Tell us a bit about you
I'm the founder of SmartCue. SmartCue helps go-to-market teams create and distribute interactive demos of their products that can help them improve the quality of their marketing-qualified leads for MQLs.
We help marketers eliminate the friction for their buyers to experience products right at the beginning of the buying journey, thereby shortening the sales motion and ultimately increasing revenue.
Where did you get the idea for SmartCue?
I have been in enterprise sales for about 12 years now, working for a number of different startups selling to enterprise clients.
My role at these companies was primarily at the intersection of sales and product as a solutions consultant or architect.
I was responsible for sales training, which, nowadays, has transformed into the buzzy term of 'sales enablement'.
The part that I'm trying to focus on with SmartCue is demo automation.
The reason I'm trying to focus on this is that, even back then, when I was working at these companies, I watched as sales reps struggled to do justice to the products we were selling because they were either doing very vanilla, or very cookie cutter demos.
Even marketing teams were not really able to do justice to the value proposition of their product, especially when we were trying to sell complex enterprise products.
Why this product specifically?
We want to try and ensure is that go-to-market (GTM) teams like product marketing, growth marketing, demand gen or sales enablement can create and deliver consistent, yet personalized, product demos tailored to their buyers' pain points.
And to take it a step further, ensure that the messaging behind these demos is always consistent.
That's where we figured out that if we enable these teams to create interactive, personalized versions of their demos, they can then embed or distribute them through any of their marketing collateral.
So whether it's your website or your landing pages, or even your outbound emails, the buyer can engage with your product without any friction of having to be forced to sign up for your product before they can experience it.
Did you raise any funding?
I was bootstrapped for the longest time, and then I raised funding from an accelerator and a few angel investors.
The thought process behind that was that while I believed in the product, I wanted to ensure that I'm not running with blinders on - that there is some validation of the problem that I'm trying to solve.
And while I heard it when I was speaking to people, there needed to be something more concrete.
When you get people to invest in you, then you know whether they think there's value there.
And I think that was good validation for me. So the funding was raised more to externally validate the problem that we're trying to solve.
And, you know, we're actually in the process of raising another round fairly soon here. So the journey sort of continues
What has been your biggest achievements so far?
I'm a solo founder and also a first-time founder. So while I can chalk up clients and logos that we've signed on,
I think the bigger achievement has been being able to build the team around me.
Because when you think about it, I had to go up against a lot of really well-funded businesses and compete for talent against folks who could probably pay more. But I think I was able to sell them on the vision.
I'm proud of the fact that most of my team has now been with me from the start. I think the team believes in the idea and believes in what we're building.
And, I think, on a weekly basis, we're seeing that play out as we onboard more customers.
In addition, last September, we launched on Product Hunt, and a lot of people reached out to me and said, "Hey, can you put me in touch with your marketing team so we can also hit #1 on ProductHunt?"
And I was like - well, you're looking at it! I mean, it was just me, one other person, and a couple of interns, and we just powered through and hit number one on Product Hunt.
I think that was a big achievement for us as a very, very lean team to be able to do what a lot of well-oiled and expensive marketing teams aspire to.
How do you find your customers?
Having been in the industry and having built up a community of sales and marketing leaders as colleagues, I was able to leverage a lot of those folks to validate the idea and get feedback.
To use them as very willing guinea pigs to try out the product and be our alpha customers! And once they started using it, we worked with them to iron out the kinks.
I'll be honest, it wasn't perfect from day one. We had a lot of back and forth, and we pivoted a little bit in terms of the exact problem we were trying to solve until we arrived at this exact one.
But these folks stayed with us, and they've been great proponents of SmartCue and what we're building.
So, referrals have been one of the biggest channels for us to acquire customers. And because we are selling a B2B SaaS product, LinkedIn has been great too.
I have unwillingly and begrudgingly started to use LinkedIn to grow my personal brand. Everyone's like, "Hey, you know what, you're a very early-stage company and you're obviously not going to be able to compete on brand against the bigger well-funded company".
But what you do have is your expertise and the experience that you bring to the table. And so you need to build on that. I'm not one who likes to toot my own horn.
But I think for better or for worse, this is one of the things that you have to do as an early-stage startup to put yourself out there.
Is there anything you wish you had known at the start?
There are a couple of lessons that I've learned over the past couple of years that will, hopefully, hold me in good stead. The first one is, to have a co-founder.
While I'm happy doing what I'm doing, there are days when I'm like "Ah, man, I just wish I had someone else". And not have to do all of this on my own. So if there's a way for you to make it happen, definitely find a co-founder.
Find your synergies, find what you're good at versus what the other person is good at, and if there's a good fit there, definitely jump on it. I think it's worth it to give up a little bit of equity in the long run.
You can hold 95% of a company, but if it's not going anywhere, it's worth nothing. But if you hold 10% of a $100 million company that's a good chunk of change.
The other thing I wish I'd done more of is sold before we built. The amount of feedback that you get, when you ask people to put in money before you deliver something to them is invaluable.
Because as soon as you ask that of them, they automatically have skin in the game. So instead of just being like, "Hey, you're doing great", they'll actually take the time to dig a little deeper and give feedback.
What software or tools do you use?
SmartCue is essentially a Chrome extension and a web app. So we use a Chromium browser, obviously. And for team communication we use Slack.
We also use Notion, and of course, now we are trying to use a lot of Chat GPT to automate a lot of our tasks and make our lean team even more efficient and productive.
What are your plans for the future?
One big thing that's coming up is we're going to be relaunching on ProductHunt next month! So we're gearing up for that. We've got a brand new version of the product with great new features that a lot of our customers wanted. I think that's a big event that's happening from a business perspective that will give us a lot of visibility.
Then, as I said, we're also raising a pre-seed round of $1.5 million this time. So if any investors are reading this, you should definitely reach out to me. I'm early in my raising cycle.
But you know, we've already raised $150,000 from an accelerator and a few reputed angels, as part of an initial round so we already have backers and credibility.
Any advice or tips for new young founders?
I think the two things that I said earlier still apply. It's good to want to build something or do something.
But make sure that you're working with an MVP, as opposed to putting a lot of time, effort, and money into building something out and then trying to validate it.
The one thing that I tell people is to have at least 100 conversations about the problem that you're trying to solve with folks who are not your friends and family. And don't be afraid to pivot.
Because I think as entrepreneurs, we may have a lot of great ideas, but we have to respect what the market is telling us and adapt ourselves and the product or solution we're selling.