In this article, Ankit Taneja host of the Forcepreneur podcast shares top tips for starting a Salesforce business through his insightful conversations with entrepreneurs in the ecosystem.
There has never been a better time to start a Salesforce company. If you look at Marc Benioff’s official guidance numbers, Salesforce’s earnings are expected to grow to $20 billion by 2021 (roughly 20% compound annual growth). There’s a need for service providers and app builders, as well as consultants to assist the growing market.
I started the Forcepreneur podcast this year to sit-down with entrepreneurs in the ecosystem and discover what it takes to start a Salesforce company. In the last 11 months I’ve had the honour to speak to several business women and men, with multiple years of entrepreneurial experience, who are blazing new trails in the ecosystem and doing things differently.
Here are the top 5 tips I have learnt from these insightful conversations which will help you start your own business.
1. Look at the problem from different angles
If you look at the Salesforce AppExchange, there are at least 5 apps to solve any given problem. Don’t even get me started on the number of Salesforce implementation partners! If you are planning to start a new Salesforce venture then, not only do you have to think outside of the box, but you also have to start looking at problems from different angles. Observe and try to discover what others are not looking at. Are customers even aware that they need your product or service? Will you need to educate them on the problem and your solution?
This was a key topic of discussion in episode 7 with Ian Gotts. Elements.cloud saw that a lot of development being done in an org is neither discussed nor documented properly. This then results in failed implementations. They took a simple idea of proper documentation and built a whole product and company around it.
Another good example is OwnBackup. Salesforce used to provide backup services and we all know how expensive and time consuming it was. The founders of OwnBackup saw this opportunity and created a product which provides a comprehensive solution to backup, compare, recover, archive, and manage large, complex SaaS-based data sets. Salesforce acknowledged their success by participating in their latest investment round.
Want more? Look at The Architech Club. Starting a Salesforce consultancy is the easiest business in the ecosystem. But, does the world need another Salesforce consultancy? No. What the world needs is better Salesforce implementations and this is what they are offering. They do not do the implementations for you but provide “Architect as a Service” which will assess your systems and then supply strategy and guidance on how you can move forward with your implementation.
Finally, we at SkillProof looked at the Salesforce recruitment process and saw that there was no easy/automated way to assess Salesforce candidates. Trailhead is a great tool to learn the breadth of the platform but it cannot analyse the depth of someone’s knowledge and experience. This is what we are trying to achieve. Watch this space for more.
2. Have a plan
Once you have identified a problem that you think the world needs a solution for, please DO NOT start building the product (I am assuming it’s a Saas product). In episode 1.3 and an upcoming episode (Feb 2021) with Chuck Liddell, we discuss the importance of having a plan of action.
I recommend you follow the Lean startup process. First and foremost, you should validate your idea: the easiest way to do this is create a survey and send it out to people you know and trust. Or build a no-code MVP (Minimum Viable Product)! Ensure that there is a need, hell, even ask for money to test the waters. It is very likely that you might have to slightly pivot at this stage.
Once you have validated the need, create a very bare-bones Minimum Viable Product and try to sell it. You don’t need to sell many licences (although that would be great). Once you have paying customers a) you know you are on the right track and b) now they have skin in the game, they will provide honest feedback which is very important at this stage.
Start gathering and implementing the feedback that you feel is important and will have the most impact (see how Salesforce uses IdeaExchange). Keep iterating the product until it reaches a critical mass. Make adjustments along the way.
Before you have any paying customers, DO NOT quit your day job or client work. The cost of starting a software company is almost negligible (SkillProof runs on free Heroku dynos). All you need to invest is time and have patience (easier said than done). My co-founder and I are still freelancing Mon-Wed.
Lastly, have an exit strategy/expiry date. If things are not going well, it’s okay to fold your cards and leave the table. In this whole process, you definitely would have learned a great deal about business and more importantly about yourself. Learn from mistakes and use that new insight the next time.
3. Love to learn
Life is a lifelong learning process. If this is your first (or second) time starting a business then be prepared to learn a lot of new stuff. As a founder, in the initial stages, you definitely have to do sales, marketing, technical support, finances, invoicing & testing all by yourself. There might be additional considerations depending on your product offering, for example privacy laws in your target market and so on.
There is no way out of this. You may think that you can hire someone, but it is more cost effective in the early days to do it yourself.
Instead of thinking of this as a burden or a task that you have to do, try to embrace it and be curious about how things work. In the long run, this will actually help you. Once you have that momentum and want to hire people, you will know what to look for in them and the transition will be smoother. You don’t have to be an expert, just good enough to get the job done.
Listen to episode 9 with Martin Gessner from FocusOnForce explaining this in more detail.
For me, this is actually the fun part of the job. I am a technical founder so I know how my product is built and have been writing software professionally for almost 10 years now. I am enjoying this new challenge of learning more about marketing, lead generation and sales. Add to this the complexity of setting up a company in Germany where all the paperwork / bureaucracy is in “high-level” German. I am an Indian, with Hindi being my first language, and never learnt German formally, I call my version “Street German”.
4. Networking is an art
Networking is a skill in itself and no business school can teach you that. This was discussed in the very first episode of the podcast. As a founder, the success of your business depends on how good you are at networking.
God bless Eric Dreshfield and the founders of SkiForce who actually started the Dreamin’ event mania. These Dreamin’ events are a fantastic avenue to spread the word and gain new customers. Previously, it was just Dreamforce and Salesforce World Tour.
To give you some perspective on the cost of getting a booth (and ROI) at all events: The amount you will pay for (smallest) silver package at a Salesforce event (approx. $15ooo) will get you the (biggest) platinum booth at any Community Dreamin’ event (max $12000).
Attending these events is not just about raising awareness and gaining new customers but about also identifying the right collaborators who can act as multipliers to promote your product or services.
All connections are valuable; seemingly irrelevant connections now may be very useful in future.
5. Don’t procrastinate
One of the common mistakes that budding entrepreneurs regularly make is not taking action. This topic was first discussed in episode 3.1 with Andrea Tarrell (Sercânte) and then recently in episode 14 with Pat McClellan (Proton7).
To quote Pat here:
“Entrepreneur is a French word meaning: Had an idea, did it.”
Don’t talk yourself out of it: “I am not ready”, “Someone else is doing something similar”, “Maybe it’s not for me”, “First let me finish that”, etc. etc!
If there is an idea that is not letting you sleep at night and you feel passionately about it then make a solid plan and go for it. If you never try you will never know. As a 1-time failed entrepreneur, I can assure you that you will survive, and all-in-all, it will be a great learning experience.
If you keep waiting, then someone else will do it, and you will be more angry with yourself and think you should have done it sooner.
Don’t wait for circumstances to be perfect; there is no right day, time, year or season to start a company. The best time to take action and work on your idea is NOW!
6. Bonus: Set Boundaries
The benefit of being in the IT world is that you can work from anywhere at any time. The perils are also the same. It’s very important to set boundaries, not just about the personal money you’re going to spend initially, but also time and energy. When you are passionate about something and totally engrossed in it you might feel like you have an endless supply of energy, but in reality, you don’t.
In episode 10 Melanie Fellay (Spekit) said “You are your own MVP (Most Valuable Person)”, It’s very important that you take time for yourself to replenish all the energy that you invest. Remember to take regular breaks and also take some moments for reflection and block time to donothing. I try to do this every 2nd Saturday: I block the afternoon to just sit and let my brain go wherever it wants to go.
Don’t put all your life’s savings at risk. We are in 2021, computing power is so cheap you literally don’t have to shell out a dime until you have 3+ customers. So, decide on an amount that you are willing to risk and probably lose. DO NOT borrow money from traditional lenders, no bank loans, no angel investors, no VCs. Having less cash will make you frugal, work harder and focus on what’s important.
As a founder you will be bombarded with tasks all the time and there will always be something that needs your attention, 24 / 7 / 365. You need to learn to set boundaries and say no. Ensure you’re not stretching too thin and burning yourself out. I have learned this the hard way. Most importantly, always put loved ones first.
This article is a condensed summary of my learnings by speaking to these amazing Trailblazers. If you are planning to run a Salesforce company, I would recommend listening to all the episodes in their entirety. We are available on SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes and all major streaming platforms.