Establishing a presence in new territories is inevitable for any software business that aims to be a global leader in its field but often companies underestimate the complexity of the process. It is rarely as simple as opening a sales office in a serviced office and letting the new team get on with it. Simon has experience as an executive charged with developing overseas markets from the UK and as the UK lead of one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the world Head Quartered in Chennai. He shares the key take outs he believes are critical to making new offices work effectively and profitably.
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Simon Johnson: So just checking! Is this working? People hear me? Perfect! This is the one. Perfect!
Firstly hi! My name is Simon Johnson and I am the UK general manager for Fresh Desk. What I’m here today to talk to you about is a journey of what I’ve been over in the past 16 years, really focusing on the last 3 years or so, working for the fastest growing SaaS company in the world right now. The talk is about growing a territory, hopefully it will be relevant for the people in the room.
Just before we start, I’m going to get an idea about demographics so I can figure out which bits to focus on. Can we have a show of hands of CEOs in the room? Ok, CEOs of companies over 100 employees? VPs of sales? Techies? Got it!
So this is about why, why would you choose a new territory. So I will go into 5 areas that I have experienced myself but I’ve also backed up the data or my thinking by speaking with several CEOs, VPs and founders over the past few weeks so I will give some of that data so I hope that will be good information.
I’m very aware that I have the food coma slot. Before I do that, I will take a selfie actually. If everybody can stand up and get a bit of energy in the room. What I’d like, hopefully if this works, to try and do is on 3 if everyone could just give a little jump and be careful! 1,2,3, go! There we go! Awesome! Thank you very much! Hopefully we’re feeling a bit energised.
So very quickly, what have I been up to then in my career I guess? I was at Red gate for about 10 years and I can see some familiar faces around the room which is brilliant. I was global head of sales for a number of years and experienced the growth of two offices. One in California, LA and one in Singapore. And as I said, I now work at Fresh Desk doing that exact job. So for those of you, who has heard of Fresh Desk? That’s awesome. Normally I’ll say who’s heard of Fresh Desk and no one puts their hands up and then I’ll say who’s heard of ZenDesk and everyone goes I have heard of it. We’re in the same sort of market as ZenDesk.
So, very quickly, I don’t want to bore you but this is important and I want to focus on this. We’ve been running for about 7 years which is pretty immature for a company with the velocity of Fresh Desk. It was started by Girish and Shan and Girish was actually the VP of product management for Zoho, another big Indian company. And he wrote the product manage engine. So lots of experience in ITSM and customer support world. FreshDesk was started really with the mindset of being modern, mobile, low on boarding, low cost model basically, easy to get people up and running. We’re multi-product which again, is slightly unusual for a company our age. So we have a big presence in customer support with Fresh Desk, a big presence in ITSM so service management with fresh service. We now have a CRM product which is growing very quickly and will soon to release an HR product. That’s a pretty serious ecosystem for a company that’s only 7 years old. We’re truly global, we have well over 100k customers, millions of users on the platform and we have offices all across the world. So just to give you an idea again, we have 1100 colleagues and employees, mainly R&D and it’s growing at a rate of about 600 a year. I run the office in London where we have 20 or so colleagues, ranging from marketing managers, sales, engineering, sales and accounts management support. Pretty much self-sufficient. I have colleagues in Berlin and Sydney. So we’ve got a pretty big operation. And then to top that off at the bottom we have a lot of VC investment, mainly from Google, amounting to 160 million. So it’s created an incredibly fast rocket ship of an organisation, I think we can safely say.
Ok, my journey then. I spent a very enjoyable and successful time at Red Gate, I was actually the 8th employee, managing a team of myself up to a team of 50+ globally. It was pretty impressive and really enjoyable. Lots of friends, I had a 20 minute cycle to work, I had a hot breakfast every day for free, I had a hot lunch every day for free. And I was at home by 5 o’clock. I was pretty happy but also I was a bit bored. I don’t know if anyone gets that feeling, I had this itch I needed to do something and it was the same time I received this life changing phone call from a head hunter who said there’s this opportunity. I said tentatively let’s give it a go and see what happens and that’s where the journey started. So I had several interviews with Girish all via Skype, several interviews with the VP in the US, lots of meetings with the partners, all via Skype, didn’t meet anybody. Before giving up my comfortable life in Cambridge and taking on this, basically. So there I am 2 months later in the back of a cab on the way to the office in Chennai, thinking what on earth have I done? Basically, I knew nobody, I had no real relationships. It was all over video. And there I was I had a week; I had to learn new systems, new software to sell, I had to build relationships and figure out what’s this all about, what’s the expectations of the CEO. But anyway, there I was on my flight home with my 25-page plan, I said I will conquer the world basically and then I had that realisation of waking up in the morning basically, not really knowing what on earth to do.
Key take out #1 – Business Strategy
And it’s at that point we need to take a bit of a check and this is where I got my first bit of data from the CEOs. So I’m speaking to the guys at Red Gate, Fresh Desk and several other organisations, why do you want to take on a new region? That’s the first big takeout for me. I’ve seen this fail on several occasions because the CEO doesn’t know. It would be cool to have an office there, that’s a cool place to have one. But actually you’re setting up the person who will take it over for failure immediately because they don’t know the targets for the office. You have to be super-clear and as a CEO.
This is the biggest question you can answer. Why do this?
Now there’s many reasons and I’m not here to tell you about what possible reasons you could have. You might be trying to setup a partnership channel in the new region or it might be for competitive reasons, you might see a competitor go in to a particular region or you might want to be closer to a couple of enterprise customers or have an enterprise business, I don’t know. In our specific case, again this is about Fresh Desk specific, it was all about customer pull, ok? So we were in a situation where our strategy to grow through India was to take the S&B market. So our strategy, let’s take the S&B market, get this really super low cost, easy to get people up and running, SaaS model and we’ll take over the world. Now that worked basically and we had a huge amount of customers in the S&B market but we struggled whenever we tried to take anyone in to the mid-market, lower mid-market, upper mid-market; and enterprise was a bit of a no-go zone for us. Because as soon as you do that, they’re gonna ask you for face to face and we’re there battling against the likes of sales force, ZenDesk, Service Now any of these big companies, and the first thing they will do is knocking on a company door. That’s the first important piece, our reason was because we had customers asking us for face to face and the only way we were gonna get new mid-market logos is to have someone on the ground and a team of people focused on the business.
Key take out #2 – Leadership
So next stop then is slightly different than to what you might think. Naturally I would think you know why you want to go to a new region, but how will you do it? It’s not and it surprised me. I don’t know if this is true, I think it probably is. The next part is you need to figure out who will do this for you. As a CEO, you job isn’t to go and map out a strategy in a region you don’t know. That’s not your job. Your job is to build an amazing team that can go and do that for you. This is the most important next thing for CEOs, how on earth will you find this person and who is this person who will do it for you?
Do we know who this person is? Who is this person? David Moyes, right! So I’m actually an Everton fan and it hurts me even more to have this out there. David is one of the brightest coaches and man managers that was in the Premier League, as a UK coach he was incredible! He had taken Everton to Champion League football. We had a really average side and he took us to Champion’s League football. Now he had some friends and connections with Manchester United and following Sir Alex Ferguson’s 10 year tenure, they opted for this guy. Now, why I have no idea, cause this guy he has no idea about working for the world’s biggest football team, about dealing with press for the world’s biggest football team, about going in a changing room and seeing people with absurd amounts of money and handling those egos. He just has never, done it in his life. He’s never had the money to spend 50 million on a player, but he still got that job at Manchester United. We all know what happened, he failed badly and he’s never really recovered from it. Just to reiterate the point, it’s not about how you’re gonna do it, but finding the right person. And you’ve all seen that Mourinho is probably the right person.
Local Market Knowledge
So if I just walk through what my observations are there for who this person is and this is not through my eyes if you like but through the CEOs eyes looking at me, I guess, cause I was this person. So first thing is the local market knowledge. So I’ve seen this work both ways and you may be sort of thinking that’s not so important cause I’ve seen it work, and we did this at Redgate, where we put somebody into a new region, a completely different culture that they’ve never been in there before. We put them in there because we trusted them. But actually are you setting that person up for success? That will be the question. So the option we took at FreshDesk, or Girish took at FreshDesk, is to find me and put me in the region so I can figure out what we need to do to sell more product. I think that’s the first thing worth considering. There is of course the option when you send someone in you trust to hire someone. That is also another option. Think that one through carefully. If you will put someone in the UK and you’re an Indian company, it’s very very hard for that person from India to really figure out the intricacies of the UK culture.
So second up there is being a generalist, which is a bit of an odd way of describing myself really, but Girish made this point really well. He said we’re there to make revenue, but it didn’t make any sense hiring a sales guy because how are they gonna hire someone else with no experience or how will he setup an HR contract or services or find a new office place or fire somebody? How is that person gonna do it? Because we can’t do it from India, 6000 miles away, they’ve got no idea how some of our laws work. They were looking for a generalist, someone who did this before, that can sell, manage and can build relationships. So just think about exactly about who this person is.
Evidence of getting stuff done
Second part is they need to prove they’ve done something like this before or they’ve been on a journey. One of my old mentors once said to me someone that can exhibit a successful change in life is generally a proxy for a successful person. Someone that can exhibit a successful change in their life is a proxy for a successful person. You’re looking for someone that has been through that change process, doesn’t necessarily need to be the same thing, but they’ve gone through this big change in their life in some way and they’ve come out the other side and they’re winning!
Great Communicator and Relationship Builder
Next one is one of the most important and also one of the areas that was difficult in my role. You need to be great at communicating. Because it’s really really easy, and I’ll go in to a bit more detail later, but it’s easy to sit there, in your office in London and not say anything and you have this big operation happening in India and the US. And if you’re not doing well, you can sit there and not tell anyone. That’s an easy option! You have to be a great communicator and believe the stuff you’re showing to the CEO will set his expectations? What you don’t want is surprises.
The second thing is being a great relationship builder because, again one of Giresh’s comments, what so often happens is someone comes in to the organisation thinking they know more than you do or more than what the company do and they go and start trying to make changes. The first thing that does is basically annoy everybody because they don’t have any experience of it. Build relationships and then figure out how you can work better as a team to initiate changes, if they’re needed.
Success with size of target customer
And then this part is key! So back to the why you’re taking on a new region, I’ve given you examples. You don’t want to find someone who can only deal with enterprise customers if you’re not going after enterprise and vice versus. If someone is used to selling S&B business, they won’t be able to sell to 3M, Oracle or Virgin media. It’s just not going to happen. They don’t know how to go about it. So think about why you’re going into that region and hire someone accordingly. Let them grow in to that role but don’t put them in the position where they won’t know how to negotiate law in an enterprise company for example.
Key take out #3 – Lead by example
The next part for me is a bit of a pet hate and this is probably where I’ve lost all of my hair but I think it’s so key. That leading by example. I gave you an example of me coming back with this 25-page plan sure that I will succeed. I’ve met all these people and have this amazing idea and the cold, hard realities of being set in a bedroom 6000 miles away it’s really difficult. In a room full of people that have built start-ups, you can resonate with that situation. It’s not a very nice feeling. There’s only one way to deal with it, and that’s get stuck in and start finding out what on earth you have to do. I will give you the top areas or ways that I approached going about this, to try and figure out what those first steps were.
Get to know your customers
The first one might sound obvious, but so many people don’t do this properly. You’ve got to go and find out why on earth your customers are purchasing your product. The absolute key question you need to answer is what were the triggers for them to buy? Who bought it, and what improvements have they seen? So they’re 3 areas that you have to find out. We were lucky as we had 3M as a customer and they had a very small team of 10 agents using Fresh Desk in a project management use case that we’d never experienced before. I went to 3M and found out how they’re using it, get some references and quotes to build on that knowledge. What was the trigger, how can we repeat that in the manufacturing sector for example?
And actually, another tip, whenever I have a new sales guy start in the team, I have a form now which I call a KPI customer form. Actually, they have to go through it and interview a customer and there’s a series of questions and it opens up a dialogue with the customer with the aim to understand what the trigger was, who’ve we’ve sold to and what the improvements have been. And at that point they can present it back to me and I’m happy for them to start with their sales at FreshDesk. It proves they know what they’re talking about.
Build genuine relationships
The second thing is basically building genuine relationships. I touched on it earlier, but this is key. There’s a few models you can take when you take on a new territory. For example functional model where you have your teams in region reporting into headquarters. You have a head of sales reporting to a VP of sales. We don’t have that, but that is an approach I’ve seen and experienced. We have regional control so essentially it stops with me so the marketing manager reports to me. So everything we do, we do in the region.
So we have a customer who last year spoke at 7-8 events for us. We built case studies and have big campaigns going out in the advertising and publishing industries because we managed to build a relationship with a global advertising company. Second up is – one tip actually. If you’re struggling to get the information, write the testimonial yourself and verify it with the customer. It’s not cheating, it’s just you helping them to think of some of the advantages you’ve experienced.
The second one is NHS – massive global brand. Very difficult to sell into but we managed to sell into one of the top 16 IT hospitals in the UK. He’s already spoken 5 times this year, the head of service delivery, he’s speaking at Gartner next Tuesday. We have a case study, very hard to get from the NHS, and tons of collateral going out into campaigns. All this was run locally by my marketing manager. So think about who you have customers and how can you leverage some of that to your advantage?
Locate for success
And then the third area that you need to think about is where do we need to be? I live in Cambridge and I had a 20 minute cycle ride to work. I swapped all that for a 2-hour commute to London every day which sounds a bit crazy, but was I gonna win the employee battle against Redgate, CSR, Cambridge Broadband and ARM? I was never gonna win that, so I felt I would’ve got a second tier quality of employee. And when you’re finding your first employees you have to go for the very best. This is one way you can try to pull people in. So we started off in Shoreditch, we moved to Carnaby Street which is pretty incredible. There for 18 months and then just 3 weeks ago moved into Covent Garden, got an amazing deal! So I now know that I was trying to set people up. So if they come in, I have an advantage because if I’m based in East Croydon, are they gonna come and leave one of our big competitors? Set yourself up as much as you can for success.
Key take out #4 – Building your team
Ok, so where are we? We know why we will take on a region, we think we have the right person, we’re getting to know our customer and the use case is and we have an idea where we will be based. The next big thing is how will you build this team which is completely central.
So for me, you have to employ people that will grow with you and you have to get a really trusted 2 or 3 hires. You need to get that first person, someone you can think can take some of the strain from you because you will be doing a million things and you need someone you trust to take that responsibility away. Now, I will just run through my sort of guidelines for what’s worked for me and again, there’s many examples of what this person could be but you can see reasoning why I’ve chosen who I have.
Can they survive a start-up?
So the first question that you have to ask is basically can this person survive a start-up? It sounds obvious but being in one is tough cause you don’t really have anything, there isn’t any collateral that’s made for you or sales process, communication is pretty hard, you do long hours and you’re a really small team. So can someone come and handle that situation?
The first person I hired actually into the UK office, bearing in mind I had to try and make some money here, never sold a thing in their life and he’s a superstar in my team right now. He came from Accenture which sounds a bit random but actually he was working for a team there, they were based within a very, very large bank in London and it was his job to basically run projects so he knew how to get projects together, he knew how to sell ideas internally and deal with different levels of management and that was the person I needed. I needed them to come in and evolve the business with me. What I didn’t need was a guy that had been at Oracle for 10 years and had everything on the plate for him. That person won’t enjoy the challenge quite honestly, they won’t enjoy coming in and saying where are my leads? We haven’t got any leads, you will have to find them yourself. Same with STR and the sales process. They will struggle and it’s not their fault, they aren’t the right person. If you have any of these things in place already, what is the sort of person you need? So think process rather than enterprise or experience.
The next recommendation is think about blended staffing. Now outside of the guy I just mentioned as a first hire based in the UK, in India I asked the CEO for help. I said can you help me with a technical member staff in the UK that comes and work with me? He gave me the head of sales engineering who was a 30 year old guy, very close friend of mine, lives in London with his wife and child and has the same job. The power and benefit of that is this guy came across with all of the relationships and the cultural nuances that I had no idea about at the time, I do now. He has all the product knowledge. A company is releasing every week into 5 separate products, I have no way to keep up with this – that’s his job. So he managed to keep all of this together, take the pressure away from me to learn the product and he also creates this bridge between our offices. So blended staffing is vital!
And then the final one is – this is a bit strange. I’ve put encourage diversity but there is one woman on the entire photo! But here’s an impression of a bunch of the team here there are other women. Actually no! There’s another woman there! I’ve got it covered! I really struggle to hire females, I am trying very hard but it’s not getting the CVs through. Anyway, another topic. Encourage diversity, don’t hire a bunch of mini-mes because it feels safe, or people from your old company because it won’t work. What works in a company won’t work in a new environment where you try to do a start-up. Don’t hire a bunch of people that support the same football team as you. Just doesn’t work. Go for diversity, create and think about the culture that you want to create and create a team that will debate, argue and have fun and create that atmosphere for success. You’re looking for diversity!
Key take out #5 – Be patient
So where are we? Basically we’ve now got most of the picture covered. We’ve got a really good strategy, we’ve got customers, we’ve got the team built, great location and all of our sales processes put together, so quite clearly we will make a whole bunch of money! Job done! But actually the harsh reality is that you’re probably not. And having had this conversation with CEOs and said look, we’re not gonna break even this first year. People have to be prepared to accept that, because you might get lucky and go to 3M and say we need another 450 agents, but it’s highly unlikely. If you’re trying to create a sustainable business and profitable revenue stream, it will take you time and your CEO and you guys need to understand that and let that person that you’ve entrusted go and make that happen. I was quite lucky! Girish did say he appreciates it will take a little bit of time. So just be prepared! There isn’t really anything you can do about that.
Encourage visibility and debate
I’ve tried to highlight some ways you might be able to close some of these time gaps. So the first one is try and encourage your guys to be super visible. I learned this at Red Gate, they were brilliant at it! I’m trying to do a similar thing. Get everything on the wall, make it clear if it’s not working and change it quickly. It’s no good sitting there and waiting, and saying let’s give it another couple months! Make a decision and change it! You’ve got to be quick and I would say we will try something and if it’s not working, we’re gonna pivot and change, it’s as simple as that. Encourage these guys to do the thinking and take the strain away from you as a leader to always do the thinking. And that can help close some of the gaps.
Have constant communication with HQ
Second one is I think, like I mentioned earlier, the most difficult one to be honest. You need to be very clear what the CEOs expectations are of you as a person and office, as a revenue stream, whatever it may be and you have to report that back. You have to fight through the rubbish you deal with every day and somehow give a clear, meaningful message to your CEO.
We’ve tried this in so many different ways in fact at Red Gate we used to have a TV stand with a laptop and an HD camera and we used to wheel it around so the team in the US could see what we were doing. It sounds ingenious but every 10th word you were lost and couldn’t pick it up. So that didn’t work but we tried. We tried several other things. Yeah, at Fresh Desk we’ve tried videoing whiteboard tours just to try and send this information back and it kind of works, you have to keep plugging away, there isn’t a magic answer to this. All I can say without plugging it, is Facebook workplace was brilliant and transformed our organisation and when you’re growing at 600 people a year, it’s the most effective way we found to keep in touch. We have regular Facebook live sessions showing whiteboard tours and we upload lots of information and see lots of things going on from India. It’s probably the most effective way we’ve managed to do it. I’d be interested if anyone has feedback on that cause I still struggle a bit with that area.
Advice for CEO’s and Founders
Ok, so final few slides. What I wanted to do was to get the top 3 frustrations basically of CEOs and founders and of VP of sales or regional leaders. So here are the top 3 frustrations of your regional leaders. So advice for CEOs. Firstly, and I don’t want to go sort of into too much detail on this, but this is so annoying! I don’t know if anybody else encountered this! Sometimes you have to have a meeting at 3 am, and someone turning up 15-20 minutes late is frustrating. As a CEO you need to sort that out and stop people from doing that cause it can really kill motivation.
Second up, CEOs need to think about how to optimise the time of the regional leader. It’s so easy to get dragged into admin task after admin task. You have to somehow figure out a resource in your HQ that you can pass this task to. Someone who is better at admin than me or whoever that regional leader is. That’s the responsibility of both people, the CEO needs to think about how much admin it creates starting a new office or a new team. And this final one it’s a big frustration. Not for me, cause we have a different model, but I have seen frustrations and this came a lot and the assumption that everything has to be done the same in the remote offices as it’s done in the local HQ. You can look at it either way, it’s a problem. If you have a team that’s 6000 miles away and you’re trying to tell them how to sell, that’s a problem, you need to let that team figure it out. There’s boundaries and we don’t want to step outside of them, but it’s your responsibility to figure out what those boundaries are basically. Or you’re setting up an office for failure.
So on the flip of that, this is what the top 3 kind of gripes if you’d like of the CEOs so this should resonate with a bunch of people in this room. First off, as a CEO, I want my whole team and organisation to work perfectly as one team, but invariably they operate as two very different entities. This is a tricky one again, very tricky to solve, but you need to think about how those boundaries work, how you can plug the two together, communication, you can try and share process and report in the same way so at least you’re reporting your processes together. That will build the 2 teams together. You shouldn’t make one unified sales team 6000 miles apart cause that’s so hard to do. Very unlikely you will pull that off.
This was Girish’s biggest issue, that people join the company and he has so many people joining the company, they’re not spending enough time building relationships with people in the organisation. They see something and want to make a change and try to make a change and they get pushed back with resistance, a lot of people. So be wary about that and as a CEO, you should probably brief people about this sort of activity cause it can kill motivation and kill the chances of the new hire being effective if people start to push them away.
And then the next part is really quite scary as a regional leader, it’s this part about becoming detached from the main office. So as I said, it’s very easy to sit there in your office in London and hide behind it and I can’t make the meeting this week, I’m really sorry! I will be late for my train! You need to make an effort and make it happen cause if it happens again next week, suddenly you’re a couple of weeks and you have no contact with the organisation. Let’s say it happens again cause you have holiday, suddenly you’re going 3 weeks without contact with the whole organisation, that’s danger signs for the CEO. Especially danger signs for the CEO for a unicorn software company because he doesn’t want any surprises. He doesn’t want to get to the end of the quarter and I say, Giresh I’m sorry, actually we’re gonna be 25% of our target. You have to try and keep constant communication and not go quiet.
So I think that kind of covers everything. The last thing I was gonna cover, I was going to put a picture of myself on there because I’ve lost all my hair but I put Barrack and show the differences from when he started and finished his presidency. I’ve painted a very true reflection of my experiences and it’s been super hard work, but I would say it’s been an amazing experience and if you’re considering it, these 5 areas will point you towards having a very successful operation somewhere regionally! Thank you very much!
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Mark Littlewood: Ok, questions! I’d like to start with a question about employee manuals and things. And you’ve got this big organisation in India and they have some kind of codification of that culture. Do you have a separate culture, do you maintain the two things and go through that same on boarding process or do you develop your own completely separate hybrid? How do you do it?
Simon Johnson: I take those two different areas actually. On boarding, up until 1 year ago, I did it all myself cause I was protective of the people coming to the organisation. It was completely non-scalable. What I did, the last person last year that we hired, I asked them to detail their experience of joining the company. They detailed day by day what they did, what they found frustrating and that’s now the manual. That’s our way to try to scale up our speed because one of the biggest problems in hiring people in region, away from the product team, is the time it takes to ramp up to full speed. With sales guys, you can sort of get away with it a little bit because you can talk them through sales and you can get them to come with you on site and you can teach and coach them. With sales engineers it’s more difficult because they’re joining a company where the product is moving at such an incredibly fast pace they’re trying to keep up and it can take a sales engineer 6-9 months to learn a product fully. So the on boarding for sales engineers is different, they need to spend time at the mothership, learning the product. In sales, we’ve got it covered now with on boarding manuals. Culture is a bit tricky and we were at a management training session in India and we were talking about our company culture and I hadn’t actually seen it. I didn’t realise there was one. Giresh was a little upset that we hadn’t see it. He felt like he had let us down. As a result of that, we now have a hosted site that we spend a lot of time and effort on which has all our company culture and values and we try to adhere to it. It’s built in to our performance reviews so we talk about how is that person excelling in the 3 particular areas of company values and which areas they can learn from. We’re trying to instil it but of course, there’s different levels of how we rate culture for those values basically.
Audience Question: Thank you for that! You talked about moving to London to get the best of the best. Have you thought about embracing remote working and if not why not?
Simon Johnson: Yes I have thought about it and I’m not massively strict about everyone being in the office every day to be honest. The reason why it doesn’t work for me personally is cause I want to build a team and having been on the end of remote conversations – I have a remote global sales team that we meet every week and it’s such hard work. It’s hard to understand what they’re going through. I want my team to learn from each other and hear someone on the phone and say why did you say that? Or that worked or guys I’m having a nightmare! Can someone help me please? It’s very easy to go quiet and get in your own bubble and I want to avoid that not to say that if we scale up, I won’t do it again.
Audience Question: Hi! Is your sales process inbound or outbound? Are you selling to customers or are they buying from you? If you’re selling to them, I assume you have to regionalise that sales process. Did you have to change your online material to make it more regional for the UK market?
Simon Johnson: I will tackle each one of those. We have a very, very strange model. I told you why we opened a regional office. It was a customer poll, all our Google, inbound goes into our team in India, we have a sales team of 150 people based there, we have 10000s of inbound leads every month. So that is dealt with. We don’t distinguish between Tesco or Bob’s café. Everything goes in to India. It’s my job to setup a new revenue stream. So we have no inbound, pure outbound built on the three pillars, not the 4th which is channel partnerships which we’re investigating with google at the moment actually. They are our biggest market reseller. But the three main areas are what can the sales guy generate? What efforts is he putting into his outbound campaign? The second one is what marketing activities are we doing? We do many events, all run locally. We attend events and do a bunch of stuff and we run drip campaign from London. And the final part is STR’s, so I have a team of STR’s in India that reports to me. So those are the 3 pillars of revenue generation in the UK.
I think the next question was about sales process. This is a tricky area. We were using Salesforce, which we don’t use anymore, we use our own CRM system, which is kind of setup for inbound a bit more. So we have our own process that I showed you earlier which we worked very hard to put together. Now it doesn’t map 1:1, 100% into the CRM. Everything is visible around the office and that’s how I managed the team flow and then we’ve mapped it the best we can until it gets updated for how the regional or marketing teams need to operate, but it is tricky. You have to try and get sales and your account managers and obviously your support guys, but your sales engineers all need to be following a similar process or it becomes a complete free for all. You have to be formal about how that process works basically.
Audience Question: You mentioned that you needed patience to get started. Was there a timeframe that you had or you were given at any point or budget in terms of targets to hit orthe amount of money they’re prepared to invest to make that a success?
Simon Johnson: It’s a good question and I know I’m in a unique situation so I know that you’re probably seeing the VC investment. We weren’t profitable first year as an office, but we ended up winning several big labels. I was particular about not scaling it too quickly and add too much pressure on myself and I had a team of only 4, plus my sales engineer for the first year – deliberately keeping the pressure away. Second year, I tripled the size of the team and we grew by 2.5x so we had a good return in year two. Year three we had an incredible start and my remit is to scale. I do run the P&L but in all honesty, it’s all about being aggressive in what we’re doing rather than should we or shan’t we? We err on the side of let’s try this, if it doesn’t work then don’t do it again.
Audience Question: You mentioned at the beginning of the talk that you guys absolutely rocked the SNB market stuff. And the reason that you would setup an office in market in the UK was because you wanted to go after the enterprise customers.
Simon Johnson: We were rocking the SNB market. We weren’t rocking mid market.
Audience Question: Ok, so you came to the UK and had an office in the UK to do that presumably.
Simon Johnson: Our strategy was we weren’t gonna be profitable or successful if we were continuing with SNB on the ground.
Audience Question: Is profitability or scaling what you’ve been chasing?
Simon Johnson: It’s a really good question. We are looking to build a sustainable business. Logo is important obviously, as well as winning against competitors, being a global brand, reducing churn and keeping customers and we’ve done that and it’s a tricky thing to do globally. And our MRR numbers or ARR numbers are increasing quite significantly over the past 18 months. I can’t give you an exact answer on any one of those areas but the office is there to support the global expansion and growth, but it’s a combination of all of it. Sustainability is what we’re after.
Audience Question: If you were to do it all over again and be twice as successful at this stage, what would you have done differently?
Simon Johnson: I’ve never been asked that question, it’s a really good question. I have struggled in a couple of areas, so with communication, as much as I’ve tried and tried, the company is growing at such a velocity and it’s very difficult to keep in touch to be honest. So that’s one thing I would change cause that’s a very stressful part of my job. Quite a lot of sleepless nights and hair loss because I don’t know what’s going on. That’s basically the gap. And then you have the conversation, everything is fine, and you sort of get on with it.
Second thing is I could have probably solved or closed that gap a bit more by travelling a bit more. And the reason I haven’t travelled a bit more is that I I’ve kept on too many tasks myself. In hindsight I would have shipped off a whole load of things to third party services. I have an HR company that offers services but I should have taken them earlier. There’s the example of having too much going on to see the woods from the trees. And actually what am I here for? I’m here to generate or build a revenue generating team. So all of my efforts should be going that way but actually I’m doing that a bit too muc. So in answer, remove admin, build closer ties with India and also the other global teams cause we’re all head down, running as fast as we can.
There is another piece of advice there. Logic told me that we would make quick cash by going after accounts. Kind of makes sense. But that wasn’t what happened. Because these accounts hadn’t been serviced I guess, we didn’t have a customer success team at the time. What happen was when I made my first hires we ended up supporting lots of accounts for little money. In hindsight I wouldn’t do that, I would go straight in to mid-market campaign rather than going after the smaller accounts thinking I could make some quick wins.
Audience Question: You just touched on it, but are your account managers doing account development and account management or do you get an account and push that back to India for success?
Simon Johnson: We have splits. And I’ve split my products to try and keep people focused as they are very different areas. I have account managers that are purely focused on basically net additional revenue. They have named accounts which they look after and I’m building that team cause there’s much more opportunity. We split companies based upon employee size so anyone over or under 500, anything over 500 that’s closed in India or the UK, is worked by the UK as an account management activity. Anything under 500 is worked by India or becomes a named account if it’s a big opportunity. It’s quite an interesting area because our biggest wins haven’t come from these super amazing companies. They’ve come from relatively unsexy companies that have a need, they have some technology, mainly Outlook that’s being used for the wrong reasons. If we can find the trigger, we can find the real use case there, that’s where we’ve had some really good success. So just think carefully about what is your customer profile and then repeat that story with the right collateral and testimonials and use cases to fuel that particular success story.
Mark Littlewood: So diversity in your hiring challenge. One of the best speakers on this that I’ve come across or spoken to and she spoken at BoS on it is Bridget who is in a compressed amount. So I know you’re very passionate about it.
Audience Question: Forgive me cause I don’t know you and you don’t know me and this is very public. Please take this with a generous dose of BoS love and affection. I can’t quite believe you said that you don’t get enough women CVs and that’s why you don’t have enough women on your team. I can’t believe you said that because in terms of the top 10 lists of reasons why there is sexism in recruitment is attitudes like that frankly. In our company, we’re about to do a recruitment round and I spent a day I looked at 200 websites associated with women and technology across the world, I built up a massive email database, I got all the job postings where women might be looking, I actively seek out women in groups working in technology so when the time comes for us to promote our vacancies of whatever description, I am basically targeting three times as many female led forums as male. The reason why is because the last time I advertised for an engineering post on stack overflow. Of 100 applicants we got 1 woman. That told me stack overflow is not the place to go to get women to apply for jobs. I don’t blame women to not have good enough CVs, I blame myself for not going to the right places.
Mark Littlewood: I told you she had something to say! It’s great!
Simon Johnson: Let me respond! Firstly, well done! That’s hat off to you! I use head hunters because I don’t have enough time which may be my fault, I’m doing too much admin. So I ask them to go after women and I don’t know why, but I don’t have the same ratio of men to women. What I would say is every company I’ve ever been in in my life has a different ratio of men to women. I’m trying and I want them because it makes a huge difference in our office. I am interviewing them and am desperate to hire them, but at the moment I’ve struggled. There’s no other answer. I want to get them in cause they’re fantastic and make a big difference, but I’m struggling to get them. But well done, you! Cause you put in the effort and I haven’t put in that much effort!
Audience Question: Just following on from that, so background. Seriously, in my whole career, I was a hardware engineer from 1987 and a software engineer from 1993-1994. In my entire career, until I left and started Riverblade, I only worked with one female engineer. And from the inside from my perspective within the organisations I’ve been in, it was largely because partly there was a culture of sexism which was endemic. First company I joined had a very much engineering type 1990’s culture – beer at lunchtime and a typing pool and all that rubbish. But it never quite went away. It got better, but it’s never gone away! And I’ve always found that when I’ve walked into a business, you see all these faces that are predominately white which is a red flag, they’re predominately male which is another red flag, they’re predominately middle class and privileged which is a third red flag. If you are none of those things, where’s your mentor within that organisation? Are they in a position of power? Where are the people who will stand up for you when someone decides to pick on you? One of my colleagues from my first companies was bullied when he came out. Another colleague committed suicide through stress. So you need those mentors and role models to support you and when you see a monoculture in front of you, it’s hard to feel the confidence that this is the place to be. I’m lucky because I jumped out on my own and I found support and I landed in companies after that where either I was strong enough or they had a better culture but it’s still too monocultural. And part of it is because as Bridget says, companies are looking in the wrong places, in the places that are programmer central. Stack overflow, reedit, places with those cultures. They aren’t looking in places where women would go because we feel safe.
Simon Johnson: Yeah. You know more on this subject than I do so I can’t pretend – all I can say that it’s a very big thing in India as well. We’re trying desperately to hire more women in the company but I’m not doing a good enough job of it.
Audience Question: Yeah, I won’t comment on the gender issues although I will say my experiences is broadly consistent with the views that have been expressed. There is a point in education there are frankly less women taking similar technical degrees and actually we need to get women in at a much earlier stage and we need to put more effort into that. I wouldn’t know the answer to that problem. My real question to you has been what’s been your experience in working with head hunters and how did you identify the best ones and weed out the lesser ones?
Simon Johnson: A very mixed bag, I would say. The only reason I used them was actually – people in this room, I don’t know if they know Steven Adler. He was one of my previous bosses and is still one of my mentors. He talked me through a lot of these strategy. He had a colleague and ex-friend who now runs an executive company so a lot of my hires have come through that person. She’s a female, but she’s struggled with hiring. We’ve hired one person from Box and we got 2 women who are in the final stages. But there are some cowboys and bandits and I just – I wouldn’t use it, I went with this company because of the connection with Steve Adler.
Mark Littlewood: Cool! Ok, I think that is definitely all we’ve got time for. Simon, thank you very much indeed!
Simon Johnson: Thank you!
Mark Littlewood: Brilliant!
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