Part 3 of a 3 part series on the acquisition of GatherUp. Aaron shares about the transition of working for the company after the sale of GatherUp. What's different, what is the same, challenges and wins are all covered in this last episode of the series.
00:00 Aaron Weiche: Hey everyone, this next episode was recorded on March 5th, 2020, so ahead of COVID-19 and everything we are all experiencing right now. I just wanted to pop in ahead of that as we haven't published it until now in mid-April (April 15th, 2020), and didn't want the conversation, our tone, or our excitement for certain things to be taken out of context. So, thanks for listening. We hope everyone is well, and we hope to get on the other side of this soon. With that, we'll bring you the third part of "Selling GatherUp" and Darren and I will be back in a couple of weeks to give a further update on how our businesses are doing now, during COVID-19 and the pandemic.
00:56 AW: Episode 18, Selling GatherUp. Part three, the Transition.
01:02 Speaker 2: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. Sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrap SaaS company. Hear the experiences, challenges, wins and losses shared in each episode from Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. Let's go.
01:30 AW: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. I'm Aaron.
01:33 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.
01:35 AW: And welcome to the month of March. Things are taking off quickly in 2020 for me. I don't know... What's that look like for you, Darren? Has the first two months of the year been a blur, or a little slow progression into the year?
01:50 DS: It's been pretty blurry. We have a lot of stuff going on right now, so yeah, it's been busy. I'm just really excited about everything that we're building right now. So it's gone by like nothing. Where'd those two months go?
02:03 AW: Yeah. Do you ever feel like you're already looking, especially at the end of this month, when you're like, "Okay, Q1 of the year is done, and now I only have nine more months to accomplish all my hopes and dreams for the year." Do you ever look at that that early and just feel like, "Oh my gosh, I'm behind the eight ball"?
02:21 DS: No, I have a really terrible sense of time, and so I always think everything is gonna... Everything, all my hopes and dreams are gonna launch in the next three weeks. That's what I always think.
02:34 DS: But then it ends up like nine months later, right? But yeah so that's kinda... I don't understand how time works and so it always takes a lot longer than I think. So I feel like we're on the cusp of launching everything and it's all just about to happen. But then there's a testing phase, and tweaking phase, and beta testing phase. So it just ends up taking a lot longer. But I just really feel like this is the year, man, all my hopes and dreams, they're just about to burst out of our email newsletter. "Oh my God, look what we launched." It's gonna happen. We've got a few things lined up. They're all really close.
03:10 AW: That's awesome. I love the internal optimism too. That means all the way up until December 31st you're still like, "Yeah, we're gonna get it out there. Just wait."
03:18 DS: Well, even if that rolled around on December 31st, I'd be like, "Guys, two more weeks! We're almost there."
03:24 DS: So close. You just feel perpetually like, "Ah, two more weeks." I'm always so damn excited.
03:30 AW: You've definitely dropped that before in past episodes that you feel like you're always saying, "Just a couple more weeks."
03:37 DS: It's always two more weeks. It's a running joke at Whitespark, actually. Two weeks. 'Cause people ask me, "How long is that gonna take?" and by default I just say "Two weeks" now.
03:46 AW: That's awesome.
03:47 DS: How about you? How has it been the first couple of months of the year in the new company structure?
03:53 AW: Yeah, and that's definitely a lot of what we wanna talk about today is post-sale and what that transition's been like. In the day-to-day business realm though, it's been really good because we had so many things that almost kind of started to log jam and be on the same path at the same time towards the end of the year, and that really caused us to pause and then look at, "How do we release these in the best cadence to start the year?" So it became very much like... Alright, this is gonna happen on January 15th, this is gonna happen on January 31st, this is gonna happen on February this date. And so we're able to take three to four larger things and really map them out ahead of time, and then just a normal plan the work and then work the plan. And that went really well for us.
04:48 DS: Nice.
04:49 AW: Yeah, kinda all wrapped up last week with our new user management system, which is... It's really cool. This is one of those things not to... I don't wanna get too far off on a tangent with this, but when you release certain features, it's a lot of fun because they have a lot of sex appeal to them and it might be innovative or no one's doing it in a certain way and that can be really fun. And when you get into user management, this is one of those plumbing things and underlying fabrics that no one gets all that excited about it. It comes up in conversations and things like that, but it never escalates to the point where it's like, "This has to be dealt with," or "This is a must," or anything else.
But last year we really started looking at things related to our user management, just because we get a lot of different set-ups and how people wanna handle it, and things like that. And for the life of our product, we basically have always had just two user types. One was the account owner, which could only be one person being the account owner, and then everyone else on the system was just a user. And then that user had, I think we had five different special permissions that would either enable or limit that user in what they could do.
06:00 AW: And it was unbelievably basic, but for thousands and tens of thousands of users, it worked and it was never a big enough... There's never a big enough pain where people were like, "I just can't do this anymore." But last year we really started thinking, "How do we improve this?" One of the things that we've been asked. And we started modeling it out... It really started happening at our summit.
I kind of put together a really loose structure and brought it to the team as a whole when we were face-to-face and said, "This is how I see this, this is how I think this could work and let's just start poking holes in it, and see what buy is there." And after an hour discussion, everybody was kind of like half-nodding their head like, "Yeah, yeah, I think this can work." The outcome of it, about six months of work. And it turned into a system where we created really six distinct user roles, and then inside of each role, it's an upgrade basis.
06:55 AW: At the lowest end, you have a read-only, then you have a contributor, then you have a team member, so each user level steps up into what you can do. And then, to take it one step further, that type of structure isn't anything earth-shattering, but what we did inside of each role is give you a specific set of on and off toggles that allowed you to really customize the role and change it for how you wanted it to work.
So, not only did you have these five, six designated roles that you can just switch someone between being an admin and a team, and that will limit or enable what you need them to do, but now I can go into the team member role and I might have 10 options that I can turn off or turn on depending upon what the default is for that role.
07:42 AW: So, it literally made it limitless and it ended up being one of those things that was really cool, 'cause one, everyone on our team touched being part of building that feature, right? We wanted to know... Yeah, we wanted to know how everyone in customer success felt about it, and product, and sales, all these different angles. So, everyone had a say in it. Number two, I really felt like we built something, and I get there'd be all kinds of roadblocks based on how you've built your product and the tech stack. But I really look and I'm like, "Alright, we've built this user management, the thought process and the strategy we took with it, and this could be a product all by itself."
Just in theory, if you said, "Here's a great way to solve user management between the roles you have and the amount of customizable permissions and things like that, and how easy it is to use and what the interface is." I totally think it could be its own product, it would be... It's just a utility, it's a non-sexy, marketing, none of that kind of stuff.
08:41 AW: And then the last part is it touches all of our customers. When we flipped the switch on this, it changed for everyone on the same day, right? So, thousands of accounts changing over at once. And we had... I'm knocking on wood at the same time, this is over a week ago, we had a handful of small things that needed a small tweak or correction. And that was just really gratifying.
09:06 DS: Well, the people in the old system, whatever the user management was, those would have just migrated over to the new system and nothing would have changed for them, right? So, yeah.
09:14 AW: Yeah. We just mapped them from where they were. We just basically created a map that if you're this type of user with these two permissions, then you would become a contributor in the new user roles. But it was a very large... All of the things that had to be thought of and how things were tied in and the mapping of roles and the communication around it and how we gave early access to some of our bigger customers and did calls with them. It was just, it was a really big thing to do. And it was also a hard decision to use all the resources to do that, but I pretty much feel like now, if someone asks us to do anything with user roles and user management for the next 10 years, we can just be like, "No, it's already... Our system's well beyond anything else you're using, so we're not gonna... "
09:56 DS: Yeah, yeah, you've got full control, really.
09:57 AW: So, anyway, that's a very long...
10:00 DS: Interesting.
10:00 AW: Long-winded on that, but it was really cool to me. I was super proud of our team. I shared that with them just this week and realized this is just something non... This isn't a head turner for people, but our team actually did a really head-turning job with how they approached it, how we executed it, and how we brought it to market within the product, which is really cool.
10:21 DS: Nice. Yeah, I could learn something there, I think. I often, on the software side of things, I mostly just talk to Deb about it, and sometimes we flip the switch and we're like, "To us, we don't think it's a big deal, we don't have to promote it." Just be like, "Yeah, we just launched a new feature," and we just move on with our lives. It makes the software better, right? But I think it was a great opportunity for us to get support involved, get marketing involved, really take the time to communicate it well, and get the best mileage out of it too. It's another marketing opportunity. And so, some of these little things that we... Obviously the thing you just launched wasn't a big... Wasn't a little thing, it was a huge thing, but it just makes me think about what I need to do with some of our upcoming launches, for sure.
11:00 AW: Yeah. I can say, one of the most important things that we do is talking with our support and customer success team, and when we put something out there saying like, "Alright, how many different problems does this solve for you in tickets you answer, in chats you have, whatever else. And are we missing something that would really take it over the top that we should consider?" So, that's a very valuable group 'cause they're always talking to your customers.
11:25 DS: Yeah, we look at that, too. I have a call every two weeks with the support team and they raise issues that are constantly recurring, people that have a complaint about this or that, and so that's how we try to prioritize a lot of the features that we launch, based off of that.
11:39 AW: No, very smart move. Alright.
11:41 DS: Yeah, alright. So, do you wanna talk about what it's like in the new version of GatherUp ever since you've been acquired?
11:48 AW: Yeah. I mean, mostly I wanna tie off our three-part series here, and then we can return to our normal format where you're talking as much as I'm talking, and I don't have to be put on the spot anymore, so I'm...
12:02 DS: Oh, I don't think I'll ever talk as much as you are.
12:04 AW: Now you sound like my wife. [laughter] But yeah. So, just taking a look at everything after the sale, it's like we covered the why in part one, the entire process in part two. It's been really fun too. I've gotten a number of emails and tweets and LinkedIn messages of people just saying that they've enjoyed it, and looking forward to the next part in it. And that was the whole goal, that's why you and I decided to do this, is how can we bring this to light, 'cause I really felt like I was... I didn't have enough resources that I felt like applied to our situation when we were entering it and going through it, and I thought, "Well, if we can put some stuff that's out there, and I can share what was specific to ours, and some of the thinking and the emotional pieces, and that's helpful so that someone else has one more little thing to go off of in their process, then it's totally worth it.
13:00 DS: Yeah, totally. These are great episodes.
13:01 AW: Hopefully, they will be good for all time. So, yeah, I think a quick high-level summary and then let you pick away at some questions and see where things morph from there. But at this point, we're roughly 120 days out, so four full months out from the close of the sale. And really much of it, we're still in the transition period.
Like some things have definitely started to show their path and the direction they're going and what it's gonna be like, but there's still plenty of others that are up in the air where you just haven't worked across that scenario or that situation in it yet.
13:44 AW: By no means is it like, "Oh, yeah, well the transition was the first 30 days or the first 90 days." I can easily say at 120 days. Yeah, no, there's still transition that's happening in different ways, in different elements.
13:58 DS: Yeah, this particular episode of the three-part series is the one that... I guess they're all super-interesting to me, but I'm really keen on this one. I'm imagining this day that if Whitespark ever sold, what would it be like? I would assume they would want me to be still in the company. And then what's it like answering to somebody else? How do they change the structure? How does the company culture change? How do you integrate with that new leadership? I'm really keen to hear about all of those things, so I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say about it.
14:32 AW: Cool. Well hopefully we cover all of that and then some.
14:35 DS: Yeah.
14:37 AW: One thing I guess... One area where I just wanna start with, it's usually the first question that people ask me after the acquisition and things like that were, did you have to stay? Right?
14:47 DS: Yeah.
14:47 AW: Was it part of the purchase agreement, as it's usually referred to, golden handcuffs where you might have an earn-out. And that's very popular in deals, especially with things in service businesses, because they wanna maintain consistency.
15:03 DS: Yeah.
15:03 AW: So you might get X amount of the deal upfront, and then another percentage after a year, and another after two, and then maybe at three years, then you've fully have earned out what the purchase was.
15:15 DS: Yeah.
15:15 AW: And in our case it wasn't that at all. The deal was 100% cash at close. And two of our founders, Don and Thomas chose to roll off, and move in different directions. Don had already embedded himself in a new position working with Ford in their mobility program, so he was kind of already on a different path, with me running the company. But Mike Blumenthal and I just looked at it, and I think the biggest things is one, we just really love what we're doing, and love the product that we've created, and what it does. And the both of us to one degree or another were like, "Yeah, I wanna keep going and I wanna see what things look like on the other side of this."
Specifically for me, it was, I had been given all the votes of confidence, like your plans for the product, we're not gonna mess with those. We want you to keep doing what you're doing. We would love to have you and keep running GatherUp and those kind of pieces. So all of those things were for me specific to GatherUp, felt like, "Yeah. This is what I wanna keep doing. I'm not done in what I wanted to create here, and put out into the world."
16:27 DS: Yeah, I find that really surprising that a company would buy GatherUp and not wanna keep... That they didn't put that right into the contract. Like how did they feel that they have the confidence to come in here and just be like, "Okay, well cool, see you guys later. We got it here." [chuckle] How are they gonna keep everything running. I can't imagine buying the company and not locking in the primary decision-makers for a good year at least, before you can transition. It's just amazing to me. It feels like GatherUp wouldn't be as successful if all four of you had left.
17:02 AW: Yeah, well, I think it would be as successful, just maybe different. Right?
17:07 DS: Yeah, it would be different for sure.
17:08 AW: Yeah. And I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges through all of this stuff is like emotions. I've already talked about the emotions during the process and all of those kind of things. And there's a lot of that to this too, because you've created this, you look at it, and you have some amount of thinking to yourself like no one could do it as well as me. I have historical knowledge, and I have this feel for it, and I have all these other things. But the truth is that's not 100% true. It's true in the version of the story that you're telling, but there's also other versions of that story that could be equally successful.
17:44 DS: Sure.
17:44 AW: And I think in the case of Alpine Software Group, they had already purchased seven, eight other companies, consolidated a couple that were under kind of the same path of things. But they had already operated that way, where none of those founders stayed on board with it, and short transition, and then they took it over.
18:04 DS: Yeah.
18:05 AW: And I'm sure they look in the process and they look at what is the product, what market does it serve, what are the metrics, what are the numbers. And they look at those, and without emotion, they're able to say, "Yes, the businesses metrics are healthy. Here's what's going on." And there isn't any one person inside that company that's like making or breaking it. Are there individuals that add to it and make it more special or better, or serve it really well in a certain time frame? Absolutely. But will this product or this company die from one person being absent? No.
18:39 DS: Yeah, sure. I guess I would be the same. Yeah. And then I think that probably maybe there are things that I do as the founder, that aren't as efficient as someone coming in with fresh eyes, seeing it and having a different perspective on it. So yeah, I think it's interesting. So if I was in that position to sell, would I wanna stay on, would I be required to stay on? I don't know. It's an interesting thing to think about.
19:00 AW: Yeah, and at the highest levels, I would share when we were having discussions on the offer between the four of us main shareholders, between Don, Thomas, Mike and I is, at the end of the day you have to understand, no matter what, you are selling control. Right?
19:16 DS: Yeah. Totally.
19:16 AW: So you're trading money for control. So if there's any part of that that doesn't sit right with you, or you want a little bit of each, it's probably not the right deal for you. Right?
19:25 DS: Sure. Yeah.
19:25 AW: Or you just need to heavily structure the purchase agreement and how it's gonna move forward and everything else, so that you maintain some of that control, where maybe you don't sell all of the company that's there. You only are gonna sell them 60% of the company, or 70% or different things like that. There's a lot of different ways to make a deal. But, the way ours was presented, it was definitely gonna be either all in or all out, as far as your ownership shares. And then deciding, "Yes, I wanna stay on. And here's the role that I would see myself serving and bringing to the table and why I wanna do it."
19:57 DS: Right. So okay, after you sell what... How do you start setting all this up? How do you figure out how things are gonna change? What was it like in the beginning of the first little while?
20:07 AW: Yeah, so interesting enough, at some point in time, my head started to think through the sales process, right? 'Cause at some point during the sales process, I realized when we were like 30 days out from closing, and when you would have those moments of not being emotional about it, you'd realize, "Alright, this deal is going to close."
20:29 DS: Yeah.
20:29 AW: So now as a leader, as someone who likes to have a plan and a strategy, I started wanting to know factually how will things be different and what will this look like and start to map some of that out. And I can easily say my mind probably moved there faster than our acquirer's mind 'cause I felt like I was asking a bunch of questions at first, that just kinda got like, "Yep, we'll get to that, we'll get to that." They were still all focused on the acquisition itself.
20:57 DS: Sure.
20:57 AW: And some of it... Maybe it's not normal. And they probably hadn't been around that before, especially if no one else had ever stayed on, right?
21:05 DS: Yeah, they don't have to worry about any of that.
21:06 AW: Yeah. So I think there are some things with us that were a lot different that were first time that maybe they would do differently if they went back again, but there was definitely an area where things had a lot of more grey to them than what I wanted. But slowly but surely, it kind of fell into place, ended up working with the Chief Operating Officer for ASG MarTech, Alice Song. And Alice just did... She eventually kind of stepped in as my go to, to get answers from and to talk about things or at least put it in some kind of light that I could understand with it. So that was helpful in starting to map out some of the bigger things and have a good line of communication into the new owners even before it had actually take place.
21:51 DS: Right.
21:52 AW: Because I didn't wanna write it... It's just like, yeah, we closed the deal, and then the next day you're like, "So what do we do? How does this change?"
21:58 DS: Yeah, exactly.
21:58 AW: It's like... I wanted to be a little more prepared than that.
22:01 DS: You had some prep work done.
22:02 AW: Yeah, exactly. But one of the things that I think that ASG did really, really well is they basically set up what they called an integration day. So it was roughly about two weeks after our close, they flew our entire North American team out to Seattle, and we had a full day and a half that was structured around integrating our team with the new ASG team.
22:27 DS: Right.
22:27 AW: So there was a number of things in it that were really, really solid pieces that were helpful to our team across the board. One was being able to see faces, and get to meet the humans instead of just like, "Oh this entity, this company bought us, and I know none of them and everything else." So put a face on people. Which I think was really important... And especially for a remote company as well.
22:53 DS: For sure.
22:54 AW: And I would say our team also enjoyed. We had just had our team summit in the end of September, and here we are like six weeks later and everybody's back together again, which is...
23:03 DS: Yeah, that's nice.
23:04 AW: Yeah, really cool. Our team really liked that. But the format of the day they put together, it really started off with naming your fears and being able to say, "Here's what scares me about this acquisition. Here's what's stressful about it. Here's how it could affect me." And it was a very open format that I think it really opened everyone's eyes to like, "Okay, everybody here probably has some amount of fear to it or unanswered questions, or some anxieties." And making everyone feel like they're not alone in it. And these are common questions. And they're questions that we can work to answer over time.
23:41 DS: Did they structure that? So when you came to this meeting, this is something that they... Do they do this with all their acquisitions? They kind of have this integration day and they have this structure for it where that's the... It's the first thing... Name your fears is the kind of thing that they kind of work through?
23:55 AW: Yeah, I can't speak for if they've done it for their all but they hire... They brought in a facilitator to lead this.
24:01 DS: Oh interesting.
24:02 AW: Yeah. So she came in and was the one driving the content and the exercises we were going through and some things you'd break down into a one on one, other were group things where you'd move around the room and in the center of the room was a label on the floor that said the acquisition. And she would ask a question and say like, "Hey if the acquisition heavily affects or gives you emotions around what I just stated or asked, go to the center. If it matters less to you or doesn't impact you as much, stay to the outside." So you could see where other people stood in position and then they would say, "Okay, because of where you're standing, how do you feel?"
24:39 DS: Oh interesting.
24:40 AW: Yeah, it was really, really interesting. And to me it was really well done. It was one of those things that instantly from the first exercise, and the way they... It was actually Alice and the facilitator when they first did it. One of the first things was just... Alice answered with very truthful, raw motion about it. And it was like it instantly set the stage, at least for me, I guess I can't speak for everyone, but I was like, "Oh this is not just gonna be corporate mumbo jumbo on this and going through the motions. This will actually be real."
25:13 AW: And so, yeah, it was really well done. And then another section was just kind of creating vision for success. Helping everyone see that success in this was massively probable and that the failure while somewhat possible was very minimal in it. And so that was just really cool to get everybody seeing that, this is where this is trending so maybe by naming your fear and putting it out there and hearing others, you can put it away and move on with it.
25:41 DS: Right. Now you'd assume that a company in this position that's buying other companies, they're not going to buy a company that they don't see a pretty clear vision for success and so they're able to name that and help everyone in the company see it. And from their perspective, which I think would be really valuable... It's like, "Here's where we're at now. Well, now that you're part of ASG this is where we're gonna be in the next five years." And so that could even be exciting for everyone, right?
26:07 AW: Yeah. No, absolutely. And in the case with our company, too, is like getting to meet a lot of people who might be peers to you when... So it's like gaining a whole bunch of new hires all in one day. And so you get to meet them and talk to them and find out what they deal with in their line of business and things like that. So just all around, after that day and a half, I really felt like a lot of nerves were calmed, a lot of anxiety was reduced and I think people were really excited. And the cool thing to me is it hit for people because of talking about how you personally felt and emotions, things like that. It was both well done on a personal level, but also on a professional level in seeing the success of the company and where things could go and how some of the things might work and those type of elements.
26:54 AW: So it was... Like I said, it was really, really well done. I was like, "Okay, if I'm ever part of this on either side in any position ever, this concept of the integration day and what it's really about, I'm all in. I would push for that all day long.
27:08 DS: Yeah. Did you all take turns like dancing around a fire and screaming at the top of your lung? Did you do any of that kind of stuff?
27:14 AW: I think at some point I might have been doing that in my mind. But I definitely didn't do it. I will say when we did the one exercise where I talked about where acquisitions in the middle and then people are walking around. And I think one of the questions was, how has this impacted or how has this impacted your life recently, or whatever else. And that was a really easy for one for me to like... I stood just right on top of it. And they're like... So alright, let's talk to some extremes and person outside the circle and then person inside, somebody right on top of it. And for me, it was like my voice cracks, I was tearing up right, 'cause in the...
27:57 DS: Yeah. Truly.
27:58 AW: I was present in the moment, and I was thinking about all the things that I had, I felt like I cheated my family out because of how much I've been working.
28:06 DS: For sure.
28:07 AW: Time lost and being present and all of those kind of things, where it was just like, it was a really emotional moment for me, so I had probably my own walk on the hot coals moment at that time, and then it subsided. That was probably a little bit of a pressure valve going off for myself.
28:24 DS: Yeah, I bet, yeah. Makes sense.
28:26 AW: And I think that side... The other thing to share personally, structurally company business-wise, the integration day was just really, really well done and it also made me respect ASG as a company where I was like... That's really smart, right? And it shows that you're investing in the people, and you want the transition to be great and everyone to feel respected and welcome. So that was all great, but just to that same release of emotion and things like that, like the first... And luckily with the timing being the end of the year, I really looked at it and I was at least able to realize, alright, I have to get myself back to feeling normal by the start of the year.
29:09 DS: Right.
29:09 AW: So after 80 hour weeks, the stress of it leading separate lives between what you know and how the company is operating day-to-day, 'cause you're not sharing it with the entire team. All those things. I was really burnt out, I was really emotionally dried. Yeah and so, and they were really supportive of that, right? Alice was like...
29:29 DS: Right. I was gonna ask.
29:31 AW: Yeah, she was like, take what you need to figure it out, and part of me is I wasn't just gonna walk away for 45-60 days and be like, "Oh, I'll pick it back up", but I definitely scaled back down to 30-40 hour weeks, which as you know as an entrepreneur, running a company like that's... I can work 30 hours a week while I'm on vacation, just checking email and doing different things to keep things moving. But it was much more normal instead of the 60 plus hours. We took two family vacations. I tried to just really be present with my kids and my wife, and just keep myself off of Slack at night and email and not be as responsive and as immersed and all those things.
30:19 DS: I flow like that all the time. I'll have busy periods where I have to work most evenings, and then I'll have periods where I'm like, "Yeah, no." Months will go by and I'm like, after 5:00 PM, I'm done. Just leave it like that.
30:30 AW: Good for you. I think that's something as an overall, I need to get better at doing from time to time.
30:37 DS: Yeah, I feel like the company's growing into a good position where I'm able to do that, right? I don't have to put in the 60 plus hours a week. Everything still runs fine. What I wanna do, I wanna get to 20 hours a week, that's my goal, 20 hours a week of my mornings to myself, I work in the afternoon just checking in. And that really comes down to getting a good leadership team in place and so that's where I'd like to get to in the next little while.
31:00 AW: Awesome.
31:00 DS: In a little while, like few years, right.
31:02 AW: I see that as a good future episode, talking about how to get yourself in that position.
31:07 DS: Yeah, totally.
31:08 AW: So I think some of the other things to share is like... We can probably dive into some of the challenges, right?
31:15 DS: Yeah, yeah, now that you've done this transition, your company is different, it's like, the way you ran things before you had full control. I'm really interested in that aspect of, what kind of control did you have to give up? Who do you answer to now? Like now you have to answer to somebody, you didn't have to before.
31:34 AW: Yeah, yeah, so I basically report to Alice Song, who's the COO. And so, yeah, she's my boss for the first time in a very long time. And what is really great is I, very early on, had a really great rapport with her. I think it's one of those where I can easily say Alice is a good human being first and that makes it really easy to interact. Of course, she's very intelligent and all these other things, but she's somebody that you can see just has natural empathy and things like that, is a great listener. That part definitely made that easier.
But it is weird. There's a number of things where it's like I have to check myself and be like, "Alright, I should probably either ask for permission or make this known or put that out there". And it definitely changes your mind frame. And I might even be over asking for permission in some things or have some things where I don't actually have to share it, but your mind just goes there now, because it isn't just you to answer to.
32:43 DS: Sure. Now you have a boss, you're like, hmmm. So normally, let's say somebody on the customer service team comes up, they're asking you to make a decision on something, do you... Are there some things that seem relatively minor that you would have just made the call, but now you're like, "Well, I guess I better run it by Alice"?
33:00 AW: No, I'm allowed to operate within those ways pretty easily. I would say the biggest thing it comes down to is money, right? If it's anything having to do with financials, money, spending money, a hire, any of those things where in the past I would either do it and then if it was over a certain amount, I would definitely share it with the partners and be like, "Hey, just so you know, I'm deciding to do this", or whatever else, or if it was big enough that I would say, "I'd like to do this. Are you guys in agreement?" But they had already said, "Hey you're here to do what you want and how you wanna do it".
33:33 AW: So yeah, so it mostly comes down to those things. Some of them are... There might be a few things strategically where it's just like, "Okay, based on what this is or what it reaches across," And I just look at like, "Alright, if I was in her position, would I want a heads-up on this?" And that's probably the biggest way I try to operate, is just putting myself in her shoes and in her position and, "Is this something I should be aware of?" And if so, then I need to put it in front of her.
34:00 DS: Sure, that makes a lot of sense. So that's good to know though, that you don't have to run by her the little, tiny nuances, every little thing; you still have control of running the company, for the most part.
34:10 AW: Oh yeah, yeah, but... And by no means... If I was being micro-managed, I'd probably... I wouldn't be around. That just wouldn't work. [chuckle] That wouldn't work. And I don't sense any of that happening at all, so...
34:22 DS: Yeah. And obviously, I'm sure she doesn't wanna get bothered by all the little things either.
34:26 AW: No, no, she's got bigger fish to fry as well. She's running seven companies or overseeing seven companies, so she has plenty to do.
34:34 DS: Yeah. And so do they... Something that must change is you have this vision for the company, and they maybe have a slightly different vision, and they have new metrics to meet and new goals to meet. How has that changed?
34:49 AW: Yeah, the first one that absolutely hits you in the face is probably more of the financial and those type of metrics and goals, just because... I think it all relates... We are very much of always the mindset, "We definitely cared about the numbers, we looked at our numbers, we're reviewing them monthly," and everything else, but we were also the ones setting and making our own goals, and it just gives you a different feeling than when someone else comes in and says, "Okay, here's your numbers, here's what you're gonna hit for revenue or margin, or these things."
35:24 DS: Right. And were those numbers way bigger than yours, and you're like, "Oh, wow."
35:27 AW: Yeah, parts of them were. Definitely, if we had to make them just ourselves, it wouldn't have been those numbers. But I also think that's the beauty of some of this too, is because... Just we were talking about before with emotions, you're able to set goals and say like, "Oh, alright, that won't... That isn't emotionally uncomfortable for me to set the goal here or to make this decision or to do this thing." Where when someone else comes in from the outside, they're not gonna have any of that emotion, and they're just gonna play it straight by the business decisions and the financial decisions. And so I look at that, it's like, "Yeah, there are some cons in there, but there's also some pros in there that I can easily appreciate." And you're like, "Okay, this is probably good, I'm pushed out of my zone on this, and let's get after it and see what happens."
36:11 DS: Yeah, it makes sense. Did they change anything in terms of the way you operate, that kinda stuff?
36:18 AW: A little bit, just because of the... And I don't know if I'll be able to... I would say the easy way to look at this is the kind of how the existing companies are operated is director level and up at ASG MarTech are all centralized. So the director of product sits over the top of all six products. And then once you get down, then there is a product manager for an individual product. So some of that has been a little tricky in just to where those things intercede. Especially for me, because just as we talked about, there isn't a single other founder from these other companies, at least that I'm aware of, I haven't met every single person across all the teams yet, but I'm the only CEO of just a company within it.
So I'm kinda on this island that's I'm not in the org chart, to some sense, of ASG MarTech, but I also am interacting and operating with that director level as well. And I think that's both different for them and me, so I think there's still kind of a lot to be figured out there, and how things flow, and where they go, and pieces like that.
37:32 DS: Yeah. Are you operating as the product manager now? So the other six have a product manager because the founders left. But in your case, the CEO didn't leave, so do you just fill that role for them, they don't need a product manager?
37:45 AW: No, we still have our product manager. So if anything, I fit more of the role of the VP of product or the chief product officer, I'm still deciding those things. So if anything, I almost like... Their director of product that would normally be sitting there and working through those things, he's not doing that with us, it's... And they've given me the full rights to continue to work on a roadmap for what I have set out there and what I've put in place now. We've sat down, and I've laid it out, and we've talked about it, and they're like, "Yeah, totally makes sense, good," and everything else. And it's one of those where I look at them like, "Hey, if we're making our numbers and making the things happen, I will continue to probably have that." If something falls out of wax somewhere else, then maybe they end up more involved, I don't know. But so far, they've been very true to their word on that side of things, and they haven't really put anything in front of me that says like, "Oh no, you... Don't build that feature or we need you to put this feature," or do that, they've completely stayed out of that part of it.
38:45 DS: What are some of the things that you used to have to do, so this is part of your role that you no longer have as part of your role, anything? Or is it business as usual? And then, I'd ask the same question for different teams, like your marketing team or your support team, I'm just curious about how things have changed for them and things that they don't have to do anymore.
39:04 AW: Yeah. So I think one of the things that's reducing for me is direct reports into me. I probably had seven or eight people, just based on our structure and what that looked like out of our 21 people, that were reporting to me. But now, we're kinda peeling those off, and it's like, "Okay, this person that's in marketing is gonna report to their director of sales and marketing and this person in this position is gonna report to this." So it's helped from that side of it with me, and very much so when Alice and I are discussing. It's probably one of the biggest things that she's talked to me about is like, "Delegate. Get stuff off your plate. Get others doing more," things like that which is a little bit hard for me just because I'm... I'm just like, grab whatever I can and try to do it. So we're working on that.
39:53 DS: Sure.
39:53 AW: That part has definitely been a good thing and a lot of it is just still very much the same. It's just the process to get there, or having to circulate it or communicate it a little bit that now is just a little bit different, or you have to be a little bit more thoughtful with.
40:11 DS: Yeah, I wanna quickly go back to something you said about how the goals have changed and the metrics, the numbers that they're giving you, do they give you those new numbers but then also provide insight and strategy on how you're gonna meet those numbers, like that you might not have thought of on your own. Are they bringing in direction and leadership in that area in a way that is really helpful for the business, you're like, "Oh wow, this is a great idea. And now I can see how we could get... How we could two times our numbers that we originally were planning for."?
40:40 AW: Boy, I would say a little yes, and a little no. It's definitely not an overwhelming tidal wave because quite frankly, to some aspect, it's like they bought you because they see the trend you're going on, right?
40:54 DS: Right, yeah.
40:54 AW: You know, on one side, some of our goals, like our revenue goals, I didn't feel like, "Oh, that's crazy. We can't hit those, we can't grow that fast," or whatever. A lot of those were very much in line with what I would expect for ourselves. Hey, you know, the area where...
41:10 DS: Sure.
41:10 AW: Things tightened up probably a little bit more was just on budgeting and what our bottom line is, and from that aspect, it's easy to... It's not hard to see why they created the budget that way, or think about it that way, or, you know, and there's definitely some efficiencies outlined and things like that, but that's something that I would just say we never ever did. We just always look like, "Okay, almost the vast majority of dollars that we're gonna make, we're gonna pour back in to grow, because we wanna continue to grow in this direction," and there's...
41:41 DS: Yeah, that's how I operate.
41:42 AW: Yeah, and they're just... They're very much more disciplined about it. But again, I look at it as another good learning experience where I can see like, "Okay, I think we would have hit these same sales numbers, even without this happening to some extent, or been in the ballpark of them," but we wouldn't have been as profitable or created some of that margin, and this is a little bit more disciplined and a little bit more formatted in looking at it that way. So...
42:09 DS: So, yeah, they would slow hires and expenses and those kinds of things, did they cut any expenses?
42:15 AW: Yup, no, didn't really cut expenses, but we definitely dove into areas where like, where are there efficiencies, and those kind of things came from certain vendors or suppliers where it's like, "Great, we already have two other companies that also use Twilio, so let's negotiate a group contract based on the usage we have between the three companies, instead of just you on your own." Yeah, so there's definitely some efficiencies in that structure.
42:39 DS: Oh smart, yeah.
42:40 AW: And I think, at the same time, to be fair...
42:43 DS: Yeah.
42:44 AW: They're learning about us and the nuances and the things that go on with that as well. So it's not like they're gonna have every answer, day one or day 30 or even day 90 with what that's gonna look like. I do think so much of year one with this for both sides is just like, "Here's what we've... Here's what we feel really good that we can make happen, here's some ways that we can work to make that happen." But a lot of it's just being like, "Alright, let's just be really open to learning," and both sides will pick things up and that will make years two, three, four even better from what we learned in the start.
43:18 DS: For sure. I'm really interested to see how the company evolves over the next year, see how things start to change a little bit from what I'm familiar with and just waiting for that big thing, where I'm like, "Oh man, look at that, look what they did," and it's like these kinds of things that you can do when you're under a larger umbrella that you might not have been able to do on your own. I'm really interested to see some of those come on.
43:39 AW: Yeah, and same for me, right? I mean, there's already... There's definitely already small and medium things I can look at and say, like, "I would have not arrived here, if it was just me making this decision or getting the information or doing the research on this." I've already had some of... And that's, it's...
43:55 DS: Yeah.
43:56 AW: It's really cool, right? And it's, even realizing the ones where you even feel a little uncomfortable about it, you have to say, "Here's the silver lining in it." Or, "Here's what I'm also gaining," and that piece is really important. But it is, it's just this balance though, especially for someone when you've owned something, just the emotional stock that you have in it and when you don't own it anymore, even though to... It's really weird, you could almost say that that is like not... It's not real, right? It's like you have control, you have stock, you have a percentage of the company, and you sell that, and you get something tangible in exchange in money, but it's really the emotional piece that changes as much as your bank account or something else does, and that...
44:40 DS: Oh, I can imagine, yeah.
44:40 AW: That's yeah, and that's the really hard thing to articulate, and it's really interesting to watch how it hits everyone differently too, right? Like how it has hit me is very different in how I process through it than how Mike Blumenthal has. And I can only imagine...
44:55 DS: Right.
44:56 AW: For like Don and Thomas, where they just had this cut off, and then they were out and now they're on the outside and watching things happen...
45:03 DS: Yeah.
45:04 AW: And curious and wondering what it's like and probably still having background conversations with some of the team and whatever. But when you go to something that you were part of, and then you're completely on the outside.
45:14 DS: Man, that'd be weird.
45:15 AW: You know, looking at it. Yeah, yeah, totally weird, so...
45:17 DS: Yeah, yeah, the whole thing is weird in many ways. So in both positions, staying on has its own weirdness, but completely leaving, I... For me, I think that'd be even weirder, I'd just be like, "Oh okay, well, good luck with the company, the thing that I've been doing for the last 15 years."
45:32 AW: Yeah, oh my gosh, yeah.
45:33 DS: Yeah.
45:33 AW: No, I definitely would have felt that way and the one thing I would share, you know, and... I think it's important, especially as you're trying to get as much of anything like your emotional conditions in shape through all of this. For me, it was really about finding what can I tie myself to do, too, that is more of the normalcy that I'm into and that I'm engaged with and that makes me happy. And then for me, it was like, it was these feature releases to start the year, like I...
46:05 AW: And this is the core of SaaS anyway, as ship code and sell. We talk a lot about it. I'd make fun of that being my mindset anyway. But, we shipped a lot of code in January and February, and so it really allowed me to tie into all those small pieces of getting excited as it gets into a dev server and being able to test it, and getting into a production server and start to work through some of the marketing and the communications of it, and beta testers using it and things like that.
So it was like we had all those cycles that easily allowed me, as some other things needed more time to even out, or sometimes you just need time for your emotions to settle down or you need need to figure out how to articulate them. That gave me the work to tie into that I really love. I just said like, "Alright focus all your energy on this part that you really love and that will help guide you through as some of the other things even out.
47:01 DS: That makes sense. At least you get to maintain some normalcy in your everyday operation.
47:06 AW: Yeah, absolutely.
47:08 DS: So what are some big gains, some awesome things that have come out of this? Some of the things that you're recognizing are valuable from this acquisition?
47:17 AW: Personally, getting to operate with other smart people. It's like, instantly you gain a group of people with different backgrounds, different experiences, different approaches, and that's been really great. I've enjoyed the directors at ASG and the people that I'm talking with; Francis who heads up their product and Kaitlyn in sales and marketing and Lauren. These are people that I really enjoy the conversations with and tackling problem-solving and ideas and things like that with, so that part has been a lot of fun.
I've also just really enjoyed... I get to watch Alice in a position that my team would view me in, so I get to watch her operate in situations and how she engages and how she asked questions. And to me it's really interesting, too, because I'm someone... My educational background is massively minimal and she's someone who undergrad was at Yale and her Master's from Stanford Business School, so she's been to handling school training. All these things super heavily.
48:26 DS: Yeah, she's a real pro.
48:28 AW: Yeah, exactly, so it's been fun for me to watch those things and pick up on like, "Oh you can just tell where some of those things derive from," and also where some of the things just derive from who she is. So that's been a really cool thing for me, personally. It's always great when you're around smart, driven, caring people. It's fun.
48:49 DS: Great. Well that's a huge win right there. You never really know... I guess you had a sense of it, through the sales process about who you were selling to, but until you start working with them day-to-day, you never really know. So it's nice to hear that it worked out pretty well and that you're happy with the leadership that's now making the call, the major shots at GatherUp. Sounds good.
49:12 AW: And then just as I touched on... The other thing that's just really stood out to me is working also with the leadership and people making decisions that aren't as emotionally invested. It's been such an interesting exercise for me to watch how much emotion plays into how you make decisions and the effect it has on you and others and the degree of the decision and all those other things. So that's just been one. It's not something where it's like, "Oh, I have these answers" or whatever on it. But it's really made me aware of how much emotion factors in decisions.
49:49 DS: Can you give me an example of a decision that you might have made that the company is less emotional about? So they have a better perspective on it. What are the kinds of things... I wonder what I do as an emotional founder who decides what features we build and what stuff we're gonna do mostly on whim. And how we're gonna price things. Gosh, a lot of that stuff is just based off of my gut feeling.
50:13 AW: Yeah, no, for sure, the biggest one. And I'm sure some time after all the dust settles on this, we can definitely do an episode on it, but we basically have a change to our plans coming. It's something that I had mentioned before. We had started discussing this last summer, before we ever got this offer or anything else, we knew we needed to do something differently. So in the process of deciding this, because plans are tied to money and things like that, and the core essence of it is, you're shifting and we're removing a plan from our offering.
50:48 AW: And within that, I looked at how I would have approached it even to arrive at that we are gonna sunset a plan versus other options and how you do things. I wouldn't have arrived as quickly or easily on the path that we're on. When you look at it just numerically and you look at it strategically and all these other things, it is such a 100%. When you look at it without emotion, you're like, "That's absolutely the right decision." But the minute you start clouding it with emotion, then you get into the, "Yeah, buts. And what if we did this?" and whatever else.
I easily can see that the emotion in it would have just added a little more confusion. It would've added a lot more work. It would've distracted our focus. It would have done all these other things that are counter-intuitive in the long run, because in the short term it would have been just harder emotionally to handle what's there.
51:39 DS: Right, right, right. That's a great example. That makes a lot of sense. Would you even have thought of doing that, or were you already thinking of doing it? Or they just came in and said, "I think we should do this"?
51:47 AW: It was like one of the things we were considering, but I think we wouldn't have done it. I think we would have... We would have emotionally argued why not to do it and gone somewhere like, "Alright, this is super safe." Right? And in business, you can't always do the super safe. You have to stretch a little bit further for the right reasons. I just... It wouldn't have ended up the same, and I'm really... I'm glad... I appreciate being pushed out of my emotional safety zone.
52:16 DS: Do they have some financial smarts that they were able to look at your plans and pricing structure and stuff and say...
52:22 AW: Yes.
52:23 DS: "We might lose a little bit on this, but we're gonna make a back up on this." So they were able to kinda project and calculate that?
52:30 AW: They totally do. ASG as a whole has gone through this process and a few different flavors with multiple others of their products, not even just the MarTech products that we're about. So there's definitely like guidance and background and that kind of stuff that's there that really helps on the confidence side of it.
52:50 DS: Yeah. It's interesting. That's where I feel so lacking in that. I just don't have that CFO ability to do projections and figure out what the market value is for something and how to price things. It's really hard to do that unless you've studied it. I'm too busy building product.
53:06 AW: Yeah, and I think it's easy. I mean just look at anything though that if you just took something to get a friend or a colleague you respect their opinion on something and you just gave them facts on it or gave them spreadsheets on it or whatever else and said, "All right, tell me what'd you do and what you think." Probably, when they gave you that answer, you would then rebuttal it with emotional reasons why not to, because they can look at it and they're not worried about disappointing anyone or upsetting anyone or dealing with a hard conversation or any of that stuff.
But like you know those inherently, you know your customers by name, like all those kind of things. So your first reaction is like, "No. No, no. That's... You can't. You can't do that. And here's why." Even though like the math might be telling you, the facts are telling you everything else. It's really interesting.
53:54 DS: Right. Right. That is really interesting. And I would definitely be in that emotional stage too knowing how deep I am into like all of the aspects of the business. Yep.
54:03 AW: Yeah. And other than that, the one final thing that was really cool that just has happened the last few weeks is our VP of customer success who actually works in my office with me is my lone recruit from the town of... City of Buffalo that I live in. But Taylor was actually just promoted. He now leads both the GatherUp team and Grade.us who's our sister company but competitor in reviews.
54:25 DS: Oh, cool.
54:26 AW: He's leading both of those customers success teams now.
54:29 DS: Oh, interesting.
54:31 AW: So yeah, so really cool for our team to already see that there's career opportunities and bigger things and ways it can be pushed. So there's...
54:39 DS: That's a really interesting thing like the ability that okay now with a larger corporate structure, all your employees just got a bigger ceiling, like the ceiling just got expanded for them.
54:50 AW: Yep. Absolutely. So that's been really cool. Taylor is super deserving. I know he's gonna do a great job running both and so but that was... That's just a really cool thing that already within the first four months that someone on our team has been elevated into a bigger structure within the company.
55:07 DS: Yeah. That's great. Wow! Interesting. It's such a really great topic. I'm so grateful to have you sharing it with me and I guess with all our podcast listeners as well. I get to hear it first, I suppose, since we're recording it. But yeah, I just... I love this topic and it's so great to have a close friend go through it and lead the way for us. These are great episodes.
55:30 AW: Well, happy to do it. I hope it's been helpful in some lights. Again, I always wanna point out like this is just our story in it and my story in it.
55:38 DS: Yeah. Sure. Yeah.
55:40 AW: Results may vary as the weight loss commercials always tell you but there are... I really think the things that if you're gonna gleam out of this three-part series is like just a lot on the emotional side of things, how to approach things, what they really mean, how to decipher, how to make decisions and all of this like... But, also finding as you've heard me call out, like find the trusted people that can help you at the different points with it. Trust your gut, do your due diligence. There's like all these characteristics no matter the structure of the deal and how it looks and whatever else, but you have to rely on those things for sure.
56:16 DS: Yeah. For sure. Wow, it's been very educational. I look forward to seeing how it goes over the next six months to a year too. It'll be exciting to watch GatherUp evolve under this new direction, slightly new direction. You know things... Your road map is mostly the same, but as you talked about with the plans and pricing changes and those kinds of things, how it's like there will be some changes and it'd be really exciting for me to see how they impact the business.
56:40 AW: Well, we'll see them, we'll talk about them, and we'll go from there. All right. Well, thanks Darren. I appreciate you being my Davenport I can lay on and this probably psychologically has been good for me too to rehash it and lay it out there and even turn some of the hard things into something that's hopefully helpful for the next person.
57:00 DS: Yeah. Wow, thank you. Yeah, it's been great.
57:02 AW: Cool. All right. Well with that everybody, we will wrap. We're at an hour, of course. Our longest episode to date. And we could probably keep going but if you're someone that maybe you're out running and you listen to us, you just probably ran an extra mile so you can thank us for that.
57:19 DS: Totally.
57:21 AW: As always, please feel free to share any of our episodes on the social media channels. Please feel free to drop us a review. Please feel free to connect with us on social media or drop us any feedback you have for us. Always want to incorporate that or try to answer things you wanna know about.
57:39 DS: Yeah, do those things, do that.
57:42 AW: Yes. Yes, we wanna hear from you. So with that we'll wrap it up. And Darren, hopefully, we'll talk to you again in a couple of weeks and...
57:49 DS: Couple of weeks. Sounds good.
57:50 AW: See how things are going. Because I know from your world something is gonna launch in the next two weeks.
57:56 DS: Every two weeks. I launch something new every two weeks. That's what I keep telling the team. Yeah. How long is that gonna be? It's two weeks.
58:02 AW: Awesome. So great. All right, take care, Darren. We'll talk to you soon.
58:05 DS: Okay. See yeah.
58:06 AW: Alright see you everybody.
What is The SaaS Venture?
Sharing the adventure to lead and grow bootstrapped SaaS companies through experiences, challenges, wins and losses. Hosted by Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. In this current world of "unicorn" , VC funded software companies that have to IPO or get acquired for $1B, we'll spend our time on the bootstrapped, profitable, growing SaaS sector we operate in and share our insights and experiences.