The SaaS Podcast

Dover: How to Get Customers without a Product or Website – with George Carollo [287]

Dover: How to Get Customers without a Product or Website

George Carollo is the co-founder of Dover, an end-to-end recruiting automation platform that helps companies to find and hire top talent. Dover uses advanced matching software to identify the perfect candidates across all recruiting channels and drives the hiring process for companies and candidates.

In 2019, three friends teamed up to launch a new SaaS startup. They'd all felt the pain of recruiting in previous companies and decided to solve that problem.

They got their first 10 customers without a product or website. In fact, at that point, they didn't even have a company or product name.

For the first 9 months, they solved the problem manually for customers. The team would review resumes, create a shortlist of candidates and then connect the right candidates with the right companies.

By taking this approach, the founders were able to better understand customers and identify exactly the right problem to solve with software.

But growing beyond their initial customers was tough. They sent about 1,000 cold emails to recruiters which turned out to be a waste of time.

They hired writers to create content, but they couldn't find anyone who understood the problem, market, and data well enough to create meaningful or useful content.

Nothing seemed to be working.

And then COVID hit and suddenly things looked even worse. Not only were they unable to acquire customers, but they were also now struggling to keep the ones they had.

The founders then made an important but risky decision. They decided to stop selling and instead focus all their time on building a better product.

In this interview, we explore why they made that decision and how they turned things around to get the business to $4M in annual recurring revenue (ARR).

It's an interesting story, but what I really love about it is the super-simple approach the founders have taken to build this business and how they got initial customers without a product or website.

I hope you enjoy it!

Transcript

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Omer Khan: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host Omer Khan. And this is the 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 talk to George Carollo, the co-founder Dover and end to end recruiting automation platform that helps companies to find and hire top talent.

[00:00:36] Dover uses advanced matching software to identify the perfect candidates across all recruiting channels and drives the hiring process for companies and candidates. In 2019 three friends teamed up to launch. And you saw startup. They'd all felt the pain of recruiting in previous companies and decided to solve that problem.

[00:00:55] They got their first 10 customers without even having a product or website. In fact, at that point, they didn't even have a company or product name for the first nine months. They solved the problem manually for customers. The team would review resumes, create a shortlist of candidates and then connect the right candidate with the right companies.

[00:01:15] And by taking this approach, the founders were able to better understand customers and identify exactly the right problem that they should solve with software. But growing beyond their initial customers was tough. They sent about a thousand cold emails to recruiters, which turned out to be a waste of time.

[00:01:33] They hide writers to create content. But they couldn't find anyone who understood the problem, market and data well enough to create meaningful or useful content. Nothing seemed to be working and then COVID hit. And suddenly things looked even worse. Not only were they unable to acquire customers, they were now struggling to keep the ones they had.

[00:01:55] The founders then made an important, but risky decision. They decided to stop selling. And instead focus all their time on building a better product. In this interview, we explore why they made that decision, how they turn things around to get the business to $4 million in annual recurring revenue. It's an interesting story, but what I really love about it is the super simple approach the founders have taken to build this business and how they got their customers without a product or website.

[00:02:24] So I hope you enjoy it. George welcome to the show.

George Carollo: [00:02:27] Thanks Omer for having me.

Omer Khan: [00:02:28] So what gets you out of bed everyday? What inspires or motivates you to, to work on your

George Carollo: [00:02:31] business? Maybe I'm a bit basic, but for me it's really just around, like, I want to leave the world a better place than what I found it in. So like when I die, this maybe sounds a little dark, but when I die, basically I hope someone goes up and says, George did X, which was really cool and hard to do.

[00:02:45] And it made a bunch of people's lives better. So I'm hoping to kind of have that impact, I guess.

Omer Khan: [00:02:50] Yeah, a bit dark, but good way to get inspired.  So tell us about Dover. What does the product do? Who is it for? And what's the main problem that you're helping to solve?

George Carollo: [00:03:01] Yeah, so we are an end-to-end recruiting orchestration platform, which sounds very jargony.

[00:03:06] So let me kind of break down what that is. We basically, our goal is to make hiring effortless for hiring managers. So what Dover does is we basically help discover candidates for companies and then also move those candidates through the recruiting process for our users. Got it.

Omer Khan: [00:03:26] Okay. So you guys founded the company in 2019 and your co-founders are and Max, who was actually a guest on my show about two years ago.

George Carollo: [00:03:42] Yes. With his other company,

Omer Khan: [00:03:43] Yeah with his other company, which I think is, let me just look that up episode 208 is where we talked to Max before. So tell, tell me about, like, how did you guys, how did you guys get together? How did you come up with the idea for this business?

George Carollo: [00:03:57] Yeah. So the get together story is pretty, goes way back. So Max and Anvisha both know each other from like freshman year of MIT. And then I met Max and Anvisha socially, probably around six years ago or something like that. Max, I'd done a little bit investing work together and Anvisha is now married to my best buddy from Stanford.

[00:04:15] So that's, so we've all kind of known each other socially for a very long time.

Omer Khan: [00:04:18] And then how did you come up with the idea?

George Carollo: [00:04:20] Yeah, so all three of us have been founders before and worked in startups. And one of the things that kind of came out of it was like, we realized like when we were trying to figure out like problem spaces and stuff to work on and Max and Anvisha actually did this even a little bit before I joined was we were like, Like hiring is a problem for every company.

[00:04:38] All of our friends complain about it all the time. When I go and have beers, I complain about it to my friends about like how we can't find anyone who's good. And we were like, this seems like an interesting problem to tackle.  So that's basically how we started the business.

[00:04:48] And you had a little bit more experience than your co-founders because your previous company was sort of in the similar space, right?

[00:04:55] Yeah. At my previous company, we sold tools to recruiters. So Max and Anvisha basically were like, we're going to do recruiting. And I was like, okay, cool. And I had just left my previous business. And I was like, I didn't even really know if I want to do recruiting again, to be quite honest. I was like, Oh, I gotta move out my kicks with those guys and what we basically hung out with them for a couple months.

[00:05:13] And like, it's pretty rare you get a chance to work with two good friends on a project. And one of the things I've learned throughout my career is that betting on the people is more important for me, at least especially early stages than like the exact idea, because the idea is going to change as you learn more and more about the problem you're solving or misses, there's massive pivots as well.

[00:05:31] So I was like, well, I'll just take the jump. And like, I'll work with two, my good friends and like, let's see what we can, let's see what we can pull.

Omer Khan: [00:05:36] Nope. You know, often we hear that, you know, whatever space you're going into having a deep understanding of that market is really important to be able to understand, you know, the nuances and, and really figure out what people in that market need, what their problems are.

[00:05:52] And so on. Now you had some experience, but your co-founders didn't, what was it about this space that you guys felt like? You know? Yeah, it's interesting, but we also believe that we're the right people to go and solve this problem.

George Carollo: [00:06:06] So I think we'd all had like on the user side, like we'd all hired people before and been through that.

[00:06:10] And we all have like our own, our own stories going through it. Max, his previous company, I think it was 30 people or something like that. And he was just like, it was always a dog for him to find good people and bring them on. When I was working at a startup in San Francisco, this is probably, I don't know, five, six years, six, seven years ago.

[00:06:26] Now I remember I was hiring the first person on my team. And sorry, you know, I throw out my job out on LinkedIn and all the standard places, indeed, whatever. And I just get like a million applications, just a million. And when I say million, probably like 200 or something like that, but like a very large number.

[00:06:42] And I just sat down. I remember one day just like flipping through on my desk. And I was just like trying to get through these resumes. And my boss was like, what are you doing, George? And like, I'm trying to throw all these resumes, take my five minutes each, this is terrible. And he's like, man, you should print them all out.

[00:06:53] And I was like, why should I put him out? And he's like, well, you should print them out, cut them in half, take the top half and throw out the bottom half. And I'm like, do you mean throw the bottom? I was like, you don't want to work for someone who's unlucky. And I was like, Oh my God, this is like crazy.

[00:07:04] Like, and he was making a joke. Obviously he's a very funny guy, but like, there was some truth to like the, this process is very broken. So it's been kind of a thing that we've, we've all known for like many, many years.

Omer Khan: [00:07:13] Okay. So, so you've got the idea, you think there's an opportunity there? How did you guys get started?

George Carollo: [00:07:18] Yeah, so. At the very beginning, basically, it was just, it was friends. It was like primarily Max and Anvisha friends who were like founders of other businesses who we just like, went to like, Hey, you guys trust us? We're like, we like to think we're smart people. We'll give it hell for you guys. And they trusted us.

[00:07:33] And, you know, we owe them a lot for that. And we just started doing like real basic like services, recruiting stuff. Like there was no technology at all at the beginning. And we're just like, let's just see if we can solve these problems with these hiring managers.

Omer Khan: [00:07:43] Okay. Great. So let's talk about that because that's  you know, a lot of founders are like, well, I've got to build a product and, and to, to build a product, I need the money and, and so on.

[00:07:52] And you were like, no, we're going gonna, we're going to test this a very different way. So tell me a little bit about like, how that actually works. Like, so if you've got somebody who agrees to work with you guys, what was happening, what was there even some sort of. You know, website or, or sort of concierge MVP, or was it just them emailing or phoning you and saying, Hey, do this for us.

George Carollo: [00:08:15] Yeah, it was very much the latter of those things.  I don't even think we had the name Dover until we were probably had like 15 customers. Like we need to have a name. There was nothing, there was like no landing page. There was basically nothing. And the way it worked to kind of like, so there's like three of us on the team this, by the way it worked for the first 10 customers was like, essentially like Anvisha was doing like the, like.

[00:08:35] Basically doing, like sending out emails to candidates and like doing the first round of interviews for our customers and just kinda like doing all that hands-on work. My job was largely to do they say, like, just doing resume review. And so the exact problem, I was kind of making fun of my old boss for telling me to throw half of them out.

[00:08:49] Like that was basically my job. The first couple of months, it was like learning. I like read all these resumes and like try to parse through them really quickly. And then Max was doing a lot of our sales work. And it's kind of funny that I look back cause like both Max and Anvisha are engineers by trade that's, like what they studied in school and what they've done before.

[00:09:03] And our disposition was like, let's just understand our user's problems. We weren't really sure what we wanted to build yet. It was like not super clear to us. So we just tried to like solve it as it's been solved for forever, which is like, you know, just do the work yourself manually. And then our whole idea is like, well, if we figure out how to optimize our processes, then we can start building technology around that.

Omer Khan: [00:09:20] Love it. And so were you charging. For your service, your product.

George Carollo: [00:09:25] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Most definitely. I think that's one thing that we knew early on. We had to charge because in some ways it's kind of like getting customer validation. Like if you just do it for free, it's like, it's unclear if you're creating any value for them.

[00:09:39] Right. Or they just feel like they're doing you a favor sort of thing, where if you're charging leasers, like this exchange of like, well, it's expected that we create value. And it probably also makes us work harder than today. Cause like they've trusted us. So we gotta like, you know, do it right for them.

Omer Khan: [00:09:51] Did you say you got like 15 customers that you were working with that way.

George Carollo: [00:09:55] Yeah, that was, yeah, it was like incredibly manual for like the first 15 customers, which, you know, I looked back to like the first, like, I don't know. Nine months of the company's life. There was like very, very, very little technology.

Omer Khan: [00:10:07] So how long did you do that? Like how long did it take to actually build a product?

George Carollo: [00:10:12] Well, I like to think it's are approximately been done yet. Like our  in my mind slows naming completed or tears and

[00:10:18] Omer Khan: [00:10:18] You know, so yeah. That's the resumes.

George Carollo: [00:10:20] Yeah. So like we. We, we got that part working that took us three months to get the resume review part, working and getting that done in an automated fashion.

[00:10:28] But like, we've been kind of like incrementally biting off different parts of the product. So the product we have is, as I kind of laid out, like there's a huge surf like product surface area with us. It's like, how do you find candidates? And then like move them through this recruiting process. There's just like a million steps in that.

[00:10:43] And so what we've tried to do is basically like, Try to automate and build nice product and like nice user features around the things that are like most repetitive and most straightforward. And we're continuing to kind of burn down that funnel if you will, of like things that have become more and more niche.

[00:10:57] And so we're still, I think, six months off, if we're lucky from actually having the whole thing working end to end.

Omer Khan: [00:11:03] So is there still. Some aspects in the backend that are still happening manually?

George Carollo: [00:11:07] Yeah. There are. And parts of those things I think will stay probably forever, manually. Like for example, like we perform interviews for our users.

[00:11:15] So we'll serve as a candidate. Our user says, Oh yeah, that looks like interesting person to talk with, but I'm really busy. Can you like, do the first interview for me? And we say, sure. So Dover does that, like, that will probably never be automated. I don't know how we're going to automate phone call. So we'll, we'll forever have a team that does that.

Omer Khan: [00:11:30] Okay. Great. That's interesting. So walk me through a little bit, I mean, obviously we don't need to go through like every single feature, but just if we can sort of thing about sort of high level the roadmap. So you started off no website, no product. It's basically, we're going to be bodies and provide a service for these customers.

[00:11:46] And then you did that for I think you said nine months or so.

George Carollo: [00:11:51] Yeah, probably around then. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:11:52] And then when, once you sort of introduced the, sort of the first version of the product, like what part did you sort of first automate?

George Carollo: [00:12:01] So I'll explain a little bit, a little more how Denver works than jump into that. So we argue there's like three ways to get candidates like three channels or sources. There's basically, you can like throw up job ads on various platforms indeed, LinkedIn, whatever we call those inbound candidates, they apply. There's outbound, which is reaching out to people, proactively call it through email or LinkedIn or something like that.

[00:12:19] And then lastly, there's referrals and all three of those things kind of funnel in. We call it the Dover brain, but this is basically that resume person thing that we built. And then from there, we basically work on process automation for our users to make sure, Hey, you, we scheduled our first round phone screen.

[00:12:32] How did it go? Do we need to advance them forward to a second-round and doing all that sort of work to actually push them through the stages of our recruiting process? So that's what our product is at a very high level. The first thing we tackled, because we didn't know if it was possible, frankly, it was like, could we get resume review to work?

[00:12:47] Because that was the first. Yeah, well, we started really building product. That's what we were focused on because it was the largest unknown for us. Like we knew we could build integrations with these other tools. We knew we could build a process stuff. We didn't know if it was possible to actually build the right algorithms, tax review resumes in a thoughtful way.

Omer Khan: [00:13:00] And explain to me a little bit about like, how does that work?

George Carollo: [00:13:04] Yeah. So it's a combination of like a lot of heuristics and like a lot of different machine learning models to basically solve the problem. So that's basically how we tackled it. And when we first started off, it was more rules-based. And as we've gotten more and more sophisticated, our time, we able to hone in the algorithm, it's constantly a work in progress.

[00:13:20] We're making it better every day. That's become kind of the, like the main thing that allows us to do all this stuff at scale is that, is that algorithm.

Omer Khan: [00:13:28] And, and how do you measure that? How do you know how well it's working or not working?

George Carollo: [00:13:34] It's a great question. So part of our flow is we, we, we always want the hiring managers buy-in for the candidate before we move them through and process.

[00:13:43] Right. I was just a waste of everybody's time. So what we do is when a candidate raises their hand and says, Hey, I'm interested. We basically show that. Candidate to a hiring manager in Slack. So we have all these Slack integrations set up and basically the hiring engine says, Oh yeah, that person looks interesting.

[00:13:57] I definitely would have interest in talking to them. And then if so, then we'll move them through. So there's actually a really great quality metric for us to track because we see basically of the folks that the brain is presenting essentially like what percentage of them are being approved by the hiring manager. And that basically helps us understand whether a calibrated or not.

Omer Khan: [00:14:14] Interesting. Okay, great. Okay. So that was like the first part that you, you guys started to build. Let's talk a little bit about how you found customers that like you didn't know. So, so you said, you mentioned like the first 10 was sort of like, you know, friends and, and stuff like that who had companies, but how did you start finding strangers?

George Carollo: [00:14:37] That's a really great question. I think that's like, I think it's really hard to do for what it's worth the business timing with COVID is of actually kind of interesting here. I think so we're, I don't know. End of 20. I guess it'd be 2019.

[00:14:53] We're probably like, I don't know, 15, 20 customers, something in that ballpark is my guess. And again, like most of us, like you said, are friends and friends of friends, things like that. And we didn't have much word of mouth or anything going. So he started running a couple experiments there to see like, could we basically like increase our like customer base. Right. And we tried two different strategies, both of which didn't work. So the first thing we tried was Max is like, well, let's just reach out to some companies and like, see if they'd been tested, like we'll show the product, tell them how cheap we are and like, see if they'd be interested in trying it out.

[00:15:22] And. Basically, we got like a big zero on that and we'd probably be next to him for like a couple of weeks or a month or something. And we're like, okay, this isn't very good. And like in hindsight is kind of, should have been more obvious to us. Like there's a ton of recruiting products out there. They're constantly reaching out to companies promising them the world, but how they're going to help them hire Elon Musk to come run whatever for right.

[00:15:40] So we're like, okay, so that was okay, great learning there. This is not going to be our, our way of doing this. The second thing we tried was some content marketing. We were really small company. There's like six of us at that point. I think. And not a, we really didn't have much time to like write all the content and do it in a thoughtful way.

[00:15:57] So we're like, what have we come with the idea? And then we can like outsource it. So we contracted with a firm that does this, and they're supposed to generate like good content for us based off of like, you know, we send them like a paragraph thing or turn it into like a nice fleshed out thoughtful article.

[00:16:09] And that didn't work out very well either. For us. I think a lot of us do with like a lot of our content is very data-driven and they just didn't have the ability to like trudge to our database and like have these interesting insights, like do that actual, like heavy lifting to come up with the article and make it really thoughtful. So I was kind of another failed experiment at that stage.

Omer Khan: [00:16:25] And so like, is that something that like, for example, like you guys still like writing the content yourselves. I mean, obviously you have a bigger team now.

George Carollo: [00:16:35] Yeah. That's yeah. That's exactly what's happened. So we went through, COVID had a bit of a lull then after COVID I think we basically, we stopped trying to do sales for like three months and just really focused on building the product out.

[00:16:46] And I think we've got a lot stronger product-market fit during that phase is what happened. So I guess like the, the, the world kind of aligned to make us work on our product more, instead of worrying so much about sales, which I think was a hundred percent the right. Like, I feel very lucky that that happened to us and that really.

[00:17:01] Pushed us. And I think that's when really we started to get kind of good word of mouth was after a product, just like we fine tuned it and worked on it and became better. And I think that some people start to talk about it and that's really how I think it's driven most of our growth, basically, you know.

Omer Khan: [00:17:13] Let's go back to the outbound for a little bit. So Max wanted to do this. What did you do? Did you send cold emails where you, where you kind of cold calling people? What, what kind of outbound were you doing?

[00:17:24] Yeah, it

George Carollo: [00:17:24] was cold emails. There's like standard Crunchbase, like figure out companies that are out there that are trying to grow quickly. Just raise a big round of money, yada, yada, yada like very, like, I think standard like sales things and put them in, dump them into some like mail merge tool, like send a bunch of emails and like, see if people respond, receive people, respond back and we just, we just got very little. Very little lift from that.

Omer Khan: [00:17:47] How many emails roughly, do you think you sent out or to how many people? I guess

George Carollo: [00:17:51] That's a great question. I'd probably guess in the order of like, I don't know, something like that.

[00:17:56] Omer Khan: [00:17:56] Okay. So it was a decent sample to go and test where there wasn't like, you know, you, you reached out to like 20 people.

George Carollo: [00:18:03] No, no, no. Cause w cause we wanted real data right on like, is this a thing or not? And like, we even did we even tried to do like smart things, like, you know, we're a YC companies are like, okay, what if we hit up the other YC companies wherever they're interested or something like that? Cause like maybe we have like this, like common bond or something. And I think the, like the problem is, is that recruiting is so noisy. Like even taser recruiting business. I think this was kind of funny. Like I'd probably get one or two emails a day offering like development help from some recruiting business. And I'm like, we're a recruiting business.

[00:18:30] Like, why am I reaching out to us? We use our own product. And I think that that's. I think it kind of just like shows how like noisy this market is essentially. So I think it's kind of like a, it's a tough strategy, I think for, for business.

Omer Khan: [00:18:42] Yeah. The thing with outbound is that if you're sending emails out and you're not getting a response, it's like, is it because you're talking to the wrong customers, right? Maybe your list, you just don't have the right list of people that you should be going after, or is it that you're talking about the wrong problem that they don't care about? Or is it just the message that the way you're delivering the message and articulating it, doesn't sort of come through.

[00:19:11] But the challenge there always is like, okay, if somebody goes through this process, maybe somebody is doing it right now. And they're sending out hundreds of these emails and they're not getting any response. It's not that hard to kind of get to the point where you said, well, maybe this just is not a great idea.

George Carollo: [00:19:26] Yeah. I think it, I think it varies a lot on the product as well. Like if you're a product that's actually like something that's like brand new. No one's ever thought about doing it this way before, or like, no one's ever seen like this. I think this is a compelling strategy for us. A lot of our product is around optimization and throughput and educating our users with metrics about like what to expect in the recruiting process.

[00:19:48] And I think that's a much more nuanced type of thing to try to sell and that people are going to talk about it and trust each other and trust their friend about this. And they're going to be like, Oh, I got some like email telling me that the, like my recruiting pipeline, is messed up. I need help because everyone thinks that they're doing it the right way.

[00:20:04] And that's kind of a contrarian thing to post out there. So I don't think that that's is another, that I think is likely to resonate with a lot of users. And that's why we see why we pull. We just like stopped doing it pretty early on in our life. We ran the experiment and just got bad results from it. And let's try the next thing.

Omer Khan: [00:20:20] Yeah. And, and I think it's cold email is especially challenging. If you're targeting people who already get a lot of cold emails and almost have kind of run out to them.

George Carollo: [00:20:30] Most definitely. I'd say of our user base. Like I'd say there's probably like a hundred different companies we're working with probably 80 of them are between like 30 people and like 80 person companies that we work with.

[00:20:43] And those folks like it, like we work with the founders who work with the head of, you know, pick a team, sales, engineering, customer success, whatever, like people are just inundated with with this sort of stuff. Like, they're not going to like, be like, Oh yeah, Hey, George reached out to me, you know, cold. And yeah, that sounds like a great product.

[00:20:57] They're going to be like, I don't care. There's like 17 people pinging me every day about random products. So I think it's a very hard group to chase after like our user base.

Omer Khan: [00:21:05] So I know before we started recording, you mentioned that just sort of pre-COVID. Ballpark, you would probably you'd got to about a million in ARR.

George Carollo: [00:21:16] Yup.

Omer Khan: [00:21:17] But how did you feel that gap between the, the, the friends and friends of friends, customers, and getting to that number? Where did the other customers come from? If it wasn't outbound.

George Carollo: [00:21:28] They're probably mostly was friends and friends of friends at that point still. And like some like early referral stuff that like someone had a good experience with Dover and they told their friend about it.

[00:21:38] And that's how we got to that first. Yeah. That first 25 customers or whatever that number was. I think it was all basically driven off of that. Our content stuff didn't really work. That stuff didn't really work. Those are just like feeble things. And that was kind of like pre COVID. Basically. It was kind of, kind of where we ended up.

Omer Khan: [00:21:53] So there's no, you know, we've been talking about Sonia as well, that there's no price page on your website. Can you tell, tell me a little bit about like how you pricing the product and also why, why you chose not to put a pricing page up.

George Carollo: [00:22:08] Yeah, it's, it's a great question. So I think it's basically like our understandings of the world is like, if you have a product that's more than call it, you know, probably 250 bucks a month, like a pricing page may not be the right solution because it's, it's pretty rare.

[00:22:24] Someone's gonna like this whip out their credit card and pay for your product without having talks and being like, kind of building some trust essentially, and learning more about the product because it's a higher price point. So that's why we've always opted away from doing. Our pricing page. Our pricing is also as we've gotten better at delivering our product, we've been able to do it for cheaper.

[00:22:41] Like we're heavily like. When we started, we were peer services, right? As we were describing it as like maximum, you should, we just run around like chickens with their heads cut off, like trying to make it work for our users. And as we've gotten better and better and better, we've basically been able to do a ton more work for, you know, work.

[00:22:56] Or our Dover can do a lot more than run their processes for them in an automated way. We be able to give them a lot, lot more. And I think that's ultimately like our vision for Dover is to be like, Just have like the like most awesome user experience. Like it's exceptionally easy to use product and gets you exactly what you want.

[00:23:12] And it's also like really, really inexpensive. Like my hope is that like, I don't wanna think of like really great products. They, like, they kind of nailed both of those things and yeah, whenever you're talking about a great product and your friend isn't using it, it's like, why aren't you doing this thing?

[00:23:24] This is like, obviously the best choice. Like it doesn't cost anything and it's like, and deliver your ton of value. So that's where we want to push it over. Isn't that direction.

Omer Khan: [00:23:31] Again, I just wanna kind of get this clear that we sort of talked about sort of the initial customers you got to about a million ARR pre-COVID.

[00:23:44] And I know there was also a time that you sort of mentioned to me a bit before that there were about like you, you go to about 20 companies and then sort of just was stuck there for a while. Is that when you were trying all of this outbound and content marketing?

George Carollo: [00:23:58] Yeah, that was so that was very early 2020 call, like January, let's say for sake of argument. So we probably were at 20 there and we're like, okay. So we tried these two experiments and then COVID hits in March. Right. And at that point we're like, Oh man, okay. This is like, you know, probably, I don't know, 20, 25% of our customers are like, Oh, we don't know if we're hiring anymore.

[00:24:18] The world might be ending like the. Connie might totally collapse stock market's down 40%. No one knows what's going on. And there's like a ton of layoffs and stuff. So we had a conversation around like, well, what do we want to spend our energy at? Like, we're fortunate. We're like a six-person company.

[00:24:31] We're going to be here for awhile. If we don't have to, like, you know, we're not gonna like burn ourselves to death, like we're not gonna run out of money anytime soon. So we're in a fine place. And basically, our thought was well, Let's just double down on building our product. Like if people aren't hiring, we can't sell it and that's fine.

[00:24:47] So let's just acknowledge. That's what the world looks like. And let's just really focus on trying to build a better experience, like make our algorithm better and like build more integrations for other other tools and all that sort of stuff. So that's really what we focused on. And so circa maybe like, It was like July or August.

[00:25:03] We really started having an uptick in business and it wasn't from a concerted sales effort or anything I think is we actually just got our product market fit stronger. And people started talking about us and like also coincidentally, like people then also acknowledge the world wasn't going to end because of COVID. And that's kind of when we basically had this big tail of growth.

Omer Khan: [00:25:21] So when, when sort of you, you sort of felt the COVID hit, did you lose any of your existing customers?

George Carollo: [00:25:31] So, yeah. Great question. So what we did with them is we basically said, Hey, we know it's uncertain times. It's totally fine. We'll just pause your use of the product.

[00:25:39] And we'll just delay it for a couple of months. So basically we didn't charge them. We, as I say, I think we pushed out to like May or June. I can't remember the exact date, but basically we put all of our users say, here's, here's an option if you guys want to like, freeze and like not pay for, because you're not sure what your hiring plan is totally fine.

[00:25:53] So we just kind of delayed it for all those folks. Basically, we tried to keep the relationship the right thing for them.

Omer Khan: [00:25:59] And one of the reasons you were able to do that is cause you'd raised about $3 million right from.

George Carollo: [00:26:04] Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, we were in a fortunate position that, you know, it's a six-person company, so we're spending very little money. We have like reasonable revenue coming in and we're like, okay, well, we can just like, w our bank account was pretty full. So I can, let's just sit here and do nothing. We're not gonna like, do a bunch of hiring on our team cause that seems like we're running into a brick wall. So let's just focus on our product and like really double down on that.

[00:26:23] So it was kind of a nice, pure state, and I feel very fortunate. This happened to us during this time. Like, I almost wonder, like if I were to build a company again, Would I actually just say, let's get the first 20, 30, I don't know, whatever magic number of users and actually just pause for six months and like, try to build like the craziest cool experience for those folks.

[00:26:39] And then start trying to work on the sales motion and the marketing motion and like, like basically getting new customers again, after that,

Omer Khan: [00:26:44] How did you figure out what, what  to improve in the product. Like  was this based on talking to customers or did you just guys have your own kind of list of crazy ideas that you wanted to kind of go and implement? Like, what was the process you went through to decide where you were going to invest your time?

George Carollo: [00:27:03] A bit of both to be frank. We talk to our customers every other week. We do like a check-in call with them and learn about their recruiting pipelines. And if they want to adjust their search and figure that out for them so we can change the algorithm on our end.

[00:27:15] Just we try to be their thought partner. And we also, this time, we also coach them with data about what the market is saying about their position, and now they have it posted. So we got a ton of ton of user. Like basically like feedback during this time. So we're getting it out all the time anyways, but we were really able to focus on it then, which was cool.

[00:27:30] And then the other thing is like, yeah, like our product was so early stages that there was so much to build it. We, we also had like a lot of like first principles, things that we knew we had to build to make it better for our users as well.

Omer Khan: [00:27:41] So give me some examples of, there was obviously work that you did on the product during that time that helped you to get to a place where the product is.

[00:27:51] Things just started to click. So can you give me an example, one or two examples of what kind of improvements you made to the product that you believe helped?

George Carollo: [00:28:02] Yeah. Great, great question. So we observed that a lot of our, so our users, as I mentioned, their founders, their hiring managers, their heads of various groups.

[00:28:12] These are the main folks that we work with. And they're always strapped for time. And what we noticed was that when people get candidates further down their funnel, so let's say you got an offer out the door, or you got to help people in on-site stage. You'll actually like stop interviewing newer people don't wanna waste your time on it.

[00:28:30] You think you have a hire and statistically, when you make an offer only it's you have a 50% hit rate on it. So, and we know that, but a lot of users saying like, Oh no, my company is in a great place. It's totally fine. Like we get that one-off route. Don't worry about it, George. We'll close them.

[00:28:43] I'm like, Oh, okay. I know you've got a 50 50 shot. You think it's like a hundred percent? So one thing we noticed through this was. Okay, cool. Like how can we make it for our users that they don't kill their pipeline. They don't stop interviewing new people. Cause then they're gonna be really upset if they don't hire that person that they think they're going to hire.

[00:28:58] Like make sure there's a good backlog of folks from the go through. So what we built during the time is that so like our Dover interviewer product came out. So we said, okay, what if basically instead of the hiring manager, during those calls, because they're too busy and they already think they got it closed, what if they just kick it to Dover?

[00:29:12] And we do the first round phone screen for them. And that way they have a good backlog of candidates, always. So that is that product like came out during that time. And that was kind of a thing. Like we observed not that a customer asks for directly, but their actions showed that they weren't going to do it. And we're just kind of reading between the lines to figure it out. What was the right thing?

Omer Khan: [00:29:29] Love it. How long did this go on? Like this focus on saying, I mean, basically during this time you were like, Okay. We're not going to do any sales. We're just going to focus on the product. We're not even going to charge our customers for a while.

[00:29:43] How long did that go on until you got to the point where  you started to see new customers coming in?

George Carollo: [00:29:51] Yeah, so I think we, so I think we did, like, it was like a two or three-month freeze on our users and said, Hey, is like, we'll just turn the product off for them is basically what we did and just kind of delayed it.

[00:30:00] And then we picked back things up when they were ready. I think it was, you know, COVID hits. March. So it was probably like, I think it was like July or August is when we started to turn things back on really and say, okay, cool. There's we're getting like a lot of referral people in like, let's start like doing, like doing sales again.

[00:30:16] So max was out there like talking to folks and getting them in basically. So that was kind of the, kind of the turning point for us. And

[00:30:24] these new customers will come in.

[00:30:26] From word-of-mouth. Yeah, primarily. Exactly. So it was folks who were talking. I think it's just because they saw the product improve a lot during those during those months.

[00:30:34] And they were as a user, like, Oh, cool. I can kinda like, see the direction they're taking this business in. This is a better user experience. They're happier with it. And yeah, it's basically just word of mouth, word of mouth driven.

Omer Khan: [00:30:44] So were you doing anything within the product or your marketing to try and drive those referrals? Was this some kind of, you know, virality built into the product were you sending emails to customers asking for referrals or did this just happen organically?

George Carollo: [00:31:05] Primarily organically, but you mentioned a really interesting thing there around asking customers for referrals. So we started doing that around this time as well.

[00:31:13] I think that's yielded. I don't know. Maybe. 10 or 15% of our user growth has been from actually just asking folks like, Hey, you guys just made a hire. Congrats. Do you know of anyone else who'd be helpful? And max actually wrote a pretty interesting blog around this, around how to help. Like what, what we do is we'd send them a list of like three or four, their founders, they know, or hiring managers that they know and say, Hey, would any of these people be worthwhile introductions? And that's yielded quite a bit for us.

Omer Khan: [00:31:37] What was the blog post that, that Max wrote?

George Carollo: [00:31:39] I don't remember what it's called, it's on our website, on our blogs thing. But basically it is like, you can go to their, like, you can go to their LinkedIn account and like filter on their second-degree connections and you can see who they know that has the title you want. So for us, our title era targeting is like, you know, VP sales founder, or like, you know, VP engineering or something that we can just generate a list of a couple of people that they know that would be reasonable. So after a user, like had a lot of success with us, we would then go say, Hey, here's four friends that, you know, that we don't know whether these people would be useful for us to connect with. And normally people are pretty receptive to that.  Our users, they send us one or two.

Omer Khan: [00:32:14] And then you, you saw a huge growth in the last, what six-seven months.

George Carollo: [00:32:21] Yeah. Yeah. I think we've in the 5x in the last like seven, eight months, something like that.

Omer Khan: [00:32:26] So where's your MRR right now?

George Carollo: [00:32:28] Yeah, we just crossed 5 million annual a couple of weeks ago.

Omer Khan: [00:32:32] Wow. So being quite a busy year and the team's grown quite a bit since the six people that you had working on it.

George Carollo: [00:32:40] Yeah, exactly. I think it was commensurate. I think that tease out five exercises while we're on 30 people today. So kind of been staying online.

Omer Khan: [00:32:46] You know, what I really love  about kind of what you guys have done is, I mean, obviously there was some benefits from, you know, the COVID Bumble, whatever we like to say, but the I don't think it's just about that. I think there's this clearly something that you started to do around. The product that has kind of helped to get happier customers. And those customers seem to be more willing to tell other people about the product. So that on its own, I think is a big part of this sort of the engine that you've built here.

George Carollo: [00:33:24] It is exactly. Right. I always call these like shower thoughts. Right. You know, when you're in the shower and your mind is wandering, what are you thinking about? And there's I think a lot of purity to having the whole team thinking about one thing, rather than like having max really focused on sales and maybe me focus on marketing as our shower thoughts and unambitious thing about product stuff.

[00:33:45] But if we're all thinking about like, how do we make this a better user experience? Like how do we make this product better? And we basically just kind of. You know, maybe we were forced into it also kind of leaned into that state for a handful of months. And we really, really focused on that. And I think that's what helped us build the right things and, you know, build, build great empathy with our users and understand that problem deeper and try to come with better solutions.

[00:34:05] I mean, just be more creative. And I think that that like, Like-kind of committing to a problem in the most pure state of that instead of like trying to juggle 17 different things at the same time is really, really helpful to building cool stuff.

Omer Khan: [00:34:16] Yeah. I also really like how, I mean, obviously the three of you have done this before. This is not your first rodeo and the way that you have sort of approach this, where I think many, many founders sort of almost create. Unnecessary hurdles for themselves. I can't go and talk to customers until I have some kind of prototype to show them I can't do this until I have this, you know, I've got to figure out my pricing and get it perfect.

[00:34:46] Before I can start selling my product. And you guys have obviously. Taken a very different approach and everything from selling it as a service before you had a product  and you know, not having the pricing page and, and kind of giving you some flexibility in terms of how you test and, and, and optimize there.

[00:35:05] But there are other things as well, like, you know, we, we, we often think like, well, I've got to build this great website, which has got. Got to do, you know, all of these pieces and, and, you know, the Dover website looks great. I'm not taking anything away from that, but it's like, you know, when I clicked on like, get started, I'm expecting a signup form and I get like a embedded type form on the page.

[00:35:24] Right. And it's still like, still really scrappy. And I, yeah you know you guys. And I love that.

George Carollo: [00:35:31] I appreciate that. Thank you.  Yeah, I would definitely describe us as  I think this is. Max is really incredible. This, this is really like his, his strongest trait is he's amazing at  duct-taping stuff together and like, guilt building flows from essentially nothing very, very quickly and testing things very, very quickly.

[00:35:49] And I think that that's very much part of our DNA, which is try it out, see if it works. If it doesn't work, just move on quickly onto the next thing as more of that kind of game. And I think that, you know, I've laughed because the Typeform is a hundred percent a Max thing. And it's exactly right, because it does what needs to do.

[00:36:04] Everyone knows what it is. Hopefully doesn't turn too many people off, but it's something we could have spent a bunch of time building into our app, but was it really gonna be much gain from it? Probably not. Yeah, it was, it was, it was like the right ROI kind of, kind of calculation, I think on that.

Omer Khan: [00:36:16] Yeah. Yeah. No, I know my friends at Typeform would love to hear this, but yeah. I mean, just the fact that, Hey, you know, like you can, you can build a seven-figure SaaS business and you can do it with a Typeform or at least in terms of, you know, building the, the, the, the sort of the top of the funnel and, and, and, you know, acquiring customers, you don't have to kind of, over-engineer a solution here. And I love that.

George Carollo: [00:36:42] Yeah, I think that's exactly right. And maybe our problem lends itself more to this than other people's business pumps are taken on. Our businesses are trying to build, but like our first, I don't know, it might've been, we were using Airtables, our primary database for embarrassing long amount of time.

[00:36:56] Wow. That was like our primary database. Like we were, we were using API and reading and writing out of it and stuff. We didn't even have like a Postgres instance or anything stood up for like a very long time. So like that's the sort of thing where we were very heavily tilted on, we don't know exactly what we're building yet, so it's not overly committed to the perfect solution because we're not sure what it, what it is yet.

[00:37:17] So we try to keep like really wide, like wide-open eyes on that. And I think it was probably until probably 25 customers is what we started to really, you know, until we kind of hit that lull that I was mentioning that we really started to like really become more opinionated as a product. And when I look back, I think we actually probably were late doing these sorts of things.

[00:37:33] We might've been a little bit too far on the extreme of like non-committed in some ways to various things.

Omer Khan: [00:37:39] Hypothetically, that's a great point because I think a lot of you know, that a lot of no-code type tools, these days are really attractive to non-technical people who can see a path to building something without being dependent on a developer, but you guys, you've got, you know, Max, Anvisha, you've got engineers on the team and you still use these no-code tools to build this stuff. And, and that's, that's great because it's, it's again, it's like, do you want to build a great product and show people that you wrote all the code?

[00:38:16] Or do you just want to get something good enough out there? So you can basically figure out whether you're going down the right direction or not.

George Carollo: [00:38:28] Yeah. And that's exactly right. And that's, I think that goes back to kind of just like that, trying to, I think it's such an art. I think it's so hard. I call it the last phase of like, when you don't really know what you're working on yet.

[00:38:38] And it's probably up through like the first 10 customers. You're not even really sure. What it is that you're building are the exact direction you're headed. And I think that the technical problems in some ways are actually easier because they're more debt on and you can spend a lot of time building them.

[00:38:52] But in really early days that a lot of the value creation is in those, in the experimentation and talking to a lot of people and trying different things out and to see if you can create some value for them.

Omer Khan: [00:38:59] Yeah. Yeah. I just noticed the site still even has the made-in Webflow badge at the bottom.

George Carollo: [00:39:05] We should get that off. That's bad. That's embarrassing.

Omer Khan: [00:39:09] Oh no, this is beautiful. I love this. This is the reality, right? It's just like, you know, it's easy to show somebody like, you know, some, some hugely polished thing and you know, but it's great to get the insight into really what's going on here. And  I think it tells me, and hopefully, you know, people listening to this a lot about the way you guys, it's not about the badge, it's not about Typeform.

[00:39:31] It's about the mentality that you have to building this business. All right. So I mean, things have gone like pretty well over. The last six, seven months business, you know, is, is kind of growing and, and you're at over what? Like a hundred customers now. Yes. And again, it's like, they've they just like what? 80%, I think you said, like we're coming through. Yep. That's awesome.

[00:40:04] And so what else are you doing now beyond just relying on that? Like, how else are you trying to, or what, what channels are you testing or trying, having some success with other than word of mouth?

George Carollo: [00:40:17] Yeah. So now that we've gotten a little bit larger and there's more people on the team who are thoughtful and understand the problem deeply, we've, we've gone back to content marketing, which has been probably where the other 20% comes from of our user base.

[00:40:28] So, and our content marketing is still fairly simple in lots of ways. It's like try to write something in like insightful and thoughtful and like try to educate somebody on something. So we've been doing a decent amount of that. And the other thing that we've done, this has been. Very fascinating. And I would never bet would have worked, was like, whenever we bring someone onto the team, we celebrate it because we're all really excited that someone else is joining us to work on this.

[00:40:50] But we, we, we, we share it on social media and it's amazing how many people will be like, Oh yeah, I saw so-and-so joined your team. So yeah, we have this hiring problem and they just start talking to us and it drives a lot of leads for us. Just talking about other people, joining the business.

Omer Khan: [00:41:05] So how does the onboarding work today? So I'm just looking at one of the blog posts. There's no obvious workplaces sort of sign up for an account. And even when I get to the bottom of the page, there's a, there's a little form where I can type in an email address and get updated and like, you know, get added to a newsletter. So how is this leading people to that Typeform. Maybe people are just, I guess, drawn from the post and then wandering around the site. Maybe it's just as obvious as that, but once they've completely filled out the type form, what happens next? Is it, is it still manual? Like you're still having one-on-one conversations with customers, what's going on behind the scenes there.

George Carollo: [00:41:47] Yeah. It's. Yeah. So we basically, at that point, once you kind of enter yourself not into the you're, you're exactly right, Omer. When you go through the, like read a blog or something and yourself, and you're just going to get the monthly content update, probably referencing about other blogs that are hopefully helpful to folks.

[00:42:02] That's kind of all that flows around which is kind of more of the marketing flow. Then, if you sign up for the product and go through that Typeform, then you're gonna end up in sales land with us. We still don't have any salespeople, though. Our chief of staff is kind of been our hero. She spends about half of our time doing our sales work and having first calls with people.

[00:42:19] So she's been absolutely amazing. They. Yeah, basically you'll chat with her and she just kind of like shares about the product and wants to hear the problem and see if we're at all reasonable solution for folks and kind of help them think through it. And a lot of times, you know, people are looking for something that we're not the right solution for.

[00:42:33] And we try to be the first people to say, Hey, here's the other folks that are the right solution for you? Given the lay of the land. So you enter that and then if you will want to move forward at that point, that's when we send you the onboarding, the onboarding process, like the application around like, Hey, here's your job.

[00:42:47] And we ask, you know, the app goes through and does calibration with you and all that sort of stuff about what you're actually looking for when you're hiring.

[00:42:54] And then

Omer Khan: [00:42:54] how do you, how do you get paid? Do you send them a, just a standard boilerplate sort of contract or just an invoice?

George Carollo: [00:43:03] Yeah, it's very basic. The app sends, gives them sign a contract and sends them an invoice. It's very standard. Like SaaS-like model there.

[00:43:10] Yeah. Again,

Omer Khan: [00:43:11] it's like, you know, a lot of people will be like, well, I can't do that because I haven't, I haven't integrated with Stripe on my website yet. So.

George Carollo: [00:43:20] No, we're, we're very basic. It's a HelloSign goes out and, you know, if you like it, you sign it. If you don't like it, then you let us know and that's fine.

[00:43:29] Or, you know, we talked to you about it. And then at that point, yeah, we just move you into the flow and try to onboard you as quickly as possible to get your job kicked off.

[00:43:36] I love it. There's this so much good stuff here. And  it's, it's, you know, I think you guys have a great story. I think you have  really made some, some, some awesome progress in, in, in the last couple of years.

[00:43:47] But I think there's just, I just love the, the approach that you've taken from day one. To, to build this business out. Maybe at some point we should get you and Max back, we should just dig into all the other stuff that he's been doing behind.

[00:44:03] Yeah. Now Max is, Max is very fun on these sorts of things, for sure.

Omer Khan: [00:44:07] That's awesome. All right.  We should wrap up here. So I'm going to go to go into the lightning round. We've got seven quickfire questions for you. Just answer them as quickly as you can. All right. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

George Carollo: [00:44:20] Probably from YC, just focus on product-market fit. It's all it matters.

Omer Khan: [00:44:23] What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

George Carollo: [00:44:26] The goal, it's an operation excellence book, essentially. It's about throughput on machines. It's very boring sounding, but it is an incredible read.

Omer Khan: [00:44:34] What's one attribute, an old characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

George Carollo: [00:44:38] Move quickly admit you're wrong very easily and move on.

[00:44:41] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Omer Khan: [00:44:45] It's probably more of a habit for me. I, when I create a document, I always put the date first like day format, everything.  So I can find stuff easily.

[00:44:52] Put in the file name or just at the top of the document?

George Carollo: [00:44:54] Yeah, file starts with the date every time.

Omer Khan: [00:44:57] What's a new, crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?

George Carollo: [00:45:01] This is one I'm really excited about. So I've been talking with someone should do this. I really think someone should create a sandwich shop or like a burger place that really specializes in buns and breads and like the meats kind of like whatever, but like they just like nail it on the carb.

Omer Khan: [00:45:15] I love it.  I'd go there.

George Carollo: [00:45:18] Yeah. I that's how I want a burger with a great bun, that's what I like.

Omer Khan: [00:45:22] A, what's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people don't know?

George Carollo: [00:45:27] I had a couple of pygmy goats when I was growing up.

Omer Khan: [00:45:30] Wow, and finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

George Carollo: [00:45:35] Work is nearly all consuming, but I really enjoy cars.  I like to try to work on them. I'm terrible at it.  So I remember this do driving, but yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:45:45] Love it. So George, thank you so much for joining me.  As I said, it's, it's been a fun conversation and it's, it's  congratulations on, on  the success you guys have had to date and  thank you for giving us  a peek into, you know, how you guys are building out the business and then, you know  trying stuff out and kind of the lessons you've learned along the way.

[00:46:04] If people want to check out Dover, you can go to dover.com and if folks want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that.

George Carollo: [00:46:12] I'm George[at] Dover and that'll get you there.

Omer Khan: [00:46:15] Awesome. Thanks man wish you all the best of success and say hi to Max for me.

George Carollo: [00:46:21] Will do thank you so much for having me.

Omer Khan: [00:46:22] Okay. Cheers.

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The Show Notes