How to Launch a SaaS Product in a Crowded B2B Market
Shawn Finder is the co-founder and CEO of Autoklose, an all-in-one outbound sales automation platform.
Competing in a crowded market can be really tough. Having a great product and clear differentiation is super important, but sometimes that's not enough. You also need a great product launch that helps you stand out in the market and drive rapid product adoption.
In 2016, Shawn had an idea for a new SaaS product. He already had an existing business and realized that many of his customers were struggling with the same issue.
So he started thinking about how he could build a SaaS product to help them. After doing some research, he decided he was going to go all in' with this new SaaS business.
But there was one big problem. Shawn was building a sales automation product and so he was about to enter an extremely crowded and competitive market.
No matter how good his product was, he knew it was going to be a challenge to stand out in that market. So he knew that a successful launch was going to be critical for his new business.
In this interview you'll learn:
- How Shawn started promoting Autoklose 6 months before it launched and how he had 1000 demos booked when they launched the product.
- How Shawn worked with industry influencers and partners to help promote Autoklose and get in front of a much bigger audience.
- How Shawn used social selling on LinkedIn to position himself as an authority in the space and attract prospects.
As a result, the business has gone from zero to over a million dollars a year in about 18 months.
There are a lot of great lessons and insights in this interview. I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
Omer Khan 0:16
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 talked to Shawn Finder, the co-founder and CEO of Autoklose, and all in one outbound sales automation platform. Now, competing in a crowded market can be really tough, having a great product and clear differentiation is super important. But sometimes that's not enough. You also need a great product launch that helps you stand out in the market and drive rapid product adoption. In 2016. Shawn had an idea for a new SaaS product, he already had an existing business and realized that many of his customers was struggling with the same issue. So he started thinking about how he could build a SaaS product to help them. And after doing some research, he decided he was going to go all in with this new SaaS business. But there was one problem, Shawn was building a Sales Automation product, and so he was about to enter an extremely crowded and competitive market. No matter how good his product was, he knew it was going to be a challenge to stand out in that market. So he knew that a successful launch was going to be critical for this new business. In this interview, you'll learn how Shawn started promoting Autoklose six months before it launched, and how he had 1000 demos booked the day they launched. We will also talk about how Shawn worked with industry influencers and partners to help promote Autoklose and get in front of a much bigger audience. And we talked about how Shawn used social selling on LinkedIn to position himself as an authority in the space and attract more prospects. And as a result, the business has gone from zero to over a million dollars a year in about 18 months. There are a lot of great insights and lessons in this interview. So I hope you enjoy it. Real quick before we get started. Firstly, don't forget to grab a free copy of the SaaS toolkit, which will tell you about the 21 essential tools that every SaaS business needs, you can download your copy by going to theSaaSpodcast.com. Secondly, enrollment for SaaS Club Plus is now open. Plus is our online membership and community for new early stage SaaS founders. So if you need help launching and growing your SaaS business, and you want to connect with other founders around the world and build recurring revenue faster, then Plus will help you to do just that. Just go to SaaSclubplus.com. Okay, let's get over the interview.
Omer Khan 3:00
Welcome to the show.
Shawn Finder 3:01
Very excited to be here. Omar, I can't wait to talk to you about our soft platform.
Omer Khan 3:05
So first, let's start by talking about what gets you out of bed. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires and motivates you or just helps you work on your business every day?
Shawn Finder 3:15
Yeah, I do actually seen what I've always been. I always have ideas. So the quote that resonates with me and I'm a very big sports fan is Wayne Gretzky's. You miss it 100% of the shots you don't take and that was kind of a quote that I learned early on in my career.
Omer Khan 3:30
People love to talk about that other quote, right, but the puck with Wayne Gretzky.
Shawn Finder 3:35
Yeah, there's another one. But it's I find, you know, you got to keep throwing darts. And then hopefully one sticks.
Omer Khan 3:41
Yeah, yeah, I love that. Okay, so let's talk about Autoklose. Can you just start by just telling for people who aren't familiar with the product? What does it do? Who's your target customer? And what problem are you trying to solve?
Shawn Finder 3:52
Yeah, so Autokloses a sales engagement platform with a built in B2B database. Therefore, we have the automation aspect, the sales automation aspect, we also have the data aspect put into the software. So people that are looking to fill the top their sales funnel with new qualified leads, and prospecting, can go in search and filter through our database and automate their outreach to those clients and personalize it directly in one place.
Omer Khan 4:17
So when you say sales engagement platform, one of the things it does is it helps you automate the process of sending out cold emails, but it does more than that. Right?
Shawn Finder 4:25
Yeah. And the follow ups, I mean, a lot of sales people, I think, you know, nowadays, you know, after one to two emails, if they don't get a response, they say, oh, that person is not interested. What a sales automation platform allows you to do is you know, automate 6-8-10 emails over a certain amount of time to really keep engaged with that prospect until they actually hopefully reply to you and say, yeah, I'll give you 15 minutes for call demo, etc.
Omer Khan 4:45
And what do you mean by a built-in B2B database.
Shawn Finder 4:49
So four years ago, I started a company called Exchange Leads, which is a data company. So the data company has 28 million B2B prospects in it, we sell data from that company. And what we did was we just integrated that insight Autoklose. So inside the platform, when you're choosing who you want to email, you can, you know, upload your own contacts, or you can actually search and filter through our database to get brand new contacts into yourself sequences.
Omer Khan 5:12
Got it? Okay. Yeah. So this is like, there's a lot of tools out there that make it sort of easy feat, say, if you have a list, you can kind of upload that and get it in here. But you're going beyond and saying, Yeah, you can do that. But we also have a database of millions of people. It's built into the product, and you can start using it once you're signed up. And in the product.
Shawn Finder 5:34
Yeah. So if you look at like outreach or Salesloft, and on the other hand, you have like discover Oregon zoom. Imagine having both those tools combined in one. That's kind of what the play we are with Autoklose.
Omer Khan 5:44
Got it. Okay, so you launched Autoklose? A couple of years ago, I think it was 2017. Right?
Shawn Finder 5:52
Yeah, it was late December 2017.
Omer Khan 5:54
Yeah. And I've been kind of seeing a lot of buzz. And, you know, certainly from my perspective, traction happening with Autoklothes in a fairly short amount of time and in a fairly crowded market. So I was kind of really keen to get you on the show to kind of find out like, what what have you been up to what you've been doing? But before we get into that, tell me a little bit about like, how did you come up with the idea for Autoklose?
Shawn Finder 6:23
Okay, so it's a great question, I'll even go back a little further than that. I actually didn't MBA in finance. So I had a finance MBA was working downtown in Toronto at one of the largest banks. And the true story is was on the elevator. After two weeks, my manager was beside me. And everyone was just staring at the computer side of the screen at the top, you know, the TV at the top. And no one says, Good morning. And I would say good morning to my boss, who would look like Shawn like, Why are you saying good morning. And I said, you know, this is not for me, I'm very outgoing. I've always been a good networker. I'm an extrovert personality. And I got an opportunity as a VP of Sales, I took that opportunity as a VP of Sales. And found, you know, I think in the market with data that goes, you know, not hot, there wasn't high quality data on the market. There was companies that were selling data, but it wasn't high quality. And I came up with my first business Exchange Leads. And then once we came up with exchange leads, two years in, I said, you can either pay the government in Canada a lot of taxes, or I can build another product. And our clients were asking for something to us, they loved our data, but didn't have a platform to email from. And that's how we came up with the idea of Autoklose by listening to our clients. And then a year and a half after developing it, we came up with Autoklose, and here we are today.
Omer Khan 7:31
And so it was Autoklose your first kind of software product?
Shawn Finder 7:35
No. So Exchange Leads, my first product, but we have Exchange Leads data integrated inside Autoklose. So Exchange Leads is what feeds the B2B database inside Autoklose, so Autoklose, and my second SaaS product.
Omer Khan 7:47
Okay, okay, so it wasn't just a database in terms of with Exchange Leads, it was actually a product.
Shawn Finder 7:54
Yeah, so Exchange Leads was a SaaS product. And then what we did was we still have Exchange Leads, but it also feeds Autoklose. But our main focus of the company today is Autoklose.
Omer Khan 8:03
Okay, so what did you do to get started? I know you kind of started doing a fair amount of kind of marketing before we even launched the product, right?
Shawn Finder 8:12
Yeah, so one of the best things I did actually was, I actually wanted people to feel like they were a part of building our product. So what I mean by that is, eight months before we actually even launched, we built just a landing page with our idea, and an email, and people that would leave their email throughout that eight months, we would send them surveys, questionnaires, once we built, you know, 20% of our product, we send it to them in a video. So we basically made like, you imagine having a building and you're going floor by floor and you're building it, we made all of our subscribers and early on subscribers feel like they built the product with us. And we built it for them. So we actually launched Autoklose, we already had 2400 people on an email list, where when we had our webinar, we had hundreds of people come to a webinar that were interested right away, only because they felt like they were part of building something for eight months, and not just, you know, sent an email three days before come see what we've built. So I think that was a very, very big reason why we had such a successful launch.
Omer Khan 9:10
And you ended up doing what, like thousand demos on launch day.
Shawn Finder 9:13
So we are actually almost 1000 demos booked on our launch day. And at that point, to be honest, it was just me in a boardroom. And I was like, Oh, you know what I have to get sales from. So I actually had three of my friends take a week off their job, taught them over a weekend our product and had the four of us really not in our office, drilling, the Autoklose demos, and funny enough to have them actually quit their jobs because they love the product so much. And now still still to this day work for us. Cool.
Omer Khan 9:41
So I'm curious, because like even going back to 2017, there were probably already a lot of products on the market, similar to Autoklose. So what was it about the opportunity that kind of made you feel like, yeah, this is the thing that I want to invest my time and money in for the next few years.
Shawn Finder 10:00
Yeah, so it came to the point where I felt like sales leaders in general are now looking for consolidation. There's so many different CRM out there, there's so many different marketing tools, email marketing tools and sales tools. Now the tools that are going to stand out are the ones that consolidate more into one because at the end of the day, sales, people want to make money, they don't want to have to go to their computer and go to the tab and log into Salesforce and log into another application and log into MailChimp and etc, etc. So, our advantage was having the built in database inside the platform, because as you said, there's a lot of sales automation tools out there. But there's not many or any tools that have an internal built in database right in the platform. So you don't have to go buy data, you don't have to go buy a sales engagement tool here, you can buy one tool and you have it all inside it. And how
Omer Khan 10:46
Did you decide like what market you're going to focus on.
Shawn Finder 10:49
So that's, you know, that's one of the early on mistakes, we we didn't really do enough research on our buyers persona at the beginning, I which we'll talk about that a little bit. But we I wanted to have, you know, the sales, loft and outreach or good at what they do. And one thing I with all my business, I never put my competitors down. So I will tell you, they both have very good platforms, and their platforms are more for those whale clients was really big enterprise. So we kind of fit herself in that s m, you know, small, medium sized businesses. And if we have a whale play that likes it will let them come on. But if you know if they want to compare us to not reach I'll say, Listen, you reach is a great tool for enterprise. So we try and stay in that sweet spot. And that's what we've been focusing on most of our targeting on right now.
Omer Khan 11:27
Okay, so you've been in business with with Autoklose for less than two years. Can you give us an idea of the size of the business?
Shawn Finder 11:35
Yeah, so currently in the business, we have about there's about 30 to 35 people now that between support development and sales and marketing. And our year end is next week, and we actually hit seven figures. So we've been we grew about three, three and a half x in our first our first because we've got 300,000 in our first year. And we hit one of our milestones this year, which was over over seven figures.
Omer Khan 11:56
That's awesome. Congratulations.
Shawn Finder 11:58
Omer Khan 11:59
Okay, cool. So as business bootstrapped, did you fund it through the Exchange Leads business? Did you look for investment? Like how did the business get funded?
Shawn Finder 12:08
Great question. So we actually bootstrapped it. So we bootstrapped our first couple Exchange Leads, and then Exchange Leads is what I guess paid for the development of Autoklose. So we took the profits and said, as I said, paying the government, we took the profits from Exchange Leads, built Autoklose. And we were breakeven, I would say in our first 60 days, so we had a very successful launch. And we're currently at the stage now where we're looking to really scale. So we are potentially going to look at investors, but so far, everything's been bootstrapped.
Omer Khan 12:38
Okay, so I want to talk about like how you've grown so quickly with the bootstrap business. The first thing I want to kind of go back to the sort of the six months before you launched, and there's sort of this buzz that you were creating, number one, like, how are you building the list to sort of generate this buzz? And well, let's talk about that for so how are you building that list?
Shawn Finder 13:03
So simply, we had just a simple landing page, all we had was a landing page, and we would use that, and we would a, we also had our Exchange Leads clients. So that also gave us a big boost. So we'd have a landing page, and we'd send it to our Exchange Leads client say, Hey, we're developing this. So that was one way that I'm a very big advocate of social selling and LinkedIn. So we promoted on LinkedIn and told people on LinkedIn, what we're building and we just, we just did a lot of blog and stuff around what we were, where we were planning to going and kind of like sharing our roadmap. So for that, we had a lot of people sign up and give their email on that one landing page, which as I said, gave us the big boost the start. But you know, to be perfectly honest, we did also have the Exchange Leads clients that liked working with us trusted us already. So it was pretty easy to convince them to come to a webinar when we actually did launch the product.
Omer Khan 13:49
Got it. And then once you've launched, so you've got this initial traction, there's excitement, you've got these demos. But what did you do beyond that to start to grow this business.
Shawn Finder 14:00
So I mean, anyone that's building any SaaS product, if you don't believe in your own product, you shouldn't start a SaaS product. So what we did was, we started using Autoklose, while we were building it, we started using Autoklose with our database to promote Autoklose, because ideally, it saves hours and hours a day and prospecting. So for the first little bit, we use Autoklose to generate more leads. But we also do a few other things. We also started from my own network started connecting with influencers, you know, and started working on my personal brand and in our brand on LinkedIn. And by that when you connect with influencers, and you start posting stuff, and you build a relationship, those influencers, when you do launch a product or anything, they'll help you with the launch, because now say for example, I have 20,000 followers, and then you find 15 influencers that each have 20,000 followers. Well, guess what, now you have half a million people seeing that landing page. So connecting with influencers are was a big, big way, we got a lot of buzz. And obviously you have to build those relationships, months before your launch, so that they actually help you when you do launch your product.
Omer Khan 15:03
What were you doing to reach out to these people and try to build a relationship?
Shawn Finder 15:06
Great question, social touches, and then we still use social touches in our campaigns today. And what I mean by that is go on LinkedIn. And if you what I would do is first obviously you have to connect with those influencers on LinkedIn. And then anytime they post you want to share or like their stuff, and build conversations with them. Because LinkedIn and sales in general, it's a given get, you know, if you're not gonna, you're not going to give, you're not going to get so by me giving and sharing their content on LinkedIn and liking their content on LinkedIn and commenting and building conversation with people on LinkedIn. Whenever I would go up to them and ask them for a favor, they realize that I always help them by sharing stuff with them, that when I have something to share something I don't even have to ask they're going to do it because I've done it for months and months, which is something I still do today is now I don't do with influencers I actually do with prospects. We have quotes out there with big clients, I'll start commenting and posting and engaging with them on LinkedIn as a social touch to try and get them to sign that deal real quick.
Omer Khan 16:00
So how much time were you spending? Or do you spend on LinkedIn because you're a guy about you know, you're in a business about basically automation, getting this stuff done in less time. And a lot of the things you're talking about here with LinkedIn and connecting with influencers and these social touches, sounds like a lot of work and a lot of time,
Shawn Finder 16:18
It definitely is. So Autoklose to me runs itself. Autoklose sends up you know, any sales engagement tool, you know, you send out the emails to emailing for you. It's prospecting for you. I'm on LinkedIn, my LinkedIn tabs up open all the time, but I'm on it very regularly, I actually, I share all our podcasts, I put quotes up at sales tips, we get a lot of clients by just being engaged on LinkedIn. So ours wise, I would lie, I would say, when I'm not on demos or on calls, I'm on LinkedIn. So if I have six calls, you know, my call ends at 2:40, and afternoon from 2:40 to 3:00 I might post something or engage the next hour. So I always find time for LinkedIn at nighttime. In the evenings. I'm on LinkedIn a lot as well. My wife might hate me for it, but I am on it.
Omer Khan 17:03
And sort of in that first year when you know, after you've launched, what kind of content or posts were you sharing on LinkedIn?
Shawn Finder 17:13
Yeah, so one of the first things we post after the first thing we posted with Autoklose, which was in our first three months, and it was a book, an Ebook, and it was called, I believe, 367 years of sales experience, for example. And what we did was we had 27 influencers, we combined how many years of sales experience they each had when they told us and we built an Ebook around it. And just that one ebook alone without $1 in paid advertising, got us over 3000 leads people to download the book and read it so we find that from LinkedIn notes from our just our book, we just posted the book and and published it and send it to our in our MailChimp newsletter list etc. on LinkedIn, we post it, our influencer shared it and we got about 3000 leads in the nose 3000 leads would go through Autoklose. And then a certain percentage, they're just those with book demos with our sales team, etc. So when we go into different ways I would say ebook we bought one about three months ago, again, is one of the best ways we actually received a ton of leads outside of Autoklose.
Omer Khan 18:13
Why do you think that is? Because this is one of the books out there that don't do that. Well, and then not that particularly interesting, people might download it, and then sort of just forget about it. I know you guys I saw a recent one that you had maybe it was something it was kind of like a B2B kind of sales guide or something like maybe
Shawn Finder 18:30
Yep, yep. Yeah sales handbook.
Omer Khan 18:32
So like, what's your thinking? Like? How do you think about packaging this up in a way that this whatever you put out there is going to resonate with people stand out?
Shawn Finder 18:47
Yeah. And it's because I put real life stuff, real life situations, I show them the results. So I mean, for example, in that ebook, one of the things we did was we showed how I got I one of my posts got, I think, was 273,000 views on LinkedIn, one post that took me five minutes to post got 273,000, we talked about why it got the post on what we post and the reason why, and different growth strategies on LinkedIn, how to beat the algorithms, one of the other things we talked about was, you know, email templates, we know that a lot of our clients have trouble building templates or lending. So our clients, let's say anybody in general, sales, people sometimes don't know how to build a good converting template. So we actually in the book will put the 14 best converting templates from our clients. So what we're doing is we're continuing to provide value on what are the best subject lines to use. It's nothing to do with Autoklose, it's not salesy. It's more of value than a salesperson can open up and say, Oh, let me try this template. Oh, you know what, let me like this person after I send a quote and see if that works. So we show a lot of stuff that works in those books. And it really resonates with the average sales person, because they will use it. And it's just a lot of things that we do that's outside of the box and a normal salesperson would not do.
Omer Khan 20:01
So one more question about LinkedIn, when you were in that first year, were you kind of I see a lot of people like they kind of spend a lot of time just reaching out to people on LinkedIn, trying to get a connection, sending out a connection request, etc. Would you kind of taking that approach? Or was this more about, you know, I'm going to kind of position myself in terms of an authority and I will share content, and I'll build followers, but I want to actively spend time kind of trying to build connections, what what was your approach?
Shawn Finder 20:30
So my approach, I'll tell you my approach, I don't know if it was it's the exact way I would do it today. But my early on approach like to hire a virtual assistant. And my virtual assistant would log into my LinkedIn two hours every night when I was sleeping, because they were outsourced. And they would be adding, because the maximum add on LinkedIn was 100 a day, I don't, that's still the same. And the most you can have is 30,000 connections, I would have them personalized messages to 100 people every single day, take them two hours to do. But they would do people that were my target market, my VP of Sales might be National Sales Manager, etc. And that's how I built my my initial connection up to 30,000. Would I do that now, maybe, I mean, I get a lot of followers now by how much we engage in the blog. But I, I also back then didn't have the time to do all the content, because I was starting a business where I didn't have, you know, 30 some odd employees like I have today. So it was just a handful of us, I had to take on the responsibility of do it. And I you know, outsourced A lot of it. So the virtual system was a very big help early on to get that early traction, because I always say your network is your net worth. So continue to get those connections on LinkedIn, because every person is going to buy from you, you're going to sell to that's gonna be your prospect, that's gonna be your client has a LinkedIn profile, you just have to go in there and find them.
Omer Khan 21:44
Yeah, yeah. Okay. So you also have spent a fair amount of effort in building different types of partnerships as well. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Shawn Finder 21:54
Yeah. So that's one thing we've been recently doing is trying to build out a lot of partnerships, you know, there's a lot of very cool things that you can add to email. So one would be like, video, you know, so we partner with a Vidyard. Calendly, which I love for scheduling automation, we partner with that. Now, the good thing about partnering with these these companies is is a, you provide another asset to your clients, but be when you do some sort of cross promotion. You know, we're promoting Calendly to our users, and I use Calendly. So I will endorse it, and Calendly then endorses us. So it's kind of a give and take. So one thing I like to do is I only partner with companies that I've actually got my hands dirty with, I won't just partner with anybody. So Vidyard was one, Calendly was one. And then we started doing integrations with different CRM, etc. So when people come to us, because anybody is going to need a sales engagement tool is going to say, Oh, well, what CRM she connected to? Or, you know, what's the best way to cold call these people, etc. So we partner with people that we trust, we build relationship with them, and then we do cross promotion, webinars, etc, to teach our audience how to use those platforms.
Omer Khan 22:56
And so some of these partnerships were, I like the integrations with Calendly.
Shawn Finder 23:02
Omer Khan 23:03
And then others were kind of like you were just doing like, kind of webinars or sort of educational type events.
Shawn Finder 23:10
Yep. So what we would do is I would do special things with let's say, somebody has 50,000 people in their Facebook group or their LinkedIn group has 20,000 inch inside sales or something, will actually contact the owner and will do will give them revenue for us to do some sort of cross promotion inside with their followers. So we did like an affiliate program where let us do a webinar or something to your audience, and will give you 20%, recurring revenue of whatever people purchase off us, etc. So it also gave us way to get into these different groups and work it that way. We also did something where we would work with like an influencer and say, Hey, I saw you just published a book, why don't we do this? Why don't we all do a webinar, and we'll talk about your book on the webinar. So you could promote your book to our audience, and we can promote our platform to your audience. It's a win win. So any partnership is only going to work. If it's a win win situation for going to be one way a you're gonna lose a friend and being a loser partner.
Omer Khan 24:03
Yeah, it's a good way to think about it. So you've clearly had some experience from your previous business with Exchange Leads, which also kind of laid the foundation in many ways for the Autoklose business, and all the things you've described, so far, everything from, you know, months before launching the product, to all the sort of growth efforts that you've been taking, have clearly paid off and helped you to get to, you know, over a million dollars a year? What was some of the mistakes that you made? What didn't go? Well?
Shawn Finder 24:37
That's a great, great question. So the first mistake that I would say is, I focused too much on bringing clients and not focusing on the product, which I think I mentioned, with Autoklose, we focus more on the product and let the clients come. So it was probably the biggest mistake early on, we did. Second, I would say, when we originally started with Autoklothes, or any of our site, we know knowing, having said we started prospecting to sales, VP of Sales. And then when we actually sat down on a weekend, one weekend, it was about three months ago, we said, What is our buyers persona, you know, why are people buying what's the content be? And we found that our content to our VP of Sales might have been incorrect. So what we did was we said, okay, you know, CEOs, they want to make more money, VP of sales, they want their sales reps to hit their quota, because they get bonus on it. Sales Reps want more demo, so we had to really find out who our buyers persona, whether we found that out late, and now we're finding out that you know, for small medium, you know, it's almost best to go right to the decision maker CEOs, then go right over the sales managers, because the CEOs, if they don't make the decision will introduce you to the VP of sales. So that was one other thing recently that I would say would be a mistake. The third is pricing. And initially, we kind of went in where we knew we were up against sales, loft, and out reaching these bigger guys, and we priced ourself really cheap, we've got kind of, you know, bigger companies we're looking at. And if they think you're, you know, they think you're too cheap, they think, Oh, well, you know, they're probably, you know, just a start up, they're not ready for us, etc. So I think one of the things we did early on was our pricing was too cheap. I did like our strategy, but it did hurt us a little bit for about a few months. But now, when people see all the feature release, we've kind of made that up. So I would say those would be the three really big business lessons that I learned, actually got one more for you was, when a developer tells you something is going to take them two months, multiply it by three or four, because developers always exaggerate how long it will take for development or new feature. And I know sales guys always think, you know, okay, I take your word for it. But development is a lot slower than expected. Let's just say that.
Omer Khan 26:48
Okay. So the first mistake he talks about was with Exchange Leads and saying, you know, I focused too much time on getting clients and not enough time, I'm on the feature in the product. I've spoken to a lot of founders who would say, you know, one of the biggest mistakes I made was, I spent too much time focusing on the features in the product, and not enough time on getting customers. So why was that a problem? For you?
Shawn Finder 27:20
Well, I wouldn't say it was a problem. I just, you know, as you said, it's a very busy market. So if you're not keeping up with your competition, you're going to be behind. So with Exchange Leads, we focus so much on getting clients, but then we had that we had the same product, and we weren't focusing anything on the feature. So when you focus so much on the clients, and you're not building new features, people are going to, you know, potentially leave you to go somewhere where they're more innovative, they're more adding new stuff every week, people always want to see improvements, I want to see new features. And with Autoklose, you know, to be honest, it's it's become more it's more word of mouth. And you know, on our newsletter, every two weeks, we are launching new, something new, every two weeks, we launched me, you know, this week we're doing in a be testing, for example, two weeks from now, when you're just tagging two weeks from now we'll do something else like a LinkedIn integration. And the clients like to see that you're always improving your product. And the one thing that we do another very growth hack, and great for building features is we actually asked our we don't build features on what we want. We actually sent a survey out to our client said, what features Do you want here, eight things we have on our roadmap, you pick one, two, and three. And we're going to take a vote from all of our clients and whatever, one, two and three, that's what we're going to build. And we've done that. So now every time we throw out a feature, the majority of our clients asked for it. So they're always looking forward to something new. So I wouldn't say it was a problem. But I just think that we continue to build features, we can tell you to improve our product. Our clients appreciate that more than having a stagnant product or feature that just does the same thing, month over month.
Omer Khan 28:54
And then in terms of pricing, you You said that that had been a mistake, because you'd price yourself too cheap and the odd days, how much were you charging when you launched.
Shawn Finder 29:02
And this is actually the best piece of business advice I've received. Okay, and I'm going to tell you who it's from, it's from David Cancel at Drift, he was speaking at an event and he said, and this is before I started Autoklose, he goes, never give your software away for free. Even if you have to charge one penny a month, $1 a month, make them have something invested. And I listened to his advice, and it was probably the best thing we did. So when I first got my first 20 clients, I would actually go on the phone and go, I show me a demo. And they'd be like, How much is it? I'm like, How much is it worth to you? One guy we go. And only 20 bucks a month, you got it. One person might say 30 bucks a month you got it. One person might say, well, I can't afford it. Now give me five bucks, you got it. And that's how I actually got my first 20 clients, I actually let them tell me what they were willing to pay for it. And then what we did was we found out like the sweet spot, and we slowly moved our way up, but we had them. We had people invested in our product from day one. So nobody, we at that point, we even have a free trial. So I nobody got the product for free. Everyone had to invest at least $1 a cent something month a month to start a product. And that was probably the best thing that happened early on.
Omer Khan 30:16
So instead of like what a lot of people would do is that launch the product either that give the product away for free. And I mean, that can totally work. I mean, you talked about Calendly earlier and I just recently did an interview with Tope the founder of Calendly, and giving the way the product away for free was actually one of the smartest things that work for him. So in certain industries, okay, so whatever it makes sense, but I think here, I totally understand what you're saying. But I think a lot of founders would say, Okay, well, I got this product, I've decided I'm gonna charge for it. And then they're going to look at what other products competitive products are charging, and probably based their price on that, or maybe bit cheaper or whatever, right? That's kind of like, sort of a v one pricing strategy might look, but it was interesting that you sort of defer that completely to your customers and, and let them decide what it was worth to. How do people react when you ask them? Like, how much is it worth to you?
Shawn Finder 31:16
They were they were shocked. Because I'd like I would actually I would hold them to it. So when I said somebody, well, how much is it worth? And the guy goes 20 bucks, I'm like, okay, that's what you're paying. And he goes, Well, what is it? 10? I'm like, Well, no, now it's like I actually gave people are like forget, but that helped me find out, you know, early on what we're building features, what our product was actually works. Because when we had more, we'll have people say, Well, you know, $20 a month $20 month, we actually started our pricing at 19.99 a month. And then what we did was could you can always start low, and then continue to raise your pricing but hard to keep your prices at 100 and then go the other way around. So we started in 19.99. And we kept increasing our pricing every three months, until we found we're getting feedback from people saying oh, well, you're competitive to this guy. Originally, when we're in 1999, it was like, well, you're so cheap, and they love the product at 29. And you guys are so cheap. And that's how we kind of figured out our pricing. So we actually had more of our clients determine what pricing we're going to use until today even.
Omer Khan 32:11
And then right now the product starts at around 50 bucks a month. Right?
Shawn Finder 32:15
Exactly. 49.99. And that's where we've been in for the last six months, we moved from I said, you know, from almost $1, whatever people wanted to this price over the first year of the product.
Omer Khan 32:25
So when you were charging 19.99 a month or whatever that was like, Did you feel like you were attracting some of the wrong types of customers?
Shawn Finder 32:35
Yes. But to be honest, early on, it was the best thing for us. So what it was is we were getting those clients that were very nitpicky, but they would find bugs, they would find things in our software that another person might not be able to find. So even though they weren't the right clients, they did help us build our product, what it is today, like finding different things that even our testing and development team couldn't find. So it has its pros and cons. And we I mean, we still have some of those people, we grandfather, the men, so we have still some people at 99. And it's still use the software.
Omer Khan 33:07
That's That's really interesting. Yeah, that's a great way to define testers, right? It's like, let people pay you to test the product to find bugs.
Shawn Finder 33:17
Exactly. All right.
Omer Khan 33:19
Okay, great. So while I have you here, there's, there's one other thing I wanted to talk about kind of related to just the business that you're in. And, you know, I was talking to a founder, recently, who had been using cold email to try and kind of get meetings set up with prospects and wasn't having a lot of luck with in terms of getting responses. And I really wanted to kind of pick your brain in terms of like, if you were like sitting down with somebody, you know, an early stage founder who said, Okay, I want to use cold email. And I want to use that as a way to reach my prospects, apart from going and reading the Autoklose blog, which will link to and getting the B2B Handbook, which will also put a link to in the show notes, what are some of the top tips that you would give them to sort of take away and think about
Shawn Finder 34:15
God, I could probably go on for hours. So I'm gonna make this, I'll give you a few of them. A few is subject lines. Remember, most people read their emails on their phone. So if you're writing long subject lines, they're not going to read half the words. So make sure you keep your subject line short and sweet. Another thing I would recommend is, and I hate when people do this is in their first line of their email and say, Hi, my name is Shawn finer, I'm the CEO of autoklose.dot.dot.com. Never Introduce yourself in the first line of your email, what you want to do is, first of all, they already know who you are and what company you work for, because you emailed them and said, Shawn, autoklose.com. So they know your first name Shawn, and they know you work at auto post, what you want to do is go into right into a value or a challenge in that first line in that first three seconds. If you're talking to a CEO, for example, you might want to say I'll use an example would be like, you know, if I told you, I can triple your revenue when cut your your sales reps time in half, you know, that might be interesting, somebody might read that email. But if you just go into Hi, my name is, you know, Bill from ABC.com, don't talk about yourself or your company, talk about a challenge or some value that you can provide your end user client. And the other thing would be personalization. personalize your emails don't make it sound like you're on MailChimp sending it to 1000 people, these are personalized emails, so includes different things that are personalized, like your name, the company, maybe the revenue or the state there and etc, in your message. And then the last thing I'll say to you is, stop with the long emails, I would say 50 to 75 words in an email is perfect for cold outreach, your follow ups can be three to four sentences, do not write paragraph after paragraph selling your product, you should have a call to action, your end goal should be to try and get them on the phone, send them a case study below that trust and that engagement in those emails. So when you pick up the phone, or you reach out to them, they'll actually reply,
Omer Khan 36:06
How would you do follow up, I mean, we often hear like, Hey, you know, don't do the, I'm just checking in, or I didn't hear back from you from my last email. So what's kind of your approach to doing follow ups in a way that's more likely to get a response,
Shawn Finder 36:23
I'll do a few different things. I mean, I'm not a totally against, you know, like the, you're just checking as we close out the week, just following up with you, as we start the week. not totally against that, but what I like to do is be a little bit different. So I'll out like a personalized video, or, you know, I might say, you know, I understand you're very as a CEO, you're very busy, I guess create a five minute recorded video for you to watch. So and then I'll send them like a video or video where I can see if they watch and how much the video they watch. Or I might go into like a case study. For example, if a company is in manufacturing, I might find another manufacturing company or talk about the results of another manufacturing company or one of their competitors name, let's say, Hey, you know, we've helped company ABC, this is the results they had, we can do the same for your company, you know, here's a link to our case study. Because you you need to continue to build trust. And the only way to build trust is by continuing to engage and maybe show them a case study of some proven results that somebody else has had.
Omer Khan 37:18
Yeah, I think the video is a really nice touch and, and Vidyard is a great product for doing that. Not a lot of people would make the effort to do that. So I think just just by doing that, I think it helps you to stand out. Exactly. All right, no great tips. great tips. Thanks for sharing those. So let's wrap up. Let's get on to the lightning round. I'm gonna ask you seven questions, just run us as quickly as you can. Ready?
Shawn Finder 37:40
Omer Khan 37:41
Okay, what's the what you've said this, but what's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
Shawn Finder 37:47
As I said, the best business advice is, don't give your product away for free charge something for yourself product, it could be anything, even ask your clients what they want to pay.
Omer Khan 37:56
What book would you recommend to our audience and why?
Shawn Finder 38:00
Just one read recently was “From Inevitable to Impossible” by Aaron Ross. It was a great book on how some other SaaS companies and bigger companies have scaled their business. So it's a it's a great novel, and a great read.
Omer Khan 38:12
What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful entrepreneur,
Shawn Finder 38:16
You got to be competitive because you're going to win some you're going to lose some. But you have to be able to take that roller coaster and I think competitive people make great salespeople and great entrepreneurs.
Omer Khan 38:25
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
Shawn Finder 38:29
I you know, not too much my own company. I'll say LinkedIn. I love using LinkedIn for different engagement tools. And for my own personal brand, which I think nowadays is very important.
Omer Khan 38:38
What's the new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?
Shawn Finder 38:43
Or it's not really a new or crazy business idea. But if I had the extra time, I live in Toronto, I would be flipping homes in this Toronto real estate market because it is just going crazy.
Omer Khan 38:55
I love watching those flipping shows.
Shawn Finder 38:56
Yeah, me too.
Omer Khan 38:58
I tell you, I tell you they make it look so easy. phony if it was anyway, what's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people don't know?
Shawn Finder 39:05
I played professional tennis. I was a number two ranked in Canada and had a world ranking of 190 in the world as a junior and also played in the same tennis tournament as the Bryan brothers, Roger Federer, etc. Because we're all the same age that does Yeah, I mean, we were talking about that before we started recording.
Omer Khan 39:22
That's just that's one of the most interesting facts I think we've had. And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?
Shawn Finder 39:30
I love all sports, but a real passion and something that I love to do in my spare time. Whenever I travel is up, play poker. I've always been a very avid poker player hoping to play the WSOP next year. Hopefully Finally, because that's one of the things I really want to do. Cool.
Omer Khan 39:46
Great. Well, Shawn, thank you for joining me, it's been a pleasure. And thank you for sharing kind of like the story of Autoklose and jumping into the details of what you've done to to grow the business and some of the mistakes you've made and lessons you learned from that. If people want to check out Autoklose, they can go to autoklose.com. And that's close with a K. And if they want to get in touch with you with I know in the West best places, but just tell them
Shawn Finder 40:14
The best way to get in touch with me as I'm as I'm always on LinkedIn, you could add me on LinkedIn. I also post all our content on our LinkedIn page. But if you have any self questions, or you're starting a SaaS or anything, feel free to email me I love to network with everybody. So you can email me Shawn, s-h-a-w-n at autoklose.com and that is Autoklose with a K
Omer Khan 40:35
Autoklose with the K Yeah, don't forget that. Awesome. Thanks, Shawn. It's been a pleasure and I wish you all the best.
Shawn Finder 40:40
Thank you so much. It was also lot of fun Omer.
Omer Khan 40:42
Cheers. Okay, thanks for listening. Really hope you enjoyed the interview. You can get to the show notes by going to theSaaSpodcast.com, where you'll find a summary of this episode and the link to the resources we discussed. If you enjoy the episode, head over to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast if you're in a good mood to the leaving a rating and radiate to show your support for the show. Thanks for listening. Until next time, take care
- “From Impossible To Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue” by Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin