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

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

2 Likes

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

3 Likes

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

2 Likes

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.

3 Likes

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

3 Likes

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.

3 Likes

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.
3 Likes

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.

5 Likes

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.

4 Likes

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.

2 Likes

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!

3 Likes

@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.

3 Likes

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.

4 Likes

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:

3 Likes

Hi @Anushree – thanks for this.

As a consumer, I spent more time on Facebook/IG than Twitter/LinkedIn, so it felt more organic to produce and promote content on those channels to attract an avatar like me (small business owner). We tested LinkedIn early on, and it seemed like the engagement wasn’t close to what we saw on Facebook and Instagram, so when we got one channel to work, we continued to scale and invest heavily in it. Every 3 days, we increased our ad budget by 20%. It led to some pretty scary credit card bills :slight_smile: LinkedIn is working better now than it was 3 years ago, but I suggest producing content where you can get the most engagement.

Initially, we used interest based targeting for people that liked certain facebook pages (the Shark Tank TV show, Tony Robbins, Entrepreneurs Organization, etc). That produced a large audience that we could drive to our website. Then, we refined the audience to be a smaller group that was like the customers that engaged with our first ads. Eventually, we relied on lookalike audiences of visitors that signed up for a trial, and then of customers that converted from a trial, and then smaller and smaller groups of our best customers.

4 Likes

Really interesting, thanks so much Chris!

3 Likes

Dear Chris, great reading your replies & knowing about Trainual’s journey, its absolutely inspiring. I wanted to talk about how do you make sure “Voice of the Users” is heard within the organisation in Engineering, Customer Success & Product teams.

  • What tools / process you use / recommend to constantly collect user feedback ?

  • How do we train or sensitise our teams on “user empathy” as we intuitively focus on customers & economic buyers and often forget the user.

  • Finally how do you document or flow the “ideas from users on which feature to build / fix” which needs to be carefully treated different than an issue / support ticket.

Interested to hear your views on this.

3 Likes

@angusbradley haha I think this is an “everyone” problem, not just you.

Keeping a big picture view - I have always set very defined quarterly goals. I write them on my whiteboard at home, my whiteboard in my office, and inside our project management system. So, I can’t help but see them all the time. I try to be intentional about blocking time on my calendar for getting certain types of work done. So, team meetings happen on Mondays, Interviews/Press happen on Wed/Thursdays, mastermind groups/networking on Fridays, deep work on Tuesdays/Wednesdays. It’s not a perfect science but it adds some structure to make sure that I have space.

Not getting sucked into details - weekly 1:1s with all of my direct reports. Empower them to solve problems. Give them support, coaching, autonomy, training. When I get asked about small issues, I push back and ask if it’s a decision they can make.

Constant work-in-progress, but hiring great people goes a long way toward solving this.

4 Likes

We used Canny.io for a while, recently switched to ProductBoard.com - both integrate with Intercom and Jira, so CS reps can create tickets and push updates to customers. We use Delighted.com for surveys and NPS.

We try to hire empathetic, caring people, so it’s not something we’ve had to have a curriculum or explicit training around, however we do talk a lot in our training about core values, share examples of great customer conversations, and publicly applaud this kind of thing in a “Praise” channel in Slack, and live at our weekly all-hands meetings. When you celebrate employees for helping customers, the behavior is a lot more prevalent.

Support tickets go through a dedicated PM, who has a triage process of verifying that something is a bug, not a feature request.

We have a dedicated engineering squad that focuses on bugs and back-end/internal ideas, but that has evolved over the last 6 months. It used to be that our teams would switch sprints between bugs and features, but now we can run in tandem.

Feature requests get logged in ProductBoard, and every month we have a “product ideation meeting”, where everyone at the company is invited in and given the floor to vocalize anything that they think needs to be a priority. Our designers and engineers get 10% of their weekly schedule to work on off-roadmap items too, so it’s a fun way to switch gears and check something fun off the ideas list, which our internal teams always appreciate.

4 Likes

Dear Chris, You started at 14 :slight_smile: :open_mouth: that’s wow !!, would also want to know the key management lessons you have learnt & the hard way to manage & run teams. Especially on building internally talent, hiring outside, culture, hierarchy, growth mindset etc.

Mostly which areas you feel you did a not so great job as a CEO / Founder. Will be great to hear for founders like me & few others you started early ( I started at 25, much later than yours :smile: ) so which areas and mistakes to avoid ?

3 Likes