‘How I Work’ Episode 1 with Tom Kincheloe

In this first episode of Augurian’s SaaS Scoop series, ‘How I Work’, we’re chatting with Tom Kincheloe from SureSwift Capital. Tom tells us a little about where he’s seeing great returns on marketing dollars – and which tools he’s found most valuable for road-mapping SaaS customer success. Watch this video to find out more about the challenges and opportunities software-as-a-service digital marketers may face on the horizon in 2020.

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SureSwift Capital – https://www.sureswiftcapital.com

Marketing tools Tom mentions:

Zapier – https://zapier.com

Hotjar – https://www.hotjar.com

Help Scout – https://www.helpscout.com

Customer.io – https://customer.io



Josh Becerra: Hey. It’s Josh Becerra from Augurian. I’m here with Tom Kincheloe from SureSwift Capital. Tom, you should tell us a little bit about SureSwift because I think you have a cool job and I think it’s a cool company. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Tom Kincheloe: Yes. Absolutely. I’ve been with SureSwift almost three years now. I joined SureSwift through an acquisition in 2016. I was the head of growth on a product called Mail Parser. It’s an email parsing solution that basically allows you to take emails that are structured in nature like a form request, like a shopping cart receipt, et cetera, et cetera and extract that data and pipe it over to– Either through our native integrations or through Zapier or something else, to basically the tools that you use everyday. Through that acquisition, I stayed on our Mail Parser, and then Kevin, our CEO, asked me to lean in a little more heavily on a couple of other products in our portfolio. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 products in our portfolio.

Josh: They’re all SaaS, right? If I’m not mistaken.

Tom: No. We have a little bit of diversification in regards to– We have a portfolio, if you will, of SaaS. We have a portfolio of content so ad based revenue or partner affiliate type revenue properties. We also have EdTech which is a combination of– Some of them are content end recurring revenue, either yearly or monthly, and then some are just purely recurring revenue subscriptions. We envision it in those silos, SaaS and even though there’s some cross-pollination of those two, and then the content sites.

Josh: Yes. I just think it’s great because your experiences with multiple– You’re not just a one-company, one-brand guy. You are working on and managing and growing a number of different products at one time. I think you have a really great experience in this area. This interview is set up as four pretty short questions. The first one is, where are you investing your marketing dollars and seeing great returns?

Tom: Yes. As you mentioned, we don’t have one brand that we’re working around, so we’ve got in the neighborhood of 30 brands. It’s not really a one size fits all but one of the things we’ve made a really concerned effort to be able to track and use to base our decisions off is data. That means that we’re ensuring that Google Console, Tag Manager and Analytics are all setup and proper and reporting data accurately so that when we are pursuing whether it’s paid acquisition social email marketing, the data that we’re receiving is accurate and that we can base decisions off of it. One of the first things we do whenever we acquire property is, we go bring our team in that sets that up, make sure that it’s adjusted to the SureSwiftean standards because every founder that we’ve acquired a property from has set it up a little different. We get a universal, I guess you would say, playbook there.

Josh: Yes. I mean, data is hugely important. We both know it. It sounds like you’re using some of the Google stack to Google Analytics, Tag Manager, search console. Are there any other tools that you are finding really valuable? Stuff that we will occasionally put on sites are– There’s a company called Mouseflow, and so that’s going to do session tracking and recording and heat maps on pages to see where people are clicking, click maps things like that. Do you guys use any other tools to get data or any other marketing automation stuff, things like that?

Tom: Yes. We do. Our go-to for the scenario you just described is Hotjar. We use that for click tracking, user behavior, heat maps, surveys, polling our user base; whether they’re paid users or whether there’s somebody trialing the product, and using that intel that we gather to make optimizations to the way the pages are laid, out to the look and feel of the pages, using the survey data to inform our marketing on-page content.

Be it content strategy, be it the wording in our website. That’s something we use pretty heavily. Yes, we are using the Google tool set because A, it’s super cheap and we’re a community of bootstrappers. For those that aren’t familiar with that term, it’s self-funded, it’s your own sweat and blood. Maybe you borrowed something from your great grandmother or something. For the most part, it’s people doing it and they’re the CEO and they’re the customer support lead.

They’re doing sales and they’re trying to strong-arm their way through marketing automation, or whatever the case may be. We’ve immersed ourselves in that ecosystem and really like it because it’s really accountable. We’re not dropping a thousand dollars a month on some product that we can get for free. Maybe it’s not a Ferrari, but it’ll give us the insight that we need to base the decisions that we feel make a lot of sense for the business.

Hotjar is one that we use a lot. Then there’s standard tools that we use for help desks that allow us to tag and triage tickets a certain way, to aggregate that data to use as our future road map or customer support responses. Maybe to be more sensitive to our pricing or competition awareness. People will mention sometimes, “Oh, so and so does this, or so and so does that.” Once you start to see the volume, it gives you an opportunity to make sure– Not that we aren’t proactively looking at our competition but what’s going on in the market.

Josh: Yes, super smart way to listen to the customers.

Tom: Yes.

Josh: Yes, that’s great.

Tom: We use Help Scout mostly for that. Help Scout’s a really light product that really allows us to use the support desk wisely. It has a lot of in-house integrations that you can pipe stuff to Slack or you can do all kinds of thing in-app so that you can look at your customer metrics while you’re servicing the customer, instead of having to log into a different platform and look them up and all those types of things.

Josh: Yes, great.

Tom: It works [crosstalk].

Josh: Email, I assume there’s probably a big role there. What do you use for email mostly?

Tom: It’s a good question. We probably have six or seven different platforms that we use because we inherit whatever the founder had. Whatever is possible, we streamline it and standardize. There’s a handful that we use, depending on how we interact with the client base, whether we’re just sending newsletters and updates and tips or if we’re doing in-app interactive push messaging or event-based actions.

Customer IO is one that I’ve used pretty heavily with some of the founders that I’ve worked with. I really like that because we can use it for marketing but we can also use it for in-app experiences and use really intelligent events to give people the feeling that we’re here to support them. For example, if somebody is in the app and they click on a certain integration, we can trigger two hours later to send, “Hey Josh, did you find the answer to the solution you were looking for in regards to said integration?”

Josh: Yes, it’s awesome.

Tom: It doesn’t feel like a robot to them. They’re like, “Hey. Yes, I found it,” or, “No, I didn’t.” It really helps you keep them engaged to answer questions, keeps the volume on the desk high of relevant chatter, as opposed to, “How do I use this product?” It’s targeted. It’s purposeful. It shows them that you care about their experience.

Josh: It’s great. Sounds like a great product. Another question that I going be asking everyone who does this interview series with me is around, what your biggest challenges are today? Then, any new marketing ideas or experiments that you’re really excited about for 2020? First challenges, and then what you think is going to be super exciting in 2020; what you’re working on.

Tom: Yes, my answer may be different than some of your other colleagues that you’ll be interviewing. From my standpoint, what’s really exciting, we’ve never really at scale for our portfolio properties pursued any referral-based marketing whatsoever. We have one, maybe two products that do it. One exceptionally well. Something around 40% of the new accounts come in from referral marketing.

Josh: Wow.

Tom: Another one, it’s just a drip. It would be nice to find somewhere in between there that you could land and get those referrals coming in from people who have successfully used the product because those are great brand advocates.

Josh: How are you incentivizing? What incentives do people have on the one that’s working right now? Why are people making those referrals, would you say? Because they love it so much or is there anything else?

Tom: Yes, part of it. The one that it’s working really well on is because yes, they love the product so much, and it’s a really tight community that they can’t really even fathom what they did without it. Having the opportunity to put that in a colleague’s hands, even if they didn’t get any compensation in return seems like something that they would be willing to do. That said, we comp them. I think it is a month and a discount on their subscription. It’s something that cost of acquisition from that type of marketing is really competitive. It’s a no-brainer and some of the other ones, you can get a bump up to a higher grade plan. There’s people who want more of your product, but they don’t– Oh, that’s going to be another–

Josh: Yes, upgrade might be a little much.

Tom: Right. The upgrade may be a little bit much and if you have the opportunity to send two or three people their way that stick as customers, you can bump them up to a higher consumption plan. We just try to find things that they want without having to really discount the product; give them more of something, maybe give them a month free, those types of things but we’ve never really nailed it.

That’s something I’m actually pretty excited about. What’s our biggest challenge today was one of the questions you asked. Yes, it’s interesting. The ecosystem has become quite polluted in the last 15 years that I’ve been working on Google AdWords, for example, or spending money on Facebook or– The costs are going up significantly in regards to what you pay and what you get in return. There’s click fraud, there’s all types of other nasty stuff out there that can corrupt your expenses bottom line.

It’s finding these new opportunities, right? Most of these markets that you’re in with your specific products, you can feel when you’re reaching the saturation point based on your month over month or year over year growth. It may because you’ve tapped out the total addressable market, or it may be because you’ve just tapped out the addressable market of people that know you, given your existing channels. Right?

Josh: Right.

Tom: For me and the team that we work with, we have a great growth team at SureSwift Capital. We also have a great marketing team, we are very much working together and solving these things together. Whether it’s Marvin sharing some insights- he’s the head of our growth team- about, “I think this is an opportunity for this product. Has anyone else in the portfolio tried this?” We can share those collective learnings and then, go out.

What’s the biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is finding what’s next when you’ve started to reach the growth ceiling but at the same time, find it before you reach the growth ceiling so you can also juice that in there and amplify the growth so it just keeps going. It’s not very fun when it hits, and then it goes up, and then it hits, and then it goes up. It’s like, it would be nice to keep it going up into the right–

Josh: More like a rocket ship is what you’ll– Just more straight up actually but I get it.

Tom: I’m happy with sustained growth. It doesn’t have to be the old proverbial hockey stick. It’s nice that it grows solidly and that your expenses maybe decrease at the rate because you’re built to scale more efficiently and so you grow more, if that makes sense.

Josh: Yes. That’s super smart. Well, I really appreciate the time. Some of what you were just saying about like finding the next new platform or trying to figure out where the channel that maybe has been untapped is, really reminded me of at Augurian. We use this bimodal approach to doing the digital for our clients, where we have this core of publishers tactics, strategies that we know work and will deliver the kinds of returns that we need.

Then, we have this edge which is this testing ground where we can just, “Hey, let’s put some stuff out on Reddit. Let’s try Reddit and see what happens.” Many times, those tests will fail but if there is a test that comes back that actually is delivering a better return on ad spend, if that’s our KPI, then we pull that new test into the core, and we maybe eliminate something in the core that isn’t performing quite as well as that new test.

Anyway, I do think that in this day and age, you always have to be testing new publishers, new platforms, different ways to get at that audience and find where they’re hanging out online. Sounds like you got a lot of fun things to look forward to in 2020. I really appreciate the time. This is our first edition of these one-on-one SaaS conversations. Thank you, Tom for being the guinea pig.

Tom: Yes, absolutely, Josh, I enjoyed it. You’re a company that has a portfolio being able to take one learning from one property and apply it to someone else without really having to go through the pain of discovery for that other product is beautiful.

Josh: Yes, our teams do exactly what your teams do. They’re all working on different accounts. They try different things and then they share that wisdom back and forth and figure out what is it applicable. What did you do that work that might be applicable to the account I’m working on? That’s good stuff. All right, Tom. Well, enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Tom: Yes, absolutely. Have a good one.

Josh: Take it easy.

Tom: Okay. Bye-bye.

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