Erik Rind of ImagineBC: 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS
To me, “burn out” is the manifestation of the lack of intellectual curiosity. Always look for new things to learn and new people to learn it from. You may find yourself tired, but you will never be burned out.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Erik Rind.
Erik is the CEO of ImagineBC and an expert in understanding the largely untapped potential that Blockchain and AI technologies bring forward in order to help secure user’s data. He has had significant exposure to writing software in the HCM space and is in the position to bring these skills to his new company.
Erik graduated from George Washington University in 1983 with a B.A. in History. Erik has over 30 years of experience in building advanced technology solutions and has been involved in the HR services industry since 1990. His professional track-record includes starting and then selling PowerPay software for $22 million and becoming President and CEO of Lyceum Business Services until 2018, when he chose to embrace his entrepreneurial side. Additionally, Erik is an advisory board member to Vertalo, Dashub, and Health Wizz.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I spent the first 8 years of my professional career as a management consultant working for Price Waterhouse. Yep, that’s a giveaway on how old I am. It was still just PW when I left to start my journey as an entrepreneur. For the following 27 years I owned and managed a number of small technology companies all operating in the Human Capital Management space (HCM). I had some wins and a number of losses, which is the typical entrepreneur experience. In 2018, I convinced my current board of Directors to allow me to pivot away from HCM to create ImagineBC. I felt the pivot was necessary because providing HCM solutions to W2 type companies is going to be a shrinking business over the next few years, while the area of personal data monetization is just in its infancy and is a potentially monstrous market.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My “aha moment” is actually a combination of two events. I was in the process of learning about blockchain technology and how the technology can be used to create solutions outside the world of crypto currency. Just about the time I came to the conclusion that blockchain offered truly world changing promise.
Life has cycles, first you see the world only through your own eyes, then if you are lucky enough, like I have been, you find an incredible partner to share your life with and you start seeing the world through a joint perspective. When kids come into the picture your perspective shifts once again and you start to look at the world your children will mature into. Finally, a grand child enters your life and perspective shifts yet again. Well, when I start to imagine the world my grandson might inherit, it scares the daylights out of me. So, rather than just sitting around and griping, I decided to try and do something about it by reinventing my Don Quixote story from fighting the giants of HCM (ADP, Paychex) to fighting the giants of tech (Google, Facebook).
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When you are self-funding a start up business, every day is a day you have to question yourself and ask is the project worth the risk? Developing solutions for the masses is very different than developing solutions for a targeted industry like HCM. We have had to constantly reevaluate the user experience (UX) of our solution which has slowed down our ability to focus solely on growing our community. We are currently working on our 5th iteration of our UX. Because you really only get one chance at success in this world of digital apps, we have had to take baby steps introducing each new experience. To date though I have never considered quitting. As long as we continue to have money to fund the project, we will continue to preach the necessity of individuals controlling their own data and being able to share in the fair value of that data.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I think we are still a bit away from saying that we are a success. The battle against Google and Facebook is a battle against the privacy paradox. When polled almost 80% people interviewed say that they are concerned or becoming concerned about how their personal data is being used by the tech giants. Yet we don’t see any positive action being taken by these same people to cut their ties with these platforms. Changing human behavior is not easy. ImagineBC is more a movement than it is a business. We consider our efforts to be analogous to the formation of labor unions around the turn of the 19th century. Our success will be based on our ability to educate individuals to understand the importance of controlling their personal data and helping them turn that control into new income. We also will rely on the efforts of non-profits like RadicalxChange and on government (see the Data Privacy Act being proposed by Senator Gillibrand) to help us create this shift.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Mistakes when you make them are rarely funny. If you are lucky enough to recover from the mistake, then over time what was a pretty bad experience at the time can begin to take on more humorous tones. ImagineBC is not a mature enough company yet for me to say we have this situation. We have made a number of mistakes and wasted a good deal of money but in retrospect each mistake was a learning curve towards better understanding the prospective user and content partner. I only hope that 5 or 6 years from now, we are in a position to look back and laugh at some of the early mistakes we made.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
ImagineBC has a number of areas of differentiation. One of them is the lengths we go through to protect our user’s anonymity within our community. The power of this came through to us one evening when we were in Atlanta having dinner. One of my board members asked our waiter if he would be excited about a job search service that kept his identity private and eventually would earn him income by having a company that wanted to speak with him pay him for access to his personal contact information. Initially he responded with lukewarm enthusiasm by saying “yeah that sounds interesting”. I took his response more about him protecting his tip than him really understanding what we were proposing. However, about 10 minutes later he came over to our table and rather than asking us if we wanted another drink, said, “if I heard you guys correctly, I can use a service like yours to notify me when an opportunity of a new jobs I’m interested in becomes available, is that correct?” We answered yes and this time his reply of “That’s cool” was far more sincere. Finally, another 10 minutes passes and again he comes over and says, “I was thinking more about what you guys are doing. I have a friend who sent her resume out to about 50 companies and did not get a single bite. Then she decided to change her name on her resume and he finally started to get some responses. If I understand what you guys are talking about, she would not have had to do this. Is that correct?” Again, we replied yes, and this time his response was “That’s outstanding!!!”. This brief interaction confirmed to all of us at dinner that night that we were definitely on to something with our model of retaining anonymity.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I know it’s a bit cliché but truly if you love what you are doing you will never burn out. The work with ImagineBC is the most interesting work I have done in my professional career. It has given me the opportunity to work with some of the most fascinating and creative people. It has challenged me to look beyond my own preferences and biases and to work harder to understand people of all generations, not just my own. To me, “burn out” is the manifestation of the lack of intellectual curiosity. Always look for new things to learn and new people to learn it from. You may find yourself tired, but you will never be burned out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are a number of individuals throughout my career that have provided guidance both in a positive and even more interestingly in a negative way. But the true constant throughout my entire career has been my wife. In addition to developing her own successful law career, she has handled everything in our private lives and shared equally in raising our two grown sons. She has made it possible for me to keep my focus on the different entrepreneurial ventures I have undertaken, and she has always been my greatest supporter.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
As discussed earlier in this interview our community size remains fairly small for now by design. After an initial launch of our ecosystem in March we have been far more focused on getting our UX correct than we have been on aggressively building our community. Starting in mid-September that is about to change. We have signed up and are prepared to activate a number of content providers who will be posting exclusive content on our platform. We will be working in partnership with these content providers to grow their following both inside and outside our ecosystem. We will then look to cross promote these content providers within our ecosystem to increase user engagement. In the 4th quarter, working with a number of staffing agencies around the country, we will be launching a state of the art job search capability. A capability that removes initial bias from the search process and compensates individuals directly for agreeing to be interviewed.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
The monetization model of our solution is built into a blockchain “smart” contract. By doing this we ensure that all members of our community have complete transparency to how money is distributed to participants and we ensure that the terms of the contract cannot be changed unilaterally. Any change in terms requires a 51% majority of the community to agree. The terms of the contract are straightforward, sellers receive 70% of the gross price of the digital good or service and they determine their own price. ImagineBC retains 10% of the gross cost. Here digital goods and services could be a content provider selling exclusive content or a member selling their personal data to a third party. The remaining 20% of the cost is distributed back into the community based on who referred the seller and who referred the buyer. In situations where there is no referrer, the allocated percentage is made to a donation pool. The donation pool is distributed among ImagineBC’s national and local non-profit partners. This was the only model we considered because it was the only model that delivered on the promise we make to our members.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Look for differentiation. Unless you have extremely deep pockets regarding funding, you won’t be able to deliver a “better mousetrap” solution. Look to create a new thing.
- Be sure you have the funding you need to reach a point of success. The larger your solution and the broader the market the more funding you will need.
- Understand that plans never go as you think they will. Be open minded and willing to learn from your setbacks. Keep you company agile so that you can make big changes if necessary, with minimal disruption to your business sand people’s lives.
- Don’t try to do it by yourself. Involve as many people from as many different demographic groups as possible to have input into your app’s design and usability.
- Since Apple and Google have a monopoly on the distribution of mobile apps, figure out your strategy of dealing with the 30% tax they place on your product.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
ImagineBC is that movement and I live it every day. Individual’s need companies like ImagineBC to be their advocate when it comes to creating fair value for the use of their personal data and intellectual property. No individual can do this on their own. Only working collectively can we leverage the power of numbers to make substantive change to the destructive economic models in place today. The wealth and power created using our personal information, currently held by just a handful of companies, is the single greatest existing threat to our Republic. The time has come for the individual to receive a fair share of the wealth created by the use of their data and creativity.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I do have Twitter and Instagram accounts, but I only use them to follow the content partners ImagineBC is working with. The best way to get in touch with me in the digital world is through my LinkedIn account. I have a fairly unique name so its pretty easy to find me by just searching for “Erik Rind”. If the reader believes in the ideas I’ve expressed in this interview, then I would also ask them to make a statement for personal data privacy and personal data monetization by registering as a member of our community.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!