Recently, I spent some time with a long-time friend and fellow entrepreneur who runs a small but successful Social Media Management platform (aka SaaS CEO). He shared his challenges and triumphs with me, and the conversation gave me pause to rethink what are the attributes, qualities or signs of a strong entrepreneur.
His story is a familiar one to many of the highs, lows and eventual break through to being a top vendor in the industry.
The latest release of the Top Social Media Management Tools was that validating and breakthrough moment; that an angel-funded company could compete with the huge VC funded companies, and win. David and Goliath, if you will.
The question was: “Why do only a select few make it to those breakout moments?” My conclusion:
The most important element to remember is that it’s a combination of all three that make for a strong entrepreneur, not one or even two.
Focus without sagacity will throw you down a path of self-convincing nothingness. Sagacity to see what the market wants without focus will have you doing two, three or 10 things at once trying to appease all opportunities and will be the quickest path to bankruptcy. And tenacity itself is critical and the biggest missing ingredient for most, but alone can drive you into a hole in a business that isn’t worth much.
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Even two ingredients, like tenacity and focus, can cause a longer cycle of pain. Here you find yourself in constant strain, struggle and despair. Feeling like you have to work harder and harder to be successful versus aligning with you own true north and that of the market. And particular to start-ups in the Valley, near never-ending process of funding to get to a breakthrough moment. And while, some make it, 97% do not.
I digress, back to the story of my Saas CEO friend.
The story is an all too familiar one. For my friend Emeric, CEO of Agorapulse, it started with addressing a big need in the market to manage the morass of social posts, then what to do when you hit a wall on growth and customer retention, and finally, how to refocus the product, positioning and plan of attack based on what you learned after some real world experience.
Here’s how I correlate those attributes back to Emeric’s story for all of us to learn from.
Tenacity to stick to the path to determine what works.
For Emeric, that meant really sticking to his guns on wanting to have a 100% subscription model that didn’t depend on big clients and custom work (where many, myself included, go astray). He just kept at it. Finding different pricing models, new product positioning and near endless efforts to listen to his customers. So much so that he would take the time to answer customer service inquiries in order to keep his ear to the ground.
Month in and month out, Emeric noticed that PR firms were using his tool a lot, and asked why. Saying no to a lot to folks that wanted features not on his product roadmap. And, importantly, getting really into churn questions on why so many would leave after a free trial. But over the years, I watched. He never let go of that vision of Saas subscription model, even when his finances were at their tightest. Moments of financial stress are the real moment of truth for one’s tenacity to stand out.
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Focus singularly on the priority.
One of the more impressive parts of the story is how much traffic little David (aka Emeric) drives to his site, and in particular, his blog. Early on, he saw good success in getting ranked on Google for certain blog posts. And with little money to hire a writer, let alone a content marketer, he decided that traffic was the fundamental ingredient that drove the business. Traffic drives potential customers. Those customers then sign up for a trial account and then we convert to paying. But without traffic, the conversion steps were of no consequence.
Emeric rolled up his sleeves and did the hard work. He did in-depth keyword research to determine what his customers were searching for. And mind you, Emeric is a lawyer by trade, not a marketer or SEO professional. He reached out to the influencers of the world to provide credibility, some content and back-links, and then he wrote. And he wrote, and he wrote, and then after 6 months, he wrote some more.
The results were nothing short of impressive. His traffic went from 30,000 monthly visitors to more than 160,000; his revenue was up 220% and more than anything, he’s smiling from ear to ear.
Focusing on content marketing and blogging made all the difference. And this was from a man who runs the company and has plenty of pressure and excuses to do a million other tasks.
Sagacity to find the right path.
Remembering the tenacity element, it is critical to then compliment that skill with sagacity, or what some would call it, awareness. It's the state of being aware and open-minded to new ideas, ways of looking at the market and being aware of the needs of your target customer. And to Emeric’s credit, he did that in a grand and ultimately breakthrough way.
Last year, he spent a lot of time asking me how to get customers to use the tool more often, and in turn have them value the offering more. What he found was companies wanted social media management tools that spanned Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and what he had built really was just a social promotion tool for Facebook. So he listened and built it.
Because of his tenacity, focus and sagacity, Emeric's small 15-man company in Paris ranks aside and above the largest companies in the world in social media management tools, and #1 or #2 in all categories of customer reviews. At the end of the day, a great product will only get you so far. You have to keep working to get the word out, and make changes to suit as it takes off.