Zvi Band is the co-founder and CEO of Contactually, the top CRM which empowers professionals in real estate, consulting, and other professional industries to build authentic relationships. Having founded Contactually in 2011, Zvi has led Contactually to $12 million in venture backing, 75 employees, and tens of thousands of customers, including 8 of the top 20 real estate brokerages in the country. An engineer, seasoned entrepreneur, developer, strategist, and startup advisor, with unique technical and non-technical operations. Thrice named a Washingtonian Tech Titan, featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Washington City Paper, Zvi was also a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Zvi is a passionate speaker and author whose writing has appeared in Forbes, Inc., Inman News, and many other outlets. His first book, a study of relationship marketing, will be coming out with McGraw-Hill next year. He also hosts the Real Relationships podcast and has interviewed hundreds of leaders on how they built the relationships that moved their careers and businesses to the next level.
How did the concept for Contactually come about?
Early in my career, I found that the best opportunities – jobs, clients – came about via having relationships with the right people, despite being an incredible introvert. While relationships unlocked amazing things for me, I was never very good at it – constantly losing touch, forgetting to follow up, not recording details. Contactually was built as a technological approach to solve that problem.
How was the first year in business?
Hectic! As first-time founders, we were truly building a ship while it was sailing – and learning how to sail at the same time. We were hiring, raising capital, rapidly building out the product, figuring out what our marketing strategy was going to be like, etc. In hindsight, we adhered too much to the “move fast” mantra, rather than building the foundation of Contactually.
What was your marketing strategy?
Back then, it was pretty scattershot. Wherever we could find pockets of people, we would test that channel, as long as it was on a budget. We invested a lot of time – too much time, some would argue – in integrating with other products in the hope of gaining users. We did a lot of “hacky” things with SEO, influencer marketing, Quora marketing, and being sly at conferences. Two things were important though, that I am thankful for today. First, we were always testing to find paying customers, and were fortunate enough to avoid the trap of just getting as many free users as possible. Second, while we were not as methodical as we could have been regarding customer acquisition, we were relentless in our pursuit.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
I’ll say this: it took us 2.5 years to get to $1 million in revenue, and seven months to double it!
How do you define success?
I don’t adhere to one definition, but our underlying belief of success is continued business growth and remaining on course towards our overall mission.
What is the key to success?
Investing in relationships, meaning caring about our team and their personal growth, caring about our users and being neurotic about solving problems for them, caring about the industry and building deep alliances, and with our customers that they are seeing success too.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
My greatest lesson in entrepreneurship dates back to meeting one of our earliest investors for the first time. He shared the story of how Allied captains in World War II had to be very good at filtering through tons of information – discarding some, prioritizing others – to identify where to bomb a suspected German U-Boat. So too, our job as founders is to ingest tons of data, much of it conflicting, and determine the path forward for the company.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“One of the fundamental aspects of leadership, I realized more and more, is the ability to instill confidence in others when you yourself are feeling insecure.” – Howard Shultz (Starbucks)
“Don’t be humble…you’re not that great.” – Golda Meir
What are some of your favorite books?
I owe Jessica Livingston for her Founders at Work book, as it brought the founder myth down to earth for real people and showed me it was possible.
Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things reminds me that building a company is challenging, no matter what.
Geoffrey Moores’ Crossing the Chasm was the basis for the most important strategic decision that brought Contactually to today’s success.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Hard to pick one – they all blur together. I remember having multiple days early on where we would get rejections from investors. Yes, it still stings nowadays to get turned down periodically, but it’s usually for a logical reason – e.g. they don’t invest in companies in our sector or they have a conflicting investment. But in the first couple of years, where all you had was a prototype, a few employees, and a dwindling bank account, those investors seemed like lifelines, and every rejection I received felt like we were getting closer and closer to failure.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Our team tries to prime our minds, as do I, with bright spotting. As much as we may face adversity, we can still take some time to reflect on what is, or at least has, gone well in the recent past. Those challenges then become what they truly are – small stumbling blocks in our larger story. If things get really rough, I do make a practice of the opposite – running down a logical path of “what’s the worst that could happen” and what I would do in that situation. Doing that enough, things don’t sound as dark and desperate as my head may make it out to be.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Discipline and focus are the most powerful tools at your disposal.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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