Regret #1: We should have experimented with monthly subscriptions sooner
Just mentioning this concept rolled eyes and raised eyebrows on my team.
Everyone was either a nay or an abstention on this one. I couldn’t get a single ally. It was a touchy subject because the implications were huge. Everyone was right about that. When we ultimately landed here, we had to lay off half the company.
I believed this is what our customers wanted, but I couldn’t convince anyone that it made business sense. Yes, it might cannibalize our other plans. Yes, it might piss off the sales reps. (I was sensitive to this because I managed the sales team for all of 2015, but I wanted to try it anyway.) Yes, it could lower our average revenue per user and (only temporarily, I hoped) throw our unit economics out of whack.
I still advocated the flexible, month-to-month subscription because I saw that our traditional sales-driven enterprise approach was not working. Our customers didn’t want to purchase our writing on contracts. They were oil and the packages we sold were vinegar. The people who signed, and we did get a lot of signatures, would not renew because the acidic stench eventually overwhelmed them. Our status quo was failing.
We needed bookings in order to grow into a scalable, ultimately profitable company. When bookings would lag, we’d nitpick the sales leadership (which was me at this point) and then reorganize our plans and collateral. Instead of addressing the problem, we’d focus on the symptoms, and come up with new names and pricing for the plans that didn’t work. It was lipstick on a pig and I think we all knew it.
I’d say in these many meetings that not giving our customers what they wanted was wrong. We had to listen to them and then figure out how to make it work. Conversation would ensue, and the conclusion would be made that my idea was too risky, would change too much, the board would never approve it, and that we shouldn’t give up on the status quo yet.
One afternoon in the midst of all of this I was sitting in a conference room with our Head of Product. We had just gone through another grueling series of meetings debating the features and pricing for our 3, 6, and 12-month contracts. We looked at the whiteboard full of notes and I said, “I promise you, we’re eventually going to be a monthly subscription company. It’s going to happen.”
Then he laughed. We both laughed. Sadly, when we shifted to the monthly subscription model a few months later, he was one of the guys we had to lay off.
Regret #2: We should have never stopped email marketing
I’m not sure why this one was so controversial. I knew email marketing worked. In the earliest days of Scripted, this is all we did.
The trick to email marketing, and plenty has been written about this, is simply to match the right message to the right person at the right time. I say it’s simple because the wide availability of the data you need to do it makes it simple. You can get data on any company and any person. You can inexpensively build lists with low bounce rates, test your subject lines and calls to action, and use software to automatically follow up until you get a reply. That takes care of the right message and the right person.
The third dimension, at the right time, takes care of itself if you can send a lot of email. When you have a product that has broad demand (like writing), your lists can be very large. Someone is bound to have the burning need at the time we email them, and our customer acquisition cost (CAC) data shows this to be true.
Today it’s one of our best channels, profitable by a good margin, and yet I battled my team for years to let me do it. In fact, it wasn’t until I became CEO that we finally went big on email marketing. Jake, our CTO, built an amazing machine to manage and track our email campaigns, and the data unequivocally says it works. That cold email CAC from Q4 is even lower today.
At the time, though, the arguments against it varied from wanting to protect our brand to concern that we already a bunch of dormant leads.
On the brand front, I stand by this technique so staunchly, I actually have all the emails come from me. My name, my message, my reputation. We’ve sent tens of thousands of emails, and I haven’t had a single complaint come directly to me. I think we had one person complain on Twitter about the campaigns, but I’ll take that. 1 in 30,000 is a mighty fine complaint rate.
The dormant lead argument was basically, “Why drum up leads from email marketing when we have a bunch of leads in our database already?” The sales team should be calling them!
I didn’t understand what makes an email lead different from a webinar lead. If we don’t need leads from email, then logically we shouldn’t need leads from any other channel. Yet we’d still spend tens of thousands of dollars each month on webinars and AdWords. Email marketing was just another channel, except it’s super cheap and super scalable. Why discriminate against the one channel that works?
Whatever I tried to get my team to support email marketing, I couldn’t do it.
The lesson here? I suppose if I had to do it all over again, I’d have gone rogue and just started speaking to customers about the monthly plans, collected quotes, and presented to our management team and CEO. On email marketing, I actually did run my own very small campaigns, and could show that it worked, but I never presented the data and the case to expand it.
There’s another interesting article to write about being the “other”, non-CEO co-founder of a business. I was probably too sensitive about this. I wasn’t CEO of Scripted until just recently, and as co-founder I served in operations, business development, sales, and marketing. I felt that I needed to be careful about playing the co-founder card in meetings because, really, what does that card even get you? It’s ultimately the CEO’s decision.