Gabriel Flores 0:06
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the shades of entrepreneurship. This is your host, Mr. Gabriel Flores. Today I'm here with the CEO of particle 41. Ben Johnson. Ben, how are we doing?
Ben Johnson 2:29
I'm doing great. Gabriel. Great to be here.
Gabriel Flores 2:31
I'm really excited because I was telling Ben earlier this is kind of one of my first really tech heavy kind of entrepreneurs. So it's very interesting. But before we get into particle 41 Ben go ahead and introduce yourself who is Ben Johnson?
Ben Johnson 2:45
Sure. I live in the Dallas, North Dallas, Texas area. I have a family of six, three boys and a girl finally, over a wide range of ages 20 all the way down to four. I have been doing computer science and software since I was you know, in high school. And you know, I've had successful ventures in both travel travel Marketing, Finance, Financial marketing company. And then I started a service company about 10 years ago. But while I was working on particle 41, I also built a small venture a legal legal services venture and sold it to LegalZoom about four years back. Oh, nice. So yeah, serial entrepreneur. I love starting businesses. I love being engaged in business. But normally I do take a technical co founder CTO role in the businesses that I start
Gabriel Flores 3:41
nice so let's let's talk a little bit about particle 41. One, give the listeners at home what is it a little kind of synopsis and then two. I would love to hear how you guys came up the name I read about it. I would love for you to kind of explain it.
Ben Johnson 3:55
Sure. So particle 41 is an agile software consultancy with a passion for persistent persistence communication and inspired product development. Where basically your engineering team or agile team in the box in a box we do software development, DevOps, data science, we have a really wide range of services, but we really just want to help you into and get your product to market or develop your solutions more quickly. We love digital transformation, cloud migration. These are projects that we typically get involved in and we just love crushing mountains of work.
Gabriel Flores 4:33
Now how do you guys come up with the name particle for
Ben Johnson 4:37
sure. So the 41st element in the periodic table is niobium. We decided to pass on that. But niobium is an element that's often combined with steel in a foundry process to make it flexible and get an anodized sheen. So back in the 80s 90s you could get in niobium jewelry which is kind of like pop metal or anodized metal jewelry, but we think you know adding that element of success that particle 41 is we combine with businesses to make them stronger and more flexible.
Gabriel Flores 5:14
Nice and one of the things you guys primarily focus on is like maximizing productivity. How do you guys kind of help maximize productivity?
Ben Johnson 5:25
Sure. So I think we talk a lot about visibility, of velocity and vision. So we definitely want to make sure that we're choosing the right set of goals and working with our customers on the right side of the goals to get something in front of the user quickly and garner feedback through iterative product development. So we love talking about you know what, what are the objectives? What's the first goal How can we move straight to that goal with velocity, but also with vision, making sure we don't lose any sight of the future or make sure that we are creating future opportunity. All of our solutions will be mobile first or API first, as an example of being just kind of future looking. But not so much so that we still don't get you to market quickly. That's where velocity and important and then our personal or our decided way of delivering services highly visible you get an update from everyone every day. It's very high collaboration.
Gabriel Flores 6:28
You know, one of these kind of sounds like you know, I actually interviewed a guest earlier kind of talking about value and value proposition right create value back to the end user. And it kind of seems like that's exactly what particle 41 is doing is creating, one addressing the need and providing value to address that need. Does that sound about accurate?
Ben Johnson 6:47
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. We are at a more economical option for your product development. And we have the right level of expertise to ensure that you get to the goal that you're trying to achieve.
Gabriel Flores 7:01
Now, how do you how would you start, you know, you mentioned you you scaled several businesses before what you sold to LegalZoom. How do you scale a business and kind of get it to that? point where you feel a large corporation like late LegalZoom is wanting to purchase you?
Ben Johnson 7:17
Sure. So my founder and I in that business had a really good strategy. Just for what kind of who was our ICP? You know, who was our ideal customer persona? And what kinds of things they will need. And then we did a lot of interviewing of those folks. We started the sales process, probably a little early by traditional thought. But it allowed us to collect a lot of user feedback quickly, and we found both some b2b users and some smaller law firms that were kind of like a pocket of early adoption. And we just leaned into that. So we were serving small law firms. And then we also found larger companies that needed kind of the arms dealing that we were doing and legal services. So by finding figuring out who that ICP is really focusing on specifically their needs, and getting product in front of them as quickly as possible. I think that's kind of the success to go from startup to more than startup.
Gabriel Flores 8:19
You know, you're talking about the ICP, right? The ideal customer profile, right? And then for the listeners at home that may be kind of new to this concept. What what are you exactly you're doing and what information you try and do abstracting why what makes that information so valuable as when you're trying to sell a product?
Ben Johnson 8:36
Yeah, so you want to understand their pain points, both, you know, what are they spending time and I save them any time with the technology or software that we're creating or the service we want to provide? And then how can we gain their trust so that they know we're doing efficiently and accurately but we want to focus on what are their key pain points. Where are they spending time how are they how are they having to spend money to address these problems already? And then how can we easily help them in the early days you sacrifice price because you don't have as many features. So you end up giving the the software away at a lower price or the solution away at a lower price. And then as you increase your features, you also learn how to increase price.
Gabriel Flores 9:23
You know, that's another kind of thing. I think entrepreneurs, how do you kind of know what price to set it at?
Ben Johnson 9:32
Well, you look at what your competitors are doing, and you ask your users so you now you you ask them what they're willing to pay and you try to figure that out. And then in a lot of businesses, you can find a b2b play or you know your larger customer ICP. And then you know, I think I'm not the best sales guy I come from the tech world. So, so what they've taught me is is that you look for those large hunts that are probably longer sales cycle, and you may be reduced the price there because there's volume baked into the deal. There's maybe more units sold. So you'll lean in and really negotiate price there while still looking at what your smaller customers are willing to pay.
Gabriel Flores 10:18
Now one of the things you mentioned you know is interviewing your customers getting getting acclimated with them what price points are willing to pay. What tactics did you guys use, particularly particle 41? What tactics do you use when you're or maybe your Legal Zoom one? What tactics do you use to interview your your customers to get this feedback?
Ben Johnson 10:39
So, I mean, hopefully if you're putting product in front of them and they're using it, they're giving you a lot of feedback on what they're using on a daily basis. So you're listening to them and you're adding those things into your, your iterations, your product roadmap and trying to really show them that you're listening to them by turning around features that they've recommended. And this is really great for your early adopters because then they feel like they're a part of the process. They feel involved. And so you're kind of saying, hey, stick it with me. We're continuing to add the features that you're requesting. So you have also kind of an exclusive access to your service or or a product and and because of that you you just you just ask the ones that you know will will work with you and give you the answer. Sure we've done surveys. You know, there are survey systems and Survey Solutions, and we've leveraged those from time to time, but nothing just beats like a straight conversation and then teaching your frontline people how to ask those right questions to collect the information.
Gabriel Flores 11:47
Can you give us some examples of some of those questions you might ask to get some information out of customers?
Ben Johnson 11:54
Can you explain to me what you do today in your current business? You know, so by explaining to them what they're currently doing, you get a little insight and go, Okay, well, man, I really want to help you stop doing that because that sounds like a lot of work. Or you just you get an idea of of exactly what they're wanting to prevent themselves from having to do.
Gabriel Flores 12:16
Now in your experience, you know, you've mentioned you've kind of scaled and you've been kind of a serial entrepreneur. In your experience, what would you say has been the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur?
Ben Johnson 12:31
Um, you know, you can have a very useful piece of software, it's like everything has to work together at the same time. So you need to be generating customer demand customer demand. At the same time you're meeting the supply, so you're really spinning multiple plates, and I think that's just the nature of it. So you do need a really good team to help you spend those multiple plates and as the business grows, then each of those areas also needs to grow. You can have a really great engineering team, and they're doing an awesome job building features, but you need then a great sales and support team to bring that customer experience. You need things like onboarding software to ease the initial adoption, ie documentation and content that connects the supply and the demand and helps you with things like onboarding issues. And so I think as an entrepreneur, you're always solving problems and success brings with it that next tier of problems. And so if we, as entrepreneurs, if we wanted to do something easy, we would just go take a job with a boss that would tell us what to do. But we're not wired that way. We want to find our own path. And so we need to understand that we'll have to depend on our team to be more well rounded and and hit all those. solve all those problems simultaneously.
Gabriel Flores 13:57
And I really liked that you kind of continuously hammer the point of needing a good support team around you. You know, I think, you know, I had a former guests on here talking about you know, the zone of your zone of genius versus your zone of competence, right and knowing the difference. zone of genius is something you're gonna be able to do that you can just do time flies. If you really enjoy doing it. You're very good about doing it. That's your zone of genius. And then your zone of competence is something that you can do it. You're good at it, but you're not the best at it. And that thing, that's where you're kind of mentioning, you know, bringing in, you know, as experienced team members to kind of help fill that void because I think another big thing where entrepreneurs tend to trip themselves over on is trying to be the best of everything, and not realizing, hey, if I just focus on what I'm good at, and then outsource the things I'm not so good at how quickly some success will come.
Ben Johnson 14:51
Yeah, and when I say build a team, there's some very, you know, by using bowtique service companies boutique service company, similar to particle 41. In areas of sales and marketing, an entrepreneur can actually assemble an amazing team, rather than try to rather than maybe try to do a bunch of partnering, you know, the I'm sure we've all done a business. We tried to partner with our buddies and see how that worked out. You can also find people who are out in the market saying you know, what I do really well is tech or what I do really well is sales or marketing or content generation or whatever it is. If you find those buddies, you can actually they can still be running their own successful services company but you can kind of get the best that they have to offer without fractioning your cap table into partnership, or even hiring that full time executive. At some growth in scale. You need to you need to have really dedicated full time members on your team. But as you're scaling, looking at bowtique Services is a great way of getting there. We see this trajectory to some of our startup customers, where they bring us on at the beginning and then as times grow, we figure out what kind of roles they need in house and then what kind of roles we can expand to to keep costs down but keep the focus really on building the product.
Gabriel Flores 16:20
That's a great point to you know, for entrepreneurs understand is you don't have to hire everyone to be on your staff. Right You don't need to have the creative design team as your staff and the marketing team and the strategy team. You can get those outsourced and you work with them. And they're like, you know, Ben saying they're going to be able to leverage some of their strengths. Now Ben, one question I asked right was what are some of the difficult things of being entrepreneur what what are some easy things? Are there? Is there anything easy?
Ben Johnson 16:50
Well, I think once you I don't think so I think easy is a fallacy of the mind. You know, one of the things we used to say, you know one of the things we say there are no easy clients, which just means internally that even if we're dealing with a super nice client or super super, you know, things just seem to be going our way. We don't reduce our standards. We don't reduce our adherence to best practice. We continue to operate the client at a high level. And so we have the kind of there are no easy clients and I think that's the same with business. There are no easy markets. And even in a booming market there there are different challenges than in the tight one. But I think the tight one means that there are weak competitors dying and you know, the cycle show cycle through and repeat itself. So it's just time to be strong.
Gabriel Flores 17:50
Yes, very true. And you know, you kind of mentioned you know, like being like resilience, right? Sure. It's kind of ton of resilience now. Have there ever been a moment in your career as an entrepreneur of self doubt?
Ben Johnson 18:01
Um, I think there has been times where, you know, you you look back and you kind of go, I just made it like, by the skin of my teeth right just in time. And not to say that we don't have losses but you know, there have been some close calls. And I think if I was really honest, in certain ventures, there's probably close calls going on right now. But we just have to set goals prioritize and, you know, figure out what is the next step and, and we just kind of continually work through that, that mantra to figure out what's going on and what we can learn from it.
Gabriel Flores 18:38
Yeah, what is the next step for particle 41? Where do you see yourself hopefully succeed the next five or 10 years? Yeah, we
Ben Johnson 18:45
want to deploy experts everywhere. So we've launched. We've launched a CTO advisory service to help folks that just want to get an extra audit or an extra set of eyes on their problems and their situation, help them expand efficiency. We also have just a super wide range of services. We work on a lot of different technologies. We have a VR team, as I mentioned earlier, and a thriving DevOps team that just executed several cloud migrations over the last year or two. So we're really excited to just to crush mountain to work and figure out how we can help folks achieve their technical goals.
Gabriel Flores 19:30
Night and who is who would you say is particle 40? One's typical consumer who's kind of the who is your ideal customer?
Ben Johnson 19:37
Yeah, so I'm interested in having conversations with any CEO or CTO that has a 3 million $200 million company, and especially looking at security vendors, because they're finding remediations that need help with maybe that's an opportunity for us to help out. And also just anyone that's trying to get into the cloud, understand the cloud in a bigger broader way. We're certainly here to help.
Gabriel Flores 20:11
And then for folks that are interested in learning more where can they find you?
Ben Johnson 20:14
Yeah, I met Ben at particle 41 and I will be happy to help you anytime. Also, you can go to my website at particle 40 one.com. And I'm also on LinkedIn at Benjamin R. Johnson. Benjamin R. Johnson at LinkedIn.
Gabriel Flores 20:33
Excellent, excellent. Now what about for folks that maybe are interested more about learning more about particle 41 And maybe becoming a client how do they get in contact with you from that?
Ben Johnson 20:43
Just email me at Ben at particle 41 and we'll get you squared away.
Gabriel Flores 20:49
Perfect. And so for the folks at home, all this information will be on the newsletter. Well check out the newsletter at the shades of e.com you can subscribe there. You can also follow us at the shades of E on all the social sites. Ben, is there anything else you'd like to say to the guests or the listeners?
Ben Johnson 21:05
No, I'm good as is great to be here. And thank you for having me on.
Gabriel Flores 21:11
Ben Johnson, the CEO of article 41, which probably one of the cooler names to be honest with you, just to kind of the background. So Ben, thank you again so much for being on the show. I really do appreciate it. Very interesting stuff. I might have a few folks probably send your way to be honest with you, folks. Again, for those who are interested, please subscribe to the shades of E on the podcast, the apple and Spotify. You can also find us at the shades of u.com Thank you and have a great night.