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Hull: A SaaS Startup That Went from Failure to Successful Pivot – with Romain Dardour [254]

Romain Dardour

Hull: A SaaS Startup That Went from Failure to Successful Pivot

Romain Dardour is the co-founder and CEO of Hull, a SaaS product that collects, unifies, and enriches your product, marketing, and sales data and synchronizes it to all of your tools.

In 2011, Romain was running a marketing agency in Paris. He was working with movie studios that wanted him to rebuild online communities from scratch for every new movie launch.

He realized that there was a more efficient way to solve that problem and decided to build a product. And for the next 4 years, he and his co-founders struggled to find product-market fit.

In 2016, after trying to unsuccessfully bootstrap the business for 4-years, they decided that the market just wasn't there and that it was time to move on. They made the decision to shut down the company.

Around the same time, Romain had lunch with a growth marketer friend who wasn't interested in the product but liked how they were collecting and segmenting data. He thought that would be something a lot of companies would be interested in.

So in the next 5 days, Romain and his co-founders built a prototype and started getting feedback. And that's how the idea for their new product was born.

They went from being a month away from shutting down their company to finding a new opportunity which they pounced on and pivoted the business.

Today, they charge at least $1,000 a month for their product and have around 100 customers. They've raised $5M in funding and have found product-market fit.

In this interview, we talk about how they struggled in the first few years, how they turned a lunch meeting into a new product idea, and how they've grown their business.

I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

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Omer Khan [0:09]
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.

Omer Khan [0:26]
In this episode, I talked to Roman Dardour, Co-founder and CEO of Hull, a SaaS product that collects, unifies and enriches your product marketing and sales data and synchronizes it to all of your tools. In 2011, Roman was running a marketing agency in Paris, he was working with movie studios that wanted him to rebuild online communities from scratch. For every new movie launch. He realized that there was a more efficient way to solve that problem. And decided to build a product. And for the next four years, he and his co-founders struggled to find product-market fit. In 2016, after trying to bootstrap the business unsuccessfully for four years, they decided that the market just wasn't there and it was time to move on. So they made the decision to shut down the company. Around the same time, Romain had lunch with a growth marketer friend who wasn't interested in the product, but liked how they were collecting and segmenting data. He thought that would be something a lot of companies would be interested in. So in the next five days, Romain and his co-founders built a prototype and started getting feedback. And that's how the idea for the new product was born. They went from being a month away from shutting down their company to finding a new opportunity, which they pounced on and pivoted the business. Today, they charge at least $1,000 a month for their product. And have around 100 customers. they've raised $5 million in funding, and I've pretty much-found product-market fit. In this interview, we talked about how they struggled in the first few years, how they turned a lunch meeting into a new product idea, and how they've grown the business. So I hope you enjoy it.

Omer Khan [2:19]
Real quick before we get started, firstly, don't forget to grab a free copy of the SaaS toolkit, which will tell you about the 21 essential tools that every SaaS business needs, you can download your copy by going to theSaaSpodcast.com. Secondly, if you're a new early-stage founder who needs help launching, building or growing your SaaS business, then check out SaaS Club Plus our online membership and community. Instead of wasting time figuring out what you have to do at each stage. You can get step by step guidance to help you take the right next steps with confidence. And you'll connect with a community of like-minded people who can support you through challenging times and help you find solutions to your toughest problems. If you're want to learn more already to join? Just go to SaaSclubplus.com. Okay, let's get on with the interview.

Omer Khan [3:07]
Romain, welcome to the show.

Romain Dardour [3:09]
Thank you. Happy to be here.

Omer Khan [3:11]
So do you have a quote something that inspires and motivates you gets you out of bed every day.

Romain Dardour [3:16]
I actually have a lot, maybe the one that a lot of people know about. That is the one that gets me the most often is “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Which was actually said by a kind of a Eastern Europe general and I mean, something you just see on a daily basis.

Omer Khan [3:35]
Awesome. Okay, so for people who aren't familiar with Hull, can you tell us what its product do? Who's it for? And what's the main problem that you're helping to solve?

Romain Dardour [3:45]
Sure. So the problem we're solving is that when you're a company and you have sales, marketing and customer success, all working together and trying to work together, the data you need to work in one tool is usually somewhere else and that problem You know, it takes the form of having a lot of different silos in the company, it slows down adds friction and inconsistency in the communication with customers. And so what we did is we built what is called today a customer data platform, which has the role of collecting all of the customer data from all the places where it's stored, and building a unified profile that has the definite source of truth for all the customer data in your company, and then allow it to transform to true up to enrich to build segments audiences, in real time on that data. And as a last step, send that build our Kindle, enriched back to the tools that every team uses. So the marketer has all of the customer data he needs, including the data that would come from the CRM or generally, the salesperson can be pinged whenever something happens on the product side, that should trigger him to actually reach out to the prospect. So I believe that you align all the teams and you make them efficient on an ongoing bases in an in real time. So the people who get the most benefit from that we focus today mainly on the SaaS industry. So B2B, B2C companies that have some soft online software component, they really have today, at least a dozen, if not more different tools that don't really talk well to each other. The persons in those companies are mainly today. I mean, that's actually an interesting thing. The name it changes a lot. The role of the same role is the person who owns the data in the company in the go to market teams. And the name is either gross engineer, marketing ops, sales ops, data operations, it actually changes a lot. But in the end, it's always the same person, the person who is responsible for bringing the right data to the right people in the company at the right time.

Omer Khan [5:54]
So give me an example of that. I know you have a a number of integrations and Is this something that they would use this data cleansing enrichment? Does that happen in real time?

Romain Dardour [6:09]
Yeah, it does. Yeah. And that's actually the entire value of the thing. One of the clearest example that that I can think of today is when you have a product that has either a free trial or that has a freemium plan, and you have maybe thousands of people trying your product, and you don't really know who you should be calling as a salesperson, it was really hard because you have much more people to call than the ones you should be calling and you don't really know who to focus on. What, how does for instance, for for a very dear customer of ours, what it does is that it collects all of the product data. So whenever someone creates a new flow in the tool or sets up a new integration or invites a teammate and thinks that aggregates it into valuable signals and actually funnels that to the CRM and even to Slack in real time. And the end result is that the salesperson receives, you know, a slack message saying, hey, this team just added one new collaborator, you should offer tutorial new collaborator, or you should have offer them to upsell. That's really just in time, next best action recommendation that they're doing. And they obviously need to do that in real time. You don't want to reach out like a week later, it's too late. So yeah, that's a simple example.

Omer Khan [7:30]
And so if somebody isn't using how or a solution like this, either, they're just guessing or they're, they're downloading a lot of data, spreadsheets and trying to connect the dots.

Romain Dardour [7:42]
Exactly. They usually do a lot of Google Sheet.

Omer Khan [7:47]
Yeah. Okay. So you launched the business 2012-2013. You've raised over $5 million. Most of that was in the last three years. So for the first four four or five years, you guys were bootstrapped. Let's go back to those early days like where did the idea for this business come from?

Romain Dardour [8:08]
It's actually a pretty interesting story. We didn't do that until late 2016. What we started with was way simpler and will work very, very different. We started with my ownership in the agency marketing agency that I created and trying to work on a product, realizing that movie studios had 10 different movies, 50 different movies coming out every year. And what they were asking me to do as an agency is to kind of rebuild an entire community from scratch, using Facebook games and quizzes and, you know, contests and all of that. And in the end, what they got was basically an Excel file full of emails that they used once or twice and then threw away and I was, you know, thinking that when there was a better way to do that all the companies that I was looking at online, were actually doing a really good job of collecting customer data and leveraging it. So you should be able to talk about the next, you know, horror movie to a horror movie fan. And that was not the case. So we started with something that in retrospect, was way too big, and very naive. I started with the idea of building a product that would tailor pipeline for that problem. So we started with gamification API's that you could use in the browser to build, you know, clones of Instagram and get in contests and comments and likes and ratings, you know, almost off the shelf blocks for building apps. And then that border would call me in a structured way into a unified database. And then that that way, you could actually build audiences. And you could use those audiences to do retargeting via emails and actually at the time, Facebook notifications And so we had everything we had identity management, identity resolution, gamification, API activity streams, transactional emails, koozies chats, comments were too much. And ironically, we actually started building something that kind of was existing and had a real end to end use case. But we realized that the market was not there for that. So if I could go back in time, I would just look at myself, slap myself in the face and tell them to do worry less, but do it better.

Omer Khan [10:33]
So you worked on that business or that product idea for what, two or three years?

Romain Dardour [10:38]
Yeah, from 2013, well, we joined TechStars. Again, we were originally in France. But when we looked at the market, we just realized that there was basically no one in France who would even understand what we were doing at the time. So we kind of try to join the US Accelerator. We went to TechStars in Boulder, and we had some customers. We had some pretty, you know, reasonable growth and more often, at least is to pay ourselves and to have a small team. But we didn't see where we could go next. And that lasted until 2016, I think. Yeah, end of 2016.

Omer Khan [11:14]
And then at what point did you guys like what happened for you guys to be able to sort of sit down and say, okay, we need to change, we need to pivot. This is kind of, okay. But this is not that business that we imagined.

Romain Dardour [11:30]
Yeah, well, the realization was, we're always trying to, you know, find out how we could carry a big company, something that really solved a big problem for a lot of people. And, I mean, the mindset was that we actually were building a pretty complex product technologically. And it didn't really make sense to, you know, do it for like 20 customers and do it in a kind of consulting style. business, I did that previously, I really wanted to build a product that was solving one problem for a lot of people. And so we were trying to find ideas to get there. And we're kind of running around in circles saying, Oh, we would need a ton of money to build all of this and build even more and build even more. And then, you know, we have that vision for the world, but we don't really know if the world wants that vision. So it was kind of like, you know, we made that really big bet and raise a ton of money to try to force a vision on the world, which, I mean, in retrospect, is probably the most ridiculous way to build a company where we, you know, should kind of have the five stages of grief and move on.

Romain Dardour [12:45]
And we're almost ready to move on. We were actually you know, discussing how do we actually, you know, wrap up the company. What are we going to do, I mean, we're never really worried for our own personal income. But we were like, How do you end this? How do you avoid having a bitter aftertaste and, and at the very last minute, I mean, it was one month away from making a decision. And I had a pretty interesting lunch with a friend called Guillaume Cabane, who seems went on to be the VP of Growth at Segment and Drift and a bunch of other really cool companies. And he looked at what we're doing he kind of bluntly told me you know, what, the gamification, the comments, the likes the rating, I really don't give a shit. But the audience balding here, all the data you're collecting and all the segmentation that you're doing in something that I would need, and that I would use heavy. I mean, at that time, it's taking 24 hours to build an audience in my I won't name it like marketing automation suite, because I have thrown people in there. You're showing that to me in real time as I'm typing the name of the URL that I want to filter on. So that's really something that I would use. And so we actually did a prototype in a matter of like, you know, five days, I came back to him, I showed it to him, he said, Oh, that's really cool but now I'm leaving for San Francisco, I'm going to be VP of Growth at Segment. And so I we met his replacement at the company that was leaving, which is called Mention. The end of the first customer Guillaume and Segment actually being ended up being a customer too. And we started having a ton of discussions with people who had really deep data integration problems. And so that's kind of how we actually, you know, discovered the need, instead of tried to push it.

Omer Khan [14:45]
Tell me about that prototype, like what were you able to build in five days?

Romain Dardour [14:49]
So what we than five days was actually not really five days, you know, it's like shoulder of giants kind of thing. We had the data collection and segmentation engine that we built over the course of three years. And what we did in five days, is just plug it to segment so that we could get customer data, and then send updated profiles. So that was done in five days. And then we realize, obviously, you know, that was kind of just a proof of concept that we needed to be lower connectors, and so on and so on. But in five days, we just connected that engine to B2B SaaS services instead of gamification API's.

Omer Khan [15:31]
Got it and as you said, Mention was your first customer?

Romain Dardour [15:35]
Yes. indeed they are, our customer,

Omer Khan [15:37]
That's awesome. Tell me about that. What was that process? Like when you have this prototype? How did it go from prototype to, you know, signing on the dotted line and closing that deal?

Romain Dardour [15:51]
So actually pretty interesting for you. That was kind of a strategy but maybe we can talk about it later when we talk about, you know, some things that I've think we did right over time. But the general idea was we had this vague idea that customer data was in silos and that the data they needed in customer IO at the time was not there. And that was painful. So we kind of, you know, put together something really dirty, just to see if during the conversation they were leaning in. And if they were asking us, when can I get that? Because that was the thing that I'm was trying to enlarge. I have had the chance to have a good amount of conversations with Adam Wiggins, the CTO of Heroku. And his analogy for a product that has a fit was amazing. He said, draw the feature and then take it away. And if people come to your door with pitchers and forks and flammable items, to ask for it, then you have something. My word of wisdom there was I'm going to do something that is obviously incomplete, obviously flawed, but I want to know if people still ask me, when can I get it? When can I get a better version of that? When can I get it? Because I really need it. And so that's actually how we proceeded and we basically kind of solved their problem. In consulting, we said, the future is ready. And then we scrambled to get it ready as fast as possible. We were really, really, really helpful. They knew we were kind of really just starting out, but they had that need to first migrate their CRM to Salesforce, and also build their audiences in real time as opposed to once a day and also to bring their customer data in the right place. So they were ready to suffer through the early stages for this to happen, and we made it happen and they became a customer and our founder became an investor.

Omer Khan [17:51]
How did you figure out what to charge when you started out?

Romain Dardour [17:55]
I think the initial you know bet is. We had the kind those rule, the common wisdom of knowing that we don't want to charge on cost, but charge on value. So we just try to price. And it worked. And we realized after that, that we could actually double it for the next customer and it still worked. And then we tried to double it still work. And we'll try to enroll for annual agreements, because we have I mean, we actually had good reasons to get there. And to also work. So, lesson is you're always undercharging.

Omer Khan [18:32]
Yeah. Is that what you do today? Is it is there an annual contract you sign up for people can..

Romain Dardour [18:38]
So, yeah, yeah, we'll realize that something very important in our specific business is that most of the customer data platforms are enterprise products that come with a very, very high price. It's always six figures years, at least. And I mean, there's a large portion of it which is dedicated to Professional Services in social engineering. And for us, we wanted a product that was almost ready out of the box, really something built for mid-market companies as in like five to 250 million in revenue. So lean agile companies that really want to go fast, don't want six months implementation time. So we wanted something that you could adopt fast. But still, we're integrating with the core data pipelines of those customers. And they have, let's put in politely, they often very messy data sets. And so they don't have the knowledge in house of normally, you know, what their data sets look like but also what this services that they want to integrate with, can accept and cannot accept, and we can move a turn of that we can do you know, a lot of optimizations and batching and error handling and retries. And we actually can make that seamless, but there are still some things that we just cannot do, we cannot put an account in MailChimp, for instance. So if you have the concept of an account, you have to at least think about how you want that account data to be flattened into the user data when it goes to MailChimp. And so for this, they exists, some not coding, but expertise that we bring with us people who have seen like literally hundreds of data pipelines, and who can actually, you know, point out this to our customers to help them you know, go into the right direction and not hit works. So, this actually takes some time at the very beginning. So you have a month to month customer. We can spend one month and two months, you know, working with them, helping them and in the end I realized that what they described is not actually what they wanted and, and you know, frustration ensues. And we are left with a very big time sink that, you know, the customer just got fed up with what's going on before we actually managed to get to the end of their project. So we have a very cool and very relaxed process to actually make sure that we define what value means for the customer. And that will bring them all the way there which is very important.

Omer Khan [21:36]
When you say you bring them all the way there is that, does that happen through onboarding? Is there sort of almost like a services component to do? So does the product handle all of this? Because the one thing that I look at this and say, Great, this sounds like an awesome product, and I can see how this could help. So the value prop is pretty clear. But then when you start thinking about implementation, and you're thinking crap, I got data there I got there, I don't know whether that's reliable. I don't know whether that's crap, or that's high quality data. And I got to bring it all together, it sort of feels like I need somebody there to help me through that.

Romain Dardour [22:10]
That is exactly what we do. Basically, when we onboard a customer, and even if they ask, you know, to be alone, we really strongly recommend them, even if they have technical skills, and they are even a CTO would say, Yeah, I know data. I know what I can do, we say, Okay, here's what we're going to do. First, we're going to define what value means to you what you want to solve with this product, we're not going to let you just play around and kind of wonder because you're going to put yourself in trouble if you do that, because you're going to fill your CRM with the wrong data, and then you're going to kind of regret it in some ways. So we walk you through, you know, the highlighting what value means in terms of building or beefing up your data pipeline. Then we review the tools you have the data you have, and we use You have the right pointers. And if you actually need to choose a tool, we can recommend the the email outreach tool that we know is going to fit your your specific use case, or the data enrichment tool, which is going to have the results you're looking for based on your specific industry. And so we're going to do that with you. And we're going to help you build your own setup on how so the difference with professional services is that we won't be deploying lambda functions and new servers left and right. We will be writing code for you. We will be advising you and be the expert that helps you get value out of that.

Omer Khan [23:41]
Got it. Okay. So, you know, I want to talk about how you've, you've grown the business over the last few years. Before we do that. Let's talk about the stuff we were talking about before we started recording here. Let's cover some of the things that didn't work.

Romain Dardour [23:59]
Oh, the biggest one is that we basically spent two and a half, if not three years, not having the courage to pivot. And we did that because of the sunk cost fallacy, we actually invested a lot of time and energy into, you know, making a vision true. And it takes a lot of courage to try to explore something new, your body's always trying to, you know, convince you that you're on the right path. And then one more push is going to be what's required to make things work. The Prime Minister of Japan at some point said, success is not the only option. And that's actually very, very true for companies. If you had the one product, you know, sometimes no matter the amount of work and energy and love and care that you put, it's just not gonna work. We should have seen that way earlier. So it's only when we actually run out of ideas in 2016 by run of churns that we really started to drive good things happening to us.

Omer Khan [25:04]
So in hindsight, you know, we're all geniuses, right? We can look back and say, Oh, if I had done this, or whatever I would have, you know, whatever. But if someone is, is in that situation right now, where part of them is saying to themselves, I just need to have that one big push this one breakthrough, and I can make this happen. And then the other side of them is saying, I'm not sure if this is the right visit. What advice would you give them?

Romain Dardour [25:30]
I read one book, very short one, you'll actually read it maybe one hour or just you're a slow reader, and maybe even faster, it's called the Mom Test is going to explain the way everyone is going to give you some pointers of the reasons why you are on the right path. And that this is just because people are nice, they don't want to hurt you. And even more, they don't want to hurt you for free. So you I actually need to remove that veil of, you know, that bias, that confirmation bias, which makes you listen to the nice things people say. And this is the bad things. So, in retrospect, one of the guys who had the most brutal honest conversations with me was sir, right. His name is Mihai Baldwin. He is not working at AWS he will he's just like this no bullshit guy who's gonna, you know, hit you with 100 pound hammer with one very simple truth. And you cannot avoid it because he didn't sugarcoat it. He didn't give you a nice cheap sandwich where there is something nice that you can cling on to, he just put it right there. And so, I mean, listen to the bad things that people are saying more than the good things. And maybe that's going to, you know, make you realize that there are some problems, some elephants in your room.

Omer Khan [26:56]
Yeah, well, I've had Rob Fitzpatrick, the author of the Mom Test on the show.

Romain Dardour [27:01]
Yeah.

Omer Khan [27:01]
And so if people want to check that out, they can go to it's Episode 206, where we talk about basically the premise of the book and how to tell if people are lying to you, which happens quite a lot, because people want to tell you what they what they think you want to hear.

Romain Dardour [27:18]
Exactly.

Omer Khan [27:19]
Okay. So the other thing was you also spent a bit of time and money trying to make advertising work on LinkedIn and Facebook. And that didn't go anywhere, either. But But tell me about the sort of the process and what you learn from that.

Romain Dardour [27:34]
That didn't go anywhere, probably because we've been doing it badly. I'm quite happy that it didn't work. Because one thing that I was always pretty cautious about is the models that pile a ton of money into advertising. I'm always kind of a bit reluctant, maybe because I kind of spent so much money in advertising for my customers 10 years ago, and I saw what was actually going on? But probably in our case, we're just not doing it the right way. We were having meetings, meeting books and demos as our success metric. And the thing is, we were kind of general in our messaging, pretty broad in the targeting the initial calls didn't really, you know, resonate. So there was kind of a lot of noise in that thing. So, I mean, in the end, it wasn't a good experience. It was everything that could go wrong went wrong. We had bad targeting too wide, too expensive. We were generating demos that we actually thought, were not qualified, and we're generating too few of them. So yeah, advertising didn't go that well. Probably we need an expert to do that. Or we're just not at the stage where we have something precise enough so that we can just, you know, go all in on it. I don't know.

Omer Khan [28:58]
Did you also have problems With with positioning the product, I mean, I know you talked about how being a customer data platform but back when you're starting to have these conversations in August 2016-17, was there something comparable out there? Was this a completely new category?

Romain Dardour [29:21]
I know there was nothing there. I mean, the, the term just started to exist, but the thing is no customer. No one really kind of had the idea but this, the interesting thing is that for us, it was always an obvious way to handle things. I mean, everyone talks about the analogy of like the, you know, local butcher in a small town who knows everything about their customers, and then that we lost this when we came to the internet and yadda yadda yadda I, I'm a self-taught person. And I have never actually been into a large company where there is a sales department and a marketing department, a larger army. And so it always seemed to me very artificial that we're talking about a leader, and then a prospect and then a newsletter subscriber as different people, and then a user and then a chunk customer as a different people. To me, it was always the same person. And it was pretty, you know, counter-intuitive that we were kind of building the silos in the first place. So that was pretty obvious. But the kind of this is high, we've always done it mindset is pretty deep into a lot of companies. It's changing, but it's changing really slow. And in 2016, I can tell you, there was maybe 20 companies that I could mean, that would be kind of mature enough in their understanding to go that way. Today, that has changed a lot, thankfully.

Omer Khan [30:51]
So tell me a little bit more about that because you said about thinking about people in sort of these silos and as a lead or a prospect, but if you don't do that how else do you segment, customer opportunities, the pipeline, etc.

Romain Dardour [31:06]
A dozen of persons. So you're going to have an anonymous visitor, which is someone who comes to your website and doesn't leave any identifiable information, maybe apart from the IP, which actually allows you to know which company they work for. But then, you know, they may be later visit you on a booth in a conference and you get their email. And maybe I have actually two entries in your entire set of data, one which is like the traffic of the anonymous visitor and one which is the email of the person and you know, the kind of some notes about the discussion, but this is actually the same person. One of them is going to be worked on by sales and the other one is going to receive retargeting from advertising, which doesn't really makes sense. Now, let's say that that person actually comes in and subscribes to the newsletter. Would it be a good idea to actually take the data you had in the conference, to personalize the ads that they're seeing, and the opposite way around, took the web traffic that they have been managing, and send them in an aggregated way to the CRM so that the salesperson knows that he's mainly been checking these types of pages? And maybe, you know, mostly the technical pages on your website. So he your salesperson knows that he mostly should be having a technical conversation, and this is what the person is interested in.

Omer Khan [32:39]
Yeah, but most companies don't have data that well organized, right? Maybe they needed a product, right? You know, of any. I've lost track of the number of times that I've been paying for a product for months or even years. And yet when I visit a website, I get some sort of retargeting ad, telling me that I should buy this product. And it's just a really inefficient way to use money they have.

Romain Dardour [33:05]
Yeah. Well, how do you destroy your montane? You just do it one small block at a time. I mean, what I described is kind of the end goal. We so companies, actually, you know, younger companies who are kind of bigger right now, but they kind of built that from scratch, that understanding and that vision from scratch. And it's actually not much more complicated. Others have a lot of things in place and the work is about connecting the dots and linking the different services together. It's not that hard. We've done it literally 100 times for our customers. But to me, it just seems obvious. It just seems like the right way to handle things. It shouldn't be kind of a competitive advantage compared to the others. It should be the way people are doing things.

Omer Khan [33:56]
Yeah, yeah, I agree with you. Okay, so I mean, when we look on the site, you know, Hull.io, you've got a number of, you know, SaaS companies that are featured, like we talked about, Mention, Drift, Pusher, there's other things like, you know, CXO Institute, let's talk about how you've landed some of these, these customers and what in terms of growth has worked for you guys.

Romain Dardour [34:24]
Word of mouth has been an incredible driver of new customers, especially also when people change jobs, and they bring your product into their new company that is really a testament to, you know, the fact that you're really solving a problem for them. That has been a really big thing. The second thing is, I think, very early on, we put on a lot of energy onto the brand. And by brand, I don't just mean the logos and the colors. I mean, what we stand for and where we want to be seen and how we want to appear? And so, brand is obviously, I mean, the logo, the, you know, typography and everything. If you look at our blog, it kind of looks like a magazine. We didn't want to be that, you know, a kind of a run of the mill, you know, very flashy colors, illustrations company, not that there is anything bad, but we want it to be something else. We want it to stand for quality and expertise. And at the same time, we will do we want to be kind of that now the technical angle, technical company. So what we did is, you know, we said, okay, we need first to be present and we need to represent what high quality data what really, you know, pushing the envelope stands for into into kind of doing great work. We didn't want to kind of almost like helping triple your leads in two days. That's not really what we stand for. what we stand for is hard work and effort, which yields great results. So hard work on our end to actually solve things that might not even appear as a bullet point on a marketing sheet. But actually make a really big difference when you're actually using the product, we have a ton of layers of features that actually, you know, work to be usable from the customer standpoint, but end up allowing them to do what they expect is done. Instead of you know, having a, an approach where we just do what they ask. And then whenever you go deeper, there's something lacking. So I mean, it's really, really hard work, but it's, it's really, I mean, the culture, maybe comes from French roots, and, you know, three star Michelin restaurant where everything needs to be perfect from the ground up. And you're always going to have work to get there but you're going to try You're going to tell people that you try. So brand is thought leadership. It's providing our experts for free as part of the product usage. It is making sure that you prioritize what your know your customer really need. above everything else. It's yeah, it's a lot of that kind of things.

Omer Khan [37:20]
Yeah. I mean, it's just it's the overall perception.

Romain Dardour [37:23]
Yeah.

Omer Khan [37:24]
That the customer gets.

Romain Dardour [37:26]
Yeah,

Omer Khan [37:26]
I mean, I mean, I spent almost eight years working for the Walt Disney Company and, and, you know, we were sort of it was drummed into us, you know, if people can touch it, feel it, smell it, see it, it's perception and every bit of that counts as part of the customer experience.

Romain Dardour [37:40]
Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you look at Star Wars, one of maybe the number one thing that may be so big is that they don't tell you it's a fantasy. They tell you it is real, but it was only a long time ago and somewhere far but it is real. And that makes the entire universe have to spend on its own. Marvel has the same thing. You have one guy, who's, you know, the one guy that is the warrant of the coherence of the entire Marvel Universe, he has to know everything better than even the most hardcore fans so that everything is coherent. That is really what it means.

Omer Khan [38:20]
Yeah, yeah, that's a good example. Okay. Now, one of the other things you did was kind of interesting, I guess, growth hack in terms of how you would follow up with prospects and do sort of cold/warmish outreach. Tell us about that.

Romain Dardour [38:38]
You're talking about something that is called a reveal loop. It's a pretty smart trick that we didn't come up with it. You Guillaume Cabane came up with it, implemented it without product for the companies he was working with. And so basically, the general idea is that someone comes to your website. You don't know who they are, but you have their IP address. And it turns out that there is a one of the API's service from Clearbit, which is a service a company we love. Thank you, Alex for building that company. It gives you the company name that this IP address belongs to. So as a result, you have an anonymous visitor, but you know their company name, we do that reveal section automatically. But it's not enough from that we actually hit a second Clearbit API only if we see that the company is not a current customer or is not an active discussion. We hit the second Clearbit API, which gives us five to 10 marketing, sales and growth operations people in the company and gives us their address their email address, their role, and although some of it can, and social graphic data, you can you can think of and we take that and then so obviously, as a they already said we cross it with the existing customer base because you don't want to do that to your existing customers and prospects. And as a last result, we send this to cold outreach email tools such as outreach or sales loft. The end result is that we send an email to someone who probably was on the website a day before. And usually what ends up happening is that we have an incredible low open rate because there was interest from the company we and we have a really really really compelling reply rate which often contains a it's funny we were on your website yesterday we were talking about you guys all the answer. Yeah, we kind of know about that. So that's actually is a really cool growth hack, which ends up scaling pretty well and working pretty well for us.

Omer Khan [40:51]
But yeah, when you send out the email, you know, tell them hey, we know you were looking at a website that's a bit creepy, I think.

Romain Dardour [40:57]
No, that's a bit creepy actually Guillaume was doing At some point, he was kind of fencing bubble replies from internal email saying, Hey, I build this quick hack. I'd like to know if it works for a while being this to another internal person who then reaches out to the customer and say, you know, maybe it's wrong, but we tried that, do you think it works? I, we just, we're just, you know, being kind of pretty honest about we're reaching out to explain what we can do for you.

Omer Khan [41:28]
So was it just Clearbit that you were using to figure this out? What was sort of the tools involved in putting this together?

Romain Dardour [41:35]
So I mean, if I just do some name dropping, we are using Hull to orchestrate Clearbit, Customer.io, Salesforce and Datanyze, which since then has been acquired by ZoomInfo. That's kind of about it for this specific part.

Omer Khan [41:54]
Does that happen now on like, auto-drive?

Romain Dardour [41:56]
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And we have a bunch of other things on auto-drive. Once actually, the nice thing is once you get it right, and it's fully kind of described, I mean, if you go down all the way to computer science, it's we're kind of describing everything as data. So the entire configuration of your company is written down in the form of data in the sight of her and everything runs on autopilot. So that's pretty cool.

Omer Khan [42:23]
And and what percentage of your your revenue has come from taking this approach with this this cold outreach?

Romain Dardour [42:30]
Ah, I couldn't give you an exact number, but it would be almost 50%. Probably.

Omer Khan [42:36]
And it's not it's not true to say it's cold outreach, because that's, that's very different. Yeah.

Romain Dardour [42:43]
It's cold but it's not that cold. Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant.

Omer Khan [42:49]
All right. You've been on this journey for the last seven or eight years now. Other than the pivot, if you could go back and and you give yourself any advice, what would it be?

Romain Dardour [43:03]
I'm thinking about one thing that we did right, actually, and I would probably even do it earlier, is we kind of, I think we might have played 3d chess, well, fundraising. So we kind of flipped it the process. One thing that I really want to do is go, you know, to tour all the VCs on the market. So we kind of started by looking at the VCs we wanted to have working with us, that were really smart money, you know, that we thought had the right division. And then we reached out to the companies that they invested in and tried to close them. And when we had several of them in the portfolio, we actually reached out to the VC and told them that we were kind of only talking to them. The discussion became pretty interesting pretty fast. I mean, obviously the discussion is a lot easier when five or 10 of the companies that you have invested in already say that they like the product, so we can have any fundraising process for that.

Omer Khan [44:08]
That's really interesting. And I guess somebody could apply the same thing I was thinking as well. It's like it was an ABM approach for VCs. But you could, even if your customers aren't the type of companies that these VCs are investing in, you could still take that approach in terms of these are there are a handful of VCs ideally I'd like to be working with in a year or two years time. What could I be doing now to to get on their radar to start building some kind of relationship without necessarily going and asking for money, which maybe you know, now's not the right time.

Romain Dardour [44:44]
We never want to ask for money you want them to ask you to invest. And that's really the crux of it because we failed from raising for like two years in the beginning.

Omer Khan [44:56]
Because

Romain Dardour [44:57]
because we didn't really have either a product or correction, we were trying to ask for money for that. So obviously, when you do have no money, right success changes the entire equation. But if you kind of go to VC with a cold intro or something like that, you're gonna have a lot of work to convince them that you're not fluff. If they already can just reach out to file their internal companies and ask about this. You kind of don't even have to talk about whether you're for real or not.

Omer Khan [45:29]
Yep. All right. And on that note, I think we should wrap up and move on to the lightning round. So I'm gonna ask you seven quickfire questions? Ready?

Romain Dardour [45:41]
Yeah. Let's go.

Omer Khan [45:42]
Okay. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Romain Dardour [45:46]
It was in 2013. When we, 2012 actually we just started and I was talking to an investor from Index, I think, and he asked whether what we're building I could sell 1000 of those tomorrow. And the answer was no, there's some consulting, there's some, this and that, and we need to customize. So he interrupted me and said, You know what, you have a service, not a product come back when you have a product. So that was really, you know, the core of all the DNA of what we're trying to build since then.

Omer Khan [46:18]
What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Romain Dardour [46:21]
So my favorite book has been taken by it's really when you're thinking fast and slow, which is a mind-blowing approach to understanding the human bias. So I would say “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman, it's really a classic about how you should be approaching designing products.

Omer Khan [46:42]
What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

Romain Dardour [46:47]
I would definitely say persistence and resilience, the ability to just take any hard blow and keep pushing the cockroach approach, I would call it just survive long enough. cockroaches are the only animals that would survive a nuclear attack?

Omer Khan [47:03]
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Romain Dardour [47:06]
I have a thing for making lists. I'm an information addict. I collect everything. And so Notion has been my favorite system for a while. I have a personal one that is basically overflowing with collected content, very curated. So if you want to know the best restaurants in Dublin, I have a list for that I can share it.

Omer Khan [47:25]
That's sweet. Yeah, I like notion too, as well. I've actually started using Drafts as well.

Romain Dardour [47:32]
I need to check this one out.

Omer Khan [47:33]
Yeah, I mean, I really didn't understand what you could do with it until I got into it recently. And it's a great way to capture things super fast. And then the integrations that it has really makes it easy for you to move that into somewhere else. So they sort of think about it as it's the place where the ideas start, but you may move it into, you know, Notion or Ulysses, if it's your writing or whatever said,

Romain Dardour [47:58]
Oh, yeah. Now this is the frustrating part online. Where can I go quickly to capture something?

Omer Khan [48:04]
Yeah, exactly. What's a new crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the time?

Romain Dardour [48:09]
To be honest, I don't know, grown very skeptical of the genius ideas that I get in the shower. Probably room for, I mean, to be serious for a second, something that aim to combat fake news intolerance and more generally, the normalization of deviance that you can see these days.

Omer Khan [48:30]
Yeah, that's a that's a worthwhile thing. If anyone has ever been able to solve that, what's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Romain Dardour [48:39]
I am an INTP. If you know the Myers Briggs tests, which is probably a very big issue for me and my entourage in terms of relationships, that makes it really hard for people to bear with me.

Omer Khan [48:55]
So you are an INTP.

Romain Dardour [48:58]
Yeah.

Omer Khan [48:59]
So just just go. For people who aren't familiar with Myers Briggs, yeah, just explain what that is. And before you do that, I'll tell you, I did this a long time ago, and I'm also an INTP.

Romain Dardour [49:10]
Yeah, poor people around us. Myers Briggs test that helps you after understanding a bunch of questions, understand what drives you the way you see the world. What's your worldview? And only now I went, INTP on one of the 16 personality types of personalities. INTP more specifically, it's called a logician. It's introverted, intuitive thinking and prospecting personality traits. And so the general idea is doing the righteous mind button then being friends. So logically trumps everything else. You can see where that could breed.

Omer Khan [49:49]
Reminds me a little bit of Mr. Spock on Star Trek.

Romain Dardour [49:52]
Exactly. Exactly.

Omer Khan [49:55]
All right. Finally, what's one of the most important passions outside of your work?

Romain Dardour [49:58]
Definitely cooking and food. Like every single French citizen, I think about restaurants that we should try out when we are dining at a restaurant or what new trendy so we should try when we are cooking. So yeah, that's one thing. And then the second thing is movies. I met my wife, I have the past in the movie industry. met my wife. She owns a marketing agency in the movie industry. We share that passion. More specifically, I like the movies from the 50s to 70s American era, but I mean, all in all, I think I have I have watched several thousand movies.

Omer Khan [50:36]
Wow. Awesome. All right. This has been a pleasure. Thank you for making the time to do this and staying up in your evening. What is it like 9pm past night for you in Paris?

Romain Dardour [50:51]
It is 9pm. Yeah, evenings just starting. Thank you very much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Omer Khan [50:56]
It has been for me as well. Now if people want to find out more about HULL they can go to hull.io, which is H-U-L-L.io. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Romain Dardour [51:08]
Romain, R-O-M-A-I-N @hull.io. I'm happy to answer.

Omer Khan [51:13]
Perfect. Romain, thank you again. And I wish you and the team the best of success has been a pleasure.

Romain Dardour [51:20]
Thank you best wishes to you too.

Omer Khan [51:22]
Thank you. Cheers. All right. Thanks for listening. I really hope you enjoyed the interview. You can get to the show notes as usual by going to theSaaSpodcast.com, where you'll find a summary of the episode and a link to all the resources. If you enjoyed this episode, then please subscribe if you haven't already done so. And if you're in a good mood, consider leaving a rating and review to show your support for the show. Thanks for listening. Until next time, take care.

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The Show Notes

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.