How This Husband and Wife Team Grew a Business From Their Basement into a $20M Company
In our inaugural Smart Route episode, we start close to home by interviewing our co-founders of CallTrackingMetrics, husband and wife duo Todd and Laure Fisher. Tune in to hear more about what inspired them to start CallTrackingMetrics from their basement many years ago, what it’s like running a company as a married couple, and how they plan to grow the company for the future.
Hi everyone, welcome to Smart Route. I’m Courtney Tyson, your host and strategic partnership manager at CallTrackingMetrics. Thanks for joining us. This is our very first episode, we’re sitting down with power couple, Laure and Todd Fisher, co founders of CallTrackingMetrics. Laure holds the title of COO and Todd is our CEO. They started the business in their basement years ago and have since grown it into an Inc. 500 rated top ranked call management platform serving over 30,000 businesses worldwide. Thank you, Laure and Todd, for being here with us.
We’re here to talk about your journey to success, what worked, what hasn’t worked, and what the future holds. So let’s jump right in.
What gave you the idea to start CallTrackingMetrics? How did CTM come to be?
(Todd) That’s a great question. We were doing consulting work. So we were working with a number of different types of businesses. And from a car dealership to a bail bondsman, to a plumber, they all had a similar need for the ability to associate a phone call to a paid ad. One of them told me, “I won’t let you run my paid advertising, unless you can tell me how many phone calls are generated, or whether or not it a generated phone call.” And so that really sort of was the motivator. From there it was taking phone calls with customers and really just talking to customers. And that is what evolved the product to what it is today.
(Laure) I think the other part of it was thinking about starting a company from scratch. Todd and I had both worked at different companies that were in various phases of fast growth. And so we had seen it at different points, but to be able to make something completely from scratch, right, everything that goes well—and wrong. It was an intriguing proposition for both of us.
But also thinking about, “Why this business?” What I found very interesting about our industry was that there was clear whitespace. I had a consulting background where it was much murkier, like, does this company really need this? Or are we kind of just pushing them into something that they don’t really need? [Call tracking] was something that people needed, and people would come to our website and sign up for it with no sales conversation happening along the way. And obviously, there’s more people in our space now. But at that point, it was like, “Wow, this is actually something people really need, they want. And we don’t have to push them to buy it!”
Also, as we were watching it across those first few weeks and months, you could see how it would scale, which always is appealing to me from a revenue perspective. From a financial perspective, let’s find something that people want that scales, and that the more customers we have, the better the product is. And that we can find economies of scale, so that all of our costs don’t have to go up in the same way. And so it was intriguing for a lot of reasons.
(Courtney) That’s a great story. What seemed like one small idea evolved into this new technology, which, like you said, so many different businesses can benefit from. So thanks for reminiscing with us on the history of CTM and how it came to be.
What were those moments along the way where you both realized you could grow CallTrackingMetrics beyond what you originally had envisioned?
(Todd) For me, it was the very early days. That first month where we had no advertising yet we had 40 new paid signups. And when I had somebody asking me for specific phone numbers that we didn’t have in inventory, so it was learning about things like phone number inventory along the way. Or, there was a Friday night answering the phone and having a guy all excited on the phone about the prospect of using part of the service that actually didn’t even exist. And I was so excited as well that by Monday, it did exist. So, for me, it was always very exciting to interact with a customer and hear about how this business wants to operate. It’s even better than consulting, because you have this platform to build on. It was, “Here’s this software platform that we can use to solve so many problems that are real to someone’s business in an effective way, and help transform their operation.”
(Todd) Another one for me was when we had a prospect who was migrating from a physical data center, to our software. And their whole life line is based on phone calls. Their product was handling phone calls. So, for them to go away from their homegrown solution to using our solution to stand up their whole business, to me that was a real motivator, that there are actually established businesses that are vastly larger than us that are now choosing to stand their whole business up on top of our software. That that was like, for me, it was a lot of pressure, but also testimony to like, just how much like, people could trust us, and that there’s something real here, so, yeah, if I’ll build it they will come. And I did tell myself that many, many times.
(Laure) I think about the early days, too, like, I remember, we brought on our first big customer that allowed Todd to quit his day job and come and work full time for CallTrackingMetrics. And it was interesting going through that exercise, and redlining contracts back and forth with full in-house, legal teams. And it’s Todd and I sitting in our basement doing this, and it was like, how, we just got this huge customer to sign up.
(Todd) and we stole it away from a competitor that was ten times our size.
(Laure) Yeah, and they were so excited to be signing up with us, and just excited to be working with us. I thought, “Wow, imagine if we had all the resources of that big competitor that we took them from, imagine what we could do?”
I also remember a conversation I had one time, just socially with somebody who was asking about our business. And they were asked, “Do you think it could ever be like, $100,000 a month revenue?”
I was like, Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if we could get there. And then very quickly thereafter, we did. And I remember thinking to myself, “You should not be so pessimistic!”
That took like, a few months. And we did that. And so for me, it helped something. I was like, I need to just always be thinking bigger, right? Bigger than we are right now.
(Todd) I think we were actually pretty conservative, aka pessimistic, in the beginning about our numbers and prospects. We were like, well, maybe this will grow? Maybe not.
(Laure) The other thing for me, too, especially across our first few years, every time we would hire new people, we were so selective about who we hired, because we were such a small, tight knit group. And every hire we made was so crucial. Every hire was the first person doing a job. But it was the energy and the excitement that they would come into the organization with when learning about our product. Typically people we were hiring had backgrounds in marketing or some kind of related field, so they got it. They were like, “This is the most amazing thing that you guys are doing for companies.” And so every time that we had people come into the organization, it was validation, like, “You’re right, this is amazing!” And they reminded us that the sky’s the limit, you could sell this to thousands of companies. We definitely fueled off of that energy and it kept us going.
(Courtney) I think that all of your new hires still to this day have that same energy and excitement about the business and where we can go with it. Of course, that’s a true testament to your leadership, too. But, it’s interesting to hear there were a series of aha moments along the way. And I’d imagine you still have those moments today as the company continues to grow.
What are the best pieces of advice you’ve received along the way and why?
(Laure) One of the things that we’ve always been really careful of is, like we said, we started the business from scratch, we were like, Alright, we’ve been in all these different crazy startup environments that have done this all different ways. Let’s just start this from scratch where we are running a profitable business from day one. One of the things that I remember hearing very early on, and Todd, you talk about this, too, is that people don’t solve problems. So we are always adding people. Just because you have a problem doesn’t mean hiring 10 people is going to necessarily fix that.
So that’s something that I’ve always kind in the back of my mind is that we need to be really careful about the people we hire, because we only hire the best, right? We don’t hire anybody that we have a question mark about. Making sure that we really think about each person’s impact on the organization. In the startup world and in the VC world, it’s all about how many people you’ve hired, how many people work for you.
And it should be, “Who are the people that work for you? Tell me about them.”
(Todd) Yeah. Because it’s the people and their individual contributions that matter so much.
(Laure) And the other thing is, invest in culture. I remember getting that advice, and hearing, “invest in culture way before you think you need to invest in culture.”
Some of the things that we’re doing now on the culture front, with 60 people working for us, I’ve seen done at much later phases in companies with many more employees. So I always have followed that methodology of invest in the culture, make it a huge priority, even when it’s five people, because it matters. We see that now really coming to fruition as we’re growing faster, and hiring more people, our ability to hire really good talent is very much impacted by the investment that we made early on in culture.
(Courtney) What I’m hearing is, it’s quality, not quantity, in multiple areas of the business, from from people to culture. And I think that’s a great point, right? You can have, 10 ping pong tables, a pool table, and a room full of video games. But if there’s really not heart or that family dynamic at the core of the culture, really, how strong is it? And we’re very fortunate at CallTrackingMetrics to have that close knit connection to each other, which, again, testament to you and your leadership. So yeah, that’s really great knowledge to share for any leader or business owner out there listening in.
Every decision made has gotten CallTrackingMetrics to where it is today. But, looking back, is there anything you would do over as you were getting started?
(Laure) Pick a shorter name.
(Todd) Yes. I lament the name. The name has served us well, because it’s good for Google search. But yeah, at the end of the day, I think a shorter name, could have actually,
(Laure) Even when you think about explaining to a customer, your email address. My email, it takes like 10 minutes to tell.
(Todd) So I think I actually am a faster typer today than 10 years ago. And it has in part due to the fact that I type CallTrackingMetrics so much.
(Laure) The other thing about a shorter name is it forces you to pick a name that’s perhaps broader, and could be more encompassing of your product as it evolves. And we definitely find that now. We’re no longer just call tracking. That’s just a component of what we do. And with a shorter name that’s more vague, you’re not limited by your name in any way.
(Todd) Right, the fact that we’re a chat service provider, SMS service provider, a webform, service provider, a call center service provider, right. Like, that’s all encompassed in who we are. And, does the name CallTrackingMetrics encompass that? Well, you could argue it does. But it does in some ways pigeonhole us to the call tracking ethos, which, is core to us, but I think we’re much more than just a call tracking provider. And that’s where the ‘metrics’ still applies. So the name works, but yeah, shorter name, faster typing, easier to email people.
(Todd) I mean, from an architecture standpoint, of course, I would have built things differently.
If we were doing it again, I think I would have actually built the team faster. Just knowing what I know now about how to hire people. I’m very happy with the way we’ve grown it—slow and steady wins the race, but I could have seen us ramping up some parts of our team sooner than we did.
(Laure) I have a whole list by the way, I can think of all sorts of things. I’m the pessimist in this relationship, as you can tell. If you ask Todd to think about something like this, it goes against his brain.
(Todd) Well, the thing is, I know that we are here today, and every little decision we made is what ultimately is why we’re here. Some decisions were good, some decisions were bad, even the bad decisions, we have learned something from. And I can’t disqualify what I learned from any of the mistakes we made.
(Laure) So if you were talking to someone else who was doing this, what would you tell them? I have a couple: Don’t undervalue your service. Because it’s a race to the bottom. So, really think about the value you’re bringing to organizations and price your products that way. Don’t try to create a free plan or super cheap plan to get people in because the problem is, it doesn’t mean that they need any less help. And in a lot of cases, they actually need even more help than the organizations who value your offering at the level that it should be priced. And so we definitely went through that in our early years. We tried, let’s just charge people $5, or $0, or $10, just to see if we can get them in. And, yes, we gained a lot of customers, but we lost a lot of them. Ahat happens also is you put pressure on the other people in your market to also bring down their prices.
(Todd) And you end up providing sub quality service. You want to provide the best quality service possible, because that’s the best thing you could do for a business. And, unfortunately, not every business is in a state where they can afford to have the best quality service. So it just maybe a good time to pass on them. It’s best to have customers where you can work with them, you can collaborate with them, you can be a partner with them. But sometimes to do that, it requires a level of economics that, zero is not usually the option, right?
(Laure) On that same vein is don’t shy away from charging for services that customers need to be successful using your product. For a really long time, we thought about our product as just our software. And I think we were slower than we should have been in really building out our Professional Services and Implementation services. And I think if we had done that earlier, it would have helped more customers be successful in our product.
And it obviously has a network effect, because they’re talking to other people about it, right, it’s a recognition that our team is very well versed in our space. And that there’s a lot of value in getting access to somebody in our space that has a lot of knowledge that can help you as a business figure out the right solution. That isn’t free. That’s a value add. And that is why we should be focusing on building that out.
So I think if I had to do it again, I would have done that sooner.
(Laure) Also, spend as much money on marketing as you can. We’ve gone kind of back and forth in our history, as we’ve thought about our budgets and where to prioritize things and where to put money. And it’s very easy to cut the marketing budgets to do other things. That sound very interesting, right. But the problem is, when you cut the marketing budgets, then there’s less revenue.
(Todd) There’s nothing more interesting than having more customers at your door.
(Laure) So for somebody starting a new business, invest everything you can in marketing. Now, what needs to come along with that is, make sure you have somebody who’s really good, who knows how to spend that money. Because you can also waste a whole bunch of money. If anybody’s tried to ever set up a Google AdWords campaign, it’s not as simple as it seems.
So, invest in marketing as much as you can, as early as you can, and make sure that you have somebody really good running it. And the rest of the money will come for the other things that you want to do in the organization
(Courtney) And, track the success of those ads with phone numbers, right?
We’re at such a great place today. I’m in a customer-facing role and I can say with the utmost certainty that all of our customers see such a great value in what we do. Those are all really great pieces of advice and information for our listeners.
Next I want to talk about your relationship, and your dynamic.
What is it like being a married couple and running your own company? How does it impact the dynamic of your relationship?
(Laure) I think it’s interesting because It’s unusual to work with someone who has no political agenda against you or with you. He’s not trying to manage me out of the company.
(Todd) I love her. She’s my wife. She’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. She’s the best person in my life. I couldn’t see my life with anyone else. Like, it’s pretty straightforward. And she’s really fun to work with. And I respect her opinion. She’s got the most business savvy way about her ever and always is able to correct me when I’m kind of fumbling. Like, probably right now, I’m saying too much.
(Laure) And I think you should think about it at work. Like I said, I mean, it’s like you are working with this person who you completely trust who your success is tied to the other person. And it’s unusual, especially as you think about, working in leadership roles. And there’s lots of politics involved, especially in bigger companies. And there’s none of that with us. Now, it’s interesting, because that can sometimes be a double edged sword, because I know I can trust Todd to completely be honest with me and tell me when I’ve like he said, like, we’ll tell each other when we’ve screwed up.
(Todd) She never screws up.
(Laure) It’s interesting to work with someone who knows you so well. And before you even make the mistake, they are like you’re about to make this mistake again. I think also, obviously, we talk way too much about work. You can imagine we talk way too much about work at our dinner table.
This is the interesting thing is our kids are involved.
I don’t know if they like it?
(Laure) But the way I look at it is I grew up in a household like that, where my parents ran a company together. And I think that’s a big part of why I feel like I have experience building the company. Because I did it. I was there when my parents were doing it. So I think that while you definitely need to balance that at home, our girls hear us talk about things that they wouldn’t hear other people talking about.
(Todd) I have a similar experience. My dad being in technology, the infancy of AOL was getting started, I was asking him questions about it and being like, yeah, it’s really amazing. We’re printing these CDs and bouncing around at the kitchen table being all excited.
(Laure) So I think there’s definitely that dynamic at home. But if you ask our kids, they’re like, “Oh, they always are talking about work!” But they hear about things that will help them in life.
It’s also easy for Todd and I to go to work and pick our corners, because it’s kind of our escape from home. You would think that we have the opposite issue where we’re way too in each other’s business at work. But there’s a tendency for us to want to go into our areas and focus on them to have our own area. So we do have to be careful to make sure that we’re not running away from each other at work, because we have to stay very aligned.
(Todd) I think, because we have infinite trust, it’s pretty easy to come back together and be like, yeah, we’re aligned.
(Courtney) I think your employees can see that trust you have in each other, which builds confidence in us that what we’re doing is so exciting. And we’re doing it the right way. And it’s your passion for the business and for our success that’s really motivating your employees. You guys lead us with great energy and great direction, and we’re so appreciative of that.
What’s next? What’s your vision for the future?
(Todd) We keep growing, obviously. I want to refine that experience with the customer. I think there’s more communications channels that we can incorporate into the product. There’s more answers and insights that we can help businesses gain.
As our integrations evolve with our partners, we can more seamlessly provide solutions to our customers, make it more delightful to them.
And, I think the future very much involves our customers. Again, the beginning of our company was so much founded in the roots of our customer and so our feature is very much in our customers’ hands. As we march forward, the capabilities we build, be it for more advanced natural language processing and artificial intelligence tools that will hopefully enable more seamless interactions with customers and more efficiency in how our customers operate their business, that we can continue to be a valuable partner to them.
And that evolves based on the real needs of our customers. Because that’s how we’re a valuable tool. So, I hope that answers the question. And obviously, as we march forward, part of that is continuing to grow our team, continue to expand the footprint of our software. That’s how we’ll ultimately improve the experience of our customers and expand our customers’ capabilities as well.
(Laure) It’s exciting because we sit in this place where we’re helping companies build their vision of their company of the future. Coming out of this year, companies had to change so much about how they were operating. And that impacted a lot of operations that our software is very involved in.
We think about this at our company, as well. What does our company look like physically in the future? How does it operate? COVID has forced a lot of organizations to think about that sooner.
We’re at a really exciting point in our company, and how we’re thinking about, what we look like across the next few years. Whether that’s physically like where are our people in the world? How are they communicating? What are their jobs? It’s really cool to think about that, because our product is right there helping so many other companies do this.
(Todd) I don’t know how to translate this, but, I opened up our mobile app just now. And Alex is helping a customer in a chat. And in 30 seconds, I was able to provide some advice to Alex because I glanced at my phone and I was like, Oh, I can help Alex on that. So how do we amplify that use case out to all of our customers and make that more widespread? In some ways, that’s the small way that I think we can even make the world a better place. Because now a customer service agent has an answer. And a customer has a solution. And that was all in part because the technology enabled me to glance at my phone, see a solution and provide it to Alex on our team. So I think our future is bright. Hopefully we’ll be able to help more businesses have a solution like this in the future.
(Courtney) So many exciting things to think about moving forward. We’re all really excited about what the future holds for CallTrackingMetrics. So I understand March 1st is the ten year anniversary of when the CallTrackingMetrics first went live, this is such an incredible milestone and just wanted to end our conversation today by congratulating you both.
(Todd, Laure) Thank you.
(Courtney) And thank you for your time today, too. It’s so interesting and fun for me to learn more about your journey as business owners and how CallTrackingMetrics has come to be such a great success.
And thanks to our audience too for tuning into our very first Smart Route episode. Make sure to keep in touch with us, follow us on Twitter at @smartroutepod and I will talk to you soon.