The Best Way To Communicate With And Convert Your Website Visitors written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing
Marketing Podcast with Ben Congleton
In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Ben Congleton. Ben is the Chief Executive Olarker (CEO) and co-founder of Olark Live Chat. For the last 13 years, he’s helped thousands of organizations communicate with visitors on their websites, including many small businesses.
How can you effectively serve your customer? How can you wow them? How can you show them that you actually care? Real-time communication. Website live chat has evolved an incredible amount since its inception. In this episode, CEO and co-founder of Olark, Ben Congleton, talks about the building of Olark and how they’ve differentiated themself in such a competitive industry.
Questions I ask Ben Congleton:
- [1:21] Would you say Olark was really early on in the live chat space?
- [1:51] What you did do in your previous life that had you want to start a chatbot company?
- [3:27] What was startup life like in 2008?
- [5:16] Was there what was the point where you started to say, “I think this is gonna work”?
- [7:22] How has chat evolved from a consumer behavior standpoint?
- [11:49] What is the emergence of AI doing to the live chat space?
- [14:38] I’ve noticed a number of the chat-related companies are really focused on driving people to SMS/text – where do you stand on that?
- [18:02] What role does a chat play for somebody that might have sight or hearing impairments that might make the traditional web not as navigable?
- [20:15] You alluded to a few things you’re working on – what’s coming down the pipeline on the roadmap?
- [23:09] Where can people connect with you?
More About Ben Congleton:
- Connect with Ben on LinkedIn
- Follow Ben on Twitter: @jaminben
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Duct Tape Transcript
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(00:54): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Ben Congleton. He’s the chief executive o Larker and co-founder of O LA Live Chat. For the last 13 years, he’s helped thousands of organizations communicate with visitors on their websites, including many small businesses. So Ben, welcome to the show.
Ben Congleton (01:18): John, it’s a pleasure to be here.
John Jantsch (01:21): So we were talking before we got started, the space website chat bots, you know, we’re gonna get into all that, but OAR was really early on, like maybe before anybody,
Ben Congleton (01:32): Right? We were early, we’re back when it was technically hard to do. I think things had gotten a lot easier since then. And you know, there’s a lot of people in the space, but I think, you know, as a company that hasn’t raised a lot of money and is kind of focused on being that growing small business, we’re still here. We’re still at it and there’s a lot of exciting things we’re working on.
John Jantsch (01:51): What did you, I’m curious what you did in your previous life that had you say, I’m gonna start a website chat company.
Ben Congleton (01:58): That’s a good story. It’s, there’s like the long version and short version of that story. So I’ll try to condense it down for you. The quick version of the story is in 2019 99, 19 98, I started a web hosting company. Okay. And back then there was just a couple of live chat providers on the market. In fact, one of them was this Israeli company called Human Click. And Human click ended up getting bought by live person and taking and becoming the technical backend for everything the live person has done. So all their engineering is now based in Israel At that time they discontinued all the good SMB solutions. So it was only like really kind of unstable, janky p p things that weren’t very good. And so I had that experience in the late nineties and then 10 years later I had this consulting firm and still had the web hosting company kind of going and was looking around at projects to do and decided to go after failing at a couple of other ideas and looked at like, Oh, let’s look at chat again.
(02:55): And this was 2009, 2008 and not a, a lot had changed in the last 10 years. It’s still basically the same five players. They’re all focused on enterprise Fortune 500 Comcast. And I wondered like, hey, now that we’ve gained like a little bit of skill, can we go back as if in a time machine and build that tool that we needed 10 years ago? And, and I think we did a pretty great job of that. We built something that was so easy to install that anyone could put it on a website. I think arguably we kind of defined how chat works on the internet today and that’s, that’s a big accomplishment.
John Jantsch (03:27): So go back to I guess that 2008, you know, what was startup life like at that point? I mean, you know, everybody’s envisioning the like teams of engineers sitting around, but I’m getting the sense it was like you and another
Ben Congleton (03:41): Coder. Yeah, I mean I’m, I am, I have a computer science degree. I got a master in computer science, but I’ve always been stronger on the business side. And so in 2008, I mean, it’s funny right, because that was another kind of recession year, right? But as someone who was,
John Jantsch (03:54): Wait, another reception we’re not going,
Ben Congleton (03:57): Well, I guess we have
John Jantsch (03:58): Recession yet,
Ben Congleton (03:59): But not yet. Right? But all right, well we’ll see what happens. But point being is, yeah, it was just me and a couple friends and we had just been in, in college and I was working on a PhD and I had this consulting firm on the side I, this hosting company kind of running. And it was really just, you know, hacking away on Sunday and just working on just writing code, trying to create an MVP before people had terms for things like that. And getting something out the door that we could start playing with and showing the people. And it was basically a completely free product for a year before we had any monetization scheme. Cause I’m pretty bad at, uh, monetization and revenue. Like I would say the things that I care about are product and solving problems. Like that’s what gets me up in the morning.
(04:42): That’s what I’m excited about. That’s, you know, the thing that I get to do basically every day. Cuz you know, you build a company, right? You’ve been at this for a while. Like you talk to people and they’re like, Oh, like why haven’t you sold this thing? Or whatever. I mean, I think about it like I get to work with really smart people working on important problems that I care about doing meaningful work. That’s all I really want to do in this life. And I think that if I can do that and make impact for our customers and you know, innovate and do new things, like I’m pretty happy. And so yeah, we got some excited things that we’re working on now that, you know, keep me up at night and that’s fun. That’s a fun place to, Well
John Jantsch (05:17): Don’t get ahead of me cuz I’m gonna ask you that one. But was there, what was the point where you, and maybe you haven’t got there yet, , what was the point where you said, I think this is gonna work? You know, I, uh, people are paying us. I think we,
Ben Congleton (05:28): Yeah, that’s a really funny story. Maybe we haven’t got there yet. Like I am, I’m like the most optimistic person, but I’m also like deeply fearful, right? Like I, you know, I mean I think that we’re, as a small business, as a provider in this space up against giants with millions and millions of dollars. Like I think that, I don’t know, I don’t think anyone’s safe. I mean look at Slack, right? Slack is a product that was arguably super successful and they still felt they had to go sell it to Salesforce in order to have a long term home. And so I think that like, I, I don’t, the macro level story is like, I don’t think you’re really ever there. At least I don’t feel that way. Some of their companies might, from a like early days standpoint, I mean we were right outta college, We were used to making like $30,000 a year and that was good.
(06:13): Like, that was like, you got the fellowship, right? That was what you’re getting paid as a grad student. And I think this guy’s now make 50 to kind of account for inflation. You know, I, I think when we got to the point where we could hire our first employee was a pretty big milestone cuz OAR was o it was kind of a weird company. Like we, we went through our Combinator in 2009. We raised a total of $85,000. That includes the money at Y Combinator gave us, So Y Combinator gave us 25,000 and then we raised another 60 from just like a friend’s dad, an early Google guy and like a couple of people we met through the YC network. And so we had a little bit of money so we could pay rent and buy food and we just kind of sat there in a house and did that.
(06:54): The old version of the start story where you don’t need a bunch of money and just sat there in a house and built things for our customers and shopped at Costco. Like, that was basically what we did for the first couple years. And when we got to the point where we could hire our first employee, like that was pretty exciting. We would have this graph like that, we’d get emailed out every day, be like, we hit this line, the graph we’re gonna go buy grill so we can sit out back and grill . Like that’s what the kinda revenue charges we’re targeting .
John Jantsch (07:22): That’s awesome. So, so other than the fact that you’ve now got a lot of competitors in the space, how has chat evolved maybe even from a consumer behavior standpoint?
Ben Congleton (07:32): That’s a, it’s a really interesting question to ask. I think arguably I want, I don’t wanna say that the well has been poisoned, but I think that the act in the early days, right? When you got a little chat box in that low right hand corner and what we innovated was really saying where there’s gonna be a person there to talk to you on the other end of it. Yeah. A lot of folks like would just have that and you’d click and be like, Oh no one’s here but we were, ours would always be accurate. And so we really wanted the set the expectation that like as a customer, if someone says they’re there, they’re there and you can go like talk to them and get a question answered and that’s better than the phone. It’s better than waiting on hold. It’s, you know, a direct line to someone who can actually help sell you the good, solve your problem.
(08:10): And I think that what has happened over time is that more and more folks have added little things in that low right hand corner that don’t actually get you to a person. And I think that is damaging holistically to user behavior across like these things. Cuz they’ve become, like many folks have kind of turned them into little qualification bots and there’s nothing wrong with a qualification bot, but there is something wrong from my opinion of a qualification bot that there’s never gonna be a person there because some folks kind of act like there’s a person there. And I know like Drift is pretty well known company with space. I think they basically coined the idea that you could have like a little thing over here that never rowed to a human being. And and it’s so easy, so much easier to sell that because you don’t have to staff it and it’s just like magic. But it actually changes all the customer behavior cuz you aren’t gonna answer 10 questions if you can’t actually talk to a person on the other end of it. So that’s one challenge that the space is facing.
John Jantsch (09:09): It’s interesting, it’s, it’s a tool that was actually created as a service that a lot of people have turned into friction.
Ben Congleton (09:18): Mm-hmm Scroll back to top
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