Hey Jen, thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS breakthrough podcast. How are you doing today?
I'm doing great. I'm really excited to be here.
Yeah, I'm excited to have you. This is going to be a wonderful conversation. We got a lot of great things to talk about, dig into some of this amazing background that you have in marketing, that you're still doing in marketing, but before we get into all that fun stuff, why don't you explain a little bit about what you're working on right now? Appify, when you founded this company, who your customers are and what you guys are doing uniquely in the marketplace?
Totally. So I joined Appify February of 2020, so crazy time to join. I was brought in as a CEO and in partnership with my founder, Hari, who I had met six months prior and spent six months getting to know and realizing what a, what a great opportunity this was and what a great partnership we have. And what Appify does is, you know, for, for those of you who have bought enterprise software, it takes forever to deploy. And either it's this huge monolithic Oracle SAP system, or it's a SaaS app and you have hundreds of them and none of them connect and you're dealing with data silos. So we've really turned the whole concept of enterprise software on its head. And we have created an app building platform where you can create an app in days and sometimes even in minutes to solve whatever problem you might have. So one way to think about it is way back when we used to have to code websites and then Wix and Squarespace came along and anybody can build a website and they have templates to use and it's easy and it looks great. This is what we're really trying to do for business apps so that employees can very quickly get all of the manual work, whether it's, using paper or updating a spreadsheet or any of that kind of manual administrative work, get it off their plates and into a mobile app.
With such a wide range of abilities that you can do with a product like this, obviously you can build all kinds of apps. You guys obviously said already enterprise is kind of your target market, but why that market, how do you find product-market fit with a company in value prop that's so wide?
Yeah. And, and I think that's an incredibly important question and I, I love platform products. So when I was a CMO at Box, that was became a platform when I was CMO at Looker, it was a data platform. And of course this is a, this is an app platform. But that is the number one challenge of a platform of a horizontal, you know, you could do anything with this, how do you focus? And so, you know, when we stepped back and said, what is the unique value we offer in our app building platform? And that is really, you know, obviously the speed to get an app built, but it's also the power and the functionality. Uand the third piece is connecting into your existing systems. So if you have SAP or if you have Salesforce, or if you have Oracle ERP, we can connect into the data and then allow you to quickly create apps that either access or update those data sources.
And that really pointed us towards finding markets where there's a lot of mobile workers who need access to all of these silos of data. And it got, it brought us to field service and field sales. So if you imagine employees who are out in the field, they're either making bids on projects, maybe they're working construction, or they are servicing a machine. We have a couple of commercial food equipment customers. So they're servicing machines in Safeway or Wholefoods, et cetera. And all of those people need a lot of information. They need information about the customer. They need information about the machine. They need the parts they need to know what's broken. They need to get a sign off from the customer that they fixed it. So there's a tremendous amount of data and functionality that's needed in these particular markets. So when we really took our horizontal platform, could do anything and said, where do we focus? We focus where we felt the deepest pain, the deepest need for powerful quick app building software that's very unique depending on, you know, what is the job you're trying to get done out in the field.
That makes a ton of sense. You found the holes in the market, the pain points that you felt would be maybe almost the lowest hanging fruit to go after, really being able to bring in that product. Now when you look forward to expansion and finding new markets. How are you going to be looking at like, what's the next one we go after? Or is it just hearing off to the next highest pain point? And then just going up the scale?
Yeah, I think a lot of what we would like to do is be a company-wide resource. So instead of just, you know, for, for, in a company and they have a field service division, or they have a sales team. Right now we're talking directly to those departments, but the big vision of the future is that we would be this layer that IT can use. So instead of their lines of business, coming to them and saying, I need to have this SaaS app, I needed this SaaS app. I needed this SaaS app. They can say, well, I've got this platform and I can solve these problems with mobile apps to any part of the business. So we kind of think of a field service and field sales as our jumping off point where we make them successful. We solve this mobile workforce problem, which is really a deep pain point. And then we kind of squeeze our way into the broader company to say, Hey, IT, this is a service you offer to your whole business. Let me show you how it will work. And let's talk about the different pain points that you could look across your organization and say, I can solve this. I can solve this. And I have this unified universal app platform to do it with.
That makes sense. I think a key part of that, which I'm sure you guys are working on is just how to use the platform and all those different ways to build those ideas, or just strategize with them on the different ideas to find it along the way, right?
Yes, that's exactly right. We do. We spend a lot of time with our customers, certainly, you know, at our early stage, it's critical to spend a lot of time with our customers to see how are they using it? What are they doing? Where are they finding these sort of white space problem spaces that are kind of stuck between Salesforce and, you know, maybe their Oracle ERP system.
Love. That makes a lot of sense. And looking back, I know you have this incredible journey through SaaS with over a decade building companies from the ground up, taking multiple companies to over a billion dollar valuation. That's absolutely incredible, insane. We've had Looker on here. You were the CMO of Looker marketing until that $2.6 billion acquisition by Google in 2019, you know, the rebrand of Elastic and you built the team that took the company public for 2.4 billion in 2018 there, and you grew Box, you mentioned that already from a small startup, it's an incredible company, to an industry leading enterprise content company with a 1.7 Billion IPO in 2015. Absolutely incredible. Those are all insane numbers for me even to say. And all of those I'm sure have millions of learning lessons that you got along the way, each one leveling you up. Right. But I know one of the key strategies you learn and kind of really applies here, especially with Appify, is the idea of competitive positioning. Can you talk to us a little about what this is, why it's so important and how, you know, how was it detrimental to achieving the successes that you've had?
Yeah. And I think it's so, so critical that any marketer should really be thinking about what is a competitive positioning and really getting it crystallized. So I think the best example is to start with Box because what we did with Box, I think it was critical to the success. So we kind of started with, you know, boxes, obviously content, you can share big files. Like it seems very, somewhat boring, but we had a vision for being the file server, the cloud file server of large enterprises. And when you looked in the market, there was this huge SharePoint, Microsoft SharePoint, everybody loves to hate on Microsoft, terrible piece of software that was hard for users to use. So we would hear complaints about, I can't use this thing. I can't log in. I can't download. I can't find anything, it's awful. And so we were able to position ourselves as the user-friendly to the SharePoint sort of not user-friendly.
And then on the flip side, there was Dropbox and Dropbox had really, and still is a huge consumer tool. Millions of users sync their files across all of their devices. And we wanted to be able to position against Dropbox. Well, now Dropbox started as a consumer company, so they weren't making IT all that happy because people were using Dropbox, files were flying out of a, of a company's ecosystem. IT was a little bit freaking out. And so our positioning at Box was a two-fold positioning where we, we were the solution that made IT happy and made end users happy. So we had this lovely position that was right in the middle of SharePoint, which made IT happy, but was hard to use and Dropbox, which made the user happy, but IT hated. And that wedge, we hammered home the positioning, even today, you can see it in the positioning of Box is, you know, we started with simple, secure sharing that both IT and end users love and adopt, and that positioning was core.
And perhaps most of the marketing people will know this as true. So this is more like what you need to continue to repeat to your CEOs is don't change your positioning. It is still solid. It is still good. Many times people, Oh, we've been saying that forever. I want to say something different. And it's never a good idea because once you crystallize that wonderful, like middle point where you wedge yourself in there, you just have to repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. And even today people will sometimes say, well, Dropbox isn't as secure as Box. And I consider that a huge win because we hammered that message for years with industry analysts, with press, with users, with anyone, and it's stuck and it did slow down Dropbox in becoming a more enterprise software solution. They got there eventually, and it's a great product and they've always had a lovely consumer user base to rely on, but it, it was a huge piece of the success of Box was, was continuingly putting that position in place.
That absolutely makes sense. That's an incredible journey to get there from like a tactical level, when you sat down to put these competitive positioning, I guess, statements together to find that wedge, is it building like a spreadsheet and just looking at your competitors and making notes of who their target market is, what they're saying, what they're not saying. And then literally trying to go through and find the holes in their messaging? And then the secondary follow-up question to that would be once you find that wedge, what are you doing to validate and test that message before you go all in on it?
Yeah. And that's a great question. I think, where we really focused and I, and I can say this the same at Looker as well, where we really focused is listening to the users. So whether it was our own users that said, Oh, this is so much easier than blah-blah-blah, usually SharePoint or whether it was SharePoint users who were complaining like this is so hard. And then on the same side, Dropbox users love Dropbox, so easy to use. So then you start to think, okay, but we're hearing from IT that they're worried that the, this sort of the whole concept of shadow IT and people bringing in products without asking IT and them feeling out of control. That was very clear when you started to talk to IT, that they were seeing, you know, Dropbox kind of trickle into their organization and they were uncomfortable. And so finding that like, aha, there IT is uncomfortable.
And over here, you know, everybody loves to hate on Microsoft. So it's, it's not a risk to position against Microsoft as like the big, bad, evil, hard to use tool. And I think that was kind of, it was that user feedback that really helped us hone in the positioning. I think the second thing is very often CEOs and founders will kind of, they have this glorious vision that they have spent every hour of every day for years, thinking about. It is very hard for them not to put the entire big vision into the positioning or into the tagline or into the marketing. And so in addition to listening to the users, it's being able to kind of tamp down on that enthusiasm a little bit and say, you know what, when you keynote at this event, you tell your vision, go for it. But when we need to position this product in the market saying something really complicated that nobody understands like, you know, where the cloud file server with collaboration around content of the future, isn't helpful.
And so coming back down to these simple words of just a simple secure sharing, even though we would love to talk about how we have collaboration and project management and 18,000 different features that do all sorts of great things, being able to sort of slow down your CEO or at least say, here's where you show your vision. It's not in the tagline. And that is okay. So I think both of those things really help get to a good solid positioning statement. And then as far as testing, you just have to get it out there and then you keep saying it and you keep saying it and you listen for feedback, whether it's customers or prospects, or, you know, you sit in on a sales calls and they might say, I don't get it. Or you might say it like, you know, we're easier to use in SharePoint and IT will love us because we have all the tools and we're secure and then hearing what people say when they hear that. And then that just reinforces then yep we're on the right track. They get it. And you know, and you're listening for the press reaction. You're, you're listening for the industry analysts. Like anyone you can talk to, you want to get that positioning out there and you're looking for them to start nodding their head. Yeah, that's totally a problem. I get it. So that's basically, I mean, that was how we did it.
No, that's fantastic. And I think the big takeaways that I'm just hearing inso much of this was, was not like a marketing meeting brainstorm, but more of an organic approach to listen and learn from the customers on both sides and then not having a fear-based mindset to test it when it was ready and say, Hey, we can tweak this based on our feedback, but we have to get it out there to see if this is going to work.
Yeah, I think that's definitely a, and I would say, you know, to all the marketers out there, I have been in those meetings where you have the CEO or someone in the executive team, who's like, well, let's test it more or, well, let's tweak it some more. And at some point you're like, it's a website. We can update it overnight. So let's just get it out there and let's just start talking about it. We don't need to be perfect. We don't need to have every little thing, every dot, you know, perfectly aligned. Get it out and let's get that feedback as fast as possible.
Such a good piece of advice. I absolutely love that. And also just having the mindset to bring that up in a meeting, to be able to say that, to move faster. Now, moving forward, I know another thing that you really believe in is this customer-centric approach to marketing and at Demio here, we're very customer centred too. It's something that we really look at for our brand and our marketing, just our business as a whole. And I know it's been a big part of what you've done in some of the companies you've worked in. How do you see like a focus on customers' journey as part of that marketing strategy and implementation of that strategy?
Yeah, and I think Looker is a lovely example of this strategy working, and I'll say it for two reasons. And at Box, we were very much around PR cause Aaron Levie, the CEO was a great in front of the press and we had events and billboards and, you know, all sorts of branding. And Looker, we were quieter company. So we were in Santa Cruz, the CEO wasn't sort of flamboyant necessarily. He was very operational. The founder was very humble. So had a lot of these sort of, you know, anti loud branding things going on. And what Looker did in contrast to Box was focus on this customer journey. And you know, I think there were moments where I was like, why are we spending so much money on sales engineers and later realizing, Oh, I get it. It actually helps my marketing.
And the reason is because we put people towards customer success very early, we invested in it. And there were two clear ways we did it that I think were extraordinarily helpful from a, from a strategic, you know, from (inaudible) success perspective. And, and one was, we had more sales engineers than the normal company would have. We put them earlier in the process in the sales process and they handheld customers through a trial. So they effectively guaranteed that if a customer was the right person to, for us to spend the time with, to go through a trial, they would have an amazing experience. They'd learn how to use the product. And we had moments where they asked like, well, can you know, I just love the sales engineer. Do I have to be introduced to a CSM? Can't he or she just continue to work with me because they're my best friend right now.
So they were so happy with the sales process, they didn't want to let go of their sales engineer to move and be deployed. So it kind of speaks to the relationship that our sales engineers were able to, to have. Now ongoing, what we did is chat support in the product. So as a, as a customer, you would be, you know, at Looker, it was, there was a data analyst who does need to build a data model who would then build dashboards and tools, data tools for their business. So there is a person that is most important to us from a deployment customer standpoint, we had chat support in the product that those data analysts could access any time. And the response time was something like 15 to 30 seconds. So imagine if you're, you know, you've said to your company, this is the best business intelligence tool ever.
We're going to pay for it. We're going to buy it. We deployed it. And now that weight is on me as the, as the champion for this product, I want to make it successful. And now imagine you have a question or something doesn't seem to work the way you think, having someone on chat with an immediate response delivers this emotional experience that Looker ended up with extraordinary brand love from these folks because they just felt like Looker is there for me. They make me successful. They do not let me kind of go off the rails. I don't have to wait two days to get my ticket replied to, I don't have to email, I don't have to call. I just ask my question in chat. And of course our chatters were, typically young folks who maybe had a statistics degree or economics.
They knew data very well, and they were also very funny and friendly. And so they, they even developed, you know, some of the brand was this approachable, friendly, a little bit joking kind of brand. And what that equated to from a marketing perspective is glorious reviews, G2 Crowd reviews. When we did content marketing around that helped our demand gen tremendously. We had quotes, we had case studies, we had user conferences, lots of people that wanted to speak lots of people that wanted to share how they had done it. And so even though in the early days, I thought, why are we, you know, you look at the budget from marketing perspective, I need that money for my marketing. We're putting it into sales engineers and support like, Oh no. And in the end I thought put more into sales and into support because it doubles or triples the effectiveness of any marketing I ever did.
I love that. I think at Demio we have a very similar approach. Our support team is our biggest department as fast as we can to respond with that exact thing that you talked about, that brand voice from support, it becomes your connection to your customers. And for those marketers listening, I mean, I highly recommend you think about this. What is this experience like for your customers? Because marketing extends beyond that top of funnel, you know, into acquisition, like they're having a marketing experience in the product with your support team, with your sales strategists, like everybody through that pipeline is part of that marketing profile. I love that. Now looking around the SaaS marketplace, you know, it's getting to be more and more crowded in B2B and just in SaaS in general. And we talk a lot on this podcast around the idea of brand building, but how critical is it for companies to actually have a brand that's built in a very positive way? I mean, is it something that you have to do early on? Is it something that you need to do once the product and the product-market fit is done? When's the right time to invest and focus on this and how do you do this correctly?
You know, obviously there's a little bit of, it depends. It depends on kind of the strategy of the company. But I do think certainly getting to product-market fit first before you go hog wild with expensive branding makes sense. But on the flip side, PR is a glorious way of raising awareness around your product, around your company. And if you have a CEO that is great in front of a reporter, and that has a kind of passionate message they want to send to the world, that is the best way to start a branding effort is, is through that PR outreach. Now it may be that that's not the CEO you have, you don't have like an executive spokesperson who's ready to write bi-lines and make statements. I think what's been, I've been very lucky to have in my career is two different examples.
So at Box I had a CEO that would say things that were super interesting, never offensive, but like different from other people. And he was a natural at that. And then at Looker, we didn't really have a CEO that was all that interested in being in front of the press all that time all the time. He was more interested in building the company. And so in the case of Looker, we did not really start doing branding until much later. And so all of the branding that happened was through the customer reviews, the sort of the, I love Looker tweeting that went on, you know, the kind of conference sort of stuff, where we would go to a conference and customers would get so excited to see us. It happened much more organically. Now I will say, when you look at the demand gen funnel in both of those companies, that meant that Looker had to work harder on demand gen earlier on. We had to do lots of activities and paid search and digital marketing advertising, et cetera.
We had to do a lot more of work to get the MQLs in so that our sales reps had enough opportunities to work. And I'd say at Box, we were so loud and filling the funnel so heavily from a volume perspective, that the work we did on demand and was much more in sort of lead scoring, making sure we're processing the leads effectively, the handoff with SDRs, the SDR hand-off to a sales rep, making sure all of that sort of system was working appropriately. And we spent less time and money on very much the channels, the down and dirty kind of webinars and email nurture and you know, all the different channels that you would put money into. So it was kind of a, it depends is somewhat the answer. But I definitely think there was a point at which at Looker where I felt like we were behind. That we should have started a little sooner on the branding.
We needed to lift all boats across the entire funnel. And then we did start doing some branding, I'd say in the final year, before we were acquired by Google. We did some billboards, we did some airports, we did some great stuff. And of course it was Looker. So it was all focused on customers. Always a customer focus because we had such love there that there was no reason not to continue to focus on it. So it really it's different. It depends on the strategy of the company. But it will be important eventually.
Right? So there's the, you know, the business needs at that time, where are you in the size of the company? Are you filling pipeline? There might be other things that pop up, but it is a critical element to having a profitable and big company that's growing. You got to get that in there sometime, but it's going to be different depending on your needs. It makes a lot of sense. And, you know, kind of looking back over this amazing career trajectory to where you are right now, obviously you're in an amazing position, really exciting for Appify, but, you know, looking through these series of brands that all became these huge billion dollar companies, was there any mindset or insights or strategies that you thought could be particularly helpful to marketing leaders of brands are still growing, or maybe marketers new to leadership positions? A lot of people that are coming into new roles this year, as you know the SaaS industry got turned upside down. I'd just love to hear your thoughts on that.
Yeah. I think one of the things that, you know, I would love every marketer to realize is that the skills to be a great marketer, somewhere between product marketing, positioning, messaging, the ability to communicate the value of a product to the right person, that skill is critical in the CEO position. And so I think many times we hear, you know, Oh, you know, all CEOs come from product backgrounds or engineering backgrounds because they founded the company or maybe they come from sales backgrounds cause they know how to close a big deal. I actually think that the skills and the success of a CMO are perfect qualifications to move into the CEO seat. It's, it's a, I have moments now at Appify where I think, Oh my gosh, how could these product led CEOs even understand the kind of stuff that needs to be done? Because this positioning is critical. The ability to share the vision in a simple way, all of that is something that a CEO needs to do. And it is, it is a marketing background that brings you that kind of experience.
That makes a ton of sense. I think so much about it is communication. How do you tell your story? How do you communicate internally to your team? Not just to your customers, right? Like how do you motivate and drive people in that leadership position? And it's a tough place to be, but it sounds like you've learned a ton along the way, and you're in a great place right now to be in that leadership position. So congratulations to you. It's, it's really amazing to see. And then looking forward to 2021, I can't believe I'm saying that already, you know, coming through Q4 it's crazy. I don't know where this year went, but are there any challenges or new opportunities that you guys are seeing from a marketing point of view?
Yeah, I mean, I think certainly the big killer of, you know, the pandemic, other than the pandemic itself, was events and this face to face was losing that. I think for many brands and for many marketing folks was devastating. We knew when I first started in February, the very first thing I saw in the funnel was man, we would do great at events. When we can meet someone face-to-face when we can look them in the eye when they can say yes, I trust you. Let's try. It was critical to our pipeline. And even now, we're still closing deals from events that we went to, you know, before the pandemic. And so I think that to me is a huge challenge. It's also an opportunity. How do you create that connection with people that's so important from marketing communication brand, that sort of emotional piece of how, you know, you represent your company, how do you make that connection in a world where we're all on zoom? I don't know if anyone has a, the magic pill of here's the solution. But there've been little moments. I continue to find little moments where I'm a part of maybe a zoom webinar or call or something. And there's a moment where I think, ah, that's one of those things that we need to figure out how to bring into our marketing, to get our customers kind of connecting with us in a, in a more personal way than they can through, you know, an email campaign or digital advertisement.
Absolutely. I think that's something that we're discussing consistently here on the podcast, right? Is the adaptability that's needed right now for marketing and how we build relationships utilizing maybe Demio webinars? Right. Just throwing it out there. But definitely it's about finding those relationships. How do we build that? I've heard some really good stories recently on the podcast about, you know, just very small private events, a lot of personalized one-on-one things that are happening from marketing, but you're absolutely right. That's going to be our biggest challenge moving forward is how do we build those relationships without, you know, also getting like a fatigue from virtual events and stuff like that.
That's right. Yeah. I told my founder once I said, my face is tired, can we just do a phone call?
Yeah, no, you have to do that smile, that sitting smile. I know, I know it. But what I want to do now just for the sake of time is I want to flip over to our lightning round questions. Just five quick questions that you can answer with the first best thought that comes to mind. You ready to get started?
All right, let's do this. What advice would you give for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
Focus on the customer. Get deep with customers.
I love that. And you mentioned before getting on those calls, listening to them, hearing from the sales team, being on those calls, I love that. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
Data. I think you've got to be deeply data-driven to be successful. There there's too many channels, too many things to try. You've got to be able to know what's working.
Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. What about a best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about marketing or growth?
I'm a big nerd for Simon Sinek. So I always love Start with why and just about anything he's ever written
Leaders eat last is one of my favorites. I love that. He's amazing. He's so good. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
I have recently fallen in love with Calendly. I think for any startup, anyone, you know, if you're a Google, everybody has an EA, but if you're in a small company, nobody has an EA and scheduling is hard and Calendly is so easy.
Easy and a great price. Yeah. We love it. We use it and it sits in Intercom, all your different apps. It's fantastic. I think it's an Atlanta- based company really amazing. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today?
I'm really digging, I recently met the CEO of postal.io, really interesting what they're doing. It's, they're kind of pulling together different ways to market through direct mail, through experiences, through you know, sending gifts, sending swag and, and in a way that makes it really easy. And I think given that we're, you know, we have to rethink everything with this pandemic, you know, I'm really interested in trying, like, is that something that can develop that connection that I want to find, you know, in addition to the channels that we're already using?
I definitely think so. That's, that's a good one, but I definitely think so. You know, from like that ABM perspective, I think right now I'm getting so much spam mail from the election. So at least wait until after November before, before you do a direct mail campaign, but fantastic answers and, you know, thank you so much for joining me today, Jen, it was a real pleasure to have someone with your experience and just amazing background. I'm very proud of what you're doing at Appify and just kind of your transition here over the past few years. So congratulations and thanks again for coming on.
It was my pleasure. Thank you so much.
All right. Thank you, Jen. And we'll talk to you soon.