Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Rahul, I'm the co-founder at Flamon cloudtech. Which is the parent company that owns our primary product TeleCRM. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture of what we are trying to achieve with TeleCRM - What if there was a way to bring software, automation, and intelligence together in a way that salespeople would only have to do the human part? Instead of spending countless hours every week entering data into specific formats and then more hours crunching that data to figure out who are the leads that they need to focus on, the system that collects all the data do the crunching and return a simple list of people who have already been warmed and just need that human touch.
We are in beta phase right now dealing with 20 companies with a monthly recurring revenue (MRR) of $4500/month. It took us so long to build it that we almost lost hope, but now I cannot begin to tell you how incredibly satisfying it is to see our baby take off!
A couple of days ago we stumbled upon our massive USP i.e. Facebook auto-lead capture integration in CRM, which means insanely exciting days are ahead but more on that in a bit.
All thanks to the amazing team, it would be nothing without you guys!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I got inspired by Steve Jobs and wanted to put a dent in the universe so dropped out after 4th semester without a plan. I am from India, and back in 2015 dropping out was not popular or cool! But hey, putting a dent in the universe is important so I did it anyway!
After two years of struggling, shutting down two agencies, and going almost broke I met my co-founder at a coworking space. He had worked with Thales Aveonics where he created the mission planning and debriefing systems for the Rafale & mirage fighter jets of the Indian Army so quite the rocket scientist on the team.
This pair is the perfect recipe for success. But at the time we had no clue that this perfect recipe had a cooking time of about four years before we would see any success.
The idea for TeleCRM was born when we were trying to sell our first SaaS product! Hiring direct salespeople is cheap in India but managing them is not. After about one week of working with three salespeople, we realized that excel sheets are not gonna cut it! So I took it upon myself to set up Zoho CRM spent about four days with nine hours of total sleep to set it up just right! And still, the sales team was constantly struggling between selling and data entry. It was as if the sales executives were working for the CRM and not the other way around. As exhausted and pissed off as I was the only thing that I could think of was - "there has to be a better way!"
What if there was a CRM that any newbie sales executive can start using immediately and it worked for the sales executives?
Instead of sucking up countless hours in the name of building a process like all the legacy CRMs out there - And that's how the idea for TeleCRM came into existence.
CRM is a pretty big and widely spread problem so we knew we won't be able to solve the entire puzzle in one go! So we decided to scratch our itch and solve our problem first! That's how we decided to go with a Tele-Sales CRM! And to validate the idea we, first of all, asked a few close friends who were working in the industry after that we did some data extraction and Bulk SMS campaigns to generate some inbound leads and validate the idea. Once we had drummed up enough excitement and interest from around 800 Business owners in under a week that's when we knew we were on to something!
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a team, we had built two massive software platforms and two micro-saas products, so building products was our forte but we underestimated the amount of time that it was gonna take to build the CRM product. We had a few months' timelines initially for building this thing but as it turned out it took us more than 2.5 years to build the entire thing, get the beta version out. If it weren't for our other products we would have reached the end of our runway!
We did reach the end of the runway at one point of time when we didn't have any other offerings and we weren't making any money so even though it was just a small team of two people, we had exhausted all savings, weren’t making any money and it was costing us $2500/mo. So survival was impossible and that's when we decided to split apart and go look for jobs! But the thing about entrepreneurship is once you get a taste of it, the desire never really leaves you! So we saved up some money and came back together yet again in about three months and this time we were going to launch the product within 15 days. We had validated the product idea, we were going to take the MVP approach. We had a little bit of money saved up enough for a three-month runway whereas the product timeline was 15 days. And I had a consulting gig that needed only 2 hours in a week and acted as the cash cushion. so we thought "what could go wrong?"
Boy were we wrong!
Within a week of leaping, the consulting Client fired me! He said, "You aren't applying yourself" (obviously).
Three months down the product is still under development and we need around six more months before we can see any revenue from this product and we are out of cash! In a desperate attempt to stay afloat we decided to try to monetize one of our side projects which we had initially published as open-sourced on Github. The free parts remained free and we develop some premium features and charged $2/mo per month and that's how we started making some money. It was a desperate move and we never wanted to do it but boy were we wrong in our evaluation of just how much money this open source project was going to make us! This was back in Jan 2019.
The one lesson that I would like to share is yes it is good to have great big features but as entrepreneurs, we always underestimate the amount of time or effort that it is going to take to create a feature and then make it usable so that people can use it and get the value out of it.
To generate some interest before going out with the beta version, we invested $600 into creating an explainer video. The video agency did such a good job that that acted as the first basic UI on top of which we built the initial features & UI! The final video came out well and whoever watched it loved it and wanted to try it! The only problem is that it would take us about 18 months before we could finish something that could be put into the hands of the users! We had grossly underestimated the amount of work involved in creating the different models of a CRM product!
Here's Rahul (My cofounder) at 91 SpringBoard (the first coworking space that we worked out for about two years):
Describe the process of launching the business.
We are one of the few companies that had two beta launches! The first time that we were confident that we have something that users might find useful and be able to use was in April last year when we were Facebook ads and got people onto a demo session, and while a lot of people signed up for the demo sessions and then paid to try the product, almost no one was able to use it or stick to it. Turns out the product needed another round of UI improvement before it was ready to go out! So we went back to the drawing board and chalked up a seven-month plan to improve the product and get it to a point where people can onboard themselves and use it. And that's how we became ready for Beta Launch 2.0.
This time people were able to use it and stick to it. We got our first annual payment on the 32nd day after the beta launch, that was a huge sign of encouragement! But it also meant that the ball had started rolling and since then there was significant traction, and thanks to our amazing sales lead we now have a sales funnel that generates predictable results.
If you are doing multiple things then once in a while you will have to pull out crazy wild stunts to build focus and momentum.
We have 2 SaaS products, one pays the bills and TeleCRM is the other one on which our growth depends. So naturally, for a long time, we were split. I'm not able to focus or grow either!
We were working hard but things were not taking off in either direction! After a ton of frustration, I went to RMG (my co-founder) and said - "I'll close 10 customers for TeleCRM" in 7 days! He replied, "I will pay you $1000 if you do"! The bet was on! We closed nine companies but the entire team became focused on TeleCRM and within the next 90 days reached the next milestone of 100 paying companies! To give you a perspective we had been working for 18 months before that bet! Financing the entire journey up to that point with the tried and tested method of beg borrow and steal
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Minimum viable product is vague and can be a little hard to wrap your head around the idea but if you want to succeed without having a 36 months runway then I would say create a minimum sellable product. Somebody who came from an SEO background, I did the basic SEO that was needed to get the 4-5 highly relevant leads per day that we need to get our first hundred customers. At this point, the retention numbers are below average and that's a huge pain which we are working on right now! Some of the SEO techniques that worked well for us were;
- Highly relevant domain name matching our target keyword
- Good user engagement metrics on the home page due to a top-class video
- Page speed and basic on-page optimization
- Basic link building and patience to let the domain age and algorithm figure out the relevance score of the home page with the target queries
We very recently reached that milestone of the first hundred customers! And then decided to double down on the approach that was already working well for us i.e. SEO!
At this point our sales flow is fairly simple - We get planes from SEO, Retarget them through SMS and FB Ads, Bring them to our group demo sessions and close them!
Initially, we were giving one-to-one demos and that's when we realized that group demos are a far far more efficient way. Different people ask different questions and most of the times people get answers to the questions that they had but didn't even remember!
Since it's a CRM product The barrier is not to bring the existing customers back but it's actually in making sure that they adopt it because once they do It's downhill from there because now the entire business process depends on the CRM. Right now we haven't still sold the adoption rate problem and the current net adoption rate of our CRM Is below the industry average.
Apart from retention, we are working on developing our social media presents as a secondary way to keep the audience engaged and informed about our offerings and new developments in the CRM product.
Here’s what our SEO stats look like today;
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The parent company is highly profitable the CRM business is break-even but we are looking to invest more money into acquiring customers.
Right now the customer acquisition costs are close to zero because we're getting all the closures from organic SEO. And the server cost accounts for about 5% of the net business so apart from the payment gateway and taxes we have around 80% margin that is before we account for Salaries in office expenses.
The distribution strategy is just increasing the number of keywords of your targeting and the number of landing pages that we have on the website so that we run for more keywords and get more relevant traffic. Because that's the cycle that has worked so well for us so far. Just repeating might sound boring and ‘unsexy’ considering that our ‘identity’ is about innovating and all but the thing is thinking ‘innovation’ all the time is a short-sighted and short-term approach.
Short term mindset isn't gonna lead you to many happy or stable places. Even if you do get Lucky by definition luck is not stable. But just stick around long enough and you will be able to crack the code for your happiness and success in business.
It's majorly a tech company with a marketing department, some inside sales reps, and some executives for customer support and success, With a total team size of 23 members and rapidly growing.
Right now we're focused on Indian SMEs and since we are just getting started and the market is huge so for the next year we don't have any plans of expanding into other markets!
One thing that has worked well for us in terms of retaining customers is coming up with new updates pass and then messaging all the users regarding those updates in our WhatsApp support groups. So that user who had abandoned is initially looked at these features and if it's their use case they keep coming back.
Short term in the next year we want to get to 1000 companies signed up with about 60% retention, Long-term we want to capture about 40 to 50% of the CRM market space and maybe even change the habits in the way businesses view and use CRM over the next five years.
But that’s for the next 5 years. But here’s what the usage numbers look like today.
These numbers are low from a vanity standpoint but to a founder who's toiled for years to make his idea see the light of the day - this is nothing short of magic;
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The one lesson that I would like to share is yes it is good to have great big features but as entrepreneurs, we always underestimate the amount of time or effort that it is going to take to create a feature and then make it usable so that people can use it and get the value out of it. This is why it's important to not forget the minimum in the minimum viable product! Never! That one mistake of believing that you can build something big in little time can kill your startup. We had other Micro-Saas products that were giving us revenue, what if we didn't?
3 key lessons from the journey so far would be:
- Make getting customers and revenue a priority, don’t use ‘under development as an excuse for too long’
- As a startup there will always be more to do than you can. Use actual user feedback to prioritize your feature pipeline
- Get out of the executive mindset and start building your team and delegating tasks as soon as possible otherwise all micro details would fall back to you as a founder eating up all your time and up your time and not leaving any room for focusing on tasks that would help ingrowth
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Out of all the tools that are out there my favorite tool is ClickUp, I practically live on Clickup! It's like an extension of my brain at this point.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Currently reading give-and-take by Adam Grant this book has shaped and morphed how I lead, mentor, and inspire, It has influenced the kind of people that we hire.
Anything I can say about this book in one paragraph would be shallow so all I am going to say is - If you want to build a company where everyone helps each other succeed instead of a company that is structured like a never-ending game of snatch then read this book!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
If you're starting to make a quick buck either don't start or pray that your prayers work out because it's highly likely that make a quick buck by starting on. Yes, you can make a disproportionate income over a longer period but that only comes after Going through disproportionate effort and stress For a prolonged period where things don't work out. So before you start understand what it is that you're getting into! Also, keep your eyes open! It's really easy to be blinded by confirmation bias but things are not gonna work out just because you want them to and when they don't then you gotta take a long hard look and fix things instead of getting stuck. [that part you will only understand clearly once you've been through it a couple of times but for now, just keep in mind that this is going to happen].
Also, use your obsessions because that's what helps you to stand out! Check out the case study - How obsessing over one feature created our USP.
A short-term mindset isn't gonna lead you to many happy or stable places. Even if you do get Lucky by definition luck is not stable. But just stick around long enough and you will be able to crack the code for your happiness. Emotionally psychologically and in business
Beyond all this, beyond returns and blah blah The reason your startup is not for all of these things but because you have an idea and an insatiable itch that says this idea needs to see the light of the day. And as long as that age is there you're gonna enjoy the journey no matter how hard it gets. And who knows maybe you will even hit your pot of gold. And I'll be cheering for you when you do so yes do startup!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking to hire two content writers, one social media manager, One PPC expert, One WordPress developer, and a bunch of other people in the Dev department.
About the job descriptions: We do the same things but the way we do them is slightly different.
All of them are paid full-time positions you can apply for by writing to [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
In the beginning, I wasn't prepared to answer these many questions and if I had seen how long this questionnaire was, I would never have started in the first place but now I love the questionnaire! I can see how much effort you would have put into creating this Highly accurate and punchy questionnaire! When every founder thinks that his startup is unique, to have a generic questionnaire that evokes the crux of their entire story is a great design, to say the least!
As a product designer that's what I try to do all the time - design generic features that can take care of the specific use cases and best-case scenarios maybe even delight every single one of my users.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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