This is our story to date of how we have built and grown our business to provide over 1000 organizations and 1 million people Google Apps training in 1 year.
One of the main issues with training is getting people to take it, generally training is not viewed as an exciting activity and something you are forced to do. We decided that this was the problem we were going to solve, we were going to make training fun, interactive and available directly in the applications you needed training on.
We are strong believers in the Lean Startup movement, utilizing the techniques we learned from Eric Reis we were able to define our solution clearly, and filter down the key activities we needed to take. We also took advantage of the Business Model Canvas to define exactly how we were going to build our business, bring it to market and solve real problems in the training market.
To stay lean, we initially developed Synergyse to work with 3 key Google Apps: Gmail, Calendar and Drive. If we could show real value in helping people learn these core Apps, we could later expand into other Apps like Sites, Docs, Sheets and Slides.
Building the team
We started looking in the usual places, for this business we wanted to get someone on board who would have a vested interest in the company, and more importantly believed in our vision and mission.
We ended up looking into our own networks and connected with Alex Kennberg, who I had previously worked with at Google, and he was now out on his own bringing great technology ideas to life.
We also ended up using oDesk to outsource some of our part-time roles like QA and administrative work, this allowed us to stay lean in hiring and easily manage remote workers on our team.
Launching to market
Our launch strategy was fairly simple, we wanted to have a pre-launch website up that we could direct interested people to and collect their email addresses, and we wanted to get some press. To the tackle the first task, we made use of LaunchRock which provided us with a fully functional website and contact form, and required no programming. We did some basic online marketing by posting in social communities relevant to Google Apps and started collecting email addresses, this also didn’t cost us anything.
To try and get press, we researched the most prominent technology blogs and reached out directly to writers who were writing about topics related to our market, such as Google Apps and Chromebooks. We probably reached out to over 100 writers, and luckily got a response from TechCrunch, who agreed to blog about us on our launch day. Thanks to the TechCrunch post we received over 1500 unique visitors to our website on launch, and actually secured a few small and medium sized organizations as clients because of it.
One of the most important decisions we had to make was whether or not we were going to charge customers for our product, many advisors said it would be better to offer the product for free, gain traction and then try to charge for it later.
We also demonstrated an early beta version of the software to potential clients and they immediately saw value in our training system and they wish that it had previously existed.
This gave us some validation to our hypothesis, we believed strongly in the value we could deliver and decided we were going to charge $10 per user per year, to be in-line with Google’s pricing for Google Apps which is $50 per user per year. We would also offer our training software to students for free if an education client purchased licenses for their full-time staff.
This turned out to be a wise decision, as we closed a large enterprise deal on our second day of business. We also starting seeing traction in the education market, where Google Apps is free, and we turned a profit in our first few months of business.
B2B sales strategy
Developing our sales strategy involved understanding the Google Apps ecosystem, developing leads, utilizing multiple channels and working with partners.
We learned there was a strong community presence amongst educators, particularly those which use Google Apps in their schools. They share lot of valuable information with each other on Google+ and Twitter. We also learned about a strong third-party ecosystem of solutions for Google Apps, covering security, administration, automation and more verticals.
We developed leads through social media, we also launched a blog that contributed valuable tips to the Google Apps community. We had to understand who the decision maker was, and we suspected it would be the IT department, through meetings with potential clients we learned this to be true. We leveraged LinkedIn to find the right contacts and established meetings over Google Hangouts where we could easily demonstrate our software, and not have to travel.
We were fortunate that Google already had a strong partner channel established for reselling Google Apps and third-party solutions. We learned who all the major partners were in the Google Apps reseller ecosystem, and managed to partner with over 40 of them throughout the year through demonstrations and meetings.
Our valued clients
Growing to 1 million users has been faster than we anticipated, this is partly because in B2B you have the potential to sign on really large customers. We provide training for some large enterprise clients with over 25,000 employees. In the education market, we have a few school districts on board with over 100,000 students covering schools across entire cities and regions.
When we sign on a new client, we make sure to establish technical deployment calls to go over how to deploy our Chrome extension to their entire fleet of computers. Deployment of Synergyse typically takes less than 30 minutes and we worked to make this process as easy as possible for IT departments, we provide them with documentation, a direct support channel and assistance where necessary.