Protect your brand reputation. The above four items are key to establishing your brand and maintaining it for your own direct marketing that you control. If you have a partner and affiliate channel strategy, know that this can become you Achilles heel that can ruin your brand reputation unless you have the right controls, monitoring, and enforcement in place.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bogdan Odulinski.
Bogdan Odulinski has been the Senior Director of Strategy at Solve iQ since 2010. In this role, he helps execute on initiatives that support the company mission including shifting to a SaaS model and strategic partnerships. He has a history of thought leadership in the tech industry. Prior to Solve iQ, Bogdan led technology, product management, and strategy efforts at various companies including Dell.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have been passionate about personal computing since my teens programming as well as building computers to pay my way through college. Then, after a decade consulting to Fortune 500 companies in the 90’s, I had the opportunity to work at Dell to lead the launch of several apps and services installed on millions of PCs. That experience got me hooked on helping end users get more out of their tech.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I joined the company 10 years ago with the goal of expanding its impact and reach. At the time, the services we offered were very focused solving a specific pain point for most end-users which constrained our ability to grow.
One of the biggest “Aha moments” came when it became clear from our marketing and customer data was that most end-users wanted and indeed, needed, a more comprehensive service that provided could value at all times. This drove us to innovate past the support-focus of our service and led to the creation of the Solve iQ service you see today. That service relies on our patented ‘Just-In-Time’ engine which provides autonomous real-time delivery of personalized performance and experience optimizations based on what the end-user is doing with their device at any given time.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
What drives us to keep going has always been the same for us and is based on two key questions: is there demand for our service? and are we making an impact?
There first is really a marketing and strategic product management question and the answer to that question has not changed since the inception of the company 25 years ago. If you look at how many tech-help related sites are out there, how many system utilities are out there, as well as the keyword search volume related to people seeking to solve performance or otherwise challenging tech experiences that get in the way of their activities with their computers, the answer is a simple ‘yes’.
The answer to the second question is based on looking at a long list of customer sentiment data including how long our customers stay with us, how they interact with our customer service, and the reviews they leave behind. Our team constantly looks at these numbers as KPIs that need to be improved and ultimately drives our engineering roadmap. Again, just looking at the reviews our customers leave with us gives us the drive to keep going and improving our service for our customers.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great today. We keep growing our customer base and revenue which allows us to invest in improving our service on a continuous basis. One area that I’d like to touch on regarding our success beyond is our focus on delivering to our customer expectations and evolving our service to meet those expectations as they change. What our customers expected from us 10 years ago is very different from what they expect today. So from a ‘grit and resilience’ perspective, I can tell you that this commitment and willingness to make the necessary changes to keep our customers happy is really what led to the success you see today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Each one of us at our company is very driven so we constantly test new experiences and offers based on existing data. As a result, we don’t really think in terms of mistakes but in terms of assumptions that were proven wrong. One such assumption was that our customers would pay more for an anti-virus capability. That all we needed to do is add some kind of anti-virus functionality to our services to achieve better conversions and retention for our services.
So we decided to test this assumption with a couple of well recognized anti-virus brands. After extensive testing promoting the inclusion of anti-virus with service, we concluded that while our target users wanted to know our service was secure, they did not see the value in paying more for it. What we ended up doing is adding some security features that would be additive to our value proposition which is based on real-time delivery of improved experiences. Those services protect the performance of our user systems while providing additional privacy and security at the same time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I would say that the one thing that makes our company stand out is customer service and the person to person assistance we provide to our customers. While our service delivers its value in a fairly automated way, we know that our customers sometimes need that extra helping hand delivered by a real human being that can answer a difficult question or just get something done for them. We make it as easy as possible contact us and we actually encourage our customers to do so whether by email, chat, or phone anytime they have the need. And when they do contact us, they know they won’t be faced with byzantine phone menu options, upsells, or any of the typical frustrations encountered when contacting other tech companies today.
Of course none of this would be possible without our phenomenal team and support staff.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would say that the biggest source of burnout for the team here at Solve iQ used to come from all the crapware, low value, and low reputation apps promoted by opportunists. We found that this category of apps confuse our prospects and customers making it difficult to rise above the noise created by them.
We spent a lot of time trying to differentiate ourselves from that category in various ways, but the only one that worked was creating unique value based on the customer data that we had available to us. Our challenge was and continues to be, maintaining the discipline to getting more data points and keep digging into data to get more insights.
So whether its crapware of just plain competition, my advice to avoid burnout is to focus on your own customer data and services. As long as you do, you’ll prevail over the wannabe’s and the opportunists who are in it for short term gain. Listen to your customer calls, read every email they send and chat transcripts as well as customer reviews. Correlate this to your customer purchase and retention behavior and then test new assumptions to improve upon the areas your customers tell you need improvement. As long as you do, your teams will be fascinated by what they learn and be motivated to keep improving the product and service.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’d like to extend a special thank you to the CEO of AppEsteem service and letting me know about it in time for our company to become their first customer a few years back. AppEsteem was instrumental in helping us communicate our value and achieve the industry recognition that we have today. AppEsteem provides a consulting service and a verification seal that is recognized by the security industry as well as the large tech platforms on which we all rely.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We have approximately 300,000 active subscribers today. We accelerated our growth a few years ago with three key initiatives: Central to the three was building out our patented just-in-time service capability and surfacing it to our customers with a new value prop focused on providing real-time experience enhancements and optimizations based on what the user is doing. At the same time, we re-architected our front-end and backend to leverage the latest IoT, microservices, and serverless best practices on top of Microsoft Azure to allow us to scale to the size of the market we anticipate having to serve. And we also continue to have seamless and comprehensive person to person customer service and support.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
Customers in need of our service simply install our Solve iQ agent and pay for the service to start receiving our real-time delivery of our services. We offer our service for 9.99 dollars/mo for as long as the customer feels they need it; they can cancel anytime and re-up anytime; we modeled this after looking at how companies like Netflix and Hulu make it easy to cancel and resubscribe to their service anytime. We have tried some of the other models in the past, but what we realized is that each model requires its own unique customer experience from promotion to install to onboarding and conversion. A free-trial experience needs to be different from a buy-first experience for example. We just haven’t put in the time to re-work the right flows the other models require yet. But this may change in the future as we grow. Stay tuned!
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
I like to think of this in terms value delivered along with life-cycle of the customer combined with brand reputation.
- Build something people need. If there is a need and you follow the rest of the steps you should succeed.
- Communicate and deliver value. Always. We all have short attention spans. Many of us don’t remember how we got on an email list let alone why made some of our purchases. So its important to remind customers of the service you are providing and why they should keep using it.
- Know your acquisition funnel metrics for every step. Key decision makers should be able to pull this data up on a dashboard and see near real-time data anytime.
- Know your retention metrics. When and why do they leave? Do they cancel in month three or the first hour? What were they doing or not doing
- Protect your brand reputation. The above four items are key to establishing your brand and maintaining it for your own direct marketing that you control. If you have a partner and affiliate channel strategy, know that this can become you Achilles heel that can ruin your brand reputation unless you have the right controls, monitoring, and enforcement in place.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I wish every app and SaaS product made it easy to get customer service with the ability to talk to a human being able to speak in a neutral native language accent; not just by phone but chat as well. Its amazing how many companies either do not offer this at all or offer it only for billing related inquiries or behind byzantine menus and options to select from designed to avoid human contact with their customers. Not to mention the ‘AI’ chat-bot craze we’ve all been subject to in recent times.
I used to think and accept that this was not possible due to costs. But, based on my own experience here at Solve iQ, it is possible to do this at minimal cost if your service and customer experience is so good that only the really necessary and hard issues require customers to need that human assistance. And you actually want those interactions for the data they provide to inform your roadmap.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Currently, the best way to keep up with our company is on Linked In.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!