From First Hire to IPO: Bryan Rutcofsky on scaling sales to $100M at Yext

August 14, 2023

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Episode Summary

Bryan Rutcofsky led sales at Yext from 2007-2017, starting as VP of Sales, SMB before becoming SVP of Sales, Mid-market and Partnerships.

After growing the Yext sales team to 140 team members and about $100 million in revenue, Bryan left Yext to co-found Marqii.

Bryan serves as CRO of Marqii, which provides listings, menu, and review management software for hospitality businesses.

Inflated job titles are a bit of a cliche at startups. You see a lot of C-suite and VP-level roles that probably shouldn’t have been handed out.

But when Bryan Rutcofsky grew sales at Yext to 140 team members and over $100 million in revenue, he certainly earned the Senior VP title.

When Bryan joined Yext, they were called — a local listings website that sold leads to gyms. They later expanded into other categories, like veterinarians and TV repairmen, before wrapping everything into one website: Yext.

By the time Bryan left Yext in 2017, they were listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In today’s episode, Bryan shares:

  • What it was like to lead sales as they built and re-built Yext
  • The challenges of selling a new product category to several SMB verticals
  • Why he hired primarily junior sales reps for their first 100 hires
  • How he came to co-found his new company, Marqii
  • What it's like selling into the hospitality industry

Enjoy the conversation!

Links and References


The early days of Yext and

Alex Kracov: I'd love to start with your time at Yext, where you joined as actually the first hire. But when you joined, Yext was actually GymTicket. I'd love to know what made you join. What was that early product? What was the team like? Can you take us back to those early days?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yeah, so early days of GymTicket, really I guess is what we went by. The start of my career there really kind of began because a very close friend of mine who was one of the founders of GymTicket — which eventually became Yext — we had a conversation. I was living in Florida at the time looking for a reason or something to bring me back to the New York area where I was born and raised. The opportunity was one of those sort of you get these once in a lifetime opportunities that you just can't pass up, and this felt like it could be one of those. And so I had a conversation with my friend, Brian. I met the other two co-founders of the company at the time, Howard and Brent. Things went as expected. They asked me to become a part of the team. Within three months, I was living in New York and working in Columbus Circle with the three founders and myself in a very, very small office that probably held a maximum of six total people.

Alex Kracov: Very cool. What was the actual product? What were people buying? What were you selling? Can you take us back to those early sales conversations?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yeah, the funny story of my start at GymTicket was on that initial 'interview' with the founding team. I basically needed to know what are we selling here. What are we providing to gyms? What are we offering to health clubs? The simple answer was: it was a lead submission form. It was consumers searching for health clubs or gyms in their local area potentially wanting to try out the gym. Gyms just needed to require — we were required to just give a one-day free guest pass. Some gave more. For trading in that guest pass, we would give them the customer information. We had all the metrics as to how many leads converted to a new member, what a new member was worth. Really, the business grew from there.

But as part of my interview, after asking those questions and getting the answers from Howard, and Brian, and Brent, I asked if I could just make a couple calls and see what the take rate was, take the temperature of potential customers in the industry. Within about the first 30 to 45 minutes of me being on the phone, I made my first sale. I realized that this was going to be something that we could definitely bring to market at a pretty big capacity.

Alex Kracov: And so it sounds like you felt product-market fit almost immediately. I guess it makes sense that gyms always want more leads and more customers. And so if you bring that to them, it's sort of a no-brainer. Is that sort of what it felt like right away?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Look. In the end, health clubs, gyms, they have a sales team. When you walk-in to any health club, there is somebody there that is membership services or memberships. Their job, while they call it something different, is sales. Because they had that sales team, they had staff at the health club that was there ready to take these new leads, ready to make you have these conversations, make additional phone calls. Because the owners of these health clubs obviously want as many members as possible. And so it was a perfect match.

Pivoting GymTicket to Yext

Alex Kracov: But then you pivoted away from GymTicket, right? Can you take us back to that story? Because I think you had this lead gen business that seemed to be working pretty well. But then from my understanding, you transitioned to, I think it was like pay-per-phone call or pay-per-action model, and maybe expanded beyond gyms.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yes, what had happened was we sort of realized, okay, we can sell leads to gyms. Who else can we sell leads to? We also quickly realized that not every business that we want to talk to has a sales staff. So how do we figure out a way in which we can actually sell these "opportunities or leads" without having them to do any of their own outreach from their front office staff, office management, things of that sort?

And so the company rebranded. The company was called Alpha 411. It probably was that name for a couple of years. We started expanding into new industries, where we transitioned from that pay-per-lead model to a pay-per-phone call model. The basic idea behind that was, we were going to drive new phone calls to your business. But the secret sauce, if you will, was that we had a technology that transcripted voice to text. Based on the conversation, we were able to determine which calls were actually relevant to new business. We only build the clients for what we consider to be a new business phone call.

Quick example. Chiropractors, it was a large industry for us. If I called the chiropractor, as a salesperson looking to provide them with some sort of new piece of equipment, that would not be considered a new phone call. But if I call the chiropractor and say, "Hey, I rolled out of bed this morning. My back is really hurting. Can I come in on Thursday," whether they book the appointment with me or not, that was on the front office staff. But that was considered a new business phone call in which we would then charge the client for that opportunity.

Alex Kracov: Really cool. And so how did it work? Were there landing pages that were out there for chiropractors that were under Alpha 411 or whatever, and then people would find that landing page and then call through the pages? Is that how it is?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Exactly. It wasn't throughout the 411. Alpha 411 was never going to be a household name. We actually created branded pages specifically by industry. So you're asking me to go back probably 15 years here on what they were called. I remember Chiropractors was called Veterinarians was called There was a furniture repair near you. There were dozens of industries. Some we tested, that we found out didn't work, and others that were obviously a great success.

Alex Kracov: Really cool. So piggybacking off of local search, spinning up these little micro sites of different verticals, and then using that as the lead gen. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. Then eventually, you transitioned to the business that Yext is known for today, which is, I think of it as listings on search. Can you talk about why you made that switch and what that transition was like?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yeah, I think that really boils down to a few different things that sort of happened. Number one was that, as I just mentioned, the idea of Alpha 411, the idea of that pay-per-call model, didn't work for every industry. That limits your TAM and limits the amount of businesses that you can actually go after. And so that's one impetus for that change. We need to expand on the businesses and industries we can reach out to.

I think the second piece of it really came down to just an interesting fact about the way that that brand or those industries worked. Like I've said, we had these different websites that would be found online. If you searched for a chiropractor or auto glass near you, we would have sites that would show up in search through paid ads, through high organic search that would drive traffic. However, the listings for each one of these businesses that were partners with Alpha 411 or Yext calls at the time, we were posting all the information about the business except for a unique phone number that we created for them. That's how we did the call tracking. That's how we understood what calls were coming through, and which ones we could bill for, and which ones were charged, and which ones weren't.

The light bulb went off. At the time, it was like, why are these businesses that have been around for as long as they have — 10, 15, 20, 30, 50 years — allowing us to post their information with a completely different phone number than what is actually their direct line? You realize that in organic search in just finding businesses online, the challenge is that managing and maintaining that local information across search properties like Google, like Yelp, like Bing, is almost impossible. In reality, the control of the data actually belongs to the publisher and not necessarily the business owner. And so for a business owner saying, look. I know that my phone number is 1234567. But if you're going to get me more calls because nobody's finding me on Google, give me the calls. I don't care what number it is. Again, like I said, that light bulb went off. It's like, well, maybe we should just fix the actual information for the business because that's going to yield better results all around.

Alex Kracov: When you made that switch — because you're already. I guess, how many years into the business were you when you switched into?

Bryan Rutcofsky: If I had to guess, I think the company officially launched in, I think, October of '06. I joined in just about March or April of '07. It was probably somewhere in 2011, 2012 where we bifurcated, and Yext calls went off to do its thing, which rebranded to Felix and eventually sold to IAC. In some time 2011, 2012 is when the listings business began. Obviously, since IPO-ed in 2017, it is still flourishing today.

Alex Kracov: Was that a scary switch at the time? Were people wondering whether is this going to work? Did it start working right away? Was there an uncertainty at the time?

Bryan Rutcofsky: I would say, to the founder’s credits, they were always willing to take massive bets, and risk everything to try and make it work. Sometimes things work. Sometimes things don't. There's definitely a few products that we tried, big risks that didn't pay off. But quite honestly, when that transition was happening, when they were splitting the company into two, Brian — the guy I mentioned earlier — he called me into his office. He sat me down. This was years later when I had my first kid at the time. He asked me. We had a heart-to-heart conversation. Are you up for this again? Because we just went through five years of true building a startup from the ground up to what it became. We were about to do it again. Look. I believed in him. I believed in the mission of the company and what we were trying to accomplish. And so heads down, we split the company. We were in Chelsea Market at the time. We had the seventh and eighth floors of Chelsea Market. We basically put one company on the eighth floor, and we started the new company from scratch on the seventh floor. And on the way, we went.

Alex Kracov: Very cool. Awesome to have an office in Chelsea Market. Just go downstairs, and get a good food too.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yep, absolutely.

Alex Kracov: After you made this transition, was there sort of an aha moment where you realize, okay, this is actually working and it's really taking off?

Bryan Rutcofsky: I don't know if there was really an aha moment. But we certainly knew that we cracked a code on what businesses really wanted and really needed. Whether this statement is true or not, I will credit Yext for basically creating the concept of these listings environment and ensuring and managing your data across as many publishers, and having as much structured data and content as you can that can be shared as often as possible. There have been many, many companies that have popped up since that offer similar solutions, but I would say that, at the time, we were definitely the pioneers.

And so, in reality, again, my belief is that we educated the industry. There was no concept of doing what we did prior to us creating that capability. It was — I don't want to say a difficult sales cycle. But telling somebody you can do something that nobody else has ever been able to do before is a difficult thing to convince somebody of. Obviously, once they use the technology and they see that it works, it's a homerun. But it takes time to educate an industry. Conversations today, everyone gets that this product is a need to have, not a want to have.

Yext's sales process

Alex Kracov: Let's talk more about that sales process. Can you talk a little bit about how it worked? I imagine it was a lot of cold calling small businesses? How did it evolve from there?

Bryan Rutcofsky: To be clear, my focus over my 11, 12 years at Yext was squarely in both what I call the small business or SMB or commercial market, and then I also managed for a number of years what we consider our partnership division, and then I also had a little bit of a hand before I exited towards the end of 2017 at running the mid-market. I didn't focus on the enterprise side, which is obviously a much longer sales cycle. And so in the commercial and partner space, our go-to-market was, yes, there was a lot of "cold calling." But I want to credit our marketing team and our lead gen team over the years that I worked there in providing our sales team with inbound leads. At the time, we actually call them 'submits.' That's a long story going back to the GymTicket days. Even though they weren't technically ‘submits’ in the X days, that nomenclature stuck.

Our team never reached out to anyone "cold" in the sense that there wasn't some sort of interaction that they had had with our platform. And so whether that be a white paper download, whether that be running a scan for their own business, there was always a reason for us to reach out because the customer had engaged in some way, shape or form with our platform. And so, yes, if you talk to the salespeople, they'll tell you the calls probably felt quite cold. But there was never a lead that came into the system that wasn't because the client did something on there and that created the lead on our end.

Alex Kracov: Got you. So some marketing touch point and then a sales follow-up based off that. Can you talk about the scanning thing you just mentioned? Because that reminds me of HubSpot's Website Grader, where you can put in your website and get an analysis. Then it's like, oh, God, my website needs to be optimized. Maybe I should buy HubSpot. Was it something similar?

Bryan Rutcofsky: It was very, very similar. The idea was you can just enter in your basic business information. We had API integrations with pretty much every major publisher on the market. And so there was probably 80 of them. It would take all of your business information, and it would basically compare it to what existed online today with links to the actual listings themselves. So when you type in your information as a business owner, exactly as you think it should appear online, and you see that Google has a wrong phone number, and Yahoo has a bad address, and Yelp has the wrong hours, all of a sudden, the light bulb goes off and goes, well, that's a problem. And so that immediately opened the customer's eyes to the issue that existed. So we didn't have to necessarily uncover the pain, as they say in sales. The pain was there in front of their face. We were able to utilize that and talk about how our technology actually fix all that through one dashboard.

Alex Kracov: Got you. I can imagine the pitch is much more powerful when it's like, "See, there's numbers wrong. This thing is wrong." Then, "Hey, we can we can fix all of that for X amount." Was it a pretty transactional sales process, like one call closes and things like that?

Bryan Rutcofsky: On a small business side, mostly one call closes. Again, I will say mostly one call closes. But a one call closed was not uncommon. It happened day in and day out. Generally, let's call it a maximum two to three call sales cycle. Because the initial call was explaining the solution. The second call was to likely get payment. If it didn't happen on the second call, it was done by the third call. If we didn't close it on the third call, odds of us closing the business dropped exponentially.

Testing different SMB verticals at Yext

Alex Kracov: Very cool. I'm curious how you tested different vertical markets. Because I imagine selling to chiropractors is very different than selling to restaurants, versus veterinarians. Am I right that it was very different, or was it all common pain points across all them?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Very fair question. Actually, that takes us back to the Alpha 411 days, where there was a very different talk track and a different sales approach than it was on the Yext listings days. Because listings are listings. If you're a brick-and-mortar business that has a place of business and you have a location, well, then it doesn't matter whether you're an auto repair shop, a chiropractor, or a veterinarian. Everybody has location information. To your point on the call's model, yes, it was a very, very different structure.

Truthfully, a conference room like I'm sitting in today, the way that we tested some new — the first thing we did if I take a step back was we wanted to see what's their traffic. We would create essentially these websites to see how many people are actually visiting to find these types of businesses. The second piece of that was like, okay, if they're visiting the site to find these types of businesses, what actions are they taking? Are they picking up the phone and making a call? And if they're picking up the phone and making a call, what is that call related to?

I don't know how crazy deep you want me to go. But an example of an industry that didn't work for us — I know it's a little bit morbid, but we tested funeral homes and funeral parlors. It's a business. They're always going to have customers. But when we tested the model, there was a ton of traffic to the site. There were a ton of phone calls. But the phone calls were all related to, "Hey, I need to attend this funeral service. Can I have the time and the address?" Now, obviously, from a business perspective, we needed the calls. We needed to send where people looking for a funeral service themselves or looking for a casket, or looking for a plot. Unfortunately, for the business side of it, that's not the calls that we're driven. That industry, we never made it to call testing.

However, in the chiropractor model of, "Hey, I rolled out of bed. I tweaked my neck," we learned the types of calls that were happening. The way that we tested the model, as silly as this may sound, is I locked myself in a conference room for a full business day and just made phone calls without a website, without anything to point to except for at the time. The same concept and idea, it basically said we're doing this for this industry. If I could get a credit card in one business day from somebody over the phone, we would launch it.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's a great story, because it just shows how you need to be scrappy in the early days. You actually don't even need a real product to prove out that there is some product-market fit and just good market validation. So thank you for sharing. It's surprising. I would have thought the funeral home segment would do better.

Bryan Rutcofsky: That's the one that always sticks out that'll just work. But there was a couple industries that just didn't work. We just couldn't. We could get the traffic. I was looking at some math equation. Because at the end of the day, we had to determine. Not only like, do we drive traffic? Do we drive phone calls? How much do we charge per phone call? Because every industry was charged a different dollar amount for the phone calls based on lifetime value of a new customer, based on what it actually costs us to drive that phone call. And so all that math had to work out in order for us to launch a new vertical, a new industry.

Partner sales at Yext

Alex Kracov: You mentioned earlier that you also managed the partnership team at Yext. Can you talk about what that team was doing and maybe how that was different than the SMB sales team that you're managing?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yeah, so that was actually born out of the small business commercial team. One of the people who had worked on my small business team came across a few agencies, if you will, that were interested in reselling the Yext solution to their customers. At the time, they were very small mom-and-pop, hometown agencies. So I have my own business. I'm here just outside in the suburbs of New York. For my own profession, I manage on the outsource marketing solution for 10, 12, 15 businesses in my hometown. They each pay me a monthly retainer to manage all of their marketing solutions.

And so these people started realizing like, "Hey, there's an opportunity for me to offer the Yext solution to my customers. Can I buy it at a bulk discount? Is there a way that I can manage this through my own platform?" And so as a seller who's trying to make as many sales as possible, if I can get one person to give me 15 at once versus doing it one at a time, obviously, I'm going to go to the path of least resistance. That really was how the partnership team was created. It just expanded from there to a realization that like large massive partners are now partnered with Yext in providing the Yext services to their customer base.

Alex Kracov: It's super interesting. Actually, it reminds me of my first experience in marketing was in college. I created this company, Nolan Media Solutions. I was managing basically the listings for a local El Salvadorian restaurant and a couple other places in New Orleans. I wasn't reselling Yext, but I was doing those things that probably would have been very helpful for me at the time. Yeah, that's funny.

Managing the sales team at Yext

Alex Kracov: I'd love to talk more about managing the sales team. Can you paint a picture of how the sales team grew at Yext? I know it started with just you. But by the end, how big of a team were you managing?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yeah, so when I was hired at Yext, I was hired with a title of VP of Sales, which was a great title for me at the ripe old age of 26 or 27. It meant absolutely nothing. I say that because I was the VP of nobody. I was the VP of myself. And so the idea was that I essentially sat in every role figuring out what the benchmarks of success were for each individual roles.

First, what does it mean to be successful as a seller? What are the metrics that mean this is the amount of activity? This is the amount of deals. This is the amount of what can I do to be successful and be the level where I want everyone at. Once that was figured out, we started hiring additional sellers. I got to sit as a sales manager and manage a team, and basically keep that team humming and making sure the training was happening, hiring, firing, and making sure we're growing the team successfully. We continue to expand and grow. I finally get to sit as a sort of — even though I have the VP title, I'm now technically a director of sales overseeing a few managers that are managing their own individual teams. Eventually, I got to step into the VP role — that was the name of my title already — and managing a bunch of directors that were managing teams underneath them.

Again, it grows. Looking back, it felt like it grew slowly. But it obviously grew very, very quickly. I have a couple of philosophies in hiring. Not the hire fast and fire faster. It's more along the lines of how quickly you should grow your team if you have a culture that you like. And so if we're happy with the way the culture of the sales team exists today, then I don't want to upset the applecart. In order to not upset the applecart, I can't bring in too many people whose voice will overpower the existing culture there today. So generally, I try not to bring in more than 50% of a sales team at one given time. If I have 10 sellers and I want to grow the team, I won't hire more than 4 or 5 at one fell swoop. Because I want the voice of 10 to basically train and teach the voice of the 5, not have another massive group coming in that can sway again the culture and the attitude of the existing team.

Yext's sales hiring philosophy

Alex Kracov: It makes a lot of sense. From my understanding, you hired mostly green, young sales reps, people right out of college, I think, or maybe it was like their second job. Why did you make that decision?

Bryan Rutcofsky: The running joke there for me was that I'd rather teach you my bad habits and break somebody else's. That was really the reasoning behind it. We also wanted people that were hungry and people that have been in sales for 5, 7, 10, 15 years. Generally, you don't find those that are willing to grind. At the time, it was 120 dials a day, three to four hours of talk time every single day booking demos. It's a tough job. I don't want to say it's thankless. Because if you're good at it, you make really good money in commissions. But it is a tough job to come in every single day and trying to be successful.

We talked about the hiring of athletes. Well, yes, that makes sense. I agree with some of the competitiveness that an athlete might have. My opinion is that you don't have to be an athlete to be successful in sales, but you have to know what it's like to lose, and get up and go back and get better and do it again the next day. So I don't care if you played on your high school's chess team or your college's chess team and didn't do anything athletic your entire life. You had to go and compete, and you had to win. If you lost, you could not let that bother you. You had to figure out what you did wrong and make it right the next time. Understanding what it's like to lose and go back and get after it again is all that really mattered. I think people always conflate that with just athletes and sports, but I think obviously it's much broader than that. And so that was really what we looked for people: that we're part of a competition, that we're willing to push to get better for themselves because they enjoyed it. Because in sales, you're going to lose way more than you win, and you have to be able to move past that.

Alex Kracov: I love that mentality. The best sales reps I know just have a certain grittiness to them and are just incredibly competitive and just get so upset when they lose. Then they change all the things that they need to do to make sure that they're winning constantly. It's funny. I was never personally competitive in sports. I was always like, I've missed the basketball shot or whatever. But when it comes to business, especially when I've been building Dock, it's like, no, I want to win every single deal. I'm going to come back and figure out how do I build the features or change the sales process to figure out and make it happen.

You mentioned it a little bit earlier. But it sounds like your approach to training the sales team was actually having the other sellers on the sales team train them. Would you bring in a class of young sales reps, and then the other 10 current sales reps would train the other 5? How would that training process work?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Look. The initial onboarding, if you will — which I still run a process of that today at Marqii — is this sort of one-week boot-style training. We're going to go through product. We're going to go through process. We're going to through sales. We're going to go through systems, everything that has to do with the company. But in the world of true sales and phone sales, telesales, the only way to actually get good at the job is to do the job. We can teach you in theory all day long what should work and what makes you successful. But you're not going to learn until you actually get on the phones and start having conversations, and get hung up on, get cursed at. All of those things are going to happen. And so, yes, I think it was extremely important to mix the existing sellers with the new sellers, so that the new sellers could learn from the existing sellers.

Look. After a couple, let's say, weeks or months on the job, you could walk by anyone's desk and hear the conversation that they're having with the customer, where all you can hear is the rep. You can't hear the customer. But you know exactly what the customer asked based on how the rep was responding to the question or whatever was posed in front of them. Just hearing those things and picking up different phrases and different sayings and ways of handling objections, the best way to permeate that across the floor was just to be in the mix of it. Our sales pit at its peak was probably like 130, 140 people. It was loud. Sometimes you'd have people complaining that it's too loud. The old boiler room scene of people getting under their desks with their phone on their ear absolutely happened many, many times — to try and have some peace and quiet to have a conversation. But it was that energy. It was that camaraderie, and it was that ability to hear your peers that made everyone better and also made everyone want to do better because you watch the success happening. It was a really fun environment. It had its wild and crazy times, but it was certainly an enjoyable time.

Alex Kracov: That's been the hardest part about this pandemic remote work. Especially, I think the sales teams are probably hit the hardest. I know at Lattice, especially as there was young sellers, the training is just very different than in a remote environment. You can't just pick up on things that the person next to you is doing. It'll be interesting to see how the business world maybe shifts back into in-person, especially sales teams, I think, will probably need to be.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Again, for me, I agree with you. Look. Marqii is 100% remote. We don't have a true office. And so the challenge is we lose out on the benefit of that in-office camaraderie and in-office learning through osmosis. However, I think one of the big benefits that we have being remote is that I'm not limited to hiring from a 15-mile radius. So I can find the best in class anywhere in the country. That may not need as much of what that in-office environment brought. I can still find success from people that are — I'm in New York. So if you're in Seattle, if you're in Oklahoma, I don't care. If you're really good at this job, and you can do this job, live anywhere. We have a very healthy work-from-anywhere attitude at Marqii. We encourage people to not be in an office and to make calls from the beach if you can do your job and be successful at it.

How did Yext's IPO impact their sales process?

Alex Kracov: Yeah, there's pros and cons to both approaches. I even find that in my own personal life. There are some weeks where I really want to be remote and do that kind of work style. Then there's other times where I want to be in the office and have that camaraderie. While you were at Yext, the company IPO-ed, right? I'd love to know what that pre-IPO process was like. How did that impact the sales and partnership teams? Did that change the way you have to work, or was it sort of more business as usual?

Bryan Rutcofsky: I mean, things certainly change. As you sort of grow as an organization and grow as a company, new rules, new policies, new procedures. The story that I always tell, and I probably shouldn't share is, in the early, early days of partnership and SMB — I want to be very clear. I'm not a lawyer — I definitely had a hand in writing a number of our contracts, which I also signed with our customers. To obviously fast forward a couple of years having general counsel and a true legal team, to not even being able to sign a contract on behalf of Yext because of the legalities in place behind it, which, of course, all makes sense. But just these are things that change as an organization grows and becomes more mature.

Prior the IPO, look, it was never really a conversation. The question is always posed like, "Oh, what's the exit strategy? Do you have an exit strategy? Is it an IPO? Is it a sale?" As cliche as it is to say, build the business, do the right things, and then the right things will happen. And so I can't sit here and tell you that the goal was always to IPO or always to sell. The goal was to build the biggest best business we possibly could. Whatever happened from there happened. Don't get me wrong. The IPO was a great time. It was fun. It was interesting. It also changes the dynamic of your ability to sell into brands. Because now, all of a sudden, you have the "clout" of being a public company under your belt. That immediately comes with some level of trust. It doesn't break down every barrier. But there is this level of like, oh, this is not a small fledgling startup based in a small office in Columbus Circle in New York anymore. This is a large public company managing services globally for tens of thousands of businesses.

How did Bryan's sales leadership grow with the company?

Alex Kracov: I'd love to switch gears and talk about your own personal growth. Because you were at Yext for 10 years, and you ended up doing a job that you had never done before. I assume you must have learned a ton along the way. How did you manage to keep up with that company growth curve? How did you keep learning? You kind of joked like you're a fake VP of sales. How did you actually learn how to be a real VP of sales eventually?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Look. The advice that I got early on from some of my friends and mentors within the business in the space is — it was like it's okay to fuck up. Just do it quickly, and don't make the same mistake twice. I think hearing that and just not being afraid to try something because 'it might be right; it might be wrong' is the way to go. Obviously, you want to learn from your past experiences. You want to discuss ideas and things you're trying to implement to make sure that you're thinking about things the right way. But regardless, if everything looks great on paper when you put it to action, you might fall flat on your face. That's okay. But you have to be able to be okay with that and then learn from it, and not make the same mistake twice.

Don't dwell on the mistake you made. There are too many people that will sit there and just wallow in the fact that they screwed up and can't move past it. Making a mistake is part of business. It's part of learning. I think I was given the ability to make some of those mistakes and not "be punished for them." It was like, okay. You tried. It didn't work. Do it again. Try something different this time, and go after it. I just think being given that freedom and flexibility allowed me to flex those muscles to figure out what is the path for success, what is going to lead to the quickest wins for my team, for my branch of the organization.

Again, I think the last piece of it is, because I didn't step into a true VP of sales role — meaning, I didn't step into an organization with 50, 60, 100, 500, 5,000 employees — I was able to sit and do each job to learn what success looked like in the role. I don't want to say I made it easier, because it's obviously a long stretch. But it allowed me to speak from experience within that organization, which carries a tremendous amount of weight for those that come after you to look at you and say like, "Well, Bryan is saying this not because he thinks it's going to work. Because he did it and it worked, this is why we do things this way."

Alex Kracov: It sounds like you're very much a servant leader, right? You rolled up your sleeves. You had done the job before, and then you showed people how to do the job. That built up a lot of trust. Those are my favorite people to work for.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Again, the saying like I'm never going to ask somebody to do something that I'm not willing to do myself or haven't done myself, or I'm not currently doing myself.

Alex Kracov: Were there any particularly tough moments that stuck out along the way? A tough conversation with the founder, a tough conversation with employees? I'm sure there's a lot of it. Anything that sticks out?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Look. As a growing company and learning along the way, there was probably too many of those conversations where a quarter is not going as you would expect it. Your forecast is wildly off from what you initially thought it was going to come in. Those are always difficult conversations. Learning how to manage expectations and learning how to manage up is certainly a part of learning to be successful in this role. Obviously, difficult conversations with employees — it could be HR issues. It could be personnel issues — all of these things happened and occurred. But again, thanks to the team that we had put together there, everyone was a partner in making things. You were never stranded on your own island. There was always somebody to help you through whatever issue it might be, and help you manage the process so that you get through it. You learn from it. Like I said, if it was a mistake, you learn how to not let that happen again. So you grow from it.

Co-founding Marqii

Alex Kracov: And now you're the founder of Marqii, which helps restaurants manage their online—

Bryan Rutcofsky: Co-founder.

Alex Kracov: Co-founder. Sorry. Shout out, Avi. So yeah, now you're the co-founder of Marqii.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Hey, don't forget about Evan.

Alex Kracov: Oh, yeah, Evan too. Sorry. For the record, I used to work with Avi at Yelp. So that's how we all know each other.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Right. Avi used to work with me at Yext. That's how I met Avi. Actually, I was the one who referred Avi to Yext.

Alex Kracov: Got you. Very funny. Small world. It's funny. As you grow up in technology, it's a smaller world than you think. So you're the co-founder of Marqii, which helps restaurants manage their online listings and online menus. I'd love to know what made you decide to start a company. Why did you team up with Evan and Avi? Why this idea?

Bryan Rutcofsky: The backstory here is that when Avi started working on the partnership team at Yext, he came on. He was a top performer. He was very open and honest with me when he started his career there in saying that, "Hey, this is what I'm looking to do. But I need you to know that at some point in time, my intention is to start my own company." Look. I want to be very clear. At that point, in the history of Yext, he's not the first person that came through one of my teams and shared that conversation with me. He is one of the first or like one of the few that actually went ahead and did it. My response to him at the time was, "All right. Well, if I like your idea, call me. I'll be your first check."

And so, true to his word and true to my word, he decided to start Marqii. He shared his initial iteration of what Marqii was with me when he left Yext, and I invested immediately. I was actually initially a board member. So I've been a part of the journey since the beginning. I was actually I guess we'll call integral in helping Avi sort of talk Evan through his decision to leave his role where he was working, to also jump in feet first with Marqii. They ran the business for about two and a half years before I came on board full time. It's shocking to me that full time is actually about a month away from my three-year anniversary of being full time with Marqii, which is crazy.

My decision to join, post-Yext, I had taken some time. I took some summers to be with my family. I did some consulting work. I spent a little bit of time working with another former Yexter at a different brand, in a direct-to-consumer brand — which I can tell you from experience I will never work in a direct-to-consumer brand ever again. But again, I enjoyed my time away from Yext. But I always had the itch to build. The red tape and the long over bill processes that exist in these large, mega conglomerations are just not for me. I like to move quickly. I like to break things. I like to figure things out. I like to fuck up, and I like to fix it and then move fast. And so Avi and Evan had been both poking and prodding to see if I would come on board full time. I had a couple of opportunities in front of me. It was I guess four months into the pandemic. I said, sure, why not jump feet first into a hospitality-tech environment? That seems like a great idea. It was scary at first, but we got through it. We got through the pandemic with our product and our solution. Really, the core focus of what we provide on that menu management capability for the hospitality brands we work with is really taking off. We're seeing a lot of success with it through all the brands that we work with throughout the country and some global locations as well.

Finding product-market fit at Marqii

Alex Kracov: Restaurant technology is a super competitive ecosystem, right? You have the delivery players like DoorDash and Uber Eats, online reviews and listing sites like Yelp and Google, restaurant reservation platforms like OpenTable and Resy. Why do restaurants and, I guess, hospitality brands need Marqii? Where do you fit into this ecosystem? Where do you feel like you have the product market fit?

Bryan Rutcofsky: There's a number of different places where we fit in. But again, our core focus is on the concept of that menu management. So you, as a consumer or anyone that listens to this, I'm sure, has had an experience where they have gone online, like most consumers will do, to take a look at the menu of the restaurant they're about to go see, or they're about to go eat out — whether that'd be reservations for tonight or somebody booked a dinner for two weeks from now for a group party, and I want to know what's on the menu. Unfortunately, the menu inconsistency that exists across the board is insane. All yourself walked into a menu that the item that you want is no longer on the menu. The price that you saw online is now 25% higher when you step into the restaurant and see it on their menu there. The LTO or limited time offer that you thought was available is no longer on the menu. It only comes back every other month. There's a lot of challenges. That's a really terrible consumer experience. Restaurants and brands don't want that.

And so our initial goal was to try and fix that. That also, then, as you had mentioned, expanded into, why aren't we dealing with the location, the listings — which is obviously something I've had a background in for many, many years and working to fix and correct that — and then tying that into their reputation management? But in reality, our goal here is to take some of the complexity of managing your hospitality operations off your plate. The way that we do that is really focused on our integrations within hospitality. That's where I think we have an advantage, at least in our customer base. It's that because we're so squarely focused in the hospitality industry, we go much deeper on our integrations, and we offer far more connections than other players that might have similar solutions in the space. Because they're not focused in hospitality; they're focused on any vertical industry. It doesn't matter. So the players that we communicate with, the players that we build our integrations into are so much more meaningful to our customers. And nobody else really has that capability.

Selling to the hospitality industry

Alex Kracov: Got you. You spend a lot of your career selling into restaurants and these companies that have a physical location as opposed to other tech companies, which is basically my own experience. I'd love to know what makes selling to restaurants and hospitalities different. I generally think maybe they're a little less tech-savvy, or they're just very busy with the day-to-day operations. But anything that sticks out?

Bryan Rutcofsky: I think for everyone that — I shouldn't say everyone. But almost everyone that works at Marqii has some sort of hospitality experience in their past, having worked in restaurants, whether that be short order cooks, cashiers, managers. Some of them even own their own restaurants that are now currently working for Yext today. There's just a passion in having been a part of the industry ourselves that makes everyone feel a little bit more connected to that experience of our customer. I think it makes our conversations a little bit easier. Because we can speak from experience as opposed to speaking in theory. I think that's what drives us and makes us so successful.

It's funny. Just as you say, working in restaurants. Going back to the original Yext calls days, I know I mentioned funeral parlors, but restaurants was another industry that didn't work for us. It was another one on the call side of the business that didn't want calls because no one was calling to make a reservation or very, very few people were. People were going online and making reservations. People were calling about hours and things like that, which is a much more difficult sell. And so really, focusing in restaurants here and getting real deep in the industry has been super exciting. We meet a ton of great people. Don't get me wrong. We travel and we go to conferences. We're always getting the best food and the best tables and the best rooms. So that's definitely a perk of the job for sure.

Alex Kracov: I was literally about to make that joke. I always see Avi posting from the pizza association or whatever. It seems way more fun than the HR conferences that I was at to sell at Lattice. That's stupid swag you get, like an actual slice of pizza, which is awesome.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Exactly.

Selling to multi-location franchises

Alex Kracov: Then I imagine a lot of these restaurants have multi-locations, or there's franchises, multi-locations. Can you talk a little bit about that sales process? Is it really different than a single location? How does that usually work?

Bryan Rutcofsky: It's definitely different. We have this "working theory" internally that anyone can open a restaurant. If you decided that your mom or grandma had the best pasta sauce that you've ever tasted in your life, you can open a restaurant based off of the sauce and the pasta itself. Maybe it's successful. You might even be so successful that you get to a second location. By the time you hit three locations, the focus changes. It's no longer just Alex running a restaurant or two. It's becoming more of a business, and there's more players involved. There's more conversations. You have more of a team behind you than just the staff at the restaurant itself. There might be a true HQ or a back office.

Marqii's focus is in — don't get me wrong. We work with the mom-and-pop and the small, single-location businesses. But our focus is mainly, as we put our sales team to work, on those multi-unit operators, whether that be multi-locations of the same business, whether that be chains and franchisees, whether that be hospitality groups that manage 50 locations with seven different brands make up those locations. The sales process is less of a small business, one or two calls closed, and much more of the true discovery process. Let's understand what your current makeup is today. What does your tech stack look like? What are you doing to handle these certain solutions situations today? What's your ideal? How can we make that better? Is Marqii a fit? You're generally having conversations with multiple stakeholders within an organization, because the concept of Marqii can fit squarely both under operations, as well as marketing, sometimes technology. It really depends on the organization.

If there's one thing I've learned in hospitality, it's there's no two hospitality groups do things the same way. Everybody does things their own way. Everybody does things differently. And so learning how to navigate those conversations, understanding every player in that tech stack, and how might Marqii can either integrate or work directly with becomes an interesting point of conversation on how we can help benefit them. The sales process itself is obviously a longer cycle. Obviously, as any salesperson, you'd love to close the business as quickly as you possibly can. But you have to prove that value. You have to in certain instances, right now, we're navigating budget cycles and annual budget meetings and existing contracts that might be in place for other vendors. And so there's a lot more involved than just like, hey, you want to swipe a credit card for $75 a month for one location. It's much bigger. You're talking $30, $40, $50, $100,000, $500,000 contracts.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, super interesting. It sounds like a more traditional sale than I'm used to, where there's like a department or multiple departments who are focused on actually procuring this technology and improving the marketing operations. I imagine these multi-location businesses, the menu management is probably a huge pain point for them, where it's like, okay, there's a central office who's dictating the menu. Then that has to be distributed out to the 50 locations and all the different Google listings. Yeah, I can imagine that being very complex if you're doing that.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Yeah, it's very frustrating for them to manage. Then one of the things that we do that I think makes us unique is our integrations into their point of sale and their back end, so that we actually remove the necessity of them having to do extra work. The line on our banner: Digital hospitality simplified. The idea behind that is, I don't want to make more work for you. I want to be the layer on top of your software that exists today and just be able to allow the endpoints to communicate with each other without you having to do anything manually, aside from connecting the two systems together. That's usually just like an OAuth in, and now we have access to your menu data. So when you update your point of sale, now Marqii already has access to that data and we can send it everywhere — whether that's your own website, whether that's online publishers, whether that's first-party delivery platforms. Wherever it needs to go, we make sure the customers are getting the right information.

Being a co-founder vs. early employee

Alex Kracov: Very cool. I'd love to end today's conversation comparing the Yext journey with Marqii. Because I imagine it has been very different being an early employee versus being a co-founder. How are you thinking about the two different journeys? Any big differences?

Bryan Rutcofsky: They're actually surprisingly more similar than you might expect. I think the biggest differentiator is, in the early days of GymTicket, Alpha 411/Yext, the biggest differentiator is the in-office versus remote. I think the biggest challenge for me, for our team, is learning how to grow an organization successfully in a remote environment. We love being remote. I think it's one of our core values. It's the fact that we can be so geographically separated but at the same time, all feel together. We use a lot of technology to help us do that as well. But this is honestly very reminiscent of the early days, the early, early days of the GymTicket and the Alpha 411 in just getting your hands dirty and being a part of as many conversations with the customers as I can.

Towards the latter days of my career at Yext, I was further and further removed from customer conversations. Quite honestly, that's what gives me energy. That's what excites me. It's part of the reason that at the end of my time at Yext, it just wasn't for me anymore. Very different managing a small sales team of 5, 10, 20, 40 than it is being an SVP of a global company that has 2,500 employees. And so I enjoy being a part of the day to day. I like watching everything we do make a difference. You actually see the movement in the business. That also being said, we can also move quickly. Meaning, we can change quickly. The analogy is always made between the speedboat and the cruise ship. And so speedboat can make a U-turn much quicker than a cruise ship. And so I like the ability to make those quick changes and do what's right for the business as we continue to grow and not get held up.

Alex Kracov: Well, thank you so much for the wonderful conversation, Bryan. If people want to follow up with different questions, where's the best place for them to find you?

Bryan Rutcofsky: Probably, email is probably the best way. I'm happy to share my email if you want to put it as part of this.

Alex Kracov: Cool. We can put it in the show notes, yeah.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Easy way to do that. Unfortunately, I'm not a big Twitter, Instagram guy, but I do have accounts on both. So if people want to find me, it's @BRutcofsky on both. I'm there, and I'll get the notifications.

Alex Kracov: Right on. Well, thank you so much.

Bryan Rutcofsky: Awesome. Thanks, Alex.

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