosting, storing recommendations, other video features, etc, etc. And then revenue share on advertising. So it’s business to enterprise, BD. And then, on top of this advertising based monetization on revenue share, which is similar to my previous business, it’s just not publishers instead of telcos on the supply side, my journey with iVS was kind of random again. So I exited Postr in 2019, I was looking for the next thing to do, and looked at various options, almost joined the telco in a sort of innovation function, which which could have been cool, would have paid well. But then one of the partners of monsell, who’s a longtime friend and mentor randomly ran into him and told him about what’s been going on with me for the last few months, we’ve been keeping in touch. We know known him for a while, and, and so yeah, so he said, Hey, wait a second, have a look at this company that we’ve currently working with that we’ve invested in, and I spoke to him, and this is paying for himself and, and the founder, and there was sort of saying, look, we we’ve done really well, on the supply side, we’ve put a lot of supply, but we’re struggling with the monetization side, when given my experience with wholesale, you know, growing a business to seven digit revenues in the edtech space, they kind of fade, that might be a good fit. And I had a few months already to kind of reflect and think about how I do things differently if I do it again. And so yeah, so I looked at it, and it was a was sort of a mutual due diligence process. Like they were checking me out, I was checking the company out, we were kind of figuring out like, does this make sense, and I think it was a really healthy transition process. We were all very open with each other. And I, I came up with a plan, like if I joined, this is what I would do, we did quite a bit of restructuring, which wasn’t easy, you know, not easy for me and probably even less easy for for people because we had to let go
Ricky Willianto 29:12
How big was the company when you join?
Milan Reinartz 29:14
when I joined there were I think about 30 people. Yeah, so we let a few people go and sort of stopped some some parts of the business operation in terms of content syndication, which we all felt kind of didn’t really make enough money and didn’t have the potential to grow significantly here in Southeast Asia. And really just focus on the OVP business and then built an advertising monetization function. And
Ricky Willianto 29:40
And an OVP, just to clarify, is online video player
Milan Reinartz 29:43
exactly. Then I really focused on on hiring for the first six months even I’d say it’s I fully focus on hiring some of the best people in the industry and we were lucky to find some of these people. So we have Harish Shankar, who was previously the chief Revenue Officer of SMX, Singapore media exchange and prior to that ran publicist performix as managing director and of us actresses So, so he really understand programmatic ad monetization, is somewhat of an industry legend, I would, I would go that far, not to give him a big head. But he’s a good man. And he understands how the space works, you know, and, and same for a CTO. So eventually we found Jock. Jock was previously at EPA, VP engineering, which is a large DSP from Taiwan. And they just went IPO. Actually, I think it’s a 10 digit IPO. So he came out of there. So we, we just had great leaders. And also Eric, not to forget Eric’s, the chief operating officer. So he was actually in the business development team. But I saw great potential for him to kind of take the the operational leadership, he also has relationships with all the partners with all the existing staff. And so first, focus on hiring and focus a lot on culture. I’m a big believer in the Netflix model of culture, at least parts of it, you know, that we try to emulate, which is around being closely aligned, loosely coupled. So spending a lot of time on alignment on making sure that we look at things the same way. Or, you know, even if we don’t always we disagree and commit, and we settled on a path forward. And then we work pretty independently across the functions. I mean, I still get involved here and there on certain elements of the of the operation. But I really am lucky to say that for more than half of my time is focused on corporate stuff like strategy, investors, planning, and culture and culture is I think, super, super important. Right. The other thing is, I’ve also learned over time, that transparency is really important. I mean, I think transparency, when times are good, and transparency, when times are bad. And we’ll create the kind of culture where people trust us, the leader and also trust each other, and sort of understand what the challenges are in a business. So about once a month, I share the entire p&l with the whole team on screen. I mean, not people salaries, but but the numbers high level, the margins, all the details. And I think what this does is it sort of creates a sense of ownership for everyone and loyalty to the cause, you know, so people don’t feel like you’re hiding something. And also, if people feel like, Look, this is too risky for me, we, we are struggling here. As a business, I’m not sure how long I’m going to be able to keep my job, then they can leave early, which is the right thing to do by the staff, and also the right thing for you as the entrepreneur or as the leader, frankly, because at least you’re not leading somebody on a garden path, right? So you get to maintain your integrity, your reputation by doing so. Yeah, but those things are sound easy, and in principle, but actually quite hard to implement. They take a lot of discipline and efforts to instil.
Ricky Willianto 32:39
yeah culture, culture is the hardest thing is all these little habits that you need to inculcate in every single one of your employees. Right. And it’s not easy. Everyone’s different, everyone has very different perspective on how things should be done. But getting that alignment on culture is is really important to make sure everyone can work together towards the same direction. What is what is the biggest shift you’ve seen in terms of the culture of the team? And in your opinion, what do you see as a business ROI that’s been generated as a result of that cultural shift?
Milan Reinartz 33:11
I think from q1 2020 to q1 2021, we achieved something like 500% revenue growth. That’s definitely a good chunk of the ROI.
Ricky Willianto 33:24
That is amazing. And when did you take over again
Milan Reinartz 33:26
in October 2019
Ricky Willianto 33:31
Wow, okay, so it’s less than two years
Milan Reinartz 33:34
we really only got started in January, February. So the first couple of months, were just planning, restructuring, figuring out what we want to focus on lots of questions, lots of sessions together to kind of figure out what makes sense here.
Ricky Willianto 33:46
So what is the biggest cultural change that you think, drive a big chunk of that 500% growth? Because that’s not insignificant
Milan Reinartz 33:53
I mean, I’m not sure how I mean, the revenue is, I think that culture has a lot to do with staff retention, and staff productivity. And so I think the productivity element certainly has to do with it. The other thing that has to do with it, I think, is pace. So, so bringing pace into the organisation, there’s a great article by Frank Slootman, which I can share with you about this. Nobody knows his name , he is Snowflake’s CEO, amazing guy. I think that’s, that’s been a big one, we operate fast we, we get a lot done. And I think you’ll find that most very successful startups, or even somewhat successful startups have a pretty fast pace. And I think your pace is a direct multiplier or almost direct multiply of your outcomes. And then that gets accelerated by focus. So if you bring a lot of focus and a lot of pace into your organisation, that that makes a huge difference. And perhaps that’s somewhat culturally driven as well. But the other thing is just good people that are really good people who understand what they’re doing, who maybe to some extent, Been there, done that, who have the experience, learn from the experiences. It’s a combination of all those things. I mean, then of course also building a good product right pretty good product that does the job, focusing on business model innovation, focusing on your clients understanding where their pain points are, what they really need. It is a combination of many things. It’s not an easy thing.
Ricky Willianto 35:11
Yeah, no, for sure. I think one of the things that is also very difficult in a company that’s doing well is to remain focus on the one thing that you truly do very well in, right? Because you tend to have like, you know, the temptation of going into adjacent product or a market adjacent segment, which is what you were talking about in post. So you are growing way too fast for your, for what your organisation was ready for, right? How do you make sure that you keep that focus going for iVS?
Milan Reinartz 35:36
It’s a good question. I mean, I actually I have these conversations with my management team, quite often, I tend to i, because my mind operates very fast. I tend to be the Yes man. I’m like, Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s do that. Let’s do that. And then I kind of, I worked myself to a no, And my key leaders, Harry and George, Ramsay’s and tech, respectively, probably more on the conservative side and kind of want to get things right. So I think one thing that works well for us is that they pull me back. And I also kind of purposely hire people like that. Because I know that I’m going to bring plenty of energy and creativity to try new things in any way. And, and then in combination with some sort of thoughtful, considered senior leadership, I think works quite well to to keep the focus on the right things. I mean, on the other thing, you do still have to innovate, right? You can’t, I mean, a cookie cutter approach might work, in some cases, a pure pure cookie cutter approach. But in all space, I think you still have to innovate and kind of look at how you can stay ahead of the market ahead of the curve, because the market develops so fast, right? And I think if you look at some of the big tech unicorns in Southeast Asia, hardly any of them really stood still either. if you kind of analyse their path, in retrospect, there was a sort of natural progression, right? So they start with scooter rides, then they add taxi rides, then they add food delivery, then they add massage that they add cleaning service, and it’s all booked through the same interface. And it kind of makes sense, right? In retrospect, it all makes sense. And seems like yeah, I mean, that’s, that makes sense. But, but if you think about it from the outset, it’s not always that obvious. Right? And I think that’s, I guess that’s what we try to do, we try to figure out, where does this naturally go? Where should it naturally go? And which elements of product development have shared resources? Which new geographies will have shared resources and can, by and large, maintain the same business model and product? And of course, have a significant time. So yeah, this should be the core of every good management’s thinking is, you know, how do we progress? How do we evolve? How do we grow, you know, without compromising on the original promise? And I guess, mission statements and value systems and so forth, are helpful with that. But I think there’s also a lot of very thoughtful, practical assessment of the market and of your products, to kind of get to the right conclusions about where to focus.
Ricky Willianto 37:59
Yeah, I think as a founder of the times, you know, like, I’m not saying all founders, but a lot of founders are very idea focus, right? They’re the visionary. They’re thinking about the future, they are thinking of what could be what if, right, and I think what you mentioned earlier about having people who can challenge you, and hold you back and consistently push you to think not, not more slowly, but you know, more carefully about the direction you’re going to take the company is really important, especially if your company started to find that product market fit and really growing really fast. And yeah, I think identifying ways to leverage your current strength without, you know, giving up on what makes you you, and what makes you know, your value in your product unique in the market, while growing into new categories is also another thing that I think founders need to train themselves on, especially as they’re scaling up, because you have more resources available to you, you suddenly have a bit more money to do more things that, you know, in the past, you’re like, I wish I had, like, you know, $100,000 more to do marketing. I wish I have like, you know, two more engineers to build this features. But now you have to be actually more prudent as you’re growing bigger to make sure that you don’t lose the focus. Yeah, thanks so much for sharing that. So I think I can have like another one hour conversation with you about this, but let’s wrap it up. And usually the way we wrap it up is through a quick fire round. It just a bunch of questions that you should just answer with one or two words, right? The first thing that comes to your mind, yeah, are you ready? Okay, first one is what is the one metric that you care most about right now?
Milan Reinartz 39:25
Ricky Willianto 39:27
What is your favourite software that helps you or your company grow?
Milan Reinartz 39:31
What helps me get stuff done is WhatsApp. I don’t think everybody in my organisation agrees I think they can get annoyed of it at my WhatsApp stories. I think for my organisation, probably. JIRA slack. You know, that suite kind of makes a really big difference in staying organised and not racking up too much technical depth as we move fast.
Ricky Willianto 39:53
Sounds good. What is your favourite growth strategy that you’ve used in the past effectively
Milan Reinartz 39:59
staying very focused and bringing pace into the organisation.
Ricky Willianto 40:06
I love that a lot of people talk about like marketing stuff. I love how you bring it back to the core of the business and you know, strategy. Next one is what’s your favourite go to resources for growth? It can be a book newsletter, website, etc. People. Okay, and who are some of your growth role models? In Asia?
Milan Reinartz 40:26
That’s a tough one. I don’t pay all that much attention as I invested with myself. So I pay a lot of attention to the US market. I mean, I guess, Anthony, you know, from grab, that’s a super exciting story, but I can’t say that I know too much about it. I think Min liang from Razer has an amazing story. Yeah, sorry, I don’t have a very, very good answer yet.
Ricky Willianto 40:47
Sounds It’s okay. A lot of people get stumped by this question. This is why like, we need to have more founders in Asia, talk about what you’re doing here. Final question for you, What’s the best way for people to reach you? And what kind of people do you want reaching out to you?
Milan Reinartz 41:01
Not the ones who want me to be the offshore development team, and not the ones who want me to pay $3,000 to be in some marketing report. I had one of those today. I think I’m always happy to talk to other founders, I’m always happy to talk to potential partners, clients, investors, or just industry folks, you know, to exchange ideas, I spend a lot of time taking meetings without particular agendas. And I feel that and this is a controversial topic. Some people think, you know, like navall talks about, you know, you structure your day super efficiently. You take half hour walking meetings with a clear agenda, I actually quite liked taking meetings with smart people who’ve achieved something interesting. And just sort of see where it goes. And I find that a lot of opportunity. direct and indirect comes from that. So yeah, I’m actually pretty open. You can reach me on LinkedIn or get somebody to make an intro, if there’s a genuine interest to learn or to collaborate, and I’m usually always up for chat.
Ricky Willianto 41:55
Sounds good. Hey, thanks, man. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I really appreciate your time today. Yes. Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more stories and hacks from experts who have been there and that that you can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website www.theravenry.com/growthmultiplier. See you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.a
About Growth Multiplier
The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses.
In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth.
Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.
Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.