The SaaS Podcast
Lessons on How to Stay Focused While Building Your SaaS Business – with Janna Bastow 
Janna Bastow is the co-founder and CEO of ProdPad, a product management tool for product managers. ProdPad helps you to build product roadmaps, uncover the best product ideas to work on next and build what matters most to your customers.
ProdPad was founded in 2012 and its customers include companies such as Disney, Automattic and eBay. The company has been bootstrapped since day one and is based in the United Kingdom.
Janna is also the co-founder of Mind the Product, an international product community which has grown to consist of 50,000 members and sold out events in 100 cities around the world.
This is a story about two product managers, who were looking for software that would help them do their jobs.
When they couldn't find what they needed, they decided to build a tool themselves. It started with some very simple functionality.
After two years, they had an insight. They realized that there were other product managers who would pay to use their tool.
So they finally had the guts to quit their jobs and work on this idea full-time. They had no customers and had raised no money. They figured they could bootstrap the business for 6 to 12 months.
They had their first customer in about 6 months. And from there, they kept improving the product and getting more customers.
It took a lot of time and hard work to grow their business to around $30,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
Things were looking good until they lost focus.
They ended up wasting a year trying to do too many things, instead of doubling down on what was already working.
At the end of the year, they started thinking about raising money. It wasn't something they wanted to do but felt they had to.
It was around that time that they had another ‘aha' moment. They identified ONE metric that could make all the difference for them.
They decided to have everyone on their team focus on improving that ONE metric. And that's all they did for the next 3 months.
And amazing things started to happen once they focused. And they also did a number counter-intuitive things to get more customers.
[00:11] 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 strategies and insights to help you build launch and grow your SaaS business. This
[00:27] is a story about two product managers who were looking for software that would help them do their jobs when they couldn't find what they needed. They decide to build a tool themselves. It was simple but it did the job. And over time they kept making it better. After two years they had an insight. They realized that there were other product managers who would pay to use their tool. So finally they had the guts to quit their jobs and go work on their idea full time. They had no customers and had raised no money but they figured they could bootstrap the business for six to 12 months. They had their first customer in about six months and from there they kept improving the product and getting more customers. It took a lot of time and hard work to grow their business to around 30,000 in monthly recurring revenue.
[01:15] Things were looking good until they lost focus. They ended up wasting a year trying to do too many things instead of doubling down on what was already working. At the end of the year, they started thinking about raising money. It wasn't something they wanted to do. But they felt they had to and it was around this time that they had another aha moment. They identified one metric that they believed could make all the difference for them. And they decided to have everyone on their team focus on improving that one metric. That's all they did for the next three months and amazing things start to happen once they focused in this interview. You're going to hear this story. Discover what that one metric was. And you learn some of the counter-intuitive things they did to get more customers.
02:01 So I hope you enjoy it. Before we get started if you need help building launching will growing your software business then check out SaaS Club. It's a membership site that I launched to help you get the insights motivation and support you need to succeed. Registration for new members is closed right now but you can join the waitlist and I'll let you know when we start taking new members again. Just go to saasclub.co and if you haven't already grabbed a copy of my free productivity toolkit you can do so by going to thesaaspodcast.com. The toolkit will teach you the habits hacks and tools used by successful founders and entrepreneurs. And one last thing I want to let you know that The SaaS Podcast is now available on Spotify so you can either go over to Spotify and search for The SaaS Podcast or just go to thesaaspodcast.com and click the Spotify button.
[03:01] OK let's get on with the interview. All right today's guest is the co-founder and CEO of ProdPad a product management tool for product managers.
[03:12] ProdPad helps you to build product roadmaps, uncover the best product ideas to work on next and build what matters most to your customers. ProdPad was founded in 2012 and its customers include companies such as Disney, Automatic and eBay. The company has been bootstrapped since day one and is based in Brighton in the UK. My guest is also the co-founder of mind the product and international product community which has now grown to consist of over 50,000 members and sold out events in 100 cities around the world. So today I'd like to welcome Janna Bastow. Janna welcome to the show.
[03:52] Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
[03:55] Now I want to get into your head in the product mind I want to get inside your head a little bit and find out what makes you tick so do you have a favorite quote. The you know that you could share with us.
[04:05] Yeah sure. And actually I look up who this is. This is from its Confucius quote I think, but I love it basically says “Choose a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life”. And that was something I heard years ago and absolutely spoke to me.
[04:22] And you know Yeah absolutely. I think it was quite a few years ago that I realized that. Building something actually getting involved building products and working with a team that would help me do so was something that was going to be just absolutely fulfilling for me.
[04:41] Well I think it was really you know anyone who gets into that situation is able to do that I think is really lucky.
[04:50] And I was having this conversation with somebody recently about something similar where in terms of trying to figure out what you love and sometimes the things that you find the easiest to do and you get kind of like the most joy from doing them. And it's hard to imagine it as a job because it doesn't. It just seems like fun right.
[05:17] And so I think that's just great philosophy and I don't want to trivialize it and make it sounds like it's not hard work it certainly is everything is challenging but there's always a new set of challenge challenges and I think part of it comes down to the fact that you get to surround yourself with the people that you actually want to work with. That makes a massive difference.
[05:35] OK so let's let's dive into ProdPad I gave the audience a little overview of that. And we know it's for product managers but tell us a little bit more fuel was like what does the product do.
[05:49] Sure. So it was actually created by my co-founder and I when we were both product managers ourselves we're both working for two different companies based in London and those companies were going through funding and growth and all sorts of great things. We just needed tools to do our jobs. And nothing like it really existed. So we started building it. Now.
[06:12] Originally our target customers were people like us people working in digital startups but we realized that the problem that we had that we had was actually much larger that we were actually finding you know consistent problems amongst even enterprise customers or customers in finance and retail and media or even manufacturing. All these companies sort of had the same problem and a lot of it came down to you know gathering ideas from your team or feedback from your customers and prioritizing it based on what the customers want what the objectives are and basically a dozen different drivers that might be of your strategy and then creating the roadmaps and communicating that vision to the rest of the team and other stakeholders.
[06:53] At the end of the day we wanted to build something that helped you build the right products and and also just keep your sanity as a product person. It's a hard job when we get that.
[07:02] So when you came up with the idea this was really about you and your co-founder, Simon right? Yeah yeah it was really about the two of you kind of scratching your own age and saying look we've got these problems that we try to solve as product managers ourselves. And you know let's kind of figure out a way to do that better and so at that point it wasn't really a business it was something that you were building for yourselves.
[07:33] Exactly it is just a tool that we used internally. We actually use this thing internally only for the first two years. We got into it because Simon at the time was a product minded friend and I showed him some ideas I'd had around tool to help me do my job. But I was capable of actually coding it myself. And he actually stepped up and said well hey this would be easy enough to do I could build it backend code for this. And I was like great, well I know how to do frontend code. I basically lied but this is this is back when you could build an app out of JQuery and bootstrap and you know you didn't need everything that you in SaaS apps today. And it was just handed out cluster around jobs. And so we launched it we made it available to people in our team and it was over time that were you know our other product friends started paying attention to what we were doing and asking for for access to it.
[08:24] And it was only after a couple of years that we actually got up the guts to quit our jobs and go focus on it full time.
[08:31] So what what led to that decision. Because I know from what I understand even when you quit your job and you were the first one to quit your job you you'd had the product with the tool around for a couple of years but you didn't have a lot of customers at that point, right?
[08:53] We had no customers at that point. Yeah it was just us using it. There were actually a couple interesting tipping points or nudges for us. One was that I'd actually stopped telling new people in my company that I built this thing and wanted them to use it because they appreciated it not because they thought I'd built it was for sale on the team. So it actually kept quiet about the fact you know where did it come from. And I remember one of the interesting bits of feedback that I kept getting from people on the team was that they loved this tool but they couldn't find any record of it online. Like what was this thing. You know what are the things like if I could build something that actually fooled the engineers and my team and you know actually added value to people with who who weren't just telling me nice things because I knew I made it that maybe there was something there.
[09:39] And Simon and myself are also lucky because we also started working with another product manager Martin Eriksson who founded the Product Tank events and we were running product events for product people every month and we were basically surrounded by people who are good at giving us feedback and telling us what was going wrong in their jobs. And
[09:58] that's when we started realizing that this was something that was widely applicable not just for people in our tech startups sort of set up.
[10:07] And was there another tipping point as well that led you to decide to quit your job and go full time. I
[10:14] mean at that point in time I'd been with the company from when it had been set and people we watched it take on funding and go through a series and grow the team and it was hitting a new face. But I also realize that this tool that we've built was actually potentially more viable as a product and certainly more relevant to my interests than when I was working with the other company. And so we decided it was about time to step out and give it a go.
[10:39] So why not wait until you've got some customers.
[10:43] Because getting customers we knew that was still going to take a little bit more time. We built this tool but it wasn't available as a fast tool. There was still another six months of work to do that involves building the. It turned out to be six months. We thought it was maybe less than that but we had to add in the invite flow and onboarding flow, payment system. Basically other things to help you manage your account and whatnot. But we did quit with the agreement that we weren't going to build as a startup. We didn't want to have to do something that required us to take in funding and do all those steps we wanted to build a business. And by that I mean something that was funded based on customer revenues. So our goal was to launch something that we could get payment for within the first month to get it payment for soon as possible and then grow it based on that revenue.
[11:31] Okay so it was kind of like you sort of set out this period of time to say okay week we kind of have this tool which we've been using ourselves.
[11:42] There are signs that there's a bigger opportunity here but we really need to focus on kind of productizing it so it can actually be used by other people.
[11:54] Yeah I mean in hindsight it probably was not as organizers in terms of thought process. Part of it might be interest that we just got excited. I put out a put up a landing page or a mini web site saying we do parliamentarians elsewhere click here to buy now. And lo and behold people started clicking this thing and I was like okay well that's a good sign if we if only they could buy it. Maybe we'd have money. So I quit my job basically around that that time that I started seeing some traction on the landing page. And then it was another six months before we launched sort of a version that you could purchase and actually sign up for properly and we managed to actually start getting our first customers within that month.
[12:36] I watched you as I mentioned you I watch a talk that you did at Turing Fest about the Power of Product Focus and I thought that was a great talk. I'll include a link to that in the show notes so people if they want to they can check that out. But I think from that I remember you said that you had this website up on this landing page and a buy now button. And was it going to like a 404 page at some point.
[13:00] It wasn't a 404 but it certainly didn't give you anything helpful like where to sign up. It was sort of a thanks we'll let you know sort of thing. I didn't put nearly enough effort I didn't put any effort into turning it into a nice flow is just an email capture and just to see if anybody was interested. Obviously it wasn't there for long. It was just a test.
[13:20] OK so six months to kind of get the product ready then how long did it take you to get your first customer.
[13:27] Within a few weeks. We had our first paying customer and did you find that person they found us. So we actually mainly got our first users because we've been talking about it we've been blogging about it. So actually something we've been doing before we even better jobs and went to go focus on it was we would just blog about how to do a roadmap how to write a good persona how to write user stories how to do specs. Just helpful bits and pieces that we put onto our blog and that actually helped build our credibility on Google and increase your page rank. Now that of course at this point in time not many people were looking up road map software or product management software. So we are absolutely at the top of the search results but no one is really looking for it. But for the people who are looking for it we were right there.
[14:18] And so we just ended up with our first customer signing up and paying for. Simple as that.
[14:26] So it's nice when someone you don't know comes along and gives you money right to say my first customer wasn't my mom.
[14:33] Yeah yeah I've spoken to a lot of founders always say that you know regardless of where they may be or how much revenue they generating now there's something so priceless about that first customer. Yeah absolutely.
[14:47] And then. As I understand it took quite some time for you to kind of get that up to your first 10 customers. And so what was what was the process that you went through and what did you have to do to get those next nine customers.
[15:08] So the next nine customers or so found us again pretty organically through search results.
[15:16] The process to get them onboard though involved a lot of feedback a lot of iterations a lot of changes to the product based on what we were learning from from these early customers. So the thing is to remember is that our customers our product managers product managers have a lot of opinions about how products should work. They're really great at getting constructive feedback. And so I was just constantly on Skype or by email or wherever just picking up this feedback and then building and iterations you know some of the stuff that was missing in the early early version of ProdPad might have been something like, you know when you can tag products but you can't untagged them or you can't filter by them or you know our search was subpar or other basic things. And so it's just figuring out what these pain points were what was missing from our I guess you could say our MVP the first version of the product that we needed to flesh out to make it viable for other people to use.
[16:12] And it was actually based on these early customers that we learned what the most important integrations were and other points like that. Once we started getting a handle on.
[16:21] Sort of the key basis of functionality that we needed to have someone sign up try it love it pay for it and continue using it. You know that was a few months set up the first six months of our process. And I think it probably took us about maybe four to six months to get those first 10 customers.
[16:43] And then from what I understand you kind of started to get some growth.
[16:49] And so you hit the plateau of doom which we'll talk about in a while.
[16:55] But before you kind of got to that point what what else are you doing to find new customers or was it kind of a continuation of just people finding you organically through the blog and the website.
[17:10] Yeah I mean in hindsight we would call it a content strategy to be honest. It
[17:15] was just me and my co-founder talking writing teaching people basically educating people on what product management is and why you need product management software and then from there. The here's why you should buy Prodpad was a much easier sell. We just wrote about it talked about it did meet up talks and all sorts of different bits pieces.
[17:39] And that started spreading the word that started getting more and more credibility and more people linking to us and finding us at the end of the day.
[17:47] In terms of like getting to let's say the first hundred customers did that get any easier for you. Did that kind of growth happen faster compared to the first 10 customers.
[17:59] Yeah there was a nice little inflection point and to be honest I couldn't even tell you what it was that made the difference. It might have been a key integration that we built in. It might have been that we just completed enough had the functionality and made it convincingly enough of a good product that people just started signing up and buying it. And our first hundred customers just came it was just pretty magical at that time and I don't think we realized how lucky we were to have a growth curve like that where we were just had constant stream of customers signing up.
[18:32] And was it just still you and Simon and what point did you start hiring people.
[18:37] We probably well we hired our first in-house person in early 2015 and our first hire was actually a customer success person who used to be a problem manager herself. And at the same time we also had a couple team members beknown flash who were technically outsourced but they're actually still with us today and are part of the family who started working with us mid 2014. So it was more than a year into it that for the first year is basically just Simon and myself. And then in about 2014 we hit a point where we actually realized we could afford to bring in extra help and professional developers and somebody to help with support and all that sort of thing.
[19:29] So it was two years of from 2010 to 2012 of building these two using yourselves and then kind of going public in 2012 that a couple of years after that before you started building the team and kind of trying to accelerate what you were doing.
[19:47] Yeah exactly. We went public in February of 2013 and it basically grew from there.
[19:55] And we talked I mentioned at the beginning that you were bootstrapped from day one so presumably everything you know in terms of paying for people uare everything was coming from the revenue that you were generating from the business of that time.
[20:10] Yeah we just had a constantly growing Monday recurring revenue number. And every time we had enough money to afford somebody else we would reinvest it back into the product hire somebody to take on a role.
[20:22] Okay so things are growing you know kind of a lot of it is organic and you know things look good and then you hit the plateau of doom, the people who are not familiar with that can you kind of explain what you mean by that.
[20:40] Sure absolutely. And the plateau of doom is actually a concept I'd read about a few years prior it was written by an article written by Amy Hoy from Freckle which is a time tracking app and I remember reading this article that basically outlines that around 30,000 MMR mark. They start of flatlined. Their growth is no longer going up to the right. And she kind of describes how they got there how they noticed it and what they did to get out of it. And I remember saying to myself at that time a 30,000 a month is a massive MMR that you know how that's that's all the money in the world to us when we were making you know 30 bucks a month. And the other part was. And that'll never happen to us. We'll see that coming will notice it even faster.
[21:27] We got you know I know how to fix all this stuff I'm sure. And then in 2015 we hit the plateau of doom and looking back I realize why we did it. It was kind of a perfect storm. One was that we had started rebuilding prepared. So myself my co-founder built the first version of ProsPad. And in hindsight is actually a miracle it stood up but it still stands to this day actually what we ended up rebuilding the app and that ended up slowing down our development. We stopped releasing new code because we're so focused on building the text for the new version. We also kind of hit this point where we had we were you know maybe 20000 approaching 30000 MRR which meant that we could afford to hire a couple more people. That meant that we could start dabbling in things like add words and you know trying your hand at different events and trying her hand at different odds and ends right.
[22:30] We started trying a whole bunch of different things instead of just having our focus on what was working which was teaching and educating and writing and talking and building a good product. And I call it The Year of Faffing About.2015 we did a lot of things none of them were particularly focused. And so we had to find a way out of it because our growth had flatlined. And you know a year later we were still basically at the same level of MRR that we were. Yeah because the full year but it's about six months of really really painful growth and it wasn't negative it wasn't downhill but it certainly wasn't going up and this is a stark difference to what we'd had previously.
[23:10] And so it actually took we there was actually a point where we almost took on external funding. We were talking to all the right people. We had some offers funding on the table but it was actually when I was talking to investors that I realized that the question being asked was you know here's a quarter million pounds what are you going to do with this. To turn it into something that's going to you know allow you to grow to this level 10x it in a couple of years time. And it was by looking at those numbers and crunching them that I realized that if we only focused on one number. We would actually make the biggest difference to our bottom line. And strangely that one number wasn't actually something that we needed extra people on board to go fix that one number was changing the percentage of free trial users who turned into paid users. So basically we had quite a number of people signing up for new leads new trials with a lot of new leads coming in.
[24:09] And once they were signed up they seemed pretty happy with it. But the trouble was getting them to sign up. And so I stopped everything in the company and just had everyone focus for a three month period on one metric and that one metric was free trial to paid conversion rate.
[24:26] And we started coming up with things that we could do and we actually tested a whole bunch of things we throw out a bunch of ideas. But there were a couple of things that actually stuck and made a big difference.
[24:36] Okay. I want to talk about that and the the year of faffing around which I think is a great term. And I think there's there's a lot of us who probably have experience of doing that as well.
[24:55] Was that really a year of you know you kind of looking at things like you know Google ads and talking to investors and those kinds of things. And was I know you talked about a lot going on in sort of rebuilding the product but from a customer perspective did feel seem like do you think at that time that the the the product or the innovation or new features kind of a pretty stagnant time.
[25:26] I think we noticed it much more than the customers. I've actually spoken to a number of our customers about it and they've said and they've said oh I didn't even realize because customers don't notice or don't really care if you're not.
[25:40] If the product works for them and it has an updated right they don't expect weekly updates or anything like that. But there was definitely a correlation between the amount of releases we did and what kind of growth we had. And that we weren't adjusting the product to work with new and more interesting clients. We ended up kind of stagnating with this sort of market that work with us and a lot of our customers were with us at the beginning of the year. Were still with us at the end of the year and many are still with us today and didn't even notice. But of course that's not speak for all the people who might have tried it in that period didn't find something interesting maybe saw that you know it didn't work for them and we weren't able to solve their problems and build a product that was convincing enough for them. So you aren't getting enough of those people to actually sign up.
[26:33] Now I know you consider a lot of other things at that point as well. Like you know maybe we need to drive more traffic or maybe we need to figure out how to charge more for the product or these kinds of things.
[26:44] What was the thinking process that led to you saying no free trial paid conversion is the most important metric for us right now.
[26:54] It came down to a spreadsheet. I actually used a spreadsheet to just sort of highlight historically and projected our number of visitors. Number of leads. Number of sign ups the number of people who stuck around for a number of months. And I kind of started playing with those numbers and I went Okay well if I change the current rate and bring that down what that going to do.
[27:18] And you know changing the churn rate can make a big difference to your business. But the problem with churn rate is that it can only the best way to fix churn is to fix your onboarding right because you can't just build some magic feature that keeps people who haven't been active and haven't been using it. You need to make them successful from day one. So there's no quick fix for churn. And we needed a quick fix. Other ones we could have added more people to the website right I'm sure there's plenty of ways we could have thought of to get drive more traffic to our site that it wasn't that we had a lack of people visiting our site and that we you know we could have had more of those people signing up for a free trial. But again it's all of we have a lack of people signing up for free trials.
[28:01] And one of the risks with trying to throw money at a problem to get more people to sign up for something is that they sometimes changes the types of these that you get obviously the people who are finding as we're finding as through a search and therefore they had a problem we could solve if we were going to start advertising at them what we started to learn was that the people we advertised at didn't have the same level of pain point as the people who were actively looking for those problems. So we realized we could throw money at this and you know find more people to sign up but they might not be the same people and we're still going to struggle to get them to convert. If we don't fix this problem which is not enough people are converting from free trial to paid.
[28:40] So it's kind of a matter of looking at all the options and weighing up which of these makes sense that can be solved quickly without money and with her own in-house expertise and changing the conversion rate from free trial to paid it was a customer education problem and an engagement problem in those first 30 days. It was tangible. And better yet we didn't need hire marketeers or developers or salespeople or any of this stuff to change that number. We just needed to focus on it.
[29:10] So you set a goal of a 15 percent conversion rate from free trial to paid customer.
[29:21] Let's talk about what you did to start moving the needle on that number.
[29:28] Yep. So to start with we did a whole lot of analysis we looked at it was actually signing up. And also we started looking at at what point did we know that they were going to sign up because before somebody gave you their credit card they do a whole bunch of other things within your app. And this is actually driven by my co-founder Simon Cast. Who pulled out all the data as to what people had done what key actions he had done and was able this show that we could tell with 85 percent certainty by day 9 who's going to buy or not. Now it might not have been entirely scientific but it certainly was indicative that we could follow through and go yeah you're right. These are the people who signed up and it you know in hindsight it makes a lot of sense.
[30:11] The people who use the app more were the ones who got the most value out of it and therefore were most likely to actually put down a credit card for it makes a lot of sense. But what we had were people who would come into the app and then not use it. Of course these people aren't going to pay us for it 30 days later they haven't used it in the first 30 seconds. So what can we do to fix that. So we realize that if we could tell by D9 who's going to use or not why did they have another 21 days to make up their minds. We had a 30 day trial time because when we just picked a number and that seems to be one that all SaaS companies were going for. We had a 30 day free trial.
[30:48] And some people at the end of that signed up so he shortened the trial time to 14 days and right away that actually doubled our conversion rate because what had happened was that the people who were ready to buy already had their credit card in mind they were ready to buy the people who sell these new cohorts who had less time were more anxious to make use of the time they had. And so they use the app more readily use more of the functionality and tried to get more squeeze more out of their 14 day trial and therefore by using it more they managed to find it more valuable and ready to pay as money. So great. We doubled our conversion rate but we also then realized that the number one support request became could I have more trial time please because 14 days is not really all that much time to get used to a whole new tool and get your team onboard and get all the integration going.
[31:38] So we were usually quite happy to extend the trial if they reached out. But we're spending a lot of time extending trials we thought why can't we make this self serve. We also knew that we can now see that people who did certain actions were more likely to be successful they are more likely to pay for it unlike the product. So how could we combine these two things incentivize them to do key actions within the app by giving them more trial time. So we took that 14 day trial time I would cut it in half again. We made it a seven day trial. But when you start your free trial at this point in time you end up it welcomes you own says great.
[32:18] Tell us the name of your product and we'll give you one day for free extra. And they tell me the product and voila they can actually see the number at the top of the page change. You've now got eight days. And at that point in time these are goes great. What else can I do. And we show them how to add an idea to an extra couple days or how to set up an integration. Do something more tricky set up integration which would unlock an extra four days you could even give us your credit card before your trial expired in order to unlock another set of days as well. So we had this little you know complete steps section that they could go to and they could go down the list and complete all their steps and what they were doing we chose in these steps very very carefully based on these things that we thought would teach the person about how to use ProdPad, right it was important that they saw how to use the road map how to use the Ideas section how to add feedback from customers how to make a persona or add a design.
[33:13] So we had sort of key actions around those but we also knew that some of them would make them more successful. We knew that people who set up integrations with other tools were more likely to have this thing stick and work. So he set up drivers like that and we also set up drivers that were entirely self-serving except for giving the customers some free time which was asking for their credit card early. It was kind of the last step we have now done. Everything there is to do in ProdPad. You've got yourself you know almost 30 days here unlock the last few days free trial time by putting your credit card.
[33:47] And it looks like you're on board and using it. And we had quite a lot of people following that call to action to add their credit card and we knew that people who added their credit card were generally like very very few people we needed at that point in time. They're good to go and they become a paying customer some days later.
[34:03] I'm trying to think of other products that I've seen something like that and that there isn't a whole lot out there I mean you can kind of look at maybe like the Dropbox type example where you know they'll give you some more storage if you share or tell people about it or something like that.
[34:21] But the whole gamification thing is is not that common in SaaS products but when you think about the psychology behind it and why you see that kind of stuff so much of videogames is because there's obviously you're you're giving them the incentive in terms of more time but there is just this natural desire to kind of complete the process to get to a 100 percent to two to finish this thing.
[34:49] Yes absolutely. And I hate using the word gamify but it was pulling on some of those some of those strings. And also you're right it was an entirely unique either. It is drawn upon things that I've been seeing like Dropbox givings free storage or slack whose genius with giving free credits that we didn't have storage we don't charge for that and we don't have the concept of credit. And that would've been pretty complicated to build in. But we did have trial time which people we saw people are finding valuable because they kept asking for it. So we decided to use that. There's only one other company that I've seen prior to actually allowed you to extend your trial by doing something.
[35:29] And that was a company called UXpin and they're actually ProdPad customer as well. And in UXpin when you sign up you can tweet or I think do a LinkedIn or Facebook post you can share it socially refer people to it in order to unlock trial time. Now we didn't make that one of our drivers because at the time we figured actually people aren't going to tweet about things unless they really really truly love it and we're still trying to win them over. Right. Why don't we show them how to use the app. That's more important to them and to us than trying to get them to tell their friends about it yet but we haven't written that off as a potential addition to the product. As you know once you've done everything why not go tell your friends. Why not. Help us spread the word.
[36:11] Yeah. You know I think it's really smart because you're kind of incentivizing people to do what they need to do anyway to kind of learn how to use the product.
[36:22] Yeah kind of giving them like a step by step way to do that is going to kind of give them more time but at the same time they're probably not going to need that time because they're doing all the things they need to do to start using the products right.
[36:35] Yeah exactly. We kind of joked at one point in time saying well that the joke's on them right. They now know how to use ProdPad and we haven't had to demo it to them because we also knew anybody who got a demo and saw it to use everything just became more likely to be successful. So yeah in a way we're using it as a way to help point them through and you know give an excuse to have a really good walkthrough system to show them all the functionality without being one of those annoying pop ups as you know let us take you on a tour next next next. Right we didn't want to do that sort of thing.
[37:10] So this is this particular project had a really good impact on our trial time and we actually ended up doing a couple more things as well that affected that. That final number.
[37:21] Yeah. Yeah. So so far we've got to cut the trial time down from 30 days to seven days. Then for the lack of a better word will still keep saying you know gamified onboarding to give people more time for the free trial if they took the steps to actually go in and start setting up the product. So what else did you do.
37:43 So the other one was again we took a look at how people acted in their first 30 seconds their first 30 minutes their first 30 days of onboarding. And one of the things we realized is that when he signed up for ProdPad you got an email saying welcome to ProdPad and it just sort of generated and send it to you the moment that you signed up. And you know we realized that that was a missed opportunity and a lot of apps do this they just send a generic e-mail saying welcome to Silencio app here's how to do it. Here's how to use it. And then they might follow up another few days later saying hey how's your trial going. They might follow that week later saying don't forget to do X or here's how to do Y. That sort of thing. Instead what we started doing was when somebody would sign up we would trigger them into a workflow using a tool called Drip, getdrip.com.
[38:34] And instead of sending them an email immediately we would wait 10 minutes. There's no rush because we wanted to helpfully in those 10 minutes they were still using ProdPad. So we wait 10 minutes and then we would check. Did they actually use the app. Did they complete any of these key actions or did they complete all the key actions if they didn't complete any of the key actions that they were you know hugely unlikely to move on to the next step. Anything we send them at this point in time previously would have been completed lost. So he sent a message that was we tested this message a bunch different ways. And the final message basically came out as hey that was weird is everything ok.
[39:13] Like you signed up for ProdPad you stuck around for 30 seconds and then he disappeared. Is everything fine. Can we help with anything. And the response rate on this e-mail was amazing. Tons of people would reply back to it. Some people with great excuses say hey I couldn't you know I was busy or you know I was just testing it out or you know. Turns out this wasn't for me. Other people would come back in and say Hey thanks for following up. Yeah I got a little bit lost here. I'm going to come back unless said something and then they would come back in. So we actually today consistently had about 25 to 30 percent of people react and come back into the flow after this e-mail. So these are people who are otherwise lost and now are gained back into the flow.
[39:54] On the other side if somebody comes in and does everything right they're already completed all the key actions they see the steps to collect all the time they've collected at all. We don't want to send them an email ten minutes later that says you know you can add ideas to ProdPad because at that point in time you know they've already imported a whole list. They're off and running. So we we call that persona super Sally right. She's the one who's done everything. So instead of sending her some generic e-mail we're like hey you're awesome. Did you also know that there's this super secret cool functionality that you might notice. And we tell them something about like the Chrome extension that we have or something else that they might not have touched.
[40:30] And then if he did you know this action and this action but not this one then the e-mail you get is hey good job on doing X and Y. Here's what to do next. They did the other actions that would have a different e-mail so based on your actions there was actually a series of different onboarding e-mails that would happen. And each time before we sent the next one we would check going did they do this thing or not.
[40:52] Let's change the e-mails based on what they've actually been doing rather than just signing them up for some straight one size fits all onboarding flow and that had a great effect on our free trial to paid conversion rate as well.
[41:09] Awesome. Yeah I love that that one email.
[41:14] What was the subject line you talked about that was weird or whatever.
[41:19] Wait that was weird differences isn't there. Did you get eaten by a bear. Some people will reply back and just have a great laugh with. That's right and we've always we've made some some friends out of our customers based on this and you get some really friendly replies out of it.
[41:32] So yeah. And for Rob walling who's the founder of Drip I was a guest on the show back on episode 45 where we talked about the story of how he started out with Drip which is now being acquired by Leadpages. But yeah. So you know if the if you're listening and you want to check out the story of drip you can go and check out Episode 45. We've kind of talked about you know what you did kind of. And so what happened. So you did you hit the 15 percent once you once you kind of went through and it was did you get your conversion rate there.
[42:13] I'll be honest we never actually did hit it 15 percent conversion rate. The most elite SaaS products tend to convert at about a 20 percent rate. And these are like the Slack's and the Dropboxes of the world a decent one will convert at three to five percent. That's kind of like the industry average. We started off lower than that and we're now closer to about the 10 percent mark. So we haven't actually cracked it enough to get 15 percent. We're not quite lit but we are open to other things that are going to help us hit that number. Hey
[42:43] 10 percent is a very respectable number.
[42:46] That's also what it is. Yeah what it taught us was that if we just focused our time on it's rate we usually put 3 months to where. It ended up being a four month project and it made a big difference to our numbers and it was one of the things that helped us climb out of this hole. And since then we've now turned and started our focus and the things like right now we're spending we're doing a three month focused almost entirely on engagement. So we're talking about people who are further down the line and a wider remit not just the people who signed up immediately but sort of the everybody else in the company. How do we get them using it and engaging it and we're doing what we're working on projects that are going to change that number. So it's served the purpose. I'm not sure I ever expected to hit that 15 percent. But is it good. I guess they call it the big hairy audacious goal for us to all aim for.
[43:37] So if you could go back to 2010 and 2012 and kind of give you a former past self some advice what would you tell yourself. What do you wish you had done differently. It's
[43:52] a really tough one. I think I would have just told myself to quit my job earlier. You know done it a year earlier and just moved faster. I didn't have the guts back then to really take that step. I think that I thought I needed some magic wand to step out and run my own company and turns out he learned everything on the job. No one knows what they're doing anyways and that's OK.
[44:16] That is that is excellent advice. All right let's get onto the lightning round I'm going to ask Q seven questions just try to answer them as quickly as you can. Sure. All right. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received.
[44:33] Call bullshit when you see it.
[44:35] This is something that my old boss said to me just before he made me a junior product manager before I got my first step into the world that I'm in now. And it might be an uncomfortable thing to think about it might be uncomfortable to step up and say something but just think of the tech debt that you're saving yourself from down the line.
[44:54] I like that I like that. What book would you recommend to our audience and why.
[44:59] So there's a couple that I recommend here one is which already it's called Product Leadership and it's by Martin Ericsson who's actually my co-founder on the on the product side.
[45:09] Richard Benfield and Nate Walkingshaw product is coming into its own and we're starting to see the rise of the CPO and they've got a lot of lessons a lot of stories about product leaders from all different sorts of companies and they put that together into a great book. And the other one is a bit of a cheeky pitch here. My name is on the cover. I wrote the foreword for this but it's called Product Roadmaps Relaunched.
[45:33] It's not out yet but it is going to be out soon. And that's by the good folks. I see Todd Lombardo Bruce McCarthy and Evan Ryan and Michael Connors. That when he's coming out end of November so please check that went out too.
[45:48] That one's already listed in Amazon. It is the link if you like.
[45:52] I could look those up but yeah I mean I will get will put in links to both of those in the show. It's great. OK
[45:59] . What's one attribute characteristic in you might of a successful entrepreneur.
[46:05] Perseverance and a clear cool head. There's always a lot of things that are going to happen.
[46:13] A lot of tough decisions to make. And it's important to have that clear head and just continue going even when it gets tough. Remember that team happiness is more important than customer happiness.
[46:27] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit.
[46:33] I love tackling my e-mails on planes land I mean offline mode the ability to swipe in one way and put them into a maybe later thing or write the emails when no one is going to reply and just have them in my inbox ready to go. I can just absolutely tear through an age old inbox and get down to zero the moment I land.
[46:52] You know I wish I could do that. I was having a conversation with somebody else about this the other day that that the times where I've been on a plane where they don't have any Wi-Fi. It's great because I can do that. Otherwise I waste probably half the time trying to connect.
[47:10] Well yeah exactly and flights are great their time to kind of chill so I like to do the the emails just as I sort of take off and then it invariably puts me to sleep at which point you know you can relax and enjoy the rest of the flight.
[47:24] What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time the extra time. It's a really tough one because I'm already working on two of my top ideas so it's really tough to kind of. Come up with a fast follower as a backup. Maybe something B2C maybe something that had no direct and good impact in the world. I'd be really interested in something around the sciences or robotics or health or maybe even something physical. Yeah cryptic crypto seems really profitable these days but probably not my bag.
[47:59] There was a guy I I read a story I don't know if it was in business inside or about a guy who I think it was in the Netherlands who had sold his house and all his belongings.
[48:12] Basically he bought bitcoins and he was living on a camp site with his family betting on the futures of here. I mean I've heard bitcoins up today so I wish him all the best with that. What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know. Good one.
[48:32] I don't back down from a good bet or a dare.
[48:37] It's always like me on interesting adventures like I've ridden a bike from Paris to London as part of a charity once. I didn't own a bike at the time when I signed up. I've jumped I've jumped out of a plane for fun and I booked it only the night before. So you know I'm generally pretty good for something a little bit crazy.
[48:55] Wow. Yeah. You sound a little scary to me.
[49:01] You should check it out actually it's a great group called Tech bikers. I was part of the first ride that they did that was Paris to London but they've now done a whole bunch of different itineraries and it usually includes about 32. I think that up to like 100 people now they get together raise funds and ride bikes including one guy did it on. I couldn't complain about my bike riding skills and my heavy hybrid bike because one guy did it on one of those fold up bikes and I mean this is a ride up and down hill so it was pretty intense. Wow.
[49:32] And finally what is one of your most important passions outside of your work.
[49:38] It's difficult to say. I guess I could say I'm really changeable. I mean I'll go through phases when I have time picking up something creative whether it's painting or photography or picking up a guitar again. Honestly just being able to relax with a good sci fi book would definitely make me pretty happy.
[49:56] Cool. Okay well thank you for joining me today Janna. It's been a pleasure. That's been here. Thank you.
[50:03] Yeah we were. We were planning to have this conversation back in the summer and kind of things didn't quite work out. I'm glad we got this back on the schedule we're able to do this.
50:16 If people want to find out more about ProdPad they can go to ProdPad.com and if they want to learn about mind the product is just Mind the Product. Is that just mindtheproduct.com as well. You got it. Yeah mindtheproduct.com.
50:33 Perfect. And if they want to get in touch with you what's the best way for them to do that either on Twitter @simplybastow. Find me on LinkedIn. I'm Janna Bastow I'm the only one. Or just Janna@simplybastow.com. That's me. Come straight to me.
[50:48] Awesome. Thank you again. It's been a pleasure.
[50:52] Enjoy your evening in Brighton down there in England. I kind of miss England it's been a long time since I was back there and I wish you all the best with ProdPad. You know maybe we can get you back on some time to talk more about the product and just know more about product management and you know pick your brain a little bit about that.
[51:21] That would be absolutely great. Thank you.
[51:22] Awesome. I wish you all the best. Thanks John.
[51:25] Thanks had a good one.
51:27 Thanks for listening to The SaaS Podcast. You can get to the show notes for this episode by going to thesaaspodcast.com. Thanks for listening. So next time take care.
[51:43] Are you still there? Oh great. Do me a favor. Go to iTunes right now and leave a review. OK. And then send me a tweet or e-mail me to let me know that you did that.
[51:43] OK. OK. Great. See you next time.
- “Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Team” by Richard Banfield, Martin Eriksson, Nate Walkingshow
“Product Roadmaps Relaunched: How to Set Direction while Embracing Uncertainty” by C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy, Evan Ryan, Michael Connors
The Show Notes
- Mind the Product
- Product Tank
- Turing Fest – The Power of Product Focus
- Amy Hoy on Twitter
- Simon Cast on Twitter
- Martin Eriksson on Twitter
- Janna on Twitter
- Omer on Twitter
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