Selling a new wave of enterprise software to small businesses is tough.
First, it’s the product.
PSA (Professional Services Automation) isn’t really a product category yet, it’s too young. Because of this, we spend a lot of time teaching people what Accelo is (fighting against the overwhelmed or the confused) and living under hundreds of customers complaining and asking for more (building a new product together).
From a high-level, we combine 3 well-known tools, and tag on 1 new product.
- CRM: Which is nearly saturated with Salesforce.com leading the way for Pipedrive, Capsule, Sugar, Insightly, and Zoho.
- Project Management: Currently really hot with Basecamp and Microsoft Projects leading to Asana, Podio, Slack, and Mavenlink.
- Services / Ticket Tracking: A category, which, really only known to support techs, has been busy reaching new markets and moving to the cloud with Zendesk, Desk.com, and Freshdesk.
- Retainers: Our often forgotten product. And for a good reason — it isn’t really a product category in the market yet. That’s how Accelo can be the #1 Google Search result for retainer management software.
The enterprise world kind of knows what a PSA is — OpenAir (Netsuite), AutoTask, Work ETC — but it’s still new to them too.
It’s awesome to innovate and to pave the way, but it’s also a long ways towards market acceptance. We are winning the business of early adopters but can’t keep all of them because we are just so early. Those who go with us are buying into our vision and putting up with the bumpy, dirt “road” that gets them there (like the promise of the West to 1800s Eastern Americans through ideas like Manifest Destiny). That’s why we have a small, but fantastic group of those who absolutely love us — i.e., pioneers.
Next, it’s us.
Because Accelo is such as big product, it takes a lot of work to pull ideas out of our heads, scope new features, translate those into mockups, code, test, market, call, demo, train, and support it.
To put our effort in perspective, Salesforce.com does all of those things above but just for a CRM: that’s 1/4th of our product. *To be fair, they now have Assistly, ExactTarget, Pardot, RelateIQ, and others under that umbrella, but Accelo is a much wider product than their offerings.
Salesforce’s most recent headcount was at 16,227, up from 12,770 in October 31, 2013.
On that same day in 2013, Accelo had 8 team members total: 3 in our San Francisco Operations office (Geoff the CEO, Ali on sales, and Mahlon on support) and 5 in our Wollongong Engineering Office (Eamonn, Christine, Hugh, Glenn, Kurt). We are completely outnumbered in this fight, yet we continually win over customers who are leaving Salesforce and other programs like it to go with something better.
While being outnumbered is tough, scaling is even harder. We went from 8 employees in 2013 to about 50 in 2016. Our customer count from roughly 200 to 600 in the same time. We just signed on a 220-person digital agency to a 20-person pilot program (our customers are rarely larger than 15 people). With this exciting growth comes a very tactile challenge of human growing pains like communication failures, turnover, and authority uncertainty. And it sucks.
But beyond the pain, building something, especially for the first time, is something beautiful and worthwhile. It will stay with us forever and will define what we’ve brought to this world. It’s not a line item on your CV or bragging rights at a dinner party. It’s bringing creation into a place that’s natural order is destruction, or at best, a convergence to the mean.
Lastly, it’s them.
Our customers are nerds, design nuts, and bookworms. Some went to business school, most watched a 30-minute YouTube video on invoicing and fell asleep.
But they are passionate and work their asses off.
While they work in the professional services industry, they are far from professional (in the traditional sense). They cuss, beg for discounts because of personal debt, and don’t show up on time — or at all —to our meetings.
But they are creative and know that just because something doesn’t exist today doesn’t mean it won’t tomorrow.
And for some reason, they see something in us; as quirky as they are, we love them because they pay our salaries so we don’t have to sell ourselves to the venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road.
Selling Accelo is tough. So is loving unconditionally or finding the purpose of life. But we strive for it; we give it our best.
This is all an experiment, and that’s the fun of it. These ripples we are already making in the marketplace can become currents, and it’s up to us to shape this stream we’re standing in.
Internal memo – February 12, 2016