Jenna Zeng is a serial entrepreneur that specializes in business optimization through automation. She is the co-founder of a SaaS company, StaffNet, that allows business owners to focus on the things they’re truly passionate about while keeping their business organized.
How I Work, Episode 36 with Jenna Zeng (StaffNet Inc)
Jenna joins Josh Becerra to share how her experience in the industry brought her from pain points to developer meetings. She strongly believes in coming from a place of service and a labor of love – her key to success is finding a problem people are experiencing and creating a solution. Plus:
- Wasting Marketing $’s: Using the strategy that makes the most sense for your business
- Introverted entrepreneurs – can they succeed?
- If you’re going to do something, do it for the right reasons – Mindset of Service
Transcription: How I Work, Episode 36 (Jenna Zeng, StaffNet Inc)
Josh: Hi everybody, this is Josh Becerra from Augurian. Welcome to the next episode of How I Work. I am so excited to be joined by Jenna Zeng. Thanks for being here, Jenna.
Jenna: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to hang out.
Josh: Jenna’s a serial entrepreneur, an idea junkie, marketing nerd, and small business owner with big dreams. You are helping others in your entrepreneurial community, found your way doing that has led you into like the tech world. You co-founded this backend optimization workflow tool for small businesses called Staff Net, a software and app that helps business owners take the tedious tasks off their to-do lists, automate the day and allow for more time doing the things they want to grow their business on their own terms. I think that’s so awesome. Thanks for being here, Jenna.
Jenna: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Josh: I love the story. You and I talked about your story, but I want the audience to hear about it. You’ve just had an amazing entrepreneurial journey that brought you to create Staff Net. Why don’t you start by just telling the audience a little bit about what you were doing prior to Staff Net, how you came up with the idea, and where you are today?
Jenna: I was just working a regular desk job, if you will, but started a side business at the time and it was a small little cleaning business with one of my managers at the time and I actually became good friends. We went into business for the wrong reasons of wanting to make all of the money. We quickly learned that doesn’t really happen with A, new business, B, of people who are starting a business, who have no business doing business, but we didn’t do it from the perspective of love and labor and stuff like that. We started it and then all of a sudden I was working evenings and weekends. We’re on the journey of becoming entrepreneurs, we’re super into it, and then all of a sudden it gets really, really old.
What we were facing was just the issue of constantly having to chase our tails in terms of admin work. Nothing was automated, everything was highly manual and we were just essentially needing to firm up our processes a little bit more. Basically, from there we were able to, so it became an idea, there’s a pain point. We basically met with some developers in Toronto, Canada and they said, we can fix this for you. We can create a system for you and create automations and just your perfect tool with all of the features. We met with them, it was pretty cool. Then they gave us the price and we were like, oh, I don’t know if we want to do that, but then we considered, what are we going to save in terms of time versus output and stuff like that.
We went forward with it, but it was just a solution to solve our problems at the time. We start creating it a perfect software and app and we had this aha moment along the way that out of 7 billion, I think it’s 8 billion people now actually, but anyways, out of that many people in the world, we aren’t the only small business that essentially is facing these issues. We had tried other systems too before and nothing really fit us. That’s why we created our own. Then we launched it into a beta test to say, Hey, is there room for this in the market? Are we even relevant? Are people going to like us? I honestly thought two people might be into it. I reached out to a bunch of people on LinkedIn and just like these are relationships I fostered.
I had a pretty good LinkedIn prior, but I just reached out and said, “Hey, I have a product that I would love for you to test for free and all that stuff.” We got 20 beta testers out of it. It was pretty cool to be able to test our product in different scenarios that we could have not done ourselves and so once we ran through the beta and it wasn’t smooth. There was a lot of bumps in along the road in the beta, but never is and you can try and plan for all these things and little things come up. One day I changed something in the back end with some code and I shut down the whole system. There’s just a lot of bumps along the way.
Beta went really well and then we just launched into the market and it went better again. My expectations have been very low so far because going into the cleaning business, we had these high expectations and we were so wary going into the tech world where we didn’t necessarily have a seat and we pulled up the seat and now we’re sitting at the table. Not really where we expected to be going from desk jockey to owning a service-based business to now being in the online world. It’s weird.
Josh: That’s what I love so much about your story, is that you went from working a job to starting your own business, then it’s scratching your own itch and figuring out how to get it done and then finding some other people to start using your product and always being surprised at how well it actually is going. I think that’s so cool. Such a great story. One of the parts of your story that we talked about is that you jumped right into marketing coming out of beta and the audience of How I Work is a lot of marketers, a lot of software as a service marketers. You wrote a blog entitled Attention Small Business Owners Don’t Make My $20,000 Mistake. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that experience jumping right into marketing?
Jenna: Oh gosh. I love marketing, but I did not love marketing a year ago. I can tell you that much. We’re bootstrapped, we’re self-funded and so although our cleaning business funded this and we didn’t necessarily put our own investments, it is a lot of hard work that did go into getting the funds for it. We had this little nest egg and it was around $20,000. It’s funny because at the time, my husband’s a personal trainer, he owns his own business. One of his clients came in and he’s a very successful jeweler locally. He’s established the business for many years and he was going on and on and on about these radio ads and saying, I tenfold my investment and basically, I’m killing it. Light bulbs are going off, I’m brand new, I’m just getting onto the scene.
I’m like, “Easy.” The staples, that was easy button. That’s what I wanted. I went for that. Then I met up with a few local radio stations media outlets and stuff like that and they presented to us and they gave us the different quotes and whatnot. Basically, from there we ended up signing and they did their job, but when you’re going into a world that brand recognition is zero to no. People don’t have that no-trust factor with you. We have that going against us. People are like, “What is staffing scheduling?” I don’t even know. Are you a staffing agency? No idea what we’re talking about or doing on the radio with our ads and basically we were running boosted campaigns on social media as well.
Again, we were getting some eyeballs, but really not enough. Then there’s a lot of money going into them creating copy for us, okay, cool but then it wasn’t centered around our brand story, you know what I mean? That wasn’t really guiding our clients to want to buy our product. There was a lot of things where we tried to take the shortcut and had other people do it for us and we paid a pretty penny for it, but it actually was not effective whatsoever and we’ve pretty much made maybe a thousand dollars on the $20,000 that we spent. Then–
Josh: You can’t make that up in scale. Just keep doing that. That’s not the way it’s going to work, but you did say that now you love marketing, so what’s changed your mind?
Jenna: Once we ran out of money, we were sitting there and so two options. We either figure out how to do this for free or we don’t market at all. Option number two is not an option. I started doing organic marketing and I dove right into the world of SEO. That would be blogging with keyword research getting on podcasts getting with different business owners. Again, leveraging my LinkedIn through collaborations and guest posting on other blogs. It’s a lot of reaching out, cold outreach, a lot of it but once we built up our systems in terms of how to reach out to people and message it worked out really, really well for our organic marketing and we probably spend maybe a thousand dollars on marketing a month and that’s all we have to spend now and we have a very successful business.
Josh: That is so amazing. Big learns in there, of course, but I’m glad that you’re loving marketing again. As a marketer, that makes me happy. Another topic that I saw that you wrote about in a blog was being an introvert can be a superpower. I’m curious what you mean by that and then if there’s introverted founders and entrepreneurs out there, any tips or advice you’d give to them?
Jenna: Yes. I wrote this one. I consider myself an ambivert, a bit of both. Depends on where I’m at the season of life and stuff, but one of my friends we were having chat and said, “I never could be an entrepreneur because I’m too much of an introvert.” [unintelligible 00:10:21] I was like, “Absolutely not that.” You 100% can be. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs are introverts. Then went into research mode, and basically came up with that blog post. What I loved about it is that the way introverts look at the world is obviously very different. They have a different shades of glass on. Basically, with introverts, they’re able to look at things a little bit more, I guess without being– there’s less noise. That’s the best way to describe it. For me, like I said, there’s always noise. Big shiny objects.
I’m constantly going every direction. With introverts, I find that can focus a lot more. Then with that, they don’t really always want to be the center of retention in their business. They learn how to delegate early on. That’s one thing as a business owner that I have totally sucked at. I want to touch everything. I’m like that kid in the store that you’re like, just stop. Introverts, they’re actually really good at delegating because in the areas where they don’t feel confident and skilled in, they naturally want to offset that to somebody else because they feel comfortable in their own area of expertise essentially. Whereas extroverts are known to just want to try all of the things and they’re okay with having something blow up in their face, which is totally fine as a business owner, and you should be okay with that, but introverts are a little bit less risk-averse versus extroverts.
You need a bit of both, but with the introverts, I think it was very eye-opening that maybe other people might have that perspective on business. “Oh, I can’t go on because I’m an introvert. I don’t want to be in the forefront of my business,” was not true. You can be in the back running things [unintelligible 00:12:06] and just delegate out to your team as you grow.
Josh: Love that. Delegation is such a big deal, especially as you’re growing. I know that I’ve felt that at Augurian for sure. When we were prepping for this, you talked about from a business standpoint, a philosophy standpoint, this idea of mindset of service. I love that. I think that there’s a lot in there that maybe we do here at Augurian but it’s basically like if you’re going to do something, do it for the right reasons. It sounds like at the beginning, you may have started your business because you just wanted to make all the money. That may not have been the best reasons. Of course, it’s important as a business owner, we’re doing this. We’re putting our blood, sweat, and tears into this. We want to make some money, but it shouldn’t be the only motivation for sure. I’m a big believer in mindset, and I love this philosophy. Why is it so important to you, and how do you like actually build it into your company culture?
Jenna: Coming from a place of service I think it just happened so naturally with staff. Now it’s a labor of love. We weren’t intending to market this, and then we basically said, “Hey, if other people are struggling, we want to help serve them.” For us, it’s just been the center of our story and then from there we’ve just grown. It’s at our core. How we implement it into our culture overall, we just give, give, give, give as much as we possibly can. Obviously, we’re in business to make money, and we have to stay afloat, but overall, where we can be of service I think are different areas in terms of building community, helping out with answering questions. We did consultations, and coaching calls free of charge for people who genuinely just have questions that are responding and engaging to our emails, for example.
We do free gifts like giveaways. They call them lead magnets, like actual information, that we put out there for small businesses. Then we meet with them for calls to see, “Okay, where can we lead you for to save more time in your day, for example.” Different streams and avenues, where we’ve learned to leverage certain techniques and whatnot. We turn into calls and webinars and all of these add-ons if you will. Just because it fills our cup, we really genuinely enjoy doing it beyond the services that we offer because what we offer is very basic. It’s a subscription to an online tool that you can leverage and manage your business more effectively. Cool. On top of that, my day-to-day things are literally just to create webinars, meet with people, just show them their business can be awesome again, and guide them along the way if they’re a startup.
Josh: I just like that underlying motivation is like, “I can help you feel your business is awesome, that it isn’t a drag on you, that it isn’t harder than it needs to be. That I can be of service.” Anyway, love that philosophy and I think it’s really cool that you’ve got it embedded throughout the culture. We’re running short on time. One of the questions that I love to ask, the final question of all my guests are just, who you’re paying attention to. Are there any podcasters, or authors, or people that are inspiring you today? Tell us.
Jenna: Right now I’m reading Courageous Calling by Ryan Holiday if you haven’t already. [crosstalk] really good book. All those other books are amazing, but this is a really good one too. Podcast. Yes. Alex Hormozi I think that’s who it is. He’s the host of The Game. He’s just– I don’t even know how to– if you get a chance to listen to him, you hear him talk and he speaks with a lot of conviction, and he swears, and it’s very gritty, but it’s good. It gets to the point and you’re just like, it’s like somebody having a real talk with you and you’re like, “Yes.” I really, really enjoy listening to him. Usually, one that I fall back to is the School of Greatness with Lewis Howes. Anything self-development, I just eat it up. I could just sit there all day like a robot, and listen to my podcast. Those are the people influencing my day-to-day.
Josh: That’s awesome. Well, Jenna, I really appreciate your time today. This has been a great conversation, and that’ll wrap this episode of How I Work. Thanks for being here.
Jenna: Thanks for having me.