Leading Change in Your SaaS' Growth Strategy When Change is Hard

September 2, 2020

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Asia Matos Orangio

Startup Growth Consultant & Founder of DemandMaven

We sat down with Asia Matos Orangio (early-stage startup growth expert and founder of DemandMaven) to chat about a pretty tough topic: changing course when business is not going according to plan.

So many SaaS companies are reevaluating their approach to growth right now — whether that's exploring a freemium model for the first time, or layering a new offering on top of their existing product, or shifting how they define their target market. But creating change within an organization is hard when you're up against multiple stakeholders, competing priorities, and uncertainty in the market.

In this interview, Asia shares a behind-the-scenes look at how she recently helped guide a SaaS company through a significant, strategic shift.

We discuss...

  • How Asia gathered critical customer insight...after almost all website traffic and new trials dried up nearly overnight.
  • How she communicated what she learned from customers to the founding team.
  • How the change in company direction was successfully communicated internally to the rest of the company, so that everyone was on board and excited.

Whether you're attempting to lead a big shift in growth strategy as a SaaS founder, an internal team lead, or as a consultant, you won't want to miss this candid discussion.

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Asia Matos Orangio

Asia founded her consultancy, DemandMaven, with one goal in mind: to help founders of early-stage SaaS companies & startups build their marketing engine and get their first 100 customers. Asia’s areas of expertise include running paid advertising campaigns, optimizing marketing websites, and creating onboarding flows to attract the right visitors, keep trials coming in, and create insanely happy customers.

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Claire Suellentrop: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to Forget the Funnel. This week, we sat down with Asia Matos Orangio. Asia is an expert on early stage startup growth, and she's the founder of the SaaS consultancy DemandMaven. We're chatting with Asia about a pretty tough topic: changing course when business is not going according to plan. So many SaaS companies are reevaluating their approach to growth right now, whether that's exploring a freemium model for the first time, or layering a new offering on top of their existing product, or shifting how they define their target market. But creating change within an organization is hard when you're up against multiple stakeholders, competing priorities, and uncertainty in the market.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:00:40] Asia shares a behind-the-scenes look at how she recently was able to make such a shift. We talk with her about how she gathered the critical customer insights needed after almost all website traffic and new trials dried up nearly overnight, how she communicated what she learned from customers to the founding team, and how the change in direction was successfully communicated internally to the rest of the company so that everyone was on board and excited.

Whether you're attempting to lead a big shift in growth strategy as a SaaS founder, team lead, or as a consultant, you won't want to miss this candid discussion.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:01:17] Right. So let's get to the interview. We would love to hear any takeaways or questions you have. So please feel free to reach out to us either on Twitter at Forget the Funnel, or email us anytime at us@forgetthefunnel.com.

Asia, you've worked with, at this point, dozens of SaaS companies and a number of those companies, of course, you've helped take through pretty strategic shifts. Whether that's their business model ,or who they're target--how they're positioned or who they're  targeting. And I'd be really curious to understand lately, especially given the larger economic environment, are there--what are--what trends are you seeing or what are you noticing in terms of how businesses are having to adapt?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:02:03] The patterns just across the board have been so dependent on the act--the market impacted. So, the SaaS companies' customer target market, like that's the market that really has dictated how that SaaS company has reacted, how they responded and how they shifted in thinking. I was actually, before this chat, I was thinking, what if I had to label them, what even are they?

And the three that I've come down to are pretty much, they either had direct impact where it's survival mode now, or it's this indirect impact, and now they need to be thinking if they can afford to at least longer-term. And then there's this third group, which I've been--I've got a few companies actually, now that I'm working with that kind of fall into this group--but they have little to no impact. It's almost like just a regular day. And I think part of the reason why that particular category, if you will, even exists is because the companies that they're targeting are also equally nimble or also SaaS, software companies--so, software selling to other software companies, or things like that.

So, the target audiences have just equally been as nimble. So there hasn't really been any big impact. But the first two that I mentioned has been incredibly interesting. And then there's been some stories I'm sure that I could tell, just around what that survival mode has looked like, which, you know, t's an interesting time.  And at the same exact time full of opportunity, which I think is the exciting part.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:03:57] For sure. And I think you really hit the nail on the head. When you mentioned,  you said you've observed that how a company is impacted, 100% comes down to how their target customer was impacted. We experienced that with some of the companies we work with. Those who serve small businesses or those who serve restaurants or things of that nature. Obviously you have to make way bigger shifts then as you described SaaS selling to SaaS.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:04:23] Similarly, those who serve companies who are facilitating online collaboration just exploding with demand and not being able to keep up with demand. So it's like a feast or famine situation for a lot of companies.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:04:41] There's a number of different situations that you just mentioned and I'd be really interested if--and this is totally up to what you're able to share--but I'd be really interested, if you're able, to zoom in and choose one and walk us through how you helped the team make the shifts. And I say that because we all know organizational change is hard. There's set processes. There's set culture. There's so much, you're up against when you're trying to move how companies, what direction they're going in. So if you can share any stories of when you've helped a company do that, I'd be super interested to hear.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:05:22] Yeah, absolutely. The one that comes to mind is actually one that I'm working with now. And I've actually been working with them for a few months now. So I say a few, it's been, I think it's been like six months and what's also really funny about this particular client, and the SaaS company, in the market that they're in, is that we actually started working together right as the pandemic hit. So it was just this, I think I had maybe three or four weeks under my belt with this company. And then all of a sudden, a pandemic--COVID--and it was just like, "Okay, cool. Well, this was the worst time to work together," At the same exact time, I think it was also kind of a blessing in disguise. Cause the founder ended up becoming extremely busy, had no time to think about marketing anyway.

So it was one of those situations where it can actually worked out and we're still working together to this day. But this particular company provides channel management, and just an overall vacation rental software platform, to these Airbnb management  company/ property management companies.

And they cater, they're global, they have customers all over the world. And what was our, "Oh shit "moment was just watching entire markets pretty much go offline. Travel stopped for that couple of weeks, which meant when travel stops, that obviously means that now these property management companies that we were ultimately serving, they're having the same moment that we're having, which is like, "Okay, great. So how do we survive over the next four or five, six months?" And no one at the time had any real future vision, prediction, around how was the world going to react, except for that everything just shuts down.

And so we had this--on the SaaS side--we had this moment where it was a, "Let's just pause for a second and just see what happens, from a market perspective."

In terms of how we navigated the initial crisis and then over time took a step back and then crafted the plan on how we actually started our path forward. There was definitely, the first was just, let's just brace the storm of--brace yourselves. Let's see how much churn we get. Let's see what happens to free trials. Let's see what happens to traffic. There was actually a moment where it was instant. We lost, like, 80% of our monthly traffic volume to the marketing site. And it was definitely that, "Oh shit" moment of just, "Okay, what?"

It was absolutely incredibly terrifying. The silver lining--there were many silver linings--and this is, I would put them in that--they were both directly impacted and at the same exact time they could afford to think long term. So this particular business has the runway, has the means to survive.

And that was part of the silver lining. The other part of it was, a lot of the churn that we saw was temporary. And a lot of it too was like, "We absolutely love you guys. We're coming back. We just need to figure our situation out for the next two to three months." So actually I think churn, I think we maybe had nine or 10% for the month.

But it all came back over the next few weeks as the world started coming back online. And then of course the rest of the world being able to travel, cannot speak for the US but at least for the global markets, as they started to come back online, it became very clear, "Okay, we're going to be able to weather this." Now let's figure out from a go to market perspective what ultimately needs to happen.

Marketing-wise, I think the initial gut reaction was just like the, "Holy crap. The world has pretty much been put on pause." And also, the founder, at the time at least, was in New York. And so it was also the situation of like, how can we protect the team? How can we make sure that we're all safe? How can we also just make sure that, from a capabilities and from a mindset perspective, that we're taking care of ourselves first and then of each other? And then, of course, now how do we figure out how to steer the ship?

But there was definitely that moment from a marketing perspective of just, well, I guess the next six months are just this unknown situation.

And then, also at the same exact time, after it became very clear that we were going to be okay, that's when the wheels started turning around. Like, "Okay we need to be looking at, not just the entire market, but all the many different sub-markets that we might not have maybe weighed or considered as heavily before.

And also speaking to customers was honestly the first step for us. And then the second step was really talking to either other industry experts and/or other partners and players in the space.

The vacation rental industry as a whole--there's so many different kinds of software categories that cater to that market. So part of what we were also thinking was, "Okay, someone else, we need other perspectives that are outside of our own." So a lot of the work that we've been doing just over the past, I would say, two months has really been speaking to those other experts, getting their insight into what they're seeing just from the other side of the same field of what's happening with these vacation rental companies. And then from there deciding what channels and what investments make the most sense moving forward.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:11:21] I want to unpack that a little bit. I'll take it step by step. The first thing that you mentioned is speaking with customers, and I'd love to better understand what that looked like.

Where you getting on, were you reaching out and emailing customers who stayed or who churned or both, were you sending surveys? What was the practice of speaking with customers like in this situation?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:11:47] Yeah, we positioned it much more as customer interviews for the purpose of a case study, which was also interesting because as we were weathering the storm, case studies were always going to be something that we invested in, that we spent time on.

And as the pandemic really came down on this particular industry, we selected a few people who we knew that we wanted to tell their stories anyway. And they were also very gracious enough and just awesome in general to actually talk to us.

But we leveraged the customer interviews really as case studies, we were going to do them anyway. But then through the case study and the customer interview process, just asking them, "How are they currently thinking about this shift? How are they currently--"

Because it was such a weird time to be like, "Yes, tell the whole world how amazing we are as a software company, as a SaaS company, but also like you're going through a hard time." So we really used it as a way to facilitate that feedback. And then at the same exact time, still get the case study that we needed to get.

But through that process, We started hearing more and more and more how they were thinking about the industry as a whole, their own survival ,and what choices they were actively making. And that actually tipped us off to, "Oh, okay. It's probably going to be really unlikely at least, that a company is going to--a vacation  rental company--is going to choose our SaaS for the problems that we solve, at least right now."

And it's just because they're just so focused on surviving and figuring out their operations and organizational structures. And do they need to release some properties back to owners? How do those companies just shift in general? The other caveat that I forgot to mention is that this particular SaaS company, that caters to these vacation rental companies, they are considered the quality premium product in this space and their mission--

Claire Suellentrop: [00:14:05] Just to make sure you're--the company you've been working with is--they position  themselves, against competition, as the premium option.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:14:13] Yes. We really position ourselves as this premium, extremely reliable, high-quality software that is still relatively affordable compared to the alternatives that end up costing you more because of how unreliable they are.

It is also, this is also an extremely crowded space, from what we've discovered. And it just became very clear that the way that we've competed in the past, just wasn't going to work in the future because so much of our value propositions were in direct comparison to how unreliable and not-as-quality as the other products on the market today. And so when it became very clear that, no one's really considering any other products right now, then it also became very clear that the way that we're currently competing and entering the market today and positioning ourselves today, that's gonna need to shift, and that's gonna need to change.

These are our customers. Our target audience is just so focused on basic survival. What was interesting, however, was that there were spurts, there were little growth spurts in other sub-markets. And that level of granularity was something that we had never quite tackled. We viewed the market as, for the most part, relatively the same with maybe two main customer segments around the world.

It became very clear through the pandemic in general that we needed to be thinking country-specific, just based off of how they were handling the pandemic. A great example of that is actually the US. We have customers--when I say we, I really mean this particular SaaS company, but--we have customers all over the world. But the ones in the US are pretty interesting in that, as the market reacted and the travel industry reacted, beaches became this place that nobody wanted to visit. But people were booking vacation rentals and short-term rentals and Airbnbs in the mountains. And so these mountains, specifically  mountain vacation rental companies, all of a sudden were having this incredible demand.

And on top of that, other property owners were saying, "Hey, can you manage my short-term rental as an Airbnb kind of situation?" So not only are they handling all of this, travelers and guests who want to go to the mountains, but then also they're getting property owners coming to these companies saying, "We want to cash in on that, too, because we're seeing that this is starting to expand."

So now they're having to grow on both the traveler and guest side, and also the properties and listing side. Hopefully I'm explaining that correctly. It became very clear that these, specifically in the US, these mountain rental vacation companies, these property managers, now have to grow on both ends and they need software for that.

So we're actually segmenting our strategy even further down into, can we focus a specific kind of acquisition effort in the US, just based off of the way that the market's reacting here? And travel is actually coming back online for other countries. So we're expecting to see things--I wouldn't say it's ever gonna go back to how it was before. I think that there's still this level of just caution in general, especially as other cities, like Paris and Madrid, they're starting to see a little bit of a bloom, I would say in terms of infection. So my guess is that it'll never quite hit the volume that it was before, until of course the pandemic is actually over.

But segmentation has been really critical for us just over the past few weeks. And at the same exact time, this kind of realization of the short-term wins are going to have to be really focused, but they also might not be very frequent.

So that was something too, that we had to come to terms with. Previously short-term wins were really how this business grew in many different ways. And even in working together through the pandemic, it just became very clear that the short-term wins are going to be really hard to come by, unless they're things that we can either directly observe or we can control ourselves.

So in the meantime, let's focus on what we can be doing from a long-term perspective, because we do expect to ultimately survive this, is the general mindset, I would say, among the team.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:18:52] I have so many questions about how this looked internally. And by that, I mean, clearly observing customer behavior and needing to adapt.

It's literally, your job is, you're essentially working with companies to say, "Here's what's up in the market and here's how we need to respond if we're going to grow, or at least survive."

Georgiana Laudi: [00:19:16] And then you're your market's market, right? You're ahead of the target customers' customers, which is really, really interesting.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:19:28] Yeah. And I'm not sure what the team's size is, but I'm really curious what that looked like coming to the team and saying, "Okay. Here's what we gotta do." And getting everyone on board with that. So I imagine that was its own process.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:19:44] Yeah. The biggest conclusion that we drew overall, just from observing, laying low observing, and then at the same exact time crafting this new way of thinking and shifting the mindset overall, the number one thing that we ultimately came down to was, we've got some things happening in the business that are directly within our control. So activation rates, for example, free trial to paid conversion rate, which have always been something that we've always planned to tackle, but when pretty much the entire industry shut down for a while, it just became very clear, we should take this time, take this opportunity to go ahead and tackle it now.

And then at the same exact time, what are the short-term wins, if any? And just making sure that we keep the expectation that there are no silver bullets.

But if we are observant and if it's something that we can't directly impact, then we can absolutely test it. That mindset has been something that, in terms of getting the entire team on board, I have leaned so heavily on just actual literal, direct quotes from the customer interviews that we've been doing over the past few weeks.

That's been part of it. The other part of it has actually been putting the entire business funnel on one page. And in our case, it was literally like a spreadsheet of, we can put all of our effort, money, and time and resources into trying to find more traffic from somewhere, or figure out how to generate momentum in this one particular place.

And that's going to take time, effort--momentum in general. And at the same exact time, we don't necessarily know what the market is going to do. So in a way, I had to list, here's all of the risks that are associated with focusing on just trying to expand acquisition the way that we're doing it today.

And then on the flip side, and this was really how I got everyone to see what I was seeing, we could also focus our efforts on the challenges internally on the business today. So, there's operational challenges that we have. We have a remote team also around the world. But really, I would say from an operational perspective, we have to figure out how to scale the founder's time.

And a lot of that is investing in things like good documentation, good support, things like that. And then at the same exact time, we know that free trial to paid could be a better, we know that for a fact that we can improve it. And it was always on the docket. It just, now it's moved up even further.

And just being able to show people that we could put in all this effort and we'll net this much potential MRR, or if I literally just changed this one number, if we were to take this, 15% and make it 30%, we can achieve the same exact result--it's in our control. I can't necessarily predict or tell you guys what the market is going to do. And we can spend our energy and effort and resources there trying to figure that out and trying to stare into the crystal ball. Or we could take a look at what our funnel is doing today and what improvements we can make.

Now, I will say to be fair, this was an obvious improvement for us. It was very clear that this part of the funnel is something that we've always needed to tackle anyway. And moving it up in the priority list was just very obvious to us. I think, if a business is already performing pretty well, I think that is ultimately where you would focus on what are the acquisition opportunities, or other business opportunities that you might have, that you can put your energy and effort there.

But that is by literally showing the numbers and then also using what customers were saying about what they were experiencing and highlighting the unpredictable nature of what we ultimately can't control. And at the same exact time we're going to have to adapt to that was the way that I told that story, and at the same exact time helped the team align, which--this conversation now is perfect timing because, just within the past couple of weeks we actually did get all of the founders on board. I believe that there's three co-founders for this particular company, but got all the founders on board that all of the main contributors on board as well.

I basically presented here's what's going on guys. Here's what I think the ultimate solution is. But I need everybody on board for this. I can't just recommend this and it doesn't  happen. So,that was how I pitched that.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:24:42] There's so many good takeaways in what you just shared.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:24:45] Yeah, totally. One of my favorites is the distinction between what is within our control and what is not within our control. I think that's so critical. Especially with all the unknowns that there are right now.

Also, you mentioned for companies that already have their onboarding nailed, maybe they could look at other places. But I would argue that I don't know that I have ever worked with a SaaS company that's like, "Yeah, yeah, we're good for activation and onboarding." It's always an item on the to-do list. And I love the realization that, no, we have control over this and it can have a massive impact on revenue, our ability to stay in business in some cases, is massive and so valuable.

And it's actually exactly what we've been seeing, too. Every company that we're working with is like, actually, we could be doing a lot better in this area. And there's, of course, there's new channel opportunities and there's new markets potentially to learn from. And it all kind of feeds itself, obviously; when you learn from a new market, then you can improve your onboarding even more. But, if you can get a base healthy onboarding in place first and then start looking at new acquisition opportunities. That's so, so powerful. They also say that engagement rates might be a good opportunity as well to make sure that your customer base is truly engaged and getting as much value out of the product as you think they are.

That's another good opportunity after looking at activation, potentially, or retention, and then of course, acquisition strategy. Super interesting. Yeah.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:26:38] Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. I have a followup question, but I'm pausing for a second.

So takeaways there being, you leaned really hard on building out a new strategy based on customers. Everything from getting the understanding of, how are they? What are they doing right now? And what are these smaller, niche segments we could be targeting, which I think is super interesting.

So, it was leaning on customers and then it was using that to build the strategy and also to get the buy in for moving in a new direction. Which sounds, I find this so interesting. It sounds simple. But there's so much misalignment, typically, between what the internal team thinks of customers and what is actually happening. I'm super glad you brought that up.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:27:38] And the founding team, too, right? There's a disconnect between the founding team, the team in general, and then what's actually happening in the market. Very different.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:27:48] And you mentioned that you've gotten all of the co-founders on board. You've gotten the individual contributing team on board, everyone is bought in now, which is amazing. I'd be curious if you're able to share any hurdles or anything that got in the way between the original, "Oh, shit" moment and finally getting everyone moving in the same direction.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:28:13] Yeah, that's an excellent question. I think that the biggest--there's a couple of hurdles. One actually, and I'm totally comfortable saying this, because it was definitely a very human moment, I think for me. I am, I know you guys know this, but for those listening, I am a SaaS consultant. I'm a growth consultant for SaaS companies. And in many ways we have to have all the answers and then in other ways, when something like this happens, who--there's no pandemic playbook that I know of, at least for a software company, I could be wrong. But I bet we could now!  

But I think for me, the first hurdle was really, in many ways, getting out of my own way and being very grounded and knowing that I didn't know, but I at least knew how to know, if that makes any sense? There wasn't like a moment where I was just like, "Oh no, we just do this now." A lot of it was, there are all of these different moving parts and I can't, at least for right now, control them. But I can understand them. And that was really the first step.

I think the other part of it too was, I also had to get out of my own way when it came to the ultimate partnership that I have with my client. In situations like this, I don't know that there's this expectation for me to, again, have all the answers. So in many ways I had to let that go. That way I could just be open to receiving this new information and keep my eyes open and keep my ears open and be listening.

I think that, honestly, that was the first hurdle that I identified. And even thinking about it now, so much of it did really start with me because the rest of the team didn't know--they're going about their jobs and they're making decisions as they can. And they're reacting to customers as much as they can and supporting and providing. But the other part of it was okay, but how do we chart the path?

Cause, you know, that's what I'm here to do. A lot of it was taking that pause. I would say I was definitely the first hurdle. For sure.

But once I got out of my own way, then it became, "Okay, these are the observations we're able to make. We're able to listen." And at the same exact time, just understanding and knowing that this sets us back, but it wasn't really anybody's fault.

It was just now, it's a new challenge and now we have to realign and recarve a new path. I think from an internal perspective and from a business and company perspective, I do think that one of the biggest challenges was, there is kind of a sales team. I say "kind of," it's a very lean sales team.

I think one of the, something I wish I had done and maybe made more of a priority, was actually spending more time with the sales team, because I think that they were likely hearing things way before I would have my case study interview. And that was something I wish I had taken advantage of.

But I think, overall, the way that the team is structured--and you know, me being someone who is really more, I'm consultative, but also we actually do execute--it was definitely like, what's my role in all of this and at the same exact time, I definitely can't do it on my own. So howhow can I get the team to also focus on this one direction?

And that, I would say, is still something--it's interesting as a consultant, who's not an employee of this company, or even really a contractor in that kind of capacity. So some of it was my business, DemandMaven, how does it work with this company who's going through this crisis and at the same exact time, we're heading in the right direction and they get the support they need. That was something that we had to figure out, which is, I think really more just indicative of our working relationship.

I don't know, that might not be as applicable to other SaaS companies, potentially. I don't know. But those were really, I think the biggest hurdles.

The only other hurdle I can think of is probably just more on getting the founders on board. It's not that they weren't, it just took quite a while. I think before we were at that place where we could say, "Okay, this is what we do." And only recently have we had those conversations where everybody's like, "Oh, okay. Yes. We can focus on what we can control. And these are the things that are currently on fire that we need to put out and we should improve and we should focus on." But that I would say that came much later, and I think it probably should have happened earlier.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:33:22] Is that something that gets communicated to the team via department heads, via the founder or CEO themselves? Or is that something that is discussed  altogether? Is it led by anybody internally, in particular, other than you? Do you know what I mean?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:33:45] Yeah, I would say it's tough for me to say because the company is so small, the team is pretty small. I don't think, I don't know that they have any other full-time employees except for one of the co-founders. I think most of it's contractors and freelancers and then consultants, people like me. I will say it's very decentralized. So a lot of this has been driven by me and then also this co-founder.

So, once I got my primary point of contact on board, it was really just all about, okay, great. Can you help me get everybody else on board? Because he's also, of course, building the case of, how do we--we've been set back and we don't know what the market's ultimately going to do. So again, let's listen to what Asia's saying, which is, let's focus on what we can actually control, and look, there's this thing that we can fix. So let's put our energy and effort here that will have a better, longer-term impact on the business overall. And when the market does ultimately bounce back, which I would hope that the pandemic  ultimately does end. But that's the way that we're thinking about it now, and then marketing, isn't going to, of course, sit back and wait for us to fix this activation rate challenge.

There's still so much that we can do from a marketing growth perspective on my end. And so a lot of it too is also, we don't expect quick wins, but we do at least expect we are still going to be making the right investments in the right places. We want to, the way that I think about it, and I think the way too, that the founders think about it now, at least, is that we were not going to be sitting ducks. This will eventually bounce back, but we want to be stronger for when it does.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:35:32] There's two different directions I personally want to go. One is, how is it operationalized internally? And what work isn't being done that was planned to be done before? Are there individuals who scrapped their plans and are now replacing plans with this.

And there's also, I am also curious to know, if the product strategy also had to change at all beyond just improving activation, like I'm not talking about in-app activation stuff, but I'm talking about actual product strategy. I'm very curious if that changed as well, but I know those are two separate directions to go with. You can pick your own adventure. Whichever one of those you feel like you want to answer.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:36:16] Yeah. I'll choose product. I think from a product perspective, the biggest thing, and this is the ultimate fundamental question, and this is something that I very self-admittedly don't have the answer to and it's something that I've communicated to all the founders. Like this is something that you are going to have to figure out. I am here to help and guide. I don't know what the answer is, but the ultimate fundamental question for the company is really: do you want to continue to position yourself as this quality premium product, which I do think is smart in the particular industry and the market and the category that they're in, or is this going to cause the market to really need a software platform that does it all and is cheaper? And a lot of this too, has to do with, what are the founders' goals and--

Georgiana Laudi: [00:37:18] What you just said, it's so universal, so many SaaS companies and exactly that.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:37:26] And that overarching business vision, strategic vision, it of course trickles down into go to market, product, literally everything.

And so, the product roadmap so far has not violently shifted. Some things might've gotten prioritized. So, we don't have a mobile app, we need a mobile app. Like, now, especially for the companies that are bursting at the seams. And they're just like, "We're growing at a pace that we can't currently handle in some markets." And then others it's like a requirement in order to switch from a competitor. To come to us, they need the mobile app.

And it's one of those things where it's, "Okay, but do you actually need a mobile app?" Yes, they actually do. We're losing deals because of it. But that ultimate strategic business question is something that I don't know that we have the exact answer to.

We know what the founders ultimately want to accomplish. But whether the market is going to--I don't want to say permit--but whether the market is going to be able to sustain that? That's something that we just don't know. It is--will the pandemic, and COVID in general--just shift the perception so much that a company does need a one-size-fits-all or they need something that's going to be, it just has more features? It's more robust and somehow cheaper. That's something that we will continue to evaluate and weigh over time. And it could very easily shift the product road map very could, easily. I would say now, if anything, we were getting more validation that our roadmap is the way that we should be going, but eventually it's going to come down to, based off of what the market ultimately does after all of this, and what the perceptions are of our competitors. And then of us, that's something that we don't really know, but we're aware of. It's one of those future project--I say project--it's more of, this is a threat and a risk, from a SWOT perspective.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:39:40] Right, yeah. The mindset shift needed at the top. Right at the founding level. I think what you're describing is amplified 10x inside of more mature companies, right? Because you're describing a company that's relatively early, agile, can change course very quickly and sounds relatively flexible and open-minded in terms of the founding team.

I'm working with a company right now that falls somewhere in the middle. And then there's the other extreme, which is where we're hearing a lot from people in the community and our members, where they're inside of companies, where they just cannot change course. Despite knowing that the course needs to change. They're having a really hard time providing, or communicating, to the founding members what it is they need to see in order to make that mental shift. I dunno, it's easy to be like, 'Well, we know what should happen. Look over here. We're seeing these things. Come along for the ride! Get them ready to come along for the ride."

But that's a really scary decision to make. I imagine, especially when you've got, I don't know, dozens or even hundreds of employees, and you've got to make a major strategic decision or change in direction. I'm sure it's a very scary thing. So I'm not trying to  undermine any of the founders who are being a little bit more cautious, or I'm not trying to underestimate how hard that would be. But at the same time, almost nothing else matters right now than figuring out the right course--the right course to take, sorry, to finish my sentence--but watching the market and listening to customers is, and trusting in the insights that are gleaned from listening to customers, is so critical.

We were, Claire and I, were just discussing this article. I don't know when the article came out, but it was about Blackberry. And when Blackberry, basically over about, I think it was a span of five years, just went from top of the market to gone because they were not, they couldn't change course quickly enough. They didn't listen soon enough and they couldn't change. They couldn't move the ship quickly enough to address the changes in the market.

And they paid the ultimate price.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:42:21] There was a phrase that you, as we were reading through that before this chat, Gia, you quoted a phrase that stuck out to me. It had to do with your company and whether or not your company values difficult feedback. And the person who wrote the article was making the case that like that was missing culturally within the organization.

They operated with blinders on, even as their market share in the US evaporated. And that has, as you've been describing this process Asia, it sounds like you were--whether or not that existed previously--you were able to convince at least one person on the founding team, how important this was going to be.

And then gradually phase that out to the other members of the leadership team. Which, if that doesn't--to your point, Gia--if that doesn't happen, then nothing else matters.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:43:24] Right.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:43:26] Yeah. Getting everybody on board was something that I--it's weird to think about influence too, in a company, when you're not even technically an employee or anything--but just influence in general. I found that the more that I kept showing the numbers and just talking about it, and then also specifically sharing the customer interviews with the entire team--every time I did a customer interview, I would be like, "You guys have to go listen to this because they said this one particular thing. And I just think you guys should listen to it." I actually got feedback from one of the--either, I think that they're the CTO and also a co-founder--but a CTO was listening to some of the interviews and they were just like, "These were awesome. I've never heard a customer talk about us, how they think about the problem, how they think about just what's going in and that way, pretty much ever before." And it was just like, okay. Yeah, that's awesome. And I think that also built trust too, of like, I'm not pulling a fast one. You guys should listen to this.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:44:30] This isn't your opinion. This is you listening and leveraging what you have access to from actual customers. Yeah, that's super interesting. And I don't know much that could speak more directly to a team than hearing their customers' own words. Like, you're just the messenger. This is what they're saying.

So there's no doubting the authenticity or the strategy there, but I am really curious how you took these interviews and these learnings and synthesized them down into a strategy. Do you have a specific way that you do that, or was it really obvious and you barely had to go through a process? It was just like a conversation, like, "This is sticking out like a sore thumb." We absolutely knew, no, this is what we need to do. Was there like a process there? How easy or hard was it?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:45:29] Yeah. From a structuring the information I would say we really or, at least I didn't really do anything super special with the quotes or the information.

I think the closest that I came to it was, we do have a customer journey map that is our source of truth. I've made some adjustments to it over time, just based off of what we've been hearing. But really, every time I do a customer interview, I almost always take some kind of notes of, these are the exact quotes that were really important, but then also here's what we can extract from the conversation in general.

That was really what I shared and reviewed every single week with one of the co-founders, my primary person that I work with. But I think telling that story over and over again, and then of course sharing snippets of those in Slack--where the entire team is. I think that just built and culminated over time where people started asking me like, "Hey, we would love to know more, tell us more, tell us a story. You're obviously observing things or seeing things we want to know the full story."

And that's how a lot of that came about. I think from a structuring that information, that actually combined with talking to industry experts. And there was one particular conversation I had with someone who was also in the space catering to the exact same kinds of people that we ultimately want to cater to, but they were like a content marketing/SEO agency that worked directly with vacation rental property management owners and companies. That conversation also ended up being, it wasn't like a customer interview, but it ended up being "interview" enough that it really fell into the research that I'd already always been doing, and taking that conversation and matching it up and saying, we're hearing the same exact thing on the customer end.

That, combined, just built this narrative that was pretty obvious, I think in the end, of we're probably not going to see partly, from a go to market perspective, probably not going to see short-term results in the way that we have historically. So now we need to change. But yes, that, I would say like those combined. It's probably not as structured as it should have been, but at the same time, I think just the consistency that upon which it was happening, I think that helped a lot. I never let up on like, "Oh man, I had this amazing interview. You should listen to it." Nathan was awesome. So and so was awesome. You don't have to listen to the whole thing. Just listen to this one part or read this one section. That's all you need to read. And I think that made it easy.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:48:21] I'm trying to, in my head, package this up in terms of how could someone rinse and repeat.

So starting with those customer learnings is obviously key. And then it's, to the point that you made in terms of never letting up on using those, it's getting the learnings. And the leveraging them for strategy part is--I don't, if this is a step-by-step process--but  it's that,it's  building your strategy from your customer learnings. And then it's making sure that what you've learned from interviews is well-disseminated, is communicated to everyone else, really. I was going to say loudly. I don't know if loudly is the right word--persistently, maybe.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:49:19] Yes.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:49:20] Yeah. Did I miss any major? Did I miss any major pieces of that?

Georgiana Laudi: [00:49:25] I mean, I would add, not only persistently, but also it's clear that you did it continuously and over time. And, slowly, trust in the process was built, I think, and trust in the strategy. And once everybody involved, consistently, was seeing the same thing happening, and that strategies--the sort of steadfastness of the path that you were on and the strategy being a solid one--I think like that helps reprioritize work across everyone. Right? Like everybody understands, okay, this is the direction we're headed in.

And it's not just, somebody's telling us this is the direction we're heading in. It's no, no, no, no. This is actually the direction that we all need to be headed in, or else. Which I think is really powerful. And I think, persistence and continuously reinforcing why we're doing what we're doing and why this is being prioritized over the things that people were probably prioritizing before, like the mobile app, right? Yeah, I think that is awesome. And they are super lucky to have you.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:50:34] I love the--I guess one last note, at least on my end--I love the observation, which is something I didn't even really think about, but I really didn't rush. I wanted to really bad because I wanted to just--

Georgiana Laudi: [00:50:49] Right. It's a pandemic, after all.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:50:51] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But I really did--I took my time. I do think that some things probably could have happened sooner and we probably could have arrived at a lot of these conclusions faster. But when I think about the timing and then also just the mental and emotional capacity that everyone had at the time to receive that information or to even observe it, we were--myself included--we were all extremely worried and very concerned. And at the same exact time knew that we were going to be okay with just the runway that we've got, and just the way that the business is structured, it's going to survive. It's going to be fine. But where it goes now is going to be pretty critical and with something so big, of course, it shouldn't happen overnight.

That should take time. And that's where we're at now. And, I actually feel very lucky to be working with them as well because of how receptive they've been. And just very open to hearing and to learning. And then also trusting. I think that's a really big thing, too.

I'm very much a numbers person, I think as much as probably any marketer, but it was just so clear just from a numbers perspective. And then of course, so the quantitative data that we were seeing and then the qualitative information that we were hearing, the two were just like, okay, let's go focus over here. And we let that speak to us.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:52:25] I'm echoing Gia's sentiment that they're so lucky to have you. For those who are listening to this and are like, "This person's really smart. I want to follow what they're saying," where can people find you? I know speaking personally, I know you're active on Twitter, but you've also recently launched a podcast. Is that right?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:52:48] Yes. Okay. If you liked this voice, there is a podcast called the In Demand podcast. It is available on Spotify, iTunes, whatever the kids use these days. But, I basically spend 20 to 30 minutes, I unpack a very specific idea, challenge, problem. There's also the occasional interview. That is a spoiler. There are a few interviews that are coming in the future, but yes, the In Demand podcast is an excellent resource, especially if you want to hear--literally hear--more from me.

And then of course the website, DemandMaven.io, which is where I've got my newsletter. There's also a bunch of fun resources there, a blog. And then, my personal--it's so weird  to say now--but my personal favorite place is actually Twitter. But yes, all of the above, all of those. Those are all excellent places to find more of me.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:53:42] Fabulous. Asia, this was such a fascinating conversation. So thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:53:49] Thank you so much. Absolutely loved to being here today.

‍

Asia Matos Orangio

Asia founded her consultancy, DemandMaven, with one goal in mind: to help founders of early-stage SaaS companies & startups build their marketing engine and get their first 100 customers. Asia’s areas of expertise include running paid advertising campaigns, optimizing marketing websites, and creating onboarding flows to attract the right visitors, keep trials coming in, and create insanely happy customers.

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Claire Suellentrop: [00:00:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to Forget the Funnel. This week, we sat down with Asia Matos Orangio. Asia is an expert on early stage startup growth, and she's the founder of the SaaS consultancy DemandMaven. We're chatting with Asia about a pretty tough topic: changing course when business is not going according to plan. So many SaaS companies are reevaluating their approach to growth right now, whether that's exploring a freemium model for the first time, or layering a new offering on top of their existing product, or shifting how they define their target market. But creating change within an organization is hard when you're up against multiple stakeholders, competing priorities, and uncertainty in the market.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:00:40] Asia shares a behind-the-scenes look at how she recently was able to make such a shift. We talk with her about how she gathered the critical customer insights needed after almost all website traffic and new trials dried up nearly overnight, how she communicated what she learned from customers to the founding team, and how the change in direction was successfully communicated internally to the rest of the company so that everyone was on board and excited.

Whether you're attempting to lead a big shift in growth strategy as a SaaS founder, team lead, or as a consultant, you won't want to miss this candid discussion.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:01:17] Right. So let's get to the interview. We would love to hear any takeaways or questions you have. So please feel free to reach out to us either on Twitter at Forget the Funnel, or email us anytime at us@forgetthefunnel.com.

Asia, you've worked with, at this point, dozens of SaaS companies and a number of those companies, of course, you've helped take through pretty strategic shifts. Whether that's their business model ,or who they're target--how they're positioned or who they're  targeting. And I'd be really curious to understand lately, especially given the larger economic environment, are there--what are--what trends are you seeing or what are you noticing in terms of how businesses are having to adapt?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:02:03] The patterns just across the board have been so dependent on the act--the market impacted. So, the SaaS companies' customer target market, like that's the market that really has dictated how that SaaS company has reacted, how they responded and how they shifted in thinking. I was actually, before this chat, I was thinking, what if I had to label them, what even are they?

And the three that I've come down to are pretty much, they either had direct impact where it's survival mode now, or it's this indirect impact, and now they need to be thinking if they can afford to at least longer-term. And then there's this third group, which I've been--I've got a few companies actually, now that I'm working with that kind of fall into this group--but they have little to no impact. It's almost like just a regular day. And I think part of the reason why that particular category, if you will, even exists is because the companies that they're targeting are also equally nimble or also SaaS, software companies--so, software selling to other software companies, or things like that.

So, the target audiences have just equally been as nimble. So there hasn't really been any big impact. But the first two that I mentioned has been incredibly interesting. And then there's been some stories I'm sure that I could tell, just around what that survival mode has looked like, which, you know, t's an interesting time.  And at the same exact time full of opportunity, which I think is the exciting part.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:03:57] For sure. And I think you really hit the nail on the head. When you mentioned,  you said you've observed that how a company is impacted, 100% comes down to how their target customer was impacted. We experienced that with some of the companies we work with. Those who serve small businesses or those who serve restaurants or things of that nature. Obviously you have to make way bigger shifts then as you described SaaS selling to SaaS.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:04:23] Similarly, those who serve companies who are facilitating online collaboration just exploding with demand and not being able to keep up with demand. So it's like a feast or famine situation for a lot of companies.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:04:41] There's a number of different situations that you just mentioned and I'd be really interested if--and this is totally up to what you're able to share--but I'd be really interested, if you're able, to zoom in and choose one and walk us through how you helped the team make the shifts. And I say that because we all know organizational change is hard. There's set processes. There's set culture. There's so much, you're up against when you're trying to move how companies, what direction they're going in. So if you can share any stories of when you've helped a company do that, I'd be super interested to hear.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:05:22] Yeah, absolutely. The one that comes to mind is actually one that I'm working with now. And I've actually been working with them for a few months now. So I say a few, it's been, I think it's been like six months and what's also really funny about this particular client, and the SaaS company, in the market that they're in, is that we actually started working together right as the pandemic hit. So it was just this, I think I had maybe three or four weeks under my belt with this company. And then all of a sudden, a pandemic--COVID--and it was just like, "Okay, cool. Well, this was the worst time to work together," At the same exact time, I think it was also kind of a blessing in disguise. Cause the founder ended up becoming extremely busy, had no time to think about marketing anyway.

So it was one of those situations where it can actually worked out and we're still working together to this day. But this particular company provides channel management, and just an overall vacation rental software platform, to these Airbnb management  company/ property management companies.

And they cater, they're global, they have customers all over the world. And what was our, "Oh shit "moment was just watching entire markets pretty much go offline. Travel stopped for that couple of weeks, which meant when travel stops, that obviously means that now these property management companies that we were ultimately serving, they're having the same moment that we're having, which is like, "Okay, great. So how do we survive over the next four or five, six months?" And no one at the time had any real future vision, prediction, around how was the world going to react, except for that everything just shuts down.

And so we had this--on the SaaS side--we had this moment where it was a, "Let's just pause for a second and just see what happens, from a market perspective."

In terms of how we navigated the initial crisis and then over time took a step back and then crafted the plan on how we actually started our path forward. There was definitely, the first was just, let's just brace the storm of--brace yourselves. Let's see how much churn we get. Let's see what happens to free trials. Let's see what happens to traffic. There was actually a moment where it was instant. We lost, like, 80% of our monthly traffic volume to the marketing site. And it was definitely that, "Oh shit" moment of just, "Okay, what?"

It was absolutely incredibly terrifying. The silver lining--there were many silver linings--and this is, I would put them in that--they were both directly impacted and at the same exact time they could afford to think long term. So this particular business has the runway, has the means to survive.

And that was part of the silver lining. The other part of it was, a lot of the churn that we saw was temporary. And a lot of it too was like, "We absolutely love you guys. We're coming back. We just need to figure our situation out for the next two to three months." So actually I think churn, I think we maybe had nine or 10% for the month.

But it all came back over the next few weeks as the world started coming back online. And then of course the rest of the world being able to travel, cannot speak for the US but at least for the global markets, as they started to come back online, it became very clear, "Okay, we're going to be able to weather this." Now let's figure out from a go to market perspective what ultimately needs to happen.

Marketing-wise, I think the initial gut reaction was just like the, "Holy crap. The world has pretty much been put on pause." And also, the founder, at the time at least, was in New York. And so it was also the situation of like, how can we protect the team? How can we make sure that we're all safe? How can we also just make sure that, from a capabilities and from a mindset perspective, that we're taking care of ourselves first and then of each other? And then, of course, now how do we figure out how to steer the ship?

But there was definitely that moment from a marketing perspective of just, well, I guess the next six months are just this unknown situation.

And then, also at the same exact time, after it became very clear that we were going to be okay, that's when the wheels started turning around. Like, "Okay we need to be looking at, not just the entire market, but all the many different sub-markets that we might not have maybe weighed or considered as heavily before.

And also speaking to customers was honestly the first step for us. And then the second step was really talking to either other industry experts and/or other partners and players in the space.

The vacation rental industry as a whole--there's so many different kinds of software categories that cater to that market. So part of what we were also thinking was, "Okay, someone else, we need other perspectives that are outside of our own." So a lot of the work that we've been doing just over the past, I would say, two months has really been speaking to those other experts, getting their insight into what they're seeing just from the other side of the same field of what's happening with these vacation rental companies. And then from there deciding what channels and what investments make the most sense moving forward.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:11:21] I want to unpack that a little bit. I'll take it step by step. The first thing that you mentioned is speaking with customers, and I'd love to better understand what that looked like.

Where you getting on, were you reaching out and emailing customers who stayed or who churned or both, were you sending surveys? What was the practice of speaking with customers like in this situation?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:11:47] Yeah, we positioned it much more as customer interviews for the purpose of a case study, which was also interesting because as we were weathering the storm, case studies were always going to be something that we invested in, that we spent time on.

And as the pandemic really came down on this particular industry, we selected a few people who we knew that we wanted to tell their stories anyway. And they were also very gracious enough and just awesome in general to actually talk to us.

But we leveraged the customer interviews really as case studies, we were going to do them anyway. But then through the case study and the customer interview process, just asking them, "How are they currently thinking about this shift? How are they currently--"

Because it was such a weird time to be like, "Yes, tell the whole world how amazing we are as a software company, as a SaaS company, but also like you're going through a hard time." So we really used it as a way to facilitate that feedback. And then at the same exact time, still get the case study that we needed to get.

But through that process, We started hearing more and more and more how they were thinking about the industry as a whole, their own survival ,and what choices they were actively making. And that actually tipped us off to, "Oh, okay. It's probably going to be really unlikely at least, that a company is going to--a vacation  rental company--is going to choose our SaaS for the problems that we solve, at least right now."

And it's just because they're just so focused on surviving and figuring out their operations and organizational structures. And do they need to release some properties back to owners? How do those companies just shift in general? The other caveat that I forgot to mention is that this particular SaaS company, that caters to these vacation rental companies, they are considered the quality premium product in this space and their mission--

Claire Suellentrop: [00:14:05] Just to make sure you're--the company you've been working with is--they position  themselves, against competition, as the premium option.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:14:13] Yes. We really position ourselves as this premium, extremely reliable, high-quality software that is still relatively affordable compared to the alternatives that end up costing you more because of how unreliable they are.

It is also, this is also an extremely crowded space, from what we've discovered. And it just became very clear that the way that we've competed in the past, just wasn't going to work in the future because so much of our value propositions were in direct comparison to how unreliable and not-as-quality as the other products on the market today. And so when it became very clear that, no one's really considering any other products right now, then it also became very clear that the way that we're currently competing and entering the market today and positioning ourselves today, that's gonna need to shift, and that's gonna need to change.

These are our customers. Our target audience is just so focused on basic survival. What was interesting, however, was that there were spurts, there were little growth spurts in other sub-markets. And that level of granularity was something that we had never quite tackled. We viewed the market as, for the most part, relatively the same with maybe two main customer segments around the world.

It became very clear through the pandemic in general that we needed to be thinking country-specific, just based off of how they were handling the pandemic. A great example of that is actually the US. We have customers--when I say we, I really mean this particular SaaS company, but--we have customers all over the world. But the ones in the US are pretty interesting in that, as the market reacted and the travel industry reacted, beaches became this place that nobody wanted to visit. But people were booking vacation rentals and short-term rentals and Airbnbs in the mountains. And so these mountains, specifically  mountain vacation rental companies, all of a sudden were having this incredible demand.

And on top of that, other property owners were saying, "Hey, can you manage my short-term rental as an Airbnb kind of situation?" So not only are they handling all of this, travelers and guests who want to go to the mountains, but then also they're getting property owners coming to these companies saying, "We want to cash in on that, too, because we're seeing that this is starting to expand."

So now they're having to grow on both the traveler and guest side, and also the properties and listing side. Hopefully I'm explaining that correctly. It became very clear that these, specifically in the US, these mountain rental vacation companies, these property managers, now have to grow on both ends and they need software for that.

So we're actually segmenting our strategy even further down into, can we focus a specific kind of acquisition effort in the US, just based off of the way that the market's reacting here? And travel is actually coming back online for other countries. So we're expecting to see things--I wouldn't say it's ever gonna go back to how it was before. I think that there's still this level of just caution in general, especially as other cities, like Paris and Madrid, they're starting to see a little bit of a bloom, I would say in terms of infection. So my guess is that it'll never quite hit the volume that it was before, until of course the pandemic is actually over.

But segmentation has been really critical for us just over the past few weeks. And at the same exact time, this kind of realization of the short-term wins are going to have to be really focused, but they also might not be very frequent.

So that was something too, that we had to come to terms with. Previously short-term wins were really how this business grew in many different ways. And even in working together through the pandemic, it just became very clear that the short-term wins are going to be really hard to come by, unless they're things that we can either directly observe or we can control ourselves.

So in the meantime, let's focus on what we can be doing from a long-term perspective, because we do expect to ultimately survive this, is the general mindset, I would say, among the team.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:18:52] I have so many questions about how this looked internally. And by that, I mean, clearly observing customer behavior and needing to adapt.

It's literally, your job is, you're essentially working with companies to say, "Here's what's up in the market and here's how we need to respond if we're going to grow, or at least survive."

Georgiana Laudi: [00:19:16] And then you're your market's market, right? You're ahead of the target customers' customers, which is really, really interesting.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:19:28] Yeah. And I'm not sure what the team's size is, but I'm really curious what that looked like coming to the team and saying, "Okay. Here's what we gotta do." And getting everyone on board with that. So I imagine that was its own process.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:19:44] Yeah. The biggest conclusion that we drew overall, just from observing, laying low observing, and then at the same exact time crafting this new way of thinking and shifting the mindset overall, the number one thing that we ultimately came down to was, we've got some things happening in the business that are directly within our control. So activation rates, for example, free trial to paid conversion rate, which have always been something that we've always planned to tackle, but when pretty much the entire industry shut down for a while, it just became very clear, we should take this time, take this opportunity to go ahead and tackle it now.

And then at the same exact time, what are the short-term wins, if any? And just making sure that we keep the expectation that there are no silver bullets.

But if we are observant and if it's something that we can't directly impact, then we can absolutely test it. That mindset has been something that, in terms of getting the entire team on board, I have leaned so heavily on just actual literal, direct quotes from the customer interviews that we've been doing over the past few weeks.

That's been part of it. The other part of it has actually been putting the entire business funnel on one page. And in our case, it was literally like a spreadsheet of, we can put all of our effort, money, and time and resources into trying to find more traffic from somewhere, or figure out how to generate momentum in this one particular place.

And that's going to take time, effort--momentum in general. And at the same exact time, we don't necessarily know what the market is going to do. So in a way, I had to list, here's all of the risks that are associated with focusing on just trying to expand acquisition the way that we're doing it today.

And then on the flip side, and this was really how I got everyone to see what I was seeing, we could also focus our efforts on the challenges internally on the business today. So, there's operational challenges that we have. We have a remote team also around the world. But really, I would say from an operational perspective, we have to figure out how to scale the founder's time.

And a lot of that is investing in things like good documentation, good support, things like that. And then at the same exact time, we know that free trial to paid could be a better, we know that for a fact that we can improve it. And it was always on the docket. It just, now it's moved up even further.

And just being able to show people that we could put in all this effort and we'll net this much potential MRR, or if I literally just changed this one number, if we were to take this, 15% and make it 30%, we can achieve the same exact result--it's in our control. I can't necessarily predict or tell you guys what the market is going to do. And we can spend our energy and effort and resources there trying to figure that out and trying to stare into the crystal ball. Or we could take a look at what our funnel is doing today and what improvements we can make.

Now, I will say to be fair, this was an obvious improvement for us. It was very clear that this part of the funnel is something that we've always needed to tackle anyway. And moving it up in the priority list was just very obvious to us. I think, if a business is already performing pretty well, I think that is ultimately where you would focus on what are the acquisition opportunities, or other business opportunities that you might have, that you can put your energy and effort there.

But that is by literally showing the numbers and then also using what customers were saying about what they were experiencing and highlighting the unpredictable nature of what we ultimately can't control. And at the same exact time we're going to have to adapt to that was the way that I told that story, and at the same exact time helped the team align, which--this conversation now is perfect timing because, just within the past couple of weeks we actually did get all of the founders on board. I believe that there's three co-founders for this particular company, but got all the founders on board that all of the main contributors on board as well.

I basically presented here's what's going on guys. Here's what I think the ultimate solution is. But I need everybody on board for this. I can't just recommend this and it doesn't  happen. So,that was how I pitched that.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:24:42] There's so many good takeaways in what you just shared.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:24:45] Yeah, totally. One of my favorites is the distinction between what is within our control and what is not within our control. I think that's so critical. Especially with all the unknowns that there are right now.

Also, you mentioned for companies that already have their onboarding nailed, maybe they could look at other places. But I would argue that I don't know that I have ever worked with a SaaS company that's like, "Yeah, yeah, we're good for activation and onboarding." It's always an item on the to-do list. And I love the realization that, no, we have control over this and it can have a massive impact on revenue, our ability to stay in business in some cases, is massive and so valuable.

And it's actually exactly what we've been seeing, too. Every company that we're working with is like, actually, we could be doing a lot better in this area. And there's, of course, there's new channel opportunities and there's new markets potentially to learn from. And it all kind of feeds itself, obviously; when you learn from a new market, then you can improve your onboarding even more. But, if you can get a base healthy onboarding in place first and then start looking at new acquisition opportunities. That's so, so powerful. They also say that engagement rates might be a good opportunity as well to make sure that your customer base is truly engaged and getting as much value out of the product as you think they are.

That's another good opportunity after looking at activation, potentially, or retention, and then of course, acquisition strategy. Super interesting. Yeah.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:26:38] Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt. I have a followup question, but I'm pausing for a second.

So takeaways there being, you leaned really hard on building out a new strategy based on customers. Everything from getting the understanding of, how are they? What are they doing right now? And what are these smaller, niche segments we could be targeting, which I think is super interesting.

So, it was leaning on customers and then it was using that to build the strategy and also to get the buy in for moving in a new direction. Which sounds, I find this so interesting. It sounds simple. But there's so much misalignment, typically, between what the internal team thinks of customers and what is actually happening. I'm super glad you brought that up.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:27:38] And the founding team, too, right? There's a disconnect between the founding team, the team in general, and then what's actually happening in the market. Very different.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:27:48] And you mentioned that you've gotten all of the co-founders on board. You've gotten the individual contributing team on board, everyone is bought in now, which is amazing. I'd be curious if you're able to share any hurdles or anything that got in the way between the original, "Oh, shit" moment and finally getting everyone moving in the same direction.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:28:13] Yeah, that's an excellent question. I think that the biggest--there's a couple of hurdles. One actually, and I'm totally comfortable saying this, because it was definitely a very human moment, I think for me. I am, I know you guys know this, but for those listening, I am a SaaS consultant. I'm a growth consultant for SaaS companies. And in many ways we have to have all the answers and then in other ways, when something like this happens, who--there's no pandemic playbook that I know of, at least for a software company, I could be wrong. But I bet we could now!  

But I think for me, the first hurdle was really, in many ways, getting out of my own way and being very grounded and knowing that I didn't know, but I at least knew how to know, if that makes any sense? There wasn't like a moment where I was just like, "Oh no, we just do this now." A lot of it was, there are all of these different moving parts and I can't, at least for right now, control them. But I can understand them. And that was really the first step.

I think the other part of it too was, I also had to get out of my own way when it came to the ultimate partnership that I have with my client. In situations like this, I don't know that there's this expectation for me to, again, have all the answers. So in many ways I had to let that go. That way I could just be open to receiving this new information and keep my eyes open and keep my ears open and be listening.

I think that, honestly, that was the first hurdle that I identified. And even thinking about it now, so much of it did really start with me because the rest of the team didn't know--they're going about their jobs and they're making decisions as they can. And they're reacting to customers as much as they can and supporting and providing. But the other part of it was okay, but how do we chart the path?

Cause, you know, that's what I'm here to do. A lot of it was taking that pause. I would say I was definitely the first hurdle. For sure.

But once I got out of my own way, then it became, "Okay, these are the observations we're able to make. We're able to listen." And at the same exact time, just understanding and knowing that this sets us back, but it wasn't really anybody's fault.

It was just now, it's a new challenge and now we have to realign and recarve a new path. I think from an internal perspective and from a business and company perspective, I do think that one of the biggest challenges was, there is kind of a sales team. I say "kind of," it's a very lean sales team.

I think one of the, something I wish I had done and maybe made more of a priority, was actually spending more time with the sales team, because I think that they were likely hearing things way before I would have my case study interview. And that was something I wish I had taken advantage of.

But I think, overall, the way that the team is structured--and you know, me being someone who is really more, I'm consultative, but also we actually do execute--it was definitely like, what's my role in all of this and at the same exact time, I definitely can't do it on my own. So howhow can I get the team to also focus on this one direction?

And that, I would say, is still something--it's interesting as a consultant, who's not an employee of this company, or even really a contractor in that kind of capacity. So some of it was my business, DemandMaven, how does it work with this company who's going through this crisis and at the same exact time, we're heading in the right direction and they get the support they need. That was something that we had to figure out, which is, I think really more just indicative of our working relationship.

I don't know, that might not be as applicable to other SaaS companies, potentially. I don't know. But those were really, I think the biggest hurdles.

The only other hurdle I can think of is probably just more on getting the founders on board. It's not that they weren't, it just took quite a while. I think before we were at that place where we could say, "Okay, this is what we do." And only recently have we had those conversations where everybody's like, "Oh, okay. Yes. We can focus on what we can control. And these are the things that are currently on fire that we need to put out and we should improve and we should focus on." But that I would say that came much later, and I think it probably should have happened earlier.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:33:22] Is that something that gets communicated to the team via department heads, via the founder or CEO themselves? Or is that something that is discussed  altogether? Is it led by anybody internally, in particular, other than you? Do you know what I mean?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:33:45] Yeah, I would say it's tough for me to say because the company is so small, the team is pretty small. I don't think, I don't know that they have any other full-time employees except for one of the co-founders. I think most of it's contractors and freelancers and then consultants, people like me. I will say it's very decentralized. So a lot of this has been driven by me and then also this co-founder.

So, once I got my primary point of contact on board, it was really just all about, okay, great. Can you help me get everybody else on board? Because he's also, of course, building the case of, how do we--we've been set back and we don't know what the market's ultimately going to do. So again, let's listen to what Asia's saying, which is, let's focus on what we can actually control, and look, there's this thing that we can fix. So let's put our energy and effort here that will have a better, longer-term impact on the business overall. And when the market does ultimately bounce back, which I would hope that the pandemic  ultimately does end. But that's the way that we're thinking about it now, and then marketing, isn't going to, of course, sit back and wait for us to fix this activation rate challenge.

There's still so much that we can do from a marketing growth perspective on my end. And so a lot of it too is also, we don't expect quick wins, but we do at least expect we are still going to be making the right investments in the right places. We want to, the way that I think about it, and I think the way too, that the founders think about it now, at least, is that we were not going to be sitting ducks. This will eventually bounce back, but we want to be stronger for when it does.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:35:32] There's two different directions I personally want to go. One is, how is it operationalized internally? And what work isn't being done that was planned to be done before? Are there individuals who scrapped their plans and are now replacing plans with this.

And there's also, I am also curious to know, if the product strategy also had to change at all beyond just improving activation, like I'm not talking about in-app activation stuff, but I'm talking about actual product strategy. I'm very curious if that changed as well, but I know those are two separate directions to go with. You can pick your own adventure. Whichever one of those you feel like you want to answer.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:36:16] Yeah. I'll choose product. I think from a product perspective, the biggest thing, and this is the ultimate fundamental question, and this is something that I very self-admittedly don't have the answer to and it's something that I've communicated to all the founders. Like this is something that you are going to have to figure out. I am here to help and guide. I don't know what the answer is, but the ultimate fundamental question for the company is really: do you want to continue to position yourself as this quality premium product, which I do think is smart in the particular industry and the market and the category that they're in, or is this going to cause the market to really need a software platform that does it all and is cheaper? And a lot of this too, has to do with, what are the founders' goals and--

Georgiana Laudi: [00:37:18] What you just said, it's so universal, so many SaaS companies and exactly that.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:37:26] And that overarching business vision, strategic vision, it of course trickles down into go to market, product, literally everything.

And so, the product roadmap so far has not violently shifted. Some things might've gotten prioritized. So, we don't have a mobile app, we need a mobile app. Like, now, especially for the companies that are bursting at the seams. And they're just like, "We're growing at a pace that we can't currently handle in some markets." And then others it's like a requirement in order to switch from a competitor. To come to us, they need the mobile app.

And it's one of those things where it's, "Okay, but do you actually need a mobile app?" Yes, they actually do. We're losing deals because of it. But that ultimate strategic business question is something that I don't know that we have the exact answer to.

We know what the founders ultimately want to accomplish. But whether the market is going to--I don't want to say permit--but whether the market is going to be able to sustain that? That's something that we just don't know. It is--will the pandemic, and COVID in general--just shift the perception so much that a company does need a one-size-fits-all or they need something that's going to be, it just has more features? It's more robust and somehow cheaper. That's something that we will continue to evaluate and weigh over time. And it could very easily shift the product road map very could, easily. I would say now, if anything, we were getting more validation that our roadmap is the way that we should be going, but eventually it's going to come down to, based off of what the market ultimately does after all of this, and what the perceptions are of our competitors. And then of us, that's something that we don't really know, but we're aware of. It's one of those future project--I say project--it's more of, this is a threat and a risk, from a SWOT perspective.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:39:40] Right, yeah. The mindset shift needed at the top. Right at the founding level. I think what you're describing is amplified 10x inside of more mature companies, right? Because you're describing a company that's relatively early, agile, can change course very quickly and sounds relatively flexible and open-minded in terms of the founding team.

I'm working with a company right now that falls somewhere in the middle. And then there's the other extreme, which is where we're hearing a lot from people in the community and our members, where they're inside of companies, where they just cannot change course. Despite knowing that the course needs to change. They're having a really hard time providing, or communicating, to the founding members what it is they need to see in order to make that mental shift. I dunno, it's easy to be like, 'Well, we know what should happen. Look over here. We're seeing these things. Come along for the ride! Get them ready to come along for the ride."

But that's a really scary decision to make. I imagine, especially when you've got, I don't know, dozens or even hundreds of employees, and you've got to make a major strategic decision or change in direction. I'm sure it's a very scary thing. So I'm not trying to  undermine any of the founders who are being a little bit more cautious, or I'm not trying to underestimate how hard that would be. But at the same time, almost nothing else matters right now than figuring out the right course--the right course to take, sorry, to finish my sentence--but watching the market and listening to customers is, and trusting in the insights that are gleaned from listening to customers, is so critical.

We were, Claire and I, were just discussing this article. I don't know when the article came out, but it was about Blackberry. And when Blackberry, basically over about, I think it was a span of five years, just went from top of the market to gone because they were not, they couldn't change course quickly enough. They didn't listen soon enough and they couldn't change. They couldn't move the ship quickly enough to address the changes in the market.

And they paid the ultimate price.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:42:21] There was a phrase that you, as we were reading through that before this chat, Gia, you quoted a phrase that stuck out to me. It had to do with your company and whether or not your company values difficult feedback. And the person who wrote the article was making the case that like that was missing culturally within the organization.

They operated with blinders on, even as their market share in the US evaporated. And that has, as you've been describing this process Asia, it sounds like you were--whether or not that existed previously--you were able to convince at least one person on the founding team, how important this was going to be.

And then gradually phase that out to the other members of the leadership team. Which, if that doesn't--to your point, Gia--if that doesn't happen, then nothing else matters.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:43:24] Right.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:43:26] Yeah. Getting everybody on board was something that I--it's weird to think about influence too, in a company, when you're not even technically an employee or anything--but just influence in general. I found that the more that I kept showing the numbers and just talking about it, and then also specifically sharing the customer interviews with the entire team--every time I did a customer interview, I would be like, "You guys have to go listen to this because they said this one particular thing. And I just think you guys should listen to it." I actually got feedback from one of the--either, I think that they're the CTO and also a co-founder--but a CTO was listening to some of the interviews and they were just like, "These were awesome. I've never heard a customer talk about us, how they think about the problem, how they think about just what's going in and that way, pretty much ever before." And it was just like, okay. Yeah, that's awesome. And I think that also built trust too, of like, I'm not pulling a fast one. You guys should listen to this.

Georgiana Laudi: [00:44:30] This isn't your opinion. This is you listening and leveraging what you have access to from actual customers. Yeah, that's super interesting. And I don't know much that could speak more directly to a team than hearing their customers' own words. Like, you're just the messenger. This is what they're saying.

So there's no doubting the authenticity or the strategy there, but I am really curious how you took these interviews and these learnings and synthesized them down into a strategy. Do you have a specific way that you do that, or was it really obvious and you barely had to go through a process? It was just like a conversation, like, "This is sticking out like a sore thumb." We absolutely knew, no, this is what we need to do. Was there like a process there? How easy or hard was it?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:45:29] Yeah. From a structuring the information I would say we really or, at least I didn't really do anything super special with the quotes or the information.

I think the closest that I came to it was, we do have a customer journey map that is our source of truth. I've made some adjustments to it over time, just based off of what we've been hearing. But really, every time I do a customer interview, I almost always take some kind of notes of, these are the exact quotes that were really important, but then also here's what we can extract from the conversation in general.

That was really what I shared and reviewed every single week with one of the co-founders, my primary person that I work with. But I think telling that story over and over again, and then of course sharing snippets of those in Slack--where the entire team is. I think that just built and culminated over time where people started asking me like, "Hey, we would love to know more, tell us more, tell us a story. You're obviously observing things or seeing things we want to know the full story."

And that's how a lot of that came about. I think from a structuring that information, that actually combined with talking to industry experts. And there was one particular conversation I had with someone who was also in the space catering to the exact same kinds of people that we ultimately want to cater to, but they were like a content marketing/SEO agency that worked directly with vacation rental property management owners and companies. That conversation also ended up being, it wasn't like a customer interview, but it ended up being "interview" enough that it really fell into the research that I'd already always been doing, and taking that conversation and matching it up and saying, we're hearing the same exact thing on the customer end.

That, combined, just built this narrative that was pretty obvious, I think in the end, of we're probably not going to see partly, from a go to market perspective, probably not going to see short-term results in the way that we have historically. So now we need to change. But yes, that, I would say like those combined. It's probably not as structured as it should have been, but at the same time, I think just the consistency that upon which it was happening, I think that helped a lot. I never let up on like, "Oh man, I had this amazing interview. You should listen to it." Nathan was awesome. So and so was awesome. You don't have to listen to the whole thing. Just listen to this one part or read this one section. That's all you need to read. And I think that made it easy.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:48:21] I'm trying to, in my head, package this up in terms of how could someone rinse and repeat.

So starting with those customer learnings is obviously key. And then it's, to the point that you made in terms of never letting up on using those, it's getting the learnings. And the leveraging them for strategy part is--I don't, if this is a step-by-step process--but  it's that,it's  building your strategy from your customer learnings. And then it's making sure that what you've learned from interviews is well-disseminated, is communicated to everyone else, really. I was going to say loudly. I don't know if loudly is the right word--persistently, maybe.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:49:19] Yes.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:49:20] Yeah. Did I miss any major? Did I miss any major pieces of that?

Georgiana Laudi: [00:49:25] I mean, I would add, not only persistently, but also it's clear that you did it continuously and over time. And, slowly, trust in the process was built, I think, and trust in the strategy. And once everybody involved, consistently, was seeing the same thing happening, and that strategies--the sort of steadfastness of the path that you were on and the strategy being a solid one--I think like that helps reprioritize work across everyone. Right? Like everybody understands, okay, this is the direction we're headed in.

And it's not just, somebody's telling us this is the direction we're heading in. It's no, no, no, no. This is actually the direction that we all need to be headed in, or else. Which I think is really powerful. And I think, persistence and continuously reinforcing why we're doing what we're doing and why this is being prioritized over the things that people were probably prioritizing before, like the mobile app, right? Yeah, I think that is awesome. And they are super lucky to have you.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:50:34] I love the--I guess one last note, at least on my end--I love the observation, which is something I didn't even really think about, but I really didn't rush. I wanted to really bad because I wanted to just--

Georgiana Laudi: [00:50:49] Right. It's a pandemic, after all.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:50:51] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But I really did--I took my time. I do think that some things probably could have happened sooner and we probably could have arrived at a lot of these conclusions faster. But when I think about the timing and then also just the mental and emotional capacity that everyone had at the time to receive that information or to even observe it, we were--myself included--we were all extremely worried and very concerned. And at the same exact time knew that we were going to be okay with just the runway that we've got, and just the way that the business is structured, it's going to survive. It's going to be fine. But where it goes now is going to be pretty critical and with something so big, of course, it shouldn't happen overnight.

That should take time. And that's where we're at now. And, I actually feel very lucky to be working with them as well because of how receptive they've been. And just very open to hearing and to learning. And then also trusting. I think that's a really big thing, too.

I'm very much a numbers person, I think as much as probably any marketer, but it was just so clear just from a numbers perspective. And then of course, so the quantitative data that we were seeing and then the qualitative information that we were hearing, the two were just like, okay, let's go focus over here. And we let that speak to us.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:52:25] I'm echoing Gia's sentiment that they're so lucky to have you. For those who are listening to this and are like, "This person's really smart. I want to follow what they're saying," where can people find you? I know speaking personally, I know you're active on Twitter, but you've also recently launched a podcast. Is that right?

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:52:48] Yes. Okay. If you liked this voice, there is a podcast called the In Demand podcast. It is available on Spotify, iTunes, whatever the kids use these days. But, I basically spend 20 to 30 minutes, I unpack a very specific idea, challenge, problem. There's also the occasional interview. That is a spoiler. There are a few interviews that are coming in the future, but yes, the In Demand podcast is an excellent resource, especially if you want to hear--literally hear--more from me.

And then of course the website, DemandMaven.io, which is where I've got my newsletter. There's also a bunch of fun resources there, a blog. And then, my personal--it's so weird  to say now--but my personal favorite place is actually Twitter. But yes, all of the above, all of those. Those are all excellent places to find more of me.

Claire Suellentrop: [00:53:42] Fabulous. Asia, this was such a fascinating conversation. So thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Asia Matos Orangio: [00:53:49] Thank you so much. Absolutely loved to being here today.

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