What do you do when you run out of leads for your business?
It’s a little scary when you don’t know where your next customer might be and you have to learn something new.
For Melissa Kwan, enterprise sales are her bread and butter. It’s where she’s made multiple businesses successful and how she’s been able to be a successful entrepreneur. With her current venture, eWebinar, sales are quite a bit different.
Today, Melissa is the founder of eWebinar, a company that allows you to run webinars without you being there.
In this conversation with Melissa, we talked about how she’s growing eWebinar with LinkedIn & SEO instead of enterprise sales, how she’s gotten her product off the ground as being a non-technical founder, and how eWebinar fits her lifestyle, not the other way around.
Here’s my deep dive conversation with Melissa Kwan, the founder of eWebinar:
Note: These answers from Melissa are cleaned up from the interview, so they’re not exact quotes per se. They’re cleaned up so you can read it easily!
What were you doing before you started a company?
The last job that I quit was at SAP in Vancouver where I was doing large enterprise sales.
I was always entrepreneurial, but I was never an entrepreneur. I would try to do things on the side with my friends, but nothing really came to fruition and I just got to a stage in my life where I just really didn't wanna work for anyone anymore.
SAP was the best and worst job I ever had. The best as in I worked with a lot of smart people and it was where I learned how to sell. It was the first large organization I'd ever been a part of, but I couldn't be more unfit for that environment.
It wasn't really based on performance, it was just about how do you manage your managers so you can get a better list. There's a lot of office politics that I wasn't going to be a part of.
It wasn't a place that I could thrive. I learned a lot in the shortest period of time. The main thing that it told me was that I just can't work for someone else.
What made you quit SAP and start a company?
Startups wasn't really a term that I knew. I just wanted to start something in software. I didn't wanna work for SAP anymore.
I just played with a bunch of different ideas and hired a contractor to build stuff so that I could go and sell. I had been selling for many years up to that point.
That was really the beginning there. There wasn't an aha moment.
It was really like, I don't wanna work for anyone and let's see what I can come up with. I really underestimated what it took and I still do, I guess to an extent, underestimate what it takes to get something into the world where none exists, and then also get it in the hands of the customers.
Then, provide so much value that they pay you. That was 13 years ago now, so it's been a long journey. There wasn't like this moment of “I have to change the world and this was a thing I wanted to do.”
It was just like, “I just want to make a living”.
Fast forwarding a lot here, what made you start eWebinar?
eWebinar solves a problem that I personally lived with for five years in my previous startup. What we do with eWebinar is that we automate webinars. We turn any video into an interactive webinar that you can set on a recurring schedule so you can do hundreds of demos or training sessions every single month without being in front of a camera to do it live.
We preserve the one-on-one chat with customers. It's a two-way interactive experience and not so much like a one-way video consumption.
In my last startup, we were constantly doing demos, training, and onboarding for new customers that signed up. I was not only doing these repetitively every single day, but also doing it on different time zones.
I always just dreamt of this magical product that would do my job for me while I could just go and live my life.
After my previous company was acquired, I waited about two months before starting this company, and this was just like the thing that kept coming top of mind. I just couldn’t believe this hadn't been solved.
Whereas there was so many people that were solving for live broadcasts.
Whether it was Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Zoom, or Restream, nobody was solving the number one issue of live broadcast: how do you scale content that really works for you and deliver a great experience every single time?
So every quarter when I was running my previous company, I would just Google on the internet for solutions to this problem and I was super convinced that someone had solved this problem, but I just hadn't found it yet.
After my previous company was acquired, I had been thinking about this solution so much for five years and thinking about all the features I would have and what it would look like and all those things. I just got going from there.
What does “got going” mean? You have this problem you’ve been thinking about for 5 years, what were your first few steps to building and selling?
So I have my own podcast called Profit Led, which is really focused on bootstrapped founders. The second season which I'm recording now is about our journey to a million dollars in revenue. In every episode, starting from the idea, we're actually digging into one thing that we did that worked or didn't work.
The very first thing that I did was that I called up a friend who is in consumer products who is great with branding, names, and all that goes with that. I’m terrible with naming products so I asked if he had any ideas.
I had a bunch of names that were super bad and and everything that I wanted was taken on GoDaddy. A few days later he like sends me a text, “Hey, this is really cheap, you should buy this now.”
It was eWebinar and it was like a few thousand dollars. I was like this is so expensive because I had never bought a domain before, but I trusted him. After I bought it I was like, wow, this is actually a really, really good name. It just kind of grew. He named my company and I went to incorporate it.
Step two was finding my founding team. The last place that I lived in was New York. I lived there for three years and then I left New York to nomad. Now I'm in a bunch of different places, but there was one guy that I'd worked with in the past and he was a customer of mine.
He was the champion of my customer and I always got along with him. We always stayed in touch, but it wasn't like, “Hey, let's do something together.” I somehow felt like he was a jack of all trades guy. I'm not sure why, but he had at just left a big company and he was trying different startups.
His name was Todd. I called him up and I just told him about this idea that I wanted to do. We got lunch and one thing led to another to now he’s our COO. He's our COO.
The third step was finding someone to build it. I didn't have a CTO and I didn't wanna work with my previous CTO co-founder. We'd already done two companies together and it really felt like our time together was coming to an end. While we spent time together, it was great, but it felt like we were going different directions.
I didn’t want to manage engineers anymore because I never figured out how to do it. I decided to hire a development shop that my friend owned to build the first version of eWebinar with the intention that we would bridge it to like a Vietnam outsource team.
It would be a team that we could afford, but I wanted the first version of the product to be the highest quality possible. I thought that would be to to have it built locally. That didn't work out in the end. We spent about a year with that dev shop. We both kind of underestimated how big that project was.
Then, I actually brought in my current CTO co-founder and who is my life partner. He was a fractional CTO for other companies and he started helping out on the side and then things started working for eWebinar.
I was like, “why am I paying this dev shop to try to build this thing that, that they can't deliver on when we could just have you as my co-founder?”
That was a really big lesson learned that. A tech company needs a tech co-founder.
You were with your life partner for 5 years before he became your co-founder and CTO of eWebinar. You were having issues with a dev shop and a solution was actually sitting next to you. What made you finally turn to that solution?
First, I was like, “why am I paying this dev shop to try to build this thing that, that they can't deliver on when we could just have you as my co-founder?”
Of course I knew he could code, but not like this. I remember when I met him in New York, I'm like, “How come you have so much time to hang out with me?” Because, at the time, he was a CTO for another startup.
His response was “because I'm really efficient” and I wasn’t going to give him crap for that because I wanted him to hang out with me. I thought he just maybe cut corners and is lazy.
So, I never even thought about building a company with him. I don't know tech, but I know good software from bad software. Good software just works and bad software doesn't.
When someone starts coding for two weeks and your software is working, I said to myself, “I need to change my opinion”. I changed my opinion and decided we needed to uplevel our relationship.
You have the three main steps done: problem identified, team formed, and tech ready. How did you find your first $100k in revenue?
My background is in enterprise sales and that's an advantage because when you're a revenue driven founder, you really think about every spec. Every decision I made on a product, I’m thinking “can I make money from this?”, “is someone going to sign up?”, “is someone going to tell their friend of this thing we’re putting in?”. Everybody starts off with we must have these a hundred features, but in the end you can only have twenty.
Every company has to start with founder-led sales. The first thing that I did was I just made a list of everybody I thought could use the product.
All the tech vendors I used to go to conferences with, everyone who does training, onboarding, repetitive sales, or sells low cost products where it doesn't make sense to do one-on-one sales.
When I made that list, it was maybe 150 people. I then just went down the list and I wanted to just tell them what I was doing next. Because these were friends, of course they're going to take my call. I already knew they had that problem.
I guided those conversations in a certain way where I knew they would say, “okay, I need to try this product.” I told them, “this is not a free product, it's a 60 day trial because you're the first customers and at the end of 60 days you can keep it or not.”
Everybody knew they were coming onto a paid product because we do not have the luxury of not having paying customers. We're a bootstrapped company, so we need to get to revenue.
In every one of those conversations with friends, if it did go well, I would also ask them to refer me to other people that they thought could use this product.
That got us to around $10k-$20k per month in revenue and then we ran out of leads.
When you ran out of leads from your network, how did you approach growth from there?
I remember being in shock because I'd been in sales for so long. I’ve done in person, one-on-one sales, but realized that that people don't pick up the phone for a hundred dollar product. It makes sense because that's not how you buy something like MailChimp, Calendly, or anything similar.
I tried cold email lists, LinkedIn outreach, reaching out to people on Twitter, just outreach in general was my new strategy. That’s what I knew.
I came to the end of the road quite quickly. I tried that strategy for nine months.
I remember just talking to my friends and asking, “what are people doing nowadays? And one of my friends said, “oh, you need to check out LinkedIn”. My response was, “LinkedIn? like the resume site?”
I ended up logging into LinkedIn after not using it for a long time. This was about two years ago.
I ended seeing people microblogging, and saying to myself, “I'm actually learning stuff from this.” Then I took this course by Justin Welsh, who has a course on growing your audience on LinkedIn. I used that course and just started writing on LinkedIn.
It’s been a little over a year on LinkedIn.
Outside of LinkedIn, we’ve learned the importance of SEO.
About stuff that I've done in the past, um, summer of, of 2022. And, you know, it's been a little over a year now. Um, but out like outside of that, I also do, you know, have my own podcast, but I also market myself onto other people's podcasts.
Todd, our COO, being the Jack of All trades content guy just said, “I'll learn SEO. I'm interested.” We then paid a company to teach him how to do SEO using their method.
There was a blog called Grow and Convert, and they taught how to write different types of content for SEO.
We’ve just owned SEO that point on. Now, SEO is over 50% of our traffic.
You’ve talked about how growth has been different with eWebinar compared to your past ventures. What’s similar and what’s different between your different bootstrapped ventures?
The biggest similarity is that I have to learn everything from scratch. The reason is because they're all so different.
With my first company, I fully intended it to be a product company, but we were bootstrapped, so we said yes to building a lot of things and before you knew it, we were building custom apps for different real estate developers.
We started with a product, but nobody wanted it to be the same because they were using it to sell real estate. So, that business became an agency that I ran for four and a half years.
With an agency, every deal could be your last deal. After you deliver a product, nobody wants to pay you either, so you're constantly chasing the invoice after you deliver.
My second company was my first true SaaS company, and it was an open house check-in for selling real estate.
Instead of writing on a piece of paper that you’re checked in for an open house, you're checking in on an iPad and all of that data goes back to the brokers that we sell to. Then it had automated follow ups that go into their CRM and all those things. I ran for five years before it was acquired.
That was an enterprise sales company though. I could do one-on-one sales and I didn't have to do any marketing. I cold emailed, went to conferences, and made friends with other vendors.
eWebinar is a self-served SaaS company and it’s so much different than one-on-one sales. I came into it thinking that it was gonna be very similar to my last one, but I didn't realize that it was gonna be more of a marketing led company.
Nobody on my team, including me, has any experience marketing. All of that had to be new. That’s the absolute hardest thing. Marketing is always evolving as people's expectations are.
This was the company that I always wanted to build. I wanted to build something that wasn't bounded by geography, language industries, and not bounded by my time.
I didn't want any conferences or any one-on-one calls. This is a fairly hands-off company.
Every single business has been different and as I’ve gotten more experience, I’ve learned all of the things I don’t want to do .
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