06: Competitors

Competitors are part of business. In this episode Darren and Aaron talk about their competitors, how closely they follow what they are up to and what the look at. Competition in SaaS is fierce so you can't ignore it, but you can't obsess over your competitors either.

Helpful links from the episode:



FULL SHOW NOTES:

[music]

00:10 Aaron: Episode six. Competitors, obsessed or don't care?

00:16 Speaker 2: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. Sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrapped SaaS company. Hear the experiences, challenges, wins and losses shared in each episode from Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. Let's go.

[music]

00:45 Aaron: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. I'm Aaron.

00:48 Darren: I'm Darren.

00:49 Aaron: And today, we are going to dive into the topic of competitors. But before we get into the main course of this episode, Darren, I'm excited to hear about all the prep you had to go into the Brighton conference and your travels over to England. I'd love to hear how both the conference went for you and did you get a chance to do some touristy and fun things? How did all that go? 

01:16 S2: Yeah. Totally, yeah. So, it a was pretty great trip. It was grueling trying to get ready for it, actually, because prior to giving my presentation, the day before, I was giving a full day of local search training which I had never done before, just everything up to... You could imagine with local search, so covering the full gamut and...

01:39 Aaron: Did they get a certificate that says "Darren Certified," when they were done? 

01:44 Darren: No, no.

[laughter]

01:46 Darren: I should have that though. I should have a nice stamp to give everybody. Yeah. But it was seven hours of training, so my slide deck ended up been 530 slides of just trying to get everything I could think of. It's basically, "Darren does local search brain in one massive presentation." It was crazy. Also, my flights got messed up. So, I was supposed to fly in the morning on Tuesday and then, I basically fly all day and arrive on Wednesday at 10:00 AM. But then, they bumped my flight from Edmonton to Toronto to leave at midnight. So, I left at midnight, Edmonton time, arrived in Toronto at 6:00 AM, and then, I ended up getting a hotel, so I stayed in Toronto in the hotel so I could get some sleep from 6:00 AM until about 1:00 PM. And then, I was just working in the airport waiting for my flight to leave at around 10:00 PM. While I'm working at this local pub, this pub in the airport, I dumped a beer on my laptop.

02:44 Aaron: No.

02:45 Darren: I totally fried my laptop and I was like, "Oh my God, I'm getting on my flight in two hours and I still have so many slides to make." So, I raced to the little electronic store, I buy a new laptop, I'm trying to get everything loaded on to the laptop before my flight takes off. They're calling my name and I'm watching the ton download of PowerPoint probably has to get a load on my laptop. They're like, "Last call for Darren Shaw to board flight to London." And it's like, I got 1% left and I'm holding the laptop, ready to close it, and ready to run into the gate. It was insane. So I finally got on my plane, worked a little bit on the plane, slept a little bit on the plane. It all worked out in the end, but man, it was stressful.

03:28 Aaron: Oh my gosh, that sounds one of my worst nightmares like, "Holy cow."

03:33 Darren: Yeah, it was really bad. But yeah, the presentation was great. I thought it was fun, and it's a cool case study I'm doing. I'm just taking a business that had zero local search presence and then, slowly stepping through each sort of thing that you would do in a local search, and measuring the impact of that like, "Okay, they got five new reviews. What impact did that have on local search?" We did other citation building, then we did a whole bunch of citation indexing. So, each step, I was like, "What impact did that have on the rankings?" And so, it was cool to do the study and I'm gonna continue that study as I go to MozCon in July.

04:09 Aaron: Yeah, I'm super excited to hear about that. That sounds like such a great piece of research and everything you put into it. And also, if you and I, when we hang out next, if we're gonna have beers, I'm keeping my computer away from you.

04:23 Darren: Seriously, keep it in your backpack. Do not get that anywhere near the table.

04:28 Aaron: Oh, man.

04:29 Darren: Yeah. I did a little touristy stuff, too. In Brighton, they have this i360 thing which goes... It looks like a UFO that goes up on a big stick, "Bzzzzz". Goes like way up high so you can see all the way out to the ocean, all of Brighton, which is kind of touristy and interesting. It was alright. And then, I went to visit a friend. I went up to London, ate some great meals. Yeah, Brighton's a beautiful spot, and London, of course, is awesome. I did a couple of days there. After that grueling work, I just wished I had gone home instead of taking a couple of days in London, actually. I felt like I'd rather be with my family than trudging around London by myself.

05:11 Aaron: Yeah, I can see that but I almost always get like this. I don't know if it's like a high or just relief after when you have something that big and then, it's off your plate. It is such a... There's a lot of decompressing that you have to do. That was something for a long time that I think even my wife struggled with when I would come home from certain conferences or events where you had big talks and things like that, where I was like, I just need to check out for a few days and I feel really great about it but I have no... I don't have any purpose to accomplish big things right now, professionally or personally, so I'm just gonna be happy, have a beer, and walk around without a care in the world for a couple of days because I just had way too many.

05:58 Darren: I totally get that. I feel the exact same. I love it when I go to a conference, say, something like MozCon, and I speak on the first day, because then, I got the next two days to just like, "Yey, I'm having the best time hanging out with all my industry friends and having some drinks and learning some new topics." And I'm just like, "I'm not checking my email for two days." Yeah.

06:16 Aaron: That's awesome. Well, good. I'm glad it went well even though you threw the biggest curve ball at yourself ever, but way to overcome.

06:25 Darren: Yeah, sucked. What's up with you? 

06:28 Aaron: Well, on company-wise, I'm really excited. We just hired a new VP of Customer Success.

06:35 Darren: Awesome.

06:36 Aaron: Yeah. It's someone that I've known for a long time, has a great background and really, we already have a great customer success team. We have three direct reps, and we have had one that served as a lead. But I was directly managing or overseeing our lead customer success rep, and in the 100 ways I'm at, like I'm not giving him enough support. I'm not giving enough guidance to the team. And it just really became aware to me that, even though this wasn't like our number one need, that I knew the right person for this job, and that would be a great fit culturally for us and within our mission and a bunch of other things, and it would really help this team have more experience to draw from and more time with somebody to help both what we do and them individually grow.

07:27 Aaron: I'm really excited about that. One of the things... We already have for, especially our multi-location clients, five locations to into the thousands, we have a really great onboarding process that we've developed and put together and communicate and everything else, but we almost like, Launch is like the finish line. And once they're up and running, then we kinda turn reactive again, and then we're like, "Okay, if you need something, let us know," where we should be...

07:54 Darren: Not checking in on them. Yeah.

07:55 Aaron: Yeah, we should be hands-on. What's their week one look like, what's month one, what's the first 90 days? How are we ensuring they're getting off to the right start, to really be successful? That's kind of one of our main high-level goals to get going, and I'm excited with how this hire is gonna plug in and help make that happen for us.

08:13 Darren: How big is your customer support team? 

08:16 Aaron: So total of four now with this hire. So we have three direct reps that those guys are handling everything from email tickets, phone calls. We do a live chat during normal business hours, on-boarding, all of those different things. We have four in total dedicated to that now.

08:36 Darren: Right. And so, this made me think about one thing you could do is measuring engagement and then if you see a client fall off of engagement, they're not logging in, they're not sending out requests, then you could algorithmically send an alert to your customer service team and say, "Hey, you should check in with this customer."

08:55 Aaron: Totally... Maybe that's another podcast. We talk about that, but we're definitely looking at a combination. We're just starting to do a deeper install with the product called Heap Analytics. We're gonna do a lot more event tracking in the app and things like that. So yeah, definitely a combination of we wanna be proactive and digging into accounts and looking for things. We wanna develop some systems that are kinda giving us those warning signs or being able to really high level kind of spot check where they're at.

09:25 Darren: Yeah, totally. And I say that as just suggestion for you, but it's like, "Damn, we should do that too."

09:30 Aaron: No, totally. And it's a great thing to talk about. And as we get further down, I'd love to talk about where we're getting with it, but it really is like, How do you have this prescriptive path that you know that they need to achieve and we know certain things based on how often they're logging in, often they're engaging with the feature, and then some of the metrics that are coming out. Those are key performance indicators that we really need to ratchet down on.

09:58 Darren: For sure. What else is going on? Anything new? 

10:01 Aaron: Excited that we landed our first customer from... If you remember back a couple of months ago, we did that IFA conference.

10:07 Darren: Yeah, we talked all about ROI on that. So you got a good customer? 

10:11 Aaron: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We got a good customer that basically, zeroed out our investment, right? We'll make money back on this customer in under a year from our investment on that. We signed them to a two-year deal. And then I still have a number of other conversations in addition to the exposure we got and everything else. I feel really, really good about that. Yeah, that's all I wanted out of our... Again, our first time. You have to understand these things that you're not gonna go in and shock and awe people first time in a giant conference like that, so it's like, "Can you just get a little traction? A lot of visibility, a lot of conversations." We're already signed up for the next one, next year, so excited about that.

10:50 Darren: Yeah, and I think it's a good point. You definitely zeroed out. So you know you've got that exact measurable impact from the conference, but you did better than zeroing out because there was all that exposure of people that are coming to you because they saw you at the conference and you have no idea that you have a new customer, you didn't know that it was because of IFA.

11:09 Aaron: Yeah.

11:10 Darren: So you're definitely getting more than just this one big client, for sure.

11:13 Aaron: Yeah, absolutely, but it's great to be able to go to the team just because some of my partners weren't always on board with doing these types of events and conferences and be able to say like, "Hey yeah, dollar-to-dollar. We got our money back and now here's all these other intangibles that continue to pay off, right? It's like anything in marketing. You have to look at it as an investment and some investments, they are short-term payoffs and some are more mid and long-term and you need to keep going back on it to get where you need to go.

11:42 Darren: Yeah, and then you also get the lifetime value of that customer so it's more than just whatever the contract is that you sign, it's into the future. And then, a new customer and all the referrals that can potentially come from that customer.

11:54 Aaron: Yeah, you just hope it's... You planted a seed with it and then it starts to grow and branch out and everything else, and you reap all those rewards.

12:03 Darren: Totally, great. And I saw you guys were sponsoring MozCon.

12:04 Aaron: Yeah.

12:05 Darren: And I got to see all the tweets. Everyone's excited about giving away tickets.

12:08 Aaron: Yeah, yeah, giving away a ticket, which is awesome, 'cause a MozCon ticket is expensive, like face value.

12:15 Darren: And it's a great conference.

12:17 Aaron: Yeah. Of like 1700 bucks and great speakers like yourself and Will Reynolds and Cindy Krum and things like that, where it really is awesome. And interesting enough, I saw in one of those side benefits, right? I was just on site a couple of days ago with a new customer that we're onboarding and kicking off with, that has hundreds of locations. And our main contact there was like... She's like, "Hey, can I ask you a question? I'm like, Yeah, totally she's like... Well, I was just looking into 'cause I need to get out to some conferences, and whatever. And lo and behold, I came across MozCon kinda looks great. And then I saw you guys are sponsor. So I thought you'd be able to give me really good insight on the... Is this a good conference and should I go to it? 

12:58 Aaron: And to me, it was like one of those, it reinforced in other reasons why to sponsor conferences and things like that, 'cause even your customer see like, "Oh these guys are active in the space and they're part of these things and whatever else. So, that was kind of a cool full-circle moment there.

13:10 Darren: There is no conference I've ever been to, I've never seen a better opportunity for vendors than the MozCon setup because at MozCon, they only take on eight to 10 exhibitors really, and they have these nice little, they call them partner hubs, and they're right as you walk into the conference. It's not like in a separate room like an exhibit hall that you have to go to. They're right there so your visibility is amazing and when people come out from the conference sessions to go and get a coffee or a snack, or they go off for lunch, they have to walk right past you. And so, all these people are mingling about and the snacks are right next to where all the vendors are. It's amazing. It's the best visibility I've ever seen at a conference. It's a good one.

13:52 Aaron: Nice. I hope we can capitalize on that. Maybe we can even book like, Darren Shaw's in our booth for an hour and you can get photos and autographs.

14:01 Darren: [chuckle] It's not just me, there's some great local people coming so Joy is gonna be there too, and Greg Gifford got a community spot. Oh, maybe I'm supposed to keep that on the down low. Well, it's out there now. [chuckle] It's definitely out there now.

14:14 Aaron: Well, we'll have a handful of our team. Mike Blumenthal will be there as well, so we'll have a good crew.

14:21 Darren: Yeah, it's gonna be great. It's gonna be fun. Can't wait.

14:23 Aaron: I think maybe we do a thing where, for an hour, you will dump beers on people's laptops.

[chuckle]

14:29 Darren: You would get so many people lined up for that. Yeah. [laughter]

14:33 Aaron: Oh, see I love these ideas. And other than that, man, I just... I know you know what this is like, too, but I've been on a plane every week the last five weeks. Monday, I leave for a local U in Austin. I go directly from there to North Carolina to one of our new clients and their internal conference for franchisees, so it's just been really hard to get time at my desk and to keep the other things moving forward when you don't have that focus time gap.

15:02 Darren: And that's where this new hire comes in, right. Someone that can just... "Okay, you manage the customer support initiatives that we wanna run with? Like all this stuff that I don't have time to stay on top of."

15:12 Aaron: Yeah, totally. Anyway, that's a normal struggle. You know what that's like, but man, it's crazy sometimes when it is. I'm going on week five of a trip, of multiple days every single week, and it's like I need a week just no calls, no emails, get caught up, get directions set on some things.

15:32 Darren: I do not envy that. I know that feeling of just feeling like you're getting further and further behind with all the traveling and speaking, and all that kind of stuff. It takes a lot of time and I am really looking forward to this next stretch I have where I don't have anything until Moz... Oh, have a little one, a local U, in June and then MozCon so... But yeah, I'm basically free and clear for a while and I love it and I'm not gonna book anything. I've got so many initiatives that we have on the go here, I'm really excited about, and I'm so happy to be involved with.

16:03 Aaron: No, that feels so good.

16:05 Darren: One other new item for me, actually, is we launched a new service so I'm excited about that. It's called the local search service and we basically... You can kind of think of it like a Google My Business management service. We really tried to build a great productized service that we can scale, and I'm really excited about it and getting a lot of interest from it and I think there's great potential. We have so many customers that come to us that are like, "Okay, I don't even know what a citation is. What am I supposed to do? Can you help me?" And we're like, "Yes." Now, we can say, "Yes, we can help you. Sign up for this. We will basically manage all of the local pieces of search for you and so we can now meet the needs of all those clients, so I'm excited about that.

16:47 Aaron: Yeah, you should be. That's really cool. And once again, it's usually when we talk, that totally sounds like an episode I'd love to do a deep dive on because I have some ideas around some productized services that we can bolt on top of what we're doing, especially with some of the features we have coming out in the next three to six months. So, that's really interesting. And yeah, let's put that on or our dock of notes on something 'cause I'd love to hear how all that unfolds for you more and what you understand as this rolls out and the success...

17:17 Darren: For sure, yeah. There will be lots to talk about. Yeah, I'll be interested to hear more about your productized services. But now, let's get into the meat of it. We're gonna talk about competitors, right? 

17:24 Aaron: Good old competitors.

[chuckle]

17:26 Darren: Yeah.

17:27 Aaron: It's like an opinion, everybody has one, right? 

17:30 Darren: Yeah, totally. Totally. You have lots, actually. Your space is pretty saturated and I suppose I have even more because we do everything so, yeah. How do you deal with your competitors? Are you like... Do you have alerts set up? Do you have a team member that's, it's their job to watch what the competitor is doing all the time? How do you deal with it? 

17:51 Aaron: Yeah. I definitely fall into the camp where I pay attention and I think about them. I'm not as far... I know people who obsess about it and things like that. I think that's really unhealthy 'cause it derails the direction you're going.

18:07 Darren: Yep.

18:07 Aaron: But, especially when you're young, when you're a start-up and... Alright, I've been with GatherUp for just a couple of months shy of four years now, but in the earlier stages when I was there, especially when you haven't carved out where you are and you're not as secure in where you are, or confident, then you pay a lot of attention to it, right? And I think that can be a really hard evolution in just figuring out what the right balance is for you because it's smart to pay attention to them and understand what they're doing but when you obsess, then you start going backwards and the other way with it and that becomes really, really dangerous.

18:47 Darren: How do you deal with feature parity? So one of your customers will be like, "Hey we used to be with this... We're currently with this competitor. We're thinking about switching to you. Do you also do this thing that my competitor does? Like is that something that you're like, "Ooh, we should really get that on a roadmap," or you're like, "No, we have our roadmap. We're staying the course. We don't care if this other competitor has this feature that this one customer wants."

19:13 Aaron: It depends so much. I think if you go back to my first statement, I'm like knowing who you are and where you're going. A lot of times we're really easily able to say, "Does that feature even fit in with our vision and our direction or doesn't it?" And there are certain features, though, that you consider these are standard things that are needed in what we're doing, and that becomes the really tricky part in kind of parsing that out sometimes.

19:41 Darren: Yeah.

19:41 Aaron: We have certain competitors that I call  "everything-and-the-kitchen-sink" competitor where no matter who builds what in the space, they have enough of an engineering team where they will basically copycat everyone's feature. And they really don't ever innovate anything or bring out something that's really strategic. They're just gonna say, "Hey, we have 250 features. We're never gonna lose a deal on a feature," and as a bootstrap company, we can't afford to do that. We have to align very tightly with our strategy and our vision with it. So that's the big thing that we always use is like, "Does this align with what those are?" And then we have to give the consideration like, "Is this an expected across the board?" So an easy example in our space would be like if we didn't have review monitoring, right, people would be like, "That's great that you helped me get more reviews and all these other things, but you're not letting me know when new reviews happen when I get them and giving me a notification about it."

20:40 Aaron: That would be an issue no matter how our focus of like, "Well, we wanna help you connect with your customer and that's a reactive thing, and we only wanna do proactive things." So, definitely pieces like that. How do you look at it just as you talked about... You have this feature set that's so broad that you then hit all kinds of people that just focus on one of your features, but that's all they do is that one? What does that look like for you and your competitive landscape? 

21:09 Darren: Yeah. So for us, I feel frustrated about competitors often because it's like I have this broad vision about what we wanna do. But we're kinda small, actually. Our company is not huge, and then competitors seem to always be a step ahead of us. We're like, "Damn it, we were gonna launch that." And then they put it out like a month before us. Things like that often come up that are frustrating. So there is, obviously, in my space, one major competitor which is BrightLocal, and it was funny because at Brighton SEO, that training I did, there were ten attendees for my full training session, and five of them were employees with BrightLocal 'cause apparently they're based out of Brighton. And so, I basically was training Myles and [21:56] ____ how to do local search, which was good times. [chuckle] And...

22:00 Aaron: That's so crazy... Like did part of you just kind of feel like... Asking them to walk out of the room like, "This is not for you." [chuckle]

22:07 Darren: Well no, 'cause it wasn't really like... We weren't really talking about our software and our services. We were just talking about local search in general, so it was totally fine. And I did my best to try and train them up as well as I could. And then the next day I actually went for lunch with my top competitor, Miles Anderson, from BrightLocal. And yeah, we had a great, great lunch, we chatted about things. I feel like we were both pretty open and it was interesting to hear about their business and what they're working on and tell him a little bit about what we're up to. And it's funny because you have some competitors that totally seem like assholes and you're like, "I would never go for lunch with that guy, [chuckle] but then I have BrightLocal and Whitespark, we're friendly competitors.

22:51 Darren: I feel the same way about Moz, Moz has their Moz local product, but I love them all over there. It's a great group and so I don't really... I don't worry about the competitors, and I don't, I don't hate my competitors, but sometimes I'm frustrated about their ability to release faster than us. But other times, I just don't obsess about it either because, like you said, we have our road map, we have our style, people choose us because of who we are and what we do and how we do things because they just... It feels like more of a fit for them than this other product. And so, we just have to be clear on who we are and what we're doing, and I think that there's room in the industry for lots of competitors. If you think about how many email marketing systems are there? You got Mail Chimp, you got... I'm drawing a blank [chuckle], what are some of the other ones? Campaign Monitor.

23:47 Aaron: Campaign Monitor, AWeber, Constant Contact. [chuckle]

23:48 Darren: There's probably 30 of them and they are all making money. So it's like, to some degree, spaces will eventually merge to like a top winner but... And I would love for that to be Whitespark in my space. And you would love for that to be GatherUp in your space. But I don't worry too much about the competition. I'm not worried about my business... My business continues to grow, your business continues to grow and so.

24:16 Aaron: And you have to look at it that way. If you're in a space you can see there's enough business for all kinds of people. And there's just so many different... It becomes interesting to me, based on who we're selling into, we might have a different set of two or three competitors. And that always becomes really interesting as you get into those. And I can kind of, like, for the three main segments we work in, there's kinda two competitors in each of those segments, that that's who we bump into in a comparison process, more often than not with it.

24:51 Darren: I was just gonna say, speaking of comparison like, how do you handle all those questions where people are like, "Well what makes you better than competitor X?"

25:01 Aaron: Yeah. I think, going back to the other things I hit upon, the thing that we always look at is, strategically, right, we really rely on like, "Hey, you have some of the people who have cared a long time about local search, people who care about business and reputation and communication. We understand all those angles, and we're not giving you... We're not the Walmart of SaaS products, where every feature's on the shelf and you grab what you want. We are this honed experience, that if you come in, we have the right things that you need, and we also can help you with the right ways to use them.

25:34 Aaron: And I think that's really important coming from that angle, we point that out all the time as a difference, and we also use the fact that like, "Hey, we are hard-core focused on helping connect you to your customers." So at the end of the day, we're not gonna be creating a bunch of other things around local listings or some of these other things. And I get customers want... When they find like, "Alright, I can get one bill and one provider and there's some overlap." I get all of those are wins, but we really look at it as like we wanna be the best option with what we're trying to do, more so than, we have more things to sell you and, all across the board, we can make it so you don't have to need three people, you just need one. But we have our own ways that we make that happen.

26:22 Darren: Yeah, that's interesting, our approach is a little bit different. We are kitchen sink for sure, and we continue to expand, and add new things like, "Oh, customers need this, we're gonna build it." So, I don't know, I feel like we're kinda stuck there now because we already offer so many different products and services around the whole range of local search that we can never get out of that, but I do think your approach is really smart, from a competitor perspective. And I think there's a service behind it too. It's like, "Hey, we are subject matter experts on customer experience, customer feedback, reviews, you come to us and we're not just like a software you're gonna sign up for, we're gonna actually help you get the best results that you can from that review process, and feedback process." So, I think it's smart to... The way you have honed in on that.

27:10 Aaron: Well, hopefully, 'cause... But it's also you have to make the most of what you have to offer too. I don't have 100 engineers building every last feature, so I can't be in that arms race, I'm not gonna win that. So, we have to build really great, well-thought-out strategical features that align with things we understand. SEO, and local SEO, and communications between business and customer, and really dial those in so that we can show them like, "Hey, here's a really great repeatable process that your business can prosper with." Rather than, "Hey, spread yourself super thin trying to do all these things." 

And more and more, I'm hearing customers come back to that just because I think there is such an explosion in the ebbs and flows of software, and SaaS and that explosion where there is that feeling of adding more features, adding more features, adding more features. And I've actually had some clients say, "What I like about you is you are laser focused on this, and that other stuff is just kind of fluff to me, or thrown in or whatever else. And we don't need it, we're likely not gonna use it, we need to put our focus here."

28:19 Darren: Yeah, and you also end up with feature bloat, where someone logs in to the system and they're like, "Wow, this is insane. I don't know how to do anything. Do you have a two-day training course for me to figure out how your software works?" And so staying focused and not building every damn feature can really help to make your customer experience of using the software better too.

28:40 Aaron: Yeah, you always wanna find it. And this is something we are constantly battling 'cause sometimes I think we're getting that, as we offer so many customizations and configurations, or whatever else where, to me, it's always figuring out this top-down approach of how can I do the easiest things up front and right away, and then I have easy pass to go into second, third, fourth level advanced type settings, and I can dig deeper if I want to, but I don't have all that depth thrown in my face right away, and that's something I'm...

29:08 Darren: Yep.

29:09 Aaron: Really trying to philosophically work into our user experience. Let's not expose everything right up front, I get that makes sense when we're creating it 'cause we understand everything. But when the first time user comes in, that's the last thing you want them to be, it's like, "Where do I even start?" You don't want that.

29:25 Darren: Yeah, totally. You got a dropdown with 30 different options and it's too much.

29:30 Aaron: I'm interested, Darren in yours, how often do you see customers switching from one provider or another, and how hard is that switch for someone to pick up and leave BrightLocal, and come to Whitespark or something like that? 

29:43 Darren: Yeah, interestingly it depends on what they want. So, BrightLocal has a couple of things that we don't have and so, but there are a lot of people that have a Brightlocal account, and they're paying for all this extra stuff that they don't actually use. And so we did recently make it pretty easy to switch to us. We've added some features that make it easy to switch, and we will support people that wanna switch too. So, if they wanna switch, we're gonna do all the work to try and make it as easy as possible for them. And that's been pretty successful for us, and we find that our customers that do switch are like, "Wow, this is a whole new world, we really love it." And that gives us some confidence in what we're doing. But we also see people go the other way too. When people cancel, one of the options they can choose is moving to a competitor. And then, of course, we ask for more details. Yeah, we do see people switch over to BrightLocal, and they list their reasons, and we think about those reasons, and we figure out whether or not we need to make any changes based off of what the feedback we're getting. And then there's so many people that are switching one way or the other, you never hear from. You don't know if they're switching.

30:51 Aaron: Would you ever consider... Do you market that switching process? I think about, I've seen this for a long time with banks, they will actively put out content on their website saying like, "Hey, here's how you switch to our bank and we make it easy. And here's what's involved." Do you do any of that or would you consider doing that? So people know like, "Hey, it's not super painful, and we actually will guide you through it, and make it easy."

31:14 Darren: Yeah, we've recently built these features to make it easy to switch. And we are going to definitely market them. We're just putting it on the landing page and saying, "Hey listen, if you're currently with this competitor, it's so dead simple for you to switch. We move everything over for you, contact us today." So we definitely wanna market it, we're not gonna do a blog post and tweet about it, and be like, "Hey, anyone that's with BrightLocal definitely come to us." [chuckle] We're not gonna do that, it just feels kind of douchey. But we will let... We wanna let people know that it's easy to switch. And we're putting it into our welcome email. So, someone signs up for that, we're like, "Oh hey, are you with BrightLocal? If you are... " Just a line that says, "Hey, it's easy to switch."

31:56 Aaron: Nice, very, very smart.

31:58 Darren: And it's not just BrightLocal, we've made it easy to switch from other providers too.

32:01 Aaron: Yeah, so in your space, and I can't remember if BrightLocal has taken any funding at any point or not, but do you have...

32:10 Darren: They have not.

32:10 Aaron: Okay, so are most of your competitors in your space bootstrapped or do you have... Are there certain ones that are big VC-funded, and on a different trajectory? 

32:21 Darren: It depends on what you're looking at. For someone that is pretty close to almost exactly what we do, it's BrightLocal. But then we have competitors in different areas like business listing management. You've got Moz Local, and then you have Yext. So Yext, of course, massive funding, Moz Local, massive funding, and so they are different. And then we have some that are a little bit more agency, but also a little focused on business listings, and that would be, Advice Local is one that comes up here and there. And I think they might be funded too. It's an interesting thing like that, bootstrapped versus funding.

32:57 Aaron: Yep.

32:58 Darren: I feel like I don't know why, but we have a market advantage and maybe it's just because of the speaking and stuff that I do, but I feel like people look to us as experts and that helps drive business for sure, for us.

33:10 Aaron: Yeah. As you know, we're in that same boat where we wanna be thought leaders in the space, especially when it comes to search. We're the only one of our competitors that are at a MozCon or talking at search conferences where our competitors especially like BirdEye or Podium, that these guys have taken $30 million rounds of funding those guys are talking at SaaS conferences and VC conferences and things like that, and we definitely use that to our advantage on how well we understand the space and what Google is doing and what they're up to, and that we even have relationships there that are productive strategic ones. 

But there's such a gap in our space, 'cause we really have a competitor that's just, "Hey, they got a couple of million dollars in funding and it's allowed them to accelerate." We have these behemoths that have taken on tens of millions of dollars or you have us, that have not taken on any money. And so, that discrepancy that divide is so large and you see it in size of engineering teams and size of sales teams. It's like...

34:18 Darren: Yeah. For sure. Yeah.

34:19 Aaron:  I'm the only one that does outbound sales. I'm hoping that changes in the coming months, It's been top of my priority list for a while. We still haven't found the right fit. But I wanna grow an outbound sales team because our product is good enough for it now, and we're doing very well just through inbound marketing and all the things we do there, but it's really time for us to scale up those efforts. And those guys already have sales teams of 50, 100, and every last...

34:45 Darren: That's insane, I know.

34:47 Aaron: Yeah.

34:47 Darren: Yeah, it's totally insane. So what kind of outbound sales do you do? Who are you talking to you? 

34:51 Aaron: Yeah, I focus all on multi-locations. So I wanna talk if your... For me, I'm probably targeting anyone like 50 locations, and up. So yesterday, I saw one of my contacts is friends with the COO of a 200 location coffee shop. So I asked for an introduction.

35:08 Darren: Right. That's smart.

35:09 Aaron: I'm looking at brands that have size, continue to grow. And I can usually pretty easily see from even their own website. Are they using something to streamline feedback and reviews, are they displaying reviews on their site or location pages. So it's like this, three to four item checklist where I can see like, okay, they're either doing one of the five things we offer or two of the five, or none or I see they're using two different services, where I know we could help them consolidate.  

I'm reaching out and try to start a conversation. I'm gonna put some of our case studies in front of them or some thought leadership articles from our blog or, "Hey, are you gonna be at this event that we're speaking at or we're sponsoring." And try to spark that up that way. And I would love to have one, two, three, four, five people duplicating my efforts there, just because those relationships are so much demand... It's one thing to get the conversation started, but then it's the calls, the demos, the meetings staying on top of it, keeping it moving, all of those things that you gotta have a team for.

36:10 Darren: Absolutely, I find like... Sales are great, I can do the sales, but it's all the work that comes after that. Great, I've started a conversation I have a client that's interested, and then it's like managing that relationship is really time-consuming. You definitely need to build a team or it'll end up taking up all your time.

36:27 Aaron: Yup, absolutely, I'm with you. Anything in closing, Darren I think we've ran our course, but do you have any final takeaways or a statement that you'd offer advice to anyone when... How they're thinking about or watching their competitors, researching them, what would you put out there to our listeners? 

36:45 Darren: Yeah, I think it is important to keep an eye on them. You wanna have... I do have [36:51] ____ what they do and I keep tabs on it and I keep looking at what they're doing, but also, having that mentality that you touched on which is making sure that you understand what you're about and what your mission is, and not getting pulled off course for this feature, or that feature, 'cause competitors are always gonna be doing things slightly different from you but understanding what value you're bringing, and if that feature contributes to that value, then it's something that you might wanna include or if whatever marketing thing they're doing makes sense that it might be something you wanna do. 

But knowing who you are and what you're providing, and what your value differentiator is against that competitor is really important to get nailed down, so that you're not always just chasing every little thing that the competitors are doing.

37:36 Aaron: Totally agree with you, self-awareness of your product and your company, is so important for people to be as soon as you can find that way, to be secure with that. You can't be over confident where you bury your head in the sand, you still need to be aware, but you need that self-confidence so that you can build your own path. And the cautionary tale, I tell people all the time, is if you build yourself to be so alike a competitor. Now there isn't just as you hit about there isn't this unique distinction on why someone would choose you or the other one.

38:08 Darren: Yeah totally.

38:09 Aaron: And it's like, Oh, you're both the same. Alright, well, which one's cheaper, now? Which is the last comparison that you want.

38:16 Darren: Exactly.

38:16 Aaron: I never wanna win, because I'm the cheap option, I wanna win because I'm the best value that's there. So I'd tell people to really be thinking about that. When you are paying attention to your competitors, you're not obsessing but how do you carve out the value that you have in comparison? 

38:31 Darren: Yeah, and I would add one little thing. It's very valuable to hear, as customers are coming in when they do switch over, to touch base with them and find out what was happening over with your competitor that you had problems with? And then being able to speak to some of those things and trying to amplify your benefits against those perceived problems over there. That's one thing that we try to do over here.

38:54 Aaron: Yes, yep. Now we have that going on in our reseller space right now, and we have a number of resellers, coming to us from our biggest competitor there that are like your feature set is better, your interface is better, your customer service is way better, and those are all things that we need to just be a little bit more touting and put out there so the people understand that there is that difference and that makes up for, "We are a little bit more expensive than they are." But as everyone that switches said, "You're 10X the value because of those things." And we need to do a better job of bringing that...

39:29 Darren: Yeah laying that out for them. When you're onboarding new clients or when you're prospecting in the sales process, that's where that stuff should come out, where you can speak to those things. So yeah, that's where I really think the greatest value of keeping your eyes on your competitors is in that, in the sales process.

39:44 Aaron: Yep. Nope, you're completely correct, I agree. Alright, well...

39:47 Darren: Alright.

39:47 Aaron: Thanks everybody. That concludes another episode. Hopefully, we've had about three, four weeks between our last one, just because of, as we touched upon travels and conferences and everything else, hopefully Darren and I, in the next couple of weeks will be sinking again to get you out another episode of the SaaS venture. Please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter. We've had some questions in the past we love to answer listener questions, or topic ideas and if you have the time, leaving us a review in iTunes is super helpful, helps with the visibility of our podcast, as we continue to reach more 100 people and have more listeners interact with us. Love doing that.

40:26 Darren: Alright, yeah, what Aaron said.

40:29 Aaron: Have a good one, until we talk again, Darren.

40:30 Darren: Yeah, we'll schedule another one and we'll talk again soon, thanks Aaron.

40:34 Aaron: Alright. You bet. Keep your beer away from your laptop and we'll talk soon.

40:38 Darren: I will. Okay bye.

40:39 Aaron: Alright. See you everybody.
The Saas Venture Podcast from Aaron Weiche and Darren Shaw