With fierce competition for market share, launching a brand new startup can feel virtually impossible.
But it doesn’t have to be so hopeless – you just need to get out there and look for creative solutions.
In a recent interview with our CEO Paris Childress, Gaurav Vohra from Superhuman revealed how the company became the fastest email experience in the world. Here, he explains the importance of prioritizing your customers’ needs, and shares tips on how Superhuman built an effective growth strategy while steering clear from the buzzing product-led growth motion.
Let’s have a look.
#1: Don’t Target Everybody
Your product, regardless of how great and innovative it is, must first successfully pass through innovators and early adopters before reaching the majority of people.
This phenomenon, also known as the diffusion of innovation law and described in Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm”, suggests that trying to be all things to all people is nothing but a recipe for disaster.
Gaurav Vohra – Head of Strategy, Analytics, and Business Operations at Superhuman – is a firm believer that you need to carefully select who gets access to your product to ensure that every customer who comes on board really feels its value.
While the app works on an invite-only basis, its exclusivity is just one reason why the tool is quickly becoming a must-have for people that spend several hours in email every day. Committed to building the fastest email experience ever, Superhuman helps users identify areas to cut down on friction, automate workflows, and, essentially, hit “inbox zero”.
The email space boasts one of the most fierce competitions out there. In order to stand out in a crowded market like this, Gaurav shares that you will need “dedication, technical rigor, and a serious amount of focus on the architecture and the product itself before you even think about getting your first customer onboard.”
So, how do you get this right?
Start by targeting the minority of people who are most likely to get the maximum benefit of your product. To do that, you might want to create a customer profile, consider all aspects and benefits of your product, and answer this question:
Who would get the most benefit from our product?
From the very early stages, Gaurav explains, they didn’t launch the product to the massive waiting list of prospects. Instead, “we slowly acquired customers and made sure that piece by piece we were addressing the issues and features that they were requesting. And we were also filtering those prospects extremely heavily based on their product needs.”
#2: Find Your Top Benefit
The Superhuman team is a voracious reader of customer feedback, and Gaurav attributes much of the company’s rapid growth to this skill.
Gaurav further shares that to ensure that they continue to provide exceptional service for their customers, they keep a tight feedback loop.
In fact, once Superhuman had enough customers, they started getting real customer feedback. That’s when they started looking at and analyzing the qualitative feedback those customers were giving them.
They’d ask questions such as:
- What is the benefit you received from Superhuman?
- How disappointed would you be if Superhuman disappeared tomorrow?
Ultimately, this feedback helped them pinpoint the single thing that was most valuable for their customers.
“For us, that was a trigger point. We looked at those who said they’d be very disappointed if Superhuman were to go away and then we looked at what are the benefits that those people experienced, and speed was the top benefit,” Gaurav reflects.
#3: Nail Down Your Positioning
To define your positioning, you’ll need to develop a deep understanding of your target market, carefully analyze the competition, and objectively assess your unique value proposition.
Superhuman had speed as a proposition built in from the very start. While they always knew speed was a key element of efficient email productivity apps, doing deep research and applying a market positioning framework really helped them hammer out the details.
When it comes to positioning a startup, Gaurav suggests positioning what you’re building in a single sentence. To get a more concrete positioning statement, start by answering the following questions:
- Why do you do what you do?
- What is different about the way your product works compared to competing alternatives?
- Who is your target user?
- What are the problems and pain points of your prospects?
- Who are the major players in the competitive landscape, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
The answers to these questions were one of the pivotal factors that helped Superhuman set goals and narrow down their focus. Gaurav explains: “we did this exercise and we zoomed in on just speed. All of those other things that we thought were important, now ladder up into speed.”
By identifying their top benefit and refining their positioning statement, the Superhuman team managed to boil things down to one message, that “to this day, still continues to be a core theme of what the product is and what benefit it gives you.”
#4: Ensure a Happy First Experience
The onboarding phase is where you help users learn how to get the most out of your product.
Broadly speaking, how that first experience goes, as well as the level of service and attention, depends largely on the product type and your business model. For the majority of cases in SaaS, though, there are three distinct methods – self-service, demos, and one-on-one calls.
Product-led growth, and by extension self-service onboarding, is becoming increasingly popular in the world of SaaS.
Superhuman, however, has decided to steer away from the PLG motion and laser-focus on helping each and every customer meet their stated goals and be successful with the product.
Gaurav shares three of the main reasons why the company opted out of a self-service motion and instead decided to implement a different type of onboarding process:
- Origin. Effectively, as the product was being built up, the company needed to onboard people manually. Throughout the process, Gaurav shares, they used the onboarding to make sure they are seeing customers use the product, capturing issues, and getting back to customers when they’ve improved the product.
- The very nature of email as a tool. Email has been around for decades, and that means that people already have certain preconceived notions of what it means to do email; they have their own workflows, habits, and systems.
Gaurav explains: “The onboarding really helps us evaluate and figure out what is the customer’s system and help them move to a system that we believe is going to be a much better fit.”
- Connecting with customers. Gaurav shares that, at Superhuman, they are striving to build deep, meaningful relationships with each customer. By focusing on one-on-one calls and more personalized onboarding “we create that ripple and that human connection. The customer knows someone at the company, they don’t just interact with a faceless entity.”
Truth is, the more complex your solution is, the more hand-holding you’ll need to do in the early stages. You need to get people to really understand how to benefit from your product’s features, and sometimes that can take a while to sink in.
While excluding a PLG onboarding flow can be an overkill for many products, in some cases, such as that of Superhuman, it can actually narrow down the number of prospects who sign up to only the qualified.
With all that in mind: “No flow is ever the best flow; it’s the continual state of evolution and progression. So we’re always looking for opportunities to streamline and make things more efficient and effective.”
What about the LTV:CAC Ratio?
When looking to boost growth, the customer’s lifetime value (LTV) is typically compared to the cost of customer acquisition (CAC).
The CAC includes all it takes to get a single customer (think: ad campaigns, marketers, sales reps).
A PLG model is often associated with lower acquisition costs because the product itself does most of the marketing, sales, and CS work.
Gaurav points out that, although the acquisition cost in a non-PLG model might seem quite high, it can still be relatively small as a percentage if you consider the typical SaaS marketing budget.
So how does that work?
Gaurav shares a quick example: if your onboarding takes half an hour and you’re asking prospects to schedule a call using a tool like Calendly, you can actually do between 8 and 11 onboarding calls a day.
When you’re doing that many calls with a high number of customers who are not just retaining but also loving the product, they’re more likely to spread the word on social media. In this case, “the cost of acquisition becomes small because it’s a relatively efficient process.”
Is this the way to go for every company? “No. I think it’d be myopic to say that one way is the only way.”
The best way to get started, regardless of your niche, is to identify your ideal customer profile and think about what their unique needs are. Then, set up onboarding flows and systems that are going to work for those specific customers.
#5: Focus on the Three Engines of Growth
Despite having to layer on the cost of onboarding specialists, Superhuman is still able to have a relatively competitive CAC.
The secret? Gaurav reveals that “there’s a framework I like to use which is thinking about what your long-term channels are. These are the ones that are in many ways evergreen and you can bet your company on them.”
The three most reliable paths SaaS businesses can take to scale customer acquisition are content, virality, and paid marketing.
All things considered, doing more than one of them at a time is going to be next to impossible, especially if you are just starting out. The trick is to work out which kind works best for your product type.
Let’s quickly get into each one.
Every marketer worth their salt knows that customers can’t love your brand if they can’t find it, so it comes as no surprise that “what helped Superhuman blend down CAC in a big way is organic.”
After all, today’s consumers go straight to the search engine for information before making a purchase and, in most cases, before even considering talking to a human.
One of the best ways to get the ball rolling is to start creating timeless content. Blogging and crafting evergreen content is among the least expensive, simplest ways to get in front of your target audience, ensure a good amount of traffic in the long run, and nudge prospects closer to conversion.
With virality, you are competing for the customer’s social standing.
Naturally, the majority of people want to recommend things that they believe in and that improve their relationships by helping others with great recommendations.
“Virality is what we do to encourage our really happy user base to get lots of other people using Superhuman,” Gaurav adds.
One way to increase referral is through the right UX and incentives, which is why Superhuman also has a robust viral referral strategy set in place. They have invites and referral programs (and incentives around some of them), as well as symmetric incentives to get people to refer and be referred to.
Paid growth often starts with something basic such as advertising. But, to be effective and efficient, it also involves decreasing costs while increasing profit.
Generating more interest is the logical first step. With that in mind, if you fail to get that attention to stick around and identify opportunities to meaningfully acquire customers, chances are, you will always be facing an uphill battle.
As we move into the era of value-based bidding and cookieless tracking, Gaurav encourages anyone who’s thinking about paid strategies to be “really mindful and respectful first and foremost of users and their privacy. Secondly, to acknowledge where the industry is headed.”
Pro Tip: Put Customer Value at the Heart of Every Growth Decision
A company’s core value is the bedrock of why the business exists. It helps you create a purpose, shape the company’s culture, and drive action.
Ultimately, every decision you make should be aligned with the company’s values.
For Superhuman, the main core value is to create delight, and everything they do reconciles back to whether or not they are creating delight for their customers. Gaurav explains: “at the end of the day, if we convince ourselves, if we can see it in the data, if we can ask our customers how they feel and get validation – if we can see that we’re creating delight – that’s our North Star.”
When you are getting started, working out your company’s core values, in particular, the ones that relate to your customers, should be a top priority. Gaurav’s best advice for any startup is to:
“Figure out your values – why are you there as a startup and how are you approaching work. Tying your actions to those values is incredibly important, and they help you navigate the forest when you’ve got so many different decisions to make.”
Delight Your Customers With a Great User Experience
Once you’ve nailed down your growth funnel, it might be time to maximize the potential of the visitors that land on your pages through the search engines, as well.
Ready to take the leap? Here’s how to improve conversion rates with delightful UI/UX.