Sramana: What steps did you take in terms of process to achieve that rocket in sales?
Omar Hussain: Philosophically, I have always believed that people ask the wrong questions when they talk to customers. They always try to sell them the idea. Most human beings who are being sold something based on an idea will give feedback that is not necessarily correct. This is particularly true if you are not spending your own money.
When we started talking to customers, we identified the sweet spot of the problem. There were existing products on the market, so we asked our customers why they were not using other products if they had such a big problem with single sign-on. They would give us reasons why other products fell short of their needs. We built our product, literally, but ensuring that it would satisfy the outstanding customer requirements.
The market problem was there. People had tried to solve it, but they had not actually done so. Our objective was to figure out why they had not solved the problem. People felt the technologies available were too complicated and too intrusive for them to use in their own networks. That is why it took us longer to get it right. The first time we got the solution out, we did not have it correct either. The smartest move we made was to rework our solution. We re-architected it correctly for the market. You must deliver what customers want, not what you want.
The third key is that we were a venture-funded company who had smart, mature investors. When you have a venture-funded business, you are not trying to build a small business. You are trying to build a big business that solves a big problem; otherwise, you are wasting people’s time. When we reached a million dollars in our first six months of selling, we realized there was a market there. It was simply a question of scaling sales and distribution. We put a lot of money into marketing. We spent $2 million our first year alone in marketing programs just to get brand awareness. We then spent another $2 million building our domestic and international sales force.
Sramana: Did you go after any particular segment, or was it a horizontal play?
Omar Hussain: In the beginning, 75% of our market was the regulated industries, which are financial services, healthcare, and the public sector. The other 25% of our business was everybody else.
Sramana: How did your customer base find you?
Omar Hussain: They found us because we spent $2 million in marketing initiatives.
Sramana: What kind of marketing were you doing?
Omar Hussain: Everything under the sun. We did a lot of email marketing, online marketing, and some Google PPCs, which were just coming into maturity. For example, in the U.S. there are 5,000 hospitals. We realized that healthcare was a sector that looked promising. We did a direct mail piece that looked at the compliance and regulation issues they had. We mailed that to every CIO. It was the biggest bet we could afford. Our sales reps would show up on site and find that piece laying on their desk.
We also built a huge partner network. In the early days we had a couple of hundred value-added resellers who were willing to go out and sell our product. Once we knew we had the product right, we doubled down on building out the market. We quickly became the top player in our space.