Feb. 16, 2023

5 Things Every SaaS Founder Should Know About Navigating The World Of Startups with Brandon Metcalf of Place

5 Things Every SaaS Founder Should Know About Navigating The World Of Startups with Brandon Metcalf of Place

In this episode of SaaS Origin Stories, Brendon Metcalf, CEO of Place, joins host Phil Alves to discuss a wide range of topics ranging from funding strategies, creating a product-market fit, and how to run a SaaS startup when 80% of your business comes from one client. 


Brandon Metcalf is an accomplished entrepreneur with a strong track record in building and leading successful companies. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Brandon also hosts the popular Cash & Burn podcast. As the CEO of Place, a financial analytics stack for Salesforce, he leads the company’s growth strategies. 


Guest at a Glance:

Name: Brendon Metcalf

What he Does: Brendon Metcalf is a repeat founder and CEO of Place, a Salesforce stack focused on managing sales-to-cash workflows. With his expertise in the software industry, particularly in the realm of Salesforce, he has a wealth of experience in creating, scaling, and managing global businesses.  


Topics we cover:

  • The quality of your leadership team makes a difference when seeking funding
  • Lessons from repeat founding
  • The first customer and early growth strategies
  • Leveraging outbound learnings to sharpen the product-market fit
  • Strategies when 80% of the revenue pipeline is one customer



Quality of Leadership Counts When Seeking Funding

A good leadership team inspires confidence for investors who are looking for answers to three questions: Does the idea solve a real-world problem? What is the size of the potential market? Do you inspire confidence? A high-quality leadership team with successful exits behind them inspires confidence and opens the doors to funding more easily. 

 “Three things count when it comes to seeking funding from investors, who do you know, how do you connect with investors, and what is the confidence you deliver”.

Lessons from Repeat Founding

Brandon founded Place after a successful exit from his previous startup. He shares some insights and learnings that helped him in founding Place. The biggest lesson he learned from his previous startup was the ability to separate work and personal life and ensure that he devotes sufficient time to his personal relationships. Brandon says he starts early, around five-thirty in the morning, but you won’t find him working after 6 PM on a weekday. 

“I ensure that I get downtime with family and friends after six o’clock every day”.

The First Customer and Early Growth Strategies

Brandon explains how they lucked out as their first customer was the company the sales head was working for previously. Early growth came through inbound and outbound marketing to companies in the B2B SaaS space who were also clients of Salesforce. The company closed the loop on customer feedback to tweak the product and accelerate conversions.

“We actively sought feedback to identify specific use case issues faced by the core of daily users of Salesforce”. 


Sharpening the Product Market Fit with Feedback From Outbound Marketing

Brandon shares how, initially, the efforts from outbound marketing were subpar. Users who opted for the free trial were not converting after the trial period. The Nos far outnumbered the Yeses. To resolve this, the sales team contacted every lead that did not convert to identify why they chose not to subscribe to the service. Based on the feedback, the company identified additional functionalities that the customers were seeking. These were then added to the product for a better product-market fit.  

“We felt something had shifted; that was a better product-market fit”.

Strategies When 80% of Your Business Comes From One client

When the bulk of your business comes from one client, the best practice is to split your workflow and teams into two parts. One team across the workflow focuses on the large client to give them customized and personalized service. Then there is a second team to handle the other customers. Having a single team for the two customer personas runs the risk of the smaller clients getting average service since the internal resources across verticals will be focused on the large client. 

“One of our customers is a twenty-four billion dollar client who uses 30,000 licenses globally; putting together the other customers account for 3,000 licenses. We had to have two teams”. 


Welcome to SaaS Origin Stories. Tune in to hear authentic conversations with founders as they share stories from the earlier days of their SaaS startups. We'll cover painful challenges, early wins, and actionable takeaways. You'll hear firsthand the do's and don'ts of building and growing a SaaS, as well as inspirational stories to fuel you on your own SaaS journey. Here is your host, Phil Alves. Today I have Brendan Metcalfe, the CEO of Place.

Welcome to the show, Brendan.

Hey, Phil. Thanks for having me on.

Brendan, could you please tell us a little bit about what problem does your company solve?

You know, with Place, we really focus on solving really what I've always viewed as a breakdown between the revenue teams, so the teams that actually produce sales and income for the business, and then the financial operations teams. And sometimes you hear that called like RebOps and then accounting and finance right now.

So essentially what we do is we manage customer subscriptions, we manage billing, we manage recognized revenue and the revenue process, and then we also manage getting that information into finance. And then we also pull all the information back from finance and the accounting system so you can forecast actual variance analysis for your P&L and cash flows and all of that. And we do that specifically for B2B SaaS companies.

And we're even a little bit more niche than that. We do that specifically for companies that use Salesforce. So our product is 100% built in Salesforce, which is actually really important because it's not just doing those individual pieces of the puzzle, if you will. It's the workflow, the automation, the data sync, the data consistency throughout those processes.

So we felt it was really important to have all of those elements natively inside of Salesforce. So you can really just go from, you know, lead all the way through collecting cash in the same system, which just helps with visibility and audits and tracking all the information.

We have, I don't know, 150, 200 metrics and analytics components built specifically for B2B SaaS. Everything's like what your bookings are, what your CAC, what your LTV to CAC.

I mean, it's kind of mind blowing all the different analytics that come out of it. That's awesome. Later on the show, I want to touch base more on building on top of Salesforce and like choosing a platform.

But before we get there, could you tell me a little bit how you come up with the idea?

Yeah, I mean, so I didn't ever think I was actually going to be in software. I didn't go to school or anything like that for software. I started in banking, financial services when I was right out of school. And then I stumbled into staffing and recruiting.

And I was in that for a while, which is where I got the idea to create my first software company, which is a company called Talent Rover. I started building that in 2009, commercialized it in 2011, sold it after scaling it to eight countries and customers in more than 40 countries. I sold it in March of 2018. Inc. 500 had us as the ninth fastest growing software company in America in 2017.

So it was a fun ride with that company. But building that company and scaling it, I lived the problem that we're solving with place. Just like the reason why I built Talent Rover is to live the challenges I had when I was in staffing and recruiting. But growing a global SaaS business and trying to manage all of this was nearly impossible.

So we got really good at doing all of this in spreadsheets and we used a lot of different point solutions, but it was always super frustrating. So after the sell, I decided I wanted to tackle this problem. And we originally set out to tackle the financial reporting and financial forecasting challenge.

And we started selling the product in 2020, which was quite the fun time to launch a new software company right before the pandemic. Then in 2021, we rolled out our revenue and billing component. And then the beginning of 2022, we started to roll out our customer subscription management component to now complete all three. So it's been a fun ride.

But one of the reasons why it's been so fun is we use our product at all of my companies. And I just know intimately what it's like to try to manage this on both the accounting and finance side and on the operational side. So it's a fun endeavor. So basically, you got a problem that you understood very well when you were building the first company.

You're like, I'm going to go and I'm going to solve this problem because I saw how much the pain was. And you understood probably where you would go find other companies that had similar issues with what you were having. I feel like that's the best way to build a SaaS product. Yeah.

And hands off to the people that just create something totally new that they don't have the personal history with living the problem. I'm not that guy. I know the problems I have and I know how I want to solve the problems. And then I'm not intimidated to take the risk to try to figure out how to solve it. And I've enjoyed doing it.

You say my companies, you don't run only one business. Tell me a little bit more about what is everything that you are running right now. It's a pretty interesting story. So I technically have three companies that I'm the CEO of right. Which sounds a lot. It's not actually.

I mean, it's a lot, but it's not as much as it sounds. So when we decided to launch Place at the end of 2018 is when we decided to do the business, it's kind of a free agent. So I sold Talent Rover in March of 18. I stayed with them for a while.

And then, you know, August of 18, we decided to launch Place. So we're getting the foundation going at the same time. Really good reputation for building software companies in Salesforce, which we'll talk about. And people knew that I was available. So people asked me for advice and consulting. So I started consulting.

It was a great way to bring in some additional cash as we were just setting out to figure out how we were going to build Place and what we're going to do from a financing standpoint for Place.

So that consulting business took a life of its own and it became my second company, which is called Blueprint Advisory, which is a consulting business for companies who want to build products on Salesforce, implement Salesforce. But also we have an advisory services arm where we advise companies on how to think about Salesforce. We advise staffing and recruiting firms specifically on how to leverage Salesforce for their business.

And then what Blueprint became up until recently was the implementation arm of Place, which was great because, you know, I had a product company with Place selling the core product. And then Blueprint was a separate company doing all the services. So it enabled one company to really focus on product and one company to really focus on services.

Over the past 14, 16 months or so, we started consulting and collaborating with Salesforce on how to think about staffing and what the staffing play looked like for companies who want to buy Salesforce for staffing. Because my first product, Talent Rover, was a software company built for staffing on Salesforce. So deeply familiar with that space.

And through that, it actually led to Blueprint spinning off my third company, which is another software company, which is an applicant tracking system built on Salesforce. That's all some of the challenges that we were learning that Salesforce was having with winning in the space. It also provides corporate recruiting services. So normal corporations, non-staffing corporations can use it for recruiting and all of that. So that's the third company.

Now, why I say the CEO, but you know, it's not as overwhelming as it may seem, is I have a president of Blueprint, a guy named Greg, who was my right hand at Talent Rover. So we've worked together for years. So Greg's been running Blueprint on a day-to-day basis. He's done a brilliant job. Now Greg is transitioning to run Assemble, which is the new ATS, on a day-to-day basis.

And we're actually on the hunt to find someone that's going to take over running the day-to-days on Blueprint. Greg will still be involved, but primarily is focused on Assemble.

So I can do this because I spend 70% of my time on place and then I spend probably 20% of my time now on Assemble and 10% of my time on Blueprint because I have the leadership teams in place that do their part so I can effectively do it. That makes sense. As we develop as leaders, that's all we have to get good at doing, delegating, right, and building a team around us.

And it looks like you did that.

And so did you use the consulting firm to fund place or did you ever raise any money?

How did you fund the build of the place product?

I guess a few questions before I go there. The building of the leadership team, I think, is a really, really important topic.

You know, I've spent the past two years building up the executive leadership team at place. And it was really intentional of hiring really smart people that can own their department and agreeing on what the strategy is that they're going to execute that matches to the corporate strategy, but then getting out of their way, giving them the bandwidth and the confidence and the trust to go and lead. And it's been fantastic.

The team's done an excellent job. We've changed a lot over the past two years, which I can talk about if you want. Same thing at Blueprint.

I mean, Blueprint and now Assemble, having the leadership team there allows me to be the expert on what I'm good at, seeing the bigger picture, thinking longer term strategic pieces, the finance piece, all of that, and letting them be good at what they're really good at is the day to day and running.

And do you use any framework as you're developing the systems to delegate?

A lot. So I read a lot. I don't actually enjoy reading, but I read a lot.

And, you know, like Traction, that's a really good foundational book for anyone who hasn't read it. Scaling Up is a good book as well. I'm actually part of Entrepreneurs' Organization, which I highly recommend for any executive to be a part of. And then I'm also part of Pavilion, which is another group where I'm a CEO group with them as well.

So I surround myself with other CEOs, there's other entrepreneurs, and we're constantly are talking about what's made them successful, what challenges they've had. I love Entrepreneurs' Organization because we meet once a month for about six hours in a day, a single day. And we all share and talk and actually give each other opinion and advice. And it's fantastic. And that's shaped a lot of what I do from a leadership standpoint.

But I've learned over the years from doing things well and screwing some things up, too, of how to invest in people. And I've gotten better at it. I've gotten better at who to hire. I'm still not perfect, but I'm very intentional now with who I want as a direct report and what I want them to do. And I think those things are both really important.

I think a lot of times when you're looking at hiring, you look at what you want the person to do, but you neglect who you want that person to be. I have a lot of trust and dependence on my leadership teams.

So I've got to make sure the person I hire is the right person that can manage me because my team manages up, they manage me and keep me focused and aware and on track. And they also have to be independent. So that takes the right type of person that can fit into our crazy world of startups that we live in. Back to place.

So, you know, we didn't know what our financing strategy was going to be out of the gate, as I think most companies do. I did a friends and family round. So myself and a couple of my close friends that were big investors in talent over. And then in 2019, we brought in Geekdom Fund as our lead VC. We did around then. But I also continue to bring in angel money.

And then, you know, today we've raised right around 12 million dollars for the company.

Now, that's primarily angel. Geekdom owns a decent amount of the company and we have one other VC in as well. But the majority of the owners are angels. And it's really similar to my fundraising strategy at my first company where that company was pretty much all angels. And we raised 28 million dollars for that business.

What I learned with place compared to Talent Rover is raising that much money from angels is not normal. I've been fortunate enough to have some super angels that really believe in what I do and continue to be repeat investors. And so far, I continue to make them a decent return. So let's continue that trend.

So why do you think you can kind of outperform most people when it comes to raising money from angel?

Is it because you have a Harvard degree or what it is that makes a difference?

No, I mean, I don't think it's so much that.

I mean, I think confidence is a big deal. And to be clear, I mean, I didn't raise all the money myself. There's other things that go into it. Talent Rover had a business partner and, you know, a lot of the money that was raised is from connections that he had.

So it was kind of a combination of who do you know and how do you connect with people?

But then what's the confidence?

I think even when I do angel investing into startups, I really look at who's the founding team?

Like, do I believe this person can figure it out?

Like when we launched Place and we set out to do financial forecasting, we still do that. But we pivoted quite a bit to actually figure out what our real product market fit is for the types of customers we want to serve. We've even pivoted on who are the types of customers we want to serve.

So I think one of the keys to success for fundraising and for running a startup is do your investors believe that you can figure it out?

Because I think the earliest investment, they're investing in the founders to say that, that they can figure out. They have this thesis. This thesis sounds interesting. It sounds like there's a there there. But it's a bet. When we first launched Place, there was nothing there.

Like, we're going to be the first financial forecasting product on Salesforce.

Okay, that sounds cool. It sounds like a big market.

Why has no one else ever done it?


Like there's a bunch of whys. And the confidence was, well, I have built businesses based off of Salesforce. I know the ecosystem really well. I know what it's like to build a startup. I know what it's like to build a software startup. All of those points gives a lot of confidence.

I also really think your relationships with investors is so fundamentally important where I share probably too much with the investors because I want them to know the bets on me, the best on the company.

For me, it's a lot better to share information more frequently and good and bad.

Like, you can't just go to your investors and say, yeah, we did the successful thing and not talk about any of the challenges you have. It's actually better to say, here's a lot of the challenges we have. Here's how I'm trying to solve them.

Do you have any input for me?

And this is one of the reasons why I love angel investors is because most angel investors are fairly successful people.

And why would you not want to tap into that network of really successful people with the real challenges you're facing in your business to get their input on how to solve it?

Because we're all after the same thing. We all want to scale a very successful business. But I want to use every tool at my disposal and those investors help.

Plus, then it builds a level of trust. It builds trust that they know I'm coming to them with good and bad and they know where things are at. And they have the confidence in me that I may not have everything figured out, but they're aware of my strategy on how I'm going to do it.

I like what you said about how you can really use your investors and leverage them to help you. It's not only about the money. It's about also the knowledge that they bring to the table. And also one thing that you say, they're placing a bet on you.

But what happens is the more successful you are and as you build your career, the reality is the odds of you making the right calls increase. So like investors know you.

OK, you have done this before and before, you know, Salesforce. So it becomes a safe bet to invest in a founder that has done multiple times.

And my question to you is why did you decide to do it again?

Because here's the reality. After you're done once, you don't have to do it a second time.

Of course, you have investors and have everyone that's coming for you to do it again. Your odds are in your favor.

But why do it again?

Yeah, I mean, I think two things. I think one, I think it's a safe bet for someone to repeat on a repeat founder. I don't think it's a safe bet because we're still trying to figure it out. It's always a challenge.

But, you know, why did I do it again?

Like I was in a fortunate situation where I didn't need to do it again, right?

Which was great. And I loved building Talent Rover. It was exciting. It was challenging. Definitely brought on a lot of gray hair before gray hair was supposed to come. But it was like the best education I ever got. And it was successful. And there's a lot of things that fall into place to make a business successful. But it all works.

And I think one of the things that, regardless of the good times or the bad times that we're having at Talent Rover, that kept me going is I was really passionate and had a really strong belief of the impact that we could actually make to the types of customers we were trying to help.

So, you know, when I was spending two weeks a month traveling around the world, exhausted, constantly being in front of customers and in front of staff, that's really what always kept me going as to, you know, we are making a difference. Look at what we're doing. We had a pretty incredible run. So when I left, Bullhorn was the company that acquired us.

You know, it was, what do I do now?

I'm too young and too passionate to not do something that's going to really challenge me. And I'm also the type of person that likes to really be challenged. And I always have been.

So then, you know, the idea for a place came and it was like, why would we not do this?

Why would we not try to solve this problem?

I didn't know I was going to be as ambitious as I currently am with multiple projects that I have going on.

But that also was a challenge of how do I balance this?

How do I make sure I'm giving everything my best that I can and not letting anyone down that's putting their faith in me?

And that could be, you know, for an investor investing in one of the companies, it can be to an employee joining one of the companies. And it's also my friends and my social life. So it's all about balance. But I'm just a passionate guy. I like to work hard. Like my life is very, very intertwined in my businesses. There is no separation for me. I don't clock out.

But I do find balance of, you know, when do I stop working?

Even as much as I have going on, typically you won't find me doing work after 6 p.m. during the week ever. Unless I'm traveling or something like that.

Now, I'm always thinking about work. And my day usually starts at 5 or 530 in the morning is when I get going. But it's all the balance for me. So then after 6 o'clock every day, I'm with friends and family or just getting downtime to recharge and all of that. And then I actually like to go to bed if I can at 9 o'clock every night. There's so much here to impact.

Like because why you did it again is because it's the thing they love doing is for the impact that you've done. And also you found balance in your own way. Successful entrepreneurs, they realize you have to sleep. You have to be out of work after a certain time. And I think at the end, we all like to be good at something.

And after you spend so much time building a business and you realize you're good and have a great impact, that's why you do it again. And I think it's amazing that entrepreneurs go back and come for the second time because the world needs entrepreneurs that will be able to have a bigger impact. Like if you look, even a very successful entrepreneur is like they build business after business around the Musk today.

There's a lot of like people that like him, people that don't like him. But regardless if you like him or not, he built multiple companies until he got to build Tesla, until he got to build SpaceX. And he kept doing and doing. And I think that's how you get better entrepreneurship. You do more of it. Bigger and bigger. Definitely less just in general.

I think for me, one of the fundamental things that's changed on the second and third and fourth go around versus the first is now it's no longer about me. I think there was something I needed to prove with my first company that I could do it, that I could have a successful exit and all of that. Now it's not so much about that.

Now I want to build leadership teams that can build companies. And I also want to have good exits for the investors that put in. But building those leadership teams and teaching people what I've learned and the battle scars that I've earned and trying to enable them to be even more successful for me, that's actually one of the things that I'm passionate about.

And like when we opened up the show and I was talking about building the leadership teams in the company, that's part of my passion and strategy of what I'm trying to execute on. That's amazing.

So how long did it take to build the product?

I mean, place is complex. If you think about what we do from a financial standpoint, it's pretty insane. We probably at this point have about 300,000 engineering hours built into just the forecasting product alone. So we started fingers on keys probably in November or December of 2018. We're constantly still building and iterating on it.

So and a lot of the knowledge of how do we build place came from all of the spreadsheets that I built in Excel with running talent rover.

Like how do these equations work?

How do you do things like direct cash flow forecasting and actually make it work and make it a workflow and all those things?

So it was a lot of knowledge about the problem we were solving. It was deep knowledge about how do you build a company or a software product on top of Salesforce, which is a different type of development. And then it was also finding the team to build that can do it. But the product is easily 300,000 development hours.

Of course, products never done is going to always be developed.

But how many months from the day you guys started to the day you have the first customer using the product?

We started building a product in November of 2018. We are our first customer in December of 2019. So from about a year. I always like to ask this question because I think there is like a misconception that you can build a product in two or three months and depends on the product, depends on the complexity. So each product is different.

And of course, again, you are making a bet like a higher bet now as you are a founder that has built other things before. But I like to ask that question because there is not like one recipe. This is how long it's going to take to build your product. And it's just like the longer it takes to get your first customer, the more chips you are putting in the table.

But it is what it is. Sometimes it takes more chips than other times. It's also like your knowledge of what you're going to build. Like if you really deeply understand the problem you're going to solve and you understand how that problem should be solved, and then you understand the technology platform that you wanted to build it on, you'll speed it up.

Like if I didn't understand the financial elements that went into building place and I also didn't understand, the team didn't understand how they've really developed inside the sales force, it would have taken us twice as long as it took. So the amount of time it took us is that's the accelerated path for this type of product.

And how did you get your first customers?

People we knew and then we started to expand from that. So I think that's typically the way it's done. Although Talent River, our first customer, well, I guess it was the same. It was one of my salespeople. It was her from a company that bought our first licenses. So that's usually the easiest way.

For me, it's also, you know, I'm coming from spaces that I operate in. So Talent River, I came out of staffing and recruiting. So for me to talk to people in staffing and recruiting pretty easy. With Place, it's B2B SaaS. So I know tons of people in B2B SaaS. So it wasn't like I was entering a completely foreign market. That makes total sense.

And what has worked for you guys to scale a customer acquisition from there?

Like what's the strategy that you guys used to attract and retain customers nowadays?

Yeah, I mean, it's definitely flipped. This is one of the challenges we had with Place is we realized a financial forecasting product alone wasn't really the best product fit for finance people inside of Salesforce, because finance people don't necessarily want to do forecasting alone inside of Salesforce. They're not used to operating inside of Salesforce. So we listened to customers over the past couple years.

And that's really what solidified our product scope of having forecasting revenue billing in customer subscriptions. When we rolled out customer subscriptions towards the beginning of 2022, the whole world changed at Place. We just felt something shifted. And really what that shift was, was product market fit. Because now we had a specific use case as to why the core daily users of Salesforce need Place. And then we complete the rest of the journey.

That whole shift was all 2022 for us. And over the past several weeks, couple months, we've actually went through a complete refresh of all of our marketing materials, our websites new. The way we talk about things is different. The whole thing has changed. Our VP of marketing says it's a new era for Place. And the excitement internally is awesome. The excitement with investors is awesome.

So now we're just trying to spread the word about what we really do and why we do it. So essentially what I'm saying is we spent a couple years trying to figure out product market fit and ICP.

Last year, that event that finally clicked where we narrowed down ICP, we actually really feel product market fit.

So now, Q4 of 2022 onward to probably all of 2023. This is really when we need to nail go to market fit. So last quarter was actually our best quarter ever for Place. It was super exciting. The third quarter of 2022 was almost our second best quarter ever.

And what we're really excited about is in Q4, we had more inbound opportunities, but also more inbound bookings or bookings resulting from inbound leads than we've ever had in the history of the company. And that's been a big focus of how do we shift from outbound to really driving inbound. And the marketing team has done a really fantastic job of that.

I really like how you answered that question because you first you start with we need to figure out product market fit. We need to figure out ICP. There's no need to scale, like go to market until you got those two right. And it looks like you did a lot of outbound, which is kind of like what works when you haven't yet figure out what's my ideal client profile, who is my market.

And then once you figure that out, that's when inbound start to work and start to do a lot for you and for your companies.

Is that fair to assume?

Yeah, I mean, I think we leveraged outbound because we did spend quite a bit of money on hiring sales team members to go outbound because we were really trying to figure out what messaging work like what were people buying, what were people not buying. We analyzed a lot of data. I'm a very data driven person.

And one of the metrics that we were constantly paying attention to is why are people not buying your product?

And if they don't buy a product, what do they go buy?

And what we realized was fairly consistent for almost two years. The biggest reason why someone didn't buy our product is they bought nothing. So we were spending a lot of time going outbound, educating the market on, hey, you can do this inside of Salesforce now. And they were like, that's cool, but we're not going to buy it. So then that's where it led to.

Why are they not going to buy it?

And what questions do we need to ask to figure out what else are they doing?

And that's where it led to, oh, they need this functionality, which is our revenue and billing.

Oh, and wait, they actually really need this functionality to solve the workflow and the automation. So it was through that outbound journey of hearing a lot of no's and some yeses too. So it wasn't all bad, but hearing a lot of no's that got us to the point where we were like, that's what the product needs to do.

And then we were able to validate that with our existing customers and saying, would you buy this?

And they were like, yeah, we would buy that. We need to solve that problem.

Magically, by doing all that, it also helped us solve some implementation challenges that we were having with data structure and all of that inside of Salesforce. So everything just kind of aligned.

And when that happened, then we started to think differently about how do we scale the business and how do we operate the business?

Then it was like, OK, we need to scale back on outbound because the return is not good enough. The win ratio from outbound deals is not high enough to sustain the customer acquisition costs of what we're paying to go get it.

So how do we flip that?

And that's where, you know, in the beginning of 2022, I went out and I specifically sought out Carter, who's my VP of marketing.

And again, it was what do they need to do and who does this person need to be?

In Carter's background, he was at another B2B SaaS company before mine. He scaled them similar to how I need a place to scale. So I hired him and said, these are the challenges you need to figure out.

What do you need for me?

We collaborated on that and agreed. And then Carter executed. And he's done some interesting things that I would have never thought about to drive inbound. Like I have a podcast now, which is one of my favorite things to do. It was 100 percent Carter's idea, as well as the name, which gets a lot of credit. The Cash and Burn name is pretty cool. But it's a huge lead source for us.

And it's a huge awareness source for us of B2B SaaS company executives come on the show and talk about the biggest challenges they have with scaling their businesses or running their businesses. That's our core audience. So it's really flipped the script and now allows us to say we actually need less of a sales team.

We need a smaller sales team and we need a much bigger marketing team because now we do a tremendous amount of content marketing. And we try to give as much value out to our audience as we can to make them aware.

And if you look at our new website, we focused a lot on the website of how do we make the buyer journey a self-led, self-educated journey?

So you can go to our website and you should be able to figure out without having to talk to us what value we can give to you. And once you're ready to talk to us, let's talk. Because if you look at our biggest reason why people didn't buy, half of them bought nothing because they really weren't looking for the problem.

We were trying to sell them on now that we can educate them. They can figure out I do have this problem.

Oh, and I have that problem and I have that problem. I need to talk to these guys, which has increased our win rate 7x from where it was. So it's working well. We're still focused on pipeline and driving awareness of the exist and who we are. But it's an exciting time. That's so much to learn here.

I love how you say how outbound play a strong role, not only on finding your right messaging, but finding the right product. And how you develop that later to bring the right person to help you implement now an inbound strategy that will take you to the next level.

Again, it's that thing of a founder that has done before. You know when is the right time to bring someone that can help you. And now you are building your founder's brand. That's what you're doing. Right. You start your podcast that's trying to build your brand. And you're also moving a little bit from the sales led approach to the product led approach.

Where companies come to your site and they can understand and they can spend more time educating themselves. It's so funny. Like I when I look at the data and I see how much time people usually take on my website learning and watching videos. And until they actually reach out to us, I was actually looking at this one this morning.

And from the day the person click like the first ad to the day they schedule a call was three weeks. People want to be self educated. But also what I know it's I just have to not sell this person that sells call now they're already sold. My job is not to unsell them because they understand what we offer.

We had a recent client that came in before that from the time they had a conversation with us. So they were doing their own work. But from the time they engaged with us to the time that we got a verbal acceptance for a fifty thousand dollar ACV deal was seven days because they were so prepared. They came in knowing we know who your competitors are.

We think we know why you're different from them. But we want to hear from you while you're different from them. We have a bunch of questions about these specific things we want you to show us. And then we also want to know what else you want to tell us. So we were able to craft a really compelling demo journey for this customer as to yes, we do this.

No, we don't do that. All of that. This is how we think we compare against our competitors. But here's the additional value that you can also get, which is why that deal closed as fast as it did. That's amazing. Let's dive deep into the Salesforce thing. You're building a product. It's not your first time. You like to build products on the top of the Salesforce environment. It's a platform product.

Why you chose to do that and how do you see the risks of like being a platform company?

Because there is a risk. You're not Salesforce.

Of course, they're huge, but they could just decide to compete with you, for example.

Sorry, my question is super long. I've been faced with this question a lot.

I mean, I've been in the Salesforce ecosystem since 2004. I was a customer. 2009 is when I started building what became Talent Rover. Back in 2009, it was definitely a wild, wild west. Salesforce was still figuring out how to be a platform as a services company.

What does that mean?

What resources do you get?

What pricing?

All those different types of things. So I've got to see Salesforce evolve from a partner standpoint since then. And since then, there's been a lot of things that have happened with Salesforce partners. You have companies like Encino that went public and they're fully built on Salesforce. You have a company like Viva, massive company, mostly built on Salesforce, was completely built on Salesforce.

You have own backup and I can just rattle off a bunch. And then you have companies that have sold like Talent Rover sold, Job Science is sold, and then there's a Kimball has sold. There's just a ton.

So, yes, there's always inherent risk of building on someone else's platform. But there's also a tradeoff.

There's a tradeoff of what do you get with building on that platform?

Building on Salesforce is a massive accelerator because a lot of the stuff that you need is already there. So like all of the reports and dashboards that we use, that's already there. We have to create our architecture and our data structure to make them work in a certain way for our product. But it's a huge step forward. You basically have a whole CRM. So accounts and contacts and tasks and activities.

That's all there. You don't have to build all that stuff. But then there's a lot of nuances to it. Like Salesforce requires that you build a certain way so that you pass certain very rigorous security compliance that they do multiple times during the year and every time you have a new release. And when you go to market with a product, it's extensive security because they have to because it's a multi-tenancy environment.

You're with other applications and other customers. You also have to learn how to best build inside of their platform. It's not like building on a standalone solution.

What's the governance rules?

What can you do?

What can you not do?

How can you push things and move things around?

And then there's also the strategy of does it look like Salesforce?

Does it not look like Salesforce?

So there's a lot of product and engineering thought that goes into that. When we launched Talent Rover, we had no idea. We screwed up these things over and over again. And finally, we got them right, which is why I was saying with place, even with knowing how to build on Salesforce, it's still good as long as it did to build the product. The other thing, though, is the business strategy.

Like I have business strategies at the top of my mind when building these products on top of Salesforce.

So, for example, my newest company, Assemble, is an applicant tracking system designed to work with the Salesforce CRM licenses. So our customer will be a Salesforce customer that has a Salesforce license that we add on to. So to go to market strategy, business strategy that I want to partner with Salesforce to have Salesforce help us sell this ATS product to their customers.

Whereas at Talent Rover, I sold independent of Salesforce, but I knew I wanted companies that wanted to be on Salesforce.

So there's a whole methodology of does the Salesforce ecosystem make sense for your business, which is exciting for us because Blueprint, my consulting company, this is one of the biggest things that we do, is we help advise other companies who are thinking about building on Salesforce how to do it, should they do it. And then we actually help them build their product, which is super fun.

But it just comes down to strategy and like what value versus risk do you think you're going to get from building on a certain platform?

And then what's the economics of it?

Like how much is it going to cost you to build on that platform?

How much is it going to cost for every license you sell in the future or maintenance or security reviews or any of those things to come up with?

Does the strategy make sense?

Is it sound and is it worth taking the risk?

And is it worth taking all of your investors' money to do the risk?

Yeah, I think building any kind of company is always about trade-offs. That's the key word that you say there. And then you look at everything that brings it to me and you talk about the max acceleration of being able to grow faster and being able to leverage their customers.

And you understand the risks, but you look at the risks and you look at the pros and you feel like that's where you want to play and that works well.

But long-term, do you believe you're going to have a standalone product?

Because I saw a lot of products that get built on top of a platform and then eventually they also have their own standalone version because maybe you could connect for HubSpot, for example, another big CRM.

Or no, it's just going to always be on top of Salesforce.

We have so many HubSpot customers coming to us to place saying, can you make this work with HubSpot?

We have such a massive opportunity inside of the Salesforce ecosystem that we have to stay focused. If we don't stay focused and we try to chase everything, we chase nothing. So I never say never, but the likelihood of us building a standalone product outside of Salesforce is probably very minimal. And that goes for both place and assemble.

The Salesforce ecosystem is just too big and there's too much demand and it just continues to grow too quickly to not just try to be the solution for that ecosystem. So we'll see, but doubtful. Makes sense.

Of course, there's a lot of power and staying focused and being, like you say, the solution for that ecosystem.

So what's the first old shit moment that comes to mind from the early days of building your SaaS?

I mean, there's a bazillion of those moments.

You know, there was the time we almost ran out of money at Talent Rover and needed to find $300,000 to pay global payroll. That was a fun one.

There was, you know, whenever you're doing a funding round, are you going to be able to accomplish the round and hit the number you need to hit?

There's other ones where, you know, we were still a small company with Talent Rover. We had like 50 people and all of a sudden I was in front of the largest company in our space, the Adecco Group, who eventually went on to be a customer and we won the global relationship with them.

That was an old shit moment of, are we actually going to win this?

Do we really have a shot?

Like we did.

And, you know, then it was the old shit moment of, OK, what do we do next?

And how do we grow?

At Place, there was the old shit moment of, how do we overcome finance buyers not really wanting to do forecasting inside of Salesforce?

How do we crack and solve that nut to make that happen?

I mean, it's kind of endless, but they all have the same theme of you're faced with whatever the big challenge is that you don't know how to overcome.

And then how do you find a way?

And that's the, it goes so much into what we were talking about about repeat founders is that's one of the biggest reasons why investors like repeat founders is because they figure out a way. And it's also one of the reasons why I love Cash & Burn because that's exactly the stuff we talk about in Cash & Burn. But those are some of the bigger ones that I have.

Could you share a very smart decision you made in the early days of your SaaS company?

I'll tell you, I talent rover, one of the best things we decided to do is when we were winning the Adecco deal or trying to win the Adecco deal, which took about two and a half years to win the global relationship. I decided that we needed to separate our normal business from the Adecco business. So I created two different divisions.

I created one division that went after all of our normal client base and did not get distracted with everything we were doing on Adecco. And then I had another team that only focused on winning Adecco and separated companies.

It was really smart because when you're chasing, I don't know what they were, a $24 billion company with about 30,000 licenses on the line, whereas we probably had two or three thousand licenses with all of our other customers, it becomes very attractive to go, wow, that will change the whole company. And it did.

But you can't also risk the rest of the company because what would have happened if you didn't win the deal?

Then have you used all of your resources and distracted the whole company from this?

That's a really big one. One of the other big ones was a lesson that I learned from Talent River that I've applied at Place and Assemble is I don't like having a single company that's both a product company and a services company, especially not in the Salesforce space, meaning at Talent River, we sold our own deals or we sold our product and then we implemented and customized them.

And the challenge with that is if there was ever an implementation problem, challenge, hiccup, your team would get consumed solving the customer's need, which is what you have to do. You always got to put the customer first.

That would be a domino effect that all of a sudden your product roadmap in future development, future innovation, all of a sudden that was a problem because you were consuming those resources to focus on customer issues. So that's one of the reasons why Place and Blueprint started the way they did is I did not want all of the implementation work for Place to be part of Place.

So founding Blueprint and creating that consulting entity and separating those two businesses was to really solve that problem. And it's worked very well. That's awesome. I love how you talk about there's the well hunting. That's what you call going after those huge, huge organizations and they can really take your company down. Or you can win big. So I like how you mitigate the risk by splitting the organizations.

And I like the idea of separating implementation from product.

So how about a very big mistake that you made?

And what did you learn with that big mistake?

Like a very big decision that was a wrong decision. I think for me, one of the biggest things that I've learned over the years is my speed of response. I very data driven, I'm very fast moving person. There's a lot. I also learned my personality. Like I can consume the air in a room. I'm just a very confident person.

So I've learned when getting information in that may not be the best information and sometimes it's amazing information. I need to pause before I react. I can't just respond. I need to let it settle for a bit and then formulate how I'm going to respond and take into consideration human emotion. I can be very unemotional. I can be very just factual, especially if I'm stressed.

The more stressed I am, the more focused I get, the more quiet I get, the more data driven I get. And I've learned I need to be more human in those situations.

So learning the art of pausing before you react has been fundamental to me because it gives me a chance to process it from a data standpoint and then humanize it from an emotional standpoint so that I can react with both facts and empathy to whoever I'm interacting with. That's awesome.

So, Brandon, thank you very much for your time today. I have two final questions before you go.

The first question is I would love to know how the company looks today and what does the future look like?

Whatever you can share, your public revenue, number of employees, whatever you can share about where you guys are today and what you think you guys are going to get. The big thing, I mean, Place has about 70-something employees total. We're essentially doubling revenue every year or thereabouts. We're excited about 2023 because we've never been in the situation where we've been in where we really feel we have product-market fit.

We really feel we have the right leadership team in place. We really feel the go-to-market efforts that we've already started to release are starting to pay off. So we're excited about where this goes. We're super excited now to go after our biggest competitors head-to-head and have fun with that.

So very, very excited about that. With Assemble, we're just getting going, but it's insane. That thing can be a little rocket ship. So it's fun getting back into my old space. Different type of product, but a lot of the same connections, but with a different mindset of how to do it. And then I think Blueprint will continue to do this thing. So overall, I'm feeling pretty positive.

I'm actually feeling pretty positive about the economic climate in 2023 for all the companies right now, which maybe I'm an anomaly with saying that. But I don't know. I'm feeling bullish. We're going to have a good year. That's awesome.

And what book do you recommend for every SaaS founder and why?

Oh, boy. There's so many.

I mean, it's cliche, but one of my favorite books is The Hard Thing About Hard Things. It's just such a solid startup founder book. Another one, you mentioned the wording on it, but it's founder brand. That's a really good book if you're trying to get awareness for your company. I had a struggle with not wanting to always be the face of the company, if you will.

But founder brand really gives you some insight as to why doing that actually will help drive your business to new heights. So those are two really good ones. I'm reading a book called Power right now, which is pretty interesting. So we'll see where that goes. That's awesome. Thank you very much for your time, Brandon.

And if people want to follow it, learn more about you, where do you should go?

Best thing is LinkedIn. I have a Twitter, but I'm never on it.

LinkedIn, I'm very, very active on. So it's LinkedIn, just Brandon Metcalf. Awesome. Thank you very much. All right.

Thanks, Brandon. SaaS Origin Stories is brought to you by DevSquad. To find out more about how we help entrepreneurs launch new products and help larger businesses plug in a ready-to-go development team, visit devsquad.com. Add us to your rotation by searching for SaaS Origin Stories in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click follow so you don't miss any future episodes. Thanks for listening.

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