LeanData: Overcoming New Category Challenges to 8-Figures – with Evan Liang [399]

LeanData: Overcoming New Category Challenges to 8-Figures

Evan Liang is the co-founder and CEO of LeanData, a platform that helps revenue teams manage all go-to-market motions.

In 2012, while at Caring.com, Evan faced significant challenges integrating their CRM and marketing automation systems. He built an internal solution to address the pain, which sparked the idea for LeanData.

So Evan decided to launch his startup.

He brought on a technical co-founder, Kelvin, and as a former VC, Evan was able to raise funding before they even had a product.

While raising money was relatively easy, finding product-market fit proved much more challenging.

As the solo salesperson, Evan signed LeanData's first 20 customers. But growth was painfully slow. LeanData struggled to educate prospects and close deals as a new category creator. Sales cycles often dragged on for up to three years.

If that wasn't bad enough, traditional marketing channels didn't work either. The founders had to get scrappy and creative. Finally, they found some success by attending events and meetups to connect with early adopters.

On top of that, Evan and Kelvin were under severe pressure from investors to grow faster. But Evan stuck to his guns. He had to balance the board's expectations with the harsh realities of creating a new category.

It wasn't easy, but Evan and his team kept at it. Today, LeanData serves over 1,000 customers, generates 8-figures in ARR, and has raised $42 million in funding.

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • How Evan dealt with the challenges of educating the market and the crazy-long sales cycles that come with category creation.
  • Why you absolutely need to get your investors on the same page about your company's growth path.
  • How LeanData turned customer success into a growth engine by transforming users into champions.
  • Why paid marketing flopped for Evan at first and how he pivoted to find early adopters.
  • How Evan tweaked LeanData's product and pricing to nail down the right fit for customers and the market.

I hope you enjoy it!


Click to view transcript

This is a machine-generated transcript.

[00:00:00] Omer: All right, Evan, welcome to the show.

[00:00:01] Evan: Thank you. Excited to be here.

[00:00:03] Omer: Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you or just gets you outta bed in the mornings that you can share with us?

[00:00:10] Evan: Yeah, so one of the bosses I used to work with in the venture capital industry used to always greet people.

[00:00:14] Like, how are you doing? He would be saying, just living the dream, you know, and I think that really applies to kind of my model for every day is. You know, even on the most challenging days, being an entrepreneur, I gotta remember, this is what I really wanted is to be an entrepreneur, and I just live up to that, that I just remember that I'm doing exactly what I love doing and on the challenging day.

[00:00:34] That's why, why I'm doing this job is to be able to make a difference and have the feeling that I can make a difference. And so for me, that would be the quote that sums up how I think about approaching each day.

[00:00:43] Omer: I love that. I should steal that. That's a, that's a, that's a great way. It's just like, you know, it gets you in a good, good frame of mind, even on those days when you don't feel that great.

[00:00:52] Like, okay, so tell us about LeanData. What does the product do? Who's it for and what's the main problem you're helping to solve?

[00:01:00] Evan: Yeah, so LeanData is built for your Rev ops team or your sales ops and work ops teams. And we really sit between your marketing systems or we take marketing leads or marketing signals, and we make sure that it gets to the right sales person for the sales follow up.

[00:01:14] So it's kind of a, it is an interesting part that we kind of sit within your mar marketing and sales tech stack and kind of sit between and do this thing called matching and routing or what we call revenue orchestration. The best example is since this audience is B2B SaaS, all, you all have kind of a contact us form on your website.

[00:01:30] We make sure that someone, after someone fills that out, it gets to the right person. And it sounds easy, but it's actually more complicated as people scale. For example, if an existing customer comes to your website, you want to get that to an AEM or a CSM. If it's an open opportunity, you wanna get that to an AE.

[00:01:44] And if it's a brand new account, you wanna get that to an SDR. So LeanData is a system that figures that out for you.

[00:01:49] Omer: Great. And can you give us a sense of the size of the business where you, in terms of revenue, customers size of team?

[00:01:56] Evan: Yeah. So we, we were the pioneers in this space. So we're a little bit over a thousand enterprise customers.

[00:02:01] Many of the brand names of companies you've you've heard out there like Nvidia, Google, you know Snowflake, et cetera. And then I. I think of like the, the, the, the journey kind of like zero to one, one to 10, 10 to a hundred. I would say that we don't probably, we're, we're in that journey between 10 to a hundred million, kind of, kind of halfway through that.

[00:02:19] Omer: Great. And I think you've raised just a little over 42 million.

[00:02:23] Evan: That's correct.

[00:02:24] Omer: Excellent. Okay, so let's go back to 2012, I think. When you, you founded the business, where did the idea come from?

[00:02:31] Evan: Yeah, so it was mostly personal pain points. Like a lot of our entrepreneur story at my last company had an inside sales team we're using Salesforce and we were bringing in marketing automations.

[00:02:41] And as we were stitching those systems together, we ran to a lot of problems with data and processes that made it hard for us to get the full value. And so for me, having that pain points was with the light bulb moment went off that, hey, a lot of companies are gonna struggle with this as CRM went from a data silo to integrated systems.

[00:02:59] If you don't get your data and processes correct, you're not going to get the full value out of your tech stack. So if, if a company can help people solve that, right, make sales and marketing teams more efficient, using better data and processes, we thought we could build a pretty interesting company. So that was the initial genesis from a pain point.

[00:03:15] We're still doing that today. Although how we do that has certainly iterated and changed over years.

[00:03:20] Omer: Great. So it was you and your co-founder, Kelvin, and so you have this idea of it's a personal pain, very common situation. What did you do? How did, how long did it take you for to get to the point where I.

[00:03:32] You went from idea to let's actually jump in with both feet and, and get started.

[00:03:39] Evan: Yeah, so I'd say I, I, I started solving the pain in my last company, caring.com. We built some internal systems. I had I had basically ops like a, an engineering team, so we actually solved it there. Really core solving was a lot of things around matching technology, so fuzzy matching.

[00:03:54] And then it was probably like nine months later was like, Hey, I, I really enjoyed solving that problem. I wonder if that's an actual business. Right? So then spinning it out to do that. And then the main thing was finding my technical co-founder Kelvin, someone who I could trust and believe in. We actually signed up our first few customers fairly easily.

[00:04:12] So I, I went out and did the sales process primarily through connections. So we got beta customers from folks who were just like, Hey, do you have dirty, pro dirty data in your Salesforce instance? And let people be like, yeah, how are you? Can you sell me? Solve that? So it just around a specific notion around, initially what we solved was again, this thing around fuzzy matching.

[00:04:31] So back then. People thought of the email address as a unique identifier, right? So that's how they were doing it. And we're like, wait a second. No, everyone has Gmails back then. Hotmails, Yahoos and so this is very, very inaccurate. So we found a way to make those matchings to, to find the right people and so that was the core IP initially.

[00:04:48] To get the initial set of customers interested in working with us to, to have better fidelity around identity recognition or I mean there's a space dedupe and data quality.

[00:04:58] Omer: Yeah. It sounds like the product was very different when you started out to what you, what you just described LeanData as today and Yeah, I think many times founders are starting out on that journey and they maybe have a big vision. I don't know what, what you, how big your vision was at the time, but often when you go back and you want, you sort of dig into the story like we're doing with yours, you realize it was a pretty specific, you know, problem you were going out to solve rather than we're gonna revolutionize, you know, how you, you're kind of running rev ops or whatever.

[00:05:33] I think you, we, we were talking earlier, I think you said you went out and got like the first 20 or so customers yourself.

[00:05:39] Evan: That's correct.

[00:05:40] Omer: Did you have any background in sales that you'd done anything like that before?

[00:05:44] Evan: No, I hadn't had a background in sales. I'd previously actually been a VC so I'd been on the dark side.

[00:05:48] And so through that I did have connections, so I, I could get friendly introductions to people, either folks that I had known and obviously I was also able to raise venture funding really early. I. So there were friendly portfolio companies and stuff like that, that I could, could reach out to, but it was so, so I think, but you still had to like sell yourself.

[00:06:08] So back then I think it was we were selling the pain, not really a solution. So we're selling, Hey, do you have those challenges with, with, like I said, dirty data or processes that were, and there a lot of pain. There still is today. And so people were eager to be like, okay, well, fine and then how do you do that?

[00:06:24] And so that, that's where that having those key like IP or again, the IP for us was initially this matching technology, which is still part of our overall solution that's kind of core about solving one data problem that other people didn't think that was real solid. And that gets your foot in the door to start working with customers.

[00:06:43] And towards your point around how do we evolve, it was mostly about just being very customer-oriented, understanding your customer pain point and evolving with them. So that's kind, that's how we kind of came to where we are. And so we had been talking like, Hey, how did we get to the next phase of gross?

[00:06:59] It was a couple customers came to us with an interesting problem that they thought we could uniquely solve that didn't exist in the marketplace. So that's kind of how we then took that next leap for the first 20. It was like, we just want to get access to data, understand people's pain points, and be in a ready state where someone had something that was gonna drive towards something broader.

[00:07:19] We were ready to to, to be there and to understand it.

[00:07:22] Omer: Great. I definitely want to dig into that and, and, and you know, what, what you heard from those customers. Just a couple of more questions about getting started. Did you, did you go out and. Like were you just going out and talking and trying to find people who had these problems before you went out and built the product, or did you sort of do that in parallel based on the fact that you'd already. Kind of gone through that @caring.com and you felt like, I kind of know this, this space well enough.

[00:07:54] Evan: You know, so I say we did the, the market research in advance and before building the product, so we actually had talked to people around the pain points understanding that they have those things.

[00:08:03] And so we around like 10 or 15 who was doing informational interviews, so we had a sense of what we were trying to build and. Because of my venture background, I was fortunate, and this doesn't apply to all the listeners we were fortunate to raise money before we actually had a, had had a demonstrable product.

[00:08:19] So, so it's so, so the initial scene money came in based on the team, and so then once we had initial set of requirements, then we started building the product.

[00:08:29] Omer: So people should go in. Try to become a VC first to make it easier to raise money.

[00:08:34] Evan: I think the broader thing is everyone should play to their own strengths.

[00:08:37] So I think you know, if you're engineering by training and, you know, spending time building the product isn't, isn't a high hurdle. Do that, right? If you're a great sales guy and you can get people to sign contracts, do that. And so for me, given my background, having friendlies I was able to go to folks who I worked with in the past and were at least willing to bet a certain amount of money just based on, just based on the, on, on, on the team itself.

[00:09:00] So, but I don't think every, every path is different.

[00:09:03] Omer: Do, do you remember how much you were charging for the product back then with those first 10, 20 customers?

[00:09:07] Evan: Yeah, no, it was I think the interesting thing is that we wanted to build a SaaS business right off the bat. So so we were charging kinda like 10 to $20,000 kind of on a annual basis.

[00:09:18] So that was kind of like, hey, we were going after mostly mid-market customers. And that's kind of generally the price points that they're willing to, to pay a budget for tech solutions.

[00:09:26] Omer: And Yeah, especially if you find a problem that, that's painful enough. Right. That was the key here that. Yep. You, you went, you, you, you had that personal experience and then you went out there and found the people who had, had the same pain and it makes the, you know, obviously the sale a little bit easier than you know, but, you know, I think it got more challenging after that and we'll, we'll, we'll talk about that, but.

[00:09:51] Going from the first 10 or 20 customers to the first hundred, you started to do ABM, account-based marketing. Can you tell us about that? Like why did you take that approach? Like I. It's not the first thing that most founders or startups do. They'll, you know, garden and do send cold emails. They'll, you know, do a whole bunch of other things.

[00:10:18] Right. But why was it ABM that that worked or was it you tried a bunch of things that they didn't work and this is where you landed?

[00:10:24] Evan: Yeah, so it wasn't one slight thing is, is we actually so ABM actually wasn't around when we were first around until like 2015 or so. So what, what, what, what so much is that?

[00:10:35] Hey, we initially started off doing the, the fuzzy matching dedupe space and a two of our early customers came to us Marketo and Palo Alto networks, and they were like, we want to move toward ABM motion. In order to do that, we need to solve a data problem called lead-to-account matching. We need to be able to match our leads against our existing accounts in order to understand what a accounts we should be marketing against.

[00:10:58] And so we were able to use our technology to build that foundational lead to account matching technology. And we actually started helping to evangelize the ABM space. So it wasn't so much we were using ABM internally, it was that ABM as a go-to-market motion started lifting. It was a rising tide that lifted a lot of boats and we hooked our product onto the ABM wave, and a lot of people became interested in ABM.

[00:11:25] And so we went to a Marketo conference and we basically said, Hey, you know, we're gonna sell a, basically, we didn't really have a, we had like a core of a product, but we're like, Hey, if we solve your lead to account matching, would you be willing to buy? And actually what was interesting was we wanted to test it out.

[00:11:40] So we actually lowered the price to $2,500 so that it was just like you could swipe a credit card and it was like a simple view and we signed like 60 customers and we're like, okay, we're onto something here. There's actually demand here for people granted it's a low price point, but hey, let's build out a full product that allows people to do lead-to-account matching at scale.

[00:11:59] So what we had sold at Marketo was basically a widget that you could see inside your Salesforce instance all on any given account, all the leads that matched against it.

[00:12:08] Omer: Yeah. Great. So for people who, who don't understand lead-to-account matching, can you just explain what that is and, and more importantly, why was it a pain for those companies?

[00:12:18] What were they not able to do? To run their business effectively.

[00:12:23] Evan: Yeah, so lead tool, account matching is just basically the idea that, how do I know that a whole bunch of people belong to the same company? So inside your CRM database, it comes in as leads. Leads are free flowing objects. They're not associated with anything.

[00:12:36] And if you wanna sell to, let's say, like an account like IBM you, you probably have. Thousands of people in your database that have the IBM account, but they're not actually tied to each other. And so lead to account matching allows you to actually physically tie all those people to a single account. On average most B mature B2B companies database.

[00:12:55] 50 to 75% of the leads in their database belong to an existing account. They're, it's just not matched up correctly that way. And that makes it really difficult for you to, from a sales and marketing perspective, to actually target those people if you're not seeing the whole picture of an account.

[00:13:11] And so that's why it was, necessary technology as people made that transition to ABM.

[00:13:16] Omer: And, and presumably some of those email addresses aren't ibm.com email there, maybe a Gmail address or something like that?

[00:13:23] Evan: Yeah. Or, or other one @ibm.com and at @us.ibm.com or two different domains. But obviously most people would associate that to the same.

[00:13:32] So you think about acquisitions, you think about, you know, different domains and all this other stuff. And now you get a sense that, hey. It's not so easy and generally speaking, people who did before us, it was like, Hey, they would do it by domain. So guess what? There'd be one account that has thousands and thousands of contacts because it's at hotmail.com. So that's a problem.

[00:13:53] Omer: Just explain to us like how, how did. How did your product solve the problem? Like what were you doing?

[00:13:59] Evan: Yeah, so we were known for solving fuzzy matching. So before that we were in the ddu say, so we were matching people with like, at @leandata.com with @Gmail. And so the, the, that was just a recognize the same person.

[00:14:11] And so when you think about lead account and you needed similar fuzzy matching technology, but at the at the account level.

[00:14:16] Omer: It was the same. Solution in, in many ways with the technology, but you just found another problem that you could go and solve, or customers kind of helpfully came to you and, and told you about it.

[00:14:33] You, you said you signed up like 60. Customers when, when you made that, you know, that that kind of product available for 2,500, over what period, how quickly did you sign those customers?

[00:14:45] Evan: Those were all one conference. We just put out a booth and we just said, so we were just like, Hey, we're at this conference.

[00:14:51] We lowered the price point and we're just like, Hey, we can solve this thing. And it wasn't a revenue goal. It was and actually that's, that's a good learning. We set more of a customer goal. We wanted to get to a hundred customers. I was less concerned about the revenue to prove the product market fit because after that product was just a glimpse into the product to actually do it at a database level required to probably another year of development.

[00:15:13] And we want to validate that this was actually the right direction to go in.

[00:15:16] Omer: Okay, great. So that, that's a, that's a great signal that you are. Something that people really care about and are obviously willing to pay for. Where did you go next? What did you do with the product?

[00:15:29] Evan: Yeah, so from there we just kept on building and I think for us there wasn't other, we were kind of a pioneer in the category, so we were trying to build out and evangelize around this new space.

[00:15:39] We didn't know what to call it. The analyst didn't know what to call it, so it was kind of hand to hand just kind of building up the, the category and just. Well, again, listening to our customers and trying to add features that they really liked. And so we went from just a pure lead to account matching technology to understanding what people were using it for.

[00:15:55] And so one of the pains they had next with account-based marketing was they needed to align the right leads, the marketing signal to the right reps, because in an account-based motion, you have certain reps that are assigned to these target accounts. And so this was a, a routing problem. And so we ended up adding a layer of routing technology.

[00:16:14] On top of that, they were also using this for reporting, so we were actually also building a reporting feature. The routing feature as ended up becoming much more popular, much more sticky and growing, and so over the next few years it was just about category creation and then eventually we kind of broadened out.

[00:16:30] We started with account-based, and then we started realizing that most of our company's customers were only account-based. They were always account-based plus channel, account based plus speed to lead account-based plus territory. And so our products started adding things like Round robin and territory manage you know, how do you do channel partners?

[00:16:46] And so then, then we became across multiple go-to-market motion. So we became a rounding solution across any Go-to-market motion and continue to do that evolution at, there's new Go-to market motions. Like today, there's folks moving towards buying groups away from account-based marketing. We continue to work with our customers and continue to service them across any Go-to-market motion.

[00:17:06] Omer: When you signed those 60 customers, the, at the event, where were you in terms of revenue? Were you still like below a million ARR? Or had you gone past that?

[00:17:14] Evan: Yeah, below a million ARR. So we had like 20, yeah, we were like, we were probably like less than like a hundred thousand in ARR, so.

[00:17:23] Omer: Wow. Okay. And then.

[00:17:26] The, the event was, was great. What did you do? What helped you get to that first million? Like, did you start doing more events and just say, let's just repeat this?

[00:17:36] Evan: Yeah, so I think events had always been important for LeanData and for us it was really around, hey, standing up some of these customers.

[00:17:42] Then we started signing some bigger customers, right? So some of these initial enterprise so like that price point was a cheap widget that we could sell to approve it. And then we started working with some deeper enterprise customers, so then they start signing some six figure deals. So that certainly helps you get to a million a lot faster.

[00:17:58] But for us, in terms of from a marketing activities, we'd always found that being because we had a solution that no one else had heard of, it helped to be face to face. And what helped most is if we could bring a customer. In to the, to the same place as a prospect. So what always worked for us better is our customers selling on our behalf because they always, and this is even still true today, I, I host dinners and a customer was just like raving about us.

[00:18:23] And the prospect was like, man, how much are you paying this person? He's like, a raving advertisement. I don't have to say anything. I just sit there and I'm like, yeah. So, you know, what's better than hearing it from an employee or a sales rep is way better hearing from a fellow customer.

[00:18:37] Usually if it especially helps with this customer, they company they respect, right? So that's, that's the best way. So for us, that's why events work really well. And we tend to go to events that our customers are speaking at or already at because then we can just ride those code wave waves and just be like, Hey, you heard 'em, they use us and you can talk to them.

[00:18:56] And they almost in some respects, help you sell. And that's that kind of peer-to-peer validation, that's so much more important. And it's really important. This category, they're like. I wasn't looking for this. I didn't know this could be done. Right. That's really, really helpful when you're doing something new that people hadn't thought of.

[00:19:12] That validation that it can be done, one, that's possible. Two, how powerful it is is, is is really important to get someone over the hump in oftentimes there's no budget line item. Right?

[00:19:22] Omer: Yeah. Well, well let, let's talk about that. The, the whole kind of idea of a new category. Can you maybe help us, just explain to us like what, what the challenges were, what the struggle was in, in being able to help prospects understand. What exactly you did and maybe compare that to like the zoom example we were talking about earlier.

[00:19:51] Evan: Yeah, so I think it starts with like, what's the elevator pitch, right? It's really hard to, to explain it to folks and because no one's ever kind of heard of it beforehand. And, and so it, so a good when we were using the Zoom, so when Zoom came along, they were just able to say, Hey, we're like WebEx, but we actually work and we're cheaper.

[00:20:09] That, that's very, if people have another product mind something in mind that they compare it to. When you're doing this category creation thing, people don't have that context. One, they don't know it's possible, so they don't even know that they're, they're not even looking for it. An analyst Craig Rosenberg at Topo used to describe us as like, we're like pain medication for back pain.

[00:20:28] A lot of people have back pain, but they don't even try to solve it. They don't even know that it's medicine. But once you take the medicine. You'll never go back because it's, it is kind of life altering, but people just live with it. So that's kind of, most of our prospects when we approach them, they we're like.

[00:20:41] Oh, yeah, I have that problem, but I, I hadn't thought of that, that there was a solution for it. And so you, so oftentimes one of the big challenges is I have to sell someone three times. The first time we have to explain what it is, and there's like, blown away. No idea. Didn't know. I was like, second time they'd be like, oh yeah, I get it now.

[00:20:58] And the third time they usually buy it and they're like, I wish I bought you the first time. We're like, yes, that's the story we hear so that makes sense. But it takes almost three sales cycles. So so one of the big pain points got, it's just slower. Like, it just takes longer. It's more educational, and you have to spend that time getting to know people and they're not gonna get it on that first try.

[00:21:16] And therefore that kind of impacts your growth rates, right? You're not gonna grow like some of these companies that can grow very, very fast. Like, like a Zoom during the pandemic. It was just people knew the problem and it was slightly better, and they're willing to move over and adopt that tho, those adoption curves just may take a little bit longer, and you have to have the patience and you also just have to have the wherewithal to to kind of survive long enough in order to capture it.

[00:21:39] If you you know, if you go too fast and blow all your runway away, you're not gonna be the one to, to read the rewards.

[00:21:46] Omer: You, you said you had to meet with him three times before you could close the sale. How long was that taking? Like was this like, oh, three weeks later you're closing the deal?

[00:21:58] Evan: No, it's like, that's usually like three years, but now there's some customers who buy in year one.

[00:22:04] So, but it is funny, like we will sign logos many years ago there, there's number customer logos. I had like a top 50 list of like companies that are in my ecosystem that I wanted to sign. And it would be like four or five years ago, we're like, oh, we finally got that one. And I was like, yeah, we've been talking to them a a long time and I'm glad they finally came around. But it is but we but yes.

[00:22:26] Omer: Just help, help us understand like why . Was taking that long and when you describe that, I think about, okay, first of all, you said something very insightful earlier where you, where you talked about selling the pain. And many founders go in and they'll start immediately talking about the benefits we deliver and how this product does X, Y, Z, and whatever.

[00:22:50] But if the person listening to you doesn't even get the pain, none of that is going to register. Especially when you're going through something like this as a new product, new category, it, it seems like there's, there's a, there's quite a lot of education that you need to do there. And then also you also touched on budgets that, you know, it wasn't something that were budgeting for.

[00:23:19] So did you find that? Okay. Eventually, when you got to the, to a point where they said, okay, yeah, I, I get this, I have this pain. I didn't realize I could solve this. And then it was like, well, we don't have the budget for this or were they like, I. I, I, this is, I get it now and we, we are gonna go and reallocate some budget and find some money for this, or it was like, come back next year.

[00:23:43] Evan: Yeah. So I think generally speaking so generally you, you oftentimes in the first cycle they do, I. They do get the pain, right? So you can, that's where you start with is like, Hey, did you, do you have these pain points around like, like I said, lead to account matching or where your leads aren't going to the right place and most people will be like, yeah, nodding their heads.

[00:24:01] Yes, I agree with that. So that's like kind of your first cycle is to get the, and then that's where you do run into it. There's like, I wasn't looking for this. I didn't know I was looking for this solution and I don't have budget for it. And that's where like year one usually. You're, you're getting like some interest, but they may not be able to pull the trigger.

[00:24:17] Now, there are some companies, fortunately you do have to sign someone. There are early adopters. There are people who are in internal champions who are able to, they're like, they, they align with you. They're willing to try new tech and they'll, they'll push it through. You know, you have these like rogue champions who are fantastic.

[00:24:32] There are true early adopters. But then you have the folks who are a little bit more conservative and they're gonna be like, yeah, I can't push it this year. So then the following year, they're like, yeah, I. We've seen these pain points that you were talking about, like, Hey, now I know I could solve it.

[00:24:45] It becomes more obvious in year two that they, they have these, these pain points and then usually at that point in I'm like, I'm gonna fight for budget. Maybe they don't get it. And year three they're like, no, we have this in the budget. I know I want this. I've got approval and everything of that sort.

[00:24:58] And they're, they're ready to go. And so that's why it takes a little bit longer for it, but there are close customers that go faster. And then there are customers who go slower. And oftentimes there's some customers who are like, yeah. It's not a priority for me, or that's not my department, or I'm not willing to fight for that.

[00:25:14] Right. And sometimes it takes it takes a different mentality. And this is your cl classic, crossing the chasm.

[00:25:19] Omer: I mean, I, I've often talked to founders who are sort of at the other, other side of that, and, and I've said, you know, you, you, you should be looking for more early adopters here and, and often it's like, well, how, how do I know?

[00:25:30] And, and you went through that process and so was it more about you were just going out and talking to everybody and, and then you started to identify these people through conversations or over time, did you figure out these are the types of companies or people in those organizations that we need to reach out to because they're more likely to be an early adopter.

[00:25:53] Evan: Yeah, so I think the, the interesting thing part is the, we're talking about events early. So there's communities, early adopters tend to glom together and wanna learn from each other. And so there, there, there is these community aspects that you can hone into. And find out the pockets of early adopters.

[00:26:09] And so I talked a little bit about Marketo Summit was really big for us. So what we, oftentimes, one of our gorilla strategies is we'd go to Marketo meetups. And so we'd go there and that's where you're gonna find I. Bands are early adopters. They're there to learn and they're more eager to do that.

[00:26:25] And so yeah, like I think I signed up for market. I knew marketing automation was going to be a space that was gonna ha drive the data. They, so I believed, I signed up for Marketo when there was two of us. So I would just start going to the Marketo meetups and I'd go to I think they had a San Mateo, San Francisco and San Jose.

[00:26:40] So I went to all three and so, and those, I got a chance to meet them and a lot of those became early customers because they had that mentality of early adopters. As you scale, you just build to other bigger communities. And so that's always been something that's important for LeanData. So I. A long time ago we started Dreamforce is huge, right?

[00:26:58] Salesforce is ecosystem, but it's a huge event. How do you work that as an early-stage startup? And so we banded together with a bunch of other vendors and we started our own little conference called Op Stars. So we rented out a restaurant, we brought in folks, us, we were in early in the movement around rev ops.

[00:27:14] Brought people together. So there's ways you can do if you have go to places where the early adopters congregate, right? And find ways to capture them. And so today, OpsStars is the biggest satellite event at Dreamforce. It has like 2000 plus attendees. We rent out the San Francisco Midt every year. And so we have this brand that's been going on for eight years around community, but it started with our needs was how do we take 150,000, a hundred thousand people, go to Dreamforce and find the ones that are most eager to actually adopt early technology, and how do we put, bring them together in an efficient process?

[00:27:48] Omer: So we've talked about what worked, how you were able to grow the business. Let's talk about a couple of things that, that didn't work and you're trying to grow.

[00:27:56] Evan: Yeah. So traditional digital marketing, buying key AdWords did not work for us. It has never, because like I said, people aren't Googling and searching for, for, we're not searching for our technology.

[00:28:06] We, we didn't know what to really call it. We had to make up the name, and so there aren't keywords. Every person I brought in would be like, yeah, we've, we've hit our limit. There's no keywords for, for this. I, I can't even spend more money so so the traditional like inbound wasn't the thing because it wasn't something people were necessarily searching for.

[00:28:24] That's hard because if, if you have a great inbound digital strategy, it scales quite nicely. Right? Put more dollars in and not being able to do that forces you to be a little bit more creative. And that, that that's not as easy and, and or you just continue to spend money that, that, that, that doesn't work.

[00:28:40] Omer: This, this, trying to get AdWords to work was this happening before you were getting more and more kind of effective at, at converting, at events and meetups or was this in parallel? Like what, in timing wise, when was it happening?

[00:28:58] Evan: It was always in parallel, so I mean, that, that's one of the first things you do stand up, you start testing out with it.

[00:29:03] You bring in the demand gen experts who, who, who know how to do it. And so that's just something that we just. Has, has, has never really worked at tremendous scale for us. Now there's a little bit more, so it is part of our strategy, but we've never had that as a as a flywheel that truly drives that.

[00:29:21] We've had to be more evangelist in terms of our, our channels.

[00:29:25] Omer: So you, you mentioned that you went through a few people. Was it like, okay, you, you've brought somebody on to do AdWords and you know, they weren't able to get it to work, and you were like, well, maybe, maybe it was the person, maybe I need to try somebody else.

[00:29:39] And then the next person kind of hits the same problem.

[00:29:42] Evan: Yeah, when you, once you get to the third or fourth, you're like, okay, it's not the skillset. There may be something else here. It may just be more the tactic or the, the strategy may not apply. And sometimes, you know, what works at another company may not work at yours.

[00:29:56] And so and vice versa, right? What, what works for us may not work for someone else.

[00:29:59] Omer: I mean, I, I, I imagine it might be a little scary. When you come to that realization that I can't scale by throwing more money here, that is, and so like you'd, you'd raise money you're trying to grow the business. I'm sure you've got expectations from VCs as well about how quickly you should be growing.

[00:30:20] Kind of sounds like a nice recipe for. You know, for you to be telling people that you're living the dream a lot more.

[00:30:27] Evan: Fair enough? Yes. I think yes, it's something a little bit be patient. I. I do think you have to be trying new things, but I, I do, I do caution a lot of times when people come in externally to LeanData is, hey, the playbook that works somewhere else may not work here.

[00:30:41] There already decra of our, of our, our market that we just have to adjust with. And so I think that does come with being transparent with your board and making sure you're aligning around it. But I also think sometimes you don't want to keeping up with the Joneses may be another phrase that you just gotta be careful about it, right?

[00:31:00] When everyone's people think money is free growth at all costs, you gotta be a little bit cautious to apply to your own business. And so fortunately that was one of the things that I think we did do well was we, we had over raise from a capital perspective, we didn't chase valuations and. Now that things have adjusted a little bit post 2021, money is no longer free.

[00:31:20] We didn't have that overhang. We didn't have a huge burn rate. We didn't have all this capital. And so you have to also be a little bit confident that while everyone else says this works there, you have to have the confident to sometimes push back and be willing to say, Hey, maybe we're different.

[00:31:36] Right? Doesn't mean we can't learn and potentially do things better. But just because it, like I said, just 'cause it were somewhere else, doesn't, doesn't mean it works here.

[00:31:45] Omer: Yeah. Can you give us a, just a, a sense of what that was like, what kind of pressure you were facing or kind of mentally what you had to deal with when you know, on the one hand you're trying to figure out how to grow and you know, these attempts at things like AdWords is, is, is basically failing. You've got VCs who are putting, you know, at least have expectations of how quickly you should be growing. And then when earlier we were talking, you were also talking about, and then you're looking out to the market and you're seeing other companies that seem to be growing much faster than you and doing really well and, and you've got all of these things going on what sort of pressure, did you feel from that?

[00:32:33] Evan: Yeah, so I think the main thing is that's where I, I, I fortunately was picking investors that I thought were going to support us as a business and being able to have that transparency with your board is key. So it's about that alignment and making sure that, hey, you can talk through it and as long as they feel that you're some VCs won't listen.

[00:32:51] Right. And, you know, they'll, they'll fire the CEO and bring someone else in fortunately I had picked folks that I had known and trust, trusted, and we could have that dialogue and they could see that we were doing the right things and they ultimately trusted management to do the, to the, to, to do the right course.

[00:33:08] And so that was, that's why I think we were able to do that. If you don't have that trust and you know then I think it's much more difficult. And generally speaking, that's when unfortunately changes happen whether you like it or not. And sometimes I think that's, if you pick the wrong investors, that that could happen.

[00:33:25] Omer: Totally. So how did you scale if you're not able to throw a bunch of money to grow? Faster. You can't be doing like millions of these meetups to go and find people. Right.

[00:33:39] Evan: So, yeah, so I mean, I, I think we had traditionally relied on a kind of SDR outbound, so we, we, we had to outbound our learn how to outbound our way into it.

[00:33:49] And then the other part of it is, fortunately for us we did build, we were a category we category creators. We treated our customers really, really well. And so we traditionally had something at a certain point in scale. We had something called customer virality, where we had people who trusted us, recommended us, but also fortunately in the tech space a lot of our early customers that people move around a lot.

[00:34:09] So I, I remember, I think we were at like, I don't know, like 20 or 30 customers. We were really early on and there was one month that a bunch of them changed jobs and I was freaking out because I was like, oh my God, that's a huge part of my ar I'm gonna lose the business. But what ended up happening is another, we didn't lose any of those customers.

[00:34:25] They went to somewhere new and brought us in. I was like, oh, wait a second. This is actually a good thing when people move jobs. It is actually a good thing if you've built a great product. And so a lot of us is, we, we, we have evangelized, we built a community of folks. Who've used our products, who, who will then bring us into new companies.

[00:34:43] And today we're at a point of scale where oftentimes if we're going after a new account, we'll often have two or three champions land from different departments at different places into the same company. And, and that, that, that really kind of makes you makes it faster for you to do deal cycle.

[00:34:56] We do do things like, we invest a lot in customer marketing. We have a certification program, so we'll certify certified people as leaned outta certified. It's a badge of honor for them. But it also makes it, we will also see certified users retain them better, and when they go somewhere, they're more likely to bring us in.

[00:35:11] And so we kind of nurture that and those are ways you can kind of you know, kind of build that and, and, you know, as, as you get bigger, you have more champions and that kind of builds kind of a, a, a natural flywheel in some respects.

[00:35:23] Omer: Yeah. So you, you talked about customers who. Who trust you and having customers who will basically do the selling for you at events and you're not paying them.

[00:35:38] Building a great product is one part of that. But when it comes to building that trust and, and them being able to be willing to, you know, advocate for you like that, to be the champion. What, what did you have to do, like as founders? Was this, was this about just, you know, you as the, the founders just going and, and just building strong relationships with individuals or like how did you do that?

[00:36:12] Evan: Yeah, I mean, the first part is you have to deliver on what you promise. So that's the first part. When you promise someone, I'm gonna solve something, you have to first deliver on that. And so that was kind of an odd mantra. I mean, our, our number one, our number one cultural value is customer first. And so we try to live up to that.

[00:36:28] And in the early stages yes. I think as founders and early employees, we spent a lot of time with our customers, right. We, we, we wanted to make sure, I think one of the key things is, my CPO who's been with us for like a decade. When he first came, I was like, I wanna work on product. And I was like, no, you're gonna take on customer success.

[00:36:44] And I was like, he's like, I didn't sign up for that. I was like, no, we only have like 10 customers and I need you to know all their pain points because that will drive the product roadmap. And so now I. We have a different customer success department today, but at the early stage that you have to be that close to your customers and really be able to do whatever it takes to service them because that will be driving your insights and that those relationships do matter a lot.

[00:37:07] If you can deliver for that initial set and have those raving fanatics, right, that can kind of built. If you lose that in the early stages, then as well as you can sell or market. It's a leaky bucket, right? It the, the, you're just not gonna get that same flywheel.

[00:37:23] Omer: And then sort of where the business is today.

[00:37:24] Like what do you, where do you see this category happening? What's happened in the last 10 years and. And what do you think the opportunity still is?

[00:37:34] Evan: Yeah, so absolutely. So we kinda grown with our customers. We've kind of gotten to a firm scale. We rode in the ABM wave. I think there's gonna be a new wave of disruption happening around go to markets.

[00:37:44] I think people went from a lead-centric model to an account-centric model to today. There's really this big movement around buying groups. Buying groups is the notion that you should be selling opportunities and you like within an account. There are certain sets of folks that really, really matter.

[00:37:58] And I think that's gonna be a big disruption in kind of the go to market and LeanData today is the leader in helping people move to buying groups because of our technology and our way of helping people kind of do the revenue orchestration. And so we're excited to kind of help this next generation.

[00:38:12] And what's interesting, I. The, the previous ABM wave was really drug driven by tech, early adopters. This buying group is really driven by larger enterprises. They have multiple products, multiple SKUs, multiple geos, and so for them to, to take a big company, let's say like on Amazon, they've sold to everyone.

[00:38:28] Everyone uses Amazon. They even on the B2B enterprise side, right? If you think like, oh, web services but. The question is how do they get them to buy more, how to buy more products, et cetera. And that's not about account base. That's going to be around buying groups and selling them more skews and figuring it out.

[00:38:43] And that's going to be, again, disruptive to go to market. So we're very bullish on this wave and we feel very well positioned. We were small company for the last wave. So we're kinda riding the wave in this wave. We plan on trying to lead the way and from a thought leadership perspective, we've written a definitive guide on, on buying groups and we're out there espousing and trying to trying to lead the lead, the next wave of go-to-market innovation.

[00:39:06] Omer: Got it. So hey, I'm not a far from an ABM expert, but when you describe, you sort of said ABM was too broad. Leads kind of maybe too narrow and sort of buying groups in the middle, but at, at a service level, buying groups don't sound that different to identifying people in a company. So how is, how is that different?

[00:39:24] Evan: It's, so, the funny part is for sales, this is like mapping an account. This is how they sell, right? So the best salespeople do this. It's, it's, it's about the systems, datas and some of the other groups aligning on that so that, hey, the, so. With the technology for the long step, we just could barely get people names and leads, right?

[00:39:42] So it's, it, it is, it is about natural, the natural sales motion, but making sure your data processes and systems and your other teams are aligned around delivering around this buying group. So that's the, that's the difference is the technology and, and, and, and the processes has finally caught up to how people, the best sales reps do sell enterprise accounts.

[00:40:02] Omer: Great. Well, we should wrap up here. Let's, get onto the lightning round. I've got seven quick fire questions for you. All right. What's one of the best pieces of business advice you've received?

[00:40:13] Evan: Yeah, so I think I think for me it's actually the early on I learned this lesson. It was just don't run outta cash.

[00:40:19] Omer: That's a good one. Well, what book would you recommend to our audience and why?

[00:40:25] Evan: Yeah, so one book I really like for especially early stage is Founder's Dilemma. So it's a book by Harvard, our Harvard Business review. And it's basically about, hey, everything at the early stage is trade-offs. Do you raise venture capital?

[00:40:37] Do you not? It's a trade off. Do you, do you try to be a solo founder or not? It's all about trade-offs. So for me, I think that's good for founders to understand that you really, every decision has a, has a consequence and you need to be thoughtful around each of those early stage decisions.

[00:40:52] Omer: What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

[00:40:56] Evan: I think it's a little bit to be able to rise above the nose and to be able to persevere. And so for me, even when the kind of the shit hits the fan, I try to stay calm. I. And, you know, understand to take the longer term perspective that you gotta ride out that store.

[00:41:10] Omer: What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

[00:41:14] Evan: So, be a not necessarily controversial. I'm inbox zero and have been for 20 years. And the reason I say that it takes a lot of time to write the emails, but it makes me a lot more flexible and react. I can react faster. Something, an urgent comes in, I can react faster because I'm not, it's not getting buried and lost.

[00:41:32] Omer: I'm an Inbox Zero guy too. So it, Dr it drives me nuts when I see a scroll bar in the inbox and it's what's what's in your crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the time.

[00:41:43] Evan: Yeah, so I think a lot of the sales of MarTech technologies have been around for over two decades. I think like, I'll even say like.

[00:41:50] I think there's a way to make CRM a whole lot better than what it's originally designed for. So I think there, in the next 10 years, I think you're gonna see some major disruption to how we think about the entire sales and marketing stack from beginning to end.

[00:42:02] Omer: Well, what's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

[00:42:05] Evan: So I ha I, I, I no longer drink. But the fun fact is that was not the case in if you talk to someone in college, they would've actually had a very different impression of me than the person you see today.

[00:42:17] Omer: And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

[00:42:20] Evan: Other than my family I really enjoy playing poker.

[00:42:22] I just find that to be a, a strategic thing that I, I really enjoy.

[00:42:26] Omer: Awesome. Thank you so much for joining me, Evan. If people want to. Check out LeanData, they can go to LeanData.com. If folks wanna get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

[00:42:37] Evan: LinkedIn. So Evan Liang.

[00:42:39] Omer: Great. We'll include link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes.

[00:42:42] Great. Thank you so much for unwrapping the last 12 years for us and sharing your story in the lessons you learned along the way. I appreciate that. And I wish you and the team the, the best of success. Cheers.

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