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Shane Kenny

Episode 19: The System for Delivering Quality Products to Your Customers, with Shane Kenny

Shane Kenny has been in the filtering business for over 15 years. In 1999, he started InternetSafety.com with his brother. Together they built Safe Eyes, the top-rated Internet filtering software product for parents. After selling InternetSafety.com to McAfee, Shane started looking for his next project. One day it dawned on him that if replacing his air filters was such a hassle for him, it had to be a hassle for plenty of others. From this initial idea, FilterSnap and the concept of filters delivered to your door when you need them was born.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Shane’s background
  • FilterSnap, Shane’s business for delivering air filters directly to your home
  • Why Shane believes in delivering a better product and delivering better service
  • Shane’s “Delivering Quality Products” System
  • Why your company culture is crucial for delivering a great product/service
  • What to look for in cover letters, resumes, and interviews to recognize employees that will or won’t fit your company culture
  • How to find the right product if you have a business like Shane’s that sells products that you don’t manufacture internally
  • Why you have to understand the products you sell — even if you don’t manufacture them
  • How FilterSnap deals with damaged products
  • Why you have to be able to set your level of “quality enough”
  • Recommended reading: “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries

Ways to contact Shane:

Transcript:

Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business, and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results. Now, here’s your host Vera Fischer.

Vera: Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host. All businesses, no matter the size, relies on systems. Some of these are physical systems such as a factory, some are technological like project management software, while others are psychological systems such as checklists and organizational charts. Many of these systems will overlap in your business. Today’s guest is Shane Kenny. Shane is the founder of InternetSafety.com and FilterSnap.

Shane’s been in the filtering business for over 15 years. In 1999, he started InternetSafety.com with his brother and together they built Safe Eyes, the top rated internet filtering software product for parents. After selling InternetSafety.com to McAfee, Shane started looking for his next project. Then one day, it dawned on him that if replacing his air filter was such a hassle for him, it’s got to be a hassle for everybody else. From this initial realization and idea, FilterSnap and the concept of filters delivered to your door when you need them was born. Welcome to System Execution, Shane.

Shane: Thank you, glad to be here.

Vera: Well Shane, I’m really happy that you’re here to share your experiences and talk to us about your system and processes around delivering quality products to the customer. Before we get started, would you tell us more about you and your experience?

Shane: Yeah, you covered a good portion of it in the intro. You know in 1999, my brother and I started InternetSafety.com. We initially launched that company up, believe it or not, to be a dial-up internet service provider, but quickly realized that broadband was going to be the death of dial-up and figuring out what to do, we pivot into parental control software. From that pivot came Safe Eyes, which went on to be rated the number one product on the market by PC Magazine, Consumer Reports, and a couple other independent organizations. Then December of 2010, we were able to sell that business to McAfee. Worked for them for two years and then was time to move on to the next thing.

Spent some time doing some consulting and then finally got the fire to kind of go build something again and from that desire came FilterSnap, which I started about two years ago. We deliver air filters to our customer’s door when they need to change them. Most people forget about them. You’re supposed to change them every three months, but data shows that most people go 14 to 16 months between changing out the air filters in their homes, so we figured if a box showed up at the door it would be a great physical reminder it was time to do it. We launched that about two years ago and just currently in the process of building that business.

Vera: So Shane, were you searching for an idea or did it just hit you out of the blue?

Shane: Well I was searching for an idea, but it did just kind of come out of the blue. I was actually in the process of looking at multiple different ideas. It’s actually kind of a funny story. My brother and I, obviously we’ve been close. We work in business together all the time. I had the idea for the air filters delivered to the home after having to go to Home Depot. I got there and I was like, “I didn’t realize that there’s so many different sizes. I don’t know which one I need.” It was a bit of a frustrating process, not only remembering what size I needed and what quality. I kind of thought, “You know, this should be like Dollar Shave Club where they just show up at my door when I need to change them.”

I stuck that in the back of my brain and went about my business. About two weeks later, my brother calls me up and he says, “Hey, you know what I really need is a service that delivers me my air filters when it’s time to change them.”

Vera: No he didn’t.

Shane: Yes, and we hadn’t even talked about it. That was the funny thing. From that out-of-the-blue phone call, I said, “Well I’m going to look into it.” I looked into it, and about six months later FilterSnap went live out on the internet.

Vera: Okay, that is a really awesome story and that’s serendipity I think.

Shane: Yeah. My brother and I, we live pretty close, about 15 minutes from each other so we go lunch once a week or whatever and just talk about ideas. Ideas was never the shortage, but getting one that was kind of like, “Yeah, that’s really a good idea. I should go do it,” we finally hit one with FilterSnap.

Vera: That is awesome. Let’s get started talking about your system around delivering quality products to the customer. Listeners, I want to remind you that from a system perspective, that’s the overall goal but there’s processes built into a system to actually make that system work. Shane, you’re going to be one of our first guests that’s actually giving us some insight into delivering quality products to the customer. Let’s get started and tell us how you came around to that being one of those systems that you felt was really important.

Shane: A lot of it really goes back to why I got into business to start with. Back in 1999, I was looking for a filtered dial-up internet service. I tried out a couple that were on the market, and the products just weren’t great. Part of launching Internet Safety came out of the “I think I can do this better and build a better product than what’s out there today.” Even with FilterSnap, FilterSnap’s not the only company that will deliver air filters to your door, but we are the best at delivering them to your door. You’re going to get the best product from us and the best service. For me, it’s almost like a personal thing that I’ve brought to the business and said, “This is one of the top things we’re going to be about, and that is delivering the customer a quality product.”

Vera: So from delivering those better products, i.e. filters, and delivering that customer service, how do you implement that in the organization?

Shane: Well I think the first thing, the basis for that is obviously culture. That is from the start, building the culture of if a product doesn’t match what we feel is that base level of quality, then it doesn’t get to the market, or it has to be worked on further which can lead to its own problems obviously. You can endlessly work on a product and never get it to market because you want to make it perfect. I’m not saying we deliver perfect products to our customers. There’s just no way to do that, but there is that point where this product is really, really good and we’re willing to put our name on it and put it out in the market.

Vera: Shane, how many folks are in your company right now?

Shane: FilterSnap’s a startup. It’s still pretty small. We have a couple people working here on that. Internet Safety, in December of 2010 when we sold it, we had about 35 people working there.

Vera: Okay. It starts with the startup and that culture starts with the first person that you hire, right?

Shane: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Vera: How are you instilling that “delivering the best products and the best service?” Are there guidelines? Are there “step one, step two?” How does that work for you?

Shane: In my case, it goes back somewhat to who you hire. It’s a part of the hiring process, trying to make sure you’re getting people that are going to match what you’re looking for for quality. For example, when I look at a resume or a cover letter, I’m looking for someone who spent some time on it and is sending me something quality. If it’s full of spelling mistakes and the formatting is off, those kinds of things, those are the kinds of things that trigger me first to say, “That person’s probably not going to meet that level of quality I’m looking for.” Then obviously if you do an interview and you get to meet them, you get great first impressions about how they present themselves and those kind of things. These things play into what they think of quality overall just in their general life.

Then once they’re inside the company, then it’s just a matter of instilling in them what is quality for our organization. A lot of that’s leading by example and saying, “Okay, this product, you think it’s ready but here’s some things that need to be done in order to get it ready and really have it be at the point where we’re ready to release it in market.”

Vera: Do you manufacture your own filters?

Shane: No, we don’t, and that’s part of our process. We went and talked to and looked at several manufacturers of product. For me, I think it’s on our filters page. It describes our filters on the FilterSnap website. At the very top, one of the banners it says, “Filters so good, we put them in our mom’s house.” When I went out and looked for air filters, because air filter’s an air filter, but there are some things that do make an air filter better. One of the things is, it’s quality construction that when I feel it in my hand, I know this isn’t a flimsy thing I’m putting in my house. Why does that matter? Well, it makes it harder to remove it and replace it if it’s not sturdy construction. It gets stuck in the system. You end up tearing it as you pull it out.

When I went around and started looking for air filters, I went looking for a company that developed a quality product that we could sell to our customers that I was happy putting my name on and sending it to the customer.

Vera: How long did it take you to decide on that quality product?

Shane: Well I think from initial idea until our site went live on the internet, it was about six months. During that point, I probably talked to four or five different air filter manufacturers and looked at their products. When I finally found the one that we went with, it was pretty obvious they built a quality product. The decision was actually pretty easy at that point.

Vera: Did you go visit in person?

Shane: Yes.

Vera: Is that important?

Shane: I think so. For me, it was important because I wanted to understand how they’re manufactured as well kind of get to know the people and the process behind it. It’s not just about a vendor relationship; it’s also about building a relationship with your sales person, the people on the ground that actually build the product for you. Yeah, I’ve actually been there a couple of times and visited the factory just to build those relationships and better understand. Part of it’s understanding, also, their process. When I call them up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this special way I’d like to do things with you guys,” I also understand how their process works so I’m not going in asking them to do something that I know they can’t do within their process. In the end, the quality of the product comes out because they’re able to fit things into their process and their systems, and still have that pop out the other side and work for me.

Vera: You know, you have touched on something that is really important. You really have to understand their processes as well. Otherwise, there’s just a huge communication and expectation gap.

Shane: Oh yeah, for sure. We’re working on some new products here as well, and I’ve done the same thing. I went and visited the factory and sat down with the people. I understand how the product goes from raw material through the machines or however it’s being built out to the warehouse and then how it gets to the customer. In talking with them about how we’re going to implement these products and sell them to the FilterSnap customers, I understand when we say, “Well, we really can’t fit that into our system and here’s why.” I get that more than it just being an excuse for, “We just don’t want to do it that way.”

Vera: Shane, on your website homepage, you’ve got several criteria for returning your product if it shows up damaged, if it’s not the right size, even if the end user’s error it doesn’t matter. As you’re delivering that quality product, you’ve chosen the right manufacturer so you have that in place, and now you’ve got to get it over to your warehouse. Then there’s the shipping aspect of it because too many returned air filters that are damaged through shipping is not good because it shows up, it’s not quality. It’s damaged.

Shane: Correct.

Vera: How do you manage that, extending through that quality that you have in your culture?

Shane: Well, the whole “building quality product” extends to really every area of the company. It’s customer service, it’s the box that you use to ship the product in. It’s the actual product. I actually wrote a blog post a couple months ago about why quality construction your air filter’s important. You can go to Home Depot and you can buy a pretty cheap and flimsy product that will work to filter the air in your house, but it was designed to be lovingly placed in the backseat of your car and transported home. It was not designed to be put in a box and run the gauntlet of the U.S. mail system. Having a quality product with a quality frame is part of what helps us from that shipping standpoint and being sure customers aren’t frequently getting damaged filters, but also the box that we put it in. Using a high quality box that’s sturdier so when it does get thrown in the back of the mail truck, it’s not getting crushed as easily.

It also extends to customer service when we do have those instances where it looks like the U.S. Postal Service guy ran over it with his truck. We do have that process in place where the customer contacts us and it’s not a fight to get us to send the filters to them. We just send them new ones. We get an email in and it says, “Hey, my filters were damaged to the point where I can’t use them.” Our response is, “Sorry about that. This doesn’t happen very often. We’ve gone ahead and sent an order to the warehouse to replace your filters. They’ll arrive in a couple of days.” It’s not like this process of, “Well can you send us pictures and we’ll review the pictures and make sure that they really are damaged beyond use before we go through the expense of sending you more?” We just send them. We do ask for pictures, but that’s more for our internal team. We like to see how bad they get beat up when it does happen.

Fortunately for us, our incidents of damaged filters have been very, very low. I think that goes back to because of the quality constructed product in the box, using a higher quality box. I think that’s really helped us.

Vera: Shane, the “delivering quality products” is something that permeated the first organization you founded, InternetSafety.com and then also with FilterSnap. What part of that full process are you the most proud of?

Shane: I think the story of how Safe Eyes got its number one rating, InternetSafety.com has always been very interesting to me. We were a startup company, pretty small at the time we built the Safe Eyes product. We thought it was a great product. We used some of the competitive products on the market and thought we could do a better job, and so we built on own. I was actually on vacation with my wife, and I got a call from my brother that says, “This customer just called us and said that they want to buy our product because it was rated number one by Consumer Reports.” I was just like, “What are you talking about? I haven’t seen any of this.” Sure enough, the customer faxed us, that was back in the day of fax machines, a copy of the Consumer Reports. They had tested 15 or 20 products and rated us number one above Microsoft products and Symantec products, and McAfee, and AOL, and all those people out there at the time with parental control products.

I think for me, that’s still the highlight of my career when it comes to building quality products because Consumer Reports is probably one of the last true rating organizations that still exists where when they decide to test your product, they don’t tell you they’re testing it. They just buy it like a normal customer would and go through the process of using it. We had no clue they were even looking at it. It was kind of a very high profile ranking to get, so that still stands out to me as the top of the quality heap for me at that point.

Vera: Well that’s a great phone call to get on vacation.

Shane: Yeah, actually we had a funny thing going on. InternetSafety, there were several times when I was out of town either for work or on vacation or a trip or something, and something great happened. We actually got to the point where we talked about actually sending me on vacation just so something great could happen. Started with the Consumer Reports one, but then it happened multiple times throughout the history of the company. It was pretty funny.

Vera: That’s awesome. From that quality, I mean that must’ve just been amazing but I think that a bigger message there to my listeners is you have to be committed. You have to put the stake in the ground, and even when it gets daunting, you just can’t give up when you are creating that quality product.

Shane: Oh yeah, that’s true. I think it goes a little bit back to what I said earlier about you put the stake in the ground and say, “Yeah, we’re going to deliver a quality product,” but you also have to have some sort of guidelines ora system in place that says that product is quality enough. I guess maybe you could deliver a quality product, but it may never see the market. That’s something that over time, you just learn what is that level that is good enough or quality enough to say, “This is a quality product. The customers will love it and I’m willing to put my name on it when it’s out there in the market.”

Vera: Wow, that’s really cool. Well I’ll tell you, one other pain for switching out is refrigerator filters. Water filters. Just saying.

Shane: I would say stay tuned.

Vera: Oh good. Wow, that’s exciting. Shane, I really loved the insight that you provided to my listeners around delivering quality products. It’s obvious your next challenge, I think, is coming to market with a new product and following that quality culture mantra, if you will.

Shane: Yes. Part of that is since FilterSnap and is a startup, it’s as the team starts to build, making sure to instill A, in the culture side of it that we’re getting the right people that are going to follow through on that when I can’t have my fingers on every part of the product that goes out as well as like you’re talking about here on your podcast, and that is putting the right systems in place to make sure that there are those checks and balances. Especially, is this quality enough to say, “It’s great. It’s going to be a great product for our customers. We’re willing to put our name on it. Let’s get it out there. We’re not going to keep working on it until the end of time?”

Vera: Yeah, that’s analysis paralysis, right?

Shane: Yes.

Vera: You’ve got to keep going. All right, well Shane, I really appreciate everything that you’ve shared with us about delivering quality products. Before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice that you want to share, anything we missed, and then tell our listeners the best way they can connect with you.

Shane: Okay. I guess a piece of advice I always give people when it comes to building products, friends or people that contact me and say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. How do I get it to the market?”. I always recommend Eric Ries’s book “The Lean Startup.” You can get that at Amazon or wherever. It’s a great place to start when it comes to learning how to build a minimum viable product and iterate it until you get to the point where you have a product that the customers are going to love. From an advice standpoint, that’s something I always tell people. Start there, get that book, read it, and then move forward.

Reaching out to me, there’s a couple ways to do. Obviously FilterSnap.com, you can get me there multiple different ways. I have a personal blog. It’s ShaneKenny.com as well. Either of those ways, you can reach out to me or keep up with what I’m up to.

Vera: Well System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, the key is every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Shane, thank you so much for sharing you expertise and insight to our listeners today.

Shane: Thank you.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, e-books, and more, be sure to visit SystemExecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at Vera@SystemExecution.com. Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.

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