Episode 8 of How I Work features a conversation with Arttu Haho, CEO of TrustMary USA, a SaaS company offering a customer feedback platform that helps companies gather feedback, measure NPS, get more reviews and use social proof to improve conversion rates.
how to roll your “rr’s”
how TrustMary grew out of a full service business into SaaS
insights into how TrustMary has seen huge increases in their organic search traffic
the challenges that come with being self-funded and opening up new global markets at the same time
Learn More: Arttu Haho: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arttuhaho/
Josh: Hello, everybody. This is Josh Becerra from Augurian. This is the next episode of How I Work. I’m here with Arttu Haho. How are you doing, Arttu?
Arttu: I’m doing very well. Thanks, Josh, for inviting me. I’m very happy to hear the rolling R.
Josh: That’s right. When we first talked, you said I’m like one of very few people in the United States who can roll the R in your first name, so that’s pretty cool.
Arttu: That’s right. That’s how we say it in Finland. The US version of my name seems to be more like R2-D2, but both are fine.
Josh: R2-D2 is a beloved droid, so, hey, there you go. You’ve mentioned Finland, why don’t you start by just telling us a little bit about your personal story. You’re an entrepreneur, you got started in Finland. Tell us a little bit about that.
Arttu: Absolutely. I have been five years or almost five, four and a half exactly with Trustmary. I’m one of the founding members. That was four and half years ago when we really really get the things going. Before that, I was working totally in different kind of role. I was a sourcing manager in IT corporation. That was the big jump from corporate world to startup, starting from zero. We had a totally different kind of service when we started and now we are a software business. It has been a very interesting journey so far.
Josh: I’m curious about that. You started, it was video production services and that started growing and doing awesome. Then you moved into Trustmary, which is your software as a service platform, which what we’ll spend most of our time talking about. Whatever happened with that original video production service company, is that still an ongoing concern?
Arttu: Actually, the video production, that was the initial service, so video testimonials and like very easy way to get video testimonials anywhere from Europe or North America. That’s actually now part of our software. It’s the additional service we provide for our software customers at the moment. When we started with the video business, we are actually solving the same problem still, even though the software is our primary tool for solving the problem. We are bootstrapped, so we had to create positive cash flow.
We started producing videos and that was our way how we were able to quickly create positive cash flow. From the beginning, we have had a lot of different ideas what we actually want to do in a long term. Video has always been part of that. Then this current software we actually launched 2019 after investing two other softwares before that. Now it’s looking very good, we are very excited about our current software and portfolio and putting all effort to promote this.
Josh: I think it’s awesome that you are able to start in a service business, understand what the market needed, how you could then solve that problem with software. Then take that service business and embed it then into the software once you’ve got it created as a feature, an additional service that you can provide. I think it’s great. You guys always had a vision for software, or was there something that made you shift gears and say, “You know what, we’re not going to keep doing this service video production business”? What was it that caused that shift, or did you always have software in mind?
Arttu: I think maybe from the very beginning we had some kind of software in our minds. I think one of the very first ideas was that we want to create that an app or the service, or the marketplace that you can order video testimonial from anywhere in the world with one click. Of course, the natural way to do that is with some software. Then you need to have operational or system behind that, which actually does the work because doing video testimonials, what we did in the beginning and still do is done a face-to-face type of work. It’s not only the software. Then our current software is the core software. It’s fully digital. It doesn’t involve human resource to add value.
Josh: Human interaction.
Arttu: I don’t even remember what was the original question.
Josh: That’s all right. Just how you made that shift and it sounds like you’ve done well. I know that you’re in a bunch of different countries now in Europe and you’ve been in the US for not too long. Can you tell us a little bit about your growth in Europe, and then what made you decide to come to the US?
Arttu: We actually started our business here in the US already 2017 with the video testimonial business. That’s how we ended up here in this market. Since then we have been planning to land our operations here a little bit more seriously. Then in some point that was something that I’m most likely going to going to do, so I moved my family here. When we moved here, actually, we did our final move. Before that, we were living here a little bit just a couple of different locations, et cetera. A year ago when we moved here, we were still trying to promote our video business as a primary service here. Pretty soon after that, we actually got our software going pretty well on the European side. Then we quite quickly changed our approach to here to be a software as well.
Josh: What was it about the twin cities, if you looked at a number of locations, what was it about the twin cities that you guys liked?
Arttu: That’s a very common question that how on earth you ended up to move twin cities. We actually are bootstrapped, so we want to be very efficient with using our money. That was maybe one of the main reasons we wanted to start somewhere else than New York or Silicon Valley, which are typical places for the European companies to start. Then the cost level is very high on those places. We felt that it’s more difficult to get started, so then we started scouting different other locations.
Then we actually moved first to North Carolina, Raleigh, and which by the way, a great place to be for a startup, and one of our board members was living there as well. Then the other option was the twin cities because I have a little bit connections here. I’ve been many times here in this area and we have even some relatives living here.
Josh: Wow, cool.
Arttu: Then it was actually family decision to come here because we had thought that it’s easier for our families to integrate, and then that allows me to focus on my work.
Arttu: For sure.
Arttu: We can basically serve all our customers from anywhere,
Josh: You mentioned that you’re a bootstrapped, a lot of software as a service companies, they go the private equity or the venture-backed route. Can you talk a little bit about that choice that you made and then any benefits or challenges that you see from making the choice to try to stay bootstrapped and grow just using sales?
Arttu: Yes, absolutely. First of all, you need to get money somewhere anyways if you want it. You need to figure out how to create a positive cash flow. For us, it was that the service business we were providing and still are providing to software customers. That was how we actually funded ourselves. That’s not maybe a very typical start for a software company. That’s maybe something unique a little bit. If you are going 100% software, most likely you will need external funding to be able to get things going. The service component was basically who funded our services.
The benefits of doing it that way, I would say are at least that you really need to learn, you are very tightly involved with the real customers from the day-one because you want to guarantee the cash flow and you learn at the same time how the business really works. Then you also become very conscious about costs. You always need to optimize the cost base because most of the time the runaway is only a few months.
It maybe educates you with certain things. The downside is that, of course, you cannot go that fast compared to a situation where you have a lot of funding, but it’s not always going with the external funding like that either. I think maybe it’s more important that you need to find a way that you feel comfortable and you trust that this is the right way to you. I didn’t know. I didn’t have the experience of doing it the other way.
Josh: I think it’s great. Anytime you can preserve your ownership and control of the company, and the longer that you can stay on that path where you’re bootstrapping and growing with sales, the better off you are, in my opinion. [crosstalk] Congratulations for being able to pull that off. I want to shift gears a little bit into digital marketing because the reason we do this show and have you on this show is because I think you’ve been really successful. You’ve seen some amazing growth in your organic traffic. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the strategies and tactics that you’ve been using that you attribute to some of the growth that you’re seeing?
Arttu: Absolutely. Maybe this is related to this digital marketing topic as well. I need to mention that we have always had a very strong sales background. Because of our history, the sales has been good enough, but we have been very sales-led when we started and now over the time, we have been transforming, and especially when we launched our software, we have been transforming to be more like a product-led. We still have a very active sales team in Europe, in Nordics and then we have more the product-led approach elsewhere.
Josh: Got it.
Arttu: Then this leads to our digital marketing topic. Digital marketing was not very, let’s say it wasn’t a very important way of doing our business when we started because we have a marketing background in our founders. We have been always putting a little bit effort there, but still, the sales was how we actually make the cash flow pretty much 100%. Now since launching the software, the digital marketing has been the direction we have been going more and more.
Actually, this year is hopefully the year that we actually can really compete with our sales. We are trying to create a little bit competition between the digital sales. Of course, people, a lot of times they don’t like that because actually, they have the same goal of finding the customer and bringing the revenue, but then this funny thing between our team. Let’s see how it goes.
What we are doing in digital marketing at the moment, we have been putting a lot of effort during 2020 to our search engine optimization. That has been one of the main things. Actually, I think that started really when one of my colleagues, Alexei jumped into our team. He has been doing excellent job with the SEO. All the time we are trying different tactics.
Josh: Tell me a little bit about your formula because I think you shared some numbers with me where you got 10 times the visit. You started at a couple of thousand and you got to 50,000 visitors. I don’t know if that was monthly or I can’t remember, but you’ve seen pretty amazing growth and you attribute it mostly to SEO. What’s your formula? How are you deciding to create content? How fast are you creating content? Tell us a little about that.
Arttu: Yes, that’s right. A year ago we had 2,000 to 3,000 visitors, monthly users visiting our website. In November, 11 months later we had 51,000 users visiting our website. It’s a pretty nice growth and still, the 80% to 90% of those visitors are organic from Google searches.
Arttu: We can say that Alexei has done a great job with the SEO. The main things, what we have been doing there, maybe there is three, four main things if I summarize that. Continuous content production is one of the key things. We are still publishing two blog posts every week, so it’s like more than 100 in a year. That’s one thing. Then, the content of those blogs are mainly coming from keyword analysis or keyword research we have been doing. What are the topics people search and what are the keywords there? Then we have been using that to create [unintelligible 00:17:36] for the blog posts.
Arttu: Then building backlinks, different corporations, that has been one of the key things we have been doing there as well, continuously and with the monthly budget. I would say those three things are very important there. We can discuss in more detail about those if you want as well. Then maybe the fourth one is to maybe–
I’m not sure actually how important this is, but we have been translating our website to many different languages as well. Still, I would say maybe 80% of all the users are English speakers, but actually, more and more significant amount of visitors, they are landing to some other language. It’s not clear for me how is that affecting the overall picture because the majority of the users are English visitors anyways.
Josh: I remember when we were prepping for this call, you had mentioned that you are producing a lot of content and you just let it take hold and see what actually gets picked up. Then, depending on what gets picked up is where you double down and put more resources in and then start doing those optimizations. I thought that was a really interesting insight and way to do it.
At Augurian we do a lot of the things that you’re talking about, the backlink strategy, we help businesses understand what topics they need to write about, the customer journey, where there’s opportunity, sufficient volume and what are people searching on that are relevant to your business. I think you guys are doing everything absolutely right. I really liked that idea that you shared earlier, which was if you just produce enough, you can start to see, “Oh, this one’s actually really taking off,” and that’s where you put more resources into the optimization.
Arttu: Yes. We noticed that the bottleneck typically to produce enough content is if you set too high-quality expectations for your content, that quite easily becomes a bottleneck for producing actually a lot of content. That’s why. Also, being a bootstrap with very limited resources, that’s the combination that you need to figure out something else. Then that’s how we did it. Actually, I think our budget for that was- I don’t know. You probably don’t like mentioning the budget because that’s might affect your customers.
Anyway, it was only like hundreds in a month. Then whenever we see that this article is getting a lot of traffic so then we put more effort to be there, “Okay, what is actually written there?” Then we properly improve our- it might include piece scraps and about Trustmary, for example, and then we improve that part and then we make sure that all the call to actions are placed and et cetera.
Josh: That’s a good segue. My whole next line of questioning was about calls to action because now that you went from driving a few thousand visitors to tens of thousands of visitors, actually, what are some of your calls to action? Are you basically giving free trials, are you doing demos, or what are you guys doing?
Arttu: Our call to actions are free. We just launched our free version of our software a month ago. That’s one of those. Absolutely, then we still provide also opportunity to book a demo meeting with us. That’s one call to action. Then we have guides like a little bit softer where if you want to find more information about a certain topic and then, of course, there’s a “contact us” type of thing.
Arttu: Yes. I need to be honest here. I think we got the driving traffic to our website pretty well. We improved pretty well during 2020, and we got a lot of traffic, but I still feel we are beginners with capitalizing that traffic. We are testing and especially we are beginners because we haven’t been data-oriented enough to try different things and that’s something really big focus for us during this year since we have enough traffic to try different things.
Yes, maybe in the next call I can share a little bit more insight like how we have been trying different things, because both what we have been doing so far are very early tests. Yes, we think we are seeing some results but not enough data behind those yet.
Josh: Sure. You sound like a founder and entrepreneur who’s never satisfied with the results and always want better results and more so that’s what I think drives all of us, I think that’s awesome. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Trustmary since we haven’t really covered what the actual software is? Because I do think that there is [crosstalk] I was just going to say I think that some of the listeners who also have software as the service, they’re software as a service marketers, they’re interested in reviews and they know the importance of reviews. Tell us like your special sauce.
Arttu: That’s a good question. Actually, that’s linking us also to like we first talk about how to drive traffic to your website and then what you asked about how to really set out those call to actions to convert that traffic. The Trustmary is actually also linking us to the conversion part pretty well and of course, we have a lot of different call to actions, you need to have those in place on your website to really convert traffic, but then there is a lot of other things you can do to improve the conversion.
Starting from design and starting from the content, what do you have on your website, how well you are solving a problem of your ideal customer profile. There’s a lot of things affecting those conversions. A lot of times, the social proof might be one of the very important things for businesses to build trust towards their potential customers. That’s what we actually do with the Trustmary, that’s our main differentiator.
We want to provide tools to our customers that they can exactly say that, “Okay, this is the value of social proof on their website and this is how the social proof helps them to convert more customers so what is the exact dollar value of your social proof on your website?” How we understand the social proof is that it’s everything what your customers tell about you, everything which is proving that you have customers who are satisfied with your business.
Then the best way of getting that is actually asking feedback from your customers, converting that authentic feedback to social proof like review or video testimonial or something like that, and then use all of that on your website to improve those conversions. Basically, if we put that in a nutshell, it’s three different tools in one service. If we summarize those three different tools, net product score, customer feedback, and then reviews, testimonials, and then the third one, improve conversions with all of that.
Josh: I think it’s great. I’m a huge believer in social proof and it’s so prevalent, we almost don’t realize we’re looking at it sometimes, it can come in the form of five gold stars or it can come in the form of, “There’s only 10 of these seats left,” or it can come in the form of “140 people also looked at this listing in the last 48 hours,” or it can come in the form of, “I used Augurian for my digital marketing and they’re awesome. Here’s a video where I’m talking about it,” or “Here’s a quote that I’m talking about it.”
I think that it’s amazing how we as human beings interacting through these devices, even though I don’t know any of the 148 other people who looked at the Airbnb that I just looked at in the last 48 hours, it creates this urgency and makes me feel like, “Oh, I’m looking at something that other people also want.” Anyway, I think that the focus on social proof is really cool and I’m sure you guys are going to be hugely successful with it.
Arttu: Yes. We have noticed that. Depending on your industry and your business, it’s a different kind of social proof which is actually bringing the results. For example, if you are booking something like accommodation, then it might be that “Okay, there is like three bedrooms left.” That might be the best type of social proof like other people are also booking and then not too many left. It’s a fear of missing out, but then when we talk about software businesses that kind of social proof doesn’t provide basically anything to them. Then for the software companies, it’s the content actually, what you’re getting from your customers is the most important thing that if you can collect authentic content, usually you get the best content through the feedback collection. Then you just use that in the right spot on your website, then that provides the trust or makes your customer to take the action or the prospective customer to take the action. It’s a very interesting area and also we believe something still, like there is a lot of opportunities we don’t even realize, in that area, in the future as well.
Josh: Can you tell me why “Trustmary”? Why that name? Is there a story behind the name?
Arttu: Yes, there actually is a story and actually the name is not even very old. We had a Finnish name when we started four and a half years ago. Then we had to figure out something international when we started going international. Basically, what we are doing with our services, we are building trust between our customer and their prospective customers. That’s where the “Trust” is coming from. Then as consumers or business-buyers, how we are actually making our decisions is that we want to always hear some experiences or feedback from those users, those normal people who have already made the same purchase.
The ‘Mary’ there in the name is representing just a random, typical human being who has the experience already, so “Trust Mary, Mary knows about this service or this company.” Yes, that’s the story behind the name.
Josh: Cool. I want to thank you so much for participating in this How I Work video. It’s always fun to talk to you, Arttu, and I’ll just keep rolling my R’s, and you just keep growing that business. We’ll have to do one of these again sometime.
Arttu: Thank you very much, Josh. Maybe I need to say your last name as well, “Becerra”
Josh: There you go.
Arttu: To roll my R as well, to prove that I can do that as well.
Arttu: Thank you very much for inviting me. Let’s keep in touch. Let’s have another call in some point and all of those who are interested to try Trustmary, then go to Trustmary.com, and then you can sign up for free.
Josh: There you go. All right, awesome. Thanks, everybody, for tuning in, and look for our next video, coming soon. Bye now.