Founder Stories from CyRise: Michael, Bec, and Gary, from MailTumble

There’s a lightness to the MailTumble way. This team builds good things, and has fun while they do it. Michael Jankie and Gary Tramer are repeat founders, and MailTumble is their latest startup. Recently joined by Bec Martin in the role of CTO, this founding team of three thrive off a mutual respect, open communication, a zesty and fun approach to problem solving.

“MailTumble comes out of another startup, PoweredLocal, that we recently exited,” explains Michael. “PoweredLocal had a problem. We had been gathering millions of consumer records and most of our customers were unsophisticated users of data. There were license agreements to control consumer data usage, and that data was only meant to be used for specific purposes. We soon realised when looking at legal liabilities that we had a problem. These customers didn’t care for the rules and the liability sat with us. We needed a solution and brainstormed version one of MailTumble — we’re now onto version four. Version one allowed us to mask and control the data. It was very basic, but it worked. That process was both interesting and enlightening. We now had visibility on what was going on and what shouldn’t have been going on. It was a huge needle mover. Version one of MailTumble sat idle for a couple of years and then this year we kicked it into gear again.”

“At the start of 2020, someone made an offer to acquire PoweredLocal,” Michael continues. “Is it time to get out of this guest WiFi business? It seemed like the right time, but there was this cool bit of tech (MailTumble) that we didn’t think the acquirers would do anything with. We were on good terms with them, so asked to do the acquisition deal without the MailTumble piece. It was about two months later when Gary and I wondered: what to do with it now? This is where Bec comes in. I was trying to figure out what to do, so I sent Bec a Twitter DM and asked to run something past her.”

Gary and Michael, back when you could have pirates in the office.

“We’ve known each other in various capacities for quite a while,” Bec chimes in. “Our history goes back five years. We first met when I was at Xero. We’ve both been part of the innovation sector in Melbourne — it’s quite small — so I’ve known Michael and Gary for quite a while, and knew the businesses and startups they’d built. I’m extremely excited, and even honoured, to be invited to be part of the team.”

“Bec has this back-to-front!” Michael laughs. “At one of our previous companies, we had a role that she applied for. I remember receiving the application and thinking, “Why is Bec applying?! She’s way too good for us!”. We got her in for a chat, mostly so we could feel better about ourselves. Gary and I had this conversation with her: “This startup is not at all worthy of you”, and we more or less left it at that.”

Bec laughs. “You’re very kind but the context of that for me was that I was having an existential crisis. I have a broad skill set and perennially have a crisis about not being deeply technical enough. I’d made an interlude into a government role, which was an odd move on my part, and I was now determined to find a place for my general skill set. Fast-forward to now, and I believe I have found a good fit for that skill set at MailTumble, which is product and technical leadership.” Bec joined MailTumble in September 2020 as co-founder and our CTO. “I got really excited about the problem and thought of all the ways to approach it, and what the value prop would be. I was obviously excited for the opportunity to work with Gary and Michael, too.”

Pandemic dynamics

“It was a new experience for me to work asynchronously and remotely,” explains Bec. “Gary and Michael are good at creating an environment that works across geographies — we are all happy to trust each other in what we’re working on. For years, I’ve watched them from a distance. I’ve seen the companies and company culture they’ve built. It’s a bunch of people having fun, doing a great job, and solving interesting problems.”

It took effort and energy to adjust to the changes this year, though. “With Coronavirus, everything changed rapidly. From a business point of view, it was turmoil. We had an office in Melbourne, and then very quickly no office in Melbourne. Staff that were meeting daily were now not. It had a significant impact. For example, one of our staff members left his sales role to go and work on the docks, simply because he wasn’t getting enough human interaction. Gary escaped to the Sunshine Coast with his family. It was a big shift for us. The benefit of the new dynamic of remote working is definitely the opportunity to find great people, no matter where they are in the world.”

Injecting fun into the business

The team’s personal desire for fun injects into the company culture. “You only live once,” says Michael. “You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing. There are so many things you can do, so you may as well have fun doing it. Work has to be done. You’ve still got to deliver to an expectation, and sure, it can be a little less fun when we’re building to deliver something to a deadline. But it’s still important to enjoy what you’re doing. Small things that feed into that company culture for us. When we were in the office, it was an 8am to 3pm work day. That allowed plenty of time to go to the gym, to schedule a dentist appointment, to play some sport. Things like that work for us and work for everyone.”

For Bec, It’s about maintaining the energy and the pace. “You need to be interested in the problem. With the tech team I try to inject humour. It’s a personal challenge to see how much I can make the remote team laugh at my memes. Or I’ll set a team challenge, like injecting an Easter egg into the feature we’re working on.”

“To maintain a good culture you need to choose the right people,” says Gary. “Michael and I have had other businesses where we’ve brought in another cofounder. Once you’re like a married couple like Michael and I, you realise what you want in another. It’s a tough thing to bring a third party to come into this established relationship. What Bec brings is something that is so far removed from our expertise. For Michael, he’s always been a CEO and operator. Now he can more freely work on how we’re solving the problem, rather than managing the tech side. Having Bec on our team is an evolution for us. In the past we’ve felt like we need to be micromanaging a part of the business we don’t have a deep understanding of.”

“And for me,” Bec adds, “I know nothing about sales and how to actually find customers for the business. I’m thankful it’s not me doing that! I’m constantly in awe of how many new conversations Gary and Michael have with potential customers. These guys know what they’re doing. Overall there is great mutual respect.”

Be hungry to win, with the skills to succeed

Our values come to make sure they revolve around us enjoying what we’re doing. “It’s no secret that Gary and I don’t like being a cog in big company, we’re hustlers, we’re creative” explains Michael. “For us we’re lucky that we’re in the startup phase because “startup phase” is where it’s the most fun time. Our values often revolve around urgency; being fast and first-responding; hiring better people than yourselves; being hungry to win but with the skills to succeed.”

“We’ll occasionally reflect on people we’ve worked with in the past, and note the things that pissed us off,” jokes Gary. “We also take note of what we love about the people we currently work with. One thing that’s important to us? Everyone should be happy to sweep the floor. No one is too good for any task. We want people to make data driven decisions. We want people to wow us with their output. And to do that autonomously.”

“With the tech team,” Bec adds, “I encourage them to be flexible. We can always roll things back, so don’t be so cautious that it gets in the way of your trying something new. Mistakes help inform future work. We also talk about being asynchronous vs waiting. Don’t let communication get in the way of getting stuff done, especially when we’re working in different time zones. And transparent vs protective. Overall, we value transparency in communication.”

The personal motivators

“I can see that my contribution is creating value,” explains Bec. “And that drives me. The problem is real, and the solution is interesting. Plus it’s an opportunity to work with a great team in an interesting capacity and grow myself as we build this company.”

Gary is motivated by a few things. “I’m motivated by the business opportunity and the learning opportunity. Problem aside, learning and doing something new gets me out of bed. The idea that you can democratise privacy is something that is a growing trend. The timing is right for MailTumble, and we have an opportunity to create a team that’s better than any other team we’ve built before. All the ingredients are there for me to be motivated.”

“I’d echo the same sort of things,” says Michael. “We’ve found something new and it pushes all of our boundaries, which is good because otherwise we’d be bored. Every time we find something new, we learn something new. Once I’ve done something, I want a new challenge. And that’s MailTumble. It’s different to what I’ve done before. I enjoy success and winning. But success for me exists beyond myself — it’s having people derive success from us by using our solutions. Success is being able to transform their business with MailTumble, like we’ve used MailTumble to transform ours.”

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