3 minute read

Looking back on our journey building a SaaS business. Part 1: A little story from late 2014

The story below is taken from an end of year email I shared with the product team (all 6 of us) behind our PR tool coveragebook.com back in 2014.

We had just launched a beta of the tool and had no paying customers. We’re finishing 2015 with nearly 400 customers from around the world. We’re loving every minute of it.

We scratched our own itch. It felt good.

We were heroes to the fashion team. Then almost everyone else in the PR team. At least in the beginning. Its the norm now. People remember what it was like with spreadsheets right? 🙂

But we proved that we could identify pain and solve it. Steph S would quit if we took it away. The Sean Ellis test passed. At least to our team anyway.

Then we began to wonder what if……

We had fun building out services at our search agency. Its time to figure all this shit out again. Could we go bigger? Global? But with a team that could fit in Jack’s dream valley kitchen.

Big constraints. One fucking awesome & fun challenge. Never built a saas business before. Let’s have a go…

The PR industry looked like it knew how to have fun. More importantly we had a belief it was the sleeping giant in marketing. Why not start there.

Those initial 3 agencies almost felt easy to sign up. Good connections? Killer Sales? A good MVP? The problems we aimed to solve resonated.

Some logged in. Some didn’t.

We were the answer to their prayers. But they were too busy to pray.

Out in the field our solution didn’t seem to resonate after the euphoria of the in-person demo. More lessons learnt. We start reading Samuel Hulick’s book. Feeling humbled from the depth of knowledge required to pull this thing off.

Isabelle is back in again. And Lucinda. Our first paying customers! The Intercom.io addiction begins.

The PR platform gets better. Rachel’s just getting warmed up. More agencies follow. More people finding bits of what we build useful. Not all. Just bits. Like the automated coverage report tab. An early sign of the future?

Single-purpose tools maybe the way forward for us.

It turns out the audience are some of the least tech savvy and have grown used to the software of a few old giants. Sound familiar?

Apathy to change old behaviours could still paralyse us. We need to lead the way through understanding the life of the modern PR.

Solve their pain. Make them Bad Ass. Why could I have not come across Kathy Sierra sooner!

No time, pitch hell. technology shy. But smart and certainly not shy of hard work.

We’re all learning fast. But no doubt you move so much faster with a Jon Markwell guiding the way.

We’ve begun to connect. Stella Bayles is back on home turf after a 6 year sabbatical in SEO. So much to share back. And so much to learn. A conduit back to our team.

There is hunger for change.

The penny finally drops.

We’re not selling software.

A resolution is needed.

We’re selling the promise of enabling a much-needed step change in the work-flows of PR professionals.

Through ideas, through knowledge, through apps and tools to make life better. Stuff people will be happy to pay for so we can keep doing it.

We begin to focus. Our time 100% committed to the purpose. Hack days are embraced. 2 week cycle Retrospectives & planning meets get slicker. A truly agile team. I wonder how I’d do things differently in an agency life with this new found knowledge?

Dan build’s Answer the Public…..for fun. Alan hacks the first coveragebook.com tool. I learn to push the right buttons on twitter. Boom.

The emails start dropping in. Small brands. Cool brands. In house. Agency.

We’re told by some we’re making life easier.

We need them say we make life better……and then pay us. Every month.

Then tell other people to do it. Advocacy first. Then awareness. We need to keep learning and adapting. We start using promoter.io — and we learn some more.

Every small point of friction a PR person feels using our software is just another reason to keep doing things the old way. A borrowed point from a genius behind slack.com — what an inspiration.

Every criticism of the old ways of working without practical advice makes us the same as whats been before. We are lucky to meet Stephen Waddington and Frederik. They are on it. We join their community #prstack & learn some more.

If we stay humble, empathise and listen we’ll get better.

The plan for 2015….

Minimum lovable become the focus. Our friends the happy startup guys have a point.

Old school MVPs confined to our product history.

We need to rock the industry. In a good way. We’re not here to disrupt and annoy. We need to become masters of influencer marketing to the masters of influencer marketing. And have fun trying.

We end 2015 with almost 400 customers. And still a team of 6. I’ve already starting writing Part 2 of this story. Which covers most of 2015.

Written by —
Gary Preston

Gary Preston

CEO & Founder of CoverageBook & AnswerThePublic