Interview: Nutshell CRM Co-Founder, Andy Fowler

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Andy Fowler Nutshell CRMInterviewee: Andy Fowler, Co-Founder at Ann Harbor, MI based Nutshell CRM. Follow Nutshell on Twitter.

I’ve known about Nutshell for a few years now, and always thought they had a really cool UI/UX. The product felt like an SMB solution, however they are seeing traction with more upmarket customers due to people’s dissatisfaction with Salesforce.com.

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Interview by Jorge Soto below:  

Jorge: How did the founding team meet and what was the inspiration behind building Nutshell?

Andy: It was borne out of the sheer ineptitude of the market – our founding team had a company that needed a CRM. They ran various experiments with Salesforce, Infusion, and Sugar but couldn’t find something that worked. Borne out of that frustration, we started Nutshell.

Two important things:

– beautiful, easy-to-use design

– open access to data (via well-documented, no-upcharge APIs)

 

Jorge: What target market is Nutshell pursuing and what are you killer features?

Andy: We started at the small end of the market with a lot of small 5- or 10-person teams as we scaled the product to suit larger companies. We’re extremely competitive in our pricing, and we fine a lot of love from other companies that are also passionate about well-designed software.

We were one of the early CRMs to be in the Google Apps Enterprise Marketplace, and we found a lot of customers through our appearance there. These were a lot of companies that were shunning tools like Microsoft Exchange, and Nutshell fits well in that ethos.

As Nutshell becomes more and more powerful, we’re now gaining a lot of traction with larger teams

 

Jorge: How do you believe CRM is evolving and what are today’s hot trends?

Andy: 

Three things:

CRMs are becoming more a central spoke in the hub of business software, rather than an all-in-one solution. Companies now pick-and-choose from dozens of pieces of the puzzle. MailChimp is brilliant for email campaigns, Olark has a dead-simple web chat product, Zendesk is winning the support ticket game. Businesses want to choose from those great products, but have them all play nicely together. CRM is the hub where they join.

Secondly, mobile is getting even bigger in CRM. We launched Nutshell with a native iPhone app, and we’ve got a first-class Android app now, too. People read and respond to so many emails on their phones, so it’s necessary that their CRMs work there, too.

Finally, as cliched as it can sound, we think social media really is important in CRM. We’ve actually lagged on this a bit, because it sounds a little buzzwordy and juvenile. But when we integrated with LinkedIn, we found that just the ability to see a photo of a potential sale in your CRM is incredibly exciting. Sadly, LinkedIn is now locking out CRMs from integrating <http://nutshell.com/linkedout> but we’re preparing to step up our Twitter and Facebook game, to make it easier to keep in touch with your customers, in the mediums that they use.

 

Jorge: Who is your biggest competitor?

Andy: Salesforce is obviously the elephant in the room, but there are several other upstart CRMs like ourselves out there.

Products like Capsule and Insightly keep us hustling, but every former Salesforce customer we win is the most exciting. It proves that a 12-person company like us have a huge advantage over the $34B behemoth of Salesforce. It shows that beautiful design, thoughtful product development, and attention to detail can beat massive marketing budgets.

At SXSW we talked to hundreds of dissatisfied Salesforce users, and it’s really exciting that we’ve built Nutshell to the point where it’s a compelling replacement.

 

Jorge: What 3 sales tips would you provide founders when building an early stage saas startup?

Andy: One of our biggest early lessons was that your first thousand sales might take a lot more work. Paul Graham has written how founders should “do things that don’t scale” <http://paulgraham.com/ds.html>.

We went through a lot of hard work with long demos and hand-holding through the setup process. We even devoted a month of engineering time to hand-importing CSV files before we had an automated CSV import tool. It was that important to scrounge up those first few hundred sales.

Some of them are now our biggest customers, others have left for competitors, but it was critical for us to get our first foothold in the industry.

 

Jorge: Anything else that you would like to share about nutshell?

Andy: As we’re moving from an early-stage startup to a profitable business, we’re discovering that it takes a lot of conscious effort to shift from the heads-down product development track to a more marketing-savvy company.

It’s easy to pour cash into Adwords, but as we grow, we’re learning the importance of other marketing. We’re doubling down on our product’s integration with other SaaS companies. We’re participating in events like SXSW <http://www.nutshell.com/blog/2014/03/sxsw-wrapup/>, we’re getting more involved in hosting local engineering meetups, and we’re stepping up our blog game.

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