We talked to Max Kornblith of FairShake about consumer rights service.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Max Kornblith: With everything going on out there, I feel really lucky to say that things on my end are basically normal. On the family front, I recently became an uncle for the first time (times two!), so that’s some positive news.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded FairShake.
Max Kornblith: I’m co-founder and Head of Growth at FairShake, which means I run our marketing as well as some other functions. Prior to this, while I’d done a pretty wide range of things in my career, I’d never actually worked in marketing. The cool thing I’ve found about B2C marketing at a start-up is that it takes both a strong empirical mindset—figuring out which channels to invest in and how much—as well as an affinity for storytelling—creating a brand from scratch, a website, etc. So I’ve found it’s really a sweet spot for me, and then it’s nice to be able to train up a team around me on this stuff as well.
I was fortunate to reconnect with Teel Lidow, the founder and CEO, at just the right time. He’d founded a previous company, and the lesson he learned was this time around, he wanted to make a product that was applicable to just about anybody. And he realized there’s this legal channel for consumer disputes that’s really empowering to people when it’s made more accessible—and so there’s actually a business opportunity in helping the “little guy” fight back against big corporations because it works.
How does FairShake innovate?
Max Kornblith: I wouldn’t say there’s just one method we use. We try to always be open to new ideas from all sides — whether they come up in response to a specific problem, as a stray thought, in an investor convo, or anywhere. And even if an idea is a non-starter, understanding the “why” — what problem it aims to solve or how it seems specifically apt to it — can often spur iteration until something clicks.
Ultimately we’re also very focused on staying lean, and so we tend to focus our follow-up effort on those ideas which have the strong theoretical potential to drive our core business metrics and are most immediately testable.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Max Kornblith: Fundamentally, what FairShake does is we help individual consumers stand up for their legal rights if they’ve been mistreated by a big company. Unfortunately, the coronavirus hasn’t seen any let-up in need of consumer rights protections. In a world where so many people are struggling financially, these sorts of claims are more important than ever.
Customers come to us when they’ve had a bad experience with a company, and they’re seeking a specific thing (like a refund or billing correction) that they think they deserve, and the company won’t listen or won’t provide. We’ve seen more of certain types of claims since the start of the pandemic — like claims against gyms that were preventing account cancellations, or claims against travel companies over cancelled trips.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Max Kornblith: Everything’s a trade-off. If you’re taking a structured approach, keeping the best and worst case in mind, and tracking your results, then by the time a difficult choice comes up it really shouldn’t be any surprise. It may not make your options any better, but at least can make your process smoother.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and FairShake in the future?
Max Kornblith: It’s interesting to me that you group these questions together because I think it aptly reflects that in a growing, changing a company dealing with stress and anxiety is a key skill.
One source of stress that I’m particularly sensitive to is the sort of constant interruptions that pepper one’s day in meeting-heavy companies. We want to give people time to think and work uninterrupted, and as a small company, we can do that by limiting the volume and timing of our meetings.
Prior to the pandemic, we followed a schedule with three “in office” days per week and two optional remote days. The idea is that some types of work and bonding can be best done while physically present with each other, while other types of “deeper” work can benefit from more time and space to oneself. Right now, we — like so much of the tech world — are fully remote, and I think post-Covid more companies will shift to a mix like what we had. I suspect we may shift from 3:2 to 2:3 on our office to remote day balance.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Max Kornblith: In terms of giving individual consumers real legal leverage at scale, we’re doing something that nobody has done yet. But we’ve got to remain a step ahead, and for that, we rely both on our deep knowledge and also on our empathy.
We joke that because our mission is to solve consumer nightmares, one of our main competitors is the option of going and ranting on Twitter. (That can feel better at the moment, but if or when it doesn’t get results for you, we’ll be here.)
We also think a lot about the systems inside of the companies we process claims against—we want to make things super satisfying for our consumer users, but if we do it right, we’ll also, make everything logistically easy for the companies on the other side.
Your final thoughts?
Max Kornblith: In case anyone is reading this from the type of company that we at FairShake target: we’re not trying to be scary. With the shoe on the other foot, I’m sure you’ve had a bad experience as a customer of someone else’s brand—maybe one where you’ve lost money unfairly. Ultimately having an effective channel for resolving that issue would be an improvement for you and also for that brand.
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