Dodd Caldwell – Co-founder of MoonClerk

[quote style=”boxed”]Sometimes I tell people I only have one true skill. Fortunately, that skill is pretty valuable. I’m somehow able to get really talented people to work with me. I bring ideas to life by surrounding myself with people who do great work. [/quote]

Dodd is passionate about startups and nonprofits. That passion shines through in the projects he works on. Dodd is the cofounder of MoonClerk, a web-based software company that helps small businesses accept recurring payments online. Dodd also helps run Rice Bowls, a creative nonprofit that partners with grass-roots orphanages in 8 countries to feed hungry children. Dodd is also involved with Loft Resumes. Previously, he led the international and chain sales efforts for his family’s manufacturing business and started his own real estate development firm while living in Panama, Central America. Dodd graduated with a degree in business management from Furman University. He is currently based out of Greenville, SC and enjoys writing minisagas (stories told in exacty 50 words) and curating the growing chewing gum collection on his desk at Cowork Greenville.

Where did the idea for MoonClerk come from?

I had been working on another project with my cofounder, Ryan Wood. He was doing some contract development work for me. We did a simple implementation of recurring payments and started looking around at the options out there. Most of them were fairly complicated and required you to either know how to program or have the money and know-how to hire someone. And the ones that didn’t require that usually weren’t really robust enough to work for most small businesses. We saw a niche where we could allow small businesses to accept recurring payment quickly, simply and without breaking the bank, but still give them a lot of flexibility and power. Our goal now is keep adding power without complicating things.

What does your typical day look like?

I try to do some cardio before work – usually on a rode bike. Most productivity experts probably wouldn’t agree with what I do when I first get into the office, but I usually try to knock out some easy stuff. It helps me ease into the work day. That may be answering some quick emails or doing a little more menial work. If my cofounder is in the office, we’ll usually update each other about what we’re working on. I work in downtown Greenville, SC which is a pretty great place. If I have a meeting, I usually schedule it over coffee downtown. Other than that, I’m heads down at my computer with my headphones on knocking out some work. We’re a young bootstrapped startup so that may mean doing customer service, writing blog posts, or strategizing and trying to get some PR.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Sometimes I tell people I only have one true skill. Fortunately, that skill is pretty valuable. I’m somehow able to get really talented people to work with me. I bring ideas to life by surrounding myself with people who do great work. There’s a lot of effort that comes after that, but things usually work themselves out if you’re got great people around you.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

This has nothing to do with my particular business, but everything to do with productivity – self-driving cars. I’ll be the first in line to buy one. I’m not a particularly good driver and I don’t don’t particularly enjoy driving. But what gets me excited is being able to turn the wasted time I spend driving a car into productive time. Self driving cars will be a huge productivity boost for any entrepreneur or any business person, especially those with commutes.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I like to create something every day. For the last couple of years, I’ve written a minisaga pretty much every day. Minisagas are stories told in exactly 50 words – not 49, not 51. I publish them every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on my minisaga blog. Writing helps discipline me into seeing myself as someone who needs to create value everyday, not just someone who manages and sells. It’s something that’s completely unrelated to my business but it’s important to be a creator and not just a manager or consumer.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I tried doing some door-to-door sales for my family business when I got out of college. It wasn’t forced on me. We didn’t even do door-to-door sales. I just figured I’d try it. I learned it’s not easy and not that fun. Maybe that’s one of the reason, I prefer trying to market digitally now – I’d rather have people who are already looking for my solution find me on their own. That’s more fun. And for me, more effective.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have launched with less features. We thought we had cut most of the fat out before we launched but there were a few things we thought were “must-haves” but then months after launch, we only had 1 customer using. It was those features that took the longest to build out too.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Try to humble yourself. Nobody has it all figured out. Anyone who says they do is lying. When you’re humble, you’re also real. It’s hard because our (my) natural inclination is to be prideful. But people (including customers) respond to that. Whether you’re apologizing for a bug that negatively affected customers or trying to land a huge business development deal, true humility is the way to go. And in the end, even if you don’t land the business deal, you’ll have probably gained respect. Nobody disliked anyone because they were “too humble.”

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Providing great customer service. In the short term, great customer service helps conversion rates. In the long term, it also helps spread the word. A lot of customer service comes before someone is actually a customer. I spend a good bit of time with potential customers answering questions about MoonClerk on live chat,through emails, on the phone, and in person. When they see you care and you fit their needs, they usually end up paying you for your product/service. In the long run, if you can keep those customer happy by responding to them quickly and politely, someone they know will eventually need what you have to offer and you’ll be the one they recommend.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve failed at Google Adwords every time I’ve tried to use it. I wrote a blog post called Pay-Per-Click Won’t Save You that goes into a good bit of detail about why each effort failed. I used to think maybe paid ads would be a great avenue to a growing, profitable business but I wised up and learned they don’t work for every (or most) businesses. You can’t always buy your customers. You have to earn them. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do since.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d like someone to use Full Contact along with facial recognition and Google Glass. That way if I’m at an event where I don’t know someone or can’t remember who someone is, I could pull it up without anyone knowing. Disclosure: I don’t currently own Google Glass but would like to.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I love memorizing things. It’s sort of a hobby. It could be poetry, the Bible, or my own writing.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Evernote. I mostly use it as a way to digitize the paper in my life – to keep track of business cards, receipts, etc. I use Pocket for saving articles I want to read later. I use Tout for helping me email current and potential customers. I use Google Drive now for things like spreadsheets – it’s easier to keep track of updates and to collaborate as opposed to using Excel.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

If you’re building web-based software, “Don’t Make Me Thing” by Steve Krug. It’s an oldie but goodie. The aesthetics of web design have changed since it was written but the principles this book teaches have not. It’s the best way I know to give someone an overview of what it takes to makes something complex, seem easy to a customer.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My Dad doesn’t have a blog or website but he’s a consummate entrepreneur and has had the biggest influence on my life – even my business. As far as entrepreneurs who I enjoy following online – Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator, who also keeps a blog, Andrew Warner of Mixergy, Allan Branch of Less Accounting, and Patrick McKenzie of Kalzumeus Software.


Dodd Caldwell on Twitter: @DoddCaldwell