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SaaS Marketing Insights, Episode 1: Allan Wille, Klipfolio

Ep. 1: How Allan Wille Pivoted Klipfolio From Consumer To Profitable B2B

SaaS Marketing Insights, Episode 1: Allan Wille, Klipfolio

President & CEO of Klipfolio, Allan Wille, explains how the business started out as a consumer dashboard product serving more than 300,000 customers and making no money before pivoting to become a profitable B2B product for 10,000+ customers.

Editor: breandanmcghee@gmail.com


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Episode 1 Transcript

Paul: On today’s show I have an interview for you with the president and CEO of Klipfolio, Allen Wille. I caught up with Allen at the SaaS North conference in Ottawa.

It’s our second year at SaaS North. So you guys were here last year?

Allan: Yeah that’s right so we were here last year. I was actually part of the Advisory Committee, it’s a loose committee that helped put this in place and last year was the first year and we were all absolutely blown away at how successful it was and there was a forcing function. We said listen let’s have it at this date and we made it up which was amazing, we got everybody in Canada who has anything to do with SaaS together in one room. The quality was a really really good so I think this year’s gonna be even better.

Paul: Great, so Klipfolio, for those that don’t know, is a dashboard metrics… ?

Allan: Yeah for sure, so I mean we help a lot of small and mid-sized companies monitor the health and performance of their business, we’re big believers that you have to monitor to improve, to understand, to learn, so no matter what you’re doing you’re using Klipfolio or if you’re using Excel sheets or something else, you know monitoring is important, you have to do that, you have to set the goals and understand what’s working and what’s not.

Paul: So I think I came across you guys a couple years ago and there’s a few other competitors in the market but I think at that time, and forgive me if what I’m saying isn’t right, that  you became predominantly known as a marketing dashboard, is that right?

Allan: Well we were spending a lot of time selling into marketing agencies and marketing departments, and the reason for that was that marketers have a tremendous landscape of tools and probably more so. I mean you’ve seen those martech landscapes and there’s you know like 300 vendors on there if not more. Too much right, so I think marketers find it particularly difficult to understand and monitor all of the data that is happening, where’s their spend going, what to produce and what is the funnel doing. So we’ve spent a lot of time working with marketers but you know we’re selling into sales organizations, success organizations,
marketing, warehousing, retail, and we have 10,000 customers across small, medium, some teams and large businesses but you’re right, marketing has definitely been one of those shining stars you know, they really asked for this more than some of the other departments.

Paul: So how did you get it started, not only with Klipfoilo but in your career in SaaS?

Allan: Sure so I mean I’ve always had this sort of entrepreneurial bent, right? You know you start your own grass cutting company, you know, you run a summer camp, you do something
right because it’s amazing to create and see the value and get feedback right. So in earnest I started another company in 1996 with two other guys at a university, we were still in university totally green behind the ears and back in those days we raised a ton of money that we probably shouldn’t have raised but that was fun and and I exited that company, and the company did an IPO as well.

Then I started this company in 2001 so we’ve been at this a long time now we’ve gone through various different twists and turns and we started actually as a consumer dashboard so it was always about monitoring something. That was the genesis of Klipfolio. It was about being better at monitoring things that change and the things that you care about. and the first instantiation of that was well let’s monitor your soccer scores and your news and your weather and their stocks. So it was a personal dashboard that was updated every few minutes, showing you the things that you cared about and it was wildly popular but we couldn’t find a business market and the idea was we’re gonna sell to the publishers, you know the CNNs and the other networks and then the stock exchanges but they didn’t have any money, they still don’t have any money today.

Nonetheless, we had 300,000 end users using our consumer dashboard. But no business model that works, right? No revenue. I mean that’s tough right because on the one hand you have something
that’s working and on the other hand you have something that’s not. So as an entrepreneur what’s the right call?  Do you continue pushing or do you succumb to brutal reality?

Paul: So, at what stage did you make that move from consumer to B2B pivot?

Allan: Yeah so that happened, that happened with… and it wasn’t our choice, it was an external factor so Lufthansa came to us and they said you know half of the staff in Germany is using your tool to monitor their soccer scores. So they said listen, we love your tool but can we push business data through that would help us be more real-time, and that was the click!

That was the click and we said that’s interesting, like sometimes it’s great to be naive and green behind the ears because the quote we put in front of them was a SaaS, a recurring revenue model quote. We didn’t have a clue but we said, well why don’t you pay us you know X number of thousands on an annual basis?

Paul: Well why wouldn’t you right? Annual, straight out of the box, that’s smart.

Allan: Absolutely, that was 2004 so we had this recurring revenue model business starting in 2004 we never had a perpetual model. Anyway so Lufthansa was our first real customer, and we got AMC, Intel and a whole bunch of other enterprise customers so that was that, that was the big pivot in the company’s history.

Paul: That’s great! So obviously along the way with that pivot you gained a lot of traction. Was there anything with your marketing that particularly took you to a different level or changed
things or scaled things up for you?

Allan: I think the next big pivot for us was actually, and yes you could say it was marketing but it was actually more fundamental than that it was a shift from selling to enterprise to selling to smaller mid-sized business.

There was a couple of influencing factors. Again, one of our big enterprise customers Aviva came to us in 2010, so we had some mediocre slow growth between 2004 – 2010. Anyway, 2010 Aviva came to us and they really liked our tool but they said a few things:

  • Can you make it easier to use because we don’t want to work with IT.
  • Can you put it in a cloud and make it mobile because the iPad has just come out and all the senior execs are running around with the new iPad.
  • The third thing that they said was can you make it less expensive so that we can buy it as opposed to going through procurement.

Paul: Ah, kind of departmental purchase.

Allan: Yeah, so and that was I mean, I’ll remember that advice the rest of my life because there was those three things: put it in the cloud, make it less expensive and make it easier to use.

That really shifted the whole business to a small and mid-sized business space. Keep in mind the business
intelligence space, selling into enterprises, is incredibly crowded. Yet this new space SMBs really had a lot of… it was a greenfield opportunity so we had shifted the business in 2010/2012 to be much more SMB focused so that was the fundamental next evolution of the business.

That really got the customers, really helped us grow and that’s why we did our our seed round, our A round and our B round so we went from a couple of hundred customers selling it to the enterprise, where we just surpassed 10,000.

Paul: Wow! So a very different trajectory.

So you started in 2001 so it’s an overnight success right? So along that journey you and the rest of your team involved, you know i’m always interested in understanding leaders within business and how they sort of keep fresh… do you have any sort of personal growth insights that you’ve learned along the way or habits that you have or stuff that you do that keeps you fresh or keeps you learning?

Allan: Yeah, I think it’s really important to understand those things too. You know I don’t know if this is the right answer.

I think one, one of the most important things that I think I do and I think if I look at a lot of successful leaders is they maintain some semblance of balance and I think that you have to allow yourself the downtime and the soak time. I have a beautiful family. I want to spend time with them and I really don’t subscribe to the idea that startups or tech companies have to work 12-14 hour days. It doesn’t make sense.

As a leader I never stopped thinking about Klipfolio. I think that’s almost impossible but you still have to allow yourself different times of the day even if I’m reading a bedtime story – you know my ten-year-old
daughter there’s things in the children’s book that kind of make me think about it. Various things you know, I’m watching a movie or I cycle to work every day and I find that’s my mental health time even when
I’m cycling.. I think that for me, it’s one of the the most important things because I think you can very
easily tire yourself out, you can start spinning your wheels and get into this rut of trying to work harder and harder. Whereas you really need to have that downtime, you need to have that soaktime that helps you make the right decisions.

Paul: I think there’s probably lots of other advice too but that’s maybe one thing. I’ve got one when you come to conferences: don’t drink on the first night!

Great, thank you very much. So the website is www.klipfoilo.com.



Founder & CEO

Paul is Founder & CEO of 47 Insights. He has been helping software and publishing subscription companies with growth strategies since 1995.

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