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YAC Chat: Happy Accidents in Filling Market Needs with Jordan Walker, Justin Mitchell, and Hunter McKinley

October 4, 2019

Have you been waiting for a program that can help you and your team communicate more effectively?

YAC is an audio-first messaging platform that helps you talk faster and build stronger relationships with your remote team. Jordan Walker, Justin Mitchell, and Hunter McKinley, Co-Founders and Managers of YAC, developed this computer software specifically to help make communication easier and more efficient for small teams. YAC doesn't require links, meetings, or schedules. The hassle-free program is just what you need to achieve your career goals with ease. Not only is this amazing software program picking up traction, YAC was also the winner of the 2018 Product Hunt Makers Festival.

Learn more about how YAC Chat can improve company communication by listening to this episode of The Thoughtful Entrepreneur above and don’t forget to subscribe on   Apple Podcasts – Stitcher – Spotify –Google Play –Castbox – TuneIn – RSS.

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[toggle title='Read the Transcript' state=‘closed’ icons=‘fontawesome-plus/fontawesome-minus’ margin_top=‘20’ margin_bottom=‘20’] 0:01
Welcome to the thoughtful entrepreneur show, I'm Josh Elledge, founder and CEO of up my influence.com, where we turn entrepreneurs into media celebrities, grow their authority, and help them build partnerships with top influencers. So we believe that every person has a unique message that can positively impact the world, even you stick around to the end of this show, where I'll share info on how you could be our next guest, three times a week, five to 15 minutes each learn from successful business owners and professionals, it's time to get inspired. Let's go. Right? So with us right now, we've got Jordan Walker, Justin Mitchell, and hunter McKinley. And you guys have an interesting story. But I don't know that it's entirely unique. Because this sort of thing can absolutely happen in business where, you know, and we kind of have a similar story here, where you're kind of trucking along, businesses good, you're doing a good thing. And then in the process of just serving your clients or, you know, growing your business, you stumble upon a big need that needs to be fulfilled, maybe it's internally, maybe it's something that your clients keep asking for. And you're like, you know, we could actually solve this need we, you know, I don't see anything in the marketplace. and shoot, let's just do it ourselves. And so that's kind of the story. So, so friendly. You guys were were operating an agency, is that right?

Yeah. So you know, I have my background in startups. This is Justin, by the way, and I have my background. And startups have been working for different companies over the years and so friendly kind of spun out of my last startup as this kind of call to action to other companies to build things that are user first customer first building features that people actually want and need and asked for. And so what's great about so friendly as well, of course, like you said, we're doing client work that kind of has that same ethos of being customer first, a lot of times when we build our own products, and we have a couple of their products that we've spun out before, we have a VR prototyping solution called rooms that I just got back by Adobe, and envision. And we have a discount and deal site called syrup. syrup. com, that's just discounts for startups and entrepreneurs. So we've been doing this for a while where we will find a need, see kind of a hole in the marketplace and fill it with something amazing and easy and free. And that's kind of where Yak came from as well.

Hey, wow. So you guys own get syrup? Com?

We do. Yeah, so syrup is discounts for just startup things, right? So design software, time tracking, software, accounting, software, all of that. That's, you know, things that every startup and company needs. And so we wanted to make sure that that was accessible to everybody.
So how do I get my business? Was there or anybody else?

Yeah, absolutely. Anybody can just contact us via the site, there's a contact form. And we have people all the time just saying, hey, we'd like to add a coupon code to the site or link and Yep, we're regularly adding things to that all the time. We'll get you on there.

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that's wonderful. Yeah. Because we do, you know, we're always, you know, how we start how we started up my influences, just because we were really trying to serve the earlier stage startup community, lot of pro bono stuff, just, you know, offering services, you know, completely free, just as a way, because it's like, once, once you get success, it's like, you know, it's you don't want to do it alone. You want to help that next generation. And, you know, I think like, we all have an obligation to kind of help those community. So wonderful. Let's see seems like syrup would be really appeal to that earlier stage startup. And I see things like you've got that the Zendesk one for year, which boy, we had that for a year, that was a real hookup.

Yeah, definitely. We're just trying to fill it with anything that can help a startup. And, you know, there's different types of tools that will build along the way and Yak chat became one of those tools. We saw this need in the marketplace for a way for companies and our clients and customers to stay out of meetings, but still feel connected. And that's kind of a partially remote team ourselves. We wanted to build something that scratch our own itch, and we could use internally. I love it,

love it. Very cool. See, that's why I love podcasting. Man, you meet new, you meet new people, and you discover cool things that you can absolutely use. So Alright, so you guys are trucking along with so friendly, and then tell me where Yak came about and how that happened.

So November of last year product on had a makers Festival, which is kind of like a online hackathon. They give you a subject matter and a couple tools to be successful. And they say, hey, build something in one of these, say, five categories. And one of those categories was remote work. So you know, as soon as that category came across us, we just knew exactly what we were going to build. I'm not even quite sure why it was so obvious. But the first thing that came to our minds was walkie talkie for your remote team. You know, we've seen success in the past with like other companies, especially mobile apps that did this kind of walkie talkie feature. But nothing was really built for the kind of slack centric teams that exists today, these desktop laptop nomads, the guys sitting in coffee shops, or the dude that just works on the beach, everything was more geared towards like a construction crew or like a sales team. But nothing for that, like 15 person remote work team. So we wanted to take that concept and kind of revitalize it for today's remote workforce. And yeah, over Thanksgiving break, we built kind of a quick prototype of this. At the time, it was actually real time talking. So it was walkie talkie, but just kind of click to talk. And instantly your voice was coming out of the other person speakers. And we released that as part of our submission for product makers festival. And the reaction was really awesome. The community really loved it. We ended up winning the makers festival in our category. We were mentioned in product guns newsletter, they did a write up on us and their blog. So the reaction was really kind of what gave us this thought of Wow, maybe we should take this a little bit further than a weekend project. And as we kind of added updates to it did some additional kind of smoothing around the edges, new brand image new colors, new logo, we slowly turned it into its own product.

Wow. Was it I mean to develop this product? Was that completely within your your skill set? I mean it did it. Were you able to do all this internally?

Yeah. So

what's great about an of the technology that we built it on is we used a lot of off the shelf stuff, specifically for the hackathon. We wanted to use things that gave us a really great shortcut. And so we were using kind of existing frameworks, things like talk box, which just kind of give us voice communication right out of the box that we don't, you know, manually code that. But yeah, I mean, that's what we do. That's that's what our team is exists for is not only just the development side of things, but kind of the innovating side of things will take an idea and turn it into a fully polished product, not just from a development perspective, but also from a business perspective.

When you were kicking around like, Wow, there, there seems to be some interest here, like this could be a thing was there, the voice in the back of your head is like, Dude, this is really going to take us off target. I mean, we you know, every you know, we're really laser focused on this other stuff. Did you have that voice? And if so, how do you respond to that?

Yeah, I think for us, it was less being taken off target and more of a you know, I don't know, for the other guys here, but for me, it was I had had no plans on doing another startup. Yeah. I think I think going into it, Josh, yeah, we all just thought it would be this fun little thing that we kind of did on the side. And we can look back and say, Hey, that was a cool thing we did. So at the time, to Justin's point, I don't think that was at the forefront of any of our thoughts. It was just kinda like a, and we'll see what happens. You know, we had a stable business, right. So friendly, it's doing well and has pretty stable flow of clients right now. We just helped open up a water park here locally. So we're doing a lot of stuff. And we have, you know, a pretty, pretty steady flow of work coming in. And so to derail that, all of a sudden to shift focused or startup is, is definitely not in my plans. But I don't know if you want to talk about what happened next that kind of made that that happen. 8:47 So when you say What do you mean, open water? Which we're both here in Orlando. What was the water park and what happened there?

Yeah. So we were lucky enough to be part of a 9:00 local theme park attraction over in which one? Yeah, it was the Margaritaville Island. h2o.

Wow. Nice. Nice. That's a good gig.

Yeah, yeah. So that was, you know, the majority of our life for many, many months, probably like the last year, I would say, to be honest.

So what to Justin's point, though. So between that, and then you know, all the other projects that we had going on? Yeah, we had no plans on doing another startup. So like a crazy turn.

So where are you at with the act now? Like, what does the next six to 12 months look like for you guys? Because you're definitely starting to attract a lot of attention.

Yeah, I mean, we were fortunate enough in January to get some interest from some investors and kind of take that scrappy little side project that spun out of so friendly into an actual company, we're Incorporated, we have a full preseason funding that we've gone through with three investors who are really awesome. And, you know, really promoting the product and helping us get it to where we needed to be. We've launched man, I don't know, Hunter, probably 50, new updates to the app. You know, since then,

yeah, we're constantly updating it. So I mean, just within the next six to six months to a year, I mean, we keep getting this question asked. But the problem is that the the app keeps changing, we keep getting feedback, and we're changing it constantly. And you know, we're thinking about maybe even getting our seed round, within the next year. But as a 1am, this morning, Justin just pushed it another update live. So every updates, not only fixing bugs, but also incorporating the feedback that we're getting. So as of today, we have a full release that we can release to our closed beta users. So today is actually a really big day for us. Because after, after this podcast, we're actually going to be testing it thoroughly, and releasing it to closed beta list, which is about 200 teams at this point.

And what's great is, you know, coming out of so friendly, and as I talked to the beginning of this, kind of the importance of building user first products, building things around your customer, instead of what you think is cool. That's, you know, to Hunter's Point, that's why it's changing so much, right, because we've made assumptions on what is good, you know, user experience, or what a good feature is, then we put it out in the world, we get some feedback from our, you know, testers, whether that's an investor or a user. And you know, we polish it, and we tweak it, and we add or remove a feature based off of their feedback. And that's why it's constantly evolving. And what's awesome is we've had some really great opportunities recently, will be integrating with bows, and their new AR platform that they've put on their brand new 700 series headsets, will be adding that to the mobile app. So we're launching a brand new mobile app version of yak, we're now on both Mac and Windows, there's just so much growth, what's happening, kind of on the software side of things. And in terms of kind of growth as a company, you know, we've hired two more engineers, we're continuing to expand kind of the team that way. We're onboarding new customers, we get a new team signed up, you know, every couple of hours on the site. So we've got a steady flow of people coming in requesting access, it is invite only right now. Yeah, and one of the cool things is we're, you know, trying to keep this this group really tight during this kind of testing period. So we can get that feedback. And when we initially do our launch, you know, it'd be as what we would consider as perfect as we can get it to be. Yeah.

So this is a synchronous voice communication. Why isn't that? I mean, I thought there was, what's the difference between this and like, walkie talkie? And are there other solutions out there?

Yeah, I think the biggest thing is expectations. So while we were actually building the original walkie talkie version of this, it was, hey, I need to Yak you can i Jackie, right now I need, you know, talk to you, oh, I'm busy, I have a meeting. And in a meeting, I'm going to be in a meeting in five minutes. Sorry, I'm trying to focus whatever that might be. There was always this like mismatch of expectations, it was like I need to talk to you, but you're not available. And so I can't get ahold of you, and vice versa. And so with full asynchronous, versus kind of the walkie talkie and the ability to listen to that message, whenever I want to even save the message and come back to it later, play and pause. It allows me to kind of communicate on my time on my terms. And what's awesome about that is that for me, as a speaker, I get to say what I want when I want how I want, right, I get to use my voice, even if you're not available. And then on your end, you get to listen, reply, take your time, on your own time. So instead of letting kind of our calendars and our schedules disrupt our lives, we're letting them just kind of sit there. And as you need to communicate you can and you're not dependent upon somebody else's availability.

Yeah. What? How do you still in your SWOT analysis, obviously, one of the threats is slack could just all of a sudden just add this to their platform. Like, yeah, you how do you build a company that addresses that?

Yeah, so the biggest thing there is really, really leaning into voice and audio as our niche, right. So slack has their power play. And it's data right now, all of your company's data runs through Slack, right? Your integrations, your updates, your notifications, all of your company's information is kind of in slack. And with voice, they could easily add voice messaging, and it would still just kind of be lost inside of that conglomerate that is your slack group. And that's fine. And I think that that's a viable competitor to look at. And that's why we're looking one step ahead of that, which is, let's integrate podcasts, audio books, let's have the latest Wall Street Journal article read to you. Let's lean into accessibility. And for maybe vision impaired folks, they can now join in on the slack conversation, because DMS and mentions are actually read to them over yak, so we're trying to layer on top of things not compete, right. So I wouldn't say we're competing with slack at all, we have built our app specifically to sit on top of it at all times, so that you can use both. And we're trying to build out what we call right now our Yak bots, it's kind of this idea of bringing almost like the Amazon Alexa the Google Home functionality to a desktop app, pull it out of the hardware abstracted a little bit and make it business first. You know, key emails can be read to you over voice notifications can come over audio or sound instead of having to check like a text notification that gets lost and everything. So we're really trying to lean into this audio first voice for first and start we see in the industry is passive entertainment. Right. So podcasts are blowing up right now. Yep. Because people like to be able to listen to things, you know, while they're working or while they're doing other things. And while slack is an amazing tool, it ends up actually just creating noise, right? It's these constant interrupts and constant notifications, things get lost in the channels. And so what we're trying to do is build a platform that is kind of the antithesis of this very, very focused, it's very much like passive knowledge gain, right? So things you can listen to while you're doing something else. And I think that's where our kind of long term plays where I don't see slack as such a big competitor anymore.

Okay. Great. Great. Well, listen, I appreciate your time. So Jordan, Justin hunter with so friendly and now Yeah, I can Yak is found on the web at YAC dot chat. So Yak with the SI dot chat and you're in closed or open beta, closed beta right now?

Yeah, invite only. So if you have another team using it, they can send you an invite. Otherwise, just request an invite right on the website.

Exciting. Well, it'll be exciting to see what lies ahead for the next next six to 12 months. Sounds like you guys are in a great position. So and another success story out of Orlando, Florida, so it was awesome having you on the on the show.

Yeah, thank you so much. Yeah. Thanks, man. Thanks, guys.

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