SaaS Deep Dives: Early Stage Sales, Product Demos & Right to Sell with Jen Abel, Co-Founder JJELLYFISH

Jen Abel Co-Founder JJELLYFISH chats with Amit Somani, Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Listen to the podcast to learn about

01:30 - Early Stage Sales & PMF

11:00 - How to Discover Your Customer’s Problems

14:30 - The Product Doesn’t Drive Customer Discovery

16:00 - How to Run a Great Demo

21:00 - How to Think About Price Discovery

28:30 - Role of Marketing in the 0-1 stage

36:00 - 3 Big Things Every Indian SaaS founder Should Know

Read the complete transcript below

Amit Somani 01:00

Welcome to the Prime Venture Partners Podcast. This is your host, Amit Somani, and I am delighted to have with me Jen Abel, co-founder of Jjellyfish joining us all the way from the East coast in the United States, thank you for being on the show, Jen.

Jen Abel 01:15

It’s wonderful to be here. Thanks for having me.

Amit Somani 01:17

Jen, I love a lot of your tweets and for those of you don’t follow her, we’ll put her Twitter handle in the show notes and Jen and her firm do a lot of work with early state founders, particularly in SaaS and B2B on helping them find product market fit and getting from zero to one and one to 10.

So I wanna start right away by one of the, I think tweets, that I saw, which said, you know, You know, startups never find PMF because the founder delegates sales to a non founder way too early. So why don’t we talk about some of the myths and realities of early stage sales and finding PMF.

Jen Abel 01:55

Yeah. It’s really interesting. I think there’s this gross misconception of what early stage sales is. I think everyone thinks it’s, I have a product now go figure out how to sell it. And bring in revenue. And while that’s partially true, there’s a big missing piece, which is a product is the development of a founder’s vision, right?

And that founder’s vision is not necessarily completely and fully aligned to the market reality. And what I mean by that is product market fit or this concept of product market fit is really about, you know, how do companies get to their first, let’s just build a mental model, around it, 1 million of ARR, right? First of all, going from zero to one takes way more time than most people think, right?

Of course you have your outliers, that are out there, but I don’t think most companies fall into that of finding it in the first three to six months, right? Zero to one typically takes a founder somewhere between 18 and 24 months, at a minimum. And really what product market fit is all about is how do you precisely align a founder’s vision to the market reality, right?

It doesn’t start with the product, it starts with the problem. And most founders think that a lot of the hard work is okay, we’ve built this product, we’ve spent all of this time, we’ve figured out all the technical challenges it takes to bring this to the market.

They think the easy part is now just pushing it out into the market and really where risk lives now is in the go-to market, right? Building a product is not what it was 20, 25 years ago, right? We have a lot of low-code solutions, there’s a lot of, you know, APIs people can take and leverage. Just look at the size of the solo entrepreneur market.

Like that’s just the signal and how easy it is to get a, to build a product. But the market is getting more and more and more crowded. And unless you can be specific with who you serve and why you’re serving them, you will never get there. And that starts with the founder’s vision.

So the founder has a vision.They bring it to market. It never stands a chance on day one, right? Product market fit is iteration after iteration to leverage the rejection or the validation and continue to sharpen it, right? The market is extremely fickle, and unless you are solving a very specific problem, it is really hard to build. So when we say that founders never find product market fit, because they delegated it, there is this illusion of product market fit that founders have, which is, oh, I’ve sold two to three customers.

We have product market fit first and foremost, product market fit is defined truly by an investor, right? It is an, it is an underwriting tactic for a specific milestone a company has hit. I don’t think a founder can raise their hand and declare product market fit. I think that’s more from the market and an investor, right?

But this delegation of sales so quickly is a, it’s just a big misstep. Founders make because they don’t wanna do sales.. They don’t know how to do sales, right? They don’t really have sales experience or commercial experience, and they race to delegate it as quickly as possible. And that delegation fails because there’s only one person that has the vision and the right to iterate on that vision. And that’s the founder. Do not delegate sales until you have at a minimum around a million dollars of ARR.

Amit Somani 05:40

Wonderful. Let me double click a little bit on that, Jen. So let’s take two different paths, right? One, which is something that we advise, you know, wanna be entrepreneurs and early stage entrepreneurs, which is, you know, before you even written a line of code, go figure out and do customer discovery real well.

So let’s park that for a moment. We’ll come back to this in a second. And the second one where you said, look, I’ve already built a product.Maybe there was a problem, maybe there wasn’t. Maybe this is my vision of what the market needs. Maybe it isn’t, you know, whatever. Let’s say I’ve already done that and I’ve got these three customers, like you pointed out.

How do I now go and rejig my way into establishing this in a more seamless way?. Let’s start with the latter. I’ve already built a product, I should have been more done, spent more time on customer discovery, but that’s okay. Let’s say I’m there, right? Cause that could be a lot of our listeners.

Jen Abel 06:30

Yeah, that’s typically when you look at a first time founder. Most first time founders are, I’ve built a product, now I’m gonna go in search of a problem. Right? Which means that your pivots or your shifts, all you can really pivot is your market at this point, right? You’ve spent so much time, energy, and money on the product, you now need to show proof that the market is willing to pay for it.

So where you go from there is, okay, what are the four or five things your product can initially solve for? Let’s just start there. Those four or five things, one of them needs to be proven true in order for this to work, right? If you can’t nail, if you can’t identify one or align to one specific problem, I don’t know where you go from there, right?

Because you typically don’t have the time or the resources to go and rebuild a product, right? Because at the end of the day, the product is the most flexible part of the equation. So to start there, you’re putting the odds against you. But it’s been done. There’s definitely startups out there that have started with the product and found the market opportunity, but you aren’t stacking the odds in your favor.

You’re almost going against the grain a little bit. But if you can be maniacal on interviewing, not selling, interviewing the market on what the heck they’re prioritizing and the problems that they are putting money towards, how do you define prioritization? Everyone’s like, well, how do I know if it’s a priority problem?

Well, there’s three leading indicators. There are historics for how they’ve tried to solve for it, meaning there have been previous attempts, right? Leading indicator one. Leading indicator two is the problem is currently being measured, meaning there is a clear implication if it’s not solved right there, there is a monthly review of what that pain is costing them from a time or monetary perspective.

And then problem three is there’s a clear problem owner, meaning it’s big enough where they’ve put an individual delegated to manage the problem. If you are not identifying a problem that falls into one of those three buckets. It’s not a priority. And if they’re saying it’s a priority, then really dig into why there isn’t a budget line item created for it?

Those are the things you wanna look for. Otherwise, the market in the US…, people don’t wanna… it’s very hard for people to be direct. Maybe the US market is the most direct at the end of the day, but it’s hard for most people to say, Hey, I would never use this.

That’s a really hard thing to say to a founder’s face, right? So they’ll just say, oh, this is cool, right? Or like, oh wow. Those are horrible things to hear. Like if you hear that, you should be digging into why is this cool? Why did you say that? Like, really address the elephant in the room. Because when you, when you go for the why behind the why, instead of just racing to demo something and you spend the time on the why, you will get more insight faster and give your chance an opportunity to get to that problem statement that you can align to.

And I think a lot of founders make the mistake of once they’ve built the product, now they just want to go demo it. Look at what we’ve built. I’ve spent all my time here. Let me show you my baby. And they just go into, Spinning of the wheels of demo fatigue. And then you ask them, well, what did you learn from that call?

What new insight do you have? How do we iterate from there? There’s nothing to be said because they spent their entire time talking. So the biggest problem that founders have when they build the product first is they over-indexed there because that’s where all of their time went, and that’s where all their excitement and interests live.

But in reality, the market does not care about what you’ve built. They care about the problem they’re facing and how you are specifically built to solve for it.

Amit Somani 10:20

Great. So let’s find out how you calibrate on the customer stack rank, right? Like, is this a real viable problem? Obviously, if you are an early state founder building some SaaS product, let’s say it’s a few thousand or even a few $10,000 kind AOV just goes and says, Hey, Jen, what are your top problems in jellyfish?

You’ll be like, just get outta here. Like, who, who are you? And why am I talking to you? So, are there any tools or frameworks or tricks to, to sort of, you know, break the ice and, and really get to the, the five whys here?

Jen Abel 11:00

Yep. Never ask a founder. What keeps you up at night? Oh, sorry, never ask your customer. What keeps you up at night? You are going to get wild answers all over the place, and it’s dependent on the day. Like what keeps me up at night. Yesterday is probably something slightly different than what keeps me up today. So avoid what I call lazy questions like that. What keeps you up at night? If you had a magic wand, what are you prioritizing?

You’re never gonna get consistent answers. They’re just gonna be all over the place. Therefore, there is a lot of noise. You as the founder have a vision. What is your vision? Write them into problem statements. You believe X is faced with Y. What is that Y? What challenges are they faced with?

What unmet needs do they have? You now need to go test them. Those are your guardrails or your constraints to these interviews. If you go interview people expecting the market to hand you vision. You’ll never get there, right? No great product has ever been built on market consensus.

You as the founder have a vision. You need to test your vision. And if you don’t have a vision or you’re expecting your investors to hand you a vision or the market to hand you vision, it is a long lonely road ahead. So please make sure that before you go out and speak to the customers, you know exactly the constraints you wanna keep them in.

And who you wanna talk to. Otherwise, you’re having these random walks with lots of noise, and I’ve been doing this long enough to know I couldn’t even parse out insight from random walks and a bunch of noise. Like it’s so hard to find a repeatable theme. With, you know, four or five constraints, let alone 10 to 15, to 20.

So be extremely deliberate, extremely focused, and know if you are rejected, right? If there is a rejection that is simply just redirecting you closer to the pulse, be okay with rejection because it is a process of elimination to get to product market fit. It is a game of subtraction. No one buys your full product on day one.

You don’t have that trust. So be specific. Find a use case, but be very clear with what you wanna test. Otherwise, you’re just gonna get a bunch of noise and it’s gonna be more wasted time and effort.

Amit Somani 13:15

I agree. Unraveling a little bit back to the customer discovery process. Let’s say I’m just starting up and haven’t really spent 18 months and you know, several full-time engineers worth of like building this feature and that item and that workflow and whatever. In that scenario as well, how do you go about maybe in a more effective or an efficient manner doing customer discovery. And maybe co co-creating a vision.

I mean, you have some dream, which is why you started up, so we get that.

Jen Abel 13:40

Some of my favorite engagements we’ve ever run at jellyfish, there is no product. There’s nothing built. Now granted, the only person that can really raise a round of funding with no product built is probably a second or third time founder.

So we will all agree that that is reserved for a very specific set of founders. But the beauty of not having a product fully built or not overinvesting in a product is you’re not biased, right? You don’t have this sense of duty to back into something. So, as a founder, all you need is a vision.

All you need is a hypothesis to go out and test, to do customer discovery, you don’t have to have a product built. That is like the big learning and insight for so many of these founders. Once they go through this process is, the product doesn’t drive customer discovery. It is the vision around the problem the founders wanna solve and who they’re passionate about solving it for.

So all you need is the who and the why, and then you can go out to the market. The beauty with specifically, at least the US cuz that’s really what I know, I don’t wanna speak to the other markets, is when you are looking to sell to US customers. The beauty with the US market is people are willing to take a cold call with someone they do not know if they are able to articulate a problem in an email that that person is facing. They wanna learn. They wanna know what competitive edge you have. They wanna know how a founder thinks differently about such and such problems. But the only person that has that right or that ability to get in the room with these executives and these customers is the founder.

It is a competitive advantage that founders seem to give away so soon in the market. They wanna learn from you. You are the most passionate, visionary person on the team. They don’t wanna go learn from a salesperson, they wanna learn from a founder. So founders need to be the ones driving customer discovery.

Do not delegate it. That’s a 10x value and opportunity to the business. But most importantly, you do not need to have a product built. I know many founders that do have an existing product and are now running customer discovery in net new markets to figure out how they can iterate on that existing product to serve a net new opportunity.

So the beauty in the most efficient way to be resourceful if you’re a second and third time founders is you don’t even need a product built to get to market.

Amit Somani 16:00

So how about, you know, I saw this tweet from you, saying your demo sucks because it’s focused on the product. So let’s say we did some customer discovery. We have a vision that we articulated to the customer. We stack rank their problems, their priorities, tacitly or implicitly.

Now I do genuinely want to not just pitch my vision, but also my product and the benefit it provides for customer X in scenario Y. Do you have a script or a recommendation for how to run a great demo?

Jen Abel 16:35

Your demo should never look the same for every customer. Let’s just start there. If you are running the same demo for every single customer, you are doing it wrong.

It is high touch in the early days, this is a high touch process. So how do you run a good demo? I want you to refer back to your, you better have taken good notes from your first call. What are the three things this specific customer is facing before you even open the demo? Regurgitate it. Did you hear it properly?

Has anything changed? People wanna know they feel heard. Okay, so start there. What are the three things you know they’re looking to solve for? Then ask them, Hey, before I go in and guide this, this demo, is there anything specifically you want me to start out with? Or you wanna see, understand how educated they are, right?

If they are, if they have high intent and they’re an inbound lead, they’re most likely have looked at other alternatives. Let them guide you through the demo, right? You will learn so much about what they care about in the use cases they’re prioritizing and ensuring aligns with everything they said. You will get so much intel by letting them start it.

Hey, and it’s a simple question, and 20 to 30% of the time they will know. They will show you what they want. Then if they don’t know what they wanna see, which is probably a vast majority of the time, say, listen, I’m not here to show you everything. I’m gonna show you the one or two things I know you care about.

That’s it. Okay, so start there. Spend all your time there because that’s where their passion and interests live. You won’t lose them on the demo. Then spend some time and ask, listen, why do you wanna do this today? What have you seen that makes you wanna implement this today? Get a real answer around what their timeline is and what it looks like.

Okay. And then say, listen, I can always show you more, but is there anything specifically you wanna see? And if they say yes, let them guide you a little bit more. Maybe there’s something that specific, they wanna get out of this more demo or they want to make sure it integrates with X solution they have, but do not show them everything.

Why? I’ve never met a customer in the, how many times I have done this that they wanna buy everything. Never. And as soon as you put a price on it, they now will say, well, I’m only gonna use 50% of this, and they’re charging me $50,000. Wow. I’m paying 50k, they’re charging me 50 K and I’m only gonna get 25 k of value.

That’s how they think. They can’t help themselves, but that’s how they’re gonna think. Therefore, now they’re like, this really wasn’t built for me. It’s a little over-baked. Maybe there’s something a little bit more lightweight out there, and then you lose it. Customers wanna feel like the product was specifically built for them and that they’re not paying for any extra stuff.

So the more contained you are in what you show them, the higher the likelihood they’ll feel that, and you’ll increase your odds of success on the conversion rates. So you’ll probably maybe only show them 20 to 30% of the product. That’s okay. Because when you expand, you’re gonna look like it Here, be like, we just built this out.

Let me show you what more we can do. And all of a sudden you are this like magic that they’ve been looking for. Don’t take away that magic by showing them everything because I can tell you day one, they’re not gonna use everything and they’re gonna hold it against you.

Amit Somani 19:55

It’s very fascinating you say this because even, you know, we run a venture capital firm right time.

When people are pitching us or when we are recommending our founders pitch other investors, we ask them, don’t dump the kitchen sink. Go figure out their mental model. Go figure out what are the two to three key things you want to articulate and start there and get some common ground, get some common trust built over there because just because you presented 86 slides, if you got that far, cause they’ll be distracted on slide number three.

is not really going to get the next meeting, let alone a term sheet or a check wired to you, right? So I think picking the few things that can grab customer interest or in this case investor interest or whatever for it, depending on what the scenario is, could be very fascinating.

I had a follow up question on that, which is around. You know, you said you don’t push the customer on why now is this really a problem? What are you doing? Do you have any tips and suggestions for doing pricing discovery, right? You know, which is so like the customer has a problem.

They seem to appreciate what you’re doing. All that is fine. But now it’s like, you know what, this is great, but I’ll pay you five grand a year for this. But your AOV is 50 grand and you’re not gonna randomly change it just because of this customer. So what are some good techniques to do price discovery?

Jen Abel 21:15

So I’m gonna, there’s two parts to this answer. If you’re in the zero to one, Stop Over Indexing on making pricing. Pricing is a science. Let’s just put that out there. Pricing is absolutely a science in the $1-10 million stage you absolutely should bring in an expert to support you there cuz you’re gonna leave money on the table.

Post product-market fit bring in a pricing expert to make sure that you are taking and receiving as much value as you can outta the customer. The value you’re giving you should be receiving in addition. In the zero to one stage, you don’t have the time, resources or right to, what’s the right word?

To spend too much time there, right? Because you need feedback on the product. You need to show proof people are willing to pay for it. You need to prove that people are willing to stay on from the churn perspective and people are willing to continue on to, continue on for many years after, otherwise you don’t have product market fit.

So there’s so many other more important pieces to the puzzle that need to happen in the zero to one stage. There is a mental model, and I’ll tell you what it is. You can use for pricing in the US. if you are targeting, small and mid-market businesses, okay, you’re probably gonna fall somewhere between $10k-20k.

If it’s less than that, that’s okay if it’s founder led sales, but then is it really a sales led motion? Unless you have really high velocity. So just be aware. You don’t wanna be charging $2,000 and have a sales head and high-touch sales. You should somewhere fall between, let’s say seven and a half to 20 K, seven and a half, uh, 7,520 K if you’re targeting the mid-market, how do we define mid-market?

Mid-market is probably, you know, 250 to a billion dollars in revenue, right? Mid-market seems to be something different to everybody. You probably could charge somewhere between 25k and 75k, right? Again, if they’re gonna pay you 25k and they’re gonna come on board, you’re probably gonna accept it, right?

You can ask for a case study, you can ask for a customer reference. There’s so much more value you’re gonna extract for them beyond just the revenue, okay? If you’re targeting enterprise, My God. Please be very careful about how much you’re charging. I’ve seen people come out of the gate at 250-500k targeted at Fortune 100.

They will laugh at you. They have purchased from startups before. They know the game that’s going on. When you have limited references, limited case studies, limited social credit, you do not get to charge your full rate. Okay? You’ll probably fall somewhere between 75 and 125. Again, they’re gonna pay you 50.

Get the logo, get the reference, get the case study that’s worth 500k down the line, right? So do not over index on pricing because they might march you back just because you’re super early and they’re taking on a risk that is okay because their logo, their reference, their peer credibility, and more importantly, the product feedback you’re gonna get from them is far more important than an extra 25k

Amit Somani 24:20

And at the very beginning of that spectrum, Jen, is the willingness to pay anything at all, right? Zero or one binary. How do you figure that? That’s one of the things I advise founders of thinking of starting up or just an idea. You say, Hey, everybody might say, like you said this is cool, this is interesting. I do have that problem x, y, but I don’t know if I would pay for it or I would almost anything for it or very little for it. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jen Abel 24:50

There’s two ways to think about it. This is a hard thing to hear as a founder, but sometimes I have to ask them for it to penetrate their mind. If you gave it away for free, would they use it?

Don’t even, let’s get out even with just willingness to pay. Give it away for free. Would they use it or would they put the time in to integrate? Because sometimes things require some level of integration. If they won’t even put the time willing to integrate and it’s free, you have a much bigger problem on your hands.

You have people that have been nice to you for the past couple months. Willingness to pay is absolutely critical, especially for investors to see in this type of market. But before even that, are people willing to use it if you gave it away for free?

Amit Somani 25:40

Absolutely. And I encourage them to think one step beyond, even if they’re willing to pay for it.

That’s just a litmus test, right?. To get started is to do some level of price discovery after that. And I agree with you that you don’t want to push your way into any kind of pricing. But, you know, there’s this nice framework I read from this book called Monetizing Innovation, saying, at what point would this be so expensive that you would never talk to us again?

At what point would it be so cheap? That you think this is like, can, is even possible. At what point would be expensive, but worth it. There’s like this framework.. Which we link to in the notes. But I think figuring out at least some binary options. Not just they’re willing to use it or spend their money integrating with you or sending some resource allocation on it, but at least some willingness to pay.

Because once you get stuck onto something that people perceive it to be for free, it’s very hard to change the perception later.

Jen Abel 26:35

Absolutely. Someone I was talking to, we were talking about pricing discovery, and they said true pricing discovery actually comes from existing customers, like when they’re ready to renew in year two or, you know, you can have a conversation and say, listen, when they see the value they’re getting out of it, their mindset shifts a little bit too, for the positive and the negative. For the negative they might say, you know, we didn’t really use this as much as we, like, we’d be willing to stay on, but it seems a little too high or in the positive if you say, listen, we know, you’re going through a pricing worksheet. We know the value you got out of it. Make sure you can collect that as well as the founder. We are gonna be increasing our pricing to X. See what they do.

But it’s sometimes hard to do pricing when, when you don’t know their true value you’re getting out of it, especially if it’s a new, a new, way of working for some of these customers. But yes, I completely agree with you. Pricing discovery is very important. I usually, and founders have so much on their plate fundraising, you know, getting early traction, customer success, all of these things are so critical to show proof of product market fit.

I usually say when you have a little bit of mind capacity, pricing, discovery is critical. That’s usually probably in the $1-10M run.

Amit Somani 28:00

Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the marketing part of GTM, right? There’s the pure sales lead motion. There’s product led growth, there’s inbound, but what if you, and I saw this quote from you, it said startups should be iterating far more on their pitch than their product.

Can elaborate not just on that, but in general, like what role does marketing, web presence, review sites, blah, blah, blah, in your mind, have to accelerate sales from zero to one, one to 10.

Jen Abel 28:35

I think marketing is the most critical at two junctures in the zero to one stage, right?

Your product led growth, meaning people have to find you, right? Therefore, marketing is critical. or you are a truism that everyone is looking for. I think in the zero to one stage it’s very rare. Most people probably have not heard of you. You don’t have the brand equity or the brand recognition out in the market yet.

So I think marketing and a lot of people will disagree with me on this. Marketing is something that happens post sales, post proving the market is willing to pay for it. Why? Marketing as a whole is one to many, right? It’s a message that you know will resonate with many folks. It is not one-to-one or it’s very hard to do one-to-one, although most people could say, well, marketing can be one-to-one.

Sure, but I’m talking true one-to-one. Where you’re in a conversation, you can ask the why behind the why. You can go really deep. It is very hard in the zero to one stage to get real raw feedback from marketing. You’re not gonna get it right. They either just don’t respond to you or they don’t. in sales, they will say, nah, I’m not sure if this really is a good fit for us.

Great. Ask, dig into the why or ask what would need to change in order for this to be a yes. You don’t get, you don’t get to do that, you know, by just doing straight marketing. So, Jessica Livingston wrote this unbelievable post, I think he was back in 2014 or 2016, called, why Startups Need a Focus on Sales not Marketing.

And it’s this whole premise of you need to go narrow and deep. You need to earn the right to sell. You also have to earn the right to market, right? So what is that specific problem, you know, people are prioritizing today and willing to pay for. You can’t unearth that unless you go through the sales motion first, right?

So, we are maniacal, at least at Jjellyfish. I call myself a true blue salesperson. I have much less exposure on like the true blue marketing side. I think in the zero to one stage you have to do sales before you do marketing.

Amit Somani 30:50

For sure, like you said, you can’t delegate sales at the early stage, and you are gonna learn a lot in those early sales conversations if you’re intently listening and not too emotionally attached to what you’ve built already.

Jen Abel 31:05

Absolutely. And zero to one is high touch everything. It’s high touch sales, it’s high touch onboarding. You need that unique to fuel and sharpen everything else. So don’t overspend on running a marketing campaign or spraying your market without having that precision nailed. Otherwise, you’re gonna erode your trust real fast.

Amit Somani 31:30

Let’s talk about, companies that both you work with and in general, founders you advise, right? In terms of fundraising. What makes for an effective fundraising pitch in your mind, particularly as it pertains to getting GTM and, you know, product market fit in that way like in terms of a sales motion?

Jen Abel 31:50

Yeah. I’m gonna caveat, I can give some guidance there from what I’ve seen work, but I think you probably would answer the question better than I would just because this is kind of more of your expertise. But from what I have seen in the zero to one journey and please correct me if I’m wrong too, Amit, every investor knows that no founder’s initial vision will stand true day one.

I’ve never seen it, right? There’s always some level of iteration that needs to happen. Therefore, when they’re betting on the team and they’re betting on the individual, cause that’s all you have at that, at that point in time. It is so critical for founders to show investors where they started, where they have the process of elimination removed items, where they’ve subtracted their thinking because going from seed into Series A is all about precision and focus. You don’t have the resources to serve everybody and serve everything. Therefore, what are you becoming the expert and the specialist at?

And so many founders I speak to are targeting multiple different target markets or ICPs, multiple different use cases. It is so hard to land one ICP and serve them properly, let alone two or three. So if you are not being extremely specific on the who and the why with your investors, I think, and especially going through the fundraising process, I think you’ll get a lot of eyebrow raises because, this early journey is so incredibly hard, and if you’re not double downing in a very specific way, you can’t hedge your way to a $10M business.

It’s built on being niche and specific and narrow and deep. And being an expert at it, knowing the problem better than the market does, and so many founders I speak to that wanna do customer discovery in the US rightfully so, have two or three markets they wanna go after. And I’ll tell them, you get to pick one. With high confidence which one do you wanna test knowing that it might be invalidated and you might need to move the market too, but this is the only way you get there. Otherwise you’re gonna collect a lot of noise cuz everyone has different reasons and buying and prior priorities. And if you’re not critically focused, it just won’t work.I’ve never seen it work.

Amit Somani 34:20

Yeah. If I may add just a couple of things and I fully agree with you. I think being more niche and more focused on an ICP and the problem and the use case and so forth, is far more important. Two other things that can help you if you’re pitching a vc.

One is, you know, share deep customer insights. So, because even if you don’t have the sale, you don’t have the ARR, you haven’t got the GTM motion. That’s fine. If you have deep customer insights. Ironically, and sadly, I would say that, you know, eight outta 10 founders don’t, you know, that already sets you apart, saying they’ve really gone and understood the customer and the pain points.

Even if they don’t, they don’t have the heft to prove it. That is one. The second is, like your beautifully articulated, in the journey that they have gotten to so far, what have been the learning loops. And often we can even see, even in a short time, and admittedly there’s the, the time to decide to invest in companies have shrunk quite a bit.

But in the earlier days when it should take four to six weeks, you can see the learning loop or the learning quotient rate. Cause we’ve, we’ve seen a larger landscape. Perhaps you’ve seen a larger landscape because of the number of clients you work with. And so just, just make sure that every subsequent conversation, let’s say you are speaking to Jen as a VC and she said, well, 7,500 to 20,000 a, that’s kind of about what it is, but you’re priced at $3,000.

In the next conversation, you should be able to validate, will your market support a $7,000 price point or no way, Jose. That’s not happening.

Jen Abel 35:50

Or the velocity is insane.

Amit Somani 35:55

Or the velocity’s insane. So those two things. Basically the customer insights and the learning velocity is very, very important at an early stage.

Jen Abel 36:05

And navigating that ambiguity because I think people just forget, a startup is an experiment. Know, it is unproven. There is no proof that this business model will get to where, you know, at least VC backed, uh, needs to see it go.

So it’s all about de-risking it day after day and learning and taking that learning and iterating from that learning and letting it redirect you and navigating that ambiguity is so critical. So if a founder can show the investor, here’s how I navigate ambiguity, like, especially if you don’t have traction yet, I think that’s probably the fastest way to build trust with investors.

Amit Somani 36:45

Absolutely. Yeah, because like you said in the initial days, it’s really a bet on the team. And the macro, larger market. It’s not really, I think the product, even some early revenues would be a false positive. We don’t know really at that stage. So Jen as we get closer to the kind of wrapping up I know you work with founders globally including a lot of founders from India now.

So what are some specific tips that you would give, you know, based on your learnings and your experience for Indian founders for a couple of things beyond, beyond perhaps what we’ve covered or maybe even double clicking on one or that they could do better. And maybe one or two things that you think that they do well.

Jen Abel 37:30

Yeah. I mean, we are extremely bullish on the Indian market. I think I’m not the first one to say this, but I think McKinsey even called it. This is the decade of India and just the rising power coming out of India is just amazing?

Amit Somani 37:45

The century. He said it was actually the century.

Jen Abel 37:50

Sorry, century. Good correction. I mean, India probably makes up 70% of our customers to date. So like we are really ingrained in and bullish and super excited to be supporting this market. The three big things that I wish every Indian founder to know is one, the longer you wait to come into the US market, the harder it is to find product market fit.

That is true for any international startup, right? Because your biases, your learnings, your insights and the product you build start to become hardened to the local market needs you are serving. So the longer you wait, the harder it is to flex your product to meet the needs of the US market. So that’s one.

Two, your traction in your local market will translate nothing into the US market. It is radically different. Even if you have a logo and you’re working with, I’m just making this up, Walmart. Oh, sorry, Unilever India or Proctor and Gamble. Be very careful about how you position that. And I’ve seen this to a US customer on the Proctor and Gamble side here.

Cuz if they say, oh, who are you working with? Using the Proctor and Gamble logo? And you say, oh, we’re working with such and such division in India. Those, they’re entirely different, entirely different processes, buying processes, objectives. Sure it carries a little weight, but don’t say that. Just be careful of how you word yourself because that will, that’s also a quick way to erode trust.

The third piece that’s really important about the US is it always takes longer than every founder thinks. To generate your first million here, expect 24 months, 18 to 24 months for a couple reasons. One is there are some nuances about the US that you have to learn in the beginning anyway. Two is you will be up against multiple alternatives from US headquartered companies serving similar value. So the more specific you can get and the more learning you do before you go out and sell, you will win. If you can be super specific, precise, and as I said, show them just what they wanna say. Please have zero to one be led by a founder. Do not delegate it to anyone else on the team.

Because it directly impacts the opportunity here. In fact, we’ve created a rule at Jjellyfish. We won’t work with anyone else but the founder because it doesn’t work. The founder’s vision needs to be iterated on super quickly because it will need to adjust for the US. And is the US in order to build the fastest trust here.

There’s two things. Founder led, they can go direct to you. If there’s any issue they can learn from you. You have the highest likelihood of increasing the odds of success in the US. So it’s gotta be founder led and two, get as specific as possible. No US customer is going to use everything on day one. They’re gonna want to test it out and prove the value first.

And then lastly, The macroeconomic headwinds have hit the US. Now granted it’s been hit for nine months. We’re, we’re past six months, so we’re slowly coming out of it, right? The impact has been endured. So just know that the buying cycles are probably a little bit longer here because of everything that kind of has happened.

So I think the three things, just to reiterate, founder led, do not delegate it until you get your first million of AAR here in the US I’ve never seen it work otherwise. Two, get as specific as possible and three, do not wait. The longer you wait, the harder it is to find product market fit in the US.

Amit Somani 41:40

Well, fantastic Jen. We could, we could talk for hours. We will definitely link to Jjellyfish and your Twitter handle. Thank you so much for being on the Prime Partners Podcast.

Jen Abel 41:50

I had so much fun. Thank you so much for having me.

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