David VS Goliath Podcast – S1 – Episode 25 – Eric Branner
On this fun filled episode of David Vs Goliath, Eric Branner joins Adam DeGraide to discuss his journey from being a classically trained guitarist to Founder and CEO of the tech startup https://fons.com. Also in episode 25 Adam provides a sneak peak of his own personal musical project that will be coming out in the next few months and showcases a piece performed by Eric.
Adam DeGraide: Hey everyone, it’s Adam DeGraide. Big news, David versus Goliath. Shop on the davidvsgoliathpodcast.com website. Get your iPhone covers, your cups, even cups like this, check it out, a lot of fun. Support the show. Show off your swag. We really appreciate it. Onto the episode. Coming up today on David versus Goliath.
Eric Branner: I really had a passion and a gift for sharing music with people. [crosstalk].
Adam DeGraide: You just hope you don’t have a prima donna singer.
Eric Branner: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Adam DeGraide: I’m stealing your kid’s guitar strings.
Speaker 3: Welcome to today’s episode of David versus Goliath, a podcast dedicated to helping small businesses leverage technology, to not only help them compete against their large competitors but win. Your host is currently the CEO of Anthem Business Software, a three-time Inc. 500 recipients and a serial entrepreneur with a passion to help small businesses everywhere find, serve and keep more customers profitably. Please join me in welcoming your host, Adam DeGraide.
Adam DeGraide: Hey everyone, its Adam DeGraide with another amazing edition of the David versus Goliath Podcast. Today, we have an awesome, young entrepreneur that I met through the application on our website, davidvsgoliathpodcast.com, where you can subscribe and apply to be on the show. Last couple of episodes have been from people who have applied. We are so grateful to have them. They’re great stories. Eric Branner, is his name and he started a company called fons.com, which is F-O-N-S.com.
Before we get to the episode, today’s episode is brought to you by Anthem Software, where you can find, serve and keep more customers profitably with they’re all in one small business solution of software, marketing and consulting. Every business has a song. Let their software and marketing system sing yours and that’s anthemsoftware.com.
Also, if you haven’t had a chance, go check out my book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It’s called The Adventures of Jackson: The Young Field Mouse. Kids learn about three things: bravery, the value of listening, and gratitude. Those three things I find are fantastically important for everyone, including kids and including myself. With no further ado, we’re going to get right into it today with Eric Branner from fons.com. Eric, welcome to The David versus Goliath podcast.
Eric Branner: Hey, thanks so much for having me. Hi.
Adam DeGraide: Once again, another fellow entrepreneur with a setup like me. Guitars everywhere. Music everywhere. When I got your application to the DVG website, which by the way is awesome, you’re only the second application that I’ve actually accepted to have on the podcast. I thought your story was amazing. You and I have a very similar background. We both loved music. Our parents were all in music. My parents performed professionally. Your parents performed professionally and your grandparents, I guess, as well too.
What was so fascinating to me is that you studied to be a classical guitarist. It’s so interesting to me, because for whatever reason, musicians with Type A personalities, which is what I have, we have a tendency to be entrepreneurs in the future and have our own thing. When I started looking at what you did, and finding some people to help you develop funds and how you had a problem of your own, and then you created software to solve that. Then, you realize, “Hey, there’s other people that could use it, too,” It really resonated with me big time. Eric, why don’t you take a few minutes to tell people a little bit about A, your background and then B, fons.com and what it is exactly?
Eric Branner: Okay, sure. Yeah, I’ll be brief. Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for that warm welcome. Historically, I’m a musician. I grew up playing music and I came from a very musical family and also an entrepreneurial family. My father was a serial entrepreneur. When I went in the world of becoming a musician, and want to do it full time, I had a lot of support for it.
I moved to Seattle. Because I grew up in a very rural part of Virginia, I grew up in a log cabin in the Shenandoah Valley, beautiful childhood experience. Moved out to Seattle to play music and further my studies and my musical career and just really fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. I got to do great work with the Seattle Opera, the Seattle Symphony, doing marketing and development type work for them. Then, but found that I really love teaching. As I got a little bit older, I really had a passion and a gift for sharing music with people.
Adam DeGraide: That’s great.
Eric Branner: It gave me, it injected me into the community here. I kind of got to know everybody through knowing their kids. I built this amazing network over time from having a little music school and really investing in young people and people of all ages, really. I was really happy. It was between my wife as an actor and between the two of us, we were able to kind of like have this life that was awesome. I always knew that at some point, I was going to either want to go to law school or get an MBA, that was just kind of bait.
Like you said, you said the type A creative personality. I had kind of moved past that era of wanting to be the concert, classical music career is very interesting and that it starts, it begins with competitions, and you’re traveling around the country doing these competitions, kind of competing for small cash prizes, and it’s not super awesome. I kind of burned out of it and that goal of being-
Adam DeGraide: Is it isn’t anything like the, because I never, when I was growing up and learning how to play music, and my mom and dad would force me to practice and I would yell at them, they said, “You’re going to thank me someday,” and my brother and I talked about this even on a previous episode of DVG. I’m so grateful that I did it now.
It kind of reminds me of like, because I wasn’t in that space, right? I was more jazz, freelance rock and roll, that type of scenario versus classically trained. When you hear my stuff, it’s either hard rock or it’s got a little bit of a jazz, mellow influence to it on the piano but was it a little bit like the kids’ beauty pageants?
In other words, you had all these talented kids that were brought into an area to compete against each other and almost like the spelling bee moms and dads, or the volleyball? My daughter from a previous marriage was a volleyball, club volleyball. The parents that went to those things, if you lost. I mean, it’s a miracle many of the parents didn’t get arrested. Was it similar?
Eric Branner: I honestly, more so than I would have liked to have been. It was that scene where it’s music, and it’s art and being competitive around it is kind of bizarre as an adult, right? It creates interesting relationships. Anyway, that thing I kind of moved on from, I became a studio session player and just played a lot of gigs. I love rock too. I saw that. I was able to kind of suss out this great life but I guess around five and a half years ago, six years ago, I was just really hungry for something different.
You know that feeling of being like, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I was successful at it. I was raising my family but I was really ready to just kind of inject something else into my existence. I was thinking, “Okay, MBA time, law school time.” Then, I just had this opportunity to work with somebody who is a very well-known person in Silicon Valley, who I’d known through the Seattle scene for a very long time, who basically gave me this opportunity to do a tech startup…
Adam DeGraide: That’s great.
Eric Branner: … which I had never crossed my mind but he’s like, “Hey, you’re running a very successful business. What if we automate what you do,” because I know my wife, Alyson was running my music school and it took her 12, 15 hours a week to do a great job. We were a real white glove, local kind of institution. We had really compelling, awesome customers that we need to take care of.
Anyway, next thing now I’m in this room full of engineers, designers, UX, UI people, basically to study the work that I did to basically automate my music school. Very quickly, they realized, because I thought that I knew it all. They’re like, “Everything, you’re doing’s so inefficient. Whatever this model is that you’ve done, we’re going to gut it.” It was a battle. I’m really glad we did have that battle because it was that math and that kind of algorithmic approach to business operations that most creatives never think of…
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, totally.
Eric Branner: … that they said, “You need to go interview 500 more people.” This is and so I set off and made a bunch of relationships, not just looking at music schools, but looking at personal trainers, gyms, because they’re so motivated, academic tutors, anybody that kind of trades time for money, we started looking into these, their relationships, right? Their relationship-based business where there’s trust, it’s recurring, it’s developed over time. That was the basis for Fons is to create this platform that built a really healthy, beautiful, professional relationship that was automated and took that friction out. That’s it. Yeah.
Adam DeGraide: I love it. I was amazed. It’s so fascinating. My son right now, who’s six years old is getting a lesson from somebody who uses a software app that we schedule on, that we pay it on. It’s probably similar. It might even be Fons. I never even asked him. It actually could be. There’s a dramatic need for simplifying and automating these processes in businesses’ lives. A lot of people don’t think about it, but you did. I got to tell you, kudos to you man because I love the name of what Fons means to you. Put here on the sheet it says, it means, fountain or wellspring in Latin.
As soon as I said that, I said, “Well, I got to interview this guy because not only is he a sharp entrepreneur, he’s obviously a decent musician.” Do you have any music by the way? I’d love for you to send me some of your classical performances.
Eric Branner: Oh sure. Absolutely.
Adam DeGraide: Because you know what we’re going to do actually, before I continue, we’re going to play a quick 32nd clip of that right now. Here’s Eric’s song, we’ll be right back.
We’re back. Eric, that was amazing. Thank you for sharing that with us. When you think about the fact that my six-year-old right now is upstairs getting a lesson, and that he’s learning how to play the piano, just like I did when I was a kid, but his piano teacher has software that can help him automate and make his business something that he can manage more effectively and efficiently.
Kudos to you. Congrats on the success so far, and you haven’t been able to do it alone. I know you’re that you’re building a team. You’re a startup in a lot of ways, right? You’re still a small company, which is why we have you on here on the David versus Goliath podcast. We’re championing the small guy taking on the big guy, but you have a passion to help solopreneurs like you said, if you’re exchanging time for money, fons.com but the name fountain and wellspring and Latin, what made you think of that?
Eric Branner: It was an opportunity. It made sense as we were doing our branding and really thinking about it. Plus, it was a four-letter.com that came up that we were thrilled to be able to make that happen. The stars just kind of aligned because our logo is very similar too. If you look at the logo, if you look at it one way, it’s people out, four people holding hands and looking up. If you look it at another way, they’re reading a book, right? It’s one of those dual images.
The work that we do, and the people that we support, it’s people that are like really central to communities, right? These people that give, I see myself as a guitar teacher, and I still teach 10, 15 students a week because it’s my passion, right?
Adam DeGraide: That’s awesome.
Eric Branner: You see what this does over time, these people are really, they’re investing in their community and they are, they’re these wellsprings of knowledge and fountains of education. We love supporting them. It’s really cool. To your point, it’s like, they’re not necessarily baked in with business acumen.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah.
Eric Branner: We go to art school. We’re trained. Our teachers, historically, weren’t really business savvy because back in the day, that wasn’t necessarily what was appropriate for a creative or an artist, right? It was assumed you had a trust fund or something like that. Now, it’s like, there’s a whole realm of from the music schools we support, to the tutoring firms we support, of people that are really business savvy, that are getting into it and realizing, yeah, this is a great way to make a living. This is maybe the way for me to make a living as a creative and not go get a job at Starbucks.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, totally, totally. It’s a lot, it’s interesting. I don’t know if you’ve seen the episode that I interviewed my brother from Dirt Poor Robbins, basically, he built this brand and this band online over the years to have over a million streams a month, tens of thousands of views on his videos, 500 plus 1000 fans worldwide that download and stream his music on a regular basis. What’s so interesting is that he shared the principles of what you have to learn today, to be competitive in music and to make money because as you know, the business of music has changed dramatically.
However, the business of teaching and training in that, there’s not like there’s less artists or less musicians in the world, it’s just that there may not be as many avenues even though there’s unlimited number of avenues digitally, when it comes to the business side, you’re not only giving them practical ability to learn the skills of being a musician, but now you come alongside and you say, “Hey, this software can help you become a teacher in a profession if it’s something that you’re called to do as a musician.”
I think that is just very rewarding. I wish that I had it because who knows, maybe I would have taught more. I don’t know. I don’t really have the patience for teaching but my teachers will tell you I also did have the patience for learning but-
Eric Branner: They sound like a rock star.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah. Nevertheless, here I am. I play pretty good, but I think it’d be it pretty amazing. Do you have an actual website that people can listen to your music personally or is it something that you just really focus on that your students’ music?
Eric Branner: Now, I’m more focused on my students’ music. I put up YouTube videos. I mean, I still do like an educational YouTube video and I’ll put up like a classical piece and perform there from time to time but my focus this last years have been so much, has moved towards building this business, that it’s like I’ve got young children, and I’ve got a company that’s really exciting. I’m still trying to teach some and something kind of to give and then the pandemic came and the few regular gigs, I love playing live. Playing live is kind of the thing I love doing. That kind of became that the straw that broke the camel’s back a little bit.
Adam DeGraide: Wow. I tell you man, I am glad you’re a tech company in Seattle because I wouldn’t want to have been any other business in Seattle during the lockdowns.
Eric Branner: Yes.
Adam DeGraide: I am grateful to be a Floridian. I don’t know, you probably watched from across the country, it was a whole different world out here, man. It’s a different planet. It was a lot, I was grateful to be a part of it but at least, you had the ability to teach your kids, I would imagine virtually at the time.
Eric Branner: Yup.
Adam DeGraide: You probably had to shift a little bit to that. Once again, technology being involved in even teaching and training and it may be, in some cases, even giving you the ability to do more. I don’t know if that’s the case or not?
Eric Branner: Well, that’s a great observation. That was that whole thing is we knew right away in March of last year, we need to build a Zoom integration tomorrow to where that got, we’re just trying to constantly seek out friction points.
Adam DeGraide: Do you have that now? Do you have that in the Fons app?
Eric Branner: Oh, absolutely. Basically, the way it works is like when you as a client and me as a provider, when I go to teach, that agenda for the day has all those links set up. You get, if you think about the friction points, like as a human being, as a creative, I’m not comfortable saying, “Hey, Adam, you forgot to pay me,” or “Weren’t you late in your payment,” or “Why is this check not enough?”
Adam DeGraide: You owe me six months of payment. I’m stealing your kid’s guitar strings.
Eric Branner: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. We want to take those things that artists, especially are not generally or small business owners usually struggle with, and automate them out. Fons does the policing. It automates cancellation policy. It’ll send you a text. It’ll send you a text a day of your son’s lesson, say, “Here’s the Zoom link. Don’t forget to come four hours before.” It’ll send you an email a couple days before. It does these and at the end of that lesson, it either bills you in whatever way or bills you monthly. It integrates that billing, integrates the payments with the scheduling. That’s the thing that allow, that just takes a ton of stress and friction points out of these people.
Yes, we needed to realize that most education was going to go vertical. What we found, which was crazy, is all of our providers that we’re observing, especially academic tutors, musicians, personal trainers, they all went online last year and then they just started thriving. I used to maintain two studios here in Seattle: one in West Seattle, and one on Capitol Hill and I’m still teaching mostly virtually. What happened is parents said, “Hey, I want to drive to see Branner anymore. Let’s just keep doing the Zoom. We’ll come see him once a month or whatever but that way, I want to get stuck in traffic.” Then-
Adam DeGraide: It’s interesting. It’s so fascinating you say that, because that is so true. We’re going to take a break here in a second.
Eric Branner: Sure.
Adam DeGraide: But as a parent, I have our teacher coming to my house because I don’t want to drive there. It saves me like an hour of your time. Now, you pay a little extra for it…
Eric Branner: Yeah.
Adam DeGraide: … but if you could have the best of both worlds, a great teacher, with technology and the ability to automate schedule and take payments, why not do it? You’re with Eric Branner from fons.com. I’m Adam DeGraide, your host of David versus Goliath, once again, learning about an amazing business. Stay tuned from a message from Anthem Software, our corporate sponsor. We’ll be right back.
Speaker 3: Anthem Business Software System is designed to specifically help small businesses just like yours find, serve and keep more customers profitably. We do this by providing you with the most powerful software automations and marketing services to help your business compete and win in this ever changing digital world. Take a short video tour at anthemsoftware.com.
Adam DeGraide: We’re back with Eric Branner, the concert guitarist extraordinare, the CEO and founder of Fons. I almost, look at the hour, I was so excited, I almost literally ripped my microphone off, fons.com. Eric, man, I got to tell you, congratulations on your success so far, and I’m excited to see where the future is going to have you go. Now, you have a family. You got two kids. Are you raising them? Do they learn from dad too?
Eric Branner: No. Of course, the … My daughter is studying flamenco. She’s 15. She’s studying with, I have a, in the world of classical music, classical guitar players and flamenco guitar players, they’re like completely different instruments, but they’re similar. Edie’s studying flamenco but both my children are very much gravitated towards athletics, which is how the universe works. We’re learning about the competitive sports world. My son, he’s 10. He does a lot of Capoeira, which has a lot of music injected in it.
Adam DeGraide: What is Capoeira?
Eric Branner: Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art and you’ve probably seen it. It looks sometimes like almost like dancing. There’s a lot of music involved. It’s a great culture. My son got turned on to it when he was four and fell in love with it. He’s been competing internationally like he’s really into it.
Adam DeGraide: I wonder if my producer could find a clip right now of Capoeira. Just a quick clip. Let’s run that really quick so people know what we’re looking at. There you go. That’s Capoeira, folks. I had no idea what it was but it is pretty cool. It’s amazing. Here you are, hoping that they would follow in dad’s footsteps maybe. One’s doing dance with music, but one’s playing music, right? Flamenco? Totally different?
Eric Branner: Yeah. Oh, yeah. She’s a ripping flamenco guitar player. Yeah. They both had, they’ve had a ton of culture in music. Look, I’m not going to be the one to push them because I could easily become that dad.
Adam DeGraide: Oh, yeah, totally.
Eric Branner: I’m letting them find it.
Adam DeGraide: The only thing you have to worry about, Eric, is that they have one good lick. I tell people all the time, you only need one good lick to play in a one lick band.
Eric Branner: Yeah.
Adam DeGraide: That’s so true and that’s been my story, my life story.
Eric Branner: Get the tapping cadenzas to eruption down and call it good, right?
Adam DeGraide: Right. Exactly. Yeah. There’s always like a play smoke on the water backwards, you’re all set? Now, question for you in regards to your team, because people are critical. I know you have a small team right now but I would imagine that they’re very integral.
Eric Branner: Yes.
Adam DeGraide: When somebody comes on board with fons.com and they sign up, there’s probably people that help them learn the software application, there’s people that support the application. Tell us a little bit about your internal team and how you’re able to get it done?
Eric Branner: Yeah, well, it’s starting from the top, the big investment we made up front, which was also a calculated risk and knowing this was going to be a real long tail project, is that we went really big on engineering and design in our first couple years. At one point, there were like 15 engineers working on building this project. The person who founded the company with me, our chief investor, this guy, Jared Ray. He is a true visionary in the whole tech world. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s just got, he’s a great CTO. He really was responsible for the architecture, asking the hard questions, really putting me in my place of coming from a place of thinking I knew everything, to starting over, and analyzing operations.
Now, the process of using Fons is much more, we also realized that people were really stoked that we built the product here in Seattle, and that the engineers were stateside, and that we were able to release features very quickly because of how we architected the platform. We also found that they were very delighted that we had live customer success. When people type into that box, it’s a person there. We found that that was an investment that became central to our marketing really.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah. Totally. People are here. They answer. They respond. Updates are done quickly. What language is it built in?
Eric Branner: The tech stack has multiple different layers.
Adam DeGraide: Are you using Python? Are you using-
Eric Branner: No. Mostly, it’s Java.
Adam DeGraide: Java? Okay, cool.
Eric Branner: Yeah.
Adam DeGraide: That’s awesome.
Eric Branner: Yeah, but the team is very agile. We kind of change around and so the bottom line is we kind of integrate the sales team, into the marketing team, into the operations team. They’re constantly on a feedback loop to where when someone, we start to see more people writing in with a feature request, or something that they don’t love in the flow, we’re able to pipe that up into engineering quickly. This is the great thing of having a smaller team is you’re able to make adjustments and do releases more quickly.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, no doubt. A lot of software applications are good at getting acquisition, and that very sometimes have a challenge of getting activation. In other words, somebody signs up, activating them quickly is critical, right? Because if 10 days goes by, 5 days goes by, and they’ve already signed up and they’re not using it, you kind of like, that’s a challenge. How have you been addressing with that? What is some of the onboarding process that you with it?
Eric Branner: It seems like you know this world very intimately because that was-
Adam DeGraide: I build for… That’s what I do for a living my friend.
Eric Branner: I was delighted when we first launched and we were just getting a ton of signups. I was so tickled that I didn’t realize that nobody was converting.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, everyone’s signing up, and then it sits there.
Eric Branner: Yeah. I was just thinking, “I got this thing. This is great.” But our onboarding flow was terrible because we were a new product when we first launched and it was such a learning curve to realize how hard that is to guide someone through in a way that like they explained it to a five-year-old.
Adam DeGraide: No matter how simple you make that app, no matter how easy… I made the most simple softwares. People still have glazed looks in their head. No matter how many training videos you put, I feel like there’s still an element. There has to be like that human connection, getting him involved, hand holding them through, at least in the beginning phases of it but then once you get them rolling down that hill, so to speak, right? The snowball gets bigger and bigger and bigger and that’s why they stay longer because activation is the key. What are you doing?
Eric Branner: It really is. Finding value in it.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, what are you doing to help that? Hey, congrats, you’re signed up, your life’s going to change, then what?
Eric Branner: Well, fortunately, now, we have a nucleus of delighted people that are telling our story enough for us. That people are coming into it understanding the real fundamentals of the software better, which is really helpful but then, what we found is we’re super high touch up front. When someone signs up for our app, I send them a personalized welcome video through this app called Bonjoro. I don’t know if you know that.
Adam DeGraide: I’ve heard of the app, yeah.
Eric Branner: Everyone that signs up, I’m like, “Hey, I’m Eric. Thank you for being here. I can’t wait to learn more about you.
Adam DeGraide: You got a great surfer vibe, because I know you’re a surfer as well too.
Eric Branner: Yes.
Adam DeGraide: You get that cool surfer vibe, like hipster vibe. It’s good for a tech company by the way. My buddy, Topher Grant runs a company called GiddyUp, does about a half a billion dollars a year in revenue. He walks around with basically dreads. They’re not really dreads, but they could be dreads. He wears shorts and sandals and he walks out on stage barefoot and give speeches to thousands of people. It’s like, perfect for that tech business.
Eric Branner: It’s a dream.
Adam DeGraide: I’d imagine getting a video from Eric Branner is definitely something that is, “Oh, this is going to be pretty cool,” because you’re dealing with artistic people well, too, right? When they see that this is an application that was built by someone like them, for them, that must be a big win for you?
Eric Branner: Yeah, I think so. There’s that. Then, we know that if once the apps running, it runs itself. We know if we can front load it and get them on board in a way that’s efficient. We’re high touch up front. We love to give people a demo. We love to help them with onboarding. Then, we know that, especially with a bigger school, if you’ve got 20 or 30 teachers, or for firms, those are more high touch. Then, once they’re off to the races, they’re off to the races, right? That’s what our goal is to get them-
Adam DeGraide: For every 10 people that sign up early on, was it two of them used it? For every 10 that sign up now-
Eric Branner: Oh my gosh. Early on, we probably, oh my gosh, probably that’s a great question. I’d say when we first launched, we were probably converting like 10 to 15%. Now, we’re around 40.
Adam DeGraide: That’s great.
Eric Branner: That’s great, yeah.
Adam DeGraide: You get a thousand. You get 400 real users. It’s great.
Eric Branner: Yeah, thanks for asking that question. There’s so few people actually ask that but those are such, we’re trying to move those needles just the tiniest little bit makes such a big difference.
Adam DeGraide: Oh, man, those KPIs are critical because it’s not just about downloads, it’s about activation. Then, it’s about retention once they’re activated, right? The challenge that all software companies have, if you’re watching DVG right now, and you have a software company, not only is how many users, but what’s the retention rate, right? Then, how do you handle those that never really converted? Do you count them as not being part of your retention rate? Should you count them? How do you do it?
The key is consistency. However, you’ve done it from the beginning, continue doing it at the end because when the time comes for you to exit, and at least you’ll have a compelling, consistent message to that private equity firm or the strategic buyer as to, “Here’s how we’ve managed our metrics. Here’s how we’ve always managed our metrics.” They can really see the past in where you are now to get that value, right? That multiple that you’re looking to build. That is-
Eric Branner: You’re saying keep the KPIs consistent and keep the goals consistent throughout your journey?
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, because at the end, you can say this is how bad we were here but here’s where we are now. If we have a thousand and only 100 are active here, but now we have 1,400 are active, the 600 had never really used it, you may not even want to count them as users because they only downloaded it. It’s just a matter of how you look at it but that makes a huge difference for you, Eric, in the future. This is great advice you’re getting should. You should be thinking. Make sure you rewatch this, by the way.
Eric Branner: Oh yeah, I will.
Adam DeGraide: Just be consistent with how you do it. What’s been your most difficult thing besides activation in your business so far?
Eric Branner: Without question, the most difficult thing is I did things as the way they’ve always been done before. What we did is, I ran into a wall of reason through math and designers, and this moment of what automation is able to do, and changed. The challenge for us has been getting, and overtime, is selling that value proposition to say, “Hey, I know this is hard but if you automate this stuff, you’re going to make 30% more.” You’re going to save yourself 12 hours a week by doing this because people are so used to doing things in general.
If you look at our demographics of say, the National Music Teachers Association, they’re in their mid-50s is their average age, right? At first, time is correcting this but we had a real hard time. We came out of the gates with this thing that basically turned my business into an Uber, where all the sudden everything’s automated, and I loved it. I was like, “Wow, I was our first customer. I was killing it.” I went from having like eight or nine grand in outstanding payments to zero. That never sent an invoice again. No invoices. I think, when you’re-
Adam DeGraide: Well, you’re not just saving them on collections, you’re saving them on the time that it would be required. What is their hourly rate times nine hours plus the monies you never collected before in the past, it costs you X to do this, that’s your ROI. This is a no brainer. Here’s how long it takes you to learn the software. I mean-
Eric Branner: Right. You’re asking such really good questions, because these are really fundamental. I really appreciate you asking them too, by the way, because they don’t come up very much and the other thing is we’re dealing with highly educated people…
Adam DeGraide: Totally.
Eric Branner: … like physics tutors, concert classical pianists that are household names, people that run a yoga studio or something that have done a lot of education. They like to fancy themselves as having business acumen.
Adam DeGraide: Yeah.
Eric Branner: I did too. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m making six figures in Seattle, having to buy a house. Look at me.” Then, the reality hits you. It’s hard to say, “Oh, wait. This is not an efficient operational system.” [crosstalk] a lot of money on [inaudible].
Adam DeGraide: Boy, you’re making a lot of money despite yourself because of sheer talent, grit and will and determination, which is amazing. Now, Eric, this has been awesome. I mean, I think our listeners are absolutely loving this. I got to take another break from another sponsor. When we come back, I do want to switch gears and talk a little bit about courage because if you’ve watched the DVG podcast, we really believe here that that Giant was slayed with that stone, that single smooth stone, it was actually five but only one to kill that giant and that stone is called courage. Stay tuned, we’ll be right back on David versus Goliath. Hang on.
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Adam DeGraide: We’re back with Eric Branner from fons.com. Now, Eric, I’ve got a solo album coming out in a few months. Most people don’t even know that. It’s called Adam DeGraide: The Calm, which is the exact opposite of me, which makes it funny but it’s actually not a funny album. It’s an album of my piano. I played on a Steinway. Then, my cousin helped me orchestrate a string quartet.
Eric Branner: Cool.
Adam DeGraide: It’s acoustic guitar, string quartet and acoustic piano, instrumental. It’s coming out in a couple of months. I heard my first few tracks. As a matter of fact, I’m going to tease the audience right now with 15 seconds of a snippet. Here it is. That’s not even mixed. Those are string samples.
Eric Branner: Awesome.
Adam DeGraide: I guarantee that the guy who’s, my cousin who’s arranging the strings for me is like, “Why would you show them the string samples versus the regular strings?” “Because David, it’s taking months to create this project. You kind of get some information out there to people.”
Eric Branner: Golden public.
Adam DeGraide: You know it’s funny, because it goes to the thing of courage, right? This year, I turned 50. My midlife crisis, I guess, has been trying to do everything in my life I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had a kid’s story I’ve been telling for 26 years.
Eric Branner: I saw that.
Adam DeGraide: I wrote it, put an album out. I’ve always promoted other people’s music, never did my own. Doing that. Podcast, I’ve always wanted to do a podcast where I could help other small business owners learn its secrets and tips and tricks. Doing that. That’s what’s really cool about life, man, is that the difference between entrepreneurs who kill it, and those who don’t, is hesitancy. Those who hesitate, die on the vine. Those who have action, live in the light.
Action is what it takes to create fons.com, and courage. When you sat back that day and you said, “I’ve got all these different choices,” and I know you kind of stumbled into it, because you ran into some really smart people but that still takes courage, man and it takes humility to say, “I don’t really know it all. I need to open myself up and learn from others.” What was the intangible in you that helps you do this with fons.com?
Eric Branner: Yeah, again, I’m glad you asked that, because I remember being in our first meetings, and I was like, I’d take notes and I’d be like, “What is UX mean?” I was like, “What is that? What’s the difference with UX and UI again?” You know what, people and it became funny in a team like, [inaudible] this guy’s not an idiot. He can play a Bach fugue on the guitar, which is pretty incredible but this is hilarious that we’re building a tech and you know what?
I actually really learned in that moment to appreciate being around, to not knowing. That’s something that I’ve enjoyed throughout my experience of learning this company, is that I have just, I love to read. I’m comfortable practicing. I can play guitar seven hours a day and I can work. I know I can sit with a metronome for five hours a day. I’m perfect, I’m type A, like this thing of wanting to do. Applying, the first couple years of Fons, were the greatest learning period of my life…
Adam DeGraide: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
Eric Branner: … where you’re dealing with the lawyers and before I’d go to a lawyer meeting, I would download every one of the documents about incorporating, and I would just read. Then, I go on Amazon, and I love learning about constraint theory. I just have a bookshelf of operations and marketing, and I just was so excited to be learning so much so quickly. Music takes so much refinement, that it’s like decades of just grinding to get these improvements but here I was able to be able to learn so quickly.
I think that was my thing is that I was really ready. I was really hungry to learn. Then, I also knew there was something else that happened as I was fortunate enough through these connections to be hanging out with a lot of VCs and kind of got into the local startup community here. There was a couple of people that I met with that kind of where did do the whole thing that were kind of negative. They were just kind of like, “Yeah, good luck. Whatever.”
There’s something about that moment that fires you up. I think about it every day, like this random conversation with a person that was just kind of like looking down on the idea and was, “That’s never going to work.” SMB space is not worth going into. Good luck. You’re wasting your time,” because basically, there was a distant relative to this, that had burned kind of the VC community for other reasons here in Seattle.
Adam DeGraide: Sure.
Eric Branner: An errant story but that really lit me up and just that challenge to be like, “Oh, gosh, I got the fire. Then, [crosstalk].
Adam DeGraide: It’s like that kid that tells you in high school “You’ll amount to nothing,” and the teacher says, “You’ll be a bum,” or in my case, I was in the principal’s office for two weeks straight. “Adam, you’re going to amount to nothing.” Well, look at me now, buddy. Look at me now.
Eric Branner: Yeah.
Adam DeGraide: The difference man, is doing. It’s not just thinking. It’s not just hoping. It starts with belief number one, and then execution, number two. There’s only two reasons why something fails, by the way, it’s inefficiency of knowledge, or deficiency of execution. In most cases, it’s not knowledge why we fail. It’s execution. I give you kudos, man.
Eric Branner: [crosstalk].
Adam DeGraide: What advice do you give to somebody who’s going through the exact same thing right now? There may be on that cusp of starting their business or they have a business, but they’re holding on to something else that’s part time to keep their living going, what would you tell them? If there’s a fire burning, then what do you tell them, Eric?
Eric Branner: Yeah, I mean, I say, obviously, if you have the opportunity, that was this one brief life to take a risk, and to do something that could really transform it, I think, win or lose, the end of the day, you really kind of got to take it if you can handle it but I’ll also say, it is very intense, like the amount of work, all my friends that have corporate jobs, I work so much more than they do. I don’t turn it off. There’s no vacation in my mind. My mind starts going at like 3:00 in the morning and it’s like, I wanted to win so much, and I enjoy it so much and I’m so dedicated to my team and to our customers. Their livings are depending on…
Adam DeGraide: Totally.
Eric Branner: … this thing working. I would say that I don’t think it’s for everybody. I would also say I’m addicted to it, and I would definitely do it again. I would do it with friends because you go into, it’s such a battle. It’s like being an awesome band where everybody has to contribute. Every day is going to be a battle.
Adam DeGraide: You just hope you don’t have a prima donna singer.
Eric Branner: Yeah, no lead singers. Exactly.
Adam DeGraide: Animal the drummer. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Eric Branner: Exactly.
Adam DeGraide: Every good band has a prima donna singer, though and an animal style drummer. No doubt about that.
Eric Branner: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, I would say that would be definitely, I want to say, “Yeah, do it. Go for it.” At the same time, I want to say, “Also know that it’s like that moment of having kids, it’s intense.” You’re committing to something. You’re raising money. You’re building something going after a dream. You have to be open to the math, that they’re not all going to succeed. This is a learning, it’s-
Adam DeGraide: Yeah, but what I would tell them though, Eric, is if there’s a fire that’s burning in you, and you’re watching it, listening to this, and you can’t help yourself, but think about doing something like this, that is the still small voice inside of you saying, “Go for it.” Even to Eric’s point, if you fail the first time, fail forward, fail upward, fall up the stairs, you’re not falling down, you’re falling up the stairs. We’ve all done that. What is the one thing in your life, Eric, in your business that you wish you did differently?
Eric Branner: Well, I think I was fortunate enough to have great mentorship to guide me down a road that was just right for what I needed because the mentorship that I was given led me down a path of learning. It was very patient. I had people around me set up to let me make enough mistakes, but also stopped me and I think if, I could be a second time founder, there’s so many things I know what strengths I have, what strengths I can lean into. I’m a community builder. I would have gone into building community directly. I wouldn’t have started being like, “Oh, we’re going to build this app and go and do a bunch of Facebook ads and try to get downloads that nobody’s going to activate.” I would have started building community. I would have started, because that has been what’s been effective.
I think really, if I were to, there’s not much I regret because of how grateful I am for the experience to have done this. If I were doing it again with what I know now, the path would be obviously much different because I would there would be a lot of mistakes that I wouldn’t make, as far as team and which core features I would focus on first but I’m just grateful. I had someone that was really strong enough and wise enough to know the right mistakes, to let me feel the pain of making mistakes but also I was looking at this as a long tail thing, of having this be a long tail company, but also to know when to say, “Stop. That’s too much. You can’t do that.”
Adam DeGraide: It’s great, Eric. It has been amazing having you on the DVG podcast. Have you enjoyed yourself today?
Eric Branner: Oh, it’s been a blast, kindred spirits, man.
Adam DeGraide: No doubt about it, man. We’re going to jam together some time.
Eric Branner: I would love that.
Adam DeGraide: I got to have you back, maybe like 18 months from now to see where you were now to where you are then and kudos to you and congratulations on all your success so far. It’s Eric Branner at Fons, F-O-N-S.com and no, he did not pay to be on this podcast. He will tell you that.
Other people pay to be on this podcast but not my guests. Don’t you forget that watchers and listeners. We want this show to be about education, inspiration and activation. That’s exactly what you get here on the David versus Goliath podcast. I’m your host, Adam DeGraide. We’ll see you next week. Have a fantastic day.