Nathan Barry is the founder of ConvertKit. I had heard ConvertKit’s story from Nathan before, and it really stuck with me. ConvertKit is an amazing company. They’ve had incredible growth recently, and it’s easy to look at where they are today and think it was a foregone conclusion.
Little did I know that there was a time when Nathan considered giving up on the idea.
I sat down with Nathan to ask him about why he didn’t give up on the idea, and what it was that helped him turn it around.
Are you serious? Nathan had to be confronted with a decision: either shut down the company, or go all in and invest in it. Fish or cut bait, as my dad would say. Nathan asked himself hard questions, like: have I really given it a fair shake? And the answer that he came up with was no; he hadn’t. Listen to Nathan describe his thought process and why he decided to go “all in”.
Your niche is probably not narrow enough. ConvertKit was an email marketing tool, but there was no way that statement was going to get any market traction against their competitors. Nathan niched the call to action down to “Email marketing for professional bloggers”. But even that was too broad. Eventually they began targeting incredibly narrow niches like “email marketing for professional paleo recipe bloggers. At first this may seem unreasonably specific. But this tight niching allowed them to literally make lists with names and addresses of people who they could reach out to individually to invite them to try the platform. Which, by the way is code for “direct sales”.
Direct sales is the most important, and maybe the most overlooked, way to grow a SaaS business. Many SaaS founders are scared of direct sales. Maybe because it’s hard, maybe because it doesn’t scale. But we’re starting to see a pattern here, and that is that direct sales can consistently move the needle for companies that need to grow. It’s not enough to do inbound marketing and wait for customers to find you. You do need to do that, but if that’s all you do, you may not make it. You also need to actively go out and find prospects, and invite them to use your product. As Nathan points out, doing so—talking directly to prospects, listening to them describe their processes and their pain—can help you to better understand your customers and how your product can serve them.
Your WHY can (and should) evolve. ConvertKit has changed a lot over the years. In the beginning, the purpose of ConvertKit was to help himself and their employees to take control of their own careers and financial lives. Now that they’ve accomplished this purpose, it has shifted to be more outwardly focused; to help others achieve this same career and financial freedom through their businesses.
Links mentioned in this episode:
- Chris Guillebeau
- Tim Ferriss
- World Domination Summit
- Hiten Shah
- ConvertKit is Staying ConvertKit