Interview Part 1: Creating Anow Organically With Marty Haldane
Marty talks about how he started Anow from the early days and how he handles feature requests. From the days when he was an appraiser himself and how he started passionately improving the appraisal industry. Always a hard worker, Marty took the phone call from a patio in Hawaii, a deserved vacation as he continues to work hard improving Anow software. From Anow to his Golf game, Marty gives us insights about his company, daily life, and the journey that has got him to where he is today. Stressing the importance of his amazing team, he tells about the success of Anow and how he could not have done it without his team.
Trying not to check his emails very first thing in the morning, Marty will find some good news stories and play with his kids before heading to the office. His favourite feature of the software is the analytics – Marty loves data! And as an appraiser you should too. Hope you enjoy this inside look at the founder of Anow. This is part one with 2 more parts coming later.
Interviewer: Don’t want to take away from your beach time there in Hawaii!
Marty Haldane: No, it’s fine since it’s raining on and off today, so this is a good day to talk. We’ve had a quiet day so far, just went to Target this morning and now I’m sitting on the deck finishing up lunch with the kids. My wife is inside having a nap so we’ll probably go to the pool soon. It’s kind of weird being the three-hour time-shifted, everything feels off, but it’s nice. The office back in Western Canada is closing up for the day soon, so I know my phone will be quieter and I can relax more after that happens.
Interviewer: So, let’s just jump right in. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you into entrepreneurship?
Marty Haldane: Into entrepreneurship in general? It’s kind of one of those things where I’ve always been an entrepreneur. It started when I was around like 13 or 14. I taught myself how to do build websites in Dreamweaver and Flash, then started to produce good sites that friends wanted. I couldn’t get enough of that, I would make a random business’ website or a wedding site for a friend, or something for the family business. Just for an event, I’d charge a few hundred to a thousand here and there.
That’s about where it all started.
Interviewer: So what got you into entrepreneurship was technology and websites?
Marty Haldane: Yeah, it was that to start. When I graduated high school I was 17, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with my life yet. I never thought about making websites my business. I didn’t understand the importance of large scale web applications back in the early 2000s, all I knew were “business card” sites. I was a really good flash developer at the time, for whatever that’s worth now (laughs).
My father invited me to join Haldane Appraisals, the family appraisal business. My grandfather started in the 70’s and my father started there in the 70’s too. I went to work with him. It was an awesome opportunity. I had to learn fast but I had a great teacher. There is a lot of stuff you’re thrust into right away when you work for your father, and I got deep into the profession right away. That was awesome. Then I think it was around a year into it, another appraiser at Haldane Appraisals and myself built a house together where we did all the work ourselves.
We didn’t have any money when we were 19 to hire a lot of trades, so we got the biggest mortgage we could possibly get and maxed everything else out in the process. We did so much work ourselves. We hired out what we could afford or skills we didn’t have, but from 8:00 to midnight for months we would be appraising and working on the house every day.
Interviewer: So you started from scratch?
Marty Haldane: Yeah, we busted our butts to design and build a nice house. We did a good job. We didn’t have a perfect house after, but we learned a ton each time and got better. That was where I started getting into working long hours but we were also reaping the benefits of that. Plus having that in-depth knowledge of building and real costs helped our appraising careers too. Throughout the other houses we built, I noticed it was the design part of it I really liked. I did the blueprints from scratch and did most of the design on the house. I would obsess over little details because they all add up.
I think it’s really interesting to look back on because I can attribute my love of user experience and design back on the houses and it’s applicable to how we build our software today.
Interviewer: That’s awesome. So you’ve been working hard for a long time?
Marty Haldane: Yes, and I started to work on Anow shortly after we sold our last house. We sold that house and moved in with my Father-in-law since he was doing a lot of overseas traveling. He had an empty house on the lake, so my wife and I, girlfriend at the time, figured let’s save some money. Between that basement and the Haldane Appraisal’s office, that was where Anow was born.
Interviewer: How did come up with Anow?
Marty Haldane: I live and breathe new ideas and challenges. Being a part of a family business, you get to do all that extra work you never get paid for. I was involved in every aspect of the business as if it was my own, yet paid the same as everyone else. I can get bored quickly though. With respect to Anow, when the introduction of the heavy use of AMCs by lenders happened, I knew appraisers needed something on their side.
I still remember driving back after dropping my father-in-law at the airport when I made the exact decision to do Anow. When I set myself to something I can be incredibly persistent. Sometimes it’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a bad thing.
My wife makes fun of me because she’ll look at me and we’ll be talking, all of sudden she asks, “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?” I’d be like, “No, sorry.” And I’ll go and write down a thought or some idea that I had. That is me. Sometimes. So Anow came to life while I was still working at Haldane Appraisals, doing appraisals five days a week and taking a break from building. I’ve lived and breathed the appraisal business since I was born. This is a business I understand incredibly well and I have a huge respect for since so much of my family was involved in it. I saw the integrity of appraisers being undermined, and I wanted to disrupt that.
Interviewer: Do you have a mentor?
Marty Haldane: I didn’t have a mentor at the very beginning. I was just getting ready to launch our first version of Anow but I really didn’t know how to get there. I signed up for Accelerate Alberta roundtables that summer. I was just thinking heck if I can get three hours of help from these smart entrepreneurs and executives, it would mean the world to me. This was all new territory I hadn’t been before.
The head of the group, David Edmonds, contacted me after applying and said, “Hey, I’m going to connect you with someone”, and that was another successful tech entrepreneur who was just starting an actual mentor/coaching course and I was his test subject. I really got some great advice and coaching.
Ever since then, it’s David Edmonds that I’ve kept in touch with the most. When he’s traveling through town we’ll meet, go for lunch or grab a coffee. He’s amazing for always giving me some good, solid unbiased advice or point me in the right direction. I really trust him.
Interviewer: That’s fantastic. On that note, maybe it’s something from Dave Edmonds, or somebody else, but what’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received?
Marty Haldane: The Most valuable piece of advice? That’s hard, I’ve had lots from a lot of smart people. I don’t want to risk misquoting someone (laughs).
Interviewer: If you had to pick one, what would you … It can be regards to business, or just life in general.
Marty Haldane: I can think of some advice, some bad advice that I got though which also valuable if you learn from it.
Interviewer: Okay, what’s the worst advice you’ve received then?
Marty Haldane: Bad advice can sometimes be the best learning experience. To start, bad advice was that I could build Anow for fifteen thousand dollars. Not even remotely close (laughs). Other bad advice that I received, but it was when we were struggling to release our first product, like any new business, we were starving to get customers and you couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was advised by another mentor to start cutting staff, think about giving the money back to my investors, and do something else. I had my first child at this moment too, so maybe I seemed a bit distracted. They especially thought I should get rid of our designer and focus on just the product. Which is partially right. Focusing on the product is what we were already doing, but I’m incredibly persistent. I don’t like being told I can’t do something.
But NOT firing the designer was the best thing I ever did. At the very beginning, we found out that you needed so much random marketing, random images, creating graphics, little things to get out there in order to be seen. Let’s go in this newsletter, do this conference, make these ads, promo materials, make the app prettier kind of stuff. That designer was key to get marketing together and getting attention. She’s still with us today and she’s awesome. Obviously, we couldn’t afford a marketer then. It was myself and her being marketers, with literally no experience there.
Interviewer: That was the bad advice, was there any good advice you received?
Marty Haldane: The great advice was from another mentor that I had. He talked to me about our allocations on R&D to marketing once you found your product/market fit. That was really good advice because that helped change the mentality that we were as a startup. We constantly thought we needed to make our product better, but we just had to get it out in the hands of more customers.
Just having that mental switch was great. We know some things have been proven, now let’s go marketing. I never scaled back on the R&D at all though, we are always hiring developers because I love building Anow. I love designing and building new features, solving real problems and seeing people go “wow, this is great”. Coming from both my appraisal background and technical background, I really like to dive into the product. I still have a lot of ideas we need to do, and that’s where I get really excited.
Interviewer: So you mentioned hard work, and you mentioned problem-solving. What do you think is the biggest skill that has helped you get where you’re at?
Marty Haldane: Two things. First, obviously knowing the industry that I’m in, inside and out, really, really helps. Coming with the background of appraising, but not just appraising, but running the business of appraising. When I joined with Haldane Appraisal I had to do all the client relations and marketing stuff, finance, accounting, all that stuff. Because I’m going to be a part of the family business I need to know the entire business, not just how to do an appraisal.
The second skill. I am resilient and persistent; I don’t give up easily. I don’t take no for an answer. If that’s a no, we’ll figure it out. With my staff today, I tell them not to shut down anyone’s idea without proposing an alternative. There are many points in my life where it would be so easy to give up, pack it up, and go back to appraising at the family business as the obvious successor. Which isn’t a bad thing, but I am on this path. It’s just my personality and a persevere instinct.
And mostly as cliché as it sounds, it just comes down to giving it your all. I don’t think any business has truly won by just being a hobby. I love Airbnb’s founder’s quote “Our overnight success took 1000 days”. It’s only the people closest to you that see the incredible risk, emotional ups and downs, and just the countless hours that go into everything. I live and breath this company.
Interviewer: Tell me more about your family being focused on appraisals and the history with that.
Marty Haldane: Yeah. My grandfather, I believe it was in 1977 that he started the business, and my dad joined two years later. He’s been doing it for a long time, and I joined him when I was 17. My uncle is at Haldane Appraisals too. My aunt was at Haldane Appraisals. My cousin is, and my mom is the office manager at Haldane Appraisals. From day one, much of my family was involved.
I graduated when I was 17, and in Alberta you can make a lot of money in the oilfield right out of high school. Well, you have to be 18 to work in the oilfield. So that’s when my dad said, “Come work with me”. It wasn’t a question, I was going to work. I started right away and this is doing everything from houses to going with him to commercial buildings, big industrial sites and huge developments of any kind. I didn’t go to university. I did correspondence through UBC while working. Just enough to get my designation, but I never went for a full degree. My dad is a fantastic appraiser. He really, really knows his stuff. I couldn’t have had a better teacher. I got experience all over the place.
Interviewer: Then did you kind of transition out, or did you just were like, you know what, I’m going to do Anow?
Marty Haldane: I transitioned out. My parents were understanding enough. I slowly phased out over a period of about say four to six months. It was hard because Haldane Appraisals was my life on many levels. But mentally I was going in a new direction, this is what I want to do, Anow can change the industry, and it’s obviously helping out Haldane Appraisals too. I haven’t done an appraisal in a few years, but I still help out with some things.
Interviewer: Right, and so Haldane Appraisals benefited a lot from Anow?
Marty Haldane: Oh yeah, they were first users, the first pilot using it, they still get priority on some early features. A lot of it was just built around their business. It’s the whole process of validating needs and features based on a real appraisal firm. Anow solved a ton of issues for them.
Interviewer: Do Haldane Appraisals still test a lot of early features for you now still?
Marty Haldane: Sometimes, but it’s not only them now. We’ve got a great group of power users who get to beta test, or if people request certain things they’ll get on the beta test list first. For Haldane Appraisals, they’re the first line where I’ll say, “Hey, would you like it if you could do this?”. I can always judge their reaction really well to see if they are just being nice or if it’s truly a good idea.
We get a lot of feature requests saying, “It doesn’t do this? What? I can’t be the only person that wants this.” But in reality, even with thousands of appraisers all over the world using Anow, it’s the first we have ever heard of it. But if it’s a good idea that will benefit everyone, I’m all ears.
Interviewer: So Haldane Appraisals will give you feedback and you get a lot of suggestions from everybody. So how do you take all that feedback and pick and choose? Obviously, you can’t do everything that everybody wants, right?
Marty Haldane: No, definitely not. It’s a tough balance of because when you get feature requests, we usually wait until they get asked for more than 10, 15, 20, or even 30 times. It all depends on the scope of the project and time. We have a great team, but we don’t have an army of developers. I may have claimed to know the industry really well, but I certainly do not know even close to everything. What exists in Anow today is vastly different and better than what we launched with.
I try to focus on the problem we need to solve. There’s always a problem but what I think the problem is was at the beginning is based on a someone saying “I want this.” Then you go build it, and it might not have been exactly what they were asking for either. The key is understanding the difference between what customers are asking for, versus the root of the problem. I try to look at the problem you’re trying to solve and go back 10 steps, get to the root of the issue. Find a simple solution to the real problem vs treat a symptom.
Interviewer: So based on how many requests you get, and also how easy it is to solve?
Marty Haldane: Yeah, exactly. Obviously, how many requests you have on the same issue is important because you need to listen to your customers, but it also has to align with the direction we’re going as a company.
Interviewer: So you go back and you figure out what they really mean?
Marty Haldane: Yeah, the problem is sometimes different than the feature request. It can sometimes be solved by making something else better in the process, completely alleviating the extra steps involved in a specific feature request. Customer feedback is awesome, but some people get apprehensive about giving me feedback … I had a great customer a couple of weeks ago say: “You’re about to get on a plane, fly to Chicago and punch me.” But no way, it’s not annoying at all. I appreciate it everything we get. We don’t ignore any of it. Even the cranky ones.
Interviewer: Feedback is good.
Marty Haldane: Feedback is the best. We run at about 1,000+ new releases to our production server each quarter. A lot of this is driven off of listening to feedback.
Interviewer: So what are you most proud of in 2017? Now that we’re in the beginning of 2018, looking back over the last year, what are you most proud of?
Marty Haldane: A lot of things. It was our best year yet. We continue to have the best year yet, which is a nice thing to have. We’ve more than doubled our team size, that was cool but also poses its own new set of challenges. I think what I’m most proud of though is how we are building and innovating on some extremely cool stuff. I am very proud of my team coming together to do things no one has done before. I can’t even talk about some of those yet, but you’ll see soon and go “Wow!” A lot of this interview has been about me, but I really have an incredibly talented team.
I’m also proud that we are now a leader in our space. We’’re making a lot of noise, and making appraisers more efficient and profitable. Partners and integrators that had once said we are too small to bother are now asking us for help. Hearing our customers say all the time, “We love this, this is great. Thanks!”. Going to a conference and having our customers call people over to give demos because they are so pumped up on Anow. Recently, a relative of mine was in an airport in Victoria. She started talking to a person next to her while waiting and then I get a text saying: “Hey, I’m just talking to an appraiser in the airport… She said she uses Anow every day and loves it!” That’s awesome.
Interviewer: You don’t have to convince people anymore of your work.
Marty Haldane: No, not really. In the beginning, you’re pounding the pavement to make this work. I was told your first 50 customers are the hardest and thought “no way”. But it’s so incredibly true. Then all of a sudden, it’s selling itself, and then you reassure yourself saying “oh okay, good. I knew it was good all along”.