This SaaS Hit $400K ARR Just 4 Months After Launch
Company name: dealpad
Revenue: $1.67M/ Month
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I’m Adam, Founder, and CEO of dealpad.io. I started dealpad with my co-founder Kim. dealpad is a Digital Sales Room Platform for sales teams to build pipeline and get more deals closed. Today most of dealpad’s customers are B2B software (SaaS) organizations with between $2M – $200M annual recurring revenue (ARR).
dealpad’s core product is the Digital Sales Room, which enables sellers to quickly create personalized buying rooms to build a two-way purchasing process that’s deeply aligned with the buying team.
The two main use cases we see customers use dealpad for are;
- To convert more prospects into customers – sellers can engage their buying teams in a personalized space with everything the buyer needs to evaluate their interest, including demos, sales materials, and customer references Demonstrating your capabilities and having your buy-side stakeholders together with your team increases the likelihood of deals closing by 300%.
- To align with the buyer on everything required to get deals closed – Tools such as personalized video messages, live chat, content libraries, stakeholder mapping, and Mutual Action Plans help sellers access and engage everyone that will influence a deal on the buying side and agree what needs to be done to complete the deal. Building a two-way buying process and mutually agreeing on a close date increases the likelihood of a deal closing by 65% and eliminates deals slipping.
We onboarded our first customer in April 2022 and as of September 2022 have 70+ customers and $600,000 Annual Recurring Revenue.
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What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Having left school at 16 with poor GCSE results and not very academic, I fell into a sales role. This led to me joining Intuit, global hardware, and software company in 1995. I left Intuit 6 years later as Vice President of Sales in Europe to start my first company Rehash.
We built behavioral targeting solutions for ad networks and after 4 fun years, the company was acquired by a Danish ad network.
I joined Salesforce as EMEA Senior Vice President of Sales, spending 2+ years learning how to sell software well. During this phase, I developed a ‘sales framework’ using Excel to help my salespeople close more deals.
Over the next 10 years, I consistently iterated this model which has formed part of the sales process of every team I have worked with.
Anyhow, back in 2008.
I left Salesforce and founded my second company, Blottr.
I was (still kinda am) obsessed with wanting to know what was happening in the world, convinced many events just weren’t making it mainstream. I decided to build the first people-powered news organization.
I hired a group of data scientists and Machine Learning engineers who created an algorithm to authenticate news footage from anonymous sources in real time. It was a world-first technology. Over the next 18 months, Blottr broke some of the most iconic news events (many hours before mainstream media), including footage of Col Gaddifi being killed.
This created a lot of noise and attention for Blottr but, we weren’t monetizing.
Having scaled and exited my previous company without too many troughs and no major pivots, I was at a loss on how to turn great technology into revenue. It took me another 8 months and several times to tell my entire company I didn’t think we could make salaries before I landed on the model that would eventually work. That period, with no revenue and a team I couldn’t guarantee paying, was one of the most stressful and challenging, yet educational, phases of my career. It forced me to strip away anything that didn’t lead us to our critical rock: Revenue. It changed how I interacted with, and managed, my team. I became completely transparent and open on everything and it brought us all much closer together. Not a single team member left.
I spent this period developing a pivot strategy and discussing with the engineering team how we’d build the software to support it. We effectively decided to leverage the software we’d built and turn our company into SaaS (Software As A Service). With this new strategy and 18 months of solid evidence our technology worked, I went out and raised $2.5M. Finally, we could breathe and double our focus on taking the new Blottr to market. We spent the next few years building our sales motion and selling our verification software to newsrooms, media, and content owners. We also won the rights to verify all of YouTube’s news content globally, an agreement that took me 18 months to complete. In 2012 Blottr was named Most Innovative Startup at Techcrunch’s Startup Awards. Eventually, the company was acquired by The Guardian Media Group.
Since Blottr, I have invested in multiple early-stage software startups, helping founders build great companies – many of which use the sales framework I created all those years ago to close deals much more consistently. Having seen how the framework I built had such a powerful impact on sellers’ ability to get deals closed, I decided to turn it into software and founded dealpad.
My two previous companies Blottr and Rehash
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product
We had the Excel model which 500+ salespeople had used over several years and we started with this. The initial intent was to automate all of the existing ‘offline’ capabilities and add layers of Machine Learning and Intelligence. As we began to build the prototype and get early pilot users in, we found quickly that the Excel model’s framework didn’t transition well into the software. There was friction in the process and most users weren’t using the tool as we’d expected (90% of users didn’t use the core function of the Excel model).
We spent a lot of time with our pilot users, understanding their habits, what they liked and disliked, how they were engaging with the product, and what delivered the most value to them. It became clear we needed to pivot before we’d even onboarded our first paying customer. It was clear to onboard a paying customer we needed to pivot.
We went back to the drawing board with our learnings and wireframed 2.0.
Moving to pivot so quickly and before we’d even spent much time trying to make the existing product work, was really advantageous. It saved us a ton of time, mistakes, and money. We built 2.0 in unison with our pilot customers, bringing them in to shape the product and build something they wanted to use and could see value in. The process set us back 3 months on our initial traction plan but actually saved us from going down a rabbit hole and realizing way too late that what we’d built wouldn’t scale.
We knew 2.0 had to have a few things 1.0 didn’t have and these formed our product roadmap rocks;
- UI was a critical factor and we had to invest heavily in this area
- Integrations into existing CRM tools were a consistent ask from pilot customers
- Mutual Action Plans were the most used feature in 1.0 and we needed to double down on improving this feature
- 1.0 was created for Enterprise sales teams and users didn’t really use the software until late in their own sales process. 2.0 needed to engage users regardless of sales motion and much earlier on in their sales process
An early whiteboarding example we went through during our pivot:
Describe the process of launching the business.
My co-founder Kim is our CTO and has built the product from the ground up.
We made quite a few mistakes at launch. The first one was launching with a product we’d seen work really well as an Excel model but didn’t transition well into software. This led us to build a product, website, and story for dealpad which we had to quickly pivot on. We lost quite a bit of time in doing so, although we continued to learn from our pilot customers and leverage the relationships we’d developed to get critical feedback and suggestions on the build of our iterated product.
Kim had to build a new product, we had to re-design the product User Interface (UI) again, incorporating lots of new screens/features, as well as design a completely new website. The new site also negatively impacted the work we’d previously done on SEO. Short term, it hurt us in quite a few ways but longer term it was 100% the right decision and we’re better for it.
Be resourceful, creative, open to everything, and constantly find ways to pitch way beyond your means.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
For early traction, we focused entirely on what we could control and we didn’t spend much money. We tested paid Linkedin ads and some PPC didn’t convert any leads, and quickly turned all paid ads off.
We built out personalized automated email sequences, adding no more than 50 contacts into each sequence to ensure we could make them as personal as possible. We supported this with Linkedin outreach and spent days A/B testing and optimizing to understand what hooks and outreach generated the highest response. This strategy worked well.
We created content to post on Linkedin, such as e-books, infographics, and 1-pagers, and grew our followers from 0 to 1,000 in a few weeks. We used this audience to talk to and engage.
We built a ‘Sales Leaders Series’, a short weekly podcast chatting to software sales leaders, which enabled us to build relationships with our ideal customers and buying personas. Added value is that sales leaders share their podcast across their network, broadening awareness of dealpad. We get content, engaged potential prospects, and visibility.
To acquire our first 50 customers we’ve spent less than $5,000 on marketing and growth strategies.
Our customer onboarding strategy was highly focused. We only spoke with prospects we believed were directly in our wheelhouse. It’s super difficult saying “no” or turning an opportunity to speak to a potential customer down, yet it instilled laser focus on our sales GTM and ensured we were solving the same pains for the same type of customers, repeatedly.
How one of our Linkedin posts delivered 8,000 impressions and 24 leads – a 3,600% increase from our previous post:
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We operate an Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) model, which means we charge an annual license fee for our product, which renews automatically at the end of each contracted period (minimum 12 months).
Today, we have around $600,000 of ARR and pacing to grow at 250% Year on Year (YoY) over the next 12 months. That means by September 2023, we expect dealpad to have $2,000,000 of ARR. From here, we would expect our revenue growth to increase over the next 3 years anywhere between 80% & 100% YoY. By 2025 I’d be disappointed if the company was not at $10,000,000 ARR.
Our fully loaded Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is really low due to the fact that currently, we’re not spending much on acquiring new customers. Our CAC is $140. As we invest in top-of-the-funnel marketing activities, our CAC will increase. This said, I wouldn’t want our CAC to surpass $500, so we’ll need to optimize hard as we grow!
It’s fairly early to model an accurate LTV:CAC ratio, although today it’s extraordinarily high at 6:1, which is around double the industry average. I fully expect this to lower and settle at around 3:1.
Our team today is lean. In addition to Kim and I, we have an SDR, a Marketing Manager and an Account Executive on the commercial team, with 2 engineers and a UI designer on our technical team.
We’re a distributed workforce and aim to remain so, with co-working hubs in key strategic locations for folks to work from as and when they choose. Kim and I made this decision, partly because Kim is currently located in Lithuania and I am between New York & London, yet also because we would like to hire the best talent wherever that is, not wherever we are.
We are currently hiring for engineering, machine learning, and sales development roles.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As a Martial Artist, there’s a saying “you don’t lose, you learn”.
This is very true for entrepreneurs. Every successful entrepreneur I have met fails multiple times daily. It’s the ability to learn fast and iterate quickly that sets successful entrepreneurs apart from the rest.
I have founded 3 software companies prior to dealpad and I can tell you I’m making mistakes, missing things I should have spotted, and getting things wrong every day. It’s the only way I learn what works.
As I explained earlier in this piece, I have made plenty of mistakes already – Building a product at Blottr we couldn’t monetize to the product fit assumption I made with dealpad which cost us a few months of development time and a raft of work for the team as we attempted to find product fit and went back to the whiteboard, essentially starting again from scratch.
We still don’t know what consistently works in anything we do today, yet the experience and journey in optimizing all of our metrics is the greatest learning experience we can have and every day we get closer to knowing.
I’m a firm believer that you need to test and never stop testing. I have zero fear of failure and an unflinching desire to continuously optimize all that we do and deliver the best outcomes possible for ourselves and our customers.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
The tools we love at dealpad are;
For company communication – Slack
Fo customer communication – HubSpot
For company organization – ClickUp
For company documents/workspace – Confluence
For sales GTM (CRM, Calendar, Live web chat) – HubSpot
For email automation – Klenty
For sales execution – Dealpad.io
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have been a follower of Simon Sinek for a long time. His thinking was, and still is, ahead of the curve. His concept of ‘Why’ has profoundly influenced how I’ve taken my products to market.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel and The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz are two interesting books on building companies.
For leadership, I found Team of Rivals a fascinating read. It looks at how Abraham Lincoln became US President with little experience and navigated his way through leading experienced much older senates. Historically it’s fascinating and in a leadership context, there’s a lot to learn from this book.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Set realistic expectations on what your company will achieve in the first 12 months and be sure you have the financial resources to sustain yourself for at least this period. I see so many founders having to drop tools and take a salaried jobs because getting revenue took longer than expected and they ran out of money to pay their own bills. This halts any business growth and traction and is a killer
- If you’re looking to co-found a startup, spend a lot of time together before you go into business. Do you get on? Are your visions aligned? Can you both commit to building a company for 12 months without a salary? Do you have complementary skills? Who will lead the company? If you can’t agree fully on everything, move on and find someone else to build a company with
- Hustle. As a founder, you’ll need to hustle non-stop. It may not come naturally for some, yet successful founders all have the hustle and the ability to make things happen. Be resourceful, creative, open to everything, and constantly find ways to pitch way beyond your means. I ask myself every day “how will we win?”. This relates to beating the competition to new deals, hiring someone amazing we can’t really afford, raising money – everything the team and I do