In this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, Jim James interviews Jeremy Nagel, who successfully built and sold his company, Smooth Messenger. Jeremy shares his insights on how he effectively communicated and marketed his business to attract attention and achieve sustainable growth. He highlights two main strategies: partnerships and YouTube. Jeremy leveraged his YouTube channel, which had a small but engaged following, to promote his SMS integration for Zoho CRM. He also formed a partnership with Zoho, who funneled leads his way.
Additionally, Jeremy emphasises the importance of customer reviews and how he focused on providing exceptional customer support to generate positive feedback, which helped differentiate his product and attract potential buyers.
He also mentions the concept of price elasticity and how he tested different price points, and on the potential of SMS as a marketing tool, noting its effectiveness in cutting through the noise of overloaded email inboxes and reaching customers directly. He advises entrepreneurs to consider incorporating SMS into their communication strategies, especially for time-sensitive messages or when email engagement is low.
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Welcome to The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.This show will tell you how to get the recognition you and your business deserve.Our guests share their practical insights and tools, which you can use straight away.Your host is International Entrepreneur,Podcast Host, and Author, Jim James.Hello, and welcome to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.Today we're traveling all the way across the world to Melbourne to meet an Entrepreneur called Jeremy Nagel.Jeremy, welcome to the show.Thanks a lot for having me, Jim.It's my pleasure because you started a company called "Smooth Messenger"in 2018, and then you sold it in 2022.So, congratulations on building something and then getting an exit so quickly.And you've built that within the"Zoho Marketplace," and there's an SMS product and there's a Zoho One User.I'm really excited to hear what you've got to say about it.But we're gonna talk about the journey.But also how you've communicated and built the business so that it became sustainable and attractive to someone who offered to buy the company without you even looking for a buyer.So congratulations on that, Jeremy.Jeremy, tell us a little bit first,then, about Smooth Messenger.What product did you build and what prompt did it solve for Entrepreneurs?Sure.So Smooth Messenger is a SMS Integration for Zoho CRM.It's also a problem of people who want to send out SMS to their customers.For example, we've got a wedding photography business in Western Australia,and they find that their photographers just don't check their emails, that they need the photographer to show up at a wedding at a certain time, and they'll send an email with the details.And there's been a few times where the photographer just hasn't turned up at all.So they experimented with using SMS and found that, "Hey, they do actually read those SMS instead."And that I think is quite emblematic that in these days people get their inboxes flooded with emails and SMS tend to cut through the noise a little bit more.And the background was that I had been building plugins for Zoho Marketplace for a couple of years, and Zoho actually had their own SMS Integration, which they were about to give up because it was based on an old version of the Zoho APIs and they were gonna have to decommission it.But they reached out to me and said,"Hey, do you wanna take it over?"And I was very happy to do that.So, I knew that there was a market already because this plugin was already being used quite broadly.And I essentially then was able to take it up a level and relaunch it in2020, and it then did okay from there.There was sort of some tactics that I used for the launch phase that I'd be happy to talk about if that would be relevant.Yeah.Well, and as a Zoho One User, I can remember that SMS module within SMS within Zoho being sort of not very useful to be honest, not very functional, and I remember that just kind of dying on the vines.So, that's fascinating that you've taken over the implementation because it really needs it to be able to integrate with the CRM.I think, specifically for me anyway on Zoho One with SMS.So you're being modest there,Jeremy, but I know that you've built the business from, you know, a sort of a standing start.Just take us through the journey then of what you did less from the technical perspective, but more from the marketing and the getting notice perspective.Yeah.Sure.So when I launched it, I was aware that there were already quite a few SMS Integrations on the marketplace.So there's a bit of a challenge there of, 'how do you get attention?' And what I did in order to cut through the noise was 'partnerships' and 'YouTube.'They were my two main channels.Talking about YouTube first,I had a YouTube channel for,I think since maybe 2013.I'd read a book about Content Marketing where they spoke about how YouTube was a great way to get noticed, and I had started making these really poor quality,low production value videos that people nonetheless seemed to get value out of.I basically was just showing people how to do things within Zoho CRM,how to trigger a workflow rule,how to create custom functions.And I had built up a small following that one that was in the right niche.I had about 500 subscribers on the YouTube channel.And essentially, when I went live with the SMS Integration, they were my first customers, people who had been following me on YouTube, and who watched what I was doing, and who trusted me because they'd been watching my 'how-to videos'and then willing to give it a go.And then the other aspect to it was the 'partnerships.' So, there was the partnership with Zoho in the sense that they had the old SMS plugin that could no longer be served by them, and they essentially funneled leads my way.People who were looking for the old version of the SMS plugin were directed to my marketplace listing instead.And I was able to then get the first probably 20 or so customers through those two channels, the YouTube and also the partnership with Zoho.And then, it grew from there where I was able to just keep on refining the product,getting more reviews on the marketplace,and getting over time more people who loved it and who would recommend it.Jeremy, that's great.I want a textbook case, especially as you've already got your audience there on the YouTube channel, and then you've also partnered, so that's really tight because actually you managed to build a business within a business, didn't you?Because Zoho itself is just quite a closed platform.In terms of using the marketplace,were there any ways that you could sort of improve your position?Cause I know that, for example, there used to be platforms like "Twilio,"for example, on there and "ClickSend."You know, as a user, I've tried to integrate these myself, so I'm kind of personally interested.How did you raise your profile above those other quite big branded products?There was a combination of reviews being heavily weighted on the marketplace, so I really was emphasizing that trying to get as many five star reviews as I could.And we very quickly started to stand out because a lot of the SMS Integrations have quite bad reviews.They're normally in about the three star range, whereas I was able to get initially around 4.2 stars, and as the product matured, I got it up to 4.9 stars out of five, and that is actually the best rating of any Integration on the marketplace.And there was a bit of a tactic there of getting the reviews, which was to do it via ways that don't scale.Because I guess the mindset that the best way to get reviews is maybe to send out a mass email to everyone.But I found that didn't work.People tended to ignore it.What seemed to work the best was I'd have a customer support call with a customer where they might have a problem or they just wanted to be guided in how to use the product, and I'd fix it for them.I'd do a really good job and they'd say, "Thanks so much.I really appreciate the time."And then I'd say, "It's no problem.Could you do me a favor and leave me a review?"And catching them at that moment when they're feeling some good vibes, they're willing to return the help that I had given to them.That was how we essentially built up.It's not a huge number we had.I think, 120 reviews at the time the business was acquired.But that was one of the main things that the acquirer really liked about the product, that it did have those strong reviews.That's fantastic.Well, and I think that you say it's only 120, but I guess it's all relative, isn't it?If it's more than the others that have got reviews, and the reviews are of a greater stature.Then, it's relative, but also absolute, right?So congratulations on that, Jeremy.And how did you personalize at scale, because that's, you know,one of the problems, isn't it?That you talk about, you can have a conversation with the customer one at a time, get to four, 500 customers.How did you tackle that?Because service at scale is a fundamental issue for everybody growing a business.Yeah, absolutely, and particularly for me being in Australia, it was very hard to be able to handle the customer base, which was predominantly in North America and Europe.And I can't really wake up early enough to do a good job at serving them.So, the way that I was able to scale there was I hired a Customer Support Rep in El Salvador, and he was really crucial to the business.He was able to be actually better than me at customer support, 'cause I'm not a very patient person.If someone doesn't read the instructions,I can get a bit grumpy, whereas he is so happy to just explain things again and he was really pivotal to getting many of those reviews because people loved working with him as well.How interesting.So you found a customer support person in El Salvador.Jeremy, you dropped that one in without me asking.I interviewed a chap called"Richard Blank" the other day who has a call center in Costa Rica,serving customers, El Salvador.How did you find a person?Was it a company?And what was the terms of engagement that you had with this person?The way that I found "Francisco"was, I was on Upwork.I heavily use Upwork for recruitment.And I was looking for an agent in the Americas.I wasn't tied to a particular country.I interviewed a bunch of people,gave them trial projects, and it turned out that Francisco, in El Salvador was the best of the bunch.And I've worked with him now for more than two years, and I've always enjoyed our interactions.He's just consistently reliable, good natured, and he comes up with new ideas.So I feel very lucky to have met him, and he has been a key part of the business.Do you mind just sharing that in slightly more detail?How did you onboard Francisco in terms of training?Because you mentioned, you know, and as a user myself, there's different menus, there's different Integrations,there's places that I get stuck.How did you make sure that he would be able to answer all those questions?In the way that you might perhaps with a bit more patience as you've confessed,how did you educate an onboard Francisco?I didn't.That's why I say, "I got very lucky."'Cause I'm not very good at onboarding people.I think, in some ways it was an effective approach because I wanted someone who would not need much handholding.So, I basically, I threw him me in the deep, and I had one shared call with him where we went through a problem, and then I told him, "Hey,here are all the YouTube videos I've recorded demonstrating the product.Watch these and then go for it."And he was able to do it.I think not everyone, in fact, the majority of people would need a lot more guidance, but I got lucky with Francisco that he was able to deal with a vacuum of information and just figure it out.Well, but it sounds like, Jeremy,you have done the, if you like the'productisation' and then you've also formatted that as videos.I mean, some of us use platforms like"Screencast-O-Matic" or "Loom" to record training videos for our VAs.It sounds as though you'd already done that work in advance for Francisco, which is very clever.Yeah, I actually use"Screencast-O-Matic" myself as well.And my mindset was that, "I don't like repeating myself."So, when a customer would send through an inquiry, I would record a video, put it on YouTube, and then if anyone ever asked it again, I could just send them the link to it.And I guess that came in handy with training as well that I didn't have to do it in person, that I could just give him 50 different videos to go through and he understood twice the product.Yeah, that's fantastic.But I think this idea of, you know,recording it once and sharing it many times, Jeremy, you know, very smart.Plainly, you've done that intuitively,but that's something that many people are teaching Entrepreneurs how to do.Switching Tactics slightly, when you launched the "Smooth Messenger"product, tell us a little bit about the pricing strategy.Because when I was looking on the platform, we had "Twilio,"which is quite expensive."Clicksend" was less expensive.The pricing models were a little bit complicated.Do you wanna just tell us how you helped customers within Zoho decide to buy from Smooth Messenger?In the early days, I was aware that there were other competitors out there, and I didn't really have that much of an advantage over them,apart from a slightly nicer UX.So, I entered with a low price.I think we were charging originally $15 per month.And then, as we started to get more reviews and we started to have features that the other Integrations didn't have, I ramped up the pricing.There's a Entrepreneur Speaker, called"Rob Walling" who talks about this idea that you should just periodically test by doubling your pricing.And I did that.It was very gut wrenching, thinking that I'm gonna completely turn off the lead funnel, but I found that there was a certain amount of price in elasticity that people were still willing to, or the opposite price elasticity, that people were willing to pay more and they didn't really mind if it was a little bit more expensive.I did reach the stage of, I got to $39per month, and at that point I was getting pushback, so I realized then that probably couldn't go much higher than that, and I needed to explore other ways to monetize.So I was starting to look at different add-on services that I could provide as well as the CRM plugin.You're an expert on the SMS side,which I haven't had anybody on the show talk about Jeremy Nagle in Melbourne.Do you just wanna give some guidance to the unnoticed Entrepreneur about how they can use SMS?You've mentioned about the wedding photographer, but can you give us some other reasons and ways that people could use SMS to get noticed,either with their customers, or their partners, or their staff?Yeah, sure.I think there are some use cases which are ideal for SMS and there are some which aren't.We don't want to start using SMS as the new email and spamming people,but there are some situations where customers actually do want time critical notifications, and they know that they're not gonna see them if they go to email.So, if it's something where they need to be there in order to pick up a parcel, or they need to be there so they can be on a meeting.You sent me an SMS yesterday and that was helpful for me.So, anything like that.Appointment reminders are really helpful.Or if you call someone and they don't pick up, it's likely that maybe your number came up as spam and they don't know who it was.And if you send an SMS at that point,I think, that's a pretty good use case.Much better than leaving a voicemail.Okay.And then from an Integration point of view, for those of us that have, you know,not used it, how does it work, Jeremy?Just give us an idea of how would an Entrepreneur embed an SMS like Smooth Messenger into this particular case at the moment, Zoho, but the principal applies to other like PipeDrive or Salesforce or any other CRM, I guess.Yeah, for sure.There are Integrations for SMS in most CRMs and most systems.And the basic idea is that there's a combination of manual SMS and automated SMS, that in the situation where you've just called someone and you want to send an SMS to say, "Hey, it was me who called."You could either do it manually using a templated message.I think the templates are pretty key as a time saving maneuver that you don't wanna have to type it out each time that you can choose a canned message and send it out.Or if your CRM supports it, you can have an automated message that would go out.So for example, in Zoho you can have it such that when a call status is changed to missed call or voicemail,then you can have a workflow rule that is triggered and that will automatically send out an SMS at that point.And that's pretty helpful at scale,especially if you wanna make sure that the communication is unified, that everyone is using the same kind of templates.That's very helpful.Yeah, and I think that must be very useful as well if you've got distributed SalesForce as well, where you want to get many people maybe to know about price updates, for example, or product availability.Fascinating, Jeremy, it's a whole new world, isn't it, really?Now, when you sold the business,just tell us a little bit about how you communicated that?Because you mentioned that you were on the phone, you know, to customers, they had a personal relationship with you.And after, when a company comes in and buys a smaller company,there's a chance that those existing customers don't feel as valued.How did you overcome that communications issue?It's something that I felt very strongly about that I wanted to make sure that customers didn't feel like they were being abandoned, 'cause I did choose to stay on with the business.I accepted a job as the Product Manager for the Zoho Integration and I wanted the communication to come across that, I was still there, the team was still there.Nothing fundamental was changing.The first attempt by their message media's legal team was very legalistic and I didn't feel like it really shed the gratitude that I felt for the support that customers had given, 'cause really without their acceptance of the bugs in the early stages, it wouldn't have got to where it was at the end.And I really pushed hard to tweak the message so that the gratitude came through, and that they were aware that I was still around, but it was actually gonna be even better'cause we had a bigger support team.And there was generally a positive reception to that message when we sent it out.But it was the kind of message that you want to workshop a bit because it could go very badly.I've seen, there was a situation recently in Australia where a power company got bought out by a larger entity and people left 'cause they didn't like the way that change was communicated.Yeah, I think that's why I mention it because often acquisitions lead to businesses actually not being any greater than.There's no synergy in terms of the communication.Jeremy, if there's one thing that you would say that didn't go according to plan, what would it be?What would be one, if you like,mistake that you would might recall that you've made, that you'd like other people not to make when it comes to communication that is?The biggest mistake communication-wise is probably not communicating enough.Earlier on, I probably only ever sent out four email campaigns in total over the two-years that Smooth Messenger was under my control.And each email, the ones that I sent,it was either a 'feature announcement'or there was a case where I was doing a presale for the mobile app.And each email was basically worth quite a lot of money, in that I got new sales or referrals and I should have just done it more frequently,'cause I always got positive feedback and people seemed to really back it.So I think, there was some reluctance on my end to come across as spammy.But I was probably too far on one direction.I think there's a sweet spot where I communicate regularly and I tell them what's happening.And then, on the other side of the spectrum where maybe I'd be sending too many emails, but I wasn't at that point at all, and that was the mistake.Jeremy Nagel, thank you for that honesty.And if there's one, if you like tip that you'd like to share with my fellow unnoticed Entrepreneurs on what has worked, what's really moved the needle for Smooth Messenger, what would that be?Change tactics slightly, what would be the one thing that you'd say that's really,really made a big impact on the business?It's been "Partnerships"and the "Content Marketing."So, as well as the partnership with Zoho, I started working with other Zoho Integration partners where they were working with businesses to set up their Zoho CRM.And they knew me 'cause I'd been around the Zoho ecosystem for 10 years, and I started to form relationships where I basically gave them a kickback if they referred customers to me.And it wasn't that they were referring something dodgy, they would only do it if they liked the product as well.So it was a win-win where they benefited, the customer benefited,'cause they had a good SMS Integration.And I benefited because it's much easier to sell via a partner model.That's wonderful.And then, the other thing that worked well was, what I mentioned earlier, about the 'low quality, low production value YouTube videos.'I did improve the production value,albeit over time, but I never really spent that much effort.It was more, if I had a five minute video that would go up on YouTube, I probably spent 15minutes recording it and editing it.Screencast-O-Matic is really great for the editing.I definitely make a plug for them.I think they're called Screen Power now, but they make it really easy to edit, and be able to have something that you can upload immediately to YouTube.And I just kept on doing more videos.I had, I think over 500 videos on YouTube,and I got it to around 1500 subscribers.And that was a great channel for being able to get people who trusted the product that I was working on.And also, what we were discussing earlier around streamlining the customer support.'Cause I could just point to that video and they could follow it.One final thing on that point is that, I also converted the videos into blog posts.Then I got someone to transcribe them and turn them into blog posts, and that's a effective way to repurpose.Yeah, you've dropped another amazing piece of advice there.Thank you, Jeremy.Now, Jeremy, if people want to find out more about you, Jeremy Nagel in Melbourne,how can they get in touch with you?The best way is probably via my new project Focus Bear, which is essentially a work-life balance app for Entrepreneurs that I built to deal with the work-life balance challenges during the sale of Smooth Messenger.So that website is "focusbear.io"and we've got a desktop and mobile app that is very helpful to me, and hopefully, for other people as well.Jeremy Nagle joining me from Melbourne in Australia.Very modest, but obviously very accomplished Entrepreneur.Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.It was a pleasure.So you've been listening to Jeremy Nagle who built, you know, a niche, application in a dedicated marketplace with Zoho and with great success, and use some really classic marketing techniques of content creation, video content, and partnership.So, I'm sure that you've been as impressed as I have been with Jeremy this morning.If you've enjoyed this, do please share it with the fellow Entrepreneur.And if you have liked the show,please do rate it on your play'cause it really, really helps.And until we meet again, I just do encourage you to keep on communicating.And thank you for listening.