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INSIGHT: Salesflare growth interview with Jeroen Corthout & Gilles De Clerck

Salesflare interview

Name: Jeroen Corthout
Age: 31
Role: Co-Founder
Background: Previously to Salesflare, Jeroen worked as a sales person himself, assisting customers with overhauling their digital marketing-sales and CRM strategy.

Name: Gilles De Clerck
Age: 26
Role: Growth Strategist
When did you join Salesflare and what did you do before it? I joined in December 2016 following about a year of pursuing my own startup, first in school then on my own. I lacked skills, experience and network – three key elements I since got to build up at Salesflare.

What is your SaaS called: Salesflare
Founded: 2014
How many people are on the team right now? 6 (8 soon)
Where are you based? Antwerp, Belgium
Did you raise money? (Jeroen)
Salesflare is almost fully bootstrapped for now. We got this far on revenues, subsidies, loans and convertible notes.

Salesflare Homepgae
Salesflare homepgae

Can you tell us what Salesflare is and how you make money? (Jeroen)
Salesflare is an intelligent CRM made for startups and small businesses.
None of us have the time to spend on all the little robotic tasks that come with good customer follow-up. We’ve built a CRM that solves this. Our goal is to automate more and more of the sales process so you can keep selling more with less people.
We make money on subscriptions, like any SaaS product, following the philosophy of Slack’s Fair Billing policy.

How did you get this idea? (Jeroen)
My Co-Founder and I were working on a previous software start-up. We came back from a conference and had tons of leads to follow up. Updating Google Sheets was painful, so was working with any CRM system we tried.

We figured that all the data we were manually inputting was already available somewhere: in our emails, calendar, phone, company databases, on the net, in social media, email signatures, … We “just” had to pull it from all these places and combine it in a smart and automated way. That’s where our automation dream started.

How long did you work on it before you launched? When did you see your first dollar? (Jeroen)
We initially spent almost half a year with mock-ups and a very basic tracking system, while juggling other projects on the side.

From the moment we started developing, it took us about a year to get to make our first customer dollar. Making a normal CRM is easy, but making the system that we had in mind proved to be more difficult. Automated yet controllable. Magical yet easy to understand. Full of possibilities yet quick to handle.

After this we spent another year in very close contact with customers, guiding them throughout the whole process. It’s only when we nailed this, that we launched online and saw the revenues multiplying every month.

MRR: (Jeroen)
We’ve moved past the 10K MRR mark a few months back and are now gearing up for real scaling.

Number of paying customers: (Jeroen)
Depending on whether you count AppSumo subscribers or not, it’s between hundreds and thousands of customers.

Who are your clients? What is your target market? (Jeroen)
Salesflare can be used by any company that sells B2B, is in active prospection mode, and sends a lot of emails in the process.
If you look at our client base, it’s mostly software companies who are quicker at finding new and innovative software.

We also made some very specific features for SaaS companies, like the possibility to track subscription revenues. You won’t find that well implemented in any competing CRMs.

How did you get your first 100 customers? (Jeroen)
At first, we focused on getting our name out there with PR stunts. Next to that, we mostly focused on cold prospecting and sales.
When we were around 20 paying customers we launched online. My colleague Gilles has been gearing up online channels ever since.

What are the 2-3 main distribution channels that work best for you? What channel didn’t work out for you? (Gilles)
We don’t work distribution channel one by one. Instead we believe in consistently creating value along an ecosystem of channels to generate organic growth and relationship building at scale. These channels are mainly LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and email.

Quora deserves an honorable mention. The quality and authority of the community over there makes people attach a lot of value to recommendations they find and thus yields a high conversion rate. In the beginning, Quora was our top channel – with an incredibly high trial conversion rate of around 12%. We achieved this by replying to CRM recommendations with Salesflare and the value it can bring users in a way that lands softly. After a while I also started answering other questions on various topics to organically grow my following and authority.

When we launched on Product Hunt we were expecting a trial and traffic spike on launch day. What we didn’t expect was the consistent traffic driven by it in the following months, up to this day. Turns out people turn to Product Hunt every day seeking out the best products. It helps that Salesflare is the most upvoted CRM in Product Hunt history. About 9% coming over to the website sign up for our trial.

You had a successful launch on Product hunt! What are your most effective tips you can give to those who are about to launch their product there? (Gilles)
Just hustle. The launch itself you don’t have to do anything for. You get posted by your Hunter and that is that. But there’s so many things you can optimize both before and during the hype. Catchy title and tagline, a cool product video, an animated logo that catches the eye on the front page, a compelling intro comment etc.

It helps a lot if you have a community in place that can support you to gain initial traction. People that already know and love your product. After that, your product and the value it provides has to win over the Product Hunt community. At that point all you can do is appreciate feedback and kindly reply to comments.
It’s a cliché but in the end what matters most is having an awesome product. If you have an awesome product it’s not hard to already have a fanbase in place and to create awesome material that makes your launch page stand out.

Check out our Product Hunt Playbook for an in-depth step-by-step guide for how to nail your launch here: https://blog.salesflare.com/the-ultimate-playbook-to-blowing-your-product-hunt-launch-out-of-the-water-238ebed90262

Gilles, as a growth strategist at Salesflare, how does your working day look like? (Gilles)
One way or another, I’m mostly creating content. I want to provide stuff that really helps our target audience and hand it to them in a way that enables them to implement and execute quickly.

To get an idea of what to write about, I’m hang around a lot on social media – mostly in groups where our target audience is active like BAMF and SaaS Growth Hacks.

Social media is like real-time market research.

It gives you live insights in what your audience is thinking and feeling at any time. People will come right out and tell you all about their problems, desires and needs without you asking. It gets you free and highly relevant content ideas.

It doesn’t always need to be content. Sometimes the best way to solve problems is by having a tool developed like a Chrome extension or putting together an ingenious tactic. You can then again write content about it. Distribution also takes up quite a lot of time. I think a lot of marketers don’t spend enough time on that, which is a shame. There’s some excellent pieces out there that barely anyone ever reads.

I document a lot. To externalise my mind and to internalise marketing processes for Salesflare. If you don’t do that, you’ll be facing the same problems again and again, having to go through the same type of thinking. Externalising the knowledge frees up space for new ideas and I can use most stuff for content creation.

Lately, I find myself spending a lot of time on chatting one-on-one with people who have questions for me, either following a post they read or just in general because they think I can help them out with advice. I try to keep up with this as much as possible, because it creates the kind of human connection I enjoy and I believe is of value for Salesflare as a brand. It does however take away a lot of time from creating and it’s doesn’t help to maintain focus throughout the day.

Tell us 2-3 growth challenges you encountered recently and how you managed to solve them. (Gilles)
The main problem we currently face is the inability to properly attribute organic growth. Our strategy of consistently providing value across an ecosystem of channels spurred organic growth but also made that our main traffic source is now direct and the second one Google.

It’s hard to pinpoint that magic moment where these people decided to come take a look at our website and signed up. We’re currently working out a system where we can identify people across different channels to gain more insights in how exactly this organic growth is taking off so it’s easier to scale and predict.

The other thing I’m finding is that we need to start establishing more low effort yet predictable channels that can run without us doing a lot about it. Up until now our marketing was mostly based on creating awareness and brand recognition by consistently giving out great value, showing people we’re in it to help them. That effect has been saturating – people know who we are now and creating value all the time is time-consuming.

To really scale up we should have channels on the side that are predictable, good examples being Facebook Ads and Google Adwords, where you more or less know that if you put x in, you’ll get y out. We’re currently experimenting with different ads, copy and landing pages to get this to take off.

Some of the tasks are not worth doing in-house. What do you outsource? (Gilles)
Nothing significant really. For a while we outsourced email finding for emails we couldn’t get with our own low-effort methods but we got rid of that cost by improving our email finding process and making it fully automatic. The same goes for email list cleaning. We had a tool developed that does the dirty work for us.

Rather than outsource tasks, we look for ways to automate it and let software take care of it for us. Having this software developed is something we do outsource because we want our in-house devs to focus on making Salesflare better everyday, but once the tool is made we have effectively eliminated the need to outsource the task in question.

Tell us about the Appsumo deal you had: how it affected the company, the cash flow and so on. (Jeroen)
The AppSumo deal was huge for us. We were slammed for weeks with new sign-ups, customer service, handling data imports, fixing every single bug in the system, taking in feature requests. It was a good test for the systems as well. Good thing is, we survived and got out stronger.

We got a really nice one-off cash injection from it. The upsales have been quite good as well, but not as high as I would have expected. AppSumo users are mostly solopreneurs, so that limits things a bit.

All in all a transformative experience, that’s for sure.

What are the 3 tools you and your team can’t live without? (Jeroen)
We love automating everything with software tools at Salesflare. Difficult to pick three.

Zapier is probably number one for us. It is so easy to connect different systems, pull data and trigger something in another system. We even created a Sandwich Bot with Zapier that orders our sandwiches at the nearest sandwich place without needing to do anything else than filling out a form, including all the necessary reminders and notifications in Slack.

Intercom is also amazing. It makes it so much easier to manage conversations with customers, but also automate and personalize all the touchpoint we’re having with them. It’s just not comparable with other live chat apps at all.

Third place is too difficult 🙂 I suggest you check this post on our blog with 36 awesome tools. They all deserve this spot: https://blog.salesflare.com/36-killer-tools-to-turbocharge-your-startup-stack-465061f917b7

What was the #1 thing that helped you reduce churn? (Jeroen)
Good customer service. If people know you’re there to listen to them, that makes a huge difference.

Tell us the biggest mistake you had through building and promoting your SaaS and what you’ve learned from it.
We’ve made so many small mistakes along the way from which we learned, and no real big ones so far.
When I think about it, any moment that we lose focus on delivering more value to our customers (and automating and increasing our productivity while at it) is a big mistake.

If you had to start Salesflare today, what would you do differently? (Jeroen)
I’d focus on making a smaller MVP to get validation. In retrospect it took us really long to get to a sellable product.

Expectations about CRMs are just really high and you need tons of discipline and vision to cut through it and only build the real core MVP.

Were you ever offered to be acquired or invested?  (Jeroen)
Acquisitions: yes, we had some people approaching us, but I don’t think we’ll be selling anytime soon.

Investments: we have 11 business angels who’ve invested in us and in talk with tens of funds. Still pushing the seed round a bit at this point to get a good deal with an awesome fund.

Where do you see Salesflare in 5 years from now? (Jeroen)

In the Salesforce tower.
Just kidding, we don’t care so much about fancy offices or fluffy PR.

In 5 years every salesperson should have a Salesflare robot taking over all the computer work, so they can work on relationships, help people, and be human.

No more robot work done by people, and a full focus on human customer relationships. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Highly dedicated entrepreneur, co-founder of Poptin and Ecpm Digital Marketing. Nine years of experience in the digital marketing field and internet project management. Graduated with an Economics degree from Tel Aviv University. A big fan of A/B testing, SEO and PPC campaigns' optimization, CRO, growth hacking and numbers. Always loves testing new advertising strategies and tools, and analyzing the latest start-up companies.