In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob talks with Jordan Gal of CartHook about his big move to stop his free trials, move to demos, and increase his prices.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Bootstrapped Web Podcast
- CartHook Pricing Change Blog Post
- Lincoln Murphy blog post about Qualification
Rob: Welcome to this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. Each week on this show, we cover topics related to building and growing ambitious yet sustainable startups.
This week’s guest is Jordan Gal. You may know him from BootstrappedWeb. Also, the founder of CartHook. In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, I talk with Jordan about what I’ve seen as one of the gutsiest price increases and sales process changes by going up market that I’ve ever seen. The quote that I’m using in the title is, “We went from hundreds of free trials to a few dozen on purpose.” This is Startups for the Rest of Us episode 476.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome in building, launching, and growing startups, whether you’ve built your fifth startup or you’re thinking about your first. I’m Rob and today with Jordan Gal, we’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
It’s a great conversation today. In fact, often times I say we have many different episode formats. This one is less of an interview and it’s more of me and just letting Jordan go on this topic. He thought about it so deeply with his team. It was their realization of, “Our churn is way too high and we’re just running on this treadmill that is getting faster and faster, and the business doesn’t feel healthy. How do we fix that? It’s not one tactic. It’s not changing, making people email to cancel you. It’s not moving to annual plans. It’s not the little tactics. How do we revamp our entire sales, onboarding, pricing process, and go up market to change the nature of our business?” That’s what we’ll talk about today.
You can tell during the interview that I’m obviously impacted by it. I was impacted from the outside. I’m an angel investor in CartHook. CartHook has raised a small amount of money. It’s still very much in that bootstrap indie-funded mindset. Jordan is super capital efficient. He’s not on the constant churn to raise that Series A to Series B and go there. He hasn’t raised that institutional money that forces him to go after that. He’s very much like a Brennan Dunn […] with the RightMessage.
A lot of the other companies we hear about that are in our MicroConf community, they’re in the Startups for the Rest of Us community, they’ve raised a small amount of money to hit that escape velocity. They’re not looking to unicorn or bust. They’re not looking to be that one billion dollar company, necessarily. Jordan’s in that camp. I love the way he’s meticulous. He really thinks these decisions through. I really enjoyed the conversation today.
To set the stage, if you haven’t heard of Jordan, years ago he ran an ecommerce company, ecommerce business. If I recall, it was with his brother. Maybe his dad. It was like a family member. They sold that. He had a small exit there. Then, he wanted to start a SaaS or a software tools for ecommerce. He wound up starting CartHook. Originally, it was just cart abandonment emails and they’ve since stopped doing that.
They eventually got to the point where CartHook essentially replaces the checkout on Shopify. The headline of CartHook is “Maximize Conversion Rate and Grow Average Order Value Today.” They have a real competitive advantage that’s very much differentiated from a lot of the other products in the ecom space, and he’s got a lot of traction.
As we talked about during the interview, they’re doing several million dollars in ARR, which is a big deal. They’re in the 25-30 employee range. He’s really just been grinding it out for years to get there.
What I like about this conversation is I was getting investor updates and then I saw a blog post where Jordan was talking about increasing prices. That’s always such a dicey proposition. I then started chatting about it. I asked him what the thought process was and how they’ve gotten blowback. They basically led to the conversation that we have here on the podcast today.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the interview with Jordan Gal. Jordan, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Jordan: Rob, thanks very much for having me on.
Rob: It’s great to chat again. There’s a lot that we’re going to dig into today. It’s been a fascinating journey. From the outside, I have an inside seat as an investor in CartHook. I’ve watched this transformation that you’ve taken over the past year or so. I’m really fascinated to begin with that.
The nugget for this episode actually came when I saw you raised prices. You did it so well, you did it so elegantly with (I believe) almost no pushback. I read a blog post, it was a blog post that you put on the CartHook blog, and I was like, “Man, I really want to get you on the show to just talk about what the thought process was there.” There was so much more to it. It wasn’t just a price increase. There’s this whole story that were going to dig into today. You want to kick people off with letting us know where we’re headed today?
Jordan: This is a topic I’m excited to talk about, something that I’m proud of. The best way to get started is to give some context around what these decisions are, what they entail, and why we got to a point of wanting to take these bigger actions.
What I need to do is to ask everyone to go back with me for about a year. The history of our checkout product, 2017, is when we came out with it. It was very difficult, technically. It was just one challenge after another. Then, we released a version two where we made a lot of big fixes. That’s when we start to hit traction.
2018 was our big year of growth, where we 3X revenue and got to multiple millions in ARR. That was this wild ride. It was fun. I look back on that year very fondly. That’s how I always want to feel.
The holidays in ecommerce are always big, obviously. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and then the holidays. The end of 2018 for us was gangbusters. Then, January–February 2019 comes around. We start to be able to catch our breath, really look at the company, and analyze how things are going. There was one number that stood out that was a problem. It was an obvious problem and something that could not be ignored. That was churn.
In January–February 2019, we’re cruising at 12%-14% monthly churn. Ecommerce itself has high churn. There’s a reason Shopify does not disclose their churn rate because it’s much higher than other software companies. It’s partly the nature of ecommerce, the nature of the market, whatever else. Still, 12%-14% monthly is unsustainable.
On first glance, it looks like the company’s a washing machine. It’s just bringing people in, spitting them out, and that’s not going to work out for the long-term. When we started to really analyze it more deeply, what we realized is that the situation was not nearly as bad as 12%-14% looked. What was happening was that we were attracting a top tier of merchants that really fit with our product. What they were selling, the way the company was set up in terms of the number of people, how technically savvy they were, all these characteristics from revenue point of view, cultural point of view, product point of view, and so on. We really lined up with this nicely. Those customers were sticking around for the longer-term.
The issue was that we were also attracting this lower-end merchant that did not fit with our business. It didn’t fit with the software, sophistication level required, pricing, all that. That large chunk was not staying. Those customers were coming in, doing a free trial, either leaving before the free trial ended, or paying once or twice, then leaving after that. There was a real bifurcation in these two populations.
The challenge was, how do we improve the health of our business, overall? We had a few goals. Why don’t I list out a few of the goals that we came up with when we start to tackle this? We wanted to do things like take more control of our business. A lot of it felt like we were not in control. We just had a ton of word of mouth. It was just a bunch of incoming demand. That did not feel like we were really controlling who was walking into the system. We obviously needed to reduce churn significantly.
At the same time, we also wanted to increase our pricing to align with the value we provide. We hadn’t changed our pricing since we launched and we were significantly better than we had launched. Overall, the saying that we came up with was “fewer, more qualified merchants.” That was our goal. To work with fewer merchants that were much better fit and much bigger overall. Those were the goals.
The way we did it was changing two big things. We changed our pricing and we changed our process. You started off this conversation talking about a pricing change. From the outside, it really looks like a pricing change. In reality, it’s more of a process change like a sales process, like how we bring people onboard. The pricing change served that larger process change.
Rob: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I have a couple of questions for you. You used this phrase, “To take control of our business.” You touched on that a little bit, but is it that you’re controlling who comes through the gate such that you only deal with customers that you deemed are nice or that are qualified? Or is it taking control? Are there any other aspects to that?
Jordan: There are a lot of different aspects to it. What’s happened over the past years as I have gone further away from the frontlines and from the customer interactions, is I have become shielded from the kinetic activity, actually talking and rubbing up against customers on a daily basis. I don’t feel that nearly as much as when I started to.
The anecdote I give was I had a conversation with our support team. I asked them, “What percentage of your work is for people who are in trial that won’t convert or people that have converted but are only going to stick around for a month or two?” They looked at me and said, “Probably 80%.” To me that sounded horrible. I’m setting up my employees to run on a treadmill at a very high rate of speed and looking at them saying, “How do we increase the speed?” That’s not a recipe for a happy employee.
What I mean by taking control over our business, it wasn’t just like this external-facing, “We only want to work with big merchants.” It was also, “This feels like a mess internally.” We’re doing an enormous amount of work for people that don’t fit. The reason we’re doing it is because they just walked in the door on their own and create a free trial. All of a sudden, we are forced to engage with them. It’s definitely unexpected that one of the biggest problems in our business is how to limit the number of people using the product. That’s not what I expected. I expected, how do I beg people to use our product and make them successful with it? That was a reality.
Rob: Yeah. You’re in a unique position, for sure, to be able to do this. There is no model for this. I’ve heard of apps going up market or changing. Drip went from generally as […] to focus on ecommerce. Obviously, that drove some people away in terms of that pivot or that focusing. There’s a model for that.
While you are going up market, you did it in a different way. You didn’t just raised prices. As you said, pricing is one piece of it. That’s where Ifind this whole decision and process super gutsy. It feels risky to me hearing about it. Did it feel that risky to you upfront? Were you just like, “No, I know this is going to work”? Or were you like, “Oh my gosh, this could completely tank a lot of things”?
Jordan: There was definitely a lot of fear. We’ll get into a bit of the math around what helped me overcome the fear was just being very objective in the math and saying, “No. This isn’t going to work out. Even if it’s not very successful, it’s still going to work out on the math and finances.” All of this comes back to the finances. If we had raised $8 million in a Series A, we would be trying to gather as much of the market as possible. That’s not what we’re doing. We raised a little bit of money. We want a healthy, profitable company.
If you want healthy and profitable, then you need to live within your means. The reality of our situation, just taking on as many customers as possible, was not leading to that outcome. It had churn way too high. The amount of work that was happening internally was too high for customers that didn’t make sense. That’s what helped us come to the conclusion of, “Okay, I’m going to take a risk, and we’re going to gather the forces. Let’s get into what we did.”
Rob: Jordan, I want to interrupt you real quickly. When you say it wasn’t working for you, I know that CartHook is doing several million in ARR. It was working to a certain extent, but was it really the churn? That double digit churn that wasn’t working for you?
Jordan: Yes. It’s all relative. Yes, I really shouldn’t be complaining. It is working to a degree because the revenue is where it is and all these. That’s from the outside perspective. From the inside perspective, sitting in my shoes, I have to acknowledge what’s good and what’s bad. Just because I can say we’re at several million in ARR does not mean everything is good. I was fine with that. A lot of this role is holding two things in your head at the same time that are completely in conflict with one another. That’s just the way it is.
The truth is, it wasn’t working for us in a sense that I didn’t like the way the future looked. There’s a straightforward formula that everyone can Google. I don’t remember exactly what it is. It basically tells you what your maximum revenue is. Given your growth and your churn, this is the maximum that you will reach. It will not go beyond that because that’s how math works. You will get to a point where a 12% of your revenue equals the amount of growth your getting, and then you’ll stay there forever, mathematically.
I looked at that and that wasn’t that far off on the horizon based on where we were currently. We still had room. We still had another 100+ MRR to get to that point but I felt that we need to move on this now before we hit that and then all of a sudden everything hits a wall. That’s what led into it.
Now, let’s get to the first big part of the decision. The first big part of the decision was on July 1st, 2019. We are doing two big things. We are shutting down the ability to create a self-serve free trial and we are changing pricing. Two massive things at the same time. A lot of complexity came out of that because when you do that, you don’t want to just do it quietly and not say anything. You do have to acknowledge it with your existing customers because they’re going to ask, “Hey. I noticed you changed your pricing. Does that mean that my price is going to change?” There’s a lot of communication with the existing customer base that went along with the changes that were intended for the non-existing customer base.
Rob: Yeah. I find that’s a good moment where, certainly, if you are going to raise prices on your existing customers, whether you grandfather them 6 months or 12 months or whether you don’t—there’s a whole conversation; we’ll probably going to get into around that—or if you’re not going to raise on them at all, it’s still a good time to get in touch. If you’re not going to raise on them right now or in the future, then you’ll let them know that. “Hey folks, we just raised the prices. We’re not going to do that for you. We’re going to grandfather you for now.” It’s a nice way.
If you aren’t going to grandfather them, it’s a perfect time to get in touch and say, “Hey, by the way, we’re going to grandfather you for a certain amount of time, but then change it up later and here’s why,” and give the whole defense or the reasoning behind it.
Jordan: That’s right. Now, for our situation, we did want to raise prices on existing customers. That’s a complicated thing because people are not used to that.
Rob: Yeah. I was going to ask. There is obviously a debate in the SaaS space. Every founder has their own opinions about it. It’s like, “I heard people say…” You know I’m not a fan of absolutes, right? So I hate it when you say, “You should always grandfather. You should never grandfather. You should blah-blah-blah.” I don’t think that’s the correct way to think about pretty much any of this.
I think there’s something in between and there’s a spectrum. I’ve often thought, “Hey. There are reasons to not grandfather, especially if you can communicate those reasons well in a letter, a blog post, or an email to your audience. If it makes sense to them and if it’s the right thing for your business, then these are the times when I would think about doing it.
I know that had been a hard decision. Grandfather for a period of time is what you ended up doing. Talk me through that.
Jordan: Yes, it was a hard decision and an easy decision at the same time. The math of it was very straightforward, that we would be foolish not to change pricing on existing customers. Here’s why. When we started the business, we didn’t have a full understanding of exactly how our business work from a financial metrics point of view. We thought we were on the software business, where we license our software to people to pay a monthly subscription fee to have access to the software. It’s a traditional SaaS.
The reason we thought that was because that’s what we had in our hands at that time. “Here’s the software. You can use it.” What we didn’t realize was the significance of the payment processing that we would be doing. We do significant payment processing. Hundreds of millions of dollars annually. We did not factor that into the business model. That resulted in our very heavily underutilizing our GMV (Gross Merchandise Value), the total amount of money being processed into our system. We were not monetizing our GMV.
If you look at, for example, Shopify, at scale, they make 50% of their money, $400 million annually around monetizing their GMV. That’s somewhere around $28 billion worth of GMV in total. They’re out over a basis a point. Over 1% of their GMV turns into revenue for them. $400 milion on $20 billion is 1.2 or so basis points.
We were well below that. Our pricing was 0.1%, a tenth of a percent. Shopify was making 10X what we were making on a monetizing GMV perspective. We didn’t realize that when we first started the business. Where we ended up was grandfathering pricing for existing customers on the subscription fee. If you pay $100 a month, $300 a month, $400 a month, or whatever that is, that will stay that way forever. On the GMV that you’re processing through our system, we move it up from 0.1% to our new pricing of 0.5%. It is a 5X but still very much in line with our competition, with Shopify, and with the market overall.
What we had to back it up was our software had just gotten so much better. It’s tough to describe how much better—how bad it was to begin with and how much better it is now. What we did is we put ourselves in their shoes and we said, “If I were a merchant and I had been with CartHook for a year, I had been around when it sucked, now it’s better and I’m happier, but I stuck with you guys this way, how would we want to be treated in that situation?”
What we decided to do was write that blog post that you alluded to earlier, that we should link up, because that was a very complicated blog post to write, and then make a promise that we thought was fair. That promise was, this is the new pricing for everybody, for new merchants. You will be grandfathered into your subscription price forever but your transaction fees will go up. However, we will let you go through the entire holiday, Black Friday season of 2019, and the price increase will only go into effect in January of 2020.
Basically saying, we’re not going to be bastards and raise the prices right before the holidays to maximize the amount of money we can make off you and you have no choice because you’re already using the system. We said, “No. We’re going to forego that revenue because that’s the right thing to do. But we will be raising it after the holiday’s over in January.” That makes sense?
Rob: Absolutely does. The thing I’m fascinated to hear is how did it go over? How many positive, negative comments? What was your sense of what your customer base responded with?
Jordan: The truth is we’re in the middle of it now. We’re halfway through. We sent out an initial email in July. Two weeks ago, we sent out another email. What we sent in July along with the blog post was, “Between now and January 2020, we have six months to earn that price increase in your eyes. Here’s what we’re planning on adding to the product and this is part of the justification of the price going up.”
What we’ve been very conscious of internally and from a product and prioritization point of view is that’s coming due. We will need to send an email to all those existing customers telling them that the price is going up next month and, “This is what we promised you and this is what we’ve accomplished.” We have an internal list of, “These are the things that are worth noting in that email that we can say these are significant improvements and significant additions that helped to justify the price increase.”
When we first sent it out in July, we heard nothing. Just no negative reactions. A few emails about clarification, a few questions, and then all good. That tells me that it went over pretty well and that a lot of people didn’t read it. That’s the reality of it.
Now, things are ramping up. We communicated again two weeks ago saying, “Hey, just as a reminder. In January 2020, your pricing is going to change. We will get back in touch in December before that happens to make sure that you are fully aware.” That communication started to cause a little bit more of a pushback. A lot of it was our fault because we communicated what the pricing change was. What we really should have done is personalize it.
“Last month, you did X and paid Y. In January, if you do the same X, then your pricing will be Z.” We should have laid that out more specifically and we didn’t. Because we didn’t, people started doing math themselves. If you do the math emotionally, you’ll get the wrong answer. We had a lot of emails back and forth just clarifying, “Look, it’s not going up 10X. Here’s the change for you.”
On the positive side, what it has also done is it has armed us with a bargaining chip with larger merchants. If you’re a large merchant and you’re processing $2 million a month in our system, and you don’t want to go from 0.1% to 0.5%, then let’s have a conversation to make sure you don’t go all the way up to 0.5%. Let’s set something up that makes sense, maybe get you in a 12 month contract. Let’s partner on this and do it the right way.
It has helped us get a lot of our larger merchants talking about pricing and moving toward annual contracts in order to lock down a predictable cost for them as opposed to something that’s variable.
Rob: There’s a number of things that I won’t even pull out of that because it’s the right way to think about it. It’s very smart, but one of the things you said was, “Let’s think about it from their perspective.” I imagined that that sentence, that phrase was uttered many, many times in your office when you were trying to make this decision. You thought it through. You and your team thought it through to the extent of some people could say if they were your customer, it would be a little outrageous. I could come out and say, “You 5X-ed my pricing. Even though technically I know I’m still grandfathered in the monthly, but 0.1 to 0.5 is a 5X. I’m going to come on and be outraged.” The fact that people didn’t do that indicates that you had (a) a case. You had justification. And (b) you communicated that in a way that made people feel comfortable. You weren’t screwing them.
Jordan: Yeah. It was not abstract. It was very real. It was, “How is […] from Native Deodorant going to react to this exact email that we’re about to send?” We’ve gotten to know these people over time. We worked for them in a long time. How is this specific person at this company going to take this? Are they going to go write to the Facebook page? Are they going to email us? Are they going to ask us for clarification? Are they going to want to get on the call?
Everything in that communication was based around real reactions. It was a lot of, “We’re here to talk about this. Here’s a Calend.ly link to set up a call with somebody if you want to talk about it.” It was thought through that way.
Rob: That’s the power of being a founder or a CEO who’s in touch with your customer base. Even at several million ARR and at 25-30 employees, you still know a bunch of customers by name. Not only do you know them by name, you know how they’re probably going to react to an email. You think it through deep. The best founders, best CEO that I see doing this, doing hard things and not pissing their customer base off, are the ones who are in touch with them. That’s a big key to this.
Jordan: Yeah and that’s gotten harder. I would say that it shifted away from my responsibility being super aware with these specific merchants, their personalities and relationships, and more just understanding that that’s important. And then, looking at my success team and saying, “Okay. Let’s think about these people. What’s your opinion on how’s this person is going to react?” Just knowing that that is a key thing to keep in mind is now more important than actually knowing and understanding the relationships themselves.
The conversations we’re having internally here is I’m asking my leadership, the people who are in these communications, in these difficult email threads of, “Does this make sense?” “Should I leave?” “You guys are being greedy.” These really difficult email conversations. What I have to do is I have to ask them to put two hats on. “Here’s your empathy hat for when you’re talking to people and we wanted the right thing by them.”
Then, I’m also going to ask you to switch hats, come to the conference room with me, and look at the spreadsheet that says, “When we make these changes, if 30% of our customers leave, and that still results to adding $100,000 to MRR, can you acknowledge that? Do you think 30% of our customers are really going to leave?” The answer is no. Can you carry both those things at the same time? Can you be very empathetic to people and make sure we’re doing right by them?
At the same time, acknowledging if someone leaves, we have to be able to accept that because the math will work out for us. That sets us up to be a healthier company, hire the people we need, and then get a bigger office that we need. We have to have that as part of the goal. It’s not just about what the customers want. It’s also about our business. It’s both together.
Rob: And that makes a lot of sense. That’s a big reason that you did have success with this. What’s next?
Jordan: That’s really the pricing change. Our existing customers, we had to communicate with them. That’s not done, but it’s going in the right direction. Now, the bigger change is the process. Making the switch from self-serve free trials to an application process with demos was the harder call. That was the scarier thing because we started getting good, we started getting to the hundreds of free trials every month. Then, you’re taking that flow of potential revenue and you literally just shut it down 100%. We took a faucet that was all the way opened and we closed it all the way. Now, people could not create a free trial unless we sent them a link to create a free trial. We shut the faucet all the way down.
We went from hundreds of free trials a month to a few dozen. That’s where it got scary because if you think about the nature of churn, it carries on for a few months. If we have this messy washing machine of merchants that don’t fit and only pay for one or two or three months, then they leave, when you shut down free trials, you are now going to hurt yourself both ways. You’re not going to be getting new customers and the customers from the past 90 days are still going to be churning.
It was like, “Alright guys, our revenue is about to go down. Everyone be okay with it. We’re going to keep calm. We’ve had this amazing run of growth. Everything’s going up. Now, we are purposely just going to chop off 10%-50% of our revenue over a 90 day span and we’re just going to be okay with that.” That expectation setting was super important so nobody freak out because I saw what was going to happen. We’re going to go from a few hundred to a few dozen and then the churn is going to continue on.
Rob: That’s really important to point out that, (a) you called that out to your team in advance, but (b) most people who have never run an app, where you have big waves of customers coming in and a lot of trials, if you shut that off, it’s exactly what you said. It’s like this huge wave. The churn is going to crash but it never crashes because your trials bolster it. It just keeps going up, and up, and up. But the moment I’ve had a couple apps where we had hiccups, whether it was suddenly Google downgraded us, the ads stopped working, whatever it is, our trials plummeted.
It wasn’t just, “Oh. We didn’t grow that month because we didn’t have as many trials.” It is devastating because oftentimes, your first 60 or first 90 day churn is way, way higher than your 90 day to infinity day churn. That’s the part that just crashes. If you don’t keep that constant influx top of funnel, it can be devastating. Like you said, 10%-15%, 20%-30%, I’ve seen with smaller apps. It’s painful if you’re not aware, if you don’t look at the math in advance.
Jordan: Yes. This […] back to what you’ve mentioned a few minutes ago, where I should be happy because things are going well. I knew internally that this is what was happening, that the trials were just keeping it afloat. The trial’s just kept overwhelming the churn. If anything happened at all to the trials coming in, then we’ll be exposed. Making this move was like, “Let’s do that on our terms instead of someone else’s terms.”
It’s also why we did it in the middle of the year, July 1st, literally right in the middle of the year, well in advance of the holidays so that we would have our act together now. That’s what happened. We completely stopped free trials and the churn kept going for 90 days. That hurt, but the benefits were amazing and immediate.
July 1st comes in and we just shut it down. You can’t see a free trial on our site. It’s apply for a demo. That terminology was super important to me. It was not “request” a demo, it was “apply.” It was a position of power. This is really good. You’ve heard about it. You’ve heard about the success people have with it. If you want it, you need to apply. We soft pedaled it on the site.
We’re not like, “Apply here to see if you’re good enough for us.” That sucks. That’s not good positioning. It was really, “Apply to see if we’re a fit.” People are like, “That’s […]. You’re basically just saying that we’re not good enough if you only want to work with successful merchants. We’re up and coming. You don’t want to work with us because we’re not big enough. That’s not cool.” In reality, it was much closer to, “Let’s make sure we’re a fit.” Think about all the things we’ve been talking about. It’s not just, “Do you make enough money?”
I read Lincoln Murphy’s blog post about qualification. He had a great write-up about the different types of qualification, where it’s strategic, cultural, financial, all these different things that are in line. We have some merchants that makes $1,000,000 a month, but we absolutely cannot stand working with them. That has now become a factor in the qualification.
Now, we have an actual pipeline. That sales process that was happening inside the product and a few interactions with support is now happening with people, with an application that people fill out, then every morning the success team comes in and either denies or accepts the application. Right now, we’re denying roughly 50% of the applications. We’re just saying, “It does not make sense for you to work with us. Here’s a link to our competitor that might make more sense for you.” We literally linked to the competitor in that rejection email.
Rob: That’s crazy. It’s such an unorthodox approach. It’s the Velvet Rope Policy. It’s just letting in exactly who you want. As we’ve said, it’s a luxury. Most apps needs all the trials they can get. You hit a certain point where that made sense, but I do think that more companies should think about doing this once they hit that point.
Jordan: When I spoke to other founders about this, I got the sense that people were like, “Can you do that? Is that okay?” To me it felt like, “That’s what I think we should do. It felt very strange to be like a slave to the fact that people want to use it, therefore we have no choice but to let them. What? That doesn’t make sense.”
Rob: I’ll tell you what, it’s way better to do it upfront than to let people in. Whether it’s just people aren’t qualified or they’re the toxic types of customers that you can identify pretty early on that you’re like, “Oh boy. This person’s never going to be happy with anything. They’re just going to rag on my staff the whole time. They’re going to Twitter the moment we don’t answer their email in four minutes.” If you can get them upfront, identify them that way, and not have to fire customers who’ve been with you for two or three months who are a pain in the ass (which all of us have to do, it sucks), for that alone, this is pretty valuable.
Jordan: Yes. We call them category four. We have category one, the best of the best direct-to-consumer brands that we recognize. We’d love to work with them, absolutely get them in, let’s give them the white-glove treatment. We have a category two that are a good fit. We have category three that are not quite there yet, it’s on the bubble. It’s the success team’s call whether or not they should come in or not. And we have category four that are jerks. It doesn’t matter how much revenue they make. If they’re just going to make us miserable, they just don’t get in.
Rob: Yeah. Isn’t that a hurricane category one?
Jordan: Yes. Think about what this has done internally. A few things that it has done. First is establish an actual sales pipeline that we can optimize. What we did there is first, we took a stab at what we think the pipeline actually looks like. Think about the different stages. We get a demo whether they get approved. They get the link to set-up a time to talk. Then, they get the link to sign up after that. Then, they create a free trial. Then, they’re launched and have a processed revenue. And then, they’re into the conversion piece of it.
Before, we didn’t have those steps. It was just a free trial and then hope the product does its job. Now, what we did is we set up the pipeline and those steps. We have in HubSpot, but I got a good recommendation from someone (I can’t remember exactly who) to put it up on the wall. I’ve got a bunch of index cards, we’ve got a bunch of markers, and we’ve got these tacky stuff that sticks to the wall. We created the categories as columns on our wall. Each prospect got an index card with their name on it and we would physically move the index card from stage to stage. It was just mimicking HubSpot. You would move in the HubSpot, you’d go to the wall, and you’d move it from one column to the next.
What that did is it showed the entire company in visual, physical format, what was happening with our sales pipeline, instead of just, “I don’t know. We have a few hundred trials.” The second thing it did is it was a dead obvious way to see where the friction was. The friction is the columns that have the most people, pretty simple. What it tells us is that stage in the pipeline is where we have a lot of friction, and that’s where we need to get the communications and marketing teams to create content.
Now, what does the success team need in order to help merchants get from that column to the next column and then start creating content, videos, support docs, to help people through that, so that the success team could provide those and the merchants can also get on their own?
We did it for three months or so. We’ve since taken it down. It’s no longer useful as it was in the beginning. At first, we made the switch. It just had this amazing impact. I have a bell on my desk. When someone became a paying customer, I would hit the bell. It was like this visceral experience for people. We’re not a company that just answers emails. We’re doing something specific. We’re finding people, identifying who the right people are, moving through this pipeline, and getting them to success.
Rob: I love that idea, the visual nature of it. Just seeing cards, it must be obvious visually and just be an amazing queue for you guys. That’s really cool.
Jordan: Yeah. They were just a very large vertical stack of prospects that didn’t go from, let’s say, approved but didn’t schedule the actual appointment to do the demo. Okay, we need to be better at that. An obvious one was also like they’ve created a trial, but they’re not processing revenue yet. They need to get over the hump of actually using the product.
One thing I did mentioned earlier on the pricing is that not only did we remove self-served free trials but we removed free trials entirely. We asked for the first $500 upfront at the time of sign-up that we have a 30-day money back guarantee instead of the free trial. It’s all toward the same type of positioning of, “Let’s make sure that you’re a good fit. Once we know that you’re a good fit, then you commit to us. We’re committing to you. You commit to us. Let’s do this together.”
Rob: Yeah. When you look at large, enterprise companies, let’s say HubSpot or Salesforce or something, they get a bad rap for being enterprises. They’re a pain in the ass to deal with, they’re too expensive, and their sales process sucks. You’re moving somewhere between self-serve and what they do. It sounds like there is less friction. Is your pricing public on your website?
Jordan: Yes, it is.
Rob: So the pricing’s public, that’s a difference. They tend to hide it behind a thing, then it’s a negotiation, blah-blah-blah. The difference is there. You put up the velvet rope. You’ve gone upmarket. They’re typically not free trials with these really expensive enterprise plans. It typically all annual. I don’t think you’re there yet, but my guess is you’ll be moving there because there’s a lot of reasons to do that. Both predictability with the merchant but also predictability for you. You are taking that step towards the upmarket playbook, right?
Jordan: Yeah. The results, if you think about internally, going from hundreds of free trials to a few dozen, what we’ve been able to do is give love to the right merchants. We’ve told our support team, “Guys, we’re no longer doing things. It’s not about crushing tickets. You could take your time. You can spend 45 minutes on an email as long as on the other end the person goes, ‘Wow. That was everything I needed and you took your time. I feel great about it.’”
The fewer, more qualified merchants is the theme. We’re much common internally. Our support staff finish things up by 11, then they’re doing support docs, they’re helping testing on the product team, and everyone’s happier. People who are jerks, no one feels the need to like, “Hey, I guess I can’t turn down money because it’s not my business.” Now, they’re empowered. If this person sucks, tell them to get lost. People are more empowered. They’re happier. Our monthly churn went from 12%. It continued on for those few months. Five or so months later, we’re at 5% monthly churn.
Rob: Oh, man. Wow. That’s crazy. That’s such a testament. On the podcast and in the whole MicroConf community, what’s funny is before we started talking about this, let’s say in 2010, there wasn’t just this common knowledge on a lot of things that we talked about. Lower price products have higher churn. The customers are more of a pain in the ass. We all know that now. You know that if you’re selling a $10 product, everybody’s price sensitive. Your churn is through the roof. They want all the features. It’s just known now.
Then, there’s the next step up of $50 price point average revenue per customer or $100 average revenue per customer. You guys were at such a high volume that even those numbers didn’t make sense anymore. It just didn’t make sense to service them because they were such a small portion. They were huge portion in your customer base, in your trial base, very small portion of your actual revenue. Now, we can only bother or we should only focus on $500 to $2000 a month average revenue per user.
That’s the step. It’s obviously very deliberate and I’m just struck by the impact. It’s not one thing. It rippled through the entire business in mostly positive ways, it sounds like. The fact that you support people now have the ticket, the ticket volume is whatever it is, a tenth of what it used to be, is just phenomenal.
Jordan: Yeah. The way we look at it is that we really made a healthier company. The growth in 2019 was nothing nearly 3X of the previous year. But now, we’re in a position to grow in a much healthier way.
Going back to the faucet analogy, now that we’ve tightened it up all the way, fully controlled everything, now that we have our systems in place, we understand who the right matches are, the systems are better, the people are happier, now we can start to open up a little bit on our terms, and grow faster but in our way. An example is when someone’s a category three, they’re qualified but they’re not one or two, we send them a recorded version of the demo. Now, we can open that growth back up, but on our terms and under control. If we don’t like the way that’s going, we’re just going to shut that back down.
Rob: We talked a lot about the positives. Was there a major negative repercussions to this?
Jordan: Just finances.
Rob: That’s short-term.
Jordan: Yeah. The short-term financial hit that hurt is just a stressful thing. We did that with what I felt was enough money in the bank, that we wouldn’t get to the point where I felt like I have to go raise more money. I wanted to get through this in a way that we come out to the other side.
Really, if you think about all the way back, the decision to increase prices on existing customers and that kicking in January, what we really needed to do was just get through this six month period. The increased pricing on that GMV that is coming on the door already is going to overwhelm all of the negative impact of it. Then, we’ll be in a position where we are much more profitable and much happier at the same time. Just six months of pain but all towards putting ourselves to a good spot in 2020.
Rob: Yeah, and that’s playing long ball. You have a long-term mindset. You’re not churning and burning, “Oh, how can I maximize revenue now to raise the next round? Or have an exit?” or whatever it is. You’re thinking, “If I’m going to run this company for years, what is the healthiest company? What company do we all want to work for? What’s best really for the customers that are the best fit? What’s best?” The six months of pain, I’m sure, has sucked but you’re basically coming out on the other side of that. I hope January is truly an amazing month for you.
Jordan: Yeah. Thank you, man. I appreciate the ability to talk through the whole thing. I’m actually writing a blog post about this. I’ll let you know when that’s out.
Rob: Sounds cool.
Jordan: I know it’s all unique to each individual business, but the big lesson I hope people get from it is that you don’t have to play by what you think are established rules. You should do what you think is best for your business.
Rob: Love it. We will link up the price increase blog post that you talked about. I have that link right here. I googled Lincoln Murphy’s blog post about qualification and hopefully it’s the same one. We will also link that up. If you get your post published before this goes live, we can throw that in there as well.
If folks want to keep up with what you’re up to, they can go to @jordangal on Twitter and carthook.com is your app. Any other places they should keep their eye on?
Jordan: Yeah. I also do a podcast with my good friend, Brian Castle, called BootstrappedWeb. Those are the three places: Twitter, CartHook, and BootstrappedWeb.
Rob: Sounds great. Thanks again for coming on.
Jordan: My pleasure. Thank you.
Rob: Thanks again to Jordan for coming on the show. Also, I should call out episode 452 of this podcast. Just a few months ago, Jordan came on and answered listener questions with me. If you’re interested to hear more of his thought process, go back and listen to 452. You can hear his take on several listeners questions.
If you have a question for me or a future guest, leave me a voicemail at (888) 801-9690 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. As you know, our theme music is an excerpt from a song by MoOt. It’s called We’re Outta Control. It’s used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to us in any pod catcher. Just search for “startups” and visit startupsfortherestofus.com if you want to see a transcript of each episode as well, to see show notes, and comments by other loyal Startups for the Rest of Us listeners. Leave a comment of your own if you want to give a thumbs up, your thoughts, constructive criticism, whatever it might be on any of the shows. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike interviews Jordan Gal, Cofounder of CartHook, about his lessons learned from doing demos for customers. Jordan gives a background on CartHook as well as the journey from one-on-one demos to the possibilities of scaling the sales process.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, I’m going to be talking to Jordan Gal of CartHook about lessons learnt from requiring demos for new customers. Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching and growing software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Jordan [00:24]: And I’m Jordan.
Mike [00:25]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How you doing this week Jordan?
Jordan [00:29]: I’m doing well. I just want to be able to say the word ‘episode’ like Rob does, like super fast episode. I’m doing well. You caught me at a busy, hectic, fun kind of week and I’m excited to talk about this. This is the topic of conversation internally for us also.
Mike [00:45]: I just want to give the listeners a brief introduction to you. You are the co-founder of CartHook. You’ve also spoken at Micro Conf; you are the co-host of the Bootstrapped Web. What else am I missing? There’s got to be other things
Jordan [00:57]: It’s mostly dad and sleeping. I’ve got three kids under five years old plus all the business stuff.
Mike [01:03]: So more dad and less sleeping is what you’re saying?
Jordan [01:05]: Yeah and I’ve gone into the bad habit of staying up late working because I do demos all day. I have four demos today and that squeezes out the ability to get work done so I end up doing it at night, which isn’t sustainable but it’s working right now.
Mike [01:18]: I did one this morning, so I know how you’re feeling about that. Before we get into this, I think that we should probably start at the beginning with CartHook and why don’t you give the listeners a brief background on exactly what CartHook is and what it does so that as we get into this discussion about whether or not you should evaluate whether or not you’re going to require demos for new customers or not that people have at least a background to work from.
Jordan [01:43]: Sure. I’ll give the very quick history and what led us to where we are now and how that fits into demos. We started the company with a cart abandonment product for e-commerce stores. What that means is we capture the email address of visitors to the checkout page on the e-commerce store that’s using our product and then once we capture that email address of the customer, if they don’t complete the purchase within 60 minutes, we then consider it abandoned and we start sending them a three part email campaign designed to bring them back to the e-commerce store to finish the purchase. A lot of us have received these types of emails in the past. What we do is enable small medium merchants to do it. That’s where the company started off. We worked on that for about a year, maybe a little more, and then we uncovered an idea for another product that we decided to tackle and the product that we’ve been working on is a check-out product and what it does is it replaces the check-out process of Shopify stores. Shopify is an amazing platform but their checkout process is very rigid and you can’t customize it and so forth. What we do is give a customizable, one page checkout and it also enables something called post-purchase up sales which are very hot in the e-commerce industry right now. That’s what we’re doing and the way we led into demos is because a new product, you don’t know what the on-boarding should look like, you need feedback, you want to talk to as many people as possible. That’s how we got into the demo thing to begin with for the new product.
Mike [03:11]: Got it. Just for the listeners’ background, Shopify is essentially an e-commerce platform where people can sell their stuff and I’ll use that phrase very broadly. But there’s a bunch of different platforms out there where people can basically create an online store and Shopify is one of the platforms that people can use. You’ve really focused specifically on this platform.
Jordan [03:31]: Yes, they’re super hot in this space. They just IPOed; they have an amazing developer eco-system. They have become the default choice for merchants selling physical products online. That’s where we play.
Mike [03:46]: Okay. Let’s dive into a little bit around the idea of these demos. Previously with CartHook, you just had one product before and were you requiring a demo for that or no?
Jordan [03:56]: No. We had a demo page so if someone didn’t want to sign up on their own, they could request a demo and we would get that pretty rarely; either people who really wanted to be hands on and ask questions or larger companies that were used to that process. But 95% of our sign-ups just came through self-serve sign-up, on-boarding, that sort of thing.
Mike [04:18]: Okay.
Jordan [04:18]: That was for the original product. The new product, what really happened, we worked on this product for a while with a lot of early users and then we opened up sign-ups and we got flooded. We had like 100 sign-ups in 10 days and we were not ready for it and totally messed it up and most of them left because the product wasn’t ready and we weren’t ready, the on-boarding wasn’t there so we said, “How do we slow down the rate of sign-ups while also getting a better feel for what our customers want, what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong?” We said we are going to do two things; we’re going to raise the price and we were going to require demos. It definitely slowed things down. The interesting thing is the other effects it had like it didn’t change demand very much. That’s how we got into-we used one on one demos specifically as a mechanism to slow things down and to learn more.
Mike [05:14]: That seems a little counter intuitive, where you would want to slow things down. You think of startup like, Oh they want to move as quickly as possible but you’re going in the opposite direction and I think it might be beneficial to explore exactly why that is. You’re talking about things, exploring, you’re going sideways and people leaving. What sort of things-I don’t want to point out specific people or anything like that. But really what types of things go sideways when you have too many people coming in?
Jordan [05:39]: It’s just the nature of our product that we had to learn about. It’s a fact we had to face. This product that we took on is [?] and not simple and we have a team. Then it was four people. Now it’s five. We bit off a lot. What that meant is that the product was going to take a while. You’re always like, “Oh, yeah, you’ll have an MVP up in three months,” and it’s not usually three months and this is a complex product. We just had to face the fact that it was going to take longer to get the product to a place where we could take on a lot of sign-ups successfully. We didn’t want to ruin our reputation. We didn’t want just let people in, the product wouldn’t be ready and they would just leave. It’s hard to get a second chance with people. We just thought strategically, okay, we don’t really have a choice. I’d love to go as fast as possible. I’m the one guy in the marketing side and everyone else is on the tech side. It has caused a lot of frustrations in terms of, “Guys, we need to go faster,” but it’s almost like they had to pull me into the tech side and educate me a little bit about what was happening and once I learned more about it, I understood, “Okay, this is not the time to rush; this is the time to be patient,” which was painful but it was necessary.
Mike [06:55]: It’s really about slowing down the number of people that are coming in more or less because you don’t want to burn the relationships of those people and leave a bad taste in their mouths when they sign up and maybe something doesn’t work or it doesn’t do everything that they want because down the road your hope is eventually you would get them as a customer. But if you don’t have the features in place that they really desperately need right now, they’re just never going to convert because then they’ll look at your product in a negative life basically forever. You only have that one chance.
Jordan [07:21]: Right and it goes against everything that I want or would give advice on. It’s just that the nature of the product is that so many things have to be perfect. It’s not like this core feature that we offer works. The other things, not so much but people still get value out of it. To get value out of a checkout product, so many things have to be perfect because if you mess anything up on a checkout page, people don’t convert and we’re going up against Shopify’s checkout page. Their alternative is to do nothing and Shopify is this $5 billion behemoth and their checkout page is amazing. We have to compete with that. It was just going to take a while to get page-load perfect, Facebook tracking perfect, credit card perfect, PayPal perfect. If you mess any of those things up, the person wasn’t going to get the core value. We had to deal with that fact.
Mike [08:10]: All those things you just mentioned, those are technical aspects of the product itself. What about the sale and marketing side of things? If you build in a product yourself, one of the things that come to mind is that if you are a developer, you look at the techs [?] and you say, “Hey, I just want to work on these stuff because I know how to do that,” and it makes it easier for you to do it. There’s this whole other world to you as a developer that all the marketing and sales stuff, you’ve got no idea. A lot of people will put it off and I’ve certainly succumbed to that as well in the past. The reality is that when you get into that position, there is a lot to do on both sides of it and if you’re just one person, it’s hard to juggle both of those. But you’ve already got a team in place. You’ve got four or five people there and you’re apparently having trouble dealing with stuff on the tech side, not because the team isn’t good. It’s just there’s so much stuff to do that needs to be perfect. On the marketing side, that is also the case in many respects. You’ve got all these things that need to be prefect in terms of your learning page, contact marketing, SCO, there’s all these stuff that goes with it that makes that difficult as well. If you have a really tiny team, if it’s only one or two people, juggling both of those at the same time, it just makes it astronomically difficult.
Jordan [09:21]: It’s been difficult.
Mike [09:22]: Okay.
Jordan [09:24]: Yap, you’re 100% right. Again a lot of these, if I look back objectively, a lot of these is going against what I would think is the right thing. It’s just that we’re just making the best decisions given the information that we have. It’s been a team effort for months of I get a demo, I get a customer, I pass it off, I learn a lot, I take that knowledge, I transfer it over to the tech team, they work with the customer, then they give me feedback. It’s been this knowledge transfer back and forth but the raw material for that process is users but not too many, right? If we had 10 sign-ups a day, it would be a mess. We wouldn’t learn nearly as much. We would just be dealing and putting out fires. But if you passing out one new sign-up a day, all of a sudden it’s more manageable and you learn a lot more. We also learn about who the right customers were for us. We’ve had one customer that just has done really well the whole time. That gives us this north star of like, all right, they are getting amazing value out of the product. They’re making a lot more money. They keep spending more on ads. They keep making more money. Their business is growing, they’re hiring and we are like, “We know we can do it.” That’s the thing that kept us going when we were like, “Jesus, this maybe just too hard.” The demo is the initial part of the process. It’s like, “Okay, talk to someone, figure it out and then put them into the tech side,” and then we learn back and forth from one another.
Mike [10:53]: That learning process actually helps you short circuit a lot of the other problems that you might run into where, with sales and marketing, sometimes you put a learning page out there or even just the homepage of your site, you’re not sure which of the benefits that you should highlight because you haven’t talked to enough people. You start guessing then you’re shooting in the dark and this short circuits that whole problem because you’re talking to those people, you’re making notes, you’re getting more direct contact with these people and you’re getting the marketing lingo in their terms that they would use versus the things that you know because you’ve researched the problem extensively and you have your own terminology for it. By gathering that stuff, you are helping to not have to shoot in the dark and not make guesses and then wait two, four even twelve weeks to see if it made any difference in the number of sign-ups and trials coming in.
Jordan [11:44]: Yeah. It got to the point where we didn’t update our marketing site on purpose. Our marketing site talked about version one of the product where it didn’t even work inside the Shopify store. It only worked as a bridge between your learning page and your Shopify store. If that sounds confusing, you’re not alone. It was impossible to describe accurately. We had our marketing site talk about that version, the first version of the product that only worked with the learning page. We didn’t even change the marketing site till about two months after we had started working directly inside the Shopify store because we knew just stating that was going to drive demand so much higher that we just avoided it. We just said, “No, we’re getting a few demos a day. We don’t need more. Let’s just leave it alone.” I would never recommend that to someone. It sounds ridiculous. Here’s another sin to admit to. We don’t really do any marketing or advertising. It’s literally a build-it-and-they-will-come scenario only in this situation I’m 100% convinced it’s right because the demand for the product is so high. We’re not even doing content. We just don’t talk. We say nothing. Just word of mouth out there and a few Facebook posts and that sort of thing is enough to drive a few demos a day and we just left it like that, up until a week ago.
Mike [13:05]: If you’re getting enough to keep you busy and move things along at the right pace, it’s perfectly okay to do that. When you make a mistake of saying, “If I make the product perfect, everything will work out,” but you don’t also have the accompanying number of sign-ups, I think that’s when people get into trouble.
Jordan [13:24]: Right. If you’re not talking to anyone and you’re guessing that you have the perfect product, that’s dangerous. If you’re talking to 15, 20 people every single week and they’re telling you, “Wow, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for,” then it gives you the confidence to say, “All right, let’s just get this right and then when we make the big reveal, it will work.”
Mike [13:42]: Right. I just want to make that clear to the listener that building the perfect product is not the solution if you don’t also have the accompanying number of people that are coming through your sales funnel. If you have that mentality and your sales funnel is empty and you’re not talking to anybody, then that’s the problem. It’s not about the product being perfect. It won’t matter. You need to talk to people. You need to have that marketing stuff in place. Going back to the marketing side of things a little bit, you said that you really don’t talk about a lot of things on the website, at least some of the advance features and the other stuff around the new product, how do you go about qualifying people in advance of the demo? I think there’s a certain amount of information that you need to gather from people and you don’t want to just give a demo to anybody. That’s a mistake because you’re going to end up with those people who give you an email address and you’ve got nothing to go on and you have no idea whether you’re just completely wasting your time or not. What sorts of things do you guys do?
Jordan [14:35]: At first I was happy to talk to anyone. If you read something about the product and you want to talk about it, let’s talk. As things progressed, you start to see that as, “Okay, this is a complete waste of time so let’s start adding a little bit.” On our site, if you go to carthook.com/checkout, you go to the pricing section and it has a few tiers and each tier has the same call to action. It’s just ‘schedule a demo’. When you click on that, you go over to carthook.com/demo. That’s just a really simple form that asks you for a few pieces of information; name, email, phone number is optional, your website address and then we’re just real straightforward. Our pricing is based on revenue and so this form is based on revenue. It just says, “What is your monthly revenue.” We just ask people how much you make. How seriously should I take this meeting? It’s real straightforward because we have two products; we ask which product are you interested in, the funnel product or the cart abandonment product? Almost everyone says funnel of both. That’s what starts off our process. We haven’t wired up into Slack. When we see something come in and it’s the highest here is over 100K a month, that’s just exciting. When it’s under 10K, we just look at it and say, “Okay, opportunity to talk to someone but not as exciting.” The one lesson I have learnt is that, that is far from perfect. Some of our biggest customers came in and identified themselves as less than 10K because the site was new, technically less that 10K but these people are very experienced with big budgets. It’s a little dangerous but we don’t do a survey or form. What we really wanted to do with this was slow things down but not put up too much friction. It’s just a form, you fill that form out, I get an email. After you fill the form out, the page changes and you can see a calendar link to grab a time on my calendar. If you don’t grab it there, then I’ll go to the email that comes in and I have a save-reply and I say, “Hey, nice to meet you. Here’s my calendar link, grab a time.” That’s how we start the process.
Mike [16:37]: It’s interesting that you use the monthly revenue as the qualifier for that. You’re probably much further along than I am just because you’ve got the two different products that you’re working with but I actually look for a lot more information than you do. I’ve got like a full blown form where when somebody comes to the Blue Tick website, they can enter in their email address for early access and it’s all I had asked them for initially. Once they do that, it takes them to a survey page that says, “Hey, great. Now we’d like some more information from you,” and ask where they heard about it, what do they find most appealing, how do they think it would help them, their top questions. I ask them to describe what their current follow-up process is because one of the things that I want to make sure is do they have one in place right now because if they don’t, I’m going to be doing way too much hand-holding and I’m going to be educating them. If you go to the mass market with a product, then, sure, educating people on how to do that is fine but what I’m really looking for is those people who are well qualified, who are going to essentially be more self-sufficient. Do you find that there are certain types of questions that you’re asked during a demo that help you narrow down whether or not somebody is well qualified for your product that would be very difficult to ask on a form?
Jordan [17:49]: I think it depends on your goal. If you only want to talk to people who are well qualified, I would use a form. In our case, we don’t want to only talk to a very specific segment. We just wanted to slow it down. We just wanted to put a barrier in place as opposed to you put up a higher barrier. You’re saying, “No, I really only want to talk to you if you’re right for me,” which sounds like the right approach when the product is earlier on. For us, it’s a little later on the product but we just wanted to slow it down. You can play with how much you ask how much time commitment you’re asking. Not only are you getting the information from that form but the person who filled out your form spent 10 to 15 minutes on that form. They’re motivated. When you have a conversation with them, it’s in that context, “All right, this is a real opportunity.” For us we didn’t want that. We wanted higher numbers but slow. What I do is I save those questions for the actual demo. After someone schedules something on [?] does its thing. It sends out a reminder on the day before and an hour before. In addition to that what I found works is if I go in and manually send them an email 15 minutes before. I just look at my calendar for the day, I set my iPhone and I set alarms for 15 minutes before each appointment a, so that I don’t forget and b it tells me, “Hey, send that email.” I go to Gmail, just super manual because you can tell that it’s manual. I have a ‘save-reply’ so it takes me 10 seconds to do. It says, “Hey, look forward to speaking with you in about 15 minutes. Here is the link to join the call.” After you do that, you can also join the audio,” because good lord did I have trouble the first week or two of like, “No, no, no click on the freaking phone button or call in the number.” Yeah, you have to be good at anticipating that. One of the tricky things is the way you see it-for me I use ‘join me’ which I like a lot-the way you see the ‘join me’ experience is different from the way your customers. You need to test that out yourself to make sure you know what it looks like on their end so you can actually be like, “You know that field where it says ‘your name’? Type in your name and hit knock the button that says ‘knock’ and I will let you in.” I have that in the email.
Mike [19:56]: This is really about identifying what those friction points all along through that is. That’s an entire sales funnel anyway. Getting people to your website getting them through the process of paying you, signing up, on-boarded, demos and all that stuff, there’s all these little touch points or friction points that, as you said, with your checkout products, if everything is not perfect or at least the five or six things are not perfect, then they’re going to leave, churn out or not going to end up paying you. This is the exact same thing though. There’s all these little things like ‘click on the knock button’. That’s not something that’s obvious but after you do it several times, going through this process with the demo, you see those things and you say, “How can I knock out that barrier? How can I eliminate that so that people don’t run into it or when they do, they know what to do? ”
Jordan [20:43]: I had some funny experiences. We love Zoom. We use Zoom internally for our daily standup calls. Our team is fully distributed in New York, Slovenia, here in Portland. We use Zoom and I love it. People are like, “I use Zoom for Demos.” I said, “Cool, I’m dropping ‘join me’ and use Zoom because I love it.” I had the most awkward week of my life because I couldn’t get-Zoom had this bug where you couldn’t disable video from coming on automatically. I have a demo and I send someone to Zoom link and all of a sudden, their camera were turned on and they weren’t expecting it. These days, not everyone works in office. You’re in your house with your cat on your lap and the video comes on and the initial touch point of the demo with me was you be like, “Oh__ my camera.” Oh, excuse me. That was a paid for experience. I had to go back to ‘join me’. I found that, that email 15 minutes before makes the show-up rate go through the roof. When we start the demo, I started off with one question that’s probably my biggest lesson learnt of the entire demo process was to open up the right question at first. That question I’ll give it verbatim, “Before we jump into the product and features and all that, why don’t you tell me about what you’re trying to accomplish and why you decided to spend half an hour of your time with me today.”
Mike [22:03]: That’s awesome.
Jordan [22:04]: Give that because I found that I would start going into the products. We have two main features. You can build two types of funnel and they’re for two different types of customer. I would just start showing them and I would just not know what they were actually trying to do. When I ask that question, first it just gets the conversation rolling more in a consultative way or like you’re talking about your business with another business owner. I’m not like a sales person that’s giving you a demo of a product I’m trying to sell you. It laid that context down to begin with. And then it told me how to tell the presentation, which main feature should I talk about first? How patient or impatient is this person on the phone? How fast are they talking? It gives you an idea of how to handle the conversation to begin with.
Mike [22:53]: I love the way that you phrase that question. It’s much better than the direction that I go so I will totally steal that.
Jordan [22:58]: It’s almost self- deprecating.
Mike [22:59]: It is, yes.
Jordan [23:00]: Like, “All the product features,” whatever, whatever. What about you? What are you trying to accomplish?
Mike [23:05]: Right. That also gives you an idea of what sorts of things you can go through in the demo and completely leave out because they were irrelevant. You can cut out 10, 15, 20 minutes out of a demo if you don’t have to go over a bunch of things that are just unrelated to what they’re doing. The other question I like to ask when I’m doing a demo is what other things have you tried? What that does is it gives you an idea of the pain points that they’ve had using other products and why those things didn’t work out and you can talk specifically to, “Well, you won’t have that problem because we do this,” or, “This is how we address that. Oh, you said you had that product? This is what we ‘do and this is how you would get around it or avoid that type of situation.
Jordan [23:43]: Yeah, I think that’s great. That sometimes comes up as a result of that initial question but it would be good to address. I think we don’t –I don’t do this much because I know there aren’t alternatives. There’s one alternative. I almost just focus on how will you drive in traffic? Where are you pushing traffic to? What kind of advertising you’re using and that sort of thing. People just tell me. They tell you exactly why like what’s the main feature that caused them to contact you. I’m interested in on click up sales. They just say that and you’re like, “Okay, this person is interested in this feature or someone else will say, “I just want my checkout page to look like the rest of my site and it’s like, “Okay, design focus person.” This just helps you do things right and focus on the right things.
Mike [24:29]: Something that you mentioned earlier was about the fact that if somebody does not sign up for a meeting with you right away after they have gone through and submitted the request for demo, you reach out to them. It’s interesting that you mention that because I automated that piece of it so in my sales funnel when they go through, they enter in the survey, I have it sent out to Google Spreadsheet, where I look it and basically decide whether it’s qualified or unqualified. There’s a drop-down column that I can use, just tag it as qualified or unqualified. If it’s qualified, then what it will do is it will populate it into Blue Tick. It will make some tag adjustments inside Drip and do some other things and it will invite them to a demo using a custom calendar link and it injects using [?] string variables. That gets sent through Blue Tick and if they do not sign up for a calendar link within a certain timeframe, it automatically sends them another one and it will send several follow-ups. It’s interesting to see that most of the people that end up coming to the demo don’t respond necessarily to that first email that gets sent that says, “Hey, you didn’t fill out the survey,” or, “You didn’t sign up for this yet, are you still interested?” It usually takes the second or the third. It’s interesting to notice that those reminders help. You were talking about sending an email 15 minutes in advance of the meeting. Those are the types of things that really help move people forward. You don’t think of them as a business owner initially but those reminders or those touch points help. What other places have you found that that’s true as well?
Jordan [25:56]: What’s been really helpful and I keep manual still and look, a lot of these is you look at the ideal and then you say, “Should we go for that ideal and spend the time to achieve that ideal in terms of process?” For us we are so jammed on the product side that I just tell the guys, “Don’t worry about making this process perfect. We’re not going to do demos this way forever. Just keep it ghetto and yeah, we’re losing some people but it’s better off.” Even you can acknowledge what it should be and what it isn’t, there’s a difference. That difference is acceptable depending on the situation. One of the things that I do manually that’s a touch point in the process that way is the most important touch point. We require demo, we also hide the registration link. You can’t sign up for our product unless you-some people find it somehow.
Mike [26:44]: There’s always people who do that.
Jordan [26:46]: Always, amazing. Those people churn out and like, “I told you, man.” You come in, you start asking questions and like, “We would have talked about this on the demo.” What I do, at the end of the conversation, is we have a talk about pricing. We make sure we’re on the same page so there aren’t any weird surprised because our product isn’t cheap and then I say, “Okay, what I’m going to do when we hang up is I’m going to send you an email with the registration link.” Depending on the way the meeting goes, if the person is super excited, I’m like, “Awesome, sign up, I’ll get you the email right now. I’ll look for it, pin me on intercom once you’re inside the app. Let’s do this.” If it’s less certain, regardless of how uncertain it is. I just say, I’m going to send you the email with the registration link so you have it in your inbox for whenever you’re ready and then when we hang up I go and I have another saved reply that says, “So great to meet you today, really excited to get you started. Here’s the link to register, let me know if there’s any help that we can give you in getting set up.” Again, it’s another manual email touch point after the conversation that’s tailored if we had a really good conversation, if they are a big potential customer, I will change that email up a little bit to address the specific conversation that we had. It’s another touch point after the demo instead of just hoping that they sign up. It’s, “Here’s the link, something personal, super manual,” and I make sure not to reply to the chain of emails we had before that; totally new, subject line is ‘CartHook Sign up link’. That way if they are ever searching for it in their inbox three weeks from now, it’s easier to find.
Mike [28:17]: One of the things that I think is a real advantage of doing that is it allows you to essentially ask for the sale right there on the call and get a solid yes or no and then be able to have a conversation about that. Before we go into that a little bit, I do want to ask you a question because you aid you had a discussion about pricing with them but don’t you list the pricing on your website?
Jordan [28:38]: We do but to assume that everyone looks at it, things about it, internalizes it and brings it into the conversation, I found is a bad assumption. I used to think that but then they kept being like, “All right, so how much is it?” And then I would say, “Okay, so clearly you didn’t look that hard,” and I would get pushback. Yeah, it needs to be part of the conversation. I know, technically, you’re supposed to do it as early as possible. I think in our current stage, if I hired a salesperson to take over for me, I would probably tell them to ask that question earlier on. The way I’ve done it is to focus on the product and get a lot of feedback on it and assume that they looked at the pricing and at the end confirm. I know I’m doing it ideally but I try to make sure it’s injected to the conversation and a lot of that comes from that initial form that they fill out showing how much they make. If I see over 100K a month, I know I’m going to have explain our pricing because our pricing is 300 bucks a months for up to 50K, 500 bucks a month for up to 100K and then over 100K is custom pricing. I know already in the back of my head that’ I’m ready for that conversation.
Mike [29:48]: It’s interesting that- you and I have taken different approaches on this, where you list your pricing there but if you go to Blue Tick’s website, it won’t tell you what the pricing is. You have to ask. That’s one of the questions that when people fill out my survey, that’s one of the, I’ll say, the tops five questions that people are asking; how much does it cost? We get into that conversation and it’s not really a big deal or anything but you do have to have that conversation. I think you’re right about the fact that some people just don’t look at the pricing. They see the product and they sign up for it or they end up in your sales funnel because of something else and you don’t realize that they may never have even hit your website or they just landed on that demo page and that was it. That’s’ their only interaction with it.
Jordan [30:29]: Yeah, it depends on the situation. We wanted to make sure we did give the pricing. That was part of our qualifier. If we didn’t have the pricing, I don’t know what would happen. If we could get more form people or a lot of people who self-select out of the process just don’t request a demo because they think it’s too expensive.
Mike [30:49]: It depends a lot on your own pricing. Your pricing is significantly higher than mine is but mine is also per user. It could obviously swing the other way. If you had 50 or 100 people that you wanted to put on there. There is a generalization that people will make about a product based on the pricing itself and whether they feel like they fit into that or they can afford it. I look at $300 to $500 a month and I’m like, “I’m not paying for that for a shopping cart.”
Jordan [31:16]: That has been a healthy challenge. When someone asks you that on the phone, it forces you into this position of, “I need to justify this properly.” If you’re full of it, it’s going to sound like you’re full of it. You have to believe that your pricing is right. We have only one competitor that does the same thing we do and they are $37 a month. We get the awkward question of, “So I just- I’m not saying anything bad about your software but just help me understand why you’re 10 to 20 times more expensive.”
Mike [31:49]: I’d go with the analogy of have you ever bought something at Walmart and then bough something similar-like a blender at Walmart and then bought a blender at any other distributor ever?
Jordan [31:49]: Right. You need a really good response to that and being forced to do that while on the phone while someone is looking at your screen, it forced a good answer to come out.
Mike [32:10]: How does the on-boarding come into play because there’s obviously an on-boarding discussion that you have to have to have with people. If people are willing to sign up or want to sign up right at that point, obviously you’re sending them the links and stuff. What about on-boarding? Do you talk about on-boarding sessions with them? How do you pitch that to them? Is that an up-sell or is that included as part of the cost?
Jordan [32:31]: At the end of the conversation, along with the sense I say about when we hang up the phone, I’m going to send you the registration link, the next sense that comes out is, “If you look at my screen right now, that little thing on the bottom right hand corner, that’s intercom chat. That’s where you can talk to us. That goes to me and the tech team. If you ever need anything, we’re right there for you. That’s how you’ll get the quickest response.” That puts people at ease a little and then the difficult lesson I had to learn was I need to hand off. I’m doing three or four demos a day and what would happen is those users, I would follow them into the on-boarding. Once they got into the app, they had the relationship with me. They say, “Hey, Jordan I need help on X.” I needed to stop doing that because I want getting any work done besides doing demos and talking to people on intercom. I had to be like, “Sign up and Ben out CTO will be here for you. Our tech team will be able to help you. I’m always here for you if you need anything.” There was a hand off of the baton of once you go into this product, I’m not your man. That had a very interesting effect actually. What it did is it created this social status thing where they were like, “Oh, that’s the founder I like can’t talk to him. He’s like out of reach. We did the demo but he’s too important for me to ask these support questions,” which is not true but you kind of want it to be true in their minds.
Mike [33:54]: You want to be able to redirect the work efforts or the task that they’re giving you because somebody’s got to deal with them.
Jordan [34:01]: Right. You have to make sure not to put down the tech site. I would always say our CTO, Ben. I’m positioning him like, “This is someone serious that you can talk to as a business owner also. Don’t treat this person as some random technical support that works for sales for us and some call center. No, no, no, you’re lucky to work with our team and we’re going to take good care of you,” which goes along with the higher pricing promise.
Mike [34:31]: Inside of Blue Tick there’s a link where people can click on it, literally says ‘support’ on it and then it takes them over to the helpdesk. It’s hosted helpdesk and there’s a place where they can submit something and all the tickets come directly to me but it almost doesn’t matter. I’d rather than go there-
Jordan [34:46]: It’s a process.
Mike [34:47]: Yeah, it’s all about process. I cover that as part of the demo because as you said, people want to feel comfortable that they’re being taken care of. I tell them, “Look, don’t hit me up on Skype, don’t send me directly an email. Send it to email@example.com. You’ll get taken care of.
Jordan [35:02]: I like that. I’m going to take that because people hit me up on Facebook, Slack, Skype, Email, all over the place. I like that.
Mike [35:11]: I think there is a couple of different ways you can position that. One is that, for example Skype, I am almost never on Skype. The only time I’m on Skype is if I’m there to make a call and record podcasts. There might, very well, be a week between calls if somebody tries to hit me up on Skype. If it’s a support request, this could be a few days or it could easily be a few days. I’ve had several situations where that happens and I’m like, “You’ve got to email me like add support here,” and then I’ll get you taken care of.
Jordan [35:38]: That’s a good lesson for that.
Mike [35:39]: It is.
Jordan [35:40]: It’s tricky. Facebook is a full-blown sales channel. My Facebook Messenger is a full-blown sales channel.
Mike [35:47]: The other thing that It allows you to do is to use that as essentially a repository for information for when you bring on new people to help out with support and then they get to see what kinds of things have been asked before, whether or not it make sense to make a helpdesk article out of stuff. There’s a lot of advantages to that but making sure that they know where to go to get help is also an important part of that demo process.
Jordan [36:10]: Yeah, I like that. I’m going to regret that a lot because we have so much in intercom and intercom search is horrific. It’s just terrible. When we hire someone for customer support that we’re talking about doing in the next few weeks, they’ll have everything there but it will be impossible to find. It will be a lot more painful.
Mike [36:29]: That almost sounds like a product on its own, like intercom search but I think you’ll get run out of business at some point.
Jordan [36:36]: Yeah, eventually we’ll get it right.
Mike [36:39]: We’ve talked a lot about some of the different advantages of going with a sales model where you’re forcing people through a demo first. Is there a point where you have in mind right now, where in the future you’re going to switch over or do you know that at some point in the future you’re going to go in the direction of, “Look, let’s kind of stop these one to one demos,” or is there a hybrid approach that you’re thinking of where people who are well qualified, above a certain point, you’ll do demos for them but below that, you want it to be more self-serve? How do you envision that working out for you in the future? What sorts of data points have you pulled in to make those decisions?
Jordan [37:14]: That is the single, hottest topic of conversation internally in our Slack. What do we do to transition out of one on one demos? What we have found is that there is no one way to do it. You can be as creative as you want. We’ve come up with a hundred different ways to do it. There is going from requiring a demo to completely self-serve. That’s like going all the way. Between where we are right now and doing that, there’s this huge range of creative solutions. I’ll tell you some of the things that we’re considering. We thought about A, just experimenting with opening up completely, not requiring a demo. We always require a credit card but not requiring a demo and just letting people in and then doing that and at the same time me taking the time that I’m spending on demos right now and spend it on creating on-boarding videos, documentation, helpdesk stuff, knowledge stuff. That’s one way to do it. We talked about allowing for sign-up but then as soon as you log in, you get a welcome screen with effectively a 10 to 15 minute demo of the product. We’ve talked about doing that and requiring the person watches it before they can go forward. We’ve talked about letting people sign up. Having more on-boarding videos but not letting them launch. Taking the bottleneck and moving it from the signup process to the launch process. Our product requires one line of code added to their Shopify Store. In the process, they give us access to their Shopify Store, we go in and we add one line of code. We looking at them and say, “Maybe that’s actually an opportunity to slow things down, if and when we want.” Maybe we just let people sign up, let them on-board, let them set up but don’t let the launch and have them do launch appointments instead of demo appointments. Someone on our team can do a quick 15 minute call, “Hey, is the checklist, looks like you’re good. Do you have any questions before you go? Let me take a look at your account. You’re good to go, cool.” We’re still only launching [?] three a day instead of just 10 people a day signing up and just asking a million questions and not knowing what to do and launching before they’re ready and so forth. We’ve also considered keeping the demo requirement but doing a one-to-many approach. We’ve talked about daily webinars, which would still be more efficient than doing four individual appointments a day. We’ve talked about a weekly webinar on Wednesdays. This isn’t like a webinar to sell a product. It’s really like a demo webinar, it’s, “Here is the product,” for 20 minutes and then another half hour of Q and A. We’ve also talked about doing that but doing it recorded. We’ve talked about putting it in between so when you sign up, you just put your email address in there you can watch a recording and then you can have a learning page using called [?] pages. You could have the video and then only have the button pop-up to register after X number of minutes. I could do a 10 minute video and the button doesn’t show up to actually register until X number of minutes. It’s like-
Mike [40:17]: That seems really sneaky.
Jordan [40:20]: It’s like okay, take the email upfront but there is no right way. We can do whatever we want and what we always say, internally, is, it’s all reversible. What’s the worse that happens? We just go back to demos. What’s the worst? It’s time to open up and see what happens. If it’s an absolute mess, we go back to doing one on one demos.
Mike [40:39]: It’s interesting the way that you put that in terms of moving where you’re putting that bottleneck or that artificial throttle line to make sure that people are doing the right things. Initially or at least right now, you’ve got that bottleneck right in front of where they can sign up. They can’t sign up unless they go through the demo. You’ve talked a lot about moving that further in so they can sign up but they can’t really use it. There’s other ways that you can think about that as well, in terms of if you allow people to sign up without a credit card, for example, but as soon as they go to do something where it’s going to create value for them, that’s when you require a credit card. That’s another place that you could presumably put a bottleneck.
Jordan [41:18]:-which is exactly what we do with our other product.
Mike [41:22]: But I think all that boils down to what is it that you’re trying to do and why. It has to be whatever makes sense for your product and customers and making sure that you’re not putting negative stress on the business in certain ways, whether it’s on the servers that are running or on your support staff or you as a founder trying to answer those support calls or on the sales demo process. There’s lots of things that go into that. It’s interesting the way that you put that in terms of all the different decisions that you have ahead of you to figure out like where is the next best place to try this?
Jordan [41:57]: Yeah, we’ve probably run ourselves a little crazy for about a week on it. Now it’s just-now every time I get a new demo request, I just say, “Time I should be working on something else.”
Mike [42:09]: We can probably do an entire episode on the pros and cons of having the bottlenecks in different places but I think we’re a little short on time at this point. Any parting words for the listeners?
Jordan [42:20]: The only thing I’d say as a parting is to ignore what other people tell you to do. There’s this unbelievably impactful tweet I saw recently and all it was ‘stop telling me what to do’. If you read all these headlines and blog posts it’s like, “Do this for this action, then you get this result and like-,” all these advice but in reality, you don’t have to take any of it. You just do whatever is right for your situation. There’s no such things as, “I’m doing it wrong just because I’m not doing it the way [?] does it.” It sounds a little stupid for us to slow down, people signing up for 300 bucks a month but that’s what makes sense for us. My parting words would be just do whatever is right for you, not what you think you’re supposed to be doing given your industry or space or whatever.
Mike [43:08]: Excellent advice there. If people want to follow up with you after the podcast, where can they find you?
Jordan [43:13]: I’m on Twitter @Jordangal and Jordan@carthook.com, if you want to email me and hopefully see you at Micro Conf in a few weeks, depending on when this episode gets published. I’m looking forward to Micro Conf.
Mike [43:25]: And you’re also based out of Portland, Oregon, right?
Jordan [43:28]: I am, Portland, Oregon. There’s a good, strong, contingent here of web businesses here, a lot of people that go to Micro Conf. Yes, it’s a strong community, really cool people. Everyone’s supper open to get in-touch with everyone. If you are in the Portland area, definitely get in touch.
Mike [43:43]: Excellent. Well, Jordan, thanks a lot for coming on and if you have a question for us you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-8-8-8-8-0-1-9-6-9-0 or you can e-mail it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from ‘We’re Out of Control’ by MoOt, used under creative comments. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.