Brendan is a digital industry veteran and an executive. His company is a gifting platform that facilitates connections and relationships between salespeople. Brendan’s startup philosophy? Don’t follow your passion.
If you missed episode 118, check it out here: PODCAST 118: Building a Crisis-Proof Sales Culture to Weather Any Storm with Ernest Owusu.
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Show Agenda and Timestamps
- Show Introduction [00:00]
- About Brendan Kamm & Thnks [1:50]
- The journey to launch a company [10:12]
- The power of networking [17:38]
- Startup surprises [19:37]
- Don’t follow your passion [23:37]
- “Wantrepreneurs” aren’t any good [27:17]
- Sam’s Corner [34:41]
Show Introduction [00:00]
Sam Jacobs: Hey, everybody. It’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today on the show we’ve got Brendan Kamm, Co-Founder and CEO of a business called Thnks. It’s a gifting platform that’s really interesting and it helps facilitate great connections and great relationships between salespeople. He’s a digital industry veteran and an executive. I really love this conversation.
Now, before we bring you this conversation, we want to thank our sponsors. Our first sponsor is Conga. Businesses run on documents, Conga is changing the way the world works by modernizing, streamlining, and automating your documents, contracts, and processes to make it easier to do business. See why Conga is the number one paid app on the Salesforce app exchange with a free trial or demo today at conga.com.
Our second sponsor is Outreach, the number one sales engagement platform. Outreach revolutionizes customer engagement by moving away from solid conversations to a streamlined and customer centric journey. Leveraging the next generation of artificial intelligence, the platform allows sales reps to deliver consistent, relevant, and responsible communication for each prospect every time, enabling personalization at scale previously unthinkable. Check out outreach.io for more information.
Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Brendan Kamm.
About Brendan Kamm & Thnks [1:50]
Sam Jacobs: Super excited to have Brendan Kamm, the co-founder and CEO of a company called Thnks. Before starting Thnks, Brendan was a technology and media veteran. He’s spent more than 17 years focused on sales, product, and client development. During his time as a sales executive at Orion Trading and MiMedia, Brendansaw a need for a digital bridge that can be used to initiate and foster interpersonal relationship. And of course, that is where Thnks comes in. Brendan, welcome to the show.
Brendan Kamm: Thank you so much for having me, Sam. I’m really excited to be here.
Sam Jacobs: We’re excited to have you. Brendan, we start with the baseball card, which gives you an opportunity to tell a little bit about the company.
Brendan Kamm: Thnks is really a way to send small gestures of appreciation digitally that strengthen your business relationship. So the idea really came from if you walked into Starbucks right now and saw your client there, you’d buy them their coffee or their breakfast, whatever they’re getting. It’s not really a gift. It’s just this little gesture. The thought was, if I’m in New York, my client’s in Chicago, LA? I should be able to do the same thing.
It’s the Uber ride when it’s raining out, just to say, “Hey, skip the subway, your ride’s on me.” The bowl of chicken soup when someone has to skip a meeting because they’re not feeling well. Those little things mean more than the swag that we’ve all done through the years. They’re not quite a gift, right? It’s not really meant for any reason other than, “Hey, we’ve got a relationship here and I’m thinking about you.” So, that was the initial impetus.
The journey to launch a company [10:12]
Sam Jacobs: Let’s place you in time and in the history of mankind. Tell us a little bit about your origin story. Give us a little bit of background.
Brendan Kamm: Sure. I am a New Jersey-ian by birth. I’ve spent most of my life in the North East, working and living in New York or New Jersey. In the early 2000s, I graduated from Johns Hopkins University. I studied media, which is rare when you think Johns Hopkins. I had come out of there and I was a media planner with an Interpublic Group at a company called Initiative. And a couple of years into that, I ended up getting introduced to Orion Trading, which was their barter arm. And so media barter is effectively trading distressed assets for advertising time. It’s a niche thing.
I take this job and, honestly, I wasn’t even sure about it. I was, I think, employee 19 at this company, so this is about 2006. And within the year, the economy tanks and suddenly everyone’s got distressed assets and nobody has advertising time and we’re suddenly a hot business. Over the next six years, I went from an early employee at this company housed under this big conglomerate media firm to a company with 300 people in seven international offices and really a contributor to that big media conglomerate at that point. I had grown to be the head of sales and customer success. At that point I was looking at my career and saying, “I really like that growth,” and that there were all these problems to solve and I wanted to experience that again.
That’s what really led me to the world of startups and eventually to MiMedia. Long story short, I was running a team of about 40 sales and client service people at my last job and the person who is now my co-founder, Larry Rubin, a former MNA attorney, he was more ready to be an investor, mentor, and guide. And so as we talked about this idea, it just seemed more and more like, “Hey, this is something that we could really tackle.” And so when he finally came to me one day and said, “Look, I’m willing to put in the initial capital, if you help run the show,” with another person that we had on board, and that’s where it all happened. That’s how we started there.
The power of networking [17:38]
Sam Jacobs: I have a couple of questions about starting Thnks. The first is that it doesn’t sound like you’re technical. Where’s the software development coming from?
Brendan Kamm: One thing you’ll find as you talk to me is that everything in my life, I’ve found the power of the network and the relationships, which of course, is exactly what Thnks is about. And it’s the case here. So the gentlemen that I actually worked for and under for a while at MiMedia is an amazing CTO, and he was someone I called as we started this to say, “Look, I’ve got this MVP that I just outsourced to get something to be able to show investors and prove it out. But I know it’s not something that’s going to scale.” I know enough self-taught code to be able to read it and say, “Well, yeah, this is going to break, but at least it works for now.” He was the person who I went to for advice. Then that advice turned into, “Let me take a look,” and, “Let me take a look,” into, “Can I invest?” and then from, “Can I invest?” to, “I’ll give you 10 hours,” to, “You know what? I got to get involved with this, I really like it.”
Sam Jacobs: Awesome.
Brendan Kamm: It happened organically. His name is Michael Yoon. He’s not technically a founder, but came in very early. He’s an investor as well, and he’s just a tremendous human being and guide and mentor. But he runs the whole shop technically for us. But he isn’t just technical. He’s really someone I view as a friend. So there’s no better person you could have overseeing your tech than that.
Startup surprises [19:37]
Sam Jacobs: What’s been the biggest surprise or the biggest set of surprises? What’s something that you didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of or the seriousness of?
Brendan Kamm: It’s almost like I want to say everything. It’s just part of the reason I ended up here is that I had that look in the mirror moment when it was like, “Hey, am I really going to go do this?” And you realize, I’m the type of person that would find myself saying, “I would do it better and I would do it that way,” right? At some point you have to look at yourself and go, “Well, if that’s true, you got to go do it.” That was a tough moment to have that honest conversation with yourself. To be able to say, “Do I really know better?”
So I actually tried to go into it with an open mind of, “I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the answers and I need people like Larry Rubin, like Michael Yoon, Michael Loeb, who’s actually my biggest investor.” These people who’ve been there and done it. Those are the people I like to lean on. I know how to focus my time and build a team, but everything was going to be harder than I thought. We went through almost the classic stories you hear, right? There was a time where I couldn’t take a salary at all. Literally everything is a little bit harder in the short-term while you’re doing it.
Sam Jacobs: When we think about functional areas that you didn’t have a full appreciation for, are there some that just emerged to you? What’s the discipline that caught you by surprise?
Brendan Kamm: Funnily enough, it might be accounting, obviously related to that finance piece. But you’re looking at decisions. You think of accounting and you think of the classes you took in school and, great, this goes on this side of the ledger and that on the other side. But there’s a lot of decisions to make that could affect you way down the road. I mean, starting with just, we incorporated as a C corp, right? That changes everything versus if we had started as an LLC.
The other one is customer support. So it’s very easy to say, “Well, everyone hates customer support and sitting on queues and all these things, so we’re going to have great customer support.” I think of companies like Bonobos or Zappos where you hear about these great customer support experiences. But actually spinning that up and putting the dollars against it and training a team, it’s just not that simple, because there’s a lot to making people feel comfortable, especially with a product or brand they don’t know. So that would be the second one that really comes to mind as, “Oh, that’s a little more than I thought it would be.”
Don’t follow your passion [23:37]
Sam Jacobs: One of the pieces of advice that you sometimes share is you say, “Don’t follow your passion.” Walk us through what you mean by that.
Brendan Kamm: It’s one of those kinds of sometimes trite pieces of advice of, “Hey, you want to start your own company? Make sure you follow your passion.” That’s great if you can. What I find as I talk to a lot of people is sometimes the passion can be not a good thing to follow. It gives you an out in some ways. It’s like you get going and you hit that difficult point and it’s like, “Well, maybe this wasn’t my passion. That’s why it’s not working out,” versus like, “Oh. Well, let’s be honest here. If this isn’t working out it’s because I’ve done something wrong. Or the idea wasn’t as good as I thought it was,” or whatever it might be.
So I understand why people say that you want your work to be something you love. But if your work can be something you’re successful at, it can open up a lot more time for you. When I think about being rich, I think about time, right? Money, maybe, because it buys you time. But I don’t consider someone rich who makes a ton of money, but has to show up at work wearing something that someone else told them, to work at these specific hours and go to that specific meeting. That, to me, is you’re still working for someone else. You haven’t really made it and become rich. When I think about becoming rich, I think about being able to say no and having my own time.
“Wantrepreneurs” aren’t any good [27:17]
Sam Jacobs: This concept of struggle porn, as you’ve commented on, which is the fetishization of people that are just throwing everything to the wind and just pursuing something, every other consequence and every other relationship be damned. You said you don’t really agree with that. Walk us through your perspective on that.
Brendan Kamm: I hate this idea that struggling is good. Struggling with something that’s going to happen, you’re going to have to do it, you’ll go through it. But that shouldn’t be the end game and it feels like it is sometimes. People call them wantrepreneurs, right? So I’m not really building anything. I’m just struggling and not gaining traction, but I’m just going to keep doing that because I’ve joined this little cult of I’m working my ass off 23 hours a day and nothing’s really coming out of it. It means you’re not working on the right things or you haven’t brought in the right people to help. It just leads you down this lane of redefining your success around how much you work versus the output of it, right?
The most successful person to me would be someone who has a clear calendar, works on the right things that they want to work on, and is getting the output that they’re looking for. I don’t see the value in, “Well, I’m just sleeping two hours a night.” I think the ultimate impression of that is probably Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek. Maybe that goes a little too far of outsourcing your entire life. But I think his point was simply that, right? There’s different ways to define success. You can work smarter and still work really hard, but ultimately your success is going to be who you surround yourself with and what you work on, not how long you work on it.
Sam Jacobs: I worked at this company. where people would be like, “I’m working until midnight on this proposal.” I’m like, “Okay, is the proposal due tomorrow?” They’re like, “No.” “…Okay, what’s going on here?”
Brendan Kamm: If anyone’s ever worked at a place where no one leaves until the boss leaves… It’s the first thing I tell new people at Thnks like, “Please don’t watch what I do. If you’re getting your work done, go work in Tahiti, if you need to. It’s all good, man, that you don’t have to be here just to show your face. That’s just silly.”
Sam Jacobs: And it’s not even possible in COVID. Brendan, it’s been awesome having you on the show. The last thing we do before we go is we like to pay it forward and talk about great people you think we should know about.
Brendan Kamm: I think about my favorite founder, Jeff Raider. Jeff founded Warby Parker and now Harry’s, so one of the only people in the world who has ever done two billion dollar startups. Jeff’s actually a good friend of mine. He was a roommate of mine. Talk about someone who knows how to embrace life, but also build these amazing companies. There’s no point where I could say, “Jeff, do you want to grab a drink?” or, “We should throw this party.” He’s always down, right? He’s the opposite of the struggle porn guy. I don’t understand how he does it, but it’s amazing to watch someone so successful still be able to spend all the time with his kids. He’s a great father. He’s a great husband. Dude’s just awesome and I love having friends like that. And so he’s someone I really admire.
Sam’s Corner [34:41]
Sam Jacobs: This is Sam’s Corner. Loved that conversation with Brendan Kamm. There are a couple of key things to take away, but the first and the foremost is this concept of gratitude and practicing gratitude. I think that’s a really important thing to think about. That you’re going to get back what you put out into the world. The fact that Brendan built a whole business around this I think is really, really interesting.
He talked about how making little investments in your relationships has a powerful effect over time. We talked about the same concept when Andrew Sykes was on the show. We talked about this notion of compounding interest, right? 1% every day, 1% of gratitude every day, finding people to thank and to give something to without asking anything in return every single day. I really enjoyed that conversation with Brendan and I think Thnks is a really interesting platform.
What We Learned
- It’s not about the gift, it’s about the small gesture that shows “I’m thinking about you”
- Struggling just for the sake of struggling has nothing to do with success
- Customer success is harder than you think
- The truly successful person has control over their time
Don’t miss episode 120!
I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, let’s thank our sponsors. The first is Conga. Businesses run on documents, Conga is changing the way the world works by modernizing, streamlining, and automating your documents, contracts, and processes to make it easier to do business. Our second sponsor is Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform.
If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can find me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.
As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.