Dan Siroker, co-founder and CEO of Optimizely, reached $10 million in ARR with very little capital. They found evangelists easily and early, and took on Adobe and Oracle to become a dominant player in just a few years. So yeah, he’s pretty good at this. In this panel, Siroker talks with Ajay Agarwal, managing director of Bain Capital Ventures, about Optimizely’s non-traditional approach to sales, keeping culture as the company grows, and more.
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In a nutshell:
- Specializing in a few verticals early on can help you gain traction.
- Choose your use case such that customers become evangelists.
- Don’t discount the end-user entry point: 70% of Optimizely’s would-be customers make a decision before a sales rep picks up the phone.
A: He understood the customers’ pain points very well. When he worked on Obama’s campaign, he struggled to A/B test their messaging. This understanding informed not only entry into the market, but also product development. For example, he deprioritized multivariate testing at first because most customers valued ease of use over that functionality.
Q: How did you approach sales?
A: In order to be successful, they reached their end users (marketers) well before their sales team even got in the picture. Marketers found Optimizely so useful that they became advocates – to the point where 70% of decisions were made before sales got involved. Optimizely went from $1m in ARR to $10m with almost no capital. They pulled it off because they made something people wanted to share – marketers, their core group, love talking to other marketers.
Q: Did you try to target certain verticals?
A: No, and in retrospect they should have. They probably could have gotten more traction if they’d focused on a specific set of problems, like travel, retail or media, then generalized to the broader market.
Q: How do you handle hiring?
A: The “culture fit” question is thorny – at Google, they selected for ill-defined “googliness” which ended up just meaning whether or not they liked the candidate. Instead, Optimizely laid out core values and structured interview questions to filter for those values.
Q: How do you decide which values fall by the wayside as you scale?
A: Values don’t change as you scale, but mechanisms do. Take transparency – in the early days, they send the whole team summaries of meetings. Now they use Slack, which is pull rather than push.
Q: How did Optimizely pivot from testing to testing and personalization?
A: Adding personalization was rough. They should have charged the product and engineering teams with finding six reference customers before building the whole thing out.
Q: Any last thoughts?
A: We’re seeing the consumerization of enterprise sales. Give people the opportunity to test and use your product, then grow relationships over time.