EPISODE 3 : Mike Orr

Mike Orr

Mike Orr is a co-founder of Grapevine6 where he, along with a team of four other co-founders, led the development of the G6 mobile app, a content engagement platform that accelerates sales and marketing efforts. It was his passion for the intersection of design, technology, and business, that fueled the creation of the app and its ability to deliver relevant content for business professionals, in an easy-to-use experience. Mike has a degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA, so the academic in him enjoys listening to podcasts on a regular basis. When he’s not working, he spends time running and enjoys fine wines, even though he mainly drinks affordable ones.

Episode transcript

Brad Semotiuk: Hello and thank you so much for listening to episode 3 of steal from the best, a podcast to help listeners succeed in both business and life by stealing invaluable ideas and experiences from the best in class. We aren’t talking to the Richard Bransons or the Jeff Bezos’s which are the one in a millions…we’re talking with guests who are awesome people, and have a more relatable, raw story of business and life who share their experiences that have got them to where they are. I’m Brad Semotiuk, and along with Andrew Hodd, we’ll be talking to Mike Orr, co-founder of Grapevine6, a leading enterprise social and digital sales engagement platform. Mike talks about the value of the client and building trusting relationships with both them and others that you surround yourself with. We also talk about how his networking and relationships that he’s formed over the years pay off. He offers some surefire advice about working on problems outside of your comfort zone and spending quality time and enjoying special moments with your family. Thanks again for listening and hope you enjoy and continue to listen to and steal ideas from the experience of our amazing lineup of guests.

Andrew Hodd: Mike Orr with us here today. Mike welcome to the podcast.

Mike Orr: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Andrew Hodd: Let's dive in a bit. Can you tell us about your career before Grapevine6.

Mike Orr: Sure. It started sort of way back now and chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo which is relevant. Because I ended up working with some of the people I met there. From chemical engineering when I graduated, oil was only twelve dollars a barrel. So there wasn't a lot of work to do in that field. So I got into consulting and it was interesting because the consulting we did was all based in Toronto. But it was cross-discipline and across all the different industries. So I started in doing a big project in retail which chemical engineering and the great hub for.

But ultimately it became a lot around process engineering and redesigning the way people did work to make it more efficient more effective. And through that, I started using a lot of technology to then deliver on those processes and make sure that they could be scaled across businesses which were really interesting and a lot of fun and learned a lot working for banks and retail and telecommunications companies. But all the systems I overbuilt for the internal operations of a company. So they had a very limited number of users and they were very complicated and I wanted to do more that affected the user experience. And so when I regret reconnected with a friend of mine from school that was my roommate way back in undergrad. He had built a company and sold it to a marketing agency here in town Cundari and they were doing all sorts of interesting stuff that was very customer-facing on the digital side. And so when we reconnected I was able to come in and start doing digital strategy for him and take some of those skills I had learned on I'm working internally and then start putting them externally to customer-facing applications and we were able to do some really great stuff there.

Brad Semotiuk: And that led you into Grapevine 6 where you are today?

Mike Orr: That's right. It was a great group to work with and we got to work with a lot of the big brands in Canada and US around content marketing and how brands were changing the way that they were communicating with their audiences and consumers by changing from an advertising model to really adding value through content. And there were some great tools and technology that we've got to work with there. Some of them being based in Toronto like Eloquoa and some other Canadian companies like this most Radiant6 and few other ones on the social side. The challenge was that the technology was really powerful and the approach worked. But it wasn't it was too complicated for individuals to use. And when we decided to step back from the marketing agency and found our own company, we wanted to create a tool that would help entrepreneurs like us apply some of those techniques of content marketing in their own businesses without having to have a full-time digital marketing person and have the strength of an agency behind them. And that really led us to create Grapevine6.

Brad Semotiuk: So I want you to walk us through the grapevine6 product. But before doing that grapevine6. Where does the name come from?

Mike Orr: Well. It's a funny story as I mentioned we were founded by myself in my college roommate Wayne, one of his classmates Pankaj and his first two employees and Wayne's former startup. And so when we decided to step back and think about what we're gonna do next. We met in Wayne's backyard and Wayne lives in an old Portuguese neighborhood. So half of his very small backyard is covered by a great bike. So when we were sitting around kicking ideas around for what we were gonna do next and landed on this idea of content marketing for the masses. It was under this great vine having a few glasses of wine that we came up with it and we wanted that was there were the five co-founders. The reason we've extended the six is that we wanted to be a very client-driven company. That was how we had had success in the past was working with great clients and building relationships. And that's really what we enjoyed the most and so the sixth is the customer. And so they're always having a seat at the table of all the important decisions that we make in the business.

Brad Semotiuk: That's awesome. So walk us through this product.

Mike Orr: Sure. What we found was that entrepreneurs where we're starting to use social media to engage their audiences and networks. But it wasn't just entrepreneurs it was actually in bigger companies anything that any company that was really relationship-driven like B2B technology companies that were very considered purchases and their sales salespeople needed to build a lot of trust in the relationships they had before they could make a sale. And in financial services where people like wealth managers, it is a huge decision. Even though it is B2C, it is a big decision and requires a lot of relationships and trust.

So those companies had recognized the ability of social media and that vehicle to create relationships and trust between their sellers and their client representatives and they are and their customers. The challenge that those programs all had was that once they got people got to social media they didn't know what to talk about. And so we'll great find six does is it uses a technology to distill the 100000 pieces of content that were published yesterday into the 10 or 20 that are most relevant for your personal brand and really allow you to differentiate from the advisor or the salesperson down the street or even in your office with personally relevant content. And then we make that really simple and user experience and a mobile app and in desktop to schedule and publish that content really create the conversations that build that trust relationship.

Andrew Hodd: The broader vision. You tell us about a bit of a launch phase. Just was about came to be with your partners. But what about just taking the first dive?

Mike Orr: Yeah it definitely was a dive. I opened up a few cliffs in the past in my career. But our biggest accomplishment is that we're all still married. So that's really where we've derived our success. But I had I quit that first consulting job to go freelance about five years in without really knowing what my next job and contract was gonna be. I had gone into do my MBA a couple of years into my freelancing career because we were you know I needed some credibility in the consulting I was doing and that was taking on a whole lot of responsibility at the same time as we were trying to start a family. And so this one was we had achieved quite a bit at the agency and I just felt like we wanted to do something different and really try and solve a problem with the four other people that we really enjoyed working with. And so we had set a runway and a goal and sort of decided that we were going to try and go as far as we could on our own to really control the product and be able to set the direction and who we had to work with and we recognized you know early on that there was a lot of challenges to solve. And the thing that really helped us was being able to rely on the networks that we had built. So in our past consulting and agency work the clients who we've worked with the network so we had built that school. Those were the people that we relied on for early feedback. Because the idea that we started with was not ultimately the idea we ended with. And even though because it was more of ended up being more of a B2B type application you can't just go out to the market and say, Oh. we don't go.

Sell One hundred thousand or a million-dollar contract with no track record and no product. So we had to rely on all the industry people that we knew to give us feedback early on and use that and that's kind of a proxy for what is this market actually looks like and how do we get to that product-market fit. And so that was longer than we thought it would take and it certainly was more developed than we thought we needed to do. But we were able to get through that and find some early beta clients that tried it out had to scramble and rebuild a few times. But those that longer-term commitment to building those relationships are ultimately how we were able to succeed.

Brad Semotiuk: Yeah. You touched upon some of the challenges that you face taking longer. What are some of the other challenges you face a Grapevine6? How did you overcome them what did you learn from them?

Mike Orr: Yeah. it's one of the big ones was just being able to find the right people.

So if you have I will say there's nothing truly, you know what qualifies as an original idea but if you're doing something that you think is going to disrupt the market. You have to find the people that are really believers in that and kind of recognize the opportunity and you've got to go to your network and be very good at influencing people to convince them to take that leap with you. Ultimately that was probably the biggest challenge once you and then once you achieve that where you actually have customers now you need people to make sure you deliver. And that was another risk point where once you start hiring people they are going to be the people that deliver for your customers and that's your most significant breakpoint that you can have. So the way we managed that was to work with the people that we knew and we were able to bring in our early hires were all people that we had worked with before that we trusted implicitly and had delivered for us and with us for our clients for years. And so it reinforced that the value of the network which is funny because that's what we know the goal of the product is to help people build those relationships and those networks. And we benefited that from that in the early days of the company.

Andrew Hodd:Are there any competitors doing what you do and is any one of them influencing your decision making?

Mike Orr: Yeah. We do have competitors. I think one of the things that one of those experts that were guiding us early on said was if you don't have any competitors you're probably doing the wrong thing. You're not going to succeed. You don't want to see them too early. But eventually, you do want to run into competitors and then it's been the differentiated approach that we came at it from a content point of view and really recognizing that the personal individual brand was almost more important than the corporate brand that sets us apart in that pitch. There were some other ones that were doing similar things with content. But they had taken a different approach in how they build the company where they had taken on a lot of funding really and they just they were in front of the market too far. And so they couldn't drive the sales to justify the spend. And they were spending a lot of money at that time. So that judicious approach on the business strategy side of not spending the money to build something before you've sold it and growing as you need using the relationships that you have allowed us more runway than a lot of the competitors had early. And so a few of them bowed out eventually or had to change entirely what they were doing. And we were able to be patient enough with the market to wait for it to mature. We had enough positive signals that we could keep going. And then when it does it ends up no bigger than you thought it could be. It's a frustrating process to get there. You have to really trust the people that you're working with and that they're gonna get you there.

Brad Semotiuk: What's the communication like between 5 founders. I mean you've got to keep everybody on the same mission, vision and keep everybody aligned for the same common goals. How do you achieve that?

Mike Orr: It's funny. it was described to me from we had an advisor that we were working with as basically like a marriage that it was this long term experience and commitment and you have a lot of ups and downs. But I think the same thing you need to have a successful marriage is the open communication and finding ways to spend time together kind of isolation and just away from the distractions of the day to day. So we instituted pretty early a tradition of going out to one of the founder’s cottages in the winter. So we go ice fishing for a couple of hours and there were 0 distractions there was nowhere else to go because it was cold. And we would sit around and have a couple of drinks and air our grievances I guess couldn't find ways of footing it.

But when we had enough we'd all been working together for 15 to 20 years so we were comfortable enough and had enough trust to be able to do that. So part of it was the mechanisms and part of it was just knowing those people really well that they were doing they were in it for you as much as you were in it for them. And it wasn't just about themselves.

Andrew Hodd: Great. So what was the culture of the company? Is that you've got a great honor was what other founders? What is value the most as far as the whole company culture?

Mike Orr: I think, it's two things One is you have the ability to take personal responsibility for the problems that you see and you see you can direct to a great degree the things that you work on for your clients and for, you know to advance your own understanding of technology and you can find and take on interesting problems as long as you own them. And we've always because we've always been trying to push ourselves and each other to do something innovative and things that have been tried before. We always had a culture even back in the service days that was very supportive. So if you could take on risks and know that everyone on the team had your back and they would. You can always come to somebody with a question. If you couldn't figure something out, your responsibility was to raise that and get the help that you needed and everyone was willing to pitch in and help you out.

Andrew Hodd: That's Awesome. It can naturally be a very competitive environment where everyone's fighting through innovation. So there's a challenge as well.

Mike Orr:Yeah it's a challenge.

Brad Semotiuk: Being in the tech startup, there's so much talk about hyper-growth. We have to grow and scale so quick. So I feel that there'll be a lot of pressure out there. And I also feel there's a lot of companies out there that focus more on the top line as opposed to the bottom line to show this crazy hyper-growth as we see from loss, after loss, after loss coming from these a lot of these big tech companies. Do you feel pressure to go into hyper-growth and what is your thought on growth and sustainable growth?

Mike Orr:Yeah I think one of the objectives of the company is to work with great clients. And to be able to work with great people and have those people take on new challenges and opportunities. So growth is a great way to support that. We don't really have outside investors are our clients come customers or investors. And so they put a lot of trust in us to get it right. And that's really who we're looking to for guidance more so than if another company has taken on outside money from venture capital.

That's where a lot of that pressure can come from. I think that that model is actually changing quite a bit where the venture capital companies had a lot of successes that were very public and their model is we can, you know if we get 1 or 2 right out of 10, and then we are OK on the entrepreneur side. We can't get 1 or 2 right out of 10. This one has to work – right? Maybe we've got another one or a pivot or something that we can make it work out. But that alignment of interests wasn't it wasn't really there for us. So that's why we stayed in our own course. And I think to that there's a lot of good companies that you just don't because they aren't venture-funded and trying to make as much noise in the market that they do well then just grow the company and have successful clients and consistently grow more so than the ones that are going to hyper-growth.

Brad Semotiuk: So do you are there any companies out there that you kind of model your growth after

Mike Orr: It's I would say that there's been a couple that have done it well on the bigger side I think.

And those are the ones that you have more visibility into. I think SAP has done a fantastic job of long term client relationships and value the way they set their culture publicly and how they're trying to make the world basically run better. It is a fantastic alignment of values. And then I think, you know for me we did some work way back with Microsoft. They have always been very good at solving the right problems and not being a one-track kind of company whereas some of the other ones you know over promise and under deliver. And that's those are ones we try to sort of staying away from. That's a different way of working. And I think one of the things that we found is that there was almost not really a good or bad track. I think the most important thing is to be very authentic when you've got a company that's run by five engineers. Marketing is not the one I know making a lot of noise in the process. And spending a ton of money on marketing and running huge events or anything like that because that's not who we are. If it was who we are you can be very successful that Salesforce does an incredible job of sales and marketing and engaging their customers in that way because they've got some huge personalities running that company. So one of the things is to not just follow a track. Because you've seen someone else do it has to make sense for you and has to be authentic for you to be successful.

Andrew Hodd: You are given the niche that you have the uniqueness within the tech industry. How would you say you define or even evaluate success?

Mike Orr: I would say, for me my main goal is working with great clients working interesting problems and working with great people. And those you get to sort of evaluate day today. If you're not enjoying the work then that's a pretty good indicator that you're doing something wrong. Obviously you know growing revenue and having it is a very concrete measure of the trust that your clients are putting in you and also what I've seen is their willingness to talk about things that are outside of your scope as problems that they're having that you can provide some guidance on or if there's something that on the technology side you can do to deliver is a real indicator for the confidence that they have in us. And it just creates some new opportunities for us to innovate and work on more challenging problems. So we do measure, you know on the financial side and we do measure how satisfied our employees. And then also our customers and how willing they are to engage with us and recommend us to their peers really outside of what they would do competitively. So those are good indicators. We had one we just met with one client. It is smaller on the smaller size compared to some of the other clients and they sent a note saying really appreciate that. Despite we know recognize we're not the biggest customer around but we've never felt like that when we work with you and that trust and to me anyway, it is really gratifying

Andrew Hodd: It's awesome. What about taking a step outside of Grapevine6? How would you define success for Mike?

Mike Orr: We do try and have trying to have a balance. So it's I do enjoy work but I enjoy spending time with my kids, my wife, my friends, neighbors and it's been sometimes a challenge. But I think if you are conscious about it make an effort to do that and then you have the support system. So that is one of the big values of the company and all the founders were had to very sort of similar stage of life with kids that were very involved in different activities and so we always worked to make time to do that and understand when you're setting those priorities I guess. And you can also model a little bit as well - right. So if you see that one of our co-founder's daughters swims competitively and you sort of engage with the stories about that and it reminds you to spend time and enjoy the moments with your family.

Brad Semotiuk: What's the best tip that you ever received or better yet what have you stolen from the best?

Mike Orr: I stole as much as I could. I was definitely probably stealing from the best was one of the things that I stole from the best. The first job I had which was in consulting the guy that founded that company and ran it. Steven Ralph. He had a model where he would take people from academic disciplines and sort of unrelated professions and things that they had studied like me chemical engineering and put them into challenging business situations. And his philosophy was you should always be trying to work on problems outside your comfort zone whether it was doing podcasts or whether it's speaking in front of people or whether it's working on a new and a whole new industry you've never been in. Though if you're not constantly challenging yourself with something new then you're going to stagnate and eventually you're not going to be satisfied with what you're doing. And it's almost the habit of doing that that makes you better at doing that. And so I tried to live that way and my career is to take on Intelligent Risks and try stuff that I haven't actually done before. So I definitely stole that one from him.

Andrew Hodd:Are there any resources that really motivated you? We talked about earlier you talked about your admiration for a recipe the things we've done. Are there any people or inspirational figures that really motivated you into your career. How did you get to where you were?

Mike Orr: Yeah. I've worked for some great people that really lived that value of going outside your comfort zone and pushing to take on new risks with the understanding that they would always need to support you when that you failed within always go the way plan. But they would put the trust in me to be able to go take those risks and set the expectations and then I'd say the other thing that we've drawn some inspiration from as is the community that surrounds the tech community in Toronto and especially on the startup side. We when we were starting out early on didn't have many resources and we were getting to the point where we couldn't just work in everyone's backyard and the kitchen table and moving around from house to house and one of the people that we had worked with at the agency had started a company. Even in those days that was focused on mobile development and had a small shop here in town. It was run by a guy named Marcus Anderson and he was a real supporter of the tech community. And so he offered to let us use some desk space while we were really incubating at that time and he was one of our biggest cheerleaders. And so he would pick us up when we were down and getting frustrated and he would say that it's a long journey but you guys are on the right track and you're gonna make it. And sometimes you just need that extra level of encouragement. And so he was really fantastic to us early on. Unfortunately, he passed away suddenly at the age of 50. But it was a testament to again sort of models for a life well lived that we went to the funeral and we couldn't get into the room because the whole funeral home was absolutely packed to the point where people standing outside. And so finding those inspirational models I think helps in all facets of life.

Andrew Hodd: Awesome

Brad Semotiuk: Do you feel that translates down to your culture that you have at Grapevine6?

Mike Orr:Yeah I hope a few people show up for my funeral. I think so, yeah we try and be supportive it's amazing the range of challenges that you run into when you start hiring people and scaling up and we've seen some interesting challenges that I wouldn't have anticipated. And the goal here is that we're going to try and help out our employees and sometimes our clients to most that we can. Because even if they leave us and go out and work for someone else. I hope that they end up successful in their career and hope to maintain that relationship and you can only. So one of the things that I learned from a professor at Rotman actually was he had built this value equation that said there are only two things you can really do to influence your value. There are two things you can work on. One is your personal capital your equity which is your education and your knowledge and skills and the other one is your relationship equity. And I think that is how you treat people and how you kind of work with them over time.

Brad Semotiuk: So I want to give you a chance to go to toot your own horn here Mike. When it comes to business and life what are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Mike Orr: Well. This has been a good one so far. Great find success is doing really well. We've grown just rapidly over the last three years and get to work with some of the biggest companies in the world. On some of the big problems that they're facing. And they've put a lot of trust in us. I did have one experience at the agency where we had done some work we're doing work in mobile development at the time and trying to build our portfolio. And we happen to get a connection to a researcher at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and she was working on a project to update a pain diary for kids with cancer as part of a research project and she had built a model in Palm 5 technology which was what I used I think in undergrad at Waterloo.

And so she wanted to migrate that to an iPhone and bring it up to current and bring it up to current and take the learnings she had done from the first experiment and we had seen I had seen a presentation by a woman that was researching games and how games could sort of transform society beyond just the entertainment value or the sort of the mechanics of gamification. It was really about achieving epic goals. And so we pitched this idea that we could create a game out of this pain diary which is the opposite of what you would think and it was. But that woman was Jane McGonigal. She wrote a book called Reality is Broken which is a really good read if anybody wants to take a look. And so we built this application called the Pain Squad and you buy collecting the clues and recording your pain you are helping to solve the case of pain for other kids, not just yourself. We did all the design and creative stuff that you get to do at an agency and have some fantastic people there and then they also knew some actors from some of the TV shows like Rookie Blue and few others and so they actually did a little videos for the kids in full gear as they got promoted as they collected the clues and had this huge impact where instead of I think the compliance so actually filling out the diary went from 60% to like 90% which was a huge impact and the feedback from the kids was they loved it. And so that was one of the rare projects and times you get a chance to work out something that really matters and really has an impact on people that need it.

Andrew Hodd: It was super cool.

Brad Semotiuk: That's awesome. Mike, you really have an awesome story. I truly appreciate you taking the time to come in and share some of your learnings and insight with the listeners today. Thanks so much.

Mike Orr: My pleasure. Thanks.