Paragon: From Painful Integrations to Finding Product Market Fit
Brandon Foo is the co-founder and CEO of Paragon, a platform designed to help software companies create integrations with third-party applications.
Back in 2015, while working on a previous startup, Brandon and his co-founder Ishmael discovered how painful it was to build and maintain integrations.
This experience ultimately inspired them to start Paragon.
At first, they had trouble finding customers for their product idea. After many customer interviews, they realized they were building the wrong product.
More importantly, those conversations helped them figure out what type of product their prospective customers actually needed.
Today, they've grown to several million dollars in annual recurring revenue (ARR), built a team of over 30 people, and have raised just over $16 million in funding.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- The lessons they learned from their previous startup and how that helped them to avoid making the same mistakes again with Paragon.
- The iterative approach they used to find product-market fit including refining their product idea and gradually increasing their pricing.
- How they are using LinkedIn as a key growth channel and profitably acquiring customers through it.
- How Brandon is overcoming the challenges of delegation, and learning to let go of tasks, in order to build a more effective and scalable team.
I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
This is a machine-generated transcript.
[00:00:00] Omer: Welcome to another episode of the SaaS Podcast. I'm your host, Omer Khan, and this is a show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you build, launch, and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talked to Brandon Foo, the co-founder and CEO of Paragon.
A platform designed to help software companies create integrations with third-party applications. Back in 2015, while working on a previous startup, Brandon and his co-founder Ishmael, discovered how painful it was to build and maintain integrations themselves. This experience ultimately inspired them to start Paragon.
At first, they had trouble finding customers for their product idea. After a lot of customer interviews, they realized that they were building the wrong product. More importantly, those conversations helped them figure out what type of product their prospective customers actually needed. Today they've grown to several million dollars in ARR.
Built a team of over 30 people so far, and have raised just over $16 million in funding. In this episode, we talk about the lessons they learned from their previous startup and how that helped them avoid making the same mistakes again, with Paragon, the iterative approach they used to find product market fit, including refining their product idea and gradually increasing their pricing, how they're using LinkedIn as a key growth channel and profitably acquiring customers through it.
And how Brandon is overcoming the challenges as a founder of delegation and learning to let go of tasks in order to build a more effective and scalable team. So I hope you enjoy it. All right, Brandon, welcome to the show.
[00:01:49] Brandon: Hey, Omer, thanks for having me.
[00:01:50] Omer: Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us?
[00:01:55] Brandon: Yeah. I'd say my favorite quote is one by Confucius and it goes we all have two lives and the second one begins after we realize that we only have one. I think this is something I think about a lot and that motivates me personally in terms of. Relatively speaking, our lives, our time on Earth is short.
And really looking at it from that lens, that helps, I think focus on what is really important, what really matters to you in life, and what you want to do in your time here.
[00:02:21] Omer: Love it. I think I heard Naval share that quote as well. Maybe it was on Joe Rogan and I wanna, that was the first time I heard it.
It was just like, yeah, it really makes you think. Alright so tell us about Paragon. What does the product do? Who's it for? What's the main problem you're helping to solve?
[00:02:37] Brandon: Yeah, so Paragon is an embedded integration platform for SaaS applications, and what we do is help software companies integrate their products with third-party applications like Salesforce, Slack, NetSuite, HubSpot, and ultimately, today every software company, at least every B2B software company is building integrations.
If you go on their websites, there's a list of integrations on their website, and largely these companies are spending millions of dollars in engineering to build and maintain these integrations on their own. There really is no defacto solution in the market, aside from building and maintaining these integrations in-house.
So we started Paragon to solve that problem and to essentially serve as a unified connecting layer between your products and the broader SaaS or software ecosystem that allows you to seamlessly provide native product integrations for your customers.
[00:03:27] Omer: What's the typical size of a customer?
[00:03:31] Brandon: Yeah, so today we work with just over a hundred companies, a hundred customers around the world, ranging from SMBs, so startups to enterprise publicly traded software companies.
I'd say we definitely started on the smaller ends as we first went to market selling to startups series A, series B companies. And as we've continued to grow, we've moved more of markets selling to mid-market and now starting to focus more on enterprise customers as well.
[00:03:56] Omer: Okay, great. And can you give us a sense of the size of the business?
Where are you in terms of revenue, size of team? And I know in terms of funding, you guys have raised, you recently raised a 13 million series A overall about $16 million you've raised what about revenue and team?
[00:04:13] Brandon: Yeah, so we started the company in 2019, about three and a half years ago. So since then we've grown to a few million in ARR.
Our team is just over 30 people, and as you mentioned, we've raised just over $16 million in venture funding, including a Series A led by Inspired Capital last year.
[00:04:31] Omer: So before we talk about how you came up with the idea for this business, this is your second startup. This is your second YC company, I think, isn't it?
It is. So let's, tell us about the first one. What were you doing before Paragon?
[00:04:45] Brandon: Before Paragon, I started a company called Polymail around 2015. Polymail was a email productivity app. Many of your listeners are probably familiar with Superhuman. So I think in some ways we were Superhuman before Superhuman became popular.
But we started with, the idea to perhaps naive idea. It's a fix email. I think we've all probably had some idea like that in the past. As entrepreneurs, we live in our inboxes and so we designed essentially a superpowered email app, email client that had built-in productivity features and made it a lot easier for you to get through your day-to-day email.
We did go through YC for Polymail. That was in winter 2016, and worked on Polymail for about four years until I eventually stepped down to start Paragon in 2019.
[00:05:29] Omer: So where did the idea of a paragon come from?
[00:05:31] Brandon: My co-founder and CTO Ishmael and I have actually started a previous company together. This was before Polymail even. I met Ishmael while I was in college. After I graduated, we started a software development company where we built products for other companies like Uber and Universal. And then of course after that I went on to start Polymail. And so in our careers as founders and software developers, we built dozens of products.
And one of the pain points that we consistently saw was building integrations especially at my last company, Polymail. We started off in the consumer email space and eventually tried to pivot to more B2B enterprise focused. And when we did the number one most important thing for customers was, we need a Salesforce integration.
We need to help spot Slack integration. And so we ended up building those integrations and it took us months and months basically reinventing the reel every time we had to build one of those integrations. And of course, beyond that, it's not only you build the integration, you have to maintain it indefinitely, and it was a huge.
Huge pain point for us. And one of the reasons why I think we've failed to ultimately, successfully make that B2B pivot at Polymail. So coming back it's a paragon reconnecting with Ishmael. We, had a broader thesis to democratize software development. As developers, there's so many parts of the software development process that are, repeated in every product.
Every app that is built. And as the world has reached a place where every company in the world is a software company, but less than 1% of the population are software engineers. Our thesis was that there had to be a fundamental shift in the way that software was built in order for this world to work.
So democratizing software development was our higher level. Thesis or, kind of goal approaching Paragon. And so that took us back to integrations. It took us, a few iterations actually, to get to where we are today. But ultimately, we came back to this pain points of integrations pain point that, I, and we had experienced ourselves as developers.
And what we realize is that this is essentially a problem that every software. Company in the world faces today. Like I said, if you go on the website, any software company has an integrations page and there's really no defacto solution. Outside of building those integrations yourself.
You know what we saw? There was a huge opportunity to take some of our learnings and what we had, struggled with and ultimately tried to solve ourselves and, really try and build a productized solution for SaaS integrations. And so our vision of Paragon is to really become the stripe for SaaS integrations, that single connecting layer for your product and all of the thousands of other SaaS applications in the ecosystem.
[00:08:07] Omer: So at this point, A lot of founders would go and spend months building a product before figuring out whether people wanted it or not. It's what you did with Poly Mill, but you took a very different approach with Paragon. Like you, you went out and you decided we're gonna validate this idea before we go and build the product, right?
[00:08:29] Brandon: Yeah. So I think with Polymail I ended up making the classic first time founder mistake which is. Over-indexing on products and under indexing on the distribution or the good market. We spent months building a product. We had this vision of, we can make emails so much better.
Here are all the features that email should have to make and this is gonna solve email. And ultimately I think we built a good product as a result of that. We had tens of thousands of active users and paying customers even. Ultimately it ended up being this consumer app where people were paying five or $10 a month and it was a, what I would, describe as a nice to have in a lot of ways, right?
We weren't solving a very concrete problem that the market had, and as a result of that, as we tried to grow the business, we tried to, go upmarket, sell B2B, sell enterprise, and I think we were taking a product that we had built. A product that we had built against no clear pain points in the market.
And tried to find problems in the market that we could slot it into. Ultimately I think we weren't successful in taking that approach. But I don't think that's an uncommon problem from what I've seen, talking to a lot of other early-stage founders who have spent six months or 12 months, with this grand vision of here's exactly what my product should be and it's gonna be perfect.
We just need to spend 12 months building it. And they end up getting to market and they realize that what customers want is actually something completely different. Certainly informed our approach the second time around with Paragon. And as we built the products in the first few months of the company we really started by talking to customers.
And we, started with maybe a hundred interviews with, customers or who we thought were potential customers showing them mock-ups, doing, a fake demo or a real demo, whatever it might be, to validate that, this is actually something that customers buy would wanna buy.
And I think about that as, taking a distribution-first approach to product market fit through that process. We even truly went through several iterations. The first idea that we had, that we were building for was actually completely different or different in many ways from where we are now. But we learned so much in that process, talking to users and trying to sell the product in its current form about what the market wanted, what the market didn't want, and ultimately what they were willing to pay for.
And so I think through that process we probably, continued that for the first. Better part of the first year at Paragon until we ended up landing on where we're at today. The product that you see Paragon as today. But I think that's ultimately, the process that has led us to, where we are.
And I think that's, been one of the biggest reasons for the success that we've seen here at Paragon.
[00:11:07] Omer: So how did you figure out who to go and talk to? Like you didn't have any customers, so you're trying to figure out who your ICP is and, As, as far as SaaS companies go, you, you can have startups that, at least early stage startups, that small teams.
Don't want to invest in any integrations because of all the work that's involved in maintaining it. So they're just like, yeah, we'll integrate with Zapier and let customers figure that the rest of it out themselves. Then you've got larger teams, you know that they maybe have some people dedicated to building and maintaining these integrations.
And then you've got, enterprise customers, which are doing it on a whole another scale. So you've got different types of customers who could use a product like this in the early days. Who did you go and talk to and did they turn out to be the right customers?
[00:12:02] Brandon: Yeah, so you're absolutely right and I think that, the process that we took was definitely a very iterative approach to reach product market fit.
And we started off talking to startups, our friends who are working at startups as developers who are engineers. And just asked about, what are the problems that you have, showing them examples or, early demos, prototypes of what we're building and trying to understand if and how that solves the problems that they experience in their day to day.
So I would say that in that process, I, one thing about finding product market fit is actually invalidating product market fit, or finding out what people don't want. So maybe if you're not, finding this is exactly what customers want, you're at least invalidating, what we're building is not valuable for people.
And through that process, I think, we're able to directionally orient ourselves towards what is, eventually where we, landed at and eventually product market fit. But, startups, small companies, I think experience the same types of problems in a lot of ways as larger companies do.
They may experience them in very different ways, in different magnitudes but at least directionally, I think it helps point you in the right direction, right? And that okay, customer or prospect is talking about this type of problem. There's something more here. Let's go a little bit deeper.
Let's try and understand why this is a problem, what they're trying to achieve, and if more people have it right, so directionally it leads you in the right way. And then the biggest test I think that every company should be doing at this stage. In line with their product development or even before, is actually asking customers to pay for the product.
Even before we shipped the product, we were asking customers to pay, I think it was like $30 at the very first, in the first phase. Of Paragon and we got some people who were willing to pay $30. I'm like, okay, so there's at least $30, worth of value for this problem that we're working towards.
So that's at least some validation. So maybe next time, let's try charging $50. Let's try charging a hundred dollars. See how. What is the magnitude of this pain points, right? What is the actual size of the value that we can capture if we're able to solve this problem in the market? So through that process, you can iteratively work your way directionally towards product market fit, starting with, the developer at a small series A or seed startup, right? If they can pay $30, let's try going to a series B, company C, can they pay a hundred dollars? And eventually we've raised our price, many times since then. But it was a very iterative process and we literally started from, $30 to where we are now to get there.
[00:14:30] Omer: I've seen a lot of founders. Deal with a lot of angst trying to figure out what their ideal pricing should be when they don't have any customers. And it's yeah you hear a lot about pricing and optimization and all that, and yes, you should do that, but there's a time for doing it.
But as you just said, in the early days when you're trying to get those first 10 customers, I think you just need to prove they'll pay. Anybody will pay something. They see some value in, in what you're doing and you could always keep increasing your prices like you guys did. I'm curious you took this approach to say we're gonna go out and talk to customers first.
We, I didn't do this the last time round and we're gonna learn from that mistake. What was one, one big insight you got from going out and talking to customers? That if you hadn't had those conversations, would've sent you in a completely different direction or led you to making. A big mistake down the line in terms of how you built or positioned the product?
[00:15:30] Brandon: Yeah. I would say that process shapes our entire product strategy in Paragon as it is today. Like I said, we started with actually a fairly different product. Still a developer tool, but through this process of talking to customers selling first, and customer discovery, we. Iterated on our products many times to reach the point that it's now.
At a very high level, we started with a product that was more, I would describe as like a backend as a service. That was our very first approach to this. So something more similar to a Pars or a Firebase that, you can stand up a database and, a production ready app with a few lines of code or no code at all.
And through that process we found that. Wasn't actually what people wanted, or it solved some problem in the market, but it really wasn't big enough where, people were willing to pay that much or there was gonna be a big enough market for this to be really exciting, so we took that idea and okay, what are parts of this that we can shave off? Or, how can we iterate based on what we've learned from the market? And really that's, Talking to these customers, they're giving us feedback on what we're showing them already, but they're also telling us other problems that we may not have heard of.
And in that process, people, bragging up integrations, right? And I need to build these integrations. And that's one of the pain points that I have. I don't wanna spend six months building this integration every time my customer asks for one. And you're like, okay, that's, different than.
Not exactly what we're building for right now, there are ways in which we can adapt and we can, pivot or iterate our idea and our approach if we can validate that is a big enough opportunity in the market. And so I would say, yeah not just, any one mistake or one thing I would say that inherently shaped and, helps build and create our product as it's today.
[00:17:06] Omer: So building a product like Firebase is very different to. What Paragon is today, and I think if somebody is listening to this and they're going out and they're at the same stage of a fire based type idea and they're hearing from customers, yeah, maybe there's a need for it, but it's not it's not like the burning issue.
Like what? What's a good question that you. You are asking that helped uncover other issues.
[00:17:37] Brandon: Will you pay a hundred dollars for this right now? And actually ask them to put in their credit card? We did that. We would ask people to put in their credit card on the call. We would give them a Stripe form to put in their credit card for.
We didn't even ha, we didn't even build this product, by the way, the firebase, thing we never ended up building it, but we asked customers to pay for it just to validate that it was actually solving a pain point and they weren't lying to us too. It is very different. But that's the point is that we actually, through this process, we actually never ended up building this thing.
It was just a, very high level idea directionally right, that we know there's something in this direction, and this is one. Iteration of this thesis that we have about solving the software development process, right? And just testing it in the market. And what I like to call, sell before you build.
I think any company who is at that stage, any early stage founder who is in that early product discovery or development phase. They should try to get their first 10 customers before they even write a single line of code. And that will, feel unintuitive, I think for a lot of people who are really excited about building.
But what I've seen that can save you months or even years of time, of figuring out is this something that people actually want? You don't have to write a single line of code to answer that question. Just show people enough to describe your products or your solution and ask them to pay for it right now.
And that's what we did. That's what we tried to do. And ultimately from that, process we didn't feel like there was a compelling enough response from the market that it made sense to continue in that direction. But we learned enough from the market, from talking to them that we knew that here are other opportunities in the market that are even bigger, that are even more compelling than what we initially started with.
[00:19:16] Omer: Great answer. So I've got a two part question as a follow up there. Firstly, when you're asking somebody, Hey, let's talk about that kind of fire based type product, would you pay a hundred dollars for it? Here's the Stripe page, and they say not really. What's the follow up question to figure out where to go next?
Because what I'm trying to get to is like a lot of times founders focus on, okay, just figuring out, okay, is my idea valid? Is will somebody pay for it? And if they hear a no, sometimes it's okay, I need to, that's the end of the call. But you guys were going a little further and you were then figuring out, okay, if these people are not that excited about it, what other problems do they have?
That we could solve. So what, how were you asking that question?
[00:20:06] Brandon: Yeah, so I think before you asked 'em to put in their credit card on the Stripe page, I would treat it like a actual sales process, right? And in actual sales process, the most important part is the discovery, right? So hopefully you're leading this discussion with some form of discovery process that uncovers, what pain points that your prospect has in relation to your solution, with any good. Discovery process. You should be able to get the prospect, to talk as much as they can, right about, the pain point that resonates with them. And so in that process, if you're trying to validate your idea and you find that, maybe this problem is already solved, right?
The prospect is actually not that concerned about this problem that I'm trying to solve. That's a pretty clear indication. Maybe this is, some form of invalidation, but hopefully in the discovery process, rather than asking yes no questions, as you can make it more open-ended.
And you can use that as a process to really understand who your buyer is or who your ICP is, and What kind of their day-to-day life looks like. They have problems. Every person has problems that they're willing to pay for, right? And I think software developers coming from being a software developer myself, right?
We have some intuition of okay, here's the shape of a software developer's workflow in their life and the types of problems that they're likely to experience. Just having that discussion in an open-ended way. And again, I would compare this to a good discovery process.
That, a salesperson would have to really try and understand who their buyer is, what their day-to-day life is, what they care about, right? What are they motivated by, right? Is their goal to ship as much code as possible? Is their goal to, get this feature to market so they can close this customer, right?
So beyond just a surface level will you buy my products? Hopefully you can get deeper into what is the. Motivators, like as a person, what motivates them, right? What do they really care about? And maybe my specific, version of those products isn't aligned with that, from that root cause of what do they care about, what problems do they have?
You hopefully can have enough conversations to get some intuition of, here are potential solutions to first of all, what their actual problems are, and then here are what potential solutions might be.
[00:22:17] Omer: I think you gave some great advice in terms of every founder starting out should try to get their first 10 paying customers without writing a line of code.
The difficulty that I think a lot of early stage founders have is even if I get them to pay, like what's the offer? Like, why would they pay me when I don't have a product, when it might take me six months to come back with something? So what exactly am I telling them that they're paying for, which creates enough sense of urgency to get their credit card out right now.
Yeah. And so what was the offer or the promise you made for these people to get their credit card out now versus saying, yeah, come back when the product is ready and then we'll give you a credit card.
[00:23:05] Brandon: So you know the Tesla cyber truck? Yeah. They announced it maybe two, three years ago and I don't know, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people instantly put down a thousand dollars for the cyber truck.
It still hasn't seen the light of day, two, three years, three years later. But there was enough there. There was enough of a compelling product. I don't know if it solves a real problem, enough of a compelling offer there that. These people were willing to pay at least some non-trivial amount of money at the promise of being able to eventually get this product right.
And so I would look at it that way. The money itself actually doesn't matter, right? It's is this problem. Valuable enough that people are willing to pay some money and recognizing maybe there actually is some risk, right? That this product is never gonna see the light of day. Even knowing that this problem is meaningful enough to me that I can put down $30 or 50 or a hundred dollars, right?
If it's actually true that I can get this product in and will actually solve my problems the way that you're describing it, right? And so I think that's really, trial by fire. And if you can't get at least, 10 people, at least, some number of people to pay a non-trivial amount, even if the product's not ready yet.
I think that's, a sign that there may not be a compelling enough, market or need in the market for what you're building. You can phrase it in a number of different ways. It could be, to get on the wait lists. It could be, pre-sale. It could be you'll get your money back if we don't ship by whatever date.
You can figure your way around about it. But I think the most important thing is it's not the money itself, right? It's the indication, right? That this problem is valuable enough for this person to risk losing $30 or $50, whatever, right? If it's actually, the promise of the real solution is there?
[00:24:45] Omer: Yeah. That's great. Okay, so when you did ship well actually how many people did you convince? To get out their credit card and give you money. Did you get to the first 10 before you shipped or started building the product?
[00:24:56] Brandon: Yeah, we got to a few dozen Elliotts. I don't remember exactly how much but back then, yeah, back then we were paying 30 or we were charging $30.
And so it was a relatively small amount. We should have charged more. I think in hindsight. We eventually did over time rebates that price of course. But yeah, we got to, maybe 20, 30 customers or so that were paying us at least $30. And that made up sort of our initial customer base. And even beyond that, even after we did ship, our product evolved and iterate, reiterated constantly over the course of maybe a year or so.
And obviously we're still, continuing that process. But we had at least, a core group of a few customers, a few dozen customers that we could, test these ideas very rapidly, get feedback from and we knew that there were at least. They had some skin in the game, right?
They were paying us at least $30. So they're not giving us they're not lying to us, right? If something's actually not valuable to them, then, we have some reasonably reliable source of constant feedback that allows us to continue this process of iteration even beyond, shipping that first version.
[00:25:54] Omer: Okay. So you spent a fair amount of time going out and. Interviewing prospective customers. I think you said you, you aimed for, or you got to about a hundred interviews, you were asking people to give you money before I think you, you already started building a product, but basically you were still getting people to give you money before the product had shipped.
And so you go, you got there and you've got, a couple of dozen customers. What did you do next? What did your go-to-market, your initial go-to-market strategy look like and how did you try and find other customers?
[00:26:34] Brandon: Yeah, so our initial go-to-market strategy was just Emailing, calling, getting into, demos, calls, however we could with our friends, with friends of friends, anyone that we could, who is remotely close to our ICP that we could get onto a call.
And really in those early days, I think it's, a matter of, being able to get a higher volume, a higher, dataset of feedback. And, as we grew from there. We eventually transitioned to more of a marketing based approach. And so one of our first hires at Paragon was our head of marketing, Brian. We brought him on maybe a little bit after our first year at Paragon. And at that point we knew we had at least, something working. We had at least, some paying customers. There was enough there that we could start to look at, okay, if we can sell to this set of customers, then I think we can start to scale to a broader audience.
In working with Brian. We tried a number of different approaches and we tested all the usual suspects email, outbounds and contents. And ultimately what we landed on that started working for us was performance marketing on social channels. So we started off. With some Facebook, some Instagram, some LinkedIn.
And over time what we found is that, for us, obviously selling a B2B software product, Facebook and Instagram worked a little bit. When they started to introduce the iOS 14 privacy changes, it completely fell off basically. So LinkedIn is what really ended up becoming our most consistently successful channel.
And still to this day we rely or are able to utilize LinkedIn for a large amount of our marketing and lead acquisition. I think that for any B2B software company or B2B company in general, LinkedIn is one of the most powerful tools and channels out there for lead acquisition. And it's definitely one that's, I think for us, been one of the most successful drivers of our growth in the last couple years.
[00:28:25] Omer: Yeah, I think LinkedIn, in terms of being able to target B2B customers is by far, the best place to to go and do that. I know a lot of companies struggle with the cost of running LinkedIn ads and turning that into, a positive roi. You guys have probably, obviously, managed to do that because you've got it working and you're still doing that.
What does a typical funnel look like if a prospect is on LinkedIn? They're going through their newsfeed, what would they see about Paragon? And what's the call to action and. What do they do and how do they get to becoming a customer?
[00:29:10] Brandon: Yeah, so at this point our LinkedIn strategy, I would say is fairly sophisticated.
We utilize a variety of different types of campaigns on LinkedIn. So a lot of what we do is actually not necessarily direct response. We do have some that are direct response, like book a demo but a lot of what we do is more top or mid-funnel content distribution. Brian and our marketing team creates content pieces, some long form content pieces that we use essentially as lead magnets in a way that can help qualify prospects who maybe earlier in the buying journey maybe not necessarily to buy or even book a demo quite yet.
But an example is we wrote a guide on build versus buy. So what are the top. Criteria or factors you should consider when deciding to build your own integrations versus buying a platform like Paragon. So this has been one of our, highest performing pieces of content. So if you're on your LinkedIn newsfeed and you're scrolling by, you might see, this guide to, or this ad to download or build versus buy guide.
And from our perspective, we see if a prospect, clicks on and downloads that piece of content, even if they're not ready to buy today, they're at least. Probably thinking about this problem, right? There's some qualification there, right? And so we can use that as a signal, to further focus on certain prospects or certain audiences.
That's a very simple example, and I think there's a lot more that we're doing now, but more broadly, I think we found that LinkedIn is incredibly powerful. Not just for obviously direct response but for distributing a pretty. Wide variety of types of content and messaging on their platform.
I would say earlier on you talked about, the price and the cost of LinkedIn. I would say, certainly LinkedIn is more expensive than some other head channels. Earlier on. I would say our approach is, similarly taking a minimum viable approach to distribution. So what that means is similar to building a minimum viable product, our goal was not to build the perfect or validate the perfect distribution channel, but to first see what works.
And, with, we tested email, we tested content, we tested LinkedIn just with the goal of seeing can we validate that we can at least consistently deliver leads. At some reasonable price. It doesn't have to be necessarily, the fully optimized price, but, is there a possibility?
Can we validate that there's a possibility that this can become a scalable long-term channel for us? And so in that process, we ran a series of experiments to validate, okay, if what we're seeing, LinkedIn is generating the most consistent results. Maybe it is more expensive today, but in the last two years and what we continue to do is optimize our approach to LinkedIn where we've been able to see really strong economics in general from LinkedIn. And it's an ongoing process of iteration similar to, how I would think we approach product development.
And it's one that we continue to this day with our distribution strategy as well.
[00:31:55] Omer: Great. So basically top of final. Top, final, middle, and final. You are distributing a bunch of content on LinkedIn using paid ads as a way to boost distribution, get it in front of more of the right people, and really the goal there is education, demand gen, and building some kind of retargeting audience that you can then, Run different types of ads to, lower down in the funnel.
[00:32:26] Brandon: Yeah. That's a simple example or, it's top of funnel piece of content. They download the ad In that process, we can get their email and then, with our SDR team or our sales team, now we have a list of qualified prospects at our, at least somewhat warm. We know that there's.
At least some interest in thinking about this problem, right? That gives us a much more targeted audience. And so I think, the reason why this is so valuable and so powerful for B2B specifically, is that you can take a very more holistic ABM approach rather than just, consumer ads on Instagram.
Or it has to more or less be direct response, right? Because we can take an ABM approach. First of all, LinkedIn lets you feed an audience of really your entire. List of companies or your list of prospects, if there's other, criteria that they can use for targeting that's useful as well.
But yeah, I would say LinkedIn is just, one, one part of, several layers of our acquisition funnel. But a lot of it starts with LinkedIn. I think that's what we've seen the most consistent success, in terms of kind of the foundation of our, what we've built on top of that as our overall go to market strategy.
[00:33:30] Omer: What does the sales cycle look like from the time? You do first touch maybe a demo to the point that you end up closing a deal?
[00:33:42] Brandon: Yeah, it varies. So we've, seen two week sales cycles. We've seen two month and, two quarter sales cycles as well, depending on, obviously, the size of the company, the nature of what they're trying to build on Paragon.
But overall our sales process is, pretty straightforward. So we have a team of SDRs, AEs solutions engineers as well. Typically, when prospects engage with us. They're signing up for a free trial or we're leading them through a proof of concept in some way. Usually through that process, we're able to demonstrate the value of Paragon through building a basic integration.
For example, some proof of concepts of, here's the integrations that they're trying to deliver using Paragon. And in that process, we're able to obviously identify here are the pain points that this prospect has and that Paragon can help solve for as we get into enterprise, in larger prospects, of course.
The process can involve quite a few more steps there as well. But overall I'd say that kind of describes the shape of our sort of go-to-market sales process.
[00:34:42] Omer: What's typically involved in a customer setting up a first integration. Can you just gimme just very high level, like what are the steps involved?
How long does it take? Is it something they can do in a day? And it's pretty easy to prove that, they can build integrations and get them working or is onboarding still something that takes longer and you're still trying to figure out how to streamline and optimize?
[00:35:08] Brandon: That's a great question.
Integrations like Salesforce, Slack, HubSpot, and provide those integrations as built-in product features in your application. So Paragon essentially lives as a layer of your application. We have some built-in UX components as well that allow users to say, connect their Salesforce account to authenticate.
And so we really make it as much as possible and out of the box experience for our customers who are setting up and building their first integration or even their 10th or 20th integration. With Paragon. So obviously by nature of software development in general, that can the mileage can vary depending on the type of use case that you're building for, right?
A Salesforce integration could be very simple. It could also be incredibly complex and could have, many different functions, features, capabilities, and so the balance that we try to strike is allowing our customers to get to market quickly, to get started as quickly as possible by providing as much out of the box with our api, our sdk, and our platform in general, but still providing enough flexibility that allows our customers to still achieve much more complex use cases.
If they're trying to build a very deep Salesforce integration that's real time bidirectional sync for multiple record types. Custom field mapping still providing, that depth of functionality or the ability to achieve that depth of functionality with Paragon. So it's not an easy balance to achieve, but I think that's, one of the things that we try to focus on the most.
[00:36:52] Omer: How many integrations do you support today?
[00:36:55] Brandon: So we support about 90 integrations out of the box today. So out of our integration catalog, these are pre-built connectors. We have about 90 integrations today. In addition to that, we also have a custom integration builder which allows our customers to actually create their own custom connectors with any integration as long as it has a public api.
So even if we don't support that integration natively as part of our catalog, We do have many customers who are creating their own connectors and integrating on that way.
[00:37:23] Omer: And your platform takes care of things like, authentication and all of those things. So the integration that they have to do on their end is a lot simpler than it would be if they were.
Doing everything themselves. Is that right?
[00:37:38] Brandon: That's exactly right. Yeah. So Paragon provides fully managed authentication, so that means that Paragon securely stores and manages the credentials for your customers, Salesforce or Slack, HubSpot, other applications. And we also provide out of the box UX components, so what we call our connect portal that you can display in your application to provide a Salesforce integration to your customer. Allow them to, one click onboard to the Salesforce integration, authenticate their accounts, configure settings. All that's provided as part of our platform that can be dropped into our customers apps. And really what's, our customers do then is map the data between Salesforce and their application.
So if they're syncing contacts from their customers Salesforce account, our customers just need to map. Here's how contacts from Salesforce should map to contacts in our application, for example. Okay.
[00:38:28] Omer: So you're, I think you said you're a team of about 30 people today, and one of the things we were talking about before we started recording was some of the challenges that you are dealing with right now in terms of.
Scaling as a CEO from, a business that's been very founder led and now you're building a team around you and, getting the right people in place and just trying to let go of a lot of the things that you as founders were doing. So that all looks good.
What are some of the challenges that, that you're dealing with right now? As you make that transition?
[00:39:02] Brandon: Yeah, so at just over 30 people right now, I'd say that we've definitely taken an overall pretty lean approach to building our company which I think is the right approach. But as a result of that, I'd say we're still, very much in the transition phase from being a founder-led company to, building out an organization that scales beyond just.
Myself and my co-founder. So I think there's ways in which we've done this well and ways in which we're still trying to accomplish this or could have done this sooner. I think that as founders, we have a natural tendency to wanna hold on to the things that we do, and maybe we are the best person at the company to do those things, but that also, First of all limits the ability for the company to scale over time, and also limits the ability for your team members to grow into a position where they can be responsible in own areas.
That's maybe, I or my co-founder are responsible for today.
[00:39:55] Omer: Can you give me an example? Just to make it a little kind of more real.
[00:39:59] Brandon: Yeah. Up until we raised our series a last year our sales team was me and one account executive. And I think between us, we did maybe the first million in a R at Paragon, which I think is okay, but arguably.
We could have started to build our sales team sooner. And so a lot of, you know, our sales process today still, I think, is based on my intuition and what I've been doing in the last year, which has worked well for me. Now we're in a process of, okay, how do we scale that to a team of SDRs and AEs?
We brought on our head of sales last year as well to help lead this process of really building our sales organization. And I think, that's one area where, okay, we've proven that the founder can sell the product, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we can build out, or at least not overnight, that we can build out a scalable team of AEs that, can do the same thing.
And I think, that's an area that's arguably, we could have started doing sooner, maybe at half a million era or maybe even earlier. And so I think it's hard to say, for every company it's probably difference. And that's just one example. I think we've, many others as well, but I think that's, just a trade off that we have to make at some point.
And, as founders, we have to decide here's what we're gonna be, best in the world at, and that's, gonna be the highest leverage thing that we're gonna do at the company. And here's where, we can build a team that can eventually, maybe not today, but eventually be way better than I am at doing this thing right.
[00:41:20] Omer: Yeah. So I wanna ask a follow up question there, because I think there might be a useful lesson for people in a similar situation other than hiring and building the sales team earlier. If you knew a couple of years ago that in 2023 you were gonna be dealing with this thing of trying to build out the sales team and scale it and take yourself out of the.
The picture a little bit. Let these people, control their own destiny a little bit. Whatever. There's challenges you're dealing with other than starting the hiring sooner, like what would you have done a year ago, two years ago that you think would've helped you be more successful? Today in achieving that outcome?
[00:42:03] Brandon: I think hiring is one aspect of it, right? But I think ultimately it's a question of ownership. One of our core company values is high ownership. And what that means is, we like everyone on our team to have a founder like mentality where, we don't have to.
We're not telling people here's exactly what you should do, but we're aligning on here are the high level business objectives where we're trying to get to giving them ownership to solve that problem and to own the results, success or failure. So hiring, yes, that's one part of it, right? You have to have people in order to do those things.
But I think it's also, a philosophical or, a shift in mindset and approach to, Building the sales organization or, certain functions in engineering or in products, right? If I can bring someone onto the team that's, better than me, or can be better than me at this thing, give them ownership over, what's this should look like one year or two year from now.
Two years from now, that results once, two years from now, it could be much difference than maybe it is today. That's just one example. But I think, yeah, part of it is the hiring, but I think it's also, that mentality of ownership and giving the team members, as much ownership as possible to, own entire functions, projects.
Teams of the business which ultimately in the long term is good for you as founders to help you focus. But it's also, I think, a necessary step for the business to be able to scale and to develop those leaders, right? And you want to have as many of those leaders on your team as possible.
[00:43:29] Omer: Yeah. And not sounding doom and gloom, but that problem's just gonna keep getting bigger as you hire more and more people right. Through the organization. But it's part of the fun of being a founder,
[00:43:40] Brandon: it's always good to get, people on the team. I always want people on the team who are better than me at what we're doing. So as long as that's the case, I think, we're continuing to grow in the right direction.
[00:43:49] Omer: Cool. All right. We should wrap up. So we've got the lightning round. I've got seven quick fire questions for you.
Just try to answer them as quickly as you can. What's one of the best pieces of business advice you've received?
[00:44:01] Brandon: YC has some advice that your startup has never failed until you give up. So I think there's always a way if you have, the ability to learn and adapt and that's what we've, tried to approach, building our company with.
[00:44:14] Omer: What book would you recommend to our audience and why?
[00:44:17] Brandon: I'll go with the classic here. I think this is probably required reading by this point, but the Lean Startup.
[00:44:22] Omer: What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?
[00:44:26] Brandon: Perseverance. Like I said before, I think the most important thing for a founder is just never giving up.
Your startup has never failed until you do. And I've seen a lot of companies, founders who took them five years, maybe even 10 years, to build, a world class company.
[00:44:41] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
[00:44:44] Brandon: I'll go with Polymail. I don't know if that counts. But yeah, I'll I'll give a shout out to CMA, another YC company.
They're a task management slash calendar tool. I use it every day. Incredible productivity app. Everyone should check it out.
[00:44:58] Omer: I was looking at that the other day, I think isn't it a combination of A calendar and some time blocking or something like that.
[00:45:04] Brandon: Yeah, it's it's kinda like a sauna and calendar in one.
The great thing is that you can take tasks from your to-do list and you can slot them in as blocks in your calendar so you can be really proactive about planning your day. A lot of the times as founders, you're doing so many things, you're just like, whatever is the highest or seems like the highest priority thing that comes up.
So you can actually have more discipline if you use it correctly about your daily productivity.
[00:45:26] Omer: What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?
[00:45:30] Brandon: Okay, so I'll give you an idea that I think this will happen in the next five years. AI generated influencers. So right now on Instagram, influencers Kardashian with generated ai, I think it's been proven that we or people will eventually create, completely AI based influencers.
Not only that, but they can also engage with fans, millions of fans on a one-to-one level. It's completely outside of SaaS, but I think this is something that will be very likely to happen the next five years. I don't know if I'm the founder to do it, but I I think that's one of the cool applications of AI we'll see soon.
[00:46:08] Omer: I think that's a, that's an interesting one and I can see as some of this AI technology continues to improve, how that becomes feasible, I think. Today is a very painful experience because like one of the things that I've started to see more of on YouTube is these AI kind of generated videos where it's it's not a talking head, it's just B-roll and stuff that somebody's put together.
And there's almost like an AI generated voice, which has no character or personality, and you just, like the headline kind of, draws me in. And then I listen to the first 10 seconds and I'm like, Oh, another one of those. It's like I'm seeing more and more of those coming, I can cut. I can definitely see once you get to the point where that technology has evolved enough, where it doesn't sound so boring or monotonous or whatever.
That could actually be a useful piece of content.
[00:46:58] Brandon: Yeah. It's still early days, but I think we'll get there. And I think we're getting there a lot faster than a lot of people expect.
[00:47:04] Omer: Oh. What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?
[00:47:07] Brandon: Before this my first aspiration was to be a musician.
I grew up playing music, violin, piano, guitar, some music production. And I wanted to be a musician, an artist. So I still have ambitions eventually of. Getting into the music or artist industry, probably not as the talent, but maybe as an investor, we'll see what the future has in store or maybe as a AI generated musician or artist.
[00:47:31] Omer: And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?
[00:47:34] Brandon: We already went over music I've been recently getting to golf a little bit more. I grew up playing golf and recently started picking it back up. Huge fan of golf. And yeah, if any listeners are in LA I would love to play around sometime.
[00:47:47] Omer: Sweet. Brandon, thanks for joining me and sharing your story and some of the lessons you've learned along the way. I think there's some really good stuff that you shared around. Going through the process a second time and what you've learned to do differently or some of the mistakes you've been able to avoid.
If people wanna check out Paragon, they can go to useparagon.com and if folks wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?
[00:48:11] Brandon: Yeah, you can add me on LinkedIn or on Twitter. Follow me on Twitter @Brandonwfoo and yeah, would love to connect.
[00:48:19] Omer: We'll include links to those in the show notes.
[00:48:22] Brandon: Cool.
[00:48:23] Omer: Thanks man. It's been a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I wish you and the team the best of success.
[00:48:29] Brandon: Thanks Omer. Appreciate it.
- “The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Ries