This is the first of a series of interviews we are doing for SaaSBOOMi.
The premise is simple: We ask some of our most successful entrepreneurs the three mistakes they made when starting up—the ones they would like to revisit and perhaps change.
The intent is to learn from the mistakes our successful entrepreneurs have made, so we can avoid them and, maybe, make new ones.
Welcome to the 3 mistakes of my startup.
This first interview is with Srikrishnan Ganesan, co-founder of collaborative customer on-boarding startupRocketlane. His first startup, user-engagement platform Konotor, was acquired by Freshworks in 2015.
This gave me an opportunity to ask another question: How is he making sure he’s not making the same mistake again?
Here we go then, edition one of the three mistakes of my startup.
Over to Srikrishnan. Answers edited and structured for effect.
Srikrishnan: When we launched in 2012, we got into a market that just wasn’t big enough, and also did not have momentum with it at the time.
We had to ‘will’ traction into happening, and that is always difficult to do. Part of the reason this happened was that we fooled ourselves about the real size of the market. The question you have to answer is who will pay for this, and not who will need this. We also were very rigid about what we were building, versus what problem we were solving, and for who.
This time, we are much more conscious of market size. The initial wedge that we are taking into the market may be small today, but there’s good momentum behind it. And we already know the direction we are taking to expand the market.
Srikrishnan: We hired people too late.
We were just three people in the company for the first two years, and this held us back. We had Fortune 50 customers, and 16 million active users on our platform—all of this driven by three people. This meant a lot of stress and needless exertion. Even when we knew we had money coming in, we waited till the money was actually literally hitting the bank to make our hires.This definitely affected our ability to invest energy into figuring the right growth path.
Rocketlane is already 18 people. Even in the year of the pandemic, we were ready to invest in talent, and we spent a lot of effort getting this right early.
Srikrishnan: We ignored insights offered by our customers and salespersons.
When customers told us they needed our product for the web (it was built for mobile), we were too idealistic. We would respond that the customer expectations and engagement style on mobile and web are different, and hence it doesn’t make sense to use one tool for both.
While there was some truth to that—they wanted to have just one team engage with customers both on web and mobile, and hence wanted one tool. We didn’t think about the practicality of what the customers wanted —that they did not need two or more tools—and the opportunity that gave us.
We should have built for the web as well, and made it infinitely easier to go-live.
I also noticed our sales person was calling us a “notification platform” and getting us customer meetings. I was upset as that was just one of our features, not realising this was a foot in the door, and that we could later upsell our whole inbox and messaging to them. Instead, I would correct him and make him say ‘we are a mobile customer engagement platform’ and explain that it had messaging, notifications, and other features.
I wanted customers to buy into our vision, but it might have been easier to chase the momentum that notifications had at the time. Of course, my bigger vision also complicated the deal as it now needed multiple stakeholders to buy into it.
This time, we aren’t taking any chances. We are clear: problem > product, and are recording every conversation with customers, figuring out their problems and goals, understanding intent, and trying to solve for those, whether via product or even otherwise.
We didn’t realise it as we built it, but in the end we had a product that needed to involve multiple stakeholders in the buying decision. This meant multiple buyer personas, which became a problem.
We would easily convince the product team, and marketing would understand the benefit, but we would stall at getting support to adopt it. If we started with support, we would still need to be prioritised by product to be on the product roadmap.
Everyone needed to be convinced, and that became a problem in larger deals.
This time, we thought early about this problem.
Do we need buy-in from multiple stakeholders or do we need to convince just one team? Other products in our space were selling to multiple teams, but we decided to stick to solving the problem for one specific team.
And yes, this means you should be thinking about your buyer persona even as you are building the product.