Set Out to Build a Unicorn

Set Out to Build a Unicorn

Interview with Everyware CEO & Co-Founder Larry Talley.

Show Notes

Think about how easy it is to send a text message compared to making a phone call or sending a letter via snail mail. Well, what if text messages could be used by consumers to pay bills or companies to converse with customers who owe money? That’s precisely the use case addressed by startup Everyware. Using technology originally developed to help hotels and resorts communicate with travelers, Everyware is now making bill-paying as simple as sending a text message.

Everyware founder and CEO Larry Talley joined the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast this week to speak with Roland Siebelink. The two discussed Everyware’s origins, the startup’s ambitions, and everything in between:

  • Why targeting ISVs was Everyware’s ticket into different verticals.
  • How Everyware was able to create a win-win proposition for potential partners.
  • Everyware’s key to competing with internal IT departments and convincing dev teams to give up control.
  • The impact of Everyware’s goal of being a unicorn has on its fundraising needs.
  • Why Larry prefers to stay away from hiring people who have worked for a big corporation.



Roland Siebelink:Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink. I'm a scaleup ally for tech founders. This week, I am honored to have as our very special guest, Larry Talley, who is the founder and CEO of Everyware. Hello, Larry.

Larry Talley:Hey, how's it going, Roland? Nice to meet you. Thanks for having me here today.

Roland Siebelink:Very good. Very good. Everyware. Tell us, Larry, what do you do and who do you make a difference for in the world with your product?

Larry Talley:Everyware is a communication and payments platform. What that means is we use communication as a way to solve problems fast for collecting money. If you're thinking about a text message sent at the right moment or the right time, in 140 characters or less, you can start collecting. Whether it's healthcare or making a car payment or somebody that owes you money, collecting money, especially during COVID now where it's contactless and touchless, Everyware is a great way to connect and collect from your customers.

Roland Siebelink:That's awesome. How long have you been doing this? I'm assuming you were active before COVID hit the markets, right?

Larry Talley:Yeah. We have the pre-COVID and post-COVID. Actually, not even post-COVID. We're still in it, man. It's exciting technology. I originally built it for hotels and resorts about five years ago. In the travel industry, travel is considered high risk. In other words, you book your vacation, typically three or four months out. It could be for that cruise. The travel industry struggles with refunds, cancellations, and chargebacks. And what I found out working in that industry, it was just the lack of communication or the fact that I just didn't want to pick up the phone and wait on hold for 20 minutes. But if I can send a text message, that is so much easier. For the hotels and resorts, it was a great way to use text messaging to help upgrade people prior to your arrival. But also a great way to mitigate risk. And mitigate risk associated with a credit card transaction when it's not present. Think about making an e-commerce transaction. That's considered high risk. You can easily go ahead and go to your bank account and click fraud and dispute a credit card charge. And that's tough for a travel company, especially throughout COVID. Think of Everyware more or less like a crisis management platform where you're able to get a hold of your customers. You're able to solve these problems fast before they escalate. And ultimately, you help protect merchant accounts, especially for travel. Pre-COVID, it was helping companies get introduced to this new payment method. And now in COVID, you can't live without it. It sucks for a lot of companies that are really struggling throughout COVID. But it feels good; we're offering up a solution for people to pay their bills and still have a conversation with our customers in a convenient way.

Roland Siebelink:Very good. Before we go a little bit more into the product, Larry, can you talk a little bit about the history of how you got to this product? I think you said you were working in the hospitality, travel industry.

Larry Talley:Yeah. I was working in hospitality. And again, I was using it as a way to help connect with guests prior to arrival. But ultimately, what I realized is that I was solving all these issues around payments. What would it look like, especially with a name like Everyware, if I can apply this thinking to other verticals, like collecting a car payment. A lot of times - again, somebody misses a car payment, maybe they lost their job. Typically, they just send them statements or they hound them with phone calls. It's easy to just hit ignore. But somebody sent me a text message saying, "Hey Roland, sorry you missed your car payment. What's going on?" And since I asked you a question, Roland will reply back, "Hey man, sorry. I lost my job." All right. No problem. Hey, I'll give you two or three months. That type of communication. And you can apply that thinking now paying your medical bills. A lot of times, medical bills are unexpected. Nobody wants to get hit with a $3,000 or $4,000 medical bill, totally unexpected. Everyware is a great way to figure out, maybe you can't afford to pay the whole thing, but how much are you willing to pay? Can you pay greater than zero? What does that amount look like? Ultimately, we built some bot technology, implementing a strategy that gave us another layer of communication when it came to collecting money. To really figure out why somebody was going to be delinquent before they actually became delinquent. Because then nobody wins. It's exciting to see this technology. It's not just with Everyware. You're seeing it now where it was a simple appointment reminder for your doctor's office. Now it's a reminder that you owe that doctor money.

Roland Siebelink:That's amazing. You said it's primarily a bot technology, right? When we talk a little bit more about the product, how far does it enter into, let's say the back end operations to the services for the people that are at the provider, whether it be the bank or the car company or the car loan company, in this case. How do you see that? Is there a service component there as well?

Larry Talley:Yeah, absolutely. It works hand-in-hand with the call center. If you think about a call center today, it typically might have a hundred different agents. And what we found is that each agent can only take one phone call at a time. They can't talk to two people. But with a text message, you got 15 conversations cause everyone can reply on their own time. Better yet, what if you have a bot that's able to help out with the frequently asked questions. The questions that you have a pattern, that you see over and over again. You can have the bot respond. And then the agent can just jump in and actually pause the bot and continue the conversation. And the consumer really doesn't even know the difference when you're just seeing 140 characters or less come across your screen. Because everything we do, for the most part, it's highly personalized. It's, "Hi, Roland. This is Ivy." Well, Ivy's a bot. It's coming from real phone numbers, so we're not using shortcodes. So again, we're playing off of the consumer's behavior. In other words, you behave differently when you see a shortcode come across your phone. You treat it more like a one-way notification, like reply one or a C or something like that. Ours come across like real phone numbers, so you don't know the difference. And if you call the phone number that's texting you, you're going to speak to a live agent. That just plays off of your behavior. And that's the great thing about Everyware. We're able to use that behavior as a way to help people that owe money pay, make it convenient.

Roland Siebelink:Very good. Let's talk about the underlying thinking around vertical strategies. Many of the startups I talk to when they're growing and they're finding their go-to market, they're looking at verticalization. But the question I always get is: "Is this just the packaging thing?" Basically, the product marketing people can do it or do you actually have to adapt your product for each vertical and have different versions or different forks of it? What's your thinking about that?

Larry Talley:Yeah, that's a great question. My thinking behind it was there are so many companies out there. These ISVs, these technology companies that are already in all these verticals versus me going door to door to try to convince them to use our platform. Chances are, they're already with someone that needs our technology. Everyware targets the ISVs. We target the technology provider that's already providing software for the doctor's offices or the insurance or auto companies or the non-profits.

Roland Siebelink:The startups that I talk to that are considering such an indirect go-to market, often ask me two questions. One is how do I even get started? Do I have the credibility to sell my offer to one of these partners? Are they even interested in working with me? And maybe as a consequence of that also, how can I retain enough margin to keep my business viable rather than the partner walking away with the bulk of the money?

Larry Talley:Yeah, it's a great question. Everyware, we get paid on a payment transaction, so it's a win-win for everyone. And so what that means is that basically we go in, really as a credit card processor. And we're basically giving you added value that you're providing to your customers. But ultimately, when that transaction goes through, that's when we all get paid. What I found, a lot of these ISVs weren't making money off of the payment transaction. They were missing out. Not only are you providing an added value, but we're also providing new revenue. And we're talking basic points, so I get it; it has to be a lot of volume for these transactions to make sense. For us, we try to go after those high volume accounts. But again, we're doing a lot of things. Not only are we helping money get collected faster but we're reducing overhead and customer service. We're adding value. It's a win-win. We're able to help an ISV generate incremental new revenue that they weren't receiving before potentially. And again, only getting paid when a transaction goes through successfully. We offer free texting. We give away text messages and it's nothing in the scheme of things. And we'll make money when that car payment goes through.

Roland Siebelink:How do you look at your competition? You mentioned a few names there that I'm not sure you consider competitors or more component providers to you. Is this a market you have to your own or do you have heavy cut-throat competition there?

Larry Talley:Yeah, absolutely. Definitely with COVID, it flooded in competition. And the competition that mainly we're seeing is competing with the internal IT departments. That's a big one for us. They might've been texting before. It could have been reminded of somebody. Again, it's somewhat bare bones a lot of times what the companies are doing. Again, because of COVID, they had to deploy a texting solution immediately. They feel like they have a solution, but really we're finding that these are bare bone solutions that people are installing. Twilio makes it very easy to send a text message. There's no real science behind that. And it's very quick to get up and running. The science that comes down to it is how you apply that thinking within those use cases, to collect money from somebody that basically stopped paying you. With us, we look at the competition in a number of different ways. We have the payment processors. They're basically a competitor of ours. Ultimately, that's how we get paid. We look at payment processing and the companies within. And then second is looking at messaging platforms that are trying to do this, like podium, for instance. They're a messaging platform, COVID hits, "Oh, let's add text-to-pay." Now they're a competitor. I think the market's going to be flooded. Again, that's why our strategy was not to go door to door but you go after these ISVs and get there first and basically penetrate all the technology companies and make it easy for them to get up and running. And then really our second way to do it was to basically partner up with all the payment processors. We partnered up with the First Data's of the world and Pfizer and FIS and Global Payment. And we became integrated with them all, immediately. I hired a pretty solid big dev team, just focusing on integrations with all the payment processors. And we did that a year and a half ago, pre-COVID, not knowing where we are going to be today. We're agnostic, so that means that we can make money from 10 different payment processors that we have relationships for. We're able to go in and maybe we can't convince somebody to change their processor, but we know they're running on the same rails that we're already integrated with. It makes us that much easier to get up and running with them versus a competitor coming in trying to switch them. We don't have to switch them. We can keep them right where they're at.

Roland Siebelink:Very good. Talking about an internal IT department as a competitor, that's something I see with a lot of startups that try to provide an externalized service. It's always hard to convince the developers to give up the full control, if you will. How do you go around that?

Larry Talley:Myself, I've been a developer for about 20-something years now. I've been building software and I was the original developer and coder on this project. Over the years, I built up a really solid dev team that really has been with me for now well over a decade. Very loyal programmers and we've been working together for such a long time.

Roland Siebelink:But on the customer side, how do you convince them to outsource a functionality like this rather than building their own?

Larry Talley:Again, going back to the payment transaction, they're already outsourcing that already. It makes it very simple - and not simple in the sense that to get the deal. But it makes it simple in the sense that the integration is pretty standardized across the board as far as how information is being collected. There's only so much information on a credit card transaction. The one thing that we really added was that required the mobile phone number. For integration, we're able to deploy the system. Sometimes within minutes, sometimes within hours or days, but it makes it very easy, especially today with REST APIs. A lot of these plug and play components that we've built, it makes it very easy for these companies to digest. They don't have to spend months with integration. I think having a thought out API structure that makes it easy for those developers to go online, see your documentation - one example's online themselves, which they can do. Use our tool and they can see how easy it is to basically work with our APIs. And that gives the developers or the internal company comfort. Cause a lot of times you're talking to a decision maker, but ultimately they're relying on their in-house dev team for a yes or no, if this makes sense.

Roland Siebelink:It sounds like you're almost treating the internal dev team more as - positioning them more as gatekeepers, potential gatekeepers, as long as you keep them comfortable, then they will go with your solution.

Larry Talley:Exactly. For the most part, you're getting the head of product to really buy in that this is a win-win opportunity to get to market faster.

Roland Siebelink:I wanted to hear a little bit about your funding strategy. You've raised first the seed round and then a Series A, I believe two years ago. Is that something you're pursuing further or are you saying no, we're done with raising and just living off our own positive cash flow from now?

Larry Talley:Yeah, great question. In my mindset, I set out to build a unicorn, so I can't stop. And I know I'll need a boatload of a lot more money to get there. And then where's it look like if we want to go global, which we really do. We have to raise more money and some serious money. For us, as long as I continue to push the valuation up. And then for us, it's a timing thing. It was three months or six months from now, but I can tell you that window is no longer - it's not a year. At the rate that we're growing, we know within the next three to six months, we're doing a series B round. It's just the natural progression of how things are evolving. And then for us, there's a lot of money - as you see out there in the market right now - there's a lot of money. My inbox is full of every VC or private equity that's trying to get in front of me.

Roland Siebelink:Sounds good. The luxury of choice, right?

Larry Talley:Yeah, exactly. It's more strategic. I'm very much looking into their portfolio and their companies within there that can become Everyware customers and really help. That's the type of money and type of relationships that I'm working on today with the different VC partners. We're already taking a look at how are they going to help Everyware. And that kind of value to me is worth its weight in gold. That's what the real money is cause they're the ones that are going to help you get to that unicorn status.

Roland Siebelink:Can you talk a little bit about how you've set up your team? Is it still primarily engineering and product people, or is there a sizable go-to market side as well? And how are you splitting up? How are you thinking about splitting up further investments in the team?

Larry Talley:Yeah, that's a great question because even on a weekly status call, we're getting out of the mindset of being a technology-first company to becoming a sales machine. Right now, we've been so much focusing on our technology. Now it's time to really focus on our strategy to really blow this thing up in our sales and marketing. And that's what we haven't done in the last couple of years. We've been focused so much more on our technology. A lot has to do with me being a programmer for so long. And I only stopped programming 12 months ago. That was a challenge for me to release that to our dev team and get out of it myself. The mindset is now focusing on sales and marketing. That's where we're raising money. That's where we're focusing on for 2021. That mindset from technology-first to sales-first, that shift is happening right now.

Roland Siebelink:Okay. And it sounds like most of the team is still on the technology side, but you're starting to build out the sales and marketing side. Is that correct?

Larry Talley:That is correct. We're looking to hire, for instance, a head of sales. For the most part, the sales operation was being run by myself and my partner, Scott Alinsky. And now we're looking to hire a dedicated - throughout COVID, we actually made three hires and all three hires were sales. We know that we're going in that direction. But everyone previously, like you said, it's more technology or product support.

Roland Siebelink:Exactly. You've built a really strong core there, right? It is a normal step on the path toward becoming a unicorn. Absolutely. Okay. Very good. Some listeners that are hearing this, may say, "Well, I have some great experience in sales or in marketing or something similar." What makes for a good Everyware team member? What are the kind of people you select? What are the kind of people you'd rather not work with?

Larry Talley:Yeah. It's tough to take on somebody from big corporate. I can tell you that. And they call it startup grind for a reason. At this stage, especially with 25 employees, you wear multiple different hats right now. And we're trying to get away from that. But still, you're coming into a mix of where it's startup grind. You might've been hired for marketing, but you're helping out as a project manager on the tech team. To have somebody that's able to deal with that and not be like, "Oh, no, that's not my job description." Again, taking somebody from corporate, to me, unless they have that startup experience or worked with a startup before - they have to be looking for something much more in life than a job. That's what I look at. You want somebody that is a big thinker too. For us, there's a lot of input and, a lot of times, it's our team that's helping to come up with some of these ideas. They're the ones that are communicating with the ISVs. They understand the challenges in the marketplace. To really get some top-quality thinkers on our team is really what we're looking for. When it comes to the sales side of things, I think the software and the system do a good job at selling itself. But we're looking for salespeople that are hungry and driven.

Roland Siebelink:When you look at your founder journey, what would you say are some of the biggest learnings you would like to impart on founders coming right behind you that may not be quite as far in their journey yet?

Larry Talley:Yeah, definitely. It probably goes back to what I just said before about being a grind. You have to be warned to grind it out. A lot of it comes down to, I believe, willpower. The survival instincts inside of you that no matter what, you're not going to die. You're going to stay in the fight until it kills you. Just no matter what, you can never give up. You have to see it all the way through. Because you look at everyone else that came before you. Most recently, maybe even pick Elon Musk and Tesla where a year ago, this guy was the poorest guy on earth and everyone was against him. And now look at 12 months later, he's the richest company out there in the market. He's stayed persistent. He didn't get all hung up in all the noise, all the naysayers. You have to block all that out. As a founder, if you're passionate about it and you're going to put in all the effort and work, it's going to pay off. It just might take a few years. It always takes longer than you expected. When I first came up with Everyware, that was five and a half years ago. Being at the resorts, I didn't know anything about healthcare. I didn't know anything about nonprofits and churches and all that. And a name like Everyware, I was like, "Man, what am I getting myself into?" I remember my wife telling me I was nowhere. But you get through all that noise, you get through the other side of it, and you're having fun and it becomes exciting. It becomes a thrill. And that's what you're ultimately after, is that thrill ride.

Roland Siebelink:It is the journey often more than the outcome that you should focus on to keep your persistence up.

Larry Talley:Yeah. And that's what I always say, it's about the journey. I wouldn't really change anything; all those nos or all the people that kicked me out of their office. I even had Mark Cuban tell me that it was too big of an idea, tech crunch. And I'll never forget it. He was like, "Yeah, no. It's too big of an idea. It's never going to happen." That was just in the concept stage. It's good to prove people wrong. It's a good feeling. And I think that helps drive you too, is when people say no to you or turn you down in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, I think that's becomes a driving force for you to succeed even more.

Roland Siebelink:Absolutely. Absolutely. The whole point of entrepreneurship is that you see things that other people don't see, because if they did, it would already be there. If you don't get enough nos, there's something wrong with your idea too, I would say. Very good. And then the last question is, any listeners to this podcast, how can they help Everyware become even more successful? What do you need? What kinds of inquiries are you looking for? And where can they go for more information?

Larry Talley:Yeah. A lot of times, especially with your podcasts, you have a lot of entrepreneurs that are out there today, building software and all these different verticals. And if we can help them and create that win-win. Again, I'm open source in the sense that if they want to use our code for free, test things out and try it. We offer really high revenue share programs for ISVs as well. I look for that win-win. We're not a greedy company. I look to help entrepreneurs any way I can. I'm actually talking to you from Capital Factory, which is an accelerator in Austin, Texas. And I love being a part of Capital Factory and helping other entrepreneurs too. Get over some of those hurdles. My LinkedIn information, I'm very transparent. It's an open book. Happy to help other entrepreneurs with their ideas. If they want to help us, even better.

Roland Siebelink:Excellent. I understood you were hiring primarily on the sales and marketing side, so people can go to your job site as well, I'm sure. Investors that might be interested in taking part in your B Round, if you want an intro to Larry, then I'm happy to provide there as well.

Larry Talley:Absolutely, always interested.

Roland Siebelink:Excellent. Very good. Well, thank you so much, Larry Talley, founder and CEO of Everyware, such an impressive company. Thank you so much for being part of the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast.

Larry Talley:Thank you, Roland. It was great to be here.

Roland Siebelink:Thank you so much.

Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.