We are quickly coming up on the three-year anniversary of Abstrakt (which is crazy to say) and let me tell you that being in the conversational intelligence software space is not easy.
Lately, I have realized that even at the size we are now the story of why the company started and how it got here are both already starting to experience some dilution.
We are just barely into the double-digit employee numbers, and the question of “why did you start Abstrakt?” is having to be asked by folks who have been here a couple of months already.
As a CEO, that is painful to hear and reminds me of my internal and external failures to articulate our “why” every day.
This is not going to be about that though, this is going to be about what we did right (only recognizable via hindsight) along the way with being in such a crowded space of conversational intelligence software – even though we are almost defining a new category.
If anyone reading this is considering starting a software company, you should try these out:
1) Start SEO work early
I mean before you even have a product. Whether you’re looking to jump into a crowded market or create your own, writing blogs three years ago is now starting to pay dividends.
We knew this would be the case, even though Google loves to change along the way.
Achieving a high domain authority, with quality thought leadership content and impactful organic rankings is not done overnight, it takes years. Ask any of the big dogs in the conversational intelligence community, we are on the first page for a reason.
Three years ago, no one searched “call coaching software”, let alone “real-time call coaching software”. But we still wrote content and targeted keywords that we knew would benefit us down the road.
You have to start doing this before you have a product before you really know what your target audience looks like. You just kind of have to roll the dice, make some assumptions, and hope you are right.
Three years later we have written over one hundred blogs but now rank organically in the first couple of positions in 7 out of our top 10 keywords. Even more so, we consistently drive organic, highly-qualified leads every month from these search terms.
Our best customers, using Abstrakt the most with upsells consistently, all came from organic search terms we own because of the work we did years ago.
2) Become bigger than you actually are
This kind of ties into the first lesson. We had blog posts, we hosted podcasts (with high-level guests in the conversational intelligence community that we had no business talking to), and we published insane amounts of content that included infographics, templates, and designs.
Something else we did was we made up a couple of LinkedIn profiles and fake emails so we had “multiple SDRs”, but in reality, it was just one of us. We had to look bigger than we were. We didn’t lie about it, we just helped get us to where we are today.
P.S. We have actual SDRs now!
We did all of that with a $7/month Canva license, a $15/month Zoom license, a $13/month Podbean license, a couple of Gmail accounts at $12/month, and our time.
Looking back, we had no business closing some of our earliest customers. But we believed in our product and once we got in front of them, seeing Abstrakt in action made their decision easy.
It’s funny because when we would meet with them they would usually say something like “We had no idea your team was that small, you come off as a much larger company.”
I cannot draw any direct attribution to the activities we did, but I know in my gut that all of this helped move the needle.
3) Make buying easy and avoid procurement/security review at all costs
I want to caveat this with the fact that being security/privacy conscious was built into our DNA on day one, we successfully passed some pretty gnarly security reviews compared to other conversational intelligence software, but we did everything possible to not get into them.
First things first, V1 of Abstrakt as a product did not have any integrations and did not capture any analytics on user behavior.
By deciding to not integrate with anything and not capture user data, we pretty much flew under the radar everywhere. This allowed individual sales leaders with monthly expense budgets to put Abstrakt on their credit cards.
Our Order Form was simple.
Our price point was intentionally set at a dollar amount we knew our buyer could buy without a PO and just in general we made saying “yes” easy.
We faced downstream problems trying to drive active usage as a stand-alone product, we faced churn early on by allowing MTM contracts. However, it all resulted in amazingly quick and impactful product feedback from our early adopters.
While trying to define our own market of “real-time” within the mass amounts of reactive conversational intelligence software companies, it was tricky. But the product feedback is partially what got us to where we are today.
4) Let people cancel (easily)
We knew we were going to have churn. Hell, for the first two customers we launched we couldn’t even get Abstrakt to work.
Whether people were in an MTM agreement, a 90-day POC, or an annual contract, if the product wasn’t working for them we were more than happy to rip up the contract and part ways.
Here’s what happened – we got G2 reviews for our support, we have had people return and become customers again, and we got referrals to other people who became customers.
People always remember how you made them feel.
Yes, I wanted to tell an amazing story of immediate product market fit. I wanted to show investors our earliest customers found instant success with our product, but that’s just not how it worked. We instead left people feeling happy about their short time doing business with us and it paid off in the long run.
The B2B SaaS market may seem big, but it’s truly small and we’ve felt that at Abstrakt.
5) Allow your customers to be part of your story
This does not just relate to product roadmap ideas and general feedback. That could be its own post.
A huge moment for me was when I received a phone call from the CEO of one of our earliest customers, I knew they were having some challenges with some bugs so I was expecting the call to not go well.
Turns out, he saw so much potential in the product he wanted to invest in it.
Our customers have turned into investors, our customers have turned into our advisory council, and our customers are proud to call themselves earlier adopters because we owned the statement “If we don’t have customers, we don’t have a business”.
Bring your customers into the fold early on every step you get, I promise it will pay off.
6) Sell it to everyone and see how they use it
This is a bit contradictory to some, and a lot of professional investors don’t agree with it, but it proved super valuable early on.
Though, if you hate churn early on, you will not like this approach.
We sold Abstrakt to anyone who would buy it, and it accomplished a couple of things.
First off, it proved we could get people to pay money for our product which bridged the gap of a new real-time technology that most conversational intelligence software did not have.
Two, when a customer commits financially they have skin in the game and are very vocal about what needs to improve.
Three, it mitigates your risk of losing out on the COGS associated with supporting your product while you understand how customers are going to use it, how they are going to break it (which they will), and who sees enough value in it that they renew.
We skipped the step of unpaid beta users, we skipped the step of trials, and went straight to paying customers on day one, and haven’t looked back. When it doesn’t work out, see #4 above.
Creating real-time call coaching software in a world of reactive conversational intelligence software
However at the end of the day, Abstrakt has not made its way to a successful exit (although we have received two acquisition offers so far).
We aren’t ranked #1 in Gartner.
We don’t have a fancy VC firm supporting us.
Despite all of those things…
We did beat the average time to revenue for startups.
We beat the average cost to achieve PMF for startups.
We have grown faster as a result of these things we all kind of agreed upon early on that mattered to us.
Hopefully, you were able to learn at least one thing from my story. Maybe it will even help you grow and scale your software company… unless you’re creating real-time call coaching software – we will crush you. Just kidding. But seriously.
Other resources that might help you: