This week’s episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast features Ron Schneidermann, the CEO of AllTrails. Conventional wisdom says that you need product/market fit before you can grow, but sometimes conventional wisdom gets it wrong. For AllTrails Product/Channel Fit came first.
- “I am not a Zero to one Guy,” taking on the AllTrails leadership challenge (05:00)
- Why Ron is a big believer in Product/Channel fit (08:01)
- “Pouring too much water on a seed causes it to rot;” avoiding traps with paid channels (00:00)
- “My job is to get out of the way” – How Ron views the CEO Role (09:40)
- Raising money and sticking to your values (10:20)
“Humility is our culture” (58:40)
And much, much, more . . .
Today, outdoor enthusiasts love AllTrails mobile app and website and use them to navigate and enhance their adventures with hand-curated trail maps, and other useful tools like crowdsourced photos and reviews. But, when Ron started, he found that the product was actually quite a mess. Fortunately, he looked beyond that when he saw the acquisition data and realized a big opportunity lay ahead.
If he and his team could overcome their product challenges and leverage existing SEO and other organic channels that were already working surprisingly well to attract the right type of users, then he believed they could deliver on their mission to kindle the spirit of adventure and help millions of people enjoy and connect outdoors.
Today, AllTrails is on a tear. The profitable company has over 1 million paying users, recently raised $150 million in new funding, and has big plans to continue growing around the world. For anyone analyzing potential opportunities or developing a growth strategy, this is a conversation sure to get you saying, “wow, I never thought about it that way.”
Before you jump in, check out this week’s sponsor, RISE with SAP S/4Hana Cloud. If you have ambitious goals, SAP is the technology partner you need to scale and drive innovation. Instead of relying on stitched together solutions to manage business finances, operations, and customer relations, leverage the flexibility of SAP’s cloud-based ERP solution to gain the insights that will help drive your breakout growth success.
Please take a moment to subscribe as we talk growth with Ron Schneidermann, AllTrails CEO.
Introduction 00:00:08 Welcome to the breakout growth podcast, where Sean Ellis and Ethan Garrinterview leaders from the world’s fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what’s really driving their growth. And now here are your hosts, Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr
Sean Ellis 00:00:27 In this week’s episode of the breakout growth podcast, Ethan Garrand I chat with Ron Schneiderman, the CEO of AllTrails. So if you were at all outdoorsy, then you’ve probably already used the AllTrails website or mobile app it’s hand curated trail maps and treasure trove of crowdsource photos and reviews are a great resource for navigating outdoor adventures. What I think you’re going to find super interesting about this conversation is the surprising, and maybe even counterintuitive story behind AllTrails growth, where product channel fit actually preceded product market fit. So Ethan did that jump out at you as well.
Ethan Garr 00:01:04 Yeah, for sure. We, you know, you and I, we love to dig into the stories of how fast growing companies overcame their challenges and found product market fit. There’s always great learnings there. And we always view that as the foundation of growth, but when Ron joined AllTrails, he actually found the company where organic channels were delivering an audience, but the product wasn’t even close to delivering on the experiences that that audiences was expecting. And now, you know, and yet, and I think this is in part a lot to Robin’s great leadership. The company was able to leverage that product channel fit into their breakout growth success.
Sean Ellis 00:01:34 Yeah. You know, it really bucks conventional wisdom. And while I don’t think that means that product market fit is any less important. It does suggest that you can start with product channel fit and then work your way toward product market fit and still be successful. But, you know, I think this conversation is going to probably change the way that I look at companies and new opportunities and I believe it will for our audience as well.
Ethan Garr 00:01:59 Yeah, I agree. And I think for startup growth teams and leaders, this is just one of those discussions where Ron’s insights will really help get you thinking differently about a lot of things. I mean, you, and I’ve both heard horror stories about private equity. Well, Altria has just raised 150 million in private equity and Ron may convince you to think otherwise. And you know, I’ve probably thought about how a big fundraise can power growth, how use it for paid channels. Ron’s take on that is probably going to change your thinking on that too.
Sean Ellis 00:02:23 Yeah, I agree. You know, he’s, he’s really smart and he comes across as super approachable. You know, the more we talk, the more all trail sounded like an incredible place to work. Uh, so before we jump in with Ron, we invite our listeners to check out the sponsor for this week’s episode rise with SAP S four HANA cloud hyper-growth companies get up and running quickly with this low cost, easy to implement cloud ERP solution. If you’re working to power, breakout growth, success in your business, please check out sap.com/high growth.
Ethan Garr 00:02:59 All right, well, let’s get to it. And if you’re listening, we’d like to ask you just one quick favor. If you can, this week tell one friend one thing you’ve learned from the breakout growth podcast that you found valuable.
Sean Ellis 00:03:08 Yeah, that would be awesome. And I also want to give a heads up to our listeners that they can now sign up for our next cohort of go practice, which starts on February 9th. So you can learn more about firstname.lastname@example.org. Okay. Let’s go. Yeah,
Ethan Garr 00:03:22 It’s a great course. Let’s do it.
Sean Ellis 00:03:32 Hey, Ron, welcome to the breakout growth podcast.
Ron Schneidermann 00:03:35 Thanks for having me guys.
Sean Ellis 00:03:36 Yeah, we are super excited to have you on and I’m joined by my cohost, Ethan Gar. Hey Ethan. Hey
Ethan Garr 00:03:41 Shawn. Hey Ron. Good to see you.
Sean Ellis 00:03:45 Yes. So, um, we’re, we’re excited to dig into AllTrails and, and, uh, I’m sure anyone who’s an enthusiastic, uh, hiker biker probably knows about it, but for the lazy people of the world, like myself, who might be a little less familiar with it, can you, can you give us an introduction to what AllTrails is and maybe the problem that it initially set out to solve?
Ron Schneidermann 00:04:07 Yeah, sure. So AllTrails is a free app and website that helps you find really great trails. So you can spend more time outside enjoying the outdoors. And I guess in terms of the, the problem we’re trying to solve autos is built on this underlying principle that people and by extension communities are happier and healthier when they spend time outside. So that’s what we do. You know, we use, we use psychology to create content and products that helps people explore with confidence. I mean, it’s really as simple as just trying to get people out in nature more. That’s really it.
Sean Ellis 00:04:45 Awesome. Hey, just a quick follow-up on that. Um, I know you were you’re CEO now, but you weren’t, uh, you weren’t actually a founder of the business. So what attracted you to the business in the first place?
Ron Schneidermann 00:04:57 Yeah, so ultra has been around since 2010 and it was almost like a side project for a while. It was really small. Um, I had been doing a startup in the ski space for about nine years called Liftopia and, uh, outdoor tech is pretty small. Like we all, we all kind of know each other. So the, uh, the original founder of all has got an opportunity to go be SVP of operations at one of the big food delivery company. So he wanted to hand it over. And so he, he reached out and what, um, there’s a couple of things. One, I love startups, but I don’t actually like going zero to one. That was kind of a realization after my first year. That’s not my happy place. Like I
Sean Ellis 00:05:36 Like hypergrowth.
Ron Schneidermann 00:05:39 Hypergrowth is fun. Um, zero in Amman is a grind.
Sean Ellis 00:05:43 I don’t even mind early trajectory, but just, uh, trying to figure out something that people actually want. And like, that’s, that’s hard. That’s a, that’s a lot of hit or miss
Ethan Garr 00:05:53 That’s good when it works, but man, it can be, it can be a grind when it’s not going well.
Ron Schneidermann 00:05:57 Right after that first started, I was like, all right, I never need to do that again. So, but the opportunity to come back and do a start, you know, like the, the essence of a startup, something small and something in the space that I love, which is just spending time outside. Um, but what, honestly, what sold me, uh, it was funny like during the interview slash like sales pitch was he opened up Google analytics and he just showed me all of the organic traffic that was coming to AllTrails every day. And you know, like the product was terrible and you know, the data wasn’t very good, but it was just like, oh my goodness, like I’d never been in a situation where I didn’t have to sweat the top of the funnel like that and to have that luxury, but just like a nice steady stream of users coming in saying, I can figure this out. Like advise me time. Right. I’m not burning cash trying to figure it out. Like I can do something with this. So that’s really, that’s what that’s what sold it.
Sean Ellis 00:06:52 And did you have at sometimes it’s hard to see in Google analytics, but do you have a, an insight into, or a guess of it was more kind of retained traffic or it really was top of funnel of just a lot of new people coming at that time.
Ron Schneidermann 00:07:06 It was all new because the product was doing bad
Sean Ellis 00:07:10 Because that could be another indication that, um, that’s another good sign if they’re sticking around.
Ron Schneidermann 00:07:15 Right. No people were bouncing like crazy. Um, but again, like it was, he had built it to their credit, you know, to, to the team’s credit, they’d built this amazing SEO engine. And then I was like, all right. I said, there’s a diamond in the rough here, you know? And, and that seemed pretty fun.
Ethan Garr 00:07:30 I actually wanted to ask you about that. I mean, because it is incredible. I mean, you, you built profitability and scale and we’re going to talk about some of your recent, uh, fundraising and stuff, but you built such a, this business was built on these organic channels. It’s done so well. Do you have a, I mean, obviously some of that started before you, you were there, but do you have a, having a, have some hypothesis as to why you were so successful with, with organic and has that, or impacted or informed the culture that you’ve worked to develop? I mean, how does it drive things today?
Ron Schneidermann 00:08:01 Yeah, I am a big believer in product channel fit, right? Like, I think it’s like so often, uh, underlooked or not. I thought, you know, I haven’t talked about product market fit and people, you know, like, I don’t know, there’s, there’s a lot of really great startups. And even in our space, I’ve been here six and a half years, and I’ve seen so many great new platforms in our space competitors try and launch it are beautifully designed and have no tech debt and like are ready to go, but they can’t crack the code on product channel fit. Like that’s really where I think, like, I think that’s what makes or breaks companies, especially in the earlier days, right? Like it’s where you’re going to get your, get going to get your breakout velocity or not. And so, uh, seeing like such clear product channel fit with SEO at the time and granted this was 2015.
Ron Schneidermann 00:08:51 So, you know, 70% of traffic was coming on desktop and, um, you know, 30% was mobile web. They had just launched their mobile apps. And obviously the complexion of the business is so different today. But when I came in and we had this conversation, it’s like, we’re at this inflection point, you know, do we go out and just raise around? Um, or do we try and grind it out? And, and we made the very conscious decision to like, let’s, let’s grind it. Let’s see if we can get to profitability. And there, there was a bunch of why’s behind that, but it was, I say this because it’s like a core part of our culture and our DNA today. Right. And you guys have been around the block, I’m sure your listeners have been around the block. You know, I’ve been in this game for 20 years of teach. So many startups like come up, get a big round of funding. And I feel like it’s like taking a seed and dumping a ton of water on it. Right. Rocks, right. Like your past, you can’t do it. I’m guilty of
Sean Ellis 00:09:50 That. That’s a great,
Ron Schneidermann 00:09:52 Yeah. And like when you’re, you know, we’re coming in, like it wasn’t, it wasn’t from nothing, you know, there was something here and something that was clearly working and he come in and you do a big round and tell me, like, you’re getting all the pressures that come with a VC round of like spend fast, spend hard. And it’s always in two different places. Right? Like either on head count. And so you lose sight of culture. Like, we didn’t even have like a developed culture yet let alone, like, how am I supposed to, you know, get to 50, a hundred, 200 people? Um, when I don’t even know who we are, what we’re about, what our values are like, what is our DNA? Like, we need a time. And then on the channel side, right? Like, again, like, this is where I, I see this so often I love startups.
Ron Schneidermann 00:10:35 I like being involved in them. I, you know, mentor munch and advise next, do you see this all the time? Cause everyone thinks this is the success metric is going and getting the round. Right. And what happens is you then get stuck, like, do you know the grow at all costs? And then you’re like, you’re, you’re growing through unsustainable channels that like, as soon as the money dries up, you’re, you’re, you’re going to wither on the bottom. Right. And like, I didn’t want to, you know, even this was, this, this was early days, but it’s like, I want to build a multi-decade company here. I love this space. Like let’s build something and I, I there’s nothing else I want to do. So like, let’s build something long-term and sustainable. So I really, it was really important to build that foundation, you know, and like really, like, let’s, let’s get like the fundamentals in place and let’s get that like fiscal discipline and that scrappiness and that like, you know, like test and iterate, like, like mentality, like let’s just go like, let’s go, let’s grind, let’s build. And not just like, oh, I’m out fat and lazy. Cause I have so much money. So, you know what I mean? So that, that was a big part of it.
Sean Ellis 00:11:40 Wow. I, you know, one of the things that really jumps out at me, uh, is, is this idea that you not only are you emphasizing product channel fit, it sounds like you actually, you actually spotted product channel fit before product market fit. As you said, retention cohorts really weren’t there when you came in and you know, conventional wisdom is always get to product market fit, then focus on scale. So it’s interesting if you kind of think like, especially when, when that product channel fit is all organic, the demand is there, you are seeing the demand is there and just, no one has really effectively fulfilling that demand. And so it’s from an execution perspective. I think it’s pretty interesting because it’s a, yeah, you’re, you’re essentially saying, gosh, if we can just get this product, right, there’s a huge opportunity here, but it’s just, it goes against a lot of the conventional startup wisdom out there.
Ron Schneidermann 00:12:36 There’s a lot of bad conventional startup wisdom
Sean Ellis 00:12:41 And that, and then one other, one other thing that’s kind of interesting and maybe that’s a little too personal on my side, but, um, you know, my, my, I had a conversation with my daughter the other day and I, I, uh, I had kind of high blood pressure on a recent doctor visit. And, um, and to the point where the doctor’s like, you know, we, we may need to put you on medication for it. And, and I told my daughter, I don’t want to get on medication for it because then it’s like, I have a dependency to the medication and I want to be able to be healthy enough that I don’t need that and, and fix it on lifestyle. And she’s like, why not just go for the medication? And so it just kind of reminded me of, it’s kind of talking about weird analogies with, with flooding water on seeds and, and this like, like to me, it’s kind of like that dependency on medication is not that different than the dependency on venture capital, where if you can build that kind of healthy, healthy business, then venture capital flocks to you because they know you can put that money to work well where, um, otherwise yeah, you’re, you’re totally beholden to, to the venture capital.
Sean Ellis 00:13:44 So that’s what almost every business that I spent a long time in, um, after, after the first kind of.com.com one where we actually had a lot more discipline than most people, but, but, um, you know, from log me in to Dropbox, to, to a lot of these other businesses that got to cashflow positive pretty quickly, and they, the amount of flexibility that, that gives you and obviously a lot more upside for, for early shareholders and founders as well, when you, when you’re not raising these massive rounds to, to keep you in business. So, um, yeah, I think that that dependency is a really important factor that you talked about,
Ron Schneidermann 00:14:16 The single biggest point of leverage you can get as a founder or as an executive when you’re gone to fundraise is to not need it, right. Like the, the irony of it. But it’s the truth. Like if you have the power to straight up, walk away and not need it, they know that they can smell when you’re desperate and you need the capital and that’s right, right. It gets to dictate the terms as soon as you don’t need it. And you can come out from that position of strength. It’s a game changer.
Sean Ellis 00:14:38 I’ll avoid going down the dating analogy there. I mean, I’m coming up on my 25th wedding anniversary, so it’s all theory in my mind there. But, um, but yeah,
Ethan Garr 00:14:47 It’s funny. It’s funny. Cause we just, uh, we had, we just, uh, did an interview for the podcast. Um, and we were talking about just sort of the, the, the importance and value of having start-up experience. Um, and in that conversation, it kind of became clear too, that like, you know, startups are very different and you have the different experiences. And I think a lot of that experiences around the funding, like, uh, you know, Sean was mentioning how, you know, if you’re joining an organization and they have a very short runway, it’s very different than a startup. That’s got money already and you’ve got to get some opportunity. I know I was part of Tel tech and we were bootstrapped and then we launched robo killer and we just, you know, we kept just, you know, accelerating growth and accelerating growth. And you’re right, when you have, when you control your own destiny like that, um, it makes, so your conversation so much easier, you know, someone wants to partner with you.
Ethan Garr 00:15:39 You’re always in the, in the high leverage position, you want to sell the company. You want to raise money. You just in this high leverage position where you really get to call the shots. So it is, it is interesting. And, um, you know, listening to your, uh, uh, the conversation you had a few months ago on the sub club podcast, it was really clear that you’ve gone through a couple of funding rounds, but you had, you were, it seems like each time you were in control of your own destiny. And I imagine that’s made it a really interesting for you.
Ron Schneidermann 00:16:07 And it all comes back to that initial, like inflection point in 2015, like, do we raise the round or do we try and like do this ourselves and, and get that foundation and that, that strength of, of, uh, being like, you know, self, whatever self piloting, so self-fulfilling whatever. Um, and I, I, your, your spa and the, and this is the stuff like, this is, I don’t know, like the difference between a second or third startup versus your first startup. It’s just night and day, right? Like, I don’t know, like the amount, like my first startup, I just looked back and I made a lot of mistakes and I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the mistakes I’ve learned from them that grown from them. But like, I look back and like, shit that I was focusing on and caring about. And then you, you know, you, you, you flushed that out.
Ron Schneidermann 00:16:53 Like, all right. I don’t, I don’t, there’s no ego anymore. I don’t care about ego. Like the ego stuff is bullshit. Um, and so you kind of, you know, you move on and you start thinking about stuff like, like funding and board dynamics and executive dynamics and product channel fit. And just all of these things that like, I don’t know, at least for me, my first time around, like I, I had no idea about. And so I think, I think that experience, that chemo experience, even though every one has been different, um, it becomes an asset, you know, it’s like that. I don’t know if you’re just like, like the old man, like old man racquetball or old man basketball where like, they’re not as fast, but like, they just beat you every time. Cause they’ve like mastered the fundamentals and stuff like that. I feel like that start-ups like, you’re a young kid, you’re just grinding. You’re putting 20 hour days in like you’re hustling and you’re, you know, road showing all of it. I can’t do that anymore. I’m in my forties, you know, I’m slowing down a little bit, but, but it feels smarter, you know what I mean? Like I know how to deploy my energy, I guess a bit, um, more wisely than before.
Sean Ellis 00:17:51 Yeah. I get this old man racketball vision of, uh, you know, the sweat band and then I’m imagining some other guy. And then, uh, unfortunately that’s, that’s me as I, if I really looked closely. So, uh, you know, one of the things I th I think is kind of interesting, interesting as well, or just, just, uh, something to dig into a bit is, you know, w you talked about if, if you raise a lot of money and then you need to spend that money on growth and you can spend it kind of unsustainably. A lot of times, people kind of look at it as a trade-off either, either, um, I’m focused on growth or profitability, and it’s like two different, different worlds. But what I found in a, in a kind of mental exercise, I give to a lot of people when they’re, when they’re presenting that to me is, you know, they, they say, okay, I think we can model out a lifetime value of this so we can pay this to acquire our customers.
Sean Ellis 00:18:45 And we’ll, we’ll worry about the monetization a little bit later, and we just want to do land grab right now. And then I said, okay, so you find something that you can spend $10,000 a month on that that hits your, your allowable CPA. Now, what have you find a channel that you could spend $5 million a month on that hits that CPA? Do you have that same confidence? And usually the answer is no, where if you’re, if you’re investing for return on investment and you know, that you’re, you’re driving that return on investment, or you, you can model based on real numbers of how you’re monetizing, you can just so much more aggressively execute and do it in a sustainable way that I think, I think it it’s actually, you can grow faster a lot of times when you’re, when you have the discipline to make sure that you’re not growing in a stupid
Ron Schneidermann 00:19:31 Way. Totally, totally agree.
Sean Ellis 00:19:34 Yeah. So, yeah. I mean, and is that something that, um, do you think if you had raised a lot of money early on that, that you would actually have gotten as big as fast as you did, or, you know, looking at it specifically, not just in the theory that I said, but actually looking at it on your own,
Ron Schneidermann 00:19:52 I feel like the shape of the curve would be different. You know, I feel like the high amplitude point would be like, front-loaded more, cause we’ve just spent stupidly and seen a big spike and land grab kind of thing. Um, and then it would have Strunk dramatically. And instead it’s just been like this nice clothes, you know, this, that we’ve been actively trying to like augment this a little bit, the curve, especially with the last couple of years,
Sean Ellis 00:20:12 Equity probably looks a lot better the way that you’ve grown.
Ron Schneidermann 00:20:15 Yeah. Um, but I think that, uh, you know, every, every channel also sorta has like its plateau, you know, like you can’t crank SEO indefinitely, you can’t crank apple search as it definitely can’t crank PR you know? So, um, I think that’s the other thing, like if we would have taken a lot of money up front, I’m sure we would have diffused ourselves or a lot of channels more quickly also. Whereas instead, because we were broke, we went all on, on SEO and then, you know, as we started becoming more mobile first, like taking that discipline and framework to ASO, same suicides of the same coin. Right. And then really thinking through like, how do we build that in the backdrop of all this? Right. Like, that’s fine for top of funnel, but at the same time, like how do we then build up brand equity?
Ron Schneidermann 00:21:05 How do we then build up like this emotional connection? How do we like activate we are a community driven business. Right. And so like, we’re, we’re only, still like in the early earliest innings of like, unlocking like the true, like, you know, like network effects and viral loops and stuff. Like, I feel like we’re first sending a baseball there. Um, but there were still happening, you know, as we were like leaning on these organic growth channels and this whole, you know, all of it was through this lens of like, can we keep, can we keep growing through that? Like, how is this, is this, is this enough? Is this like healthy? Is this enough? And it wasn’t enough, you know, because we had that fiscal discipline. And so, you know, whatever, like, so maybe, maybe we’re still like an eight person company and maybe I’m still personally doing all the Costco orders and our ASO keywords and pretty lifecycle marketing and hiring and firing and like whatever. It’s like, you know, that’s part of it. I think that’s what we sign up for. Oftentimes, you know, especially
Sean Ellis 00:22:01 When did you raise the 150 million?
Ron Schneidermann 00:22:03 That was, that was a couple months ago.
Sean Ellis 00:22:06 Oh, so is it pretty recently? And, um, and does that change the dynamics now? I mean, is this something that now, now you, it, or was that more take money off the table or is that, is that money to, to accelerate the business further?
Ron Schneidermann 00:22:20 So before this round yeah, let’s do a little history of all. Um, so, uh, in, so I joined in 2015, kind of took over the, you know, the handoff from the original founder, um, that was like September of 2015, by end of 2017, we’d hit profitability. It was great. 2018 was kind of like our first like foray into hyper-growth, that’s really where the business started taking off. And we got, um, we start getting amount of offers to buy it. And that was actually part of the original agreement with the founder was like to grow it and sell it. Right. And so, you know, it was one of the big tech companies they wanted to buy us. And so it was like, all right, you know, like, let’s start this process, spun up a bank started, you know, matrix of a hundred different potential acquires all the different verticals.
Ron Schneidermann 00:23:08 And it was fun. It was cool. I’d never done that before. And honestly, like I live Toby and we had done like four or five rounds and we never had leveraged ever, ever, ever, never had leveraged. And here, like we had all the leverage in the world. Cause again, like we had the agreement to sell it, but we didn’t have to, like, if, if we didn’t we’re profitable, we’re good. We’re growing and having fun. Um, so it really like changed the tone and tenor and all of it, but the entire process. And so we’re going through it and it was definitely this realization. Like I don’t, I don’t want to be absorbed and, and none of us wanted to be absorbed into another company and just go be middle management or whatever. Like if I wanted to do that in my career, I would have done that.
Ron Schneidermann 00:23:46 My career is a different path and it’s a great path, but it’s not the path for me. And like, I wanted to keep growing this. You don’t. And so we kind of changed who we were starting to talk to you. Um, and we started talking, you know, started talking to the VC. It’s funny how like the world of VCs and private equity started like overlapping, right. Or like VCs were going and buying majority stakes and private equity. It was talking to us about like growth rounds or whatever. Um, get the least, yeah, it’s funny. Um, but we ended up, uh, finding, thankfully we got lucky. Um, but finding the right partner, which was a growth equity fund, I never heard of a growth equity fund. Um, but a growth equity fund called spectrum equity based in San Francisco, we’re based in San Francisco and they saw it, they got it.
Ron Schneidermann 00:24:35 They’re like one of the first company like Ron, you got to think bigger. Like we, we let’s take this global. Right. Like, let’s do, you know, let’s like really see where we can take this. And, uh, and it really opened my eyes because I think like a lot of, I don’t know, maybe you guys, a lot of your listeners, um, a lot of PE shops got a bad reputation and probably for a good reason. Right? Like a lot of the PE shops we were talking to, like, it was all bottom line stuff. It was all just like expenses and the cost of it or whatever, whatever, um, EBITDA, I want to talk about EBITDA. Like we’re, we’re growing, like let’s just talk about growth. Right. Um, so they got it, they got it. And, and, uh, it was such a good partnership. And again, I feel like I feel fortunate.
Ron Schneidermann 00:25:17 I feel, I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones, like we’re all chosen one of the lucky ones that we’re able to get a good partner. And it was clean like at my last startup, we had done VC rounds and every round, you know, a different VC left the rounds. We had like a different VC at the board table from every round and you get sharp elbows and you get like misaligned incentives. It’s just, it was messy. You kind of had to watch your back a little bit. Um, here it was clean. It was like, you know, they’re going to buy a controlling stake and we’re going to grow it unless like, let’s see if we can do something really great together. And to their credit,
Sean Ellis 00:25:50 It seems like one of the things that I, I mean, I don’t know enough about spectrum to make a blanket statement about them, but I know there there’s survey monkey. Right. They were. Yeah. And so if you take survey, monkey is kind of a famous story of, uh, of a bootstrap does business that, that kind of like, wow, that’s worth how much. And it was just, this didn’t seem like that great of a business. And, um, you know, and obviously then, then spectrum came in and, and, uh, and so I’m just wondering if, um, if they focus on organically, like well-disciplined businesses and if, and if they do then, then, you know, I think a lot of times the private equity, it’s kind of like, you know, let’s bring in the professional managers now who take it to the next level. But if they’re, if that’s what they’re valuing, they’re probably less likely to buy, to make major changes.
Ron Schneidermann 00:26:39 Yeah. Yeah. They spot, they bought survey monkey. That was like a 12 person company or like that. And they held it for over 10 years. Like that, that was actually their sales pitch. Like don’t, don’t hear from us how we manage, like talk to Zander, Lurie, the CEO of survey monkey and disasters credit. Like I called him. I was like, oh, Hey Ron, I was waiting for your call. You know? And we chatted for like an hour about what it’s like to work with spectrum. And, you know, like, that’s, that’s how you really can tell, like you just, you talk to the folks in the portfolio and to a T they were all saying the same thing. Um, and so that was, that was 2018. Right. And that was like, they bought us where we were a 12 person company to, they bought us, uh, for, for 80 million bucks in like September, October of 2018.
Ron Schneidermann 00:27:18 And, um, I feel very grateful. Like they, um, we transitioned the old CEO out, um, and they gave me the average. I’d never been a CEO before. Um, and they, they gave me the opportunity and kind of the space to figure it out as they go along and make mistakes and stuff nervous about taking on that CEO role. Oh, dude, I had so much imposter syndrome. Like I feel the gremlins in my own head, like would never, oh my God. It was like, it was like four months of tearing myself apart on the inside. And then suddenly like, it hit me, like I just had this epiphany where it’s like, cause I’m not a finance guy. Like I’ve never been a finance guy. I got like a C plus and econ in college. My wife works at Morgan Stanley. Like she does probably wealth management.
Ron Schneidermann 00:28:03 Like I just glaze over when she starts talking to me about finance. And I always thought that like would preclude me from being a CEO. Right. And, uh, but then it was like, I don’t know how to code, but like I have no, no problem, like hiring like a CTO and engineering leads and like helping them manage like an engineering department. Like, what’s the difference with finance or that, like, the key thing is like hire people smarter than you give them like a really clear goals and like, make sure everyone’s aligned and get the fuck out of the way. Like it’s not that actually hard. And once I realized, like my job is to get out of the way and not like, hold on to everything in control and have mastery over, everything was in fact it’s the opposite. It’s like, I love this job.
Sean Ellis 00:28:44 The hardest part. Do you think? Or what, what, what did you find the hardest part of taking on the CEO role?
Ron Schneidermann 00:28:49 The hardest part was the, just the self-flagellation. I was putting myself through to like, get myself comfortable with that. I can do this, you know, I, I, if you can’t like, I have zero ego, like I just don’t care about ego stuff is bullshit. Um, so the letting go of stuff is actually like very easy for me and hiring people much smarter than me is very easy, um, as well. So like that part, that part was easy. I, I, I talk about it with, with folks. Like I view myself as like a music conductor, you know, like I’m just there, like, I’m there to make sure everyone’s like playing the same sheet music. Like, we’re all, like, we’re all playing the same song. Right? We’re all playing at the same tempo, same volume, the right instruments are in the right seats, the right first chair versus like all the other folks are in the right seat. And then I get out of the way and let them make their music right. That jumped
Sean Ellis 00:29:40 In and grabbed that clarinet. Right.
Ron Schneidermann 00:29:42 I can’t play the clarinet. I’m not going to do that. So, no, I, once, once it took a little bit, like, I really did take a little, like quite a few cycles of, of just like beating myself up and then finally like letting go of these gremlins. And she was like, okay, I got this,
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Ethan Garr 00:31:01 Do you think it was a bit of a blessing that you, uh, as like Sean was saying that you kind of found product channel fit before product market fit? I mean, you described, I’ve heard you described that the product was kind of like not in a great place when you got there. Do you think just in terms of, of, because of that, it’s helped you kind of keep this discipline throughout it, in other words, uh, getting the money, you, it sounds like you already knew when you raised as you raise money. Like, Hey, we can’t just pour money on pour money on this, uh, on this to make it better. We’ve got to focus on the product. It’s not just about, it’s not just about more, more dollar spent on ads. It’s not just more people we’ve got to focus on getting the product. Right. It seems like if you have that in your, it makes it, that seems like it might help in keeping disciplined and driving a culture around it.
Ron Schneidermann 00:31:48 Definitely. And you know, a lot, like, it sounds you shifted today, right. Then you started getting into scaling issues with product channel fit and all that. But like in the, in the first cycle, the first couple of chapters, whatever you want to call it, like pre pre spectrum equity. Um, it was really not time. Right. And I felt like, because we had this like free flow of users coming in every single day. And even if they were bouncing, like, that’s okay, like, but they’re finding us or we can get them. We have a magnetism that gave us time to figure out how to unlock. Um, it was really just, you know, it’s a mid funnel optimization, right? Like that’s a lot of what we were doing. Like my, before I got there, my, my predecessor had launched the apps and the subscription business. So this was actually my foray into a subscription business. I I’d never seen one before. I didn’t really understand how they worked. And, uh, now I feel like I will never not do a subscription because they’re magical. It is just an amazing, uh, business. I always described it as the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like, it’s just like, keep the tie just keeps rising every year. It’s fantastic. And it just, it likes, it’s like time momentum, velocity, like all of these things. They’re all,
Sean Ellis 00:33:04 That’s the predictability of it. I, I remember in the, like, basically within the first week of each quarter at log me in, we, we would know really close what that quarter was going to be just based on like, what does the pipeline look like? What are, what are the renewal you just it’s it’s, it becomes very formulaic and, and, uh, it can be hard to accelerate, but, um, you know, if you’re not on a good trajectory, but it’s, there’s just a lot of visibility in what’s happening.
Ron Schneidermann 00:33:30 Totally. And so kind of to your question, sort of question like 10 minutes ago about the funding and the $150 million round, um, you know, we obviously saw tremendous growth through COVID, right? Like it was an accelerant for what we’ve been seeing, but it was, it was crazy. This is just the slope of the curve change. So fast so quickly. And, and we, we did a lot to capitalize on that to be, to be clear, like we, you know, we, we play some bats and we got, we were lucky, um, a lot of, uh, you know, and that’s the thing, like, it’s weird talking about success in COVID. Um, there are a lot of great companies that like, you know, got really beat up or didn’t make it because they had supply chain issues or, you know,
Sean Ellis 00:34:13 And Eventbrite where I, where I was for a period of time,
Ron Schneidermann 00:34:17 The company, right. It’s an amazing company, like smart top to bottom. And they just got, they got crushed. Right? Like we, we were lucky. We were definitely there’s luck involved, but it was funny, like we were at this, um, in mid March when everything shut down mid March, 2020, like our business ground to a halt. Right. And we have this like flywheel driven business and everything else. Right. And like, no one was out hiking or biking because everyone’s forwarding toilet, paper and dogs are going to give them COVID and the air is going to, you know, talk to them.
Sean Ellis 00:34:44 There were there not within a hundred miles of someone and they’re still wearing a mask.
Ron Schneidermann 00:34:48 I mean, it was like, we looked around, we’re like, oh my God, like, this is actually like the machine that has halted. Like for the first time the machine has halted and this is terrifying. Um, but this is where one of the like patterns from just being old, I guess, and around the block for long enough kind of comes into play like in 2008, 2009. Um, when I was at the ski startup, it was the same thing, right. Like the, the economy ground to a halt. And so I was like, wait, weren’t like good times. Right? It’s like luxury, you know, like skiing. But what we found was like, people actually started skiing way more because it gave people like a modicum of control. Like you lean on your habits, you lean on the things that give you joy or pleasure or happiness. Right. And so it was like, oh, this is really interesting.
Ron Schneidermann 00:35:31 Like, you know, even though times are tough, like people are prioritizing the things that give them some semblance of normalcy. And it was like, I w we have three kids, you know, we were like canceling our Disney world trip camp, you know, summer camp got canceled. We’re like, what the hell are we going to do this summer with these kids are going to drive us crazy. I was like, we’re just going to run them ragged on the trail. And there’s endless, like, this conversation is happening all over us, you know? And it’s like, it’s happening via text. It’s happening in the press. And she’s like, this is our moment. Like we, this, this is what we were built for. And so while, you know, it was, it was again, like to Spectrum’s credit, right? Like the machine had stopped, it was grim. And we’re like, we’re going to invest.
Ron Schneidermann 00:36:15 Like, we’re going to start hiring like crazy. We’re going to start spending way more on paid ads, because there’s going to be an arbitrage play here. Like, we’re going to increase the rate of communication. This is going to be our moment. Like, let’s do this. You got, you know, and they’re like, let’s go, let’s do this. And thankfully, like, I still have a job. So words. Um, so we were able to generate all this momentum and then carry it into 2021. Um, I promise, I’ll get to that. 150 militaries was all building up to the two big questions as we headed into 2021. Where are the folks who signed up? We have a freemium business, all chose pros are annual subscription. Often are the people who sign up for Altos pro, are they going to retain, right? Like, was it just a COVID bump in subscriptions or are they actually going to like retain or not turn out?
Ron Schneidermann 00:37:01 And then we look at everything through a cohort basis. And that’s, what’s also really cool about the business. People who signed up seven years ago, we’ll just convert to pro all of a sudden, like they just keep kind of growing. These older cohorts are the cohorts of users who signed up for free accounts in 2020, are they going to convert to pro? Um, and we had a wait, you know, we had to wait to where a seasonal business, we follow the sun. So like, may, June, July was fine. Like, yes, to both like, okay, the fundamentals of this business are strong. Like, this is not just a good, like, the retention rates were actually higher broken version rates were higher. UGC contributions were higher. It was just like, this is not just a coup it was an accelerant. But like, that’s the beauty I think of our space.
Ron Schneidermann 00:37:41 It’s like, once you connect to the outdoors, like you’re connected as part of you, it doesn’t matter. Like, as the world opens up or it doesn’t open up, um, like it’s just, it’s sustainable. Um, so that’s what led to this, like, okay, like, what are we going to do about this? What do we want to do? Right. And, uh, we were getting a ton of like, acquisition offers, same thing. Like, I like what I’m doing. I don’t want to stop. Um, we’ve got all these back offers and it’s just like, all right. You know, when, when we go public, like we’re not going to do it via stack, like we’re going to do it. Right. And we’re not ready to go. Plus the other thing, I’m sure you guys have seen this a ton to you. Rather companies that went public is back. They’re just like, they’re not ready.
Ron Schneidermann 00:38:18 Like, you don’t have the infrastructure, you don’t have the discipline. Like you’re back to short-term quarterly thinking with the street, whatever that was a lesson from jail, different operating model at that point. Totally, totally. That was like at Yale, that was like, don’t go public. Like, um, and so, you know, then I was like, all right, well, like what, what can we do? And, uh, or what should we do? And it was like, you know, like, let’s see if we can bend the slope of the core of curve even more, like, how do we do more faster? And it’s like, well, like, can we find a new partner? Like let’s not do a change of control. Don’t want to do that. I love the status quo, but can we, you know, bring on someone who brings something new to the table and adheres like understands our values, right?
Ron Schneidermann 00:39:00 Like we’re not going to compromise our values. We’re not going to like, I love spectrum. I love the coverage I get. Like we can build, we can grow, we can do like crazy things. We can give back. The bigger we get, the more we get to give back. Like, I don’t take that for granted from a private equity firm. Um, so we ran this tight process. We, we found six firms that were kind of interested in that they had done, you know, partnerships with, um, we ran like a super tight process, basically, like first conversation. Like, we don’t want to be here. We don’t want, I want to be back operating my company. Like, this is the last thing I want to be doing right now. But like, let’s be opportunistic and see if there’s a fit here. And like first conversation, first conversation with Premera is like done.
Ron Schneidermann 00:39:38 Like these are the guys. And within two months, within two months, like we were able to get a term sheet and get this thing done. And I think it’s because again, like we had leveraged, like we could walk, we didn’t need it, but it was really this opportunity to do more faster. And that’s, it’s funny, like we have a really great board, but they’re always yelling at me, like do more faster, do more faster. And so this was a way to do more faster. We could something like, get this cushion, get a, you know, intentionally get a little bit less fiscally sound and like invest in like product driven growth and like the kind of team that like 20, 23 or 2024 will support, but do it today, do it now. So we can build more faster, start placing big bets to it on a global scale, bringing on board some new DNA with this global expansion expertise. And that was the Genesis of that.
Sean Ellis 00:40:25 And do you feel like becoming less fiscally sound is, is maybe okay when you have a foundation of an engine that’s proven and works and you know, you can roll back to that. If you take an analogy from your old business, get too far ahead of your skis, is it, can you, can you kind of regain control of things if you need to. Um, and, and that’s a different kind of like, like overspending versus, uh, you know, kind of in the early days of a business, when you still got a lot to figure out
Ron Schneidermann 00:40:58 It was very intentional. Right. And so, like, we’re not altering our DNA, we’re not altering our worldview, but it’s like, you know what, we’re good. We’re in a good spot. So let’s do this and let’s play some bets. And so there’s kind of two big manifestations of, of like where the funding goes. You know, one is on the headcount side. And so much of that, like we’re saying, like it’s product driven growth. It’s like really it’s do more faster. It’s like place more bets, not have things be an and not an, or like, let’s like blow out this growth team. Let’s blow out, you know, like let’s build more faster. And so that, like, if our company is going to grow and become what we’re going to become anyways, like we have to do it via product driven growth. We’re doing a little bit faster.
Ron Schneidermann 00:41:41 Um, if we can’t grow via product driven growth or dead in the water. So like either way, like we’re stressed as to who we are. Um, but I believe, you know, like that’s the bed and then the other, the other manifestation or the other, like whatever, like place to put all this money is, uh, it’s marketing is data acquisition. And it’s the same thing. Like I do. I mean, again, like nothing, you guys didn’t see this last year and I’m sure your listeners experience the same thing. Like paid acquisition got crazy in 2021, right. Like CPMs and CPI, just, they got like totally out of control, like stuff was tripling and quadrupling. Like, it just didn’t make sense. So now it’s like, all right, well, let’s rethink things from first principles and how does this change? Like in different countries and cities and continents and everything.
Ron Schneidermann 00:42:27 And we can do, like, let’s run a billboard test and in Australia and less from radio ads and Berlin and let’s run podcasts and, you know, whatever, right. Like we can do more like at scale at a global scale, um, with that, with it being an end, not an or so, and if they don’t work well, cool. It’s okay. Like we can pull that back, but head count stuff, we’re locked in. We are locked in. That is a bet. Right. But the, the marketing stuff has always been like this huge lever because of that discipline and that reliance on organic growth. Like if we need to cut off all eight acquisition, um, we’re good. We’re still growing. Right. Like we still have so much room to grow. It’s just, maybe the slope is a little bit less, but it’s okay. Sure.
Sean Ellis 00:43:09 So one last question on PE and then we’ll move away from that is, uh, and I think we’ve established, it’s not kind of one size fits all on private equity. There’s, there’s probably quite a difference in the types of PE firms out there, but I get this feeling that on the, on the kind of venture capitalist side, you get, you get VCs that are really thinking long-term a lot of times they’re, there are a lot of times kind of visionaries, or at least that’s the, that’s the perception I have to where they, where they, um, maybe get excited about just like a business that creates a lot of impact and, and, and, and kind of meaning in the world. And, um, where I, I get a feeling of like private equity as being more, just dollars and cents. It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing, but, but it’s about just like, how do, how do we keep hitting bigger and bigger numbers over time? Um, do you, do you think there’s any truth there and how do you, how, if, if there is something to that, how do you keep yourself? How do you keep yourself motivated on the thing that originally attracted you, that you, you liked the space you like, what, what the business is doing?
Ron Schneidermann 00:44:13 Yeah. I mean, we’re getting into some like broad generalizations here, right.
Sean Ellis 00:44:18 That’s why I said it’s not a one size fits all on all P and definitely not on the VC side either.
Ron Schneidermann 00:44:24 Yeah, no, I’m, I’m just giving myself coverage that I’ve been talking to some really big, broad generalizations. I don’t like a lot of, I really like, they’re not all bad. They’re not all bad, but I don’t like the BC model. And I, I don’t, some of them are visionaries, but like, I think very few of them really, really get it, get what it takes to build an operate. And I think that’s why they spray and pray, right? Like, again, I’m probably gonna get a lot of bad emails from this and whatever, and that’s fine. Um, but I
Sean Ellis 00:44:53 Think this is going anywhere. You’re not going to put them out of
Ron Schneidermann 00:44:55 Business. I know exactly. Right. But I think that the value, I think this part of the trap for a lot of startups, I think that the value that a lot of VCs bring to the table is grossly over estimated. Um, and more cases than not the ones that I’ve loved the most, like first round capital funded with Topia was one of the VC rounds of Liftopia and what I loved about them as well. They’re great. Right. Because the community, cause you’re plugged into this community of other founders and other companies and like that there was so much value that I got from that Josh,
Sean Ellis 00:45:26 A couple of men is like the foundation of that group. And he’s probably the most knowledgeable startup guy I’ve ever seen
Ron Schneidermann 00:45:32 A hundred percent. He is a rare gem, right? Like Reed Hoffman, if you can get that guy, who’s a rare gem. Like there’s like the handful of guys that are like, or people that are like the real deal for sure. Um, but on the whole, like, I wouldn’t necessarily like anoint the industry as visionaries and, you know, like are going to unlock. And on the flip side, I guess, you know, the PE guys kind of have the reputation of all being dollars and cents and this all transactional, but I’ve seen this firsthand, um, where, you know, we talked to a lot of PE who talks a lot, um, both in 2018 and over the summer and like spectrum and premiere in particular, like the mission we’re trying to do resonates with them. And it goes beyond, like, it goes beyond like the dollars and cents stuff.
Ron Schneidermann 00:46:16 Like there’s this like common sense of purpose and mission in here, which like gives me confidence in coverage, you know, like we can think long-term like, we can really like, think about, you know, Hey, what, what does this block on me to look like for us to get a billion people on it in the next 10 years? Like, let’s, let’s talk about that. Let’s plan for that. And, and there’s, um, there’s beauty in that, you know, like, and that’s, to me that’s unexpected, right? It goes against the grain of, I think some of the stereotypes that, you know, one would one would place on, on most PE shops, but, you know, I think that’s why, you know, like E I learned this the hard way I think I lived Tobia and again, I’m going to get bad emails for this, but you know, every time you take on a round of funding, it’s a marriage, you are intertwining with this new third-party entity. And if you really comp, if you know, again, when you don’t have leverage, sometimes you have to compromise. But if you’re able to really, really vet the values of the people that you’re bringing into your company, you’re going to end the DNA like meshes and it match it, then it can be great when there’s not that alignment. It doesn’t matter. Like what letter, you know, VCPE, it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Like there’s going to be friction, there’s going to be challenges, right? Yeah.
Sean Ellis 00:47:30 That’s on all cases, it’s it’s money and it’s funding, it’s funding, uh, a dream or a, or something that already exists. You’re trying to take it to the next level, but it’s, it’s it’s money. And it’s the people behind that money that matter,
Ethan Garr 00:47:44 That that thought of like, how do we become a billion person platform or whatever. And then, um, kind of leads into the question I wanted to kind of close out the, that, that kind of, uh, that part of our conversation, which is, you know, you started this company AllTrails. I think you said it was like six people when you started, and then you reached breakout growth success. You raise a, or I guess you raise it a million dollars, um, hit hyper-growth. I mean, it just, and it just keeps rolling. Um, now you’ve got this new funding and, uh, you know, if you can look into your crystal ball and look a year and a half, two years down the road, maybe, and you know, you look back at this moment and things are an absolute success and you killed it. What do you think? You know, what does that look like? What does, what is it going to, what is the next chapter going to look like in your vision from here.
Ron Schneidermann 00:48:28 Yeah. That’s a great question. I, I feel like you ask anyone at all chills or any of our board members or investors into a T a hundred percent of us will tell you that we’re nowhere near where we can or shouldn’t be right. Like we’re not there. We haven’t made it. And I think it’s that, like, I think that mentality, or like getting the round, isn’t the end point, it’s the starting point, you know? And so what gets me really excited is, is product driven growth. Like, that’s really like, that’s what gets me like I’m laying in bed and my wheels are spinning about product different growth. Like I’m taking a shower and I’m thinking about product different growth. Like that’s where the unlock, that’s where the leverage is. That’s where the unlock is going to come from and thinking about all the different ways that we can unlock that.
Ron Schneidermann 00:49:10 And as our community continues to grow, you know, we’ve got almost 40 million people on the platform today. Can we get to a hundred million next year or the year after? Right? Like it’s not just having that much interactivity on the platform and what that’s going to unlock, but it’s also like new monetization streams and new ways of like creating products and features that like meet the needs of the folks who don’t necessarily want to do an annual subscription, but are still looking for somebody like the product market fit question again, it’s like a new startup within Altos that we get to keep unlocking. That’s fun, you know, like, yeah, that’s the stuff I like. I think that, uh, I guess to answer the, you know, two years from now, like what success will look like, I think it’s, you know, we’ve we built in scale this team around us, like continue to level up, bring on like, world-class smart, hungry, humble people who are bought into our mission that are just fired up to connect people to the outdoors and we’re doing it globally. You know, we’ve, we’ve like we, we can see the trajectory to, to a billion. I think that’s, that’s how I would define success. Like the billion. Does it seem more or less realistic after the next two years? I’ll be a good telling point.
Ethan Garr 00:50:19 Yeah. Just one thing, you know, as we’ve spoken to leaders from fast-growing companies across the spectrum, one of the things we’ve learned we’ve learned is, you know, when you go global, I mean, that’s, you know, that’s, there’s such opportunity in going global, but one of the things that we, Sean and I’ve heard over and over again, is that the biggest mistake companies make when they, when they start to go into other markets is they assume their product market fit in one market, instantly translates into that other market. And I imagine that’s even tighter on the, the channel market fit, uh, sort of spectrum. So like, I think not that you need my advice going into this, but it sounds like, it sounds like, it sounds like as you approach, like you guys are really well-grounded in thinking like, well, we have to hit, we have to figure out each, each, each market individually needs individually, but I had, it seems like it’d be an interesting challenge as you go forward.
Ron Schneidermann 00:51:09 I think, you know, I think this comes back to like the culture and DNA stuff. We’re talking about the beginning, I think like humility is probably the single biggest virtue across all of our employees. Again, it’s like a complete devoid life. We’re not one of those like kingdom building companies, sharp elbows, nothing like that. It’s like the mission that unites us all and so long, you know, that’s where everyone gets their, like their ego comes from the company doing well. And I think like you have to have that humility when you go into these new markets, if you just assume that what you learned brought you great success in the United States or whatever, it’s just going to translate, like you’re sending,
Ethan Garr 00:51:42 I think it’s particularly dangerous in the mobile app world, right. Because with mobile apps, it’s, you want to go into another market, you literally go into your app store developer account and you said, uh, Sweden. Right. But, and, and you just sit like, and you just assume like, okay, well now we’re in Sweden, but it’s so much more than that. It’s localization, it’s putting boots on the ground to understand the markets. I think that’s, uh, I think mobile just, you know, it entices you to make that mistake, you know, and, and maybe the worst part is like, you can have some success and think that you’re winning just because you’re in the market.
Ron Schneidermann 00:52:17 I, uh, I hope I never not saying that as a cautionary tale. Right. But it’s true. Your spot it’s spot on. It’s the truth. It’s so easy to check those boxes and like, yeah, no, we’re global now. Um, but to really pull it off, like, yeah, you’ve got to rethink everything from first principles.
Sean Ellis 00:52:31 Yeah. When you, when you talk about product driven growth being kind of the engine that you think will get you to that billion people, do you think of product market fit in each of these markets is a big factor in that product driven growth? Or are you, are you kind of thinking about product driven growth as being something else? And why is that important? Is that somewhat of a reaction to the channels being saturated? Um, or just you give us a little more context in the role of product driven growth and getting used to that billion.
Ron Schneidermann 00:52:59 So what’s really, I think what’s fun about AllTrails is, um, I, again, this is my first freemium platform also, right? And so like all of our trail content is free. It’s free for everybody. And we, we spend a lot of money in producing it and we spend a lot of money translating it, you know? Um, but again, it’s because this is our mission is to connect people, the outdoors, we can’t put content behind the paywall. Like we’ve got to get you out nature. And so what I, what I love, what I’m proud of about what we’re doing here is the leverage that we’ve been able to build in the model. Like if we want to get a billion people on the platform, we don’t need to have 10,000 employees here. We’re not spinning up like any kind of sales teams, like, like there’s just a lot of scale and leverage in the foundational work that we’ve been investing in.
Ron Schneidermann 00:53:47 Right. Like I think at maturity, I don’t know, maybe we have 250 people, 300 people, 400 people. I don’t know. We’ll see how like, field marketing stuff plays out. You know what I mean? But like, it’s not, uh, the, the, the, the like linear rate of growth of like head kind of expansion does not necessarily match with like the rate of growth or like community expansion or global expansion. So there’s a lot of leverage in the machine that we’ve, we’ve built. And so, like the opportunity, you know, when, when spectrum bought us, we had like 40% even of margins, like w we’re able to spin out cash when we, when we want to, which is cool, like not doing that as a flex, uh, just to be creative, but like, there’s a lot of leverage in the model. And so, like, that’s why like, product market fit so long as, you know, the core monetization countries are monetizing the way we need I’m okay.
Ron Schneidermann 00:54:42 Investing, uh, in, in growth in Latin America or Africa or Asia where maybe the monetization isn’t there, like there w we already see it, you know, like they’re not buying an annual subscription for 30 Euro or 30 pounds for 30 bucks, you know, like, so maybe, maybe we go to like smaller micro transactions are all a cart, and it doesn’t need to be as big of a lineup because again, like the fiscal health of the overall business driven by our core markets. Right. So like, that’s kind of the way I think about it, I guess, in terms of product market fit, like from specifically from like a monetization perspective, like there’s so much leverage here. We’re healthy. We’re good. We’re good. We’re healthy. It’s okay. Like, I don’t, I don’t know, like, I’m about to get on a tangent about Facebook. I guess I’m gonna stop myself on that, but like, it doesn’t need to be insane so long as the company is healthy, we’re all good. Cool. Like less than like, do some good in the world and connect people to nature.
Ethan Garr 00:55:36 So it sounds like with that, you’re gonna, you’re going to invest in, you said you’re gonna invest in, in head count. What are the, what are some of the key roles here you’re looking to fill right now and, uh, feel free to tell our audience that you do a sales pitch for, uh, who you want to hire.
Ron Schneidermann 00:55:49 I love this. Okay. Well, we’re actually hiring for a VP of international right now and ahead of his death. No, I think, you know, for us, um, product development is the single biggest area of, of investment rice. We’re always hiring PMs, product designers, iOS, Android, front end, and back end tech leads. Um, all of it like we’re really, it’s been cool. We’ve been kind of like breaking up like this monolithic approach to product development and going to like fully staffed scrum teams where each one has like a, a PM, a product designer, a data analyst, uh, iOS, Android, front-end, back-end QA. And it’s great. Cause he’s one of his independent, fully staffed has own capacity plan has her own roadmaps, but there’s a lot of cardinality in that when you take one and then suddenly you have like 6, 8, 10 of them. Right. So each time we had to get like fully staffed, but we’re doing that right now.
Ron Schneidermann 00:56:38 We’re in the throws a bit. So that’s been a lot of fun. And then we finally find like, you know, we just hired a CMO. Um, in November she just started. And so marketing is probably like the single most underfunded, uh, department in the whole company, because again, we’ve had this great product channel fit, but as we grow globally and we need to rethink stuff. And so we’re starting to slowly fill that one out, which is great. And I’m super excited about the leverage. That’s going to come from that. Um, so yeah, we’ve got a ton of open roles right now, if anyone’s interested. So
Ethan Garr 00:57:08 Two questions on that one would be, how should they, how should, how should people find it? Yes. Should they re email you or what’s the best way to find those roles and talk to them
Ron Schneidermann 00:57:17 Directly.
Ethan Garr 00:57:19 They’re already going to be emailing you about your a VC comments. I know,
Ron Schneidermann 00:57:23 I know. Yeah, no, just go, you know, altos.com then click on careers in the, in the footer, um, check out all of those open roles or a LinkedIn page. But yeah, thanks for giving me the opportunity to Scheele a little bit or for open rec.
Ethan Garr 00:57:37 But like I also like, and I also think this has been, as we’ve asked about people, you know, our guests about who they’re hiring. I like to ask too, like, what do you see if you look at someone who’s going to be successful at AllTrails in that, you know, a year from now that they’re, they’re killing it. Yeah. They’re walking the halls and that, you’re just like, you’re the man, I’m glad we hired you. Or you’re the woman. I’m glad I hired you. What did they look like having too much ego? What, like what, what’s key in that, for, for that success,
Ron Schneidermann 00:58:06 I was just talking, we’re also looking for a head of analytics rules. So I was talking about the head of analytics candidate this morning about exactly this. I think there’s three main characters. I mean, it’s, it’s funny. Like I actually still spend a lot of time sourcing candidates myself, um, and reaching out and just like, I want the best. I want to, I want to treat myself like a conductor. I want to surround myself with musicians way better than I ever will be. Um, and so I think that there’s three main characteristics. That’s like Fenn into our culture. One is like getting the smartest people we can find, right? Just like super smart people. Cause I still consider a small who can hit the ground running on day one who bring that relevant experience. But like the, who still bring that like learner’s mindset though, and are just like hungry, like hungry to do more.
Ron Schneidermann 00:58:50 I, our, our executive team, for example, like I was never CEO until I was CEO. Our CFO here was never CFO until he was CFO or CPO and never CPO or CTO or CMO. Like all of these are first time level hires. And we do that across the board. I love, I love giving people that step up. I think there’s so much, that’s like, honestly, like I think one of our secret weapons, Hey, listeners take this. This is a good one. Give people that opportunity for that new role for the first time, like the hunger that they’re going to bring, like the attitude that they’re going to bring that chip on their shoulder, like that prove it. And then that loyalty and gratitude to you for getting that chance. It’s huge from a retention perspective and also from like an output perspective. So I love doing that, but none of it works.
Ron Schneidermann 00:59:31 You’re only gonna, you’re going to get sharp elbows and snakes in the grass. If you don’t have that layer of humility. And that’s really what like makes it all work is like, and I think we’re, you know, again, we’re fortunate, we have a very strong mission. We’re a mission-driven company and it’s all about like connection to nature and time outside. And so rallying people around that, like, it’s very easy to find the folks who are here. I don’t like the Silicon valley mercenaries. I won’t hire them. I don’t want people who are coming to all chose. Did they see our trajectory and think they’re going to get a payday, right? Like, that’s not why you should come work at Alto’s if you want to come, like be a part of what we’re building. And again, trying to get a billion people around the globe to connect to nature and all the like good downstream things that should hopefully come from that. Like, those are the people we want. Right. So is that like kind of humility, like yeah.
Sean Ellis 01:00:14 For humility,
Ron Schneidermann 01:00:16 It comes out pretty quickly. I still interview almost everyone to, it comes out pretty quickly. You can tell where me guys and people who are team guys, you know, like, do you throw your old coworkers under the bus? You talking shit about your old company? Like, are you just like, is it, I, I, me, me, me all the time, you know? Or is it like, I don’t know, like, I feel like the most humble candidates, like they actually ask a lot of questions. Um, right. Like, I think that’s important. That’s really telling when people just talk at you in an interview process for a job the whole time, it’s like, I don’t know. There’s like you just pick up on it.
Ethan Garr 01:00:46 We’ve been talking to an out for an hour. We’ve been talking to him for an hour. We’ve only asked questions. So I think we passed the test.
Sean Ellis 01:00:57 Yeah. I, I just to, uh, you know, take it back to the mission that you talked about connecting people to the outdoors. I, I tongue in cheek said in the beginning that I’m a, I’m a pretty lazy guy, so I’d never heard of it, but I’m not that lazy. I actually, I do. I, but I’m, I’m a, I’m a rut person. Like I do the same walk every single day. And when I downloaded the app, I saw people’s rating of that walk. And, uh, and I started to see there’s a lot of other walks near me, I’m in Laguna beach. So it’s a, it’s a beautiful place for lots of walks. And, and so, you know, kind of from the missing perspective, you’re, you’re one person closer to the billion and, uh, and then ultimately, you know, getting to that billion is one person at a time. But like, I think, I think it will, it will add value for me and connect me to the outdoors and, and help with the blood pressure and all the other health things then. Yeah. Uh, 50 something struggles with. And so, um, yeah, I, I appreciate that, that you’re putting the effort into what you guys are doing there. And I, um, I have no doubt that a billion people can benefit from it. And we’ll, if you guys keep doing what you’re doing.
Ron Schneidermann 01:02:02 Thanks, man. I appreciate it. I appreciate you guys both. And thanks for giving me the chance to come and talk on here for an hour or two. This was fun.
Sean Ellis 01:02:08 Absolutely. I know the listeners are going to get a lot of value out of hearing your story and there’ll be some, some good things I can take from it,
Ethan Garr 01:02:15 Coined the word, humility driven growth. Uh, but I seriously, I love it. I think that’s my favorite people to work with that. My, um, uh, humility was a, was a key characteristic and I think it’s, um, I’m not gonna claim that I’ve always had the humbleness, I should have all the time, but, uh, but I do think it’s such a great if your culture is built around that, it’s such a great, it’s such a great starting point. And just seeing how you’ve gone through the mindset, even through raising huge, huge amounts of capital, um, and kept that in focus. Uh, I I’m so impressed. I was, I was super excited to have to wait when you agreed to come on the podcast and that like, I honestly can sit here and talk for another hour if you’re up for it, we’re going to cut them off.
Sean Ellis 01:03:03 Yeah. One other, one other thing on the humility side is that I do think data really having, um, you know, persistence in and, and, uh, discipline in, in using data to, to have that feedback loop on the decisions you’re making brings a lot of humility because you realize you don’t have all the answers. All you have is the process to try a lot of stuff and the data will shake out what works and what doesn’t
Ron Schneidermann 01:03:25 Well said. Yeah. No, thank you. This was fun. I could talk. I can keep going too, but we’ll spare your listeners here.
Sean Ellis 01:03:31 Well, cut off the recording then we’ll keep going anyway. Thank you very much. And, uh, we’ll look forward to continuing to watch the success as you keep cranking away with AllTrails.
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