Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 8
Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, drop me a line.
Meet David Bixler. He’s traveled a bit. He lives in Washington D.C. and runs his own company. He likes to jump on trampolines. He’s intelligent, relaxed and waxes philosophical on small businesses and customer loyalty. David’s a cool guy.
I met David a couple of months ago, when he came to visit my roommate and crashed on our couch for a few nights. We fended off mice, walked around Boston and sampled some of our favorite microbrews. When we weren’t playing video games or cards, we chatted about entrepreneurship.
After graduating college, David mingled with a start-up company in D.C. and licensed their software, effectively launching his own customer loyalty company. I had fun probing him for details.
So, tell us about your company, Client Rocket.
The old elevator pitch, huh? Client Rocket is an API driven loyalty platform for businesses, organizations, and entrepreneurs. So if you’re not a techie like me, Client Rocket allows any business to operate and manage their own in-house points, loyalty, or rewards program powered by a web-based technology. My loyalty philosophy is the more you give, the more you have to give. It may sound counter-intuitive, but studies have proven that 20% of customers can account for 80% of a business’ profit. Treat these customers well and they will reward you with a stream of profits and praise. Since loyalty is confusing, we help clients conceive of the right solution for their specific business while fulfilling the need for marketing materials like those awesome plastic cards you get at your grocery store. If it pertains to loyalty, we’ve got it covered.
Client solutions are just one side of the business. Lately I’ve been fascinated with what entrepreneurs are doing with our platform. Loyalty takes many forms, and entrepreneurs around the world are creating stand-alone businesses based on our platform.
Where did the idea come from? How did you originally get things off the ground?
Most people laugh when I explain this, but the idea for ClientRocket actually originated from my intelligent, wonderful, amazing mother. I come from an entrepreneurial family, and right after I graduated from college I was looking for a fun Internet project instead of getting one of those “real world” jobs. At the time, my mother was launching a rewards program for local home builders to earn points for shopping at local suppliers like local lumber, flooring, plumbing, and hardware companies in effort to compete with the national Lowe’s and Home Depots. The web-based software she found to track all this was provided by a startup company based in Washington DC called StickyStreet.com. I thought her idea was brilliant but surely there had to be other applications for this loyalty-centered business model.
Turns out, StickyStreet was about to change their business model to license their technology only to resellers that understand the concepts of loyalty. I was at the right place at the right time so I jumped on this opportunity, drove up to Washington DC, took their 3-day loyalty immersion course and have been obsessed with loyalty ever since.
StickyStreet helped me pick the name ClientRocket and launch a website but I already had my first client lined up back home. It was a big name Spa franchise that was missing the loyalty functionality from their pre-approved corporate software. They had no way of rewarding frequent customers. Luckily, my new gig provided the solution so I spent some time with the owners and listened to what they needed. We designed some plastic cards and kicked off their program a few weeks later.
Being a non-conformist (hence ending up on this blog), I thought this was a dream come true. I could work from anywhere in the world, provide a web-based service, and still make a monthly income. Plus, knowing that I was adding value to these businesses really gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. My next few clients came from the leads I received from my first Google AdWords campaign. I had never done any online advertising, but I was fascinated with its effectiveness. No wonder Google has about $35 billion in cash lying around! My first low budget AdWords campaign resulted in several leads and a few new clients. I got to know them over the phone and through email correspondence and built the loyalty solution they were seeking. Piece of cake.
I’m digging this whole customer loyalty thing. Any fun clients you’ve worked with?
I’m glad you agree, Alan. Loyalty rocks. On a side note, I consider myself a loyal friend and Apple fanboy, but the former generally gets me more points with the ladies. But fun clients you ask? Plenty. One of my first clients is a coffee franchise based in Australia called The Dancing Bean. Not only do they have fun accents, but also the owner has a serious dirt biking hobby, which makes me insanely jealous that we don’t get to hang out on the weekends. Even though we’ve never met in person, I can tell he’s a fun guy. I have the privilege of speaking to like-minded folks all day long. For example, one of my favorite clients (oh wait, I can’t pick favorites) is a chain of Bike Shops in Virginia. They sponsor race teams and have built up an impressive customer list from using our program for several months. They are always reaching out to the community and they see the results through several dedicated customers. In fact, their customers have reached out to me to praise them! I really just love working with positive people, and loyalty has that effect. Other cool businesses we work with include wine shops, salons, fine dining clubs, auto dealerships, doctor’s offices, and an entire school district in Michigan (I made them promise they wouldn’t give me homework).
What have been some of your biggest entrepreneurial hurdles so far? What have you learned?
Of course, entrepreneurship has its hurdles. As much as I love this pirate lifestyle, I always wonder if I missing something that a real job could offer. On second thought, no paycheck could sway me from wearing pajamas until noon. I am always challenged with the ability to be self-motivated. Since I ultimately make every decision about my business, I have to rely on myself to stay on top of my game. Time management can be difficult especially when it’s a beautiful day outside. Everyday I have to prioritize what is important. I am an avid list maker and generally a very organized guy. Making lists is one of my favorite things to do and a must on a Sunday night in order to plan my week. I’ve definitely learned that it is always better to be proactive instead of reactive. There is always something that could be done to keep me ahead of the curve, whether it be reading the latest loyalty blog, or broadening my horizons with a new skill. For example, this month I took a Photoshop class so I can better understand graphic design.
Another entrepreneurial challenge pertains to staying focused on one project at a time. I have a tendency to be an off-the-wall thinker and can easily go off on a tangent if infected with a new idea (Inception reference). I am constantly asking myself if these new ideas relate to my core business model of loyalty. There is nothing wrong with side projects, and a full shelf of them could lead to a breakthrough one day, but if my idea doesn’t fit my core business, I have to put it on the shelf or move it around to one of my peers.
Anything exciting in the works? What can we expect from Client Rocket over the next couple of years?
I am very excited about what’s in the pipeline for 2011. We’ve brought on some extremely talented developers who are going to lead our foray into the mobile market. Tablet devices have only scratched the surface of their potential, and have yet to be fully adopted by the business world. Developing a mobile application or hotsite for these tablet devices would open up a huge opportunity for businesses. I talk to businesses all day that need a loyalty program to fit their current workflow, except they don’t know what they want or how it will work. Henry Ford said, “If we asked our customers what they want they would have said a faster horse.” I think that quote is incredibly accurate in the loyalty market right now because customer loyalty is rapidly changing with new media like Facebook and Twitter. We are listening to what customers want and then hiding out with people that truly understand the technology to determine the next loyalty breakthrough.
As for me, I’m incredibly happy with my role at ClientRocket. I’m working with some of the smartest people in the industry in a city that I love, Washington DC. I’m focused on growing my business for the next several years, but who knows what form that will take. I’m a huge fan of what you do with The 9 to 5 Alternative and share your passion for traveling and micro-goal setting. I want to travel to South America, Thailand, and Australia but I can’t decide in what order. Thankfully, I’m self-employed and can make these decisions for myself. After all, it’s never been easier to be an entrepreneur than right now.