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Neil K Carroll [00:00:06] This episode of The Smarter Business Podcast features Alex Villafranca. Alex is one of the co-founders and CEO of Arbeit Software, which is a communications platform that allows modern and more efficient communication between businesses and consumers. Alex also produces video content for Arbeit Software, and he goes into how he uses video to prove Arbeit’s expert status. Bonus, you’ll hear more about how World of Warcraft can help you grow your network and business. As always, if you like what you hear, please subscribe wherever you’re taking in this podcast, and please leave a comment. We’re always looking for feedback, and it can help people find this show.

Neil K Carroll [00:00:49] Welcome to this episode of The Smarter Business Podcast. This month we have Alex Villafranca from Arbeit Software. And Alex, I’ll give you an option to kind of introduce yourself and your company.

Alex Villafranca [00:01:05] Yeah. So Alex Villafranca, one of the co-founders and CEO of Arbeit Software. We are a communications platform that allows businesses to communicate with consumers in a modern, more friendly way. And essentially what that is, is we make, I mean, we have a few different products, but we have an autodialer is our first product that we launched about five or six years ago. That’s what got us into this. It’s not the most friendly way of communicating with consumers, but that was our first product. We have a phone system for businesses. We have a compliant communications platform that eliminates the need for robocalls for businesses but allows them to still reach consumers in just as a productive and efficient way. So, yeah, that’s what Arbeit is and what we do.

Neil K Carroll [00:01:56] That’s excellent. And I think one of our first conversations we discussed your radio spots that you were doing. Right? For your phone system.

Alex Villafranca [00:02:07] With Duke Nukem as our voice over.

Neil K Carroll [00:02:10] Which was excellent and memorable.

Alex Villafranca [00:02:12] Yeah, people loved it.

Neil K Carroll [00:02:14] That’s great. So how did you get started or how did the business get started?

Alex Villafranca [00:02:20] Also, I guess, there are a few stories behind it. I was a debt collector. Collection agencies use our software now. It’s our biggest customer industry. But I was a collector and then I had the idea to open my own collection agency. I thought it would be easy for some reason because it looked easy being a collector. I did that. My brother and my one of the other co-founders now Alonzo, my high school friend, opened that collection agency. And while we were doing that, I mean, we were pretty successful, I mean, we got up to like 30 employees in it. And, you know, it was good, but it wasn’t something, it wasn’t very fulfilling. It wasn’t like anything that we were super interested in, we just did it to do it, like there was no reasoning behind it originally. And while we were using our competitor’s software, so we decided ‘let’s save some money and try and program our own’. I mean, Alonzo’s way more tech-savvy than I am, and he’s always trying to save money and do things ourselves. So he did that. He made our own phone system. He used like open-source software that was available, saved us, you know, probably a thousand dollars a month at the time, just did it ourselves. A lot of other collection agencies knew us, wanted Alonzo to do that for him or for them. So we did and it kind of grew from there. And then he wanted, we use an autodialer at the time, a competitor’s. And he said, hey, we can just code our own and neither me or Alonzo are coders, but we have a friend who we know from playing World of Warcraft through high school. And we asked him, “Hey, do you want a job as a programmer and can you, you know, you want to code this for us?” He did. And now he’s a co-founder also in the company. And one of our other friends from high school, Richard Hacker, is a co-founder. And yeah, we all kind of met playing World of Warcraft. That’s how we all really grew our relationship. And then we made that software. We said, hey, we like this way more than collections. Let’s close that and do this.

Neil K Carroll [00:04:18] That’s excellent. That’s cool. Yeah. In an interesting kind of modern founder’s story.

Alex Villafranca [00:04:25] Yeah it’s funny. I mean, we always talk about how like playing World of Warcraft and running like a guild in that game is similar to running a business. You know, someone who doesn’t do that might be surprised, but it is. I learned a lot surprisingly from that.

Neil K Carroll [00:04:40] That’s excellent. And so I think you said one of the founders, is at the founder from Brazil.

Alex Villafranca [00:04:46] Yeah Allan, yup.

Neil K Carroll [00:04:49] Excellent, so that opened up a whole new element to the business.

Alex Villafranca [00:04:55] Yeah, for sure. I mean, it gave us, well like we were talking before, we got on camera here. It’s hard hiring in Buffalo for tech talent. So it opens, I mean, that’s a huge challenge. So having the ability, a totally different country to hire in, I mean, that’s a, yeah, it helps a lot.

Neil K Carroll [00:05:11] Yeah. In a pretty developed country in terms of a lot of that type of skillset and so on.

Alex Villafranca [00:05:19] Yeah. For sure.

Neil K Carroll [00:05:20] Well that’s great. And you rolled through my next question there with your kind of, I was going to ask about pivots, evolutions during the business. I think you did a great job of explaining it, but I don’t know, anything else in there that, you know, was like a sidestep to kind of make things work.

Alex Villafranca [00:05:41] Kind of. I mean, so when we, like, we first launched, we had the autodialers, our first product. And everyone knows, I mean, that’s a hot topic nowadays, and robocalls. People hate them. I hate them. I get them. So we needed to, there’s a lot of compliance coming down on collection agencies that are highly regulated industry. So there’s a lot of laws coming out restricting how they can reach you on your cell phone. And one of them said, you know, if you don’t have permission to call consumers on their cell phone with an autodialer, that’s a violation of the TCPA. So we had to launch a new product a couple of years ago called Arbeit Click, which allows collection agencies to call you on your cell phone without using a robocall or an autodialer, but it still gives them the efficiency to do so. So we kind of completely changed gears at one point. We were planning on launching a better version of our dialer and that’s what we were working on for almost a year at the time. And then these regulations came out. We kind of just like scrap cut that out, and let’s, we pivoted completely into a new product. You know, it was hard getting everyone to agree to that and it was a change. Everyone was kind of like “uh, that’s” you know. But we did it. And I think it was the right move now, especially with how even more magnified rob calls are being now, so. Yeah.

Neil K Carroll [00:06:57] Excellent. Yeah. Well, sounds like a good journey. Right. And you’re still moving forward. So I think part of the reason that I thought this would be a good fit to be on this, this podcast was that we have kind of a focus on video and the way people are using it within their businesses. You guys use a lot of video and you use it to kind of prove your expert status I would say very often. So do you want to talk a little bit about how you use it? You know, the YouTube channels.

Alex Villafranca [00:07:34] Sure. Yeah. I mean, video is just something that I think everybody just enjoys watching way more or, you know, it’s easier to get points across in video. I don’t, I don’t like reading blogs anymore. Like, I just pull up video. And so I think it’s just sometimes ways easier. But how we use it is just for everything. We use it for recruiting. We used it for hiring before, we use it for, you know, like you said, kind of, you know, to position ourselves as experts in our industry. We bring people on different various shows we have. We have a debt collection-specific show that we do on YouTube. We bring on various industry experts to talk about different compliance regulations and, you know, challenges they face and like so many different challenges that collection agencies face. So in that industry as a whole is kind of behind the times a little bit when it comes, you know, any industry that has, that’s regulated by the government so much, I feel like it’s always behind the times in technology, because well, the government’s kind of pretty much behind in a lot of, a lot of ways when it comes to technology and adapting laws to it. So there you know, there wasn’t a lot of video coming out in that industry. There wasn’t a lot happening in terms of aside from like, you know, webinars or conferences people were hosting they would talk about things there. So we, we kind of just realized there’s a pretty good opportunity here to do this, so we did. And we’ve gotten amazing feedback. I mean, you know, it’s just people love it. I, you know, Emily, our content creators, like comes up with such great ideas for having people on the show, different guests, and, you know, it’s she’s done really, it’s really her thing. You know, she’s done such a really good job with it. And, you know, Tracy, since she’s come on our director of marketing, I mean, she’s really added a lot to the videos and just doing different things by having live events at her office and then using those as videos and everything like that. But yeah.

Neil K Carroll [00:09:31] Right. Yeah. It’s not. It’s no easy task to create as much content as you guys have.

Alex Villafranca [00:09:39] No, for sure. I mean, that’s, well, when we first started doing video, that was probably one of our hardest challenges, like, well, we want to have great content. You don’t want to produce a video that’s, no one cares about watching and is just fluff for you know, that’s always our biggest challenge with any piece of content really is we want to make sure that’s really meaningful. Because nowadays, I mean, on everyone, content’s so over-saturated, there’s just so many blogs, and so many videos, and so many podcasts, and it’s just, there’s a very, I think that there’s a big lack of actual meaningful information out of it. So we try to, that makes it hard when you believe that to produce good content because you’re always being supercritical. No one’s going to want to watch that. No ones gonna want to listen to that. So you kind of always can ideas, but that was that’s one of the definitely the biggest challenges.

Neil K Carroll [00:10:32] Well, and that’s, you guys tackle it in much the same way. But yeah, that’s often a great way to deal with content as you have other people on. You let them talk like we’re doing right now. And in you know, there’s always good kind of, you know, tidbits that anybody I think has to offer. Right. Anybody in business. Well, to follow up on that and like those campaigns, we often get asked like we’re creating video content or putting together video marketing strategy about results, like what kind of results are you getting from your campaigns? Do you measure them or is it just branding exercise?

Alex Villafranca [00:11:20] Well, so Tracy measures them now. Okay. What we didn’t know at the beginning, we just did it.

Alex Villafranca [00:11:26] And so we. I mean, there’s a lot of intangible results that you can just see from my perspective, just. We go to a lot of trade shows and a lot of people go to trade shows and different events. And people come up to us all the time who we would have never met otherwise, and “I watch your videos.” And, you know, we don’t get a lot of views on these videos. I mean, debt collections is a very small industry, you know, relatively speaking. You know, you get a hundred views, but people, if it’s everyone, 10 percent of people at the trade show see this that’s a lot.

Neil K Carroll [00:11:58] Yeah. The right hundred views is worth a lot more than people think.

Alex Villafranca [00:12:01] It is for sure. You know you get people that come up to us at the booth and “I love your videos.” All our clients they’ll talk about, they love them, their informational so. I mean, I, you know, that’s one of things we’re working on getting better at is just tracking the actual results, and Tracy’s been doing a great job of that. But that’s not something that I did in the past, is just like, let’s just do it. I know we should. I think it’s going to work. And we did. I mean, you know, you get a lot more brand recognition. Like, if nothing else, it’s worth it for that, in my opinion.

Neil K Carroll [00:12:34] Yeah. I mean, if you’re already a believer in like kind of the medium and the power of it, it makes it a lot easier. You don’t have to see X number of sales or something based off of it.

Alex Villafranca [00:12:44] But I think I mean, you will. It’s just you will over time. Like it my take a year or something. But you know, someone we’ve closed deals from somebody that, you know, started off saying, “Hey, I watched your video.”

Neil K Carroll [00:12:58] Right.

Alex Villafranca [00:12:59] Maybe two years later, now we closed the deal with them. They would’ve never probably found us maybe if it wasn’t for the video. So it’s just, it’s that, it’s that in. It’s that extra, it’s that opening conversation, that warm in. And, you know, and again, it’s yeah.

Neil K Carroll [00:13:14] And people are, like we talked about this in one of the previous episodes, when we, the one that we did with Holly Nowak. Like, it’s that, that introduction like people, are maybe even a little more comfortable coming up to you because of they kind of know you in a way. So you can get some more conversations going that maybe weren’t there before.

Alex Villafranca [00:13:37] And then it’s even easier for us. Like you can then talk about the concept of the show, just like, “Oh, well, like what?” It’s open for us then. Like “What are your challenges and what do you want to see?” And then you can kind of use that. So, yeah, it’s, it’s nice. It’s for both sides.

Neil K Carroll [00:13:53] And now I’m gonna use that to kind of go right into the next question I had about those video campaigns. What do you find most challenging about them?

Alex Villafranca [00:14:02] Well, I guess it changed. It’s changed a lot since the beginning. What we find most challenging, I mean, at the beginning, most challenging was while finding good content is like, that’s one of the hardest things always. But I guess when we first launched it, there was this like, “Oh it needs to be perfect and it look good, and the sound right needs to be great,” which we talked about. And then slowly you start to realize let’s just do it and just get it out there. You know, I think a lot of people kind of use that as an excuse.

Alex Villafranca [00:14:34] I have plenty of times. It’s not perfect, you can’t do it, and you just gotta do it. Get it out there and then start kind of toning back. So that was one of the biggest challenges is just me personally overcoming that perfectionist thing. You know, of having it perfect. We can’t do this and all that. So that was probably one of the biggest challenges at the beginning just to get over that. That’s an internal thing. And then topics is, you know, that’s been a challenge for the whole time is just good content. I guess it’s me being a perfectionist to an extent, making sure the content is good and that the client is whoever’s watching is really going, like it’s gonna be impactful for them and they’re going to learn something from it.

Neil K Carroll [00:15:15] Do you ever take kind of customer feedback on what they’d like to hear about?

Alex Villafranca [00:15:20] Yeah, we do, the sales team or we always have them asking at different trade shows. I mean, “What do you guys want to hear about on the show? “Or do you guys wanna talk about?” Or you know, we’ll do surveys, “What are your biggest challenges?” And then we’ll kind of, you know, turn that into different shows. Our sales team is great at like kind of reading the customers and what they want. They don’t just go to these shows and just kind of party. They’ll go and sit at all the seminars and listen. And then they listen to the questions that people are asking, well, what do people care about? Then they come back and they talk to Emily and Tracy about that, and then Emily and Tracy turn that into ideas. So, you know, trade shows are a great way, I guess, to learn that because you have so many people from your industry. Just listen to what they’re saying. Listen to them. If they’re asking you a question about it at a trade show in front of 100 people, they care about it enough probably to watch your show on it.

Neil K Carroll [00:16:10] Sure. Yeah. No, that’s a great tip. That’s an excellent way to kind of come up with some topic ideas and so on.

Alex Villafranca [00:16:17] I mean, you can just send out a Google form to your customer. It doesn’t have to be, if you can’t afford to go to the trade shows right now if you’re smaller. I mean, you can just ask too, some people are scared to ask, “Hey, what are your challenges?” I mean, call your customer and, “What are you guys care about? What are your challenges?” And they’ll tell you, they’re not going to, you know.

Neil K Carroll [00:16:35] Yeah, they typically will. Right. And we’ve suggested to clients in the past that if ever there’s a question, that question of what content to create. That question that you hear over and over from your client base is a great place to start, right?

Alex Villafranca [00:16:51] Yeah, for sure.

Neil K Carroll [00:16:53] Excellent. Well, I wanted to also touch on, so we tie these in with like a blog post that we have existing. We’ll like, you know, probably take this chunk and put it up is part of it. So the blog post I wanted to kind of tie in with was Best Practices for Video Marketing on YouTube. And part of the reason I thought that we should talk about that with you is your thumbnails and so on are always great. Who who does those, like their very eye-catching. You know they’re fun. They’re what you want, right?

Alex Villafranca [00:17:27] Yeah Emily does them, and it’s one of those things that we kind of, when we first started we just started reading about it and you know, it’s evolved over time. We’ve changed what our thumbnails were. I mean, one time when Spencer Ferrell was our director of business development, he used to do the shows with me and we would pose in these weird poses for the longest time. And it was so awkward because you see all like, you know, YouTube thumbnails now are like this facial expression and then like some zoomed-in thing. And we would do that. And then we got a little weird. So we ran out of ideas for that. We changed it. Now it’s like these colorful, we use our brand colors and different headshots of people participating. Emily just started that. I mean, we saw somebody else kind of doing it. You know, we got inspiration from other posts. And that’s, I guess, you know, we just look at kind of what everyone else is doing and just turn it into your own thing. Take a little bit from someone, take a little bit from someone else and turn it into your own thing.

Neil K Carroll [00:18:27] Yeah. And that’s one of the the best practices that we list is like, yeah, make it fun, make it clickable, make it relevant to what’s in the video, and you guys nailed that. That was why I want to bring that up. All right. So I’m going to ask you the big question now, right? Now this the one you probably prepared for. Tracy may have a statement off camera for you or something, [00:18:50]but what is the one thing and you can only pick one, that’s what makes it hard, that you think you’ve done to make your business smarter. [7.7s]

Alex Villafranca [00:19:00] [00:19:00]So letting other people make decisions and do things on their own and make mistakes. I guess, you know, giving up as a founder and like a CEO of a company, I feel like at the beginning you want to do everything, you know best. You go “I know best. I know that’s wrong.” I had this problem. You know, I still probably do to an extent. And I think everyone does has that problem. And so as you grow as a company, though, you’re never gonna, you’re never going to be able scale your company if you keep doing that. I mean, you’re just going to stay at a certain size and that’s it. You won’t be able to scale. It’s impossible to keep making all the decisions in a bigger company and to do all that. So bringing people in, talented people, smart people, smarter people than you and then letting them make decisions and, you know, not just make decisions, but let them make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. [54.2s] I don’t know about other. That’s how I learned best. I mean, I kind of just do things and then see what happens. And then if I made a mistake, I learned from it and fix it. And a lot of the times, what I’ll, I find myself doing this and I see other people doing it is when you, you’re going to let somebody else make a decision and then, you know, it’s a bad decision. And you. Well, I want to jump in and say, “No, don’t do that.” I’ve learned to not, right because let them learn from their mistake. And, you know, and maybe that maybe you’re wrong. Maybe I’m just wrong, and that’s not a bad, bad idea. And, you know, maybe they and they can just learn from their mistake, though. As long as not like some detrimental thing that’s going to ruin the company, but I mean, there’s virtually no, you know, that’s not a realistic thing. It’s another excuse I think people use maybe.

Neil K Carroll [00:20:43] Right. Yeah. Protect yourself and your founder ego or something.

Alex Villafranca [00:20:52] It’s like but that’s one of the best things that we’ve done. And that just it’s only recently kind of that we started that I’ve started to really work on it. But as we grow and we started a leadership team at the company. So we have, you know, five or six of us on that now and everyone, you know, letting them own their own thing and make their own decisions and trusting them to do that. It feels great. From my position, like knowing that, you know, that they’re capable of doing that and, like just knowing like that. A lot of founders, I think probably have the feeling of “Oh if I left or if I’m not here anymore, what’s going to happen to this company? Well, it wouldn’t be able to run,” and it’s like so creating a company that can just run and function and chug along without, no matter if anyone leaves like having, and that’s what this is kind of giving me, like peace of mind like that would happen.

Neil K Carroll [00:21:47] Yeah. And that’s the ultimate. A lot of business owners don’t want to admit, right, that they, that they’re not as necessary to the business. But when you get to the point where you don’t need to be there, like you really created something.

Alex Villafranca [00:22:01] Yeah, I, you know, people have probably said this before and it’s not like, it’s not like, you know, some hot take or anything, but it’s not as hard as like you think it is to do it. You know, bring people in. You know, that are dedicated, passionate about it and just start letting them make decisions and make mistakes and learning from them, because that’s how ninety nine percent of other founders and business owners got to where they are today, probably. Well, you know, so let the people under, you know, do that same thing and they’ll eventually get to that point. You know, that’s.

Neil K Carroll [00:22:32] I think that’s a great answer. Yeah. Let your employees or people around you kinda learn from their mistakes. It can’t be as. Yeah. “Never mess up,” kind of thing is not the, not the way to grow right? So. Well, I’ve got one last kind of piece then that we can talk about, and so we do this in all our like interviews or testimonials and everything, where we’ll ask one just kind of open ended question at the end. So we’ve kind of covered everything that we had in our little doc that we, that we set up beforehand. So is there anything that you didn’t cover, anything that you feel like you would like to kind of convey to the audience there?

Alex Villafranca [00:23:22] Hmm. Good question.

Neil K Carroll [00:23:24] Oh, yeah. This is usually the best tidbit.

Alex Villafranca [00:23:27] I wouldn’t have went on so much about what I said previously. I would’ve elaborated on that more.

Neil K Carroll [00:23:32] No, I can give you what some of the other folks said, that could help. So like Joe Neiman, Tony DiSimone recommended the book, Holly recommended hiring a bookkeeper, and how important that is early on.

Alex Villafranca [00:23:47] So I got something I guess is just like, this is something, you know, on that I think we do very well. But just take care of the people, kind of that, you know, that work with you and got you to where you are like employee benefits is like just something that we’re really big on. So keep that in mind. Like when you start your company to do that, you know, even if it cuts in your own personal profits like just start, you know, giving good PTO and, you know, health care and all that stuff like, that stuff’s really expensive on its own for an individual to get. So like company-provided health care like stuff like that. I think it goes a long way. It helps with retaining, you know, if you need a reason why to do it, like, you know, I don’t think you really should. I think it’s just the right thing to do. But, you know, if you do need a reason like it’s going to help people stay at your company, it’s going to help attract talent. But so just keeping that in mind and doing it from, you know, starting out early, because I think it’s very hard to start that after maybe you’re a founder, owner, and then to cut into your own profits, basically, and then start, you know, take away money maybe that you’re already getting and using it to give benefits and such. So starting that out from the get-go. Just, you know, paying like we I mean, we offer health care and we, we pay five hundred dollars of health care. We have 30 days of PTO. We have maternity/paternity leave. You know, like three or four months of maternity leave. Yeah, it’s just stuff like that, I guess, is like something that I think that people really should focus on. If you’re starting a company and just making sure that’s kind, and put that in your projections from day one.

Neil K Carroll [00:25:40] I think that’s excellent advice. Yeah, and you’re certainly right. Like, you know, started early on so it’s not like a catastrophic hit like later on, right, when you try to do something like that.

Alex Villafranca [00:25:56] If you started early, like your pricings already got that in mind. You’re already used to that, you know.

Neil K Carroll [00:26:01] Your employees from the early days are maybe still there.

Alex Villafranca [00:26:06] Right. Yeah. And, you know, it’s it’s hard, but you can start with something a little. You don’t have to, you know, you don’t have to go with all these things right away. But, you know, you might, you know, like PTO, for example, like offering 30 days a PTO, like you don’t necessarily feel, that doesn’t affect the business necessarily. I mean, depending on what industry you’re and I guess. Well, it’s not like you see tangible like we don’t see a tangible decrease in productivity since we just upped our PTO a couple months ago and we haven’t noticed, like it’s not like we started developing less or selling less, because people are happier when they’re there. They’re less burnt out. So stuff like that doesn’t necessarily cost the company much of anything.

Neil K Carroll [00:26:48] Right. Might even be upside to it.

Alex Villafranca [00:26:49] Yeah, exactly. So.

Neil K Carroll [00:26:50] That’s great. All right. Well, that’s, that fills out my whole, you know, set of questions here, so thank you very much Alex for being on the show.

Alex Villafranca [00:27:02] Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, I appreciate it.

Neil K Carroll [00:27:04] Great advice, and, you know, we’ll, we’ll, that’s all I’m going to do. Just shut it down.

Neil K Carroll [00:27:12] Ok, that’s a wrap for this episode. Make sure you check out Arbeit’s YouTube channels. They have some great content on there. Thanks for checking out The Smarter Business Podcast. Subscribe and comment on this episode to help us grow our audience.