Last updated on February 22, 2017
11 actionable tips from the learnings of my career.
Sumo has grown massively in the past 12 months. Our team has more than tripled in size (now 40 people), and our revenue hit eight figures for the first time ever.
I don’t say this revenue number to brag. It’s been a tough journey filled with TONS of mistakes and failures along the way. I want to show you how I got here so you can do it for yourself
No matter where you’re at in your own journey, whether you’re going from zero to $1— or $100k to $1m — you’ll be able to take some of these learnings to help grow your own business.
If you prefer video, check out these tips in the video below…
Table of contents:
With Sumo.com we have one clear goal based on revenue. Here are a few of our goals from recent years:
2014 – 1 billion visitors across Sumo
2015 – $1 million ARR (annual recurring revenue)
2016 – $5 million ARR
2017 – top secret but you get the jist.
I could ask anyone on the Sumo team — whether they work in marketing, support, customer success — and they know the goal.
Have one clear goal for your business and make it visible DAILY to EVERYONE on your team.
Once you have a goal, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to achieve it. For me, this means modeling the goal into a spreadsheet.
With my Noah Kagan Presents podcast, my goal is to achieve 100,000 downloads per episode by the end of 2017. You can see below how I’ve modeled out that goal into a spreadsheet:
Here are my 6 steps for effective goal setting:
Too many businesses wait until the end of the month, or the end of a quarter, to review their progress and retroactively take steps to correct their path. Be proactive to hit your goals.
Right now our Sumo business is based around 4 products:
Each tool is complimentary to one another. Think of it like a pyramid:
1- Monthly 1k teaches you how to start
2- KingSumo helps you to grow your business with contests
3- Sumo.com (our core product) gives you all the marketing tools
4- AppSumo provides you with deals on the rest of the tools you’ll need in business
Don’t worry about getting new customers. Existing customers are so much easier to market , so build complimentary products for your existing customers.
Think about your favorite author. Do you own more than 1 book of theirs? I’d bet 1 million percent you do. Why is that?
I do this too, and it’s because we like their stuff and want MORE from them. Think about that with your business: keep giving MORE of what the people already want INSTEAD of starting new businesses, trying totally different categories, or focusing all your attention elsewhere.
Imagine you’re a guitar teacher and want to grow that business:
People are always looking for the next marketing channel or tactic to grow their business and get in front of new customers.
What very few entrepreneurs realize, though, is that it’s much easier to grow your business through your current customers than it is to go out and find a whole bunch of new customers.
Challenge: How would you 2x your business if you COULD NOT get any new customers?
This will help you think of ways you can over-serve your current customers.
They key is to keep over-delivering and make your current customers as happy as possible. The benefits of this are two-fold:
The greatest thing about recurring revenue is predictability. When you know how many customers you have on recurring plans, you can begin to hire, spend money, and grow your business confidently.
At AppSumo we’ve had months where we made $50,000… and months where we’ve made $500,000. Both sound great until you realize our monthly expenses are at least $300,000. With AppSumo (and KingSumo), we do make money right away, but these customers might not return anytime soon.
But remember: don’t force a recurring revenue model just because you have Scrooge McDuck fantasies of constant passive income. It should be something people WANT to pay for monthly. In other words, it makes sense for them to pay monthly instead of one-off. For our business, recurring revenue comes from our Sumo website tools.
Pricing is an incredibly important part of your business.
I can’t tell you exactly what’ll work for your business, but I can help you get started by sharing how we figured out our pricing at Sumo.
Here’s what our pricing looks like now:
We’ve changed our pricing 7 times in 2 years (and we’re definitely going to keep experimenting).
For example we started out:
One interesting thing, is notice what people REALLY value. We thought everyone would pay to remove our branding. Surprise, NO ONE CARED!
To improve our pricing, we analyzed:
We realized had three types of customers: Wantrepreneurs, businesses, and enterprise companies.
Tiny businesses had no money and large businesses needed a lot more customization and expected account management.
Medium businesses, however, had money to spend with us and got the most value from our product. We began to focus on medium sized businesses and reflected the value we deliver to them in our pricing.
Your pricing should align with the value customers get out of your product.
At Sumo, this meant increasing our prices. By raising our prices we were able to deliver new, highly requested features and provide better support.
This doesn’t mean you should just sit back and increase your pricing for the sake of it.
Look at your business:
These are the customers you’re creating value for. Understand the VALUE they get from your product and align that to the price you charge them.
I recently spoke with Basecamp founder, Jason Fried. He explained a little on how Basecamp are experimenting with pricing for “The Basecamp Way To Work” workshops.
Prices started at $100 per ticket. Now they’re selling at $500 – 5x the original price! And they still sell out in 24hrs. By experimenting Jason is able to figure out how much value they deliver to attendees and what price people are willing to pay.
With AppSumo we have a very simple framework for deals. Every month we offer four paid deals.
With our content at Sumo.com we have a framework, too. Sean and Sarah produce four articles per month. I love the number 4 (and this is point 4… coincidence???)
Frameworks make growth and scaling very predictable.
In your business, how you can break down some core processes into frameworks that make it super simple for anyone on the team to pick up. Scale in your business is enabled through 2 options:
You might have a sales team, but when you have a new product launch, how can you ensure everyone in the company can easily manage the sales process? You guessed it…a framework!
I HIGHLY encourage you to create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for EVERY position in your company. Think of it this way, if you were to hire 10x more people for the role how soon could they onboard to the position. Alternatively, if one of your people get sick or injured how would other people know what responsibilities are necessary to do.
This should be a living document that everyone has access to.
Here’s an example of one from my personal SOP.
All of us are really good at something.
To scale your company, you need to put your players in the right positions to win. In basketball, you don’t see a Point Guard playing as a Center.
You need to make sure you have all your team in the right positions. Including yourself.
Anton on our team is great at sales but we noticed he’s a better coach. So we hired a sales team under him so he can be Coach Potato.
Personally, I LOVE marketing and creating content to share it. But for 2 years I spent 85% of my time recruiting for Sumo. It was necessary.
One morning I reflected what my sweet spot has been historically. And I remembered 2014 was my happiest professional time partly because I was working on this blog and marketing it. I love promoting great things. Back to OkDork for me and our new Recruiter gets to do what she loves!
No company thinks it hires bad people.
Every single CEO I meet always says “I only hire A+ players.” But most of the time they’re kidding themselves. The fact is most teams suck.
Hiring is everything. The only difference between shitty and successful companies is the people.
Look at Elon Musk, he’s crazy smart. But he didn’t build the spaceships or cars himself. He found the best people in the world and did whatever it took to hire them.
People make all the difference in business. People turn ideas into successful companies.
To be successful, you have to hire people better than you.
We hired Ayman to grow AppSumo. A little over 2 years later AppSumo is the biggest it’s ever been and I talk with Ayman at most 15 minutes a week. Don’t get me wrong, I want to talk and help him wherever he needs it, but he’s better than me at running AppSumo. And I’m a better advisor to him.
Here’s Ayman conquering the jungle.
You know you’ve found the right person when they come on-board and your life is instantly better.
As you scale, it gets hard not to compromise. If you compromise, your team of A+ players can soon become C players and your team will get weaker, not stronger. I’ll repeat cause it’s SO important, don’t-ever-never settle on any hire. Ever!
I’ve noticed a LOT of people, myself included, are always looking for the next thing.
At Sumo, content marketing works for us. But we’ve spent SO much time, energy and cold, hard cash on trying to make ads work.
Instead, we should have doubled down on content and 2, 3, 4x’d our output to maximize on the opportunity. (We are doing this now and have doubled the content team)
When something works do more of it.
At the same, you need to aggressively cut the things that aren’t working.
There’s nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new channels. But you need to know when to stop. Be ruthless.
This happened with our Instagram account. We currently have 100k+ followers and have made many attempts to convert those people into customers. And we’ve made a grand total of $0. I’m not kidding. Now we’re not going to spend ANY more on it. Be merciless in your cutting.
This is easily one of the most rewarding exercises I’ve done at Sumo. List out all the problems you face in your business. Stuff that could really screw you up.
For Sumo, this included:
Once you’ve listed all your problems then brainstorm three solutions for every single issue.
Next, I take this to the team at Sumo and we prioritize the issues we feel might hurt us most. This really helps us frame what we need to do to grow our business, plus how we can combat our biggest challenges before they arise.
I haven’t always felt this way, though. I used to look at Facebook and think “why do they need 15,000 people to run that company?”
Like seriously, what is everyone doing all day?
There’s a reason that many successful companies have a large number of employees. You can’t get done at scale what you want to do with the same amount of people.
Look at the companies in the position you want to be, then model the org charts and types of hiring they are doing. Scale your team to scale your growth.
Here’s an incredible LinkedIn hack to learn who you should hire.
Almost every company has a public LinkedIn page where you can see who works there and their job titles. From this information, you can begin to work out what their org chart looks like and how they’ve structured their team.
This isn’t the exact blueprint for how to build your company, but it gives you insights on roles you should be hiring to grow your team.
In addition, go talk to someone at their company to understand why they’ve hired certain positions or roles. Save yourself the time and money, these people have already figured it out. I learned from Jason Cohen at WPEngine who has scaled to 400+ people.
Communication is the single biggest challenge I DID NOT expected as our business scaled.
Now that the company is bigger I can no longer gauge everyone’s performance or directly lead everyone on the team.
Here’re a couple of ways we’ve improved our communication as we’ve grown:
Every Monday at the same time, our team hops on a video call, and we check in on how we’re performing vs our core goal.
Here’s how our calls flow:
This is done in a Google Doc that we edit each week.
Here’s doc of our meeting notes from last week.
We regularly iterate the way we communicate within these meetings. For example, we used to have every team member share an update, but now we’ve refocused on team updates to save times.
As you grow, you should always be iterating and evaluating how you communicate as a team.
Every quarter we send a survey out to everyone on the team asking questions like:
Feel free to copy of our anonymous review template.
What you’re looking to identify is things your team would like you to fix in the business and ideas on how you can improve the company.
The NPS score (how likely team members are to refer another person) is a great way to measure ongoing teammate satisfaction..
In our weekly leadership meetings we always discuss 1% ideas and people love it!
A 1% idea can be literally anything.
The KEY idea is that every week we aim to get 1% better at that thing and over a year that compounds to 100%+ improvement.
A few examples are: paying for Slack, initiating leadership personal development, iterating on our monday meetings and more.
Every week, ask your team what is one thing we could get 1% better at and improve our business.
What a freaking wild and amazing ride it’s been in the past 7 years.
I LOVE the team I work with, the products we create and the successful customers who appreciate us.
Through creating this article for you I realized a few things:
Here’s to hitting 9 figures in revenue…