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Capital Efficient Entrepreneurship: Jeff Wilkins, CEO of Motili (Part 5)

Posted on Sunday, Sep 8th 2019

Sramana Mitra: Let’s get to the genesis of Motili. What were you thinking? Why did you start this company? What did you want to do with it?

Jeff Wilkins: I was selling another company. There was a product registration business that I had called Interaxis here in Denver. Our clients were consumer durable manufacturers like Whirlpool, LG, and Samsung.

They use product registration as a vehicle to identify the end consumer who is buying their product and engage those customers in after-market commerce activities like selling extended service contracts.

The challenge that they had is that maybe one in four products get registered at best. Some have single-digit registration rates. Our thesis was that if we can help clients do this better and increase registration rates, we can move the needle financially. That’s what we did.

We found out that there was nobody in that space. IBM had one client and Accenture had one client. A lot of the rules of thumb and approaches were not informed by any real-world experience. We were able to get a very collaborative collegial group of customers that were willing to share best practices and learnings.

We were able to dramatically improve our clients’ results. That business was being sold in 2012. It’s one of the few times I hired an investment banker to handle things in such a situation. This guy was out generating interest from different buyers. One of the prospective buyers who responded was Modern Marketing Commerce.

The founder Dan Babcock is like Tigger on steroids. He’s so energetic and amped up. I found him super engaging and a pleasure to interact with. We didn’t end up doing a deal on Interaxis but stayed in touch. That same year, we ended up selling Interaxis to another company.

In the subsequent years as I stayed with FICO, the acquirer, I continued to talk to Dan Babcock about what he was doing in his business. He said, “I’ve got some things in my company that are interesting.” His business was helping building products companies sell products to contractors, essentially the long tail of the channel.

He has built up, over 20 years of activity, a pretty substantial database of contractors and entities that were buying different types of building products. What we did is, we worked on taking some of those assets, along with a relationship that he had with Carrier, and thought maybe there is a different way of putting things together.

Motili was essentially an idea which was to serve the needs of large property owners and managers by supplying an integrated solution. In the last year, I was at FICO working on the business plan for that and incorporated it in May of 2015.

Sramana Mitra: Did you bootstrap this company?

Jeff Wilkins: It was just myself and Dan with less than a million dollars. We were able to take off pretty quickly. It’s surprising the traction we got on the sales front.

Sramana Mitra: Who was the first customer, and how did you get that customer?

Jeff Wilkins: We had some introductions through Carrier. We had residential clients like American Homes For Rent. These are entities that are buying single-family residential properties. They needed servicing on their HVAC equipment.

An early customer was Aimco who’s an apartment owner. They came in through a Carrier introduction. We didn’t have to start flat-footed and say, “Hey, we’re Motili.” That was a great way to jump-start our business.

Sramana Mitra: How much money did you guys put in to get to the product?

Jeff Wilkins: We had less than a million dollars in total at the time of the exit.

Sramana Mitra: How much time did it take you to release the first product?

Jeff Wilkins: We actually had a more labor-sensitive version of what we did. If you think about what Motili is, it’s a tech-enabled service. It was a combination of people, process, and technology.

In the beginning, it was more people and less technology. Over time, we became more efficient and ramped down the staffing and relied more on technology. We were in the market within a month or two. It was just a much more manual process at the beginning.

One of the lessons is, before you go out and start building stuff, understanding the process and where the friction points are is a good learning to get. It helped guide where to apply our development resources as we built the platform.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Capital Efficient Entrepreneurship: Jeff Wilkins, CEO of Motili
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