Having worked at Box in its early days before branching off into new startups, Anthony Kennada and Menaka Shroff took the lessons they learned there to their next startups. Along with Jason Lemkin, they’re joined by their former boss, Box CEO Aaron Levie, to have a little bit of fun while discussing their learnings. (Yes, Aaron does come out of the audience and leap 5′ onto the stage. Kinda epic.)
Menaka and Anthony how they are doing things better this time around – turning customers into your biggest supporters, using events and conferences to create buzz, constantly experimenting with different entry points and going big with a message that people will remember for a long time to come.
Check out the full transcript below! You can view the slides here.
Jason: This is a pretty cool session. We’ve got Menaka and Anthony with me and this is something that I wanted to learn about. It’s now that we’re in the second and third generation of SaaS, we have folks that are veterans. Menaka and Anthony were both very senior in marketing at Box and have gone on to their next generation of SaaS companies.
Menaka runs marketing at Kleiner-backed BetterWorks and Anthony runs marketing at Gainsight, both since close to day zero, I think, right? I’ve had a chance to watch both of them. I’m close to BetterWorks. With Gainsight, I was fortunate to speak at the first customer conference the other.
I’ve watched them blossom and it’s been fun for me to see them take some of these things that I’ve watched over the last 10 years at Box, re-purpose them, learn from them, tweak them and do it better. Box is obviously is an epic success, but both of these companies are growing even faster than Box did, so at least they’re doing something right.
I’m going to be mostly be quiet here. I’m going to hand this to Anthony. He and Menaka will lead it. But they’re going to show us five learnings from Box that they took to both their startups doing millions and tens of revenue and how they’re doing it better this time.
Menaka Shroff: Thanks, Jason. Hi everyone. My name is Menaka Shroff. I head up marketing at BetterWorks. If you don’t know what BetterWorks is, we’re an enterprise software company to easily set and manage goals, and OKRs, and also provide ongoing performance coaching.
I’ve been at BetterWorks for a year and a half. Prior to that, I was at Box for five years. I started in 2009, employee number 50. Then saw it grow all the way to over 1,000 in five years. So, phenomenal ride at Box and I’ll be seeing a phenomenal ride at BetterWorks.
Anthony Kennada: Awesome. My name is Anthony Kennada, I’m the VP of Marketing at Gainsight. At Gainsight, we help some of leading subscription business. Many of you in the room here grow fast through your best asset, your customers. We had Chris on stage earlier talking about customer success.
For us, our belief is if you can help your customers get value from your products or services, really reach their and exceed their outcomes that they’re trying to achieve, that would result for the business in more revenue, faster growth, higher valuations. I’m just excited to see the conversation here at SaaStr really take shape around customer success as well.
One of the first, I think 50 as well, at Box. I started my career at Box on the sales floor. Then moved to business development, and super excited to be come watching from the sidelines here for the last few years. Menaka and I are going to share with everyone five key takeaways from our time at Box, and how we’re running that same playbook again, both at BetterWorks and Gainsight.
Menaka: The very first takeaway is to go big with the brand and message. If you think about Box, the next slide…This was an iconic billboard that Box did in 2010. What was amazing about this billboard was right away, every IT buyer that drove past on 101 immediately knew who Box was disrupting, who it was challenging, and the value prop that went with the message.
Really critical to go big with the brand early on, because investment in the brand early on is going to save you demand gen dollars later on. You really have to think about the brand, and taking that risk early on with the right message. That was the key with this Box iconic billboard.
I was in a meeting room and we’re discussing what would be the right message for this billboard. I feel like I was like, “OK, maybe it’s SharePoint and…”
Jason: I remember seeing it. This was iconic. This is 2009?
Jason: It feels like 1999, it’s so long ago. I remember thinking, “Box can’t possibly be keying into SharePoint. Why are they spending this money on billboards?” It was iconic. Anthony, I think you told me that Menaka came up with this. Did you tell me that?
Menaka: I did.
Anthony: I was at the meeting. I’m pretty sure I came up with it.
Menaka: No, you didn’t.
Anthony: You came up with… [laughs]
Menaka: I totally did come up with this.
Anthony: So this was 2009…
Jason: You told John Door at the board meeting that you came up with it.
Jason: Whose idea was it, Dr. Levie?
Aaron: I was in the meeting, and… [laughs]
Aaron: Can I take a chair?
Jason: Would you like my chair?
Aaron: I got a microphone somehow so I might as well take a chair. First of all, Aaron Dunn came up with the idea, just to be super clear. The key point, Menaka, was that we had to develop a challenger position to associate ourselves with this incumbent.
You have to go big with the brand, and with a message that’s going to lock in people’s head, that it’s something so juxtaposed to what people think about you, that they’re forced to remember what your brand and what your positioning is.
Menaka: You’re going to repeat my takeaway every time?
Aaron: Pretty much, that’s what I tend to do in meetings. [laughs]
Menaka: With BetterWorks, we weren’t really challenging any status quo brand. I think what we’re trying to is really get companies to think about aspirational goal setting, how do you set big goals? How do you get the team focused, engaged? How do you get them aligned? And, ultimately, help people build their legacies at their companies.
We definitely did the 101 billboard, definitely helped with local awareness, helped with the recruiting, which is obviously a challenge. But we also found two other mediums that were very powerful. For us, doing ads in NPR was strong, because the C-Suite target audience. We were talking to, is spread out throughout the country, and with NPR we had a 10 million reach.
Again, you have to think about what is that right channel with the right message that you want to go for? Sometimes it’s 101 and sometimes it’s something else. You to think about that as the core strategy going with the brand.
Jason: Why did you…? Anthony, I don’t mean to interrupt, but Aaron talked about position to get SharePoint. Why did you decide not to position against somebody at BetterWorks?
Menaka: Because I think that the thing we’re challenging is people doing goal setting manually. It’s done today in documents, and it’s not done in an effective way. I think the new set of workers that are coming are looking to do this in a more progress based way, and leaders are struggling to figure out, how do I get the company agile?
For us, we weren’t really challenging another company. I think what we’re really challenging, how it’s getting done today.
Aaron: I think that the incumbent can either be a process or it can be a technology.
Menaka: Correct. Absolutely.
Aaron: So all you have to do is make sure that your messaging against whatever the incumbent process is, which is what BetterWorks is doing.
Jason: Just for fun, I don’t mean to interrupt, but why’d you pick SharePoint as that rather than a flash drive? That’s obviously visceral too, or tangible.
Aaron: Yes. A flash drive costs about two dollars…
Jason: Yeah, [laughs] so that’s a bad ROI calculator right there. [laughs]
Aaron: …and SharePoint costs somewhere between 500,000 and 10 million dollars in an enterprise, so I think just economics applied in this case that we wanted to disrupt something that was more expensive.
Jason: But it was aggressive, right? Today Box is clearly disrupting and partnering, right? Maybe as big a partner as it was, but it was a little bit of a stretch when the billboard went up, wasn’t it?
Aaron: Yes. What we were doing, if you follow classic innovator’s dilemma theory, there was a new performance axis, which was cloud and mobile and Web services, that we felt was the future of content management, and the traditional approach to on premises systems weren’t going to solve modern forms of content management.
So, in some sense, yes, we did not actually replicate the functionality of SharePoint, but the key was we built the important functionality that people were going to be using in the future.
For multiple years, we got shit, because it was like, “You’re not actually comparable,” and that was the point. We’re not supposed to be comparable. We’re doing something that is much more modern and much more different.
Now, of course, we have a strong partnership with Microsoft now, so I’d rather remove those billboards from the Internet.
Aaron: I saw a couple of people taking pictures. If you can delete those, that’d be great.
Aaron: There’s a time and a place for that message, and eventually you have to evolve.
Anthony: One of the big things we took away too, you talked about this, the boldness of the message, overall. Pretty early on, as a business, we decided to do a big billboard campaign, put something controversial up.
Folks are driving down 101 in our case here in the Valley, and you’ve got an opportunity to capture their attention for just seconds, although a few more seconds, obviously, if you leave at 4:30 PM.
Anthony: But we want to strike controversy. The first one we did said something to the effect of “Gainsight will reduce your churn by 5 to 10 X.” The boldness there was really in the claim, the certainty about it. This is actually one that’s coming up here shortly.
Aaron: Oh my God, this is a pre release board?
Anthony: It’s a pre release. You’ve heard it here first time.
Aaron: Wow! This is one of those Apple keynotes, but it’s for billboards.
Anthony: Exactly. Exactly right.
Anthony: But, yeah, we’re addressing the…The whole buzzword, this whole “customer success” is just a buzzword, not a business model. We want to address that, and here are the logos that are validating that claim.
Aaron: One other lesson, I’m sorry to interrupt is, billboard placement is critical. You see a lot of these companies that have billboards right as you’re around the bend, and you’re like, “I can only see a fourth of your logo. I don’t know what’s going on.”
So, FYI, when you do the billboard, make sure that people have a long, straight path to be able to see it, and they’re leading up to the billboard, and they have multiple, maybe 30, 45 seconds to be able to see that message.
Menaka: Or just do radio ads.
Aaron: Actually, honestly, billboards don’t work anymore.
Menaka: The second learning was about creating a movement, if you go to the next slide. Very early, I think we’ve already mentioned this, enterprise software at that time was old school, complicated, not really user centric. Box came in with this simple, user centric that end users love, also IT loves and adopts.
That was the message. It was exemplified in this very simple, enterprise, sexy message that was in 2009. Again, a simple messages like that can be very transformative. It was probably one of the best initial campaigns that we did, along with choosing clouds. This is a fairly old video. I think the website even exists still.
Anthony: I think it’s out there.
Menaka: It’s a video with Aaron and a few other CEOs, I want to say seven other CEOs, talking about the benefits of cloud, choosing cloud. [laughs] He’s making a face, so I don’t know what to say about that.
Aaron: I don’t know what I was doing with my hair back then.
Menaka: You did have a lot of hair then. Again, that was an example of creating a movement where it’s something simple and powerful that’s something that goes beyond what product you’re selling.
At BetterWorks we’ve done something similar. We’re very passionate about open and collaborative goals. Our CEO Kris Duggan spends an excruciating amount of time talking about transparency in the workplace, why it’s important, breaking down silos.
The key here is you don’t need to actually go out and do PR on it. That’s not the message. The idea is you need to have a brand purpose, so when people come to your website, when prospects come, and customers come, there’s an emotional connection with what your brand is about. That will filter through in every execution that your company is doing.
It’s really critical to internalize, “What is the brand purpose, and what is that connection that you have with your customers?”
Anthony: Our belief is that the customer success movement, if you will, is born out of this transition to SaaS. It’s why we’re all here. The job function itself we’ve traced back to Salesforce.com, where the job existed.
As marketers we can’t claim to have started customer success. What we can claim is that there wasn’t a community wrapped around folks in customer success. The thought was that it was almost marginalized in the business. You got sales with the gong and the President’s Club. Marketing has their community, too.
We really wanted to invest in sparking the movement for customer success. The way we did it, we invested very heavily early on in thought leadership programs, unashamedly so, whether that’s early stage content that we created or using different form factors for that content, so events and some other things we’ll talk about.
The theory, for us, is if we helped our prospects, or folks that are new to this whole customer success thing, develop their strategy first, then when it came time for a more product oriented conversation they’d think of us. They’d think of us first as their thought partner.
Also, in the early days, not having a fully built out funnel metrics and stuff, we were experimenting quite a bit. We look to social media as an indicator of category growth, or quantifying how the movement’s working. We captured, “What is the conversation look like around customer success on Twitter today?” and a couple benchmarks.
In the company, one of the Series A, it was back in February of 2013, the conversation was very little. We stood on stage at our first industry conference in May, and said, “This is where the movement’s really going to start and kickoff, right here with all of you in the room today,” and we saw quantifiably the conversation start moving up and to the right.
I can’t point back to Nick on our social media mentions today as a means of justifying budget, or anything along those lines, but in the early days it was a nice window into some more early traction around the thought leadership stuff.
Aaron: I’m allowed to say stuff after these things, right?
Jason: Please. Please say as much as you can. I’m on day three.
Aaron: You guys have sake, so I assume everyone else is drunk right now. The killer idea that Menaka and Anthony have talked about is if you’re not doing this, you should rethink your business.
Because you need to find a demographic and a customer that right now, essentially, no other software company is paying attention to, no other industry thing is paying attention to in a modern way.
You help them realize their ultimate ambition, which is they have a job. They’re job is to do something. When they can meet, both other people doing that job, and learn about how to do their job better, your software comes way down the road.
Your job is to make them be heroes and make them feel like they’re transforming their business in the role that they have. Later you sell them a product, but you have to make sure that everybody sees and that they are able to really internalize that, “There is a company out there that cares about me, that cares about my role.” That’s what all three of our companies have done.
You have to find a vector that you can own. It has to be ownable. This is the other key thing. If you’re the 17th business analytics company making business analyst heroes, it’s not going to work. You have to have something that is totally ownable.
Make sure that you really understand, “What is the message you will own?” It’s not a product message. It’s a community message. It’s an industry message. Then put that across to every single thing that you do.
Menaka: I would also say to give it time, because initially, when you start something like that, you will not hear the response back. You have to invest in it and believe in it. When you start getting bored with it, that’s when you know it’s getting mainstream.
Jason: Yes. [laughs]
Menaka: I would definitely invest time in it and stay committed to it, because if you’re going to do it for one quarter and feel like, “Oh, I’m not getting enough traction,” then you might be giving up too soon.
Anthony: I have a quick story on that. We found that, because we definitely felt the long road there, our first validation was that customer success showed up in an “Inc” article as one of the buzzwords of 2015. “The Most Annoying Buzzwords of 2015,” whatever it was. For us, we’re like, “Yes, this is it. We’ve finally got the word out.”
Menaka: Why are you laughing? The third key learning was to iterate on different entry points, and that is how people get into your sites. Obviously as marketers we need to think about metrics, we need to think about leads.
This was an email that Aaron sent to me in 2009. It was on a Friday before 10:00 AM, which is amazing. This must be really important to you.
Aaron: I’ve never been up that early in my life. That’s amazing.
Menaka: [laughs] It says, “Want to see if we can discuss sign up from home page thing, new site header that matters, plus phone, plus lead stand out, and quote page. We could do all this by next week’s push,” which at that time was on Thursdays, “and whatever other ideas you have.”
The key here is there’s signup, and phone, lead, quote. There’s five CTAs that he wants to iterate and test.
Aaron: And a pop up banner…
Jason: Go ahead, sorry. I just love getting the Friday email from my boss. “Can we please have this shipped next week?”
Aaron: “Have a good weekend.”
Jason: Sorry, go ahead.
Menaka: The bigger idea here is that when you’re starting up, you want to have confidence in your funnel. If you’re not optimizing and you don’t understand what your conversion benchmarks are, it’s going to be really hard for you, when you scale demand gen, to actually put in all those dollars when you don’t have confidence in your funnel.
You don’t want to hold back your own demand gen efforts later on because you don’t have an idea about how your site metrics are and how people are getting to your sales team or through your application.
Aaron: The other lesson is you can write emails in the form of haiku.
Jason: It does seem pretty close.
Menaka: If we go to the next slide, when we started we had a different challenge. We had a very small engineering team, so we didn’t have a trazillion engineers who can come up with an immaculate sales experience. We had some trade offs. Either you create a Workday, Salesforce, or a SuccessFactors integration, or you create a beautiful self serve trial experience.
It really depends on your software. For us, we mapped out, “OK, what amount of engineering work will it take for different types of call to actions for our customers to get into our site?”
What we found was that, for our software, it’s about getting people to experience a fully loaded sandbox, and then going back to the decision maker to make the final decision, but using BetterWorks. It was not so much as a trial, but it was using the sandbox, which, positively, takes away a little engineering effort.
I would say that, iterate early. Make sure you continue to iterate, obviously, later on, but have that confidence and find the right scale demand gen method for your software. At Box, we did a lot on the viral side. That was great for Box. It worked for the software it was offering. It was very end user centric.
Goals inherently require a little bit more management, rigor, and process. They’re a little bit different in that approach, so you have to think about what’s right for your company, versus just mirroring what other companies are doing.
Jason: Let’s walk through. Go back to that slide, because this is super interesting, because Box’s done everything on the x axis. Box had a journey from almost a B2C company, to freemium, to serious enterprise.
Box has done everything from freemium, self service trials. I don’t know about sandbox. I’m sure you’ve got a sandbox today, for sure, right?
Menaka: For enterprise customers.
Aaron: You sign up, and…
Jason: Then, “Leave me alone. Give me a demo. I’m going to sit.” You have to force rank these things. You tried everything at Box. The learning for BetterWorks is if we don’t get people deep into a gated trial, there’s too much engagement required in the product. It’s not going to work.
The meta learning is when you tried it all, quickly figure out what’s going to perform the best, because it’s not all equal. At Box it changed over time, right?
Aaron: There is not one size fits all part of marketing and product in all of enterprise software. If you have a tool that one individual can use on their own, and there’s a large number of those individuals, then freemium works well.
If you have a tool that only works as a team, then something that’s more of a self serve trial works better. If you have software that only works if it’s implemented across the company, and only for midsize or large enterprises, then you have to talk to somebody, and you have to go through a sales process.
Menaka: An additional sales process.
Aaron: If you’re lucky, you might have a product that needs two or three of those things, where you can get in through a team, or you can go through a sales process. There’s not one perfect version of this because you can make money in lots of different varieties.
The key is don’t have the ability to have an end user tool that only can be used through a sales process. Make sure that you’re at least optimizing your distribution channel and your acquisition channel for the kind of product and the kind of customer that you’re serving.
Jason: A simplistic version of the mistake I see a lot, especially folks that come out of enterprise background doing startups, is they hate the enterprise process.
They all want to build a freemium product. They think it’s the greener grass. They’ve never experienced freemium, have never tried it, but, “If only I turned on my website and I had 10 trillion customers, I want to go from the left to the right.” You have to go where the market and the customers take you.
Aaron: You’ll have the leakiest bucket in the world if you do that. You’ll have a bunch of people come in, and they’ll try and install your HR software, and they’ll be like, “Holy shit, this doesn’t work.” Then they leave, because you didn’t have a very thoughtful process, given that it’s a very different kind of software than when they want to go share files.
Jason: Anthony, let’s talk about yours. At BetterWorks you experimented with all, and then, going to Aaron’s point, Menaka, I think you cut off the stuff on the right, right?
Menaka: I did.
Jason: You had self service trials. This is a product that requires C level engagement, and you turned this functionality off. Box has never turned off the free and freemium product, to my knowledge, right?
Jason: You literally tried it at Box and it’s not performing, right? “I need this level of engagement.”
Anthony: No worries. We had a different dynamic at play here. For us, we were in a position where we had to, not too dissimilar to what Aaron was saying, educate the market first about what customer success is, and then, at the right time, bring up the product conversation. To some extent we’re teaching while selling.
The challenge we ran into was that our prospects had conviction. They felt the pain of churn. They understood the opportunity with upsell, etc., but they didn’t have the budget, six figure commitments on the annual budget every year to go in and procure technology for this. In fact, in some cases there’s no technology for this. It’s process.
We decided that we had to find a way to teach our prospects how to buy Gainsight. A few of the ways we did that, we invested in a ROI model very early. We had 10, 15, 20 customers. We were already thinking through the value that we were providing to those folks, marketing those.
We mobilized our early customers as loud, passionate, advocates. They were willing to do videos for us, their own reference calls. We worked hard to make them feel like they’re part of our team.
Something interesting, we created a lot of latter stage content and promoted them further up the funnel. One thing we did was a customer success platform buyers guide, sample RFPs, different content items that could help create process where there otherwise wasn’t process.
Today that’s still actually a big part of what we do. ROI workshop is one of our first few calls within the sales process, so it’s something we take to heart.
Aaron: I wonder if you could…A product training manual as the lead acquisition content, not literally, but is that what your point is?
Anthony: That’s the idea for folks that have never sought out technology.
Aaron: They’re like, “What is this even going to do?” That’s clever.
Anthony: All the questions they should be asking, “How do I champion that internally?” and stuff along those lines.
Jason: Going back to Menaka’s x axis, what’d you learn from Gainsight? Because Box did everything. What performs on that…?
Aaron: We didn’t do that. I’m going to do the training manual thing.
Jason: What worked, what didn’t? I don’t think there’s a freemium Gainsight.
Anthony: No, there’s no freemium Gainsight.
Jason: Is there a sandbox? What ended up performing of the Box bag of tricks?
Anthony: It was more of the top down, “We need the team managers to really buy into this.” It’s not too dissimilar from the Salesforce model in that it’s for the reps, but it’s really for the managers, too, to have the reporting, and the pipeline forecasting, stuff along those lines.
For us, if we could win the hearts, in this case, now, the minds, of the management team, and sell down that way, that was our entry point strategy.
Aaron: Let me throw up one more thing, I’m curious where you guys are at with this at BetterWorks, but sometimes you can separate the enterprise product from something that an end user can get value out of.
I haven’t seen this be done super perfectly, and I don’t have a lot of good examples top of mind, but if there are components of your product that are modular enough that there would be a lot of groundswell to utilize at an individual level, and then somehow it connects back to the overall puzzle piece, which is your enterprise software.
There’s probably opportunities in a lot of software categories to be able to do that, which is this little widget-y thing that every end user in your category could use. That is essentially doing your marketing for you, but it’s a small component of your product. Menaka have you thought about that?
Menaka: We have, but the challenge is the way the buying decision is made still. It’s fairly top down. While that can give us that end user access, and information, and can help us have conversations with the buyer, given the resources and the focus, we’re actually focused on, “Let’s just do the right enterprise route, and then think about scaling that.”
We’ve seen that work better with our sales cycle.
Jason: Back in the day when I was a CEO at EchoSign, in our category we saw that, because you could use a very tiny amount of the functionality. Not no workflow, no power, but anyone could access it. Usually they did not migrate to a larger lead, but they certainly could.
The interesting learning from BetterWorks, because I’ve observed conversations about it, the concern is that you could build that. It isn’t built. It would be a lot of work, and that functionality would be so degraded that it would be to the detriment of the larger enterprise customer, because they might say, “This is not a serious product anymore.”
Aaron: You don’t want to somehow get reversed positioning by doing that.
Jason: “This is not a C suite tool.”
Menaka: It’s also something I would think about the use case. You don’t necessarily do goals individually to track progress on your own. You can do that, but the real power does come from the cross functional collaborations.
Usually the end user products are better when there’s at least a use case for yourself. In our case the magic actually happens when there’s more people involved, which is generally a challenge when you have an end user freemium ish product offering.
Aaron: Although, can I say, it’s interesting, because, especially if your incumbent is a legacy process, and where people haven’t experienced a modern way to do that, like, “Hey, that engineering team adopted this technology, and it’s increasing performance by 30 percent, or whatever.
That filtering up to HR has some interesting implications. Of course, it’s a resource balance of, “Where do you spend your time?”
Anthony: Events are a big part of the DNA of both Gainsight and BetterWorks. It’s no surprise that we took our cues from Box on this one.
Aaron: Kathleen’s in the audience.
Menaka: Kathleen, BoxWorks Queen, is here.
Jason: There’s an extra chair right there, so feel free to leap on stage at any time.
Aaron: Actually, this is usually where Marc Benioff will come on stage and sat, “I invented that.” That would be the real way to do this.
Anthony: This is Kathleen’s chart. We put, here, the growth in the attendance of BoxWorks every year since it started in 2011. BoxWorks was actually born out of another conference concept we tried back in 2010, Altitude.
Aaron: This is confidential data. That’s interesting.
Menaka: It’s all public information.
Jason: It’s a backwards looking disclaimer. I’ve never seen that one, “This contains backwards looking information.”
Anthony: You’ll notice that Box was founded in 2005, the pivot to the enterprise in 2008, and the first official BoxWorks event took place in 2011, so six years.
Aaron: We were asleep, wow.
Jason: It took you three years to figure this one out.
Aaron: I know. I have to credit Tian from Zuora. He very much impressed on me that you’re not doing enterprise if you don’t have an event. Apparently that meeting happened somewhere in ’09 or 2010.
Anthony: What we are seeing is that conferences are becoming more of the regular part of the marketing mix. They’re happening earlier, even, in the company lifecycle. For us, I hinted at this earlier but we had our first big conference about three months after our Series A.
We only have 15 customers at that time too and we were able to get about 300 attendees there so if anyone thinks it’s too early to host a conference, it’s absolutely not true. It’s never too early. For us, the key was, we focused on building the industry conference and not just for customers, not just for partners.
The focus is really on generating the best practices for the industry having those conversations, creating the networking opportunities for the folks and also celebrating being pioneers in this new space. We didn’t talk about the product on the main stage. You have to go and seek that conversation out of it if you wanted it.
Every year until this day, Pulse is the most important thing that we do as a company from customer SAP perspective from a pipeline perspective from you know just seeing growth in the category. It’s growing at two and a half X per year. We launched in Europe this year, which is really exciting. We’re on track for 5,000 in May.
I think we have some fun stuff talk about too with working closely with SaaStr on the May conference. It would be great.
Jason: How broad did you go? When Dharmesh was on stage, Dharmesh Shah from HubSpot on Tuesday, I didn’t know this. His user conference, they invite their competitors. They invite the whole industry and he started early. It’s called Inbound. It’s 15,000 people.
There’s a HubSpot track and we do get to own half the content but anyone from the industry can come. That’s an extreme example. BoxWorks is clearly a prospect and customer event. I’ve been every year. It’s great. Other than…I mean Gainsight wanted to help create a category. Is there learning on the spectrum here?
Anthony: We think about a lot with the other examples like the RSA. They are the security conference. Symantec spends quite a bit of the conference every year. We got Dreamforce, where it’s very Salesforce heavy.
We think in the early days when certainly the thought leadership, there are a lot of vendors in the space and we wanted to really claim that leadership position in the market. We wanted to make sure that we took more of the Salesforce model. As the industry grows, there’s certainly opportunity to grow and make it less of an…
Aaron: This is just the physical manifestation of what you should be doing online with your thought leadership.
Anthony: That’s right, yeah.
Aaron: Connect the people in person but the message that you should be having, which is an industry message especially early on if you’re developing a new category.
Anthony: One important note for us, we certainly took facilitation at a position on this where the folks on stage leading the conversation are folks from the community, customers, prospects, none of the above. That was something that we try to stay true to.
Menaka: Cool, very similar to Gainsight. The company launched in September and we had our first event in April. We did another one in New York and then we’re going to do it again this year. For us, we only had about 50 or so customers when we were planning our event last year.
It was hard to call it a customer conference when you have 50 customers. I think what we focused on was make it very thought leadership. We didn’t do a single product demo on stage. It was about OKRs and it was all about, how do you get teams aligned? It was all about management and operational excellence.
While all was great, we did get feedback from a lot of people who attended that they were actually looking for a product demo. Don’t hold back on…
Jason: That was a little extreme, you think.
Menaka: Yeah, that was a little extreme. Don’t hold back. It is an opportunity for people who are attending. They are coming to vet you as a company so you want to take this opportunity to talk about your product origin, your roadmap because it is critical for customers to understand how you’re going to solve that big topline message.
How you’re actually going to solve that with your product. It is critical to mix it. Another thing I would say is you may feel like, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to go big with an event. I don’t have a full on marketing team.” You could do smaller field events and vet the message first. You could do a 20 percent field exclusive event where you go through contents.
You could go through and understand, “Is there a need for this information? Are people interested in this?” Use that as criteria to decide to go bigger. It’s unnecessary to straight up go big. Although, if you’re confident, you should. It’s not a requirement. You can do…
We did do that. We did three field events. Right after we launched, we went to a big conference three weeks after the company launched. That was huge for us because it validated what we are trying to solve. Everyone was, “Oh, yeah. I want to learn more about this.” You could take that approach as well.
Aaron: We have a world tour event where we go to six or 10 different cities around the world and it’s a miniaturized version of BoxWorks where it’s 300 to 400 people and it just makes a way more convenient because you get a couple of hundred prospects in that region to attend.
I think to maybe tie a bow on this and the thought leadership piece, as founders, we are so focused on product because we just grind out on product and solutions all day and you have to step back and remember that your customers have to go through a journey to even care and understand why they need a product.
It’s great to hear about both of these events because you really have to paint the vision of the problem so consistently and well beyond the point where you think people really understand it and then comes the solution, which is your product so it’s cool to see how you’ve taken these events.
Jason: There’s one thing I want to touch on events, just talk about the human element. The first BoxWorks was 2011? It feels like it was 10 years ago but it was 2011.
Aaron was kind enough to have me on a panel in 2011. Right after I finished, I don’t what I said. A customer came up to me and she said, “That’s completely wrong,” whatever I said and I said, “OK, I’m wrong every day.” You’re wrong. But I was right.
Jason: I’m pretty sure…I know I was but it’s OK and she said, “That’s not what…”
Aaron: Jason said on the panel, “We are not in a bubble.”
Jason: Whatever I said, yeah. She says to me, “That’s not what Aaron told me.”
Jason: I tried to parse with that meant and this was a customer that my guess is, is midsize, not one of your… but a decent size one. I didn’t know what to make of it but that was an eye opening moment for me that there was this human connection that had been made. What do you get out of investing in this stuff?
You have to make human stuff scalable. That’s the challenge. You can’t be everywhere. How do I get that magic moment when the customer came up to me and said, “That’s not what Aaron said?”
Anthony: I’ll take it.
Aaron: I was hoping it was a rhetorical question.
Jason: It sounds…but what’s the learning? How do we accomplish that?
Aaron: It’s called the Internet, Jason.
Jason: This is the anti-Internet. It’s the Internet bring in people together and then going back apart, right? You talked about socializing, what the heck the product is going to do? Getting people ready and then buy. Especially for the startup, you’re buying the 10 year journey with the vendor. You’re not buying the product that exists today.
It’s OK that Box doesn’t do everything in 2009 but because Aaron said this, I feel that by 2012, we’ll have the HIPAA compliance or we’ll have private P’s so it’s coming.
Aaron: 2013, yeah.
Jason: Whatever but I feel it. The human side does help there, doesn’t it?
Aaron: Yeah, it does.
Anthony: The only thing that I’ll add too is we go…you know the business conferences of the past, the airport hotels are gone. No one or hopefully no one is investing those kind of…
Aaron: Four people are like, “Aww.”
Anthony: I’m sorry to the four of you. Apologies. SaaS is a perfect example. We’re sitting next to this sake here, we have the opportunity to not check our personal lives to the door and come to an event and just going straight corporate mode. We are people. We loved to be entertained. We love to have genuine connections with others.
That’s something you can’t do at scale without live events and without conferences. It’s a good opportunity.
Menaka: Should we keep going?
Anthony: Yeah, no we’re, number five.
Jason: I just want to get in before we run out of time.
Aaron: That’s how Menaka used to run meetings, “Stop talking now. Let’s move on to the next thing.”
Anthony: That’s all right.
Jason: When you send the email at 9:00 on Friday morning, she’s got to keep the wheels moving. She’s got to ship on Monday.
It starts by you by building a great customer success organization or being proactive in the press with your customers and the value they’re getting. For Box, customers really are the heart of the business and so we need to touch on this thing.
Menaka: I just wanted to shout out Sean Anderson was an early believer in Box and he was from Six Flags. That was one of the first few case studies that we did and so critical to make sure you’re working well with your early believers leveraging them as much as possible because they’ll be the ones that will get to your P&Gs and your GEs eventually.
Really critical, your first hundred or so customers I would say are so important for the business and just want to make sure that you respond to your customer needs at that time and you are leveraging these customers as spokespeople for you.
Aaron: This is about customer success. I just have plugged Gainsight. It’s so critical. You’re building software for people to use and when you really nail it, these people, on the other end, your customers, feel like, “Wait a second. There’s a company out there that gets me. They get my problems.” and they become your best evangelists.
The more that you build that relationship and help them mobilize to tell that story that will be your best marketing that you ever do. Better than a SharePoint billboard.
Anthony: That’s very much the case and for us, the mission that we have is to help those customers lead their world in customer success, whatever that world is. Because it’s evangelical and it’s early and we’re still writing the playbook for this whole thing. It’s not just for customers. It’s not just for prospects. It’s for anyone that’s really in the role.
We created a number of different programs on the marketing side, extension of the content efforts to help the community become great at customer success. Why we do it? It’s part of our brand promise. Obviously, we’re a customer success company. We want to be focused on that. We’re opting these folks into our thought leadership and so we’re able to market to them with other best practices.
Aaron: There’s a clearly lesson you didn’t learn from Jen Grant, which is “No logo sprawl.”
Anthony: Oh, mad logo sprawl.
Menaka: Naming, yeah.
Anthony: That’s right.
Aaron: I do see the little pulse thing in everyone except for the customer success university. Why doesn’t it have that?
Anthony: That’s actually an active conversation.
Aaron: Oh, OK. I got it.
Anthony: Now, I know that I’m wrong.
Menaka: Not wrong. It’s a different point of view.
Aaron: Yeah, the different point of view.
Anthony: Anyway, for us, the other idea is we want to grow the TAM of this customer success thing. We want to grow the amount of folks that have this role just as important as sales and marketing and all the other job functions. I will call out the one off there customer success…
Anthony: We created an online certification platform for folks that wanted to become certified in customer success whether you’re new to the job or want to learn the basic building blocks or been in it for a number of years and want to refresh.
Pulse Local’s the other one. We facilitate 25 chapters in the US and Canada that meet regionally to share their scars and talk about customer success on a quarterly basis. We don’t even show up. We just get them all together, let’s find the venues and stuff along those lines.
Menaka: My advice will probably be a little bit more on the practical side very early on. You probably don’t have someone on your team running customer programs. That doesn’t come until you’re a hundred plus employees. I would focus on two things. I would focus on diversity and depth.
I would try to get case studies, content that talk about different things so you want some on adoption, you want some in use cases, you want some on the persona of the individual or the audience you are targeting and try to get the different types of customer information and whether it’s programs, a case study, or however you execute.
But I think it’s critical to have different dimensions. The other thing would be going a little bit deeper on some of the case studies instead of coming up with lots and lots of case studies that are just snapshots that say the same thing. You might want to think about some that go deeper.
For example, in one of our case studies, we actually went and researched and found out that for anyone that goes from manual to automated using BetterWorks. For the goal setting, will save about $520,000 annually for every thousand employees. This became our efficiency case study.
Think about getting some depth. If you get fewer case studies but deeper ones versus you have a laundry list of case studies because the customers will ask for a little bit more of depth and new information.
Anthony: Do we have time for a bonus one?
Jason: A bonus one? Yeah, let’s do it quick. Let’s do it 60 seconds.
Anthony: It’s awkward to be sitting next to you as I go through this one but obviously, we’re fortunate to work under a leadership of a dynamic, well dressed CEO. Aaron really embodies the Box brand and I think that the lesson for us was in exec comm’s perspective.
Aaron: Maybe we’ll go to the next one.
Anthony: We’ll go to the next one? OK. We’ll put Nick on blast. You can see the pages of the same playbook with our CEO Nick Mehta it’s not maybe socks but the pocket squares.
Aaron: He took the shoes, that’s good.
Anthony: Yeah, that’s right, which I brought here. Actually, real quick, I know there’s plenty of founders and CEOs here in the audience today so we want to quickly share a quick page on a playbook too. If you reach under your chair, one of you has a white envelope with an email address on there.
Email me and we’re going to get you guys some Pulse sneakers if you’re the lucky contestant.
Jason: All right, I like the gimmick.
Aaron: Or just email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anthony: That’s right. Yeah, we got the winner. Perfect. Awesome.
Menaka: I would say Kris is definitely not into colorful shoes or anything like that but he actually does carry the brand and he takes that very seriously so much so that he actually has his family do goal setting. They have quarterly check in on their iPad. This is actually Colin’s goal.
He’s 13 years old and this year, he has to fight less with his brother. He’s doing OK on that one actually. He’s not so great in the homework and the running weekends. That doesn’t seem like Colin’s…
Aaron: Best childhood ever.
Menaka: [laughs] I think the idea is if you’re leaders of your company, you are responsible for the brand and you need to own that brand. You have to be passionate about it. That was it.
Jason: All right. This was amazing.
Menaka: This still work?
Jason: Aaron, pretty cool you’re able to identify and help grow these leaders. It’s pretty neat, isn’t it? To see how the team grows.
Aaron: We learned way more from them. But what is this?
Menaka: This is Aaron doing a magic trick.
Anthony: Oh… [laughs]
Aaron: That’s so magical, OK.
Jason: [laughs] It’s iconic. Let’s thank everybody. This was epic and thanks Aaron for joining us.
Anthony: Thanks, man.
Aaron: You’re welcome.
You can view the slides here.