I always ask everyone I meet, “Who else should I be talking to?” Oftentimes, you don’t know the ways in which someone can help you until you actually meet him and hear his perspective on things.
Prior to co-founding Truebill, Yahya Mokhtarzada served as VP of business development at Nanigans, an advertising technology platform focused on social and mobile channels. At Nanigans, Yahya executed platform licensing agreements with enterprise advertisers including eBay, Zappos, Electronic Arts, Zynga, Amazon, and Wayfair.
Prior to Nanigans, Yahya held business development roles at SGN and Webs. Yahya is also a mentor at 500 Startups and has instructed at Startup Institute.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I was chatting with my brother, and he mentioned being surprised to find a recurring charge on his credit card bill he’d previously been unaware of. I’d recently experienced something similar myself, discovering a $40 charge I didn’t recognize. Upon looking deeper, I realized that I’d been paying $40 per month for the past 14 months without any idea.
We immediately had a bit of an “aha” moment, wondering how many other people were paying for subscriptions they either didn’t know about or didn’t want. The first thing we did was cancel our subscriptions (and my credit card company was nice enough to issue me a refund for the charges).
From there, we did a quick search to find the solution to hidden subscriptions and were shocked to find that no one — not banks, credit cards, or anyone else — had a way of quickly identifying and tracking subscriptions.
So the idea for Truebill was born. We set out to build the first platform to find, track and manage all your subscription services and recurring bills.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I wake up, check my email, and respond to anything pressing. I sometimes have early morning calls with Europe or the East Coast, so I’ll do those before showering and heading into the office.
I try to book my calls and meetings at the start and end of the day, giving me the opportunity to work uninterrupted for several hours in between. I’ll generally stay at the office until 6:30 or 7 pm, then have a coffee or dinner meeting before heading home.
On days that I don’t have a dinner meeting, I’ll use that as an opportunity to exercise, which can be either running, heading to the gym, Brazilian jiujitsu, or rock climbing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Most ideas start with a conversation between my co-founder and me. One of us will be thinking about the platform and say, “Hey, why don’t we try this?” From there — if we agree on it — I’ll create a wireframe to work through the functionality and user experience. We’ll review the wireframes together, and — again, if we agree — the designer will create a draft.
We usually have two or three revisions on the design, and the functionality usually gets refined during this process. Once we have a design we’re happy with, my co-founder builds it out, and we push it live.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The explosion of software as a service and the lower barrier of entry it affords new businesses. As a result, we were able to launch Truebill for less than $1,000. We did our design in Photoshop for only $11 a month, wrote our copy in Microsoft Office for $6 a month, hosted our email on Zoho for free, used Intercom for customer service, and used Mixpanel for analytics. Essentially, our entire stack was built without buying a single thing!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m a relentless networker. At all times, I keep a mental list of people I’d like to connect with. I always ask everyone I meet, “Who else should I be talking to?” Oftentimes, you don’t know the ways in which someone can help you until you actually meet him and hear his perspective on things.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
My junior year of high school, I got a job selling windows and siding door-to-door. While there were times when knocking on 100 different doors in the rain at dinner time could be pretty miserable, I learned a ton about meeting, interacting with, and selling to people.
The first thing I learned is that everyone is approachable. We’re all people — we all have our own habits, insecurities, and moods. But ultimately, we have more in common than the opposite.
Next, I learned what guides people’s decisions. No one really cares whether the windows you sell are the best around. Everyone has his own stuff going on. If you want to be successful, you need to demonstrate how your offer is relevant to customers’ unique needs.
And more importantly than anything else, I learned that people respond to honesty. Saying, “I have a fantastic offer for great windows,” will never be as effective as saying, “I’m really sorry to bother you during dinner — and believe me, I’d prefer to be eating dinner myself. I just need a quick minute to tell you why I’m here knocking on your door, then I can get out of your way.”
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Take the plunge sooner! If you have a job and are wondering whether now is the best time to start a business, it is! It’s a decision you won’t regret, and it will be an amazing experience — whether you succeed or not.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Talk to users! Sometimes, the assumptions you take completely for granted will be turned upside down by hearing a customer’s feedback. Talk to your happy customers, your angry customers, and your inactive customers — each of them has something valuable to tell you.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Share your data with the world. At Truebill, we have a huge amount of data around subscriptions, cancellations, and credit card charges. One of the first things we did was build out directories that allow anyone to search for information on how to cancel a subscription. If you Google “How do I cancel ______,” there’s a good chance we come up in the top results.
At my last company, Nanigans, we had data around trends on Facebook. We used this to make all sorts of content, such as Super Bowl predictions based on Facebook trends. This content got picked up by blogs and online news sites, generating a ton of exposure for us.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When your business is growing fast, all sorts of advice starts pouring in. Sometimes, there’s pressure to hire seasoned executives with more experience in specific domains. While these new hires can be a terrific asset, at the end of the day, you really have to trust your gut when it comes to big decisions. You know your product, your customers, and your company best, and no amount of expert experience can trump that.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think it’s crazy that there’s no easy way to watch sporting events or news shows from around the world. We live in the digital age, and someone from Germany has no easy way to watch their favorite news show, or someone from India has to search for an illegal download of their team’s cricket match if they want to see it.
There really should be a Netflix or Amazon for international digital content.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
It’s a bit more than $100, but the annual fee for my American Express card. This card pays for itself over and over again with purchase, loss, and fraud protection, as well as in card member benefits. In the past year, I lost a pair of Bose headphones that Amex refunded, paid hundreds in airline fees that Amex waived, and was refunded hundreds of dollars for a sneaky subscription I didn’t know I had.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Intercom is amazing for customer support. It takes only a few minutes and no technical know-how to integrate, and it gives your customers an immediate way to contact you and get answers to their questions.
I also love Moqups for wireframing. It’s a great way to quickly shape product ideas, share them across the team, and collaborate on ideating functionality.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read?
It’s hard to pick just one! For business, I just finished Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things.” It’s a fantastic must-read for anyone growing and running a business. I also really liked “Tell to Win” by Peter Guber. While it’s not purely a sales book, it’s invaluable in terms of understanding the value and effectiveness of storytelling.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I’m a big fan of Jason Lemkin’s and Mark Suster’s blogs. Additionally, as I mentioned before, Ben Horowitz’s book is a must-read.
Yahya on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/yahyamokhtarzada
Yahya on Twitter: @yahyamokh