Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. And what I love about this is how many of the entrepreneurs who I’ve met are really starting from scratch, from basically where you are right now, if not even worse than where you are, and then there’s the hustle.
And I know that we’re not supposed to love hustle porn and this is not about hustle porn. Hustle porn is like where we glamorize the showmanship around how much people work and how little they sleep. That’s not what I’m trying to glamorize here with this interview. But I do want you to know it’s a lot of hard work that goes into this. And it’s a lot of people who are very similar to where we are, and it’s just . . . that, to me, is the most exciting thing about this.
Like joining me today is an entrepreneur who he had an idea and we’ll talk about what the idea was, and why I thought it didn’t make sense at first. But he had this idea. He got together with some friends. They were better coders than he was. He didn’t know what to do with the energy that he had to contribute to the team, and one of the things that he ended up doing was basically getting them tea, tea so they could drink and supporting them while they built up the product. And as he built himself up in the business up to the place where he could be a CEO and the business could need a CEO, and that’s where he is today.
All right. So the founder you’re about to meet, his name is Krish Subramanian. Did I pronounce it right, Krish?
Krish: Yes, Andrew. Thank you for having me.
Andrew: Subramanian. He’s the founder of Chargebee. Here’s what Chargebee does and why I didn’t think that this made sense. They do subscription management and billing solutions. I thought it didn’t make sense because I use Stripe. Stripe already can like charge people every single month. Stripe already can give a free trial period, maybe the first month for free before charging.
And then I realized, wait, while back we did this subscription where the first year was going to be cheaper than the second year and how do we even do that? Oh, yeah, we screwed it up somehow. I forget how we screwed it up, but we coded it up ourselves and then the coding and the explanation between me and the developer, there was a misunderstanding of what we were looking for, and then some people ended up with the price that jumped up and it’s not what we were trying to do and . . . Wait. If I even need to go to a coder, that means that there’s a problem here.
And then I looked at his site and what Chargebee does is it allows the people who are selling those boxes to come every month in the mail or the people who have software that charge every month to say, “You know what? I’ve got a coupon. Maybe the first 100 people should be able to get this for 50% off but the 50% off should only be for the first six months because that’s the offer that I want to make and I don’t want to deal with the coder. I’m just going to . . .”
Anyway, that’s what they allow them to do it, and once I understood that I realized, “Oh, I wish I’d known about this before.” So that’s what we’re going to find out, how he built up this company, how he came to the realization that this was a need, how he created it, how he got customers, how he got his revenue to a place where he’s not comfortable talking about it but we’ll see. It’s strong revenue.
All right. We can do all this . . . I’m a little bit frantic here, Krish. We can do all this thanks to two phenomenal companies. The first did not give me enough information to talk about them. I’m not sure exactly how to do it, but you know what? Krish has used them, so I’m going to ask him to talk about them. It’s a company called Ahrefs and I know. It’s not that I don’t know anything. I just don’t know enough to talk about them as authoritatively as I think some of my audience deserves. So we’ll talk about them and why they help you with content creation, Ahrefs. And the second sponsor will help you hire developers. It’s called Toptal. And I’ll talk about both of those later.
Krish, am I talking too fast or too frantically? What do you think? Be open with me.
Krish: Very energetic.
Andrew: I am. I’ve got to tone the freaking thing down. Revenue. Let’s calmly ask about that. Where are you with revenue?
Krish: I’m not comfortable directly talking about that, but I can tell you a few proxies if that may help. We process over $1.5 billion of annual transactions of our customers and that’s we call the TPV, Total Process Volume of our customers. And these customers are businesses in 53 countries.
Andrew: Fair to say over 10 million in revenue that you guys get to keep.
Krish: Yes, approximate.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And I know your sensibilities and I think I’m going to lose you if I keep pressing. And the truth is I’ve got enough to give me a sense of your growth. That plus like 100% growth year over year is what we’re seeing, right?
Krish: That is correct.
Andrew: Huge. Your last name. Where did you get your last name?
Krish: That’s my father’s first name. So we have this tradition in South India where the father’s first name becomes my last name and so on so forth.
Andrew: Do you feel that weight of your dad and trying to live up to who your dad was every time people use your last name?
Krish: Not really, no. It doesn’t feel that way. It’s a very natural thing.
Andrew: Your parents, your grandparents have always been in business, right?
Krish: Correct. My father used to be in the State Department. He used to be a government servant. What my grandparents from both sides were used to . . . They were hoteliers.
Krish: They used to run small restaurants.
Andrew: And hotels?
Krish: Just restaurant.
Andrew: Just the restaurants.
Andrew: Okay. How many restaurants did they have?
Krish: Just one. It used to be a small business, just one restaurant on both sides. My maternal uncles also used to continue running that. Yeah. And I had first-hand experience. In my very early days on my paternal grandfather side, I experienced it till I was five, six years old, but the memories are very, very . . . I have very little memory of that. But when I was 13, 12 or 13 years, 12 years old, I think my father took a sabbatical, tried running a restaurant for a year, but I think he didn’t like it much, so they shut it down in a year. I don’t know why he even tried it, but I enjoyed that experience.
Andrew: Yeah. I heard you used to even sit at your uncle’s restaurant and just watch. What would you watch for when you sat there?
Krish: So this was during my engineering days. I studied the engineering and computer science. And I live with my maternal uncles, which was 300 kilometers away from where my parents lived and where I grew up. And there I used to go to this restaurant morning and evening, just watch how the business runs. So I used to sit next to my uncle who was cashier who used to collect money and then I would just sit next to him watch it or go into the kitchen see how things get done. It was fascinating.
Andrew: Why? Why do you think you were fascinated by that? Is it the idea that people are coming in, giving your uncle money, that the business is growing?
Krish: Yes. And the way it was just run. Even though it was a small restaurant, the buzz that was there with so many people coming, going in and out and we never used to have a POS system to calculate. So the thing that fascinated me was every time somebody eats, so imagine this where people walk in, they just go sit in a place and then they get served whatever they asked for. And after they eat, they come to their desk and they tell you what they had. And then you just need to do the math yourself and then collect the money and then you just do it.
Andrew: That’s how it worked. Wow.
Krish: Yeah, that’s how it worked. And this was like 20 years back, 22 years back. Yeah, that’s how it was.
Andrew: You know what? Would you mind taking your hoodie off? I’m finding that your hoodie is scratching up against the mic in your headset. The headset sounds good, but I keep hearing the scratching. And look at this, you’ve got a hoodie from Chargebee and then underneath it.
Andrew: Chargebee t-shirt too.
Andrew: I like it.
Krish: Yeah, [it’s soft 00:07:49].
Andrew: You were working before . . . I want to know where you came up with this idea that I didn’t realize was obvious. You weren’t even working in a SaaS company like mine, right? Or not . . . I don’t know that mine is a SaaS company. You weren’t even working in a company like mine which was charging people monthly and coming up with these different offers. You were working at Ariba. What were you . . . What was Ariba and what were you doing there?
Krish: Right. A small correction there. I did not work Ariba, but I used to implement Ariba. I was part of a services company which used to do this.
Krish: So I was . . . I used to implement Ariba for large Fortune 500 customers like Cummins Engines, [Axial Global 00:08:29]. This is indirect purchasing, right? Large companies with billion dollars of revenue, they need to manage their internal spend and this product helped streamline that. That was what I did. And I was a consultant and implementer. I started off my career as a programmer, and I specialized in these product implementations, integrating with Oracle SAP, and also talking to business users. That’s what I did.
Andrew: For 10 years. And they were enterprise companies, so then I wonder where you got the idea to do this.
Krish: So my first job was not in a large company. It was in a very small startup. So before SaaS, there was this model, if you remember, Application Service Provider, ASP model, which was like a false start for SaaS. And my first job was building products in that ASP model. So I built this one product which was implemented in a government agency and we collected ? 3,000 per month by hosting the software ourselves on our website. ? 3,000 is equivalent of $25 a month, $25, $30 a month. And we used to collect that for that one instance. And then we had 10 instances of that implementation. And it was fascinating to see that. You just created one product and then we were making significant amount of money from that. That was my first experience building product. But I don’t know why, but I just worked there for a year and I moved on from there. It was for a large service company.
Andrew: It still doesn’t seem like it’s 10 years before. It still doesn’t feel like you felt the problem. Where did this idea come from for Chargebee?
Krish: Right. It was never an idea first. So Chargebee was not created because of the idea. It was more of a team-first approach. My co-founder, one of the co-founders Rajaraman, he was my college classmate during engineering base. And the two other co-founders, we’re also from Zoho. So my three co-founders are from Zoho, where they were part of the cloud journey from 2005 building cloud products.
Andrew: And Zoho, for people who don’t know it, it’s a huge company. I interviewed the founder from India because his numbers were just fantastic, but he was competing with Google Docs, he was competing with Evernote, with all these different companies and still doing well. And so they worked for him and they saw what was going on at Zoho with this huge SaaS company and they decided what? We want to work together and create our own?
Krish: No. It was a 10-year journey for all of us. When my co-founder . . .
Andrew: What was the impetus? What made you guys finally say, “Let’s quit and let’s look for an idea to do”?
Krish: Right. I want to back up a bit why we even did this. So when they worked at Zoho for over 10, 12 years, during the first . . . So as an outsider I used to watch this journey when Rajaraman used to share how they were actually doing things, which was like four or five member teams trying out new ideas, serving global customers. And if I remember, Joel Spolsky created this beautiful blog called joelonsoftware.com, which was about the journey of how he created Fog Creek software, which was the most boring software you can imagine, like bug tracking, right? And today, we know this is Atlassian. And [inaudible 00:12:14]
Krish: And Fog Creek software used to compete with him. And he spoke about as a founder how your job is to bring smart people together, get chairs out of the way, and create a company. And that was fascinating. For us, we were infected by that idea. And looking at that and it was also very inspiring because you realize that people with ideas could we actually bootstrap a company and build something together as long as you understand the problem.
Krish: We will save up enough over a period of time to quit and start at some point of time. So after college every few years, after every few months, we used to get on conference calls wherever I traveled. Rahman used to be in Chennai all the time because he worked at a product company.
Because I was in services I was traveling around the world. And we used to catch up over phone every few months and we used to talk about, “Okay, so save enough money. At some point, we’ll quit and start.” And just whatever income I used to make, we just used to save it, put it in mutual funds, put in bonus that you get, you just save it up before you spend, right? You learn to limit your spend to your income. And then by just committing to investments. That is what we used to do for over eight, nine years.
But by the time it was 2010, I went back to India, decided that I wanted to start because I used to live in Columbus, Indiana and my visa status wouldn’t allow me to start here, so I decided to go back. But by 2010, it was clear that cloud was taking off in a big way. And you can build a company from anywhere. AWS, Engine Yard, Heroku, they all made it possible for you to start a company from anywhere. So we said, “Okay, it makes sense to start a company.” And the Freshworks today, it was Freshdesk, they are friends. And they had started the company and you see them actually starting the company and then the nudge was there to say, “Okay, now we should do it now.” And then we . . .
Andrew: You got to meet them before they started the company, before they started Freshdesk?
Krish: Correct. So Rahman and Freshdesk co-founders, they were all living in the same apartment and they know each other because they’re also from Zoho.
Andrew: Yep. Wow. And so you saw them do well. Again, Freshdesk, another huge company, also an Indian company. And so you said, “We got to do this.” And so the four of you guys said, “Let’s look at some ideas.” You told our producer, “We looked at three potential ideas.” Do you remember what those three ideas were?
Krish: Of course.
Andrew: What were they?
Krish: One was in the New Relic, AppDynamics today as we know it. That was one of the ideas that we looked at.
Andrew: Site monitoring.
Krish: Site monitoring or application performance monitoring. How can I help a SaaS product find you on the engineering side of things?
Krish: Another idea was related to single sign-on. Today we know Okta single sign-on. So anything that is repeatable that developers were trying to solve it themselves repeatedly with their own custom code, and something that people will pay for and it should be a common problem for everyone. Right? Those are the three criteria for us. And we said, “Okay, let’s pick any idea like this.”
And then we also figured that this whole invoicing thing was also something that people were repetitively building, but existing systems were not going to be relevant for SaaS products which is where a lot of people were writing a lot of things in-house on top of invoicing system or payment system, and we said, “That’s an interesting problem.” Zuora was already there in the enterprise market, but early-stage companies while they were building it, they were all repeatedly building it. We said, “Okay, that’s an interesting one to solve and build with the customers.” And so we said, “Okay. This looks like a problem with a lot of layers to it and the problem complexity by itself is a good mode to start with.” And if you help others get paid, you also can charge for it. So we said, “Okay. We will . . . ”
Andrew: Yeah. If you can help others get paid, you can charge for it. It’s a really good thing to remember. But how did you know that businesses were doing this, that they were writing all these codes? I wasn’t sensitized to the fact that we were doing this internally. We just . . . If Stripe didn’t have that option, we just would ask someone to create it, someone would create it, and then I wouldn’t think much about it. It was a problem, but it was one that I would hardly notice. How did you notice it?
Krish: It was not my idea. I did not. It was my co-founders, KPS and Rajaraman. They happened to notice that Zoho was doing it internally for every product. And they did not have a product to solve all of this. And the same problem existed for others. Like Freshdesk built their own thing on top of Braintree when they launched. And we said, “Okay. If that is the case, we just need to make sure that we build enough features more than what Freshdesk has built, then we get them as a customer.”
Andrew: Got it. Got it. Okay. So I see now where the idea came from, I see how you guys were thinking about it. That’s always a great reminder. Anything that people do in spreadsheets is a good idea for SaaS. Anything that people code on their own especially if multiple companies are doing it, that’s a great idea for a SaaS. Let’s talk about then, did you talk to customers? How did you get your first customer?
Krish: So when we were building it, one of the mistakes . . . I’ll talk about a mistake that we did which I keep saying others not to repeat it. We built a full-fledged website about everything that we were going to build even before building the product. It took a month to actually write all of this on that website and published it. It’s good and bad in some ways, right? Meaning, it helps you think about all of this, but the problem is you’re spending way too much time in putting a website out there. And we did that.
And I used to when our three others were building the product we decided that, of course, I will not write any code because I was the worst developer in the group and I never did that, right? But the website and everything else was my responsibility. I started hanging out in all the forums, Hacker News, authorize.net forums, and different places, Stack Overflow, all the places where people used to talk about how they were trying to solve recurring billing on top of PayPal, authorize.net, all the gateways. And I used to offer them solution “In the absence of Chargebee, how can you solve it?”
So I will just go in, offer the solution as a consultant would, and then I will sign off saying, “By the way, we are trying to simplify this problem and if you’re interested, please sign up and I will notify you whenever we’re ready.” Of course, I did not spam. And that is how I used to sign up after writing a solution. And this helped us get hundreds of signups before we were ready to launch.
And some conversations led to some Skype calls. The first customer was this U.K.-based on . . . this entrepreneur in U.K. called [flavorbox.com 00:19:20]. It was an e-commerce subscription business that used to get samples from large companies like chocolates, wine, all of that small items samples and put it in a box and then would send it to you for $10, $20 per month subscription.
And he had this business built on top of PayPal and was struggling with tracking payments, not knowing if the shipping address changed, and he wanted one database and he had this Excel sheets and payments coming from somewhere not knowing where the payment was made, when it was made and all of that. And we even built one feature specifically for him. He wanted to print shipping labels in sticky thing, sheets, where he can just peel it off and stick it on the thing. We even removed that feature now afterwards, after a few years, but we built a customer call . . .
Andrew: Because nobody else used it. It was just him.
Krish: Just him and maybe a few others afterwards. But that feature was so important to him. He was so, so delighted looking at that. And for us, it was like half a day of code just to give him that CSS thing to customize according to the length and width of whatever he wanted to print. And we just gave that feature. And we also helped him collect the shipping address in the checkout page and he was so excited. And that’s how we got our early customers by doing those additional one or two things that delighted them and we would recruit them one by one.
Andrew: What was the first big feature that you created or the one that . . . You told our producer, “Look, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time building my website. It was a mistake. What I would have done instead was just created an MVP.” If you could have, what would that MVP have been?
Krish: All right. So instead of creating the website, I should have gone with the core value proposition that resonated with the customers. Right? What I mean . . .
Andrew: Which was?
Krish: Which is, why are they even looking at that point in time? Today with the maturity of the market, if we were to do it today, that would be very different. But at that point of time, the problems were very different, right? This was very early days of Stripe and Braintree. And at that time, if I had gone with . . . Okay. So it’s broken in Excel sheets, right? You don’t need Excel sheets to manage all of this, so let me help you simplify consolidate recurring billing. That would have been something that could have resonated with a lot of prospects.
Andrew: Just the recurring billing, just the part that they have a payment processor, they just want to be able to charge every month without any headaches, and that’s it.
Krish: Correct. Right? Simplify that. Instead, we built a full-fledged subscription management plus billing solution which also generated a more of . . .
Andrew: Oh, you were even competing with Stripe?
Krish: I’m sorry.
Andrew: When you say a billing solution, what do you mean by billing solution to?
Krish: Right. What I mean by that is the billing part is the invoicing part, right? It is on top of . . .
Andrew: Oh, got it. Right.
Krish: . . . Stripe, Braintree, all the payment gateways.
Andrew: Yeah. So you built that, you built the invoicing system, you built the charging system, you built . . . Did you build . . . What else?
Krish: We built subscription management part, right, which is tracking customers, subscribers, and all the edge cases. We try to build all of that, solve all of that before we even launched the first iteration, right? Billing is something where it has to be accurate, right? You want the invoices generated accurately because it affects you, but at the same time all the bells and whistles were not necessarily, right? But we were too proud or I think it was more of your first-time founder ego thing that you don’t want to be embarrassed and you try to build so many bells and whistles around it so people will not criticize. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. There is always . . . Twenty years later Salesforce is still building things. It’s never going to be perfect.
Andrew: So it took you a while. How long did it take you to build that first version?
Krish: Well, alpha came out after 18 months.
Andrew: Meanwhile we’ll talk about how you were living during these . . .
Krish: Sorry. Alpha was 12 months later, beta was 18 months. Yes.
Andrew: Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor and then we’ll go back in. I want to know how you were living in that situation because you had kids. You were a dad. Or did you have multiple kids or one?
Krish: One kid at that time, now I have two boys. Yeah.
Andrew: The first sponsor is a company called Ahrefs. I did this long call with them which I asked for. I wanted to understand because every time I talk to somebody who knows how to get traffic, they always tell me about Ahrefs and it starts there and I go, “Okay. Let me understand in depth.” They hooked me up with one of their people. I understand it now. But you told me you used it. How did you use it? Let’s talk about your experience.
Krish: Sure. As an engineer turned everything, the person who had to do everything is, like, marketer, sales and all of that, I learned the basics of marketing, which is we had to get customers from around the world primarily through Google, SEO, SEM, and all of that and we didn’t have the money to spend on Google AdWords because it means that you had to rank really well or above your competitors in Google, right? And that was your bread and butter.
And I had to learn all the basics of Google Analytics, how to research on competitors, which keywords they were ranking for, and how do you rank better analyzing your own site, all of that. You have to learn those skills one by one, and Ahrefs is one of those tools that helps you understand all of this. And they have . . . When you go to their website, they have so many products and tools that will help you understand so many aspects of this with respect to your competitors, analyzing your own website, which keywords to rank for, even paid advertise and what others actually do and all of that.
Andrew: Yeah. I keep and see . . . Yeah, I’m sorry. What were you going to say?
Krish: No. It’s a lot of information for a product that’s only at $99. They give you so much information at your doorstep and that’s . . . It’s almost a research, like, crunched into something where you would spend like weeks and months trying to do it yourself. They make it so easy to do that.
Andrew: Yeah. And they do have $1 a day trial where people can go actually experiment with this and see it for themselves. One of the most interesting things for me was they said, “Andrew, who are some of your competitors?” And I didn’t answer fast enough. And so he said, “Andrew, you know what? You probably should be ranking for the word “entrepreneur.” Let’s search for the word “entrepreneur”
And it turned out that like the first couple of responses were pretty bad. I mean, pretty strong, I couldn’t do much with them. But then you go down like a fourth and there was an article written that was pretty crappy article that’s still ranked really high. And I said, “That’s kind of interesting.” “So Andrew, here’s what you do. You just create a better version of this. Because you already have enough credibility on your site, you don’t need a bunch of links. You just need to create a better version of this and you got it.” I said, “That makes that makes a lot of sense.” “So this is the way we work.”
They said, “Okay. If you had a quicker response for who your competitor was, here’s what we could do. We could see where your competitors are getting their traffic, which keywords are working for them, and then find their crappiest article that’s still doing well and you could beat that.” That’s kind of interesting. They said, “Okay, now let’s talk about you.” I said, “Okay, let’s talk about me.” So they said, “Andrew, it’s kind of weird that the top site that gets traffic on your site,” they said they are three. mixergy.com gets it, mixergy.com/goto-welcome gets it because that used to be our homepage and a bunch of people linked to it, and so they said, “Andrew, there’s nothing on here except for an email request form. Put some content on there and you can actually do something with that page.”
Then they said the third one was this old clip. The founder of Groupon was on Mixergy, and he told the story of how he got the name Groupon in this clever way. What he basically did was he trademark the name Groupon and he went after the guy who owned the domain groupon.com and said, “Now I have the trademark, you got to give it to me.” And he got it. And so that ranked really high and I was getting a bunch of traffic on it that I didn’t realize. And he said, “Well, is this a good page?” And I go, “Well, actually, I have to admit that’s pretty crappy page.”
And while we were talking, usually I’m supposed to paying attention to people. I have two monitors. While he was showing me the next feature, I deleted this crappy code that was on that page, made it a little bit cleaner and made it look good. The crappy code was a dead Flash and Flash video of Andrew Mason from Groupon talking. So these are just a few of the things that we were able to do in like 20 minutes. We scheduled a 15-minute call. I had to pick up my kids at the top of the hour, so it was only a 20-minute call and I just was blown away by what I could do with this.
I never tried it before because of that $99 offer. I don’t have a huge discount for you guys. I don’t even have a URL. I don’t know how these guys expect to do well with podcast advertising. I freaking love the founder. I got to tell them, this is not the way to do podcast advertising because I’m just supposed to send people to ahrefs.com. Who is even going to understand that I’m saying ahrefs.com? I worry that people won’t.
And if they do, how are they going to know that they’re coming from me from this podcast and we did such a great commercial for them? I don’t know, but I do trust that if I do a good job, it’ll work out well in the end. So it’s a great company, every . . . I’ve had competitors of theirs come on here and say they kicked their butts because these guys were so focused on traffic. ahrefs.com. I don’t get any credit for it apparently, but I’d love for you guys to go and check them out. $1 a day lets you try them out and if you like it, you can keep using it, and if you don’t like it, let me know. All right. Either way, let me know. And if you got a better story than Krish or me, let me know how you’re using Ahrefs. I’d love to know that too.
All right. Tell me about where this business was. You didn’t get an office space. I got an office space right now. I love working from an office. You guys couldn’t afford it. Where were you working?
Krish: We took over the apartment of one of the founders. He was a bachelor living in an apartment. We just took over that apartment because that is where we were . . . that guy was living for over seven and a half years and we put a screen in between and said, “Okay, that side is your home, this side is our office.” We put four tables and chairs and we brought our own laptops. We bought our own new laptops, and then we just settled in. All we needed was just good internet, which was already there, and we told him, “Okay, we’ll pay the apartment rent, so don’t worry about it. Feel free to sleep here.”
Andrew: But was like a screen or sheet that you literally hung up and said, “You sleep on that side. We’ll keep working over here. You keep . . . “?
Andrew: This is the money that you saved in all those secure safe investments over the years. That’s what you were plowing into this business.
Krish: That is correct. Yeah.
Andrew: They were single . . .
Krish: Ten years of savings.
Andrew: Ten year of savings. They were single, though. You were married. You had a child. How did that play with you and your wife? How did you guys deal with that?
Krish: I still do not know how my wife took the leap of faith and whether she knew what she was getting into when I said, “Okay. We wanted to start a company.” And she was . . . I think she just trusted that, okay, we’ll figure it out and she was okay. But six months, one year into the journey I started realizing that the product was not coming out and it was taking forever. We initially, we said, “Okay. We launch in six months.” Nine months I had lined up a bunch of customers and we still were not ready to take them on and then had to let go off all of them.
And then one year into it, I was like, “Okay, so there is no money inflow but then every month we are spending money.” After six months we also started hiring a few more people because we wanted to speeding up things and we were now paying salaries. Six months later we had moved into an office setup, which was very small, the expenses were very less, but still, you’re draining out money from the bank account. And I was getting scared that at some point, I may have to quit and go back to a job without even seeing the product out there.
And that was a little fearful, but I did not want to do that because that would kind of . . . it will be a huge setback for the group. And they were trusting that I will actually take care of everything else and I was actually . . . They were almost like an investment from their side that I was just learning everything else to figure out how to go to market this. And if I had to go back to a job, then it would set us back. And yeah. So there were some hard calls that I had to make to make sure that I could stick around.
Andrew: And the hard calls were that and meanwhile while you were doing it, what’s the worst that you did? I laughed earlier at the top of the interview about how you would go out and get tea for your team, but you did. They were sitting and coding, you would literally go out and get it.
Krish: No, I would make it. I don’t go out.
Andrew: Make it. Oh right, right.
Krish: And I used to cook as well. I used to cook lunch for everyone because I had nothing else to do. I enjoy cooking from time to time occasionally. So I used to cook as well during the day.
Andrew: And so while you were . . . In addition to doing that, what else were you doing? I know that you were answering questions online for people who had questions about payment processing, but that doesn’t seem like enough to do that and then send people to what? A website where they give their email address and wait a year to get the product?
Krish: I used to talk to a lot of people, that is, who were signed up. I used to write to them immediately and try to get on a call, try and understand their business and write notes about it, and also try and solve their problem without our product.
Andrew: So what’s the solution? How would you solve it before?
Krish: The absence of our product somehow they have to figure out how to get paid, right? So they were having a business and they were on PayPal or Braintree, some of that. So I used to get on Skype calls and tell them how they can do it themselves in the absence of our product to pay.
Andrew: How could they do it themselves? I know that . . .
Krish: They had to write code or . . . What is a better way of doing it? There is a reason why they were in the forum coding about, “Okay, so how do I set this up? So how do I get set up my recurring billing inside PayPal?” because they wanted to know the settings or they wanted to figure out “How do I do this right?” I would just offer them the solution and how they can do it themselves.
Andrew: What did you learn as you were doing this for them?
Krish: I think in our hindsight, I realized that it’s all customer development, right? You really understand more about the problem. And I was not even a payment expert when we started Chargebee, and I became better at it by trying to solve the problem. I had to study all the forums myself, learn more about how PayPal had this thing called reference transactions which will only allow you to do recurring payments. So I had to learn all of that one by one, peel away the layers of the onion and offer a solution. So we built domain expertise by actually doing all of these.
Andrew: I’m looking at reference transactions now. I had no idea. I know that PayPal does offer subscription billing. I’ve used that in the past. But it’s not the most elegant answer, it’s just the fastest and it’s within a minute you can create a button that lets people pay every month the same amount, right?
Krish: Right. What they create is recurring payments, which is you want to get paid $10 every month, you can get paid. But the problem was when subscriptions were taking over, I think there is this brilliant Brian Halligan tweet on this which he has pinned at the top, which is you have to build a 10X product in 2009. And today, it’s all about 10X experiences, right?
And when this wave of way was taking off, I think one thing that was happening was customers wanted more choices, that, “I want to pause next month. I’ll pay you $10, $20, then I’ll pause, and then it will start again. And maybe instead of $10, I want to be able to pay $20.” But PayPal wouldn’t allow you to do it without interrupting and making the customer common authenticate or authorize this payment one more time. It was broken. Right? And you don’t have a mandate with which you can play with this. So all of that created . . . money created friction which in turn affected your recurring revenue and the ability to keep them as a customer and this created churn. So all of them were problems, common problems, I think from 2011, 2000 . . . through several years, and now many of that is distant memory with all the changes in the whole ecosystem.
Andrew: Some they are and some are still an ongoing issue, an ongoing battle.
Krish: That’s how you got your first customers, going into the forums, answering people’s questions, building up your email list. I think the first thing I saw an early version of your site, you had a description of everything that was coming up and you said, “Get on the list so you could be notified whenever we launch.” So that was where you got your first batch of customers. After you launch your alpha, how long did it take you to be profitable with all those subscription, all those people waiting for the site to launch?
Krish: We did not get profitable at all at that point because we are bootstrapped. And part of that mistake we did was we did not charge early enough. Even when we were offering all of this, we somehow had this engineering weird thing wiring in our mind that, “It’s not enough value for the customer. We need to deliver more value before we can charge them.” We used to give the software for free and allow people to continue charging. And they were making money on Chargebee . . .
Andrew: But not you.
Krish: . . . but we were still not charging. It was like one of those stupid decisions that we delayed it so much. But the thing was we had a financial cushion thankfully because of our savings and we just allowed that to happen.
Andrew: When did you finally decide to charge?
Krish: It was more than a year after launch from the alpha was when we started charging our customers.
Andrew: What was it like when you went to them and you ask them for money?
Krish: They were more than happy to pay because nobody was . . .
Andrew: Even existing people who were using it for free said, “Sure”?
Krish: Yes, because they had signed up thinking we were going to pay. It’s just that we never started charging.
Andrew: Okay. Here’s what I see from the early version of the site. Here’s what people could do. Subscription and billing features include: configurable plans, customizable billing periods, that means not just monthly you could even do weekly or every other month, every six months. Trial periods and setup fees. So one price is set up and then an ongoing fee after that. Upgrade and downgrade plans, multiple payment gateways, dunning management. By the way, dunning management is its own freaking business. Dunning management means somebody changes their credit card, they keep using their service, somebody needs to send out an email to say, “Hey, your credit card expired. Hey, your credit card is expired, you’re not paying but you’re still using the service. Hey, it’s time to pay.” Right? And then reports . . .
Krish: Did I not tell you that we built so much bells and whistles before we launched? Exactly, these are the issues that we should not have.
Andrew: It’s shocking. Dunning management is ProfitWell. Powerful report is a . . . What’s that company called? It’ll come to me in a bit.
Krish: Well, that was an exaggeration at that stage.
Andrew: Right, right. All this was what coming soon. At the top of the site, you actually were very like clear, “We don’t have this. Enter your email address. We’ll tell you. We’ll notify you when it’s done.” Right? That’s what you guys were building, though, but that’s a lot to build into that first version. Was it confusing to people when it finally was up or did they understand what to do with it?
Krish: No. People understood what was there. But I think it requires setup, meaning, we used to set it up for them.
Andrew: Wow. Okay. Okay. So we going into then the first batch of customers or I guess we should say users. What did you do after that? How did the next big leap come?
Krish: So once we got some of these early customers, we hired a few logos to put out there as credibility, that there were customers. And I used to watch our Google Analytics almost real time to see, “Okay. So are there enough visitors?” because there is this framework in my mind, which is like, okay, you need to solve the right stage of the problem at the right time, right? If you don’t have enough visitors, trying to optimize the later stage of your funnel doesn’t really help you. You need enough visitors and then enough trials happening and then enough of those trials converting into engaged trials before you can convert them into customers.
And one of the things that was happening was every time people came in as visitors, I used to watch which pages they were going into, which was still homepage, pricing page, features page in that order. And I used to try and tweak all the small things in those pages to get them to sign up and give part of their identity, so they will give an email ID. And in the moment somebody signs up, I used to have this wiring with Zapier to immediately notify me. So it will land in my inbox and then within two minutes I would write back to them saying, “Hey, I’m excited.” I would actually use Clearbit. If you remember Rapportive founders. They built this product like Clearbit that was their first version which got acquired by LinkedIn.
Krish: I forgot the name of the product.
Andrew: No. Wasn’t it Rapportive?
Krish: Well, yeah, Rapportive.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. It was Rapportive and it was in Gmail . . .
Andrew: Yeah, Superhuman . . .
Krish: Yeah, now they are building Superhuman.
Andrew: . . . is their new thing. Yeah, yeah.
Krish: And I used to look at this in Gmail Rapportive thing to research who this person was and I immediately write to them within like two minutes of them signing up, I would actually ask them, “Hey, founder here. I see that you signed up. How can I help you?”
Andrew: And because you had Rapportive you could say, “Founder here. I see that you signed up and you work at whatever company and I really like what you just . . . ”
Krish: And I made some stupid mistakes using that where one person actually threw an expletive at me when he said, “Well, how did you even know it was me. I’m moonlighting and then you’re not supposed to write. Why did you do the research?” And then I realized, no, it was, I just use and then I took a screenshot of this Rapportive and told him, “You signed up with Gmail ID but Rapportive shows you’re a director of products here. And that’s why I said it. So maybe you should . . . ” And Rapportive used to do this across LinkedIn, across accounts, and he did not even know that this was actually there, that he is a founder of this company and he’s also working in another phase. And then it was a very jolly good conversation afterwards.
Andrew: Oh, that’s great.
Krish: He was from Australia and I think he’s still a customer. It’s his third or fourth product that he’s running on top of Chargebee. And he used to try various ideas and each one he would shut down in six months or nine months if it doesn’t take off and build the next one.
Krish: I think he’s almost like a customer for life kind of a journey with us now for him.
Andrew: I see. And so you were just reaching out to them, understanding what they need, and one of the things that I heard you understood was, there were some people who are signing up or expressing interest because they thought their business could use it, but they hadn’t built the business, they hadn’t gotten customers yet. They just wanted to try it kind of like me going to PayPal because it was there and I didn’t have to pay anything and it was free. And you said, “You know what? I’m not going to wait for these guys to be ready.” You want freemium. You said, “I’ll give it to them. If their account processing amounts are so low, I’ll just give it to them for a bit.” Am I right?
Krish: That is correct. Because as a company which was based in Chennai, but we were building for a global audience, and we had to figure out how we can get more people to reference each other and more people using this. And more importantly, how do we get them into setting it up faster? And then we can move on to people who are making money and then qualify and then spend more time with the people who are making money, right? And because ultimately, you need to listen to people who are making money to build the right product so that it’s more valuable for everyone.
So we tried freemium, but the first version of freemium totally backfired when we did that. We tried 10 free invoices, first 10 invoices free every month, right? And there were people who signed up who were all service consulting firms which were people that were in business who are thinking, “Oh, I don’t want to pay $15 to Xero or QuickBooks and I get free invoices here. And they were signing up.
And the requirements were all very strange. They were like, “Okay. Can you templatize this email? Can I get more templates for invoices?” All of those. And then we were like, “That doesn’t seem right.” And three months, six months later, we figured that they were all invoicing under 10 people all the time and they never had aspirations to build like hundreds or thousands of customers and which meant that was orthogonal expectations. And we had to shut that freemium thing down at that point, but I couldn’t let go of the freemium idea. And then we had like two, three iterations of it and then the latest . . .
Andrew: What was the next iteration? I see what it’s like. I see what it is today. Today what you say is, “New business, your first 50,000 in revenue is on us. You don’t have to pay for any of it. You get the integrations, you get the different payment methods, you get the whole thing.” Essentially, I don’t think there’s anything left out of it, but yeah, everything you need to start your subscription business for free first $50,000. What was . . . That makes a ton of sense. What was one of the other iterations that didn’t make this much sense that got you here?
Krish: The first 10 invoices free. Another freemium iteration was $10,000 I think per month free again based on MRR. But what if they always stay under that limit?
Andrew: Yeah, there are a bunch of good businesses that are always under 10. It’s just like your side business. Yeah. Right, right. And person is never converting into . . .
Krish: That idea, right? But I was talking to people who did not become customers. So four years into Chargebee I started traveling to go and meet people in person and I started making these trips to San Francisco, San Jose. I used to live . . . My brother-in-law lived in San Jose and he was working here. He started working here. And I thought, “Okay, I can go crash in his apartment and then I could go and meet people.” And so all I had to spend was the flight tickets.
So I would spend like 30, 40 days here and I started going around meeting some of these prospects. I made a list of these prospects who tried Chargebee six months, one year back but did not become Chargebee customers but they were doing well afterwards. I wrote to them saying, “Hey, can I meet you over a coffee?” And they were happy to meet me. And so I went to their offices or coffee places and then started talking to them. And one thing I tried to understand was, “Why did you sign up for Chargebee at that time?” They said, “It was an idea stage. I did not know whether it was going to take off, but I needed something to start charging customers but I was not ready to pay for $49 for something . . . ”
Krish: “Even $49 for something where it’s not making money.” But in hindsight, they were saying, “Now that the business has taken off, now I should not have built a lot of things I shouldn’t have built. It would have been better for me to build my product rather than trying to build all the internal plumbing. But today if you ask me, I wouldn’t mind paying you $100, $200 or whatever,” was an answer. And I remember this customer, Concord Now, is a Chargebee customer in San Francisco now and . . .
Krish: Concord Now.
Andrew: Oh, Concord Now. Okay.
Krish: And this is a French-American entrepreneur. At that time, he was still back in France building this company called awesomecontracts.com and now this new [inaudible 00:47:23] is Concord Now today. And I remember getting on the conversation where two co-founders were talking to me for a $14 and $79 product. We went so much into detail of demo and they were also worried about paying $79 dollars for this product and so on at that stage, but one year later, and he actually eventually became a customer. I think I may even have given like a three-month or six-month discount for him to get him hooked into using Chargebee.
But one year later when I came and met him, he say, “Krish, you know what? I did not realize why I needed your product, but today if you asked me for $1,000, don’t ask me for $1,000, but I will not hesitate to pay $1,000. You should charge me more.” And this dichotomy between people not wanting to pay when I do not have a single customer, but I’m putting more value when I actually have this as a problem when I realize the problem. You cannot sell insurance to someone who doesn’t feel the pain, but you need to allow them to grow.
And then we tried the iteration saying, “Okay.” Then the moment I went back, the very next day, we launched a typeform on the signup page saying, “The pricing page,” we said, “Okay, $10,000 aggregate revenue for free.” We borrowed this idea from Braintree’s ignite program and said, “Okay. Why don’t we try this with $10,000?” And within three months, we had more than 300 people signing up saying, “Okay, I would like this.” Then I said, “Okay, there is something to this idea. Let’s convert this into a proper program and proper pricing plan,” and immediately made it into a $50,000 freemium plan and that really helped us.
Andrew: That makes so much sense, which kind of brings me to me and my use. Let me talk about my second sponsor and then we’ll come back in. I’m taking much more of our time than we expected. You’re in HubSpot’s office. Are they going to let you use their office for another, say, 15, 20 minutes?
Krish: No worries. [I think they are 00:49:18] generous enough to give me a call.
Andrew: Good. I also I realized I didn’t subscribe to Brian Halligan on Twitter. I want to find out what he’s saying so I subscribed since you brought him up. It’s cool when friends let you use their office like that.
All right. Second sponsor is a company called Toptal. I’m going to actually put them in your head right now and at some point in the future, you might actually need them. I was just talking to the founder of Grasshopper. Grasshopper was this old phone service and what they did was . . . Not old phone or service. They were one of the first SaaS companies. They give you a phone number for your company and when somebody dials, they could get to you if they want to go to sales, they can go to one of your co-founders if they want to go to tech. If they want to do customer service, they could go to someone else. They just punch in number . . . Anyway, that’s what he did.
He built it up to 30 million a year in sales, sold the company for over $100 million, built a bunch of other businesses. I said, “Great, you’re very well known. Why did you use Toptal?” And he said, “I use Toptal because I would occasionally have these specific projects that our team wasn’t able to do that we just need somebody to come in and do those projects or team people to do those projects and then they could go.” And I said, “Why didn’t you go to all these other networks to find them like your personal network, these other websites?” He said, “It takes too long.” I said, “That’s kind of interesting.”
And so he use Toptal several times and I’m going to recommend it to you, Krish, and to everyone else who’s listening to me. If you ever need to hire fast, somebody who’s really one of the best of the best, they exclude so many people who want to be in their network because they want just the top 3%. If you need that and you need it fast, go to toptal.com/mixergy. He was kind of kicking himself for not doing it because when you go to that URL, Krish, you and everyone else are going to get . . . What is it? Eighty hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk-trial period. All you have to do is go to toptal.com/mixergy. That’s toptal.com/mixergy. I was actually going to the site right now to confirm. Is it really 80 hours? Yeah, it is. Eighty hours is a lot of time. Okay.
Andrew: So I feel like we should have used you too. Is it too late? And if I do want to use you, how much of that pain in the butt is it going to be to switch out our direct connection to Stripe? And by the way, the only reason I’m using Stripe is I was interviewing the founder of Stripe, in the interview I said, “I can’t use you because I’m already connected to something else.” We finished the interview, freaking guy email someone on his team and says, “Help Andrew out already.” I said, “This is kind of awkward.” All right, great.
Krish: [inaudible 00:51:38] is amazing. And you’re not going to switch, right? You’re going to stay with Stripe.
Andrew: Yeah, they’re so good.
Krish: And Chargebee enables you to stay with Stripe while you get the best of both worlds. That is what we do.
Andrew: But what happens to all the people who subscribe before who are on previous subscriptions? What . . .
Krish: We take those tokens and map it into Chargebee and make sure that it . . .
Andrew: Okay. So nothing changes.
Krish: Nothing changes. We do the heavy-lifting to map the tokens in Stripe into Chargebee and even the new customers all the tokens will be created inside Stripe. So nothing changes . . .
Andrew: So if I want to leave you, what happens?
Krish: Oh, everything in Chargebee is portable, meaning, all your data is portable, and even Stripe is amazing that way. They also support credit card portability, right? That’s one of the really nice things that they do. They are one of the nicest guys in the industry who allow you to not try to lock you in because of the data like credit cards is your lifeline of your recurring revenue, right? And some payment gateways try to keep you with them . . .
Andrew: What you mean I can take my credit card numbers from my customers to a different processor?
Krish: No, you cannot. But you can transfer the tokens from one processor to another processor directly. You can . . .
Andrew: So I can go to Braintree and then Braintree would be able to charge my customers if I switch from . . . Really?
Krish: Actually, it is possible. It’s an industry-standard practice to do that. It just that some businesses are like crappy that way where they will not allow you to do it, which is actually very nice thing that Braintree did. I don’t know if you remember. In 2010, Braintree created this website called dataportability.org . . .
Andrew: No, I don’t. Okay.
Krish: . . . which was like . . . They tried to create a campaign against old payment gateway saying, “Hey, you’re holding the customer data hostage. Recurring businesses need this, so be data portable.” So the trade of this dataportability.org and the badge that you can put on your website to say, “I support data portability. I will not hold you . . . ”
Andrew: I’m going on this right now. Okay. All right. But I’m imagining that the old guys like . . . I wonder if I could move some people off of authorize.net. That would help me. Is authorize.net part of it?
Krish: They don’t support data portability this way, but if you pay them like $300, they will give you all the data, something like that.
Andrew: Oh, so I could leave them. Oh good. I’d love to leave them. Good riddance.
Krish: So the good part about Chargebee is it doesn’t matter. You can actually keep your customers on any gateway, you can continue doing . . .
Andrew: But you’re saying to me, I start using Chargebee, all my old customers get charged the way it was, you’re not messing around with it. Every new customer goes through Chargebee, which means if I wake up one morning and I have an idea, “We should be offering six months for free. Just offer people a coupon.” I could just implement it by me going, it doesn’t have to be Michael our developer, it could just be me Andrew sitting in your system and changing it.
Krish: You can, yes. Yes, you can. As a business user, you can do it yourself.
Andrew: Okay. And then all the forms that are already on my site, what happens with those?
Krish: I don’t want to all sell it. All the setup and other things you need at least a quasi-developer to be able to do that.
Andrew: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not doing it. I’m asking if I could just to know how simple it is, but . . .
Krish: Yes. You can create your own coupons, you can promote it yourself.
Andrew: Yeah. Okay. But I could come up with this stuff. It’s fairly easy. Somebody would put it together. But I could if I wanted to?
Krish: Yes. Absolutely, yes.
Andrew: And what about all the forms that are already on my site?
Krish: You can . . . We have ways in which it will weave into the same experience. You can either replace him or you can continue using it the same way and we have ways to integrate into it.
Andrew: Wow. All right. This is amazing.
Krish: Just a card information you can replace that.
Andrew: So I could see how great it is and I could see the benefit of you talking to all these people who didn’t continue to work with you. But I have two questions about that. Number one, all these people who said, “I would pay you. Krish, you could pay me $1,000, I would sign up right now.” Who cares? Then why don’t you say to them, “Okay. Sign up right now. You don’t even have to pay $1,000. $300 will get you up and running.” Why was it such an issue for them that you realized, “Okay, I’ve lost them. I don’t want to lose the next people when they’re starting out. I’ll create a freemium”?
Krish: So in the life of a business there are very few times you would actually think about changing your billing system, right?
Krish: At the time you think, “Okay, I need to put a pricing page. What do I want to charge my customer?” is the first, we call it zero moment of truth. When do you realize that you need something to get paid? And those are zero moments of truth in your journey, right? That’s launching of your business. Then it is, “Okay. It’s becoming too painful. I need something to change.” That could be when you’re hitting $1 million or $2 million in revenue, but you are hiring more people you need like broken systems, multiple tools.
And then there’s a third stage where you’re crossing your $20 million, $30 million, you now start dreaming about, “Okay. I think we can build a large business. I need all the tools to be right.” That’s your third stage. And probably the one is pre-IPO. The next one. Maybe three, four times in the life of a business is when you will do it.
And for us, getting very early into the business means zero effort with respect to how we can get into the business. Like, the setup of Chargebee is extremely easy where people launch in a single day, right? And sometimes even if you use our API to integrate and all of that, it takes between three to five days to test and launch completely. And that is possible very early stage of the journey. The further you go, you have all those edge cases coming in and we need somebody on our side to guide them, give them that assurance to make sure nothing will go wrong. Today if you have . . .
Andrew: That’s exactly how I feel. You’re nailing it. Yeah. That I do want to be able to do this. Will it actually be just another one of my crazy ideas or is it going to be something that will actually produce a profit? I would have in the beginning. That makes a lot of sense. That makes a lot of sense.
Krish: It’s like back pain. You don’t want to make it worse. You would rather live through it, but you just want to make sure that you are working only with the right person who knows what they are doing before you will allow them to touch you, right?
Andrew: What? It’s like what?
Krish: It’s like back pain.
Andrew: Oh, back pain. Yes, you’re right.
Krish: You would rather not make it worse, right? Billing is something like that, very sensitive, and you want to work with the right person.
Andrew: Yeah, there’s certain times even in our lives where on a personal level, we make decisions like that. Like if you move, you’re much more likely to consider new stores, new products because you’re starting fresh. Once you get in a groove, you’re just going to go to the same store that’s in your neighborhood which is why when my wife’s mom moved into the neighborhood, she suddenly got all these amazing offers from local stores because they’re trying to build that habit while they could. You guys made this big change to your site, a big upgrade, Project Leap. What was Project Leap and why did it need to have a code name?
Krish: Fantastic. Fantastic question. So Chargebee, we started in 2011. We started building this. And API is something the . . . we built it in a way it was really good and we have continued to upgrade it. We understand developer experience. But one thing that we have not spent enough time is using some of the latest tools that are available in the frontend in terms of the user experience for you as a business user. And today, if you look at the Uber experience or any other SaaS or modern SaaS application, they use some of the latest technologies that allow you to make changes faster. But the way our technology stack was built, we could not deliver those kind of experiences without really upgrading our technology stack on the frontend.
Andrew: I hit mute because I was making some noise here and I was just saying watch out with your mic, it’s brushing up against your shirt.
Andrew: You guys sit . . . I was just sitting here thinking, “I really liked this conversation.” I’m sitting back here on my own listening. You guys listen to podcasts as a company. And as I was sitting back going, “Could I even sit and watch this with a friend even though I like this a lot?” And I don’t think that I could especially if there’s no video, then I said, “What if I gave Krish the video? What if somebody gave me the video of this interview, would I want to watch it?” I don’t think I could watch it with a bunch of people. You guys . . . Why do you guys as a company on Friday at 3:00 p.m. sit and watch podcasts together or listen to podcasts together?
Krish: So just to be clear of the . . . Just to come out clean on the record, it’s not the entire company. It’s a very voluntary thing, but the founders back it, so which means that it put some soft pressure for some people too. So here’s the thing. Pretty much everything that we have learned I think it comes down to curiosity. Many a times we try to define our job function or what we can or cannot do based on our education or what we have done in the first job.
But if you look at pretty much the pattern of how we evolve as a person, it’s mostly taking a leap of faith with whatever job is given to you and if you just take it up, many times your career takes a different turn in learning new things. And very few people read. When I say read, not just physical books, just learn from others experiences by reading a blog or something else. And we try to say that to a lot of people and yet what we realized was still stumbling upon the right content is hard and they don’t know where to look for that. And it needs to become a habit for you to get that right.
And we thought . . . And we use to advocate this and then still realized that a lot of people were not really reading things from outside to learn from others mistakes. And we said, “What is the simple thing that we can do that is effortless for people to learn from others?” And then we figured podcasts were very interesting, so we just started curating podcasts that were interesting to us. We just started playing that in a conference room. We said, “Okay. Feel free to come in if you are interested.” And we would just put it in a workplace and Facebook workplace and then tell everybody, “Okay. This is the podcast we are going to play. Join us at 3:00 p.m.”
It started with four people, five people, and then now there are like 35 or 45 people who cram into a conference room. Almost like a meditative state, people just sit in and then listen. It’s fascinating to watch, almost has become like a movement. And now people started borrowing that idea, stealing that idea to implement that for sales calls. Now they curate sales calls internally and marketing team themselves actually listen to this every Thursday and they started inviting engineers and product people into that.
Krish: That’s like a beautiful way to actually listen to customers’ voice and they look for the . . . They take three, four sales calls, edit them and make sure that the 45 minutes is really productive where this is the portions you should listen to. One person puts in the effort. And then people . . . like 20, 25 people come and listen to that at the same time and then they dissect that. Why is this customer describing this dunning, what we call it a dunning, they call it something else in their world? Why do we then keep saying this inside the product this way?
And it’s a beautiful feedback loop for you to actually do this. So yeah, I think it started off with this fundamental idea that you should learn from outside and I think for over one and a half years now this has been going on where it has become a thing with a team of volunteers are running it and every time we are in Chennai, we try to make sure we show up and be part of that.
Andrew: All right. I get the habit too that once you start introducing them to a good podcast they develop the habit of listening to it on their own and it continues beyond you where they may not do the same thing with like a TV show or YouTube video where . . .
Krish: Or while driving they get hooked to it. Now a lot of people I’ve gotten hooked to Audible and they also listen to podcasts. I love it.
Andrew: What’s a good podcast episode that you guys have curated for your team?
Krish: A lot. The most recent one was the Figma Design CEO’s. I loved it. I think . . .
Andrew: Which one?
Krish: Amanda Kleha.
Andrew: I don’t know her.
Krish: Interview with Harry Stebbings.
Krish: On the SaaStr Podcast, it was a really . . .
Andrew: Oh, yeah.
Krish: She spoke about her experience being very early employee of Zendesk when they were, I think, less than 10, 20 people to 2,000 people and she was part of the journey and eventually became the CEO of Figma Design. She spoke about scaling, the challenges of an employee’s perspective of how you go through all the turbulence and the journey for a high growth or through a high growth organization. And it was fascinating to listen to. I loved it, and then I recommend it to the team and they listened to it.
Andrew: I see it right here. This is SaaStr Podcast 209. Amanda Kleha, Chief Customer Officer at Figma. She discusses how to ensure successful cross-functional communication.
Andrew: By the way, you were talking about taking a sales call, editing it down to a way that it makes it . . . that it’s interesting for people. I just discovered a tool that I’ve freaking been loving. It’s Otter. What you do is you take any audio, you just stick it in their freaking website or in the iPhone app, it transcribes it. It takes about a minute for every minute of audio, you then have the full audio transcribed 95% accuracy which is amazing. That’s all I really need.
And then what you could do is, you could then see the parts that you like and you can go back into your editing program and just edit those. And because every minute is timestamped, you know exactly this is the money shot, just edit that one piece. It is so good. It’s so good especially sometimes people will send me calls that they’ve done with people. I don’t want to listen to the whole call and take an hour. I want to kind of scroll with my eyes and see, “Oh yeah, this is the part where they’re just catching up on their day. This the part where they’re talking. There’s the meaty part.” And then I could double click on the word and it starts to play from that part which is amazing. It’s amazing. Any tools that you’ve been discovering like that? What’s the tool that you love?
Krish: Strings. Strings.ai.
Krish: Yeah. So this works on top of the CRM. You listen to the customer calls and then they curate and tell you how many minutes your salesperson spoke about, which keywords they used. And it also analyzes how many times your competitor names were mentioned and they give you summary of the statements around your competitors when they mentioned it. Was it a question? Was it a statement? And then what was our response? So it tries to aggregate all of this across like one-full month of sales calls and then sends me a summary report each month. It’s beautiful. I love it.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Wow. And it also then helps them too on the call, it looks like, right? So it’s not just that it sends you the summary if I understand it right. Let me see. Dazzle your prospects. Wingman is one of their features. And ensures that sales reps always have the perfect response to your prospects questions.
Andrew: It’s stuff like that. It gives you sales cards. I don’t know what exactly but one of the thing it’s . . .
Krish: It’s like a battle card. It’s like a battle card.
Andrew: Yeah. What is a battle card? They say this a lot on their website, strings.ai for anyone who wants to follow along.
Krish: If a customer asks you, “How are you different from x.y?” And the moment that question is asked, part of you have the key points that you’re supposed to talk about when this competitor is mentioned.
Andrew: And it brings it up automatically?
Andrew: Because it listens in real time and it brings it up? I didn’t know those things were called battle cards. I noticed the best salespeople in the world they already know the top 20 objections. Every customer feels like, “Aha, I got you with my objection.” Now it’s one of the top 20. You didn’t shock me. I just need to refresh my memory and know which one. So you’re saying this just listens into the call and then brings up the battle card in real time?
Krish: Correct. Correct.
Andrew: You freaking blew my mind.
Krish: This is a feature that they offer, but the feature that I love with the summary part that I . . .
Andrew: Right, right. I get that. And by the way, this connects with Zoom and a bunch of other tools. The other one, Otter, also connects with Zoom. I love how many apps now connect with Zoom automatically, so I could have all of my Zoom interviews, all my Zoom conversations automatically transcribed in Otter, and this automatically will connect in. This is freaking brilliant. You blew my mind.
All right, sir. You blew my mind with your company. You blew my mind with how you built it up because, first of all, Chargebee I never heard of and I feel like I’m in this space. I don’t know why I never heard of it. That’s exciting. I like how you built up the company. I like this new software that you introduced me to. Let me close it out with this. We didn’t say that when you were struggling, yes, you had 10 years of savings, but you also at some point were getting down to very little money. You and your wife decided to make a big move on your apartment. What was that?
Krish: So I had bought this apartment and I was still paying the loan on that and that was also another reason why my savings was dwindling faster. I decided to cut the loan out, and also wanted to make sure that the lifestyle for my family did not change. It was one of those recommendations from one of the mentors in the last company that I worked at. He said . . . He was an entrepreneur who was acquired by this large company and he said, “Okay. Whatever you do, make sure that you stick around for 36 months and you will figure it out. You’re smart enough to figure out something. And don’t change the lifestyle of your family because if you do that you will start feeling guilty, you will quit whatever you’re trying to do.”
Krish: “If you’re used to traveling second class or second-tier AC in trains, keep doing that. If you’re used to traveling by car, make sure they will at least travel in train. You can go to bike or bicycle whatever, but don’t change it for your family because you start feeling guilty.”
For me, that stuck with me in my mind and I wanted to make sure that . . . My kid was at time he was one and a half, two years, two and a half years old. He had to start school and I wanted to make sure that I was actually being responsible. And my wife already started working. She was feeling scared and she went back to work for a year in between. And it occurred selling that apartment, I had this conversation to say, “Hey, we can sell this apartment and they’ll give us two years of cushion to not have to change any lifestyle.”
And my rationale was if we were to do an MBA, I will not earn for two years and I would have also spent this much money. Like, I would rather think of this the faster I can be at building the company and if we [inaudible 01:10:43] then we figure out something that’s good. If not, I’ll go back to job and we will earn it back in 10 years, which is okay. And she was like, “Okay, we can do it.” And she didn’t really even go into any of this.
And thankfully for her leap of faith, somewhere she just trusted me that you will figure it out and I just sold this apartment. My father was really annoyed that I was doing all these things like leaving this job. Okay, that was a thing. And I don’t think he ever mentioned this to many people that I had quit my job. I didn’t want to say this. And then sold our apartment as well and he was seriously pissed off that I did this as well.
But I think they all turned around only after they started seeing our names in local papers, newspapers and all of that. I think that is when they turned around to realize that, “Maybe these guys are onto something,” but until the time it was always this thing that, “Okay, I don’t know where the wiring is wrong. You guys left a good paying job and then trying to do something.” Was how it was. Yeah. Anyways, we figured it out later. We bought the apartment back . . .
Andrew: You did. You bought the same apartment back?
Krish: Not the same one.
Andrew: But you bought another apartment back and you guys . . . That’s what I wanted to find out. Did you guys get back to where you were? And you did. Congratulations.
Krish: Thank you.
Andrew: It is so exhilarating to hear your story. For anyone who wants to go check out the website. How do we not know about this? How do people not talk about this? The site is Chargebee and it’s bee like the insect, chargebee.com. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first who I love but I’m worried that I’m not going to get them back as a sponsor, so I’ll be open with you guys. It’s Ahrefs. I don’t think I’m ever going to get them back after they finish this run, but I like them and I’ve heard so many of my guests use them. And the second sponsor, I do hope I will be able to get back, it’s called Toptal. Check them out at toptal.com/mixergy.
And finally, I’ve been enjoying Twitter a lot lately, and so I just subscribed to a couple of people here because we were talking about them. I’m following you on Twitter. You got the best profile photo. Whoever took that you should really . . . It’s a good shot.
Krish: Thank you.
Andrew: It’s a good shot. So if you guys want to follow up and let me know what you thought of this interview, hit me up on Twitter. It’s @andrewwarner and let me know what you thought especially like negative stuff. For some reason I don’t like the positive, everything is good, but I want to be hit with the negative. Thanks so much for doing this, Krish.
Krish: Thank you so much for having me. Thanks.
Andrew: Thanks. Bye, everyone.