In todays interview I have Tom Fang with me, Tom is the Founder of iPyxel Creations company which managed Thrive Tracker, which he funded out of his own pocket upon leaving an early career in real estate private equity. I hope you all would enjoy reading his interview with us and learning about his tracker.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How old are you? Where do you live?
I am 28 years old, and I currently live in Santa Monica, CA, about a half block from the beach. I moved here recently and am really loving it.
Life wasn’t always as stable though. My parents immigrated to the US from China when I was 5, and I didn’t see them again until when I was 9, when they brought me over to spend the rest of my childhood in Fargo, North Dakota.
They separated pretty much right away, and I was raised by my mother, who really struggled tremendously trying to survive with me in this country while having nothing and no ability to legally work (student visa).
I am truly grateful to this country for the opportunities and the benefits that children are able to get, else I would not be here today. I think we often times take for granted how it is here in comparison to a lot of the world.
How long have you been working in this industry, and how did you get involved? What was your first money maker?
Depends on the definition of “the industry”. I first started dabbling in internet marketing about 5 years ago when I was still working but unfulfilled. I started working with a partner who had introduced me to spamming.
That didn’t sit well with us for long, so we started to get into paid traffic and started to buy from Plenty of Fish (POF), which was hot at the time.
Because I was very good with Excel, I built an entire automated model to optimize our POF operation that would allow us to run hundreds of campaigns and thousands of ads at one time with relative ease as the model would spit out the best and worst performers.
At peak, we did a little over $30,000 revenue in one month, but my passion was never to run campaigns. I wanted to turn what I built into software so others can use it.
Can you please tell us a little about your professional background?
I was lucky enough to get into the best business school in the country and graduated from Wharton with a degree in finance. After school, I went to work for Walton Street Capital, which is a multi-billion dollar private equity fund for large commercial real estate investments, where the biggest deal I worked on was a $310 MM+ debt deal where we foreclosed on 2.65 MM square feet of office space in Seattle.
While I still have strong interest in real estate and love my finance background, I was always more interested in technology and the internet, and pretty early on, I knew I had to try to build a software business.
What is the most expensive thing you ever bought?
I’m really not too materialistic. I think the most expensive thing outside of business expenses would be that I recently spent over $3,000 on a personal training package at the Venice Gold’s Gym. I am now in the best shape of my life. If we’re talking about a thing, then I think my $1,500 Surface Pro would be it.
What is your biggest achievement so far? And also what are your biggest failures?
My biggest achievement would definitely be building my company iPyxel and our latest product Thrive. I am a non-technical, solo founder of a bootstrapped, profitable early stage SaaS startup targeting the high traffic, data-heavy performance advertising market. You don’t hear that combination every day, and it’s through a desperate determination and a lot of time and effort that we are here today.
What is your Daily Routine?
Work – whenever I wake up naturally
Relax for a few hours
Work a little more before bedWeekends are more fun though, and I go swim in the ocean almost every weekend.
What tips would you give to those who want to take the path of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship can take on a lot of forms depending on your definition, but if we’re talking about starting a company, I say:Don’t do it. It probably won’t work, and the risk-adjusted return for your time isn’t worth it.But, true entrepreneurs can’t NOT do it. That’s how you know you should start a company. I believe if you’re an entrepreneur, then you would be an entrepreneur, despite great odds of failure. You’d already be doing it, or at the very least, you have concrete plans on when you’ll be quitting your job and doing it full time.If you are going to do it, I suggest you self-fund it or raise a little bit from friends and family and try to sell your product until you can make enough to live.
Are you an affiliate yourself?
No, I have not been an affiliate for over 3 years, since the POF days. I have a lot of close connections with affiliates so I know what affiliates need in a product and service, but, I believe it is a major conflict of interest to be running traffic and also build a tracking platform.
Tell us about Thrive and what inspired you to start this service?
Originally, I started Thrive because all of the self-hosted trackers out there at the time were really bad and did not have a world-class development team behind it who could product a cutting edge product for modern times. We’re still, by far, the best self-hosted tracking option. Today, Thrive has a self-hosted plan, but also a much bigger, and thriving Cloud Service, where we’re competing head to head with Voluum on. When we started offering a cloud option, I didn’t expect the demand, but today, our Cloud Service is 2/3 of our total revenue, and we’re reinvesting massively into greatly improving our cloud platform for years to come.Our Cloud Service is deployed on 8, soon to be 9, of Amazon’s data centers. Our complex caching system keeps all the data loading fast, no matter how much data you have over time. Lastly, I think trust is a big thing. We have a lot of big affiliates use Thrive simply because they trust us, as we’ve demonstrated we have the user’s best interest every single time. We don’t have media buyers, and we never run traffic ourselves.
As we all know setting up tracking platforms like yours is not a bed of roses, what was your biggest problem when you started?
The biggest problem in the beginning was figuring out how to handle huge scale. We want to serve the affiliate who is just starting, but we also want to serve the biggest affiliates in the industry.We really hammered this home and went after this relentlessly, and we will soon be able to claim that we have the most scalable tracker with the fastest redirect speeds worldwide.
What are special features in your tracking platform which we can not find in other trackers?
The devil is always in the details. Thrive does a lot of things that make your lives easier, and it’s hard to point to specific things. For example, Thrive adds automation capabilities so that if an offer goes down, Thrive has an offer swap function that allows you to instantly swap that offer from all of your campaigns for a different offer.If I had to name specific features, here are a couple more:Cloaker/Bot Filter: We have pre-configured filters to filter out bot traffic so that they do not contaminate your actual data, and we log all of the bot clicks in a separate report. You can also design your own cloaking system and send any unwanted visitors to a ‘safe page’ by creating multiple layered rules based on IP, referrer, URL-parameter, geo, device, browser, OS, etc.Multi-User Access: You can create multiple roles and users that only have specific access to certain parts of the application or even specific sets of campaigns. You want to grow your business eventually right? Then any employees/outsourcers can have their own logins and not be exposed to the rest of your business. You can also have multiple media buyers only responsible for their own campaigns and you have the ability to view everything
Can your tracker handle large traffic volume?
As mentioned previously, this was the first thing we focused on. I didn’t want to build another “me-too” tracker that could not handle high volume at fast speeds.On our Cloud Service, we have some users who are running over 10 million clicks/day, and we’re looking to continually bring on even bigger affiliates and media buying groups.The great thing about us is that if you run over 1 million clicks/day, you start to see significant savings over our competitors like Voluum. At the biggest volumes, we’re about 50% less expensive, which makes a BIG difference at that kind of volume.
How large is your team? How many people work under you?
Our full-time team right now is still small at 4 people. We have a few more part-timers, and I use a lot of contractors for specific, specialized tasks. We’re extremely lean, and we’re proud to have accomplished so much with so little.For a long time, it was just me and David, our VP of Engineering. This next year we are planning on growing more.
There are a lot of tracking solutions these days, what makes yours different and how does it stand out?
We’ve discussed scale, we’ve discussed speed and performance, we’ve discussed our dedication to privacy and trust, and we’ve discussed some awesome features.I think in addition to all of that, it’s worth mentioning that Thrive has the ability to track pretty complex funnels and upsell sequences.We have a “Branches” feature where you can create multiple rotations on the same page, in a sequence, or otherwise link to it anywhere in a funnel.This allows you to do multiple steps, multiple split tests of different steps, and keep “branching” off in your funnel as many times as you want to track the most complex funnels.Additionally, we cater to power users. We have a fully documented and dedicated API for all users. You can control all reporting and campaign management functions through the API.Recently, LPOptimizer integrated with Thrive, and we hope more 3rd party products utilize Thrive’s API.
Lastly, I think it’s worth mentioning that any of our users will tell you we have the best support in the industry. The only thing we care about is providing the best tracking product and service for our users. Our recent adoption of ZenDesk is another commitment to provide better support.
We get a lot of tickets that come in and be answered within 10 minutes, and our users are often surprised like, “wow, that was quick!”
What are your plans for the future?
We’re going to continue to work our asses off to improve upon Thrive and build the best tracking product and service in the industry. We have huge huge plans for Thrive, including integration of call tracking, affiliate network tracking capabilities, mobile app tracking, and vertical-specific tools.
What are the challenges you are facing right now and how are you planning to overcome those challenges?
Our biggest challenge is finding the best software engineers and convincing them to come work for us, because it’s often hard to understand this industry if you’re an outsider.Great software engineers in the US are very expensive, but we’re committed to building a world class engineering organization in the US.
What are your favorite traffic sources? And why?
We are completely traffic source-agnostic as we never look into user data to assess whether something is doing well or not. We’re fully focused on providing our users the best platform to do their jobs.
If you could go back in time and do things differently, what one thing would you change?
I would have spent a lot more of my pre-college days learning to code and taking a crack at building things and entrepreneurship.I would have also have us built and launch Thrive earlier so we could be first movers instead of second.
What budget do you suggest to start advertising with affiliate marketing?
I think a lot of people who start media buying expect to make a lot with very little.The mindset needs to change to the fact that you are starting a business, and a real business requires investment and the right tools.I think you should make at least $10,000 from a job first, then set it aside to invest in your business. Don’t skimp on the tools, the hosting, the domains, etc. etc. Give yourself the best shot.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
I hope everyone will find a way to give us a shot. At the very least, just start a conversation with us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in our products, and we will answer any questions and concerns you may have for your specific use-case. We will not miss a single email.If you’re a high volume user, please contact us, and let us know roughly how much you run a day, and we will provide you with a quote. Doesn’t hurt to ask and start a conversation at least!
I would like to thank Tom Fang for taking time out of his busy routine for us. I really enjoyed interviewing Tom and it was a great pleasure for me to interview him. I have plans to keep on interviewing more people related to performance marketing industry, So if you want your favourite people interviewed please mention their names in comments below and i will make sure they are interviewed in our upcoming posts. Also I would highly recommend my readers to try out Thrive Tracker.