Clate Mask, CEO and Co-Founder of Infusionsoft
Clate Mask and Infusionsoft’s 10-Year, Overnight Success Story
When Clate Mask started Infusionsoft with a couple of brothers-in-law, he was just looking for a way to pay off his $100,000 in student debt as quickly as possible.
Instead, he ended up leading the company to eight Inc. 500 and Inc. 5000 wins, landing four rounds of venture capital (including a $55 million Series D), and co-authoring a New York Times bestselling book (Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy), and earning a range of other accolades.
More than 140,000 users now employ Infusionsoft’s CRM, sales and marketing software services, and the company is one of the biggest names in the sales and marketing space.
As the CEO of Infusionsoft and a national speaker on entrepreneurship and small-business success, Mask has a lot to share with young founders looking to make their mark on the world. Here are just some of the lessons he’s learned during what he calls his “10-year overnight success story.”
When Finding Your Niche, Give it Time
Today, Infusionsoft is known primarily as an email marketing engine for businesses looking to increase their conversions. But it didn’t start out that way.
“We started as custom software for small businesses,” Mask says. “After about a year, we got to semi-custom CRM software for small businesses. After another year, we got to a CRM solution for mortgage brokers and a CRM solution for all other business owners. [By year three], it was the CRM solution for all other business owners that was really taking off. And that was the beginning of Infusionsoft.”
Instead of getting so wedded to their original business idea that they refused to evolve, the Infusionsoft team instead followed their customers’ lead.
“We were working with customers having a hard time managing their lists,” he says. “As we started to solve problems for … marketers, they would tell their friends, and we found ourselves serving more and more marketers who needed the capability of our sales and marketing automation. And that’s how it gradually got developed. It took about three years before we go to the product [we have now], and for the past decade-plus we’ve been providing that software to more and more customers.”
Get Clear About What Your Business Really Does for its Customers
Once you’ve found your niche, it’s critical to hone your message. Fundamentally, what problem do you help your customers solve? How are you making their businesses better? Can you articulate this in a way that resonates with your potential customer base?
Dig below the obvious to the core of what you’re helping customers to achieve. For example:
“A lot of time people just use [Infusionsoft] for email marketing or marketing automation, but the reality is, our software is really the growth system for your business,” says Mask. “A lot of business owners don’t realize that the thing that holds them back is effective follow-up. What our customers really do is they use our software to effectively follow-up with their prospects and customers to move the customers through the customer life cycle in an automated way… Infusionsoft [helps] business owners grow their companies by following up effectively.”
Don’t try to sell new customers on your wildest success stories. Stick to the fundamentals.
There’s a tendency at many companies to highlight the most sophisticated or astronomical success stories from their customers. That can be confusing to a new customer.
Instead, he prefers to highlight the fundamentals achieved by every successful customer, not the fancy techniques used by outliers. In the case of Infusionsoft, that amounts to “having basic lead follow-up in place, basic new customer welcome campaigns in place, and basic long-term nurture in place. … If you look at all of our successful customers, they’re doing those three things. Those are the basics—the blocking and tackling of automated follow-up—and our successful customers are all doing it.”
Never Forget That Culture is Fundamental to Growth
Sure, Mask recognizes that great companies always start with great product and that marketing matters. But he’s adamant that “to grow it and scale it, you’ve gotta have great culture.” He’s also adamant about what the word “culture” means in the first place.
“Culture is not the perks and the things that you offer. It’s really the core of who you are—your purpose, your values, and your mission,” Mask says. Putting a strong focus on those elements during staff management is foundational to building a great culture.
This focus allows Mask to ensure everyone on his team is aligned around the same mission. “If you can get everybody aligned, you can do some pretty awesome stuff and you can move fast.”
Only when your team is aligned and your culture is scalable can your business grow. “You can’t really grow a company effectively if you don’t scale the culture,” Mask says. “In the end, it’s people and leadership that sustain the growth of the company.”
Accept the Trade-off Between Profit and Growth
“There’s always a trade-off between profit and growth,” Mask says. “Profit is sometimes too easy to take and then sacrifice the growth of the business. … I think you’ve gotta have some of both. If you’re leaning entirely one way or the other, it’s problematic. Sometimes you’re gonna push harder on growth and less on profit, and other times you’re going to push more on profit and less on growth. Keeping the long term in mind is the key thing.”
Take Good Care of Yourself
“To grow a company, it does require a lot of you,” Mask says. In the process of building Infusionsoft, he’s given up a lot. “There are … relationships that I admit have suffered at times, and that’s hard. I certainly have given up a lot of sleep. I definitely have given up some interests and hobbies and things that I would like to do.”
The silver lining of missing out? Mask channeled the hurt from those losses to get clear about what he’s no longer willing to sacrifice.
“I won’t sacrifice my wife and my six kids, I won’t sacrifice my health, and I won’t sacrifice my faith,” he says. “I make sure that my body is able to be the vehicle that drives my ambitions and what I’m trying to accomplish in the world.”
Master the Mental Game
“The biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is actually the mind game and everything that’s going in inside of them as we’re trying to build our companies,” Mask says. “We’re totally distracted by all the things that are happening and all the hats that we’re wearing.
“We’re very emotionally charged by what’s happening in the business, whether that’s good or bad. We can be prone to not just distraction but to anger or to passions or to you name it. I think managing ourselves and managing what goes on between our ears and managing our energy—those are the real challenges that entrepreneurs face every day.”
In Mask’s experience, there is no silver bullet when it comes to mastering these mental hurdles. Instead, it’s all about committing (and recommitting) to a healthy mindset over the long haul.
“I’ve worked on it for years,” he says. “I’m not perfect at it, but I’ve gotten a lot better. Frankly, I used to be much more prone to anger. It was a lot easier to get upset. My emotions swung much more. Early on, I definitely had a lot of negative self-talk going on.”
It’s taken a lot of coaching, reading, journaling, reflection, meditation, spiritual development, and self-awareness for Mask to get to the healthier place he’s in today. Just as Infusionsoft’s identity has changed over the years and benefited from singular focus, so too has Mask’s.
What it’s all boiled down to, he says, is “keeping clear in my mind who I am, and what I stand for, and how I approach things in the world.”
- The one thing that most business owners don’t recognize is stopping them from growing
- A battle-tested, tried and true guide to getting the biggest return possible on every single customer
- The three most critical points in the customer lifecycle and why ignoring them puts your business at risk
- An exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the email marketing strategies of Infusionsoft’s top clients
- How to combine automation and authenticity into one winning combination
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Clate Mask
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the “Foundr” podcast. My name is Nathan Chan and I’m the host and CEO “Foundr Magazine” and I’m coming to you live from rainy cold Melbourne hometown, home grown Australia. So hope you’re having a wonderful day wherever you are around the world. I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this podcast and share your earbuds with me.
If you’re new to the show, we interview extremely successful founders that are pretty much crashing it in whatever industry they are in. They are either number one or two at what they do in the world and they’ve disrupted their industry in some way shape or form. And today’s guest, Clate Mask, is someone that is definitely an industry leader in the CRM world. So he created a company called Infusionsoft.
And I’ve actually never really heard Clate do any interviews, so this was really cool to actually get to speak to somebody that, you know, we use their product every single day at “Foundr.” Massive fans, email automation software, CRM, fully an absolute based of a software product. And it’s really interesting to hear the ground up of how that company started, what growth strategies worked, leadership scale, team building, hiring culture, you name it. It was a great conversation and I learned a lot from Clate.
No,w before we jump into the show, I just want to let you know guys, for those of you that were following along around the “Foundr Version 1.0,” a physical coffee table book, we’ll officially be selling that book to the public this coming Monday for only one week. You can get the book, the digital version, and the audiobook, and the ultimate crowd-funded guide which is the detailed process that we used to actually raise over $200,000.
You can get all of that for one special awesome discounted price before we go to the public. So make sure you save that date and, yeah, make sure you check out the book and go to founder.com, foundr.com/book. Yes, that’s right. We’ve actually recently acquired the foundr.com domain which was a mission in of itself. A whole other story that I might tell you guys some time. I might write a blog post about it actually. But that’s it for me.
If you are enjoying these episodes please do take the time to leave us a review or do share it with another friend that, you know, that’s a founder. I’m sure you have a friend that’s a founder or an entrepreneur that would love these episodes and these lovely podcasts, love our work, anything we do put out at “Foundr.” It helps more than you can imagine. All right, now let’s jump into the show.
So the first question I ask anyone that comes on is, “How did you get your job?”
Clate: I created it. Thanks, Nathan. Good to be talking with you. I say that only half-jokingly but here is the total truth. When I started working with my couple partners at Infusionsoft, I had $100,000 in student debt and I thought that the best way for me to get that paid off was to go work for a big company or a law firm, because I have a law degree, and I quickly realized, or at some point, realized that the better way to do it was to start a company. And so I partnered up with my brothers-in-law and we created Infusionsoft and it was about, you know, a 10-year overnight success story.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. And so when did you start it? How did it come about? Because marketing automation, email marketing, this is, like, if you’re gonna start I guess a Sass company, this is a good space.
Clate: Yeah. So what happened was we actually didn’t start as CRM or marketing automation or email marketing, we started as custom software for small businesses. And after about almost a year, we got to semi-custom CRM software for small businesses. And after another year, we got to a CRM solution for mortgage brokers and a CRM solution for all other business owners. And it was the CRM solution through all other business owners that, by the end of year three, was really taking off and that was the beginning of Infusionsoft.
Nathan: I see. And how did the idea exactly come about? Do you have a background in building sales companies? Are you a marketer? Are you a developer?
Clate: Yeah. So great question. So I had been working at a software company that created websites for customers and we had millions of customers and so I knew that world and I was more on the business development side of that company. Marketing and business development and then my co-founders were software developers. So when I began working with my partners at Infusionsoft, the deal was they did nothing but write software and I did everything else except write software.
And I gradually moved more and more into the sales and marketing and the leadership of the company. And then one of my partners moved into the marketing side, moved out of software writing and into the marketing side. And so our other partner is still our chief software architect. And, I guess, I would say I was more on the marketing side, my two partners were more on the software side, but over time, one of those partners moved to the marketing side.
Nathan: Yeah. Gotcha. And how did that evolution come about before you found, I guess, product market fit would you say?
Clate: Yeah. It really came through our custom software development for our customers and we started working with marketers who were having a hard time managing their lists. They were having a hard time keeping straight customers from prospects, first, you know, responders from cold leads. You know, just having a hard time keeping things straight. And as you know, the more you build your list, the more you must segment it in order to send the right message to the right audience at the right time.
And so it really was their needs, those marketers, and as we started to solve problems for some of those marketers, they would tell their friends and we found ourselves serving more and more marketers who needed the capabilities of our sales and marketing automation and that’s how it gradually got developed. It took about three years before we got to our product and, you know, for the last decade-plus, we’ve been providing that software to more and more customers.
Nathan: Yeah. Awesome. And can you give our audience, if they haven’t heard of Infusionsoft, I guess an insight of how big it actually is? Because We’re a customer, we’re a superuser. Pretty much our whole business relies and runs off Infusionsoft mail.
Clate: Yeah. I’m glad you asked that. Thanks. So in terms of size of our customer base, we got about 140,000 users of the software. But in terms of the scope of the product and what it does, it’s a really good question. A lot of times people will come in and they are just using it for email marketing or maybe marketing automation, but the reality is our software is really the growth system for your business. And it’s, you know, the customer database at the core where you have all your customer information.
And then it’s marketing automation, sales automation, e-commerce, but what you’re really doing, what our customers really do is they use our software to effectively follow up what their prospects and customers to move their customers through the customer life cycle in, you know, an automated way.
Nathan: Yeah. Now, I love that customer life cycle. I’d love if you could talk our audience through that, because I noticed you guys are doing a lot of education around lead generation, conversion and I guess getting the most out of Infusionsoft. You know, that would be really useful for our audience.
Clate: Yeah. You bet. Well, let me just talk about the concept really in a basic fundamental way and then I will talk about a little bit more about the customer life cycle. Generally speaking, what happens in entrepreneurial business, when you are running a small company, it’s very very difficult to follow up effectively with all your leads and customers and so things slip through the cracks. And you’re wearing 10 different hats trying to run the business and you don’t follow up with the prospect or the lead or the folks you met at the networking event, or your customers who asked you the sensitive information.
You just can’t keep it all straight when the business starts to grow when you start to have some success. And so it’s great because the business is starting to grow, but you really can’t keep it all straight and you start to kinda go nuts with your brain as the real system of your business. That doesn’t work well and it prevents you from growing. And so, I think, a lot of times business owners don’t realize that the thing that holds them back from growing is effective follow-up. And, you know, people don’t follow up effectively because they don’t
They have so much distraction going on in their business because they are wearing so many hats, sometimes they forget. But, fundamentally, if we follow up effectively, with all our leads and customers, the business grows. And, I think, most business owners realize that when they stop and slow it down and think about it, but then what do you do about it?
So you know, Infusionsoft really is a follow-up system. That’s what we do, is we help our business owners grow their companies by following up effectively. And so that’s the concept. Now, you know, in a nutshell, effective follow-up holds businesses back from growing, Infusionsoft is your follow up system. More specifically, if you think about all the places where follow up breaks down, you could kinda map that out across a customer life cycle from the first time the prospect hears about you, all the way through to when they purchase, to where they do repeat purchases, they refer other customers to you. That’s all our customer life cycle.
And what business owners start to realize when they work with Infusionsoft is, “Oh wow, I can lay out my customer life cycle and I can automate every aspect of it so that I’m literally automating the business, like, that’s the really great value that customers get to. The fundamentals of follow up automating the whole business the way you guys have done is what’s possible. And sometimes we found that people try to jump to automating too much before they get the basics of follow up in place.
Nathan: Yeah. If I were to talk about our system, it is quite complicated but it is effective. Like, we’re using lead scoring and depending on, you know, how much people open, click and how hot they are around, you know, any of our content or any of our emails that we put out, depending on that, we might only just send you to a landing page or send you a piece of content to warm you up and get you more familiar with, you know, a certain product or a little bit more about our brand.
And then, you know, depending on how warm you are, we can let you know about an awesome product or service that you might be interested in depending on what you’ve clicked or opened in the past six months.
Clate: Yeah, that’s right. Then you are only spending your time one-on-one talking with people who are very qualified and likely to move forward in the buying process. Where businesses waste a lot of time and do follow up ineffectively, is they are doing one-on-one with people who aren’t really ready. So lead scoring helps you to understand who to talk to and when and where to use automated follow up in the places where prospects or customers aren’t ready to have a one-on-one conversation, it’s not a good use of your time as a business owner.
Nathan: I agree, So with the customer life cycle, one thing that…like, when I actually saw that sheet and, you know, one of our consultants was talking us through some things we could do to improve, one thing that really changed the game for us is wow moments. And I think that it would actually be really important if you could share that with our audience around why wow moments are important during the customer life cycle.
Clate: Yeah. So there are a few key points where the experience that your customer has either engages them with your company and you really become enduring to them because they appreciate so much these critical moments. And we call them “wow moments” because you get such a great return on that investment in the relationship because of what you did that now you’ve developed this strong connection. And so that can be things like…and it’s different in everybody’s business.
You know,his is where the consulting and understanding the strategy really makes a tonne of sense and sometimes people will knock us because we help our customers implement the software strategically and they’re like, “Oh, you should just build, do on your own.” Well. there is a lot of strategy that goes into this. There is a lot of understanding how to do this and wow moments are a good example.
You know, when you think about your business, you gotta kinda draw it out, “Well, where are these times where when I send the customer something or follow up to answer a question in anticipation before they even ask it?” Or, when there is a key moment that we know the customer tends t feel let down or frustrated by other vendors. And you can show up for them because you understand that, but you can do it in an automated way.
It’s so powerful because now the customer is like, “Oh, man, this vendor gets me. I mean, they understand me, I wanna work with them.” And you did it in an automated way. It wasn’t taking any more of your time. And it can be something as simple as sending an easy thank you gift, or it can be as simple as a call from one of your people at a time that’s really important in the customer’s life cycle. It can be just simply following up and delivering what you said you were gonna do consistently because you’ve automated it. Those are the kinds of things that create wow with your customer and really build a customer for life with great lifetime value for your business.
Nathan: Yeah I know. I agree. Some of the things that we have done ever since looking at that wow moment sheet is thank you cards. We’ve also done just random bonuses of, like, a magazine issue or one of our products that people would not expect. It was not part of the promise of what they purchased. Another one is like credit. Like, just giving people credit to buy more products. So, no, it’s being extremely game changing to think about that.
Yeah, I just really want to share that with our audience because essentiallyanother big take, what I took from it was when somebody buys your product or service, you know, someone subscribes to a magazine, or buys one of our courses, or buys a book or whatever, the relationship is not over. You can further facilitate that relationship in many ways and one of the best ways is, I guess, to delight your customer.
It’s something that Seth Gordon taught me. It’s all about delighting your customers. You can surprise them with wow moments. With things they do not expect and I think it’s a great way to get that cut through dropped and really just go above and beyond of what people would expect and really deep in that relationship. That’s how you get that word of mouth, too, you know?
Clate: That’s right. Yep. That’s exactly right. Yeah, it’s just exceeding expectations and you know this because you have an automated follow-up system to do it, but most business owners would say, “Yeah, I wanna do that. That’s sounds great. Great idea.” But then life gets so busy. You know, small business life is just full of distraction and fires and wearing so many different hats, and so those good ideas just go unimplemented.
And the power of an automated system is that you have those ideas, you get them into the software and implement them and then there are on autopilot and you don’t have to think about them anymore until you get the thank you notes from customers of surprise and delight of what you did for them.
Nathan: Okay. There’s a question I have to ask you. And this is purely selfish. Can you talk to me about the most successful companies that are using Infusionsoft? Talk us through their campaigns, what are they exactly doing?
Clate: You know, it’s really interesting because there are two ways to look at it and I think the natural way is to look at all of the sophistication of what our most successful customers do. And, I think, that historically we’ve tended to highlight that but that can become confusing for a new customer of Infusionsoft or a non-customer of Infusionsoft. And so what I really like to highlight is the fundamentals that our successful customers do. And the fundamentals are having basic lead follow up nurture in place, basic new customer welcome campaigns in place, and then basic long-term nurture.
In other words, you gotta follow up with your leads when you come in and nurture them along until they become customers. You gotta have a welcome campaign to new customers that nurtures them along. And then at least once a month, you’ve gotta have communication with all of your prospects and customers. We refer to those as the key three campaigns. And if you look across all of our successful customers, they are doing those three things.
They’ve got new lead follow up, new customer follow-up and long-term nurture. Those are the basics, the blocking and tackling of automated follow-up and our successful customers are all doing it.
Nathan: And what are your thoughts on Facebook, Messenger, and all these other new tools that are coming around in-app stuff?
Clate: Yeah. You know, it’s really powerful to have different methods of communication but it can also be very difficult when you have a bunch of different communications you are managing. So the more tools you are using the more chaos you can sometimes create. And so our work at Infusionsoft is really to tie those tools together and allow you to use our growth system as, kind of, your platform to build your business.
And so we’re doing some really cool stuff to in the future tie some of those other tools into Infusionsoft. Because while they are great utilities, they can actually become counter-productive at some point when you are managing a whole bunch of different methods of input.
Nathan: Yeah. No. That’s awesome. I look forward to that because, yeah, that’s a definite trend that I’m noticing across I guess communication, prospects, lead generation, nurturing, this in-app messaging, and especially Facebook Messenger bots. A lot of people are starting to use them, a lot of people are starting to talk about them, and I’m hearing a lot of success stories, you could say.
But, yeah, I’d like to switch gears and get to know you a little bit more about you as a founder. So you built this massive company. Besides building great product, can you tell me about what else has attributed to the growth, success, and scale of Infusionsoft?
Clate: Yeah. It starts with great product, you’re right. But to grow and scale it, you gotta have a great culture. And culture is not the perks and the things that you offer. It’s really the core of who you are. Your purpose, your values, and your mission. And we’ve spent a lot of time over the years studying Jim Collins’ works, we spent a lot of time practicing that, you know, the “Good to Great, Built to Last,” “Great by Choice.” There’s actually another book he wrote that’s the best of all for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It’s called “Beyond Entrepreneurship.”
And it’s really about how you establish a culture and scale a culture. And you can’t really grow a company effectively if you don’t scale the culture and so yes product matters, yes marketing matters. Those two things really drive the growth of the company, but in the end, it’s people and leadership that sustain the growth of the company. And so for us getting our purpose, value, mission and then hiring, training, and firing to it is foundational to what we do.
Nathan: Yeah. Can you tell us like how did you learn that in the early days? Did someone teach you or…?
Clate: Yes. We went to work on it. We studied it. So here is how it happened. You know, when we were six or seven people and I said, “Hey, by the end of the year we’re gonna have 15 employees.” You know, I’d have a nervous employee or two come in and say, “How are we gonna keep this great family feel that we have in the company when we have 15 people?” And I’d say, “It will be fine don’t worry you know, we’ll do it just fine.”
And then the next year I’d say, “Okay we’re gonna have 25 to 30 people by the end of the year.” And I would have a couple of employees that would come in with the same nervous question. “How are we gonna keep this great culture we have as we grow?” And, you know, that continued to happen and then we got to a point where we were gonna have 150 people the next year and I was like, I was the one going, “Oh crap, how are we gonna keep this great culture?”
So we started to really study it and we just studied a whole bunch of different authorities on the subject but the stuff we liked the most was Jim Collins’ work, and so we just really took it to heart and become practitioners of it. And so I’d say Jim Collins taught us that it was because we sort out all of his knowledge and wisdom and put it to work.
Nathan: Okay. Gotcha. And can you tell us about what kind of leader you are?
Clate: I’m a caring yet somewhat impatient, hard-driving ambitious guy. I love helping small businesses succeed. I’m very much a unifier. I want us to be aligned through our purpose, values, and mission. And, you know, I love to see people grow and develop and take things on. But, you know, I really wanna challenge people to take the next step and think bigger and solve bigger problems. So, you know, I love working with people. I probably sometimes get into trenches a little too much because I just love being in conversation on the frontlines with people. So, yeah, that’s who I am.
Nathan: When it comes to ambition and speed. Like, I’m sure you guys are obsessed with speed like we are at “Foundr.” I’m curious. How do you, like, instill leadership in your team for them to move as fast as possible while getting a great result? Because sometimes that can be, you know, a fine balance between pushing too hard, burning your team out, you know what I mean?
Clate: Yeah. Totally. You know it’s really about getting everybody aligned. You know, the bigger the company gets the slower it tends to move because you gotta align people. Now, you know, if you have a big ambition, you gotta have a lot of people. So sometimes entrepreneurs will be like, “I don’t want a bunch of employees. That’s just a pain in the butt.” That may be true but you’re not gonna accomplish a lot in the world if you don’t have a big team to do it.
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