In a new episode of our ‘Startup Stories’ interviews, UpsilonIT talks to Steve Benson, CEO of Badger Maps, a San Francisco-based SaaS company that provides mapping and routing solution for outside salespeople. Steve has been a sales rep, sales manager, and VP of sales at big companies like Google. He is an expert in sales, SaaS, and entrepreneurship and is passionate about making field sales reps more successful.
Today, we have an interview with Steven Benson, expert, sales, and CEO of Badger Maps. Steve, could you tell me a bit about your product? What is it doing?
Badger Maps helps field salespeople. We enable them to do their job a little bit better. We take all the information about their customers, which might be in a CRM system, a spreadsheet, or somewhere else. We’ll connect to that information so that Badger will link up with a CRM system or an MS Office spreadsheet and upload it. And then, we’ll have all the information about their customers in one place. After that, it can be used to help our customers to be more efficient when they are in the field.
Badger Maps has routing capabilities so that they can figure out: “Well, in the next week, who do I want to see?”. It is like a To-Do list put on a map so that our customers can kinda locate something and say: “These are the things that I have to do and the people I can interact with for some reason in the next week. It also provides me with a way to visit customers in person in a way it makes sense. And it doesn’t have me driving all over the place, but I can drive more directly to them.”
Salespeople may have 400 customers, but they are going to see 25 of them this week. But then there is a question of which 25 of them there should be and in what order?
So we solve a kind of problem that every field sales has and simplify things. We make the sales process more efficient.
You have the necessary integrations with CRM systems as far as I understand. So do you have to integrate with all of them, or do you offer a standalone solution?
When it comes to customers, we do all necessary integrations with information management solutions they work with. Of course, there are 200+ of CRMs, but from our experience, we see that about 10 of them cover most of the market. Instead of integrating our system with every single CRM, we provide fast and easy integration with a bunch of them. We plan to continue integrating more and more of CRMs as people need and use them.
Where the idea for this product was coming from? As a sales professional, you encountered those issues before. How did it come to life?
I was a field salesperson for my whole career. When I was involved in that issue, I was working on the Google Maps team. I understood toolsets like Google Maps API - by using them, you could quickly build in location-specific functionality. So, the idea for the product was very relevant to what I was doing.
Is that the first company you built, or you already tried to do something like this before that?
Yes, this was the first one. I was an employee at Google when I left and started this company.
How did you find the motivation to start it?
Well, if you have a good job, I don’t necessarily recommend starting a company. It is hard, and you have to sacrifice a lot. And, frankly, it doesn’t work out all of the time. People turn to entrepreneurship a lot, but it is not as glorious as people would like it to be. Entrepreneurship involves many challenges. It’s not enough to have passion about something and be 100% convinced that it will work. You should also have the ability to tolerate the risk of not making much money for years. And the savings or the investments to cover that hardest period. But it is such a rewarding thing when it really works out.
How did I find the motivation? I really didn’t understand how hard it was going to be. I thought it’d be a lot easier than it actually was.
What was the hardest part?
Well, the hardest part was to realize the number of things that have to be done and understanding that you have to do even more. You have to be your lawyer, a salesperson, a PM, and a marketing person. So you have to wear many hats! And that is challenging to learn how to do all these jobs. Basically, if you are an entrepreneur, you don’t have people to do that for you. Whereas in a big company, there is already an HR team, for the hiring process and recruiting. You have the finance team- and they do the financing for you.
The hardest thing when starting a company is doing all those things by yourself. You don’t have anyone to turn to, and you don’t have money to bring in the expertise of that nature.
Having a background in professional sales, does it help you when starting your company? Maybe you can provide advice on how to run the startup properly?
It did help me a lot. One of my secret weapons early on was my ability to wear so many hats on the sales and marketing side. And I actually liked what I was doing.
I was figuring out what customers wanted. I was using the weapons that a professional salesperson has under the belt. I knew how to present an idea to the right people and flash out what it should look like. Effective customer research saved us from making extra development efforts.
So, the first feedback that you received was without any product ready. And it helped you understand how to build it properly. How did you do it? How to save the number of iterations on the product that your customer would want to buy?
It is all about getting your product in front of the people who you think are going to buy it and use it. It is about spending time to have them interact with the product concept or prototype. It is about figuring out what is the most important and valuable for users.
It is essential to ask them if this is something they want to buy. And ask at what price they’d buy it at. People can tell that ideas are great. But if then you ask them: “I see you like it, it is fantastic, do you want to buy it? For a thousand dollars a month?” And they were like: “Oh, well, maybe…” And that is the problem. A product can be useful and cool, but you have to enсourage customers to part with their money. You might ask: “If I bring you a solution in June, are you going to want it and to buy it in June? That is an important thing.
Salespeople have to deal with many people at once. I think a lot of people don’t do enough customer discovery. If you are a professional salesperson, you have a full list of leads and have to find a whole bunch of prospective buyers. And you know how to get in front of them, start conversations and ‘open’ during the sales process. The sale might not happen now but getting them to say, “Yes, I’d purchase this in June if you are able to do that” is good as well. And you can go back to them in June, and a high percentage of them will purchase the product.
Cool, thank you! You are mostly talking about selling to customers. Do you have experience at Badger Maps in speaking to investors? What is different about that?
Badger Maps is a bootstrapped company. We got some small investments that we’ve grown on the revenue the business is generating.
It is different to talk to investors rather than potential customers. When speaking to investors, we talk much about where the product could go or how this could become something really big. We discuss how it can disrupt something that already exists. And how this interacts with some major themes that investors find attractive this year.
Years ago, a dating business was trending, and now AI is a mainstream topic. Investors feel that the themes that are hot at the moment automatically become important.
With the customer, you’d say, “Okay, if I offer you this small piece that I will ultimately add more to, will you purchase it now?”
With investors, it is more like that: “I will one day do this huge thing. Do you want to purchase a piece of this business now?” So it is a little bit different.
With customers, the focus is on what actually exists or is about to be launched. But with investors, it is better to focus on what the product one day could be.
How did you find the engineers who build the product? Where do you find the necessary people? Was that a struggle to find the right ones?
If you are hiring in the Bay Area, it is always a struggle to find engineers. I really recommend focusing your search on people that aren’t already in the Bay Area. Human talent is evenly spread around the world, but the opportunity is not. There is a very high level of demand for engineers in the Bay Area and San Francisco, but there are lots of great engineers around the world that you can hire.
I don’t think I’ve ever hired an engineer who already lived in San Francisco. Everyone I’ve ever taken onboard has either moved to San Francisco or somewhere else. Or I hired them where they lived, and they worked from there.
What was the experience of working with remote engineers?
We were early on this curve. I started hiring engineers around the world 7 years ago. It was definitely early for that. People thought it was a bit difficult to manage that team. Now, many people do it that way. It is economical. The tools are also developed around it.
Probably, it is time for my last question. How do you think sales will develop in the next 5 or 10 years? What do you expect to change?
Customers will have more access to information and will be less dependent on a salesperson for that reason. There is more and more shared information out there, like ratings of software companies or products on Amazon or wherever. But this doesn’t take away the job of sales; they are important. But it will allow more business to occur and enable salespeople to do more business.
Do you think this is a question of optimization of the sales role?
Yes, I don’t think that sales go away. Despite having access to information, people still want to be shepherded through the process of their purchase. 15 years ago, a salesperson would have a monopoly on the information. Whereas today, the roles have changed.
Thank you, Steve, for this exciting conversation.
Why Building an MVP Is So Necessary for Startups?
As an entrepreneur with multi-year experience in field sales, Steve Benson understands why it’s so crucial to do the initial validation of the future product by placing its alpha or beta version in front of ‘people who you think are going to buy it and use it.’ And this is where the MVP comes in handy.
MVP (Minimum viable product) is most often defined as ‘that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.’ MVP is actually the fastest way to make sure if it’s worth investing precious time and resources into your product. Its development usually takes from a few weeks to a couple of months and doesn’t require big budgets. In short, the MVP reduces the risk of startup failure and helps entrepreneurs learn what they need to do to make their products succeed on the market. So, to sum up, with an MVP, you will:
- Find out if your product is viable and worth investing further in;
- Better understand user preferences and evaluate their willingness to pay;
- Engage an initial client base;
- Save time and resources to develop the final version of the product because you won’t have to do expensive market research;
- Have a working model to pitch to investors.
Working with early-stage startups, we see that most of them search for cost-effective and fast-to-market approaches to delivering MVPs. In this case, it makes sense to reach out to specialists who can do the work for you quickly and efficiently. Be it web development, mobile app development, or UX/UI design - outsourcing your MVP initiatives can be a worthwhile strategy.
Here, at UpsilonIT, we help startups and small & medium businesses plan and build MVPs that can eventually grow into market-ready solutions. Here is our vision of essential steps you need to take to create a successful MVP:
Figure out what problem you’re solving, and for whom. Start from conducting surveys or interviews with potential customers. That’s how you can learn more about the audience and its actual problems. Then, express the value your product can offer to its users.
- Analyze your competitors. The other part of market research is gaining an overview of competitors and analyzing how they solve that particular problem.
- Make a list of MVP features. Start by defining the steps a user will take when using your product and list all the features required for every step. Then prioritize those features focusing on essential ones and crossing out.
- Develop your MVP. Once you’ve defined the scope of work and learnt about market needs, you can assemble your MVP. Remember that an MVP is not lower quality than a final product, and still has to satisfy the user.
- Test, measure, and repeat. Get your MVP tested by real users. Carefully gather customer feedback, analyze all possible metrics, and use all that data for improving your product. And then test, measure, and improve again.