Every founder dreams of scaling SaaS revenue from zero to millions, but how do you really navigate those crucial early stages? Muhammad Younas, CEO of vFairs, shares invaluable insights from his journey of turning an MVP into a $30 million venture.
He covers the power of interviewing prospects, the magic of becoming your own customer, and the pivotal role of customer support in retention and growth. Plus, his tips on connecting with a lead in just 10 minutes can change your sales game.
The below is a lightly edited transcript of Muhammad’s keynote speech at SaaSOpen 2023.
Can you explain the journey of growing the company’s SaaS revenue from $0 million to over $30 million in the past six years?
VFairs is an all-in-one event management platform. We help companies run virtual events, in-person events and hybrid events.
These are just some of the learnings that I have had over the past six years in scaling the company from $0 million to over $30 million in revenue. I’m just going to double down on that one is that the best thing that you can do for your startup when you’re growing from $0 million to $1 million in revenue, is that you interview prospects and then somehow figure it out what you want to build for them.
By the time you would have built your MVP, you would already have some of those prospects who will convert into customers. Something that you would have heard many times. One thing that I’m just going to add on top of that is that just think about if you yourself can become your own customer.
In our case, the very first MVP we built started helping companies do virtual job fairs.
But other than having those customers who were running virtual job fairs using our software, we ran hundreds of virtual job fairs ourselves and made $100k+ in revenue.
In many cases it might not be possible with your product, but if somehow you are in that sweet spot where you can use your own product to actually achieve the ROI, then you already have a case study from day one.
You would exactly know what it takes to achieve that success that you’re trying to preach through your software.
How did vFairs validate their product’s market fit using paid media in their early stages?
Step number one is that when you’re building your MVP, when you’re building that first version of the product, interview a lot of prospects, see if they resonate with the vision that you have for your product. If it’s applicable in your product, try to use your own product.
Try to see that ROI yourself because then you would be able to just have that conversation with the customer where you both can see things from the same angle.
Now once you have done that, what has worked really well for us, that you validate fast and one way to do that is through paid media.
In our early stages, we spent a lot of money on paid ads because we wanted to see that some of those keywords, some of those pain points that we have in mind that vFairs is solving and do a lot of other people resonate with that or not.
It’s just a very quick way of validating it. In our case it worked out really well. You can do that through Outbound. You can go through a lot of other places. But for us this one worked out really well.
A few ways that you can do that is you can focus on competitor keywords, long-tail keywords. Some of the most expensive keywords that exist in your category, but will help you understand what that prospect will look for. If you are in the right direction or not.
Once you have done that, once you have got that first lead or first couple of prospects who want to learn a bit more about your company, the very first thing that you can do to impress that prospect is to actually get in touch with them very quickly.
What is the significance of being the 1st company to connect with a prospect?
See, as a prospect, if someone is working to solve their problem, they’re not just going to reach out to you. They’re going to reach out to tens of other companies as well. The company that wins most of the time is the one who is able to connect with that prospect earliest with the right solution.
If I’m a prospect, if I’m trying to solve a particular problem for my company, if I have seen that great product, I’m going to stop my search. You would be a small company in that 0 to 1 or 0 to $10 million stage but somehow figure it out how 24/7 works.
If someone is going to knock on your door, how can you make sure that you’re the first one to connect with that prospect? If you have done that and if you have a decent enough product, you would see that you will have a much higher conversion rate.
The very first thing of getting started is to work with customers to create that MVP, validate fast either through paid media or through Outbound, et cetera. But the moment you get connected with the prospect, try to be in touch with them very quickly. That can be the single biggest advantage that you can have in those initial years.
The next thing is that as you have had those initial 10, 20, 30 customers you want to see what are the problems you can solve for that particular prospect, for that particular customer.
In our case we used to get in touch with our customers. We would ask them, “Can you tell us a bit more about your job function? What else do you do?” Some of these companies told us that other than doing virtual job fairs, we also do in-person job fairs.
How did vFairs acquire their first $100k deal and expand their services to include in-person job fairs? How did this help with scaling SaaS revenue?
We used a company that starts with C and we are facing a lot of problems with them, with the product, with the customer support, with the UI and everything. We said, “You know what? When is your next event that you’re using that product for?”
One of the companies told us that, “We are going to have our in-person job fair in the next three months.” We told them that, “How about we build an MVP for you, a product for you that you can use for your next in-person event in three months or less with an agreed set of functionalities?” Really just by having that conversation, they were already our customers.
They said, “You know what? If you’ll build in the next two months, we’re going to replace that other high profile company with your product.” It is just by having the conversation with your customer, how else can you solve their problem. We went from a virtual job fair company to also starting supporting in-person job fairs. That’s how we got our first $100k deal.
How can asking for references and recommendations contribute to expanding a product’s reach?
The next thing that you can do once you have proven yourself to a particular stakeholder, to a business unit within a particular department is just ask them, “Can you recommend me to other people? Can you recommend me to other departments where this product can be used?”
You will be surprised that if you have given someone a great product with amazing customer support, just by asking for a reference how many companies would be willing to do that.
I see often that not many people ask for those references or ask for those testimonials or ask for those reviews. We do that and we have seen that it has helped us expand from one department in a global Fortune 500 company to over 50 plus departments across a hundred plus countries just by asking for those internal referrals or external references.
So ask them, “How else and who else can benefit from this particular product?” You’ll be surprised how many of them will help you connect again internally with a lot of other departments or externally with other people who have a similar problem that your product is solving.
How can involving customers in the product roadmap help in building trust and obtaining references?
The best way to keep on earning customer trust is that you work with them to show them what’s coming next and actually point out that this is the problem that you highlighted. This is a timeline by which I can deliver it to you and this is how it’s going to look like.
The more you share your future roadmaps with the customer and you make them part of the process, the more you build a kind of a customer advisory board. Ask them for what else should be happening in your product. They will see something in you that typically most of the other big companies would never be able to do.
This is where you can stand out. You can stand out where you make those customers actually decision makers of what should be coming in the product. That aligns with the vision of your product, consistently sharing that customer facing roadmap with your customers.
You will see that that will help you earn trust, that will help you retain them and that will help you get a lot of other references from a lot of other departments.
How does staying true to the initial vision and prioritizing customer support contribute to standing out in the industry and achieving success?
By the time you would scale SaaS revenue from a zero million dollar company to a $10 or $10 to $20 million company, you will start becoming a big company that might end up having the same challenges that these customers were having with the big boys before they signed up with you.
At that time you just have to go and always stay true to your initial vision and mission of why you build that product and what help you grow from a zero million dollar company to a $10 or $20 million company.
In our case, when we built our product we knew that one of the things that has helped us stand out is that we didn’t see ourselves just in a software, the service industry, just in a tech industry.
We knew that we were helping companies do virtual events, in-person events, job fairs, conferences, trade shows, open days, and so many complex type of events. One of the things that helped us stand out was our customer support. We as a company just always had this vision that for us the success would be what our customers say about us.
By staying true to that vision, we’ll not consider ourselves just to be in the tech industry. We’ll consider that we are also in the hospitality industry. We will kind of be very close to our customers all the time.
It helps us just break that grid where just a couple of years back we were new and trending in many of these industries. Now we’ll consistently rank number one both in virtual events and the event management software category.
Why is it crucial to prioritize customer support and track Net Promoter Score (NPS) for both the product and customer support?
Always stay close to your customer, figure out why they liked you. It might be because of the product, it might be because of the customer support. It might be a combination of two. But whatever that initial secret sauce was you just have to make sure that you don’t lose that sight as you grow.
For us that was customer support and we made sure that at any point if we have to make any decision of where we are going to make a compromise, we’ll never make the compromise which is on the customer support. We want to make sure that we double down on that one because that’s one of the reasons that initially our customer signed up with us.
One of the ways to keep on doing that is that very early on start making sure that you’re tracking the NPS both for your product and for your customer support. Both of the things that’s really important.
One is very different from the other, especially, if you are in an industry like ours. You want to make sure that you are consistently tracking the NPS of the product. Anytime you are getting any detractor, you reach out to that particular prospect and a customer and ask them, “What would it take for them to become a promoter rather than a detractor?”
Anyone who’s communicating with a prospect or with a customer you want to make sure that you have that kind of small line that says in the signature line, “Give me feedback or rate our customer support.” Consistently track that.
Why is it important to connect with a lead in 10 minutes or less?
Anytime we get any of those surveys filled up by any of our customers, within 10 minutes or less, We either thank them for giving us a nine out of a 10 and being a promoter.
If it’s a neutral or a detractor feedback, we get in touch with them and we ask them, again, “Thank you for your feedback. Can you elaborate a bit more of how and what we can do in order to kind of convert you from a detractor to promoter?”
Tracking that NPS both at a product level and at your team level is extremely important in order to make sure that you consistently deliver the customer support that you wanted to deliver.
Over the last 20 minutes I showed you that in order to build that initial MVP, try to interview a lot of prospects, work with them to build that initial MVP of the product. If you can become your own customer of the product there’s nothing that can beat that. Validate fast.
The way to validate fast is that you can spend it on Google, on paid media, you can do Outbound but try to validate very fast and get those initial set of customers who would sign up with you. Once they do sign up with you or once they show a bit of an interest in your product, the very first impression that you can give them is that you connect with them early.
If a lead comes in, try to connect with them in 10 minutes or less because the earlier you will connect with them the better chances you will have that you are the first one giving that demo. If you can solve that problem they will sign up with you.
Once you have done that, just always make sure that you deliver exceptional customer support to that particular company. Once you have done that ask them how else you can solve, what other problems you can solve for them.
Ask them for references. Ask them to connect you with other companies or other organizations or other departments wherever they feel that your product can solve that problem. Once you have done that make sure that you always keep your customers as part of the decision making process of your future roadmaps.
Always track your NPS, NPS for the product, NPS for the individuals because that will help you consistently stand out.