Marcel Petitpas, Co-Founder & CEO, Parakeeto

Marcel Petitpas, Co-Founder & CEO, Parakeeto

KPIs and systems. If those words make you cringe, you're not alone. Business intel is critical for decision-making and agency growth, yet many digital shops struggle with KPIs and implementing measurement systems to get a clear view into their businesses.

Enter Parakeeto. Parakeeto was born in a Boise tech company, hatched from the frustration that there had to be an easier way. With the idea for a product, Jarod Ferguson, CEO of Royal Jay, connected with Marcel Petitpas, an Apple alum eager to try his hand at entrepreneurship. Together with a small team, the pair are working to release Parakeeto into the wild, to help agencies get the information they need to profit and grow.

So, which comes first in SaaS, the service or the software? Marcel joins us to talk about his journey from Apple to startup, trial by fire and how mentors and community bring you closer to your dreams.


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Carl Smith: Hey everybody and welcome back to The Bureau Briefing. It is Carl and swinging by the Bureau studios today we have got Marcel Petitpas. How's it going Marcel?

Marcel Petitpas: It is going amazing, Carl, so happy to be here on the podcast.

Carl Smith: Well, I have to say we met at Operations Camp in Utah and you are one of the most just excited, energetic ... you know what it is? It's like you've never had a bad day and I know that's not true but you just expect great things, don't you?

Marcel Petitpas: Well there's just, there's a lot of things that we can focus on in life and I guess I just choose to focus on the stuff that makes me happy as much as I can.

Carl Smith: Well for everybody listening so Marcel is the CEO and Co-founder of Parakeeto, he's a speaker, he's a business coach, he may or may not be a Nick Jonas look alike, I'm not sure on that one. You know the true teenage girls, my daughters, they were like "Eh," but my wife was like, "Could be, I don't know." You know you might have a generation thing there but you could always do appearances, it's just gonna be for soccer moms, I hope you're cool with that.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah, I just really hope Parakeeto does well enough that I don't have to resort to that. 

Carl Smith: Well I'm sure it will. Tell everybody a little bit about yourself, like how you got into this business and like right up to launching Parakeeto.

Marcel Petitpas: Cool, yeah that's a great question. My first real professional job that was significant was working for Apple as what was called a solutions consultant so really I was working with some pretty big retailers like Best Buy training the staff, making sure they had stock, and really just advising them on how to be more successful using Apple products. Honestly, when I got hired for that job I was super unqualified for it so it was a very step forward in terms of my career and after a few years of doing that big corporate job it was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, but I decided that I wanted to take a little bit of risk and try my hand at entrepreneurship which is something that'd I'd always been really interested in.

After a few years of trying a few different things I got a phone call from one of my mentors when I was kind of in between ideas and he said, "Hey, I've got this guy Jarod, I think you know him," and I had met him actually a few years back in Toronto.” He said, "He's got this really great idea for a product that every agency I've ever spoken to in my life needs and I think you guys should talk." I got on the phone with Jarod and he told me about what he wanted to build and I said, "Let me go and see if this thing has legs," and that's kind of how it came together.

We started talking to agencies about their challenges in doing this process that we call customer development where we basically get in touch with agencies and we ask them questions but never tell them about what we're doing so we get unbiased feedback about what their challenges are and what they're working on and what's holding them back from growing. Through that process we discovered that what we were trying to build really was needed in the marketplace and so shortly after December I think we were January we decided to go full-time on this thing and make it a reality.

Carl Smith: Now I want to back up for just a second because you mentioned having a mentor.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah.

Carl Smith: And you mentioned having multiple mentors. I know I think you kind of implied that. Help me what that, like how old are you, you're mid-20s?

Marcel Petitpas: I just turned 25 in May.

Carl Smith: There you go, we'll call that mid. How did you decide that you needed a mentor because I know when I was in my mid-20s I didn't need nobody. Right? I was totally wrong, but how do you open yourself up to the idea of a mentor?

Marcel Petitpas: Well, honestly, I think it all started when I got that job at Apple. In my mind at that time my first day was on my 20th birthday and everybody else that I worked with was much older than me at the time and so I was really biting off more than I could chew at the time and through that process you know a lot of my coworkers and I had really really great bosses, and they really helped me raise my game so that I could perform in that job and eventually excel in that job. I think that really opened my eyes up to how much opportunity we have as individuals whether we're young or old or whatever to go and access a lifetime of information that every single human being around us has. As long as we're reaching out to those people that are doing the things that we'd like to be doing we can fast track out personal development and our learning to such an extent there's no faster way to learn in my opinion than connecting with mentors that have all of that information that you need to get to the next level.

Carl Smith: Well I mean that is the best set up to talk about Bureau events I've ever heard of. Right? Because that's all Bureau events-

Marcel Petitpas: I agree.

Carl Smith: That's all it is is getting people together that talk, that have done some other things. Five years ago you got this job with Apple going around, explaining to other outlets like how to sell Apple products and then today you're the co founder CEO of Parakeeto which is still not in full release. Right?

Marcel Petitpas: No, we're still pre-product and actually we just we had this conversation at Utah but we started doing some consulting around what our product does so that's kind of what we're doing. The product's being built, and we're hoping to release it here soon, I'm getting very excited. I don't want to give anybody a date because it's software.

Carl Smith: No worries, I wouldn't want you to do that.

Marcel Petitpas: Keep your eyes peeled.

Carl Smith: Here's one of my big questions, now you gave a tour of Parakeeto in Utah, some people got really excited looking at it, for me it feels like a crowded space.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah.

Carl Smith: And maybe I'm wrong, maybe Parakeeto is not in the mix of this, but it give it a basic overview of that Parakeeto does.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah so it's funny that you say this because it is in a lot of ways a crowded space like when people ask me who my competitors are I just kind of laugh because almost every piece of software that an agency is using is a competitor but is not a competitor at the same time. The idea behind Parakeeto is basically to help agencies get data that they need in order to grow and be profitable.

What we found was that, and this is kind of the challenge that Jarod was facing when he came up with the idea, was he had all of his time data and his time tracking software and he'd have his financial information and his accounting software, and then he would have statements of work stored somewhere in a Google Drive and he would have resource plans and everything was scattered a little bit everywhere. In order for him to get the information that he needed for things like what's our capacity, what's our utilization, how much money did we actually make on this last project he had to build a whole bunch of spreadsheets. 

When he looked at the solutions that existed out there there was two major issues, I mean really the one major issue was he would have had to change his project management software in order to get any of that automated and that was a big challenge because as you probably know project management software is one of the most subjective pieces of software that an agency can buy. You could have two identical agencies doing identical work and they use two completely different systems for project management because it's just some people like the UI or maybe it's missing this feature, it's missing that feature, and the PM tool space in my mind is very inundated because of that. There's so much subjectivity around it.

Carl Smith: It's painful.

Marcel Petitpas: We immediately looked at that and said there's no way that we can build the perfect PM tool, we know we can't do that, so what we want to do differently is automate this reporting for agencies but not ask them to change some of those really fundamental tools that are in their stack we'll just go and integrate what them and try to make it work that way.

Carl Smith: One of the things I know, I think it says this on the website, and when you and I have talked about it before you talked about how it incorporates the main metrics that an agency's looking at, those key pieces of information. Does that not change from agency to agency? Isn't everybody looking at it a little bit differently and how do you accommodate that?

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah so that's a really great question. I think it does change from agency to agency but the fundamentals are very, very consistent and I gotta give a shout out to Jody Grunden who I know is also your boy, and I only met him once but now I'm just gonna use my hiphop slang and say that he is my boy as well.

Carl Smith: I'm gonna get a phone call, "He dropped my name."

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah I think he's on vacation right now, yeah hopefully he's listening. I just read his book, Digital Dollars and Cents, and for those of you that have not read that book I would highly recommend that you read it. He does a very good job of explaining it in there as well that the fundamentals of the agency model, the fundamentals of any service business are all very, very similar regardless of how you price and the fundamental challenge with service businesses is that time is your largest variable cost and it needs to be managed and it needs to be managed well. 

Everything that comes back to how many hours your employees actually have every year that they can work based on how much vacation they have and so on how much of that time is being utilized for billable work, what the average amount of money you make every hour that they work is, and then basically how much money you're bringing in and how much you're spending, those things regardless of whether you're more focused on your NPS score or your internal culture happiness or how many leads you're getting for your Facebook ads clients you know that stuff is gonna vary and there's lots of great solutions out there to help with that but those fundamental metrics in my experience are very consistent across service business of all kids.

Carl Smith: Now when you shared Parakeeto and even when we were talking before you did the demo one of the things that struck me, and please don't take this the wrong way, but you are just like a really nice guy, you're super positive, all these types of things and then out of nowhere you'll say something about some formula or something that you read in a book that has got some sort of philosophical background or something and it's just mind blowing. No seriously, it's like just not expecting it. How did you get yourself so smart in this space? Because again five years that's an amount of time, but you've only been focused on this for a few years. Right?

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah so I mean really I'm fairly, if I'm being candid, I'm relatively new to the agency space specifically. I'm not that new to coaching, that's something that I've been doing for a long time actually, since I was about 16 years old, I started in fitness, then when I went with Apple it became more business consulting. Then actually for a full year I was speaking and coaching more on emotional intelligence and stuff like that to kind of fund this dream of building a software company. I just want to make sure I understand the question correctly, are you asking about my knowledge in the agency space or more on kind of the emotional culture? I just want to make sure I address the right side of it.

Carl Smith: No, no, it's totally the agency space and specifically understanding the way that the metrics and the underlying success of an agency.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah, great question.

Carl Smith: Yeah you pretty much are self-taught, right?

Marcel Petitpas: Yes, but again, it comes back to this mentorship piece, like I knew when I got into the space the fastest way for me to learn as much as I could about this was to reach out the top thought leaders in the space so this is why you got an email from me last summer when I was just at the beginning. I said, “Who knows the most about this?” And I found you and Bureau and I said this guy must know a lot about agencies, he hangs out what them all the time and puts on these events.

I reached out and I did that with a whole bunch of thought leaders in the space and then I spent hours everyday on the phone with agency owners asking them about what tools do you use and what does that process look like and where do you store that spreadsheet and what's your challenge and what have you done that works? It was really trial by fire but it only took a few weeks for me to really start to grasp the lingo and it's a snowball effect, as you know, it's like learning a language. All you need to do is learn a few words and then the pace accelerates at an exponential rate and so a year in now I'm able to actually go into an agency and actually consult with them on some of their sales process and their operations process and pull from the background that I had before I got into the space and couple it now with the knowledge that I acquired through actually speaking to experts in the space. That's kind of I guess the process that I employed to do that.

Carl Smith: You're annoying me right now because you're doing great things and you're just acting like it doesn't take anything to do it. No, I'm just kidding. No seriously though, so had you ever ... you'd never built a product before. Right? You'd never architected a product or thought through a product, tell me about the team, like how ... you didn't know, you'd mentioned Jarod and Jarod's a Royal Jay, right?

Marcel Petitpas: That's right, yep.

Carl Smith: Okay and so he's run an agency, he's got a lot of that information, so he can be kind of an institutional knowledge person for you?

Marcel Petitpas: Oh 100%, yeah.

Carl Smith: Then had he ever built a product before?

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah so Jarod actually runs a software development agency so he had built products for other clients and he had done a few internal products as well at the agency so he had some experience in this space. I really, I have to just say I lucked out big time on the people that I'm surrounded with in this venture from a technical perspective and then also on the software side in terms of building a software business because Jarod obviously runs a software development agency, he's got a great team there, he is my perfect customer so we get a lot of the initial ideas for the product from the challenges that he faces on a day-to-day basis and then we just go out and validate that against more agencies to make sure that our thinking is sound. Then on the business side we have a mentor of mine, Dan Martell, who actually introduced me to Jarod and he has built and sold several companies and so with those two people kind of in my corner I couldn't ask for a better pair of people to go on this journey with.

Carl Smith: Okay so you've got a great start, you've got a great team supporting you, what are the big challenges?

Marcel Petitpas: The big challenge is that when we're building software, and you might know this from experience, it's a lot more complex than I thought. You know I had a little bit of experience with software development in the past but Jarod really owns that piece. What I'm discovering is that you don't really know how long it's gonna take to build something until you start to build it. We had a lot of assumptions about how long it was gonna take us to build Parakeeto and it is taking longer than we thought, which I'm understanding now is a completely normal part of the process and in a way it's good because we've had to make some pretty significant changes to the way that we're approaching the product after having a lot of conversations with agencies and understanding what they really need. 

Then with that it really kind of delayed my trajectory in terms of when I could start selling product so essentially we started looking at our runway and saying, "Hm, product's gonna be done pretty much at the same time that we're not gonna be able to pay people to build it anymore," so big challenge for me was figuring out well okay what can I do to create value for people in the meantime that's also gonna be complementary to the product that we're building and the answer to that was very clear to me, it was just to go and do consulting on all of the things that kind surround the product. 

These are things like understand what your baseline KPIs are and setting up some systems to track those in the interim and really just kind of the fundamentals that we're gonna deal with in the software there is still a bit of an education piece around that which our goal is to do that through content marketing and try to educate our clients as they get on board and as they interact with our brand but in the meantime there's tons of agencies that are struggling with this today and they couldn't tell me how much money they're making per hour when they net it down or they can't tell me if they're profitable on a project or not and I can still help them today and then use that to fund a product that hopefully will impact a whole bunch more people than I could ever do on my own.

Carl Smith: If I'm understanding correctly, and there's always a good chance I'm not because that happens all the time, you're consulting to fund the ongoing work on Parakeeto, is that right?

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah basically. Honestly it's what we should have done from day one and I don't know why we didn't but we're doing it now. To me, and I think this is for any of the agency owners or employees that are out there listening that are software curious and I know there's a lot of them out there, maybe you have dreams and aspirations of building a product out of your agency and lots of agencies have been very successful at doing that, to me the fastest way to bootstrap and validate a software product, you know we call this software as a service, is to first start the service and then build the software.

Carl Smith: There you go, there you go. When you share the product with people like you did with us at Operations Camp it feels super simple and I know simple is hard. Right? Is there anything when you're sharing it with potential customers that they push back on?

Marcel Petitpas: I mean generally in the early days we were just super strapped on ... you know we have a small team and we only have so many development hours that we can contribute to the product and so in the early days we can't integrate with every single tool on planet Earth so that would be like, "Oh I used this one-off tool over here I'd love for it to integrate with that," but I think at a fundamental level we don't get a whole lot of push back on the basic concept of like we're gonna show you if you're making money or not and to help you understand what changes you need to make to make more money and keep your business afloat. I would say that that's probably the main piece of pushback and it's not ever really pushback it's just like, "Hey I'd love it if you integrated with this," and I always kind of take it with a smile on my face like I would love to do that and I'll put it in the backlog and maybe one day we will.

Carl Smith: Do you do anything with Zapier or any type of tools like that?

Marcel Petitpas: I have to be careful about what I say on this topic because Jarod and I have a lot of discussions about these things but we're always evaluating you know what's the fastest way for us to add value to the product and value that's relevant to the person that we're trying to help. We've certainly had discussions about things like Zapier and and all the different solutions that are out there. Yeah, again I have to be careful but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it but it is something that we're thinking about all the time and it's our top priority when it comes to the product.

Carl Smith: We're coming up on time and I've gone one more question for you.

Marcel Petitpas: Sure.

Carl Smith: Value based agencies.

Marcel Petitpas: Yes, value based-

Carl Smith: Are you looking at them, are you looking at them as perspective customers?

Marcel Petitpas: Absolutely. You know I think value based agencies and agencies that will just price on a fixed either monthly recurring or weekly recurring or however you want to do that.

Carl Smith: Time and materials, yeah.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah so those agencies have probably the biggest need for what we're doing because their variable cost is always gonna be their time. Right? You could tell somebody, hey I'm gonna do this project for you for $100,000 and you could do it and it costs you as an agency $10,000 or you could do it and it costs you $110,000. We've heard stories on kind of both ends of that spectrum, I'm sure you have as well. For those agencies it's critically important to be measuring how much are you actually putting into your clients and how do that impact the economics of your business. Absolutely we're looking at value based agencies and really any agency that spends time on their clients we can help.

Carl Smith: But if they're not tracking time is that gonna throw a wrench in everything?

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah and I mean this maybe a little controversial but in my mind if you're not tracking time you're not tracking your largest variable cost. I mean how do you know how many clients you can service in a year, how do you know what your maximum revenue is in a year, how do you know ... there's a lot of things that you can't necessarily track if you're not tracking time. It's funny I've had a lot of conversations like this but to kind of answer that questions if you're not tracking time then our product probably won't be able to help you a whole lot in the early days but I would recommend that you do track time because it'll open up your eyes to a lot the economic levers in your business that can have a huge impact on your business, on your pocketbook, and on your employees as well.

Carl Smith: Yeah and it's one of those things that gets said around Bureau tables a lot, track your time, bill your value. You know it's like ... because if you don't have that metric, and then people are like I don't know how to get people to do their time sheets, I don't know this, I don't know that, it's ... I don't know. I think it's cultural for sure and it's a whole nother episode that we've probably already done seven times. It's just one of those things I was curious if there is any way for somebody who's not tracking time but that person’s probably not gonna want to see these metrics anyway.

Marcel Petitpas: Yeah you know and I think that's cool, you know, if you want to run your agency that way and it works for you and you're happy and your team is happy then all the power to you. I really think it just comes down to what your goal as an agency owner or as an executive team and there's nothing wrong with that but I agree with you it's very challenging to figure things out if you don't know where your time's going when what you're selling is time. I know you've said this in the past as well, like you're selling time no matter how you price it, you're always selling your time.

Carl Smith: Yeah, Marcel thank you so much for coming by and being on The Briefing today, it was truly a pleasure man.

Marcel Petitpas: Excited to be here, this is awesome, thank you so much for having me. Before I go I just want to tell everyone that's listening that hasn't been to a Bureau of Digital Camp or Summit you gotta be there because it's absolutely phenomenal. Thank you Carl for putting that together for everyone.

Carl Smith: You are welcome and you gotta let us know when Parakeeto is about to take wing so that I can let the whole community know.

Marcel Petitpas: I absolutely will do, thank you so much Carl.

Carl Smith: You got it. All right everybody listening, we'll be back soon and we will talk to you then. All the best.