Interview: Lesson.ly Founder, Max Yoder on Startups

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Jorge (interviewer): When did you know that you were an entrepreneur?

Max (interviewee): I am not a fan of the word entrepreneur—I don’t know exactly why, but it makes me feel silly. I like to build things, I need autonomy, and I get bored easily; there’s no better cure for those afflictions than my current responsibility, which is to start and grow a business.

If we’re being honest, though, the recession had a huge impact: I think a lot of people live under this illusion that they’re in control of the most important aspects of their lives; then, something like the recession hits, and things that you thought were “yours,” like your job, get yanked away. I’m too anxious for that kind of life, and the recession helped me realize that.

Jorge: How is the startup scene in Indianapolis, Indiana and what are your favorite startups in that region? — outside of your own company of course :)

Max: Over the past four years, Indianapolis has experienced huge tech-sector growth, propelled by Angie’s List (recent IPO), ExactTarget (acquired by Salesforce), Compendium (acquired by Oracle), and Aprimo (acquired by Teradata).

These companies have laid a foundation for us, bringing both talent and capital to the city. I look at TinderBox as the heir apparent to all of the aforementioned success. They’re great people, with a great product, and tremendous traction—as an outsider, what more could you ask for when you’re looking to root somebody on?

Jorge: What are the hardest aspects of being a startup founder and what tips would you give first-time founders?

Max: Read the Quipol blog from start to finish. It chronicles my funding woes, my time-management issues, my breakdown(s), and my high notes. Quipol was my first startup, it taught me so much.

 

Jorge: What does Lesson.ly do and what was the vision for building the product?

Max: We build software that makes it easy for anyone to create, share, and track training materials.

It turns out, people who aren’t traditional trainers still have to train people. We build Lesson.ly for those folks, the ones who need training software but can’t afford the learning curve that comes it.

 

Jorge: What customer segment are you currently focusing on at the moment?

Max: Sales enablement training is a big thing for us; that is, we help teams get up to speed on the products and services they sell. Our clients will build lessons around internal systems and software they use to make sure everyone is following the same best practices.

Customer support training is another big one. Most support teams are distributed, which makes training a nightmare if you don’t have software in place. We help these customer support teams

 

Jorge: Do you believe in the minimum viable product approach, and why?

Max: I built Quipol, my first business, in a vacuum. I had this idea for what it meant to be the perfect polling product, and I locked myself in a room with two talented folks, and we built that idea.

But then we launched it, and within the first minute of sending out the “Quipol is here.” launch email, somebody had signed up and found a serious interface flaw in one of our approaches. They asked why XYZ wasn’t there, and I didn’t have a good answer. I learned that early feedback from real people means everything, because, before that, you’re just guessing.

 

Jorge: What do you think is more important having a large list of powerful features or having a beautiful and innovative UI/UX?

Max: I don’t subscribe to either mentality. I like to fix obvious problems with elegant and friendly software. That means a list of features that are required (regardless of length) and no innovation where it’s not needed.

 

Jorge: Anything else you’d like to mention about Lesson.ly, yourself, or Indianapolis startups?

Max: Lesson.ly has a non-profit arm called The First Fund;we provide scholarships to first-grade kids and financial-planning education to their parents. We launched with a Fast Company article. You might like it if you check it out.