This was originally posted by Michael Cardamone on Medium. This is the third in a series of interviews with SaaS founders who have successfully made their first $500k in ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue). As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve seen many people write about how to scale from $1M in ARR to $100M in ARR, but I haven’t seen much written about the grind of getting started and getting to your first $500K, which is a key milestone in my opinion. In fact, Jason Lemkin of SaaStr recently posted that once you get to $50K in MRR, running out of money is no longer an excuse. The founding story and the scrappiness of getting your first customers is different for each company and I wanted to tell those stories. My hope is that we can pull out key insights and some commonalities that others can use for their own businesses.
This time around, I spoke to David Stillman, co-founder/CEO & Steve Richard, co-founder/CRO at ExecVision.io. ExecVision allows companies to access, analyze and share call recordings to improve sales conversations and drive more revenue. Below are some key takeaways from the conversation, as well as the full interview at the bottom.
- Scratch your own itch. Many great businesses are started by solving a problem you face yourself.
- Identify your ideal customer profile as early as possible to drive efficiencies in your sales process. Have as many customer conversations as you can as early as you can and use those to shape who your ideal customer is, so you don’t waste time selling to people who are not likely to buy.
- Not surprisingly, they recommend using sales calls and recordings of those calls to really figure out what messaging is resonating with your customers
- “Qualify ruthlessly especially if you are in a wide open evangelical market like we are. As soon as you can smell that someone is not a real buyer, go find another potential real buyer.”
- “Use pre-call research which we call 3×3 Research. Find 3 key points of contextual information on the company and contact in 3 minutes of research. Use this info to start emails, calls, social media messages to improve your conversion rates to meetings”
We covered a number of other topics. You can read our full interview below if you are interested:
1. Why did you start the company? What was the inspiration? How did you identify the opportunity?
11 years ago we started an outsourced appointment setting business called Vorsight. Growing from 1 SDR to 10 SDRs was pretty easy because we could sit with each of them individually and help them get better. But keeping that consistency once we went past 15 and 20 SDRs was really tough because you couldn’t sit with everyone for 3 hours per week like you used to.We said to ourselves, “What if you could replicate the experience of a sales leader sitting with each rep for 3 hours a week? Would they get better?” The answer is an unequivocal YES. After implementing ExecVision we saw our numbers of completed appointments per rep per month jump from 17–18 to 21–22. It seems that a lot of other businesses share this challenge that game film can solve.
2. You have clearly put a lot of thought into your ideal customer profile, how did you come up with it and how much has it changed over time?
The real answer — by having A LOT of conversations with people who we thought were going to buy and getting kicked in the teeth repeatedly.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Rob Pinkerton, CMO at HelloWallet (now Morningstar). After seeing ExecVision Rob said, “Pitches like this make me anxious.” Like any good sales guy I asked, “Why?” He said, “Every tool has an artisan. Think of the 1800s. There were coopers, blacksmiths, cobblers, and all sorts of craftsmen (craftspeople). Each of them used tools. If you put all of their tools on a table and tried to figure out what they were, you’d be confused. But if you saw the artisan pick up the tool and start using it, you’d get it. Who is the artisan for ExecVision?”
Upon reflection we realized that the artisan was more about the psychographic than the firmagraphic or demographic. Our buyers are Type A revenue focused leaders who like to get their hands in the business as opposed to simply working on the business. They also tend to be sports fans who love the game film metaphor and get it immediately.
3. Messaging is critical for any SaaS company. How did you determine your messaging?
Our messaging is a work in progress. ExecVision is tackling a big problem — turning your conversations into actionable data. As a results we’re having a tough time getting to one core message. There have been a lot of internal debates on our brand identity and product voice. Is it one of an in your face sports coach? Or of that brainiac kid that people still liked? Opinions aren’t worth much, so we’ve started testing the three core messages in a controlled fashion. By recording our sales calls we can later study the pin point moments when the core messages are delivered and the reactions of the buyers. Now we’ve got an objective way to measure which ones are hitting home and which ones are missing the mark.
4. How long did it take from idea to first revenue? How long from first revenue to $500K in ARR?
We’ll hit $500k ARR by the end of month 9. There is a pent up demand to open up the black box of conversations to really understand what’s working and what isn’t.
5. What are the top 3 products (sales, marketing, hiring, productivity, etc) you use for your business that you could not live without?
3 is too few. Here’s what we can’t live without: SFDC, ZoomInfo, Marketo, SalesLoft, InsideSales.com, ExecVision
6. What has been your biggest challenges along the journey so far?
Learning how technology gets built. Our CEO, David Stillman, and I are revenue guys. Learning how to build products that people love has been a lot of fun. Luckily we have been able to bring on a co-founder with years of experience building products to learn from!
7. Your company collectively has a strong sales background, can you share one or two tactical tips around prospecting and qualifying?
Qualify ruthlessly especially if you are in a wide open evangelical market like we are. As soon as you can smell that someone is not a real buyer, go find another potential real buyer. The only way to make this work is to embrace outbound and get really good at it. Use pre-call research which we call 3×3 Research. Find 3 key points of contextual information on the company and contact in 3 minutes of research. Use this info to start emails, calls, social media messages to improve your conversion rates to meetings by 70%-568%.
8. Any other advice you would give to founders just getting started with a SaaS company?
When you have a good idea don’t ‘business plan’ yourself to death. Take action. Talk to as many people as you can. Write about your idea in blogs like this. Do sales calls yourself. As Mark Cuban says, “Are you an entrepreneur or a wantrepreneur?” The difference is real entrepreneurs take action, make mistakes, and learn from their mistakes. Really understand your buyers. Talk to a lot of them yourself. As the CEO you need to hear the voice of the customer unfiltered to understand the problems that you solve and accomplishments you help them achieve. You can’t pay someone else to do that or outsource it.