John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Marketing Against the Grain, hosted by Kip Bodner. And Keion Flanigan is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. Look, if you wanna know what's happening now in marketing, what's ahead and how you can stay ahead of the game, this is the podcast for you, host and HubSpot's, CMO and SVP of Marketing. Kip and Keion share their marketing expertise unfiltered in the details, the truth, and like nobody tells it. In fact, a recent episode, they titled Half Baked Marketing Ideas They Got Down In the Weeds, talked about some outside of the box campaigns with real businesses. Listen to marketing, its grain wherever you get your podcasts.
(00:55): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Carolyn Rods. She serves as the co-founder and CEO of Hello Alice. Hello, Alice is a free data driven and multi-channel platform helping small business owners on their entrepreneurial journey by providing access to relevant funding networks and technical assistance tools while creating owner success rate, increasing owner success rates would be a better way to say that. So Caroline, welcome to the show.
Carolyn Rodz (01:26): Thank you. Thanks John for having me. One of my favorite topics to talk about.
John Jantsch (01:31): All right, well, so I guess let's just start with the history of Hello Alice, and I know you hit a pretty important milestone that you might want to share as well in terms of membership. So give us just the background of how this, uh, Hello Alice came to be.
Carolyn Rodz (01:45): Yeah, hello. Alice started back in 2017. I always say is the answer to what I wish I would've had when I started my very first company as a small business owners many years ago. But the plan was really how do we help connect business owners to the right resources at the right time based on where they are in their journey, all based on who they are as a person and the type of company that they're trying to grow. And we've continued to do that ever since, helping to bridge them through the capital that they need along that journey, and then surfacing all of the right opportunities and resources and learning experiences to help them deploy that capital in meaningful
John Jantsch (02:20): Ways. And why the Lewis Carroll reference?
Carolyn Rodz (02:22): Yeah, when Elizabeth and I were starting this company, we started it with young kids in our homes. We were actually living together. I moved my family in with hers. We were out in, in the North Bay as we built the first iteration. And we happened to be reading the story of Alice in Wonderland to our kids. And we realized there were so many similarities between this entrepreneurial journey of all these unknowns. And sometimes you feel big and sometimes you feel small. And it's this crazy journey for everybody. And thus the Hello Alice.
John Jantsch (02:51): It's funny, the, you know, my company is called Duct Tape Marketing. And it's similar sort of metaphor, you know, like what it's like to be, you know, to start a business. What's your history like? What brought you to deciding I'm gonna do this thing?
Carolyn Rodz (03:04): So I started out actually my career as an investment banker and jumped into entrepreneurship quite blindly. I had been exposed to it a lot as a child. My grandparents ran a very large cookie and bread factory in Bolivia. My dad was an entrepreneur and I started my first company but really struggled with cash flow management. I struggled with inventory management. There were so many pieces of the actual business side that I just didn't understand. And I ultimately ended up closing that company. It was in the retail space. After a couple of years, I then started a second business in the digital media space. And I grew that with everything that I had learned from that failed experience in really leveraging my network the second time around and asking for a ton of help along the way where I knew, I knew, at least at that point, I knew what I didn't know.
(03:54): And I grew that company slowly and steadily over about seven years and then sold it. And it was really at that point I started mentoring and supporting others. I then met Elizabeth along that journey and she was coming from this background with the working for the United Nations, leading their global entrepreneur council. She had this big macro view of what entrepreneurship really could do for a global economy. I saw a very micro view as an individual business owner, what the impact would be. And when we brought that together, we just saw this huge opportunity to help both individuals and to help the world at large.
John Jantsch (04:30): Yeah, I mean, did you have that like idea, uh, aha, you know, it's like this is what we need to start, Or was it really more the mentoring turned into somebody asking for help and you figured out how to get them that help and the business was born or
Carolyn Rodz (04:43): Definitely the latter. And I think often the greatest businesses start when you just keep seeing this need like glaring in front of you. I had just had my first child, I was ready to take a break. I'd sold my business like I was burnt out on entrepreneurship to be honest. I was ready to take it slow and slowly instead it just, it kept coming up and it kept coming up and I kept seeing this need. Um, and then, you know, I, once I met Elizabeth that was like, All right, this is, let's do this. Like we can't not because nobody else is doing it,
John Jantsch (05:13): So. So what's been the biggest challenge so far?
Carolyn Rodz (05:17): It's changed a little bit along the way, but I would say early days it was certainly access to capital, like many of the business owners that we support. And probably not surprising to you since you talked to a lot of entrepreneurs raising money was really difficult. We are not a cookie cutter tech company. We never have. We've been this blend of community and a technology platform and we'd often get bucketed very much into one or the other. And so it was really hard for us to get traction. We had some people that just bet on us early on. Now I would say it's really, you know, as our team has grown, it's just making sure that we're focusing on the right thing. We have, this is a rare business and that there's a lot of opportunity thrown at us and a lot of things that we can be doing. But always really challenging ourselves to stay as focused as possible so we can keep a growing team all moving in sync in the right direction.
John Jantsch (06:09): I mean, do you think of yourself or refer to yourself as a marketplace almost or more of a membership organization?
Carolyn Rodz (06:16): You know, I would say at our core, we're community, A community above all else. We always say if we can't, you know, keep that real sort of human to human component, we've sort of, we'll, we'll lose our way at the end of the day. We have to have trust. I think what's made our company so strong is this fierce loyalty. However, it is all tech driven, right? And so it's how do we kind of layer technology to support the community in meaningful ways? And in that sense, it is a marketplace, right? We have, we're a place where you can come to find the right loan for your business, you can get the best credit card for your company. So there IT solutions and discounts and grant opportunities. So there certainly is that marketplace component. Yeah. But all of it is really driven by having a solid understanding of who are we actually serving as an individual, not as a conglomerate.
John Jantsch (07:04): So I asked you the challenging part, what's been, now, you know, I mentioned a milestone of over a million. Do you call 'em members or
Carolyn Rodz (07:11): We do, yes. Okay. We were refer of 'em as owners, but we never say users on our purpose. So we remember like the big journey everybody's on.
John Jantsch (07:18): All right, so million owners. So what's been the most rewarding to date?
Carolyn Rodz (07:21): Oh my gosh. You know, I think this is the coolest job in the world because the second I feel like I'm starting to get worn down or anybody on our team and we've been going like, we've been working so hard, it's like at that moment we hear these incredibly inspiring stories. But you know, one comes to mind of Jessica's balding, the owner of Harlem Chocolate Factory, who has gotten over $120,000 of grants from our platform. She's gone through, you know, learning and educational experiences really. Like there's these businesses that we just helped get through Covid that would've never otherwise, you know, made it necessarily, and not because of like, you know, we were some like magic band-aid for them. But just surfacing the opportunity, opening the door for them to put the work in to go get the solutions that they needed. That to me is the most rewarding part. Cause I've been there, I've closed my doors on a company and I know how incredibly exhausting it is when you're in, you know, right at that precipice of are you gonna make it or not? And to know that we were, the small part of helping somebody make it is, it's like a very emotional connection for me with our community.
John Jantsch (08:31): I imagine there's a little celebrating that goes on when people hit some sort of milestone in part of the community. What's a typical member owner, typical member owner? I mean, is it a startup or is it somebody trying to scale or is it just everything And
Carolyn Rodz (08:45): We're very traditional main street small businesses. Yeah. So everything from a retail operation to, you know, a dry cleaner on the corner to a consultant, it's really typically most of our business owners are less than 10 employees. Mm. They're, we always say small and growing businesses. They're, they're businesses with very big goals and ambition. And there are business owners that work incredibly hard every day, but they're in the early stages of growth and really need that guidance to unblock those big initial hurdles.
John Jantsch (09:19): Is there, uh, an equity emphasis, I mean, obviously give people access to capital that maybe traditionally are just not getting access to capital?
Carolyn Rodz (09:29): Yes. We have a lot of really cool initiatives in place. We are working on a, an equitable access to credit fund where we're starting to unlock capital, really utilizing grant funds. We've deployed over 20 million in grants over the years where we're starting to utilize those grant funds now to actually de-risk some credit for these owners so we can start to get them into sort of mainstream opportunity. Our goal is always how do we bridge that gap from their first credit card, their first loan that they need to walk into a bank and have the power of choice that many entrepreneurs have the luxury of starting with. But the reality is the majority don't. That's the piece that we focus on and we've gotten to partner with banks and corporations and incredible companies and foundations that are doing great work out there to be that bridge between the resources they have and the business owner needs.
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(11:06): So we've talked a little bit about the funding aspect of the loans, the grants, but there's also a networking like peer-to-peer connecting, you know, teaching knowledge. I mean, how does that aspect play out in, in what is kind of a technology platform?
Carolyn Rodz (11:20): Yes. So we have a bunch of learning opportunities for us it's always, capital is wonderful and it's a piece of the solution, right? But the reality is most business owners aren't even ready for that. You know, they're not ready for venture capital, they're not necessarily ready for that first loan. They're looking for that initial traction to open the door. So we have a lot of programs. We have our Boost Camp experience that's coming up in January as an example, which is a mini accelerator. It's a three day accelerator that brings owners through how do you grow revenues. And it takes them through a series of automated guides that are very dynamic. We bring in incredible speakers that, that come and share their expertise and then they're carried through this online experience that continues into perpetuity. So it helps 'em to build their plan and build that foundation, but then they go through tracks inside the hello s platform that are carrying through the details each of our how-to guides.
(12:09): It's very dynamic. So we're asking questions along the way as that business owner answers that we're learning more about them and putting them on a path that's really tailored to their needs. So the solution that you'll get recommended for you in your business is very different than the solution that I'm gonna see for my business at the end of the day. And everything that we're pushing to those owners is really tailored to their own, their own unique needs. Cuz as you know, all of our journeys are so different and to put a cookie cutter approach just doesn't work. But we're also learning what's working for entrepreneurs and for certain segments of entrepreneurs and how do we help guide people on those paths that are actually opening doors and actually showing increased revenues and actually showing improved opportunities for funding.
John Jantsch (12:50): So how does the process work? I mean, how does a business come to you and say, Oh, I listen, I listen to John's podcast and I wanna join Hello s how's that happen?
Carolyn Rodz (12:58): Yeah, it's totally free. So you just go to hello s.com, you can sign up for free, you'll go through just a really quick onboarding experience where we'll ask some basic questions about your business and from there you'll get recommended opportunities that'll help your company grow. So it's everything from a grant that you should be aware of and we really take into account who you are as a business owner. If you're a black female business owner working in manufacturing, here's the right recommendations for you. If you are, you know, a veteran, you know, working in tech in Arizona, you're gonna get different recommendations based on where you live, based on the industry that you're working on.
John Jantsch (13:38): So you said the mo the the adjoining aspect is free. So the sort of the logical entrepreneurial question for me is what is the hell, How do we make money? Business model
Carolyn Rodz (13:48): , people ask us it all the time. We make money in a variety of ways. One is through affiliate partnerships. So as business owners are making purchases along the way, we are receiving commissions off of those. We also have premium experiences. So there are certain paid experiences. Uh, we work to get the best pricing on all of those if we can. We certainly also for credit card holders an example, there's benefits. If they have a hell elses credit card, there's opportunity for us as well. But at the end of the day, it really is, we're always looking for ways of how do we help business owners and make money off of the things that they're doing anyway. We don't wanna put additional spend into their pocket. Everybody's so bootstrapped and so tight on dollars. All of our monetization comes from our, the business partners, a corporate and enterprise partners that we work with. So we're never taking money out of the hands of business owners.
John Jantsch (14:40): Grants are obvi, as you've mentioned, a big part of what you help people acquire. I, is there an art to to getting a grant or is it really just right place, right time, right need? Or is it a more competitive , you know, type of thing that, that you really have to get good at?
Carolyn Rodz (14:56): It is competitive and there's certainly, I would say both art and science to it. One is just actually filling out your application fully. You'd be surprised how many people submit a grant and don't answer all the questions and actually taking time and thoughtfulness. I think that's a very simple thing that will really set your grant application apart. We actually have guides on Hello Alices, on how to go through the grants process, how to optimize your grant application. And then we also run workshops really helping people figure it out. And I'll say for our own company, I built both Hello Alice in previous companies with grant funding and we've applied for, I mean, hundreds of grants over the years and it's, it is a numbers game, so it's not, it's unlikely the first or second or even probably 10th grant application will result in money. But we try to keep the applications as streamlined as possible, as simple as possible for people so that they're not spending a a ton of time on it. Most can be filled out in 20 minutes or less. And then also you can reutilize a lot of the data fields. So if you filled it out once for the next grant, we're not gonna ask you the same questions again. So to save people time, we know time and money are various scarce resources for entrepreneurs.
John Jantsch (16:03): So I'm seeing like the bot, you know, to help the application is like the Cheshire cat or something.
Carolyn Rodz (16:09): We have our rabbits, so you'll see our white rabbit a lot throughout the platform, but the white rabbit is really the guide for the entrepreneur. So where you see that rabbit pop up, it's sort of pulling those entrepreneurs along the right path and the recommended path for them.
John Jantsch (16:24): So, So what type of network, our backend
John Jantsch (16:27): Do, you know, in my experience that's one it's not necessarily the most valuable is Definitly the thing that people enjoy the most that are kind of in, in this, you know, struggling together. So what type of networking do you have you found the community response to?
Carolyn Rodz (16:42): Well we do lots of different affinity groups that we're pulling together, right? So one of the biggest roles for us at Hello Alice, how do we convene business owners together in ways that are meaningful to them? And sometimes that is who are you as a person? So we, for Hispanic Heritage Month brought together a group of Hispanic entrepreneurs. We also will bring people together by geography. And so we just had an event in Atlanta, for example, with in partnership with MasterCard that brought owners together. But we do a ton online and it really is, I think those smaller groups are so critical. We also leverage ecosystem partners. So we work with, you know, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. We work with the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. We work with a ton of organizations to, to push owners out and say, look, this is a network on the ground that's very helpful for you. And those have become great partners for us. They are constantly referring people over to Hello Alice. We're always referring people out to them. And we've built a really incredible ecosystem of organizations like DI Inc. And I mean there's so many, there's thousands of them. Yeah, they're so critical to the ecosystem. I think we are a technology and we can certainly help expose the right resources for people, but there is so much that we cannot do as a technology that will never replace that human human touch.
John Jantsch (17:57): So, and, and this would only come sort of anecdotally from you talking to members I suppose, but do first off people probably join for a very specific reasons. I mean typically probably drawn for the capital is that
Carolyn Rodz (18:11): Yes, capital is the number one draw in for sure. Yes.
John Jantsch (18:16): Why do they stick around if they choose to stick around?
Carolyn Rodz (18:19): They stick around often I would say a combination of guidance. It's just where do I go next? What do I need to be focusing on? And then a specific solution. So we work again with all of our corporate partners, say, Okay, we're gonna bring you, you know, we, you know, we need a payroll service for your business. We're gonna, we're gonna filter down what are actually the really viable and good ones for your company. But also how do we take the volume of 1.2 million business owners on our platform and go leverage the very best discount for your business to help you make that purchase for us. We make recommendations, many recommendations, Aren a platform that we don't get any affiliate. Yeah. Fee from. Our big belief is that if you're with us over the journey, that there's gonna be some that are beneficial to us, mutually beneficial, there are gonna be some that are not, but at the end of the day, we have to have the trust of the business owners or none of us win.
(19:12): Like we are all very aligned around how do we help these business owners grow and succeed. It's what we need as a business. It's what the business owner needs for their own company. It's what the corporate ecosystem needs. They need those businesses to grow. The foundations we work with need those businesses to grow. So there's such alignment that we get to be, you know, we have the luxury, I will say, of being a very mission driven company. At the end of the day, every decision we would make, we say, is this best for the business owner or not? And if it's not, we won't do it.
John Jantsch (19:41): You've only got five short years under your belt. But have you worked with somebody that came to you maybe in total startup mode, needed some money to get going and now you know, you've connected with them and they have 50 employees or something. I mean that, have you seen a maturity of a business?
Carolyn Rodz (19:58): Yes, we had, one of my favorite stories is Sia Scotch a company. It was one of the first female owned scotch company owned by a Cuban American. And what was so cool is that she was on Hello Alice, used Hello Alices to support the growth of her company. Ultimately ended up selling her business and then came back and funded grant funds for other business owners. It was like this really cool full circle story of so neat to be a small part of her journey and then to get to see her actually getting back and fueling the ecosystem. I think it's just an example of one, how much entrepreneurs are rooting for each other. Like, sure, we all know this is tough and everybody's cheering each other on. And I think that's sort of the essence of the community that we've built.
John Jantsch (20:40): Awesome. Well Carolyn, thanks so much for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. You wanna tell people, obviously we've mentioned the name Hello Alice, but uh, you want to tell people where they can, uh, connect with you and find out more about Hello Alice?
Carolyn Rodz (20:53): Yes, please check us [email protected] You can follow us at hello Alice or hello alice com depending on the platform. I mean myself at Carolyn Rods.
John Jantsch (21:02): Awesome. Well thanks again and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days when we're both out there on the road somewhere
Carolyn Rodz (21:08): For sure. Thank you so much, John, I appreciate the time.
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