An Interview With Mitch Russo

Many people make the mistake of having a vision and not really testing it. I think that one of the most important things you can do when considering starting a company is to go out and have conversations with prospects, customers, and their influencers to get some feedback on how your idea resonates and what it might actually become. I did that before I started Nimble; I began to use social media to have conversations about my vision. It helped me start building my brand, get feedback on my vision, and more importantly it made those influencers early contributors to the ideas of Nimble — which got them to buy in.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Ferrara. Jon is a serial entrepreneur and noted speaker about social media’s effects on sales and marketing. He has re-imagined CRM by building the Simple Smart CRM for Microsoft Office 365 & G Suite with Nimble. It is the first CRM that works for you by building and updating contact data for you, then works with you, everywhere you work. Ferrara is best known as the co-founder of GoldMine Software Corp, one of the early pioneers in the Sales Force Automation (SFA) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software categories for Small to Medium sized Businesses (SMBs).

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?

My backstory is really all about relationship management. I stumbled into being an entrepreneur in contact management and CRM before Outlook or Salesforce existed because I had my own personal needs. I think the best products come from your own personal needs because you understand the problem. The problem was there weren’t any sales tools to enable me to engage effectively.

Back then, people managed leads by writing notes on a piece of paper, writing appointments in day planners, and forecasting sales on spreadsheets. I thought there had to be a better way but I couldn’t find it, so I started a company called Goldmine.

It actually turned out to be a literal Goldmine and I’ve been doing relationship management ever since.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

For this “aha moment,” I’d like to talk about my current startup, Nimble. The moment started when I began using social media in 2008. I knew it was going to radically change the customer journey and the way people sell. A lot of that came from my understanding of the way relationships are built.

In the old days, you used to go into people’s offices and see what books they had on the shelves, what they hung on their walls, and what knick-knacks they collect. These clues will tell you what you have in common with this person, what their business is about, and similar interests you might share. You earn intimacy and trust in order to build a relationship. Eventually, that person will open up to you about their business needs and as a professional, you can then solve them.

I saw that social media was going to change the way people connect, build, and maintain relationships. That’s what led to the moment where I looked for a tool that enabled me to connect contacts and social conversations.

I found dashboards like Hootsuite that enable you to manage the conversations, but they weren’t tied back to the contacts. I saw things like G Suite and Gmail that allow you to manage your email, contacts, and calendar, but they weren’t linked. There wasn’t a single contact record that linked all of these things for you or your team to access in one unified relationship manager.

That’s why I decided to get back in the game and build Nimble.

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?

One of the hardest things was to build demand for a product they didn’t even know that they needed. When we started to pioneer social selling CRM back in 2010 people didn’t know that social could be applied to business. They thought Twitter was a place a bunch of propeller-heads told each other when they were going to the bathroom, they thought LinkedIn was the place you go if you want to get a job, and they thought Facebook was a place to hook up with your High School sweetheart. They didn’t understand that it wasn’t just a place to build personal relationships, but business relationships as well. Business relationships are personal. People buy from other people they like, know, and trust.

By the time people recognized the value of social media, LinkedIn pulled their API because they wanted to build Sales Navigator. Facebook pulled their API because they wanted to have you got to Facebook for advertising. We lost the promise of what our product was. We had to rethink what the value of Nimble was going to be. Right around this time, Microsoft came out with Office 365. I saw that Microsoft would eventually eat G Suite and that by connecting into Office and focusing on business basics that really move beyond social, we evolved in the simple CRM for Office 365. That really helped us get to where we are today.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We made major bets on Office 365 by making integrations with their products and building relationships with people who gave us access to the Microsoft Global Reseller program. When a reseller sells Office 365, they can sell Nimble along with it. Microsoft is personally walking us into the top distributors globally and paying distributors to push Nimble to their global resellers. In the past six months, we’ve signed up a thousand Microsoft resellers worldwide. Our grit and resilience kept us in the game and allowed us to pivot to evolve from social CRM for G Suite into the simple CRM for Office 365 and G Suite.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The funniest mistake that we made is that we went all in on social. We believed that social was going to really change the way people work play buy and sell; the funny thing is, I went up to LinkedIn and asked for their public and private APIs — and they gave them to me! This was in 2010, when nobody ever got those. I was able to integrate all of LinkedIn’s functionalities; including DMs, signals, notifications on groups and interactions, as well as synchronizing your contacts and doing look-ups on emails and enriching it with company data. We went all-in on social and we got the rug ripped out from under us.

The lesson I learned is that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. I learned this only by recognizing that social was going to disappear in the near future. You don’t think about the internet — you just turn on your computer and expect it to work. Ten or 15 years ago, you had to dial up the internet and access it via modem. It was only after the internet became ubiquitous that it disappeared. You don’t even think about it anymore.

I saw five years ago that social was going to disappear. Eventually there wouldn’t be that much of a difference between a text message, a facebook message, or an email. They’re all communications. The key takeaway was that being able to recognize early trends and jump on them without riding them until they die and disappear and you’re left as somewhat of a has-been. We were able to pivot from social CRM to the simple CRM for Office 365 and G Suite, which put us in the position of having Microsoft push us globally.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes Nimble stand out is that it is really about relationships. That may sound trite, but

If you think about traditional CRMs, they really stand for customer reporting management. CRMs aren’t really designed to help team members engage; they’re designed for management to keep a finger on the pulse of their business. They’re for reporting. Our focus is more on team relationships; not just the relationships salespeople have with their prospects and customers. You need to engage with more people than that to grow your business.

At Nimble, we engage with journalists, influencers, publicists, third party developers, and the like. Everyone at the company engages with them. What makes us unique is that we’re really a relationship manager for the whole team. We’re designed for the people aspect of connecting. The purpose of Nimble isn’t to bag-and-tag customers, it’s to empower you to help other people grow. I think that’s our purpose on this planet; and the best way to grow is to help other people grow.

I think that sales has become a four-letter word, but were evolving from the bag-and-tag mentality to a higher concept of service. Service is the new sales.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

People talk about work/life balance, and it isn’t always easy to achieve. If you do what you love, then it’s not working.

I think that what I love to do is help other people grow. That includes not just our customers, but also our team members. If you’re busy helping other people grow all day long, then it’s not really work. It’s kind of fun. You’re less likely to burn out. If your goal is to help others grow versus making money, that transposes the way you look at work and your purpose for doing it.

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?

There’s a guy named Mark Cuban — yes, that Mark Cuban (the owner of the Mavericks). I’ve known Mark since he was a computer reseller in Dallas Texas where I used to work for a manufacturer of network operation systems and he was one of our resellers.

I didn’t really know him well back then; but when I set out to build Nimble, he was one of the earliest believers in our promise and one of our biggest investors. He’s invested in Nimble three times over the past ten years. Not just his money, but his time as well. I could text Mark and he’d respond to me in five minutes. He is actively involved in helping us grow. He may seem like a tough guy, but inside he is a sweetheart who really loves to help people grow. We wouldn’t be here today without Mark Cuban.

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?

Nimble has over 100,000 people who have subscribed to the platform. We’ve got over 10,000 people that pay us on a monthly basis. The three main steps we used to build that community helped to build a movement.

Rather than telling people how great our product was, we taught them how they can become better, smarter, faster. If you teach people how to fish, they’ll figure out that you sell fishing poles. I don’t think people buy great products — they buy better versions of themselves.

We built top of mind mindshare by teaching people how to be better, smarter, faster at social sales and marketing; how to build better relationships; and why their network is their net worth.

We did that by identifying influencers in and around the areas of our brand promise, sharing their content, hashtagging the influencers and the category of their content, and engaging with the people who engaged with us. We did this not for the purpose of asking them to do something for us, but to see what we can do for them.

This ultimately built bi-directional relationships in which people became evangelists of our brand. We have tens of thousands of people are the world who our brand resonates with. They believe in our movement and our cause. They are our storytellers.

If you can tell great stories and get other people to tell those stories, you can build a goldmine.

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 monetization model is per user/per month. We have a two-week trial that we put people through.

We’ve experimented with different things, such as a longer trial (30 days). Two-week trials converted faster and at the same rate. We also had a freemium product that we gave away and worked on converting the users. We chose not to use that because the cost of our services and platform are so high; it just didn’t make business sense to give it away based on the conversions we get after the fact.

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.

Many people make the mistake of having a vision and not really testing it. I think that one of the most important things you can do when considering starting a company is to go out and have conversations with prospects, customers, and their influencers to get some feedback on how your idea resonates and what it might actually become. I did that before I started Nimble; I began to use social media to have conversations about my vision. It helped me start building my brand, get feedback on my vision, and more importantly it made those influencers early contributors to the ideas of Nimble — which got them to buy in.

When we built the initial product, we built a minimally viable product. Rather than going out and spending weeks, months, or years on building a product, we built it in 90 days and began iterating with our customers to see how it worked for them and how we could improve it. We began to tune Nimble to our customer’s needs.

Let me tell you about a $4 billion based in LA called Cornerstone on Demand. They started out as an e-learning platform similar to Linda. They weren’t getting much traction at first, but there was a set of enterprise customers that began to use their cloud-based learning platform to host their employee training and other materials on. They started listening to their customers and tune to their needs. Eventually, they became the top HR cloud-based platform on the market. That’s what happens when you start small, iterate, and listen to your customer’s needs.

Next, you need to think about your development team. How are you going to do your development? Are you going to have your own in-house team? Are you going to find a technical co-founder who can do a lot of the front- and back-end work to really start small? Are you going to raise a bunch of money and start big? Each of these has a different risk and reward.

With Nimble, I put in my own money because I believed in what we were doing, and then I went and got investors. You should definitely think about your route to market; whether you want to bootstrap it or raise money, whether you want to do development in-house, or if you want to outsource (which has its own pros and cons as well).

The other thing you want to think about is your name and brand story promise. There is a website called BrandStoryPromise.com that can help you with your positioning. A lot of your success will come from your brand story promise and name.

The final thing is the whole website journey and your digital marketing efforts. The customer journey is critical to your business success. A company I really admire in this regard is Monday.com. They are a to-do tracking app. They’ve had incredible success by perfecting the digital journey and touchless model.

I believe if you want to scale massively in revenue, you can’t do the touchless model. You can’t just generate eyeballs with ad words and drive them into a touchless digital journey. I think that to get that 5billion in annual revenue, you have to have other people selling for you 24 hours a day. That’s how we scaled GoldMine, and that’s how we’re scaling Nimble today.

We’ve signed Microsoft as our global reseller. They have hundreds of thousands of resellers that serve billions of users, and we’ve now evolved into the simple CRM for Office. Your go-to-market and channel strategies are critical before starting a SaaS product.

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 think that social media has changed the way we work, play, buy, and sell. It’s making the world a small village and bringing back a renaissance of relationships. We all used to live in a small village, and our reputation was built on the promises we make and the experiences we deliver. Then, we began mass manufacturing products and moving to cities for jobs. Salespeople would sell all that product and knock on doors, and then there was the introduction of madmen marketing. All of that made sales a four-letter word. We discounted the value of relationships.

I would start a movement about REALationships. Ultimately, relationships will help you achieve your dreams in life. If you can figure out what your passion is, build a plan to achieve it, and make it your purpose on a daily basis, then you can achieve anything you want. Ideally, it involves helping other people achieve what they want. As Zig Ziggler said, if you help people get what they want, it’s easier for you to get what you want.

I would teach people about the value of connecting. Ultimately, it boils down to a philosophy that I developed after I sold my first company when I was 41 yrs old. I got a head tumor and almost died, and did some spiritual work. I came to the conclusion that we are on this planet to help other people grow. You do that best by being present with other human beings, especially people who love you. If you’re present with people who love you, they will reflect your shit back to you. If you’re willing to look at your shit and work on it and grow as a human being, I think that’s your job here on this planet.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Google me! People are going to google you before they meet you. If you’re not showing up on the first page, you should do something about that.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My SAAS, With Jon Ferrara of Nimble was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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