Parabola: The Journey to Discovering Our Ideal SaaS Customer
Alex Yaseen is the founder and CEO of Parabola, a collaborative data automation tool empowering non-technical teams to automate complex data processes.
As a consultant, Alex noticed that many non-technical clients often hired analysts to tackle manual data tasks. He envisioned a tool that could help automate this work.
In 2017, Alex launched Parabola, but he struggled for years to find product-market fit, even though he attracted initial customers who were enthusiastic about the product.
During that time, the business generated little revenue.
Alex eventually had a breakthrough years later when he added collaboration features to Parabola. This was when he realized he'd stumbled upon a much bigger opportunity.
Focusing on collaboration sounds like a minor pivot.
But when Alex repositioned Parabola as a collaborative data automation tool, the business finally got traction, and revenue started growing much faster.
Today, Parabola is a 7-figure ARR SaaS business used by thousands of teams. The company has raised over $34 million to date.
In this episode, you'll learn:
- How Alex identified early “false positive” customers who loved the product but didn't have recurring needs, and what Alex did to figure out his ideal customer profile.
- Why Alex believes that vertical focus is crucial for horizontal products to cut through the noise, even when it means turning away interested customers.
- The important insights Alex gained from tracking collaboration feature requests that got him to pivot Parabola from a solo to a team tool.
- How being patient with capital enabled Alex to take the time needed to find product-market fit without prematurely scaling growth.
I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
This is a machine-generated transcript.
00:02 (Omer Khan) Alex, welcome to the show.
00:03 (Alex Yaseen) Thanks, great to be here.
00:05 (Omer Khan) Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you that you can share with us?
00:09 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, I think maybe slightly cliche in tech world, but I really like the quote about the future is already here, it just isn't evenly distributed. We think about that a lot at Parabola. We are really in the business of empowering people who historically, historically have been left out of the true benefits of working with and kind of deploying technology and trying to give it to them and help them be self sufficient and implement their best ideas. So hoping to make the future more evenly distributed.
00:37 (Omer Khan) Great. So for people who aren't familiar with Parabola, can you tell us what does the product do, who's it for? What's the main problem you're helping to solve?
00:46 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, Parabola is a collaborative data tool that helps non technical teams, usually people on operations teams sometimes finance or marketing to automate the really manual, repetitive things they do in spreadsheets. And we usually call that like manual process. But specifically the type of manual process we love to focus on are things that are manual for a reason. It's not because you haven't wanted to get out of doing manual stuff.
01:08 (Alex Yaseen) It's not because you love doing manual stuff. It's because structurally it's really difficult to automate a process that's so bespoke you can't buy off the shelf software for. It is so complex and logical that you can't just use kind of like simpler tools.
01:25 (Alex Yaseen) I think most importantly is kind of so dynamic, changes so regularly that even if you had engineers on your team, you can't write custom code for things where the data, incoming data changes every week. You want to be experimental tweaking the logic every week and you ultimately need the subject matter expert or the operator or however you want to think about the kind of like non technical end user who is so in the weeds on the actual process to be able to tinker and change the process themselves. So we help them automate those types of things they didn't think were previously automatable.
01:57 (Omer Khan) Give us a sense of the size of the business. Where are you in terms of revenue, number of customers?
02:01 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, we're in the seven figures of Arr at the moment, have a few thousand teams using us and about 100 of those are kind of our larger, what we call our advanced tier accounts. Like larger companies engaging with us in kind of more of an enterprise type of way.
02:16 (Omer Khan) Great. So the business was founded in 2017. What were you doing just before that and how did you come up with.
02:25 (Alex Yaseen) The idea to go back slightly further? I guess I grew up technical. I taught myself to code when I was younger. Built computers have always had the experience of technology that I really enjoy working with it and get to feel really productive and empowered working with it. I've always had a bit of a cognitive dissonance that I think about a lot of most of my friends and most of my family not having that same positive relationship where they frequently describe computer acting up, browser, taking them to someplace, something like fighting with technology to get it to work.
02:58 (Alex Yaseen) And I've always thought about what are the best ways to describe to somebody how to think about a computer or technology in a more deterministic way? Like, there's a set of inputs that you do and it has a predictable set of outputs and you can get to that predictability. It's not magic. And I think there's something really empowering when people realize, oh, I can use technology as a tool to actually achieve great things.
03:08 (Alex Yaseen) It's not like a frustration that I'm forced to use. It's actually like an awesome, exciting, rosy version of the future. I was working in strategy consulting out of undergrad, having studied finance and computer science.
03:10 (Alex Yaseen) I went into the strategy consulting world and I had a really sharp version of this cognitive dissonance where I was working in Fortune. Hundred companies, essentially a lot in CPG, retail, a little bit of ecommerce, helping people essentially do data analysis, business case models and data analysis where they knew their process really well. They were some sort of we call them a subject matter expert.
03:53 (Alex Yaseen) We now at Parabola call them operators, but they didn't have a way to actually deploy that idea themselves. And so I got excited about hey, rather than paying a fresh out of college consultant a ton of money to do an Excel analysis for you, what if we built tools that actually empowered those people to express their most creative ideas, their most, like, drive actual company revenue and company ideas, forward ideas, and in the process, become self-sufficient? So I spent a couple of years thinking about this idea and noodling on prototypes and just figuring out what's the right paradigm to make that possible. When I started Parabola it was because I had really landed on the specific subset of the manual repetitive getting data ready to work with and think about processes that were the most painful and most limiting of these operators, kind of exposing their creativity.
04:44 (Omer Khan) So how does somebody go about even building a tool like Parabola? I can code. And a lot of the times if I have some kind of data problem, I could probably write some Python code that'll solve the problem for me. But even that is a pain in the butt. Just the whole thing about having to figure things out in what's the data structure and what's the best way to handle this and get it from this place to that place and whatever.
05:18 (Omer Khan) Like kind of going another layer up and saying, yeah, I'm going to build a tool that does this and handles all these use cases. It's like, oh my God, that doesn't sound like an MVP-type product. What was it?
05:29 (Alex Yaseen) Well, so I think definitely the path we've taken with Parabola is a bit of a hard one. Trying to build a very robust tool that can solve a lot of problems for a lot of people way I thought about that early building out of things so I have enough of a technical background. I was able to build first prototypes myself. I had recently learned react from front end UI framework.
05:51 (Alex Yaseen) It's all about reactive functional flows that are deterministic. We could talk more about that at some point if I probably want to get into some of the actual go-to-market pieces. But basically it's all about taking complexity and having a predictive set of outputs come out the other side.
06:07 (Alex Yaseen) And so I started thinking about when you're describing writing some of those Python scripts to work on data, the easiest way to think about them is every time you get data coming in, there's a really pure function, a consistent function that does the same. If you give it the same data in, it'll have the same data coming out. The early paradigm for Parabola was can you assemble what looks like a flowchart that's basically describing step by step how you take those little small transformations and turn them into your overall process.
06:07 (Alex Yaseen) And conveniently, that's how people actually tend to think when they describe a process to another person. So if you are on your team, somebody you're about to onboard, somebody new to help you do this manual process that you currently run yourself you'd probably just write down on a piece of paper the 24 steps you follow to download three CSV files out of these different portals, like copy and paste them into a spreadsheet, write a VLOOKUP, do a find and replace to get rid of this prefix you know always exists. There's a bunch of stuff you know you have to do.
06:07 (Alex Yaseen) And if you describe each of those steps, it turns out that that is the same set of like it's a deterministic process that you follow no matter what data is coming in. And those 24-step lists turn really nicely into a Parabola flow where every we call it a step, but every node in the flowchart that you build in Parabola ideally speaks to that same level of abstraction that one person would describe their process to another. And so we've tried to build Parabola in this very human type of way where you're saying this is a column that just like a step that just removes columns, and this is a step that combines two data sets and this is a step that connects to your data source.
06:07 (Alex Yaseen) And more recently, this is a step that lets you leverage a large language model to standardize or normalize your data in a way that doesn't require you to actually know what a large language model is.
07:47 (Omer Khan) Got it? Okay, so you start building this product, it sounds like a lot of this was driven by just vision and how you describe your background and ideally what you wanted to make technology more accessible for everybody. Were you going out and talking to potential customers and trying to validate your idea or were you just driven by the technology and what you wanted to build?
08:14 (Alex Yaseen) I mean, a little bit of both I think had very clear vision for I had been the person doing a lot of this data work, so I knew the high level problems that needed to be solved. But I think have always that cognitive distance I was talking about of why people have so many amazing technology tools at their disposal but still feel scared about them or daunted by them or unwilling to jump right in. That is like a very difficult problem to solve. So I spent a lot of time talking with people specifically about what is going to make you feel comfortable to be experimental and to feel like you're the one in control and not that your computer is kind of controlling you.
08:47 (Alex Yaseen) And I feel like people frequently describe working with new tools almost as a feeling of claustrophobia where you don't know how to do the thing that you want to do and that's really frustrating for people. And so we spent a lot of time on what's the right level of abstraction to build parabola to that speaks that just feels really natural and fluid. One of the most important insights was in a spreadsheet.
09:05 (Alex Yaseen) One of the things that spreadsheets are awesome at is every time you make a change, you see the entire set of data. You see like the final results right in front of you. And so even if you don't know in that 24-step process, even if you don't know all 24 steps, you can kind of like step by step get your way there just by putting 1ft in front of the other.
09:15 (Alex Yaseen) And that's really important for our type of user. And so in Parabola it was a technical challenge, but every time you make a change to anything, the entire set of data calculates. No matter how big your data set is, we make sure you can see your entire set of data and you're able to kind of guess and check your way to your solution.
09:43 (Omer Khan) Okay, so let's talk about the first ten customers. How did you find those first set of customers and how easy or hard was it to get them to start paying you?
10:01 (Alex Yaseen) We've always had a challenge and an opportunity at Pribl, I think where we're horizontally applicable, we can solve a lot of problems for a lot of people. And hopefully if I've been doing my job explaining this well, most people should be able to think about either a manual process they have or somebody at their company has that could probably be benefited by something like Parabola. But solving everything for everybody is kind of hard to communicate. And also it's not always somebody's number one top priority.
10:26 (Alex Yaseen) It could be buried pretty deeply down there. So we've always had an easy time getting people excited hypothetically about Parabola. Andwhenever we have put up pieces of content or like early on launching on Product Hunt or Hacker News or those kinds of things, we would always get a huge amount of interest in sign-ups and people who were aspirationally interested.
10:48 (Alex Yaseen) But finding the use cases that were truly hugely value-driving for them and for their companies was more difficult. And so first I'm trying to think of for first ten customers specifically, I think it was a bit of a mix. We had some people who found us totally like they were such a strong problem they needed to solve and they'd been looking for so long that we made it really hard to find ourselves.
11:04 (Alex Yaseen) We didn't have much marketing going on. They saw us on Hacker News or they Googled to the 6th page of Google searching search pages when Google still is paginated and found something that sparked their interest. Or there was a little bit of we knew companies, we knew people working in e-commerce and retail and CPG who had a lot of operational complexity that results in a lot of this manual process.
11:38 (Alex Yaseen) And we were able to connect with them. And hey, like, what do we see how hard it would be to automate this process you thought was going to be really difficult to automate?
11:47 (Omer Khan) I think this point about a horizontal product is important and I assume it's still a challenge today because the more you add to the product and the more it can do, the bigger your potential market gets in terms of people who could use the product. And so maybe we can talk a little bit later about the go to market challenges in the recent years. But back then I think you get similar challenges there in terms of who are we talking to, how do we position this, should we niche down? Is there a particular segment like somebody like me, I could see myself using Parabola because I get these random things and it's like I don't really want to waste time coding and debugging and blah, blah. Somebody's already thought of this and I can go and use that.
12:19 (Omer Khan) But I'm probably not your ideal customer because once I've solved that problem, I might not want to do something like that for another six months. And so getting people like me who are super excited about the product is a bit misleading because I'm not going to be that customer who's going to be paying month after month after month. And so you need to look within that and figure out who are the people who actually need this on a daily basis, on a weekly basis and have these continuous problems.
12:55 (Omer Khan) And I'm wondering how long did it take you to figure that out.
13:20 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, this has certainly been one of our biggest challenges that I also frame regularly as one of our biggest opportunities. Agreed. That the addressable market for something like Parabola is stratospherically large, like almost dauntingly large. And especially early on, if we found someone like you who was really passionate excited to solve one of those use cases, it was really exciting to us.
13:39 (Alex Yaseen) We love hearing from customers how they had this really painful thing before, and there's this way better new future version that they can do with parable. And we enabled them to be self sufficient for the first time and build something and create something for the first time. But early on, in pursuit of building a tool for those people, we attracted a lot of people who were interested in building things more aspirationally than actually created value.
14:03 (Alex Yaseen) Totally happy to have those people, but they obviously don't reasonably so don't want to pay a lot of money or at least consistently pay money for a thing that is not actually driving a lot of value. But once we got to a place where it was clear that we had built to that right level of abstraction and had people who previously before were not building automated process or, like, building with technology, doing it for the first time. And we knew that the tool we had kind of like a precursor to product market fit of I don't know if it's Proct individual fit or that we could coin some term for it, we started looking at who were our customers, who actually were getting a lot of value, and who were not just doing something as a hobbyist, but really were driving, had an ROI number they could talk about.
14:25 (Alex Yaseen) And for the most part, those were people who were trying to use us in the context of a team. And they were asking us for features like how do I present the results of a parabola flow to somebody? How do I show my work and collaborate with somebody else on my team? I'm actually leaving the company but we're hiring a backfill, how do I transfer this to them? Things like that. And what those were actually asking for were I think those were collaboration features that were just different from the canonical like figma two cursors on a screen collaboration.
15:11 (Alex Yaseen) They were asking for collaboration features that were more like how an engineer or an engineering team collaborates, of having some idea of version control and the ability to have some sorts of shared logic that's like helper functions in software engineering world. In our world, they're like shared components, shared cards that are subsets of a flow that you can share across multiple flows and they all stay in sync with each other. And just ways that we can help an operations team or a team of these nontechnical people to start to work together maybe for the first time, to collaborate amongst themselves and share with their stakeholders and in the process elevate themselves from being kind of keep the lights on people to a team that is just as technical and empowered as an engineering or data team.
15:56 (Alex Yaseen) That's like helping drive revenue and helping drive top company goals. And if we're able to do that, which this was about two years ago when we were really asking ourselves some of these questions about which of our users are truly driving most value and how do we start being a little bit more commercial and looking to grow ARR not just growing our user base. If we're able to help those teams go through a little bit of that process or like digital transformation, to start to think about themselves in a more up leveled way, that creates a huge amount of value for them and for their companies.
16:00 (Alex Yaseen) And so they get really excited working with us, they evangelize us within their companies and maybe ideally beyond their companies, and then ultimately are willing to pay us money. And so as we started shifting our focus to those collaborative features and building a bit of a go-to-market motion to help sell to an entire team at a time, even if it's just a small team rather than to an individual. We've seen some pretty explosive revenue growth over the past two years and quite clear, I think, vision of how we go from here.
16:55 (Omer Khan) So we talked about the business being founded in 2017 and it took you five years to get to the first million in Arr, roughly around that. And it all happened when you figured out this collaboration need and started to respond in terms of what you were building in the product. Since then, it's been like, revenue is growing faster, we've raised 24 million Series B and things that are kind of day and night in many ways compared to what they were like in the first couple of years. If you were going back, do you feel you could have done something differently to get to that Pivot, like sooner?
17:42 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, I think so. I think it's kind of this double-edged sword of being customer-centric that I was talking about, where it feels great to have customers be passionate and want to give us feature requests and want to use our product and all of those things. But any company, and I think particularly a startup, just has to figure out how to focus and saying no to customer, like early on, when every customer and every bit of attention is so precious and it's so hard to fight for anybody to care. When people do care, you'd really want to really want to lean in and listen to them.
18:15 (Alex Yaseen) We had been really diligent from early on saying no to some of those types of customers, and those were the people who wanted us to be more of a behind-the-scenes type of data tool. And so we had a lot of larger companies really early on saying, hey, we'll pay you stratospheric amounts of money to be kind of like a behind-the-scenes ETL tool or automation tool that we can set and forget. And if you want to go down that path as a company, we could do some there's a lot of interest.
18:15 (Alex Yaseen) We really wanted to build a tool for end users, for humans to touch and feel and use on a daily basis and help each of those individuals build their own things and create their own value along the way.
18:49 (Omer Khan) Just one quick question there is why? Why did you want to focus on the individual and humans if someone's saying we'll give you a crapload of money if you do something else?
19:00 (Alex Yaseen) I think this was a thing that started out really important to me and has become very important to the team that now exists at Parabola where the individual users we've gotten to know these operators who are today a little bit behind the scenes, are so incredibly passionate about their problems and about their companies. They usually are so in the weeds and all the process. They know all the gaps and where all the skeletons are buried and I think get a little bit overlooked as just these keep the lights on people when if you actually really talked with one of them. The two processes they currently support manually are just scratching the surface of all of their best ideas for how they could actually help drive top company goals.
19:38 (Alex Yaseen) It's just that they had to stop at number two on their list of 1000 because they can only support two of them manually. And if you give them the ability to build their own things, to tinker on their own things, to support more and to create more, they can get way farther through that list and start actually driving some of the most important goals in the company. And so really felt excited early on.
19:43 (Alex Yaseen) And I think that started to pay dividends quite recently of empowering those people to themselves, be self-sufficient, to kind of step out of the shadows and as a company, not just create economic value unlike the one x economic value of the company growing. But help each one of our users create their own economic value off into the world as well.
20:19 (Omer Khan) The other question I had for you was around when you started to double down on these collaboration use cases, did your ICP change? Did you go after a different type of end user or was it really the same people just using the product differently and bringing other people into the mix?
20:38 (Alex Yaseen) I think it was more of just a narrowed slice of the people who are already using us. So from an ICP perspective, our favorite users, the broadest slice is just going to be people who have a lot of operational complexity. So they're not just shuttling data from one system to the other there's 15 different data sources, including like three CSV files that get emailed to you by a vendor. And you have a human who has to go in and download something out of a portal and you copy and paste stuff into a spreadsheet and you ready if you look up.
21:01 (Alex Yaseen) And all these crazy things that you do manually. The companies that tend to have a lot of operational complexity therefore will gravitate to those industries. So e commerce and retail and CPG tend to have a lot of operational complexity and fewer technical resources.
21:01 (Alex Yaseen) And then similarly, there are like freight logistics partners that we've gotten to know quite well also. And so those were some of the people who were already users of ours who also were trying to use this in the context of a team. And so that intersection of operational complexity, trying to use us in the context of a team is our absolute favorite.
21:39 (Alex Yaseen) There's no reason why you can't use us if you're outside of those verticals. We have other we have SaaS companies using us and real estate property management companies using us. But we're trying to stay focused in terms of the density of integrations we build and also the way in which we go to market against those ICPS we know well.
21:55 (Alex Yaseen) And the benefit of that is then our customer success team and our sales team and our launch team and our product team get to know those use cases really well. And we can not just build the best product for those customers, but we can also, in supporting them, say, hey, we've actually seen this thing happen 15 other times at other companies, some smaller than you, some larger than you. Either you're doing it the exact same way they are in great full steam ahead, don't even spin your wheels trying to think of something else, or you're the first company we've seen do it this way.
22:21 (Alex Yaseen) Are you sure you should be the one innovating? Or would it be helpful if we helped connect the dots and introduce you to somebody else who's doing this in a different way?
22:29 (Omer Khan) So you mentioned in the first, in the early days, people would find you. Maybe you did a product hunt launch or page six of Google or whatever, because it strikes me as what are people searching for? What do they look for? Is like when they're trying to find a solution like this. It's not like project management software, right? That's pretty easy to find. So one, how did you start to solve that problem to make it more easier for inbound traffic to find you? And then also then how did that evolve into what you're doing over the last couple of years? Because it sounds like you've become a lot more focused on sales.
22:29 (Omer Khan) So maybe let's talk a little bit about just kind of discoverability of the product.
23:23 (Alex Yaseen) So I think, yeah, certainly people are not searching, for the most part, for a collaborative data tool to solve their problems. They have a really specific problem they're trying to solve and they're looking for solutions to it. And for a lot of those problems, if you're a freight forwarder like Flexport, one of our bigger customers who is trying to calculate how many customs duties one of your shipping customers needs to pay, you're not searching for a collaborative data tool to solve that problem. But our strong belief is actually that a collaborative data tool that helps your operators all work together to crowdsource the best way as they do this, handle exception cases and document their process along the way actually is the best solution.
23:36 (Alex Yaseen) And so we have to find them in their moment of need and help them understand that this slightly more general purpose tool that helps them solve that problem in a perfectly bespoke way and also ten adjacent problems all in the same tool is the best solution. So we have a few different ways of capturing that intent. Sometimes it's searching for that specific use case.
24:18 (Alex Yaseen) So we try to have some amount of content either for those teams specifically or for their kind of like longer tail specific use cases. And that's where the bit of artificial vertical focus constraint right now helps us.
24:36 (Omer Khan) Like how people searching for how do I export data from Airtable and do XYZ?
24:42 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah. So it could be that mechanical thing. It could be an ecommerce company trying to figure out how to do a return on ad spend analysis. And there's maybe, like a specific thing that trips you up.
24:54 (Alex Yaseen) Or the most vanilla return on ad spend you can just get straight out of an off the shelf tool. But as soon as you need to integrate a weird data source or, like a CSV file or something so we understand, a few of the places where off the shelf tools start to break down and you need to do something custom. So we try to find you in that moment or a lot of the time it's looking for alternatives to the way they've done something.
25:09 (Alex Yaseen) So I tried to use one of these simpler tools like what are alternatives to doing that? So we try to create some service area to find us that way. And then we also have, as you were saying, we have a sales team so they'll grab a lot of those people who come inbound and talk with them. But we do reach out to companies that are similar to other companies we work with where we have a lot of confidence that they are running into problems that we can solve.
25:22 (Alex Yaseen) And we're usually right. Like most supply chain teams at most e-commerce companies, over 250 people have a very similar set of planning, demand planning use cases and we can just tell them that we're good at solving these things and if they're interested they can talk with us and we get a quite high. Interest rate as a result because we're not pushy, we're not trying to sell somebody something they don't need.
26:00 (Alex Yaseen) We're very focused. Our whole team is focused on creating value. And if we can create value, it's a total win-win.
26:03 (Alex Yaseen) And if not, no problem at all. And then I think probably the magic of Parabola today is our customers become self-sufficient for the first time. They usually get elevated within their careers.
26:18 (Alex Yaseen) Their whole team starts to have a higher profile within a company and so they really become evangelists. And so we have fantastic net dollar retention and upsells within existing teams. Truly crazy net dollar retention.
26:23 (Alex Yaseen) And then our best customers start just referring us to other people in their space, past companies they've worked at or other groups they're parts of. And I think these operators don't really have a spotlight shined on them very often. And as we shine a spotlight on them, I think they get really excited to pull others into the spotlight with them.
26:52 (Omer Khan) Let's talk about product-led growth. Every SaaS company wants to do PLG. Sounds like you were no different, but you discovered that there's not just one way to do PLG. I guess might be a fair way to describe that.
27:09 (Omer Khan) So maybe kind of tell us what path were you headed down, what problems did you start to experience and then how did you go about solving them?
27:18 (Alex Yaseen) I think a lot of people when they say product Led growth, a lot of the time what they're just talking about is product Led acquisition where there's some sort of growth lever that gets people to come in the door and self serve, sign up and just start using on their own. But there's a lot of pieces of like a growth funnel acquisition just being one of them, even all the way to the other side of a closed deal, you have a lot of expansion happening within a company. And so as maybe described in that journey we've been on, we've focused efforts on different parts of that funnel. Early on we had a lot more of people signing up and using us for as many random ad hoc use cases as they could.
27:58 (Alex Yaseen) What we realized is the place where the product-led most resonates is once we've already landed within a company, our first few customers have become power users. And they come to an all hands meeting and they show off how cool Parabola is and they screen share the crazy flow that they've built and how much rich context is in there. And all of a sudden people start raising their hands saying, how do I do this? Can use it, can you put me in contact with the Parabola team? And then ideally, in the best case scenario, that person shares their flow, shares the output of their flow with those people.
28:29 (Alex Yaseen) They start to engage with it. They start to become viewers of the flow or of the data on the other side and then slowly start tinkering and become builders of new flows themselves. And so there's like a really fantastic product loop within companies, and that's where our product-led works best for Parawa, I think often to the future, we have some opportunities to do an increasing amount of product Led acquisition and we have a lot of cool growth ideas there and have already tried a few experiments.
28:55 (Alex Yaseen) But I think I would encourage other companies pursuing product Ledness to think about where for their company and their type of users, where does the product Led piece make most sense and where do we want to not have to innovate too much and still rely on the things that traditionally work really well in SaaS? When you're selling into a team, especially a larger company, sales team is really beneficial in helping them widen their minds about what's possible, understand the best workflows for equipping their team with a new capability, break through some barriers around procurement or other things like that. And so having a sales assist motion on top of a protein company, I think especially in 2023 when everybody's scrutinizing budgets and everybody's making sure that there's a lot of ROI behind what they do, having some sales involvement can be a turbocharger on PLG as opposed to a rate limiter.
29:46 (Omer Khan) Can you give me one example of where maybe you were trying to be product-led but it wasn't working?
29:55 (Alex Yaseen) I think this is kind of the early days in product-led land. A lot of the time it's an individual product-led acquisition land. A lot of the time an individual is the first one to discover and sign up. And there's a lot of tools that have been made with that workflow where you start using it yourself and then you, over time invite your team.
29:55 (Alex Yaseen) I think unique to us, what we found is that people who use us in the context of being an individual, it stays a little bit siloed. It's kind of one weird tool that one person is using for one use case, and that's great until that use case is no longer relevant or that person leaves the company. But once we break into multiple users and multiple use cases, that's when we start to see this amazing net dollar retention and great expansion.
30:10 (Alex Yaseen) And jumping over that hurdle frequently requires a little bit of sales assist of some kind, sales or customer success or even product support, a little bit of a human touch. And so the difference between an individual and a team for us has been very similar to the product acquisition versus product lead expansion.
30:56 (Omer Khan) One of the things that strikes me about Parabola and the types of customers you're going after is you've described how important it is for them to get to that AHA moment where they build something and not only can see the value for themselves, but also can share it with their teams. But it also strikes me that you are going after people, probably most who can't code and so they might not be the most technical of people. Did you find at some point that people were just overwhelmed or confused when they sign up?
31:39 (Alex Yaseen) I think can part of the large period of time we spent building the initial product was to get around that issue and really help people feel at home and feel comfortable. It depends on the person though. So our best initial user is going to be somebody who, if you're in a marketing team meeting or an operations team meeting and you have everybody close their eyes and point at the data person in the room, they kind of all point to the same person, even if it's not on their resume. There's usually somebody who's a little bit more data.
32:03 (Alex Yaseen) Savvy has dabbled in a few of those things before. That gravitates to us first, but then as soon as there's a little bit of a foothold, there's a few things built. Our collaboration tools make it easy for other people to jump in so that first power user builds a few flows.
32:17 (Alex Yaseen) Everything in Parabola is incredibly transparent. So if you're looking at a report that's been built on top of Parabola, you can kind of flip it over essentially, right, and see the underlying flow, where all the data is coming from, all the logic that got built in. We have a lot of documentation capability, so you add a lot of basically you can group transformation steps into cards that kind of look like little mini notion docs that are like your little bullet points of documentation, why you're making this decision.
32:45 (Alex Yaseen) And so it becomes easy for people to either come in and contribute to an existing process or to kind of copy and paste parts of it out and make their own thing. And especially within a company when you're already familiar with some of this process, it's really easy to tinker on top of somebody else's work. And that's usually the entry point into Parabola.
33:03 (Omer Khan) So you said we've done a lot with the product to make it incredibly easy for people. Can you share one or two examples? What does that mean? Because the reason I ask this is because we hear this a lot, make it easy for people, but in terms of execution, it's not that easy to figure out how to make it easy.
33:25 (Alex Yaseen) And this is mostly just about meeting people where they are. So most of our users are already doing something manually today. Their first use case in Parabola is usually not aspirational it's usually something already happening today. They probably have a standard operating procedure that's a bunch of bullet points written down and they're able to usually port that over.
33:45 (Alex Yaseen) Either they literally have a Google doc that says do these 24 steps and build a Parabola flow, or they at least have this in their head where every time they onboard somebody to the team, they sit somebody down and you walk through. Here's the 24 steps you do to download this data and write a VLOOKUP and do a command f find replace to get rid of a SKU and all of the messy manual stuff somebody does in a spreadsheet or downloading data out of tools. If we've done our job correctly, every step within Parabola maps really nicely to one of those pieces of the process to remove a column or to do a find and replace to join some data together to leverage a large language model to categorize data.
34:22 (Alex Yaseen) Whatever the thing that you would do manually, there's a parabola step that can do it. And so we actually find people are able to get started quite easily. We also have an amazing support team that's available via chat, so if you run into some issues, we can quickly help you and when we're launching with a larger customer.
34:39 (Alex Yaseen) So we've recently been working I mentioned Flexport a lot. We've been working with Sonos quite recently is another cool company. We've been working with Uber Freight.
34:47 (Alex Yaseen) A few of these are like ones that currently we're spending a lot of time with, and we'll help them build out their first few use cases together where we kind of pair program with them for an hour or two just to get them familiar with the paradigm so they can then go off to the races and build things on their own.
35:01 (Omer Khan) Cool. It's a fascinating product. It's one of those things that I think I don't know how you would describe it. I mean, I know you said it's a collaborative tool that helps you manage data and all that stuff, but it's like, what's the category? What's the thing that you can say to my dad and he will get right? It's one of those things.
35:29 (Omer Khan) But I can certainly see how this thing has very broad mass appeal. But regardless of what the tam might be or how you see it, it sounds like you have got a lot more focused in the last few years with the types of users, your ICP and the types of companies that you're going after. And I think that's part of probably one of the reasons why you're starting to get so much more momentum here with this business.
35:29 (Omer Khan) But yeah, it's a fascinating situation and I had a founder a couple of weeks ago with a very similar situation. We're talking about a horizontal product and it can be really hard to figure out where do we focus?
36:22 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, I think focus has always been a challenge for us that is important to overcome. I think it's important for any startup. When you have finite resources, you have to focus on something. I think with this type of horizontal product.
36:32 (Alex Yaseen) There's an interesting somebody was giving me the analogy the other day of a doctor on the street. So if you're like walking down the street in New York or San Francisco and a doctor came up to you and said, hey, I can help you live to 300 years old. You'd probably think that didn't sound credible and you'd be like, get away from me.
36:49 (Alex Yaseen) Or you just would totally ignore them and walk past. But if instead somebody walked up to you and said, hey, I know this is weird, but I see you walking with this really you have slight limp in your left leg. Did you happen to play like basketball in college? Because I work with a lot of ex college athletes who have this same thing, and I help them get through and become functional again.
37:07 (Alex Yaseen) If that person was correct, you'd be like, oh man, that's weird that you stopped me. But I'm so intrigued and I need to talk to you and get to understand more. And so clearly, I think the first thing is never going to work.
37:18 (Alex Yaseen) We do everything for everybody is just nobody's going to stop by and take us seriously, even if it's true. Instead, we need to figure out how to speak really specifically to somebody's pain. And in 2023, I think that pain needs to be something that is a top company goal.
37:32 (Alex Yaseen) Driving revenue, supporting more revenue without having to grow costs or without having to grow headcount has been a thing that's really important for companies in 2023 and in general, just equipping an operator who we speak really clearly to at one of these companies to say 2023 is the year of the operator. We can kind of step up and be that team that helps get our company through this scary 2023 time.
37:55 (Omer Khan) All right, we should wrap up. Let's get on to the lightning round. I've got seven quick fire questions for you. Just try to answer them as quickly as you can.
38:02 (Omer Khan) What's one of the best pieces of business advice you've ever received?
38:06 (Alex Yaseen) Stop adding value. Meaning if somebody's coming to you with an idea, they are really excited to go chase it down. Even if you could tinker on it and make it 25% better, you're probably reducing their motivation and morale to work on it by much more than 25%. And in some cases, if you really have a high trust, aligned team, just kind of let them run with a thing and let it be theirs.
38:28 (Omer Khan) Interesting. What's one book you'd recommend to our audience and why?
38:32 (Alex Yaseen) If I could do one of each category of nonfiction and fiction, I'd say nonfiction I really love the Conscious Leadership or the Principles of Conscious Leadership. Book all about how you operate either above the line and things happening via you or below the line of things happening to you, was really game-changing for me to read. And then fiction. I really like a book called Nexus category of sci-fi.
38:55 (Alex Yaseen) Books that I like that are grappling with potentially scary versions of the future, but ultimately think about how they can be really optimistic and positive and how the future could get to a better place instead of some of the more just, like, doom and gloom dystopian stuff that I think maybe is also frequently out there.
39:11 (Omer Khan) Good, that sounds interesting. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?
39:16 (Alex Yaseen) Perseverance?
39:17 (Omer Khan) What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
39:21 (Alex Yaseen) In my to-do list. I have a list of all the people I meet with on a regular basis. And when I think of a thing I need to talk to them about, rather than pinging them in the moment, I can write it down. So then the next time I'm with them, I have a list of all of the things that have popped in my head over the past few days.
39:34 (Omer Khan) Good. Love it. What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?
39:38 (Alex Yaseen) I think about these all the time. I think one that I would love to see personally, but I think business model-wise is really difficult. Is some kind of micropayments thing where when you encounter gated content on the web, like an article on New York Times a show on Hulu or something. It would be awesome to be able to pay like ten cents to see that thing and not have to think about it rather than signing up for a full subscription.
40:00 (Alex Yaseen) And it would be great if more content on the Internet was kind of like electricity, where as long as it's valuable, you'll consume it and won't bother if it's not valuable.
40:09 (Omer Khan) Yeah, that's a great idea, actually. And it's like I've lost count of the number of times I've seen somebody try to take a crack at solving micro payments.
40:17 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, it's a ton. It's a really hard structure. You have to have like a whole it's a network effect problem, essentially, and you have to somehow overcome that, like chicken or an egg. And I don't know how to solve it for that, but it'd be really cool if somebody solved it.
40:30 (Omer Khan) What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know until very recently?
40:35 (Alex Yaseen) I made it over 30 years without ever going to a Benihana and I just recently had my very first Benihana experience and so that used to be something I could say I'd never done. Now I've done it once and it was nice to finally see what everybody was talking about.
40:46 (Omer Khan) That's funny. And what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?
40:50 (Alex Yaseen) I used to play a ton of tennis growing up and had dropped it for a few years. What I used to really love about it was the especially in singles, the kind of like the mental game of yes, you have to be have good muscle memory and good strategy, but a lot of it was just being stronger mentally than the other person. And tennis players talk about this a lot. I've recently gotten back into tennis over the past year and just been really enjoying that as both athletic outlet, but also the psychology of it I find so interesting and kind of in many ways similar to both starting and running a mean.
41:24 (Omer Khan) We just saw Wimbledon just wrapped up, and you see some of those players there, and it's like when you're playing like, five sets for God knows how many hours, it's not just about skill anymore.
41:38 (Alex Yaseen) Right.
41:38 (Omer Khan) There's so much more happening up here.
41:39 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah. And you can see people can play the variance in how they play point to point or even match to match is incredibly high based on where their head is at. And you can kind of see when a dark cloud kind of passes over their face versus when they're really in the zone, like seeing The Matrix, and it's quite fascinating.
41:58 (Omer Khan) Okay, great. Well, thank you for joining me. Thank you for sharing your story and some of the insights and lessons you've learned along the way. If people want to check out Parabola, they can go to Parabola IO.
42:10 (Omer Khan) And if folks want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?
42:13 (Alex Yaseen) Yeah, I think definitely reach out to me on Twitter, LinkedIn. If you're interested in Parabola and want to either learn a little bit more, get a demo. We have a really fantastic team who loves to talk, share what we've learned, and very aligned on if there's value to be had, they love to help, and if there's not, they're never going to pressure somebody into spending more time with us. So feel free to reach out on our website, sign up for a demo, and we'd love to talk to you.
42:38 (Omer Khan) Yeah, more companies should do that. It's like everyone thinks, I'm going to go on a demo and I'm going to be pitched. And if somebody just said, hey, let's just see if this works for you or not, it's like, maybe more people would do that. Anyway, I appreciate you.
42:54 (Omer Khan) Thanks for taking the time to chat, and I wish you and the team the best of success.
43:00 (Alex Yaseen) Thanks. Great chatting.
43:01 (Omer Khan) My pleasure. Cheers. Bye.