Godard Abel: And we give the good guys now validation. Yeah. And like Zoom, for example, Eric Yuan, I got to interview him at our Reach conference. He’s a brilliant Zoom founder & CEO. But Eric, he said his mantra is to deliver happiness – that’s really how it builds Zoom, and as such a success. He really cares about what each customer thinks. Also what is said. He loves the G2 model. It’s a way to validate that he’s delivering happiness to those customers. And he’s also a very forward thinking guy. A lot of our founders are like “What do I do if I get a bad review?” They’re scared of it. Eric’s actually the opposite. He’s like, “I love … he reads the negative part first.”
Stephen Cummins: You learn from it.
Godard Abel: Yes. He’s an engineer and he’s like … obviously he’d rather everyone be happy … but he realizes Zoom’s product is a work in progress. Video conferencing is hard. So when he sees a problem, he engineers a solution right away. And so I think that’s also other forward thinking entrepreneurs – how they’re looking at it. The weekend after his IPO, he became a multi-billionaire. The weekend after there was someone complaining about Zoom on Twitter. And he got on a Twitter thread with them and he coded, that weekend, a solution for that customer.
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!
In this, the second of three episodes recorded with Godard Abel on the podcast stage in SaaStock in front of a Live Audience, he talks about the accelerated growth that can be experienced when growing your startup within a major SaaS ecosystem. And he talks about how his biggest company so far, G2 is revolutionizing how companies select and purchase software in a B2B SaaS world.
Stephen Cummins: And speaking of Salesforce and tactical plays, a good friend of mine, Fergus Gloster, who scaled Salesforce one year after it started in San Francisco from out of here, and Marketo here as well … he always says tactics beat strategy any day of the week.
Godard Abel: True
Stephen Cummins: And that’s what I’m hearing when I listen to you talking about your experience with… with Big Machines. Is that something you’ve taken with you with the other with your other? In your other companies?
Godard Abel: Yeah, I sort of agree with your strategy that, you know, it’s more tactics because strategy doesn’t take that much time. In some ways, our strategy was right. We bet on the cloud … maybe a bit too early, right. So, in that sense, we bet on the right thing like online CPQ was gonna work. But then we had to figure out all the tactics, right. And you spend 99 percent of the time on the tactics. Yeah. And also Marc Benioff, he talks about this in his book ‘Behind the Cloud’ – fascinating book I’m sure you’ve read it, right.
Stephen Cummins: Yeah
Godard Abel: But he has about 120 plays, which are all tactics. But that’s how he made Salesforce succeed and now people say he invented it, he was the only one. That’s actually not true. I mean, 1999 … 2000, when Marc started Salesforce, there are about 20 people with the same ideas as Marc, on demand online CRM, but he did it better… better tactics, better marketing, better selling, ultimately better product. And I think a lot of those 120 plays I’d seen already, but we use them. Yeah, they’re little things like how do you organise an event? I remember one of the little tactics was like, “hey hold your event at a fancy Hotel”. This was when Salesforce was poor still. They didn’t have a ton of money. They’re like you get brand association, so hold it at St. Regis. And just buy people drinks at the bar, but now you associate with the St. Regis. And so just little tactics like that, and Marc has 120 in the book. Probably Salesforce has hundreds. And they all add up, right. If you execute all those tactics well, every day, all of a sudden, you look like a genius. And then that’s people now today – like “You invented CPQ didn’t you?” Well, no, I didn’t, right. Same thing. There were like 30 vendors. We just did it a little bit better through better execution day to day over many years. And then all of a sudden everyone’s like “Oh wow you’re the leader, you’re a genius.” I was like, “Well, no, just a lot of small steps, a lot of hard work over a lot of years.”
Stephen Cummins: Now. You took a couple of years to think about life, I think. And then you… you went and did that same thing really in the cloud. You went after the SMB space and you knew you were building something much easier to use, to scale, and over time you knew you were going to build out also the functions on it as well. Tell us a little bit about the similar level of success you had with SteelBrick over in a much shorter period of time.
Godard Abel: Yeah. And that was really, it was kind of a next gen CPQ. We called it the next generation. And Big Machines was bought by Oracle in 2013. And so that was really our inspiration, because we thought “Oh wow, the Salesforce ecosystem … they’re gonna leave the ecosystem.” And so there was a bit of a vacuum …obviously there was Apttus, which was doing well, but they’re very enterprise, very custom CPQ solutions. And so we thought SMB, but also mid market, as you know, the commercial business unit in Salesforce as we call it – is probably like 1 to let’s say 2000 employees companies. We thought wow, that’s a huge market and, but we had to build it easier to deploy … because the challenge with Big Machines was that it was a very powerful app, but we had to build our own cloud, our own Oracle database … very configurable, but very hard to implement. Yeah. So that was with SteelBrick. The idea was let’s use the native Salesforce Admin platform, you know, which is actually very easy to configure, Salesforce admins know how to use it. Let’s just bring CPQ into that.
And so SteelBrick was different – it was built totally native on top of Salesforce using the Salesforce Admin paradigm. And I partnered with a great CTO, Max Rudman, who actually already had been building an app called Quote Quickly. And it was really just quoting … it wasn’t doing CPQ yet. So he and I teamed up, he’d already built his Quote Quickly app and we said … “Hey, let’s turn this into a fully fledged CPQ. Let’s build Steelbrick together.” And then together, we were able to do in about seven quarters … really take, you know, Steelbrick to almost the same level of success as Big Machines had after 13 years.
And part of it was also timing because obviously, by 2014 another thing had changed, it was an established market. People were buying, you know. It wasn’t like 2000 where no one is buying. So people are buying. They were looking for CPQ. And really all we had to say is, “Hey, ours is more native!” … and that’s actually where we then … we’d also actually started G2 right before I got involved with SteelBrick. And then we actually used G2 reviews to validate that because we’d make the claim, we’d tell our customers, “Hey, the good thing about Steelbrick, you can go live in four weeks, eight weeks.” And they’re like, “Yeah, sure, Godard. You told us that with Big Machines and it took eight months, 12 months. Apttus takes 12 months. I don’t believe you. You’re just a salesperson making a claim. And that’s when we said, “Well, hold on, we asked all our customers to write reviews on G2 with their LinkedIn profile. So you can see it’s not some anonymous, fake person. It’s somebody in your LinkedIn profile. We’ve partnered with LinkedIn you can filter reviews” And one of our best customers was Lars Nielsen, at the time VP of sales ops for Cloudera. We had him write a review with his LinkedIn profile. Lots of people in the valley knew Lars. We pointed to Lars, and lots of other people they knew and we’re like ”Look they’ve written that! Lars wrote Cloudera went live in four weeks in CPQ!” … People I guess thought that was unheard of … “And now I guess they have 100 customers that have validated that.” … [the prospect] “Now I believe you! Great. I’ll buy.” And so, especially mid-market and SMB, that’s what they wanted – something quick and lightweight just like Salesforce. And we created a training module so Salesforce admins could even self-administer, self-deploy CPQ. And, you know, managers likely do the rest in their Salesforce. And that had been unheard of and that’s why I think ultimately … also Mike Rosenbaum, my boss, head of CRM applications in Salesforce … now he’s a CEO of Guidewire software. Great for him … but he saw the potential right away because he was running Sales Cloud. And he just said, “Wow! This CPQ. I can take it to thousands of Salesforce customers.” And so, I think that was ultimately it … he seeded the idea with Marc that maybe we should bring SteelBrick inhouse.
Stephen Cummins: Very good. Yeah, absolutely. And… and I guess, you know, the Marketo experience. If you guys hadn’t allowed Marc to purchase you, there was a chance you might be like Marketo where literally … “Hey, you know, we’re going to buy somebody else … and you’re out?” I suppose that was always a possibility in the Salesforce of that time period.
Godard Abel: Yeah. Yeah. We were afraid of that. And also we just felt like obviously, like I said, I’ve always admired Marc. Loved working with Mike Rosenbaum and I think I would have said “If you want to be in our market, I’d much rather be part of it and do it with you. Yeah, like just emotionally … and my whole leadership team on the same wave were like “I would much rather do it with you.” And obviously they offered us a very fair deal. So like, hey, we’d much rather do it with you as part of your company then, you know, we sort of didn’t want to ever compete with them.
Stephen Cummins: Absolutely. But your biggest success so far, I think you’d agree, is G2.
Godard Abel: It’s still a work in progress.
Stephen Cummins: It’s still a work in progress … but I’d be surprised if it’s not more valuable. I think it’s officially more valuable than either one of the other two, I know. You’re north of half a unicorn anyway … you were officially … I’m sure you’re way beyond that now. But… talk to me a little bit about this, because we’ve talked about lot of course. I was interested in building something in the domain myself, but we’ve met several times and talked about this. You help people buy the right software and services for their needs. You help companies do that in the B2B SaaS space. Because when you’re buying software, you’re buying something invisible.
Godard Abel: True
Stephen Cummins: And really the only thing you can go by is some sort of validated opinion, some sort of validated indication that people have gotten benefits from it before. That’s not something you can get from a Gartner, great company as it is, or, you know, or any of that Forresters because they are really about magic and about gurus and… and also developing relationships. Sometimes with the vendors. You always have to develop relationships, but maybe slightly different type of relationship – not chasing them around. Your quadrants are backed by data, not by magic. Is that what makes it so compelling? Because I use you as a filter all the time.
Godard Abel: Thank you
Stephen Cummins: Even when I’m looking even for guests actually – because I see you as a proxy, if they’re doing well in G2, it’s a proxy for propensity to make customers successful, you know.
Godard Abel: Indeed
Stephen Cummins: Because really apps and software are an extension of a company.
Godard Abel: True
Stephen Cummins: So talk to me about and it’s… it’s proven, a lot of people were frowning at it in the early years. I believed in you can start, maybe you remember that.
Godard Abel: Yes
Stephen Cummins: But, you know, tell us about that success that you’ve had over the last few years with G2 – and where you are now.
Godard Abel: Yeah. And G2, at the beginning there was a lot of skepticism in the first couple of years. And we were lucky we had sold our first company, because the first 2 million bucks we have to fund ourselves. So at the beginning VCs were like “I get the concept, but are enterprise users going to share … and how long is this gonna take you?” And we couldn’t generate any revenue either for a couple of years. So we had no metrics. So we were fortunate, we could do it because we believed in it so much. Because we just thought it was missing for the industry – and they always say, you know, for a startup, you wanna kinda scratch your own itch. And our itch, a bit of it was Gartner – it was a big scratch actually. You know, but a lot of it was, even if the analyst is perfect, it was just that the lag … it’s a publishing model and that was my biggest frustration … it was very lagging.
So with Big Machines, first of all, it took us nine years to get into a report. And then they wrote about us … and finally 2011 or 12, they called us the leader.
Stephen Cummins: 9 years?!
Godard Abel: But then, even when they published, it was always because we’d send them all or input, our surveys. It would often take them a year to publish. So by the time they published the report, it was already a year out of date and then they wouldn’t update for another two years, right? And if you’re a startup growing 50 or 100 percent, you’re always having to defend (against) “Well, this report says you’re small!” (and we’d say) “Well, no! That was based on data from two years ago. Today we have four times more customers.” So wasn’t real time. And obviously … and you’re right … they couldn’t use the software. It’s like a restaurant critic, they couldn’t eat the food, they would interview the customers, but it’s not the same as being a user.
And so … the consumer model by 2012, when we started G2, it was proven. We’d used reviews on Amazon, TripAdvisor … and Glassdoor for employees started bringing in the enterprise.
Stephen Cummins: Another filter I use when I’m looking for people to interview
Godard Abel: Yes! And actually we’ve met multiple people this week in our industry … they changed jobs based on Glassdoor because they wanna know what’s the culture like? But they also look at G2 because they want to know are the customers really happy? And I do think before you make a career choice or you pick someone to associate your brand with the come on your show, you wanna make sure are they good people? Do they take care of their employees? Do they take care of their customers? And… and ultimately, I think that’s what every customer wants … if you want to associate with a company. And Marc Benioff, his number one value is trust. And I know when I was at Salesforce, he would talk about Glassdoor. When I was leaving, I think I showed him G2 so hopefully he’s talking about G2 more and more.
But, you know, I think also that trust, that transparency … If you want to be a trusted brand, then, and I think now Glassdoor, G2 are ways to validate “Can I trust your company?” and even in this age of GDPR, you know, “Can I trust you with my data? Can I trust you?” And that’s I think the essence of G2 and enterprise software. And in enterprise software … like 20, 30 years ago, there were some sleazy tactics. People would sell Powerpoint. And, you know, sell it 4 years ahead of shipment. And obviously, you’re the customer … you’re betting your career, it can be quite scary. And so that’s why we really think now G2 … we’re so excited about, we now we have over a million reviews, over a million people have contributed. And now, so there’s more and more real user opinions that can give you comfort, can give anyone buying software comfort that, “Yes, this app will actually work”.
Stephen Cummins: And the beauty is that really it’s core to your brand equity … that trust element. You know, you actually can’t … you could take a few fast deals off a few companies, but your business would be gone after a year or two. So, I mean, you’re honest guys anyway, but it’s the actual core brand equity that keeps you honest – which is a really, really strong thing to have inside your business.
Godard Abel: And we give the good guys now validation. Like Zoom, for example, Eric Yuan, I got to interview him at our Reach conference. He’s a brilliant Zoom founder & CEO. But Eric, he said his mantra is to deliver happiness – that’s really how it builds Zoom, and as such a success. He really cares about what each customer thinks. Also what is said. He loves the G2 model. It’s a way to validate that he’s delivering happiness to those customers. And he’s also a very forward thinking guy. A lot of our founders are like “What do I do if I get a bad review?” They’re scared of it. Eric’s actually the opposite. He’s like, “I love … he reads the negative part first.”
Stephen Cummins: You learn from it.
Godard Abel: Yes. He’s an engineer and he’s like … obviously he’d rather everyone be happy … but he realizes Zoom’s product is a work in progress. Video conferencing is hard. So when he sees a problem, he engineers a solution right away. And so I think that’s also other forward thinking entrepreneurs – how they’re looking at it. The weekend after his IPO, he became a multi billionaire. The weekend after there was someone complaining about Zoom on Twitter. And he got on a Twitter thread with them and he coded, that weekend, a solution for that customer. And because he’s just, he’s so committed to delivering happiness. And I think obviously now and G2, the beauty of G2 … it just shows that, right … Eric’s Eric no matter what, but it’s 15,000 reviews -number one, the most momentum. And we just help those kinds of entrepreneurs get that validation so they can grow faster.
Stephen Cummins: In the next episode, we bring up episode 100, and fittingly it’s the final part of a three part interview with Godard Abel, CEO and cofounder of G2, he will talk about his latest obsession which is with Three Kit which is revolutionizing the retail experience, helping us buy the visible, but also to visualize that on our screens. And we’ll learn what the term infinite aisle means.
Stephen Cummins: You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, and to Ketsu for the music. 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.
Thank you for the artwork to Michael Quill, AppSelekt CTO & CoFounder.
Thank you to Anders Getz, AppSelekt Marketing Specialist, for the transcript.
Thank you to Anders Getz, Marketing Specialist, for the transcript.