SaaS Breakthrough – Featuring Ekaterina Kazakova

demio saas breakthrough featuring ekaterina kazakovaAbout Ekaterina Kazakova:
Ekaterina Kazakova is the Marketing Manager at Blendr.io, an embedded integration platform for SaaS companies.
Ekaterina joined Blendr.io during the very first days and is responsible for its global growth.


Show Notes:
02:30
An Integration Platform Born From Constant Requests
04:00
The Best Integration Scenario For Each Company
06:30
Integrations' Builders and Consultants
07:20
Internal Resources and Prioritization
09:15
Joining At The Very 1st Day and Going Straight Into An Event
11:00
Focusing On SEO and ABM
16:30
Doing Person-based Advertising
18:40
Staying Behind-the-scenes of Integrations
20:55
KPIs and Leveraging Budget and Power
22:10
The Struggle of Focusing vs Looking At New Opportunities
24:15
Hard Lessons: Doing Something Wrong to Understand What Is Right
26:35
Coming Next: Speeding Up Integrations and Shortening The Sales Cycle
28:15
Lightning Questions
Transcript:

DA
I'm so excited to have you here, have Blendr.io on the show I know be wanting to connect for some time, how you doing today?
EK [02:29]:
Hey, you know it's, I'm doing really great, thank you.
DA [02:33]:
Yeah, I know, it's a real pleasure to have you, I'm really excited about today's conversation, lots to talk about; especially around marketing channels and initiatives you guys are doing, but before we get into the actual tactical stuff, why don't you give us a little bit of a backdrop, a back story on Blendr.io, the company itself, when it was founded and what you guys are doing uniquely in the marketplace.
EK [02:51]:
Yeah, sure so Blendr.io is an embedded integration platform for SaaS companies, so we help source companies to add native integrations to their platform and like at the moment Blendr.io has more than 250 different connections to different applications and source companies can build the integrations and later embedded in their platforms. We were founded in 2017, in Ghent in Belgium, there are quite some startups here in the city, although it's pretty small and the idea of the company came from the previous experience of our founder, he was the VC of Mobile at one of event technology platforms and he got constant requests for integrations which required a lot of resources and time; so he came up with an idea to the integration platform.
DA [04:01]:
That's fantastic, that's really helpful and I guess what would you say makes you guys different than any other type of platform that's in the marketplace right now?
EK [04:10]:
So, we really focus on the SaaS and one of the main differences I think is our embedding features, so we listen to SaaS companies and just try to understand what's the best integration scenario for them, whether they have would say high-volume platform, and you need just standard integrations that can be used by thousands of clients, or you have very specific demanding enterprise level customers, where you really need to do integrations from scratch but you kind of need to do it fast, so like both cases are possible with Blendr.io.
DA [04:51]:
What would be like the ideal customer then for you and when you first started in the company first idea, was it always based on SaaS or did you guys kind of have to figure that out, or you know evolve that along the way?
EK [05:02]:
No, actually initially we were focusing on attracting direct platform users, so we kicked off with just only 15 integrations and we started getting some requests that were great, but they were so different and so broad that we were, it was so difficult to scale with such an amount of different integrations; so we decided to start focusing on SaaS companies because it's a healthier way to grow, you build relationships with them and they also understands that we can take the integration headache out of them and at the same time they can fill up their marketplace.
So, yeah, we start with the end customers and then we move to the source companies because we really want to build integrations.
DA [05:59]:
It's so funny, we kind of took a similar approach, like we launched and then all of a sudden when you get a lot of product feedback in from all of these different industries, it becomes hard to make the right product decisions; like what is this product feature for, who's going to be used by and like is there going to be usage; so, you do have to then narrow in.
We did something similar, where we said we wanted to go after SaaS specifically because of integrations and how SaaS companies use integrations, it sounds like you're similar as well as also kind of like the educational level is higher with SaaS companies.
EK [06:28]:
Yeah, yeah, exactly you know I just like the built in relationships and normally the SaaS companies already have some integration requests from their customers and the ideal scenario for us, of course when they have like high demand integrations you know, when we can or their customer success engineers, so we can build integrations that can be used by thousands of their customers you know, just that's the ideal scenario but also at the same time and I think what's also differs us is that we are able to do the services you know, if they don't have time that's and they have quiet demanding customers, we can do the whole projects, it's like consultancy you know from listening, everything with the enterprise level the customers wants to actually test innate, implementing and so on.
DA [07:23]:
How do you balance the services part of it and I guess it's almost like a account expansion or upsell opportunity for you guys but how do you balance the engineering resources of services along with new feature requests bug fixes, you know production, environment, stability stuff, like how do you balance all that with the engineering team in your actual internal team?
EK [07:43]:
Yeah, so, we think, normally when we start working with resource companies, they actually come with the difficult requests you know the ones that they haven't been able to do themselves and it's kind of a test sometimes for us you know, like if you manage to solve the issues of this customer and then we can create some templates that can be like really leveraged; and in terms of balancing, yeah, we keep lists of integrations that got requested, you know we have ongoing uploading of or integrating your apps into our platform because once you partnering, we want use our company and they have for example platforms they want to integrate with; and then we outreach this platforms for example for test environments and they get interested in us and then we start negotiating with them and they become a client and they have another integrations that they would like to have on their platform.
So, it's very complex, but our development team have been doing I think a great job, it just mainly prioritizing you know; we just have the product safe prioritize, which connectors we need to add and which templates we need to build. So, it's basically just what can give the maximum impacts being safe, stable and fast.
DA [09:16]:
That's it, I think that's exactly right priorities and then the maximum impact those are hard decisions to make, so you know I applaud your engineering team and the leadership there to do those things, that's such a hard battle. So, specifically you in the marketing side, when did you join the team and what are your first initiatives coming in?
EK [09:31]:
Yes so, I joined Blendr.io at the very first day, so it was actually in the first week of the company existence, yeah, it was really nice to start from the very beginning and actually during the second week at Blendr.io we already exhibited in Brussels, in one of the conferences. So, it was the first kind of initiative, just to go out and to speak with as many people as possible, you know the platform was not finished yet; but I mean it could do some basic integrations, but just going out and speaking to the people and asking their feedback you know and also such a short deadline.
So, basically in one week we had to do the banners, the flyers, you know just think about the pitch that we're going to present to the people we're going to speak with, we also got a speaker slot. So, the first initiative was just get out, get out of the office, go to the conference and speak to the people; and actually from this conference we got two clients that I think it's really great and we're still working with them and you know keep on growing, because they were also one of the earliest ambassadors and users of the platform; so, it I think it was the great first experience.
DA [10:59]:
That's fantastic, that's got to be a little bit of a stressful week, coming in, learning everything, getting ready for an event then going out there and talking with customers, but it sounds like a great kind of jump start as you come in, we did an event before Demio launch too and we still have a lot of those early customers and early ambassadors that was with us; like before that the code base was even complete.
So, it was a really a good kicks are out, I definitely recommend that for people because you get out there and you get to talk to too early possible customers before you get real feedback and like you said; there's a lot of like work to do, like how do you refine your pitch and you're just kind of forced to do that stuff, that's fantastic; and I guess looking at the past year, maybe 2018 into 2019 year, what channels and marketing initiatives have been working for you and the team, may be outside of events itself, but are you guys doing anything with things like outbound marketing or anything like that?
EK [11:50]:
Yeah, so maybe also one of the first initiatives were kind of trying to bring up the SEO, SEO of our website. So, as I mentioned previously, we kicked off with just different 15 integrations and we coded pages that had these 15 combinations of all these integrations, so in total we had like around a couple of thousands of pages that brought us quite some traffic because the people who are looking for integrating platform A, platform B platform, a with platform Z and so on.
DA [12:34]:
But what was like a keyword?
EK [12:35]:
Just the names of the platform. So, if you're looking to integrate Airtable with the hop sports, you most likely will find us and sort of you know we tried to use some growth hacking platforms like; for example, our table and some other ones, you know just that's not coming for other integration platforms but we have them. So, for example Amazon or Amazon machine learning and sort of kind of very specific platforms that people might use with a combination of; for example, Salesforce or Hubspot you know and also the platforms that don't really exist on the marketplace of hospitals Salesforce so and then brought us some great amount of traffic, but of course the, as I mentioned before. the use cases were very different.
So, it was a good test and it's a product why some traffic to the website and indeed later on when we decided to focus on SaaS companies, we did Account Based Marketing, so we used different data sources to get companies we want to target; for example CrunchBase and we crawl lists of exhibitors from different conferences, for example SaaStock and then we used date enrichment tools like Hunter, Clearbit to enrich this data and find the people and then we did become based advertising for the companies and for the people that we found.
DA [14:19]:
That's fantastic, why did you choose people that were going to events, why did you choose that as like the ideal customer profile to kind of call into lists.
EK [14:29]:
Mainly because it was already kind of pre-qualified leads because also, one initiative we tried we looked at Kaptara and you know when there were still some companies that don't exist anymore or for example too small or not really the ideal partners but this stock was just like, you know we've been there and we talked to these people and we saw their a lot of potential; so, we decided okay; this is like the help of great source companies, let's target them.
DA [15:08]:
Definitely I guess they also have marketing budgets, they're probably at a certain size already, so that makes a lot of sense. We just kind of started doing some outbound marketing, a little bit like ABM, we're using a platform called Albacross to do a kind of data enrichment on leads that come to our site and then we're moving them into a program called Lemlist to send out an email marketing campaign to them, what tools were using for your kind of outbound, ABM that were you using just pure the email marketing, what you do in direct mail, what does that look?
EK [15:45]:
Yeah, so, we did use some sales outreach tools, where we just direct mailing through for them, because yeah, obviously you can input the list of companies and then it looks like it is comes out of your mailbox; then, we also you know, we're connecting our CRM to advertising platforms where you can get the list of the people and set up the advertising campaign for them; and in order to do this integrations, we also use Blendr.io because it was a great test and you know it just brought us some new scenarios or inspiration for a blog and for the cases.
Yes [inaudible 16:32] exactly. So, mainly it was databases like crunch based and data enrichment is Hunter, Clearbit and then some sales outreach main's tools and we also experimented with the one platform that does personal based marketing, it's pretty new on the market. So, basically this platform can advertise to the people that you turn to release that you import there and you can actually see who view the ads and who clicked the ad.
So, you can outreach them right after they click you know because again you can do the integration and once somebody clicks, you have notification for a salesperson in Slack and the integration kicks off and email is sent automatically.
DA [17:29]:
That's amazing, so it's actually looking at the individual person who's clicking on each ad because the ad is being run for them specific?
EK [17:37]:
Yes, yes, that's right.
DA [17:39]:
That is awesome, so that's a great additional tool, you can put in your kind of ABM playbook. What were some of the results you're seeing from the combination of the; maybe person-based advertising and I mean what was that tool along with the outbound or direct kind of outreach from the sales team, we are seeing the result now?
EK [17:57]:
Yeah, we were seeing quite some good results. The thing is you know, when you work with other SaaS companies, the sales process is pretty long, it takes quite some time to convert the person, to convert the company and I think we saw really great results on brand awareness that you know, the people start recognizing Blendr.io, you know you go to events and people know you, you know, the people that you have never met before, so the word was out.
So, I think that was the greatest achievements, more not like in terms of a specific conversion but more like brand awareness.
DA [18:40]:
Yeah, that's a huge piece of it, because you're also building up your credibility and social awareness and all that kind of great stuff and then I guess if when they're ready, when they think about doing something like that, they come back to your company, you also work with a ton of these different integrations for marketing; and obviously your those are your target customers as well.
So, how are you actually leveraging the integrations when they're coming in, how are you leveraging those companies, are you doing co-marketing campaigns with them, how does that work, how do you actually make all that you know become a nice marketing ROI?
EK [19:14]:
So, in most cases, we provide sales partners with sales and employments materials, explaining the types of integrations or recording educational videos for them, so the sales person can use it and so mainly for the sales enablement and of course we publish Blendr.io and integrations that we provide on market places of biggest resource companies; you know, the companies with each.
It's difficult to have partnerships like Hubspot or Contactplus the previously known as Fullcontact, Slack and many others; so, that's kind of main activities that we do, we don't really do much of co-marketing because we really want to stay much fluid you know; like integration platform that works with all SaaS company.
So, it is ready to help all SaaS companies, but we do help SaaS companies to let the customers know about integrations, how they work and what to expect and if they need integrations, what they need to do.
DA [20:32]:
Yes, so your focus more on the educational aspects of it but you want to stay neutral in case, you have competitors coming in too…
EK [20:40]:
Yes so, that’s right, we're just indicating the source partners and helping them you know, we kind of stay behind the scenes, we sort of platform that does plumbing between other platforms and just help them with an educational part.
DA [20:55]:
That makes sense, definitely make sense. So, with all of these different initiatives, are you guys building specific marketing KPIs to kind of track right there, what are you doing right now for tracking?
EK [21:08]:
Yeah, so the tracking is still pretty simple because we're still pretty young company. So, we basically look at the very basic KPIs like traffic and conversion rates then MQL and SQL's, then outreach conversions and positive replies of these conversions and looking at the length that takes us to close partnerships and the amount of partnerships. So, it's really basic, but still just tracking the basics and see where we can leverage our budget and our power.
DA [21:53]:
That makes a lot of sense, yeah, that's the best way to do it, I think is keeping it simple at the start because you can get so involved in data, are you guys bootstrapped?
EK [22:02]:
Yeah, actually so our CEO, he had an exit from another company and he bootstrapped their companies.
DA [22:09]:
That's fantastic. Yeah, so that just means even more that you got to keep things simple and really try to find those leverage opportunities to really grow the right way and obviously you can do that by, like you said, shrinking that sales cycle or increasing conversions, but things that you guys would kind of keep your eye on.
What about looking back over the past year, a year and a half, are there things that maybe just didn't work out the way you thought they would in marketing initiatives or experiments, that you were all excited about but will you learn from any missed opportunities?
EK [22:40]:
Yeah, I think for quite some times, we're focusing on the companies or trying to get the companies that do not really need integrations, you know like sort of bigger companies; but yeah, they just don't really need integration because they have thousands of companies that are integration with them, then we were just you know looking at marketing agencies, thinking that maybe digital marketing agencies can provide the integration services for their clients; that's also didn't work out, I think it was a very difficult segment to grasp.
So, yeah, I think this too means, I mean things and also looking at the end users at customers, it was just so difficult to grow by having so many different use cases and you know and now we try to have some clear vertical, like marketing tools, sales tools and some invent technology and we're still thinking you know where we should look more at HR for example tools and other markets,
So, it's a bit of the struggle of focusing versus looking at new opportunities that we can find on the market for other sales companies, maybe they need integrations.
DA [24:16]:
It's just such a tough struggle and it's basically trying to say should we go deeper in this market and work harder to stay in this market or should we kind of expand into new basically market places and if we do that they won't have to spend more time on understanding that customer more, doing all these new things but we could experience more growth.
So, it becomes kind of a big question of like where we put our energy and focus, you know I think the lesson that I'm basically hearing is; that like you didn't know exactly where the right market is. If you could go back now, what would you do differently; is it just talking to customers earlier, is it just starting simpler, what would you have done differently now?
EK [24:57]:
So looking back, I think it would be great if we could have focused on the source companies from the very beginning because it focused around one year to get to this point and of course; we had to change all the communications and the website and you know a lot of things have to be changed to be completely focused on the source. So, I think that the only thing that would be great to have from the very beginning is to know that just; you know just go for source companies.
DA [25:34]:
I guess my question I'm trying to dig into is, how would you have known that SaaS company is where the right segment, was there more research you could have done, was there just more talking to customers and I guess what I'm trying to get is like, where is the lesson that someone can just take away, so they can make sure you know maybe they try to find that perfect target market which we made the same mistake, which I totally agree.
EK [25:55]:
I honestly don't really know because you know, it's a difficult question, you know sometimes you have to understand and do doing something wrong, to understand what is right; so, I don’t really have an answer for that.
DA [26:15]:
No, I think that's totally fair and I feel the same way, I feel like because we went down a path to find out that this didn't work, we had to search for other answers and I don't know if we ever would have looked at that initially, looked at SaaS companies initially but when you look at things in hindsight it makes so much sense.
EK [26:33]:
Yeah, exactly yeah.
DA [26:37]:
Awesome and I guess looking forward, now that you kind of know where you're going; you know, you know who your customers and you're doubling down, you're trying to figure out what's coming up next, what are the challenges or opportunities, you're excited about here in the rest of 2019.
EK [26:50]:
Yeah, so we are working on several features that can speed up the integrations even more than we have now and still one of the biggest challenges is closing the partnerships, you know it can take really sometimes even up to a year to close the SaaS partnership…
DA [27:09]:
Oh wow.
EK [27:10]:
Yeah because we're still young, we are still sort of the startup and yeah you know just by closing more and more partnerships, I guess, we build some recognition and trust and I hope that with this process go to shorten; so, that's the main challenge of looking how can we shorten the sales cycle.
DA [27:36]:
Well, that's a good challenge to have and I think it's something you can absolutely do, you also; every time you close a client, you'll learn more about pin points things that you can address early, your engineering team can improve the integration process. So, always so much to learn and I think that having challenges like that is great, because you know how to you know, you know where you're trying to go and try to solve it.
The scary things in SaaS is specifically marketing is like, we have a problem, we have no idea like how we're going to try to attack this, it's just a problem that's always very scary but awesome; great answers and what we can do now is, we can switch over to our lightning round questions, just five quick questions that you can answer with the first best thought that comes to your mind, are you ready to get started?
EK [28:15]:
Yeah, alright let do it.
DA [28:16]:
You got this, we're doing awesome today. Alright, what advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
EK [28:28]:
I would advise to you know, just to jump in to the conferences and speak to the people, you know just get some people to believe and speak to these people, hear their opinion and also maybe to find the early ambassadors of your platform and just build relationships with them.
DA [28:52]:
Did you feel that the conversations you had in person at those events were better than phone calls or you know chats and stuff like that with customers?
EK [28:59]:
Yeah, yeah, definitely yeah, I think you know the conference's has special vibe, good conferences have a special vibe; so, you're really there, I mean you try to maximize your time you know. So, I think it has a really much higher impact when you can speak with people on the conference rather than having a phone call.
DA [29:27]:
Yeah, I totally agree. Alright, next question, what skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
EK [29:35]:
Right, so I think they need to be really aware of the new technologies that's coming up, you know just like continuous curiosity. I would say you know, like can we do it better, can we automate it, can, what I'm doing now manually, maybe there is already a tool for that. So, you know the continuous curiosity to look for new tools and to make the process more efficient.
DA [30:04]:
I'm like that, curious mindset, not just strategy but also in the tactical tools and stuff like that, that's awesome. What about a best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about marketing and growth?
EK [30:16]: I
'm again a fan of conferences and I would really recommend SaaStock in Dublin…
DA [30:22]:
Nice!
EK [30:22]:
Yeah, it happens every year and there, it's just animation environments, it's three days, you can go to the talks, listen to the people then you speak with a fellow SaaSer and with the end users of a different product. So, it's basically I think in three, in these three days, you can learn more than you can learn in half year by reading some other sources.
DA [30:45]:
That's fantastic, we actually went on year 2018 and we were there and we did a full podcast episode on takeaways from that event, highly recommended that Dublin event which is so fun and the SaaStock team did an incredible job, so yeah that’s a really good answer. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
EK [31:04]:
Well, I have two; its Trello and Grammarly; so, that's the only tool that I cannot live without, it's very simple, very basic, so it's a life savers.
DA [31:16]:
Oh, yeah, you got to have that to do this, I use Trello for all kinds of stuff, like to do this just my basic today, like daily and weekly routine; so, it's such a helpful tool. What about a brand business or team that you admire today?
EK [31:30]:
I think from the recent brands, I'm actually become a fan of one company is called Click and Grow, maybe it's not really related to our discussion but it's actually in a great technology startup, I think from Estonia and they kind of provide sustainable agriculture inside your house and that's just the concept that I'm really kind of found of.
DA [32:00]:
That's fantastic, sustainability or more about like sustainable living?
EK [32:04]:
It's more like you know, like in house farming, you can control some of the plants with a minimum requirements of water, of soil and they design some soil pads and you just need maybe 2 liters of water per month to go to the plants; so it's really great, that is really great.
DA [32:26]:
That’s really cool, what did you call it again?
EK [32:29]:
It's Click and Grow.
DA [32:30]:
Alright, I have to check that out, that sounds fantastic, that's a really cool one. But, I want to say thank you so much for joining me today on the SaaS Breakthrough podcast, it was a real pleasure speaking with you, we got to go through a lot of the different strategies and things that you used to kind of grow Blendr.io get off the ground, your first crazy week of just coming straight into an event, that's fantastic and everything that you have going on and I wish you guys the very best as you move forward. Excited to see what next year brings to you guys.
EK [32:57]:
Thank you David, same for you.
DA [32:59]:
Awesome, well it was real pleasure, thank you again for jumping on and we'll talk to you soon.
EK [33:04]:
Yeah, thank you.
DA [33:05]:
Alright, a big shout out and a big thank you to Ekaterina and the entire team over at Blendr.io, it's amazing to talk to companies like Blendr.io, learn about what's happening in these integration platforms. I'm seeing more and more of them pop up, they're adding so much value to our SaaS community because these integrations actually do take so much time.
Trust me, I know we deal with it here at Demio too and trying to figure out these different integrations, how to build them out, how much time is the priority; so, Blendr.io and companies like them do fantastic work for all of us. So, thank you to them for coming on and being so transparent sharing the lessons that they learned along the way (…)

Resources:
Learn More About Blendr.io:
https://www.blendr.io/
Connect With Ekaterina:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ekaterina-kazakova-648683a5
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