Hi Crystal. Thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. How are you doing today?
I'm super David. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Yeah. I'm super excited to have you to talk a little bit about HRLocker. Where are you based, you're in Ireland, right?
Yeah. So we're actually, we're based in the West coast of Ireland. So usually I'm looking out over the beach, but today it's a little bit overcast, so not a great day.
It's funny you talked about the beach. I live in Tampa, Florida, and this year, obviously it's a COVID year. I think I had been to the beach, one time all year. I live right next to the beach. It's crazy. It's so sad.
It's really different. I mean, usually I try to get in kinda every day, but it's, it's just not happening this year.
Tough. It's a tough year. And we'll talk a little bit about that and kind of the effects of what this year has done for marketing, for product-market fit, all that kind of good stuff. So let's kick it off. Tell us a little bit about HRLocker when it was founded, who your customers are and what you're doing uniquely in the marketplace?
Sure. So HRLocker is a HR software company. So we automate the HR processes for businesses. So things like time sheets, absence management requests, holidays, performance management, employee databases. So anything that's HR related, we automate. The company's been through a bit of a transition. So we started in 2004 as a HR consultancy company. So we worked with SMEs who didn't have a full-time HR presence. So we went in there and we manage their HR departments. So in 2013, we really saw a niche in the market to provide a HR SaaS solution to that SME market that we were already working in. And I think that's really what, what makes us different is that HRLocker has been designed by HR consultants and HR managers. So we know the problems that our customers face on a day-to-day basis because we were that customer once.
16 years, is that about right?
Is that about right.
Wow. That's obviously a long time. And you know, a lot of times on this, on this podcast, we hear about companies being started, Demio is the same way, from pain points that someone's having, whether it's an agency or, you know, doing consulting. So it's always just a great place to start the SaaS. When did it actually become a SaaS company from the consultancy?
So we started looking in around 2013 and really then we kind of launched the product in 2014. And, you know, I'll be really honest with you, David. It came from that, we were looking for a product for our companies and we couldn't find anything that they could use. The only products we could find were for the larger companies, which was totally out of the price point for an SME or a high potential startup company.
Yeah, absolutely. And it's incredible that companies come from these needs, they start to sprout when you, when you find those holes in the market, obviously there's always that learning curve, a little bit of naivety is needed in those moments. Like we can do this without really realizing how tough it is, but you know, you guys are here six, seven years later. That's amazing. When did you actually join the team and what was your initial focus coming in?
So I joined the team 13 years ago. Yeah, so a long time. And so when I started, I started as an HR consultant. I worked with the small to medium sized companies going in there and managing their day to day HR. And then when we started looking at really going into towards products and looking at creating the SaaS product, I went into a sales and marketing role. So I like to talk to people. I like to figure out what they needed. So, you know, I did the sales role for a little while and what I really loved, I loved the product side of it. So I love to, to listen, to you know, on a sales call to listen to people's problems that they were having and thinking, you know, we could, if we had just adapted the product a small bit like this, or, or this would really suit your needs. So about five or six years ago, I really moved into a product marketing role. And that's my role at the moment. So I'm head of product marketing at HRLocker. And, and so I go through basically the inception of an idea and how we're going to take that idea and bring it to market. And that's, that's, that's what I love about it.
Do you have to work directly with the marketing department or do you pretty much lead these product launches themselves?
So I work directly with the marketing department, so we are a small team. I work directly with them and directly with the development team and the product team. So I'm kind of the bridge between those two teams, if that makes sense. Yeah, I think it's important sometimes that, you know, product doesn't lead everything and obviously that the marketing doesn't lead in everything either. So there's gotta be that bridge.
I love that. Is a really, really smart point, and that's very helpful to think about. So you kind of mentioned already how you guys found product-market fit coming out of being consultancy, you know, having the touch points with customers already talking to them, seeing the pain point yourself, but I'd love to know how you saw this ICP change in 2020 during this pandemic time, kind of how it's affected companies, obviously affected companies of all sizes across the board. Did you guys have to make any changes that change the way you looked at product or just marketing in general?
So we, our ICP hasn't changed, but they're definitely, their needs and their challenges have changed. So that's something we really, from a marketing perspective and from product we really had to take into into account because previously our message really was about digitizing your HR, changing the business narrative, make sure you're putting in a good culture. Whereas we have to kind of step back, you know, once the pandemic hit and COVID hit and step back and go, okay, well, what actually are the needs of our ICP now because everybody's in a panic. So, so one of the things that we did was to kind of figure out, well, what are their changes? What are the needs, how are their needs changed? We did a survey among, there was 650 companies that we surveyed. All really specific. CEO's that kind of C suite level in our ICP SME companies and kind of ask them, you know, really well, what are the changes that they're going through at the moment?
What are the challenges they have? What areas do they need help with? You know, what are the, you know, what what's, what's going on? And one of the biggest changes that we found for our ICP is the remote working aspect, because a lot of companies just had never had remote workers before. So all of a sudden, overnight, they were told to go home and set up remote working teams. And so that was the biggest challenge for us. And we had to kind of move our message towards, well, now we can help you as a remote or as a remote working teams. We can, we can help you facilitate that.
I want to jump into brand messaging, but I do have a tactical question for you on setting up this survey. And this is coming from a need that we're looking at right now, kind of pain point more we're having. When you did this survey, were you looking at companies that didn't have HR set up yet? And if so, how did you segment to those people, those CEOs, and then where did you find the 650 people that you did survey? Did you buy a list? Did you go to LinkedIn? How did you, how did you get that segment?
We used LinkedIn and that's, and we heavily use LinkedIn. We use it for sales. We use it for our ABM marketing. You know, we use it for our list management and everything like that. So I suppose that the task for us wasn't to create leads from this. It was to look at our ICP and our ICP was an SME who they could have had an HR product. It was to find out at the moment, if you are a 200 man company and you've had everybody sent home, what problems are you having? So we weren't really looking at it to create leads for ourselves. You know, truthfully, look, if a lead came out of it, that was going to be great. But, you know, truthfully, it was really to focus on getting the information. It wasn't too focused on getting leads in. It was to focus on us, really being able to get that information and to be able to service our ICP better.
Got it makes sense. And so that then flips back to brand messaging. And I think, you know, adaptability is a word that we talk about a lot on these episodes recently, just talking about the pandemic and how we've all had to just be adaptable in lives and marketing and everything. And I know after you learn, you run the survey, you get into brand messaging, two questions come from this. How did, how did the survey results give you the positive affirmation that you needed to change the messaging? And how often should you be thinking about changing brand messaging? Obviously this is a unique situation, but does this, is this something that you think about on a yearly basis? Do you need to constantly think about your brand messaging or once you kind of have this refined, is good to go if you know, in six months you get you know, we kind of get through a little bit of this pandemic, do you go back to your old brain messaging? So this is just about like the impact of brand messaging from these moments.
I'll bring you back to the beginning. So in January 2020, you know, I had this wonderful marketing plan drawn up. We had a 12-month marketing plan. I had it broken down into little campaigns that we're going to run at each stage, but ultimately our message for 2020 was changing the business narrative, digitizing your HR and putting in a good culture in place. March hit and to be honest with you, nobody wanted to buy HR software because if we're panicking and just wanted to stay open. So, you know, ultimately, you know, that is still, that's still our message and that's who we are, you know, and we're all about culture. And we are really about, you know, digitizing the mundane, but in that moment we had to step back and go, okay, so that's our brand messaging. People aren't, people aren't listening to that at the moment because there's too much stuff going on.
So we've got all this information and the information written on it. I do have to say that the survey that we did was lockdown number one. So, you know, it's kind of three or four months ago, so we've actually done another one. And I'll go into that in a minute. But the survey that we got was all about remote working, and it was all about employee wellness and it was all about improving culture remotely. So we took those three messages and we looked at it and said, okay, so this is what people are looking for. This is what our ICP is looking for. These are their pain points. So right now their appetite for sales is probably zero. So let's step back and see how we can actually help our customer. So we really moved from a very much content led strategy to being a hundred percent inbound.
So we created a huge amount of content. And we had a lot of that ourselves because we have a lot of, you know, HR templates. So we had employee handbooks, we had remote working policies, employee wellness checklists, how to run employee wellness remotely, how to do performance management remotely. So we had all this data and all this information, and we just created just a library of content that we just pumped out to our ICP. It was gated content. So we did get their information, but the message was, we're here to help you, times are hard and we're here to help you. Definitely March, April was a bit of a risk because we were thinking, my goodness, we're not hitting our sales targets, but you know, it has paid off hugely because we weren't pushing sales. We were pushing empathy that has really worked for us to be honest with you. And I think that that's a message we will certainly continue to carry on, but in February or March. So I do have, you know, I'm trying to plan next year, but, you know, we are going with that empathy message as well. But you know, I think in these times you just can't be pushing sales. People don't know what's going on.
Yeah. And I think is a really good answer, and I think so much of this is like, you just gotta make that call based on the pain point that you're in. Like you can't, you don't want to just change your messaging unless you're maybe in a pain point or you're changing some stuff in your product, but it's a really good answer. You mentioned that a secondary lockdown, I know you launched a research campaign after a lockdown. Can you tell us why you decided to go into research and doing kind of a content strategy that way and how did you leverage that once you did it?
Yeah, so I'll be honest. I really wanted to get ahead of it because I felt that there was panic everywhere and nobody knew what to do. And I, you know, I found that with, you know we have a large customer base and it was a two-prong approach to be honest, David, one about making sure our customer base was happy, whatever issues that they were going through, whether they, you know, were closing doors or closing the shop fronts or sending people home. We obviously have a customer base that we have to protect as well to make sure we're servicing and then our ICP as well though, that they can, they can use that message themselves. So that's the thing, I really wanted to get ahead of it and, and focus on, well, how's the marketplace reacting to this lockdown? How is the market place reacting to at the time we had a two kilometer radius that we were allowed to stay in.
So, you know, how were they transitioning through this time? And like I said, the last thing people wanted to do was buy HR software. So it was a case of go and collate all this data and figure out how to take that data and push it into our marketing campaign. One of the new kind of things that we did again, like I said, we were, we were extremely content focused at the beginning. At the beginning of the year, we do a lot of blogs. That's where most of our sales come from, or leads come from is our blogs. Cause we push out a lot of content. And so we did, we do a lot of webinars based on, how to webinars and we really have to move away from selling the product, which I know sounds a little bit counter productive, but it was, it was how to manage your teams remotely, how to do performance management remotely, and do podcasts on interviewing.
We try to get some kind of government leaders and things like that on who were, who were (inaudible) with the legislation that was going on. So interviewing them and saying, if I am an SME and I want to open up what social distance policies do I need to put in place? So really looking at who our ICP was, who our targets are, our targets, are CEOs, HR directors, and what did they want to know? That's the message that we wanted to get across, and that's really why we went to a research base so that we could, that we could focus on getting that content and pushing it out that answering questions.
I love that. And it makes so much sense. You mentioned the word before empathy being empathy minded, just being person minded, that you knew that there was fear. You saw it. Again, the pain point was that no one wanted to buy software at this point, but they wanted to listen to market leaders to be there to listen and learn and understand how to keep their people safe, keep their business going. So you guys definitely transitioned there. And how have you taken the campaign data to then also implement product and content ideas that was leveraged out of that?
There were kind of two things that, that, lots of things came from, but two things came from it that really resonated with me. We've had a lot of remote workers since we started, you know, we're based in the West coast of Ireland. We're based here as a lifestyle choice rather than a business choice. So we've always had that remote working aspect. So when everybody was sent home during lockdown, you know, we just turned on our laptops. We knew how to remote work because that's how we've done business, since we started and we had all these clients ringing us, absolutely panicking because all their people were sent home and they had no idea how to manage a remote team. And one of the main things we were like, you know, look, it's look at what they've got on their laptops, they have Microsoft teams or zoom or whatever it is you're using.
Just put in that structure. You need to be able to figure out how to manage your remote team. We kind of took that and said, okay, well, I will show you how to do that within our product. And I'll show you how to actually manage a remote team. And it was just things that we had kind of inadvertently done, and it was how we manage our own teams anyway. So a lot of the webinars and podcasts that we did, I would have, I would kind of go on to our product and say, this is how I manage my remote working team. And this is what I do. And this is how I use the product to manage my remote team. And this is how I actually do my reviews, my appraisals on to somebody remotely. And this is how I do it. So it was during that time, it was really focused on, okay so anything that we're going to do has got to be, have that remote element to it because that was the need of our ICP at the time.
And then the second thing that we did was kind of a really, really small change was because people were on COVID leave or, you know, you have to kind of report on who's in the office and who isn't in the office. And if somebody had an, an illness, a COVID-related incidents. We, it was just a really simple thing that we put in that people could record if they were in a COVID related illness and that it was a really, really small thing to, a couple of days to develop, and it was one of our biggest selling points the last few months.
Yeah. I'm sure that became a really interesting product addition to the website, really fit in, well with everything that you did out those changes, you know, when you sit down in the product, maybe you're in marketing, maybe in product marketing, but you're sitting down to like leverage an idea like that. A great idea. How do you get that in priority line against everything else? And this is more just like a, I guess, a product marketing question, like just to go to your engineering or leadership team and be like, Hey, I have this great idea. It might only take a couple of days, you know, what you think, or how do you push that forward?
So the way that we did it is so I actually called a company-wide meeting and I had everybody on the call. So I had all our developers, our sales team, marketing team, support team, finance, everybody on the call. And I said, okay guys, this is a bit of a brainstorming session. Our customers are in a panic, our ICPS are in a panic. What can we do to really help them through this stage? And we kind of brainstormed a couple of ideas and you know, some of the things that came through was really easy when somebody's logging sick leave, we can see, is it going to be COVID related? Another one was, okay, well, if I'm remote working and I want to time my projects, there's a little timer I can press, and I can time which project I'm doing at the moment.
Or a third thing came was that you know, if you're, if you've got a talk in and out box and you've got to put your thumbprint on it, you couldn't put your hand on it. So we've made them voice activated. And there was just this week, we created this huge excitement in the team about how we could help our customers. And that work went to the top of the list. And we, all those projects were done from inception to close within 10 days. It was incredible because we just had a huge buzz around. Now I don't know if I'll be able to repeat that again, but it was just this huge buzz of everybody's buying in. And we really brought it back down to our customers have a problem. We need to help them
Alignment. Right. Alignment in the market alignment for what your product is doing from the value perspective to the market. But internally it sounds like so much of that was everyone was excited to help. It was a time of need and you guys executed it flawlessly. So congratulations. And it sounds like, you know, just being that, that empathy to the market goes inwards as well and kind of gets everyone excited. I know everything that we're talking about is adaptability that you guys did this year to your, to your ICP, to your messaging, to the research projects, to the product. How did you then leverage that to maybe PR. I know you guys had a big PR campaign with great results and how did you build a PR campaign around this?
Yeah, so I think the number one thing with a PR campaign or marketing campaign is great content. You know, so that's, that's, that's not a new, that's not a new idea. You know, it's, you've got to start with great content. And when you're a SaaS product, a lot of the time we talk about our product, we talk about the features that we have. And, you know, nobody wants to read about time sheets and holiday bookings. Unfortunately, cause I could write a lot about that, but nobody wants to read about that. So the first thing you have to do when you're doing a PR campaign is to stop talking about your product and start to talk about the relatable stories that you're to your ICP. So to let them know that you understand their pain points, to tell them a story that they understand and that they go, well, you know what?
These people might understand my problems and these people might understand my issues. So I might get in contact with them because, because they seem to know what they're talking about. So we took a step back and we try to just talk about what we knew and what we knew was remote working. And what we knew was how to manage people remotely. And what we knew was HR. We did so many features in newspapers and podcasts and webinars, and just all different avenues where we were talking about our customer's pain points and the number one thing, which was a little bit difficult and not going to lie was to stop selling our features, start talking about how we can help people. That was our number one strategy was start talking about how we help people and stop selling the features, you know, and the thing is when you create great content, you start to build relationships because your customers or your ICP start to understand that these people understand their problems. It's not just features they're selling, you know, so you've got to spend the time to get to know your customers because your customers are more than a persona. You don't just sell to leads, you sell to people, and you've got to talk to them like they're people and not just leads.
That's amazing insight. And you're saying stuff to me personally, at the right moment, because we're thinking a lot about our messaging. And I think you're, you're absolutely right on so many of these different items and it's about the real pain and story that our customers are going through. Right? Like understanding their journey and being able to speak directly to that, offering them the solution. But it's less about features and more about the empathy of that journey. And so much of that story is what attracts people and gives them the unique perspective of what your product is. That's fantastic.
Yeah. And that's, that's really what we try to do is to understand the journey they were on.
Yeah. A hundred percent. That's the hardest part. And you talked about that already with the survey and the research campaign. I think that's how you learn those things and why I'm digging into that a little bit more today. But looking back over the past 13 years, and maybe just the past six, seven as you've been a SaaS, any hard lessons learned from experiments that didn't work out or things that didn't work out the way you expect them to?
You know, I think David, the hardest lesson that we learned as a SaaS company is that, you know, a lot of the time you come up with an idea and you just want to get people to start coding, right. You just want to start get them to, to do it started. And then you get this product because, you know, you've just told the guys, this is kind of the idea that you're having, you know, and I am notorious for this. I would go down to the guys, I've got the super idea. This is what I want, and this is what we're going to do. And then they produce this product and I'm thinking this isn't really what I meant. You know, what happened on the way here? This is not what I, what I meant. So one of the biggest lessons and it's been a really expensive and it's been really frustrating is that, you know, a lot of the times we have been too quick to start building a product and too quick to start coding because we didn't have all the requirements or the skillsets outlined.
So one of the things that we've really tried to concentrate over the last few years is you have to spend so much time capturing all the requirements, learning from your customers, researching your ICPs really understanding their problems to make sure that you're going to get a good ROI. And we learned this the hard way. You know, we built a product and probably spend about 200K on it. And we had to start from scratch because, and it was, it was gut-wrenching, it was really hard for the whole team. And it was a really hard lesson to learn and definitely one lesson, we, you know, we won't make that mistake again, but it's just so important, as a SaaS company, you know, we love to build product. That's what we love to do. We love to do that, but you've got to spend more time capturing the requirements and really focusing on the customer's needs to make sure that the product that you get at the end hasn't drifted away from the initial problem or the initial focus that you had because you all get that design creep and we all get that tech creep, but we've got to focus on what was the original problem and capture that really well at the beginning.
I couldn't agree more with that. Unfortunately, we went and did the exact same thing. Our, if anyone's heard our story as well, we did the exact same thing. We spent a ton of money building out something that was too big, too robust. A lot of things that we learned along the way was to your point, you know, stay engaged with the customers, really look at their pain points and what they actually need. Keep it simple, expand on top of it. And I think something that's radically changed for us from a product marketing perspective recently is really this philosophy from Jason Fried from Basecamp and their product team, which is a shape and pitch board really coming up with ideas and shaping them down as much as possible, and then pitching them on like a quarterly basis to figure out which ones are gonna work on next, so that when you're bringing ideas into engineering and product and they're working together, there is pretty much everything pre scoped out and kind of clearing that scope creep, still happens. We still get that all the time, but just a really interesting perspective. And then looking forward, obviously you mentioned you're kind of already planning 2021. I think there's a ton of unknowns. There's lockdowns happening again at this very moment. You know, what are the challenges or what are the opportunities that you're excited about moving forward?
So look, I think the biggest challenge is the same for everybody. And right now, that's planning. So I would usually have planned Q1 at this stage. But you know, it's really difficult to plan because things are changing so rapidly. So like I said, we start with, we have an overarching 12 month plan and then we run shorter campaigns throughout that 12 months. So the challenge, I suppose, for us is going to be, which we've had to do this year anyway, but it's going to be take a really agile approach to the plan that we have. For example, we've had, we have to kind of put on the shelf this year two plans that we had already to go. But it just wasn't, it just, wasn't the time there wasn't the appetite for it. So it's it's, and we're, we're actually running shorter campaigns since March, because things are changing so quickly, that's going to be the challenge for us.
And it's the same challenge for everybody is planning, being able to really shift what's going on. You know, if something happens in January, February, or, you know, what's going to happen that, that you're able to, to ship the campaigns, you've still got content going out, you know, you're still, you're still engaged in your marketing message. So that's going to be the same challenge, I think, for every company, but exactly, exactly. You know, in terms of opportunity, I think there's two. I hope you don't mind. So the first one for us is if you were to ask me at the beginning of 2020, what was the opportunity for us? I would have said, well, you know, there's huge shift AI. There's a huge shift to digitizing everything. And that for us is this huge opportunity because, you know, we're in this HR space and we want to help companies to digitize all their HR and, you know, be able to concentrate on the human and all that lovely stuff.
And that still remains true. That's still, that's still an opportunity for us, you know, even though we're in this COVID world and pandemic world, you know, the underlying is that's still there. The AI is still there and digitizing is still there and all that is still there. So that is still an opportunity for us. And the second thing is it's a challenge and an opportunity is you know, we're a small company, but we are a hundred percent owned and there are a lot of new competitors, which I think is is an overall SaaS problem is that you see these new competitors coming in all the time, every day into the market place. And they have big budgets and they're spending huge amount on ads. And, you know, it's a very crowded marketplace and it's trying to get that challenge to get your share of voice, but, you know, luckily, you know, we have a great team on board. We all work really well together and everybody really believes in our company culture and what our company, where we want to get to. So, you know, taking investors might be something we might look at in 2021 because we have a great go to market product now. So that might be something we'll look at. And that's really exciting for us for 2021.
Yeah. As a bootstrap company, also in a red ocean like that of products, I definitely understand like that, that tough decision that lays ahead there, but it would be very exciting. With an investor team, obviously, you know, you can still do great things, as a bootstrap company by building that, your very uniqueness, uniqueness and brand, which is what we're trying to do. I guess that's very much a business decision. What kind of business is it going to be? What do you guys want to rally around, but both exciting things, both challenges and opportunities. The agility, I think is the key thing, no matter what, whether you guys become funded or stay kind of bootstrapped you know, wishing you all the best as you move forward. But what I want to do now for the sake of time, is just flip over to our lightning round questions, five quick questions that you can answer with the best and first thought that comes to mind, ready to get started?
I'm ready, let's go.
You got this. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
So I would say concentrate on the people that you hire. Building your team is the most important part. Don't take investment on straight away, try and concentrate on building a super solution and not just a product and your team is the most important thing.
Love that. What great advice. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
So I think you've got to be an all rounder. It's not just about digital marketing anymore. It's not just about SEO. It's not just about PR. It's, it's about knowing your ICPs building your personas and really knowing their business problems. Things are changing so quickly, every single day. There's something new coming on. So you've got to keep up and you know, we're currently working on, you know, new algorithms that are coming out and Google and things like that. So it's just that agility. That's the key. Is that you're able to, you know, be an all rounder, be flexible and look at the entire marketing you know, zone.
Best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about marketing to become that all arounder?
So I think, you know, I'm a huge advocate of podcasts. If you, again, if you'd asked me six months ago, I'd have said Audible because I was in the car driving to events and meetings. And I, you know, I had an hour to listen to my audible books. Whereas now, you know, look at those marketing podcasts, look at the, getting those 20 minute quick bite-sized pieces, the Meghan Keaney Anderson's, or, you know, even yourselves, you know, the SaaS Breakthrough, get those bite-sized chunks of information and really get that information within 20 minutes because you've got to stay on top of what's going on in the marketplace.
Absolutely. And thank you for the great validation that we need to get these shorter. I love it. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
So, so, you know, for networking look LinkedIn, but to be honest, I am a huge HubSpot advocate. I love HubSpot and it is, it's one of our absolute number one marketing tools that we have.
Yes. I think it's a, it's a top rated one on here and one that we are also considering, I love it. That's a great one. What about a brand business or team that you admire today?
So, you know, unfortunate, I'm gonna say HubSpot again. And, but, you know, it's really, I love how they positioned themselves in the market. I love how they're able to tell a story. I love how they're able to really connect with their customer base, with their ICPs and put that content out there. And I just think that, you know, their whole strategy is built around customers and giving them something of value.
I love it. That's a great answer, a great brand. I got to see the CEO speak in person a couple of times and just fantastic all around, great story and everything. But Crystel, I just wanna say, thank you so much for your time for coming on and talking about our locker explaining, you know, 2020, the past 13 years that you've been there as well. So, you know, thanks so much for your time and transparency and all the wisdom you've provided today.
Thanks so much, David. It's been really great being on. I hope I was somewhat helpful to people.
I think you did great. We appreciate your time Crystel, have a great day and we'll talk to you soon.
You too David.