In the early days of QuickTapSurvey, Ravin Shah and his co-founder used a divide and conquer approach to launch quickly. Shah initially took on sales and marketing while his co-founder focused on developing the technology. Although Shah isn’t a marketer by trade, in true entrepreneurial spirit, he rolled up his sleeves and figured it out. After two failed efforts to build the right team, Shah finally struck gold.
Speaking to Peerscale as a member, Shah talked about the lessons he learned throughout the process, the value of his peergroup at Peerscale, and what he’s working on now that he has exited from QuickTapSurvey.
From services to product
Going back to the very beginning, QuickTapSurvey was actually born out of TabbleDabble, a software company that built custom surveys for enterprise clients. Initially, the sales process closely resembled that of a large consulting firm. At TabbleDabble, Shah brought in new revenue by cultivating deep relationships, 1:1 marketing, and a long sales cycle.
Eventually, the founders realized how similar the client surveys were and how easy it was to tweak surveys from one client to the next. They saw the potential for a self-serve product and from that idea, QuickTapSurvey was born.
“We knew we wanted to build a product that wouldn’t need this long sales cycle,” said Shah. “We wanted to have a product that someone could try – then buy with their credit card.”
To get started, Shah and his co-founder assembled a product development team – funded by revenues from TabbleDabble to build QuickTapSurvey. From there, Shah began to tackle marketing to generate demand for their new product.
Failure one: doing it all and hiring a junior contributor
Shah’s first marketing hire was a junior contributor. His hope was that it would be a perfect fit: a scrappy startup with an ambitious junior employee helping to make things happen.
That’s not quite what ended up going on.
“It was a disaster,” said Shah, talking about hiring a junior analyst and trying to lead marketing himself. “The problem was that I didn’t have a marketing background. I also didn’t have any experience selling or marketing a SaaS product.”
Shah hoped the junior would rise to the challenge and get things done while he worked on other projects, but the company didn’t see the results it wanted. They were obsessed with “meaningless” metrics like social media and blog traffic, but those metrics didn’t help Shah determine the real success or failure of the product.
Looking back, Shah realized the failure was not due to the junior employee but to Shah himself.
“I couldn’t give him the right mentorship and coaching on marketing because I didn’t have the experience,” Shah said. “Eventually he moved on and it felt like the right decision for both of us.”
Correction (and failure two): managing senior contributors
Shah believed his failure was due to a lack of knowledge in marketing. In response, he hired an experienced senior contributor to execute on marketing initiatives. This way, he figured, he wouldn’t need to mentor as much, if at all, for the senior contributor to perform. In the meantime, Shah did “a lot of learning – conferences, reading, and did a lot of the work myself” to up his own marketing game.
Unfortunately, though, the senior contributor didn’t perform any better than the junior contributor.
“It was the same kind of mistakes, but doubled-down because I hired him as a senior marketing person that would bring strategy, implementation, and tactical [work],” said Shah.
What’s worse is that Shah didn’t notice the problem until he’d hired even more people. Doing what he thought “you’re supposed to do” in startup marketing, Shah expanded the team to include a content person and two other general senior contributors.
The problem, he later learned, was a lack of cohesive marketing strategy.
“We had people that had experience doing various things,” said Shah. “But everyone went in their own direction. And the fact that I was the leader of marketing was a problem – instead of having one person reporting to me, I had four people that I couldn’t manage or coach.”
Ultimately, Shah made the difficult, yet necessary decision to let some of the team members go. It was time to go back to the drawing board with what he had learned.
Success: hiring an experienced leader
“So we went from a one-person marketing team to no one,” said Shah. “Then to a four-person marketing team, and back to a one-person team.”
Throughout this time, though, the company itself was growing. Haphazard marketing tactics from various individual contributors (along with Shah’s own learning and execution) landed more awareness and clients. So they were improving, Shah said, just nowhere near as quickly as they needed to.
Eventually, Shah realized he was what needed to change. He was simply not a marketing leader.
“We said we’re going to bring on a marketing leader that has been there, done that, and can take us to the next level,” said Shah. “That’s when we brought on our Director of Marketing.”
It was also around this time that Shah joined Peerscale, which he mentioned was important in helping him learn the real reason behind his previous marketing team failures.
“Until I joined Peerscale, it was me and my co-founder sitting in a room talking about what to do next,” said Shah. “We didn’t have an advisory team or board. So to have my roundtable give me advice, feedback, and tips was invaluable. It changed the business.”
The wisdom he learned from his Peerscale peergroup also helped him meet the toughest marketing task of all, letting go, with glee.
When the new director came in, she took control over the team’s vision and leadership, asking Shah to step aside. While most founders would have a hard time with this task, especially after two failures driving them to want to succeed the next time around, Shah was thrilled.
“I wanted to cry, I was so happy,” said Shah. “I could do marketing, but I’m not a marketing guy. To have someone step in and tell me to step back felt good.”
From CEO marketer to visionary CEO
“I was always worried about growing revenue and improving the business,” said Shah. “But having someone take over marketing allowed me to really open my eyes to other opportunities for growth.”
Once Shah’s saga of trying to be a marketer was over, he had a bit more freedom to think about the business from a high level. Not too long afterward, QuickTapSurvey was successfully acquired and Shah now advises other startups. He carefully looks at how teams work together, identifies unique business growth opportunities, and thinks ahead to the future when crafting strategic plans.
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