With a sigh, a roll of his eyes, and absolute certainty in the voice he’ll support the idea that a startup is the undeniable quest of searching for a business model. Learndot’s cofounder Paul Lambert has the worn out boot soles to prove it. “It’s really been the story of finding the product-market fit,” he said.
In the Fall of 2011 his team was a member of Growlabs first cohort, and trying to find a home in the competitive Learning Management System space. The journey has led to Learndot team to re-launching as a Customer Education platform for SaaS Customer Success Managers.
Lambert admitted getting to the point where he really had no idea what it’s like to be in a big company needing to train hundreds of employees across multiple locations, saying “I’m sure it’s an interesting problem, but not one I can relate too.” The challenge became building a product he’d love to use.
It was recognizing that being a customer success manager isn’t easy. They might have a number of different analytics platforms to choose from for their SaaS customers (Gainsight, Totango, Bluenose Analytics Inc., just to name a few), but the Learndot team started asking questions like, what should success managers do once they realize a customer is on the verge of churning or renewal? How do they scale themselves to help many customers at once? In most cases, the answer is proactively teaching customers how to better use their software through a customizable Academy or University.
In getting to the point of asking the right questions, Lambert shared what a grind it’s really been. Easy to say, but really hard to do especially for many startup entrepreneurs is learning to say no to opportunity and yes to focus.
After testing three different main customer segment landing pages, “it became clear that the fastest growth was in customer training. It also became clear in retrospect that as the CEO of the company that I’d been struggling with focus. It was a scary prospect deciding to say no to 40 percent of our customer base. We had some really good paying clients in the employee training space.”
“A bad decision is better than no decision. I think that’s right, especially as a startup you have to execute,” added Lambert. Admitting he wasn’t doing his job, he was blunt: “my responsibility is to make a f**king decision. You can’t inspire anyone when there’s no focus.”
With that focus, Learndot is now offering a scalable, intuitive process for customer success managers to create great learning content. It’s all about seamless customer onboarding, and allowing customer success teams to build courses using existing materials, or starting from scratch.
The real breakthrough came for Lambert when he was thinking about a business story, and not the product. He talked about the value of writing a great positioning statement. That’s after he struggled for years, never being able to define it. After 3 ½ years of being an entrepreneur, writing “Churn Down, Engagement Up” came naturally. “It was the lightbulb fully turning-on moment, it felt real and felt natural. It gave me the focus.”
Finding a product/market fit eludes so many startup entrepreneurs. Not finding it spells the end. In fact Marc Andreesen says “the only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit.”
As Lambert shows, a big part of getting there is getting your story right.