I'm Chris Ronzio, Founder and CEO of Trainual. AMA!

Hi Everyone! I’m the Founder and CEO of Trainual, a playbook builder for businesses.

We help busy business owners document all of their processes, policies, and procedures in one place so they can better delegate, train their teams, onboard employees, and grow!

We’re a startup that launched in 2018 and we’ve continued to grow really quickly. I’m happy to say we closed our Series A funding round last November, allowing us to hire more employees and continue to support this fast-growing customer base. We now have 38 employees on the team, 50% of which started this year.

Trainual is not my first business. I started it after doing operations consulting and realizing this was something that my clients needed. Prior to that, I created and ran a national video production company that I started in high school. That being said, I have many years of successes and learning experiences as an entrepreneur that I can share with you. I know we’re facing unprecedented times, so I also help to give as much advice as I can around COVID-19.

I’m looking forward to chatting about:

  • Getting organized in your business
  • Delegating tasks and spending more time on what you love
  • Why systems and processes are key to growing your business
  • Hiring and onboarding while working remotely
  • Getting your startup from $0 to Series A and talking to investors
  • Navigating your business during COVID-19
  • The uncertainties you’re facing as a business owner today
  • Goal setting and work-life balance
  • And anything else! :grinning:

I’ll be here to answer questions on August 20th at 8:30 AM Arizona time. (PT)

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Note: This AMA is closed for new questions, but you can check out the existing conversations below.

In this AMA, we had Chris Ronzio — founder and CEO of Trainual, author of the book " 100 Hacks to Improve Your Business", a speaker, and an investor — share his thoughtful insights on product-channel fit, making paid marketing work, competition, and more. Dive in!

Chris’ brain pickings: :brain:

Here are some highlights to help you understand Chris’ journey and thought process:

On humble beginnings and not raising funds early on:

“I mean, it’s humbling, for sure. It was tough, you know. We had a . . . like I sold my Vespa. I had this Vespa like a little Italian scooter that my wife and I like rode away after our wedding. And it just sat in my garage. And it was hard to sell that for like $2500 because we needed to make payroll. But that’s where we were at. And I had so much confidence in the business though that I knew just the way that SaaS kind of companies are valued is usually based on some sort of multiple of your ARR or MRR. And as I saw our MRR ticking up I knew that the value of the company was going up. And every month I could wait to try to take on funding, I’d give away less of the company.”
Source: Chris Ronzio streamlines the onboarding and training process with Trainual

On constantly investigating who your customer is:

“Knowing who your customer is something you’re always investigating. So when we first started out, we marketed to other people like me because that was my perspective, that was my worldview. So we started marketing this to entrepreneurs. And a few months in, we ran a report to find out who all were the biggest users on the platform. And it was different job titles. It was people from talent and development, or HR, these other people that had been charged with setting up the software, being the champion for getting this rolled out. So we switched all the messaging in our ads and our website to be targeted towards those people. And what we realized is those people aren’t the buyers. Those people might set it up. But the buyers were the entrepreneurs that we were appealing to. So we had to go back. I think it’s just an iterative thing that’s changed several times since then as we’ve understood which markets and which sized companies work the best. You’ve got to constantly be understanding who your decision-maker is, who your purchaser is.”
Source: Effective Founder’s Interview with Chris Ronzio of Trainual

On when (and when not) to pay heed to competition:

“I think when you’re just starting out you need to look at competition and figure out how you’re different. But then when you start building, once you’ve got that difference, I was not looking at competition at all. Because you’re building towards your vision of the thing. And then as you start to hit the scale where you get enough customer feedback, they’ll start to point at competitors that they are comparing you against and then you decide if that feedback fits your vision or not or if it’s just a bad customer you don’t want.”
Source: Startup Grind Phoenix Presents Chris Ronzio (Trainual)

Stay in touch: :sunny:

You can follow Chris to stay updated with his discoveries and insights:

  1. Chris on Twitter
  2. Chris on LinkedIn
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Hey Chris,

Glad to have you on Relay!

I’ve long been keen on understanding the impact that efficient ways of operating can have on teams. Having heard some of your interviews, I learned that you’ve spent all these years thinking deeply about processes of all sorts. Even Trainual seems like a direct result and a great application of that.

— What, do you think, are some of the mistakes on processes that startup founders can avoid when transitioning their teams away from the get-the-job-done scrappiness of the early stages?

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Hey Chris,

Thanks for doing this AMA! :slightly_smiling_face:

Really looking forward to learning from the Trainual journey.

It would be great to get a window into your experience with affiliates and resellers.

— Neither of those channels make it to most GTM plans, especially for startups, so what were some of the things that helped you validate that it was worth pursuing both?
— For early-stage, B2B founders who are considering these, what kinds of questions do you think they should be asking themselves around product-channel fit, incentives, and key metrics?

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Hi Chris,

Your journey to $2M ARR in 18 months is nothing less of a dream for entrepreneurs. Congratulations!

You’ve had a unique customer acquisition route. So a couple of questions there:

  1. What made you pick up FB Ads over Twitter/Linkedin?
  2. What sort of targeting did you do for your ads in early-stage - especially when you know little of your customers?

-Anushree

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Hey Chris, Thanks for taking the time for this! :slight_smile:

What you’ve done with paid marketing is truly remarkable. A key factor in working with paid channels is constantly bettering the visitor’s time-to-value. How have you evolved that at Trainual?

Especially when your buyers and users are markedly different.

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How did you discover your channel-fit? We are often discouraged from trying channel sales in early days.

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Hi Chris,

Thanks for doing this AMA with us. Its great to read about your success thus far. I have a couple of questions

  1. 8% of your website visitors to customers - Thats a brilliant achievement. It would be great to hear more about your conversion pipeline. What specific steps have you introduced that allows you to have such a high conversion rate?
  2. organizechaos is such a great idea. How has that business helped trainual? Which one came before the other and how have these businesses helped each other?

Its great to hear that you’re an EO member as well. I am part of the Chennai chapter. I look forward to staying in touch.

Best wishes for your continued success.
Best regards
Ravi

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Hi Chris, thanks so much for doing this AMA – it sounds like your story has been amazing so far! A lot of envy in the room I feel!

I am fascinated by this: “converting 8% of website visitors into trial users” – how on earth have you managed this? That’s a fantastic conversion rate! I want to hear all!

Aside from conversion rates – “starting up at 14” – congratulations on such a huge journey to date. How have your goals and ambitions as an individual changed since your early teens?

Thanks so much – so kind of you to offer your time to share your wisdom here!

James

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Hi Chris,

Thanks for doing this.

Amazing to see the pace at which Trainual has grown.

As an early founder, there is always a temptation to keep searching/ experimenting with different channels. Would love to learn more about your process of optimising product-channel fit.

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Hey everyone! Super excited to be here! Digging into all of your questions now…

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Great question. In terms of acquisition channels, I think many people give up on a channel too early without fully vetting it. Consider your target acquisition cost – say for instance you want to acquire customers for $500 each to make sense for your unit economics. You might have to spend 10-20x that before you can actually determine that the channel isn’t working. It’s kind of like flipping a coin… if you only flip 5 times, it’s quite possible that all 5 times, you land on heads. But over time, the number of times that you land of each side of the coin begins to even out. The same is true for your ad spend when you test a new channel. Don’t give up too early.

Next, when you have a channel working, continue expanding your focus/budget on that channel, but dedicate 10-20% of your resources to continually testing new channels. Over the last few years, we’ve developed a few different channels that compete with each other for lowest acquisition cost, but it is an iterative process.

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Hi @jamesgill!

This stat was from an interview early on in our growth, and it was true when we had mainly direct response traffic coming to our website from our Facebook and Instagram ads without a lot of organic “curiosity traffic”. As our website received more organic traffic, the conversion percentage got diluted, and our focus became more on trial conversions to dollars of ad spend versus conversion percentage of total traffic. But, here are some tips nonetheless:

  • Don’t use “lead magnets” - Convert cold traffic directly into a trial and use other valuable materials in your trial to paid conversion process
  • Use your customer’s own language on your landing pages (check review sites, twitter, email testimonials, etc)
  • Add a lot of authority building/proof points (testimonials, reviews, logos)
  • Don’t confuse your website viewers with too many call-to-actions. Just the trial.
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It’s been a dramatic evolution. As a teenager I was motivated to out-earn my friends who worked at the mall. In college I was motivated to build a salary so I didn’t have to get a job. In my 20’s I was motivated to get to $1M Revenue. When Trainual started I was motivated to create passive income. Then to build one of the biggest tech companies in Arizona. Then to change how small businesses operate worldwide. My vision continues to get stretched by the other founders and mentors that I surround myself with, but I think it’s smart to let that evolution happen organically as each milestone begins to feel more achievable. One goal at a time.

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Thanks @raviramani!

I replied separately to the 8% stat, so I’ll tackle the Organize Chaos question –

I had no idea how intertwined these businesses would be, but Organize Chaos was the absolute best precursor to building Trainual, and I’m extremely grateful for that experience. OC was focused on helping growing businesses (5-50 employees) organize their software systems, streamline workflows, formalize processes, and prioritize projects. I got to roll my hands up and work personally with 150 businesses over 5 years, and I did 1-on-1 interviews with over 1,000 employees at those businesses.

This was the best focus group money could buy, and I got paid for it. So, Organize Chaos was essentially financing Trainual through paid services with target customers. I highly recommend using services to fund SaaS. Work with your customers intimately and understand their problems. Create manual solutions. Then think about how to automate or solve those solutions at scale. When we built the prototype for Trainual, only my consulting clients had access to it. They started referring it to non-clients, and that’s what created the demand that gave me the confidence to spin Trainual out into its own business.

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Hey @Akhilesh -

You’re right, our buyers are entrepreneurs, our power users are operations/HR leaders. So, for the buyer, we try to get to the point quickly: Here’s what we do, here’s why you need it, here’s how to start. In the sign-up wizard, we’re constantly trying to get their emotional buy in that “this will be a good investment”. Then, creating value for the end-users takes a lot more time, and that’s where our customer success team steps up to do webinars, offer templates, proactively reach out to customers, etc. But, making paid marketing work is all about convincing people to sign up quickly, without a lot of steps between the initial ad and the emotional confidence.

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I love the EO family! I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a tight-knit entrepreneur community. I’m also a part of YEC, Strategic Coach, and SaaS Academy, so these networks are crucial to constantly learning and pushing our own boundaries, as you know. Definitely keep in touch!

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@rajaraman I love this thoughtful question, thank you.

There is a balance between working on processes too soon, and waiting too long to instill them. Early in a business, you are experimenting. There is no defined, proven process. So the first mistake would be dedicating too much time to creating documentation around unproven processes. We don’t document or formalize anything until we’re ready to delegate it to someone else.

The next mistake would be delegating without documenting, or setting the expectation for the result that you’d like. If someone fails at an experiment, they’re getting closer to a solution. This helps you grow. If someone fails at a proven process, they didn’t have good instructions. This prevents you from growing.

So, I think get-the-job-done scrappiness and process are mutually exclusive. Not something that is tied to the maturity of the business, but tied to the maturity of the initiative.

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Hi @Krish! Good to reconnect with you.

We invested in affiliates and resellers in month #2 of the business. The reason for this was that as a former consultant myself, I knew the influence that I had over my small business customers to recommend the right solutions. So, in growing Trainual, I knew that relationships with other consultants and influencers would be a powerful way to build early trust around our brand.

We quickly grew to over 1,000 affiliates, and in the first year, they accounted for about 12% of our revenue. I think this created some word of mouth virality that we couldn’t have otherwise purchased at the time.

I had the advantage of working with my consulting clients and using Trainual internally before we ever launched Trainual as a public product. So, I’d recommend to other early-stage B2B founders that they look for early signs of validation from their first customers, and spend a lot of time with those customers to understand where they shop, where they learn, what podcasts they listen to, what books they read, what associations they participate in, and who influences them. Then, spend time getting aligned with those things to build trust with your ideal customers.

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Hey Chris,
Thanks for taking the time to talk today!

Any tips for keeping a big picture view, and not getting sucked into the everyday short-term detail/fixes/jobs to do. Or maybe its just me that has that problem :slight_smile:

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