Ep001: Mikael Yang, CEO of ManyChat, Reveals Predictions and Plans for this Premier Chatbot Platform
00:00 – All right everyone, welcome back to the Marketing Futurist Podcast. You know me, Mary Kathryn Johnson, you know Kelly Garrett as well, and we get to introduce you to our guest today. We’ve been able to chat with him quite a few times and I can’t even believe that we get to pick the brain of this individual. So without further ado, welcome to the conversation Mikael Yang and he is the CEO of ManyChat. Hello there. How you doing, Mike?
00:31 – Yeah. Hey Mary. Hey Kelly, ready to be here. Thanks for having me.
00:36 – We’re so excited to have you. Yes. So tell us a little bit about yourself. We know you quite well, but the audience, just to give them an idea, tell us who you are and what you do and a little bit about your company.
00:51 – I’m Mikael Yang and I co founded ManyChat, and in 2015 we started doing a platform for bots on Telegram Messenger, which was one of the first messengers who opened up their API. And we were quite successful with that. And when Facebook Messenger opened up their Api, we started doing a platform for Facebook Messenger and now we’re the leading Messenger marketing platform, on Facebook Messenger and, helping small and medium businesses to do marketing, sales and support through this. Facebook Messenger is a really engaging platform. We power over 100,000 pages and few million messages every day. And we believe that Messenger is the future of marketing. And I think that’s that, should be a great conversation topic for this.
01:59 – Absolutely. Yes. I think segway too. In 2015, you started this whole journey into this particular segment. Tell us a little bit about some of the obstacles you’ve faced in that, in that whole thing. I’m sure there are quite a few, but tell us a little bit about those and how you overcame them to get to where you are.
02:27 – Yeah. There were a lot of obstacles to getting to a place where we are right now. And so we actually started as a two person startup, me and my co founder, and it was just an idea, and actually anyone can do broadcasts through a messenger and I tried to build a bot myself, and it was really hard to do that for really simple tasks. So we decided, hey, there’s got to be more people like myself and people need to broadcast information to one to many communications. We decided to build a platform where it’s going to be really easy and it’s going to be visual, where you can just drag and drop, enter your text and send it to everyone who subscribed to your bot. And that idea was really new in 2015.
03:33 – Like nobody was thinking about bots. Nobody, like nobody was actually. Nobody knew about it. It’s like if we’re talking about Europe and us, all the platforms are still closed. Nobody is. Nobody’s even thinking about like building something because there is no option to do that. And Telegram is a great messenger, but it was a relatively small compared to the big ones, which already had like hundreds of millions of users and Telegraph would have said that point like 65 million, but it wasn’t really technically interesting. So we built this thing and started promoting it, started talking to people who have audiences that you can do broadcasts on telegram. And they were like, are you crazy? What is, where does this bother you talking about this is going to be like some automation of likes or something. And nobody was getting it. I sent a hundred cold messages to people, that were using Telegram already, but were not using bots.
04:42 – And one person actually ended up building a Bot and you know, how many subscribers he got? He had over 200,000 people in his group, and you know how many people converted to Bot subscribers? Like four. No, I don’t even know the number, like four and two of those people were me and that administrator.
05:13 – So I have a question, was this in 2015? Was this before Facebook even had bots?
05:22 – Facebook, released the platform for bots in the middle of April. Two thousand 16 a year later.
05:32 – So you were going to do what? Their Api would eventually allow you to do much easier. You were trying build that out?
05:40 – We were just using it as a different messenger. There are lots of other messengers and some of them opened up their Apis earlier than Facebook and we started experimenting with those Apis and seeing what this can do for businesses.
05:56 – And the initial test was nothing. The initial test was like nobody is using this, nobody subscribing. But, like a month has passed and we started getting picked up by businesses or a word getting subscribers and we’re actually intending to use it. And at this point it just snowballed because every bot was branded with powered by ManyChat. And at that point it was a different name, but that doesn’t matter and it just grew virally from a few hundred bots, to a few thousand to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands now. So for 600,000, a half a million bots on telegram and yeah. And after a year, Facebook opened up and we already knew what we needed to build. So, we just went after it and a month and a half later after the initial platform release, we already had a platform to share with people in our, like there were like tens of companies score getting into that space and like pitching like we’re going to do bots.
07:16 – And the difference between ManyChat and [other platforms] was that we had businesses in mind from the get go, we were targeted towards marketers and helping businesses get more leads, more sales, provide better support and not really paying attention to a lot of fluff and gimmicks. That’s like other people would find interesting. And I understand why that would be interesting. But from our own experiments, from our own vision of the product, we didn’t see the value of being able to do a google search on the website and it’s not what we imagined would be valuable for businesses and customers. And that’s why we basically invented the term Messenger marketing. If you go to messengermarketing.com, you will end up at our blog.
08:17 – I know that in the beginning I specifically searched Messenger marketing and ManyChat came right up. And now Messenger marketing is synonymous with bots because bots is the entity that’s doing marketing through. So we are right now starting to embrace all of that audience. Marketers are getting more sophisticated. They want more interesting advanced things like vast automation and we’re also developing capabilities for that at this point. And so I think that’s the basic story of ManyChat, why the lessons in marketing that we learned early on was that the space is new and that it’s gonna get hot, it’s much easier to sit and wait to talk to really specific people and to sit in and wait for them to find out about you and to find out about what you can do for them then to just reach out to 100 random people who’ve never heard about you and try to convince them to use your platform.
09:38 – You’ve got to do the seed, information about your platform so that people have a chance to find out about you. But if you’re early on, it’s really hard. Like we’ve, we’ve found it really hard to push through all the noise – objections people have. It’s plaid for just new new channels, new platforms. First. everybody’s thinking like, these guys are trying to, this is not going to work. Nobody gets 80 percent open rates. Nobody gets 20 percent CTRs, this isn’t possible, etc. But, if you just do the pro, if you get the product right and you tell about this product to a wide range of people so that they get a chance to experience your platform, there’s going to be 100 people, 200 people, 5,000 people who are gonna try it out. Like when we started on a product lines, we got over to 2000, users, from the launch. And that was basically enough for that small, like a number of people because from the 2000 users, like there’s got to be like 200 people who, who actually use the platform. And that was enough to start the thing rolling because those people started getting results, started selling other people. And now we’re here where we still have no marketing person on the staff.
11:16 – I’ve got to really dive into that because you, we are surrounded in, especially digital marketing with just people trying to tell us, just put up a course and people will come and buy it or just start a blog and people will read it or marketing tactics that really don’t work until you have a huge audience. Yeah, you can do those things, but we have to get that audience first. So something you said – you talked about planting that seed with just those few people to start with. How did you do that? You didn’t just jump straight to Product Hunt. How did you start talking to those individual people? And actually it sounds like what you’re saying is you built relationships.
12:01 – Yeah. First of all I gotta admit we did jump straight to Product Hunt and the reason that we were able to do that successfully is because we knew what we were building and that came from a year of experience on the other platforms. So building good products, find their audience. Like, is it, good quality? Is it a good design or good features – that doesn’t matter. What matters is, does it solve the actual problem, does it get the job done, and get the results that the user expects from it. And if it does, then you can actually capture some of that value by charging for it. So the main question for us was always how do we solve people’s problems?
13:02 – And that’s why we were always going after the specific use cases. And we did a launch on product clients and we did get that initial audience and after that we’ve got some specific people that were really into marketing and started building relationships with them. Andrew Warner [Mixergy] was like our first paying customer, in July 2016 when nobody knew about ManyChat. Like we had like 10,000 people. Nobody was actually using us. He actually said like, this is the best platform for Messenger marketing and do you have a pro plan, do you have any more features? And we’re like, yes we do. We just launched them. So the payments – the Stripe integration wasn’t working so he sent me the payment on Messenger. The person paying for the First Messenger Marketing Platform paid me on messenger – talk about appropriate! Yeah. And after that we just got more feedback, got the product, started developing, tried some, build better products and developing those relationships. And so Andrew talked about us on some conferences, more people knew, but like more people started talking about us and it just snowballed from there.
14:32 – Yeah. And I think maybe I asked the question incorrectly because you specifically started that relationship on telegraph and then started getting your user base, understanding it, figuring it out. You didn’t just jump directly to launching this without any user case studies or information on how it worked or anything like that. Really started with building, that relationship with your users from day one, and then we’re able to compound that and go to the Andrew Warners of the world.
15:07 – Yeah. And that’s, that’s, that’s something true. Because we, when we were doing the telegram product, we were, it wasn’t, it wasn’t really consciously like, it wasn’t something like I’m going to get into every, group chats about a many chats on telegram that I can, but it just happened because people started adding. People start at just adding me to the group chats of the admins and saying like, this doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, instead of etc. And I have to respond. Like if you have some messages on messenger, you got respond to them. So, and so It was a great experience because that taught us how to think about product cogs, listening to user feedback and how to distinguish between valuable user feedback. And just so a teacher is that people say they want but they actually don’t need and I think that’s a really, like, first of all, you got to start if you’re not listening to yours or you’ve got to start listening and talking to your users and second, you got to start filtering what those users are saying to actually because if you do everything that they, once the product is going to be a mess and you’re not actually doing your job, you’re users are just telling you what to do and you’re just like doing that.
16:31 – And that’s not what a product manager does. Product manager these to actually define the products based on that feedback.
16:38 – So how do you know which user feedback is good feedback and which is not.
16:44 – So I think there are two, a third to a bearable to this equation. First of all, you’ve got to think about your vision. So how do you, because nobody knows more about messenger marketing, then people who have actually spent years thinking about this space.
17:49 – Yeah. So basically if you have, if you have somebody who has been like spence, just because it’s the job because you were researching other messengers, other use cases, China, south America, how that’s been done in like even then the South Africa like in, in europe and etc. Like there has been you, you get the clues as to how this might actually work and then you can start thinking about the solutions that, how the world is gonna look like in a few years. But then that actually that vision needs live actually with the user feedback because you don’t know how actually marketing instrument should work because like we’re not professional workers. We’re just like guys from a garage for thinking about like, hey, this technology is cool, let’s build something with it. And now there are people who have been doing marketing for like dozens of years. They were actually like email marketing has been around for 20 years.
18:57 – So you’ve got to respect that. You got to respect that history and that experienced and reconcile it with the vision and to take that as an input to your, to the next steps that you’re going to take. So I think, it’s vision plus user feedback and, from, from the experts that you believe are your target audience. and that I think that the third, the last thing that I did mention is that, you gotta listen to your target audience. You can not listen to you. We have over 100,000 users and most of those users are on the free plan. And like, they’re not paying, they’re not intending on paying. They’re just testing me out, testing it out or something. And there’s always gonna be people for saying like, just add this feature and we’re going to convert. But if you’re not seeing the value right now, it’s converting. That’s not gonna happen. And I think experienced product managers can distinguish between a person who is just like who just wants to be heard and to just like put in his five cents and a real marketer who is already had already has a marketing budget and ad budget who is getting real leads doing really sales and like who needs an actual instrument that works for them. So that’s the type of customer that we’re listening to.
20:26 – I, I have to say one of my favorite sayings that you say because I know I’ve talked to you about different features and if you could do this or if you could do that. When we’ve been on calls with Andrew and things like that one, one of my favorite things that just helps hone in on exactly why I want this and whether it would be valuable to many chat is you say, okay, I that now what would you do with that? Why would you want that? What is that going to bring to your business? Those kinds of questions really helped me go, okay, is this just a nice to have or is this really something that’s going to impact my business in my marketing? You’re so good at that. And obviously that’s the reason you haven’t been able to, to develop this, uh, this platform for marketers is because you can ask those kinds of questions.
21:14 – Right? Yeah. And I noticed that too. I think the fact that you hit on messenger being a tool for marketers from the get go is very unique and I mean, I have to agree with you that I, I, I look at ways it’s being used elsewhere and it’s just not working, you know, the, the vision that you have for it I think is just, I’m amazed at where that came from.
21:43 – We’re, also going to build more tools for businesses and not just like not just the marketing side of things, but also for businesses to help them automate some of the tasks that are being done right now. It’s where the websites or through the mobile apps to get the offers to get the bookings, to get the orders and to actually make the body not even, not only get the leads, nurtures them and delivered them, but actually the bot being more useful in terms of functionality. And also the third part is of course the communication, the direct communication that is the whole live chats and the support that is being done. So I think those three things are really important.
22:35 – Wow. So you’re saying that it’s going to go beyond just Zapier sending people to another page or doing something like that. You’re bringing some of that functionality into the bot itself rather than going outside to another.
22:50 – And so it’s gonna be a and an integrated platform and everything messenger is going to be our, our vision and our mission is to, our mission is to bring businesses and customers closer, through the use of new technologies. And so we believe that messenger is like the closest channels, communication that the business can have right now, the most friendly than most user. It was user friendly and the most immediate, and the most effective by that, and this is why we’ve chosen it and the way that we achieve that is by basically building an integrated platform that solves all the messenger needs of the business.
23:41 – Wow. Okay. So I know one of the biggest, one of the biggest obstacles for many people in converting over to, to messenger and specifically many chat to build their, their marketing platform now into the futurist marketing basically is that they’re scared they may have had a experience that Facebook has either shut down their account or done something. So that is the biggest obstacle that I’ve seen for businesses. So now basically what you’re saying is businesses will be able to possibly even not need their website or not need their CRM or not need evidence and then they’re going to all be on Facebook and basically Facebook will be the one to decide how their business goes. And as a marketer, I have consulted people saying, no, don’t put your business on Facebook. Go out and have your own website. So it’s your property. Now, how do we reconcile that for the future? How can we, how can we trust that Facebook is going to allow us to build our business on their platform and not just be autonomous about it and autocratic and shut us down?
24:47 – Yeah, you can. I definitely see why you wanna build your own thing and like how like first of all I get the emails, get that point of contact with your user is still no matter what it’s lived here. And second of all I have the website, etc. but I also got to be realistic about where all the, like the internet and status and it’s going from an free for all open api is open protocols and so basically just everyone doing whatever they want to more of a, there is this eco system that is controlled by a private company but it’s so huge and the rules are clearly defined that you can actually press it and you can actually build your business on it. And of course there is always going to be risk. It’s a private company. It can do whatever, wherever they want, and they’ve actually done some things that people might not have liked, but I’m looking at China and I’m looking at we chat. I know that if there is a platform that is hugely popular with the general public, businesses will want to use it and to leverage it to communicate with their customers and if that platform is really a useful, not only for communication but also for transactions, spending money, or sending money, one like peer to peer, et cetera, it’s going to get used for that. So, as much as I would like to see in like an open free world where nobody’s defendant than anyone and everybody has their own list and et cetera.
26:59 – I know that Facebook messenger is going to be the biggest channel of communication for businesses, and customers. And our aim here is to build the best product, to help businesses, do that efficiently. Do that communication officially. So, yes you can, you can be a and this like a position of I’m, I’m gonna do everything myself. But you’re gonna miss out. Like if you’re doing this, you’re not going to have an Instagram account and you’re not going to have a twitter account. Why build an audience? They can like take it away at any point, but like you do have an Instagram account, then you have a twitter account and you have, you do have a snapchat account, etc. And why? Because because your audience is there because you want to reach your audience. And the same thing goes for Facebook messenger. The difference between Facebook messenger and all those, those are social networks is that Facebook messenger is infinitely more powerful in terms of features because it’s not just a one to many broadcast thing.
28:10 – A thing that just delivers content. It’s an interactive, a medium that can handle any type of inputs from the user and that allows you to have a one on one personal, private and rich conversation with that user. And like, I’m not talking about like just sending videos, sending texts, sending like interactive buttons, gifs, pictures, audio, actual files, pdfs, et cetera. I’m also talking about like money and that that’s going to be a huge thing. So a lot of people realize this at this point, so when we’re thinking about the future of marketing, Facebook messenger is not just another channel. it’s not going to be this thing that you like will have to learn alongside Facebook pages and twitter and Instagram and snapchat. It’s going to be, the channel is going to be this thing where you have to have a presence there. And like in we chat, there is more official accounts open opening up from businesses.
29:21 – Then websites being registered in China. It’s, it’s the, it’s the next step in evolution. And same thing, we’ll go for messenger. you’re going to have like there’s a, there’s specific platforms for developing mobile websites that are optimized for WeChat. They’re not just mobile websites, mobile websites for recheck. and this, this is the state is the same thing is going to happen. Like with messenger, there is gonna like, and I think we’re gonna also provide those kinds of services at some point like mobile websites for specifically for Facebook messenger, which is going to be different than just plain mobile websites because they are going to take advantage of the tight integration with the bot experience and the audience that is like a, the audience tagging and all done. So,
30:25 – For people who don’t know what WeChat is, could you give just a quick story because for sure it’s eyeopening for sure.
30:35 – So we chat is this messenger that is really popular in China and I think something like 66 percent of the general population use it. It’s like over 90 percent of internet users use that app. It’s the de facto standard of communication in China. And when you’re trading business cards in China, you’re not trading your phone numbers, your trading, your we chat the ids. And there’s like that. Those, we chuck qr codes which are scanning you add the personal on this platform. So, it’s just a platform went from just being a, just messenger, like because some people consider messengers like this teenage thing that they’re using to chat with each other. Like we chat went from being a messenger to being the platform. The power is the society. If you can actually like you can. I’m not talking about like you can order a taxi in we chat, you can buy movie tickets and the we chat, you can pay for your utility bills and we chat you.
31:51 – Can we chat every. everything? Yeah, you can, you can do, you can schedule a doctor appointment in we chat. you can do banking and we chat, you can invest in their fund and we chat. You can send money to each other. Yeah. You pay through. We chat like all the providers, even on the streets that street vendors, they have the, we pay the we chat system. So you’re not paying with cash, paying with picking up again and like it’s everything. Like the whole society is just like a thing. It’s, it’s on the wall is the qr codes, the, the counts, everything. It’s own internet and Facebook really wants to also, like become this, we chat on the west and maybe even more and so Facebook is actually doing really good job at trying to get there because they already have $70, million business pages and $20 million business pages are already using messenger. So now with the bod functionality and with platforms like many Chad that make it really easy to take, like to leverage those apis through a beautiful and easy to use product, it’s becoming more and more easy for businesses to onboard then to app this presence on facebook messenger and to achieve the same kinds of results that businesses are m and a we chat the chief of China.
33:40 – That’s incredible. That’s really, do you see, now let me ask you this because I’m. Because Facebook is, is so I keep saying this to people is set on ruling the world, and, and we’re helping them do so, which in very gladly no problem with me on that. But do you see these, these funk, this functionality switching over to the other social channels like twitter having their messaging platform to be able to use in business and at will, Instagram’s owned by Facebook, so snap chat or anything like that. Do you see other platforms Linkedin doing following suit with a Facebook and trying to take some of that market share, so to speak from businesses to use their platform instead?
34:30 – They, I think they will just out of the feeling like the fear of missing out, but I just cannot see how they will succeed. Yeah. So I, I did think that they, they will try.
34:53 – Some, someone could sell it to argue that’s like people are already having conversations with companies on twitter, and they would be right. But I don’t see a lot of people using twitter for messaging for one on one messaging, which is crucial for this kind of experience. Instagram, I think Instagram is owned by Facebook, so like, I don’t know, they might and it’s going to be the same platform, same api as I like, I would say Instagram is a different product. They have a different team as it would be a different different api, so a different product. But I do think that it’s not their core value prop and there they don’t see it as the core prop and Linkedin that Linkedin is used again for a one on one. Communication with companies is I am, I might be wrong, but like from what I see from my own personal experience, it’s much more one on one with people and like even like Facebook messenger was also one on one with people, but they already get into new businesses using head support medication with customers and like we know how many subscribers we have like through the, through our own analytics.
36:16 – And we see that this just a Linkedin is just not that engaging. It’s really crucial for the platform that’s going to dominate, be engaging to have those, opens to like so that people open it up multiple times a day to talk with their friends. That’s the crucial thing.
36:38 – And, and in Linkedin, my customers, my customers aren’t on Linkedin. It’s a different platform. It’s for business people talking to business people. All of our customers are on Facebook periods. I know everyone who comes to me and says, oh, but no, my customers on Facebook. I’m like, no, I’m sorry. You’re, I hate to tell you this, but they are. You just haven’t talked to them this way yet. Yeah. So that I agree with you 100 percent. Plus the fact that Facebook blurs the line between business and personal. My mom and best friend aren’t on Linkedin, so I’m only going to go there when I, you know, have a specific purpose. Facebook, it’s, we’re talking to friends there.
37:24 – Okay. So let’s do this. I’m a Mikael Yang. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been enlightening, inspiring. You definitely have this down for marketers and we thank you. I’m saying this for all of us, we thank you because you’re doing an incredible job. So basically what we need from you next because we as marketers are looking to the future and trying to get an advantage, as best we can for our businesses. What kind of tool or tip would you offer to our audience that will give them a futurist advantage?
38:27 – So I think there’s gonna be a, it’s going to be a general thing. It’s going to be a more of a like obvious advice, obvious marketing advice. But I would say that, just just know that, that the, everything is changing and all the channels are going to be changing and just get used to and accept that change as the more like the fact that everything is changing, it’s just going to get more pronounced. But also, uh, so, so the variation almost always trial new channels to see how they’re working, etc. But also don’t miss out on the channels that are already working when you’re trying out new things because some people just get lost into trying and experimenting too much and not actually doubling down on those things that work. There’s a lot of things that it’s done correctly, are going to work and are going to be highly roi positive, so two steps, first of all, experience often and have a budget and your time and money to experiment with other channels. The second of all doubled down on things that worked and just make sure that you’re getting the value from that research.
40:06 – Nice. Absolutely. Thank you so much. That it don’t just go jump on the next tool that’s coming around the corner, but test it out. What I hear you saying test it out and then if it works, double down on it. If it doesn’t move on because it’s going to constantly change anyway. Yup. Wow. Fantastic. All right. Kelly, any, any final thoughts? Any final ideas?
40:33 – No, I mean this has been so valuable. Thank you, Mike. I know your time is extra valuable, so I really appreciate you giving us this time and, and providing so much wisdom for all of us.
40:44 – Oh, thanks. That’s a thank you for asking me and I really appreciate your company out as always, you have a lot of insight into the messenger marketing world and, again, thanks for having me. Really appreciate it.