B2B 51 | Go-To-Market Engine

B2B 51 | Go-To-Market Engine

 

“Sales development becomes the connective tissue between the marketing team and the sales team and even beyond.” This is what the Founder and CEO of Tenbound, David Dulany, highlights in today’s episode. Joining Vijay Damojipurapu, he takes us deep into the world of sales development at Tenbound and how it weaves into their solid go-to-market engine. Tapping into the three-pronged content, community, and events, David shares how he sets these pillars into motion along with the challenges and constraints of doing them. Tune in to learn more about how David started his journey in the industry, equipping you with great lessons on leadership and go-to-market along the way.

Listen to the podcast here


 

Building A Solid Go-To-Market Engine With David Dulany

It’s great to have you take time and tune in to the show. I’m grateful for all that you’re doing. Hopefully, you are enjoying the show and spreading the word with your friends and community. This is yet another great guest on the show. I have with me David Dulany who is the Founder and CEO of Tenbound. Welcome to the show, David.

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to dive in.

We always open the show with this question, which is how do you view and define go-to-market?

Go-to-market is the prevailing term right now. The way that I look at it is busting silos, so integrating marketing, SDR, sales, customer service, and product development into one unified go-to-market team. It is also making sure that your handoffs and touchpoints are customer-centric so that there’s one journey for the customer as they’re going from a lead to a customer to, hopefully, a lifelong subscriber.

I like the way you touched upon the holistic view, which is very cross-functional. It’s all the way from product to marketing to sales and even customer success. I like that. That’s key. Something else that you did mention is ensuring that there’s a good handoff between these functions, especially from marketing to sales. Within sales, you have SDR and BDR, account executives, and then the customer success for onboarding. You did mention the handoffs. In theory, that’s how we want to do it and ensure that it’s a good experience for the buyer, but more often than not, that’s not the case.

We are using a go-to-market structure that is from the industrial age in the past when we were broken out into silos and didn’t have a lot of great communication across the entire team. That’s changing a lot, especially with more forward-thinking companies, especially in the software space. We generally work in the software space. You’re seeing more cross-functional coordination and support now with companies that are accelerating growth. I think it will continue.

There is more awareness that, at the end of the day, the buying experience has to be smooth for someone to see value and purchase. It also depends on which segments you’re serving and so on. You have this micro and small business where the sales cycles are shot and things happen fast. That’s more for the sales.

You also have the product-led growth where the hand, the onboarding, the signup, and everything has to be smooth. You have the enterprise sales cycle, which is more complex. It can go anywhere from six months if you are good. It may be even three months if you have nailed it down, but it’s extremely rare. More often than not, it’s 9 or even 12 months. The handoffs can be a pain. It’s not easy to manage those handoffs.

You see more even positions being created at companies that work cross-departmentally. There’s a rise of another term, which is revenue operations. In theory, it works all the way across the backend to create the infrastructure to support alignment in that way. You’re right. It depends on the market, the company, and the products. There are so many variables. It’s creating it for your company and what’s going to work best for you.

Let’s zoom out a bit. Let’s get a bit more personal. Why don’t you share your story, your career journey, what brought you to what you’re doing today, and who you serve?

It has led up to this point because I came up in sales development specifically. I was in sales for a number of years, selling sales training, which was interesting. We had to walk the walk of what we were doing. I then got into the tech industry and started the first sales development program at Glassdoor, which grew from just myself and a couple of other people to this huge team. I got a front-and-center view of how this alignment and how the whole go-to-market team would work together. Sales development becomes the connective tissue between the marketing team and the sales team, and even beyond, to learn from customer success.

Sales development becomes the connective tissue between the marketing team and the sales team and even beyond. Click To Tweet

Building up those programs and understanding the potential there was interesting to me. About seven years ago, I started consulting and helping companies do that alignment. I coached and trained their sales development teams, and Tenbound was born. We continue to work as advisors for go-to-market teams to help them with their growth. We also do a lot of events to support the community and to help learn and grow in these topics.

That’s an interesting journey that you have over there, especially with Glassdoor. I’m always curious. I always had this question. I’m sure a lot of the audience will also have this question. Glassdoor is an employee review and feedback about a company and the workplace. What is the role of sales at a company like Glassdoor?

I started there when it was starting to go-to-market. They had started to commercialize. In the first couple of years of Glassdoor, it was building up its user-generated content and making an interesting destination for job seekers and companies that wanted to learn about what people think behind the scenes.

We’re all familiar with Yelp, Trustpilot, and the various review sites that are out there. Glassdoor took it from the angle that beyond the boardroom door or beyond the glass door, you want to know what’s going on at the company. The best way to do that is by getting anonymous reviews from people who work there.

Once there was enough traffic coming in from the user side and enough interest from the employers to create a two-sided marketplace, then it became monetization. To your question, initially, they started giving the employers the ability to edit their profile and make it more interesting to the users that are on there and post jobs for people that were looking for jobs. That was a package that the salespeople would then sell.

One thing I do want to mention is that they always made it a priority from day one that even if you bought a package as an employer, you could not delete reviews. I had some very interesting conversations as one of the first salespeople and SDRs at Glassdoor. You would call employers and they’d be like, “What is this? I’ve never heard of Glassdoor.” They pull it up and there are ten 1-star reviews. They’re like, “Why would I want to promote this?” That was an interesting conversation.

I can go deep into all these topics, but we’ll save that for another day. You are the CEO of Tenbound. Tell us about what Tenbound is and who you serve.

Initially, it was helping people figure out their sales development program and doing advisory and training with it. It has broadened quite a bit because sales development is a hot potato at a lot of companies. It swings back and forth. Sometimes it’s managed by the marketing leader. Sometimes it’s managed by the sales leader. If it’s struggling or there are issues with it, it will go back and forth. Companies will sometimes outsource their entire SDR team. There is always this constant flux happening.

Since we’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of expertise in the area, companies will come to us and be like, “How do we optimize and manage this program?” We’ll work with them as advisors to do that. The other side of the business is we put out a ton of research, content, and things like this where people who are interested in the topic come. We work with sales technology software providers to advertise on Tenbound as a sponsor for some of our events.

Your primary customers are anywhere from early-stage startups to more mature companies who need services around the SDR function.

Exactly. On the smaller end, usually, once they get into a situation where they have a director and it’s a more mature program, they sometimes will have us come in and do training if they need help with that, or coach their high-potential leaders, for example. It’s usually those smaller companies that are trying to figure out sales development.

On this show, I have the good fortune of interviewing not just the go-to-market leaders but even founders. You happen to be a founder and a leader in the go-to-market world, specifically the SDR world. Some of the questions that I have for you will not be just go-to-market. I’m even curious about how you built Tenbound and how was the early go-to-market motion for Tenbound. That’s of interest to the audience.

This is going back seven years. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I’m from the old days where you get a corporate job and you work until you’re 65, and then you get a gold watch. That whole world has completely blown up at this point. I always wanted to be running a company and be out in the wild. I was between jobs and started to pick up some consulting work with friends and people that I knew in the industry because I had been around for a long time. They said, “I need help with my sales playbook,” or, “I need help training my SDRs.” That sustained to the point where I have a very supportive spouse. I was like, “It’s different, but let’s go for it.”

We started it. At the same time, we started doing the events. That opened up another revenue stream and started from there. I started with services. If you’re a bootstrap company and you don’t have any investments or things like that, then you start with services. You use revenue to pay your bills and to grow. It’s a different way to do it.

What I took from that early part of your go-to-market was you are reaching out to your network. It was mostly getting business from people who worked with you, who knew you, or who sent referrals your way.

That’s correct. I was starting to do some content marketing. This is a long time ago. This was seven years ago when it was a thing. It still is, but starting a podcast, doing webinars, trying to get featured on other people’s webinars as a thought leader, and stuff like that. We’ve never had an explosive inbound lead engine in any way, shape, or form, but there have always been enough inbounds coming in. We always want more inbound leads.

People found out through these content marketing things that these services were available, and it grew from there. As soon as we started to get results for customers, we would get case studies, quotes, and pictures. We were able to demonstrate that this service is helpful. We were like, “Here’s the logo. Here’s the person talking about it. Here’s a case study.” Having that proof that it’s an effective solution was helpful.

You mentioned besides the services like coaching, consulting, or even doing SDR services for startups, you also started going down the path of organizing events. Explain the thought process. Some context for you and the audience here, I operate my own boutique go-to-market consulting, specifically in the area of product marketing. It’s clearly challenging, especially if you’re a solopreneur or a sole owner, trying to do services, and coming up with events is not easy. How did you go about and handle the time, energy, resources, and constraints of doing services and events?

I look at it two ways. This is back in 2017. I live here in San Francisco. There were a lot of events happening. There were non-vendor events. There were user conferences. It’s happening. I went to a guy who was running events and said, “Why is there not a sales development conference that is very specialized in the SDR world?” I’ve gone on a different tangent, but he was like, “The juice is not worth the squeeze.” Being naive and coming up, I figured 1) We could have the event pay for itself through sponsorships if it was effectively marketed. 2) We would establish Tenbound as a brand and a thought leader in this little micro niche that we’re in. It acted as a marketing mechanism for Tenbound.

We took a bet. It could have exploded in my face, but it worked well. The rest is history. How? It’s a grind. Being an entrepreneur, you eat what you kill. If you don’t work, then your family goes broke. That’s not very good. It’s different. If you’re working hard in a corporate job and you’re playing a different game, there are pluses and minuses to both. As an entrepreneur, there are some big pluses and big minuses. In any event, if you want to be successful, you have to work your face off.

Being an entrepreneur is a grind; you eat what you kill. Click To Tweet

You used the term we. It looks like you had folks, employees, or freelancers at that time who helped you put together this event.

My wife gets roped into all these things although she has her own business, which is very successful. She can’t escape me because I live here. She was instrumental. We had a few part-time employees on what I call the media side of the business. The media side is labor intensive. You start as remote contractors. Everything is digital. We had an office briefly before COVID, which was a WeWork space. It’s fluid these days. You don’t need to have a lot of overhead to do these things.

I want to bring it up in this context. I’ve been studying solid go-to-market engines and how the go-to-market leaders, be it the CMO, CPO, and CRO, build the go-to-market motion, especially the CMOs and the CROs. Typically, it’s three-pronged. It’s a combination of content, community, and experiences/events. Those are the three pillars that when done well, you have a solid go-to-market motion.

I’m seeing inklings of that happening over here. You got the content piece, which is the podcast and the webinars way back. You have the event that you started. I know yours is coming up pretty soon, the GTM Revenue Alignment event. You start events. I’m sure there must be some thoughts in your head somewhere about building a community around the people you serve as well.

We do. We have a Slack group called The Pipeline and Revenue Community. Everyone is welcome to join. It’s a free Slack group. There’s a step-up called Tenbound Plus. Everything is a plus these days, like Disney+. You can get Tenbound Plus, which is a very modest subscription, and get unlocked access to all the secret files, training, online courses, and stuff like that. The community is a huge part of it.

One thing that’s interesting is in our advisory work, we’re working with people who are trying to solve problems every day and trying to figure out the best go-to-market strategy and tactics that become content. It’s always relevant because this is what people are trying to figure out. We can have a position on making something helpful for them. The content engine feeds on itself.

Thank you for sharing your early go-to-market and how you built Tenbound. You also talked about how you built the events and then layered on the community and the content pieces. Those are all in line with a solid go-to-market engine. Kudos to you and your team for that. On the lighter side, how would your friends and family describe what you do?

I thought about that. My sons would say sales development. They don’t know what it means. I probably say it about 100 times a day, so they’ve heard that. Beyond that, people might think I’m some kind of a consultant or a sales trainer. I’m not sure.

In your firm, you do consulting, advisory, training, and events. It’s not easy. What do you enjoy across those 3 or 4, the best that gets you going?

If I could spend my whole day, it would be content creation, especially editing and curating information. That’s where I enjoy doing things. There’s what you enjoy and the passion that you have for something. Every day, it’s interesting and fascinating for me. I don’t know if I’m just a nerd about sales technology and go-to-market stuff. It’s always interesting. There’s also the practical side of making a living and making the business successful. I try to meld those in the best way I can.

On a personal note, even I enjoy content creation. Content is my thing as well. Double-clicking on the question I posed earlier, consulting is a bit of a strategy and tactical stuff. You got the advising, which is more on coaching and teaching. There’s a blur that happens, which is different. It uses a different skillset. You don’t have full control over the activities.

Events are a whole different ballgame. It’s more of relationship building. There’s a strategic piece where you’re bringing the sponsors, but then there’s also the execution piece, especially leading up to the event, dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s. The details have to be worked out solidly, day in and day out. That’s an entirely different stress factor. Which ones do you thrive among all those activities and tasks?

It’s interesting. The tech industry has been going through a hard time. We have shifted a lot from the very high-level and tactical consulting to more advising. I love advising. I love people who are coachable. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been around for a long time. If they listen to what I’m saying, take the advice, go and use it, and then come back and say, “That was great,” or “That didn’t work,” etc., I love that.

I’m working with a guy who was promoted to take over a large SDR team. He had used some of the strategies and tactics that we put together and knocked it out of the park. He was crying when he called because it had been genuinely helpful. I’m enjoying advising right now, especially at the high level with the CMOs and VPs of sales. It’s very satisfying for me.

In terms of advising the structure, is it more like you have maybe in-person workshops and then you have ongoing weekly or biweekly calls and coaching calls?

Yeah, exactly. We’ll usually do an overall assessment of the situation. That’s initially how I had started the consulting work. It is the classic consulting assessment. I’d be like, “What is going on here?” We’ll then produce a report with 3 or 4 main priorities to work on. Some of them go on for 3 to 6 months of implementing those, and then new priorities come up.

Were those assessments free or do you charge for those assessments? Were people willing to pay?

I charge from day one because it’s a lot of work. I’ve got quizzes, self-assessments, and things like that that people can take, which is great. Digging in and figuring out what’s going on takes a lot of work.

Let’s get into more of the fun stuff and the more parting advice and insights to the audience even more so, not that you have not done that so far. We are switching gears a bit over here, more on the go-to-market success story and the go-to-market failure story. If you could share any of your clients’ go-to-market success stories and failure stories, which one would those be?

The success story is more fun. We talked about the initial conference that took place. It was a huge gamble because I had no idea what I was doing or anything like that. Sometimes, your hunch and your instinct work out and it’s great. A lot of times, it doesn’t. I’ve got a lot of those stories too. That one was the zeitgeist of the moment where there were a lot of new players coming into the sales technology space. They had funding. They wanted to get in front of potential clients.

On the flip side, there was a lot of interest in sales, SDR, and marketing. People wanted to get together in big rooms and learn stuff. It worked well. We ended up doing it all the way up until COVID. It kept growing and expanding. That’s another story after COVID. That was a big success. A lot of that was luck because there was no research, customer interviews, and none of the stuff that you’re supposed to do. It was like, “This is a good idea. Let’s do it,” and it worked. I’ve got a million other stories.

One go-to-market ongoing failure is we are always asked, especially back when tech was growing, “Do you know any great SDR managers? Do you know any great directors? I need SDRs.” People are constantly coming to me before the downturn. I was like, “We have to monetize recruiting in some way. There is so much energy behind this.” We tried job fairs, virtual job fairs, career building, and getting contracts made. We threw so many attempts to stop short of becoming a recruitment company. We tried to somehow enter that space and monetize that, and it didn’t work.

Those are all valuable lessons. We learn from all those failures as to which ones work and where we don’t want to be spending time and energy. Looking at your website, I see a couple of case studies. One is around People.ai, how they used Tenbound SDR advisory to grow a massive pipeline. Something else that caught my attention is Nitro which grew SDR source opportunities. Without sharing too much of the confidential stuff, can you share what are the success stories and how you and your team played a role there?

Our real sweet spot is if the SDR program is suddenly transferred to the marketing team. I’ve found that CMOs and VPs of Demand Gen, for example, have never been SDRs. They’ve had some experience in managing those teams and things like that, but a lot of times, they need a lot of help and advice to make it work well.

What is the reason why it’s getting transferred or moved over to the marketing side of the house versus the sales? Historically, that’s where it has been.

This is controversial, but if you look at it, sales development is a top-of-funnel marketing function that creates a pipeline that’s then converted to sales by the sales team. Logically, it should report to marketing so that they are in lockstep from a go-to-market perspective on the campaigns, events, and all the different things that marketing is doing.

B2B 51 | Go-To-Market Engine
Go-To-Market Engine: Sales development is a top-funnel marketing function that creates a pipeline that’s then converted to sales by the sales team.

 

For a variety of reasons, especially the name Sales Development Rep, most of the people that get into that want to be salespeople. They have full-cycle salespeople. Logically, it reports to sales. The sales team is waiting for the output. They want the results of the SDR team. They’re not necessarily involved in the upstream enablement of the program, which is marketing.

Coming back to Nitro and People.ai.

People.ai was a perfect example. The program had been bounced around between sales, marketing, outsourced, etc. It was handed the keys to the head of marketing or a high-level marketing individual. He was like, “What do I do with this? I see the value in having this team. We need help. We need inbound leads and follow-up support and make sure that’s optimized. We need outbound. We can’t just rely on our inbound for everything. How do I do this?” When I hear that, it’s like music to my ears because we’ve done that so many times. It can be super helpful in that case.

With Nitro, they had a very accomplished sales development leader who’s got an amazing reputation and following in Silicon Valley. She was shorthanded as far as having the vision but not having the actual management horsepower to execute. They used Tenbound to fill that gap and make sure that everyone was staying on track and hitting their numbers.

People would be coming to you, especially since you have advisory services, coaching, and consulting as well. For what 1 or 2 go-to-market skills or strengths do people reach out to you? For example, “This is something that David is strong in. I need to reach out to David and get his thoughts and input.” What are those 1 or 2 areas?

If there is conflict within the go-to-market team. In other words, the classic one is sales doesn’t think that marketing is sending enough leads or the leads are not good or unqualified. Marketing is saying, “We are sending a ton of leads. Here they are. We’re spending all this money. Sales are not following up.” If you hear that, we can unpack that pretty quickly. The SDR team is the connective tissue between these two functions. It needs to be effective and efficient in converting demand to sales. If anybody is struggling with that, give me a call because we could help.

B2B 51 | Go-To-Market Engine
Go-To-Market Engine: The SDR team is the connective tissue, and it needs to be effective and efficient in converting demand to sales.

 

The final question I have for you is if you were to turn back the clock and time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

I tell my kids, “Don’t wait to buy real estate. Buy real estate and wait,” but that’s not relevant to this show. It’s good advice though. If I could go back, I would start the entrepreneurial journey a lot earlier. You don’t need twenty years of experience in an industry to then go and start a company. Everybody knows that. They see these 22-year-old guys who are already millionaires or billionaires. If you’ve got that entrepreneurial itch and you feel like you’ve got enough skills, try it. Go out and try to sell something. See if you can sell it. If you can, keep going. I would start there.

I am completely on board with you. That’s what I tell my kids, “The way to find out how you can monetize is a super skill. The sooner you learn, the better. They’re not going to teach you in school all those things. It’s up to you to figure that out.” That’s one thing. Something else that I’ve noticed, especially given that I host a lot of folks on my show and I reach out and talk to a lot of people, is there is a growing trend. The confidence level is so sky high among high schoolers, as well as folks in undergrad where they experiment and do their own startup while studying. I am completely on board with your advice. The earlier you start, the better, and the fewer things that you have to worry about. It’s always a great learning experience.

As you get older, you’ve got more commitments and more financial burdens, like kids, and stuff like that. When you’re footloose and fancy-free, that’s the time to do it. The other quick thing I wanted to mention is from a go-to-market perspective, do your research before you start product development. You’re the expert on this. Do not ever create something because you think it’s cool and you have a hunch that somebody might buy it in the market, and you’re confident about it. I’ve done that so many times. It’s the most basic advice in business. Make a prototype and go out and try to sell it. If nobody wants your product, cut it and start something else. That sunk cost fallacy is a killer.

B2B 51 | Go-To-Market Engine
Go-To-Market Engine: Do your research before you start product development. Do not ever just create something because you think it’s cool and you have a hunch.

 

Thank you for your time. This was a wonderful conversation. I’m sure the audience got a lot of insights and things to unpack here. Thank you. Good luck to you and the team at Tenbound.

Thank you. I look forward to talking with you again.

 

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B2B 11 | Go-To-Market

 

The go-to-market is not a one-off strategy with a single end-point. It is an ongoing journey. The best companies take this to heart and continually get guided by this strategy. In this episode, Vijay Damojipurapu interviews the founder and CEO of  Nimbella, Anshu Agarwal, about applying the go-to-market to their business, sharing what their actionable plan looks like and how they use it to reach their targets. Anshu also takes us to her career journey and how it later evolved to starting Nimbella. She goes further into cloud computing and why companies are moving to serverless. Inspiring budding entrepreneurs out there, she then gives some wisdom on why you should start a company that is built to stand on its own legs.

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Go-To-Market Goes Serverless With Anshu Agarwal 

This time I have with me, Anshu Agarwal, who is the Founder and CEO of Nimbella. Anshu, you and I met a few years ago, back in the day when I was a product manager at Juniper, you are part of Ankeena and Juniper acquired Ankeena. It’s been a long time since we connected, then we spoke that I wanted to have you on the show, it was almost like we never lost contact and we never lost touch with each other. We knew and we just picked up. I’m super excited. Welcome to the show, Anshu.

Thank you, Vijay. It’s truly exciting to be here. With the help of social media whether it’s LinkedIn or Facebook, you stay so connected that it doesn’t feel like that you haven’t talked or met a person for many years. That’s how I felt when you had reached out.

I always start my show and the talk with my guest with my signature question which my audience always looks forward to as well is, how do you define go-to-market?

I’ve been in marketing for quite a long time now and my definition of go-to-market has evolved as my thinking has evolved. At the core, go-to-market is an actionable plan that tells me and my team how we will reach our target customers and how we will reach our targets. It helps me clarify why we are launching our product, understand what the Ideal Customer Profile, ICP is, and what is my buyer persona. I can create a plan to engage with the ICP and convince them to buy my product, try my product, or whatever I need them to do. That is my definition of go-to-market. It used to be different before but now, it evolved into this thinking.

At the core, the go-to-market is an actionable plan that informs a company how they will reach their target customers. Click To Tweet

This is something that I shared with my other guests as well. Go-to-market and how you viewed it as an individual and how you bring that thinking and thought process to your company evolves with time and with wisdom. Back in the days when I was a product marketer, I used to think of the go-to-market as this one upcoming launch and that’s it, which is a very short-sighted view. I’m happy to admit that flaw and I’m glad that I admitted that flaw. After listening to a lot of the experts, reading books, and listening to podcasts, it’s very clear that go-to-market is an ongoing journey. It doesn’t stop. As you said, it starts with the ideal customer profile. It’s all about how you align your team internally to deliver on the promise on your products and features to that ideal customer profile. I have several other questions I can double-click on. The first one that comes to my mind is, how do you define an ideal customer profile, especially for a founding company on day zero? How do you define that and how does it evolve?

Let’s take an example because it’s easier to do with an example, an ideal customer profile for Nimbella. Nimbella is a serverless application development platform. You can imagine the user of Nimbella’s platform would be developers. The ideal customer profile is the developer. That’s the buyer persona. Where does this developer live in? This developer could be an indie developer or in a small, medium or large company. We figured out where our platform is most suited for. It is suited for the development of modern cloud-native applications. For those developers who are in these organizations that are developing cloud-native applications, our platform is ideal for them. That is my ideal customer profile. We took a step back from saying, “I’m going to define ICP first and then figure out who to sell to.” I define where the buyer persona is and then came to the ideal customer profile.

You had a vast amount of go-to-market experience in all your previous roles and that’s brought to fruition. It’s helping you in your role at your company now. Let’s talk a bit about your journey. How has your journey been like to date, your evolution of roles, and what has influenced you the way you’re sourcing companies? What brought you to where you are now?

I’m an engineer by background like most of us are here but I’ve been running the business side of the companies for many years. Only in tech companies because there’s a part of me that is so attached to tech. I did my business school in marketing and most of my friends from business school went to Pepsi-Cola, Sara Lee and all those brand companies. I came to the Bay Area and I said, “I only wanted to work for a tech company,” so here I am. In tech also, I particularly only worked with cloud infrastructure. I’ve not deviated in the domain, although cloud infrastructure has had an evolution. I’ve been in four startups, all acquired by large companies, Akamai, Juniper, HPE and Citrix was the last ones. The story was that I go an acquisition every five years. After the last one, I decided I need to do something different, which is starting my own company. I’m not getting any younger. I got together with two amazing entrepreneurs and started Nimbella. That’s where we are now.

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: If you can reduce the development cost and go-to-market faster, you’re not only reducing the cost, but you are accelerating revenue.

 

That’s a great experience in itself, especially for those who are in Silicon Valley. There will come a time where you had the entrepreneurial itch that will force you to take action into starting something on your own. I congratulate you and I’m excited for you on that.

Having worked with startups, I always thought, “I know startups,” but starting your own is a completely different ball game.

How would your kids describe what you do at work?

As I mentioned, I’ve been through so many companies and my kids think that this is the norm. Everybody does that. When something doesn’t change in five years, they’re like, “What’s going on?” My kids think I’m still cool even though I’m outdated on a lot of things for them. Somehow, I am able to work on cool technology. That’s how they will describe. They both are technical kids but they still think I work on cool tech, which is impressive.

Talk to us about Nimbella. When we chatted, you shared a very profound insight into why you started your own company. I want you to share that with our audience.

First of all, when you meet the right team, you feel that it’s starting something up here on so the team came together. Let’s talk about why we picked what we are doing, which is serverless. I started working in content delivery for many years. Content delivery was the first cloud computing service if you define it. After thirteen years in CDN in various companies, all we were trying to do was take more content from the content owners and make it available easily to a wider audience with the lowest latency. What we were seeing was we were moving more compute to the edge. The edge is changing. It keeps on moving closer to the end-user.

When we were looking at what technologies we’re using, what we should be looking at and how cloud computing is evolving, serverless was a domain that was something nascent and proprietary. We looked at it from that angle and said, “We’ve been doing content delivery. We’ve been moving a little bit of compute, and now let’s take the full compute and see how you can offer that easily to serverless compute but in a non-proprietary fashion, where there are no operational challenges for the end-user to users to the developer.” That’s when we started a Nimbella where we looked at serverless technical challenges that only support stateless workloads and the state is still managed by the developer. There are other technical challenges of proprietary nature and lots of tools to put together. Operational challenges are how do you make it available on a scale to all developers. Not just developers who are experts, but also developers who are getting to start developing but are developing a cloud-native environment. That’s the reason of what we are doing now.

You get to see how cloud-native as well as how Nimbella takes off. This is nascent. I completely agree with you on that.

It is nascent but it is the number one initiative within enterprises. Many enterprises are moving towards a serverless computing paradigm and more applications are being written in this paradigm. There’s a lot of work to be done but that’s the beauty of it and the excitement that there’s so much growth possible.

What do you see as the drivers? Why are enterprise companies moving to serverless?

Enterprise companies are moving to serverless because it is rapid development and deployment. What is the biggest cost in a company? There are many serverless advantages and I can tell you one is you don’t have to manage any servers. You’re relieving a big headache which isn’t maintaining servers and several applications. There is no idle time. You pay as you go. Even if you are managing it yourself, you can grow financially within your infrastructure and it will grow as your user-base grows. You’re never allocating any kind of it. The biggest advantage is time to market. The reason it is the biggest advantage is because of the development cost, which is the biggest cost for a company. If you can reduce the development cost and go-to-market faster, you’re not only reducing the cost but you are accelerating your revenue. You’re hitting both sides of your net income. That’s why I feel that this is the space where if you adopt this paradigm, any enterprise has so many gains for the development organization that is incomparable.

Companies are moving to serverless because it is rapid development and deployment. Click To Tweet

The parallels that I see and I would like to get your thoughts because you are the expert in this. Years ago when this whole CI/CD movement took off, that was a big thing. It was all about time to market. How do you make it easy for developers to release new features or bug fixes quicker?

This augments your CI/CD pipeline but what it does is it helps on the development side and the deployment side because you are able to develop in the cloud and deploy to the cloud very easily. You don’t need to be a cloud expert. That’s the beauty of it. You can be a cloud novice and still do it.

You also talked about something else that motivated you to start your own company. You were part of four acquisitions earlier. Did I get that right?

Yes.

You saw both from the inside and outside. Both from the acquired as well as the acquirer on how you thought or data that the value is being created. Over time, the value is being almost mitigated or even destroyed in some cases. That led you to start or that was one of the motivating factors. I want you to hit on this because I want this message to be clear to all, either the current founders or the to-be founders on why it’s one of the motivations for why they should start a company.

As I mentioned, I was going through this startup large company exercise and having been acquired by four large companies. The company’s direction changes. When you are in a startup, you are so laser-focused on that little one product that you have to take to market and make it successful. You are dropped in this ocean where there are many products. Now, you’re trying to swim in that ocean saying, “Sales guy, please sell my product, this and that.” Now you’re like a tiny little portfolio product and you feel either you get attention or you don’t. You survive or you die. I am a product person. I have been in this domain for long enough and I’ve worked with products that I believe in.

Sometimes, those products are lost. You are in a $20 billion company and they acquired a product line of $30 million. What is $30 million when you compare it to billion-dollar product lines? It’s nothing. When the times are rough, what happens? You kill the little guy in there. That little product could have been the future of that company but that’s how large companies are. They go from quarter-to-quarter and they’re trying to find efficiencies when times are rough. When times are good, you can do a lot of things but when times are rough, that’s what happens. I being a product person at the core, it really kills me.

One of the reasons I started the company is we built a company that stands on its own legs. It’s not a component in any large company. It can be and it can run on its own. Acquisition can happen. If it is worthwhile, we should always consider it. A small product in a large company is lost. When you are trying to build something from scratch, it is going to be a small product initially. It’s going to grow over time. Grow that and build it so that you have a large vision. You can grow your product portfolio yourself. You don’t have to be part of somebody else’s product portfolio. You can become a part of somebody’s portfolio but it’s an important part of the portfolio and that’s what I’m focused on.

Back in the days when I was doing my MBA, this used to be one of my case studies. It’s a classical thing. When you are at this school, you always talk about acquisitions, M&As. There’s research out there. More often than not, the post-acquisition value dilutes and hurts both the acquired and the acquirer because there are many factors here. There’s technology, teams, processes and the cultural aspect. To get it right, it’s not easy. One company that’s done well is Cisco in terms of acquisition and making it work. Otherwise, it is a pain. It’s not easy.

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: When you are in a startup, you are so laser-focused on that little one product that you have to take to market and make it successful.

 

Most acquisitions do okay for 2 to 3 years but then it’s a cyclical business. Times are rough. They are looking at all angles. It’s not just your product. I may be married to my product but there are many other products that get impacted. Either the product should be a very critical part of the portfolio or you lost into large companies.

You did mention and talk about who your ideal customer profile is for Nimbella. You talk about the developers, both indie as well as someone who is within a mid or large size company. What is Nimbella’s go-to-market strategy? How are you thinking about it? How did it evolve from day one?

Nimbella’s go-to-market strategy is quite different from what I have done with other B2B companies in my past. We are serving the B2B space. The space is the same but the user of our product is developer and developers are a different breed of buyers. The reason is you can’t sell to them by direct marketing effort. More show, don’t tell. If I was to sum up our GTM strategy in one phrase, it is the bottom of evangelization with some top-down commercialization because in the end, we have to generate revenue to sustain. What we do is we are in a product-led business. It’s not a sales-led business. Therefore, we have to be focused on evangelization first.

We started our effort on top-down because the buyer is typically an enterprise leader who is not necessarily going to swipe the credit card and buy the product without knowing more about it. They are a developer also but they are a developer leader, CTO, cloud architect, you name it. Those people are making a decision for an organization and not just for themselves. We do evangelization through developer advocates either from the open-source community or they are considered experts in their domain of expertise. What developers do is follow them and their advice. No matter how many marketing material you throw at them, it doesn’t matter. It’s what they consume on their own. They have to find things on their own. The content has to be educational and not sales-oriented or marketing-oriented because that content should be influencing the developer users without crossing that boundary between education and selling.

That is truly important and it’s different from what I had done in the past. I’ve done outright blatant marketing. We also use gamification. As I mentioned, my buyer persona is developer. Whether they are developer leaders or not, but they are developers. They could be CTO, cloud architects, or whatever they may be. Gamification is of interest. The campaign that we are running, which is a three-month-long campaign is called FaaS Wars. It’s a play on Star Wars. It is themed after Star Wars and FaaS is Function as a Service which is another word for serverless.

A small product in a large company is lost. Click To Tweet

You still have your marketing brains there.

I have a very good marketing person on the team, much better than I am. This is their creation. Every engineer I know is a fan of Star Wars. There may be few but every engineer. In this game, you go and create your starfighter using our platform and you battle. There are many things happening. You are learning about serverless. It teaches you serverless. You’re learning about a platform, you are playing a game, and you are winning a prize. That campaign is running. We have wonderful traction with that. We have many registrations for this and there are constantly building robots to fight. We declared our first winner on January 30th.

For your next campaign, you should think of something around the lines of Wonder Woman.

Thank you for that great idea. I would love to pass it down to my marketing person.

You hit all the right points there. Clearly, it’s a big shift for those who were doing the classical traditional B2B marketing, selling to the business buyers, or positioning their products against business buyers versus you’re not selling but educating the developers. It’s a whole different ball game. You cannot create fluffy marketing content stuff. That’s for sure. It’s all about them getting their hands dirty and experiencing SDK, API, documentation, sandbox environment, and all of those. It’s all about that. Once they do that, that’s when they get or build some affinity towards, “This is something cool and this is something that I should share with other developers.”

One thing I did forget, things have changed from the last time. There is a concept of free service, not just free time trial and freemium offering. That is very important in our line of business. You’ve got to give developers their time to play around with your product not just for hobby projects but real projects. That too, is free so they can adapt it for enterprise use cases.

I liked the way you phrased it which is bottom-up evangelization and top-down commercialization.

This is a very understanding of mine because I’m trying to figure out how do I influence and also sustain.

We talked about bottom-up evangelization which is educating or getting to the developers. How are you approaching your top-down because that’s always a component of your go-to-market?

Even the top-down approach has been different from traditional enterprises and companies I’ve worked for. The reason is we are a small company. I can’t afford a full-blown sales team, if you may. Also, my buyer persona is a little different. A B2B salesperson may not know how to sell to a developer buyer. We sell through developer advocacy. I do have a very strong developer advocate but I would say, he’s a hybrid developer advocate because he does wear a little bit of a salesy hat. His objective is to help the developers from the enterprises to use our platform but also figure out how to monetize the platform that we are offering. It’s a hybrid approach but it is through developer advocacy.

I have a great developer advocate in Italy and he is not only able to influence the indie developers but also the enterprise buyers. He’s able to speak their language and to the needs of the domestic market. This is important for us to make a top-down impact because you need to be able to understand their use cases, their needs, and position the product correctly for them to be able to try and buy. That’s the difference, I would say. As we grow, we’ll become more traditional B2B as every company evolves, but then you will see critical masses evolve. You would see 10 to 15 developers in a company are using it independently of each other. You approach the company and say, “Fifteen developers in your company are using one-to-one an enterprise license for this.” That’s the typical bottom-up evangelization leading to bottom-up commercialization. We will evolve to that. Until then, we have to take a hybrid approach. We are influencing both sides of the equation, the developer persona as well as the developer buyer persona.

B2B 11 | Go-To-Market
Go-To-Market: You’ve got to give developers their time to play around with your product. Not for hobby projects, but real projects and free.

 

One of the role models for who’s taking those approaches or who has taken this approach and being successful is Slack. Slack comes to mind, bottom-up and top-down. I’m waiting for that day when you and Nimbella are up there with those big names.

I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, we can make it.

You have a plan for 2021. What are your big goals and challenges? Let’s start with the goals? What are the big things that you see from a go-to-market perspective for 2021?

Let’s talk about 2020 because it was an odd year. Everybody will go down in history as the odd year. It was difficult but it was not that difficult for tech. Tech did pretty okay but there were several months in 2020 that a lot of companies put brakes on new technology and new exploration, which impacts startups and new technology like us. Some of that effect was positive that you don’t have to travel. People are signing million-dollar deals on web conferences.

It’s easier to get the decision-maker because he or she is not complaining about the flight schedule or travel anymore. “Let’s jump on a call.”

There is an advantage of that but there are other disadvantages. You are not making a connection with your customer. If they are such a big customer and you want to land and expand there, it is hard because you haven’t formed that connection. You wouldn’t understand them as well as you would have understood if there was a team meeting with their team. You don’t have a captive audience, for instance. If you look at any conference and I have attended several online conferences because you can attend as many as you want. You’re not traveling anywhere. Everybody is doing ten different things. I’m getting a message in Slack. My phone is ringing. There’s absolutely no captive audience. You think that since it will be a recorded session, you’ll come back and listen to it. That is a challenge now.

These are the challenges that we are faced with because we are in the business of influencing developers and the buyer. That influence becomes harder when there is no captive audience anywhere. My challenges are the same. I want to make that impact. We are going to keep on trying those same things. It’s easier to get people in the meeting but it is harder to repeat those meetings because you have met them once and you’re going to show them a similar thing next time. There are no other venues to meet. For instance, you had a phone call, you met them at a conference, and you followed up from the conference. Those avenues are all gone. These are my challenges that I’m still working with. We have a line of sight to our 2021 goals but there’s a lot of work to be done. We are always limited by resources.

Something that I’ve seen other companies do well and something that I articulate in what I call the content-to-revenue manifesto which is the companies that get it right are those that are investing in content, almost creating a brand or a self PR machine. It is not PR in the negative sense. It’s about how do you drive awareness, how do you get people to know what you do, and have them see you as an expert.

You can grow your product portfolio yourself. You don't have to be part of somebody else's. Click To Tweet

There’s so much material nowadays, many conferences you can attend, and many events you can attend because there’s no travel. There are a lot of podcasts and blogs. How do you stay top of mind in the midst of so much information and how do you produce the right content? Those are the challenges. Everybody is on one platform now. That is your virtual platform. You are competing for the mind space on that platform. That’s the challenge.

I’ll make a mental note. I’ll follow up with you and your head of marketing later, and we can run you and the team through that content-to-revenue manifesto. One of the paddlers and something that I’ve seen is how writing code is to developers. Content is the same thing. It’s the same currency for your marketing and sales. The better your code, the better your product. It’s the same thing for content. Unfortunately, for companies like us or what I do is we help people and companies to get better at developing content because that’s the currency for marketing and sales and even customer success. It’s about how do you create content where you are seen as delivering value first and the people are extracted towards your channels, your expertise and your mindshare.

You’ll have to stand out. I’ll say, “How do you look for your zebra in the field of ponies?”

Let’s dive more into the last couple of questions. For every leader and every go-to-market leader are every person staying on top of your game, staying in touch with what’s the reality out there, and staying in touch with the community is key. Learning is a big process. What are the big things that you’re curious about from a go-to-market perspective and how do you stay on top?

I’m looking for engaging my ICP all the time. How do I engage with my ICP in a way that I am not blatantly marketing to them? That’s the big thing. I find ways through hackathons, gamification and content. We publish blogs all the time. I personally read a lot but not books. There are many good books but I don’t have time to read books. I consume it in bite-size and curate it in medium blogs even corporate blogs. Some corporate blogs are so good. I also look at Hacker News and Reddit forums because these are the places where my buyer persona hangs out. They’re not comprehensive but they are the talk of the town. I need to know what’s going on there.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and they have been helpful during this pandemic. There’s a wealth of knowledge. There have been many events that I have liked. There are a lot of online events but majority of them are either I say put it off that I’ll watch it later or on-demand. Some of the live events from the VCs have been very helpful like the Foundation Capital and Redpoint. They’ve hosted wonderful events in the area that I am interested in like product-led growth and developer growth, all of these. I have learned a ton from them because they were leaders who have taken their company through motions and they have the battle scars but they overcame the challenges that they’ve faced. I’m not reinventing the wheel. I’m learning from their experiences.

My knowledge is constantly being added on and it’s evolving. Some things work and some things don’t work, but the beauty of nowadays world is you can fail fast and move on. It is not very expensive and difficult to try both from the infrastructure perspective and also from a production perspective. Any content production can be done economically, whereas that wasn’t the case before. Those are the things that I keep on trying, learning and experimenting. Experiment is the game. Hopefully, there is a formula that clicks like repeatable. I found a couple of things, as I said, gamification, hackathons and content. Also, what kind of content is useful? That is always changing because there are new frameworks that have come up and then there are people who are trying different things. You’re all constantly in learning mode.

That’s a key. It’s about having that discipline and the mindset to figure it out bit specific content or resource that you can apply now. That’s the framework that I’ve applied and seen in myself. That’s a ton of content, be it books, communities, forums, their webinars, and their podcasts but one framework that I’ve seen play out well. I think that’s what you’re alluding to is, what is that one thing that is top of mind for me this week, this month, or this quarter and what resources can I lean into? One time question for you. If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your go-to-market journey, the time when you’ve transitioned from a hardcore PR coding developer engineer to your product management job, what advice would you give her?

The advice that I would give her twenty years prior that whatever you learned in school, apply it right then because it’s not going to be the same. When I started my go-to-market journey, I was looking at 4Ps and 3Cs. You understand the business school jargon and it is helpful. We may not call it jargon now but it’s helpful because it frames and puts a structure and that evolves. I would advise myself at that time, “Apply it right now but keep an open mind that this is not going to be the norm. This is one single step that you’re taking in your go-to-market journey. Always be open to new ideas and keep on experimenting.” One other thing I would say is don’t wait too long. This is more of startup wisdom rather than large company wisdom.

If you haven’t even released the product and you want to test the market, go out and test the market. Talk to your prospective customers or prospective users. Not because you want to sell to them at that time but to understand more because as you are developing it, your thinking may evolve. I am not a believer of stealth. Go out and pitch. Don’t be shy to pitch unless you are doing super-secret stuff. That’s the first advice. Second, don’t wait too long to hire your best marketing person. Go for it right away.

I am in the same belief and mindset which is stealth unless you’re super secretive and hard-to-get IP. It’s a whole different ball game but I’m a believer and practitioner of this whole agile startup mindset. We apply agile developers to experience, go, test it out and get feedback. It’s the same thing for the go-to-market. Thanks to Eric Ries and Steve Blank. They have preached and promoted this whole Lean Startup and agile startup mindset. I think that is key, especially from getting feedback to even testing the content on your go-to-market messaging, that is key. It’s not for the product but even for product-led companies, it’s about getting that feedback as to what resonates, what sticks, and what doesn’t?

We all have to figure out either you are disrupting or you’re creating a new category. Once you figure that out, go full steam.

It’s great speaking with you, Anshu. I greatly appreciated the time that you’ve taken and all the nuggets that you shared. If the audience wants to learn more about you and Nimbella, how do they find you? How do they get to learn more about Nimbella and what you do?

Just go to Nimbella.com. You’ll find everything about Nimbella. A website is not always perfect. It’s always changing as I said but there is enough information there. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter. Search for Anshu Agarwal and you will find me.

Thank you. I’m wishing you and the team the very best, Anshu.

Thank you, Vijay.

 

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About Anshu Agarwal

B2B 11 | Go-To-MarketAnshu is an experienced senior-level executive with extensive experience at startups and Fortune 500 companies in Marketing and Product Management. She has strong expertise in positioning, marketing communications, new product launches, business planning and go-to-market strategy and execution. Anshu has a reputation for successfully building and leading high-performance startup teams. She has experience with both hardware and software products including SaaS.

Specialties: Go-to-market strategy, Product strategy, Pre-revenue and Pre-IPO startup experience, Corporate experience, sales strategy, channel management, market share acquisition, B2B/Enterprise marketing – branding, campaign management, demand generation

Industry experience: Network Infrastructure and Management, Software Defined Networking, Content Delivery & Streaming, Application Delivery, Virtualization, Cloud Computing, Storage, Security, and Analytics.

 

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