We have the privilege of working with some of the most cutting-edge and accomplished GTM leaders in SaaS. These leaders and their teams at fast-growing companies like Deep Instinct, Esper, FireMon, iSpot, Krisp.ai, and more have helped shape the Relevvo product. Here’s the next post in our series where we share some of these gathered insights with you.
Today, we’re thrilled to welcome Jake Braly, CMO at Krisp.ai. Jake has held various roles focused on new venture creation, new market development, and revenue growth for technology businesses. Prior to Krisp, Jake led global marketing and alliances at Highspot through its rapid growth phases from a $50M valuation to $3.6B. Prior to that Jake led product marketing and go-to-market strategy for Apptio’s top-grossing SaaS products through its successful IPO in 2016. Throughout his career, Jake has held leadership positions at K2 Software, Microsoft, IBM, and multiple startups and early-stage ventures.
Founded in 2017, Krisp pioneered the world’s first AI-powered Voice Productivity software. Krisp’s Voice AI technology enhances digital voice communication through audio cleansing, noise cancelation, accent localization, and call transcription and summarization. We’re huge fans of Krisp.ai here at Relevvo, and this interview itself was powered by Krisp. I conducted this interview from a noisy coffee shop while Jake was at an airport and neither of us could tell that because there was no background noise at all. Also, the transcript and notes that I used for the interview were generated by Krisp as well. Very nifty!
In our chat, we cover the biggest mistake made by Marketers at early-stage startups, the frameworks that Marketers can use to identify and scale patterns of growth, how Marketers get better with experience, and how a crisp Ideal Customer Profile definition can be a gamechanger in the growth journey.
Aashish Dhamdhere (AD): Jake, let me start by asking you about the biggest mistake that you see Marketers make at early-stage startups. What comes to mind?
Jake Braly (JB): The most common mistake that I see early-stage startup Marketers make is trying to force-fit a playbook that’s worked for them in the past. These playbooks are typically based on strategies that have worked for them at a different company profile or stage. But no two early-stage startups are alike, so playbooks and “best practices” can’t be applied blindly. And if you try to force-fit this approach, you end up wasting precious time and resources and you will ultimately fail.
The second mistake I see Marketers make is not realizing that their most important goal is accelerating the path to growth. Marketers are typically brought on when a company has at least some product-market fit validated. The company has established that there’s a need for the product and that there are customers who are willing to pay for it. What they don’t know is the best way to drive scalable growth across a universe of potential opportunities. Figuring this out is the Marketer’s most important charter.
This means Marketers have to focus not just on messaging, positioning, and lead generation – but also on identifying all of the patterns that indicate potential for scalable growth. This typically involves identifying the most valuable use case, highest-paying customers, and best account profiles as quickly as possible. The faster a startup moves through this uncertain go-to-market fit phase, the faster it can achieve scale, and the best way to identify these patterns is through testing and optimization. Marketers have to remember that in this stage the whole objective is to fast fail, fast iterate, and learn as quickly as possible. This is because the faster you learn, the faster you get out to the other side, which is when you have scalable growth.
AD: That resonates! You’re looking at what’s working and you’re breaking that down into some combination of use case, account attributes, persona attributes, and messaging. How did you do it? What’s an approach that you would recommend?
JB: Let me start by saying that it’s always challenging at this stage because typically you have a deficit of data. And even if you have data, it might not be statistically significant, so you have to be careful to be data-informed and not data-driven. What you need is a reasonable amount of qualitative and quantitative data to start the pattern-matching exercise and identify what’s working and what’s not.
This is best set up as hypotheses of the ICP definition, the persona profiles, the messaging, and the value proposition. You have to develop an understanding of the biggest pain drivers and then use that to inform the pricing and the packaging of your offerings. The good news is that you have a lot of variables to work with, but that is also the challenge! You have to pick your variables and areas of focus carefully. All with the goal of setting up hypotheses that you can validate or invalidate as quickly as possible.
A great place to start is by looking at what’s working today. Where are you booking meetings? Where are you generating opportunities and closed won deals? What are the commonalities? What messaging is generating meetings? This can help you set up the right framework to test and learn quickly and to identify those patterns of growth and market validation.
AD: In my experience, if you’ve done startups before, you seem to get better at pattern recognition. Has this been your experience as well? How do you develop a gut instinct for these patterns?
JB: There’s no substitute for experience! At-bats help you develop an intuition that’s based on what’s worked and failed in the past. You’re really looking to build frameworks and mental models that you can apply to a variety of stages, products, and market situations.
This intuition helps you start in the right place, especially with the variables that I mentioned earlier. It helps you prioritize the right variables and the right hypotheses to test. It’s important to call out here that prioritization matters because you need your hypotheses to work their way through the funnel. That takes time and so you have to pick carefully! You have to ‘flow the water through the pipes’ in order to understand as quickly as possible what the signals are telling you so that you can adjust and optimize.
Something super important to consider here is the dynamic of the product offering itself. A platform product where you can build something to spec is going to operate and behave much differently than something that just works out of the box without less need for customization, as an example. This is where prior experience is going to help you determine where to start.
While you need to get foundational go-to-market elements like use case definitions, ICP, account profiles, and messaging frameworks done in each case – what’s different is where you start and what you choose to take on first.
AD: It would be super helpful if you could walk us through an example here. How would you do things differently for a product focused on a particular function versus one that spans functions? I’m thinking that is particularly relevant because of your experience at Apptio where you were focused on the IT audience versus at Krisp where you target multiple functions.
JB: Yes, I’ve been fortunate to work on products that run the gamut from Apptio to Highspot to now Krisp.ai. Apptio is fully focused on the IT audience, and for that reason, the persona profile was the most important to understand. You had to get a handle on a few things. What does this persona care about? What are the key attributes that make this persona consider a solution? What are their pains? What kind of value could we offer? And this persona profile was the first thing that we had to get right.
Highspot is also a horizontal solution but focused on a different function: Sales and GTM. The key difference is that there isn’t a lot of customization possible, which is in sharp contrast to my experience at Apptio. There’s a tighter value proposition, which means the account profile becomes way more important than the persona profile. The account attributes, and particularly the maturity profile and technographic profile of the account tell you if they’re a good prospect to go after or not. This is what we had to get right first.
Krisp is an interesting mix. It’s a multi-faceted product with a gigantic TAM, which presents both a massive opportunity and a massive challenge. What’s absolutely essential at this stage is the focus. We have to constantly ask ourselves where we’re seeing the biggest return on our investments to get to go-to-market fit. In some ways, we’ve learned this the hard way. The hard-earned lesson is that being everything to everybody is not the right way to optimize your GTM and your ROI.
With this realization, we’ve focused a lot on understanding our core use cases, the related user and firmographic profiles, and the ICP that makes the most sense. The tip of the spear for us is the use cases with the other elements following close behind.
AD: That’s a very helpful framework! What process or series of steps do you recommend that Marketers follow to get the key positioning elements defined?
JB: A lot of what I’m using here is coming from my background as a B2B Product Marketer. I recommend that you start with the Total Addressable Market (TAM). Validating the TAM is an essential first step. You want to make sure that the market that you’re focusing on is viable and attractive. That it’s large and that there’s a customer willingness to pay. You also want to ascertain that there’s white space that you believe you can pursue. What you want to do is test what already exists as a definition or develop an updated definition that you can test.
The next foundational piece to tackle is account profiles. This is where you define not just the market that you want to go after but also the market that you’re not focused on. One of the first things I did at Krisp was to say that companies with less than 200 employees are not the best market for us because there just isn’t enough upside or Lifetime Value to justify the customer acquisition and customer support costs. You definitely want to test for this in your target markets as well.
The next important piece is the Ideal Customer Profile. The ICP helps you zoom in on accounts that are a good fit for your solution. It captures the important element of timing because what you’re looking for is companies that are at the front of the adoption curve for your offering. Market timing is underappreciated as a driver of company success. It’s really hard to predict but it can end up having the biggest impact on the success of a startup. So one of the hacks, if you will, is to define your ICP in terms of an adoption curve. You’re looking for the early adopters and the companies that are going to be on the innovation side. Companies that are willing to take risks and have enough pain to be early adopters. These are the key 3 elements that I recommend Marketers start with.
AD: Speaking of ICP, how is Relevvo helping you in this journey?
JB: I just shared how ICP is a critical foundational element for all Marketing activities. That’s not exactly a secret. What is less well understood is that most companies don’t have an accurate or usable definition of their ICP. Why? Because it’s painful to structure your ICP definition in a way that’s easy to test and validate. You have to go find and match the data from a host of sources. Even if you do that, you have to then match it with your CRM data. This can be too much for most companies, so they either refresh this definition once every few years or not at all.
That’s a shame because today’s markets are moving so fast that you have to keep testing and validating these assumptions on an ongoing basis. What you really need is a way to track your active ICP. If you take the example of technology adoption, look at how quickly the adoption story changed between Microsoft Teams and Slack. And that’s just based on one technographic attribute. What you need is a way to track your ICP across multiple attributes. And that’s exactly where Relevvo comes in. It’s helping us in two important ways.
First, Relevvo helps us accelerate the testing and validation process for our ICP. All without the typical manual lift that this would require. We can use a variety of dimensions to define our ICP segments, and then Relevvo helps us track these dimensions on an ongoing basis. The data is always up-to-date and dynamic. We can iterate based on the market feedback, and develop new assumptions, and test them dynamically and continually. The core idea is to get a dynamic definition of your ICP, which is absolutely essential in today’s environment.
Second, we can do this testing not just for the typical firmographic and technographic dimensions but add on other elements that capture that critical element of market timing. These are pieces that are not captured by the typical data providers but are extremely important to us because they help us identify the early adopters in the market that have a pain or a need that they’re looking to address right now.
I can’t think of another platform that could help us do both of these things together. And that’s what Relevvo is making possible for us.
AD: Thank you for the time today, Jake. It’s a pleasure to partner with the Krisp team. We’re learning so much and we look forward to continuing the great work!