Thanks for doing this AMA with us. I love how you have built a great company and a wonderful product. Congratulations! We are now fully remote and plan to stay that way. It would be great to hear how you engage and motivate your remote teams and what you mean by an asynchronous culture.
If you were to go back to 2016, during those early months, what did running a successful beta program mean to you? How did you think about measuring progress, both quantitatively and qualitatively? Something you’d revisit and do differently?
Here’s my question: Given how all-consuming running a startup can be, how do you manage your anxiety and stress on an every day basis? Also, how has it evolved compared to your early-days of significantly higher uncertainty and involvement.
For early stage companies it is crucial to pick the right battles. We are in the process of building our sales channels. Which sales channels worked best for you in the early days. For example mass cold emailing, fb ads, capterra ads, content inbound etc.
What kind of pricing worked for you in the early days? Did you give custom quotes or was the pricing published on your website?
hey @aditi1002 glad you’re asking about this; too many founders assume that it’s just something that should happen naturally or passively, but it’s not often the case.
In the early days I assumed the startup was a sprint and I had to sink all my energy into it. After a few years I realized that I had a similar state-of-mind, regardless of progress and problems. I felt hurried and assumed at any step the whole thing could come crashing down.
Over time I’m not “running a startup” but “doing work”. And with “doing work” comes a different perspective:
Work is not the only thing in my life; I have other key priorities
Work is meant to be fulfilling and rewards
I should enjoy my work each day and each week and each month
If I was in a job and work took over my life and I was unhappy then I’d quit. So why do I need to create an environment where work isn’t the things above.
Some specific things that have worked for me:
Confiding anxieties in a partner or co-founder or mentor. Having someone listen that can re-assure you that things are okay
Making physical health a priority; exercising every day / regularly
Celebrating all the small wins in a big way
I do meditate and have been for years, and although so many people claim it as a solution to anxiety, I find that the benefits of this to be slow and often invisible. One thing that has been effective is being part of a meditation group where the teacher takes questions and helps provide perspective. The group I’m a part of and you can also join is sundaysangha.org.
initially we decided to have Chameleon distributed but with everyone in the same timezone (Pacific Time). This was because we had heard that managing different timezones was amongst the hardest things to solve for remote teams.
We had folks in Seattle, Portland, SF Bay Area, SoCal and Vancouver. However a couple people on the team wanted to relocate to other places (East Coast, Australia) and we wanted to continue working with them. We also ended up finding someone in Europe that we really liked… so we were almost forced to give up the goal of sticking on the same time zone.
And that means that if anyone gets blocked waiting on input from someone else then it can waste half a day. Therefore we had to be intentional about creating systems that allowed more asynchronous work and avoid the “shoulder tapping” culture that can exist in offices.
Some specific ways that we establish this:
Clear Google Drive structure so anyone can find documents they might need
Providing updates on tasks within Trello so anyone can see status and progress
Clear assignment rules for who is responsible/owns what, so it’s clear when tasks are thrown over to the next person
Clear that Slack is not the place to manage or assign tasks – that happens in Trello; while Slack is for conversation. Ideally discussion about a specific task happens in its Trello card
Giving clear guidelines around expectations for availability on Slack; we shouldn’t assume the other person will reply immediately, even when tagged, so plan accordingly
Making sure there are multiple threads of work so that if one is waiting, you can continue with other items
Recording external calls with Zoom (and recently, transcribing with Grain) and making those shared so that folks can access key content
From my experience the most important aspect of a healthy remote culture is trust. You have to trust that people on your teams want to do their best work. Your goal is to encourage, enable, and empower them. Avoid micro-managing or doubting effort.
Would love to know what you’ve learnt in your process of going remote! Any insights to share?
A couple of questions:
Content as a channel - love the content on your blog. But as a company, we have often struggled to convert content traffic to signups/ leads. Can you share your experiences around this.
Love the idea of growing slow to grow fast. What do you think are the indicators - that should trigger the switch to fast growth mode.
@kush in many ways we are still figuring this out and I expect most companies have to keep figuring this out as they grow and the market evolves.
My biggest lesson = keep it simple… Simpler than you think is simple. Leave money on the table; it’s okay not to optimize at this stage.
I’d suggest you pick ONE channel (e.g. cold emails / content + inbound / partnerships) because it’ll take 6+ months for it to start working well. Pick the channel that’s already kind of working or based on the type of buyer* you have.
If your buyers will take cold calls and their phone numbers are available then you can do cold outbound… if your buyers read a lot of online content and you feel like you can differentiate then do that. Generally I think the more scalable channels (marketing-led or product-led) are the ones of the future (vs. sales-led) but it also depends on your product complexity and the need for customization/personalization in the sales process.
RE: Pricing – we experimented quite a lot in the early days. We changed prices every 6 months. Generally this went upwards (it’s a little harder to go the other way I think.)
If you are running a sales-led process then you can provide custom quotes. If you are doing self-serve then you’ll probably need to publish. We find that even if we provide custom quotes, buyers do want to have a sense of the possible cost early, so you’ll probably still need some simple framework for pricing even if you don’t publish it.
Does that answer your questions sufficiently? Let me know if you’d like me to expand or if you have more specific questions
In these stages, the one we don’t control is Considering > Evaluating: this has a lot of factors that are to do with the buyer being ready (e.g. internal team alignment, business priorities etc.)
So we should focus on the other stages… if your market is established then you don’t need to worry about unaware > aware (or you can let the big players do this job) so you can focus on aware > considering. Here your goal with content is to help your potential buyers visualize how your product can meet their needs; give them ideas and inspire them. Then when they’re ready they’ll actually begin evaluating.
Does that give you a framework to try some stuff? Why do you think your traffic isn’t converting?
I think this will come naturally when you’ve really hit PM Fit. At that point you’ll get way more demand than you can handle, and you’ll need to lean-in to that by hiring more. It’s hard to generalize but Peter Reinhardt gave a good talk on finding PM Fit so check that out.
I would recommend making any beta about finding PM Fit. It might be for a feature or for your product. I think one mistake we made was assuming we didn’t have time and rushing this. TAKE YOUR TIME. If you rush now, it will cost you more time later. Keep iterating and keep working with early customers until they are fans and are raving about the product.
One thing we’ve been helping customers with recently is building in “continuous feedback” into their products. We spend so much time on quantitative analysis that we’ve really neglected getting high quality qualitative feedback from users to learn why, and to hear in their own words what they expect. I wrote more about how and why we need a new model for user feedback in the age of product-led.
it depends on how self-serve the product is and how savvy the buyer is. For example, a social media management tool (like Buffer) must leverage PLG because buyers expect a self-serve approach; it’s relatively simple to understand; the price-point is low etc.
If your product is high-complexity, needs implementation support, is new (with limited expertise from buyers), needs a lot of cross-team alignment to purchase, has a high learning curve etc. then it likely will need more of a human touch.
However it doesn’t need to be either PLG or not-PLG; there can be a balance. A human-assisted PLG approach can be very effective – combining prompts inside the product with access to people to answer questions and provide guidance.
hey @Krish I’d be interested in your perspective on this question too! How did you do it?
I think a founder can let go of day-to-day operations of running sales once you’ve hired a sales leader (or VP). But from my perspective that happens after you have a small functioning sales team (e.g. 2 AEs and 2 SDRs). My perspective on running a company is to do all the leadership roles before hiring someone to replace you, rather than hiring a leader early and outsourcing the building of a team to them.
I think as you hire sales people, the role of a founder doing sales changes. In the beginning I was doing all the pipeline development, demos, closing etc. Now the pipeline/demand-gen is handled mostly by marketing and our sales team does qualification, demos, closing etc. My role is to be a product expert and offer best practices and build confidence in the buyer that we will solve their problems. I try to join all sales calls where the prospect might benefit from some coaching or wherever there are executives on the call. I also try to establish a one-to-one / direct line of communication (via email) with the budget holder or contract signatory, even while the sales team is running its process.
@Krish I’m not sure this is formalized, but the way we approach it is:
Passive learning: feeding information into our Slack so we learn by osmosis. This includes competitor and industry news; support tickets; customer activity; user feedback etc. We also use Feedly and sign-up to lots of email lists to keep us in the loop. We record customer and sales calls and make them available in a shared space, share insights in a weekly meeting, and invite non-customer facing team members to customer meetings.
Active learning: where we go out to seek insights on a particular topic. This often centres around our content calendar. E.g. we recently wrote an article on growth strategies and so asked a bunch of influencers for their perspectives. We recently interviewed Kieran Flanagan (VP Marketing @ Hubspot) for insights on freemium models (we’ll be publish on our blog later this month). Or we run beta programs and require customers to set up times for us to dive in.
I actually think most product teams are not doing a good job with customer research today. It often gets outsourced to design/UX teams only or happens only when developing a new product. Instead customer research should be continuous and a great way of enabling that is through in-product microsurveys. These make it much easier to collect very targeted feedback at scale, in both a passive and active way, and can substantially speed up product success.
Yeah, part of this is the benefit of being in a startup hub; other startups are used to working with new teams, and it’s easier to build personal connections with founders. ’
We started working with Amplitude when they were only about 20 people, so very much a startup! We found every startup we had a personal connection to and then also cold emailed all recent YC startups with our pitch. That allowed us to have interest before we built a product, and then we built the product alongside our customers.
One mistake we made was to revamp our early product after we raised our seed round. This meant we went back to the drawing board and spent ~9 months bringing the revamped startup to market. In that time our existing product (which was semi-functional) didn’t see any progress, and so we lost some of the customers (including Amplitude) that were using it. We believed it was important to revamp the product so that we didn’t get locked into bad/poorly considered design decisions, but in hindsight this was not a lean approach… we should have focussed on evolution rather than revolution, even in those early days!
haha there’s a lot of that kool-aid going around
i guess i answered part of this question here
I’d say you could consider adapting the framing of the question away from is “a particular product” a good/bad candidate for PLG to is “a particular workflow inside the product” a good/bad candidate. Maybe the onboarding does need a CS rep but maybe you can drive more usage through PLG. Or maybe enabling a new feature requires a sales person, but maybe you can drive more invites via PLG.
I would suggest doing a friction log audit for the most important workflows (that relate to product success) and then identifying the most painful steps. Once you know those then you can determine how best to solve; whether they can be automated/self-serve (i.e. using PLG strategies) or should involve a human-assisted approach.
Does that answer your question satisfactorily @ncameron?
i love some of the biggest benefits of Silicon Valley (I moved there from London in 2013):
access to startup best practices (you’re just immersed in them everywhere)
opportunity to build relationships (for mentors, investors, customers, partners etc.)
However in the age of COVID there’s not much benefit to being there! This pandemic has catalyzed the move to digital, remote, and asynchronous, so I think the teams that best embrace this new way of working will succeed the most.
Investors will have to adapt and adjust too, so I expect to see more opportunities to develop relationships with investors from afar!
Thank you so much for taking the time out for answering all the questions in such depth and for sharing so many of your personal tips! I’m sure our community will find a ton of value in them.
Loved your succinct take on picking the right battle with the stages of the user journey! And totally bookmarking this: “I’d say you could consider adapting the framing of the question away from is “a particular product” a good/bad candidate for PLG to is “a particular workflow inside the product” a good/bad candidate.” It’s a rather unique and powerful insight!
So glad we could get to learn from your remarkable journey and help the community do that too. Hope to have you join us soon again! And thank you again!