Bob Moore: I knew I wanted to start a company before I knew what company I wanted to start and that is actually it’s a …
Stephen Cummins: That’s a dangerous place to be sometimes.
Bob Moore: It’s a really problematic way to get into it, because I think a lot of people end up in this mode where you’re… you’re a hammer looking for a nail. I had two or three businesses that were just the wrong idea that I tried to incubate while I was in Insight. And they were all over the map. But the thing that kept coming back … I was very manually in a combination of Excel and Sequill and other tools answering questions like, you know, “who are my most valuable customers” and “where are they coming from” and “how can I get more of them?” You know, “how predictable is my revenue, even if I’m an e-commerce company and no one is subscribing, I have a certain percentage of my customers in any given cohort of users that are coming back at a predictable rate …Can we model this out to have a baseline of how much revenue we can expect from them?”. After doing it for, you know, a good number of companies, it became evident that 80, 90 percent of the work I was doing… could totally just be programmed. I mean, it could be automated away.
Stephen Cummins: Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS! The show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS scale-ups!
This is episode 112 of 14 Minutes of SaaS, the first of 3 episodes where I chat with Bob Moore, CEO & Co-founder of Crossbeam – a collaborative data platform that helps companies build more valuable partnerships by discovering which customers and leads they have in common. Bob recently expressed a tinge of regret when he saw Looker sell for 2.6 Billion to Google. He’s previously sold RJ Metrics, which had a 4 year headstart on Looker for a tiny fraction of that. But he’s applied the lessons learned about the power of ecosystems to his latest startup Crossbeam – a company that’s still less than 2 years old as I record this. This chat took place at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. And I’ll also be introducing Bob to the virtual stage in the inaugural edition of SaaStock Remote a few days after publishing these 3 episodes. I’ll have the honour of chairing that event for the 2 day duration. And I’ll be introducing many more past guests of 14 Minutes of SaaS including Vidyard CEO, Michael Litt, Hotjar CEO David Darminan, YouCanBookMe CEO Bridget Harris, and Profitwell CEO Patrick Campbell – all SaaS founders of course. But now to our interview with Bob Moore.
Stephen Cummins: We have Bob Moore, co-founder and CEO of Crossbeam, a collaborative platform that helps companies build more valuable partnerships and he’s here with us on “14 Minutes of SaaS” here at the WebSummit. Delighted to meet you, Bob.
Bob Moore: My pleasure. Delighted to meet you, too.
Stephen Cummins: Fantastic. Okay. You have covered a lot of ground in your relatively short life, comparatively speaking. And I would love to know a little bit about you and where you come from. Let’s say, all the way from childhood up to your Princeton years.
Bob Moore: Sure.
Stephen Cummins: And including your Princeton years.
Bob Moore: So I grew up in a small town in southern New Jersey, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My Dad, as a college professor, taught public relations. My Mom was a bookkeeper at a small local company. Went to public school there … all the way through Kindergarten through 12th grade. And really … so this is in an era where I graduated high school in 2002. So if you think about that in the context of technological business history, my formative years saw the boom and the bust of the first dot com. So I I’m coming of age and there are these headlines about, you know, overnight billionaires being made. And then by the time I graduate high school, you know, it’s a much different climate, both on the tech side and, you know, 9/11 happened in the September of my senior year of high school. A lot of kind of economic fallout from the first dot com bust was very much still underway and wreaking havoc. And then when I got to the point, I was starting to enter college, very, very different environment but I still kind of had these seeds of there’s something magical about what’s going on from a tech perspective. So in high school, I taught myself how to code. Just basic, you know, HTML. I hesitate to even call it code at this point, but back in that day that counted. And was building websites for myself and even started a little Web consultancy called KWAM Industries in high school where I had a bunch of local clients like, you know, a sandwich shop, and a pet store, and an auto mechanics garage. I maintained their websites and that was kind of, you know, how I got my lunch money while I was… while it was…you know, in my high school years.
Stephen Cummins: So you had the entrepreneurial bug from the beginning?
Bob Moore: Yeah, very much so. I think, you know, a lot of my friends were making sandwiches at the local convenience store, at the Wawa. And I kind of found another way. And it wasn’t anything that made me extremely wealthy, but it prevented me from needing to take an hourly job, you know, doing harder work.
Stephen Cummins: Very good. Very good. And what drew you to Princeton, apart from the fact that, of course, it’s a tremendous university?
Bob Moore: Yeah. I mean,
Stephen Cummins: It’s local, I guess.
Bob Moore: Yeah the stars aligned with Princeton. So my… as I mentioned, yeah, I went to a small public high school. We didn’t send a lot of people to Princeton. We didn’t send a lot of people to Ivy League schools at all. You know, if you went to my high school and you got into Princeton, you went to Princeton, like that was that was just the way it worked. And it was very much a no brainer because it was not… It was fairly local. It wasn’t that far away from where I grew up, so still had proximity to family. But it was also, obviously, a world class institution that had really great programs in engineering and, you know, and kind of the business and economics that are adjacent to engineering. So it was a very natural fit.
Stephen Cummins: Okay and, you know, your initial foray into, I suppose, start-up world was more as an analyst and an adviser from day one, I believe, to Aviary. So that’s like kind of being a silent co-founder in some way, although it’s more observational and more, maybe, strategic advice. But how influential were those, that little that kind of … that kind of higher level, slightly more removed exposure? How influential was that?
Bob Moore: Oh, yeah. So that I would put that… good job on your research, by the way! That’s a deep cut! So I would frame my experience working with Aviary kind of under a broader umbrella of experiences I was having that time; because my first job after Princeton was an analyst at Insight Venture Partners, which is a venture capital firm based in New York. And I got to know the founding team at Aviary because a previous business that Avi Muchnick, the founder there had created, was one I was trying to get my firm to invest in. And just the stars didn’t align, but I got to know him; and he was getting Aviary off the ground. And he has an amazing ability to see great opportunities in the market and build great products. And I had developed some strength around venture capital financing and how to raise money. And I think it really, you know, I take 0.000001 percent of any credit for any accomplishments of that company. Aside from maybe helping in the early days around how to frame this business so that you could capitalise it. And, you know, being involved in the first couple of rounds of financing that, that they ended up raising. So, yeah, they they eventually sold to Adobe. They had a really great outcome.
Stephen Cummins: So it was a good exit.
Bob Moore: Yeah. It was.. And great for the founders. Solid for the team and advisers. I think everybody around the table was pretty happy. And getting initially, kind of, a front row seat to the early formative stages. And then getting to be on the sidelines and witness what they were able to accomplish in the later stages. It was great for that time, that very early time when I was starting to ramp up my own entrepreneurial ambitions.
Stephen Cummins: So you did make the jump into RJMetrics, which was phenomenally successful and was acquired by Magento – where you headed business intelligence so subsequently. Talk to me about what RJMetrics set out to solve and why, why you went with that particular problem.
Bob Moore: Yeah, I knew I wanted to start a company before I knew what company I wanted to start and that is actually it’s a …
Stephen Cummins: That’s a dangerous place to be sometimes.
Bob Moore: It’s a really problematic way to get into it, because I think a lot of people end up in this mode where you’re… you’re a hammer looking for a nail. And at some point, you just get… so much energy behind the idea of doing anything that you just pick something that’s not necessarily all that great. So I actually had a few while I was at Insight. They were amazing, my managers there were great they knew what I wanted to do. They were supportive of me having these little side hustles. And I had two or three businesses that were just the wrong idea that I tried to incubate while I was in Insight. And they were all over the map. But the thing that kept coming back as what I was doing in my day job and how I was helping people when I was not in my day job in a way that actually created value, was actually using what I learned in college, which was all about data analytics, statistics, and the applications of that in the context of business.
So my major in college was called Operations Research and Financial Engineering. So it was kind of like a mix of computer science and economics and statistics. And when I did my work at Insight, I found that a lot of my time was being spent on the due diligence process or helping portfolio companies answer really complicated questions around their data. And I was very manually in a combination of Excel and SQL and other tools answering questions like, you know, “who are my most valuable customers” and “where are they coming from” and “how can I get more of them?” You know, “how predictable is my revenue, even if I’m an e-commerce company and no one is subscribing, I have a certain percentage of my customers in any given cohort of users that are coming back at a predictable rate … Can we model this out to have a baseline of how much revenue we can expect from them?” …. which tells us how much more we need to invest to, to get new customers to meet our goals.
So all that manual analysis… after doing it for, you know, a good number of companies, it became evident that 80 [or] 90 percent of the work I was doing… could totally just be programmed. I mean, it could be automated away. So the vision for RJMetrics was actually to productise the work I was doing as an analyst into a product and then instead of using it as an investor, sell it directly to the companies and have the operating companies use it to … basically our tagline was always, you know, “we’re here to help businesses make smarter decisions using their data.” And at the core of that was a cloud based platform that would pull data out of all your systems of record, put it into our data warehouse and then, once it was there, you could build all these charts and dashboards and things to monitor your business and find actionable insights out of that.
Stephen Cummins: So would a business look for, you know, ways to reduce their CAC or the cost of acquisition of customers by … because I don’t know this product … by looking at where they’ve been able to get more success. What types of … what size companies? What industries? Was it something related to that?
Bob Moore: Very much so. I think the innovation there was… it came in two forms. One was what questions we helped people answer. And one was how we actually delivered the service. So this is 2008 when we started this.
Stephen Cummins: Sure, early days.
Bob Moore: So SaaS as an acronym didn’t even exist yet. We were an ASP … application service provider.
Stephen Cummins: No, it did. It did. I was in Salesforce from 2003 but it wasn’t very commonly understood.
Bob Moore: It wasn’t cool. Yeah, I think I particularly like operating on the East Coast. Like, that shows how naive we were as founders, because I think, like, even if it did exist, it didn’t exist as far as we were concerned,
Stephen Cummins: Which is all that mattered.
Bob Moore: Which is what we knew were these ASP businesses that Insight was looking to invest in. So… there’s still a lot of skepticism around whether or not there was actually a better business model than traditional license and maintenance software models.
Stephen Cummins: Absolutely
Bob Moore: So anyway, the delivery of a business intelligence platform via a cloud environment as a SaaS solution was kind of novel at the time. I think we were one of the first ones out of the gate.
Bob Moore: We were spinning up …We didn’t have the big public clouds to kind of pull resources from, so we were spinning up, like, literal every incremental server that we needed. There’s like a co-located data centre somewhere and we’re like tacking on additional …. SSD … Solid-State drives didn’t exist. So we had yeah, we were like looking at like the R.P.M. is on the spinning disk drives that we were installing in these places to try and get our … my SQL Servers, like, perform better. It was a lot of, like, when you think about it today … hilarious the percentage of time that went into stuff that is just completely irrelevant for any company starting in that area today. Yeah.
Stephen Cummins: You obviously, you know, execute extremely well because you did great exit into Magento. Did you see another side of business? Of what happens when you get to a certain scale and.. and how to run those operations? Because, of course, they were still scaling, of course, but they were bigger and more mature. Did you learn a lot from having a senior role in Magento?
Bob Moore: Oh, sure. Yeah. And I’m flattered by the narrative that, you know, RJ was an overwhelming success and everything.
Stephen Cummins: Okay. So you tell me. You tell me.
Bob Moore: Yeah. I think, like, we had an outcome there that we were thrilled with and that I think was like a, you know, the story has a really nice beginning point and end point.
Stephen Cummins: Did the investors have a good outcome?
Bob Moore: They did at the end of the day, partly because….
Stephen Cummins: That’s good.
Bob Moore: We… we spun out a second business from our RJMetrics called Stitch. And that company also had a really solid outcome a couple of years later. And, like either one of them individually, would have been like, kind of get your money back, easy base hit. But the combination of the two of them, you know, created a situation that made it very easy, investors. A little bit of good deal making and timing and kind of double dipping in a couple of ways but it all worked out.
But anyway, to your question about Magento. So, I was… I was there for 18 months following the sale and that was an eye opener. I don’t think Crossbeam would exist if not for what I saw in that enterprise environment, because they had just spun out of eBay and, you know, in the two months that they were an independent company before they got reacquired back into Adobe; that was when I was there. And it was watching the inherited bureaucracy of having been at a company, you know, over 10 times its size and gearing up for and knowing that the eventuality here was that this business would eventually end up inside of something else that was, that was bigger. But simultaneously doing an enormous, transformative iteration on the vision for that business, like turning Magento into a cloud business, as opposed to a traditional open source on-prem business and the technology investments in the narrative and branding investments in that done at scale. You couldn’t pay for better education in a denser amount of time. Like the team was super sharp. Amazing leadership there and it was a very valuable time. Yeah.
Stephen Cummins: In the next episode, we’ll find out about how how Bob Moore managed to sell his first company twice … first to e-commerce platform Magento, then to data integration company Talend.
Stephen Cummins: You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, to Ketsu for the music and to Anders Getz for the transcript. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoyed the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series, and give the show a rating
You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, to Ketsu for the music and to Anders Getz for the transcript. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoyed the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series, and give the show a rating