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How Our Business Turned a Major Obstacle Into a Huge Opportunity (And How You Can Too)

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We recently announced some big news. Here’s how it came to be.

Every business comes up against obstacles that seem like they threaten your growth.

Deals falling through.

Great employees leaving.

Your product breaking.

A couple of years ago, we ran into an obstacle that challenged us, scared us, and frankly, made us think very hard about how we were going to keep Groove alive.

This week, we made an announcement that, for us, capped off two years of hard work spent turning that obstacle into an opportunity for growth.

The Brief History of Groove Live Chat

When we first launched Groove, we offered two core products: a help desk, and a live chat app.

They were connected in the sense that they were built to be used together, but from an engineering perspective, they were two totally different beasts, each requiring significant time and resources to build and maintain.

It didn’t take long for it to become clear that we couldn’t keep both.

This is the story I shared in 2014 about why we were so hesitant to kill live chat:

“Ugh.”

Looking at the metrics for our Live Chat app, I knew that things didn’t look good.

People weren’t using it.

We had tried a number of tests and campaigns to drive usage of the app, but ultimately, we were fooling ourselves.

Our Live Chat app simply wasn’t that good.

And it was costing us: each week, our developers would spend precious hours fixing bugs and supporting an app that our customers didn’t love.

Live Chat has been a huge part of Groove since we launched; we brag about it on our marketing site, we talk it up to our customers, and we know how valuable chat can be in delivering great support.

But the more we looked at the evidence, the more we realized that we weren’t proud of the Live Chat app.

We were proud of having a Live Chat app.

It’s a key difference, and it kept us from making the decision to kill the app for far too long.

But ultimately, chat usage was low, maintenance costs were high, and the product… well, it sucked. It just wasn’t good enough to compete with the handful of businesses in the market who were focused on nothing but building amazing live chat apps.

We needed at least one of our products to succeed, and chat—by far the weaker product—was pulling our attention away from making our help desk the best it could possibly be.

And so, fearful but determined, we pulled the trigger.

And yes, some customers were very disappointed.

While others were far more supportive of the decision:

We spent the next two years focused on nothing but making our help desk a best-in-class product, and we’re all thrilled—and very proud—of how far we’ve come in that regard.

Still, Our Customers Wanted Live Chat

Our users wanted our help delivering support to their customers.

It would be silly to think that, for many online businesses, live chat is not an important part of that in 2016 (in fact, live chat adoption among consumers has grown faster than any other channel by a wide margin in recent years).

Many of our customers were using third-party chat apps, and we continued to get emails from frustrated users who were tired of having to switch back and forth between two or more products to interact with their customers.

If we wanted to be a trusted partner that was known for helping our customers deliver great support, it was something that we’d need to address.

We discussed our options at length, and whittled them down to four realistic approaches:

1) Build live chat ourselves

The Idea: With our help desk product on more stable footing, we considered building our own live chat tool again, starting (mostly) from scratch.

The Decision: This was a fast “no.” We’re still a small team, we’ve come to (deeply) understand how difficult and time-consuming it is to build a product that you can be proud to sell, and we didn’t have the resources to to fulfill both our existing help desk product roadmap and execute on a completely new chat product that was the best in its class. After all, we’d be competing with experts who have spent many years perfecting their own chat apps.

2) Buy a smaller provider

The Idea: We approached a smaller business that had built an impressive chat tool, but was having trouble with user acquisition and growth. We believed that we had the infrastructure and audience to market the product successfully, and had multiple discussions (that got very close to a formal offer) with the other team about folding them into Groove.

The Decision: Ultimately, we decided against making a formal offer. We would have needed their team (with their product expertise) to come onboard to maintain and grow the chat product. We’re still a small team, so every addition makes a huge impact on the company, and culture fit needs to be evaluated very carefully. When we discussed questions like “would we hire every one of these individuals if they applied to Groove outside of this deal?”, we decided that the answer was probably no. Don’t get me wrong, they were a talented, impressive bunch; but culture fit goes beyond hiring great people. You need to hire great people who share your vision and values, and they had different goals for their product than we would have.

3) Offer light integrations

The Idea: We could use webhooks to build “light” integrations with leading live chat providers. While these wouldn’t offer all-in-one support functionality, these would at least make it easier for our users who used other tools to track their chat records in Groove.

The Decision: This was a reasonably fast fix, and we decided to do it. We built light integrations with Olark and SnapEngage, and this helped quite a few of our customers. Still, it didn’t achieve the extent of the solution we wanted to deliver.

4) Forge a deep partnership

The Idea: We could create a real partnership with a live chat provider, where we would both commit development and marketing resources to building a truly seamless all-in-one experience for our shared customers, both existing and future.

The Decision: While this would take real time and resources, to us, it seemed like a huge opportunity. We would find a company that had already built an amazing product and shared our values and mission, and work closely with them to offer our shared customers the best of both worlds.

While there certainly would be tradeoffs (for example you cede complete control of the final product and experience), there would also be many advantages:

If it isn’t clear by now, this is the option that we ultimately chose to go all in on.

After some casual conversations that started when we interviewed Ben Congleton, their CEO, for this blog, we agreed to terms on a partnership deal with Olark.

The more we talked, the more we realized just how similar our companies were.

We believed in many of the same things: bootstrapping to sustainable growth, growing a remote team that gives employees flexibility and opportunity, and building a brand by being different and creating human connections with our customers long before they became customers.

And so after several months of side-by-side development work, a few days ago we rolled out the new all-in-one experience for Groove and Olark customers that let them manage live chats from within Groove.

The feedback from users has been incredible:

And while we’ll need to wait and see what the numbers look like (and we’ll certainly be writing about that), this looks like it will be a huge business win, too.

What to Look for in Partnership Deals

Whatever you feel that your business lacks in products or services could turn into a huge opportunity for you with a partnership. You’ll be able to deliver more value to your customers, and bring in more leads and revenue for your business.

But simply having complementary products or services isn’t enough.

This partnership took many months of “feeling things out” to make it happen, because we didn’t want to go into it without a deep understand of what we were getting into.

Here are the five “fits” we considered:

If these five conditions are met, then you likely have a very compelling case for a potential partnership on your hands.

How to Apply This to Your Business

Think about where you’re falling short.

Is it a shortcoming that’s worth fixing?

And if so, is it an obstacle that you need to overcome yourself? Or is it an opportunity to bring a partner into the mix and create more value for your customers and your business?

It’s surprising how often I see businesses turn obstacles like this into big growth opportunities, and I hope that this post has given you ideas on how you can do the same.

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From “aha” to “oh shit”, we’re sharing everything on our journey to $10M in annual revenue. We’re learning a lot and so will you.

About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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