Software startups have grown in number intensively for the past few years compared to hardware startups. There’s no easy way to scale a SaaS company. It takes time, patience, some mistakes and resolve.
Alex and Hacker, CEO and CTO respectively of 25sprout, built the company in 2012 offering enterprise Digital Consulting Solution tailored to their needs, such as extended Online survey platform, Data analysis and CRM tools based on business purpose. Serving lots of huge corporations such as Toyota, HSBC, Roche, KPMG and the like.
“However, we didn’t get a chance to approach these big corporates at the very beginning. The turning point for 25sprout was coming up until SurveyCake was created.”
“SurveyCake means - we kind of wanted to make survey a piece of cake.” says Alex.
“The story all started when Hacker and I attended a seminar back in 2012. We got a PAPER SURVEY in the end because it was a time where there was no 3G, 4G technology and even mobile version online survey. After we got home, it took us about 2 weeks to make the prototype. ”With a clear and an easy-to-use interface, SurveyCake became more and more popular among young people who had needs in creating survey at that time. However, this story hasn’t ended yet.
How do SaaS startups hustle in B2B battlefield faced with bigger corporations
1. Create Flexibility: Do what others CAN’T do, and Nail it.
Transitioning to 2B is the first turning point of SurveyCake. A few months after releasing the first version, Google form and SurveyMonkey, these big corporations started to enter the battlefield. “Knowing that we definitely can’t compete with these strong competitors like Google, Typeform, or SurveyMonkey, we decided to pivot and to target BUSINESS CLIENT.”
For Alex, the key to make 25sprout stand out from competitors is their flexible and considerate customization service.
“You can imagine that enterprise can not use Google form to collect real and sensitive data. It's not safe on a public cloud without any corporation identity. What they need from us is that we can build a customized and reliable private cloud solution for them.”
In addition, companies care not only the data data, but the next step and actions they’d need to do NEXT.
For example, lots of leading chain restaurants enjoy using 25sprout’s solution with SurveyCake features, “Restaurant like to have us do surveys. Our team not only help them build better management platform, but also improve customer service quality - that keeps customers coming back.” Alex explains.
2. Learn from your clients: Acquire “Domain-Knowledge” by understanding “Domain Needs”
Doing business, for Alex, is not only about selling the solution and getting paid, but building the long-term relationship with clients. “Such a pity that you and your clients’ relationship come to an end so fast in this way,” says Alex. If thinking differently, you may learn tons from all of your clients in different fields, and different industries.
25sprout’s first huge client is Toyota, the largest automobile corporation from Japan. The team helped them build a new platform with SurveyCake’s online-survey features. “In Toyota this such a large company, there's a professional team dedicated to creating the survey, gathering the data and doing further market research.” Alex shares. , 25sprout gained a great amount of industry insights on how to build a good tool and also what kind of charts and table they wanted to see when they receive the report.”
“We didn’t charge sort of development fee from Toyota. For us, What we pursue is long-term relationship to build a win-win situation. They are very professional on this domain-knowledge, and we're just good at coding right? SO - why don’t we work more closely? ”
3. Become An Expert: Turn Data into Business insights
Among 25sprout’s client lineup, we may see a variety of companies from automobile, chain restaurants, financial institutions or even consulting firms. By working with these “Experts”, the team not only gains the reputation within that field, more importantly, gets a chance to know more about those domains. “Financial service cares about SAFETY the most ; For restaurant, on the contrary, they care more about customer’s feeling and feedback ,which can improve and push forward more business performance.”
“For some business needs, 25sprout also provide digital consultants, sales, customer success team to take good care of our clients.”
4. Leverage the Product to Drive New Opportunities
Unlike some solution-focused companies, the company take good advantage of SurveyCake’s popularity to generating organic traffic and leverage the B2B Consulting Solution.
“There’s a typical “User roadmap” for business clients who are using B2B Consulting solution now: Some of our them actually knew 25sprout by using free version of SurveyCake. When their needs grow, they realize that they might need more features such as incorporating Company logo, gaining Data insights, or more tools like marketing & CRM, etc. That’s how we acquire clients with the help of our product.”
From Startup to Scaleup: “Growing is painful, but for us, it’s a must-do”
1. Focusing on Business
Without any funding from investors, acquiring new clients and monitoring for the cash flow is important for the team. Two years ago, the team spent much time to attend seminars, networking events, and tech conference such as TechCrunch and RISE. From 2018, Alex and Hacker made up their mind to focus on one thing at a time. “This year, we focus on the business. We spent tons of time to see outside and also feel lucky to meet our European client at RISE back in 2018 with TSS. But for now, we are focusing on just one thing.”
2. Building Infrastructure
Building an infrastructure within a startup is not always easy, it might take time, communication, and cost. But for Alex, it’s a “must-do.”
“From 2018, we started to build the infrastructure within the company, dividing “teams” into regular departments, such as Operation, Human Resource, and Accounting. 2018 is also the year where 25sprout grew the fastest in terms of the business and the company size.” Alex elaborates.
“Under 30 people, you'd need only one person to handle everything, but when you're bigger, there will be the limit and it may affect efficiency. When you are going to do something BIG, for every startup, infrastructure is the foundation. Founder is not always be on the first line, you also have to wait for others to move forward.” say Alex.
3. Three Business Units
Currently, 25sprout has over 50 employees with 3 Business Units: Product team (SurveyCake), B2B Consulting Solution, and the Operation team.
For product team, marketing and SEO are the keys, which becomes the major leverage to raise the brand’s awareness, while B2B Consulting Solution mainly focuses on project management as to acquire new clients and manage the relationship with the existing clients and partners. “That’s why we have sales and project managers in this team.” Alex explains.
One business can just do their job and fulfill customer's needs, leveraging each other in terms of different parts. Alex also mentioned about some conflicts when it comes to spliting the team.
“We need to do lots of communication with our team members, saying that it is for our future. It’s true that Consulting Solution is more profitable, but for now, we need to invest in the product while consultant team keeps generating revenue and tries to find 25sprout’s next potential product.”
“Taiwan is The Best Place To Start-Up for Saas Company!”
25sprout is now a well-known software startup across the APAC region. When I asked about what would be the strengths starting from Taiwan, Alex pinpointed 3 main reasons on why he thinks “Taiwan is the best place to start-up.”
Proper size of market to test the idea
At the right place: Easy to go overseas. to Japan, SEA or even to China.
Lots of foreign companies in Taiwan: Test your product to see it can fits different clients from different countries. “For example, we already fulfill the requirement from Toyota Taiwan. Then in Japan, we can just demonstrate the success as a social proof. ” alex explains.
Advices for startup founders? Co-Founder, Right Market, Integrity.
1. Choose the Right Co-founder
Sometimes being a startup founder is one of the most lonely, but meanwhile fruitful thing in the world.“Being an entrepreneur, your life experience is going to be 10 times more than others, because there’s so much struggle & challenge to deal with.” say Alex.
For him, to go through this up-and-downs, co-founder is super important.” Alex and Hacker were good friends at National Sun Yat-sen University. At that time, they worked closely in the school library while one was in charge of the front-end of the software system, and the other was responsible for the back-end. Now, Alex is mainly handling sales and operation part, while Hacker is leading the development team at 25sprout.
2. Start with the one you’re familiar with!
We can see lots of startups based on taiwan, tagretting the international market from day one. However, Alex believes that diving into a market or industry that you’re familiar with, is the key for SaaS company.
2. Always do your job at the moment and treat others with integrity
“Everything is connected.”
As one of the greatest startup making revenue, without any funding of VC, and profitable, Alex shared his reflection on “Being a founder with integrity, and always do your job at the moment.”
“If I hadn't done my job at RISE and got into the finalist of the pitch competition, I might have not had the chance to meet my European consulting firm client ; If Hacker and I didn’t become friends back in college, I might not have such great co-founder.” Alex shared emotionally.
2019 is going to be a brand new adventure for 25sprout. The team is now targeting European market by working with one of the biggest consulting firms based in Germany.
Next on, the company is ready to disrupt the international market with their best SaaS product and diversified digital solution well tailored to enterprise’s needs. With continuous growth and success, Alex and Hacker never forget the motivation of starting up.
“Always do your best at the moment, and grow.”
✨STARTUP SNAPSHOT ✨ is an interview series dedicated to spotlighting inspiring stories within the Taiwan startup scene. With a collective of like-minded people that share the same passions, struggles, as well as drive for entrepreneurship, we aim to tap into the innovative lifeblood of the ecosystem and get Taiwanese startups ready to take the global stage.
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