This week is our first live RunSignup Symposium since the pandemic (the last one was January, 2020 in Orlando). We started these in 2014 when we were much smaller (way before most companies would think about having a conference). I thought it might be useful to write a Founder’s Corner blog about why we put these on.
Listening to Customers
We have a long tail SaaS company that is self serve. In our normal course of business we can not really afford in person sales calls and demos because we want to keep our prices low and focus on developing features. In that remote business mode, we get plenty of interactions with customers and collect all customer ideas from literally everyone in the company logging ideas into Github. We do plenty of video calls and demos and have literally thousands of interactions per month with our customers.
BUT, there is nothing like being physically with customers. To hear what they do, and how they do it. To watch them wave their arms, or open their laptop to show us something. To be in a small group talking about things and a seed of a brilliant idea is sown.
Customer Advisory Board
To enhance this interaction, we have a Customer Advisory Board meeting from 11-4 on Monday before the general session starts on Tuesday morning. We rotate this board of about 10-12 people to get a diverse set of customers with different perspectives. It is always a great discussion. We ask them to come with 3 things they like and 3 suggestions for improvements. We get some real gems. Many things we know, but this year we heard consistent feedback that we need to work on our Renewal process. We realized that we had not really spent quality time on Renewals for quite a while and these customers had some great suggestions. So we know that we can make our customer’s lives better with this type of input.
We also share a great amount of information about our company from a high level strategic business perspective as well as our more detailed product plan. We get real time feedback, and the exercise of making our company accountable to our customers keeps us focused. If you can’t explain what your business is doing and why and how you make a profit and how you expect to grow to your customers, then you might not be running a viable business. As I always tell customers – we are in this together. I hate the traditional customer-vendor relationship. With our customers we are simply trying to solve problems together and are true partners. Each side of that partnership having real needs and plans they should not be embarrassed to share.
Education for our Customers
The central purpose of our Symposium is to provide an education forum for our customers. We have a very large and expanding set of features our customers can use. And getting in person learning is very helpful to the customers who are able to attend. There is also a network effect given that many of the people who come are timers or race management companies where they can pass on their knowledge and expertise to a much wider network. And educated customers are loyal customers who will be more successful.
We also video all of the sessions, and they form a basis for content that helps all of our customers.
In addition, we focus sessions from the experts on new features, which helps our own team assimilate the new capabilities. It also forms the basis for Help Documentation as well as future Webinars on topics.
Getting Stuff Done
This is a bit evil, but having a deadline of Symposium provides motivation for people to get stuff done. It might be putting a presentation together for a new feature that can then get distributed widely. It might be a new feature from the development team that creates a sense of urgency to ship a feature (although we will release no feature before it’s time!).
Finally, by connecting so personally with our customers at Symposium, we create a core set of raving fans. They understand our product, our motivations, our strategy better. They can become ambassadors for our company. After all, they know if they get their friends to use our platform, we will continue to grow and create more technology they can use for their offering.
We have had great success with our Symposium. Of course it helps having Johanna Goode to actually make things happen, but the effort is worth the benefits. And it is tough to begin these too soon in a company’s journey. Our first was in 2014, and our customers had only processed $13M of transaction volume on our platform – we will do $400 Million in transaction volume for our customers this year. And the Symposium is a key part of achieving that growth.