Building a Product Led Growth Company
How Pollfish became product-first and unlocked the path to growth, SendX and Ariel AI acquisitions, funding rounds, jobs and more
I hope this email finds you well. Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #22. I’m a startup guy based out of Greece, and every two weeks I will share news, jobs and more from the Greek startup ecosystem, and not only.
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🎙️ How Pollfish became product-first and unlocked the path to growth with John Papadakis, CEO at Pollfish
This week I’m really excited to chat with John Papadakis, co-founder and CEO of Pollish. Pollfish is redefining how market research is done, empowering companies of all sizes, including Microsoft, Netflix, Sony, Adidas, and more to bring market research in-house and gather data from their target audience directly. At the same time, they provide a way for close to 145K mobile apps to monetise their traffic, while users get rewarded for completing surveys. The company was founded in 2013 and has raised a total of $10M with offices in Athens and New York.
I think what is particularly interesting about this team is how they are redefining their industry, following a product led approach, through a combination of a self-serve research tool and pricing model that makes it possible to serve from Fortune 10 companies to small startups. I invited John to discuss about:
building a product led growth company and what drives this wave of self-serve products
when is the right time to invest in inside sales
lessons learned throughout his journey with Pollfish
the future of consumer market research
How do you create a product that is used from the likes of Microsoft and Netflix, as well as small startups?
In order to capture both enterprises & SME/startups at the same time, you need to address a commonly shared problem. Today, this is not unusual for several industries, including advertising & analytics. The need for data and consumer insights transcends company size. It is a need for any consumer-facing organization to understand their target market, so as to grow. Once you have a common problem and your product provides a solution, there is not much of a differentiation product-wise to serve Fortune 500 companies and startups. Is Adwords that much different for startups than enterprises? Is Google Sheets or MS Word different? Not really; it is the same product.
Nevertheless, the areas where you see big differences addressing large vs small enterprises are packaging and support. Very different packaging, contracts, support and extra services might be needed in each case. At Pollfish, we have small companies attracted to our low prices (and that was the case since our very early days). At the same time, we have created separate custom packages for enterprises that are in need of special features (e.g. direct database integrations), dedicated account management and more predictable pricing to accommodate their budget.
At the core of it though is that fact that we have built a great product, which can be used by any kind of customer with zero interaction with our team. It should be noted that large enterprises greatly appreciate this ease of use and speed that we offer. There is no need to wait to speak to a sales rep and go through a round of interactions before you can use the product. All these elements, along with a combination of packaging, messaging and branding, are what allowed us to enter the enterprise world.
What do you think is driving this wave of self-serve products?
Let’s take a 10,000 ft view. When a human requests a task to be performed by another human via email, contract, in-person meeting or phone call, today we call that “service”. When a human requests a task to be performed by a machine via keyboard strokes, mouse clicks or voice, we call that “self-service”. In fact, it is not really “self” because the machine is doing most of the work. What is really changing is the interface. The person with the request, ends up performing the same amount of work.
You ask a machine to open a stock position for you instead of a trader = faster, cheaper.
You ask Google a question instead of your teacher = faster, and sometimes less embarrassing.
The wave of “self-service” products is being driven by more capable hardware and software able to perform a given task better than a human being. Hardware and software almost definitely will become even more capable with time, hence this trend will continue.
P.S. I’m fairly certain that the term self-serve will be outdated pretty soon as we will find a better name for it.
What are the different organic customer acquisitions strategies that you have used?
There was a time where we tried to “force” certain organic customer acquisitions strategies, but that didn’t work. For instance, we tried more aggressive CRM campaigns, referral programs, etc. These are strategies that could move the needle in a consumer-facing product. However, enterprise SaaS works very differently.
What worked for us was when we focused on the product. Improving the product and focusing on UX was the best organic customer acquisition strategy we have done to date. Sometimes, the most simple answer is the best one. Once we made a product that our customers were delighted to use, we started seeing improvements across the board, including our organic growth metrics.
When do you think is the right time to start investing in inside sales for enterprise software companies?
Initially, we tried to scale our sales operations back in 2018 and it didn’t work. We successfully restarted in 2020. From that experience, my advice would be to invest in inside sales when:
You have a good and stable product.
You have proper packaging/pricing.
You can sell yearly contracts for more than $30K.
You have a crystal clear view of your strategy/targets.
You have a crystal clear messaging/positioning.
Some mistakes that I often see happening are that companies hire sales teams to test/identify their messaging, test pricing and identify client needs. All of these should be figured out beforehand, tested on a small scale and then invest in an inside sales team.
What are some important lessons learned for you over the years building Pollfish?
Focusing on the early days, here’s what I would have done in a different way:
Focus more on the product to get clients and product market fit before investing in marketing and sales. Getting 10 happy clients early on, engaged, with high retention is SO much better than getting 100 clients, who do not have an amazing experience.
Hire less people with more experience and more skin in the game rather than expanding operations too soon.
Hire an HR/People Ops person on day 1.
Talking about lessons learned, I would say focus on your team’s strength and what makes your team unique and build on that. Do not try to copy others, as that is a guaranteed way to come second at best. Sometimes, this is hard since the market, investors, and press may expect something different, therefore teams try to adapt. If focusing on your team’s core strength does not create a differentiator in your industry, then either the team or the target industry are not right. For example, trying to make a team with strong marketing DNA become product-first is a recipe for failure.
What do you see as the future of market research and where does Pollfish fit in this?
Market research is a chaotic, complicated industry that has shown little adoption of new technologies and methodologies over the past decades. Historically, it has been a “services” industry; slow and very expensive. A really small amount of companies (or departments in companies) had access to consumer insights. Then all of a sudden, you can see product companies in the space going public and capturing almost half of the market.
Nielsen (est. 1923) has 44,000 employees, with $6.5B in revenue and $8.3B market cap.
Qualtrics (est. 2002) has 3,300 employees, with ~$550M in revenue and ~$20B market cap.
Qualtrics, a product company, has a market cap of ~35x revenue, while Nielsen a services company is trading at 1.3x revenue!
This is the first and really strong sign that industries, where the offering can be productized, are about to be disrupted by new product-first companies. Pollfish is a product company. We had to say no many times to our clients requesting us custom services, even when money was tight. The future of market research is productizing services and Pollfish is built with that in mind.
🦄 Startup Jobs
Greek startups are hiring! Here are some of the latest job opportunities:
DeepSea - QA Engineer (Athens) - Apply here
Digital Commerce Intelligence - Machine Learning Engineer (Remote) - Apply here
Douleutaras - Customer Experience Agent (Athens) - Apply here
Epignosis - Senior Full Stack WordPress Developer (Athens) - Apply here
e-satisfaction - Back End Engineer (Remote) - Apply here
Hack The Box - Frontend Developer (Athens) - Apply here
LearnWorlds - Senior Software Product Manager (Remote) - Apply here
Lifebit - Data Solution Architect / Data Analyst (Remote) - Apply here
Metrika - Senior Data Analyst (Remote) - Apply here
Plum - Tech Recruiter (Athens) - Apply here
The last mile delivery space in Greece is heating up! Skroutz acquired SendX (the last mile delivery spin-off of MyJobNow) for close to €2M. SendX started operations in August and is currently making around 2K deliveries/day. Here is the official announcement from Skroutz.
Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, acquired the London-based computer vision startup Ariel AI. Ariel AI founders are Iasonas Kokkinos & George Papandreou (ex-Google, ex-Facebook) with several Greek computer vision scientists in their team.
e-satisfaction raised a new funding round with participation from UniFund. The startup, founded in 2014, has built a platform to help brands understand & engage with customers. They're currently used by 300+ retailers & recently expanded ops in France.
Storfund, a fintech startup that aims to address the financial needs of e-commerce merchants in platforms such as Amazon, secured $36.5M funding. The company is headquartered in London with several team members out of Greece.
First funding rounds for two AI teams with Greek founders out of the UK. Honest AI, an AI tool for real estate investors, raised a pre-seed round and Kaedim, a 3D model creation platform, also raised their first money.
Signal Group launched Signal Ventures, focusing on early stage tech startups in the shipping, logistics and commodities industry. Great to see more early-stage financing and support in the space, especially when it's coming from a team of operators.
PROBOTEK, a team in the drones and IoT space, raised a funding round from Uni Systems and Guardian Telematics.
Indie hacker, Jim Raptis, got a runner up spot in the Side Project of the year category for his geometric patterns editor, MagicPattern, in the Product Hunt awards of 2020.
Navenio, an indoor location solutions startup, is participating in the Upscale acceleration program of Tech Nation.
💭 Reading or listening
Some interesting thoughts from Diomidis Spinellis, professor of software engineering in AUEB and TU Delft, about the positive viral loop that innovation and tech investments can generate for the country.
A list with 10 promising Greece-based startups to watch in 2021 from EU-Startups: Prosperty, Roadcube, Dog Bakery, Workathlon, BibeCoffee, DeepSea Technologies, FlexCar, BIOPIX-T, GX Blocks Energy and Syncbnb.
Zaharenia Atzitzikaki, VP Design at Workable, published her latest newsletter on getting the most out of your relationship with your current manager.
A podcast with Marily Nika, ML Product Manager at Google, on artificial intelligence, virality and women in the tech industry.
A post by Babis Makrynikolas, VP Product & Pricing at Blueground, discussing how Amazon managed to maintain the most customer centric experience in the world, while a big part of the experience was driven by millions of different sellers.
A post on Ethereum scaling techniques and Optimistic Rollup by Georgios Konstantopoulos, Research Partner at crypto-focused investment firm Paradigm.
Aggelos Mouzakitis, founder of Growth Sandwich, discussing about value gap, the discrepancy between what users expect and what they actually experience and how to close it.
Eleni Aktypi, Marketing and Communications Manager at Dialectica, wrote about 4 PR tools that will help you kick off your Comms strategy.
Innovative Greeks launch event on March 2 and March 3 with a number of interesting speakers discussing about the local startup ecosystem including founders, VCs and the prime minister of Greece.
Stay safe and sane,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋