Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Juan Ruiz, founder of Customeer. I started the company with my two other co-founders after pivoting our initial idea.
We had been struggling for quite some time when we got our eureka moment. We realized that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, companies used to compete primarily on price and product. Now they need to compete on Customer Experience too since increasingly customers expect the same kind of immediacy, customization, and convenience that we all receive from the likes of Amazon or Google.
We, therefore, set out to launch Customeer, a portfolio of best-in-class Customer Experience applications to help our clients drive sales and customer loyalty.
We now serve all sorts of clients, helping them increase sales up to 20%, driving loyalty to unprecedented levels and helping us reach a break-even point in the process.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always considered myself an entrepreneur. Back in 2000, in the midst of the Internet euforia, I quit my well paid corporate job to start my first company. We began with all the traction imaginable and then…, the Internet bubble popped. Financial markets dried and we had to bootstrap for several years. We decided to persevere and to finance ourselves in a very unusual way those days, right?… by generating revenues. What a discovery!
One can surely laugh at that statement, but raising funds had become a sort of badge of honor, the ultimate outcome back in the day. And I would claim, that is still the case today. We did struggle for sure, but we became profitable, to then end up being acquired. And frankly, that was part of our success.
Had we raised funds from external investors at that time, we would have invested in a market that was still not ready for our solution, and once we had burned through our last dollar, we’d be out of business. Luckily though, we bootstrapped, remained confident, persevered, and adjusted our product until we found market fit.
After spending a couple of years running my company for the acquirer, I was ready to start new ventures. I had become an avid reader on software solutions (remember the famous quote from Marc Andreesen “Software will eat the world”) and decided to give it a try. How did I get the idea? I think it is not that complicated. You first need to think about an existing problem and think of ways of solving it or at least make it less painful. You can always see what other successful companies in other markets are doing and adapt it to yours. The graveyard is full of early innovators, and Heaven is full of nimble free riders and copycats.
Take us through the process of designing the product and launching the business.
As with any business, the first step was to find out whether there was a pain in the market that needed to be solved. I talked to friends in companies that could become potential clients and explained what we were aiming for.
They all seemed to agree that our solution would be very helpful for them, but a painful lesson I have learned is that it is one thing to say that they like what you are selling and another thing is to actually pay the price you need. There is a big difference. So let’s all agree to check whether the market likes your product at the price you think works for you.
We realized that companies used to compete primarily on price and product. Now, they need to compete on customer experience too since increasingly customers expect the same kind of immediacy, customization, and convenience that we all receive from the likes of Amazon or Google.
Then and only then, we went through the incorporation process and fundraising. Once funds were secured we negotiated company shareholder agreement, company inlaws, etc. I was already fluent in these issues and did it myself, saving thousands of dollars in legal advice. But I would never recommend that route for a first-time entrepreneur. There is so much at stake hinging upon those initial arrangements, that getting it wrong can really wreck a business.
After market research, I hired our first software developer, to create an MVP or minimum viable product, a product that is not ready to scale just yet but has enough features for your clients to test out and validate. Once we got proof it could work, we hired our first sales reps. But in hindsight, I honestly think we brought them in a bit early in the game. We should have waited a bit more for the product to be round. In any case, our reps are in charge of generating revenues for the company and bringing feedback to the IT team to keep our software up to our clients’ standards and needs.
Concurrently, we had to prepare all kinds of sales materials, websites, brochures, product decks, videos, etc. It is always hectic, exhausting, challenging and wonderful. Your once Power Point deck is coming to life.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I have always believed that attracting a new customer is very expensive, much more so in a market like ours, where customers can rapidly find other competitors at the tip of their fingers. In my view, loyalty is the name of the game.
Loyal customers have a greater lifetime value as they spend more over time. Since they know your business it is easier to upsell and cross-sell, lifting lifetime value even higher. As such, from almost day one from operations we hired a Customer Success Manager whose only aim is to create value for our customers, to make them successful with our products and consequently to convince them to keep renewing our contracts.
Attracting a new customer is very expensive, much more so in a market like ours, where customers can rapidly find other competitors at the tip of their fingers. In my view, loyalty is the name of the game.
It means the world to our company and frankly, it has become a key differentiator. Our clients always know we are just a phone call or email away, and our response time is… well, almost minimal.
In a revenue subscription company, customers can churn at any moment. This is very dangerous as we make our big investment upfront to gain customers to make a profit a few months later. If a customer churns before that time, we lose money. When you come to think about it, it seems like a risky business proposition, because it is, but at the same time, it makes you work harder with constant deadlines. You need to gain your customers’ trust in every potential interaction. We better make sure we help them win.
In terms of attracting customers, we have tried the usual routes, mainly field sales reps that source potential customers and maximize sales. But I have learned that only those that don’t “sell” your product but rather try to help solve someone’s problem with your product, are the ones that really stand out. Don’t sell, help your customers be successful.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Customeer has made a lot of progress over the years, but long sales cycles, pricing rivalry, and different market forces hinder fast organic growth. Therefore, we are now exploring further strategic options to rapidly accelerate growth. In plain English, we want to either engage in fundraising with investors to double down on what works and boost growth or even combine with similar companies to become larger and gain scale.
And scale is key in our industry since many clients want to hire from brand recognized vendors. Case in point: Salesforce. Many managers will hire Salesforce regardless of the price or complexity, there are many other options that are cheaper and as powerful, but many managers will not risk it and stick with the brand name.
With enough scale, we will try to access distribution channels, to work with agencies with many clients to whom we could sell. Doing that directly, one by one would be a tremendous task. Engaging with an agency that already has relationships with clients would be a great boost.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
After many years as an entrepreneur, I have come to realize that the most important thing for a sustainable business is true market fit. You need a product that really helps solve an important problem in a big market. If you have that, then it all comes down to execution, never easy either.. But if you don’t, you have nothing. Bear in mind that a good sales rep can sell anything, even low-quality stuff nobody really wants, but in the end, given enough time, the market will square with you. Customers will realize they don’t want what you sell. You will be out of business.
True market fit can be tricky to unfold. Getting a few customers here and there is a promising start, but might not be enough. Market fit becomes clear, when a number of unknown customers buy your product, at the right price, engage with it and report positive feedback.
It is therefore very common to see companies doubling down on marketing efforts to sell products that the market is not ready for, or simply don’t want. That will end up breaking the bank. Be patient. Test the waters. Make sure you have true market fit. Then go crazy and scale, because you have found your gold mine.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As a SaaS company we use many other SaaS services to help us run the business:
- CRM tools like Pipedrive or Nimble. We are using Pipedrive predominantly as it provides features that allow us to automate multiple follow up tasks with our clients.
- Google G Suite
- Accounting: anfix. Accounting simple: it lacks automation. We might move to Freshbooks.
- Amazon AWS for our servers: Cheap, powerful, safe.
- Emails tools that we sometimes integrate with our service to make it more robust.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have always been an avid reader, but I am becoming more used to using Twitter on a daily basis as a resource to always remain informed on the latest trends. My New Year resolution should be to go back to paperback books to gain further insight.
I also love TED talks, in all formats podcasts, videos…
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Despite all you read out there, start ups are not meant for everyone. One always reads stories about these glorious dudes go made billion out of thin air and they are all now superheroes and come on CNBC. But the truth is, that for every successful entrepreneur, there are thousands that fail and that will not show on Fortune. And those who do make it to stardom have gone through real tough times. There is no easy ride. You need to have the drive, stamina, and willingness to overcome everything that comes at you. Don’t get me wrong, because of all that, your big and small successes will make you feel like you are on the Moon, but you have to have that kind of personality.
Remember there is no straight line to success. It will be a bumpy ride, to say the least, and as such, you must be willing to put in the effort, and most likely the years, because success does happen not easy..nor overnight.
There is a lot of press about failing fast and starting over again. This is the mantra in the Start-Up Galaxy. However, there must be a balance between letting go and resilience. As explained there is no such thing as an easy win, and that’s when resilience and drive come handy. However, it is also important to quit before a disaster hits you before you take a second mortgage to support a failing effort. Try hard, but don’t compromise your future and that of your beloved ones. That’s the line on the sand you shouldn’t cross.
Would I do it again? I always say..no way….too much to swallow...to then say, what the heck I have to do this!!!!! I just love it.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are now looking to hire talented experienced local field sales reps in the software. On a full-time basis. We are based in Spain.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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