4 Challenges Every Growing SaaS Business Will Face: Lessons from Michał Sadowski of Brand24
You can watch the full interview here, or read this article for a summary of the key points.
- Michał Sadowski is the founder and CEO of Brand24, a social media monitoring solution that provides instant access to brand mentions across social, news, blogs, and more.
- Brand24 got its first 100 clients in the first 3 months from personalized cold outreach, specifically for their beta program.
- Brand24 wasn’t the first brand monitoring tool in the market, but they were determined to stand out from the crowd with the best Product Experience.
- Product Experience is not only the product itself: it’s Customer Success, Service, experience with the website, time to value.
- Brand24 agrees that companies that implement product walkthrough tools to improve their onboarding, personalization, and product experience can win the market even without the greatest product.
- In 2019, someone accused Brand24 of collecting data they weren’t supposed to collect from FB & Instagram. Facebook applied a blanket ban but the company overcame this rather large hiccup.
- Setbacks are opportunities to growth and successful SaaS companies are those that can overcome these trials
How it started
Brand 24, a social media monitoring solution founded and headquartered in Poland, provides instant access to brand mentions across social, news, blogs, videos, forums, podcasts, reviews, and more.
To show all entrepreneurs that monitoring is not that bad and expensive and that they don’t need an army of people to do it.
Michal brainstormed this goal for Brand24 with his three co-founders, sure they had something unique.
“I know it sounds like a very obvious idea today,” Michał explains, “but back in 2005, this was new and innovative.”
However, Brand 24 was first met with doubt from early investors due to the very nature of large competition.
“They claimed that there are many companies like ours and we don’t stand out against them,” Sadowski tells us.
But not getting backing wasn’t going to stop them.
So how did a fully bootstrapped SaaS company for the first 18 months to a leader of Internet monitoring in Poland and now globally? The key begins with overcoming product challenges and standing out in a crowded market.
Challenge #1: Stand out with product experience
Product experience (sometimes referred to as PX) relates to the part of the overall user experience that takes place inside your product. Sadowski explains that starting out in an established market is easier as you can capitalize on your competitor’s tech debt.
“We are always looking to optimize the existing standards,” he says, adding that “every weekly status we have, we look for optimizations in the customer journey.”
Noting that some of these things may include:
- How to make the time-to-value shorter.
- How to make the time to reach out to representations shorter.
- How to make the onboarding simpler.
Improve in-app communication
Subscription businesses such as Brand24 are based on customer retention, not conversion.
And that customer retention plays a huge part in the overall success of your business. In fact, a classic Bain and Co study found that increasing businesses’ customer retention rate by 5% can increase profitability by as much as 75%.
But here’s that catch: Most customers don’t reach out to customer support when they hit a hurdle.
Instead, they get frustrated and leave.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” Michal adds. “If the customer reaches out and you can solve the problem, that’s pretty cool. But if your software is not providing tooltips to solve the problem, they may leave altogether.”
That’s why it’s so important to proactively reach out to them when they get stuck by analyzing data (Michal’s favorite tools are listed below).
A good product can only get you so far, perhaps landing the free trial users.
A good customer experience can convert trial users to loyal, paying customers.
For example, you must find where your users are having challenges and use a tool to walk them through that challenge.
Michal also suggests providing real-time support with Live Chat.
That’s the difference between customer support versus customer success. The former is a reactive process that helps solve a specific issue while the latter is an ongoing process that proactively helps the customer find value in your product.
Challenge #2: Getting your first clients
You can’t focus on customer retention if you don’t have clients to keep happy in the first place, right?
But getting those first customers is always a huge challenge not just in the SaaS world but for any business.
Michał Sadowski had done all the legwork to make an awesome product at a great price that ticks all the boxes above. But the customers didn’t just come tumbling through the door.
He found his first 300 clients via cold outreach, initially limited to Poland, where he is from.
To get those first 300 clients, he sent out between 2,000 and 3,000 ultra-personalized messages on Facebook and Linkedin, two unique channels during that time for reaching out to potential customers.
And it was time-consuming.
“I feel like founders these days aren’t aware of the sheer amount of leads you have to process in order to get sales,” Michal adds.
To up those odds, he recommends personalizing your email outreach.
The best cold messages do these 3 things:
- Personalize it with the reason why you’re reaching out to them
- Say what’s in it for them
- Then, add in the offer that’s too good to pass up.
Brand 24 scours the internet for brand mentions across social, news, blogs, videos, forums, podcasts, reviews, and more. That’s what you’ll want to do for this outreach email in order to help give a reason why you’re reaching out to them.
Then, add in the offer that’s too good to pass up.
In the case of Brand 24, they provided value upfront by giving a “sample” of their own product (a single link to a valuable mention) to attract the testers to join. They referred to this as beta testing.
Lastly, they made the offer very low friction. That is, the product was free for 3 months!
That doesn’t mean you have to always be free.
It just means you need to go in with a small ask rather than a full-blown plea to purchase your product.
Think about it: it’s a cold email, meaning they don’t know your product (or how amazing it may be!). Getting a small win, or a micro-conversion, on these messages is key to converting them to paying customers down the line.
Bonus: Make it exclusive
Brand24 wasn’t for everyone and was invite-only, playing on the exclusivity tactic.
This puts your new leads in an elite group, or an exclusive group, which helps create a strong sense of belonging and community (which Maslow argued was at the center of the human hierarchy of needs). It also plays on their FOMO (fear of missing out).
Challenge #3: Keeping clients happy & continuing to grow
Once you have the clients and have worked out a lot of the kinks that contribute to initial churn, it’s time to optimize for client success and growth.
One of those ways is via onboarding.
So, essentially, the goal of new user onboarding is to get users to experience the value of your product and decide to stick around during the trial and post-sale periods–for less abandonment.
“These days it’s so much fun to set up a [user onboarding flow]”
Says Michal, adding that there’s no reason not to invest the few hours it takes to build onboarding flows.
Challenge #4: Staying ahead of the times
“The sector is full of companies that have been operating for many years. They started when technology was expensive and prices were high. Years went by and their products, as well as prices, haven’t changed much,” says Michal.
“With our modern product, modern functions, and modern layout, which are available at a much better price, we have a chance to make a global impact.”
In our interview together, Michal adds that there are always new products hitting the market and products ready to be cheaper than you. So if you can’t win with price, when with modernization.
Here are his top tools to crunch the data and find ways to optimize.
- Heap: helps surface the hidden friction and opportunities in the customer journey
- Hotjar: helps visually show how users behave on your site
- Google Analytics: lets you measure your advertising ROI and more
- CRM & CMS to obtain the numbers
Plus, Brand24 notes they have two full-time Data Analysts to crunch the data.
Not only do these help to anticipate the users’ needs and optimize functions and features, but also to personalize each mode of communication at a larger scale.
Be prepared for bumps in the road
Even after you’re in the waters, it’s not always smooth sailing.
In 2019, someone wrongfully accused Brand24 of collecting data they weren’t supposed to collect from Facebook and Instagram. Facebook applied a blanket ban to Brand’s access to their data, as well as company and personal profiles of the founders.
It took a challenging six months of audits to resolve the issue and restore their access.
This event, in turn, had cost them thousands of clients which took another two years for the company to return to normality pre-event.
“As Winston Churchill would say ‘Never waste a good crisis,’” Michal cheerfully adds.
“Sometimes when you are at a huge cost restriction is when you are at your most creative because you can’t solve problems with money.”
Brand24 used this time to innovate and develop a lot of disruptive features that they may have not discovered before, including being the first company to monitor podcasts and TikTok.
How it continues
While Michal admits bringing a new digital product into the market can be a rewarding feeling, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.
The road towards a successful launch can be a tough one, filled with product development risks.
These tactics listed above have helped Brand24 get funding—even funds from the USA, Great Britain, and Poland from select companies who, in 2011, initially rejected their idea! In 2015, they finally got funding and have been on the up and up.
And their story is an inspiration to SaaS companies worldwide who truly believe their product can provide value to their customers year after year.
For the future, things continue to grow for Brand24.
Two great features you can look forward to over at Brand24 in 2022 are Custom Reports as well as Insights & Benchmarks to make data more actionable.
When we see Brand24’s story from rags to riches, there are two key points:
- Starting out in an established market is easier as you can capitalize on your competitor’s tech debt and do something substantially better and…
- … You can’t give up when the road isn’t on a smooth upward trajectory.
Book smarts mixed with street smarts make a wonderfully successful cocktail for SaaS products! Hopefully, this serves as inspiration when navigating product challenges to come.