Until about six weeks ago, our startup has been in a constant scramble to keep up and get better. Here’s how we changed that…
That email led to the most significant strategic meeting our team has had in the lifetime of Groove.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve spent a lot of time with our heads down, focusing on putting out today’s fires and building whatever is necessary to keep the business running tomorrow.
But we haven’t, as a team, spent a lot of time talking about what happens beyond that.
We haven’t had a serious, organized discussion about 3, 6 and 12-month goals, strategic roadmaps and action plans to achieve those goals.
We’ve simply been too focused on today.
But finally, a few weeks ago, we had that discussion.
For four and a half hours, we brainstormed, challenged each other, and came up with the blueprint for how we’re going to achieve our 12-month goal.
In the interest of transparency, and because I think it can help other companies structure their own thinking about roadmapping, the email that resulted from that discussion is below.
There’s not much focus on specific tactics, to-do’s and processes; those are separate discussions, and we’ve got posts in the works about each of them. I will say this: in the six weeks since we’ve started executing on this plan, we’ve learned and matured significantly as a team, and the way we work now is very different to the way we worked even a couple of months ago.
With that said, below is a behind-the-scenes look at how we think about growth at Groove.
The below is taken from an internal email. It’s not “prettied up” or censored for the blog.
Over the past two years, we’ve gone from having nothing but a bare-bones prototype to becoming one of the fastest-growing startups in the customer support space.
We hit Product/Market Fit.
We have customers that love Groove.
And we’ve built the foundation for a brand that people are starting to notice.
We’ve done a lot of things right, and we’ve learned from that.
We’ve also done a lot of things wrong. And we’ve learned from that, too.
We have a massive opportunity in front of us. In a 2013 report, IDC estimated that there were close to 76 million SMB’s worldwide. Our own research suggests that many of them have not been able to find or afford the right customer support software. And that many of them are using products that they hate.
If we execute on our mission of helping as many of those companies succeed as we can, we’ll all win.
Over the next twelve months, our team’s long-view focus will be on a single goal: to have 5,000 paying customers using Groove.
To do that, our strategy will stand on three pillars:
The Three Pillars of Our Growth Strategy
1) Leadership in the SMB Market
We’ve gotten here by serving small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unlike some of our competitors, we’re not going to move upmarket. Our product, our blog and our other efforts have all helped SMB’s grow, and we’re going to keep doing that. As you’ll see below, we have plans to increase — by a huge margin — the amount of value we’re delivering to our community. Our mission is to become the preeminent resource for small businesses when it comes to support, growth and business strategy.
2) Building the Groove Brand
As we’ve seen many times in the SaaS space, a good product isn’t enough for long-term growth. We need to build a lasting brand that people love to do business with. We’ve begun to do that with the 100K blog, but there’s a lot of work left to be done.
3) Becoming Even More Data-Driven
There’s no doubt that collecting, analyzing and using the right data can help us make smarter business decisions about our time, our budget and our roadmap. We’ve seen it with our own successes. We need to do a better job of this. We need to get to a point where we can treat our efforts — marketing channels, product features, team hours and focus — as levers; when we push or pull one, we know what result to expect. We can’t depend on luck; this will be the only way to make our growth systematic.
What Are Our Biggest Concerns?
As we discuss and execute on our strategy, we can’t risk being blind to the risks and worries we have. It’s the only way to tackle them head on and ensure that they don’t hurt the business.
Building the Right Team
Are we doing everything that we can to put together the right mix of talent to take Groove to the next level? How can we hire the right employees as we grow?
It’s not enough to be good marketers, developers, designers or support agents. We all need to think like startup CEO’s; the goals in this email — our business vision — needs to drive every work decision that any one of us makes. We’re all responsible for lighting the fires under our own asses.
Doing More Faster
To meet our goals, we need to be moving faster than we are. In order to do that, we’ll need to set more regular milestones and timelines to constantly be pushing forward and not get stuck working on any one thing. Moving forward, we’ll work together to set quarterly and monthly goals to keep us focused on the right tasks to progress toward our 12-month goal.
[Alex note: since we wrote this, we’ve developed an entirely new system of benchmarking and goal-setting (based on a system used at many successful companies) that has made a huge impact on our productivity and workflow. Excited to share more on this soon.]
Bugs and Infrastructure Debt
A good portion of our development week is spent squashing bugs. If we’re going to accept that this is going to be the case, I think we should realistically look at our resources and figure out how we can account for these resources being used.
In addition to bugs, we can’t seem to get over our infrastructure debt. With bugs and infrastructure stories like parsing etc. we can’t ever seem to get over the Next Up bucket in PT. This is unacceptable and we’ll never be able to grow if this continues.
[Alex note: since we wrote this, we’ve covered one of our solutions to this issue in this post about our bug report workflow.]
We’ve been consistently off on our estimates of how long things will take. Most notably, Trends, Settings, Parsing etc. have all taken 3x longer than expected. In order for us to more accurately plan for future growth initiatives, we must get better at estimating releases. On that note, when we release features we need to make sure we’re not cleaning up that feature for days/weeks to follow.
[Alex note: the systems in the post I linked above have also helped us get better at estimating and planning.]
How We Plan to Accomplish Our Goals
Doubling Down on Blogging
To date, our content efforts have driven more users than any other channel. We’re going to grow this through:
- Keyword research to better validate blog topics (especially for the new support blog)
- Launching a new, improved support blog in the next month
- Closely tracking blog metrics and movement of blog visitors through our funnels
- Publishing more guest blog posts on high-profile outside blogs
[Alex note: we’ve got two very exciting guest blog posts planned on sites that everyone reading this blog will recognize. The first drops on June 24th.]
Community Building & Online Engagement
While the community on our blog is incredibly active and engaged, we’re going to be doing more to build the Groove brand outside of our own web properties:
- Developing a data-driven social media strategy (which platforms are best for us?)
- Sourcing case studies from Groove customers to be published around the web
- Creating a community for entrepreneurs (and Groove customers)
- Building the relationships we need to get more high-profile customers using Groove
[Alex note: for the first time, we’ve developed a game plan around social. Follow us on Twitter for more in the next few days.]
Through the blog, we’re already ranking for a number of competitive startup-focused keywords on Google. We’re going to be taking a more strategic approach to organic SEO by:
- Developing personas for customers who are closer to being ready to get value from Groove than the traffic we’re currently getting
- Doing keyword research to find out what those customers are searching for
- Building blog/webinar content and targeted landing pages specifically for those interests
[Alex note: to date, we’ve largely ignored SEO. While it’ll never change the way we write, it will help us figure out the best ways to add value in ways that more people are looking for.]
We’ve talked about this quite a bit, and it’s going to be a big focus for us moving forward. We need to build a more structured referral engine, whether we build it ourselves or use a turnkey solution.
[Alex note: we’ve written quite a bit about this in the last few weeks.]
Expanding Integration Partnerships
Our HipChat integration has been a big boost to Groove, both to our customer base and our brand. We should continue to build an ecosystem for companies to integrate with Groove, and to do that, we’ll need to launch a lot more integrations.
Part of that is on the development side. Part of it means building deep relationships with potential partners to help us spread the word when we launch the integrations.
We’ve done a lot of great work to take the product from where it was two years ago to today. And I’m really proud of our team for that.
We all know that there’s a lot of work left to do to make Groove’s software the no-brainer best option for SMB’s.
To do that, we’ll:
- Invest resources into strengthening the core infrastructure of Groove to minimize bugs, performance lags and regression issues.
- Rewrite the Knowledge Base app so that it becomes good enough to be a standalone
- Fix Live Chat bugs to make the experience better
- Make the transition from other helpdesks to Groove more seamless
- Put more “polish” on the app to make it more fun to use (a la Slack, MailChimp, etc…)
As a team, we also need to do a better job setting realistic expectations for development timelines. This will help us set better goals and have more wins, rather than spend our time playing catch-up.
[Alex note: we’ve got a lot to do here, and will keep our development team incredibly busy. More on our plans for this coming soon.]
Driving Paid Traffic
While it won’t be our primary strategy, we’ll test driving paid traffic to support our other efforts, including:
- Pay Per Click on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Outbrain
- Native Ads elsewhere
[Alex note: we’ve tested some paid traffic in the past, but weren’t impressed with the results. We’ll revisit this more strategically and see how it goes, though I doubt it’ll ever become a cornerstone of our business; organic traffic has been exponentially more valuable to us.]
Improving the Marketing Site
Our marketing site converts, but it can convert much, much better. Over the next twelve months, we’re going to be:
- Testing all major elements of the page
- Testing more video content
- Building case study videos
- Creating more targeted landing pages that are vertical-specific, content-specific and partner-specific
- Improving our feature tour
- Doing SEO keyword research to optimize our copy
[Alex note: Our redesign made a big difference, but there’s much more to do. Expect to read a lot about this on the blog.]
Better Lead Nurturing
With more than 10,000 blog subscribers, among thousands of other email addresses, we have a lot of qualified leads, and we haven’t been doing a whole lot to nurture them. To change that, we’ll be:
- Implementing drip campaigns for new subscribers that drive them toward signup
- Creating more “middle-of-the-funnel” content for qualified leads
[Alex note: we’re not going to start selling here, or to our blog list. But we will be exploring ways to ensure that when people are ready, they know exactly where and how they can sign up for Groove.]
It sounds cliche, but this is an exciting time at Groove.
We’ve turned down multiple acquisition offers.
Our valuation has continued to rise dramatically.
We truly are on the verge of “breaking out” as a major player in the SaaS support space, and we’re all poised to benefit from that.
What we need to do to accomplish it is keep our eyes focused on the next big goal: 5,000 paid companies.
In the coming days, we’ll work together to set monthly and quarterly milestones that we can work towards to ensure our success.
We’ll start executing on these strategies.
We’ll track and test everything.
And together, we’ll win.
What Happens Next?
Clearly, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
We’ve gotten started on breaking much of this strategy into individual and team action items, and building more granular tactical plans for executing, tracking and testing every element of our strategy.
Things are going well, and the team is excited to have a single, focused vision to drive toward, rather than what felt like an infinite scramble.
I can’t wait to see what this effort brings.
In the meantime, my goal in sharing this was to get you thinking about your own business goals, and how you can accomplish them strategically and systematically.
Of course, feel free to copy any of the content above for your own plan. I hope it’s as useful for you as it has been for us.