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The First Million: Serge Kassardjian of StayTuned

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Michael Brown

May 03, 2024
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My First Million Stay Tuned 1120 x 585 px

On the Bowery Capital blog in the coming weeks we present "The First Million," a series focused on the tactics and tips as founders scaled their business from zero to one. We talk revenue generation, product pricing, sales, marketing, and product related matters that supported the growth of these companies. Check out our third interview this week with Serge Kassardjian of StayTuned.

What are the 3-4 key things that you did (product, sales, marketing) to go from zero to one?

  • We were constantly iterating and pivoting until we settled in to a longer term path. You have to try a lot of things and be okay if they don't work.
  • A lot of our revenue came inorganically through micro acquisitions but we turned that into our business model with a team that could scale them and the appropriate financing to make it happen.
  • At the end of the day, my biggest takeaway is there is no one direct path to build a software business and every story is different. We started off building a video distribution business and ended up creating a app platform on Shopify. Crazy to think where you start and where you go-need to read the market and move.

Did you do founder led selling from the outset? How did you orient your day to day so that you could really focus on pipeline generation and working deals?

  • Yes. There is no other way. Founder led sales is critical because it closes the product and feedback loop.
  • We still do it to this day and this is the only way to bridge the gap between the selling and building.
  • I would personally record every call with a customer and upload it to slack so the team could hear everything we were doing. It was a nice hack at the time to get the team engaged and make sure I didn't include any of my personal biases.
  • We did this for 6 months and it was very effective.

Did you hire someone out of the gate? Talk to us about the profile and how that worked out?

  • This is a bit unorthodox, but we never hired a sales person.
  • Our business ended up evolving into a more marketing led organization.
  • However, I felt I knew my customers inside and out. In fact I ended up hiring one of our customers as one of the early employees to come join us!

What were some of your assumptions going in that you thought “this is definitely going to work” that ended up totally flopping?

  • We thought we were definitely going to start with big customers and ended up finding a market in SMBs.
  • I never thought that was where we wanted to play but it was attractive for the platform (Shopify) we were building on. We had a lot of internal conversations about custom SDK or go with the channel that controls you.
  • Ironically, the channel that controls you will inevitably be bigger and you can move with the momentum in that channel. We thought that was a good idea.
  • There was one investor who was a little over the top and he really pushed us to Shopify. I will leave them unnamed because we did not take money from them, but his passion for Shopify helped drive our decision.

How did you deal with some of the competitive elements when selling early on?

  • We do a lot of free trials and get great reviews.
  • This helps direct two critical aspects of our product 1) tight feedback loop of what features we will ultimately need 2) great customer service and what our CX reps can do to make an impact.
  • A lot of people say, ask for money up front because they you are solving a real problem. Issue with that is, its harder to iterate, so it really depends on the customer, the type of problem and how easy it is to use your software. We found a happy medium among it all.

Talk to us about some of the tactics to generate more leads. Top of funnel stuff. How did you do it on the marketing and sales side?

  • We do a lot of affiliate marketing and co-selling with other products in the Shopify ecosystem.
  • This is a really impactful tactic for us because a lot of customers buy multiple products at once an we can harness that to our advantage by having lots of great co-selling partners.
  • I am obsessed with bring CAC down and finding ways to not spend on traditional channels through partnerships has been huge for me personally.