Former CEO and founder of Yext and current CEO and founder of Roam, Howard Lerman, shares successful strategies and lessons learned building two successful startups with Sam Blond, Partner at Founders Fund, in this week’s episode of CRO Confidential. 

Typically, sales leaders are the primary focus of CRO Confidential, but increased demand for this concept of founder-led sales lands us in front of a new and powerful productivity startup called Roam. 

Does the world need another productivity product? Yes, it does, especially when that product solves a real problem in the world. 

Is The Future Of The Workplace Hybrid, In The Office, Or Remote? 

There’s much debate about whether the future of the workplace is entirely back in the office, fully remote, or a hybrid. And the truth is, this is the wrong question to ask. 

100% of scaled companies are distributing. They have people across the world. We shouldn’t be solving for whether someone works from home or not. We should be figuring out how to get the entire company working together in one HQ, even if it’s a virtual one. 

And that’s where Roam comes in. 

Roam is an all-in-one cloud headquarters that connects the entire distributing company under one roof: no more back-to-back-to-back Zoom calls and disjointed communication. 

It’s all about quicker meetings and more efficient and effective communication so it feels like you’re all hanging out in the office together, even when one person is in Berlin and the other is in San Francisco. 

The Stuff You Use Yourself Makes The Best Product

How do you find your first customers? You are your first customer. The most important thing you can do in a B2B business is make a product you use yourself. 

Of course, this isn’t always applicable, but be your first customer when it is. 

Once you’ve created something you love, how do you find the next customers? 

With Roam, a few people saw the product and wanted to try it. This was the Alpha group. Lerman didn’t do any outbound, yet they were still shipping quickly. 

Over the 56 weeks of Roam’s existence, they’ve had 56 different releases, packing in improvements and features that met their high standards. 

Because if it’s good enough for you as a founder to use your own product, maybe it’s good enough for customers. 

The takeaway: Continuously experiment and role out new ideas to try. 

Throw Stuff Against The Wall And See What Sticks

Lerman advises founders or CROs to throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Experiment constantly. 

Don’t be too quick to build something for a specific vertical, either. Instead, try it out with all verticals and see which is stickiest. 

You want to cast a wide net to see where market pull is coming from. 

Over time, you can focus additional resources toward the pull instead of boxing yourself into something that might not work. 

Listen To Customers’ Problems, But Not Their Solutions

If Henry Ford listened to his customers, he would have spent his time trying to build a faster horse instead of inventing the first Ford engine. 

When you test your product out with people, listen to their problems. Learn everything you can from them. When you deeply understand their pain, you can then come up with solutions they might not be able to see. 

As a founder, you should spend significant time talking to customers. Hear their problems, but don’t solve for their solutions. 

Don’t Give Stuff Away For Free

This can be a more controversial idea, not giving away things for free, especially with the popularity of freemium models. Of course, this applies to B2B, not B2C. 

In the B2B world, if you give something away for free, you’ll potentially have a hard time getting them to pay for additional features later. 

Roam uses a 30-day free trial approach to pricing, allowing users to see if they like it. 

Roam also uses a contrarian top-down approach to onboarding, which you often don’t see in productivity. Instead of having users within the company try it out and pitch it to the higher-ups, you get on the phone with the founder and have them implement it with the entire company. 

You get more stickiness because founders have skin in the game and want their company to succeed. And if a founder is your champion, you don’t have to sell to them down the road. 

Let Senior People Make Sales Instead Of Traditional SDRs

Most SDRs are 22 or 23 years old, right out of college, and this is their first line of entry into the sales world. Instead of having the least senior people try and sell to companies, use the most senior people. 

Senior people can easily get a hold of other senior people, making it easier to connect with founders. 

Another way to reach executives easily is to construct a board of advisors who can get you high-level introductions with your target customers. 

Lerman has found that an advisor channel is the best way to generate leads and demand. Many people want to be advisors for stock options in a company, so choose wisely, and you’ll reap the rewards as you grow. 

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Events

Events are the highest ROI way to reach customers in B2B. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be as simple as a steak dinner. 

How do you measure the success of an event? Yext used the metric of how much ACV was in a room. 

You can’t determine success based on how people feel after. They’ll likely feel great because events are fun. 

One question you need to ask yourself after every event is: 

Did it advance the business? 

Remember, when you host an invite, don’t invite a bunch of random people. Focus on getting potential customers, current customers, and people who could benefit from meeting each other in a room. 

Often, your current customers will sell to your potential customers without you having to do much of anything. 

You’ll want to incorporate live product demos into events, but you can still have a good time. 

Roam has an interactive and exciting demo, but that’s not always true for all tech. If you don’t have an interactive product demo, invite interesting guest speakers, and talk about exciting things your company is doing. 

The Takeaway

Founder-led sales and founder-led customer acquisition might not make sense for every company, but for those who it does, get in front of the customers as much as possible, experiment and test continuously, and don’t be afraid to fail. 

Roam recently held group video demos and found a higher conversion rate than the traditional 1:1. Brex sent bottles of champagne to customers and potential customers. There’s no right or wrong when testing ideas, so give yourself the freedom to see what happens. 

The most important thing you can do for your company is to maintain your unique approach. No business has a success playbook that applies to everyone because every business is different. 

“Always trust your gut. There are a lot of experts out there. They know what’s best for them, but only you know what’s best for you,” says Lerman. 

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