Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Chris Ronzio and I’m the founder and CEO of Trainual. Our purpose is to make small business easier by creating software that allows businesses to easily scale.
You can think of Trainual as a hybrid between a wiki, knowledgebase, intranet, and an enterprise training tool. It’s designed for a small business that’s graduating from Google Docs and cluttered Dropbox folders and needs to get started quickly. Trainual, provides a way to capture every process, role, and responsibility, creating a consistent, teachable, and scalable knowledge base, centralized in one place.
At the heart of this work is a desire to help business leaders find the time to do more of what they love, and by providing a way to document and delegate what you do, and create a scalable operations manual, Trainual is doing just that for business owners, team leaders, and hiring managers worldwide.
We really cater to small businesses (typically under 250 employees, but not limited to), who want something easier to set up and manage than an enterprise learning system. Right now, we have more than 15k users in over 80 countries around the world and are up to $2M ARR.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Trainual is actually my third business and started as a result of my second. I had a consulting company called Organize Chaos, through which Trainual as a beta platform was born to help my clients with their onboarding and training issues.
My first business, a video production company, I started at 14, and throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I developed a passion for technology, efficiency, and making business easier.
It was just over a decade I spent building that production company, taking it nationwide with 3 offices, netting over $3 million in video sales, and selling it before I turned 25.
Where did the business idea come from?
Looking back, Trainual seems almost inevitable for me, but it really came to be out of a combination of my experience scaling the video company and then consulting for more than a hundred small businesses.
Seeing firsthand how chaotic business processes can be, I wanted to make it easier for small businesses to organize important processes and documents.
Everybody struggles to do things consistently. Whether it’s one person, or a team, often the knowledge about the best way to get things done walks out the door with the person who did it, or is just lost in translation somewhere. Our system encourages people to formalize their process and that has a huge impact.
When we were consulting, we could only work with 10 companies at a time, and the shift to Trainual allowed us to stop charging for our expertise, to give it away though marketing instead, then charge for our product. In this way, we make a more scalable difference on small businesses worldwide.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Trainual was actually born back in 2014, long before it launched publicly in January 2018. A group of students at a local college developed a very basic version of a differently positioned product for an entrepreneurship competition I was judging.
I immediately saw the use case for my clients as far as its application for onboarding, and documenting standard operating procedures or SOPs.
But they didn’t plan on doing anything more with it. In fact, they ended up moving to San Francisco, ultimately joining the incubator program Y Combinator and starting another very successful startup.
But I bought this code from them, redeveloped it for my vision, and that become a minimal viable product (MVP) for Trainual.
I quickly sold six of my clients on the product, but it was only making $300 a month, didn’t generate the kind of traction out the gates I had hoped for, and the consulting work was way more profitable. So Trainual went largely ignored for about three years, until 2017. Then I had a bit of an AHA moment.
Somehow, through word of mouth and a few blog posts, people began discovering Trainual and signing up. By that time, the promise of the profitability of consulting was replaced by the frustration of the lack of scalability. All the work was tied directly to me and my time. So I made the decision to pivot to a product, Trainual.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In the fall of 2017, we hired a UX Designer and a Developer to support some consulting work but they had some extra capacity so we decided to tackle rebuilding Trainual instead of taking on an extra client. Over the years, we had some referrals and the product was approaching $2k MRR so it made sense to give it a go.
By November, we were so excited about what we were building that we stopped taking on new client work. In January of 2018, three of us went full time into trying to grow Trainual. Myself, our Operations Manager, Chelsey, and my brother Jonathan, who is our CMO.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our current customer acquisition flow starts with the offer of a two-week trial. We require a credit card up front, but they aren’t billed unless they continue behind the trial. To require a CC or not was something we went back and forth on, and we tried it without, but ultimately when we do ask for that, we get higher quality trials, with more intention to really dive into the tool, and a much better conversion rate. And it’s a subscription based platform, with the option to pay monthly or annually.
In terms of marketing efforts, we started out by leveraging my professional network as much as possible. We hosted a launch party in Scottsdale and invited every business owner I knew. I emailed all my LinkedIn connections. We started an affiliate program. And then started cold outreach to land as many podcast interviews as possible just to get our name out there and share our product story.
About 6 months in we started developing a pretty robust paid acquisition strategy via social and search—from Facebook, Instagram, Google, and LinkedIn primarily. Last year, we spent more than $200,000 on digital ads and already outspent that so far this calendar year. Cracking creative that resonates with target audiences on those channels with a scalable CAC (cost to acquire a customer) against our LTV (lifetime value) was the real catalyst to our insane growth.
Outside of paid social and search, we’re placing an emphasis this year on more thought leadership inspired content around small business topics and tips for small business owners. From a weekly column on Inc to a Medium channel, YouTube content, more podcasts (including our own soon!), and our company blog.
We also of course have a weekly newsletter where we roundup the best of our content for customers and prospects alike, and we’re putting a lot of effort lately into sharing practical, actionable advice around onboarding and training specifically tailored to some of our top industry verticals.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our mission is to reach 25,000 active companies by the end of 2022. I’m passionate about making small business easier and we want to be considered the go-to platform for small businesses looking to document and train on how they do what they do.
We’ve been growing 15-20% month over month and are at $2M ARR right now. We have plans to continue growing out our internal team, which has pretty much doubled in the last 3 months already, so we can reach and support more customers around the world which means we’re super focused on content strategy, enhancing our product, and maximizing the value customers get out of Trainual.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Like I said, Trainual existed in a beta state before we focused on it full-time, but the product never went anywhere because the time and attention it would demand to build real traction was competing with profitable consulting work.
After deciding to go all in on Trainual, and launch it for real to the general public and not just my consulting clients, I realized I was wearing too many hats, so to speak. I was probably doing at least four full-time roles within the company, handling everything from operations to product to sales to recruiting and marketing. Learning to focus was the biggest lesson. Focus on Trainual, focus on what I should be doing as CEO, and build a team around me to support the rest.
You can’t scale a business without focus, like you can’t do every role in the company at the same time. I had to be methodical about what my focus was every month or every quarter. And that’s really how I, and my team now, set targets… with laser focus, 90 days at a time. As it turned out, I was able to actually use Trainual to document what I was doing and take off one hat at a time as I hired.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’m a bit obsessed with productivity tools and apps. In fact when I started my consulting company, for 2 years, my weekly newsletter was sending out a different app or service that would help small businesses optimize their systems, processes, and people.
At Trainual, we’re definitely a Google office. We use Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, Chrome—you name it! And I guess I’ll mention we’re an Apple office too!
We use Trello for project management, Slack for quick internal communications, Hubspot for our sales CRM and marketing automation, Design Pickle for all of our graphic design needs, Evernote for making lists and taking notes, and Canny to manage our product development feature requests and road map. We use ProfitWell to track all of our metrics and Zapier to make integrations simple. And our Customer Success team relies heavily on Intercom for customer communication, including live chat and hundreds of help docs.
We outsource only a few things within the business, like the fulfillment and shipping of company swag when send to each new customer—for that we use Printful with a WooCommerce integration.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The first business book I remember reading was Michael E. Gerber’s The E-Myth.
The book was wildly influential for me, so much so that one of the first ads we ran was me talking about what I learned in that book and how Trainual is the next step for an entrepreneur who’s just learned the value of systemizing their business.
Now a year later, Michael and I actually established a business partnership and he is co-marketing Trainual alongside some of his latest projects. To name a few others:
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Build a strong, lean team of talented and dedicated team members you trust so much you could rob a bank with. Don’t actually rob a bank, but you get it. These are people you can trust to help live out the mission and purpose of your company.
Obviously you wouldn’t want a group of people who don’t know what they’re doing—but taking time to fully vet them and make sure it’s the right work and culture fit will be hugely beneficial in limiting employee turnover and will do a lot to help employees feel invested.
I would highly encourage anyone looking to grow their business to find someone who is smart, nimble, charismatic, and has genuine excitement for the role and more importantly, is invested in the company and what it stands for.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Our team has more than doubled this year alone. We went from a team of 4 to a team of 15 seemingly overnight. We expanded our marketing team from one to five in just 2 months and are working to grow a few more of our departments as quickly!
We’re still planning on hiring another sales rep so we can continue to expand our efforts and we’re bringing on more developers to take on the many feature requests and big projects in the pipeline.
Where can we go to learn more?
Trainual has provided an update on their business!
9 months ago, we followed up with Trainual to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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