Founder Stories: Avery Schrader, Modash
Interviewed by Paula Pärnaste
Avery Schrader is the founder and CEO of Modash. He’s also known for being the goofy host of an event series called LIFTOFF, interviewing some of the most outstanding entrepreneurs. Couple of years ago he left his hometown in Canada to travel, chop vegetables on the way and climb. That eventually led him to move to Estonia and start his own company.
What’s your elevator pitch?
Modash allows marketers to build and launch influencer marketing campaigns with over 100 million social media influencers globally.
Essentially as a marketer, you can build influencer campaigns going through a workflow similar to Facebook Ads. You can pick the influencers based off of their target audience and things like where the audience is located, their age, gender, interests, the brands that they like, and so on. Also to find influencers who talk to these target audiences and understand these influencers really well. Modash allows you to manage these relationships and do everything that you need to do to build an influencer marketing campaign.
And how would you explain it to your grandma?
What’s one thing people should know before they talk to you?
I'm not as confident as I seem to be. Sometimes I just force myself to be that way.
What did you do before founding Modash?
When I was a young kid, so like 10 or 11 years old, me and this guy from Long Island kind of accidentally built a server that allowed people to play together – and it became one of the biggest in the world. I quit that project when I was 15 to start climbing [literally]. I ended up managing a small climbing gym in my town and I was competing a little bit, hustling for sponsorships and that sort of stuff. When I graduated high school, I left Canada and went to Germany to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I ended up working in a kitchen cutting vegetables at like 4 in the morning, stocking shelves in a pet shop and working in a climbing gym to earn my membership and pay the rent. The rest of the time I spent climbing rocks.
It was then when I found myself really obsessed with trying to build some sort of company. I was first trying to throw together subscription boxes. It was only after that, when I had to figure out what I wanted to do next, I realized this pattern about myself that I definitely wanted to do my own thing.
So I came to Estonia because it’s known for its incredible startup hub. I didn’t know anything else about the country so it was a blank slide for me to build something up myself and maybe a project along with it. So that’s how Modash began.
And how did the early days of Modash look like?
The idea was to take the record label model from the music industry and apply it to the social media influencers. That went horribly wrong because when you want to do any kind of agency or the sort of record label type thing, you either need contacts or talent or know-how or money… and I had none of these things. We did a couple of cool things actually! For example, ran a campaign for Taxify and helped a young photographer guy with his social media following. But there was no way this was going anywhere. So that’s when we decided to start to automate the process. It was kind of this other failed project that turned into something cool.
And how did you build your team?
That’s a funny story! So I have two cofounders now. When I met the first one and explained to him the idea of the agency, he said that's a horrible idea and he wouldn't join. Once the concept got more technology involved, he jumped on a little more. And then we brought in a developer. I had never hired a developer before so I was super excited that I convinced this guy to join the team for free – and he worked super hard. When you never worked with a developer before it’s hard to understand how good people are.
So the first time we said: “Hendry, we want you in the team long term, we really want you involved. We’ll give you 1% of the company.” And he accepted it! It wasn't until 3 months in that we were like “Ahaa! You do everything here!” So now he’s an equal split cofounder, our CTO. He’s 21 and he’s been coding for 9 years professionally.
One funny thing about the recruiting process was that I had no idea how to recruit. I thought if I just do this enough then statistically I have to get like 2 or 3 good people. So we just said yes to everyone who wanted to join! It was lots of weird young people who were good at something or who just wanted to try something new without getting paid. And I was not willing to turn away anyone who thought the vision was cool. Over short time around 40 people have gone through Modash Slack…
We had this big fancy office because we got accepted into an incubator and a team of like 15 people at a time. And nobody’s doing anything – the project wasn’t even defined. It was so weird!
You are 10 people now who get paid. What changed?
One thing that changed really majorly was me – my ego. Everything I looked for was personal validation. I was thinking that if we get into an incubator we’re a real company, or if we have a team we’re a real company. Eventually, I realized this about myself and I think this is when things got a lot more serious. It’s also around that time Hendry, our CTO, quit his other full-time job that paid really well to work for free on a project with a weird Canadian. This was about 7 months ago now.
What’s the next big milestone for your team?
We just secured a little bit of funding, so the next big milestone is profitability. We’re super lean – I think because the founders lived on basically nothing for the last 6 months. By maintaining that a little bit and having a product a lot of people are interested in, even though it’s pretty broken, I think we can get to profitability in 2-4 months and then at this point we’ll probably fundraise again.
What is one achievement that you’re really proud of?
I’m really really proud of the team. I feel it’s my biggest personal achievement ever. It is insanely fulfilling to walk into a room full of people who believe in the thing you believe in, and are willing to work super hard to make it happen.
And one big challenge that has grown you as a founder?
The first thing that popped into my mind is firing people. I assume it’s really hard for everybody – the first time you have to get rid of someone. Especially if you like her or him on a personal level. Typically people don't just suck at stuff, but there’s something else going on.
The fact that I had to fire someone taught me a few things. First, it taught me what kind of people are the fit for Modash. The other part was understanding that I have to sacrifice my short term personal feelings for the health of the team. This really grew me as a founder.
Share one practical hack that can be useful for other founders.
There is nothing that somebody can’t help you with. No matter how lost or confused you are, somebody within your city knows how to do that thing. Or outside your city. I mean the internet is a wonderful thing – you can connect with anyone.
Help people and ask for help. These two things go together super well. It will reduce your burn rate massively. It will teach you really quickly because as soon as you’re willing to ask someone way smarter than yourself what to do in a certain situation, you skip “inventing the bicycle” and move forward much faster.
If you weren’t a founder, who would you be?
I’d either be a creator, the kind of people Modash likes to work with now, or I’d be somewhere warm climbing rocks and making not much money.
What else do you do besides building Modash and climbing?
I host a regular show called LIFTOFF. Right now not much more. But I like to write. Doesn't really matter what I’m writing about – I just like the process of writing. A lot of what I’m writing now is connected to Modash: blog articles, Linkedin stuff, social media…
How do you feed your curiosity?
I started a company to feed my curiosity.
Also moving to countries I know nothing about. Meanwhile I listen to a lot of Philip DeFranco who does a daily news show on US news and digital trends. And some particular Joe Rogan podcasts if I see the guest is someone I’m interested in. And watch a lot of YouTubers who talk about the digital ecosystem.
Avery can help with:
Avery needs help with:
Avery is also on our F2F app – an invite-only platform for startup founders who want to grow through sharing experiences and know-how, and widen their horizons with valuable connections.