In this week’s episode of CRO Confidential, host Sam Blond, Partner at Founders Fund, continues a mini-series on founder-led sales with Colin Zima, founder and CEO of Omni.
Omni is trying to build the next-generation business intelligence (BI) platform. In a year’s time, they’ve built a team with more than 150 years of experience in BI, all because they tapped into their own cheat codes for success.
Identify and Use Your Cheat Codes
What are cheat codes? They could be your personal network, experience in a specific industry, talent with a certain social media platform, or a strategy you’re particularly skilled at.
A cheat code is anything that helps you accelerate quickly, and it’s something you already have available to you.
Omni’s cheat code was tapping into previous connections to the team that brought Looker and Stitch into the world.
As a founder, always lean into your strengths. Zima leaned into his network at Looker, which meant bringing on a team where 19 of the 20 people were from Looker and Stitch — engineers and team members who already deeply understood the problems they were trying to solve for.
Because everyone knew what it took to build a great product in their specific niche, they could quickly bring that product into reality.
The Takeaway — Lean into whatever you’re amazing at because it’s a core differentiator.
Leverage Your Network First
When you’re ready to hire your first AE, don’t create a job posting and see who comes in. Instead, leverage your network.
Omni has seen incredible growth in its 13 months, and that’s because it almost exclusively leveraged its network in a rather sophisticated way, hiring people who sold and built technical BI tools for the last ten years.
Only some have the opportunity to go heavy on the build side, but if you can, go for it.
You can also leverage your network to test your product.
Because of Omni’s network and announcing their intention to build a BI company, they had people inbounding last April and May when their product was just an idea.
Gaining theoretical customers is huge! So talk to people early.
Again, play to your strengths. If you’re better at short-form content, like Zima, post on LinkedIn. If you’re a great speaker, start a podcast or appear as a guest on some.
Your network has three buckets:
- Your direct network.
As a second-time founder, Zima can pick up the phone and call the CEO of a business and tell them to try out a product. They’d contact people they knew well and demand they use the product. These are friends, investors, and people who are happy to pay for the product for the good of their business and just as happy to offer transparent feedback.
- Warm 2nd-degree network.
This group requires light outbound. A simple, “Hey, this could be interesting. Give it a look!”
- People you don’t know.
The third group, you don’t know where they’re coming from. Sometimes they come in from social media, and other times from rumor.
Everyone in and around your network is coming in with a different viewpoint, which will only lead to a stronger product in the end.
The Takeaway — You don’t have to be a former Head of Product at a company acquired for billions of dollars and have network advantages to use this tactic. Use the resources you have available to you.
Target Your Network
You’re leveraging your network, and now it’s time to target it, especially if you’re selling a highly technical or complicated product that people might not know about.
Outbound works when done right, and when you’re in a closed beta, don’t have a website, and everyone on LinkedIn is in stealth mode, you might have a hard time getting people to hand over sensitive financial information.
But if you target people who know of you or the companies you’ve worked for previously, you have an established level of trust.
Outbound might look like this:
- Sponsoring a bunch of podcasts
- Putting up billboards on launch day
- Social media posts and content creation
For those leveraging outbound, target 2nd degrees who likely know who you are to increase the probability of your outbound being successful, at least in the early days.
The Takeaway — As a founder, you should interact with customers as early as day one and continue to do so for the life of your business.
Start Charging For Your Product As Soon As Possible
As a startup, it’s easy to give away a product, but it’s not so easy to learn whether you’re getting valued the right way.
One thing you should determine uncomfortably early is when you can actually start charging a real price for the product.
For Omni, asking for money helped them learn what they needed to provide to be a true replacement for the products people were already using or looking at. While gathering as much revenue as possible isn’t their goal at this point, financial incentives are a good driver to get people committed to work and live in the platform.
A company paying $25k yearly is more committed to working with you than someone who downloads your product on their desktop and only uses it for a few minutes because they have skin in the game.
How do you know when it’s the right time to start charging for your product?
As founders, you’re the power users of your product. When you’re happy with the experience, and find a happy pathway that’s working, offer it. People will pay if it’s good.
The Takeaway — The signal you could receive by offering a product for free for too long is negative, so start charging as soon as you can.
Fanatical Happy Customers Are Your Best Acquisition Channel
You can use customer acquisition channels like social media, content creation, and other inbound and outbound strategies, but nothing beats a fanatically happy customer.
Before Zima worked for Looker, he sold it to other people as a customer. “I’d say, ‘I love it! You should use it.’ ”
A happy customer — one that is a 10/10, not a 7/10 — who spreads the good word about your product is free and authentic. There’s no better version of an inbound lead than that.
For example, a company out of Finland did a demo and wanted a BI product that was $100/month. That didn’t make sense for Omni, so they told them to come back in a year when they were ready. Omni didn’t get that customer, but they referred another Finnish company that paid $7k.
Customer-driven outbound is better than internal outbound if you can swing it.
The Takeaway — You don’t want customers to like your product. You want them to love it and sell it for you obsessively.
Building a successful startup is hard work, but you can leverage the resources available to you to accelerate that success. Some of the strategies you can use include:
- Tapping into your cheat codes. Everyone has a different cheat code they can use to succeed.
- Leverage your network. Hire people you know who have the skills needed to push your product forward effectively.
- Target your network. Use that network to test your product and make it better over time.
- Start charging for your product as soon as possible. When founders have skin in the game, they’re more willing to immerse themselves in your product versus someone using a free or cheaper version.
- Create fanatical happy customers. They’ll be your best customer acquisition channel.
- And always remember, you’re not selling people a product. You’re selling them a solution to their problems.