A Self Funded SaaS Story: The Journey From ZERO to a Projected 31 Million ARR

“We were running our consultancy business just to put food on the table. That was a challenge because more than anything we just wanted to build product.”

 

Written by Sterling Sweeney: Published Sept 6th, 2019 | Updated Sept 6th, 2019.

Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the driving force behind WhalePages, a SaaS marketing agency. Today, he sits down with Peter Coppinger, CEO and co-founder of teamwork to talk about his SaaS journey so far.

9 Minute Read

Self Funded SaaS: The Journey From ZERO to a Projected $31 M ARR

WhalePages was recently fortunate enough to chat with the folks at Teamwork about their impressive SaaS company growth. Teamwork offers a full suite of tools that help teams manage projects, provide customer support, share documents, manage leads and much more. Teamwork is a very inspiring SaaS company and we’re excited to share their insights with other SaaS entrepreneurs today. Let’s jump in.

First, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with our audience about Teamwork. As you know, our audience is made up primarily of SaaS founders, CEOs and marketers. Most of our blog audience is working, at least in part, with a partially distributed team, and in some cases their teams are fully distributed. Kick off the interview by telling us a little bit more about what teamwork does and how it can help SaaS entrepreneurs working with people from around the world?

Thanks for having me. I’ll jump right in. Like many others, our business grew of necessity. But what started as a necessity grew into a fascination for making teams and ultimately businesses run smoother. Today, Teamwork builds business management apps which help teams become efficient organized and happy. Anyone who’s in a team or running a team can use our products, especially because the nature of teams is changing so much. You’re not all sitting in the same office at the same time working on the same thing. In a lot of cases you’re dispersed across the globe, with multiple different time zones, different functions and working on a number of different tasks. The last thing you need is a malfunctioning team who are communicating poorly, looking for important documents or unsure of what they’re doing. This is where our products can help. With a work management tool, document collaboration tool and instant chat among our product line, we’re able to help teams focus on the work that’s really important.

Tell us a little bit more about Teamwork’s history. When did Teamwork first launch and what were some of your biggest obstacles early on? How did you overcome those obstacles?

We originally started as a web development agency working with local and national clients to build their websites when the internet was just emerging. We knew that we wanted to build products though. When managing the work in our agency became overwhelming, we went in search of a project management tool. When we couldn’t find a project management tool to suit our needs, we built our own. As it turns out it was something other businesses needed too. In October 2007, we launched Teamworkpm.net.

Our biggest obstacle at the time was trying to do two things at once. We were running our consultancy business just to put food on the table. That was a challenge because more than anything we just wanted to build product. We overcame that by taking every Friday to work on and improve our product, eventually moving to building that product full time.

“We were running our consultancy business just to put food on the table. That was a challenge because more than anything we just wanted to build product. We overcame that by taking every Friday to work on and improve our product, eventually moving to building that product full time.”

I imagine it’s been a complex project to get off the ground. At first glance, the beauty of your platform, and the benefit that jumps off the page (for me at least) is the ability to bring many tools into one central suite (see complete product list here). So rather than having to use one company for project management, another for support and yet another for your CRM needs, Teamwork has these features and many others bundled into one platform. However, when you first started Teamwork did you have all of these features built into your MVP, or have you been rolling out these features over time? Currently is your focus on expanding your feature set or deepening your existing feature set?

We always knew we wanted to help businesses run smoother by making teams more organized. So, we started with one product and are now up to 5 products and we rolled these out over time. Every product has its own roadmap of features that we aim to get done every year but alongside those, we’re always looking to the future. How businesses and teams work is always changing so we have to be able to monitor that trend so that it can inform our next product. So the answer to your question is both!

Take us back on a journey to how Teamwork looked on day one. When you first launched Teamwork, how did you go about on-boarding your first paying customers? What was the most valuable on-boarding strategy in your earliest days?

When we started this business it was just my co founder and I and a couple of other developers. Onboarding as we know it now wasn’t a thing. The best thing we did for ourselves and our customers was to make ourselves available to them. We spoke to them every single day, listening to how we could improve the product experience. Anyway we could help make the use of the product easier – we did it. If a customer called us and said feature x would make life a lot easier for us, we’d add it to the product instantly.

Today, our onboarding looks a lot different, we’ve employed a customer champion who sits on the product team and works closely with the product manager and product marketer to create a seamless onboarding experience.

How has the marketing strategy for Teamwork changed over time? What SaaS marketing advice would you give to early stage entrepreneurs who are struggling to gain traction early on?

I think it has changed in that we have one now. When we started out, we didn’t view marketing or sales as a critical function to the business. We thought, build a great product and the customers would follow. My advice would be to focus on marketing early on, know your value proposition and understand your “why” so that it guides the decisions you make. Understand as much as you possibly can about your customers and how they use your product. Never turn down an opportunity to learn from them.

You have a very nice looking home page. Some, more liberal with their language then me, might call it downright sexy. How much A/B testing have you been doing in order to try to optimize your design? In your experience, what have been the most important design elements that have helped increase CR on your site?

Thanks – our marketing team will be pleased with that feedback 🙂 We’re always AB testing small things on our website. It’s important to continually test so you can provide the best experience for the user. Since we rebranded, we took a different approach to design. We really focused on not overloading the user with information. So, we pared back the amount of text on the site significantly. Customers don’t have time to sift through lots of content so we put the important information on there and made it easily accessible.

We wanted to create a site that reflected us a company, so it’s much brighter and generally nicer to engage with.

I see you have a blog as well. You’ve been posting at least a couple of times / week each month for quite some time now. How much has content marketing and SEO played in your company’s success so far? What percentage of your leads can be attributed to your content marketing efforts?

I’m not going to give specific numbers here but I will say that a few years back, we tried content marketing and we didn’t execute as well as we would have liked. Fast forward a couple of years and we have a carefully considered content strategy that plays a key role in our greater content marketing strategy.

The SaaS collaboration space has some big names in it. What are the main things you’re doing to differentiate yourself from other collaboration SaaS companies?

I think our approach to the products we want to build is how we differentiate ourselves We’ve built a beautiful integration between our tools so that data can flow freely from one product to the next. Gone are the days of multiple tools from different suppliers – we believe this is the way forward.

Can you tell us a little bit more about Teamwork’s funding path? Are you self-financed or do you have investors on board? Can you tell us a little bit more about the pros and cons of your decision?

We’re currently 100% self funded and have been since day 1. There’s pros and cons to everything. A pro means we got to bring the business to this point while being in full control of how and when we do things. A con is that we don’t get to move as quickly as we’d like or don’t have the same level of advisors as another company with funding might have. We’re currently exploring funding options.

You have various partner programs and referral programs. How well have these programs worked for Teamwork and what percentage of sign ups do your partner programs account for?

Our referral program has been a huge growth lever for us with roughly 15% of our MQL’s coming from it.

“Our referral program has been a huge growth lever for us with roughly 15% of our MQL’s coming from it.”

Now if you’re comfortable talking about financial milestones, can you tell us a little bit more about your SaaS size and growth rate?

We have 24,000 customers around the world. A team of 240 people service those customers and our ARR projection for 2019 is $31 million.

How long did it take Teamwork to hit $2000 MRR?

We launched in October 2007 and hit $2000 MRR in December of 2008 so about 13 months.

Lastly, if you had to start over again and do three things differently, what would those three things be?

1. Hire a person in marketing earlier. We focused a lot on product which was valuable but neglected pro-active marketing.

2. Start the referral program earlier. As I mentioned earlier, this has been a big success for us, looking back if we had started this a bit earlier it could have helped us grow a bit faster.

3. We may have been able to move faster with access to funding. Bootstrapping our business to now is something we’ve always been proud of but looking back, if we had considered funding a bit sooner we could do things faster.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. To our readers, if you want to learn more about Teamwork please head over to their beuatiful website to learn more. You can sign up for a free trial and take their products for a test drive. 

If you have enjoyed this interview and would like to read more just like it, then head over to our SaaS marketing blog.

Written by Sterling Sweeney: Published Sept 6th, 2019 | Updated Sept 6th, 2019.

Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the driving force behind WhalePages, a SaaS marketing agency. So, if you have a SaaS company and you’re kinda into things like website traffic and increasing your MRR, then check out how we grow SaaS websites by heading over to SaaS growth TV.

 

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