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SaaS Content & Product Marketing to Build ARR from $0 to $10 m

SendBird, which we started in 2015, has grown to an API / Enterprise Software that powers approximately 1 million chat users worldwide.

During this exponential growth, one of our key accomplishments happened when we successfully entered the U.S. market as a foreign startup entity. Many people started to pay attention to us because it was the first case where a startup with Korean founders attracted significant investment from Silicon Valley, which is known to be the capital of tech startups around the world.

We have attracted two rounds of investments totaling $120 m from leading VCs, and it has grown both in its customer base and its team, to operate in seven different global offices (as of March 1, 2020). All of these milestones were largely attributed to our content and product marketing, which were the early driving factors in our early global expansion from Korea to the U.S. and the rest of the world.

SendBird’s Global Operations and Investors (as of March 2020)

This article targets two groups of audiences: early startup founders who are thinking about going global, and marketers contemplating how a marketing team will become a growth engine that drives the early tractions for their B2B and SaaS businesses.

This article is about content and product marketing in the early stage of SendBird. (at least until May 2018, when I managed my own content calendar as the Head of Marketing for the company). Quick disclaimer: the statement mentioned in the title ($0 to $10m ARR) just symbolizes the early stage of the company, but it is not related to the actual ARR of the company at that time.

In the past, we had focused on content marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in our core marketing strategy. Now, if we look back, successful content marketing would not be possible without the product marketing approach, which is the most important part in SaaS and B2B marketing.

Category Creation with Content Marketing

Number of Average Search Volume for “Chat SDK”

“Let’s market SendBird!”

This was the phrase that encapsulated our goal of more than a month after launching SendBird (Back then known as JIVER) in July of 2015. Due to a scarcity of capital at that time, we mainly focused on improving our search presence as organically as possible. The first two questions I asked myself were the following:

“How will users discover services like SendBird? Are there enough users to survive beyond the Product-market fit stage?”

Through the sessions with Y Combinator’s partners, we quickly learned that the term that best describes SendBird’s product was ‘Chat API’. Previously, we wanted to brand our product as a ‘chat solution’ or ‘chat platform’, hoping to promote ourselves in a bit of a grand and glamourous fashion. When a company starts with a single product, the company must tenaciously research the keywords that would best describe the product and what the actual user may come up with in their mind when picturing the product.

Surprisingly, rather than becoming user-centric, many founders of early stage startups still get confused and allow their personal impressions to dictate their product names, marketing, and more.

The early hypothesis of our aspired to become a de facto standard API of Chat and Messaging communication

Key Questions to ask in Product Marketing following a Funnel through the Customer’s Buying Process

When deciding on the topic of content marketing, the most important thing is to predict the buying behavior of the customer and to anticipate which questions we might have to answer throughout their buying processes. Back in 2015, we were not aware that this was a key responsibility within Product Marketing. Looking back now, deriving go-to-market strategies while building ideal customer profiles and associated buyer personas are considered one of the core functions of Product Marketing.

First, we need to identify who our buyers are and think about the questions they’re most likely to ask when they come across the product we offer. For example:

  • What is our client’s job title? If there are multiple departments involved in the buying process, what describes the dynamic between the technical buyer and the economic buyer?
  • What impact / value does the user experience of chat and messaging have on your business?
  • Why should you buy a 3rd party solution instead of developing it using in-house resources?
  • Why is SendBird the most attractive option amongst 3rd party solutions? What is the price of the solution (compared to other direct and indirect substitutes) and why can that be justified?

Such considerations can be embodied in more detailed questions. For example, the second question, “What impact / value does the user experience of chat and messaging have for your business?”, can be subdivided as follows:

  • What are SendBird’s main target industries and their use cases?
  • What business metrics and business goals does the project measure after implementing chat features?
  • Is the customer technically adept? Has the customer tried an API service before?

Second, we must understand the buyer’s current stage in the overall buying process. The priorities of the marketing team’s target can vary depending on the current situation of each buyer and the maturity of the company’s buying decision. For example, if both the industry (market) and the company are in the early stages without enough awareness, then focus on developing awareness. Likewise, SendBird’s content / product marketing priorities have evolved alongside how customers’ buyer personas have also developed.

Then, the next step is to organize a marketing campaign to deliver content according to the understanding of the customer profile and the buyer’s persona. In the early days of SendBird, our team produced content such as long-form blogs and sales pitches presentations with higher priority. Other than that, there are various forms of content (also called solution briefs) for many different purposes – e.g., Solution White Paper, Websites and Blogs, Microsites or interstitial, Ads, PR / AR.

Product Marketing itself covers a much broader topic. Since the position plays a pivotal role between product, sales, and marketing, I’d like an opportunity to include a more extensive range of topics about Product Marketing, such as products, sales, and competition.

Generating Tractions from Your Investments

Early startups can’t get enough headcounts. The most significant advantage of the suggested Go-to-market motion above is that it satisfies multi-dimensional aspects of content marketing, product marketing, sales, and sales enablement at once.

Using this approach, we were able to generate meaningful traffics. Furthermore, we also brought in many customers’ trials and sales inquiries using the various content already prepared.

It is also encouraging to improve organic inbound traffic and drive initial traction of acquiring early customers. SendBird was able to place the keywords, such as Chat API / Chat SDK, at the top of the search engines (i.e., Googe), and it allowed us to start the business with many in-bound customers even before entering into the U.S. market. (This can be the case of overseas expansion from the United States similarly)

Search result of Chat API

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