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With Scott Orn

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Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Harris Stolzenberg, co-founder and CEO of Flok, discusses how Flok streamlines and simplifies event planning

Posted on: 05/31/2022

Harris Stolzenberg

Harris Stolzenberg

Co-Founder - Flok

Harris Stolzenberg of Flok - Podcast Summary

Harris Stolzenberg, co-founder and CEO of Flok, discusses how Flok streamlines and simplifies event planning, making it easier and more cost-effective to bring remote teams together in person.

Harris Stolzenberg of Flok - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Hey, it’s Scott Orn, at Kruze Consulting and thanks for joining us on Founders and Friends for another awesome podcast. Let’s give a quick shout out to the Kruze Consulting accounting team. We’re very fortunate, we have a ton of people at Kruze who work on the monthly books for our clients and get them all set up due diligence ready, rocking every month, answering all the clients’ questions, making all those adjustments and there’s no better moment for a founder and for us really, when founder says, “Hey, I think I’m going to get a term sheet. Are my books ready for diligence?” And we get to say, “Yes, they are”, fire away, send them over, give them access. That is a great feeling. It’s the feeling that lets us know we’ve done a job very well done, and nothing is better than watching that cash hit the bank account.
Scott: So, if you are a venture back startup, you’re going out to the fundraise, maybe check us out. Check us out at kruzeconsulting.com. We love what we do. At taping here, I think we have 575 clients. Clients raise over a billion dollars this year, so we know what we’re doing and hopefully we can help you be successful in your fundraise. All right, let’s get to the podcast. Thanks.
Singer: So, when your troubles are mountain, in tax or accounting, you go to Kruze, Founders and Friends. It’s Kruze Consulting, Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.
Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends Podcast with Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting. And today my very special guest is Harris Stolzenberg from Flok, welcome Harris.
Harris: Thanks for having me, Scott. Appreciate it.
Scott: My pleasure. So, you have a super exciting company, all your Kruze client, I just get that so everyone knows…
Harris: Very happy Kruze client, very happy.
Scott: Well, thank you. Thank you. But that’s not why I had you on, I actually really love what you’re doing. So, Harris has nailed a really big emerging trend with Flok and the ability to get your team together in one place at an offsite, if you are a remote company, I’m so excited about that’s why I want to have you on. Maybe in your own words, tell everyone how you had the idea for Flok and also retrace your career a little bit.
Harris: Yeah, so we were actually in [YCombinator 00:02:05], my co-founder and I, and we were working on a completely different project at the time and typical YC, if things aren’t going well, they say, maybe think about pivoting and it’s never the pivoting process isn’t, “Hey, come up with an idea and then go run with it”, it’s “go talk to a hundred companies, figure out what problems they’re having and actually go solve those.” And after talking to about a hundred companies, one trend kept coming up over and over again, it was that they’re giving up their offices, they’re going remote full time and they’re going to need a way to come together in person, they’re just not equipped to do that. So, once we heard that enough, we’re like, “we know what we want to build.” We didn’t know anything about travel at the time. We drove head first into it and a year later we’ve done over 125 of these events.
Scott: It’s really amazing. It’s not just travels though, there’s a ton of coordination, logistics, messaging, even like, I hate to say it in this day and age, like vaccination policies and you know, like there’s a ton… Like, and before I turned the mics on, I was telling you that we are getting together in 11 days, the whole Kruze team. And that was before Flok was actually started.
Harris: We’re getting on the next one. Don’t worry. We got…
Scott: We’re doing the next one, 2023. And we hired an event planner, we hired a travel agent, we have all these relationships with the hotel. There’s a million things that are happening. Two of our team members are basically working at least half time on it. There’s so much opportunity for Flok here to make everyone’s life easier and basically use all. You have all this knowledge of how the workflow should be.
Harris: Yeah.
Scott: How things should happen, who the good vendors are. That’s why I’m so excited. You’re taking this like concept making it so repeatable for everybody else.
Harris: Right, yeah. So, like you guys plan one offsite a year, so you get to learn kind of from that one. But like I said, we took the approach of “let’s do this manually”, so you can think of us like everything you just mentioned right now. We’re an event planner, we’re a travel planner, we’re doing all the logistics, we’re working out a Google Sheets. We really wanted to start off really understanding the problem first, so that now as we build software and build a platform to source venues, do attend your registration, book all of your flights, track your budget, every build your itinerary, everything in between, that’s all going to be digitized and automated. There’s always going to be a human element to planning these events and it’s still going to take you time. But we estimate in a hundred-person event usually takes about 300 to 500 hours to plan. You know, we want to cut that down to a 10th of what it takes.
Scott: Oh my God, powerful. There’s also like this professionalism and doing it correctly is a really strong signal to the team. And, and like you’re giving, if you’re cutting that by 90%, the hours involved, you’re basically creating, like you’re giving, usually it’s probably the operations people in the company who are doing this. You’re giving them their life back, their time back. Because like for us, a lot of our like, some of our IT projects had to stop for a little while and think, and there’s things like that, that’s just like, oh my God, because we’re doing it all in house instead of having like the experts to organize.
Harris: Yeah. People don’t realize how many hours go into this…
Scott: No.
Harris: They start planning it and then they’re like, there’s the hotel, there’s all the vendors you’re bringing in, there’s flights, ground train. It just starts adding up and becomes really difficult to manage. And we want to offer two solutions to companies. We have one where we have people say, “I actually enjoy planning these events. Like I don’t want to hire an event planner, but if your software can save me 90% of my time, I’ll pay you to use that software”, so that’s the use case we’re building towards now. But we’ll always have that end to end if you want our expert planners to plan it, almost like a marketplace…
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: You can use the software and have our experts do it as well.
Scott: I think the expert planner marketplace is a really good idea too, because we just happen to be super lucky in that our VP of operations. His wife is an event planner and so we literally got like one of her friends, we probably saved a lot of money because of the relationship and she’s really good. But we wouldn’t really know who else to talk to about doing. We wouldn’t really know how to find someone. So that’s like a pretty big value add to have like these vetted people who’ve done. And I’m sure there’s like a rating system you’re building and I’m sure you’ll be able to show how many events they’ve actually planned for what kind of companies.
Harris: So exactly. Yeah. That’s exactly the way we’re going. And the cool part is now that we are starting to do them and there’s like kind of 25 cities, I’d say that, keep coming up over and over again. And as we start planning more and more in each city, we now know and can survey employees like, “Hey, what activity works well? What doesn’t?” Like, what hotels are work well, what don’t? And we have all this knowledge that you wouldn’t get planning one a year when you’ve never been to Nashville or you’ve never been to Riviera Maya Mexico or Austin, Texas. We’ve been, we’ve done millions, not millions, hundreds of these events, so we’re going to start learning eventually one day, maybe we’ll do.
Scott: I’m laughing because we’d done Vegas in 2019, then COVID canceled two years and then of course we’re like, we should be looking outside of Vegas and so yours truly me was calling hotels in Arizona and I think I called some in Texas too, because those are kind of like central places and warm weather. But like, I don’t know, who even knows if I was getting decent quotes or anything, we ended up just doing Vegas, but you’re totally right, there’s like even cities or states that people want to go to and having… We actually had to do like a bunch of research to figure out that like Top golf would be a good idea and so we’re going to Top golf the first night. Like, having that almost like a menu to be able to choose the things you want to do or what suits your company culture is just amazing. I’m really happy for you. It’s really cool.
Harris: Yeah. Thank you. I mean, you’re telling me my product roadmap, I love it. I’m seeing the wheels turning and I’m like, that’s exactly the direction we’re going. So it’s good to hear that you’re excited about it because I think…
Scott: Even like some of the other stuff around, we’re doing a stipend for every day because the submitting tons of expense reports and all something we don’t want to do. And also, I’m sure there’s an opportunity for code of conduct or things like that. Like, everyone worries that like…
Harris: We have all these templates from all these past events we’ve done and people are like, “Hey, what should our COVID policy be?” Or you said code of conduct, like how do people act on this trip? How much should we tip? Like we’ve done so much of these events that we’ve had to learn this the hard way, but now that we know it, we can just share it through our platform and save you guys a ton of time when you guys aren’t the experts on it.
Scott: I love it. I love it. Just for some kind of fun, fun conversation here, can you share a couple of the states or cities that everyone loves going to? Is it like, were there any surprises there?
Harris: Yeah, the big surprise for me and I’ve actually never been to Mexico, I’m excited to go on one of our trips. We’ve done, I think we’ve done close to 25 in Riviera Maya region. So that’s like Cancun, Playa del Carmen all down that side. There’s a great international airport. With COVID, they’ve actually been great. There’s not a ton of restrictions. All the properties have testing on site.
Scott: Oh nice.
Harris: There’s all inclusive. So, like that’s been our most popular surprising thing. I didn’t think something out of the country during COVID times would be that. Next up is Austin, Texas. Third is like the Greater Bay Area. So a lot of teams have hubs in SF obviously, but they’ll go to like Napa or Santa Cruz or like Tahoe, like that kind of region is third. Palm Springs is a big one in California, Palm Springs in San Diego and then Miami. People love warm weather. You know, major international airport is a huge thing too, just because you’ve got team members flying in from all over. And then, some teams are willing to drive like one to three hours outside of the city, if they want more of that, like nature vibe.
Scott: Yeah. The international airport’s a really good point too because we have people coming in from all over the world and what’s kind of interesting is we had certain budgets. This is another thing. I’m the finance person in the course of heart, so like I love budgets, but we kind of did our budget, we didn’t really know what we were getting into.
Harris: Yep. All the costs start adding up at a lot. Yeah.
Scott: And the airfare has actually gone through the roof.
Harris: Yeah.
Scott: And I think part of that’s like fuel and gas and things like that, but yeah, it’s crazy, right? Like I’m sure there’s some stuff you can do around that. What…
Harris: That’s all stuff you want to build, yeah. Like, “Hey, if I go to Austin versus Miami on these dates, like what do flight prices look like right now? How much will I save?” And like that’s that’s the goal is to eventually get there. Yeah.
Scott: Hey it’s Scott Orn, and we’re going to take a quick break from the podcast to give a shout out to the Kruze tax team. Gosh, it’s so nice to have an in-house tax team, I can’t even tell you. We have some really amazing professionals on team. It’s over, I think it’s 13 people now. And we do everything from your federal state income tax return, state franchise tax filings, R&D tax credits. Those are pretty popular these days. And guess what? They’re there free when you go through diligence. A lot of people don’t know this, but you actually go through tax diligence, not just operational kind of financial diligence, but you do go through tax diligence.
Scott: So, it’s nice to have Vanessa Kruze on the phone with your VCs and with the accounting firm, they hired to diligence all your stuff. And the law firm, they hired to diligence on stuff. Vanessa knows what she’s doing, she’s done this a million times. And it’s not just Vanessa, we have a really great team of past professionals that will do those calls too. It’s kind of sometimes the difference between getting around clothes or having it taken another two weeks because something was disorganized and the tax compliance wasn’t done correctly, we hear those horror stories from clients that come to us. So “Hey, if you want Kruze’s tax team on your side, we’re here for you. Check us out at kruzeconsulting.com. Thanks.
Scott: I have another kind of vanity fun kind of question for you. What are like the most popular meals? Like what do people… Because we actually debated this too. We weren’t sure what people would want. So, like what do… And I don’t want you, only to share stuff you’re comfortable sharing because like you saw…
Harris: Yeah, I’ll do my best here. So, the first thing I learned is like, you don’t realize how many dietary restrictions everyone has…
Scott: Oh yeah.
Harris: Until you send out the list and it’s like, gluten free, vegan, pescatarian and you have to accommodate all of those.
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: So, it gets very difficult and that’s a lot of like what we spend our time on is meal planning. So that was one interesting fact I learned. And then another interesting fact is like for our groups over 50 or 100 people, there’s only so many places they can go eat. Like there’s not that many private spots that can host that many people. So, I think people are surprised at how many meals you actually end up eating at the property you stay at. So, a lot of these big hotels or resorts, they’re comfortable feeding you and for like all the different meals and they have great chefs there. So, I think the thing that I was most surprised by is like people eating the hotel food that they were worried about and being like, “wow, that was actually really good” because yeah, try getting a hundred people on a bus like that cost’s money, then you got to rent out private space, like a lot of times it’s just easier to eat at the hotel.
Scott: It’s the cost of money but one thing, because we had done one in 2019, the time is so precious.
Harris: Yeah.
Scott: You spend so much time getting everyone there. And it’s the kind of the clock is running on the time clock and every, these 15, we do things in like either 15- or 30-minute kind of time segments. Like, a 30-minute time segment is like really valuable and that might be a bus there and a bus back. And so, all of a sudden, you’re like, “oh my gosh, we’re actually not getting as much time together as we wish we could get”, so that’s really, you’re making me feel good actually because we’re going to do staying inside the [Cosmo 00:13:39] and basically Cosmo has tons of restaurants and has good kids…
Harris: Vegas is great though. So, Vegas is like one of those cities where you can like, they’re built for big events, so like, if you’re in Austin or if you’re in Hudson Valley, New York where there’s not a space for 350 people, it becomes a lot harder. I will say Vegas, it’s a little easier to do some of these events.
Scott: Well also I think Vegas has, we kind of program for like the day and dinner and then people can do whatever they want at night and with respect and making sure everyone’s treated correctly and all that kind of stuff. But that’s kind of nice too. You know, I like the fact that people can kind of get away and have some social time together.
Harris: That’s a big piece of feedback we actually get is like, because companies haven’t, like they haven’t met their employees in so long and they’re spending a lot of money, they try to jam pack their day from 7:00AM till 10:00PM. And you know, people love it and have a great time but the feedback we get on the survey is like, “we were exhausted, like I wish we had a little bit more free time”, so we try to guide our companies into making sure like people have some time for that self.
Scott: It’s really smart. It also leads to that organic hanging out time that’s so important where friendships are really made. What about, do you mind spending just, you talked about the pivot but I’m sure that was kind of a little bit stressful for you. Like maybe, you can share a few words of advice for people who are maybe going through that or have to go through that in the future, what did you learn?
Harris: Yeah.
Scott: How’d you stay sane?
Harris: It was incredibly stressful, I think. And I didn’t touch on this earlier you asked about my background. Before starting a company, I actually worked as a venture capitalist at [Pear VC 00:15:15]. So, I got to like see more startups than most people have, going into it, which I think really helped me a lot. Shout out to [Parmar 00:15:23] and [Page Mont 00:15:24] and their love, love that team and learned a lot from them. So, I’d say I was less stressed than most people just knowing that I had seen so many companies pivot before. And you hear of all the stories at Pear of like some of their biggest hits where they applied as a dog photo sharing app and then they turned into a multi-billion-dollar company, right?
Scott: Yep.
Harris: So, I wasn’t concerned. I think the thing that really got me excited or when I turned from like concern to excited is you hear the same problem over and over again from companies. I think before we had the idea of what we’re going to work on, I was certainly stressed about like, we don’t even have a plan.
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: But once you hear the same problem again and again, I think it was pretty clear. We needed to dive in.
Scott: That’s a good feeling. That’s a really good feeling. It reminds me of like when I joined Vanessa because it was like I was actually working, I done venture capital and then was working at one of my portfolio companies, learning a ton and I was just watching her. It was like delivering the service was hard, architecting the service hard. But like every person she talked to wanted what she was doing.
Harris: Yeah.
Scott: And so, you probably have the same experience where like you’re just over and overhearing, like I wish I could get together with my team more often, I wish we could do it in a scalable way, I wish it wasn’t so expensive, I wish I had an expert to handle it. And like the light bulb goes off and you’re like, I know my north star now.
Harris: Exactly. That was a huge light bulb. And then I’d say the second light bulb is we put up a landing page, we hired a few event planners and we’re like, are people actually going to pay for it? They said they wanted it.
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: And you send out a few invoices and you’re like a little nervous and they come back paid and you’re like, “wow, like this is real, we’re doing this” and shout out to the early Flok customers who put up with us kind of learning and you know, now I’d say we’ve got it down to almost a science.
Scott: That’s fantastic. Now you talked about being a software company and you’re building like, how is that? Maybe, obviously you don’t give anything confidential way, but like, how is your process? Like, do you do like, you’re like, “oh my gosh, these dietary restrictions are just killing us with complexity. We need to all sit down and have like a product manager or something like that”, build our spec for what the dietary. Like, how does that process go?
Harris: Yeah. Because there’s so many different parts to this event, like we’re kind of building everything modularly. So, we’re starting with one thing and then getting that good enough, throwing it into the wild, having users test it. And you know, once that gets good enough, moving on to the next thing. So, the first thing for example is, we kept getting asked in sales calls, “what is this going to cost?” And you know, we had spreadsheets and we had like pass retreats. We could give some data points, but people really wanted to play with something to figure out what their retreat or offsite was going to cost. So, we built a calculator where you plug in how many people, how many nights, the type of experience, what your company’s going to cover in terms of ground transportation, do you guys drink a lot? Whatever it is and it spits out a number and people are like, whoa, like this is awesome. And they could see how pulling different levers change that cost. So, that’s was step one.
Harris: And then it was like, “Hey, where are good places to stay in like these regions?” And like, we know because we’ve done it and we know them, but we wanted to show our customers that and they wanted to see pictures…
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: So, we built that. And then it’s like, “Hey, we’re doing attendee registration through a Google form, can you guys just make that better and put up like a retreat landing page where people register and it’s all automated?” That’s what we’re building now. So, it’s kind of just like, as we hear problems from our customers, we’re hearing the same problems over and over again, like let’s just try to keep up with them and build products along the way.
Scott: In a weird way, the calculator in the pictures of the places is like a major kind of probably accelerator in your sales process too, because people are coming there and they know what kind of budget to ask for once they use the calculator and they can in that conversation where they’re requesting budget, they can be like, “these are the kind of places look at this, this is where we’re going to stay”, so it’s really smart. It’s not just like, I know you didn’t build it for that, but it’s like a happy accident that it also kind of smooths the sales process as well.
Harris: A hundred percent.
Scott: It’s really cool. Your thing about like a registration site or, is a really good one because we are using our event planner’s version of that and it’s not super sad, it’s not super great, but it’s okay. It’s functional. But like having something company branded and maybe even like the company, team member pictures or things like that, to get people in that mood.
Harris: I [sold touch 00:19:52] that may get people excited. And as like Google Sheets, I don’t know what your event planner is using, but like if someone, all the time we get messages like, “Hey, I’m changing my flight or I’m not coming or I’m doing something”, like changing that is like a huge nightmare for us in Google Sheets and building out software where that’s easy and everything is kept up to date, like just those little improvements make the event planners life so much easier.
Scott: That’s really amazing. What’s the reception from the event planners been like?
Harris: They’re so excited. I mean, so [Jerry 00:20:21], my co-founder, he’s technical and he’ll build something and they’re just like, “I can’t believe like you built that in a day in a week. Like, this is amazing”, like they’re just so excited for us to keep pushing out products. So, and we get excited seeing how excited they get.
Scott: In a weird way, there’s this really strong analogy to like our business where like the automated payroll systems and QuickBooks online, and a lot of the tools got started getting better and make us more efficient. And so, I can totally visualize some of the event planners being so excited because they’re more efficient and they make more money. It’s a win-win for everybody. So, I can totally relate to that.
Harris: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Scott: Now how big is the team now and what’s the… Are you hiring like event planners in house? Are you bringing people in like the now development team, marketing team? Like, how’s the company growing up?
Harris: Yeah. Great question. So, we’ve raised venture money obviously, but I like to think of ourselves as bootstrap. Like we didn’t raise the massive round. We kind of like I said, we’re acting as an event planning agency right now to get the learnings, to eventually build a foundation to scale and build a software company. So, we’re 35 people right now.
Scott: Wow. I didn’t know you’re that big, geez.
Harris: Yeah. Well, okay. So, we’re we’re five full time. And then 30, like I said, event planner, hotel experts that are working anywhere from, I’d say 15 to 40 hours a week.
Scott: Wow. That’s phenomenon.
Harris: So, they’re great. You know, I think the event planning industry was hit really hard during COVID and when [Jerry 00:21:51] and I started this, people were like, you’re crazy for starting an offsite company when no one can meet in the middle of COVID and our strategy was once COVID lightens up, we’re going to have all these learnings, we’re going to hit the ground running. It’s exactly what we did and we’ve been able to actually work with some amazing, amazing event planners who we wouldn’t have been able to work with otherwise if COVID never happened.
Scott: I also really respect that you didn’t do like the crazy ginormous round and have a huge value. I mean, you worked in VCs, so you kind of know how these things work. Like if you had raised too much money, the pivot might have been hard or the VCs might not have signed off on the pivot or you actually can do the pivot, but now your valuation’s way too high and the next round’s a little bit harder to get. So, I mean, we’re a bootstrap company too, and I know how hard it is, but I know how rewarding it is. And it makes you very focused, you can’t just kind of gloss over.
Harris: That’s the biggest thing is, we know that the money can run out if we’re not smart about it.
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: And like we’ve been almost profitable the whole way through and we’re growing sustainably. And I think given this kind of turn in the way the markets are going, when we do go out to raise that next round, it’s going to be looked out pretty favorably given that we’re making money and we kind of control our own best.
Scott: You’ll be able to build your clear business model. And like I said, I think crews were remote, like we will be remote forever. Like I’m talking to you from Vanessa and I even moved out of San Francisco to Danville the east bay, because we can do that now. We’re a family, we have a four-year-old, we can live in a place that’s very conducive to family life. And I don’t see that going away, even for all the talk of the banking industry, making people come back to the office or some of the tech companies like the gigantic long tail is going to be remote and you guys are just like in the perfect spot for that.
Harris: A hundred percent. And I mean, even when you’re hearing these big companies are trying to get their people back, the next article you read is everyone’s quitting and joining remote company. So, like, I think the trend is here to stay. And look, to be honest, I was one of those people like in person so important, you need to have people together. But now that I’ve been, we’ve been remote for the last 18 months, like I love it. I’ll never go back to a full-time office. So, I think that’s the way the world’s going and people want to meet their team in person. And you know, if you’re remote, bring them together with Flok…
Scott: And that’s it, man, you can get, you have that. It is important. And getting everyone together is really powerful and it’s… At our, in 2019, when it was like hugs and people getting really emotional and excited to see each other. And I think it’ll be even more like that with COVID having kept us all separate for two years. But yeah, you’re on something, I’m super excited for you. Well maybe you could tell everyone, if they want to work with Flok or just get a quote or use the calculator, how they can find you and how they should reach out?
Harris: Yeah. The easiest thing to do is just go on our website, www.goflok.com. You can sign up, use the calculator, talk to me. And then if you want to just reach out directly, my email is harris@goflok.com.
Scott: I love it. Congrats. I’m really happy for you. And you did the hard work and you had the guts to do the pivot and now you’re just like reaping the rewards. And you’re doing something that’s like, it makes the world a better place. I really fundamentally believe that. And in our world, we believe like doing good accounting and finance and taxes actually makes the world a better place because it helps people and you’re helping people bring their teams together and creating that culture, creating that emotional connection, so I’m really happy for you.
Harris: Yeah, I appreciate it. The coolest part for me is we’re in all of our client slack channels and seeing all the pictures and all the messages.
Scott: Yeah.
Harris: That’s what it’s all about, so…
Scott: I love it, I love it. Harris, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Talk to you soon.
Harris: Thanks Scott. See you.
Singer: So, when your troubles are mountain, in tax or accounting, you go to Kruze, Founders and Friends. It’s Kruze Consulting, Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.

Kruze Consulting is regularly reviewed as one of the preeminent providers of finance, accounting, tax and HR services to high-growth companies. For our offices in San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, New York and now Austin, TX, our experienced team serves venture and seed backed companies in diverse industries from SaaS to biotech to hardware to eCommerce.

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