The SaaS Podcast
Unstack: How to Spot a Gap in a Crowded SaaS Market – with Grant Deken 
Unstack: How to Spot a Gap in a Crowded SaaS Market
Grant Deken is the co-founder and CEO of Unstack, a SaaS content marketing platform designed to help you rapidly build, measure, and scale your digital presence without writing code or hiring developers.
In 2013, Grant co-founded an influencer marketing platform called Grapevine, which he eventually sold in 2019. During that time he worked with hundreds of advertisers and saw that a lot of them struggled when they had to quickly update their website or create a landing page.
That got him thinking about what the ideal content management platform might look like. And he started having conversations with other founders about what they were doing to build out and manage their web presence.
Eventually, he realized that there was a market for the type of product he'd been thinking about. So he basically pre-sold the idea to a few people and then spent the next few months building the first version of Unstack.
He and his co-founder Steve charged for the product from the day they launched. And they were able to find their first 10 customers through their existing relationships. But getting to their first 100 customers was much more challenging.
In this interview we talk about:
- How they went from zero to a couple of hundred customers
- How to position your product in a competitive and crowded market
- How to differentiate your product without talking about feature comparisons
- How to decide when your product is good enough' for launch
- Building a community as a key channel for driving product growth
- Collaborating with integration partners to reach your ideal customers
We also talk about some of the mistakes that the co-founders made and what Grant wishes that they had done differently.
I hope you enjoy it.
Omer: [00:00:00] welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talk to grant deacon, the co-founder and CEO of Unstack, a SaaS content marketing platform, designed to help you rapidly build, measure, and scale your digital presence without writing code or hiring developers.
In 2013 grant, co-founded an influencer marketing platform called Grapevine, which he eventually sold in 2019. During that time, he worked with hundreds of advertisers and saw that a lot of them struggled when they had to quickly update their website or create a landing page that got him thinking about what the ideal content management platform might look like.
And he started having conversations with other founders about what they were doing to build out and manage their web presence. Eventually he realized that there was a market for the type of product he'd been thinking about. So he basically pre-sold the idea to a few people and then spent the next few months building the first version of unstack.
He and his co-founder Steve charged for the product from the day they launched. And they were able to find their first 10 customers through existing relationships, but getting to their first hundred customers was a much more challenging. And this interview, we talk about how they went from zero to a couple of hundred customers.
We talk about how to position your products in a competitive and crowded market, how to differentiate your product without talking about feature comparisons, how to decide when your product is good enough for launch building a community as a key channel for driving product growth and how the unstack team collaborated with integration partners as a way to reach their ideal customers faster.
We also talk about some of the mistakes that the co-founders made and what grunt wishes that maybe they'd done differently. So I hope you enjoy it. Grant, welcome to the show.
Grant: [00:02:22] Excited to be here.
Omer: [00:02:24] Do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you or just gets you out of bed every day?
Grant: [00:02:29] depends on the day of the week. But one that I like a lot is, uh, from the, the co-founder of Twitter and, uh, founder of a medium, he had this quiz and it takes 10 years of really hard work to become an overnight success. And I try to think about that, uh, and being patient, you know, building on SAC and building businesses that it takes, it takes a long time to build something great.
Omer: [00:02:50] So much wisdom in that. And I love coming across founders and stories who. No often it did take over 10 years for them to feel like they'd got traction. There's so many, so much out there in terms of like, you know, what feels like an overnight success. And I think it's always good to sort of peel back the layers and just show people the reality of what most people have to go through.
So, yeah. I love that quote. I think it's a lot of wisdom there. So for people who aren't familiar with unstack, what does the product do? Who is it for? And what's the main problem you're helping to solve.
Grant: [00:03:28] Yeah. So for us, we help marketers build and measure and scale digital presence, uh, with a no-code platform that helps you build all of your content, you know, websites.
Landing pages, blogs, all your analytics and all of your integrations and data all under one roof. So I believe about the market is that teams today need to do way, way more than just build a website. They really need a digital platform. And we think this is trend is going to really, really continue. To grow that marketing teams are going to take on more and more need to do more and more.
But while that need grows, the number of technical resources and engineers to actually get there, it's not keeping pace. We have really thought about how to put marketing teams in the driver's seat to really own that and have control again over their content. Their analytics and their integrations, they can build measure and scale.
Omer: [00:04:19] Got it. Now, a lot of different content management systems are going to help you build websites and, and have some of this functionality. Some are difficult to use. Others are maybe a little bit easier, but give us a sort of an idea of like, Where unstack fits into that marketplace. So if someone's listening to what you just said and thinking, yeah, but there's WordPress, there's web flow.
There's all of these different sort of sites. Where do you feel the opportunity is for unstack in that market?
Grant: [00:04:56] Yeah. So a lot of times what I found as a, as an entrepreneur and a marketer, you know, at my previous company, we were constantly trying to put lots of tools together to solve, frankly, some of the most basic challenges that marketing teams face like what's working.
What's not, what should I do next? How can I quickly build something out, validate and test it. So, yeah. What we see is there's marketing teams need to start thinking a little bit more like product teams in terms of being agile and moving very fast, being able to measure things. A lot of teams will, there's plenty of ways to put a website up, but it's like, then what?
Right. And then the sort of the correlation between ease of use and the capabilities that these platforms have is inverted. So the more capabilities you give to teams today, The harder it is. And the sooner you have to bring in either consultants or technical resources to get it all to work. So what we really want to do, and a lot of times is in sort of an, a no code sort of approach of putting that aside.
What we want to do is make it really easy and accessible for those teams to be able to do quite a bit more. So being able to rapidly, for example, you know, roll out your, your marketing site, but then being able to constantly run. Concurrent AB tests, testing your, your positioning, testing, your pricing, learning from those updates in real time, having revenue attribution builds right into your platform.
So you actually know is how much is SEO really doing for me, or is it, is it Facebook ads that are moving the needle? People spend a lot of time and money trying to figure those things out. And we kind of want to automate a lot of that. So we have the CMS piece, but we really see that as only one of the three core pillars that teams need to move really fast today.
So it has to be. The CMS, the content has to be the analytics that actually tell, you know, what's working, what's not, and it has to integrate with all those other mission critical tools because our end game is not to replace those tools. Our end game is to really accelerate the value that you get from them.
So bringing all that together is what we're really focused on. And we think that's, that's a fairly different perspective than just a no-code website builder, for example.
Omer: [00:07:01] Right. And then I guess the other sort of category of products are the sort of like the Unbounce type sort of landing page software.
And when I look at unstack, it sort of feels like. Yeah, there's a piece of that. There's a piece of this CMS and it's probably kind of like this overlap in terms of you probably sit somewhere in between there is that sort of a good way to think about it?
Grant: [00:07:25] Yeah, I think, I think there's also for us an opportunity to help teams consolidate.
You know, where and how they're building for these different initiatives, right? So rather than having Unbounce for landing pages and, you know, web flow for your website or WordPress for, for a blog, you know, th there's really no reason you can't quickly bring all that together on under one roof. And the benefit of that is that you're consolidating all of your data into one place.
You have a better perspective of what's working and you can kind of use that all together. It's a bit more cohesive. So that's, that's sort of how we, uh, solve for some of that.
Omer: [00:07:57] I think the first time I came across. Unstack was when I had Luke Thomas on the show, uh, is the founder of Friday app. And he was talking about how he'd used unstacked to like quickly build out just about everything he needed on the front end and the marketing side.
When you. Explained what the product was, who it was for you focused on marketers, but is there also a lot of SaaS companies that are obsessed founders, early stage sort of using a product like this or using your product?
Grant: [00:08:32] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, yeah. You know, I think we, we serve, we, we definitely skew towards the super fast moving early stage B2B SaaS business.
A lot of those folks are thinking about how do I, how do I quickly get content out there? How do I get my SEO going? How am I. You know, validating my messaging, you know, really like the tools that are used to get the product market fit. That's a huge use case for, for how people look at unstack. So rather than having a whole team, I mean, someone like Luke is getting quite a lot of traffic and a lot of, a lot of demand on, on his platform from what he's done, he was able to do it all.
You know, he, he, he just sort of created his account, went off to the races and, and, and built that whole sort of digital presence on his own.
Omer: [00:09:18] So one of the challenges of building a product like this, where you're trying to cover a lot of bases, you're doing websites, landing pages forms you talked about.
AB testing is it's really hard to be sort of best in class in. Any area, because you're trying to do so many things. So there's inevitably a trade off there. And then, and I'm curious, like how you guys think about that.
Grant: [00:09:47] Yeah. It's the focus is like one of the key things and, you know, we were talking about this earlier.
I think picking. And, and really aligning with certain customer personas early on, can help address some of that. So, you know, for us, you know, we're not necessarily building Photoshop in the browser for folks. What we're really doing is helping them move incredibly fast to get to conclusions, which is really, really important for teams today and having the control to do that.
So the trade-off there is I can get to conclusions faster. But I might not have, you know, unlimited sort of design and options in terms of what I'm, what I'm putting out to the market. Now we think, obviously we're going to close that gap over the, or the term. We have a new component system coming out for example, three weeks, but that's sort of, I think it comes down to philosophy, right.
And, and so that's how we've, we've approached it. Like what's the end state, what are people actually trying to accomplish? Um, and most of the time it's, it's getting to those conclusions, driving, tangible, SEO results, understanding how many leads are coming in. How many of those are converting into actual revenue for business?
Like that's what people really care about.
Omer: [00:10:57] Yeah. I think that that's really smart because it's not really about trying to, or it's about moving the conversation away from people trying to compare features because I could look at this and say, yeah, but I can do. All of this stuff with WordPress, but the reality is, and I've personally been in a situation like that where it's like, yeah, I've got WordPress and I'm using maybe thrive themes or Elementor.
And I've got these forms set up through here. And number one, like you said, I'm probably using like six different things to pull together what I want. And even though I sort of have this false sense of security that I have this incredible. Flexibility with all of these features, the reality is I'm not using most of them.
And then when you're sort of in the weeds trying to build something out, it's like, is this really the best use of my time?
Grant: [00:11:50] Exactly. It really comes back to how, how fast do you want to move? Like how fast do you want answers to those questions? And I think one of the lessons that we've learned early on is, is.
You know, positioning is just incredibly important. Like a lot of people look at unstack and they think, Oh, that's a no-code website builder. We do that. But what we're the company that we're building, the vision that we have is that we're able to build an accessible. Digital platform for people to actually build out entire businesses on payments, subscriptions, workflow, communication, digital presence, SEO.
So, you know, I think one of the that's been a, a really key learning for us is how do you sort of position and how do you tell that story effectively? Obviously the marketing world, the Mar space is massive. But it's also pretty noisy. So I think for us, it's really leaning into that story and helping, helping the market understand what we're about and how we see things a little bit differently.
Omer: [00:12:44] So let's talk just a little bit about your background, because I think this sort of helps sort of useful context in terms of, you know, your story and what you're doing today. So for probably about five or six years, you co-founded, and we're building a business called grapevine, which is an influencer marketing platform, and then you sold that business.
In what I think 2018, 2019.
Grant: [00:13:06] Yeah. That's right.
Omer: [00:13:07] Yeah. So can you just tell us a little bit about that business? Like what were you doing there?
Grant: [00:13:13] Yeah. So the idea there was very early on the, the original founder of that company was, came from a TV production background and, and, and he saw that basically there were teenagers on YouTube that were getting more distribution on their makeup videos than his prime time TV shows on discovery channel.
We're getting, this is a true story. And so, yeah. He was telling me about what he was doing. And it felt like I was getting leaded on this secret, like, wow, this, this is about to happen layer. There's going to be this huge shift. Um, and most people don't know about it yet. And I had done a startup before it was, um, kind of evolve to be a lifestyle business.
I started out, I wanted to go get like a quote real job. I went, uh, worked at a team at MIT on like learning management systems and it was really slow and boring. So he told me this and I got really excited and he's like, yeah, we have a product. So I, I, you know, I went over to the there's a, a co-working space, the Cambridge innovation center, I go over there and he's firing up the product.
And the product was this Google sheet that had all these cell references. And they had like an intern that was like updating, like manually updating view counts on YouTube videos. And it was just, it was, it was amazing because in a sense it was a product. They had figured out how to track all this stuff and provide advertisers with some information about these, these YouTube videos they were doing.
Um, but it was like, it was like, It was going to break any minute. And so the vision was, Hey, can we build a platform to get out of our own way and create a marketplace that allows brands and influencers on YouTube to connect directly. Do these campaigns take all the friction out of it and make it measurable and make it scalable and kind of build the.
The sort of leading platform for, for influencer marketing. And that's something that's pretty familiar to the most people now, but at the time this was like 2013. We were one of the first to really, truly go out and do that. So I spent about five and a half years building that business. Ultimately, you know, the market evolved quite a bit.
We were doing a lot of like enterprise agency type tech enabled services at the end. So that business. And one of the things that was really interesting to me is we struggled with a lot of the marketing problems that I was just talking about. And as I was explaining unstack, but the more interesting thing was whether it was B2B or B to C, we had hundreds of advertisers, active advertisers and thousands over the course of, of.
Grapevine. And the majority of them were struggling to move quickly. You know, they, they, they couldn't create content, uh, quickly to support the influencer campaigns, landing pages. They couldn't get tracking instrumentation in place and I'm not talking to just startups. In fact, sometimes startups are doing it even better.
We will be talking to major fortune 500 companies, major agencies, and they were struggling with these things as well. And so when I came at a great vine, I really wanted, I love working with founders. I love, uh, I, I do some angel investing. I advise, I love working with founders and marketers. And so I was like, what's the idyllic platform?
That I could build if I were starting a new company to kind of shortcut the line and move as fast as possible. And that's sort of the Genesis one stack.
Omer: [00:16:18] Okay. So you have this idea and then how did you. Go in and validate that this was something it was worth spending, you know, the next few years on or the next 10 years?
Grant: [00:16:29] Probably. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, so I, you know, I think it happened very organically. Um, you know, like I said, I, I spent a lot of time talking with founders kind of hearing the problems. Um, so I would start kind of. You know, people would come to me and ask me, Hey, you know, you have a marketing background, like what'd you guys do for grapevine?
Or what do you recommend here? Should I use WordPress? Should I use this? Should I use that? Or, you know, and so I would just start asking them like, well, what if you had this, you know, what would you, how would that sound? People say that, that sounds pretty awesome, actually. Um, so it got to a point where enough people said that and we said, well, What if we built that for you, if you could kind of hang on for a little bit, we'll, we'll get to see you in a couple of months.
And so that's how we kind of brought on, you know, are these zero MVP of the platform, which is very basic at the time brought on like half a dozen pilots. Luke was one of those pilots and it just kept going from there.
Omer: [00:17:22] So let's talk about that. That V zero MVP. I was having a conversation with a founder yesterday about when.
A product is ready. To launch. And it's always interesting for me in terms of like what a founder's vision might be for the product, but the reality of what you actually need that leads to get into market because you guys are probably, instead of a couple of months, you could have spent, you know, a couple of years before you launched.
So what was in that first version of the product, the MVP. What were all the things you wish you had in there and you couldn't get in, like, I'm curious about that because that's, that's always a little part of the detail that we don't always hear about
Grant: [00:18:05] that much. I mean, no, it's a great question. And like, we, even, even now, you know, you're constantly living in this, like this, like duality of like where we're at today versus where we really want to be.
And we're sort of never happy with the product, which I think is a good thing. Yep. Early on, you know, we knew that. But it needed this. It needed to prove the problem of putting the founder, the marketer in control. So that was key. So in terms of content management and content development design, we had the software that it did deliver on that promise.
The other thing we needed to make sure was that we really delivered on SEO and performance. When we think that's. I mean continues to be critically important as if, you know, for people that are investing obviously tons of time and effort into. So that's really where we are. We started, our integrations were super basic.
They just allowed you to like, you know, paste in scripts for like Google analytics and other basic tools. And we just sort of use that as a, as a starting point and kind of where we say we're product led company, but we're really a customer led company. And one of the things that we've done early on is we, we tried a few times to be able to community in different ways.
The first two times were, were flops. The third time we started to get it right. And as that community has grown, we've, we've really doubled down on that to intake that feedback real-time and gut check ourselves, because I think it's very easy to get into an echo chamber as a founder and think, you know, the answer, but not go through the process of, of gut checking that.
Beyond, even the MVP, you know, as you're shipping, you know, features over and over again, uh, continuing to have those feedback loops, I think is really important. So that's something that we did very early on as well.
Omer: [00:19:43] So what sort of community. Did you create
Grant: [00:19:46] the first one that we, uh, that we did was using a forum.
It was like a, uh, discourse forum, and we just didn't have it. There are a couple things. So one, we just didn't have the resources to seed it, which I think is really important if you're going to do some kind of forum and you don't have a huge base of users, just kind of feels a little bit like it's this like zombie, you know, sort of platform.
It's not. You know, not really growing, it's not a lot of activity, so we saw a little bit there, but it didn't really get where we wanted it to go. What really wasn't clear and what you'd expect, you know, in the sense of what you would expect, like an indie hackers, you know? Yeah. Kind of, we set that aside and we said, okay, well, let's, let's go where customers already are.
Let's go on Facebook and kind of started a group there. And that was a little bit better, a little bit more. You know, a little bit more activity, things like that, but like, we didn't really have control over it, you know, it's kind of in this third party thing. Um, and, and so like, we kind of sunset that. And then the third thing we tried, we were just like, well, we're on Slack all day.
I had joined a no-code founders, uh, Slack channel. There's a lot of activity on there. I was like, why don't I talk to our community manager, Chris? And he was talking about Slack as well. And so we said, yeah, let's just. This is throw a Slack channel out there and see what happens. And that actually worked really well.
It worked far better than the other two. There's an 80 20 rule, right? So it's probably three to three to 500 users on there. Now you get, you know, your sort of top 20% are contributing, uh, an outsized amount to the rest of the community, but then very helpful for previewing features for getting feedback on designs, for asking people to opt in for like new stuff.
We just quietly released. Payments and subscriptions on our platform. So we were able to kind of tease that in the community before rolling it out. So that, that to us has been pretty interesting. This side effect that we found from it was, it also became kind of a support or outlet. And we had to figure out how to, how, as that grew, like how we manage that.
So we don't have like support channels everywhere, where we were trying to interface with customers. So we've had to. Streamline that a little bit, but yeah. Slack has been surprisingly effective.
Omer: [00:21:51] Yeah. I think that the support is always a challenge for any community. You want to be helpful. You don't want to kind of give a canned response or retire, like, yeah, please contact support at this link or email address, but you also don't want your Slack channel to turn into a place where you're trying to provide support and not doing it as well as if you were doing it through the support challenge you've already built.
Grant: [00:22:18] The best thing to come of it is, has been that. Our customer base is now supporting our customer base. And I think you need a couple hundred people before you can give or take before you start to see that happen. But the. Power user customers are now jumping in. Some of our channel partners are now jumping in and saying, Hey, like, here's how you could do this.
Or here's how you can do that. And supporting each other, giving each other feedback, which is, I mean, one of the coolest things, frankly, just seeing that organically take shape.
Omer: [00:22:46] Yeah. Yeah. I think that's awesome. So
Grant: [00:22:48] how did
Omer: [00:22:48] you get your first 10 customers? Were they sort of like the people that you'd been.
Asking these questions too. And, and, and basically kind of like trying to pre-sell them on this idea, or did you have to sort of go out and find, find more people once the product was built? Just in terms of the first 10?
Grant: [00:23:10] Yeah. In terms of, I mean, first, probably first, like I said, first five were just direct organic, you know, people in network that have either come to me or.
You know, somebody that I was talking to is they go, you need to talk to so-and-so and then getting to the first 10 or 20, it just sort of additional referrals from that pilot base of customers. So really, I mean, it really happened organically. Obviously we were putting a lot of help docs and contents together and that's, you know, started incubating and that's part of our SEO strategy obviously.
But, uh, that early, I mean the early growth was, I mean, I think for any founder, you'd be surprised you just look in and network, even if it's your LinkedIn, but even, even closer network than that. I mean, there's probably 10 customers for you just right there.
Omer: [00:23:59] And did you charge from the outset?
Grant: [00:24:02] We did we did.
And the reason we did that was because we wanted anyone we were working with to feel like they had some skin in the game, and I think it created a better, uh, or expectations, alignment. And, um, so yeah, from, from day one, we charged everyone. We do have partnerships with certain VC funds and accelerator where you can get, you know, um, discounts to the platform and things like that.
But from day one, we, we sort of had that skin in the game.
Omer: [00:24:29] And, and how did that go with those first two customers did when sort of, you've got the product out there and now you've got real people using it. How did the product hold up?
Grant: [00:24:39] Well, the thing that's interesting about our platform is. It, you know, it's all those things we were talking about before, but we're as much as where this sort of no code of marketing platform, we're also in effect that a dev ops company and that, you know, we have to make sure we're supporting and scaling now in the hundreds of businesses on unstack.
So there's been, been some really interesting challenges early on about thinking, thinking about how to scale and building, you know, uh, infrastructure that. That will allow us to, you know, go into the thousands of customers and things like that. And then on the non-technical side, it's just supporting a growing base of customers with, you know, varying use cases, getting clarity on which use cases we're going to double down on.
And those that are, aren't going to be a priority for us. One of the things with SEO is you don't always get to with SEO and a product led growth strategy. You know, we're completely self-service, you don't always pick. Your customers, people all over the world find us from all types of businesses and start using the platform.
And so we have to, we have to be disciplined and, and sort of our vision and who we're serving and, and staying committed and focused to that. Knowing that like, there may be some customers that aren't the right fit today, you know, for us.
Omer: [00:25:54] All right. So you've got your first, first few customers. How did you, how did you start growing?
So you've said you've got a couple of hundred customers now in terms of revenue, you guys are where right
Grant: [00:26:08] now, uh, in terms of revenue, we're about 130 K and ARR. And just continuing to try to grow that, you know, 20% plus month over month. Got it.
Omer: [00:26:20] And so how did you go from those initial handful of people that you sort of reached through your own network to where you are right now with a few hundred customers?
Grant: [00:26:31] First, let me start with the challenge, which was, you're getting the first 10. It was super easy because we were selling on relationships. So we already had things like that. I think what was challenging, but also exciting was to figure out, okay, how do we get the next 90? Let's so going from 10 to a hundred and I, you know, a lot of those people, what, we've never, they have no idea who we are.
So we're really selling on the merits of our product, our positioning, the value prop, the price, right? Like the things that really actually mattered to scale. Right. Cause anybody could find 10 friends to buy their products. So how do you get to that next sort of that next traunch? And for that, I, I, you know, obviously I mentioned, you know, we do a lot of content.
We now I'm, full-time all she's doing is working on content SEO for us. Right. But that's a slow burn. And most people listening to this probably know that, or I felt that frustration, like the SEO strategy, you sort of like, feel like you're blindly committing for what feels like forever. And then eventually it starts to really pay dividends for you.
So what do you do in the meantime? Right. A big thing that we did was focus on relationships with our integration partners and. Doing sort of co-marketing webinars with, with them, you know, that actually proved to be quite effective, you know, especially a lot of our, a lot of those, those integration part is much larger than us, but they're always looking for content to put in front of their audience.
So that was effective. It's something we're continuing to do. I recommend, you know, people think about where those like, Partner opportunities that to, you know, bring some unique content or webinars. The, the great thing about the webinars too, is like we, we can recycle it 10 different ways. So it created social content for us.
It created long form blog content for us, it created white papers and playbooks. So you do this one webinar where you bring a couple of experts together and you get 10 different things you can use to really. You know, push, uh, your, your content marketing. So that was one thing that we've done a lot of, and it kind of gets you the best of the SEO, but also the, the short-term benefits, um, of having something to talk about and an audience to engage with.
Omer: [00:28:27] How are you finding sort of live versus on demand for webinars? Has that changed recently? Are you finding less people turn up for the live component or more?
Grant: [00:28:40] I'd have to check the stats? I think the most recent one, one of the most recent ones we did that I was more involved with had. I think somewhere around 200 registrants, and I think we had something like 90 on the webinars.
So it gives you a sense of what the live turnout is like. And. What I like about the, in particular, the live format. What's great about it is you can pull the audience, you can really collect some that active feedback. And then we were able to very quickly have a post-mortem where we send them a survey and we're like, Hey, was this actually valuable to you?
And like, what would you like to see differently so that we can get better at it? But we take all of that in, especially like those polling questions and that's that's fodder for the conversation. So we did one where I think it was with a, with a bunch of coaches and most of them just were missing. You know, big on, on a lot of low-hanging fruit around, around SEO, which, you know, we didn't know going into that.
So that's, to me the benefit of the live sort of format, obviously, most people are like, Hey, I missed it. Can you send me the recording? Or actually at this point, most people just know they're going to get the recordings. So they just sign up and wait for that. And that's, that's fine as well. Right. It's sort of like, yeah.
I think about it as like deliver content and every format that's so that whoever's on the receiving end can intake it in a way that's right. For them, you know, on their terms.
Omer: [00:29:59] Yeah. I think that there's a couple of useful, I think, lessons in terms of what you, you talked about there, like, like if you can get 90, out of 200 registers to turn up, I mean, that's pretty good.
I mean, that's almost 50% of people coming for life thing, so,
Grant: [00:30:13] and super engaged, right? Yeah.
Omer: [00:30:15] So, so. That must really speak to the topic of whatever you're covering that. If it's interesting enough, people will do that. But then secondly, does it really matter if people. Turn up, you know, live or, you know, they want to do the on-demand leader.
I think there's always this argument about, well, if they're live, they're going to be more engaged and pay attention and the on demand they might just sort of skip through. But ultimately I think it's just about like the goal isn't to get them to watch every minute of what you're doing. The goal is to.
Get the word out about the products deliver some value. If they can get that in five minutes of skipping through a video. That's good enough. I think. And then the other thing I think is really smart is the repurposing of the content because you have a, if you're sitting down with somebody or an integration partner, And you've identified a topic, which is interesting enough that a good number of people that are willing to turn up for, then there's a good chance that that content is going to be useful for other people, whether it's on, you know, posting, you know, micro content on social media or turning it into a blog post or whatever.
So I think that's pretty smart.
Grant: [00:31:24] Yeah. I mean, for us, we're a team of seven, so we're, we're pretty lean and there's a lot more we want to do than what we can do. So our sort of perspective internally is. How can you think about this in terms of systems, you know, and how can you get the most out of each thing that you do?
And so that's something that I think we've done pretty well at.
Omer: [00:31:42] So you talk about systems, how you actually implement that and, and make sure that things get done. Because I think I've seen a number of companies that, that are trying to do this, but. It's actually not that systematized. And it's easy to talk about doing this stuff, but forget a bunch of stuff because you got the next thing going on.
So do you guys have a system for your system?
Grant: [00:32:09] I think the short answer to that, it's probably probably no. And probably something that we should work towards. I mean, I think we're doing some things. Well, and other things, you know, like any, like any company, a lots that we're, we could be doing better, lots that we're trying to improve on.
I think one thing I'd say is the more things you try to do. The harder it is to systemize any of it. So I come from a product background. Like we, we try to look at effort to impact and really try to prioritize fewer, but higher impact things that we can, we can do. So this, this example we're talking about around the webinars is one of them.
I think who you hire obviously makes a tremendous difference. Everyone on our team is just huge owner mentality and we've drilled in from day one, whether it's an intern or an executive, like figure it out and then systemize it. And then, and then once you systemize it to a place where it's actually working, let's put somebody else in the driver's seat there to take it and run with it and grow it.
And that's how I think even about myself as a, as an early stage CEO. You know, it's like you do the job. So you, you walk a mile in the, in that, you know, that those shoes, you get something going and then you find the best possible person and you, you put them in that role to carry the torch and, and grow that once it's working.
So that's kind of are, are very loose, uh, to be improved process on, on systems.
Omer: [00:33:27] Yeah. Yeah. I guess it starts with the mindset. Right? So you think that the way you think about doing these things, so, okay. So webinars. With integration partners. That's, that's sort of a good win-win, you've got the content and sort of the SEO focus and that's kind of like, you know, working its way through and, and we're hoping that the Google algorithm is going to look kindly on that at some point.
And then what else were you doing?
Grant: [00:33:54] So, so I think those are examples of things that got us from, you know, we were talking about, we were at 10 and how did we get to a hundred or a couple of hundred now? And now we're at a point where we're saying, okay, well, how do we get to a couple thousand? And this is where the rubber really meets the road.
You know, 10 was easy, gave you a hundred or 200 was. Harder, but we were able to do, you know, do that, you know, with a couple of tactics that worked pretty well. Now it's sort of going back to the systems or how do you get to a place where it's very clear on how we bring a new customer and what the cost is for that and how we go from, you know, 200 to two, a thousand to 2000.
And that's where we're starting to really lean into, you know, paid acquisition. I think that we've tested a number of things, uh, you know, AdWords for example has been a little bit more challenging and expensive for us to scale, but there's opportunity there. The one that has been surprisingly good for us has been Facebook ads and for a couple of reasons, we've been able to do some, some good direct response there with the targeting and particularly with lookalikes.
So the more customers are the more leads you have in your database. You can actually push that list to Facebook and say, Hey, these are people that we want to serve are these are the types of people that we want to serve our ads to. And Facebook does a pretty good job of, of getting that, right. So we've seen some good wins there, and it's also just been in a controllable way for us to continue to get content in front of prospects.
You know, who, who we have identified, but haven't bought so remarketing and things like that. We're pretty bullish on that. Our, our platform, uh, out of the box is a pretty good job with actually, um, connecting the revenue that we make from those efforts back to the ad spend. So we have a very, very clear picture out of the box of our funnel.
So that's one way we're really starting to look at paid, really trying to understand CAC LTV, all that stuff that, you know, SaaS founders obsess about. We're sort of at a point where that's really important and, uh, you know, we're working at that.
Omer: [00:35:53] So you're starting at the top of the funnel with just content from the blog.
Grant: [00:35:58] Content from the blog soundbites from the webinars, we have a podcast, just did an episode, I think, six today. So again, using, using all of those as those top of funnel, sort of, you know, bait to bring people in and provide some values and education. And then I think most importantly trust because we're a newer brand in the market.
And then yeah, exactly. With the, with Facebook, I think direct response, you know, we're able to push them directly into our platform and sort of. Then we've automated a number of touch points around the onboarding and trying to drive that trial to sale. So we have a pretty top to bottom picture of what it takes to bring in someone from, for example, Facebook all the way through to being a paying customer.
Omer: [00:36:40] And then if somebody engages with the content. Ad or the sponsored post or whatever, Facebook calls it these days. Do you then use some sort of retargeting for those people and drive them towards a trial or something like that?
Grant: [00:36:55] Yeah, exactly. So all the other sort of typical remarketing stuff, same for like winbacks backs.
So we'll look and see, Hey, who are people who came in and created a trial and didn't buy. How do we keep building a relationship with them? How do we learn, maybe why they didn't buy, but then also how do we keep building relationship? Because sometimes it's just a timing thing. Um, so we're also, you know, over the longterm, continuing to nurture those folks, we found surprisingly, a lot of them will come back two, three, four months down the line and say, Hey, I wasn't ready then, but now I'm ready.
And I, I love all the stuff I'm seeing. Let's let's get this going.
Omer: [00:37:32] Got it. Okay. And, and so now that you've been doing. The content and SEO for a while. How is that playing out? Are you, are you starting to see,
Grant: [00:37:41] so our VP of sales and marketing, Zach Rigo at a, at a sort of, I think a very digestible way of looking at how we get to our.
Customer growth goals. And we actually just broke it down to like a daily, like I said, we have all the conversion stats on our funnels, so we just broke it down to a daily uniques number. Here's where we're at. What you think today. We're probably at about maybe three to 500 uniques a day who really need to be at a thousand to 1500 uniques a day to be really consistent and hitting our.
Customer acquisition goals on organic. Right? So put, put, paid aside for a second. So we just made that very digestible and then we rally everything around that goal, you know, which keywords are going after, which content we're writing. Uh, and we've started to kind of share some of the results of that with our community and on the blog.
Here's, you know, here's where we're at in terms of that growth and how we're doing it. And we try to. Open source any of those learnings so that people can just take that and go run with it, you know, for their own businesses.
Omer: [00:38:40] Yeah. I like that. You know, the few of metrics that you have to track and especially if you can kind of get everyone focused around one.
I think that's a, that's a really good thing to do.
Grant: [00:38:49] Yeah. I mean, every day you kind of know, Hey, are we off track? Are we on track? Right.
Omer: [00:38:53] Right, exactly. So looking back, I mean, obviously you haven't been doing this for, for that long. It's been coming up to what a year and a half you've been working on stack.
Even within that, that sort of parents, what are some of the things that you feel like have been sort of the big lessons for you that you wish maybe you had done differently or some mistakes that you made, that you feel that, uh, I was sharing with our audience.
Grant: [00:39:20] I mean, even, even as a second time founder, there's still, still plenty of mistakes.
You know, I think we talked about earlier in the call. You know, it was very organic, the sort of first 10 customers, we just kind of let that guide us. And in some ways I was really good, but I think in other ways we kind of took a little longer than we should have to get really prescriptive about our go to market, who our customer is, how we're rallying around that, aligning everything to that.
And now as we start to grow, you know, maybe some of it frankly, was like a confidence thing. But like now is a really starting to pick up pace where like, Hey, we absolutely need to figure this out. And we think, we think we're on the right track at this point, but getting really serious about who we are and who we aren't serving.
You know, we had Atlassian, you know, come in as a customer early on. And we were like, Oh my God, this is like this 20 billion plus dollar companies using the unstack platform. That's really cool. But that's today, that's, that's not really our customer. So I think it's something that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with, which is, you know, there can be.
Shiny objects around customers that, you know, you can make it hard to focus. And that's something that we've become increasingly disciplined around that. I just wish we had done a little bit sooner. So I would just say if, you know, you can shortcut some of that. If you're listening to this, just, just trying to really focus on whether that's a niche or a specific customer and rallying everything around that.
Omer: [00:40:44] Yeah. I think because when you don't have. As much clarity as you'd like about who that target customer is any early days, you're going to probably attract a variety of people. And if you latch onto one customer and say, that's, that's the one we're going to focus on. And that turns out to be the wrong customer.
It's not the end of the world, but it can lead you down a rabbit hole for quite a while before you sort of figure out actually that's wasn't in hindsight, such a good idea. So a couple of things I want to kind of understand from you with the Atlassian example, how did you figure out that that wasn't your ideal customer?
Because you could have said, well, maybe we need to kind of scale up the product and figure out how we can attract more of these types of companies.
Grant: [00:41:33] Yeah, definitely. So what we learned from them was that they have like, are like startups or mid-market companies or anyone else. This is actually very, the problems we solve are very horizontal.
They actually apply to all size and shapes of, of businesses. Um, which again is, this is why I think early on, we struggled with this, but when we looked at it last year, for example, the use case was, Hey, we can't get a bunch of engineers to go build this. This product idea that we have. So what we really need to do is like quickly build up like a visual prototype, a website, and a landing page, collect some feedback and build a business case that we can then present internally.
And then when we're done, we'll, you know, what kind of we'll either repurpose it and try something else on unstack or we'll spin it down. And that's actually not, that's the opposite of what we want from our, from our customer base. It's great that they found value in it, but we want people to scale from zero to however big they can take things.
We think we're a great option for people to grow with us over the longterm. And so what we want are companies that are going to be thinking very long-term about building a really large digital presence. We want them to use unstack to do that, not to kind of. Just validate an idea and then potentially go, you know, you use something else.
So that's sort of how we kind of decided to double down. I think earlier stage is a great beachhead for us because there's not as much switching costs. Um, they're early adopters, right? So, um, I was just talking to somebody else this morning about, you know, crossing the chasm that the book, those early adopters, a great proving ground for us to learn, but ultimately, you know, we want to continue to, to grow and scale over the term.
Um, so that's how we made that decision. I,
Omer: [00:43:13] I, it feels like every
Grant: [00:43:15] interview I do these days,
Omer: [00:43:17] that book gets mentioned by somebody and it's just a Testament to, you know, how useful that is. And it's like, if you haven't read that book, go out and do that today. Yeah. All right. The other thing you mentioned was when you were sort of talking about, you know, the, the, the right customer and sort of, you know, focus, you said maybe it was a bit of a confidence thing, or what did you mean by that?
Grant: [00:43:40] Well, I think like early on for us, we were trying to find our voice and a pretty mature space. You know, I mentioned early on that the MarTech space is it's massive. There's just a ton of opportunity, but it's also, there's a lot of noise. And so I think we've been trying to. Communicate our story, figure out our identity, you know, where we think we can really help, you know, companies and entrepreneurs and marketers.
But I think when you're starting out, you know, you're kind of trying to find that you're trying to figure that out. And I think. To your point, you know, earlier I said, like, if you pick the wrong customer, like, are you in trouble? Like, you know, you have sort of, you know, I think there's also the potential FOMO, right.
Of, of saying no to certain things. And, you know, we, we, we, and another, you know, I don't want to call it a mistake, but. We said yes to helping build a partner. That's a massive media business. Uh, they're not doing over a million uniques a month on our, on our platform on unstack, but they have really, they have some different needs than what our core customers have and we've had to accommodate those.
And we're committed to them and we, you know, we love them. They've actually helped us, I think, make the product more robust and in a number of ways, but it's an example of, you know, when you don't have that clarity, you might say yes to certain things, and then you're kind of, you're committed to, to supporting those things.
So, you know, I think as we've grown and we've seen the patterns and we've seen those. You know, delightful moments from our community. It's reaffirmed for us that we're on the right track and we're doing the right thing for the right people. But I think for any startup early on, you know, especially if there are a lot of use cases coming through, that's where you got to have to like, kind of have some of that confidence or build some early perspective and put a stake in the ground.
Omer: [00:45:27] Yeah. I mean, it's so hard to say no. No to an opportunity because you don't know where the next one's going to come along.
Grant: [00:45:38] Yeah, exactly. All right.
Omer: [00:45:40] We should, uh, we should wrap up. Let's get on to the lightning round. I'm going to ask you a seven quickfire questions, so you're ready to go.
Grant: [00:45:47] Okay. I hope so.
Omer: [00:45:49] What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
Grant: [00:45:52] I mentioned this earlier at the beginning with that quote, I mean, I think, I think it's. There's sort of two, you know, one be patient great things. Take time, you know, they're high highs and low lows and building anything. That's interesting.
And so being patient and, you know, I think is super key. The other is that I think there's a lot of luck involved in what we do, but luck tends to favor those who are ready to take advantage of it. So being prepared and keeping your eyes open for those opportunities, I think is really important.
Omer: [00:46:22] What book would you recommend to our audience and why?
Grant: [00:46:25] Uh, one that I recommend a lot is, uh, seven powers and men, the name of the author. Uh, escaping me. Um, but what I love about that book is it really breaks down kind of seven buckets that companies can lean into for building strategic, you know, moats and differentiation within their market, whether that's cornered resources or brand or switching costs, they have some amazing examples in there.
So I definitely recommend that book seven powers.
Omer: [00:46:51] Is that the one, the foundations of business strategy or multiple Hellner.
Grant: [00:46:56] Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, Hamilton. Yeah. Okay,
Omer: [00:46:59] cool. Well, we'll include a link in the show notes to that. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder.
Grant: [00:47:07] Grit.
Omer: [00:47:08] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
Grant: [00:47:12] I'm staring down at a yellow legal pad right now. And I think that's probably, that's probably, uh, the most helpful thing for me is just quickly writing notes down so that I don't forget something.
Omer: [00:47:23] Yeah, me too. I have one right in front of me.
What's a new or crazy business idea. You'd have to pursue if you had the extra time.
Grant: [00:47:29] Oh, man. I spent so much time thinking about the, the customers we're serving here at unstack, but. One thing that bothers me is I get so much junk mail. I would love for somebody to solve the problem of getting rid of all my junk mail for me, like some kind of like opt out service where I could just not get anymore, you know, mails for insurance or, you know, things like that.
Omer: [00:47:53] Yeah. And, uh, you know, I think part of the problem is that even though like the Gmail spam filters are so much better than emails, sort of spam filters were like five, 10 years ago. I still find myself going into check my spam folder because there's stuff in there that wasn't supposed to go in there. And it's, what's the point?
Grant: [00:48:12] well, I'm talking about physical mail. Oh yeah. I'm talking about physical mail. I mean, it's just crazy that not a mail, like, I don't think the U S PS will be very happy about these things. Non-trivial amount of their revenue, but yeah. For me personally, like save the planet, print less papers, you know, I don't need the mail.
Omer: [00:48:30] I agree with you. I think it was like two weeks ago, I went to the mailbox, came back with, I hadn't checked it for a while. Came back with like a stack stack of papers. And then I was like, well, I'm just walking back to the house. So I'm just going to like, just take the things that are like for recycling and put them in.
Before I get in the house, I literally walked. W when I'd done that, I walked into the house with one envelope.
Grant: [00:48:51] Exactly. The worst thing is I, I now I'm getting like plastic, like flyers because they want it to like stand out and be shiny. And I'm like, this is even worse, you know? So that's, that's my random, random thought somebody solve that problem.
And email me, I'll be your first customer.
Omer: [00:49:07] What's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people don't know.
Grant: [00:49:10] Interesting or fun fact, I was a competitive indoor rock climber as a teenager. Wow, which was a lot of fun. And now my joints hurt and I'm 33.
Omer: [00:49:22] You don't collect anymore?
Grant: [00:49:24] No, not anymore.
Omer: [00:49:26] finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work.
Grant: [00:49:29] How would say this year has been a little weird travel is a huge, uh, joy that my wife and I love to do. And obviously in 2020, that's that's been put on hold. So I'm counting the days until we can, we can get abroad again and go explore.
Omer: [00:49:45] Yeah, me too. Cool. All right. Well grant, thank you for joining me day and, uh, sharing the story of unstack and, and um, some of the lessons you've learned along the way I thought it was, uh, there's a bunch of stuff in here that I think is going to be really helpful, not just for. People who are maybe in sort of the early stages of the business, but I think they just, some, some ideas here that I sort of noted down that I think even if you are sort of further along, I think that there's some useful lessons here.
So appreciate the time. If people want to find out more about unstack, they can go to unstack.com. And if folks want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that.
Grant: [00:50:27] Just shoot me an emailGrant@unstack.com.
Omer: [00:50:30] Awesome. Thanks, man. It's been a pleasure. We show the best
Grant: [00:50:34] pleasure is all mine.
Omer: [00:50:34] Thank you. Cheers.
- “7 Powers: The Foundations of Business Strategy” by Hamilton Helmer