Raised on a farm in South Africa, Dean Levitt moved to the United States to pursue a career in music, eventually finding his way to the tech world. What began as a booking tool for musicians became Mad Mimi, an email marketing tool that grew to over 200,000 users and an exit to GoDaddy.
While at GoDaddy, Dean was a Director of Customer Support and was involved in maintaining Mad Mimi’s growth while helping launch GoDaddy’s Email Marketing Tool.
After two years at GoDaddy, Dean set off to launch his second startup, Teacup – an A.I. that automated Google Ads optimization for small businesses. While Teacup didn’t turn into a success, Dean took the experience and launched another startup, ThymeBase – event planning software for event professionals.
While growing his previous company, Mad Mimi, Dean realized he had a passion for helping small businesses grow online. Dean is a mentor at 500 Startups, a co-founder of ThymeBase, and an avid surfer.
Where did the idea for ThymeBase come from?
The idea for ThymeBase came from an interaction at a local store.
A product I love, halva made locally by an independent confectioner, was out of stock. When I asked the store owner when she’d get more in, she shrugged and explained that the confectioner was terrible at communication.
The idea hit that night. What if the seller could readily communicate with both the supplier and the client? And add reminders too. Everyone would be happy and feel calm and in control, right? And I’d know when my halva was back in stock.
I called my friend David Jacobson, now CEO of ThymeBase, and we discussed the idea. He thought it might be a powerful tool for event planners, so we called an event planner. The planner, Jenna, loved the idea.
After talking to about twenty more planners and other event professionals, we realized we were on to something and began to build the team.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The first thing I do every day is get dressed for work, even though I work from home. The second thing is a stovetop pot of coffee.
Then I check in with my team. We all work remotely, and since I’m in Tel Aviv, I check in with Chris Spring, our CTO, and co-founder based in South Africa. We also check in with our two amazing programmers, Eric and Jerry, based in Benin and Nigeria. While Chris, Jerry, and Eric connect in person over Zoom, I work on anything that came up for me from Liz and David, our US-based partners.
I try to get some small wins. I complete a few small tasks to set the tone for the day. Then I post a written update in Slack. This update states what I’ve done since my last check-in. What my plans for the day are, and what my overall goal is – what I’m working toward. I use the goal to set my intention, so I don’t get sidetracked.
Then it’s just a matter of cracking on. I keep details lists, and I work through it, making sure I’m focusing on tasks that match my goals and accomplishing what I set out to do.
A lot of my work is content-based, marketing, customer success, and user-interviews with event planners.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Slowly. And then really, really fast. Bringing an idea to life requires a customer. I first decide on the customer and then work hard to get rid of my preconceived notions. Then it’s a matter of talking to as many customers as possible with an open mind.
I’ve recently begun prototyping everything. I set up weekly sprints in which Liz Sdregas, a co-founder, and I prototype ideas, even kooky ones, and then we get them in front of event planners. We use the prototypes more as conversation starters than anything else. It’s a learning aid.
In a previous startup, I built features that I was sure would wow my customers only to be greeted by total indifference. Now the team and I prototype everything and then build incrementally. Liz is the Chief Product Officer, and she keeps us all on track.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The event marketing space has been growing at a fantastic rate, which has been exciting for obvious reasons. Online businesses of all sizes have begun to look at events as a way of building more personal relationships with their customers.
I’m particularly excited about this space because events touch a lot of small businesses, from caterers to florists to DJs to photographers. The trend of more and more marketing events means more income across the whole economy, from vendors and suppliers to designers and stylists. It’s impactful.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I was tempted to say my best habit is reading, and I do read a lot. It’s my favorite habit, but it doesn’t keep me productive. What keeps me productive is accountability. The daily check-ins with my team is a habit that drives me to get shit done before the next update.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I lost so many opportunities to learn because I thought I knew better, or I’d been dismissive of someone’s expertise. Every single person in this world can teach you something, or at least, you can learn from them in some way. So, don’t be so sure you know best.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The world is getting better every day. I’m writing this amid the coronavirus scare, and the economy is tanking, unemployment is soaring, and people are terrified. The thing is, we humans are both resilient and always improving, and in the long run, things work out in the main.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Talk to people. Don’t keep your ideas secret. Talk about your idea to everyone who will listen – their questions will uncover your gaps.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
When you’re building for small businesses or consumers, marketing must be baked into the product. You can’t rely on a sales team – it’s often more expensive than the revenue you’ll earn. Figure out a way for your customers to onboard new customers.
At Mad Mimi, we had a “powered by Mad Mimi” link below every email newsletter that our customers sent. It was a powerful growth engine.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had so many failures. So many. I guess my previous startup Teacup was a substantial failure. It began as an analytics tool for small businesses. Then we built out an impressive A.I. for Google Ads, but I screwed up. My target market didn’t have the money to spend on Google Ads. Growth stalled, and I’d wasted vast amounts of runway and time on features no one wanted.
I’m not sure I overcame it apart from acknowledging defeat and moving on. I made sure I learned as much as I could from it and committed to not repeating the mistakes. I like to think I’m working on overcoming the failure right now with ThymeBase.
Most startups fail. And there are mini-failures every day. I stay focused on my vision of helping small businesses succeed – it’s something I find rewarding. Then if a feature or product or idea fails, it doesn’t alter my overall vision.
I absolutely love small businesses. Every day, I think about what I can do to help them succeed. This keeps me going.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Hosting sucks. Dealing with DNS, redirects, FTP, SSH, etc. is a freaking nightmare for pretty much everyone. Companies that do WordPress Managed Hosting simplify getting online and are crushing it for precisely this reason. I think something similar to that for websites that aren’t WordPress would be awesome. I’d pay for it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent $100 hiring a few event planners to talk to me for an hour. I learned so much.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Ha, I’m going to have to say ThymeBase. While it’s focused on event planning, I use it for all my to-do lists. It’s how I manage my content schedule, daily workflow and keep track of internal projects. Plus, because I’m heavily using my own product, I catch a lot of small UX stuff that might have slipped by.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. I loved it. It was a great read, but also really insightful. David and I used it when strategizing pricing and prioritizing features.
What is your favorite quote?
One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.
- Talk about your idea to as many people as possible
- Prototype with customers
- Love your customer
- Read more books
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.