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SaaS Founder: From Client Work to a $20 Million SaaS Business – with Omer Artun [203]

SaaS Founder: From Client Work to a $20 Million SaaS Business - with Omer Artun

SaaS Founder: From Client Work to a $20 Million SaaS Business

Omer Artun is the founder and CEO of Agilone, a predictive marketing platform for business to consumer (B2C) brands.

AgilOne allows marketers to understand and predict customer behavior to deliver automated, personalized experiences across all customer touch points, online and offline.

What do you do if you spot a market opportunity for a SaaS product, but you don't have the money or resources to build the product?

Well, that's the situation that Omer Artun found himself in. He was working as a consultant and seeing the same recurring issues with his clients.

He knew that a machine learning based SaaS product could help these clients use customer data to improve their business strategy and deliver better customer experience.

But he didn't know where to start or how to build that product.

So he took a different path. He launched his own consulting practice and started solving these problems for clients one at a time. After a few years, he built a productized service' and started charging a subscription for his service.

It took him 7 years to finally turn his idea into a SaaS product, which he shipped in 2012. And he bootstrapped his SaaS product from the proceeds of his services business.

Today, he's raised over $50 million. His company is doing almost $20 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) and he employs 115 people.

So if you've ever felt like you're being held back because you have an idea, but you don't have the money or skills to build your SaaS product, then this episode is for you.

Or if you're currently running a services business and dream about transitioning into a full-time SaaS business, then you might just get some insights to help you get closer to your goal.

It's a great story and I hope you enjoy the interview.

Transcript

Read Full Transcript

Omer Khan [0:11]
Welcome to another episode of the SaaS podcast I'm your host Omer Khan and this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talked to Omer Artun the founder and CEO of AgileOne, a predictive marketing platform for business to consumer brands. AgileOne allows marketers to understand and predict customer behavior to deliver automated personalized experiences across all customer touch points online and offline.

Omer Khan [0:52]
Now, what do you do if you spot a market opportunity for a SaaS product, but you don't have the money or resources to build that product.

Omer Khan [1:01]
Well the situation that Omer found himself in. He was working as a consultant and seeing the same recurring issues with his clients. He knew that a machine learning based SaaS product could help these clients use customer data to improve their business strategy and deliver a better customer experience. But he didn't know where to start or how to build that product. So he took a different path. He launched his own consulting practice and started solving these problems for clients one at a time.

Omer Khan [1:35]
After a few years, he was able to build a productized service and started charging a subscription for that service. It took him seven years to finally turn his idea into a real SaaS product which he shipped in 2012 and he bootstrapped that SaaS product from the proceeds of the services business that he'd been running. So it was a long journey. But today he's raised over $50 million. His company is doing almost 20 million in annual recurring revenue, and he employs 115 people. So if you've ever felt like you're being held back because you have an idea, but you don't have the money or skills to build your SaaS product, then this episode is for you.

Omer Khan [2:29]
Or if you're just starting out with your product, or maybe you're currently running a services business and dream about transitioning into a full-time SaaS business, then you might just get some insights to help you get closer to that goal. It's a great story and I hope you enjoy the interview.

Omer Khan [2:46]
Before we get started. I just want to tell you about SaaS Club Plus, a premium membership and community for new and early stage SaaS founders. Plus is designed to help you get the insights, support and motivation you need to succeed with your SaaS business, we have a growing community of SaaS founders from around the world. Enrollment for plus is currently open. So now is your chance to join and become a part of this supportive community. You get instant access to all content library monthly live mastermind and Q and A sessions access to our private community forum and I've just introduced a huge new benefit you can now get private coaching from me as part of your monthly membership for a ridiculously low price now once all those spots are taken I'll be raising the membership price so don't miss out on this deal you can join by going to saasclub.co that's saasclub.co. All right, let's get on with the interview.

Omer Khan [3:49]
Omer, welcome to the show. Thank you for that is really weird. I have never interviewed anyone with the same name. And you know we were just talking about this earlier that I've I don't think I've ever met anybody with the same name. So this is going to be fun. So I'm glad to have you here. You know, I was like to ask my guests, what gets them out of bed? What drives and motivates them? So what is it for you like, what inspires you and motivates you to work on your business? So for me from an early age, the thing that really drives me is, you know, learning new things. So if I, if I'm stagnating, if I'm doing the same thing over and over again, that really demotivates me. And the other thing that really gets me out of bed is like building things. So, and and it's both physically and mentally, like, you know, creating something is really important for you. For people who aren't familiar with AgileOne. Can you give us a quick overview of what the company does, you know, what problem are you trying to solve and for who.

Omer Artun [4:54]
You know at a very high level we're trying to solve how business to consumer brands, you know, can deal with their customers. And, you know, to understand that I want to go back like 50 years, like when you went into your butcher shop, you know, the butcher knew your name and what cuts of meat you like and so forth and and you got some got personal service, we went from that to becoming for, for economical reasons because of because it's much more efficient to becoming much more channel and product centric. So then we, you know, started buying our, our meat in a in a styrofoam package in a supermarket then we started ordering it on ecommerce and so forth. So all of that stuff is was optimizing the distribution and the product and not the customer. So we've lost that personal touch. So the problem and with with technology and with you know, with the advancements in digital media, we are now able to recreate that personal touch at scale for businesses. And that's the problem, which is what we're trying to help businesses to refocus on their customers and, and become much more customer centric as they used to be.

Omer Khan [6:21]
Now, I noticed that one of your customers on your website was Tumi, so I'm assuming that that means that if I walk into a Tumi store, the person that I'm interacting with, and the retail store is going to have a lot of the insights about me as a customer, and what I've done before, and preferences and things like that, and is that kind of a way to think about it?

Omer Artun [6:48]
That's absolutely correct. So, you know, customers today, the problem arises from the customers today interact with brands in many, many different channels. So you might sign up for email address, your email program, you might give your SMS, you know, phone number for an SMS program, you might call the call center for something you might go to, to me to get a baggage repaired, you might buy three things, you might have moved from one address to the other. So now there's, you know, eight different versions of you in different places, and they're not connected. So, so the task to become customer centric is First, you need to recognize that these eight profiles that are in different systems are actually the same customer. The second step of that and, and basically just tying tying it all together. The second step is just, you know, because we were trying to mimic what humans did 50 years ago, that's the kind of gist of what we're trying to do

Omer Artun [7:47]
That comes with intelligence. So, so you need to not just have the data on people like, what you bought, and how many products you turned it on that, but also, you know, How frequently do I buy? What price point do I buy does, you know, discounting drives my behavior, and so forth. So what you do to get to that, you need to ask questions to the data. And this is how humans do to learn about to become intelligent. So to become intelligent about your customers, you need to ask questions like this, what's the value of this customer, is the value increasing or decreasing, and so forth. And then based on that, you need to take some action on it, you can just use this as a as a reporting or analytical exercise. But you need to change the way you treat the customers and, and interact with them, and market to them, and so forth. And that comes into kind of the activation phase. So those are the three things that we focused on doing with our product. And, and, and again, the underpinning strategy of, you know, having a business with million customers act as if the recorders, butcher shop, you know, from 50 years ago,

Omer Khan [8:56]
I think that's a great analogy. So I wanted, you know, you started this business back in 2005, and there's a lot to cover here. But before we before we talk about how you came up with the idea for this business, I want to talk a little bit about you like, what is your background, you know, where did you grow up, and when did your sort of entrepreneurial journey start?

Omer Artun [9:26]
Sure, I was born and raised in Turkey, where I got my undergraduate degree. And then I came to United States to do my PhD, I have received a PhD in physics and computational neuroscience, which is kind of the machine learning area.

Omer Artun [9:46]
And I'll talk a little bit about, like, why I'm fascinated with that. But my entrepreneurial spirit started, you know, when I was early in elementary school, you know, since since my early ages, I always knew that I wanted to, you know, build stuff and, and do things and learn new things. So, so, with the help of my uncle who taught me how to make paper bags from from, you know, glue to there was, you know, bunch of fruit trees in our school backyard, which nobody was speaking. So I used to pick fruit made paper bags and fold it on the street, you know, when I was in fifth grade. And then from that on, I've always had, you know, ideas here and there and always, you know, wanted to do new things.

Omer Khan [10:40]
And, and didn't you start doing that as a kid? Because you wanted to buy a gift for your mother?

Omer Artun [10:45]
That's correct. Yes, there was a, I've talked about this in another video. But yes, it was a Mother's Day, Mother's Day gift that I want to buy for my mom. And I've saved all the money that I've made from that it was a touching moment, my mom called rest of it. That's an awesome story.

Omer Khan [11:04]
So let's, let's talk about AgileOne, and how did you come up with the idea for this business?

Omer Artun [11:13]
Yeah, so I, I received my PhD in machine learning, this is, you know, going, this is 1999. And at that time, I didn't want to go into academia, I will, I knew that I wanted to be more in the business world. And I real and I, what really struck me is that in the business world, you know, people just didn't use analytics to its fullest extent of what was being used in academia. So I thought, that is machine learning, which is, you know, again, I can talk a little bit about that. But, you know, and it's hot topic these days. But machine learning really approaches the problems in a different way. It's, it tries to solve not mundane problems, mundane computation problems, like tax calculations, and all that. But it tries to solve more complex problems that are easy to for humans, but harder for machines.

Omer Artun [12:03]
And I thought that there there, there will be a lot of applications of that. So I wanted to, you know, first, you know, understand how businesses work, and so forth. So, I went to McKinsey and Company to be a consultant there. And, and there, you know, we use a lot of fact based problem solving approach and so forth to solve real life business problems. And one of the problems that I encountered was one of the customers, the clients that we had had a salesforce, sales team that was, you know, over 10,000 people, they had 16 different product lines, they had, you know, over 50,000 kind of customers that are, you know, basically everybody on and on everybody's list and so forth. But what they didn't, what they couldn't figure out is like, okay, some reps know, some accounts, better and sound products better. So will you assign a sales rep to a product to an account, and it was an optimization problem that everybody was trying to use, like, Excel spreadsheet is all and I basically said, Okay, guys, step aside, let me use some, you know, machine learning to kind of show you how this thing is done. So I built an algorithm, you know, I wasn't using Excel, I was using much more advanced modeling algorithms, and it basically blew people away in terms of the accuracy and the insights that you got out of it, and so forth. And at that point, I had the idea of, okay, you know, this whole analytics approach, the advanced analytics approach is going to make a real big difference in business, you know, over time. So, that gave me the idea that was my first, you know, spark and then from then on, I said, Where does this machine learning have the biggest impact, and I thought that, you know, machine learning kind of tries to mimic human intelligence, I said, wherever humans are making decisions,

Omer Artun [14:00]
That's where it's going to make a big difference. And I think that's, you know, kind of business to consumer marketing. So, I went and ran a marketing for, you know, a couple of big, you know, multi billion dollar corporations. Last one being at Best Buy, and, and the stuff that I've done there, people started recruiting me to come do it for them at that point, I said, Okay, like, rather than, you know, go to a big company and become the data guy. I said, Why don't I turn this into a business because everybody's trying to solve this problem of I have all this data, I don't know how to make sense of it. I don't know how to take action on it, and so forth. That was the idea behind, you know, starting the company of turning customer data on its head to become to drive business strategy.

Omer Khan [14:50]
Now, you've raised, what is it $51 million today?

Omer Artun [14:56]
Yes.

Omer Khan [14:57]
But between 2005, when you started AgileOne and 2011. So it's about six years, you were bootstrapping the business?

Omer Artun [15:07]
Yes, that's correct. So when I, when I wanted to start the business, you know, first of all, I was in, you know, Connecticut, I was not in Silicon Valley. So I didn't even know this whole VC landscape, and raising money, and all this kind of glamour of tech world. So I, you know, as being an East Coast, you know, East Coast person, I basically said, Look, you know, when you start a business, you have to be profitable. So, I found a partner who have built and, you know, for businesses before, he was a great kind of mentor to me, as well. And he put in, like, I don't know, $250,000 into the business to get us started to basically pay for the first few months of my salary, and office expenses, and so forth. And, and basically, I became profitable on month 10 selling projects, and so services to companies with the purpose that like, the money that I would make from services, the margin that I would make, I would invest in, in building a product and, and the services that I would provide, I would be very disciplined around it, so that, you know, those are more repeatable things that would contribute to the, to the product that I wanted to build at the end.

Omer Artun [16:24]
And that's kind of how it happened. So the first, you know, five years was, you know, going from zero to about 35 people profitably. And at the end of that, I was getting into deals that I just couldn't handle myself. And, and with the infrastructure I had, I had no CFO, I had no head of sales or anything like that. It was just me and mantra of like, super smart young people. So I said, Okay, you know, this thing is going to be real software company, and this thing is going to take off. So I said, I better kind of move the company to Silicon Valley raised proper funding, invest, you know, to build this product, not from, you know, gradual drip, drip drip technology, but, you know, really have a sales team really have a product team and so forth and build it as a as the more product company, you know, you know, rather than a services company building a product from from, from its margins. Those are, I think those are really, really different things.

Omer Khan [17:38]
Yeah, how long were you running it as a services business before you were able to ship your your product.

Omer Artun [17:46]
So up until probably like 2011, we were running it more as a service company, although since 2009 to 2011. Our contracts where, where, where, written in a way, that it was kind of like, a SaaS contract. So it was a subscription that gave them license to the software that we built, and so forth. But the software was, it was kind of like, it was custom configured for every client, and so forth, it was not a real product product in the sense of a single, you know, SaaS platform, you know,

Omer Artun [18:25]
single, like, multi tenant instance, and all that we didn't have any of that. And at that time, there was a lot of a lot of technology to do that. Anyway, so, so when, you know, in 2011, when we got funding, we basically said, Okay, let's, let's go back and build the product in a more kind of proper SaaS way, and probably ship the product first product, probably, like, you know, late 2012

Omer Khan [18:51]
got it. Okay, so, so if I understood this 2005 to 2011 was mostly running it as services business. But in 2009, you effectively, you know, as you said, you sold it as a SaaS product. And from a customer's perspective, it was starting to look like they were buying a SaaS product that's like, but on the back end of it, there was still a bunch of, you know, manual custom work that you're doing.

Omer Artun [19:22]
Yes, from an implementation perspective, yes, you know, when you came up with the new code, and so forth, it was like, hard to operate people, because they were not on the same database version, and so forth, we are not using a single database, we were implementing a separate database for every customer. So from a customer perspective, it looks like they were logging into a product, they didn't have to buy servers and software and so forth. So from their perspective, it was not, it was a SaaS software. But from our perspective, it was not a SaaS real SaaS business in the sense that it's multitask, like real fast, like some cut some, there are a lot of companies that today that I know of, I'm not going to name any of them, they say they're a SaaS company. But if you look under the hood, it's basically hosted software. So we were hosted software in the beginning. And then, you know, only in the last, you know, five years or so we are truly, truly SaaS like, multi talents, single code base, every tweet deployments, all of that stuff.

Omer Khan [20:24]
So I'm curious At what point when you when you started the business, did you decide that you wanted to build a product because it It sounded like when you initially launched, it was like, you had the vision that you wanted to build this into a product, but from 2005 to 2011, that's like, six years. So why do you think that happened,

Omer Artun [20:48]
I mean, I've always had that vision from day one. But it took me much longer to get there. Because when you are bootstrapping with services, you are at the mercy of the next dollar you're going gets from the next customer yourself to and you don't have funding and you know, and cash is king, you have to pay the bills, and so forth. So, you know, the customer kind of dictates the journey a little bit more than what what you want to do strategically, like, if I had $10 million in the bank at that time, like, I would have made different decisions, like I would have said no to certain things, because the customer wants a feature like they want to have a survey feature, let's say, okay, and I would say like, No, we don't do surveys, because that's fine. In our culture, strategic interest, I don't have other customers that are going to use it. But if that customer is paying you money, and there's margin in that you, you would do it and then it would tie up development resources and so forth. It would, you know, but you will have to do it because it would pay the bills, it would pay for something else that you needed. And but, but it's hard to keep focused with money coming from services.

Omer Khan [22:03]
Yeah, no, I totally makes sense. And I think there are a lot of founders or entrepreneurs who are running a services business have an aspiration to move into a product business. But it's never that, you know, and even when they get to a point where they feel like they've got a market, and they've got customers, and they're providing a service in many ways, you would think, Well, great, you've identified a need, you understand customers, you understand the problem. And you've been doing that for some years. And now, it's going to be fairly easy for you to translate that into a product business. But I think as you've described, it's not because you're very much at the mercy of the whim of what your customers want you to build

Omer Artun [22:51]
And the other thing is, there's also muscle memory of, you know, it took me from 2011 to 2013 probably took me like, two years to understand, really understand the word product, what does it What does the word product mean? It took me a long time to understand, because if you're coming from the services angle, you know, you are, you know, client service oriented, you think in a certain way, you want to service the customer solve the problem, and so forth. And you do not have the muscle memory to say no, okay. And, and as a product company, more often than not, you have to say no to like, 90% of the ideas that either come to your head, or people come to you it.

Omer Khan [23:39]
Yeah, so, so clarify that a little bit more for, you know, for our listeners, who maybe are in that, that service mindset, what is different for you, in terms of now, when you think about a product business,

Omer Artun [23:50]
So when I think about a product is this, you know, as an entrepreneur, you know, you are very always optimistic, you're always creative, and chasing ideas, and so forth. And that is at odds with, you know, somebody who's there is strategic managers, that basically sets out the road, and it doesn't, they don't deviate from that road. And again, I think the real answer is somewhere in between. Because, you know, you might, you know, if you have a very straight and narrow course, that you set out, and you don't deviate from, that you might miss the market. Or you might make mistakes, because you need to be adjusting a little bit, but the way a lot of entrepreneurs or even I did, which was all the mistakes, I made this, you know, when you hear and I, when you hear different ideas, you basically a wall, we can do this, or we can do that, you know, let's do that a little bit. Test the market, let's do that a little bit. Test the market? I think, I think again, like there's no, there's no one right answer, like being completely like idea driven is chaos chaos. But being kind of too narrow, focused on a path is also failures, I think you need to understand you need to be able to go on the straight straight path as possible with some twists and turns that are dictated strategically.

Omer Artun [25:13]
But if you make a twist and turn, like every five minutes, then then you will you will go into chaos. If you keep 100% straight bond that you will fail, I think the right answer is somewhere in between, which basically, is the comment that I made earlier, is 90% of the ideas that come to your head, you should say no to,

Omer Khan [25:33]
I think that's a really good point. Because you can be like, so narrowly focused on what you want to go and build that you actually miss the opportunity or the other extreme, you can be so open to what your customers are telling you that you go in all different directions. So there is this thing about, yeah, you need to have this vision, and you need to kind of work towards that. But I think there are plenty of stories out there. And I'm sure you know, many as well where, you know, founders were headed in one direction, but they actually got their breakthrough when they listen to what a customer was telling them.

Omer Artun [26:09]
No, of course, you have to listen to the customers like there's no, there's no two ways about like, again, like, you can't just think that you know, better than the market. Like, you can't just set out that straight course and not deviate from it. But what I'm saying is like, if you have a product, a kind of product roadmap and do not change your next three months, roadmap ever, like, if you want to change your roadmap, finish what you're doing in three months, or maybe it's two months, maybe it's six months, whatever the right breakpoint is, but you should not, you know, get the next idea and try to pull in your CTO or your head of engineering and say, Oh, can we do this, can we explore that, like, don't do that on a weekly basis, or a monthly basis, like you need to have whatever the short term roadmap is, that should not be changed, what whatever twists and turns you make should be affecting more longer term roadmap or or midterm long roadmap is the if you know what I mean?

Omer Khan [27:08]
Yeah, yeah, that totally makes sense. Okay. And so, you know, to you talks about starting out to services business, you're very focused on this getting to profitability as soon as possible, which is, you know, sometimes a novel concept for businesses, like, how are you getting the word out? How will you finding customers, or, I guess, clients, and in those days,

Omer Artun [27:34]
So in those days, I would use my network number one. And number two, I found problems that I knew, was quantifiable that I could solve that people put put would pay money for. So, you know, in those day, I mean, in those days, and still, today, people have a problem with like, a mess, a lot of money in marketing, but they don't know what works and what doesn't work, and they don't know how to optimize. So I would go to these companies and say, Look, you know, I'm going to optimize, like, you basically give offers to everyone, right now, you know, discounting offers, I will basically figure out, like, which customers, you should do what offers to, which will help you, you know, lower the total discounting, you may can increase the value of customers, right, it's very much in line with what, you know, our company's vision is, and it what it basically does an immediate value of, like, I, you know, I've reduced their marketing spend by 20, 30%, I've reduced their discounting by 20, 30%, and that immediately opened up millions of dollars, that, you know, I could get, like, a few hundred k out of that

Omer Khan [28:41]
correct. And then when you were working with these companies, like you were doing all of this manually, you would gather data, and then sort of go away, and

Omer Artun [28:50]
Yes, I will basically have a server with the, you know, get them to get their data, and, you know, go to on site and do certain stuff. So, I did that, I did that in the beginning. And then, and then I hired, you know, one person, second person, third person, and then we started, you know, building some of the library of certain analyses that we did. So, we, you know, as soon as we put the data in the right format, those analyses will kick out or models and so forth.

Omer Artun [29:26]
And, and that basically gave us, you know, that basically gave us the opportunity to say, you know, not only I will do this thing once for you, but, you know, you know, this project is 200K, but if you pay me like, 5000 a month, you know, I will keep repeating this, you know, and you send me the data, I'll repeat this and send it back to you, that was kind of the start of the so called subscription, which is like, 2007, 2008 timeframe. And then the next step of that was, well, you know, I'm not going to do it based on your servers on your data. But, you know, why don't you just feeding the data, I'll have the software like, loaded on our system, and you can access it from our office. So I literally, literally had a closet with servers in it that, you know, basically served web pages of intelligence and so forth. This is 2008, 2009 timeframe.

Omer Artun [30:22]
And then we started basically saying, like, Look, it's not to allocate, you know, to do this project, it's 80k to do this project. And it's 80k per year. Ongoing, right. Like, it's so. So it basically, that was the start of the SaaS thing in 2008, 2009 timeframe,

Omer Khan [30:40]
I think it's really interesting, the way that you made that transition in terms of services business, then looking for recurring revenue from the services then sort of building this sort of front end. So it's almost like this, you know, I guess they call it concierge MVP, that, you know, from a customer perspective, and it looks like a SaaS product, and then, you know, eventually actually building all the back end technology, it's been a, I mean, that's been a what, the 6 6, 7 year journey to make that transition.

Omer Artun [31:19]
Yeah. And we had to build the software twice. That was also very painful. But yeah,

Omer Khan [31:24]
You have to build it twice, because…

Omer Artun [31:25]
It was bought a personality issue in terms of like, you know, I think the couple things there. So we have this, the specs for the software we wanted to build was pretty well defined, like, what the customers want it at that time, like in 2011, but then the, you know, I hired a professional kind of development team, and so forth. And I had like, Great kind of junior technology, people that built this initial thing until 2011. And it worked really well for us until that time, features rich was very nimble, to do new things, and so forth. But it was just not scalable, right, so, so now, you're going from being very nimble and customer driven to becoming much more product focused, something that's scalable, and upgradeable and all those and managed, you know, as a real product with documentation, and all that. So going to that, you know, I hired the professional kind of development team. And, you know, there were personnel issues there, I didn't choose the right people, because I am not a software developer, personally, myself, I'm more of an algorithmic, like, math guy.

Omer Artun [32:38]
So then the initial product they built was because we're dealing with large data that we were using. So the new database technologies, these kind of big data technologies at the time was just brand new. And I would say, like, 50% of the technologies are crap. And the other 50% was way too early, or way too buggy to work. So we can have, you know, struggled with that for a couple of years. And then in 2014, we basically said, okay, we gotta throw all this away, and we got to build a new platform. So then we started building that, and we came up with our product, like, at the end of 2015, beaming 2016. So for the last, you know, three and a half, four years, we're on this, you know, kind of newer platform that works well,

Omer Khan [33:35]
What was some of the issues you are facing with that first product? Like, how is it impacting your day to day business, or the lives of your customers.

Omer Artun [33:45]
Um, this is, this is a common problem with some developers, like, you know, I've always see, every developer wants to do certain things the way they want to do it. So anything that somebody else did is never good. It's because it's not invented here. They also want to use always, like, the newest technology, and so forth, which, you know, sometimes lead to, you know, using immature technologies. And, you know, you can't find enough people to, to hire and, and use those technologies and so forth. But, but I think like, the right leaders kind of solves that problem. And the problems that we ran into with the previous platform was, you know, the machine learning core was using one version of Java, the other, like, some UI framework was using some other version of Java, and don't quote me on these things, because I'm not really proficient in these things. But those things didn't work on the same server, because they were using two different Java versions, and blah, blah, blah. And they have to, like, do bunch of like, jump through a bunch of hoops to fix that problem, right? Like, so those type of things like, you know, you need to use not automated the latest technology, but, you know, kind of the easiest path possible that has the highest you need to build a product, not because it's the coolest technology, but something that is, can be maintained easily.

Omer Khan [35:10]
Yeah, no, I totally understand. And I think, you know, that there's one thing from taking a new new piece of technology and building a, a side project as a way to, to learn the technology and to get experience with it. And is another thing turning that into a a production, you know, system or product that is going to be used to run and scale of business, right. And it sounds like the former was used to do the latter here, right? And then when you both did a second time, did you had you raised enough money? And do you hire like your own team? Or will you still outsourcing?

Omer Artun [35:57]
You know we hire the second team, we hired, I mean, the same team, like, we just got new leadership, and you architects and so forth. And that worked out well, you know, but again, it took it took, you know, again, I think every founder, or every company is strong on certain things, like, we were very focused on kind of this machine learning intelligence, and, you know, the creating value for the customer. And I think the whole, you know, software piece of it, kind of it took two tries to fix it to two tries to get there.

Omer Khan [36:33]
Yeah, and, and so, today, how big is the company? Like, how many, what's the size of your team.

Omer Artun [36:40]
So we're about, you know, 115 people, and our revenue is getting close to 20 million

Omer Khan [36:48]
20 Million ARR

Omer Khan [36:51]
So, when you look back at this journey that you've taken, I guess, for the last 14 years, what are some of the things that you wish you had done differently, or what are some of the, the, the mistakes that you made that you you feel were were some of the most valuable lessons you learned,

Omer Artun [37:09]
Um, I would say the number one, there's two things I would do differently. One is,

Omer Artun [37:18]
Again, it took me a while to understand what a product is. So before before, you have, like, if you bootstrapping, and and and then and then you take money, I think I wish, what I have done is, you know, what, I've taken the first money, not put any kind of revenue growth pressure on myself, and basically retrieved and build the right product that would scale fast, I think, you know, building the product while you're trying to grow, you know, putting the revenue pressure and the product pressures is not the right thing to do. Because at the end, what you've created is you sign up, we signed up a lot of customers on a product that wasn't the right product wasn't scaling, so those customers that need to be migrated, and so forth. And that's painful, right? Like, you lose some of those customers, to migrate some of them, and so forth. But you're basically not ready. So figuring out like, having the right product is the right thing. And, and having the right product also means that, you know, the customers are also ready to buy. So, the market also like, you need to look at the signals of like, when you want to scale it comes to the next part, like, once you have the product, you know, is this product ready to get, you know, market is, like, at what stage are you is are, you know, a few people trying it and getting value is is there a mass market out there, do you need to build a product in a way that, you know, can be an entry level product that can land and expand and all that. So, you need to understand all of that be you step on the gas of of sales. Because if you step on the gas of sales, if the if the car is not rolling downhill, you know, pushing uphill takes a lot of money and a lot of efforts, you know, which, which is harder to do, which some people do, and it starts rolling downhill at some point. But I would also, you know, try to be always pushing the car on flats, rather than pushing it up. Yo,

Omer Khan [39:29]
What do you mean by that? What I mean by

Omer Artun [39:31]
That is, like, we were early in the market, you know, we've, we are in this market is now called the customer data platform. And we are, we will, we are the creators of this market. And I'm are proud of it because I was, you know, eight years early into the market. It's trying to explain people you're evangelizing and so forth. So if you have, if you have in that phase of growth, if people want to do the if you people asked you around, like, what's the ROI? Or can we do a pilot or, you know, Can Can you explain to us what you do? And we were going to have like, five meetings and whiteboard sessions and so forth, those are signals like, or do you have an ROI calculator, like, if somebody asked for ROI calculator, it just means that whatever you're selling is not, you know, it's not mainstream yet. So for that, you know, I would do much more kind of word of mouth reference selling, and so forth, and not build a sales engine that, you know, that can rap. Because once you build a sales engine, those people, you know, they want constant leads coming in, that needs to be a conversion rate, there needs to be a mission, like, don't do that machine until you go through that you've and the face of whatever you're doing, where people are not asking for ROI, calculators, or proof points, or free trials and so forth.

Omer Khan [40:59]
Yeah, I mean, that's a great insight as really, but I think it's really tough to do. Because, as you said earlier, when you've got the, the revenue pressure, whether that's, you know, self inflicted, or its external, you, it's, it's very hard not to be in a rush to put your foot on the pedal and accelerate. That's right.

Omer Artun [41:18]
I mean, once you get once you get money from the VCs, that's it, like, I mean, people are people drool over, you know, getting money from VCs and I have some of the best places in the world that support me, and they're very supportive. But at the end of the day, they are giving you money for you to grow. Like, if you, you know, they're not giving you money to build product, right? Like, I mean, of course, all that money is going to go to product, but they're not, they're not going to get an exit for for their money. When you build the greatest product moral, they're going to get an exit when you build that product. And when you have revenue against that product, right? Right. So once you get the money, the clock starts ticking that pressure, you can keep that pressure off for a little bit, you know, if you if you are upfront about it, saying like, I'm going to take the next six months or a year to build this product. But, but that was the mistake I've done. I've, I've, I should have, I should have done that, rather than stepping on the gas, because I already had, like, real customers and few million dollars in revenue, and so forth. I, I felt that I could just, you know, build the product, you know, in flight. But that was really hard. Really, really hard.

Omer Khan [42:27]
So I Are you saying you wish you had waited longer to raise money?

Omer Artun [42:32]
No, I think so. Yeah. So there are two things, right. One is, after I raise money, I would have, I should have waited to I should have, like, given enough time to build the product a little bit better than we what we did like, rather than building it in flights, we should have put the, put the vote on shore and built it and then failed again. The second thing is, I think from a timing perspective, our vision was correct, you know, overall, and across the board. But we were way early in the market, like this whole customer data platform thing is now being talked about by Gartner over the last two years that it's, you know, they're going to do Magic Quadrant is here and so forth. But we were talking and evangelizing the six years ago. So it was, you know, we were, we were probably like, three, four years early into the market, which is, which basically translates into, you know, we have, we have built the market like, you know, we can claim that we were one of the, or the original kind of people in this category. But, you know, you don't get credit for it, right. But you are, you know, using, you are burning money to educate the market and create that market, and it's expensive.

Omer Khan [43:46]
Okay, so it's time to wrap up. I'm going to go to the lightning round. I'm going to ask you seven quickfire questions? So, you ready?

Omer Artun [43:56]
Sure.

Omer Khan [43:58]
Okay. What's the best piece business advice you've ever received? Cash pays the bills. What book would you recommend to our audience? And why?

Omer Artun [44:10]
Um, there's a book called Nudge explains how people make decisions, how human kind of heuristics of intelligence works, it really was enlightening for me to understand how people think and work

Omer Khan [44:26]
That's Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness? Is that the one Yeah, okay, cool. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful entrepreneur

Omer Artun [44:38]
Risk.

Omer Khan [44:40]
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Omer Artun [44:44]
As a very creative person? For me, it's surrounding myself with people that are very well organized.

Omer Khan [44:50]
What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue? If you had the extra time

Omer Artun [44:55]
Opening a restaurant

Omer Khan [44:57]
Really interesting? What's up a restaurant?

Omer Artun [45:01]
I cook kind of Turkish foods. And I have, I actually do pop up restaurants every two months. Wow. Yeah. Which is, which is in high demand. So I would turn that into a restaurant. Wow,

Omer Khan [45:14]
I got a time my my trip to San Francisco when you're doing that. And if you know of any good Turkish restaurants in Seattle, I'd love to find out

Omer Khan [45:26]
What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know.

Omer Artun [45:30]
So I'm, I'm also semi-professional Potter. I, when I was doing my PhD or brown, I was a visiting artist at Rhode Island School of Design, doing pottery. I've been doing pottery for over 30 years, and have a full studio at all. Wow, you know,

Omer Khan [45:47]
I've often said that I should ask these questions at the beginning.

Omer Khan [45:54]
It just opens up like, you just you just see a different person, right? When you ask these questions.

Omer Khan [46:03]
And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Omer Artun [46:07]
I would, I would say it's pottery and cooking.

Omer Khan [46:11]
Awesome. Omer, thank you. It's been a pleasure. I really enjoyed this conversation. And, you know, thank you for sharing your story. I know, it's never easy to, to tell the story when you'd be working on something for, you know, was 15 years and someone's asking you about the early days, and the things that you did, thank you for kind of helping us go through that process. And, and hear your story and sort of how you got started, and how you build this business. And, and also, you know, for sharing your, your insights and, and lessons and mistakes that you made along the way because that's really, you know, helpful. One of the things that I really tried to do on this show is to share that with our listeners and, and to give people who are, you know, at the earliest stage of their journey, you know, some more motivation and inspiration to keep going. So, so thinking thank you for, you know, helping me to achieve that.

Omer Artun [47:06]
You're welcome.

Omer Khan [47:07]
Now, if people want to find out about AgileOne, they can go to agileone.com. That's a-g-i-l-o-n-e.com. I'll include a link in the show notes as well. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that

Omer Artun [47:24]
They can use my email address, that's omer[dot]artun[at]agileone[dot]com. O-M-E-R dot A-R-T-U-N at agileone.com

Omer Khan [47:33]
AgileOne.com. And just to be clear, it's Omer with an O-M-E-R, just like mine. So don't write it with an O-M-A-R because Neither of us will receive those emails. Nor we will respond.

Omer Khan [47:50]
Thank you, everybody. It's been a pleasure. I wish you all the best.

Omer Artun [47:52]
Thank you. Bye bye.

Omer Khan [47:54]
Cheers.

Omer Khan [47:56]
Thanks for listening. I really hope you enjoyed this interview. You can get to the show notes as usual by going to thesaaspodcast.com where you'll find a summary of this episode and a link to all the resources we discussed. If you enjoyed this episode, then head over to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast. And if you're in a good mood, consider leaving a rating and review to show your support for the show. If you're not already in iTunes, just go to theSaaSpodcast.com and click the iTunes button. Thank you for listening. Until next time, take care.


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Omer Khan

Hi, I'm Omer, the founder of SaaS Club and host of The SaaS Podcast. I help early stage founders and entrepreneurs to build, launch and grow successful SaaS businesses. Join me on this journey.