In today’s MarTech conversation, we chat with Ruari Baker, the co-founder and CEO of Allegrow, a SaaS company that keeps B2B emails from landing in spam or promotion folders to improve open rates.
Baker explains his product-first approach to marketing, the difficulties of recruiting for a startup, and the future of email.
Tell us about Allegrow
Allegrow stops your marketing and sales emails from landing in spam and promotion folders. We started the company in 2018.
I would say that we’re part of the sales and marketing tech stack. We sit on top of the email provider, which for most people is Google or Microsoft. Then, we work alongside your marketing automation platform to make the whole go-to-market process more effective.
Most people who start working with us have a data provider that they use to source contact information on decision-makers and buyers who they know are a good fit for their solution. And they also have a marketing automation or a sales engagement system—that's usually something like Reply.io or SalesLoft or Outreach.io.
What our B2B customers have often experienced before working with us is they start off doing the initial marketing automation and things are going really well. But then, for an indescribable reason, as they scale, it becomes harder to get the same open rates from the outreach they're conducting; this is tied to their sender reputation and the inbox placement their emails are getting. And that's typically when we come in to work with people.
One really successful early user of ours was RooCru. They've seen their open rates increase by over 300% since connecting to our platform—so the number of MQLs they're generating has really picked up steam with us. Now we're proud to be a critical part of their technology stack that they use to both go to market and to service their clients. So that's really interesting and encouraging to see at this stage.
What do you do in your day-to-day work in terms of marketing?
We don't have a CMO or a VP of marketing yet, so I take on the majority of the marketing initiatives we run.
I’m mainly focused on product day-to-day, which I believe—and I think most would agree with me—is directly correlated to the success we see in marketing. If you start with the product first, you’ll often find that success follows in other parts of the business.
From zero to one million in ARR, we plan to keep our marketing efforts focused on product growth. And after 1 million in ARR, we’ll start to expand the strategies we use beyond organic. So we’ll be doing webinars, much more content, and so on, but in the early days, it's just about cracking the product-market fit and letting that be the main growth lever.
I speak with customers every day, whether it's in a meeting that we've set up, or handling support tickets personally. I always want to make time for that, regardless of what size we are. Then, after we’ve fulfilled that every day, it's about taking those findings and incorporating them into product development. I think that summarizes my main focus.
The key tools I'm using to achieve that are Google Apps—everything from Gmail to Calendar to Google Sheets. We use Slack for internal communications and Coda for product development, roadmap planning, and building out processes in the company.
What are some of your goals and challenges at Allegrow?
In terms of our quantitative goals, we're looking to reach 100K monthly recurring revenue within 12 months. And at that stage, we want to have over 10,000 users connected to the platform—which means real, verified email accounts—using the product every day and working with us.
In terms of our more wide-scale goals, we want to be the SaaS vendor that defines this new category of inbox placement technology that's emerging. Success for us is, in 10 years’ time, for every marketer to know and use our platform as their system for optimizing inbox placement.
This technology is very new, so there's a lot of white space to grow. In terms of competition, there aren’t many others out there in this category yet. So, our focus is really just about working with our customers closely to make sure that they’re successful and have an awesome experience. And we think if we do that part right, it won’t matter how many competitors pop up in the next few years.
What has failed and why do you think those tactics failed? What has been effective?
People build companies—I really believe that.
One challenge is hiring great talent that fits the culture of the company. What hasn’t been successful is trying to hire people who have worked at big tech companies: When you bring them into your startup, they won't have that hands-on day-one experience that’s required. So you need people who are happy with, and ideally used, to early stage operations. Not to say that there isn’t brilliant talent working at big tech companies or corporates in general, but, if someone has a very well-known brand on their CV, you’ll want to look for 1+ years of work in a startup environment so they have the correct expectations.
There has to be a happy medium there. It's definitely not something we've actually cracked yet; we don't have the perfect formula. We've tried marketing the job roles differently, changing the scopes, using different sources of traffic to get job applications from a marketing perspective. There wasn't one magic approach that just fixed the problem of qualified candidates who are experienced enough to do the job, but also aren't used to working at much larger companies where the processes we’re spending time on right now were already set when they arrived.
What I think has been most successful for us to date is actually just relying on our own network and referrals more than anything else.
I think the main point is to just be really comprehensive when you're doing a search. The more applications we get, the better the final candidates usually end up being.
I actually think this is one of the parts of marketing that is underrated. In startups, people spend a lot of time thinking, “How do we market a product?” and far less time thinking, “How do we market the company to people who are looking to work for us? How do we work the job roles? Where do we hire first?” I'd say it's something that's really overlooked.
What new trends are you noticing?
The work-from-home trend has been a massive one. And it affects the way businesses go to market. This, combined with the mass popularization of marketing automation and sales engagement software, means that your target customers’ inboxes are busier than ever. And the response to this at an internet service provider level is to continue filtering messages into spam or promotion folders automatically more and more often.
This creates more noise for your target customers because all the strategies that used to be groundbreaking are now common practice. Very few people were doing multi-touch follow-up sequences that actually had a rep behind them previously. Nowadays, that's more of a level playing field and very common across SME and enterprise marketing departments.
How does content marketing fit into your strategy?
We do focus on content marketing. We're mainly focused on product content right now to help customers and enable them to have the best possible experience with Allegrow. As we grow more, we're going to flesh out a strategy including long-form blog posts to help organic growth.
But our primary focus at the moment is consistently editing and improving the content that we serve up to people inside the app and in our knowledge base. And again, I think this gets overlooked. A lot of people will start to invest in content, trying to rank number one on Google for some really competitive keyword. But you’ve got to do the basics right first. Make sure that all the content you provide for people who come into the funnel is brilliant before you start to capture more outside that.