Understand the Technology, Deeply — this is critical, as it can be the difference between obsolescence and success. If you don’t understand the technology you are working with or building upon, this can create a disparity between where your product is headed and where the underlying technology is roadmapped. It can also make your product repetitive, if you are developing a product that matches the planned functionality of the technology you build upon.
As a part of my series on “5 Things you Need to Know to Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michal Pisarek, CEO and Co-Founder of Orchestry (www.orchestry.com).
Michal Pisarek is the serial entrepreneur behind multi-award-winning businesses and products, such as BONZAI Intranet and Dynamic Owl Consulting, which were acquired in 2018. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Orchestry, the Work Made Simple platform for Microsoft 365. As a 6-time Microsoft MVP, Michal is an international speaker and Microsoft 365 thought leader with a long history of successfully working with Fortune 500 companies to deliver the maximum return on their Microsoft 365 investment
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?
After moving to Canada, I became an independent consultant. In that space for a couple of years, I decided to start Dynamic Owl Consulting, as I felt there was an opportunity to offer great business-based consulting around SharePoint at that time.
After work with organizations, primarily on Intranet and Digital Workspace initiatives, we made the decision to pivot Dynamic Owl into more of a product-based company, as an intranet-in-a-box platform for SharePoint and Office 365, named Bonzai Intranet. We got to the market fairly early when a lot of intranet projects were very costly and very cumbersome from a technical perspective. Also, from an implementation perspective, organizations ran these large and long technology projects that provided them with little value. Given this, we dedicated ourselves to productizing both the product and the project with Bonzai.
Most recently, Orchestry started more as a research project. I was trying to understand what was happening currently in Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) market. I interviewed nearly 80 companies asking about their successes and their challenges with the Microsoft 365 platform. From there we uncovered four tangible use cases that organizations were facing regardless of size, vertical or location. This sparked the solution for consistently solving those problems to make work simple in Microsoft 365 using Orchestry.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The ‘aha moment’ came from speaking with dozens of organizations using Microsoft 365, discovering they were all facing the same challenges and suffering from the same issues. This led us to the understanding that if we could solve these four core problems for customers, we would have a successful product:
- Determine ‘what to use when’ for which purpose for users in Microsoft 365.
- Resolve ‘bottlenecked governance’ issues by enabling controlled self-service.
- Eliminate ‘costly customizations’ with pre-built Workspace Templates.
- Remove the ‘too many tools’ dilemma with a business-first solution.
Overall, these four main challenges or opportunities have driven the vision of the platform we built to make work simple in Microsoft 365.
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?
The biggest challenge with any startup is finding the right people to work with. It is a harmful misnomer that every successful start-up is just made up of just one person. It is actually a team of individuals. Making sure that each member of this team has the same vision is critically important.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is partnering with individuals that didn’t have the same vision and the same values. This innately brings to light various conflicts and tension in the relationship.
I never really consider giving up, as I’ve always believed in the vision of what I am doing and why I am doing it. But also, building and growing a team that is amazing to work with, it drives you to keep going because you never want to let that team down.
If you are an entrepreneur and you think about giving up all the time, then you are in the wrong role. You should save yourself the time and heartache and go get a job. Entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice and requires an unwavering dedication; you have to be a little bit crazy — you can’t afford to be rethinking it all the time.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
You want to think things happen overnight, but the reality is it is just month after month and day after day of constantly working.
Entrepreneurship is not a marathon. The best analogy for entrepreneurship is high-intensity interval training. You will have moments of a lot of stress and work where you will push yourself to the edge. You push so hard you are almost at the breaking point, then lift your foot off the gas for moments of recovery when things calm down a bit, before your next push or sprint again.
This is why it is really important when starting a company that you make sure you believe in what you do and surround yourself with the right people because its never easy but can be incredibly rewarding.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take always’ you learned from that?
Well, there is a funny one about Dynamic Owl, our first consulting company. I was trying to register our company, but we couldn’t come up with a name. So I was looking online for an idea, and came across an article that said every great company name as a verb and either an animal or a thing included. So, I had a stuffed owl toy in the room and I thought owls were wise and smart, so that seemed like a good start. Then I thought ‘dynamic’ was a good name for what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it, so the name came to be Dynamic Owl Consulting.
It was meant to be a temporary name to get the business registered. But before we worked with a branding and marketing company to come up with a ‘real company name’, we received feedback that people seemed to like the name so it ended up sticking.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In building Orchestry, we were lucky enough to create a new category of product, putting us in a category of one. This is the feedback we are getting from showing the product to industry experts and Microsoft MVPs, saying, “Wow, there is nothing else like this on the market. I can’t believe it can do all this, and so quickly”.
Not only that, but also we have built the product for a wide range of users, which is fairly rare from a technology perspective. And, from the user experience and functionality perspective, we have tried to make Orchestry equally as refined and simple for every role, whether that be the End User, IT Administrator, Developer or Power User.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
On tips, I have many from many years of learning how not to ‘burn out’:
- High Intensity Intervals: As I mentioned before, entrepreneurship is really most like high intensity interval training. You have to really drive hard to push yourself to those breaking points, but also recognize there also has to be periods of rest.
- It’s All About the People: Make sure you surround yourself with the right people. I think you have to actually personally like the people you spend your time working with, not just work with them.
- Stay Healthy & Sane: Look after your health and sanity, exercise regularly and do things like meditation. Most importantly you need to have time to unplug each day, whether that be walking your dog, being with your baby/kids or personally, I cook — that is my place of solace.
- Keep Doing, Not Stressing: Don’t spend time thinking about all that needs to be done. There will always be more to be done. If you keep thinking about all of it, you will drive yourself crazy. There is always more that can be done and always more to do, you just have to do the best that you can every day.
- Avoid the Entrepreneur Hype: Don’t read a lot of the crap on the internet about being a successful entrepreneur, because most of it is useless crap. And yes, I see the irony in saying this during an interview on entrepreneurship and start-ups. I still believe this to be true.
- Just Be Nice: Be nice to people. It isn’t hard to do and people will remember you for it. Right now as I call/email people all the time, people I’ve barely met to introduce Orchestry. I hear many say, “Oh yes, I remember meeting you, you were really nice. I’d be happy to chat with you.” Business shouldn’t be a win-lose situation, it should be a win-win situation. There is plenty to go around. Be humble and nice to absolutely everyone. It will serve you well, always.
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?
Denise Ching, my wife. I couldn’t do anything without Denise. She balances me out. Denise is good at all the things I am bad at. She keeps me balanced being very honest, open and supportive. She has also been a co-founder, including Orchestry, in every single successful venture we have undertaken. She is what makes me successful.
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?
Orchestry doesn’t disclosed numbers as we work many enterprise organizations and we have different agreements regarding NDAs, etc. but we have been overwhelmed with enthusiasm, partnerships and feedback that has kept us growing.
The steps we have taken to build our community for Orchestry are many of the same that we took previously with our other successful companies, including:
- Thought Leadership/Education/Training — we drive value directly into the Microsoft 365 community through constantly creating assets to share knowledge and learnings.
- Re-entering a Familiar Community — we are re-entering a community we are familiar with and who are familiar with us, helping us lean into our existing relationships.
- Product Quality — we know the proof isn’t in the concept but the product working exactly as you say it will work, which builds trust and integrity in a community.
- Continuous Innovation — we stay current and continuously look for ways to improve, which is baked into the fabric of the tech community and in our company.
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?
Our monetization model is simple, a paid Enterprise Subscription Model, that most enterprise organizations pay annually.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know the Market — this is foundational for success. With Orchestry, we have been in the Microsoft 365/Office 365 market for well over a decade. But, when we looked at what we want to do next, we didn’t pretend to know what the market needed or wanted today, which is why this entire company started with a research project to interview organizations about their successes and challenges using Microsoft 365.
- Understand the Technology, Deeply — this is critical, as it can be the difference between obsolescence and success. If you don’t understand the technology you are working with or building upon, this can create a disparity between where your product is headed and where the underlying technology is roadmapped. It can also make your product repetitive, if you are developing a product that matches the planned functionality of the technology you build upon. We have seen this time and time again in our industry, where Microsoft releases new features/functions and when it matches an exact product offering on the market, that product and company become obsolete.
- Marketing is Essential — this should be a business commandment. Too many product companies, especially technology companies focus all their time, money and effort on building the product, leaving no funds for marketing. This means that no one knows about the product you have built, and believe me people don’t just come knocking because you built something. We learned with our first ventures, that marketing is equally important, if not more important than the product itself. Great marketing is how you actually succeed in the market. When people know you exist and they like what you have built, that’s good marketing.
- User Experience — another common issue we’ve seen startups face is they spend so much time thinking about function, they forget there are actual people that will be using the product. Without putting user experience into part of the product planning, you aren’t likely to create something a user will actually like using. We learned this through many iterations of our previous products, so that is just baked into how we think about, plan and develop a new product; the user experience is always at the forefront.
- Constant Feedback/Innovation Loop — this one is key for long-term success. You can only build the best product you can with the knowledge you have available in the moment you are building it. After which, you learn more by seeing users actually interact with the product, actively soliciting product feedback and continuously exploring R&D possibilities. In doing so, we are consistently learning, improving, testing and iterating on the next version.
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. 🙂
Since my passion is cooking and food, I think I’d want to start a movement or not-for-profit organization that taught kids/students about the basics of food and nutrition through cooking with them and teaching them to cook for themselves.
These days so many people rely on takeout and processed food to feed themselves and it isn’t good. Food is how you feel, how you perform and how well your brain functions. You need good food to feed innovation and future entrepreneurs and that should start with teaching them how to cook and feed themselves.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This is good because we like Tweeting. You can follow me and Orchestry on Twitter:
We also the like connecting and posting on LinkedIn: