The following is the transcript from the recording of How TINT was Made.
Tim Sae Koo: I close the phone, and I said to my co-founders, “Guys, that was the last no, what can we do?” And the only idea that we could come up with together was to add a zero to all the prices and essentially 10x our price overnight.
Casey Franco: From Bryant Street Studios this is How TINT was Made. I’m Casey Franco. And on today’s show we’re talking with Tim Sae Koo, the founder and CEO of TINT about how the founders took an almost bankrupt startup and turned it around to become one of the most successful marketing technology companies in the world.
One of the problems with Social Media Marketing is that the content is silo’d on the social media sites. To see tweets, you have to go to Twitter. To see Instagram posts, you have to go on Instagram. But five years ago three college students at the University of Southern California had an idea that almost no one had pursued yet to humanize marketing by allowing brands to use authentic social media content created by real people. So instead of tediously creating lots of marketing material brands could now easily reuse the best content from customers on their web sites, signage, social media ads, and email newsletters.
Not only are some of the most recognizable brands in the world using TINT like Nestlé, Krispy Kreme, Atlantis The Palm, Dubai, and Stanford University but all of these advanced marketing tasks and reusing this content can be done in just five minutes. But TINT didn’t just magically appear before the founders of TINT found global success. The first product they tried to create actually failed.
Tim Sae Koo: We were actually working on a different product. Before that it was called Hypemarks.
One of my entrepreneurship classes while I was at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Casey Franco: When you were younger did you want to be an entrepreneur what was your goal when you were younger.
Tim Sae Koo: That’s funny, the story I share with my friends and anybody who asks is that when I was about five years old my mother, I remember I was in the back seat and she was driving and she turned around during a stoplight and was asking me, “Hey what do you want to be when you grow up?” You know the classic mother/son question they would ask.
And I remember I had two answers for her I said either a hotel manager or the first Asian-American president of the United States.
So after she asked me why do you want to be a hotel manager and I was telling her she was the happiest when she took us on vacations at hotels and I wanted to own one or manage one to essentially hook her up.
But when she quickly said, “Hey don’t worry too much [about her] and to focus on more so helping others or solving challenges for others,” it started to lead me to explore the world of politics. And so you know elementary school came, middle school came, high school came I was participating in running for student government all those years up to the point where I was our senior year high school president of Arcadia California.
Casey Franco: Wow, Mr. President!
Tim Sae Koo: Exactly!
Casey Franco: So now we’re back to USC you’re in this class and you’ve got this idea. What kind of made you say this was the idea you want to pursue and like how did you actually make the decision. I mean you just didn’t go get a job.
Tim Sae Koo: Right. So the class project was for one semester come up with an idea and take it as far as you could and because you were kind of like limited on time to actually like perfect an idea how I thought about it was you know what did I enjoy that time I enjoyed the Internet. Social media had just started becoming more popular and I was like I want to do something with social media with the Internet and we’ll figure something out and what came about it was Hypemarks.
And essentially it was more of a consumer Web application. You go onto this Web site and the idea is that you would have this bookmarking collection of all these link articles, videos, photos, memes whatever you like around the Internet and be able to categorize it inside our web application.
And then the only difference between us and other you know bookmark companies out there at that time was that you were going to connect your Facebook and Twitter and we would just suck in all the content, all the links, the videos that you have already shared on Facebook and Twitter and be able to automatically have this library of content that you can start to organize.
Casey Franco: And so were you working on this by yourself? What was the team like?
Right. So at this moment I was actually working on it all by myself. And so I quickly realized I needed to have some help to help me figure out how to start to build the platform. And so naturally I needed to start to design what it would look like. And my ex-girlfriend at that time was a designer, maybe you can see where this is going.
Tim Sae Koo: And at that time she would come up with some mockups or wire frames and I absolutely loved it and kept asking her for more and more help. And then naturally I started to work with her. And then after that I needed to find some developers and the two stories I can share real quickly here is of the two co-founders we still work with today.
So the first one, it was a Thursday afternoon and I was in my student government office doing my work and then a random student comes in and asks if we can plant more trees. And I said “No” and it would be like, “How can we can I petition to plant more trees?”
Tim Sae Koo: Then we talked about it and in the end I had this itch on my back to ask her if she knew any developers. And she said “I do, my boyfriend is a developer.
Casey Franco: She wanted to plant trees and you just wanted to find a developer!
Tim Sae Koo: Ha, Exactly. So she introduces me to him. And seven years later fast forward, we’re still working together.
Casey Franco: That’s awesome!
Tim Sae Koo: And the other person, I found him through a job posting ad to the university computer science center. And you know I had done this multiple times already and I was just like I want to do this one more time.
And at that moment this e-mail came back and said hey I would like to work with you. And at this time there was many people who did that. And you know many times it would be people who were just faking it. But I was like alright I’ll meet up with this guy. Turned out he’s a great guy. Turned out that we both loved boba milk tea at that time, so we grabbed a lot of that. Turned out both of us love In and Out at that time, so we both grabbed a lot of that and just got us to really bond and get to know each a lot more.
Casey Franco: So then when you’re finished school, was it a difficult conversation with your families to say you’ve just spent four years at the university and you’re just not going to get a job.
Tim Sae Koo: Yeah I remember this conversation very distinctly we were at Denny’s and I was having some pancake for dinner and my mom brought me to dinner because she was asking me, “So are you going to find a job yet,” because we had just finished school and I was like, “No I’m not and I’m going to go try this thing out that I started in this classroom project and I got some money for it and I’m going to see how far I can take it. And I’m excited about it.”
And the adviser at the accelerator had told me, “What is there to lose? There’s always a job waiting.” So at that moment I told her, and you could see maybe a little like irk or annoyance from her, but acceptance afterwards.
Casey Franco: That’s got to be a tough conversation to hear. So at what point does Hypemarks become TINT?
Tim Sae Koo: So we had finished the accelerator. We had raised some money around $350,000 at that time for Hypemarks and we were trying to work on it and then we had essentially 18 months of runway to build something and create something to then try and raise more money. So we had a time against us.
And then at that time there were so many consumer applications out. The new saying was the one million users to raise a lot of money had ballooned to around 10 million users. And so we were a consumer application and we needed to raise money because we weren’t going to make any money during this time frame. Okay. So we had 18 months and 10 million users to go for.
So we’re like, “We got this.” And we launch into the public fully in like May of 2012 and within two months we were like well we have like 5,000 users right now. We need to either figure something out that’s going to just balloon us to like million or millions of users or we’re going to have to pivot. So that’s when we decided to pivot into something else.
Casey Franco: Were there any brands that were using you at that point? Like why did you decide to just switch it like that and make it more brand focused.
Tim Sae Koo: So we had about 5000 users. And when we made the decision to have to pivot I was like OK maybe, maybe we can start to talk to our users right now and ask what do they like about the technology that maybe I can get them to pay for it. If I can get people to start paying for it. We might be able survive.
I went to some of the users and at that time we actually were luckily capturing and exciting some of these brands that were using our technology and I found their email in our database and I emailed them asking very simply, “Hey what do you like about our technology and what part of it would you potentially pay for?” And so we got some responses back.
The first one was from a celebrity management agency and mentioned that, “Hey we like your aggregation technology but we don’t like that it’s living on your website. We want it to live on our website and we have this celebrity that we’re trying to launch a new website for. And we could actually use this technology for that. But I don’t want all the other bells and whistles that you have. I just want that core technology. Can you can you do this for us?”
Casey Franco: Do you remember who the celebrity was?
Tim Sae Koo: It was 90s R&B celebrity Toni Braxton.
Casey Franco: You started to see the brands and you’re like “OK this is the place and we can make money”. Is it a simple transition from Hypemarks to TINT?
Tim Sae Koo: Yeah when I got the opportunity I told my team and my team was absolute yes. So we said let’s rethink how we can potentially build this for other celebrities at that time. We were just thinking about celebrities, we weren’t thinking about brands or anything like that. And we were like OK let’s literally strip everything away and restart.
And so we restarted and that’s when we had to you know figure out what our new name was. I remember that was one of the first things we w ere thinking about what will we call our new company.
Casey Franco: So where does TINT come from?
Tim Sae Koo: Yes so we were sitting around a roundtable and we were like OK whatever we do we want it 4 letters now. And we wanted it so that no one can mispronounce it or misspell it. Because at that time it was Hypemarks, and what the heck was Hypemarks. Everyone if anything kept saying Hype(r)marks and it was like nails on a chalkboard. So we’re like OK listen let’s work with themes here.
And we stumbled upon a theme of colors, and then hues of color. And then we landed on this one word, TINT. And I was like ha that has a little ring to it. It’s abstract enough but simple enough, 4 letters and we were thinking maybe we can change the story to be like you, “TINT your website, you add a TINT to your website to make it look cooler like you tint your windows on your car to make you cooler. Maybe it is a correlation there. And so we ran with it.
Casey Franco: So at this point you mentioned you have 18 months of runway $350,000. Now you’ve just pivoted. How much time do you have left to make it successful before you’re just out of money?
Tim Sae Koo: So at that moment we had about maybe 11 or 12 months left after that 18 months. We spent six months already. And the race was against the clock and we had to either go raise more money or figure out how to make enough money to survive. So you know we started to look at ways to monetize the application while we looked for more celebrity management agencies and brands. And so we started looking for partnership opportunities and distribution opportunities and we found one that was very very helpful.
It’s a website builder and essentially I thought, “What if we can attach our TINT product to their builder so that when someone is just about to purchase the website and they don’t know what to put on there put their social media within it.
And so I pitched them they really liked it and we got instant distribution to millions of users overnight. This was December 11th 2012.
Casey Franco: Millions of users overnight! Are you rich? How does it change your financial state?
Tim Sae Koo: We weren’t millionaires and billionaires as we had hoped. But what it absolutely helped us do was build the confidence that we actually had something valuable for other users and other customers to use. So we started seeing a lot of websites pick this up and use it and put us on their home page, put us on there on their second page, and we were like, “Oh my god they’re dedicating so much real estate to our product. That feels amazing.”
So at that time we hadn’t even started charging because we were more so worried if we had built something helpful for people to use. And so at that time we were maybe around eight months of runway left and this was now in January of 2013 where I’m like, “Alright we either have to go start charging or we have to go raise some money.”
Tim Sae Koo: So I was like I don’t know how to charge you money right now. So I think I know how to raise money because I raised a little money before. Let’s go try to raise some money. So we’re thinking OK maybe we need about maybe a million or two million dollars and it will drag us out. Give us time for another maybe 12 to 18 months and we’re going to figure this out.
We’re going to learn to sell and grow this. And so I have found about 14 different investors to go talk with and within about a month and a half, all 14 had said no. And when the last NO came in through the call, I closed the phone and I said to my co-founders, “That was the last no. What can we do?”
And the only idea that we had come up with together was to add a zero to all the price pages. And essentially 10x our price overnight.
Casey Franco: So overnight you just 10x your prices?
Tim Sae Koo: Just 10x our prices.
Casey Franco: So you can’t raise money, you 10x your prices. You’re either going out of business or people stay. So what happens.
Tim Sae Koo: So we at that moment when the last NO came in and we decided to 10x our prices we had about four months of runway left. And so it was time to kick into hyper gear. And I was “XYZ brand, this is who’s using us, this is how much it costs.” Even though in my mind I was like, “I think I’m overcharging you.” But in their mind they aren’t seeing it that way. They need to see it from what value it brings them.
And so slowly but surely we started selling plans for like $500 a month or even a $1000 a month.
And then at least 15-30 clients started purchasing it and within two months after we had made that change we broke-even and at that moment when we broke even that was about $20,000 of expenses a month. And we had just two months of runway left $40,000 in the bank.
Casey Franco: So you go from almost out of business to breaking even with the trajectory to just keep making money. Are you hiring? What’s next?
Tim Sae Koo: So at that moment I was like look we can probably do this because now we have technically infinite runway. So I was like OK let’s see if I can keep replicating this and if I can let’s start to maybe hire somebody.
So I kept selling it we were almost making around $30,000/month a couple of months right after that. And remember when I told you we had launched with that website builder? One of the users liked the product so much that she e-mailed us and asked if she could work with us and sell with us.
And at that moment I was like wow that is awesome serendipity that a user who loves their products so much wants to actually work with us and sell with us. So yes let’s interview you. It worked out. She was our first director of sales. And by the end of the first year up til December of 2013 at that time, we were making around $80,000 a month up to then. So from $0 in the beginning of January 2013 to December 2013 we went from zero to $80,000.
Casey Franco: This all seems like everything’s all happy and everyone is smiling but were there any times in the year that things went wrong. Tell me some of those.
Tim Sae Koo: Yeah, there was something very, very wrong that really hurt myself a lot which was, remember that that ex-girlfriend? I had asked her to work with design. She was still with us working with us and when we broke-even, it was unfortunately a bittersweet moment where that was the day that we decided we wouldn’t be able to stay together and have to break up and part ways. So we lost a co-founder and a girlfriend at that time on the same day in that year.
Let’s just say that the two co-founders that we are still working with today were there with me and I could absolutely just lean on their shoulders and help me through some of the challenging days.
Casey Franco: So how old are you at this point?
Tim Sae Koo: Maybe around twenty three.
Casey Franco: Twenty three. You’re a 23 year old. Your company is making thousands and thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars every month. What are you doing with that money and how do you know what to do with it? What’s your next step here?
Tim Sae Koo: Yeah I was first and foremost looking at our bank account and I was like wow I’ve never seen this much much and it’s amazing. And at that time it was like you know a couple hundred thousand dollars in the bank account but then we were like, look we can either sit on this money or we can use it to see how much we can continually grow. So we’re like OK let’s start to grow the team because we had actual money to start hiring more developers and start hiring more sales people.
And look we might need some support people too. So in January we brought on two people February we brought on another two people and then March and April brought up one person each month. So at that time starting from four people we had all of a sudden build into like 10 people within the first three months of 2014.
Casey Franco: You’re 23 years old managing a team of 10. Did you even know what to do?
With my limited leadership knowledge in a school setting for student government, I never really thought of it like could I manage that. And how do I how do I lead them. It was more so just acting myself. And at that time myself was look we have this opportunity to build something and if something’s working cause it’s growing.
Let’s just have fun and keep seeing what we can do here. So that’s the kind of culture I really started with and started like just instilling with everybody like look we’re here and this is a rare opportunity. Let’s be grateful and humble about it. But let’s not you know take it for granted. And so everybody when it’s time to work get to work and help each other out. And when it’s time to like relax and you know go on life live and enjoy a little bit of time to do so as well. So that was kind of like my management style, ever since the beginning.
Casey Franco: You seem like a down to earth guy and you talk about you know the culture you built. I’ve read lots of things online about the culture. So what was it about you or starting a company that made you focus so much on this culture. Because you know you hear startups all the time that go out of business because co-founders feud or just because people are harassed wherever may be like what what do you do with the culture that keeps people happy in your company.
Tim Sae Koo: So the main reason why I’m so investing cultures especially in the beginning and as we kept growing was probably because like I wanted to have a place that would be like that and now this was my opportunity and almost my responsibility to see if this could work and potentially inspire others and I would say I’m pretty lucky that I haven’t been jaded or haven’t been exposed to other company cultures because this was my first job.
I was you know quite lucky that I might have been ignorantly blind in this case but it also has a positive side of it. I saw it as my opportunity to just do what I wish or think would be a really great environment. And so that’s sort of been my North Star guiding me throughout you know creating culture within the company. And up till today I would say that that’s still one of the main things why people stay in our company and people enjoy their time there.
Casey Franco: What would you say is the most defining part of your company culture that sets you apart?
Tim Sae Koo: So it was in our retreat, our first retreat, in 2014 when we had just brought on you know about five to six people at that time. And when one of the one of the team members was like, “Hey we should come up with some company culture values.” And at that time I was like oh that’s just things on the wall that you paint on it or stickers. What does that actually mean? And when she educated us about it, the co-founders and the other employees were like that makes a lot of sense. These are sort of how we see that these are guiding principles to follow. When you’re lost or you don’t know how to make a decision.
And so I was like absolutely yes, let’s do this. And I think they were looking at me being like, “OK I’m going to come up with all of them.” But naturally because I’ve never done this before and I’ve never been in another company before I was like, “All right so guys what do you guys think we should we should use we should have as a company values.”
That was one of the defining moments of like it was just so natural for me to bring everyone in to participate in creating the foundation of the company. And we came up with our first five core values at that moment and we’ve been following you ever since learning that.
Casey Franco: That’s impressive I give you a lot of credit here. I read a lot about how you’re very transparent. Everyone knows everyone’s salary. Congratulations. I think it’s a pretty big deal.
So at this point, who are some of the big companies that really stood out and helped you grow?
Tim Sae Koo: You know the first big one I remember was Nasdaq out in New York and they had come to us because they we want social content on our big jumbotron in Times Square and were wondering if that was possible. And we’re like yes we can do it. We couldn’t actually really do it at that time. But like yes we can do it. And so we quickly cranked it out and delivered to the customer and they were like, “Wow we like it.” And so they displayed it and we leveraged that and they took a photo and then shared it with us and we were like whoa this is amazing. We realized that our technology now not only could be displayed across many different websites but right in Times Square.
So we think let’s now use this and start convincing other companies and other brands and other organizations out there and we saw slowly but surely we started getting some interest from universities. This one was North Eastern University as one of our earlier educational clients there.
And so that opened up other universities like all around the United States and even in Europe. We had the NBA teams as well utilize our technology we have sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys using our technology and then we still have some celebrities using our technology like Enrique Iglesias.
Casey Franco: So right before the break, we heard how Tim and his growing team have taken their profitable startup global and it seems as if everything is just going to keep on going right. But as you know the bigger company means more responsibility.
Tim Sae Koo: We didn’t even know we would get this big hand. And we got that big. And we’re like, “Wow what else to do here.” And we started thinking like, “Wow maybe there is something that we can really grow here something to take to the next level.” And that helped us realize that we weren’t just a scrappy start up you know in a garage anymore.
We were a company that had you know people that needed the paycheck to live their lives and we were responsible for that. And a lot of customers were relying on are are not technology.
Casey Franco: That’s a lot of responsibility for you to handle. So where are you able get this inspiration to keeping it going?
Tim Sae Koo: The inspiration was mainly along the lines of curiosity. Curiosity to see how far we can take this. And so that was the main driver. And you know, I’ll tell you there was a lot of stress because there was bickering there was questioning challenges confusion people angry at each other and I was trying to put all the fires out and it almost burnt me out very quickly, where you know I was trying to get some work done and then so-and-so would come to me and be like so-and-so was treating me this way and it felt like I was almost a parent sometimes.
And it just kinda showed that I wasn’t ready to start to grow this company so quickly and I didn’t have any management experience to really understand sort of how to manage all of that.
Casey Franco: Was that a time when you had to find other people to help you or how do you get through that?
Tim Sae Koo: So we started actually hiring like older people that were just more experienced, more mature, who had gone through experiences like this and started to naturally evolve our team’s age, but also maturity overall.
Casey Franco: And did you have any bad hires at that point or was there anything that might set you back in that year that you wish you wouldn’t have done?
Tim Sae Koo: So this was in 2015 and you know at this time we were still growing well and actually we hadn’t fired anybody necessarily because we were kind of afraid or even I was just kind of afraid to let people go.
And one of our reasons was like oh because we have so many profits that are getting taxed, let’s go hire more people. We got up to like close to 30 people by the end of 2015 or even like 35 or something like that, so 20 to 35. And I remember one more moment. I was like, “Oh I didn’t 2x or 4x the team this year. I only 1.5x it.”
Casey Franco: So in 2014 you 5x, in 2015 you 1.5x. Does this keep going? At what point do you know plateau or level off if you do.
Tim Sae Koo: So this was now late 2015. We had one and a half X that and at that moment we were like, “Look we either have some serious potential to grow this into something big or we’re just going to sit around and maybe not do anything about it.” And so there was this itch in our back to answer the question. So we were thinking about potentially fundraising again because we wanted to grow even faster. We had done well 2014 did well in 2015. We’re like we can totally do it again.
Casey Franco: What did you want to grow faster to do?
Tim Sae Koo: We want to grow faster so that we can beat out our competitors.
Casey Franco: So then you have to make the decision are your going to fundraise or are we not.
Tim Sae Koo: So we decide to want to fundraise or think about fund raising and we started thinking, “Okay if we’re going to fund raise we need materials ready.” So we started getting it ready.
And during all this time we’re preparing to start to fundraise. In my mind I was like I don’t think we’re ready. I there’s something that doesn’t feel right.
I don’t know what it was. So we had said like OK were we looked at all the numbers we collected all the data we were going to make a case to start fundraising.
And then you know we had a conversation a very deep conversation with some of the members who are stakeholders and we feel like we have enough money to figure this out ourselves.
And I feel that we haven’t proven out how to put $1 into a machine and get $2 out kind of formula that VCs are venture capitalists look for when they want to raise your next round of funding. So then I was saying, “Hey I think we should do it with our own money.”
And so we have a good amount in the bank and decide to just start hiring.
Casey Franco: So instead of fundraising you’re not going to get any more money, now you’re going to spend more money.
Tim Sae Koo: Yes let’s attract and hire people.
To hire more people, to try to sell more, and then get more money, and then go hire more, to go sell more. Kind of like this repeatable machine that was obviously painted in my mind. So we’re thinking OK let’s do that. Now an interesting challenge arose at that time though we were about 30 people at the end of 2015 like I mentioned but it’s our current office space at that moment cannot hold all 30 people realistically. And the problem was that there was only one bathroom in that office. 30 people with one bathroom.
So we decided to go look for a new office. We were thinking about why size of office and where do we want it. And we had gone through so many office choices and then landed on one. But the challenge with this one was that it was so nice and it was like perfect like rent and great neighborhood. But as I always says it’s always too good to be true.
The office landlord required a 10 month deposit on the place and it was essentially almost 4-5x our current rent price at that time.
So you can see where this is going trying to go hire more people and move into an office with a fat deposit and a large fixed expense.
And so we started into 2016 like “everything’s great”. We’re moved into a new office where I have this great hiring plan to go execute on and, “We can do it all ourselves because 2014 worked and 2015 worked again…and it started falling down.
Casey Franco: Just like back when you had 2 months of runway left.
Tim Sae Koo: It felt a little like that. Where we were starting the race against time again.
I remember we were doing a speaking opportunity and we had started talking, me and the co-founders, about like, “Oh no there’s a large burn rate happening right now.” Burn rate is when you lose more money than you’re making.
And we maybe have seven months of runway until the bank account was ZERO. And I was like, “Are you kidding me? How is that possible?”
We figured out how to make a million dollars a year the first year of our company. We figured out how to go five times our team. We figured it all out. “How is it that now in seven months everything is just going to start to fall down?”
And I was so scared and even when I think about it, it gives me those chills.
So anyways you know me and the co-founders were like, “OK let’s look at our numbers.” And then it does validate that we have about seven or eight months of runway left.
We’re burning about maybe a $100,000, $150,000, even sometimes $200,000 a month and we had still been hiring people at that time because we had a hiring plan. So then one night on a Sunday night, me and the co-founders, we met up figured out a plan, and the plan forced us to realize that the only way to cut expenses as deeply as we needed upwards of $100,000-$150,000 a month would be to do layoffs.
Casey Franco: And you hadn’t had to let anyone go at this point.
Tim Sae Koo: And we sucked at letting people go if we had to let people go.
And so you can imagine like we had to put all the names on the board and look at everybody’s name and assess very closely and very carefully if we believe that this person was actually someone we needed for the company to add value. To give us a shot at growing and get out of this situation or not.
And so we spent hours debating the whole day’s Sunday debating and at nighttime we figured out the six that we were going to let go.
And we had to now prepare for how we were going to deliver that the very next day.
Casey Franco: So this is just decided in one night.
Tim Sae Koo: Over one whole day on the weekend.
Casey Franco: Oh man.
So the next day you’re at this new office. You just get to go in and tell six people that they don’t have a job anymore? Everything seemed good until then and now it’s just…
Tim Sae Koo: That’s absolutely true. We got in early in the morning we had a text or email the employees that they had to come in a little bit early to talk. And then we had to deliver the news. And when they heard the news they were very confused because we had barely let anybody go before at that time and to me there was always a lot of talk that we were doing really well. So it didn’t make any sense to them. You know we showed them the numbers we showed them what was happening. They realized that we were telling the truth. And so when that was done, now we had to tell the whole team.
Casey Franco: I can’t imagine. That can’t be a good thing either, as someone who didn’t get laid off. Although you’re happy you still have a job, at the same time, now your company is failing.
Tim Sae Koo: Yes. I cannot sleep that Sunday night right before that Monday morning because of how I thought people would react and hate me.
And so when I had to go up to the team and tell them that hey we aren’t doing that well this is happening. If we do not make this change right now, or if we did not make this change right now, we would have seven months of runway left. We would all be out of jobs and everything we had worked and poured our heart and soul into would be burning down to the ground. And so I told them and then realize that a lot of them were very shocked and very scared and sad and a little fearful as well.
Casey Franco: And so after this it’s obviously a tough time for the company, but do things pick up after that?
Tim Sae Koo: You know when they saying, “When things go up, they must come down.” This kept going even more down.
Casey Franco: Oh no.
Tim Sae Koo: It kept going even more down.
And the first problem was morale was at an all time low grade. So I had to spend a lot of my days picking people up telling them what was going on and show them that we can do it while at the same time like doing my own work and try to keep the company alive and flowing.
Essentially it almost was like trying to hold on the airplane control to pick it back up and it was kind of diving downwards.
So that was challenge number one.
Challenge number two decided to come up a few days or weeks after. It decided to show up on my doorstep via email stating that we were infringing on a software patents.
I’m not going to say names. I’m not going to give my opinions on this but essentially we were being potentially litigated for infringing on a patent.
So I had this situation now up here on my doorstep while trying.
To bring the airplane back up at the same time.
Casey Franco: So nothing is going right at this point.
Tim Sae Koo: But that that’s not even the worst, let me tell you. That’s not even the worst.
Casey Franco: Did you fix [the patent issue]?
Tim Sae Koo: Not until we had to figure out all these other things that were happening. So remember that office we had that had 30 people with that one bathroom. When we moved out we had to sublet it to someone else and we sublet it under the premise that they were able to build a new bathroom there. So like, “Sure take it. Do what you want with it. We have the approval from the landlord.”
So they are building a bathroom and spend like $20,000 on it and then all of a sudden I get a phone call saying, “Why is the city not allowing us to to do any more construction. Why is it that they’re telling me that the office is not zone properly for offices.”
And I was like, “Wait what, what’s going on? What are you saying? I have no idea. I’m not a real estate lawyer. I don’t know anything about real estate.
And so quickly realized that our office previous office was not zoned properly that’s why the city was blocking the construction of the new bathroom which then pissed off the subtenant. So much so that they wanted to litigate us for false advertisement on telling them that this was an office space when it was not zoned for offices.
And then I was like, “Please have no more situations come up.” And then another one showed up which was essentially, our expenses were still like flying off the roof. Even though we cut expenses off we had too many expenses of trying to get an office space and I was visually trying to pull the airplane back up.
So you had all these situations start to come around on me. And I remember very clearly that the summer of 2016 the first day of summer in June was when I was smiling. And the very next memory I have was in September when the last day of summer had passed.
Casey Franco: You’re memory had just blanked.
Tim Sae Koo: Just blanked trying to figure out all of these situations.
Casey Franco: So then September when your memory comes back, are you pulling the plane back up?
Tim Sae Koo: Yes. Yes we are starting to pull the plane back.
Casey Franco: And what was the main driver for that? What was the first good thing that happened after that?
Yes so the main things were figuring out all the situations with morale, the “patent infringement” situation, the subtenant situation after I was able to figure that out and that’s the whole story by itself, I was able to focus on growing the company again.
Tim Sae Koo: Being the CEO.
Casey Franco: Focusing on making sales, focusing on making partnerships, focusing on watching our expenses and making sure we’re making money again. And by around the fall of 2016 we were able to be profitable again but in a very small amount that didn’t allow us to truly get out of the woods yet.
Casey Franco: How many employees do you have at this point?
Tim Sae Koo: I would say about 30 from 38.
Casey Franco: So you’re at 30 after the layoffs. But you still have thousands of clients around the world, a couple international offices at this point.
Tim Sae Koo: Correct.
Casey Franco: And [TINT is] making millions a year. What’s next for the company?What’s your your vision for the company to make sure that people are continually growing.
Tim Sae Koo: Yes. So after that whole situation of the summer of 2016 the whole lay off situation. 2016 was just a bad memory.
But you know one thing I remember at the end of 2016 is, at the end of every year I sort of take time to reflect on how the year was done; How I performed, how I did. That specific one, this was only 7-8 months ago, was trying to understand what the heck happened last year.
If there was something or someone trying to tell me something, they definitely did that with all the problems that compounded. So I started to like really think about, what was the lesson learned here? What was the takeaway here? And the main thing that I took away was that out of all these situations that occurred, I’m glad they occurred.
I’m glad they occurred because it forced me to really understand what it takes to build a company. It helped me understand how to like figure things out. It build a lot of confidence in me. But through that through that experience one thing I started to pick up a lot was how to take care of my mental health a lot more. And one of the main practices that I still practice today for the last year year and a half, is a lot of meditation.
And so because I was able to meditate more, reflect more, and think more I was able to see this whole new perspective of, “Look everything needed to happen for a reason. Everything occurred because it needed to teach me something. So what next can we do with this?” And so in the beginning of 2017 I was talking to the co-founders and we were kind of burnt out from 2016. We had already dedicated maybe four or five years by this time to the company and realized OK let’s think about what’s in the future.
Casey Franco: So, what is the future? Well even since this recording quite a bit has happened. TINT is in the process of increasing their team size by 25 percent in the next couple months while also expanding even further in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and Africa.
Forecasts are showing they are on track to hit the coveted $10 million annual revenue in the next couple of years. Not only that they’re about to release a new product and new enterprise features which will make it even easier to display authentic user generated content into every part of the customer journey.
So if you’re a brand looking for a new innovative way to interact and convert customers you should give the folks at TINT a call.
If there is one thing I was most impressed with when talking with Tim, it was in how he and his young team solved some pretty big problems in the past and his approach for continuing that in the future.
Tim Sae Koo: If anything approaching these these challenges a lot more mindfully a lot more intentionally and kind of see every situation that comes our way as an opportunity to learn and just get better at.
Casey Franco: Tim Sae Koo is the co-founder and CEO of TINT. And these days when he’s not at the office he spends his time on mindfulness and traveling the world.
And if you’re ever wandering through the streets of San Francisco and you see a guy wearing a necklace with an owl on it chances are it’s probably Tim. Now out of curiosity after the show I was trying to find out how many Fortune 500 companies had used TINT. And when I was researching I actually discovered that 40% of Fortune 50 companies had actually used TINT for their marketing efforts. Pretty impressive.
I’m Casey Franco from Bryant Street Studios. And thanks so much for listening to How TINT was Made.