Founder Stories Vol. 03 with Rian Finnegan of Four2
Four2, founded by Rian Finnegan in 2020, is an AI based platform offering software for personalised marketing. He shares more about Four2, marketing and funding, bouncing back from failures, and more! Read this exclusive interview to find out more.
Tell us more about your professional background
I am an electrical engineer by trade and studied at the University of NSW. I worked at a startup and went on to work for Microsoft for a few years with customers and partners. There were a lot of machine learning projects and they had a lot of things in common. We realised that a lot of the things that companies are building to make AI and machine learning happen inside their big companies is essentially cut and paste code from what other companies are doing. Hence, we realise that we can do similar things but commoditize it and make it a service that any business can incorporate into their businesses.
That's how four 2 came about. We started to think about how machines learn to attack the problem of customer churn - how to influence the customer to stay and not cancel. From there, we used reinforcement learning to dramatically improve customer experience on digital products.
Is customer retention a big issue?
Retention is core and if you have a high churn rate, it's going to wreck your valuation if you're trying to raise money. It reduces the lifetime value of your customers and it means that people are not having a great experience when using your products. It's a key indicator of several fundamental problems that you need to address with a multi-pronged approach. One of those approaches we think is reinforced learning to learn what different customers want based on deep segmentation and giving them what they want in real-time.
What were some failures and how did you overcome them?
When you're an early-stage founder, you think you know what people want but you don't really know until you try and sell it to them. Do you build it and sell it or sell it and build it? so you kind of have to do both at the same time. It's like building a plane while flying it so you need to replace the wings as you're flying it and slowly it gets better at flying. In my experience, a big one was when we were building a data marketplace previously. We realised that the model was not going to work and we had to rethink what to do differently. It was right at that pivot that Four 2 was born.
What was your source of inspiration?
An advisor of mine recommended a book to me and it's called 'Write It'. It's essentially talking about how to test an idea and will anyone want it. Is the idea real or a flop? The core concept of the book is 'pretotyping' as opposed to prototyping which is something to make that you're pretending to sell and it's easier to make. You can go to pretotyping.org if you want to learn more as it's very helpful. It was conceptually good and the author is a very talented guy.
What are three qualities to be a successful entrepreneur?
The first is perseverance - if you can't persevere through tough times then you can't get through them. You must be courageous. The second is being open to change. If you can't be open and listen to your customers to see what they want, you can never build something that they want. Thirdly, it's to be articulate. You need to be able to articulate the vision of the product that you're trying to build with your customers, team members and the world. It's important when you're trying to 'give birth' to a new product essentially.
How is the new virtual work concept?
We have been a virtual company since we began. I live in Melbourne and my co-founder lives in Brisbane so we have been running virtual since before March 2020 so I am quite used to it. There are relatively basic things you can do to improve the experience. One of them is to be on camera and have the face to face experience to know what your colleague is thinking. Another one is to have a meeting every morning with your team and also a social meeting where you connect with people on more than just a professional level.
Tell us more about funding
Pitches follow the same structure - the problem you're solving, what's the solution, what the market looks like, how much money are you asking for etc. What investors are looking for is an idea, product and a team that can bring something to the market that can make money. Investors want to make money and that's it.
The best way to build a business that makes money is to build something that people want to buy. Think about the customer and it's going to be easier to make money. Don't only think about investors as they don't want to only invest in something that only cares about them but also about the customers. This approach is great.
How to market with 0 dollars?
You need to get creative. If you're doing B2B, use platforms like LinkedIn to share. Make a podcast and talk to people like yourself. When you're small, you only need to market to a few hundred people. Stand on the street corner and see if anyone wants your product and if no one wants it, you know it's not working.
Money is not going to solve all your marketing problems. If you can't market it with zero dollars, there's a good chance you can't market with money either. Utilize google ads or Instagram ads for a couple of hundred dollars to test your idea with a small amount of money. That way you would know if there is value in your idea and product.
What skills can you offer?
I will always try to give you direct feedback on your startup. My core skills are software engineering, app development and cloud engineering. That's what I can bring to the table. I also enjoy team building and strategy - how to run a successful and cross-functional team is important to me. Feel free to hit me up as I would love to chat.