AMA with Avlesh: 85% of our business is driven by inbound marketing.

NextBigWhat’s community is on a roll and we just finished the AMA with Avlesh of WebEngage. The #ProdGeeks community is all about enabling founders and product teams to build great (global) products from India.
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Here goes the excerpts from AMA with Avlesh.

How would you explain WebEngage to an average person ?
Want to make more money for your existing users? Use WebEngage.[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]I am a terrible CEO. I make people miserable. [/mks_pullquote]
Have Indian companies started buying SAAS like SAAS ? That is, without invoice / payment follow-up?
Yes, they have. Payments still a pain. But, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Now that you have many marquee customers, had any of them showed immense interest in your product at the beginning but still kept delaying the purchase for months? If yes, how did you go about it? If no, when do you decide to let it go?
Luckily no. But, here’s the thing – I strongly believe founders need to be a lot more clearer about what they want from a customer.
We are culturally screwed up. Someone who pays, thinks (s)he is entitled to everything, including your life. We need to stand against that mindset. I have built my product, sales and marketing DNA to say NO to such things. We move on from such customers/prospects pretty quickly. It ain’t easy though. You have to build the right culture.

What was your perspective on TAM when you started? How did it change as things progressed?
I work a lot on it ever since VCs gave up on me. It keeps evolving. Knowing that number is always great. Intuition is good for the founder. For the team, they need data. The exercise helps. My numbers have become, like, 100x since I started.

What channels worked for you? What was the process to figure out the channel that really worked?
Good product and great inbound marketing. Nothing else seems to work 🙁

In the early days, when you didn’t have much of a credibility did the same apply or you have iterated to this conclusion?
You have to work hard to convert the first few. Then it’s easy.

What’s the top 5 advice for selling a B2B product in US – when your team is based out of India?

  1. Solve a real pain.
  2. Build a sticky, 100% DIY product.
  3. Have a great marketing website.
  4. Make friends with a few influencers.
  5. Make sure you are responsive in the US timezone.

What major differences do you see in growth phase in Indian and US SaaS companies? Hiring talent/ acquiring customers/ burn rate/ raising funding/ exits?
US cos, when they are growing, grow much faster. That makes all the cycles faster – fundraising, hiring etc.
As long as the investor community is excited, fast growing companies should not care about burn early in the business. US cos adopt and execute on that policy. Indian SaaS is a long way to go.

Has chrome notification eaten away some part of mailer traffic ? or is chrome notification even a thing ? Do people even subscribe to them ?
I have been saying this all along. Bulk emails will become history. Triggered ones can never be replaced. Browser push is here to stay.

What are the key point to ensure users convert from a trail to a paid subscription? How do we price the subscription for a new Saas product?
For the first part, try to build an AHA moment for users of your product. For us, it is the first journey run. For the pricing part, I wish there was an answer. You’ll need to work with your early customers to get to a number. It’s a very tough thing for founders in India. I empathize with you.

Avlesh, from a founder perspective, how did you get the idea for WebKlipper/WebEngage, what was your MVP like, who were your first customers, when and why did you pivot from WebKlipper to WebEngage, did you create a solution and look for the problem or the other way around, and when did you realize you were on to something promising?
I am an opportunist capitalist hippie. I don’t believe in wasting time. At the same time, when I believe in something – I’ll make sure it gets my 100%. WebEngage pivot was to build something  which could cater to a large number of people.
Look for the problem. Big enough. Always!

What are your key metrics that you constantly keep an eye on? What guides you as a product when thinking about new features? Churn, trial to paid time, onboarding abandonment, etc.?
Product stickiness, sales growth, churn.

What are your thoughts about sites asking for notification access, isnt it adding to noise? If they really want it to happen, why ask right away instead of an opt in? Are they any ethical or best practices for it?
India is an amazing country. Every new marketing tech goes through an abuse first. Everything here just takes more time. You are right, it’s very irritating to see those opt-in prompts all over websites these days. We need to learn from our tech leaders – Flipkart, for example, throws the prompt only when you have finished a transaction.
Context is everything. We need some serious training on this one.

How are you *actually* selling in the US market? What’s your average lead->conversion ratio? How different is it for other geographies?
Most of the times, in the US, it’s people buying rather than us selling. We are actually “selling” in S.E.Asia in almost 50% of the cases.

Which is your most impactful growth channel? How different is it between US and India?
85% of our business is driven by inbounds. Content. Content. Content. video, audio, blog, ebook, webinar.

How transitioning from hardcore SaaS to Enterprise, like you did, changes the scope and structure of your marketing function?
Somethings changed –

  1. Inbounds were more focused on getting “leads”, not “sign-ups”.
  2. Content quality improved in depth
  3. Marketing started to experiment with more channels

What the top references you use for B2B sales? Books, blogs, podcasts,twitter handles? Whom do you follow?
Predictable Revenue, Jason Lemkin.

How did you compete against your competition who were heavily funded? Better product, better pricing, better support, etc?
Better cash flows. You just focus on living long enough so that they are dead.
If someone is better than you, they’ll win anyway – funded or not.
Just remain focused on the product stickiness. Customers are always dissatisfied .. they’ll switch over to you someday if you had a better product. Just keep yourself alive until then.

On Team culture: How have you scaled it with the recent growth? How have you grown as a CEO?
I am a terrible CEO. I make people miserable. A few even crumble. I make them realize that I do it for them.
I have made sure the culture remains intact – go-getter folks who are respectful of each other.

What’s ur advice for someone who’s now looking to engage users (other than some early adopters) to test the product with a wider audience? Ad spends on google & fb recommended or another approach?
Seek referrals. Don’t spend money until PMF.
Did you guys have specific growth strategies  in the beginning? What experiments did you run to grow the webengage and what was the cadence of these experiments?
Early on, the challenges are always about finding believers. I don’t think there’s one way of doing it. But, you got to leverage all you can to make it happen. You can experiment then.

Avlesh, what has surprised you on your journey so far (personally and product wise) and what were early mistakes that experience would have avoided? Do you have all in house employees or also remote employees?
Personally, I have been fascinated by how my understanding of humans has evolved. I read people a lot more faster now. Helps me save a not of time (and nuisance ?).
Avoidable mistakes?

  1. Don’t say no to termsheets
  2. Don’t hire senior folks unless you are doubly-triply sure.

Q: What would be ideal marketing strategy for a startup in the initial month of its setup? What mix of inbound and outbound marketing will help both short term as well as long term sustainable sales?
You should take a lot of pride in the fact that you are an undergrad .. unlike me, there’s so much life in front of you. Make the most of it!
No marketing. Just referrals please.

What’s your team mix? Engg vs. Sales vs. Marketers vs. Content vs. Leadership / management?
Engineering 35%
Sales, Presales, Success 25%
Support, Accounts, Admin 20%
Leadership 10%
Marketing 10%

Q: Avlesh, how would you explain PMF as it pertains to WebEngage without the Silicon Valley jargon. I find that many people don’t understand what PMF is and when they can say they have achieved it. Please take a shot at it.
I have a very strong philosophy about delivering AHA moments for your customers. You can ensure that each of your customers can get to that moment in the product life-cycle very quickly, and the fact that such experience is repeatable .. you have got your PMF
For WebEngage, that moment is when a customer gets to run their first user journey.

What are some of the most overrated growth metrics being used today and what are some of the most underrated? Where should the analytical power of the organization be focusing the most of their energy?
I don’t think there’s a generic answer to any of that. If you are analytically obsessed, you’ll find the right metric soon. The problem is when someone tries to “hack growth”.
Great product teams are the ones that know these metrics. Hire such folks.

I could see that WebEngage has fremium model. What are key factors in choosing freemium model?
Don’t get me started on that. We are getting rid of FREE forever shortly. Freemium is a great strategy to build distribution

        FREE is never a model. That’s the harsh truth of life.

What’s your average mega feature launch cycle is like ? How does your PM team decides on the features (given that they are far far away from the TG)?
India and S.E.Asia are big enough for us. So, the team is not far away 100%. Engineering does 15 day sprints. We release every week.

For mega features, how do you triage? Is there a philosophy/ process?
Mega launches are timed – marketing, PR, sales alignment, support/success training etc have to be taken care of in parallel before the release. We are constantly prioritizing/re-prioritizing on the roadmap. The mega ones are hard to come by as a process. Most of the times, in our case, they have come out of tubelight moments.

Since you have a big customer base, how do you ensure training of new feature is done concurrently making sure each one of them are on same page regarding the feature?
it’s a big pain. We struggle with it all the time. Constant product updates and webinars help.
What is the acceptance with time ratio? I mean, in what time do customers start to use those features as it was designed to be?
Enterprise software is hard. The adoption cycle is longer. We are able to expedite it though via an internal customer success team. I tell all other SaaS founders to invest early and heavily into this. It helps on multiple fronts.

Are webinars helping (in acquiring new customers) ? I see you guys do a lot of webinars.
Inbounds are always slow and gradual. When they start working, you’ll see the multiplier effect. I can’t say that for webinars yet. Early results are good to keep it on.
What has been a sure fire hit thus far? Ebooks?
Yes. marketing posts and ebooks. And, case-studies (check out their content page).
What tools are you guys using? Say for internal collab? Engg teams? Sales CRM team?
Slack, Salesforce, JIRA (full-suite)

Who are your mentors for work and life? Who do you find yourself going to, for  advice?
I am lucky to have found an investor in Rajan Anandan and Karthik Reddy. Both of them have been great mentors for me.

DO you track NPS? How are you handling churn?
The customer success team remains in touch with a customer throughout the lifecycle. So, we fare better just by talking over email, phone calls, skype etc.
At what ARR is when you think a SAAS company is ‘stable’ and ‘ready for scale’ ?
I think $10M is a great benchmark

What has been your experience hiring / working with product managers? What would you really like to be different/better?
We have done reasonably well on the product management side. I’d love to see product and engineering team obsess together. That’s the genesis to a true tech company.
What were some great advice you received from your investors? More or less some of the things discussed here?
The best advice has been on how to strike a balance between operations and strategy. It’s very hard to get. Especially for tech founders.

You graduated in earth science and then moved to computer engineering and now leading a company. Did all of this happen gradually or you had interest in all of these and strived to move through all phases?
I went on a training to a coal mine and a metallurgy unit. It was that day when I decided not to land in such a place. Everything else just happened ?

What are 3 things you’ve learned about human behavior with Webengage?

  1. People don’t always mean what they say.
  2. Nobody knows everything.
  3. Nobody cares.

Which toothpaste brand do you use? you have that ‘extra shining’ teeth 😀
I had a dental check up last week. Sensodnye since then. Prior to that, Colgate.

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