Are your biggest competitors doing well? While this may seem counterintuitive, in the SaaS space, most of the successful companies entered the market fairly late. Typically, if the few existing competitors are doing well, it’s a sign of a healthy market. That was precisely the conditions when we entered this market.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Chen, CEO of Chime Technologies. Joseph Chen is the Chairman of RenRen and CEO of Chime Technologies. Mr. Chen is a pioneer of China’s internet industry. Previously, Mr. Chen was the co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of ChinaRen.com, a first-generation SNS in China and one of China’s most visited websites in 1999. He served as senior vice president of Sohu.com after ChinaRen.com was acquired by Sohu in 2000. Mr. Chen holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Delaware, a master’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a M.B.A. degree from Stanford University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I immigrated from China to the US in my junior year in college. I went to the University of Delaware and finished my bachelor degree in Physics while working odd jobs and driving a delivery truck for my uncle. While at Stanford business school in the mid of dotcom boom, I raised $250K from 20 of my classmates and started a company in 1999. The company did well and twenty years later, I am still working hard to deliver innovative technology solutions to markets that need it the most.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We have invested in a few real estate financing companies including Lendinghome and Fundrise. This exposed us to the world of real estate technology. As a result, we realized that today’s real estate agents are struggling to cope with the rapid change of technology and demands of the modern buyer/seller. We saw a void in the marketplace for intelligent, innovative technology solutions designed to automate key processes and empower agents to better serve their clients. Today, we offer an AI-powered sales acceleration platform designed to identify, manage and nurture leads and is widely used among forward thinking real estate agents.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The hard thing about hard things is sales. I have never run an inside sales team in my life and boy that was a learning curve! However, because our approach to starting this business was based on rational analysis, we never thought about giving up — even when things got tough. We remained convicted to our mission and leveraged resources such as Saastr.com to learn SaaS sales and marketing best practices and ensure we were on the right path.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Chime is thriving! I am pleased to report we recently passed the $10M ARR milestone in 3 years and are continuing to scale quickly.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take always’ you learned from that?
When I started putting our sales team together, I naively thought that having two, competing internal sales teams may get our sales rolling faster. One week after my sales directors came on board, one of them decided to report to the other, and that was the end of my experiment. The lesson learned here is that there are so many ways to be creative in SaaS business that once doesn’t need to be creative when it comes to sales. My advice: just follow best practices, such as hiring a good sales VP when ARR reaches $1M. I wish I had done that earlier but there are certain lessons one has to learn by experience.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We offer a sales acceleration SaaS platform, purpose built for real estate brokerage and agents. We are relatively young among our competitors however we bring a consumer Internet level focus on better UI/UE and we are laser focused on leveraging the most innovative technologies such as mobile and AI to serve this industry. The fast-moving, break things mentality, common in the highly competitive consumer space, has served us well in the enterprise space.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Follow the best practices first and then invent on top of it. My mantra is — “There is always a better way.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My high school physics teacher encouraged me to read widely and got me interested in Physics, a science I am still fascinated by today. Career wise, I thank my classmates at Stanford Business School for helping me launching my first start-up. I also thank the positive impact of my now deceased uncle who was an immigrant and successful business man himself. In my early days in the US, he was hugely influential in helping me in my American journey.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We currently serve thousands of real estate agents with their daily sales and marketing needs. The business has just passed the crucial $10M ARR mark. To get to there, we invested heavily in R&D, executed growth hacking, and built a great team.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
Our customers pay a monthly subscription fee. If they don’t like our service, they can cancel with one-month notice. This is the standard for a SaaS, and in my opinion, the best model out there.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Know the market you are trying to serve. How big it is and what is TAM? We were attracted to the real estate technology space because of the sheer size of the workforce — 1M to 2M agents- and opportunity to best serve this market with innovative solutions.
2. Ride a wave. We were riding the mobile wave when we launched Chime. We were the first company in the space to offer a mobile-first solution giving us a huge competitive advantage and delivering tools to agents in the way they wanted to work.
3. Have a few unique intrinsic competitive advantages. What does the team bring to the table that will not be easily offered by competition? Our strength in agile development ensures rapid product evolution and as a result, benefits time strapped agents who are struggling to catch up with technology.
4. Are your biggest competitors doing well? While this may seem counterintuitive, in the SaaS space, most of the successful companies entered the market fairly late. Typically, if the few existing competitors are doing well, it’s a sign of a healthy market. That was precisely the conditions when we entered this market.
5. What’s your expectation for growth? SaaS companies are not made in one day. This is a fact very difficult for a consumer Internet guy like me to accept. But I also realize that once a SaaS company delivers an excellent product, achieves positive NPS scores, and hits certain revenue milestones, it almost becomes unstoppable. Unlike a consumer Internet company where one day you are at the top of the download chart and the next, consumers may have very easily forgotten about you. At my stage, I strongly prefer an enterprise/SaaS business model, where patience, experience and hard work pay off. It just takes a little longer.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I run another start-up company called Trucker Path, America’s #1 mobile app for truck drivers. Today, there are 1.25M deaths in road crashes and 20M injured, PER YEAR. If autonomous driving is adapted all over the world, these numbers will drop significantly. The technology will not only save people time but make our roads much safer. I cannot think of a better change that can create this much good.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I was a physics student and I love Richard Feynman. He said something that becomes my motto today: Think with the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible. Follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-chen-bbaa6253/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Mitch Russo started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Mitch wrote a book called “The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies” and now his 2nd book called Power Tribes — “How Certification Can Explode Your Business.” Mitch helps SaaS company founders scale their own companies using his proprietary system. You can reach Mitch Directly via firstname.lastname@example.org
“5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My SAAS”, with Joe Chen and Mitch Russo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.