Post by Gobi Dasu, founder of learningdollars.com.
This week, I spoke with the founder of Neoreach, Misha Blu Talavera. Neoreach is a leading startup in influencer marketing. I met Misha first in Toby Corey‘s class Entrepreneurial Thought Leader’s Seminar in my sophomore year at Stanford. It was also my final year as I graduated early but that’s a different story.
My standard mental go-to when talking to anyone is CSR (career, social life, relationships) and then for founders or tech folks I dig into NMUC (needfinding, market size, unit economics, competitive advantage). But for Misha, I didn’t do this. I eagerly dove right into asking him: how did you manage to get the first few influencers on your platform? how did you manage to match them with clients?
Misha mentioned that it was a mix of his Stanford network, cold contacting, and referrals but he was kind enough to break it down for me for my business.
I told Misha: Just like Neoreach is matching influencers with clients who want to do influencer marketing, Learning Dollars matches vetted remote engineers with tech teams and technical founders, who need to move as fast as possible.
Misha replied saying that’s great but do you know there’s a market?
I replied saying that Toptal is essentially doing this and they are making $100m in ARR. Moreover, Upwork is doing their IPO. So, the market is there, but I can’t compete with these big players on Adwords or Facebook ads. That being said, LD does have a differentiation — we are not just matching engineers but also training them and making sure their skillsets are honed and adiabatically growing as tech changes. We have a huge quality advantage over Upwork and a price advantage over Toptal / Gigster / Andela. Finally, we actually do 10 hour free trials for clients. We’ve been able to make a match per week but we want to be making a match per day — that’s our sole goal.
Misha replied saying it’s very good that you have a sole goal and that that is something every startup needs to have. That being said, when they were starting Neoreach, they did a lot of research on market size. You need to make sure that you aren’t working for pennies. Specifically, it may be that getting and executing on a 10K deal requires equal effort as getting and executing on a 60K deal. You have to make sure you’re optimally picking who to go after. MBA candidates and recent grads bootstrapping may be easier to convince to try your free trial, but their pockets are not as deep as funded companies or mid-market companies. That being said you still should follow the money and if clients are coming in you should serve them.
He said what I need to do is find out how Toptal got those initial big clients and try to approach big fish in addition to serving and approaching your comfort zone. He mentioned that a series A company may be trying to scale very fast and may need several vetted remote engineers all at once. That deal would be just as easy to execute as my others but would bring in way more money than a 5 or 10K contract. I thought that this is good advice, though I’m still skeptical whether CTOs at mid-size companies (or even series A companies) will respond to me. Misha mentioned the trick here is to position yourselves to meet the needs of that market. If blockchain / Solidity devs are very hard to come by, then a series A contracts startup may hire several of our remote engineers using our 10h free trial. Not because they love LD, but because they need that Solidity talent. Perhaps this blog will give our talent network an opportunity to prove ourselves to the public, and demonstrate the in-demand skills our engineers have.
Misha advised me to talk to fellow Stanford alums who are working at companies that use Toptal. I had earlier talked to my friend at Thumbtack, though I didn’t follow up properly. That being said I could have asked her for a referral to someone at Thumbtack who does work with those Toptal engineers. I could pitch them why LD is a better choice — more creative talent that can adapt to changing tech faster, as well as more affordable rates. Before we were a talent network, one of the engineers, Saad, trained in a small pilot we did, actually got a job at Toptal, so that proved our system is able to produce engineers just as good as Toptal if not better. That being said, as Misha mentioned, we still have to get our foot in the door with the right people to get those deals with series ABC funded startups.
I mentioned that our free trial has a 50% conversion rate which Misha said is great, but he also mentioned that I have to realize that building a B2B engineering talent network is not the same thing as building a B2B SaaS company like Slack. We’re not as easily scaled as Slack. We’re as easily scaled as Upwork or Toptal, which is not the same. This means it’s particularly important to be careful about pricing. You want to understand what your clients are willing to pay and charge that much. We as B2B founders notoriously underprice is what Misha said. We charge 10K instead of 100K very often! In fact he told me a story about how the amount of work they were doing for 10K contracts was the same as their first 100K one. I realized I have to figure out how to get the big fish. They not only bring in more money but also more buzz. That being said, that’s a much more daunting task than just getting 1 match per day.
I proceeded to complain to Misha how I feel like I’m wasting a ton of time, giving 15m chunks of time to “potential” clients who never really end up using our free trial. I told him that we’re struggling — contacting 4 potential clients per day, spending 15m on the phone with a couple people per day, and ending up making a free trial match once per week at the most. I want to make sure my time itself is used more scalably! I want one hour of my time to be able to reach 10 or 20 people, not 3. Perhaps I should be trying to contact journalists, influencers, seed funds, and incubators? Perhaps I should be blogging to the internet instead of giving my time to unqualified leads? Perhaps I should be looking at something like influencer marketing? Considering I was speaking to someone who literally runs an influencer marketing business, I was eager to hear what Misha had to say.
Misha said that it is good that I’m realizing these things and that yes it’s very important to think about your own time periodically. He basically guided me through a series of thoughts that made me realize that it’s not only important to shoot for bigger fish, but it’s also important to design your marketing and sales process in a way that you get the most bang for buck for each interaction, each lead, each situation.
And so I wrote this article. This article itself is Learning Dollars’ attempt to make the most of our opportune meeting with Misha. Perhaps, in a way Misha is the influencer that Learning Dollars managed to get a hold of for some very useful advice.
Finally Misha pointed me to a book he wrote and shared in YC Hackernews called the “The Great CEO Within”: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZJZbv4J6FZ8Dnb0JuMhJxTnwl-dwqx5xl0s65DE3wO8/mobilebasic#heading=h.pdmqf3646hgt
I will be “listening” to this book using text-to-speech the next few times I go to the gym.