Hey @jlogic, thanks for doing this session. Always eager to learn how cultures and processes come together at different teams. In that regard, how have you outlined Referral Rock’s “Functional Operating System,” and at what point did you feel it was important to introduce it?
Glad to connect with you, Josh!
It is fascinating to see you wearing multiple hats at the same time around product building, inside sales, SEO, etc. How did you manage to give the right amount of attention to each of these pillars while ensuring the other one does not suffer?
Being 100% remote, what are processes/methods/KPIs to ensure the remote teams are productive enough without any effort leakage and managing the organization culture, more around people and teams, like team building, collective responsibility/accountability aspects to cater towards the common goal of the organization.
Hi Josh - thank you for taking out the time!
Here are a couple of questions I like asking veteran founders and getting multiple perspectives on:
a. Would love to hear your views around balancing natural product-led adoption in teams vs. a top-down traditional sales and how you manage it across the customer lifecycle (acquisition, adoption, retention).
b. What have been your personal challenges/beliefs that were the hardest to change but were most rewarding in your journey as a founder so far? Specifically interested in learning more about your transitions in the 0 to 1 phase to PMF to scaling.
Thanks so much for doing this AMA with us. Referral Rock is a fantastic idea. Cant wait to sign up and get started
I love how you have bootstrapped and built every aspect of your business. I have the following questions
- We, Kriyadocs, are a document workflow solution focused on the publishing industry. We have about 40 happy publishers as customers, looking to scale and are realizing that some of our senior resources might have hit their ceiling. I am sure you faced a similar scenario. How did you go about recruiting senior resources who better fit the evolving business and how did you explain it to incumbents?
- I would love to hear more about UberNote. What would you do differently if you started today? Also, have you considered a reboot of UberNote?
- We are also bootstrapped and want to stay independent for as long as we can. When (if at all) is a good point to consider funding?
Thanks in advance for your perspectives.
I’m not sure I can help much on this one. I think inside I’ve always been a fine with going solo. Throughout my life I’ve always prided myself on being self-reliant and wanting to learn all aspects of whatever I’m involved in.
I’m happy to have friends along the way and definitely build up a team/divide and conqueror mentality, but I also know I can rely on myself.
Not sure if I’d say “do more” but maybe less waste and being more intentional.
With self-funding we didn’t have pressure to grow, the pressure was internal vs external. When we had the external (investor backed) pressure of demo days, needing to raise… it put us in a way to be in a mode of “trying all kinds of things” to see what works. Which in itself is a great growth mentality, but too much pressure in that mode leads to desperation and waste. Maybe not enough patience to let an experiment run its course vs not thinking something is working then just moving on to the next.
Honestly, I don’t think Referral Rock would have made it as a VC backed business. A lot more was learned about our customers, market, and behaviors because of the slower pace we moved that had less pressure.
I’d say it’s our monthly all-hands meeting, where we start it off with a fun question that everyone answers live on Zoom. I come up with the questions/curate them myself. Here are a few of the fun ones that we learn a lot about each other:
- “Standing desk health benefits, fact or fiction?”
- “How do you visualize seasons and time? What does it look like in your head?”
- “Toilet paper roll direction, which is right and why?”
I’ve got another one in mind, @jlogic! Read your thoughtful bit on how no path is fixed and “how you start, may not be how you finish.” A core why behind Relay is facilitating similar cross-path dialogue between founders. How have you attempted to keep a diverse circle? And in what ways has it influenced the Referral Rock journey?
Most of it learning came from listening to customers by doing calls with prospects. With Referral Rock we started out priced really low $49 per month, but that only lasted about 1 month before there was a $109 plan. If I recall correctly, we jumped to $150 for our cheapest plan within 6 months and made other changes to our model within the next year.
I was personally much closer to the customers at that time and had a good pulse of what would work and what wouldn’t.
After that time period I was off building the team and scaling what was working. This has led me to be much slower to adjust, but what we had was working well and had great unit-economics with the way we sold and serviced our customers.
I’m embarrassed to say we haven’t done enough on pricing lately. Currently I am going through some pricing and packaging changes. We’ve left a lot on the table in terms of expansion revenue and confusion with our current pricing and packaging. I wish I would have revisited this a couple of years earlier.
I’m a “SEO” guy so make sure you are planting some seeds there (may take weeks or months to “bear fruit” but lay some things down).
I’d say go to where your customers are and where the conversations are happening. Make sure you are in the conversation.
- Tons of communities these days Twitter, Reddit, Slack groups. You just have to be careful to learn the native language so you don’t do something off-putting. Just be helpful to people in those conversations but don’t be promotional.
- Look to follow up in DMs or other ways that make it more personal and ask for feedback.
- Make sure your product is listed like product hunt, beta list, capterra, g2, trustpilot (also helps for SEO)
Then make sure you’re super easy to contact.
- Simple lead form (not many fields to vet/validate)
- Phone number listed
You should be in a mode of “I’ll take to anyone that has interest” so make it as easy and frictionless as possible for them at this stage of your business.
Stay in full learning/listening mode on all of these things, so you can refine your product/pitch to solve their pain.
First, “Functional Operating System," is the name I call it. Not sure anyone on the team calls it that.
It’s developed over-time with a “let’s have less tools and make sure everything has a place” mentality. I was involved with every aspect of the business, so personally I wanted to be able to lean in and operate the same way with all of my team who were doing different jobs.
At the same time standardization, efficiency, and valuing everyone’s time is important to me.
All that mixed together has had our team members be able to work the same across multiple teams. Everyone knows how to reach other members and what to expect in responses vs trying slack, email, text messages… to communicate.
So, to best answer your question it just happened organically.
It’s changed over time, but lots of time blocking and making sure systems were in place to have them keep running when I moved to something else. In the early days my time was focused by splitting days, then sets of days, then weeks, sometimes even months.
When I leave one, I am making a decision that this pillar stops when I leave or it’s continued by other’s. SEO for example, once I had it down I was teaching my team to run it and putting in check points for them. (weekly meeting with a standardized report/format) this way I could keep up to date and steer as necessary, but was out of the “day to day” unless something big came up.
Once I built up reliable people as ICs or managers in place, weekly check-ins with them keep the pillars going. These check-ins may change over-time from daily, weekly, to monthly, to quarterly… but that’s how they don’t suffer.
Rituals for communication, feedback, and check-ins at various levels. 1 on 1s, weekly standups (per team), monthly team-retros, monthly all-hands, quarterly OKR goal-setting… (We just started to introduce professional development check-ins with managers and ICs)
Being remote I feel like you have to mature as an organization faster. Many of these rituals we were doing with our company size at less than 10. With an office environment you may not need all the rituals and process to keep your team/culture aligned.
This one is interesting as we have both. Really, we just keep leaning into what is working and try to have the product do as much heavy lifting as possible. At the same time making sure our sales team gets the right incentives/credit for the hard work that they do. We’re working on better incentives/credit for our CS team on the retention + adoption side.
Both our sales team and CS teams take up most of the oxygen, but we still keep investing in the product to do more for itself.
IMHO you have to figure out how much human-led vs product-led efforts you need for your product and market. We track it and make sure we know how customers want it but also balanced with what is most effective for us as a business. It also changes over-time and the scale slides more to product-led over time.
I’d say I’ve gone through life trying to be well-rounded and not have flaws. Liked by all from a personal and product perspective. It’s the typical “trying to be something for everyone”. (UberNote was that).
It’s when I’ve leaned into strengths is when I’ve found the most success. I’ll never get 100% away from trying to be well-rounded as that is in my core being, it’s what makes me the founder I am today… but reminding myself to keep doubling down on strengths will get me further.
Seeing those strengths play out despite weaknesses has been the most rewarding. SEO, building systems (internal + in product). our product positioning, and our great service keeps paying dividends today.
So, for the incumbents, I’ve tried to keep things understandable from a “bottoms up” mentality vs “top down”. So a company of 9 people with 3 teams are really ICs (6), and managers (3).
I try to make sure all incumbents have the opportunity to BE that person, but they may not want it.
For recruiting, you have to know what you’re offering and finding the right people to join you at the right part of this journey. Every day, I feel like I have a better understanding of what the needs are for the business. I can articulate it better in conversation, so I know what I’m looking for. The right people will feel right.
I try to look for that right person who has hit a ceiling somewhere else. (i.e. a team leader who hasn’t gotten their shot at management or the manager who aspires to be a director) Those people can take you far and hopefully onto the next stage (if needed).
Here’s a twitter thread I wrote about how we approach recruiting:
Have not considered a reboot and wouldn’t want to get into that market today. So many great players Notion + Asana + Others that are serving that market well.
If I was looking for something else, I’d still look for B2B niche.
When you have a money machine where you know inserting $1 can get you $3 out the back + you’re not worried the machine breaking down.
Know the answer to the question “what would I do with $X so I can get to Y faster”
So, if you know $ is the resource you definitively need to grow then get $. Also keep an eye out for non-dilutive capital like revenue-based financing or some of the micro funds that aren’t betting on you being a 100M company.
Lots of podcast listening and a few communities! I listen and consume the bootstrap/indie side of the tech startup world as well as the SaaStr VC side. I also have been watching D2C, influencers, and other B2C style things as well.
Then I try to break it down in my own lens.
By nature I try to always see all sides and am open to all roads to build better product, distribution, and an overall business that is authentic to me.
I think my diversified learning approach has helped me find the right things for us to focus on and also recognize when something isn’t in our wheelhouse. Def more to come on this front, but the learnings help me strategize where we should dig next.
I try to make friends in these areas and talk business lessons with lots of people as well.
Hey Josh, have a question from @alejandroribo, founder of Discoverfy (from the wider Relay community) who couldn’t attend the AMA:
“Which is going to be the best pricing plan for mid-market clients: flat subscription fee vs % revenue share?”
Please take a stab if you have some time! :))