Dublin-based startup NewsWhip achieved speedy growth in 2014, with revenues past the €1 million mark, and customers including BuzzFeed, BBC and the the Huffington Post. The company focused from the beginning on sales in the US and Europe, and specifically in selling to the new media companies of New York City.
In the first chapter in our NewsWhip Guide to World Domination, CEO and Co-founder Paul Quigley shares some tips on growing an internationally focused SaaS business from Dublin.
Over the past 3 years, Ireland has given birth to several very promising B2B SaaS startups – that’s business to business, software as a service to the uninitiated. Rather than try and grow market share in Ireland, they have all focused immediately on winning traction in the US, Asia and Europe, and often skipping the step of pushing their services in Ireland at all. Some examples you might know would be Trustev, Boxever, Intercom, Datahug, OnePageCRM, Teamwork – and there are many others.
At NewsWhip, we pursued this strategy, with some success. So each week, we’ll be sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned as part of our grandly titled series: The NewsWhip Guide to World Domination – WGWD for short. Catchy, right?
This week we’ll look at how to score the meetings to help bring in your first high profile customers.
Getting Great Meetings
One of NewsWhip’s great assets is our pretty fantastic customers. They have two great effects on our business.
First, once the BBC, BuzzFeed and NBC are using your service, others become curious about it. If you don’t have NewsWhip, what are you missing out on?
Second, by selling to the leaders and building around their needs, we are building technology that everyone else will want in 2 or 3 years’ time.
Getting high quality customers aboard early is a great proof point for many early stage startup companies. There’s two ways of doing so:
- Remarkable Product
- Fantastic Story
And that’s it.
Forget cold calls or shoe leather. Sure, you’ll need persistence on the way, but persistence without (1) or (2) gets you nowhere except frustrating meetings. There are no doors to knock on in a Manhattan office building; you’re either invited in to meet, or you’re not. And you won’t be invited up unless a busy person decides you’re worth an hour of their day.
Introductions will not get you there. Your friends’ books of contacts will get worn out quick unless you walk in the door with either (1) a remarkable product or (2) a fantastic story.
NewsWhip fell mainly into category (1): we built something people in media thought was very cool. Our platform tracks all the content published each day and shows the stories getting engagement and traction on social networks, with a level of granularity and geographic filtering that had not been seen before. In the eyes of journalists and media executives, this was something game-changing: a way to see how all stories – not just their own stories – perform online each day, everywhere.
Remarkable product does not mean perfect product. NewsWhip’s platform is not finished or polished, but it is remarkable, simply because it does something unique very fast and very well.
We’ll keep polishing and iterating forever. Welcome to building a SaaS company.
Sometimes, a product is remarkable simply because of its simplicity and price point rather than its bells and whistles. (For example, our accounts team chose simple Irish OnePageCRM over the big American CRM leaders.)
For at least 80% of entrepreneurs, option (1) (remarkable product) is the way to go. Ideally you’ll have some combination of (1) and (2): your remarkable product should come with a fantastic story.
A strategy of leading with Option 2 (fantastic story) is also an option. Though unless you’re well connected and experienced in your industry, it’s hard to make sales with just a story.
Still, I have seen some startups get commercial traction with (2) only. In this situation, your product is quite undeveloped but you have fantastic presentations, mock-ups and social proof. The story solves a major pain point, and customers can’t wait to write a check for your vaporware, perhaps imagining that you’re further along than you are, or else just convinced by you that you’re the person who’ll solve their problem. Then you work closely with them on building the damn thing. Keep everyone charmed and you’ll literally fake it ‘til you make it.
Number (2) is hard for first time entrepreneurs – your story needs to be tight, and the founding team bulletproof. But paraphrasing the great philosopher Kevin Costner, “If you pretend you have built it, they will come.”
Handling Those High Level Meetings
When my co-founder Andrew and I were first heading over to meetings with influential media figures in NY (Jonah Peretti of BuzzFeed or Richard Edelman of Edleman), we got a good piece of advice from Broadsheet.ie founder John Ryan.
He said: “Be cool.”
It’s great advice. Think about it from the media mogul’s side of the table. They are meeting you because they’re interested in what you’re doing. So you should relax, and articulate your ideas to them, and maybe even have some fun doing it. They don’t want to be thanked fifteen times for taking the meeting, or have their time wasted because you’re nervous. So think of them as future friends, relax and tell your story.
We’d add one extra line of advice to John’s – visualize each meeting before you take it. In particular, visualize what you want from it, and what the people there will want from it. Do some research. You’ll know what they’re interested in before the meeting, and how to align that with your goals.
Voila. So, before booking the flight to NY or California, build something – a remarkable product or a fantastic story. Or best of all, both.
Then, be cool. Easy, right?
To be continued…