This week we’re featuring a Q&A with Jaleh Rezaei, Co-founder and CEO of Mutiny, on what trends or changes she has seen in the SaaS sales ecosystem since March, how her team stayed on target with growth goals over the past few months, and her advice for early-stage startups on why now is the time to focus on community. We’re also sharing an update on our Pitch Deck Interest metrics, which indicate it’s VC shopping season and founders are keeping up.
Q&A with Jaleh Rezaei, Co-founder and CEO of Mutiny
In 2018, Jaleh Rezaei co-founded Mutiny, a SaaS company that helps B2B companies personalize their website for each visitor in order to convert the 99% of traffic that bounces. Previously, she was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Social Capital, Advisor to Google, and Y Combinator.
Since March, what are some trends or changes you have seen in the SaaS sales ecosystem?
There was an initial panic in March that led to layoffs across the board and budget freezes even for high ROI products and much-needed investments. Starting in June we have seen the market bounce back. Customers are still very thoughtful about where they spend money and don’t want to take big risks, but they are no longer in panic mode and are starting to think about important investments that allow their business to grow. For startups that don’t have proven brands and products, the implication is that they need to be more open to pilots and shorter-term contracts, and they really need to prove ROI.
For your team, what changes have you had to make in your growth strategy since Q1 in order to stay on target with your goals?
We used to have one really aggressive growth plan, but given the uncertainty in the market, we have adopted a baseline, worst-case and best-case scenario. We carefully monitor leading indicators such as lead volume and deal conversion rates to make sure we don’t get ahead of our skis with hiring.
We looked at Q2 as a bit of a lost quarter for rapid growth and instead really focused on product development and customer happiness. Fortunately, we were always very lean so we didn’t have to do layoffs and continued to make “essential” hires, but we cut down operating expenses wherever possible. Now that we are seeing signals of the market bouncing back, we are switching gears to focus on growth in Q3 while still being thoughtful about cost management.
In this more constrained economic environment, how are you thinking about paid vs organic channels? What’s changed since Q1?
As a startup, paid marketing is a very small portion of our customer acquisition. We only spend money on remarketing and targeted ABM ads. Even for larger companies, we saw a contraction in paid advertising and a 20-30% drop in search volumes. I definitely think companies are looking for high ROI investments including getting more efficient in converting their prospects. This is a good change because tech companies were getting really fast and loose with buying traffic and not thinking much about how to convert that traffic. A good growth engine requires equal investment in generating traffic/awareness and converting that traffic through better messaging and more relevant personalized experiences for different buyer segments. I have been preaching this for a while, and it’s nice to see the market organically moving in that direction.
With so much uncertainty in the B2B market over the past few months due to reduced or stagnant marketing and sales budgets, what advice do you have for early-stage B2B startups aiming to meet their growth goals in Q3?
I just trained the latest batch of founders in Y Combinator and my advice to them was the same. Buyers become more risk averse during recessions, which means startups have to be more open to pilots and hand-on ways to quickly prove ROI to the customer. I am always surprised by early-stage companies that assume the customer is going to do all the work to make the business case and make the product successful — you have to roll up your sleeves and help the customer get value out of your product. For instance, for our first customers at Mutiny, I created an entire personalization strategy and wrote their website content. Every time we heard “no” or saw slow adoption, I would ask if I could help them do the work. I would go onsite and sit with their team to observe every blocker to adoption, and then come back to our team to brainstorm how we could improve the product. We have now productized much of those manual steps, but without getting in the weeds with our customers, we would have never uncovered the blockers.
It’s also important to find ways to add credibility whether it’s leveraging your network or press or customer references.
Is there anything you think founders should be thinking about right now or anything you want to add?
I think it can be disheartening to experience a sudden recession where sales and fundraising are suddenly much harder. But I also think this is a great opportunity for founders to focus on building truly valuable products and low friction sales motions. In a bull market, many companies reach series A, B, and even C without true product-market fit. Eventually, that catches up with you and is much harder to fix or pivot when you have a ton of existing customer inertia and a large team. The current market gives startups the opportunity to get it right at the early stage when they are much more nimble. If you stay lean and focus on your customers, NPS and churn, you will end up with a much better product and company in the long run.
This is also a great opportunity for all of us to build community, learn from each other and adapt. I have always been a big believer in community, but I can’t stress how impactful it has been in the past few months to stay connected to other founders and operators tackling similar problems and learn from each other’s creativity.
Pitch Deck Interest Metrics Update
We’re looking at another record-breaking week for pitch deck interest from VCs. But all that shopping is definitely coming at a cost. Here are key insights on fundraising market trends based on our analysis of pitch decks.
We’ve previously told founders to hold off on fundraising during the summer months, instead of focusing on sending out their pitch deck in early fall to take advantage of high investor interest in early fall. You can ignore that advice. VCs have been more active in the last few weeks than they have been in the previous two years. If you’re ready to fundraise you should feel confident sending out your deck.
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When you’re building a business, making sure your customers or users come back is essential. If you can only rely on one purchase per customer, you’ll be spending all your time chasing new customers, rather than the much easier task of re-selling or up-selling to your current ones.
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