B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented

B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented

 

With the prevalence of Zoom and other video meeting programs, it is much harder to remain detail-oriented, take notes, and pay attention to lengthy digital discussions. If you’re struggling with that, Fireflies.ai is your best answer. This AI meeting assistant joins your meetings to take notes, transcribe verbal data, analyze conversations, and a lot more. If you want to rewind and go back to your meetings because you forgot something, you can simply check in with Fireflies.

Join Vijay Damojipurapu as he talks to the Co-founder and CEO of Fireflies.ai, Krish Ramineni. Learn how he implemented NLP technology to create this AI-powered tool. Discover more information about its features and how Krish and his team spread Fireflies through word of mouth and product adoption. Check this episode out so you’ll never miss a single detail on your next meeting ever again!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Krish Ramineni On Becoming Detail-Oriented On Your Meetings With Fireflies.ai

I have the good fortune of hosting and speaking with Krish Ramineni, who is the Founder of Fireflies. I’m so looking forward to it. Krish is one of those Forbes 30 Under 30. He made it to that list. I’m sure you will be in for a treat as far as good market insights are concerned. With that, Krish, welcome to the show. How are you doing? It’s bright and sunny here in San Francisco Bay Area.

I’m doing great, Vijay. The weather is awesome. I haven’t had a chance to step out myself. This has been quite a busy day. There’s a lot of exciting stuff here at Fireflies that we are working on. I’m doing well. Thanks for asking.

I always start my conversations with each and every guest with this question. How do you define and view go-to-market?

Go-to-market, for me, is about helping people understand that a certain technology, product or service is available but sometimes, even before you talk about the product or service, you have to help them understand if there’s a need or a problem that they are trying to solve. Go-to-market for me starts with awareness and education.

It’s about users’ customers helping themselves acquire a piece of technology or product for their business in the most frictionless way possible. I believe that it’s about letting people buy the way that they want to. The best go-to-market strategies are the ones that are able to take away those barriers and help guide users, buyers or admins through that decision-making process in the most seamless way.

I can see your definition in line with the product-led growth phenomenon that’s taking the go-to-market world and the B2B world by storm of late. There are many flavors of go-to-market. Your definition aligns with product-led growth. I heard you mentioned users and buyers seeing value by themselves and then helping them make the decision where they can take their action, “I see the value, and I’m going to purchase this product.”

There was a time when I was on the extreme end and said, “No salespeople and marketers. It’s only going to be product-led.” The only way you were going to be able to purchase a solution like Fireflies was you are going to see it, try it, buy it, and swipe your credit card. That was going to be the only way. My definition has expanded over time because not every person or buyer follows the same model. Some need more handholding than others. Some have custom requirements.

It’s about understanding the user and what triggers them to make that purchasing decision or that a-ha moment for them. Similarly, when you build a product and are a startup, you are looking for people to get that a-ha moment from the product, saying, “This is great. This is magical. I want to use it.” Even in the buyer’s journey, a lot of times with GTM, people are bombarding you with emails and account-based marketing.

B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented
Detail-Oriented: Go-to-market is about understanding the user and what triggers them to make their purchasing decisions.

 

Sometimes the SDR function is also part of the go-to-market team. Our first default response now is to say no. We are not even open to the idea, saying, “Why? Yes. I’m curious.” it’s like, “Don’t bother me.” How do you pique someone’s interest and get them to that a-ha moment, whether it’s marketing or from a product lens? At certain times, you can’t do it all with the product. You will need to have people and conversations.

Tell the audience about why you came up with the name Fireflies. What does your company do? Who do you serve?

Fireflies is an AI meeting assistant. It joins your meetings across Zoom and other video-conferencing platforms. It takes notes, transcribes the meeting, analyzes those conversations, and creates a knowledge base for you to search back through. If I want to remember a conversation I had with you where we were talking about GTM, I can search for the word GTM in my conversation with Vijay, and I would be able to pull that information up in a minute. I want to be able to remember all my conversations and also not have to do busy work. Meetings are expensive. We want to help people be more productive during meetings.

B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented
Detail-Oriented: Fireflies.ai is an AI meeting assistant that joins your meetings across Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. It takes notes, transcribes meetings, analyzes conversations, and more.

 

That was our simple value prop for starting Fireflies. The name Fireflies has an interesting background. My Cofounder, Sam, and I met in college. We worked on various projects. Many of them had nothing to do with B2B SaaS. We worked on drones. One of the things we did was build a drone delivery system. At night when drones fly around dropping packages, they look like Fireflies. We used the name Fireflies and continued using that name for all of our different projects.

Lately, we have had customers come up with their interpretation or story of why we are called Fireflies. One of the things that they came up with, which was very creative, was, “Fireflies is this silent fly on the wall in a meeting that sits and takes notes.” That’s a common idiomatic phrase. Another person said, “Fireflies is very interesting because usually, all of these conversations are hidden and buried after you leave a meeting. Fireflies is lighting up all of these conversations that are happening across an organization.” I give credit to our customers for it but we are running with that narrative for why we are using the name Fireflies.

That’s a very interesting story. The backstory there is around the drone using that in the night, and then you gave the name Fireflies. Something that is popping up when you are sharing those customer stories is that they see value in the product. It’s almost like, “I love the product. How do I give my interpretation or the version of that brand name when I’m using the product?”

Every person has a different way to describe Fireflies. When we get on customer testimonial meetings or interviews, a lot of times, people will see Fireflies in a meeting. When someone asks, “What is that thing you are using?” they will talk about it. They are saying what the solution is. It’s cool to come after hundreds of thousands of conversations.

There are 3 or 4 common ways people describe it to them, “It’s my personal assistant. It’s my note-taker. It helps me stay on top of things.” For our marketing too, let’s use these phrases because almost everyone seems to be using the same theme. Sometimes the best marketing is customer word of mouth. We do see those common things showing up.

The best marketing is customer word of mouth. Click To Tweet

On a lighter note, what is your parents’ interpretation of what you do at work? How do they see that?

For them, it’s about me. Once, I was a Product Manager at Microsoft. I was working at a tech company, going and playing the game of a startup, and trying to be my own boss. That’s something that they see in the early days. A lot of people are like, “Why would you leave a nice comfortable job and do these things?” Over time, they have realized. I’ve even had my dad or other folks who work in tech seeing Fireflies in their meetings at their companies. When people you know, close family, and friends see it, it’s like, “I know this. I know who works on it.” That’s a game-changing feeling. They believe that I’m on a mission to make meetings better. That’s exciting.

There’s nothing like when your parents see and use the product that you are building. That’s an amazing moment in life overall. You also mentioned your career journey so far briefly. You mentioned meeting your cofounder at the university. You went to Microsoft and were a Product Manager. What prompted you to start your company and why around the space?

Going back like most Asian American kids, I thought I wanted to be a doctor in college. I quickly switched over to the engineering side or the technology side of things. While I was doing that, I was never passionate about engineering the same way I was about solving problems, working on projects, and getting groups together. The way I learned to code, how the technology worked, and learned about databases was not in a classroom initially but was working with peers.

In my freshman summer after my first year of college, we worked on an app together, and that idea, “We didn’t have any real internships at that time. Why not make our internship? We need something on our resume.” It turned into this massive tool that we ended up building for college campuses back then. We ended up getting hundreds of other ambassadors to help us market the product. It was a consumer-like product but was great because that was around social media time. It was exciting.

That got me thinking. Most people are using maybe 10% to 20% of the computer science skills that they are working on. There are few companies that are using deep tech or deep machine learning stuff. Technology is truly democratized. Anyone can start working on it. I was never afraid of how difficult a problem was going to be. You just start working on it. I had a lot of fun throughout college. I worked on several other projects. I did hackathons.

The way I met my cofounder he went to MIT. I went to UPenn. We met through mutual friends. My cofounder and I had never met in person for the first two years. We met on a video call. Every evening after our classes or problem sets were done, we would work on different projects and submit them. You win little prize money or awards for submitting to these hackathons. We competed in a lot of hackathons. I remember the first hackathon we won. We got $1,000 or $1,200.

We said, “Let’s take this money and then build some more apps. Maybe we can hire some freelancers to help us market or do other things with it.” That was the entrepreneurial journey. After I graduated college, I ended up graduating a year early. My cofounder was still in school at the time. I went off to Microsoft and learned a lot there. The discipline it takes to build enterprise software is very different. Here we were, kids hacking on a few things.

I got the perspective from both worlds of what it means to be fast, agile, and creative and then what it means to build software that businesses pay a lot of money for. The line is blurred from a technology point of view but from a go-to-market point of view, it’s different. You can take the same cool piece of technology, and someone is going to market it better than someone else. That could be the success point. That was the journey I ended up on. After my time at Microsoft, I reunited with my cofounder. I was there for a summer. I was supposed to go to graduate school but I had a summer off before that.

I went to Boston and stayed there for the summer. We started working on a couple of different ideas like hackathons and then said, “Why don’t we start a business, work on this for a few years, and see where it goes? We are not going to get an opportunity like this later on.” One thing led to another. We moved to San Francisco and incorporated the business. We went through 4 or 5 pivots and then landed on the voice space. That is the current version of Fireflies as it is.

Some of the traits or some of the stories that I’ve seen with successful founders is that they started working on a problem that they connected with. That turned into a startup. Was there a story around that for you and your Cofounder, Sam, where it was around recording transcription? “This is the new and emerging space. Let’s figure out and use AI to do something about it.” What is your thought process like?

It was a combination of both. We were fascinated by NLP technology. Everything we built early on was around how we understand text and conversations and help people be more effective. Honestly, our very first idea was, “I get 5,000 emails every day at Microsoft. Let’s build a tool that tells me which emails I need to prioritize.” It’s almost like Google PageRank for emails. For that, you understand what’s in the emails and rank it.

It’s a nifty productivity problem but maybe not a problem that someone is going to pay a lot of money for. That started as the initial project that we were thinking about, “How do I save more time because I can’t deal with emails?” A lot of people were out there building a brand-new emailing system. Our goal was not to build a new system but, “How do we take something that’s there and make it better or add new technology to it?”

Another idea we had in our journey for pivots and iterations is that I tend to do a lot of messaging over LinkedIn and different chat apps. I can’t remember all the promises I make to people. I use a bunch of different to-do lists but it’s very hard to keep track of who I’m talking to and what I’m saying. We built a Chrome extension that would track all the conversations I’m having with different people across different apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Slack, and all these different apps.

Anytime I made a promise to someone saying, “I will send you the report next Friday. Let’s meet up next month,” it would automatically detect that using NLP and create a to-do list for me, “Here are all the tasks or promises you’ve made.” If someone promised to do something for me, it would also make all the tasks, pull out the dates and times, and set up automatic reminders for me.

If I had a chance to go and work on this project, I would because it’s fascinating. We even applied to YC with it. We got an interview day. It was an exciting project. However, for us, it’s a GTM thing like, “How do you now take this productivity prosumer-type tool and sell it to businesses or B2B? How do you make money on this? How do you monetize it?” That was a real challenge.

That’s why we took a pause on it but we took the same technology and learning and said, “There’s this huge blue ocean in terms of meetings.” For emails, I can at least go back and look at an email I sent two years ago. I can look at a chat message I sent two months ago but once I leave that meeting room with Vijay, I probably will not remember for one week what I discussed. I will not be able to recall that memory, “Let’s build a knowledge base of all of my meeting conversations and then run this NLP that shows me action items, dates, next steps, timelines, and deadlines.” That became what Fireflies is.

There are a lot of things to digest over there. You mentioned product-led growth. You gravitated toward product-led growth from the early days. Is it fair to say that you added on a sales-led motion more recently after product-led growth?

We are working on the sales-led motion as we speak. The way we look at our sales team is that we call them customer onboarding managers. We believe that as people come in, they are aware of the technology or interested in the technology. How can we help guide them through that process? What you would see typically in pre-sales is a fusion of customer success and sales because many of them are not starting from zero. They are starting with some knowledge of the platform.

We found that there are certain types of customers that need to turn on specific integrations or they have specific questions that they won’t be able to get answers to in the self-service. The majority of our customers, whether it’s a 1-person team or a 5,000-person team, can theoretically sign up, add teammates, build-out, and pay for it at a large org level without ever talking to sales.

I believe in the Atlassian go-to-market model. Zapier has a fantastic go-to-market model. Calendly had a fantastic go-to-market model. However, when we are building collaboration software, there are going to be different things that we need to go through. People have security questions. They want to know about our compliance stuff. We do a lot of work there as well. We want to be an enterprise-grade product that can be as easy to purchase and use as a consumer product.

Somewhere along the way, you realize that you need people there for those that need help. It’s less about us spamming people with emails and doing outbound. It’s more about how we build that inbound funnel and use the product-led leads. Maybe if there’s someone that is at the right stage to potentially purchase or upgrade, and they are from a high-value account, we should probably give them more attention and more of a white glove service. That’s where we have the salespeople.

Selling is less about spamming people with emails and more about building an inbound funnel. Click To Tweet

There are two tracks that come to my mind. I would love to dig deeper into both tracks. The first is with PLG. It’s all about how can your target users find your product and self-onboard and how quickly can they see the value. It’s all about that. That’s one component. The adjacent component and critical part is the virality because that will reduce the CAC for you. At the same time, it shapes or translates to growth on its own. That’s the first track. Keep that in mind.

The second track is the PQLs or Product-Qualified Leads, which is the sales assist model you are talking about. Let’s deep dive into the first track. In theory, it all sounds wonderful. I was brought in to build a PLG at a Series B startup. We went down that path but it’s super hard. In theory, it boils into three steps. One is how you get users to find the product. The second is self-onboarding. The third is finding value and virality. Those are the 3 or 4 steps in theory. It’s easy but it’s hard to execute in the real world. Help the readers understand the challenges that you ran into early on. How did you work around those?

We were able to build a critical mass of initial users that were able to bring Fireflies to more meetings. That was the triggering point for virality. I will start with the first point, self-service. A lot of people can even experience Fireflies before they even sign up. They can see the bot in the meeting. They will have a conversation. Word of mouth is probably our number one thing. People talk about it. Firefly sends a meeting recap afterward the meeting to the people.

When it does that, they are able to view the transcript and the notes. They are like, “This is great.” We have a thing saying, “Sign up and start using it.” That’s where we get most of our growth. We don’t spend money on other channels like advertising or ads. It’s word of mouth and direct search traffic. It’s a result of word of mouth or seeing it in a meeting and saying, “What is Fireflies.ai?” Luckily, our domain name is the same as our company name. People tend to see that and talk about it.

We had a customer of ours who said, “I saw more Fireflies than I sell my SaaS software because I talk about it so often,” which is fantastic. A lot of times, people are going to be able to see and use it. We now have a free trial as well as a freemium function for the product. You get full access to freemium, where you have limited transcription, credits, and storage. Usually, people will hit certain paywalls and decide to convert on their own or go through the full free trial, get a lot of questions answered, and convert that way.

Through this process, we will also see some people who are like, “I see this. I want to sign up for it but before I sign up, I need to think about how I deploy this to an org. I need more of those IT-level questions answered.” They will request a demo. Usually, when we ask them, “How did you hear about it?” it’s like, “So-and-so told me. I saw it at a meeting. I’ve heard about this. This is exciting. I want to check it out for myself and see it to believe it.” That’s the motion.

We also have PLG. This is probably still the hardest one. A lot of people put very interesting flavors on PLG, “You are going to have a customer. They are going to respond back to you.” To be honest, many PLG people don’t want to talk, “Let me buy on my own. Don’t bother me. I might buy it for myself or a few folks but I’m not going to go and do an org-wide deployment. You are talking to the wrong person. I’m not the person that’s going to buy for my entire org.”

B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented
Detail-Oriented: Many product-led growth people don’t want to talk. They just want to buy something for themselves and will not do an org-wide deployment.

 

For PLG, you can do all the work but you have to not bother the wrong type of users. Maybe as you have people inside a particular domain start using it, you start doing org mapping. You have to do traditional account-based marketing. We are still figuring that out. That’s hard even for Series B, Series C, and later-stage companies. It’s not as easy as it is for other companies or how other companies make it seem.

I’m sure even for Slack, who are some of the greatest proponents of PLG, it took a long time for them to map out, “There’s a small group of people in this company using Slack. How do I get their IT admin to deploy Slack to everyone?” That’s a sales challenge on its own. PLG can give you leads but that doesn’t necessarily mean those leads are going to be the decision-makers in an enterprise org.

Product-led growth can give you a lead. But that doesn't mean those leads are going to be the decision-makers in an enterprise. Click To Tweet

That’s where I do think there is a fundamental challenge. It’s not as easy as investors or other people make it out to be, “PLG is beautiful. It reduces your CAC. You are going to get all this.” One thing we have done well is self-service and the revenue we get from users’ businesses that way but to do enterprise-wide deployments, selling the department is one challenge. Selling to an enterprise org that’s where maybe you will need a sales GTM function. The PLG is a way for you to show them, “We have an in. There’s some value here,” but you still need to have effective ways to have those conversations.

This is a good segue because I ask each and every guest of ours or whoever comes on the show for them to share a GTM success story and a GTM failure story. It’s your choice. You can pick either a success or a failure. I would love to get your thoughts and personal experiences from those.

There are general ones I’ve talked about where we have seen the virality work, and these things work. With GTM failure, there are a lot of enterprise-based companies. They will put fancy names on the existing technology and say, “This is insights. This is going to tell you all of this stuff.” They will take the core technology features and functionality and put layers of stuff. They will call it revenue intelligence, deal intelligence or some of these fancy words for basic stuff like analytics.

What we have found is that it works when you have salespeople selling and selling that sauce but it doesn’t work when you have a self-service PLG motion where people are like, “Say what it is and how it works. I don’t want you to use crazy acronyms or special words.” That works when you have a great sales team, and you can sell on the narrative but we found that it’s much more effective to be able to say exactly what the technology does and simplify what you can do with that technology and the basic features. That has a way more success rate for us at the type of customers we are targeting at the PLG level.

We try to do traditional B2B marketing where you will go through the entire website and a few pages, and you are like, “I don’t even know what their product is.” They are promising all these benefits and then saying, “Talk to sales,” but I have no idea what this product is. When we tried some of those experiments in the early days, it was not effective. It didn’t pique people’s curiosity as much as, “Let me show you, not tell you.” That was something I noticed.

If you can share the success story and the early days of Fireflies, that would be great.

2019 was when we first started working on the alpha version of Fireflies. Later at the end of 2019, we raised our first seed round and then kept working. We got into the beta. We did a broader rollout in January 2020. A few months later, the pandemic happened. All hell broke loose. It was crazy. These technologies were becoming more front and center. Everyone was spending time on video conferencing. We built Fireflies for a world where it was going to be hybrid for in-person as well as remote. If it’s in person, it would join through a conference line.

We built it for that world but everyone went to video conferencing. We are this fledgling startup. This is starting to pick up and take off. We have to build the platform for scale. You can’t glue things together. We were fortunate after our seed round in the last couple of months of 2019 to rebuild our entire architecture from scratch. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to handle the incoming demand that was coming in 2020. We kept scaling up.

Before you go to scaling up, how did you get the word out that there’s this product named Fireflies? Who was the initial audience?

We launched to a handful of folks in our network, our friends, and maybe 200 people. We had a waitlist of a couple of thousand people. We didn’t have this million-person waitlist like some of these other companies. Those people were originally the drivers. There was zero spending on marketing. In the early days, we gave a lot upfront of transcription credits and stuff. We encouraged people to share Fireflies. There was also that word of mouth and showing up in meetings.

Did you send out emails, drive people to a landing page, and say, “I’m interested. Add me to the waiting list?” Is that how it does?

We had a ranked waitlist where if you share with more friends, you go up the waitlist. We tried that strategy as well. We did product hunts. We did a lot of outreach, launches, and relaunches. Every time we had a new video conferencing platform, we supported it, “We now support Zoom. We are now supporting Google Meet.” We would do an announcement about that. There were a lot of announcements for new things that we did when we had a new CRM integration.

Every integration connection was a new announcement. Every integration we built was an announcement. We knew that this was starting to work when other people started to bring their Fireflies into meetings with us. You start to see it full circle. We could track in the early days when we had our initial customers here in San Francisco, California Bay Area. They would have a meeting with a customer in Atlanta, Georgia. We said, “Why are we blowing up in Atlanta, Georgia? Why are there so many other companies using it?”

Those people brought it back to people in the Pacific, Northwest, and Seattle. That person brought it back to the original user, which was in San Francisco, California. We started to see that flywheel. It’s a firefly hopping around the map. That was something that we thought was very cool. It sounds like there’s some crazy magical thing that we had to do but we built virality into the product. We incentivized sharing and people to talk about Fireflies and share the recaps and all of that.

B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented
Detail-Oriented: Fireflies.ai built virality into their product. They incentivized people to talk and share stories about it. They never charged anyone in 2020 thanks to product adoption.

 

Was it a freemium or a free trial?

Initially, in a good part of 2020, we didn’t even charge. Until we started seeing traction, we didn’t even charge for the product.

For the entire duration of 2020, it was all about product adoption.

For the greater part of 2020, it was all about product adoption. It was only in the later part of 2020 that we started monetizing.

Can you share some stories about the pricing? What did you think about the pricing? Who were the initial set of folks you would go to pitch and test the pricing? What is that like?

There were a couple of suggestions from folks and advice that other people gave. One was, “Go to enterprises or mid-market, charge $20,000 to $30,000, and sell it like a sweet solution.” We didn’t feel like that would fit with our model. It’s a great way to get quick revenue but you are going to tap out after 10 to 20 deals. You are going to have to hire more salespeople and do all of that.

The best advice they say is, “Close a bunch of deals yourself,” which I’ve done before we hired other comms people but that is if you are doing a sales-led company. Instead, we said, “Success is going to be if we can get to some amount of revenue where we never even have to talk to the person, and they are purchasing on their own. That is success for us. That is the Holy Grail or North Star for our SaaS.”

Success is getting revenue without even having to talk to a customer to buy your product. Click To Tweet

We started looking at different pricing options. One was, “Do we price by utility? How much do you use it?” We realized a lot of people don’t want to worry so much about transcription, “I can’t use it in these many meetings or that many meetings.” We don’t want it to feel like AWS because AWS is great for developer products but it’s not great if you are buying SaaS solutions.

People want à la carte, “I buy ones. I can consume as much as I want. I want a buffet.” We were one of the first people in the industry to do that, and we made it unlimited usage. You can pay one price per seat. We started experimenting with seats. Initially, there were a lot of individuals paying for Fireflies. Over time, we said, “Fireflies is great as an individual product but how can we make it even better as a team product and a multiplayer product?” We realized there’s a lot of value in creating a team product.

Even Calendly, in the early days, was a single-player product. For the most part, it is a single-player product but they have come up with some creative ways or added certain things. A lot of times, for many companies, a multiplayer product has admin controls, admin access, admin safeguards, and stuff like that. For us, there’s inherent value if you have a workspace with your sales meetings, teammate sales meetings, and HR meetings all in one central place. We are building a living, breathing, and self-updating knowledge base or workspace. That is magical.

I’m looking at your pricing page. It was $0. It’s free forever. You have Pro, which is $10 per seat per month. The Business is $19 per seat per month. Was this the price that you launched with? Was this something that you iterated? Clearly, it has to be the second one. How did it evolve to this?

Surprisingly, this is the pricing we started with. We got lucky there. We had a gut instinct. There are a lot of people that say, “Why are you making it so affordable when your competitors are charging $100, $200 or $120 per seat?” I know some of the competitors in the revenue intelligence space. I wouldn’t say competitors because we also focus on a diverse set of personas. We are not just sales. We want every person inside an organization to use it. They are charging $120 per seat. Plus, they have an implementation fee. You must pay $10,000 to $20,000 to get the platform set up.

Why are you not charging that level when you are offering powerful technology that’s 90% of everything that’s there, plus some other stuff? We had in the early days four tiers. That’s one thing I do remember. Early, we had 4 tiers and simplified it down to 3 tiers. The other tier was where it was an audio-only tier where you got more storage but then we realized, “Let’s keep it to three tiers and make it available.” It was easier for people to decide.

How would you define your ICP? How did that evolve from day one?

This is the hard part because we have many different personas and industries. If you were to ask Dropbox or Calendly what their ICP is, it’s very difficult or even Zoom, for that matter. We believe our general umbrella is that any knowledge worker that has meetings in the corporate space is very important to us. There are different types of meetings. There are internal meetings like operational meetings that you have. There are customer-client-facing meetings. You have candidate-based meetings. I look at it as the four Cs. Your Customers, Candidates, and Colleagues all form your Company.

B2B 33 | Detail-Oriented
Detail-Oriented: There are different types of meetings, and Fireflies.ai helps you capture and build a knowledge base around them.

 

That’s how I think about it. In any conversation that’s happening, the voice of your organization is what Fireflies is helping you capture and build a knowledge base around. Instead of comparing to other AI tools out there, let’s look at what great knowledge management tools of the past were and now are. You look at SharePoint. Every enterprise has SharePoint. It was a fantastic tool back then. You have other wiki software. Atlassian has its wiki software.

There are so many of these different wiki software but the problem is whether I’m using Google Docs, Google Drive or Dropbox, all those documents will end up getting stale if I don’t update them. If someone is not updating those articles or help desk stuff. Whereas with Fireflies, every conversation is automatically updating your knowledge base. I don’t have to manually update it.

Years ago, we had a very different conversation about pricing and how we should charge customers. After all our learnings, we have another thought process around pricing and how we should charge. If a new person is hired, and we never updated that knowledge base from years ago, they are going to onboard with the wrong mindset. That is very expensive to untrain and retrain, whereas if they are using Fireflies, they now are able to get up to speed.

We also use Fireflies almost as an LMS where when we have new people that are onboarded, we say, “Listen to these Fireflies recaps on our best sales calls. Listen to these on what to ask the candidate when you are interviewing them. If you are a first-time manager, this is what you should be asking for. This is why we made an important architectural decision. You asked about why we are using this technology. You are getting onboarded into the code base, so go ahead and take a look at all of this stuff.” I don’t have to ever repeat myself. I say it once. It’s equivalent to me saying it a thousand times in a way, which is funny. That’s the one thing that helps all of our teammates.

That’s a very interesting use case. Typically, when we talk about recording meetings, it’s mostly in the context of customer sales and sales coaching but what I’m hearing based on what you are sharing here is that it’s almost like an internal LMS or Learning Management System. These meetings happened. As an example, I want to understand why the scaling and architecture changed. I type that in, and it’s all there versus having to talk to people or even worse, not knowing who to talk to in the first place.

The best part is that we want you to be able to consume that data without having to sit and listen to the entire 30-minute or 40-minute meeting. You can look for the word integration or architecture, jump to that point in the call, and listen to that snippet or soundbite. If I had great feedback or customer input that came in through this meeting, I will highlight that 30-second clip created into a soundbite and share it with the team. How can we help you consume and get knowledge in 5 minutes instead of 50 minutes of listening to that call or reading a 50-page transcript?

It looks like you got that early traction. You are looking to scale. What are the different channels? For PLG, some of the popular channels are virality, word of mouth, referral, organic, inbound, SEO, and even paid. These are the popular channels or even affiliates. I’ve seen affiliates also coming up on the charts now. What are the channels that you are excited about and something you are exploring as you scale?

We are exploring other channels like affiliate and referral marketing because a lot of these people are saying, “I’m already referring Fireflies to so many people. Can you have some incentive where I get more transcription credits or get paid for that?” We are exploring that. This is coming from user-generated interests. We never had an idea of doing this but there are a lot of people that are willing to advocate and push Fireflies. We want to be able to push that.

There are people creating content about Fireflies. When I go on Twitter, they are like, “Here are the five best tools that I use for AI that help me be super productive.” They list Fireflies. How can we streamline and supercharge the customer conversations, the customer voice, and what customers are saying? One of the things we are exploring and still learning about is how we set up a great referral program for existing users that refer other users and then how we set up a great affiliate program for people that want to drive traffic to our website or convert and then get paid to do that.

I always believe that could be a great strategy. We also see interest from consulting firms and other types of folks that want to implement a solution like Fireflies at larger organizations. That has been less of our focus because we want to go direct to our customers but it is also something that we could potentially explore in the future.

We are coming up against time here. In the last part of this interview, I would like to get your thoughts on what resources you lean on. Do you have a network of founders, a network of advisors, podcasts or books? What resources do you lean on? For example, we talked about new channels for scaling. How do you figure that out? What’s your process?

I like to look at what the best companies have done, what lessons they have learned along the way, and what works for them. I have to assess, “Is that right for me, our business, and our ACV?” I don’t like to look at what’s trending as a word. This is very common in the early days when advisors or even when we go out to fundraise. A VC will say, “Have you heard about this? You should try it out,” without having any context of what it is or how it works. We are fortunate to have great VCs that are part of our board and are able to think thoughtfully about what it is that we need to build that is relevant to our business and filter out all the white noise that’s around.

I like to look at what the best people in those companies have done and the takeaways we can learn from them. I also read a lot. There’s a huge community around PLG of companies that are talking, “Here’s what we have done. Here’s what works. Here’s my Substack, my podcast, and my YouTube video.” For all other things GTM and beyond, SaaStr is a fantastic community. They help us think a lot about benchmarks, metrics, what VCs look for, and what metrics we should track ourselves against. There are a lot of great folks out there that are providing insightful content.

Look at some of the best companies and what they've done. Take away what you can learn from them. Click To Tweet

David Sacks used to have a lot of great SaaS stuff on how you build a SaaS operating system. How do you build that machine? If you can get people that have done it from a reputable source where it’s a similar business or maybe it’s a PLG, a similar price point, or value-add type of product, it’s much more relatable. I’m not going to look at a company that does $200,000 ACV average deal sizes and how they do webinars. That would be cool for us to figure out but I would want to look at how a company that does one-to-many customer success or webinars that is of our size, price point, and type of industry.

If you have to look back at your career, who are those 1, 2 or 3 people that played a pivoted role, either mentor, sponsors, or role models?

Jason Lemkin had a profound impact on everything we do, especially when we were new to SaaS. He’s the godfather of SaaS in terms of helping founders learn about the community. He’s fantastic. I’ve said it many times before. There are some exceptional disciplined founders that I look up to that have gone the atypical path where they don’t raise crazy amounts of money. They are very disciplined. They had humble beginnings like the CEO of Calendly and the CEO of Zapier.

We have Expensify. A lot of these companies have built these monster giants without having to raise capital or spend unnecessarily. They are intentional. Atlassian is something I brought up. They had a very aggressive model back in the day where there were no salespeople at all but they have a similar notion of sales where it’s more of an advanced form of customer success that helps upsell and get in. They used a lot of resellers to help deploy Atlassian products.

I look at those folks and say, “Especially in a market where we are heading into a downturn or a potential recession and where capital is drying up, how do you be the most disciplined company out there? How can you learn from that?” Growth is fantastic. Growth is important. Growth at all costs only works when capital is infinite. When you don’t, we are going to start seeing more people adopt PLG and these other methodologies in 2023.

Growth at all costs only works when capital is infinite. Click To Tweet

Personally, I’m not a big fan of growth at all costs because that will drive bad habits across the board and the GTM teams. I’m just sharing my thoughts. It’s pretty amazing and inspiring that you are focused on how you grow in a very disciplined manner without raising a lot of funds externally. The final question for you is this. If you were to turn back time and go back to day one of your journeys, what advice would you give your younger self?

Persist with an idea until a certain point of failure. What I mean by that is people say, “Throw 1,000 different ideas at a wall and see what sticks,” but to make an impact, if you have a wall and you are trying to hammer and break that wall down, you are not going to hammer it at 1,000 different places. You are going to pick one point and keep drilling until it cracks open. This is another way of saying, “Focus matters.” You want to pick that area and keep chipping. Instead of 1,000 hits, you only need to do 100 to break through.

Ideas are great. Throwing a lot of things on the board is great but if you do too many at once or have too many ideas, conversations, and different things, you will get distracted very easily. You won’t be able to find a breakthrough or where the gold was initially. I talked about that Chrome extension I built or the email tool. If we went deeper, we would have probably gotten to a point where we said, “We can build a business around this.”

That mindset is important for founders because it’s not going to happen in 12 months or 24 months. It’s going to take time. If you see anyone out there who went from 0 to a unicorn in 12 months, you must also ask yourself, “How defensible is that? If it’s that easy for them to build a $1 billion business in twelve months, is there a defensible moat?” To be honest, for most startups, it’s going to be very difficult and painstaking. You have to be willing to go through that grind.

I mentioned that was the last question but I have a follow-up question based on what you answered here. Focus is important but something that I’ve seen especially in the GTM teams and when you are scaling, is this. How do you figure out where to focus? You mentioned the different channels. How do you know which channel to focus on? Early on, I’ve heard people saying this, and something that I’ve seen is, “Place and do multiple experiments at the same time and then pick which one to focus on.” Would you agree with that? Do you have a different view there?

If you have the resources, do it, but most small companies won’t have those many resources. I would rather pick one, fail fast, and then move on to the next one. I found more success instead of parallel processing to go single-threaded and go very deep. Have a metric you want to hit, an amount of traffic you want to drive, or a number of signups you want to try. Set yourself an idea, “I’m going to run ten experiments here. I’m going to do this in this period.”

We struggle with this as well all the time. Sometimes you want to chase shiny objects. If I run 2 experiments on 10 different ideas, it may be less valuable than running 10 experiments on 1 idea, failing within 1 month, 2 months or 3 months, and then going on to the next thing. I would rather go all in and invest in that. If it doesn’t work, I will go to another one. If you have a lot of resources and have four-person teams that you can run on different things, you can do that as well. Neither is a wrong answer. One is going to be more expensive than the other. That’s all.

Thank you so much for your time. It was a wonderful conversation. I’m wishing you and the Fireflies team the very best.

Thank you so much, Vijay. I had a great time as well.

 

Important Links

 

About Krish Ramineni

B2B 33 | Detail-OrientedI love building and scaling products/platforms/APIs that simplify the way people work. Deeply invested in Voice AI, RPA, and enterprise workflow software.

At Fireflies.ai, we’re automating work from meetings. Actively hiring across product, engineering, sales, and marketing.

Gartner’s Top 25 Enterprise Software Startups. Featured on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine: 12 Founders Changing Business 2020.

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/

 

B2B 31 | New Market

B2B 31 | New Market

 

Go-to-marketing strategies can differ based on location. If you’re starting a business overseas, you have to look out for certain things if you want the best brand-customer relationship. With Alariss, that won’t be an issue anymore. They help international founders launch their brands in the US. They help build their team, raise revenue, and lead with their product. Join Vijay Damojipurapu as he talks to the CEO and founder of Alariss, Joyce Zhang Gray. Learn why it’s so difficult to enter a new market. Discover how building relationships and partnerships are key to go-to-marketing. Find out some attributes you want in your go-to-market team. Start launching your business with Alariss today!

Listen to the podcast here

 

Launching Your Go-To-Market Business In A New Market With Joyce Zhang Gray From Alariss

I’m super excited to have a fellow San Francisco Bay area member on the show with me, Joyce Zhang Gray, who is the Founder of Alariss Global. She is with me. She has obliged to be part of this show. I got introduced to Joyce by one of my earlier show guests. I looked up Joyce’s profile, and it stood out. It’s a unique profile. Talk about Ivy League. She has checked the mark for the Ivy League background and Harvard undergrad and Stanford MBA. After that, she’s got a very varied offbeat track, but it all laid the right stepping stones to what she’s doing now. With that, let me welcome you formally, Joyce. I’m super excited to speak with you.

Thank you so much, Vijay. Thank you for the kind introduction and for inviting me to your show.

It’s my pleasure. We should talk about this at some point in time in our show. You’re a former employee at Y Combinator. You’re the first business person at Human Interest. I know someone at Human Interest. It’s a great company. They allow what they’re doing in the mission. You did that. After that, you took on roles outside of the US, which is in Asia, and tried to build the go-to-market functions. You also played the role of a UN ambassador. Did I get that right?

The timeline and the titles might be a little bit off. I worked for the World Bank. I also worked for the Federal Reserve, which is the central bank of the US. That was earlier in my career. During that time, I was overseas. I worked in Africa, Latin America, and Asia on behalf of American tech companies launching in Asia. At Human Interest, I was the first employee, not just the first business employee. I started talking to them in the midst of Y Combinator. I joined right after they finished YC, and we could be off to the races. I’ve experienced the depth and breadth of big companies, small companies, government agencies, and the US, as well as many other countries. I’m delighted to share some perspectives on this show.

This is all in a very short time span as well. This is super impressive and inspiring.

Thank you. I don’t know if it’s that short. I’m not as young as I used to be, but I appreciate the compliment.

I’ll start off formally here. I always start this with this question with all my guests. How do you define go-to-market?

I define go-to-market as the core function of a revenue-generating business. It is how you get to and appeal to and deliver value in many ways to your customers. Go-to-market will oftentimes be sales and marketing. Sometimes it’s customer success as well because it also involves upselling. Much of the revenue generated by many companies, especially B2B companies, is through expansion revenue, not through new revenue generations. Go-to-market covers all these functional areas and more.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: Go-to-market is the core function of a revenue-generating business. It is how you deliver value to your customers in many ways.

 

I completely agree with you. I would also expand and add products. This is something that I see a lot of functional leaders at small companies or even startups and large companies. They miss the holistic piece, especially in a technology company, a product-based critical role in go-to-market. The big trend that’s going on in the industry nowadays is the whole product-led growth. If you talk about go-to-market and lead product, that’s a big wide. I completely agree. That’s something I’ve seen play out, which is strong and impressive go-to-market leaders cross-functionally across these functions. It’s marketing, sales, revenue, customer success, and so on.

Having a great product that customers want to use, delights them, and want to share is what one assumes. In many companies or tech companies, you can divide it into two categories. It’s either the people building or the people selling. They’re selling what someone else is built, and the builders will continue to build and iterate based on what can be sold. It’s correct. I would also say even with product-led growth, it would be a misconception that the products can sell itself.

I know a lot of amazing tech founders who assume, “If I build it, they will come.” People need to learn about the product somehow. That’s where I focused on the other functional areas when I described go-to-market because I was assuming that there would be a preexisting product that’s very strong as a baseline for what’s needed to go-to-market.

With that, you mentioned the words sales and selling. Tell and share with our readers the story of what you do now and what led you to start at Alariss Global.

I’m the CEO and Founder of Alariss Global. As a CEO and Founder, you’re the company’s first line of defense for sales and the last line of defense for sales. Most tech founders go into selling or building, but for the person on the business side, especially the CEO, some of the major responsibilities I have and that other CEOs usually have would be customer acquisition/go-to-market. This can include managing marketing, sales, and account management.

As a CEO, you're the first line of defense for sales and the last line of defense for sales. Click To Tweet

The other piece is internal recruiting. That’s incredibly important, building your team, which is also another form of sales. Selling people on your vision and a career with you is highly important. Finally, it’s fundraising, which is another form of getting capital into the company so you can continue to grow. Those are some of the major responsibilities. There are other things, business operations, finance, and everything else that go into the CEO’s role, but those are the ones that are most relevant for this conversation.

You also asked why I started Alariss Global. I started Alariss Global from a place of real need. I, myself, was launching companies in other markets, going overseas, and realizing how inefficient it was and how I was not most equipped to be able to launch as effectively as I wanted to. When you’re in a new market, you have to learn and get up to speed quickly. You might also be operating in a market where you don’t speak the language. You don’t understand the culture. You don’t have connections locally. It’s a long and very manual process of building your brand and credibility, building your networks, figuring out how to partner with the right lawyers, accountants, and recruiters, and finally, building your team. After you build your team, you can start generating revenue and attracting your customers.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: When you’re in a new market, you have to learn and get up to speed quickly. You might speak the language, understand the culture, or have any connections. So building your brand is going to be a long process.

 

I thought that a lot of this could be a leapfrog, especially with modern technology. Why have an ex-pat go into a market they don’t understand and spend a lot of time and money effectively when you could immediately spin up a local GTM team, a Go-To-Market team that is highly specialized, highly professional, and knows exactly what they’re doing, and they can start generating revenue for you from day one? That was a lot of the impetus behind Alariss Global. I wish Alariss existed for me when I was doing this. Because it didn’t exist, I thought I would build the solution for everyone else.

That’s a story of all the successful startups where the founders experienced paying themselves. They did some quick early market research and found that, “There are no viable solutions, so why don’t I solve this problem?” Can you expand on that? I also want to emphasize that because one of the core audiences for this show is the founders and aspiring founders. What led you to that decision point where you felt that this was a pain point and a large business problem with a huge turn and opportunity?

It was clear to me that it was a large pain point that I wasn’t the only one who faced when I had friends who reached out to me. The light bulb moment for me was when I had consistent outreaches from many different types of people and friends who are founders across India, China, and other markets who would ask me for connections or referrals in the US because I was perhaps one of the few or most trusted American friends that they had. I could empathize with and understand them because I had lived and worked with them before in those markets. It was a good reminder to me.

Sometimes as a founder, this is your own form of go-to-market. It’s your personal brand and network. Oftentimes, for founders, who’s going to trust a no-name company out of the blue? It’s usually going to be your friends, your family, and the immediate network that gives you that benefit of the doubt and knows you and your reputation so they can take a risk on you. Once you have those early believers, it does accelerate to something more.

That was when I first thought a hint that this was a large and very strong pain point that many people I knew faced. I did a bit more research as I was helping my friends and found other people who faced the same problem. I started to scale it and began Alariss more as a consultancy with always the belief that I would turn it into a tech company. As a consultancy, it gives you a few benefits as a founder. Some people call it bootstrapping, whatever you want to call it. It does give you revenue right away. When we talk about go-to-market, the single source of truth is following the money or where the money is.

In go-to-market, the single source of truth is to follow the money. Click To Tweet

People can tell you all sorts of things. They can tell you, “Your product is amazing, Vijay. This is so revolutionary. I love it.” They tell you all these nice things, but they’re not willing to pay you for your product. This is great. This feedback is very flattering, but it doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t lead to a viable company. You need more than just people who will tell you what you want to hear. You will need them to tell you what you need to hear. Sometimes what you need to hear could be things like, “I would buy it, but these are the other competitors that I’m looking at or other vendors that are offering something similar.” Maybe the price point isn’t quite there, and then you start to hone in on it.

When you start getting people paying you for that, that’s when you know you’ve hit upon the true hurdles that you need to gravitate towards. Even when building a startup, I started it as a consultancy because I wanted to see what is painful enough that people will part with their hard-earned money and give it to someone else to solve for them. Finally, within that realm of different things that people find painful enough that they’ll pay for it, what is something scalable and repeatable that I can productize? That’s how I came to build GTM teams.

It reminds me of the time when I started my consulting company, which is Stratyve. I was not thinking about starting or doing anything around consulting and offering GTM services. About a couple of years ago, someone reached out to me and called on LinkedIn, and it turns out that the founder had this company based in India. They were looking to do a go-to-market entry in North America. They needed help building what should be the go-to-market plan, the business case, the positioning, the messaging, the target users, and the use cases. That was inbound. I was thinking, “I don’t offer this for free. I have all these skillsets, but you need to pay for it.”

Going back to your question, people will seek advice, but are they willing to part their hard-earned money? In this case, he said yes, and that was a quick validation. I said, “It falls in line with what I’m known for and what I enjoy doing.” People are willing to part their hard-earned money. We’re completely on the same page. As part of market validation, are people willing to spend on your services or products? That’s fundamental, especially in the early days. That was a core piece and the driver. You got the business validation around incorporating and why you started Alariss Global. Let’s expand. Who are your customers? Who do you serve? What products or services should they be coming to you for?

Our customers are some of the most ambitious and globally-minded tech founders as well as executives based all over the world, outside the US predominantly, who want to go-to-market and expand their team into the US. We say we’re a global expansion company, but our main focus is US expansion. It could be a founder based in Bangalore, Tel Aviv, Beijing, Cape Town, or Sydney. We’ve worked with clients on every single continent.

We’re very lucky to have had that opportunity. The pain point we’re solving is they want to grow their revenue. They want to enter new markets because it’s about customer acquisition and growth. Sometimes, you’ve either saturated your local market quickly. Let’s say you’re a Singaporean or an Israeli company. The market is quite small in your domestic market, so you start thinking overseas fairly quickly.

You could be a company that’s based in a very large market. Let’s say you’re based in India, but perhaps you’re a B2B SaaS company. You know that the B2B SaaS market is a bit more limited in India than in the US. It could be that you are already a unicorn, and you have tapped into or exhausted almost all of the markets in your domestic market already. Onwards and upwards, you want to IPO. If you want to IPO and become listed on NASDAQ, then you probably do want to have some presence in the US. Those are usually the types of customers we’re serving, the pain points they’re feeling, and their ambitions and motivations for why they want to work with us.

What is Alariss Global’s go-to-market strategy or plans if you can share that? You need to spread awareness. You also need to talk about, show and display your credibility, expertise, and case studies. What is your go-to-market? What does that look like?

One thing I want to emphasize here is that our go-to-market has dramatically shifted and changed as we’ve learned things and become more aware of our own capabilities and limitations in these markets. We started off with a lot of experiments. That’s something I want to emphasize to every founder. You don’t know what you don’t know, and just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. If anything, if it worked for someone else, it might mean that there are no more opportunities for others who are later joiners to copy what was done previously. That’s something I want to emphasize. It’s important to read all these growth handbooks. It’s important to listen to shows such as Vijay’s, but you have to figure out your own path in this journey.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: You don’t know what you don’t know. Just because something worked for someone else, doesn’t mean it will work for you. And if it worked for someone else, that might mean that there are no more opportunities there.

 

I looked at a lot of benchmarks, but the difficulty is we’re defining a new category. We’re not helping American companies launch overseas, which is what most of the benchmarks I saw did. We’re helping overseas companies or international companies launch in the US. Still, I tried a lot of the same tricks of the trade. I looked into SEO, Google ads, LinkedIn ads, used social media, some outsourced SDRs, and all the different tools and tricks. The vast majority did not work. Luckily, two things did start to work. One was referrals and word of mouth.

That, as I mentioned early on, is always valuable. I was lucky to have a deep network already in the tech sectors of a lot of major overseas tech hubs. Getting friends to share news about me and offering very big discounts to the first customers so they could test out our products, give us feedback, and work with us, started to work a little bit.

Another is we would ask for referrals from the customers we worked with to new customers. Finally, we started to hit upon looking through channel partnerships. Channel partnerships are very difficult. It’s now become one of our main growth channels, but at the beginning, it was difficult because selling to a channel partner is even harder than selling to a customer. You’re trying to convince someone to open up your Rolodex to me and put your reputation on the line so I can have a shot at your customers. That is a hard sell. You need to first build up credibility. It’s important to go first through some referrals. We found a bottoms-up approach worth quite well for us.

If we had portfolio companies from a particular venture capitalist that liked us, we would ask them to share and promote us to that VC. Later, the VC would come to us and say, “A couple of my portfolio companies mentioned that they liked working with you. Maybe we should have a partnership or a volume discount for my portfolio company.” The channel partnership then starts to make sense because you’re not just a no-name risk that they’re taking that could impair their credibility. You become an augmentation of their brand and their reputation.

If they already know that companies they’re affiliated with or working with like you and trust you, then it’s very easy for them to come in and partner with you, and even better if they can take credit for negotiating a discount. It’s a win-win on all sides. You get the deal flow and save costs on your GTM because referral revenue comes with a much lower cap than a lot of other revenue. They also win because it makes them look good, and this is something their partners, customers, and portfolio companies want anyway.

If I had to summarize your go-to-market, initial traction, an initial set of customers, and leads that came through your own network, how you got started is you tried SEO, outbound, and so on. You would build your traction through word of mouth, your own network, and then referrals. It’s the same playbook. It’s the same thing for the channel partners. I’m a big believer. All the prominent startup advisors say the same thing. If you’re a startup, do not lean on channel partners as your primary go-to market. That should not be the first source.

You validate that thought process once again. For all the founder readers over there, this is the real mantra. Don’t lean on and pitch to your investors that you’re leaning on a channel partner as one of your good market strategies, not initially, at least. In your case, it came through reference. It came inbound. In this case, it was a VC who invested in one of the portfolio companies. That was your customer.

Another thing I would point out here is that it is very challenging. I know how it feels like a chicken and egg problem. If you are trying to build a relationship or a partnership from scratch, but you don’t have those, how do you build it? If you can’t build it because you don’t have preexisting relationships, it feels like an impossible task. Things do evolve. You work with a combination of the tools you have at your disposal and what works.

I know other people who have amazing networks, but their network is irrelevant because they’re building a B2C product. B2C is all about customer acquisition and user acquisition at a massive scale. Just because you know a couple of friends from business school doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly get a million followers on your new social media app. It does depend, and that’s also why I mentioned a lot of go-to-market is highly personalized and individualized.

A lot of go-to-market is highly personalized and highly individualized. Click To Tweet

What I’m sensing, and for all the readers out there, is that this is not your traditional product or service. It’s almost like you are building a platform play here. It’s a two-sided platform. The one set is your customers. The other set is all the salespeople across the different calibers and roles. Share your story about how you’re thinking about this two-sided marketplace. Going back to your chicken and egg analogy, it’s the same thing. How are you managing and maintaining that two-sided marketplace growth?

This is where it’s interesting because a lot of marketplaces have elements of both B2B and B2C. For a B2B marketplace, they still usually make money from the 2B part, but it is still important to have the 2C part. Many people liken this to building two companies at once, which is why marketplaces are incredibly difficult to build, but they are very difficult to unseat once you’ve built it. It’s a hard business model, but once you’ve cracked the code, it is something that is incredibly valuable and hard to copy. For the chicken and egg, I think about who is paying for this.

It goes back to what I said earlier, follow the money and the source of truth. I analyze the market. The job seekers could potentially pay, but most of the time, they won’t. Very good candidates don’t need to pay to get a job. If you ask someone to pay, you might not be getting the best candidates. Secondly, if someone doesn’t have a job and is looking for a job, they inherently have a limited ability to pay. By charging one side of the market, you are limiting and restricting your pool of supply, and you are getting worse supply. It was clear that that wasn’t going to be the angle we would tackle. We then looked at the 2B part, which we always suspected was going to be the better side to charge. The 2B side has high amounts of skepticism.

It’s this concept of how you get someone to part with their hard-earned money, especially if they’re founders and people who have to be frugal and scrappy. What value can you demonstrate to them? What can you show them as value? That is important to understand what value you bring to your customers. For them, the value was something that was difficult for them to get access to themselves. It was revenue generation quickly in a market that was highly important to them, with people that they otherwise didn’t have access to because it wasn’t within their network. We started by thinking about seeding this side of the marketplace as the most important. If you seed the 2B side of the marketplace, if you have great employers and jobs on your platform, the job seekers will come to you and be more likely to trust you. That’s what we did, and it started to play out.

You hit upon key points there, Joyce, especially in a two-sided marketplace. It’s about who will see the value and who will part with their hard-earned money. That’s where you go. That’s a B2B place or the play. The B2C is building your network of salespeople. Do you specialize in a specific industry? How do you build an asset, that sales talent pool?

That’s a great question. That’s more on the product side. To our earlier point, product-led growth or having the products involved in the GTM is highly important. Assessing the sales talent is part of the reason companies use us. Like I said, it’s core to the product that they believe this is a marketplace of competence and trust that we, with our experiences in the US and our networks, know how to both attract the right types of people and screen and filter out those who aren’t so great. We have a combination of online assessments as well as phone screens and interviews that we do.

We usually look for a couple of key things which are incredibly important when founders are looking at building out their go-to-market team. We look for intrinsic motivation and drive. Sometimes some people can call it hustle. Startups love that phrase, so I’ll call it hustle. For a startup, why I say intrinsic motivation drive is because it can’t be as simple as your boss telling you what to do and looking over your shoulder, or you get paid a lot of money, and therefore you are doing it. It has to be something more because sometimes startups don’t have a lot of money, and founders don’t have a lot of time. Management can sometimes fly out the window, and people need to be self-motivated.

B2B 31 | New Market
New Market: If you’re going to build your go-to-market team, you’ll want people who have intrinsic motivation and drive, the ability to communicate well, and empathy.

 

The second thing we also often look for is the ability to communicate well. I know it sounds so simple, but for someone in a go-to-market function, it’s critical. It can be verbal communication or written communication. Also, it has to be effective asynchronously because the founders we’re working with are usually based overseas. There are many time zones that separate them from their American GTM team. Even in the US, if you live in Hawaii, New York, or Colorado, those are all different time zones. Even for our team, we’re distributed across multiple time zones because most of our team is either on the East Coast or the West Coast of the US. There’s a three-hour time difference.

You want to be respectful of the time. For example, it’s 2:00 PM in San Francisco on a Friday. I know I’m going to stop messaging my US team on the East Coast once I’m done with this show because it’s going to invade their family time and their weekend time. I don’t want to do that. Communication is important. The last piece I said, which also ties into communication, is empathy. Empathy is so incredibly important. Like the example I gave, I don’t want to impose on people on their personal time and family time if I can help it. I’m empathizing with them because I want to know how I would feel in a situation. I also want to know how I want to treat others.

It’s so important for GTM talent to have strong empathy. Also, it goes beyond just working with clients and customers and getting their trust, but also working with diverse and global teams. It is important to be empathetic and patient because there are times zone and cultural differences. Sometimes you have certain situations that pop up that are less than ideal, but you need to empathize. If you always put that thought at the forefront of your mind of, “Everyone’s working hard. Everyone’s trying their best,” then even small things or mistakes can seem very immaterial.

Those are all great points. The more I listen to your story and approach, I’m being reminded of these unicorn companies like HackerRank and HackerEarth, similar to what they’re doing for developers and helping these employers find great developers. You’re doing a similar playbook for sales.

We are, in some ways, like the inverse of a lot of these developer companies.

Let’s switch gears a bit over here. Can you share a success or a failure story? It’s up to you what you want to share. I don’t expect you to share anything confidential and private, but if you can share a go-to-market success, not for Alariss Global, but for one of your customers, like what the situation was. Have you helped them in their go-to-market in a new market?

I’ll do that. I’ll share success. Those are always more fun. I’ll keep names and privacy intact. I’ll make it a bit more anonymous. We have worked with quite a number of different companies all around the world. In one company we work with that’s in the industrial automation and AI space, the team had tried for many months to hire someone in the US but was unable to. They were starting to fall behind because it was a venture-backed company. They were at the seed stage. The problem is the longer you delay being able to deploy that capital, and nowadays, when founders raise money, 90% of it goes towards the headcount. Very little has to go towards other things like where you pay a little bit of your cloud subscription fees to Heroku, your CRM, and G Suite or whatever. You buy everyone laptops.

Beyond that, especially with distributed teams, what else are you spending money on that is on compensation, bonuses, and benefits? They were having a hard time hiring someone, and it was frustrating them because they were starting to miss their revenue targets because it was taking so long to get someone in the market. The founders themselves were already fully at capacity. They couldn’t keep being the only salespeople because sales and go-to-market can accelerate. It can grow exponentially, but it is still going to be limited based on the number of go-to-market people you have on your team, especially for B2B of a certain ACV above $50,000 a year or so. A lot of decision-makers and a lot of your buyer persona expects to be able to talk to someone and have their questions answered.

It was starting to be frustrating. The hero in the story here was that they found Alariss through a referral. They started working with us, and we were able to get them the right person and get that person onboarded within a month’s time. To some companies, it might seem crazy like, “I took six months, and it only took a month.” Keep in mind that the American labor market is incredibly dynamic, and salespeople are good at selling themselves. If they can’t even sell themselves, how can you have confidence they can sell your product? A good salesperson, if they’re on the job market and are actively starting to interview, can get competing offers and other offers within two weeks. It’s important to remember this is dynamic. It moves quickly.

It takes a month from start to finish, starting with sourcing, screening, and attracting the salespeople and all the interviews they have to go through back to back with the different founders to finally offer letter negotiation and then onboarding. That is a lot of work to pack into one month, but it can be done, and it should be done because the longer it drags out, that means perhaps the company wasn’t moving quickly enough and wasn’t making decisions fast enough. They were losing a lot of candidates in their pipeline.

Perhaps they were working with the wrong sourcing partner or strategy for finding candidates. Whatever it is, it could be tough. After the person started working for the company, and it was a great mutual fit, the person had the exact engineering but also sales background that the company needed, and the company offered this person great growth and trajectory for advancement that the person couldn’t otherwise get from staying as a mid-level or mid-market AE or senior AE at a much larger company.

Becoming the head of North America right away for this company was exciting. A few months in that this person was hitting, achieving, and exceeding revenue targets, the company wanted to hire more people, and then they were able to use this momentum, and the revenue that was being generated to close a very sizable series A with an American investor, even though this company was headquartered in another market and the founders because of travel restrictions were unable to come to the US at the time.

That’s a great win-win story there. It’s a win for Alariss, but clearly a win for the salesperson who got hired. He or she’s on a different growth trajectory, and for the founders as well, because that whole approach of working and partnering with Alariss led to them raising series A in the US market from a US investor.

Let’s switch gears again to a different topic. You have a wide network from your undergrad and grad schools, and you work with different organizations and communities. If you were to share some of the best practices and what resources you lean on, be it podcasts, books, communities, or mentors, what resources do you lean on for your personal and professional growth, especially given how stressful, but at the same time, fun the founder journey is?

The founder journey is stressful. You’re right in that. I’m lucky my husband has been such a bedrock of support for me from the beginning. He was my boyfriend at the time when I started Alariss. I quit my job and started Alariss. It was all these highs and lows. It was a bit of a strain on our relationship at first. We had been dating for a little bit, but it was probably a side of me he hadn’t yet seen how high the highs can get and how low the lows can get. I’m so lucky that I have his support. That means the world to me, and it means a lot.

With other people for inspiration, I have a couple of other friends who are founders that I will text or call up. Everyone’s busy, but people make time for each other. I’ve been so touched and floored by how generous people are with their time, even though it’s limited. I remember, in particular, some of my female CEO friends are ones that I found I resonated with even more or others who are minorities and are founders in the US because there is a special shared experience. There are certain elements that are unique. For example, I had my first child while I was running Alariss and while I was fundraising.

That is a different perspective when you ask a friend who’s been through pregnancy, hormones, pitching, and fundraising than if you were to ask a founder friend who had never been pregnant before or was a male and had gone through pregnancy vicariously perhaps through his partner, but hadn’t experienced it himself. It’s incredible to find a community and find either comfort, solace, or advice. Finally, my team has been great. I am so appreciative of how hard they work and how much they care. It makes me want to be a better leader. It makes me want to run a better company because they believe in me.

The founder's journey is a difficult one. Find a community where you can get comfort, solace, and advice. Click To Tweet

I’m so happy and grateful to you and the people supporting you. This is fundamental where you have “the right set of support system.” Things are unique when it comes to women founders and women leaders. They have their own unique set of challenges. As a man, I can “relate” to it, but it’s not the same thing. My wife and I have these conversations as well. She keeps sharing these experiences that she’s seeing at her workplace, and it’s different.

I completely respect that. Kudos to you and all the support systems that you have in place. We’re wrapping up. Coming to the final question here, if you were to go back in time and to the day one of your go-to-market journeys, possibly, maybe it’s that first day at Human Interest if I have to recall your career path and journey, what advice would you give to your younger self?

The beginning of my go-to-market journey was when I was living in China, working for an American tech company. This is right after I graduated from Harvard with degrees in Economics and International Relations. I worked at the Federal Reserve, which is a perfect fit for my degrees because it combines economics and international relations because I was working on a lot of policies that pertain to our international stakeholders and partner central banks around the world. I go from this very ivory tower, high-level policy, intellectual stuff. Most of what I did was memo writing and research, both in school and at work. I show up in China, and I have this glossy notion of what my job would be.

It’s going to be like I’m a diplomat in some ways. I’m coming as an American to China to build offices in China. I had never worked in business before, so I had this conception that it was almost like being a diplomat. You go, spread around the country, meet people, and shake hands. It’s great. I showed up, and they said, “Your title is sales director.” I said, “What?” I had thought at the time, as perhaps a lot of people who go to these types of universities do, I thought sales was a dirty word.

It’s that guy who keeps trying to push the used car sales or random people following you on the streets, trying to hand you flyers, trying to push things on you that you don’t want. That was what I thought sales was. I started off being a little bit apprehensive, and I didn’t even want to say or admit that I was doing sales, but that’s what it was. When you’re growing a business overseas, that is exactly what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to sell the company and the product in a new market.

Later on, over time, I embraced it. Now I have tremendous respect for it. I use the word sales all the time. I own it. The core piece of my responsibility is to sell the company, the vision, and our product. At the time when I was first beginning, I had too many apprehensions. That’s something I would want to share with founders and especially those who find themselves in a GTM role. The only reason people look down on sales is because a lot of people give it a bad name, but like anything in the world, that’s meaningful if you work hard at it and are good at it. This is a crucial function. It’s a crucial skillset to have.

That’s a great piece of advice. For me, I was having the same notion, plus I was also having a fear of selling. I started my consulting company Stratyve, reached out, and spoke to a different set of people because I needed to wear multiple hats as a consultancy service delivery person, but at the same time, marketing and even different functions within sales. You got the outbound, the BDR piece, and then you have the account executive piece who is negotiating and closing. I was also studying top-tier salespeople, and a common theme that surfaces, and I’m sure you would agree with this, is that great salespeople are great listeners. It’s completely contrary to the popular notion that’s being floated out in society, which is salespeople talk and talk. On the contrary, great salespeople listen more than they talk.

I agree. You’re a very good salesperson, Vijay. You’ve been a great listener. Thank you to everyone on this show.

Thank you for your time. I wish you and your team the very best. Thank you so much, Joyce.

Thank you. You too. Take care.

 

Important Links

 

Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share! http://stratyve.com/