Editor’s note: Launched in New York City in 2013, Parlor.me is the first voice-based social networking app. We contacted Joel Schwartz, Parlor’s founder and CEO, for his perspectives on launching a startup and developing a “first” in the competitive mobile and social spaces.
Please describe your company and its market.
Joel Schwartz: Parlor is the first-ever “social talking network.” Before Parlor, in a world of a billion apps, there wasn’t a single app that allowed you to have a conversation with a stranger like you would on a plane, in a waiting room or at a park. Parlor connects real people in real-time in private, one-on-one, audio-only conversations in much the same way as you call your friends and family.
Until Parlor, social apps allowed people to share almost any form of media with strangers with the exception of talking. Parlor is taking one of the greatest forms of communication and making it truly social.
Please describe how your product provides value for your customers.
Joel Schwartz: Parlor is a one-of-a-kind network where an individual or a company can get people’s real opinions in real time. Unlike email surveys or questionnaires, talking to random people on Parlor will give you true, meaningful insight into the questions you asked, because the answers are filled with honesty, clarity and emotion.
What inspired you to launch the company and what was the original vision/hope?
Joel Schwartz: My inspiration for Parlor came from growing up down south in the 1980s, where friendships were forged over the phone. As technology took over our lives, there wasn’t a replacement for a good phone conversation.
Is there a story behind your company name?
Joel Schwartz: At the time Parlor was being formed, I was helping a local charity organize a Parlor meeting. I was intrigued that the word ‘parlor’ was used for executive meetings, a term that usually describes a place to get tattoos or grab some pizza and ice cream. I looked deeper into the origins of the word. Through my research, I saw that the definition for parlor is ‘a place set aside for speaking with someone,’ which is exactly what our app is all about. I was also pleasantly surprised when we successfully trademarked the word Parlor internationally.
Please describe one of your company’s lessons learned and where it occurred in the timeline of your product development.
Joel Schwartz: At the time we began building our mobile apps, I decided to go with a cross-platform technology that I had thought would allow us to release our apps faster and better. I was very wrong on both accounts, as we ended up scrapping six months’ worth of development and built our apps on their native platforms.
What are some other things that took longer than you anticipated in getting your product to market?
Joel Schwartz: Originally, I anticipated our development teams to be able to collaborate and work together in the sense that everyone would be on a single timeline. After we decided that our product needed to be engineered on multiple native platforms instead of a one-size-fits-all platform, we were unable to collaborate and keep to the same schedules as I had originally anticipated.
How did you determine the right pricing for your product?
Joel Schwartz: The app is entirely free. Our focus is growing our user base.
Please share a mistake you saw another CEO make – something you learned from.
Joel Schwartz: I learned that it is so important to get a clear understanding of how all the technologies, coding languages, hardware and software work together to make your product work. This is not to exclude the importance of people and time management; but as a non-coding startup founder and CEO, it is imperative to understand which tools are being used and why.
How did you get your first customer?
Joel Schwartz: I was lucky to have had previous mobile apps that are still being used, which I was able to market and introduce my new product to. From there, all of our growth has been organic and word-of-mouth.
How do your scale your sales and marketing operations?
Joel Schwartz: Our current focus is on growing our user base, so this is much more of an upstream question since the answer will depend on who and where our core users are. Only then will we be able to identify our marketing strategy and if a sales team will be needed.
If you could go back and live another business day over again, when would it be? What happened that day?
Joel Schwartz: It was a week after Hurricane Katrina. I got a call from the Department of Defense asking if I would be able to supply enough cellphones for families living on bases all over the south, to which I responded, yes. A few minutes later, I get a call from one of the directors at AAFES (Army Air Force Exchange Store) telling me a purchase order for 65,000 handsets would be coming over shortly. He ended the conversation by telling me that I should expect a call from someone at NEXCOM (Navy Exchange) and that even if they were willing to pay more, my order came first because first come first serve. I thought it was funny until I got the call demanding we expedite their order for 35,000 handsets as a priority.
My next call was to AT&T to order 100,000 numbers that I was going to need ASAP – which I was told were not available. I quickly called the DOD to let them know the situation and was told they would handle it. About a half hour later, I got a call from one of AT&T’s VPs letting me know the numbers were ready and asking if there was anything else they could do to assist. I quickly hopped on a plane to Florida from NYC so that I could personally oversee the packaging and distribution that would end up taking almost two weeks to fulfill.
Who do you admire the most in the business world?
Joel Schwartz: While there are many, I really admire how much Michael Bloomberg has accomplished and his outlook on life. It says a lot when a self-made billionaire and mayor of NYC says ‘my great ambition in life is to bounce the check to the undertaker.’”
What non-software business or social leader has most influenced your approach to your personal life or your career?
Joel Schwartz: This one is hard because there isn’t just one. My personal life is mostly influenced by the multiple elders I respect and from my religious beliefs in all that’s good and fair. I try to take the best practices and ideas from everyone, which leaves me influenced by the action and not the person who’s behind it.
What is your favorite sport and why?
Joel Schwartz: I started swimming shortly after I was born and won my first city title at the age of six, state at eight and regionals at 11. From a physical standpoint, swimming offers a refreshing and cool environment to be in when you are exerting every ounce of strength, power and precision to every muscle in your body, all at the same time. Mentally, it’s one of the very few sports where it’s you against your own teammates in the pursuit of being #1; yet it’s still very much a team sport.
What have you, as the leader at Parlor, found it necessary to do in order to build a corporate environment that can move beyond the pre-go-to-market stage of a startup?
Joel Schwartz: In my opinion, many of today’s mobile startups, including mine, try to steer clear of creating corporate style environments, even after they have gotten their product to market. Many billion-dollar startups pride themselves on their anti-corporate environment.
What do the next 12 months hold for your company?
Joel Schwartz: Our goal is to get from four million users to 10 million. My first major milestone has always been 10 million downloads. In late 2014, I was sure we would reach that milestone by the end of 2016. Based on our current volume, I am optimistic that reaching the 10 million user mark is attainable in 2017.
Joel Schwartz is the founder and CEO at Parlor. He drives the company’s vision, strategy and growth as it provides interesting and unique ways for people to connect, share and make new friends all around the world. Under Joel’s leadership, Parlor stands at the forefront of social talking apps with over three million users and a billion conversations since the app launched in late 2014.