“Narrow Is Never Narrow Enough”
Interview with Autobound Co-Founder & CEO Daniel Wiener.
For companies in almost every industry, success and failure often boil down to the sales process. But what if there was a way to make it easier for sales departments to know who to reach out to and what to say? That’s exactly what Daniel Wiener and his startup Autobound are doing. Autobound works with an existing CRM to analyze data points to find the right buyers and sell to them better.
Daniel recently spoke with startup coach Roland Siebelink on the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. The CEO and co-founder of Autobound discussed how his startup began, the unique challenges it has faced, and the young company’s huge aspirations.
- How Autobound was able to narrow down its ideal client profile.
- Why Autobound’s ideal client profile is constantly changing over time.
- Autobound’s challenges while building the best team and finding the right engineering talent.
- How Autobound looks at competition in a new category that it’s trying to lead.
- The strategy Autobound has used to find the right partners.
- The north star that Autobound is striving to reach eventually.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. I am so excited today because this is the guest that we’ve probably been waiting for the longest in getting onto his busy calendar. It’s Daniel Wiener of Autobound. Hello, Daniel, how are you?
Daniel Wiener: Hey, doing really well. Thanks for asking. Great to be on.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. You and I were in touch already more than half a year ago, and I was so excited to hear about the business proposition and what impact you’re making in the world. But how would you summarize that for our audience?
Daniel Wiener: Great to finally make this time work, back to what you said before. I looked at LinkedIn, it’s been, I think a year. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Roland Siebelink: That explains your gray hairs and my lack of hair in the meanwhile.
Daniel Wiener: Spot on. You got it. Back to your question. Pleasure to meet everybody listening. I’m Daniel Wiener, co-founder and CEO of Autobound. We’re a B2B sales intelligence company that makes it really easy for outbound sellers to know exactly who makes the most sense to reach out to, what to say in their messaging, and when to say it or how to prioritize their outreach.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. Have you focused on particular verticals, particular kinds of sellers? Who are your core customers that you’re finding most traction with?
Daniel Wiener: Right now, our sweet spot is companies that have an established outbound sales motion. I’d say between Series A to Series D and those that are running Salesforce CRM - that tech backbone is a pretty important prerequisite for us right now; that will change in the next few months - but that are selling a product or service to other businesses. And they can be selling to startups, enterprise customers, as long as they’re selling to another company. We’re B2B2B.
Roland Siebelink: Yes, exactly. That’s a good definition, B2B2B. Okay. When you say that they are typically between Series A and Series D, it seems to imply that you’re primarily selling to other startups as well, right?
Daniel Wiener: Yes. If you ask me that same question in the next few months, my answer will slightly change again. That’s been our sweet spot. I always find it humorous when other founders ask me for advice around defining your ideal client profile or your ICP. Narrow is never narrow enough. We’ve sold it to a handful of companies that fit outside that range. But when it comes to the success in the sales team using the product, the amount of support and training resources that we need to put in play to have them fully brought up to speed, that is our current best fit.
Roland Siebelink: Wow. Okay. I love that quote. Narrow is never narrow enough. That’s not what you would hear instinctively from every salesperson. I think it’s often a learning that takes place after a while. Isn’t that right?
Daniel Wiener: Yeah, exactly. One of our advisors, a fellow by the name of Barry Trailer, started a firm called CSO insights, him and Jim Dickey. They’re absolute sales gurus. Barry used to do a lot of keynote speaking. He would go up on stage and he would bet his house to any VP of sales in the crowd who would raise their hand if they thought that all of their sellers were talking to the right people. I think every company deals with this problem of it’s easy to spend time speaking to or trying to get in touch with folks that aren’t a good fit for what you sell or what your product is. It’s something that we both have to do as a company to sell Autobound in general. But what’s exciting about what we’re building, our actual software, is it helps companies do that even better as well.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Can you talk a little bit through the journey you guys went through, Daniel, in finding that core ICP, the one that’s hopefully narrow enough for you to really show that success?
Daniel Wiener: My background before starting Autobound, fresh out of college, I was an outbound SDR - stands for sales development representative - at Oracle. And I targeted Oracles, SMB, or small to midsize business, persona, which was any company with less than 500 million in annual revenue, which is a much different definition of SMB than we have at Autobound.
A lot of the pain points that I saw around my coworkers - and that I felt too - in outbounding were the initial genesis of the idea that became Auto-bound, our sales intelligence product. When we were first thinking about who to position the product to, my background was selling to what I would now define as mid-market or enterprise. My co-founder and best friend of 21 years now, Kyle, he sold at Yelp before starting working at Autobound with a somewhat similar background.
When we first started the business, we were too bright-eyed and bushy tailed to have an easy time saying no to a buyer who is interested in taking a call. And we thought that the technology that the company was using wasn’t necessarily ultra important for - it wasn’t a make or break in terms of what we would build and how we’d sell it.
The shortest way to answer that question is we got burned so much that it burned us into the right place.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, exactly. And just because you couldn’t implement it and couldn’t show the value that you were imagining with the right stack in place, correct?
Daniel Wiener: Right. And I think part of the reason no one’s built what we have quite yet is it’s a difficult technology to build. Every sales team is unique. They sell a unique product to a unique persona. Their messaging is much different. Their CRM is configured differently. They train their sales team differently. To build a product that can help us speak their language more succinctly and clearly and with greater personalization, knowing that there’s so much variation from company to company, it’s remarkably tricky.
We first found our best fit for our product - maybe other founders would say it was more difficult for them than us - but I think we have an especially uniquely difficult problem in finding our first sweet spot for a scalable buyer type that we could build a repeatable sales motion around.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Is this startup focused and also related to people in startups being more tolerant of a vision that’s still being built that they’re known as early adopters?
Daniel Wiener: Yeah. Our ICP document that we have internally right now, we’ve added more and more characteristics to it as time has gone on. The willingness and openness to be a bleeding edge tech adopter patient - we have a trait in there: tech savvy. And it’s funny, everybody you talk to says they’re tech savvy, but most of the people aren’t really cutting through that noise. We can get a good sense after a few demos if they are. But you’re spot on in that. It goes beyond just job titles and industries.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. For those that already have good experience with sales software, exactly where do you fit in the stack? Can you explain that a little bit more? How does it compare to other outbound software and what does need to be in place for Autobound to really shine?
Daniel Wiener: The average mid-market to enterprise sales team has anywhere from 10 to 15 different products that their sellers use. The larger enterprises have on average about 25. Our intention and our go-to market isn’t to rip and replace the existing tech you’re using. We built a platform that layers on top of your CRM. Right now, Salesforce, soon to be HubSpot. There’s an acute email or tasks sequencing automation products that have really taken storm over the past four or five years, like Outreach, Salesloft, ZoomInfo has their new engagement, which to put simply is like automated email follow-up, and most modern day sales teams are using that. You might also have a contact data provider or a lead provider where you buy bulk email addresses and phone numbers based on who you’re targeting. Those fundamentals are really important to us right now. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel and do it all at once. We’re focused on how we can convert insights into cohesive and targeted messaging.
For those who get it, who are listening on the call, might be in the role, we have a really tight integration built with Outreach and Salesloft and Salesforce, where we’ll suggest contacts for outreach based off of insights that we built across our data partner network in line with who the personas are that you’re targeting and what the best message is that’s most likely to generate a response.
Roland Siebelink: How far would you say you’ve got some on this startup journey? Do you feel like it’s still primarily building the product or are you already focused on primarily your go-to market, expanding your traction? Where would you place Autobound at this stage?
Daniel Wiener: I think that the products we are building that can auto-generate highly personalized sales email as good or better than a salesperson, but to do so instantly is very resource intensive. And I think the go-to market is especially difficult because we just hired a CTO who started on Monday and we have a really proficient engineering team in Ukraine. But getting to where we got as to non-technical business or salesy co-founders, our experience and closeness to the space were both an asset, but our lack of having spent 20 years on machine learning, product development, I think, was an inhibitor.
Where we’re at right now, I think for a platform that can auto-generate messaging, there’s this new category emerging within sales technology and sales tooling. I think we are farthest along, if not top three, in generative sales messaging. But I would also say we have a hell of a long way to go with building the ecosystem and the empire that we’d like around. What starts is just the top of a funnel cold email.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly. We mentioned a little bit about the team. You just hired your CTO. Typical listeners to this podcast often want to hear about the evolution of the team. Where did you start hiring first? What made you shift gears at some point in time? Can you talk a little bit about the history of Autobound in that way?
Daniel Wiener: I think building the team is the most important, but in many ways, the hardest thing you have to do. I was fortunate to be either a good enough convincer or be good enough friends with my co-founder Kyle to initially take the leap. He was the number one sales manager globally at Yelp five times straight. Him and I used to just go back and forth spitballing how much we both love-hated our jobs in this big opportunity, where it was pretty simple for us to say, “Screw it, let’s do it” and start back in mid 2019.
From there though, it was a real challenge building out the right engineering function behind the tech that we started back then. We met our first lead engineer when pitching a Founder Institute’s Demo Day, a fellow who just really got it well. He had a team of nine contracted folks that he had built his firm around for outsourced engineering in Bangladesh. And we got a really good deal.
There’s a lot of ways you could look at the ROI from engineering talent. I think it was good for us at the time because it helped us suss out the business model, the investor messaging, the team dynamics, even if the product wasn’t scalable. We ended up throwing away that code base and bringing on our first technology leader after having raised our first quarter million. For other reasons - anybody who’s super curious can ping me offline and we can dig into them - that wasn’t a great fit either.
But one of the best things that the next tech leader did for us was we found a fellow named - and I hope he’s listening - Danylo through Upwork. Danylo works for a company called Softonix. From the second week on the job, Danylo was pushing out product features that were 10 times as performance and well-built than anything we had done over the past year and a half. We built the entire - at that point - the entire engineering team around Danylo and the Softonix team. But it was remarkably tough to find folks that we could trust at a rate that we thought was reasonable, who could understand the business side, the vision, as well as the technical challenges around our product roadmap.
Roland Siebelink: And you were mentioning that to some degree you see your idea almost turning into a category. There are more ideas going in the same direction and that is usually a good sign of traction in your market as well. Do you fear competition or do you feel it’s a good thing that others are starting to encroach on your territory in a sense?
Daniel Wiener: The latter, I’d say. But I’m pretty irrational in general. You have to put a lot of fears to rest when starting a company and putting out a million fires at once or trying to. Salesloft just raised a private equity round, $2 or $3 billion valuation. We saw Gong triple their valuation from $2 to $7 billion in a year. Outreach has been doing phenomenally well. Each of those are our partners. More synergistic, of course. The market consolidates as time goes on.
But I think it’s been a net positive for us because as long as - our more direct competitors are earlier stage companies that have moved really, really quickly to build around us. Like you said, new emerging space. If they were to go raise $200 million in funding, I’d be a bit more uncomfortable. But from what I can tell, I think that we’re leading the pack or close to it for this new category that we’re working in.
Roland Siebelink: You mentioned some of the companies in the outreach space and you mentioned partnerships you have with them. How have you gone about building relationships, potentially even full partnerships with some of these companies as a small company that is just getting started?
Daniel Wiener: Great question. I think one of our superpowers is getting people to talk to us. And I think for a lot of reasons, that’s why we’re building what we have. From Day One, we’ve been reaching out to folks like Henry at ZoomInfo and Rob Henderson, who works at a company called JumpCrew that does a phenomenal job with outsource sales and marketing.
We’re picking and choosing the big players that we plan to go to market with. And I think the right partners can help us dominate and accelerate our growth faster.
Roland Siebelink: Do you also see these as potential exit opportunities at some point in time.
Daniel Wiener: Yeah, they could be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with selling the Salesforce or a big player like them or ZoomInfo or LinkedIn or Microsoft. When I talked to the team about leading us and where we want to go, we have our north star, but we’re also realists. If one of the big players were to invest $20 million or $100 million in a new corporate branch to go build a sales messaging generation engine, and they were kicking our butts, I think we’re uniquely positioned to consider a strategic exit to one of those players. But eyes on the prize would be a self-sustaining dominant player that redefines and takes over the world of what sales technology looks like.
Roland Siebelink: Is that how you define your north star?
Daniel Wiener: Yeah, it’s a big one, and right now, it’s pretty far away but we’ll get there.
Roland Siebelink: How much progress have you already made in the direction of that north star? What can you share in terms of traction, success in the market? Whatever you’re comfortable with.
Daniel Wiener: Yeah. Gladly. We’ve raised about just shy of $2 million to date. We published our partnerships recently with Outreach, Salesloft, Salesforce. More to come on that front. We only started really selling Q2, Q3 of last year when we had a more scalable engine built out around onboarding and the emails we’re suggesting were good enough. Since then, we’ve seen for companies that fit into our ideal buyer profile, we can suggest an auto-generated email that converts about four times better. You can do so between six and six and a half times faster. That was our last analysis. Now I’m looking at similar data, I think we can accelerate the research and the email composition process by about 20 to 30X. That’s not a proven stat yet, but it’s something that I planned for us to push out once we have a bit more data behind it.
Revenue growth, we’ve been able to grow our ARR 30% four months straight. We have the goal of doing the same thing each month this quarter and bigger things to come throughout 2022. We might’ve spoken about this briefly earlier, onboarding and setup and what barriers in our go-to market might be, which when you’re building a custom engine to suggest an email, it takes some massaging and training. We look at onboarding time. Our time to value is a big goal for us. We were able to reduce it for a few key clients by about 85% in Q4, quarter on quarter. And the goal is to cut it in half again in Q1.
Roland Siebelink: You mentioned already the big north star goal that you have, what in the short term, other than raising investments, are your key milestones that you’re focused on?
Daniel Wiener: Great question. There’s a lot. We just did our goal planning session, and for anybody who - I don’t know about other founders struggling with this as much as I have, and I’m hard on myself, so maybe I’m better than I think - goal planning is really tough when you’re at this stage. Trying to quantify what do I actually need to do is a very arbitrary, fuzzy thing. Investors say they want one thing but mean something else. I’m trying to balance that with what you actually think is the most important and correct to do mixed with what’s feasible and what you should actually expect as a realist.
The other key milestones that we’re looking closely at, it can be hard to quantify things from an engineering standpoint sometimes. But fully ramping Tanner, or CTO, up and getting him dangerous on the first set of ML-based features that he’s building is a big one for us. We have what could and should be our biggest potential logo that I’d like to have closed in the next month or so. That’s going to be an absolute smashing hit if we can get that one done is a biggie. And then we have recurring new client acquisition goals from both a standard sales led model and an inbound model that we’re going to be building further out from Q1, Q2.
Roland Siebelink: Even the specialized outbound company will still need an inbound model, right?
Daniel Wiener: Yeah. What’s kind of funny - and I wish it wasn’t the case - we are not our ideal buyer.
Roland Siebelink: I know what you’re talking about. I’ve experienced this with our own business as well.
Daniel Wiener: Yeah. That was a tough pill to swallow. We still use Autobound. We dog food our product a lot. I think we will be our ideal buyer very soon. But right now we do a lot of our outreach at higher velocity, fully automated, which from a time management standpoint, we’re working 14 hour days anyway. That’s been a better fit for us currently. But you’re right, even the sales intelligence, sales techie guys need an inbound funnel too.
Roland Siebelink: Yes. We all need air cover and all the marketing stuff over time as well. That makes total sense.
Daniel, how can listeners to this podcast help you in reaching some of these milestones or even your north star over time?
Daniel Wiener: Sign up on our website. Even if you don’t end up buying, get in touch with us. If you think you can be helpful or know somebody who would be a good fit for our product, send us an email. It couldn’t be easier to do it from - I think it’s the first thing you see along with this little fun graphic when you land on our homepage. Get in touch; those don’t go to some random seller, those go to me, so I’ll be happy to see them.
Roland Siebelink: That’s great to be able to count on that superpower you mentioned, Daniel, that you will make sure that these people actually talk to you. That is excellent. Very good. Remind us of the URL please?
Daniel Wiener: www.autobound; A U T O B O U N D, dot AI.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Very good. Well, it’s been an honor to have you finally. I know you’ve been a very busy man lately and now you’ve explained why, Daniel, so really great to have you here and wish you all the best of success. If there are investors listening who would like an intro, of course, I’m happy to provide to Daniel as well. We can only wait to see how quickly you actually reach that north star, Daniel Wiener, Autobound CEO and co-founder. Thank you so much for your time.
Daniel Wiener: Thanks for having me. Great to be here. Take care.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.