Trent: Hey everybody and welcome back to another episode of the Bright Ideas Business Podcast. As always, I’m your host Trent Dyrsmid and I’m here to share the stories of today’s most successful entrepreneurs and more importantly to extract all the best golden nuggets from their brains for you to implement in your company. Starting today. On the show with me today we have Cody Barbo and Katie Fellenz who we’ll get to in just a minute, but first we have to pay the bills with a quick message from our sponsor. Today’s episode is brought to you by Cloudways. Is your website slow? Has your online business outgrown your current hosting provider? If you’ve answered yes to either of these questions, it’s time to move over to Cloudways. A managed cloud hosting provider that is built for online businesses from a hassle free launch to a smooth server operations cloud ways is your partner in scaling your eCommerce business for greater success.
Trent: All you need to do is go to cloudways.com and use the promo code bright ideas. And that’s all one word and you should probably put it in all caps. And when you sign up for new Cloudways account, you will get a $25 free hosting credit. Okay. So Cody and Katie, welcome to the show. Cody, I’ll very quickly introduce you cause I have your bio and then I’m gonna let Katie do herself. Cody Barbo is an entrepreneur and two time founder from San Diego, California. He currently serves as founder and CEO of Trust and Will, a modern estate planning software startup. Cody also serves on the San Diego state university alumni board of advisors as the VP of partnerships at his last startup, Cody served as the founder and CEO of industry, a linked in for the services and hospitality industry. So Cody, welcome Katie, who are you and what do you do?
Katie: Thanks Trent. I’m Katie. The lens. I am the head of marketing here at trust and well, my background, I’ve been in marketing for about 12 years, primarily on the agency side. And then prior to that on the brand side as well. So my role at trust and wool is to make sure everybody knows about trust and will and grow our membership.
Trent: And that’s a very important role indeed. All right guys, well let’s dive into it. Your company name kind of gives it away what you sell, but just so there’s no confusion. What do you sell?
Cody: Yeah, trust and will.com so happy that that was an available domain. Thanks for having us on today. We are building a, in its simplest form, the TurboTax for estate planning. So as you get married, you have kids, you buy a home, it’s times in your life like this, you start to think about life insurance and your Sean, your joint finances with your spouse. These conversations are not the most fun, but there are important conversations to have nonetheless. And when you think about kids being able to appoint guardians or protect your assets with the value that a will or a trust can provide, we can get into what those things are. Really, it’s to bring a mass market consumer offering to half the population that doesn’t have these documents easily and affordably.
Trent: All right. And to be clear, everybody in my entrepreneur, entrepreneur audience, we are not going to be talking about trusts or wills in this episode. What we are going to be talking about as I do with many, many entrepreneurs is the journey of how they’re making this company successful because the principles obviously are gonna be widely applicable to anyone else who is looking to do something similar though, not necessarily in the area of trusts and wills. So the company was launched when?
Cody: In October of 2017 is when we incorporated and we launched our first product a few months after that in April of 18.
Trent: Okay. And how many customers have you signed up? So far?
Cody: We’ve had over 65,000 members sign up for one of our three products since then.
Trent: Okay. So pretty decent amount of traction. it’s a bit of an odd niche. It’s maybe to someone like me who doesn’t think about trusts and wills, maybe not the most exciting niche in the world. So it’s wouldn’t have occurred to me to go into that niche. But I’m guessing there’s something that happened for you, Cody, that made you think, Hey, I should start a company in this space, but what’s that?
Cody: I got married. I was like, Hey, if we’re, we’re getting married or those like adulting tasks that I really wanted to check off the box and the fact that you only being fairly tech tech forward and have a FinTech app for everything in my life, I can give him my life insurance online relatively easily and affordably. TurboTax exists. The fact that the only two options that came to mind was go to an attorney and spend thousands of dollars on something that’s seemingly far too complex for my wife and I. And then door number two go to a LegalZoom’s very off the shelf built for small business owners. I was like, where’s the TurboTax for estate planning? So, you know, my cofounders and I, are all I call the elder millennials for in our thirties are married with kids on the way. It’s a very real time in our lives to be thinking about this. The fact that the market didn’t have like a streamlined intuitive product at an affordable price point, but one that can grow with us over time really inspired us to start this business and knowing both the pros of having an estate plan but also the cons of if you die without one it can really create a mess for your family.
Trent: Okay. So and either of you can answer the questions that I’m going to ask. So let’s talk about early on, obviously you had to develop a product and this isn’t really a software development show so we’re not going to go into the nitty gritty of how exactly you did that. Other than to say, I’m guessing you probably raised some friends and family money, cobbled together a prototype of some kind, got some customers and then did some more money raising. Is that more or less what happened?
Cody: Yeah, exactly that we out of the Gates from incorporation went straight into investing routes. So we had about half a million come in both combination of individual angel investors as well as tech stars, which is a prototype no team experience. My cofounders come from a custom software [inaudible] melanin backgrounds. So they’d applications for fortune 100 companies down to funded startups. This is my third startup, second venture backed. So there was a level of credibility that a, I think.
Katie: Although, one of the back story is that you guys technically pitched the product and there was no products and end up placing, right?
Cody: Very, very first announcement of trust and morale was at a pitch competition at Qualcomm’s headquarters in front of 600 people in the community. We had made our way to the top 10 on stage and pitched an idea. We literally had to get a splash page up like the week of put a pitch deck together. We were not incorporated. So yeah, Katie has correct. We had literally nothing which led to the first investor interest in Techstars interest in encouraging us to apply. So good catch.
Trent: Okay. So you had a pitch deck, you raised a half a million dollars off a pitch deck and some exposure at Qualcomm. Then you got invited into tech stars. Was that before you raised any of this half million or
Cody: there enough during the process? Yeah, we, I think collected first check, end of November of 17. And we had kind of a rolling close as we went through Techstars through March of 2018.
Trent: So naturally you paid yourself a quarter million a year in your salary, right?
Cody: Yeah. My Tesla’s parked down. No, we barely got anything. I was like Daniel and Brian Elise were leaving to very well paying jobs, being an entrepreneur who hasn’t had an exit yet, although I’ve had some success. it’s not a glamorous salary that, sorry to your listeners, you know, you really don’t get that payday until you’re very mature as a company or until someone buys you or you go public. So, yup. My Honda CRV has treated me well for mentioning yours.
Trent: All right, so now we’ve, let’s accelerate through all that stuff. You guys are ready to start acquiring our customers or our customers customers. How’d you get your first thousand customers?
Cody: Yeah, I, this is such a great question. So kind of playing into the elder millennial card a little bit. Most of our friends now as we, and when I say older millennials like 30 to 40 as an older millennial now people forget this and majority of us and our network of friends are married having kids or they have their pets as their kid, like Jack Bauer, Katie’s dog and have this kind of like revelation and how do you have conversations with your friends about stuff that’s actually important versus well far you went to and what surprised us the most before we had even incorporated, which was led, what led to that pitch competition? We want to pitch like 200 friends were like, Hey, like you’re married young kids. Have you ever thought about.
Trent: You pitched 200 friends?
Cody: Yeah. It wasn’t the best like LinkedIn or Facebook message or text message to receive like, Hey, do you have a, will we prefaced it with like, Hey saw, you know, great. Have a really random question. We’re looking at pursuing a new startup and wanted to ask you a couple of questions because you’re a parent, married with a house, something like that. So we basically like surveyed network and for every single, very few of them had these documents already. Very few in the few that data, it was like my parents, my grandparents technically like forced us to set this up. For most of them it was this, I have life insurance, I don’t have a will, but I know I need to do it. And the biggest fear for the parents that we had talked to was every time they get on an airplane without their kids, like it’s a work trip or just a quick vacation, get away. They have this fear that builds up in the back of their heads that if something happens in the safest mode of transportation, but it’s always a plane, if something happens, what happens to my kids?
Cody: And these documents can help decide who you want in your life to look after them versus the courts deciding that for you. And we matched that like early, friends that network in the earliest of days before we even incorporated that by the time that we launched our one ask was, Hey, when we launch our first product, will you be the first to test it out? It’ll be entirely free, but we want feedback. Did this answer all the questions? Did we communicate appropriately during the product in our chat support to give you the confidence to have a complete set of documents. And that was from 200 to the first couple thousand is just continuing to tap into our network and doing small, very small scale tests on social and Google.
Trent: Okay. So those weren’t necessarily, they were users but not necessarily customers cause they didn’t give you any money. Right.
Cody: Some of them are paid. Yeah. Are, for instance, we launched our first paid product outside of the beta was in April of 2018 that’s right when we finish Techstars. So I still have a photo that I do, I walk the team through in the onboarding deck or we have our first customer document that was paid for an equal. So as a blend of fully paid a lot of discounts to forgive our bugs and some were free through our friends network.
Trent: Katie, when did you join the team?
Katie: I actually joined in December of last year, 2019 so relatively new and hit the ground running from a marketing perspective. A lot of channels to touch.
Trent: Was the homepage on the site the same when you joined as it is now?
Katie: It was, we’ve made a couple small tweaks, just based on some user data that we’ve, we’ve compiled.
Trent: Okay. So I’m noticing, cause I’m really big into making sure companies are on point with their positioning and I’m looking at the words in the pictures. So I’ve got estate planning made easy and then I’ve got this couple but there’s no kid. So a couple of questions come to mind. I want, why wouldn’t you put a baby in the picture? Number one. Cause there’s a subconscious thing that happens there. And then Cody, cause I’m guessing you maybe are were the one that came up with the words. Why did you choose estate planning made easy? Are those the exact words that your target and like if you had asked them about estate planning was did they say I want estate planning made easy? Why did you choose those words?
Cody: Yeah. So yeah, key. I was going to say one fun part. I find responses. So, you know, early stage startups we don’t always have the biggest budgets even if we raise some age of money. So actually my co founder, Daniel’s sister and brother-in-law who not only have a kid who’s now two, she was pregnant at the time, that photo, they have a growing family. So I think we just need to update the photo with the baby and where we’re in business there. The guardian product has a baby on it though.
Katie: Yeah. The other thing that’s kind of interesting and I’m glad you brought that up Trent, is that there’s a couple things. One, the guardianship. Well, from an ads perspective, imagery with babies definitely are the hook. We actually see the majority of our conversions come through for a will or a trust versus a guardianship. And not everybody. You’d be surprised how many people do not have children, but are still putting down and creating a will and a trust. The estate planning verbiage is definitely something that will likely be changing from a, an SEO and organic perspective. So, the product really falls into all that estate planning is the category. and then we have the individual products. We’ve found that there’s still a lot of education that needs to be done about what is in the state plan. so we’re doing some user testing and then obviously from an SEO perspective we’ll want to look to see what’s actually, what most people are, are searching versus estate planning made easy.
Trent: Okay. And walk me through the process of cause cause I have a very specific process that I’ve been taught to follow, to generate the exact words for your positioning. And I think it’s quite clever. I’m interested in Tom better understand as as hopefully the audiences as well. When you’re doing this research, how do you translate that data that you’re collecting into a meaningful output that you can actually use with a high sense of certainty? To know that you’ve positioned your company exactly correctly from a messaging perspective for the target audience that you’re going after.
Katie: I think a big part of it is going to come down to Elliot’s for us. individual customization of the experience. We have a very broad audience. Everybody needs an estate plan, but the, what’s going to actually hook those users is a little bit different. As Cody alluded to, we have the guardianship, which is very much a family friendly, family oriented, protect your children, that kind of mentality. Then we have more of the, I would say the male demographic tends to, respond better to more of our verbiage around leave your legacy and protecting your assets. And then we also have the, the older demographic who is concerned about, maybe their older children and how they’re going to be taking care of later on in life. so we have very different distinct audiences and they each need to be treated differently. Obviously we want brand consistency throughout, but it’s really about customizing that experience so that they know that the product that they’re using is the appropriate one for them.
Trent: Okay, so here’s a, there’s a project for the audience. Guys, if you’re wanting to do positioning, a great way to do it is when you get all your survey data in and for what I do is I ask open ended questions in my surveys and then I take all of that body of copy and I put it into something called word counter.com and it’ll show me which use which single words are used the most, and then which two word combinations are used the most, which obviously is extremely helpful for figuring out exactly the words that I need to have on whatever landing page I’m sending traffic to. All right, so let’s talk about lead generation. For you guys. You’ve got to get inflow. You’ve got to get people coming to the site. I’m guessing if you have multiple markets, you probably have multiple landing pages. Yes. You’re not just sending everyone to the homepage.
Katie: Correct. And that I think that in our industry in particular, there’s two separate ideas to think about. There’s the man capture and demand creation. So demand capture are, are the people who already know what estate planning is. They already know they need a trust, they already know they need a will. That’s where Google ad ads comes in. and more of your direct response. People who are looking for a trust, a will online will free will, whatever the case may be. and that’s the demand capture. And then we have the demand creation, which we have individuals who are, you know, still very high level research. They know what a will is, but they may be asking questions that aren’t directly related to a product. And that’s where we can, we can kind of go into the Facebook world and the display world, the very high level top of the funnel to create more of that demand and let people know that we exist and that our products are something that they, they really need.
Trent: Okay. So with respect to Google, and this is originally how, when Dan and when Cody and I rather we’re in the preinterview, how we decided to, or he decided to include you in the interview. Can you go into a little bit more detail on what specifically you’re doing on Google and maybe include also in your answer, Katie, some things that you tried that didn’t work? Because I always like to have my audience try and learn on somebody else’s dime if possible.
Katie: So nice of you. One of the things that I’ll start with what didn’t work. So one of the things that we’ve been testing is our bid strategy. So a state planning in general has a really long, purchase funnel. In some cases. Some people come to the site, they convert immediately. That’s the demand capture. We know that, you know, they know what they’re looking for. But in some cases our funnel can be, you know, four, six, 12 weeks or longer. and by testing our bidding strategy, we were using, utilizing a target CPA. So focusing on our cost per acquisition. So an actual purchase on the site versus micro conversions along the path. And we found that that actually is not the best way when you have a really long funnel, your cookie window, maybe 30, 60, 90 days depending on how you have it set up. And if we’re not driving conversions for 12 weeks or longer, Google isn’t learning at the same speed that we would need. So we’ve identified these micro conversions along the way that if we track those and set up our campaigns campaigns to utilize those micro conversions, we’re getting a lot more efficient CPA.
Trent: What are you using to, for your database in your email marketing? Something like active campaign or a different.
Katie: So we’re actually in the process of switching. right now the prior to myself joining the team, we were using SendGrid for transactional emails and the engineers just build it out to be a, you know, a funnel. But from a marketing perspective, you need something that’s a little bit more flexible. so we are, I’ve used pretty much every marketing automation software you can think of. We’re reviewing a few right now and we’ll be making the transition over to a new platform that allows for more flexibility. Again, back to that customization that I was talking about. we want a custom experience based on the audience, whether that’s the landing page, the verbiage they see on the page triggers within our email marketing campaigns, depending on the actions that they’re taking with our, our copy and our emails, emails, the cheapest channel you can run. So it’s really important for us to make sure that that’s dialed.
Trent: Which apps are on your shortlist for email?
Katie: Good question. there’s a few, one that’s relatively new that that is exciting to me. It’s called Clavio. they’re based out of Boston. Iterable is another one that’s kind of more of the Clavio competition. And then you have your traditional, Marketo’s part odds. that kind of level. Marketo is on a par dot. I would recommend if you’re utilizing Salesforce and you have a more robust, you need more lead scoring, part us on that list as well.
Trent: Okay. So when you talked about micro conversions, I’m assuming you’re probably then you do tag in your app when a micro conversion happens in that tag and then trigger either adding them to a Facebook audience or to a new sequence within the email auto responder. Is that more or less what you’re doing?
Katie: Exactly. We have, our engineers are awesome. So while we’re using a platform that isn’t the most flexible, they’re able to basically accomplish anything that we need currently. so you’re exactly right within the actual app or product part, we can see any abandonment, we can see how far people are going, we can, we can then identify everybody who’s dropped off at a certain point. For example, look back in our, at our member data that we’ve already collected and identify any consistencies between that audience and know, okay, people who typically in general people who hit these four items are more likely to drop that this part in the stage. How can we tailor that experience for that specific type of audience?
Trent: Okay. So in Google, in the actual ads, in the campaigns that you’re running, are you finding that video is converting better than still image for one market or the other? Like what are the things that are actually working the best for you?
Katie: In ad? I would say it’s more so our targeting. So a couple things. One geo is really important for us surprisingly especially with our targeting and ads. we’re not running a lot of of video or imagery within Google ads on Facebook. It’s typically video is converting at a higher rate, at a higher rate at least for lead generation. so we have leads which are registrations and then we also have purchases. and then to your point earlier, imagery with babies, people love imagery with babies. They get the most engagement.
Trent: Absolutely. Cause babies are cute and cuddly.
Katie: You know what’s funny is we actually had one ad creative in particular that has a baby in a really cute cloth diaper and that ad has gotten so much engagement by the mom community just saying like, Oh I use those diapers and those, that’s such a cute pattern. And be engaged is blowing up just strictly because of the diapers that’s on the baby.
Trent: And that’s a Facebook ad, I’m guessing that’s driving your CPL way down because of all those comments.
Katie: Yeah, exactly. But what’s actually interesting with that is we’re now, I’m, I’ve been in talks with the, the diaper company to see if there is any potential partnership there because they obviously have a very engaged and very excited community.
Trent: Yeah, absolutely. Okay.
Cody: What’s in diapers, right? Who would have thought.
Trent: That’s not something you probably would have connected while you’re sitting in the boardroom on the whiteboard brainstorm. All right. okay. And now on Google, are you getting more traction with a search or display and are you also doing retargeting on something like perfect audience or Admiral?
Katie: Yeah, we’re doing, we are doing a little bit of a retargeting. It’s primarily text ads at this point that’s driving the majority of the actual conversions. we did a small test on YouTube. I want to expand that and try again and do a little bit more pre-roll and build out the, the video channel. but primarily it’s, it’s text ads currently and we targeting, like you said, ad roll a little bit but not a ton at this point. The majority of our success for retargeting is coming from Facebook.
Trent: Okay. And your retargeting costs I’m guessing are dirt cheap. Exactly. Okay. Now why not? It’s interesting with Admiral because with Admiral you can follow people around for about 95% of the internet and Facebook, obviously you’re only retargeting them when they’re in the app. Is there a reason why you haven’t, is it just been a lack of time and resources that you haven’t put more effort into Admiral? Cause obviously there’s, you know, there’s a lot to do and you probably have a team that’s fairly small still.
Katie: Yeah, exactly. We do work with an agency for our, school, Google ads currently, but it has just been what levers are currently working in, how can we expand on those and trying to test new things at the same time.
Trent: Okay. Now, Cody is your, do you have a hand in marketing at all?
Cody: More on like the PR front. I’m very strategic in how I think about tactically how to announce certain things, whether it’s new team members, product, partnerships, investment. So my mind goes much more qualitative than quantitative, which is why we’re so happy to have Katie on the team. but that’s, that’s my answer to that.
Trent: Okay. So I noticed PR good thing that you brought that up. I noticed on you’ve got your a tech crunch inc Forbes, New York times entrepreneur, NBC tech stars, that all of those press mentions happen largely as a result of your being in the tech stars program. And I’m sure they have like a whole incubation system for getting you your social proof or did, was that something, was there a different strategy at play there?
Cody: Yeah, kind of a couple of parts. I mean, anything Techstars related, they love highlighting their portfolio companies and because of the global footprint, they have an internal network, like a LinkedIn for Techstars, founders and mentors. There’s obviously a boost that you can get from being a part of that experience. But you’ve got to think, I mean we have some incredible investors on our cap table. I mean we just raised our series a with link ventures, which the new venture fund, $100 million fund out of out of Boston area. But we also have revolution, which is Steve Case’s venture funds specifically rise of the rest seed fund. The Steve’s network is expansive all over the world. So without having global presence, venture capital firms, even though they majority invest domestically is that they have full time PR and marketing teams in house. They also like to elevate the portfolio companies, not just around a fundraising transaction, which has been helpful.
Cody: But I think what’s been a lot of fun for us is that because we’re so unique in the business that we’re in, there’s only so few startups that are doing this online. There’s only three of us right now that it gives us the ability to really perceive what should this industry look like? How do we want people to even think about estate planning, let alone what our company looks like. And I love that we can control that narrative. And then as Katie has kind of pointed out, there’s so many overlapped hooks into financial services, parenting and diapers, travel, home ownership, taxes going in for death or surgery. So we can kind of filter in both products, partnerships as well as just general content around these different angles to take. And that’s where a lot of the PR is kind of surfaced.
Katie: We have a PR partnership that we recently, have engaged in as well and targeting more so the local and local news front. And we’ve seen a lot of success with that so far. I mean, we just started this, this program, but kind of tapping into those top 25 DMS. and seeing lift in specific areas that we can measure.
Trent: Nothing like pulling the wrong lever on your chair.
Cody: I have a very big dog at home and I had a roller chair, in the office one day and I take him to the office and I was on a video call like this and he ran off, taken after, never puppies do and I legit like flew off the screen and call. And they’re like, where’d you go man? I can roll it back.
Trent: Yeah. Yesterday. So I actually have an office that I no longer go to cause I couldn’t stand wasting that 17 minutes there and the 17 minutes back. So I literally work from home now and yesterday the dog was at home and I’d forgotten cause normally he goes to the office with my wife and so I can record in peace and sure enough a courier, you know, comes to the door, knock, knock, knock. And my dog goes berserk. That resulted in some editing after the fact.
Cody: It’s fun. Yeah. Yeah. All right.
Trent: Let’s finish up with, we talked a little bit about Facebook, but it’s such a big platform. what, what trends Katie, are you seeing on Facebook in the last while? Like are CPCs and CPMs still skyrocketing? Are they in your niche? Are they relatively level first part of my question and second part of my question, just if you can give us an overview of the type of campaign that you’re seeing the most success with.
Katie: Yeah. So things are starting to level out a little bit for us, which is awesome. And luckily, one of the things I think that a lot of people forget is just ad fatigue. We need to constantly be changing out our creative. I think anytime we, so what we, the way we have our campaigns set up is, is we have our learning campaigns and then we have the trusted campaigns that we know are already performing. so we’re constantly adding new creative to learning campaigns so that we can quickly identify what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. And as soon as we have any significant data.
Trent: Let me interrupt you. When you say learning campaign, I want to make sure the audience understands what that is. I see that as you’re just buying data so that you can make wise decisions about what’s going to go into your ongoing campaigns. It’s just testing basically. Right?
Katie: Exactly. Exactly. That’s you’re exactly correct. So we’re doing that on a consistent basis. Anytime we have new creative and putting several creative at a time so we can quickly, as quickly as possible identify what is going to resonate with our audience. And then port that over into a campaign where we actually put budget behind it. That’s kind of the strategy that we’re using because we were noticing that creatives were just getting stale and we wanted to constantly be feeding that and giving new visual. Luckily we have, on that 0.1 tidbit that is kind of a tip for the audience. we do some, some heavy influencer marketing through a couple of different platforms and one of the things that we always do is require that we get ownership of the creative. So if, you know, so-and-so blogger is posting an awesome picture of them with their family and a trust and wall product, we technically own the rights to use that imagery.
Katie: So we have a plethora of ad creative that we can pull from and test at any given time. Your second point, what’s working best, it’s really retargeting. We’ve done some tests with, the in lead forms. Didn’t see a lot of success. At least the quality wasn’t there. We saw high volume, but quality wasn’t what we were expecting. Parasol ads we typically see perform a little bit higher because for us we can tell a story with each creative. And then from a creative perspective, some of our best performing, we did a commercial, end of last year, around the end of last year and we broke that into individual snippets that are kind of funny. We like to talk to talk about the brand. We don’t focus on any of the morbid side of things, but keep it really light, keep it really fun. And so those ad creatives of this, this little girl of what would happen to her if her mom and dad don’t have a will, who’s going to go, who’s going to take care of her? And you know, there’s the crazy uncle with a million cats and there’s the aunt with a motorcycle and there’s like mom’s best friend who’s having her life right on Tinder. Those help tell a story but keep it lighthearted. And those definitely are performing walls.
Trent: All right guys. Well, we’re going to wrap it up there. As I know, I have a, at least a few people in my audience who might also be in your target audience. Do you have a special offer that you can extend?
Cody: Yeah, so, I think bright ideas is an appropriate code to enter checkout and we’ll offer a 10% off our products. So if you go ahead and add that in at the checkout screen, it’s all the way at the end. You can go through the whole product experience for free, but to get the final documents, enter that code at checkout and we’ll take care of you and let us know that you heard on the show too in our chat. We’d love to hear from ya. And, it’s, it’s a fun way to engage with your audience in our own ecosystem.
Trent: Absolutely. Well, Katie and Cody, thank you very much for making some time to come and be on the show.
Katie: Appreciate it. Thanks, Trent.