Getting Your SaaS Product Messaging Right
Robin van Lieshout is the co-founder and CEO of Insided, a customer success community platform for SaaS companies.
What do you do if you've built a great SaaS product, but no one seems to care about it?
In 2010, Robin launched a SaaS company in the Netherlands. He was able to pre-sell the idea to T-Mobile for a six-figure annual contract. It seemed like the perfect way to start his business.
And in the next couple of years, he grew the business to around 40 customers. But he started seeing a worrying trend. The majority of his customers weren't actually using the product.
He knew that it was just a matter of time before those customers churned. So he made the decision to refocus his business on a new customer segment – high-growth SaaS companies.
But when he started reaching out to his prospective customers – no one seemed interested in his product. His sales team couldn't even get people to reply to their emails.
They wondered if maybe they were trying to solve a problem that his target market didn't care about.
Robin had to figure out what was going on and he had to do it quickly.
He spent a lot of time listening to recordings of sales calls, talked to a lot of prospective customers and eventually realized that they didn't have a product/market fit issue – they had a messaging issue.
He and his team didn't understand their target customers well enough. And so their messaging was off and as a result, their sales efforts were failing miserably.
Once they eventually got their messaging right, things started to click. They started making sales and growing the business again. Today, they're doing just under $10 million ARR.
In this interview, we talk about how Robin figured out the right messaging, how he optimized his pricing to increase the average contract value and how he's now generating 100% of his leads through inbound marketing.
I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
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 0:27
In this episode, I talked to Robin van Lieshout, the co-founder and CEO of inSided a customer success community platform for SaaS companies. So what do you do if you've built a great SaaS product, but no one seems to care about. In 2010, Robin launched a SaaS company in the Netherlands. He was able to pre-sell the idea to T-Mobile for a six-figure annual contract. It seemed like the perfect way to start his business and in the next couple of years he grew the business to around 40 customers. But he started seeing a worrying trend. The majority of his customers weren't actually using the product. And he knew that it was just a matter of time before those customers churned. So he made the decision to refocus his business on a new customer segment, high growth SaaS companies, but when he started reaching out to his prospective customers, no one seemed interested in his product. His sales team couldn't get people to reply to their emails. And they started to think what maybe we're trying to solve a problem that this target market just doesn't care about. So Robin had to figure out what was going on and he had to do it quickly. He spent a lot of time listening to recordings of sales calls, talk to a lot of prospective customers and eventually realized that he didn't have a product-market fit issue. He had a messaging issue. He and his team didn't under, they target customers well enough. And so their messaging was off. And as a result, their sales efforts were failing miserably. Once they eventually got their messaging, right, things started to click. They started making sales and growing the business again. And today they're doing just under $10 million in annual recurring revenue. In this interview, we talk about how Robin figured out the right messaging, how he optimizes his pricing to increase the average contract value, and how he's generating 100% of his leads now, through inbound marketing, so great interview, and I hope you enjoy it.
Omer Khan 2:37
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, I want to give a shout out to Tariro Tobaiwa, who left the following iTunes review. He titled it the best SaaS podcast. This is exactly what I've been looking for. As a budding SaaS entrepreneur, the interviews really give you a glimpse into the world of SaaS, the people behind them, and eye-opening insights on how to bootstrap yours into a success. I learned a great deal with each episode, I binge on this on my drive to work and at the office, it's a must-listen for every entrepreneur, looking to venture into SaaS. Tariro, thank you for that awesome review. I really appreciate it. And I wish you all the best of success with your SaaS business. Maybe you're a future guest in the making. Who knows? And I want to thank everyone who's left a review. I read every single one. And I'm truly grateful to all of you for taking the time to leave a review and show your support for this show. All right, let's get on with the interview. Robin, welcome to the show.
Robin van Lieshout 3:47
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Omer Khan 3:49
So do you have a quote something that inspires or motivates you or just gets you out of bed every day?
Robin van Lieshout 3:54
Yeah, definitely. I got a couple but the one thing I wanted to mention is “The main thing is keep the main thing, the main thing”. And it sounds obvious, you know, and but I tried to listen to it, you know, both at work as far as in my personal life, I know at work, you know, where, of course, it's not only about being focused on the important stuff, but also more practically, like, you know, canceling, you know, a lot of meetings which you don't want to attend, or things like, you know, really structured one on one executive meetings, but also a personal life, you know, it's really tried to focus on a few things only and basically limit the complexity.
Omer Khan 4:26
Yeah, that's pretty hard for an entrepreneur to do. Because if you're, like, you know, most other entrepreneurs, you probably got too many ideas that you'd love to be doing something about.
Robin van Lieshout 4:37
Definitely, yeah. And I think I'm getting better at it. In the early days, you know, I was super opportunistic. No, we basically did everything we sold to everybody. But you know, a little bit further in the journey, I kind of realized that you know, focus focus is better. And not only at work, but also personally because it's quite a tough job being a CEO. So you know, the more easy to live gets tomorrow easier it will be for yourself.
Omer Khan 5:01
Yeah. So for people who aren't familiar with inSided, tell us, what does the product do? Who's it for? And what's the big problem that you're hoping to solve?
Robin van Lieshout 5:11
Sure, yeah. So inSided is a customer success community platform, which is used by SaaS companies like Gainsight, Mixpanel Nutanix, to basically improve and scale customer success. And the problems we solve for these companies is a three things. So first is increasing self-service. The second is increasing customer engagement, which we feel is a leading indicator for churn or renewals. And the third thing is really improving product feedback by letting customers submit product IDs and where other customers then can vote on and engage on. And yeah, we typically sell this to, you know, companies between let's say, 50 employees and 1000 employees, mostly growing companies are looking to solve you know, any or any of these challenges. So yeah, that's inSided.
Omer Khan 6:00
And tell me a little bit about the company. Like how big is the team? What are you guys doing in revenue these days?
Robin van Lieshout 6:04
Yeah. So we are spread out of our headquarter in Amsterdam and an office in New York. We're close to 100 people, let's say we do, you know, approximately close to 10 million in revenue. Yeah and growing.
Omer Khan 6:17
And you guys have raised about six and a half million euros so far.
Robin van Lieshout 6:21
Yeah, that's correct. We did a Series A round of six and a half million by European investors. I think about two and a half years back. Yeah.
Omer Khan 6:29
Cool. So let's go back to 2010. Well, maybe early when you guys launched the business? Where did the idea come from? What were you doing at the time?
Robin van Lieshout 6:39
Yes, it's it's quite funny because the the idea actually came from actual customer demand. So this is this is my second company. So out of university, I founded my first company, which was basically creating independent online portals communities. And the business model then was based on advertising, right. So bigger companies like T-Mobile want to advertise on our side because we have like millions and millions of visitors coming to our portals. So that went pretty well, you know, we had like 80 people or so working on these portals, creating content writing reviews, and then one of our advertisers, which was in fact the mobile they said, you know, we are advertising on your websites spending all that money creating an audience on your site, but can you maybe also create like a white label solution or know a version which is branded into T-Mobile style, so we can create our own engagement platform on our own website? So that was 2010. And you know, I found that ad so intriguing. So this is actually to sell the other business, the basically the advertising business and started inSided where I kind of moved into the world of software with T-Mobile actually as our launching customer which was awesome because they they paid like 100K or so in ARR. So that was, that was a quite big bang to start with.
Omer Khan 7:58
That's a nice break. To get the new your first customer is T-Mobile and you've already you can you can lock down a contract like that.
Robin van Lieshout 8:08
Definitely, yeah, that really helped in in the first year in the first year or two. Yeah.
Omer Khan 8:13
Okay. But as well, fine. Not everything went as smoothly once you had launched and we're going to dig into that and learn learned kind of everything about the your rollercoaster ride, but you've got enough there and you know, in terms of a big customer, and they're they're willing to, you know, put the money out to give you enough confidence that there's, you know, something here that that's worth really pursuing. And this is the next business that you want to go into. How long did it take you to sort of build this first version of the product? And how sort of helpful was having a customer on board because on the one hand, I can see like, it's great, like somebody's saying, Yeah, I'm putting up the money. There's clearly some demand and that kind of helps us view it sort of the sort of the validation piece. But there's also a danger that you could just end up building something that nobody other than T-Mobile wants.
Robin van Lieshout 9:06
Definitely. Yeah, no, that's true. And I think, you know, in the early days, let's say it took like a couple of months to actually build the product. But in the early days, we kind of use a lot of open source components. And not all the software basically was was created ourselves, we just, you know, combined a couple of packages and put a layer on top of that, which was fine, you know, because we only had one customer and didn't really have to scale to like larger volumes. But it did help in getting new customers choir, because Yeah, everybody knew T-Mobile. And you know, if we would go to a competitor, and say, we have to mobilize a customer, at least everybody was willing to speak with us. So that was easy. But yeah, you know, building a business out the BDC business, as we call it now. So you know, we are selling to these larger business to consumer companies. Yeah, in fact, Indians indeed. Yeah, what was challenging because they have all these requests in terms of roadmap and features. All these things, but as you grow, luckily, you can spend less time per customer, every customer becomes less important. So in the end, we solve that. But in the early days, yeah, we sometimes felt we were more like a consulting agency, actually. But luckily, because of the large AR, we, you know, we grew really rapidly in, you know, in the first two or three years.
Omer Khan 10:19
Okay, so you build this product, and at what point did you start sort of looking for other customers?
Robin van Lieshout 10:25
Yeah, pretty quick. So now we have T-Mobile as a customer. So we first went to all the other telcos out there so and remember we started in Europe, right? So in the Netherlands, so in the Netherlands, we had like five or 10 telcos which I think we all signed up in the first, well, maybe one or two years or so. And then we expanded in terms of customer segments. So we didn't only sell the telcos but also to energy companies, banks, financial institutions, basically different segments, and that that worked out pretty well. So I think in the first like two, three years or so we grew to about 40 customers. Old And customers, which was which was really awesome. Yeah. So and we learn a lot also also what didn't work to be honest because in you know, in that journey we Yeah, we made quite a lot of mistakes actually.
Omer Khan 11:10
So yeah, tell me about like just the sales process. I mean, how did that work? What did you what sort of lessons did you learn? And maybe I share a little bit about in terms of like, what were some of maybe the mistakes that you made when you were trying to go and sell the product to these types of customers?
Robin van Lieshout 11:26
Yeah, so the sales process basically looked like this. We only have salespeople, so we didn't do well. We hardly didn't do any marketing. So we had a website we have some case studies, but we didn't do any lead generation or demand generation. So basically, it was just references and account executive outbound. And basically a conversation look like this. Hey, Mrs. Friends, we did this and this for T-Mobile. Would you like to talk to us? Or hey, Spotify, you know, we did this for Sonos could be awesome for you as well. Do you want to see it? And you know, most of most of the people actually responded quite positively. And we showed them the product. And of course, everybody had that feature request, which we set, you know, was on our roadmap in the next quarter or so. And we sometimes we incorporated that also in the contract and agreement, because they had to have it basically. So yeah, that also, as I mentioned, in the beginning, blurred a road map, I guess, in in the early days, quite quite a lot. But hey, now these were these larger customers paying 100K, for every customer, we got on board, immediately, man that we could hire a new person, you know, in the company. So that's a big thing, of course. So but the sales process was yeah, it was quite straightforward, actually.
Omer Khan 12:37
And then what was it you just, you just try to get them to to a demo. And then, like, how long will be the typical sales cycle for these types of companies?
Robin van Lieshout 12:47
Yeah, so large, large enterprises. Ideal so we typically so we reached out saying that we have these other customers. We tried to book a first meeting. We came in, we created some mock ups of how it could look Like for them, we created like an inspirational presentation with all these ideas, you know, especially in the beginning, we came up with, you know, you could use it like this and like this and like this, and this is how you could connect other departments to our software. And, and I think, you know, in the early days people really bought us because of, you know, the energy, the inspiration, opportunity they saw in us and and in the platform. Yeah, that really helped. Because, in fact, we couldn't show much in the product. But because of all the ideas people really yeah, that we build some trust basically, for these guys.
Omer Khan 13:33
Okay, and how long does it typically take for from like, first contact to to closing these types of deals?
Robin van Lieshout 13:39
Yeah, I think average sale cycle would be like 12 months or so. I mean, sometimes you were lucky. And then maybe you could close something in four or five or six months. But some of the deals you know, they were on a pipeline for, you know, maybe two and a half years or so before they actually close. Yeah.
Omer Khan 13:56
And did you raise any money at the time when you guys started or was this purely from funding from the these customers signing up like T-Mobile.
Robin van Lieshout 14:06
Yeah, so actually, we grew the company to, let's say, 2 or 3 million in ARR, bootstrapped before we raise any funding. So the first the first 2 or 3 million, I actually sold myself, you know, just picking up the phone, sending out messages, doing all these inspiration sessions with with customers, you know, in the Netherlands is a relatively small country, so I could easily drive, you know, to each an individual company who had shown interest, and they're all paying, you know, like, like, hundred K, you know, some some maybe a little bit more, some a little bit last, but that really fueled, you know, our guest position. And it was basically a customer-driven growth
Omer Khan 14:44
with their like incumbents, like competitors that were already out there. And was this some sort of new category at the time, I'm trying to sort of figure out like, how did you sell the product and how did you sort of differentiate yourself from that? Maybe the other alternatives they had at the time.
Robin van Lieshout 15:02
Yeah, good question. So we did have competitors. But to be honest, we didn't actually realize that, you know, we were just focused heads down on contacting companies trying to figure out how we could, you know, use a demo case, and put that inspiration into our, into our customers minds. And we were only focused on the Netherlands, you know, we had, like, you know, the first customers were only local customers. In hindsight, you know, two or three years later, actually, you know, we realized that we should have scaled internationally, you know, far, far, far sooner. Because, Yeah, apparently, there were competitors, but not in the Netherlands yet. So, yeah, once we did focus a little bit more towards, you know, other countries, we realize, oh, we're not the only one, you know,
Omer Khan 15:45
isn't that like almost kind of what's what's the what's the expression like blissful ignorance when you can just go in and just focus on on your product and not worry too much about quantity. is sometimes it can come and bite you in the ass, I guess. But it can be a really good way to, to just keep focused on on what you're trying to do.
Robin van Lieshout 16:09
Yeah, definitely. And maybe especially in those early days because you know, building that company was already quite difficult, you know, large sales processes, only a few customers which you sign up, you know, in the first year or first two years or so. So, yeah, if I would be looking at competitors every day, especially larger competitors who maybe you've raised funding already way before we did, maybe, you know, I would already you know, settle myself Oh, this is not going anywhere. So actually not focusing on the competition in the in the in the first year. It's actually saved me a lot of hassle, I guess.
Omer Khan 16:39
Yeah, absolutely. Okay, great. So initially, when you started doing outbound, you told me without before we start recording that it had sort of failed or didn't work for you guys. Can you tell us about that? Like, what were the problems initially, and why do you think you know, you're kind of dealing with them?
Robin van Lieshout 16:58
Yeah, definitely. So Maybe before that, so I mentioned we started off in, you know, working with B2C customers. So that was our, our target segment. And I think one of the mistakes we made, you know, also in hindsight, of course, is that we sold to the wrong customer, right? And in hindsight, you read that everywhere, but in fact, I didn't know right? So we basically sold to 10 different segments or so right? So not only telcos but also, you know, energy associations, banking, insurance. And in the end, you know, from these 10 segments, actually, you know, six didn't work out, you know, we were able to sell, right, we were able to sell like 100K, sometimes even 200K type of deals. But deep in my heart, I actually found that for most of these segments, we didn't actually delivered enough business value. So that's why Actually, we decided to start focusing more. So from the 10 segments, I said to my sales team, you know, to these six segments, we're not going to sell anymore, and you're not getting any commission on that anymore. So that was quite a tough message because up until then, like 70% or so of our revenue came from these six segments, which From now on, they didn't get any commission on anymore. There was a tough conversation, but I thought, you know, we need to, we need to refocus the company to segments where in the end in the long term, we could actually be super successful. And then in hindsight, I think that actually turned out pretty well because a lot of these customers in these, you know, segments, which we didn't sell into anymore, you know, we have, we have quite some churn, let's say 10, 20% or so, on an annual basis. One of the segments, which actually worked was a tiny segment, which had like 200K or so in revenue, and that's called B2B software. You know, we had a great fit, you know, we started thinking about the dynamics of this industry, what problems we could really solve. So we really took a more intellectual approach basically of choosing you know, who to who to sell to, instead of just me being opportunistic and the early days, I'm just, you know, so platform to everybody. So for B2B software we tried a notch as you said, Indeed. You know, we tried like inbound and outbound. And you know, in the early days outbound miserably failed, basically, I mean, we have, like, I know, maybe three or four videos, SDRs, whatever you want to call it, but Indians, you know, they couldn't book enough meetings. They were failing. They didn't get the response. And it was quite a tough situation for the company because the BDRs ours were not successful. But with that they didn't generate enough pipeline for the salespeople, the rest of the company so I nobody's interested in this product because nobody is. Nobody's actually replying to our emails. While actually an iron sights, you know, we saw that it was too early to actually do outbound. You know, we were just starting out with this new segment. We had a different a different buyer. We had slightly different problems we were solving. Our messaging was not spot on. It was not ready. We actually didn't understand the real buyer. So you know, these guys were just set up for failure because they were sending out all these all these messages which didn't really resonate in the story at all.
Omer Khan 20:01
Okay, so let me just kind of understand this part. Right. So you had about you was selling to about 10 segments and sales was was working. And then you got to a point where you said, hey, there's like these six segments that, you know, I don't think is the right long term customer for us. And we're seeing churn in that area anyway.
Robin van Lieshout 20:24
Omer Khan 20:25
Those segments were generating more than two-thirds of your revenue
Robin van Lieshout 20:31
Of new bookings. Yeah.
Omer Khan 20:33
Okay. And so it's one, it's not easy when you're, you're sort of trying to grow the business to say, you know, hey, let's, you know, as you said, it's kind of, you're very opportunistic, right? Because, and what I'm trying to understand is like, what pain Did you feel that drove you to say we're going to stop selling to these segments, because on one hand, you could say, well, I'm going to focus Elsewhere, but I'm still gonna keep selling to these kinds of customers because I can still bring in some revenue. Yeah. And you kind of said, No, actually Salesforce, we're not going to do that you're not going to be comped for this, you know, what pain drove you to make that decision?
Robin van Lieshout 21:14
For the most part, it was actually not even like a super, super short term pain. But, you know, we were, you know, as an example, we sold like, you know, a license of our platform to a European Bank, they are paying 100K in ARR, and we deployed the platform, and it was hardly used, right. And after a year, there was like an automatic renewal, and it just continued when I was like, Okay, if I would run that company, and I would be paying 180K for my platform, and if you would see the usage, you know, I wouldn't do it. So, you know, churn is quite a lagging indicator of actual customer success, right? I mean, nowadays, we look more at product usage and expansion, revenue and all these things. But you know, when we started, you know, we didn't do that, you know, it was just a customer. He was paying, he was paying the bill. So let's continue. Let's let's try to get the next European Bank on board, basically. But we saw that that's actually the usage was not enough, basically. And it didn't felt, it didn't felt right.
Omer Khan 22:14
Okay. And and so was it also about? Well, we, we managed to sell them, for the next year, but based on this usage, you know, is it just a matter of time before they realize they're not getting enough value from this? And, you know, it's unlikely we're going to get a renewal.
Robin van Lieshout 22:32
Exactly that that was my long term thinking. Yeah, you know, and, yeah, these b2c customers, these larger customers, right? I mean, it takes ages for them to actually turn because, you know, it's huge companies, it's lagging companies, you know, they have a lot of software which are not using and paying for anyway. So that I mean, it's good because, you know, there's a lot of stickiness, but if it doesn't work, then it's also it takes quite some time to realize that
Omer Khan 22:56
Okay, so you instead, we're not going to sell to these segments anymore. We're going to focus on B2B companies. And was there a specific type of B2B business that you said you were gonna focus on?
Robin van Lieshout 23:12
That's all? Yeah, so it's B2B software, right? So SaaS companies basically, and our main buyer is is like the head of the VP, whatever of customer success, right? So the person who's leading the customer success team in an organization, that that's basically our main buyer, and for that buyer, we can actually solve, you know, great problems, which which they have, you know, unlike, you know, many, many of the other segments basically we focused on in the, in the early days of the company. Yeah, and, and within b2b software, it's like any company between 50 and let's say, Now, you know, I think our biggest customers maybe 1000 or 2000 employees or so, so it's not like the IBM and Oracle's yet but anybody below that is is a great customer fit.
Omer Khan 23:52
Okay, got it. So, you you segment the market, you figure out the ones that are not the right long term customers, you say we're going to focus on B2B software and SaaS companies. This is the way forward, this is our future, Salesforce. These are the these are the businesses that you should be selling to. And then you realize that outbound isn't actually working with them.
Robin van Lieshout 24:14
Omer Khan 24:15
And so let's talk a little bit more about like, what was the process you went through? Like you said, you know, you they weren't able to get these meetings and get in front of these customers. How did you sort of diagnose this problem and figure out how to solve it?
Robin van Lieshout 24:28
Yeah. So you know, in hindsight, of course, again, you know, we, you know, we were already growing in the B2C side, maybe not as much as we would hope. And in the meantime, we started the b2b, I was not doing sales myself anymore. In like the early days, I sold the first couple of million myself and then we had a sales team. And then we started that new B2B segment. And yeah, that was new messaging, new buyers. So we hired like two or three reps for in in the sales team, we had like two or three BDRs. And because of the Yeah, because of the company size, I kind of thought You know, they would figure it out. But in fact, they didn't. And everybody had like a different sales story, a different messaging, there was no consensus on the actual problems we were solving, at least not on the exact words basically, which we would we would need to use in order to get to explain the problem. So I was listening to a lot of recordings in those days, just sales recordings, right. So qualification goals, demo goals. And in fact, most of these goals were, you know, completely different from the others, right? It's every, every time there was a different story. And most of the goals I was like, oh, man, I you should have never, you know, put it like that. Or maybe you should have said this or So basically, there was no playbook Actually, there was no repeatable scalable sales process yet. And when I realized that, you know, I was like, This is not gonna work. So we need to scale back because we scale too fast basically. And and specifically for outbounds. You know, if we don't know exactly, you know, what's works, we should you In order for them to understand what we do, it doesn't make sense, you know, to have like three or four as the hours working on that. First, we need to get back to our messaging our words, understanding our buyer, try to do that, you know, in a smaller scale. And once once that works, then, you know, add more outbound reps to actually start generating more pipeline.
Omer Khan 26:20
Okay. And then so how did you go through trying to figure out, you know, your buyer and the messaging? Like was, was this like, you know, you going out and starting to talk to more customers? Like, what was the process you went through?
Robin van Lieshout 26:34
Yeah, so actually two things. So first, we indeed spoke with, let's say, hundreds, different B2B software companies, you know, with their Head of Customer Success, with their VP of Customer Service and just listen, you know, what are you experiencing? What are your issues? What are your problems? If you would have a product like this, you know, what would you think about it? How would you describe it? All these things? So, that's one and the other one is that we actually, you know, started with like a trailblazer salesperson, right? So somebody who's not like a typical salesperson only wanting to hit his targets, and you know, it's like can do that trick really well. But maybe it's not really well suited on, you know, creating these feedback loops with the product organization with a marketing organization with the executive team. So we hired one salesperson, and yeah, that person kind of changed sales tax, you know, maybe, I don't know, maybe six times during one year period, basically. But in the end, we kind of nailed it, right? We we kind of knew, okay, if this is the story, if this is if these are the words if these are the slides, if if we articulate the problems in this way, then it actually resonates. And when that work, basically, yeah, then then we were basically ready to scale to a next level in terms of organization ago.
Omer Khan 27:48
And during that time, and the feedback that you got from these prospective customers. Did it significantly change the product like did the feedback tell you actually, this something not right with the product? And we need to kind of fix that as well? Or was this primarily, you know, a messaging issue?
Robin van Lieshout 28:12
I would say both, but I'm leaning more towards the messaging issue. So I think with better messaging, we would be able to scale much faster, of course, you know, doing a new segment, there are always things which are specific for the segments, you know, different type of integrations, for example, with with tech stack they're using, but I would lean towards, like 60-70% is messaging, and then, you know, maybe 20- 30% or so is, is product.
Omer Khan 28:36
Yeah, the reason I'm getting to that is because I think, as a founder, when you build a product, obviously, you're very focused on the product and when people aren't buying it. It's kind of tempting to sort of look at the product, right? It's like, Oh, I must not have the right feature set. I should kind of go and add more stuff. If I get that right. Then people will start buying it. And I think the lesson here is that, yeah, I mean, there might be some aspects of the product. And I think there will always be aspects of your product that you need to keep improving and doing a better job to serve your customers. But a lot of the times, it's that messaging and how are you communicating to them? How you articulating your value proposition? How are you showing them helping them understand you solve that problem? That's not always but quite often is probably a bit more important than the product.
Robin van Lieshout 29:26
I totally agree with that. And, and I see a lot of companies actually struggle with that. Also, in my environment. Actually, one book I can definitely recommend is “Obviously Awesome”, which is a book around positioning. And as really explains, you know, really well that you need to put your product in a certain context for people to understand and that you're also able to change the context. And I think that's, that's super important. If you really want to scale, you know, your pipeline generation, because then people really understand exactly what you're doing. Yeah.
Omer Khan 29:54
Yeah, that's good. Good recommendation. Okay, so you sort of went through this process to figure out how to make that work. But you also transitioned more into content marketing, and what was the reason to sort of move to inbound? Because, again, like if I'm trying to put myself into that situation, and you sort of outbound isn't working, needs to be fixed, moving to inbound seems like it's gonna take even longer. Right, yeah. So what was the sort of the thought process that sort of the rationale for saying, you know, we need to be doing more with inbound?
Robin van Lieshout 30:30
Yeah, so we need so we, you know, in our history, we didn't do much marketing. So we were focused on the B2C, you know, customers only, no, we just did some case studies and you know, we have somebody focusing on our website, but when we started with b2b software, we you know, we had a different total dressel market a larger one different approach. So we started implementing, you know, tools like HubSpot, and all these other sales and marketing tech stack tools. And the reason why we did it mainly focusing on content is because we first wanted to experiment you know, okay, if our people actually searching for tools like us, can we actually see what people are looking for? And can we maybe surface the market and see what's the low hanging fruit? What are the companies who are already looking for such a solution? And can we can we grab them now with our content with our with our paid advertising, versus, you know, our outbound approach, because we got, you know, we've never targets and contact like, hundred thousand companies or so. But we can put our ads out there specifically, you know, on the keywords to a specific buyer segment at scale to see okay, let's see if there are at least you know, 1020 customers are in the market today. We're able to buy our solution today, and then learn from that basically. So that's that's why we decided to scale back basically to inbound marketing first and only,
Omer Khan 31:46
Okay, and what type of content were you creating? Because it's really kind of our own customer success?
Robin van Lieshout 31:51
Yeah. So we we grant a couple of guides like pillar pages. So one is around product feedback and ideation. One is about customer success. One is about community management. So a couple of these larger pillar pages, and then we started generating a lot of blogs, a lot of ebooks. And we use that content basically, for paid advertising. So if you, you know, in LinkedIn, you can target, you know, really, really awesome. So we, you know, we target every head of customer success, trying to make sure that they see our thought leadership content. We had a marketing team of five people or so and two of them were actually full time creating content. That's quite a lot, especially in the early days. But we really believed that, you know, we needed to put our brand first i thought leadership content first and see, you know, what type of persons came inbound from that, and that that actually worked out pretty well.
Omer Khan 32:38
Yeah, it has because, you know, before we start recording, you told me that 100% of your leads are now inbound.
Robin van Lieshout 32:46
Yeah, so at the moment, we only do inbound, let's say 100% indeed, of our leads are coming from inbound. So we've been doing this for, you know, for a couple of quarters. And now actually, we're starting again, you know, thinking about Okay, you know, apparently this works. Can we now get back to trying out outbound again because now we know our buyers, we know you know what messaging works we need to use. And now we also want to go a little bit more upmarket, again, see if we can come to these larger enterprises and really create like a named account list and create a team of SDRs around that.
Omer Khan 33:19
Now, one of the other things that I thought was pretty interesting was pricing and how, as you said, you didn't put a lot of focus onto pricing for a while. And that was pretty interesting for me because, you know, in many ways when you sort of start out as a founder, it's, it's it sort of feels like I got to get the pricing right and there's this almost fear in terms of this is my one shot and I've got to get the right pricing and if I don't, then this could kind of you know, blow up in my face. But you you kind of had a very sort of simple view about pricing when you started out right, well, you just charging everybody just 100K ARR?
Robin van Lieshout 33:57
Now well in early so we have T-Mobile as a launching customer, they're paying hundred K. So then for the second customer, we said, okay, let's, let's first try out, see if we can get a few more logos. So we started with 50K as an initial offer. So that's the second customer, then we went to 60K, that's a third customer then went to 70K, basically our fourth customer. So in every deal, we tried to increase the price with them, okay, which you know, actually works. And then, you know, we hired like a senior VP of sales, and then we started actually doing like 200K deals, so 300K deals and you know, even customers are paying 500K. So, yeah, it's basically increasing price trying to increase price you know, in every in every next deal. The thing we didn't do well, I think in you know, in our company history is that we didn't really had like a great expense component in our pricing. So we had a few but you know, we usually have to go to procurement departments and they negotiated, these variable drive are so high that's in fact, you know, you know, these customers would never go above you know, that border. And that's quite a pity, especially later on in the journey because that, you know, the first years of our, you know, the first customers in the first year, there's actually no, you know, grades. Awesome second order revenue. So that's also something. Yeah, we fixed basically when we were focusing on B2B software companies.
Omer Khan 35:18
So when you say expansion, you're saying there was just there was no kind of upgrade path for them to get more pay more, you know, to drive more value or kind of increase the average sort of contract value with with each customer.
Robin van Lieshout 35:34
Exactly, yeah, we just, you know, sold on the platform. It was, you know, let's say 100K, you got all the feature functionality, which we had, and we would price on number of sessions. So number of NGOs are actually using the platform. But that threshold was already so high that they would never go above that. So in fact, they could use, you know, our software solution unlimited.
Omer Khan 35:55
And how did you figure out how to create that that sort of expansion that upgrade path.
Robin van Lieshout 36:01
Yeah, so for for B2B software, we tried a couple of angles, but in the end, we reverted back to what's industry standards, right? I mean, if you look at, you know, the typical blocks out there, you see that there are a couple of access, which you can use in terms of expansion. So at the moment, we were reverted back mainly in admin seats, which at least is something you know, people understand. So that's working for us at the moment.
Omer Khan 36:25
So to kind of understand this, so the if they have more admins that they want getting into the product, then they pay more, is that it? That's the main sort of value metric.
Robin van Lieshout 36:37
Yeah, so so now, you know, we shift gears, we first have like one package with one variable driver, which didn't really work. Now, we created three different packages. So let's say package A, B, and C. Every package has a certain feature set. So you know, package C has more features more integrations than package A basically. And then within the package, there are two valid Drivers, which is admin seats and still sessions. And that's basically how companies grow. So, to either go to a next package, because they need more functionality, you know, they started with cell servers and now they also want to do product ideation for example, and they grow in admin seats. So, first they start off with maybe you know, one or two Customer Success Managers or one or two Product Managers, they are trying to see what ideas are coming into the platform and, and manage that and then they want to grow to multiple products, and maybe the entire product team wants to be active on their customer community or the entire customer success team wants to be active on the community. So then then basically, more of the organization is starting to use the platform, which then of course, also delivers more value for them. Right, and then it also increases the price of it.
Omer Khan 37:47
Okay. And then in terms of the features, figuring out what features should should only be in, you know, Plan B, or C. How did you figure that out? Did you did you run sort of surveys with customers was it like Let's just try stuff and sort of AB tests like what what was the way that helps you to figure that out?
Robin van Lieshout 38:06
Yeah, it's funny because, you know, you read a lot of stuff online about Yeah, just, you know, just survey your, your user base and and then you'll get some data. Well, in our case, we didn't have the volumes to actually survey people, right. I mean, I could put a survey but then I had like, maybe 10 respondents or so and then, you know, I base my pricing strategy based on on 10 feedback forms. So what we did is, you know, we just create, like a first version, you know, internally, you know, we just group together people from CS from product people, marketing people from customer success. And we just use our own intellect basically, to come up with like a V1, then we put that on the website, but without any pricing. So the sort of packages were there. The features were, you know, clearly mentioned on the website, but we didn't include what the exact price would be because we're not on a percent sure yet. And then it's just feedback from the market. So just go speak with customers, right? I mean, if you're, if you're doing a qualification goal, then you go to a demo goal. And then they ask for pricing, then you just show, okay, these are the packages, and then they will reply, they will give you a feedback, say, Oh, I won't have single sign on also in the first package, because else it's not gonna work for me. And if you hear that two or three times, well, then probably that's definitely needed, then, you know, in the first package, and then to start, you can, you know, just negotiate that, you know, saying, okay, it's only included in the in the second package, but, you know, if you sign up this month, you will get it also in the first package, right? So it's, you know, you can also use it for negotiation purposes. But then, you know, in the end, you will just change your packaging to create a more frictionless sales process.
Omer Khan 39:41
Yeah, that's good stuff. And I think the lesson that you just sort of shared there, if you're selling to, you know, enterprise customers, and you only have a small number of customers, then, as you said, the survey probably isn't going to be that helpful because you don't have a big enough sample size to sort of work with and I guess The same probably also applies if you're in the early stages of trying to figure this out. And, you know, maybe you only have 30, 40, 50 customers or something. Again, you might be in the same situation where survey might not give you enough information. But you're still probably early enough to be able to test these things and have one on one conversations with customers and get that direct feedback to try and figure this out that way.
Robin van Lieshout 40:26
Exactly. Yeah. I mean, customer feedback, the feedback the sales team gets is so so so important, especially in the in the early stages of your company, because you can learn so much from that. And I think a lot of people don't really realize that also, sometimes I have to discuss with our marketing people saying, come on, listen to more calls, listen to these qualification calls, you will learn so much on, you know what they like, what they don't like, what words they're using themselves, and you can use that in campaigns and, you know, in your own outreach. Yeah, super helpful.
Omer Khan 40:54
So you're coming up to almost 10 years since you founded this business. If you could kind of go back to that first year of being in business. What advice would you love to have been able to give yourself?
Robin van Lieshout 41:08
Yeah, I think it comes down to a lot of, you know, mistakes I've made, you know, over the years. Yeah, I would do most of these things now completely different. The thing is, you know, you don't know right, and a lot of these things you've you've listened, you've heard about it, you've seen it in blogs, but you only you only truly understand it when you're you know, when you're experiencing it yourself. So in hindsight, of course, you know, I would scale internationally, you know, way quicker, I would set up a better land and expand strategy, I wouldn't scale my sales team so fast if there's not any demands, maybe I've I've would have you know, raised money earlier because then I would have been further ahead basically, I would have made you know, so many different changes also, you know, in the relationship but I'm bored for example. So, in hindsight, you know, everything could be done much quicker, but the issue in reality, yeah, everybody just needs to run the journey.
Omer Khan 42:03
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I guess, you know, with the benefit of hindsight, you know, you, you kind of know where you end up. And then making some of those decisions with more confidence is easier when you look back. Whereas once you were probably going through the journey, I guess there's still a lot of uncertainty in terms of, you know, where you're going to go with the business, how big it can potentially grow. And I think probably that often also holds us back in terms of going all in with a particular, you know, strategy or decision.
Robin van Lieshout 42:36
Definitely. Yeah. And I think nowadays, at least there's, there's been more content available online, right, so you can at least listen to start his other founders. And there are more SaaS founders and also more experienced SaaS founders, you know, maybe 10 years ago, it was different, but now, yeah, make use of the ecosystem, I guess, you know, speak to other CEOs because that would help you so much in your own thinking and also, getting out of your business sometimes also really helps.
Omer Khan 42:58
Yeah, yeah, totally. And that's, that's one of the reasons that I, you know, with this show, I often try to bring people on, I mean, bringing people like you who kind of, you know, open to, to talking about your journey and the mistakes and the lessons is so valuable for people who are sort of earlier in the journey. But I think also sometimes it's also really useful to find people who are in, you know, completely different sort of businesses or industries to what you're in, because sometimes just, that's where I think maybe you sort of identify these nuggets of, of ideas that maybe help you to think differently to what everybody else in your industry is doing. So I think both of those are really valuable things, but we should wrap up here, so I'm gonna move on to the lightning round and skew seven quickfire questions.
Robin van Lieshout 43:48
Omer Khan 43:48
Are you ready?
Robin van Lieshout 43:49
Omer Khan 43:49
Okay, all right. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
Robin van Lieshout 43:53
Oh, man, there are so many. One thing which comes up is, “Let the process do its work”. I mean, sometimes I'm already thinking too much and all the possible outcomes scenarios, you know, what choices I need to make in the future and, and that advice was really just see what happens. And think about it when the situation is there. So that really, that really is my mind.
Omer Khan 44:16
Yeah, you already recommended one, What book would you recommend to our audience and why?
Robin van Lieshout 44:21
Yeah. Also, I'm a big reader. So I think that you know, maybe maybe a few which come to mind. Obviously, “The Hard Things About Hard Things”, to really get you pumped up in, in tough times, “Scaling Up” if you think you can run your organization with better processes. And maybe one less obvious one is a book called “Silence”, which explains the difference between introvert people and extrovert people and I really learn a lot about the differences in you know, an emperor is basically and how you can approach them also better.
Robin van Lieshout 44:51
I haven't heard of that one. I have to check that out. Okay, we'll include a link to the in the show notes to all those books. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?
Robin van Lieshout 45:00
I would go for perseverance and dedication. I think you know, sometimes you just you just had it right. But then you still have to lead. You still have to be in front of the troops, you still have to work 60 hours a week. You still have that jet lag. But you know, as soon as you give up, I think that ambition, you know, over unicorn basically fades away. So, perseverance and dedication.
Omer Khan 45:20
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
Robin van Lieshout 45:23
Yeah, people laugh at me. But I still use Inbox Zero. I have a wonder list to do list basically, which I put everything on. I prepare my week in the weekend, so Sunday evening, I cancel a lot of meetings basically, as much as possible. If I think I, if I don't like it, or if I feel like I don't contribute enough, I just cancel it. And I also try to work from home at least like a day a week or one day every two weeks, because then I can actually also work on strategy bits without being distracted.
Omer Khan 45:51
Did you see the announcement yesterday that Microsoft finally shutting down Wunderlist?
Robin van Lieshout 45:55
I know Yeah, it's I'm crying.
Omer Khan 45:58
That's a very sad day. I think coz it's such a great product. And I think that what's Microsoft's replacement is just Microsoft To Do.
Robin van Lieshout 46:08
It's To Do and it's it doesn't work.
Omer Khan 46:12
Robin van Lieshout 46:12
I heard rumors that the original founder is willing to buy it back. So I'm hoping that he's gonna do that.
Omer Khan 46:17
I saw that. Yeah, I think it was Christian. Right? He was tweeting something about trying to try to get it back. But yeah, here's an opportunity. Because now literally, like, you know, the, the end is in sight. But yeah, I think that's a great product. Yeah. What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?
Robin van Lieshout 46:34
Yeah, a lot of people actually asked me that. But, you know, to be honest, actually, none. And I also don't really believe in it, because I actually don't want to think, you know, of new ideas because I want to keep me focused basically, on inside it and trying, you know, to grow and build that business. And I think, you know, the day or the week when I start thinking about all these other ideas, I kind of have the feeling that I'm gonna I'm going to be you know, losing sight of the main company basically,
Omer Khan 47:01
Yeah, yeah, that's a good lesson. What's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people don't know?
Robin van Lieshout 47:06
Well, I think my girlfriend would say that I'm actually quite a shy guy. Yeah. You wouldn't tell maybe usually in a in a work environment or doing you know, both goes but yeah, I'm quite shy.
Omer Khan 47:18
We're kind of in a social environment.
Robin van Lieshout 47:21
Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Omer Khan 47:22
Oh, yeah, me too. It's kind of like, you know, happy happy to have these kinds of conversations, but put me in a room of people and kind of socially and it's not my favorite place to be. And although having said that, I think you know, you know, one to one conversations that I think are a lot of fun. I think I think maybe it's just this thing about kind of feeling like you have to make small talk with a bunch of people that, you know, seems pointless.
Robin van Lieshout 47:45
I felt like, I think a lot of people have that, but maybe they were afraid to to mention that.
Omer Khan 47:52
Yeah. Finally, what is one of your most important passions outside of your work?
Robin van Lieshout 47:56
Yeah, my personal opinion is that you know, work has not something you know, which is outside of me, you know, it's just part of my whole life, right? I don't really believe in the separation, you know, and And for me personally, I think I have so many different aspects in my work like different subject areas, you know, sales, marketing, customer, SaaS, HR, finance, strategy, fundraising, you know, all these things that I tried to focus, you know, on all these elements, you know, of course, plus my friends, my family, my two kids, you know, and doing, you know, crazy stuff with them, like, you know, going to Bali tomorrow. But you know, again, try to be focused.
Omer Khan 48:31
Yeah, cool, great. Well, if people want to find out more about inSided they can go to inSided.com. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?
Robin van Lieshout 48:43
Sure. Yeah. Find me on LinkedIn, Robin van Lieshout out or just drop me an email Robin[at]insided[dot]com.
Omer Khan 48:49
Awesome, Robin, I've really enjoyed this conversation, you know, really appreciate you kind of, you know, sharing your story and sort of the mistakes and lessons and I know You know, when you've been on a journey for 10 years, a lot of that stuff sort of fades away. And and you know, you have a lot of, you probably have a whole bunch of issues that you're dealing with today. And right now. So I think, you know, I appreciate you kind of being willing to sort of talk about that and sort of take us through the journey. And I know, you know, founders who are sort of at earliest stages, there's gonna, there's a lot of stuff in here that's going to be really helpful for them. And I kind of lost track of time, and it just kind of shows you this is good conversation. So thank you for joining me and definitely, you know, I wish you all the best and have an awesome time in Bali.
Robin van Lieshout 49:36
My pleasure. Thanks for thanks for having me.
Omer Khan 49:39
It's my pleasure. All the best. Cheers. All right. Thanks for listening. I 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 this episode and a link to all the resources we discussed. If you enjoyed the episode then please 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. Thanks for listening. Until next time, take care.
- “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz
- “Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don't” by Verne Harnish
- “Silence” by Shusaku Endo
- “Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It” by April Dunford