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FOUNDERS & FRIENDS PODCAST

With Scott Orn

A Startup Podcast by Kruze Consulting

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Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Vimcal lets busy founders manage schedules efficiently

Posted on: 06/02/2024

John Li

John Li

Co-Founder & CEO - Vimcal


John Li of Vimcal - Podcast Summary

John Li of Vimcal explains how the software allows busy founders and executives to effectively and efficiently manage their schedules.

John Li of Vimcal - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends podcast with Scott Orn. Today my very special guest is John Li of Vimcal. Welcome John.
John: Thanks for having me, Scott.
Scott: Hey buddy. So, you were referred by a friend, another Kruze client, but I thought what you’re doing is pretty cool. You were in the calendar-ing space, and it’s pretty innovative. Do you want to just kind retrace your career a little bit and tell everyone how you had the idea for Vimcal?
John: Yeah, yeah. My co-founder, Mike and I, we started in the startup space in 2018 and we actually pivoted a few times before we got to Vimcal. So, our first company was an augmented reality company. Our second one was a fitness company, and then our third one was a calendar, so completely unrelated to each other. We were just stabbing in the dark trying to find product market fit. So, we got into NYC in summer ‘18 and when we graduated, there’s demo day. There are a million investors trying to schedule meetings, and I remember at one point, that was for the fitness company. We were trying to schedule calls with 30 investors in the same week. And it gets pretty hectic. You have basically two choices. One is you can manually send out times like, “Hey, are you free Tuesday, Thursday, Friday?”
Scott: Yeah, brutal, brutal. Five emails later and nothing’s scheduled.
John: Yeah, lots of back and forth.
Scott: People forget to respond and things like that.
John: Exactly. I think I accidentally sent one meeting at 4:00 A.M. and then I double booked two meetings. So it actually hurts your chances of getting whatever you have to do done.And the second choice is to use a booking link, something like Accountly and Mixmax, one of those choices. But there is a power dynamic when it comes to sending out one of these links. I always like to say that I, as a founder will never send an investor an Accountly link, but they can always send me one and that’s totally fine.
Scott: And we talked about this a little bit before we turn the recording on because I try to be like, “Hey, send me yours, or here’s mine if that’s easier.” I don’t want to have I’m a badass use my thing kind of thing. But it is just more efficient, it’s just better. It’s a way better way of doing things.
John: It’s better for the person who doesn’t own the link-
Scott: Yeah.
John: … because when you send out the link, you’re giving out everything on your calendar so you don’t have any guardrails. And it’s the same times every week. And Tuesday at 2:00 PM is not always free for you every week, but you’re giving it out every week.And so for all these little problems, it just kind of stuck in our head. That scheduling during fundraising was the royal pain in the butt.
Scott: Yeah.
John: And we did the fitness idea for I think another eight, nine months, and that went nowhere. And we decided to pivot one last time before we called it quits. And so we wanted to build a calendar for founders who are fundraising. Very specific.
Scott: Yeah, super specific. Yeah.
John: Yeah. And we thought it’d take 30 days to launch, but it ended up taking six months because the calendar is very difficult to build. I think-
Scott: We worked with another company in the space who was a long time client and they told me that the Google calendar API is actually fairly complicated. And when you’re trying to schedule things, you’re basically doing tons of iterations behind the scenes. It’s way more computational intensive than people actually realize.
John: Yeah, it just looks like a bunch of grids and colored boxes, but so much happening in live because you’re giving someone the tool they use to see when their meetings are, it has to be accurate, 24/7 immediately when they open the app.
Scott: Yeah.
John: And they open it 30, 40, 50 times a day.
Scott: Yeah.
John: There’s a lot going on in the background that API docs are not great and Microsoft is even more difficult.
Scott: No, there was a company called Zobny way back in the day that when I worked in venture capital that we loved and we wanted to invest in, but I remember meeting with the CEO, he was formerly Yahoo Messenger, super good guy. I forget what he’s doing nowadays. But he was like, you would not believe how impossible Exchange is to deal with. And he’s like, “It’s worse than impossible.” And it actually, I think it ended up making it hard for them to raise more money because it was just really hard to have traction on the product.
John: Yeah, we’re just again, stabbing in the dark, trying to reverse engineering the API all the time. At this point, our products are very stable across Google.
Scott: You know how to do it now.
John: Four years in, but anyone-
Scott: That was also 10 years ago or 15 years ago where APIs were new and Microsoft, I don’t even know if had them or I think it was a back door and all this kind of stuff.
John: And it’s funny, you had different versions of Exchange give us different problems. So it depends how the company is too.
Scott: Yeah. Oh my god. So, are you up and working on, you’re on Google for sure, but are you up and running on Exchange?
John: Oh yeah. Yeah. We’ve been stable and live on both for years now.
Scott: Awesome. Cool. So, you basically had this pain point as a founder in fundraising and you turned it into a product, but it sounds like the product was highly specific for fundraising, but then how did you make any adjustments or have to figure things out for just the everyday Joe’s like me who aren’t maybe fundraising but just busy people?
John: Yeah, so I think at the first, very, very first idea was for founders, fundraising. So, we actually launched in the NYC community. So, a lot of early stage investors and founders really liked Vimcal at the beginning. And, what we realized after talking to a lot of users was that it’s actually very useful for people who have a lot of external meetings and not just a lot of external meetings, but a lot of different types of external meetings. So, we found that it was again, very good for founders, investors, because they talked to customers, legal investors, all types of people and different priorities of meetings. Whereas let’s say customer success or a sales team, they have one type of meeting or recruiters, so it wasn’t as useful for them. But that’s kind of what differentiated us from the other products like a Calendly or a Mixmax because those are built for people who have one type of meeting.
Scott: Yeah.
John: Who want to give out all their time slots every week. It’s the same thing. Whereas ours are more dynamic. It adds guardrails on your calendar, so it protects your time more.
Scott: I love it. I love it. Now what’s the revenue model for the company? Have you figured that out or how are you charging or what are you doing?
John: Yeah, we’ve been charging since day one. It’s funny, when we launched I had to do all the onboarding because we ran out of time to put in payments into the app because we launched with a month and a half of runway. So, I had to just ask them for their credit cards. So it’s a monthly subscription, monthly and annual.
Scott: Nice, nice. And then we were talking before turn the recording on, but sounds like you’ve made a lot of progress on not very much money?
John: Yeah, so we’ve raised a small pre-seed in 2021, and then we just closed our seed round in November 2023, so a few months ago. And yeah, because of how many times we came close to death, we’ve just been very, very efficient and careful about spending money.
Scott: Yeah.
John: So our team is pretty small and we were going to keep it that way.
Scott: That’s cool. Nothing wrong with that. We were very small in the early days too, and it forces you to figure out everything. There’s no slack and there’s no one to dish a problem to. You just have to figure it out yourself, which is the right way to run a startup.Awesome. And then you were talking about a new feature just when we were talking earlier. That sounds pretty exciting to me. Maybe can you talk about that a little bit?
John: Yeah, so we have a new product we launched about a year ago called Vimcal EA. So, Vimcal EA is what it sounds like, it’s Vimcal but designed for executive assistants or virtual assistants or anyone who schedules on behalf of other people. So, these tend to be people who are scheduling for usually multiple executives or partners at funds and there’s just nothing built for them. So Vimcal EA takes basically the best of Vimcal and then allows you to do that all in a delegated manner on behalf of multiple other people. And so EAs today, we call EAs the Navy SEALs of calendar users, just the most complex user of the calendar.
Scott: Yeah. They’re professional too, they don’t mess around. They’re actually highly paid people and they have to be efficient with their time because the people they’re working with are crazy efficient and crazy expensive on a time basis. So that makes sense.
John: Yeah. And they’re on call 24/7.
Scott: Yeah.
John: It’s a very high stress job. High stakes. So, when you’re in a job like that and you’re using something like an Outlook calendar or Google Calendar that’s not designed for that, you have to duct tape a lot of solution apps together to make it work. So, this is the first tool that’s dedicated to EAs and we’re just seeing a lot of demand for it right now because there’s just nothing else out there.
Scott: Do you have an EA advisory board or how do you get true feedback from that cohort? Do you just talk to a bunch of them?
John: Yeah, we onboard every single EA over a 40-minute call, white glove service. You can’t access the app any other way. So, we’ve talked to every single user so far.
Scott: Yeah, that makes total sense.
John: That’s something-
Scott: The Superhuman actually, we do the same thing. We onboard every single client ourselves too. But yeah, we were talking before we hit recording that Superhuman pioneered that, which is really cool.
John: Yeah, exactly.
Scott: Former Kruze client, very, very proud of that. It’s very neat. And then there must be some other frontiers in the scheduling calendar world that you’re dying to knock down.Is there any, do your friends, because what happens to me at cocktail parties is everyone wants to talk about their tax problem or accounting problem. It’s almost like being a doctor to your doctor. Do people complain to you? They’re like, “Oh my god, my calendar this, my calendar that.” Are there things you’re looking at that you definitely want to fix?
John: Yeah, a big one that I didn’t realize until I was a few years in is people who have Outlook work calendars, but personal Gmails.
Scott: Oh yeah.
John: A big company, right. It is just impossible to see both on one view. You want all your counters in one view.
Scott: Oh my god, I never thought about that. That’s such a great insight.
John: Hm-hmm.
Scott: That’s amazing.
John: So now you can do that in Vimcal and we’re looking at other ways to make that even easier, maybe blocking off between Google and Microsoft.
Scott: There’s always, my daughter is six, so she’s not a baby anymore, but we’re getting into after school sports and pickups and things like that. And I always hear it from working parents especially that it is just a disaster coordinating all that kind of stuff. So maybe there’s, what got me thinking about that is you, the Outlook plus Gmail calendar, that’s really a bridge into consumer and maybe there’s some other things you can do around sports leagues or practice schedules or things like that. Brings in even more personal stuff.
John: Yeah, exactly. You hit a spot on, the three quote-unquote “universes” are, one is personal, one is work or school, depending on which one applies to, and then the third one is family. So that’s the sports leagues and stuff. And a lot of that lives on iCloud and that is the real pain to point.
Scott: Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that. Why is that? Because it over phones or something like that?
John: Yeah, people just started when they got an iPhone early on, they just started sending invites to their spouses or kids on the Apple calendar and now they’re years deep and stuck.
Scott: There’s probably a lot of that with text messaging too. That’s probably something that’s happening too, because a lot of pickup coordination is done over text instead of email too. So, I don’t know. That’s cool, man. Yeah, you’re in this exciting space. There’s a lot going on. We’ve been blessed at Kruze to have a few players in the space that work with us and I’ve seen them evolve and you got something going here and to be able to do it with very little fundraising is really, really cool. It’s impressive.
John: Thank you. Appreciate it. Yeah.
Scott: Well maybe you could tell everyone how to reach you or how to reach if they want to try it. Can they try it for free? How does the system all work and how do they get in touch with Vimcal?
John: Yeah, if you want to try Vimcal, just go to Vimcal.com. There’s a seven-day free trial. You don’t need a credit card, just play around with it, invite your teammates to it, try it out. And if you’re an EA or have an EA, go to vimcal.com slash EA and you can just sign up for a call with someone on our team. We’ll schedule it really quickly, give you a white glove, 45 minute onboarding, then you get a two-week trial for that. So, for both, there’s no commitment.
Scott: Yeah, love it, love it, love it. And congrats. And also, congrats to you for pivoting two different times before you even found this. That takes a lot of mental strength and discipline and also just positivity, really easy to throw in the towel after one or two. So, kudos to you and your partners at Vimcal. It’s really neat.
John: Thank you. Thank you. Appreciate it.
Scott: Awesome man. All right buddy. Great talking to you. Thanks for coming on and I’ll be checking VimCal out. Really appreciate it.
John: Thank you Scott.
Scott: All right buddy.Awesome dude. Great job. Cool.
John: Thank you.
Scott: That was very, very easy. I forgot that actually Mixmash was one of our clients and Clockwise was a client for many years and so I’ve watched those companies grow and it’s pretty cool. You’re in a big space. There’s an opportunity for a lot of winners in your space too, which is neat.
John: Yeah. Another startup, CEO once told me that we have the mother of all TAMs, which is just a calendar and email.
Scott: But that bridge between professional and personal, that makes so much sense to me because probably almost everyone with Outlook doesn’t want to manage their personal calendar through Outlook too. And so business Outlook and then, yeah, so that makes a ton of sense. I love that.
John: Yeah, I think the bridge is really the key insight. You got to get the work. You have to dominate the work case first and make that really good and then you just add in little bit, make use personal life and they’re stuck.
Scott: But when you have a kid, there’s just a lot you got to coordinate. I’m telling you, there’s a gold mine there too and I’m just starting to experience it now because my daughter’s got friends now and she’s got activities after school and stuff two years ago I didn’t really know about, so awesome. All right buddy, we’ll send you an edited version you can listen to and approve and when you get that email, send us your headshot and thanks for coming on, I really appreciate it.
John: Yeah, of course. Can I ask really quick, usually how long does it take to-
Scott: Yeah, I know we have two or three that are ahead of you in the queue, so I’d probably say three or four weeks, something like that.
John: Okay.
Scott: We kind of release one a week kind of thing.
John: That’s perfect because we’re changing the name of our EA product right now to the one I talked about on the podcast.
Scott: Okay, perfect.
John: It’s currently called something else, so three to four weeks is perfect.
Scott: Yeah, and if you like, “Hey, hold it for a week,” or something like that, we’re always happy to do that.
John: Awesome.
Scott: No big deal.
John: Cool.
Scott: Cool man. All right John.
John: Thanks Scott. Bye-bye.

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