Clate Mask: Co-founder and CEO of Infusionsoft

In this Infusioncast interview, Joshua Millage is privileged to speak with Clate Mask, co-founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, about how the company started, the values that form its foundation, advice for business owners, and Infusionsoft’s future.

Clate and his partners came together in 2002 to form a small custom software business to do what they were good at, serve their customers and make a living on their own terms. They weren’t thinking about achieving radical success, but their core values and drive for excellence have resulted in Infusionsoft’s eminence.

The key turning point was their introduction of automation for sales and marketing. They saw a universal problem, and their solution was revolutionary. Applying this solution to their own business triggered an upward momentum that continues today. But getting that first customer was a battle.

After months of spinning his wheels, under pressure Clate finally sought help. First he dialed in his diminished health and fitness. Then he learned to truly sell his passionate belief in the value his company could provide, and sales took off.

One of Infusionsoft’s enduring values is a desire for their clients to succeed. From the start they wanted to build a long-term business. It was a labor of love for their company and their clients, but love wasn’t enough – they needed capital.

Getting investors to believe in your vision requires clarity on your purpose, your values, and your mission. Infusionsoft’s purpose is to help small businesses succeed. Their values include client empowerment and involvement, reliability, communication, optimism, zero ego, constant innovation, and a belief in people and their dreams. Their mission is to dominate their market, and they are doing it.

Clate’s advice is – before you do anything else, write down who you are as a company, what you do, and why you exist. These tenets will form the foundation and direction for your company, and you will attract customers and employees who share your values and passions.

Infusionsoft is going public soon as a necessity to fulfill their mission as a market leader. Investor pressure often places profits above purpose, but Clate says their investors will know from the start that they will not sacrifice their purpose, values, or mission, nor their commitment to the success of their clients, as those elements define Infusionsoft.

Clate’s personal philosophy is to keep getting better. He is always working on himself to develop the characteristics necessary for him to fulfill his ambitions.

Thank you for joining us.

Connect with Clate Mask

Clate Mask

You can connect with Clate Mask at Infusionsoft.com and at @ClateMask on Twitter.

Show Links:

Infusionsoft

On Twitter – @ClateMask

[transcript height=”200px”]

Joshua: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Infusioncast. Today, I had the opportunity of interviewing Clate Mask, the CEO of Infusionsoft. This episode has been a long time coming. I’ve always wanted to interview Clate and get his perspective on the community we’ve built here at Infusioncast. Today, was an incredible interview. I really enjoyed having Clate on the show. We talked about the future of Infusionsoft. I asked him some difficult questions, questions that I actually pulled the audience to ask Clate and he was generous enough to answer them. I had a lot of fun and without further ado, let’s get into today’s episode with Clate Mask.
Voiceover: How the heck do you use Infusionsoft? How do you make it work for you. Welcome to Infusioncast, the only podcast that shows you the tricks of the trade and teaches you on how to be an Infusionsoft expert. Join your host, Joshua Millage, as he sits down with Infusionsoft pros to hear their stories and experiences making Infusionsoft work for them. Ready? Here’s Joshua.
Joshua: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Infusioncast. This is a really exciting episode. Today, I have the co-founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, Clate Mask, with me here today. Clate, welcome to the show.
Clate: Hey. Great to be here, Josh. Thanks so much for having me.
Joshua: Yeah, right on. Let’s start with the origin story of Infusionsoft. I’ve gotten bits and pieces of it over the last two InfusionCons that I’ve been through but I’d love to share the story with the audience today.
Clate: Yeah, you bet. It’s funny. We didn’t really start this business thinking that we wanted to build a big company. We just wanted to come together and, basically, be our own boss and be able to serve the customers we wanted to serve and make the money we wanted to make and work the hours we wanted to work and make the decisions we wanted to make. It seemed like it just appealed to entrepreneurial desires. There were four of us. We all came together and started working to help small businesses use the Internet to do a better job with their sales and marketing. it was about three years of just blood, sweat, and tears. It was really, really tough. We really were custom software at the beginning and that’s part of why it was so hard because we didn’t start out as a product. We started out as a custom software shop. This is 2002 when we started.
For about three years, we were just in the process of converting from doing custom software to creating our first web-based CRM software product and that was three very difficult years because we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have any investors or capital or anything like that. It was just pure bootstrapping, just trying to figure out a way to make it all work. After three really tough years, we got our first product which is a predecessor of Infusionsoft today and began to start to have some success.
Over the next couple of years, more and more success. We started to think, “Hey, we could really turn this into something that would help small businesses at a much, much bigger scale.” Meaning, that lots more customers, small businesses across the world, they could a better job in automating their sales and marketing. In about 2007, which was about five years after we started, we set out on a big vision to change the world for small businesses by automating their sales and marketing. The rest as they say is history.
Joshua: That’s so cool. Just out of curiosity, when you were making that transition from a custom software shop into a product-focused company, what was that predecessor that you kind of before Infusionsoft, what did that software look like? Just out of curiosity.
Clate: Yeah. We were creating a bunch of custom online databases for customers and then giving them a way to use that database software but it was all custom jobs. We were retaining the intellectual property to the codebase that we were using. We were trying to reuse parts of codebase from job to job. What would happen was we would get a custom client that we would do work for and then we try to leverage that into the next job. Over the course of about a year or so, it started to have … Every job had a customer database at the core of it that began to be more and more easily deployed for the next job. It went from pure custom software to a web-based customer database to a web-based customer database with some marketing stuff to help you follow-up better with customers.
The next thing was our first product and that was actually a mortgage. It was web-based CRM product for the mortgage industry. We called it Mortgage Pro CRM. It wasn’t too long after that, that we created what we called Managed Pro CRM that was more for any small business not just one in the mortgage industry and that Managed Pro CRM was the predecessor to Infusion CRM which was the predecessor to Infusionsoft.
Joshua: Wow. Thank you for taking me through the history because, I think, that a lot of people who look at a company like Infusionsoft and they maybe play this game in their mind that was like you just started here. I think, it’s so important for us to understand that we’re all in this journey in our business of going through these iterations. I thank you so much for sharing that because, I think, it gives us hope to grow our companies and be okay with the change that happens through that journey.
Clate: Yeah, I’m happy to share it because one of the things that bugs me is when people think that we just got investors and started to build this company. That’s not how we did it. We did it with blood, sweat, tears, every day a survival, a game of survival. For three years, it was literally the hardest thing I could possible imagine. I mean, it was just so hard. The only reason we didn’t stop and go do something else where we could make … I mean, we could have a made a lot more money than we were doing in those early days and I had made a lot more money. That was probably the hardest thing with my wife. She was like, “Hey, we went through eight years of college and we had a six-figure job and now we’re getting nothing basically and we’ve got lots of kids with hungry stomachs for some reason. This isn’t working.” I was trying to stick it out and stick it out.
The reason why I like sharing the story is because we understand what small business success requires. We understand small business failure is. We understand how it ravages the bank account, the metal, emotional account, the physical ability. It is all-taxing and we get it and that’s the reason why we love doing what we do because we know that when you automate your sales and marketing, it changes everything and we went through that. In fact, that’s what changed everything for us was when we began using our software we had created for our custom clients. We started using it for ourselves and that changed everything and that’s why we had so much conviction around what sales and marketing automation can do for small businesses everywhere.
Joshua: Yeah, and that’s what I truly think is so different about Infusionsoft compared to other systems out there. There’s a soul that comes with it. When I’m at InfusionCon and I’m talking to people, I can tell like, “We’re in the battle together and we all want each other to do well.” It comes from this journey that you and your brother-in-law’s went through to get here and it really shows. I remember a story you’re sharing at ICon, I don’t know if it was this last year or the year before, just about getting customer number one. Can you share a little bit about that journey in particular? Because, I think, a lot of us understand we need to make sales and getting customer one is sometimes the hardest.
Clate: Yeah. It’s really interesting because my three partners were all software developers and I was the sales and marketing person coming in to try help things go. The arrangement was, they did nothing but write software and I did everything else except write software. Several weeks into my joining the company, the hungry eyes started looking at me more and more wondering where the customers were. Mind you, I was trying to sell custom software development, web-based software in 2002 where everybody had a dial-up connection. There were security concerns. There were dial-up accessibility concerns. There were just major feelings of discomfort about putting your sense of customer data online, backup concerns, all sorts of stuff.
Trying to sell people on custom software where we were trying to help create a picture in their mind of what we could do for them. I mean, it was really tough. I was struggling like crazy and I was really just at my wit’s end after about six or eight weeks of trying to sell and not making a sale and getting many people close. I went to my dad and talked to him about it. I’m giving you the long version, by the way, so I hope-
Joshua: No, that is perfect.
Clate: I went to my dad and I was like, “Dad, I’m getting my butt kicked.” Literally, I actually had a breakdown. I was crying to him. I don’t know what to do. There’s a lot more to this behind besides just eight weeks of working on it. We’re consulting him for a few months before that. I had been struggling post 9/11 trying to transition into an entrepreneurial venture and was several months into that process. I was just feeling all the pressure and weight. He, basically, said, “Are you exercising?” I said, “No, I’m not. I don’t have any time to do that. I’m always either worrying or … I have no time for time.” He said, “What are you doing tomorrow at 5am?” He said, “Worrying or sleeping or both?” I’m not sure what he …
He said, “Let’s go to the gym.” I said, “I don’t have any money for that.” He said, “I’ll pay for a membership.” He took me to a gym and we talked every morning for the next couple of weeks. At one point, he asked me, “Where are you in your sales process?” I said, “Still no customers.” We’re now a couple of months in and we don’t have any money. I mean, there’s nothing going on. It’s like we’re trying to [inaudible 11:33] some dollars from custom software and prior clients and that sort of thing and so I said, “Here’s where I am.” He said, “Why don’t you tell me about your most likely prospect and tell me how the conversation is going?”
My dad’s a teacher but he understands people and he understands sales from jobs earlier in his career. I told him about my conversations and he said, “Okay. I got an idea for you. Are you ready?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Sell.” He yelled at me. I was like, “What?” “Because you’re not …” I said, “I am, I am.” He’s, “No, you’re not. You’re talking to them. You’re not actually persuading them and helping them see the value. Do you believe in what you, guys, do?” “Yeah, I do. You should see the software, the projects we’ve done for our clients.”
He takes me through all of the belief and he says, “If you don’t believe it more than anybody else then you’re not going to make sales. You’ve got to believe it and you’ve got to persuade people why they should believe it and you’re not doing that. You’re just talking to them.” He was right and I began selling and we began bringing on customers. Our first one was a guy named [Reid Hoisington 12:50]. He was the first custom client that I brought into the business. We’ve had a handful prior to that but were friends and family and acquaintances, that sort of thing, but this is our first client that we really brought it and we did a bunch of custom work for him over the following year and then he was the one that over time introduced us into the mortgage industry as well as information marketers who needed some similar customer database with marketing automation capabilities. That’s the long version of the story.
Joshua: No, I really appreciate the director’s cut there because, man, for me personally, Clate, that really resonates in the journey that I’ve taken in growing my business too and doing custom work. My dad is also a teacher and I had a very similar conversation and it’s funny that sometimes you just need someone to say, “Hey, you need to actually sell.”
Clate: Yeah.
Joshua: You’re telling yourself the story that you are but you need to actually do it. I think, what you said about belief, I really hope the listeners take that home with them because if you don’t believe in it, man, no one else is going to. That was some really wise things and I really appreciate that. Now-
Clate: You bet [inaudible 14:03]. I was just going to say any business that’s under $300,000 in annual sales, it is a sales job and most businesses never get past 300,000 in sales because they owner doesn’t want to own the fact that he’s got to sell. Until you own that, until you stop thinking of it as a necessary evil but you just say … Until you get to the place where you own, you believe in what you’re doing, and you believe constantly that you can deliver value for customers and you, therefore, sell it that way, until that point your business is not going to get past that $300,000 mark especially it won’t get past the 300,000 mark. Those are usually the pitfalls of why … the reason why businesses don’t make it past that point. It’s about 80% of business that never get to that 300,000 mark. The reason they don’t is because they’re afraid of selling.
Joshua: Wow. That’s a great advice. Now, we’re in 2015. Infusionsoft has grown so much. What has been some of the keys to getting here from that point?
Clate: Some pretty significant foundational thing. In 2007, basically, we decided that we were going to go for what we’re going to build a company that would help small businesses succeed everywhere. We didn’t want to just build up the business and sell it, we wanted to build a great enduring company that would be around for decades. That was a huge shift. I just said that really tritely but it actually took us a long time to go through that process, a lot of mentors and people that helped us.
Really, it took us being falling head over heels in love with our business and what we do. In falling head over heels in love with our customers and helping small businesses succeed that caused us to say we want to do this forever. We don’t want this to be a step in our career or a story in a serial entrepreneur theories. We want this to be what we do and who we are and how we make a contribution in the world.
When we got to that point in 2007, we said, “We’ve got this big vision on how we’re going to revolutionize the way small businesses grow.” In order to do that, we need capital because we’ve growing the business, bootstrapping it with a little bit of friends and family investment about three or fours in but we couldn’t grow the business fast enough. I mean, it was growing like … We didn’t have the capital to grow it at the rate that it could grow. We were doubling the business or more every year and by 2007, we were on our way from 3-1/2 million to about 7 million and that we just realized that that can only go so fast if you don’t have the capital to invest.
Once we decided we were going to go big and have a lot of fun doing it, we realized we needed to raise capital. One thing is we learned how to raise capital and that’s important when you have a big vision that you’re pursuing. More foundational is the articulation of that vision. How we’ve been successful is we got clear on what that vision is. We got clear on what we call our purpose, our values and our mission. Our purpose is to help small businesses succeed. Then we’ve got nine values and I’m not reading them. I know them cold and so do our employees because we hire, train, and fire to this.
Our values are we empower entrepreneurs, we listen, we care, we serve, we do what we say we’ll do, we practice open, real communication, we face challenges with optimism, we check our egos at the door, we innovate and constantly improve how we do the right thing, and we believe in people and their dreams. It took us some time to articulate those values but we did that. Then we have a mission that’s our current mission that we’re on. We’re about 8-1/2 years into this tenure and mission but it’s to create and dominate the market of all in one sales and marketing software for small businesses. By the time we’re done with this, we want to have over a thousand employees and a couple hundred thousand people using our software. We’re roughly on track with that to achieve that over the next couple of years.
Joshua: Man, that is so powerful. What you say the key, in a nutshell, is getting this vision and mission and values out there and clearly stated and then really just internalizing them, is that … I guess, for me, as I think about my own company, it’s like you just really challenge me personally to sit down and go, “What is it that we’re doing from a high level and then taking it down into values?” I think that that’s something that all small businesses need to do if they want to grow.
Clate: Yeah, absolutely. What we’ve done is, over the years, we hire, train, and fire to that. The first thing is to articulate it. What happens when you’re a solopreneur, you know it all, you understand it, just you. You hire your first couple of people and they tend to be people you know. You have a good sense of who they are. You don’t have to articulate anything because you know who they are. As the team gets bigger, you start to see things … You have an implicit set of values that have never been spelled out and you operate to that but as the team grows, it becomes more and more important for you to be explicit about it.
That doesn’t mean that if you’re a solopreneur, you don’t need to articulate this. I would encourage every business owner to just get out an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper and write down who we are as a company, what we do, and why we exist. When you understand that, you will attract the right customers, you’ll attract the right employees, you’ll attract the right partners. More importantly, you’ll repel the wrong customers, you’ll repel the wrong employees, you’ll repel the wrong partners.
Joshua: That’s really powerful. Clate, I’m going to switch gears a little bit here because I did something that was fun. I pulled the audience last week and asked them, “Hey, if you could ask Clate anything, what would it be?” I pulled two questions from tons and tons and tons that I received. It was actually a really hard challenge. I’m going to start with the first one. I’m not sure who this came from but they ask, “Does Infusionsoft plan to go public eventually? If so, what does this mean to the users? Will anything change at all?”
Clate: It’s a great question. We do plan to go public. We don’t have a specific time frame but part of our vision when we set out on this back in 2007 was to be a great enduring company and to be the market leader in sales and marketing software for small businesses and to really lead what we consider to be a massive revolution in small business success. Part of that is to be the leader and to be a great enduring company as a public company. We do plan to go public at some point. I get this question a lot.
A lot of people are concerned about what happens when you’re a public company and you’ve got investors that are pressing on you for quarterly results. I understand that and I’ve spent a lot of time with experts talking about this including Jim Collins and spending a couple of days with him, just my team and him at his lab in Boulder, Colorado talking about this exact question of how do you stay true to your purpose, values, and mission with the pressures of Wall Street and quarterly performance.
There are good examples out there. People have done it. Our intent is to be totally focused on our purpose, values, and mission. Not surprisingly, we will be very clear about that with investors when people are deciding initially if they want to come on board and buy into our [inaudible 22:15]. We’ll help them understand who we are and what we do and why we exist and we’ll tell people this is a company that’s a long-term company. There’s a lot more to it than that. I take a lot of satisfaction as I watch Jeff Bezos of Amazon lead his company despite pressure from Wall Street. There’s an art to it in managing expectations and not trying to grow too fast. All of that is the NBA sport of it but none of it matters if you don’t keep customer’s success first and foremost.
My response to the customer that says, “How will this change for your users?” I will keep you clearly focused as our top priority and keep investing in the user experience because that is after all why we’re doing all of this in the first place. That’s why we decided to swing through the fences. It’s why we decided to go through the process of raising capital. It’s to be able to change the world for small businesses and that’s not going to change when we go public. That’s we’re focused on.
Joshua: That’s fantastic. I have a massive smile on my face right now. The second question comes from someone … I actually got this a couple of times. I think, it speaks to the jobs that you’re providing. I think, a lot of people want to come in and work for you, Clate. This question is, what is your best advice to someone who wants to work for Infusionsoft?
Clate: My best advice is don’t come if you just want a job and you want to pay check and you think that our culture sounds really cool. Don’t come, don’t even bother wasting your time. My advice to you is that if in your heart of hearts, you want to change the world for small businesses and if you love small business success, if you love the small business success because you know what it takes to be successful in small business then you should look at our website and you should see the roles that we have and you should get really clear on whether you’re living our purpose, values, and mission.
If our values resonate with you and you said, “Man, those are my values. I love to empower entrepreneurs. I love to listen, care, and serve. I have a servant heart. I do what I say I’ll do,” and you can go through those and not just go through them because you can pass an interview but you look at those and you say, “Man, those really speak to me. Those values speak to me and I love small business success,” then we’d love to know how your skills can apply to one of the roles that’s on our website.
Most companies look at skills and then say, “Are they a cultural fit?” We say, “Are you a cultural fit and then do you have skills that match?” The cultural fit is all about your passion for small business success. You’ll notice I didn’t just say passion for small business. I love small business success and the reason I love small business success is because I know what it takes to do it. I love the people that have the guts and the moxie and the determination to push through it. We want to help those people.
We don’t want to help the people who just hung up their shingle and say, “I have a small business.” That’s nice and we’ll be here when you’re really serious about success. Much like the person who wants to lose weight and they’re about to take a diet pill, we don’t want that person. We want the person who says, “I’m going to be in the gym. I’m going to work my butt off and I’m going to be successful.” That’s what Infusionsoft stands for. That’s what you have to do in order to be successful in small business and in order to automate your sales and marketing process.
Joshua: I love it. Wow. Thank you for answering that question. Clate, I want to be respectful of your time. We’re coming to the end of the interview. I love to end with … if you can give some success tip or ritual that you do maybe on a daily or weekly basis to really get primed and ready to go. Actually, I want to break this up. I want to know, one, how you did that in the early days when your wife was like, “Clate, your kids need food.” Then what are you doing now? If we could split it into two parts, I think, that’d be interesting.
Clate: Behind everything is my faith and that’s super important to me. As long as I stay good in the practice of that, things seemed to work out really well. More tactically, what I would tell you is, I think, the “early to bed, early to rise” is a very wise saying. It doesn’t just make a person healthy, wealthy, and wise, it really is what’s underneath success for me. I enjoy reading. That’s important. I enjoy spending time with my family and having balance. What I would say one of the tips is I wake up early. I’m constantly working on myself in developing the characteristics that are necessary to get to the next level of my ambitions.
Sometimes those ambitions are about very specific things about how to control my emotions more effectively. Sometimes there are things about the business of how do we increase our number of new prospects we’re talking to. Whatever those ambitions are, I found that waking up early and working on them by learning and reading and growing, those are the things that it takes to be successful in my mind. When you talk to successful people, they’re really intent on developing themselves in getting better.
Joshua: Yeah, wow. Clate, thank you so much for coming on the show. I know that the audience and myself were all just very grateful for your presence here in our little community of passionate Infusionsoft users so this has been an absolute blast. I’m going to have everyone tweet at you when this episode goes live. Is that okay?
Clate: Yeah, awesome. That’d be great.
Joshua: Very cool. I’ll put that information and everything else on the show notes at Infusioncast.co/clatemask. Clate, thank you so much for coming on Infusioncast.
Clate: Awesome. Thanks, Joshua. I appreciate you having me.
Voiceover: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Infusioncast. Struggling to embed Infusionsoft web forms in your WordPress website? Head over to Infusioncast.co and download our free WordPress plugin FusionForms. FusionForms allows you to easily embed beautiful Infusionsoft forms into any WordPress website with a simple short code. Thanks again for listening and we’ll talk to you in the next episode.

[/transcript]