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“I’d like to inspire a movement to learn to ask” With Alex Turnbull CEO of Groove

Whether you’re trying to bring about a change to your life, your business or your community, make big asks of the people who can help you do it. You’ll be surprised by how many people say yes.


It would be the lesson my mother taught me: you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Whether you’re trying to bring about a change to your life, your business or your community, make big asks of the people who can help you do it. You’ll be surprised by how many people say yes.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Turnbull. Alex Turnbull is the founder and CEO of Groove, a customer support app for startups and small businesses. Alex is a serial entrepreneur whose past ventures have all been in the b2b SaaS space. Previously he was a co-founder and Product Manager at Bantam Live (Acquired by Constant Contact Feb. 11′)


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always knew that I’d work for myself, though it started with a detour.

After college I took a job at a brokerage firm. But rather than making cold calls like I was supposed to be doing, I was studying the tools and processes we were using to manage our leads and customers. What I saw was lots of redundancy, time wasted on tedious repetitive tasks and a CRM that felt like it was from the stone age.

I was trying to figure out ways we could make things more efficient across the entire team, and that’s when the light bulb lit up: I can build this.

Starting with rough sketches, I began to envision how a better CRM for financial advisors would look. At the time, an old childhood friend of mine was working as a developer at Yahoo!, and I recruited him to collaborate with me on this idea. Eventually, we launched our product. Three years later, we sold the company, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to working for anyone else again.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?

It’s happening right now.

My career has been punctuated by moments where I realize that I have no idea what I’m doing.

As an entrepreneur, you work hard to tackle the problem in front of you, and you build a set of skills to manage the company you’ve grown.

But every company reaches a stage — multiple times, if its lucky — where yesterday’s playbook no longer works, and you have to learn how to run your company all over again.

We recently went through a period just like that at Groove; we built a strong, profitable company that was generating more than $500,000 per month, but our product, strategy and infrastructure wouldn’t support further growth.

We had to dig deep into every part of the organization, rethinking the product, marketing and org structure to rebuild the company to prosper in the long run.

It’s been an incredible period of learning, growth and, frankly, discomfort, but it’s easily the most interesting time of my career.


Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting?

When I was pitching that first product — the CRM for financial advisors — to our prospects, I would use the word “revolutionary” a lot to describe what they were doing.

People, unsurprisingly, weren’t impressed.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Humility, for one thing. There’s a difference between a process improvement and a revolution.

And, perhaps just as importantly, I learned about the importance of speaking your buyer’s language, and delivering what they’re actually looking for, rather than what you think they want.

None of our customers were looking for a revolutionary CRM. They just wanted to be able to track their leads better.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’ve always been incredibly transparent about our journey, both the wins and the fails.

In fact, the most successful marketing decision we ever made was to launch a blog chronicling our experiences:

That transparency has helped us build a relationship with our audience that goes far deeper than most companies have. They look to us (and trust us) to help them work through their toughest business challenges, because they know we’ve struggled with them, too.

That relationship has saved us multiple times. For example, our product — a critical business tool that companies relied on for their entire customer support operation — went down for 15 hours back in 2014.

After we explained what had happened, rather than skewering us and abandoning us for the competition, our customers were understanding, empathetic and grateful for the transparency.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re getting ready to launch a brand new Groove that’s unlike anything our audience has seen before 🙂

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what customer communication will look like, not just tomorrow, but in 5, 10 and 15 years.

And we’re excited to finally be getting our product to a place where we can help our customers own that evolution.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lessons that others can learn from that?

I feel like I’m in the middle of a tipping point.

This rebuilding period has brought many of the things I used to believe about entrepreneurship into question.

For example, “scrappiness” used to be one of the core values of Groove. And it was an important one; we needed to be scrappy in the early days to build something from nothing with extremely limited resources.

But recently, I came to realize that our scrappiness had been holding us back. It’s caused us to make short-sighted decisions that have led to technical debt, lack of team structure and other inefficiencies.

And so we’re taking a very different approach (a much more careful and measured one) today.

Perhaps the most valuable takeaway is that you should constantly be re-evaluating what you believe to be true. Doing this will open you up to seize on those tipping points when the time is right.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

It doesn’t matter how intense things get, always make time for family, friends and fun.

I make time every day to enjoy life with my wife, son and dog. And when the waves are right, I’ll walk down to the beach here in Newport and spend an hour or two surfing.

What’s the point of any of this if you’re filled with stress and anxiety every day?

I’ve learned this the hard way, and it’s something I try to drive home hard whenever I talk to young entrepreneurs. Your business problems will always be there. Take some time away from them to do things that energize you; it’ll make you happier, calmer and smarter.

How do you define “Marketing”? Can you explain what you mean?

Marketing is the art of serving your customer at every stage in their journey.

Before they’ve even started looking for a product like yours, your marketing should solve other problems for them. That’s what our Startup Journey blog does.

Once they’ve realized they have a problem to solve, your marketing should help them understand the problem and the solutions available to them, and then lead them to make the right decision for them (whether that’s to buy from you or not). That’s what our website and product-related educational resources do.

And once they’ve purchased from you, your marketing should ensure that they know that you’re there to help them as they solve their problem, and it should deliver continuous value along the way. That’s what our customer support and success efforts do.

There’s very little that you do as a business that isn’t marketing.

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 about that?

I’m lucky to have an amazing mom that has done a tremendous amount to help me in my life.

From an early age, she taught me lessons that helped me get every business I’ve built off the ground. For example, it was her who taught me that “you don’t get what you don’t ask for”; that single insight has helped me get new customers, investors and partners to work with us, even when the obvious thing for them to do would have been nothing.

She also gave me seed money in the early days to fund my crazy idea, and never stopped believing in us, even when I was doubting things myself.

What are your “5 Non Intuitive Marketing Strategies For Small Businesses”?

1. The “You’re In” email. Every customer who signs up for Groove gets an email from me asking what made them sign up.

In a world where everyone wants to stick to scalable marketing tactics, inviting a personal response is a welcome change. Customers love knowing that they have the CEO’s ear, and we’ve learned things from responses to this email that have changed our product and our marketing.

2. Customer exit surveys. Whenever a customer leaves, take the time to find out why. This might not sound like marketing, but one of the biggest causes for churn is the customer experience not aligning with what you promised your customer. You may actually learn things that dramatically change how you sell (and build) your product.

3. Take best practices with a massive grain of salt. If everyone followed “best practices”, then we’d only get marketing emails on Tuesdays (when in fact, Tuesday is the worst day for many companies). When you’re wondering what to do, and you’re considering following a best practice, even if you DO follow the best practice, try doing the opposite, too. You may learn a game-changing insight.

4. When in doubt, talk to your customers. Struggling with messaging, positioning or copywriting? Talk to your customers about the problems they’re facing, and how they see your product. Your customers are your best copywriters.

5. Once you figure out your very best channels, focus hard on them. And don’t get distracted by the million shiny objects that marketing blogs tell you you “need” to be doing. Facebook wasn’t a productive channel for us, so we abandoned it. It might sound extreme, but simply having to manage the page at all was enough of a distraction that we decided to focus our efforts on other channels, like our blog, that we already knew would deliver exponentially higher returns.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

It would be the lesson my mother taught me: you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Whether you’re trying to bring about a change to your life, your business or your community, make big asks of the people who can help you do it.

You’ll be surprised by how many people say yes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” — Seneca

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m @alexmturnbull on Twitter, and you can also keep up with us on the Groove blog.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Originally published at medium.com

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