This week Peter interviews Frie Pétré, the Founder and CEO of Qollabi, about creating a new SaaS category & how to develop a product mindset.
In this video, you’ll see how Frie’s background in consultancy led to the creation of Qollabi and the challenges he faced transitioning from a consulting approach to a product approach.
You’ll also discover how his company is transforming partner success planning through automation and accountability. Qollabi leverages OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to predict end results in indirect sales relationships, revolutionising the way businesses track and forecast their partnership efforts.
Don’t miss this opportunity to gain valuable insights on developing a product mindset from a fellow SaaS Founder.
[00:00:03.850] – Peter
Okay, so I’m here live today with Frie Pétré, founder of Qollabi. Frie, thank you for joining me. Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
[00:00:30.370] – Frie
What we’re doing with Qollabi is we’re making partner success predictable with mutual success planning. So what we basically do is we connect partner data and automate accountability so people don’t need to worry about getting things done in their partnerships and Qollabi partners up with the best in the world such as Deloitte, Atlassian and KPN to make that happen.
[00:00:54.730] – Peter
Okay, awesome. So you’re managing partnership relationships and then it’s interesting what you say about accountability. So when you’re making agreements with partners working on collaborations it’s just enabling you to manage that process and the collaboration you’re going to do together ensure that both sides are going to get their parts done.
[00:01:13.010] – Frie
Yeah, the way you can look at it is really looking at what happened with direct sales 15 years ago when CRM came into the market. Before CRM there was no predictable sales motion in an indirect way. So what happened was different team members had their own Excel sheets and if you ask the leadership to predict what’s coming up in the pipeline, well they needed to kind of gather everything and it was super hard to predict the direct sales motion.
Now if you look at the indirect sales world, 75% of all world trade goes indirectly. The way that partnerships or indirect sales relationships are managed is pretty similar to that of the direct sales world 15 years ago. Everybody’s working with their own spreadsheets, totally disconnected.
And when you ask leadership about what do you expect and what’s coming up in terms of the impact of these partnerships, nobody knows and that’s probably the biggest issue on the highest level. It’s so hard to predict the leading indicators, the efforts that we are putting into an indirect sales relationship. And so that is where we after our mission is really to build a model where you have the funnel in direct sales.
[00:02:32.910] – Frie
We use OKRs to predict end results of indirect sales relationship.
[00:02:40.160] – Peter
Okay, I love it. So making that kind of a repeatable predictable process for partnerships currently, there’s a problem in managing that. I love to see products that kind of solve a market problem. There’s a really clear one that you’ve got there. How did you come up with this concept? Is this something that you were struggling with in business before starting Qollabi?
[00:03:01.260] – Frie
Yeah, that’s very interesting, actually, because before Qollabi I had my own management consultancy firm that I sold to Ernst and Young and it was during that time that we were building these templates for our customers. And it was during that time a lot of SaaS companies started like that. With an agency being an agency yourself and then making templates and then asking your customers, hey, what if we build this for you? And this is what we did.
Now, the only thing that was really remarkable, at least one of my biggest lessons was that I thought when I sold my company like hey, I should be doing something right. And then all of a sudden I moved from consultancy approach to a product approach and I totally messed up because I thought that me behind a flip chart telling the team what to do would be the right thing to do because that’s actually what I’ve been doing before and actually the opposite was true. So I realised that I should shut up.
The only thing that I can do is formulating hypothesis. Obviously there’s some market knowledge that can bring me some hypothesis but then it’s obviously the end user and customers and the data points around the usage and whether or not we are solving a true market value.
[00:04:09.000] – Frie
So that was a pretty massive humbling moment for me there.
[00:04:15.690] – Peter
How did you make that transition? Because if you’re working as a consultant and you’re used to selling and I guess you’re more sure of your solutions that you’re proposing and then you move into the product world where there’s no certainties, you’re testing. What was that journey like for you and how did you adapt or navigate from being a consultant to a product thinker?
[00:04:33.380] – Frie
Yeah, I think there are a couple of dimensions here, but the most important dimension, two dimensions are obviously the product methodology as such, how to go about product feedback, user feedback, deciding on when testing out new industries and so forth and the entire delivery process behind it. With the IT team, that’s one thing. But the other side is my lack of knowledge in the beginning of building a true IT and dev team that requires all these different roles in order to make sure that your product is suitable for an enterprise context.
Because we started in the enterprise and it’s just such a big job and there’s so much to do that has nothing to do with the core of your product and like, balancing that out while not running out of money. Because sometimes you’re just like building for three, four months SSO or some kind of security issues that need to be fixed before you can even go live. And that was really juggling.
And also understanding what the core capabilities are, the importance of having an architect in your team, the importance of testing and the importance of making sure that your front end and your back end is scalable, all these things.
[00:05:52.010] – Frie
As a non-consultant, it was kind of a tough first year’s period in order to acquire that knowledge. And the way I went about it was trying to call in the help of people who have done it before and that is for me, I couldn’t have not done it without having people that basically were mentoring me on that level.
[00:06:16.930] – Peter
That’s great. Yeah. Getting some advice, learning a lot and people who’ve been there and done it. Where is Qollabi now? How long has it been since you started the business and can you tell us just about how you’ve grown and where you’re at now? Give us a bit of a picture of the company.
[00:06:33.990] – Frie
Yeah, so we are in business for four years now. As I said, the first years of really iterating with our early customers, our innovative customers to go from that prototype to a minimum viable. And now we’re really in a scaling mode. We are internationally now working for the largest companies in the world, both in the US and Europe. We have the largest telco companies in Europe that are using Qollabi. We’re here in the US where we are working with the most innovative customers out there.
The team is around 25 people and one of the most important things that is happening now that is really a massive pivotal moment for us is that we are building a tremendous partnership with Deloitte across countries and yeah, there it comes. It’s kind of contradictory that in the beginning I just needed to leave alone consultancy because that was not really what the product needed. And now we see basically that our product thrives around management consultants who basically are there to help customers to go from point A to point B. And that is what OKRs do.
Basically you start with the end in mind, you define what success looks like and then you make sure that you align all the different silos in our organisation to make that happen in a way that leadership can really help the teams towards that end result and keep track of time.
[00:07:57.500] – Frie
And so in terms of where we are in our journey, we are really now preparing ourselves for that even more international footprint to be that category leader of this new category that we call BRM business Relationship Management Software.
[00:08:13.090] – Peter
Fantastic. Okay, so it’s been four years, it looks like you’ve had some really good growth in a few moments where you’ve really validated your idea. What sounds interesting to me is that even though you said you were coming from this consulting background and then you moved into the product world where you felt uncertain and you had to test hypotheses, you were still able to bring industry knowledge from your industry domain and build a product that really does work for consultancy firms.
[00:08:41.070] – Frie
Yeah. And so what is interesting in that perspective, it has always been, let’s say, our mode, which is that we take abstraction off any industry. So we are active in three industries financial Services, IT and Teleco. It has been our mode that we could take abstraction and build a model and a product that is applicable in any industry and customers basically think when we start, when we go in conversation with them, they believe that we build a product for their industry. So this is a good thing.
At the same time, it’s obviously also a challenge because we don’t know the industry like in the nitty gritty details. When you launch a new product in a new category, it’s not only the visionaries that you need in order to sell your product, but you also need these more early majority type of users who just like to keep on working in the way they have been working before.
So the product also needs to add value to them and that kind of combination and making that classical crossing the chasm path is so critical and has been a challenge. But we were able to make that chasm and obviously consultants really help us to just take that same narrative, which is basically are you ready for the new distribution operating model of the future, dear customer.
[00:10:07.340] – Frie
Do you have everything in place? And that’s not only technology, it’s also about do you have the right capabilities, the market is changing, do you have the right process automation in place?
And so all these elements around that product and making sure that you can address the different target groups based on basically their digital maturity and willingness to adopt new technology, that juggling between all these forces has been pretty much indeed a challenge. But it’s very rewarding the moment you see that all the different pieces start to work in the same direction.
[00:10:44.860] – Peter
Yeah. Would you say that you’ve created a category with Qollabi? I mean, are there many other companies or competitors in this space or do you think you’ve innovated for something that solves a problem that’s there and maybe you’ve created a category within that?
[00:11:00.670] – Frie
Yeah, 100% OKRs, obviously they already exist. I mean, there are large companies, big unicorns that have been acquired also lately, last year companies that basically build an OKR model for internal teams. Talk about Ally, 55, Lattice, these kind of companies, well, they prove their value OKRs work. If you implement an OKR methodology in your organisation and you use the technology to make sure that everybody’s looking at these same OKRs, it works and it creates tonnes of value. Well, that proves that there’s tonnes of value in applying that methodology. The only thing that we did was take that successful methodology and model and use it in an external business relationship context.
If you then know that 75% of old world trade goes indirectly, and that there’s tonnes of relationships going from a distributor, a reseller, an alliance, there’s so many different types. And if you’re able to take abstraction of these different indirect sales models, well, then we believe, and that’s basically why we exist, like, well, then you’re able to create tonnes of value not only for one organisation, but two organisations at the same time. And that’s basically that new category that uses an existing successful methodology, applying it in another market segment.
[00:12:27.250] – Peter
Great. Yeah, I see how you can really bring kind of innovate within a space that can benefit from an existing system.
[00:12:34.280] – Frie
[00:12:35.350] – Peter
I just want to spend the last couple of minutes to talk a bit about your sales approach. Because in a competitive space in SaaS right now where we’ve got products trying to become as self service as possible, but then you also have say you’re selling to Enterprise and you have something that’s a bit of a new category creator, how do you approach sales? Do you have a longer kind of top down sales cycle selling into enterprise? How does that look for you guys?
[00:13:05.330] – Frie
Yeah, I think it’s a very interesting question and I think there are already two different dimensions in your question. First one is really about the go-to-market model in a specific market segment such as Enterprise. The other part of it is, well, the self serving model becomes more and more like a standard or something that is really working, but that is also dependent on the market segment.
Then the second part would be then well, is your team ready to serve for that and is your product ready for that? And so just to provide you some context, how we figured out how to approach it was first of all, we started Enterprise. Sales cycles are super long, we started Direct and now we figured out that our sales approach in the enterprises go direct with a partner where possible. So that partner is super important. As soon as we are dealing with customers that have over five or ten channel managers, partner managers as soon as that happens, there is always Qollabi will be solved with a partner. Because we don’t believe in just pushing the technology, the change management, the methodology, the way of working that you want to install any DNA is way more important or as important as the technology as such.
[00:14:23.940] – Frie
So that’s our go-to-market there. Now, talking about self serving PLG motions and down market, we figured two years ago we got some traction from smaller companies starting teams that are building their first partnership teams, SaaS Company Series, ABC and so forth. And what we realised was that they loved the idea of automating and making predictable and providing templates and playbooks and we were so excited.
There are so many companies out there that we can help and we started a beta programme and what we realised was that what we thought was an easy to use product that our enterprise customers said we love it because it’s so easy to use. The demands of that lower end market were so different and our product was at that point not ready yet to serve it.
What I also realised was, well, the way they would like to buy is so much different from a direct enterprise context they don’t want to talk to an AE before they just try it out. And it’s really about the onboarding process that should be flawless. So we figured out that there’s such a different world behind that and it’s so dangerous to shift all your resources right away to a new segment, even if you’re in a couple of million ARR, it’s really…
[00:15:46.470] – Frie
At least that’s my conviction. It’s super important to phase that out really well, to have the vision to build. And that’s what we do now. We have the vision for every new feature that we develop. Our vision is, well, let’s think about how we can conceive it. So it will be self servable, it would be ready for a PLG motion. But we are also aware that in order to get these down market like PLG Motion started, it also goes into a product marketing approach that is different in terms of acquiring top of the funnel and also in serving them and also in building the right onboarding features.
So what we consider now extending our beta programme, get as much product feedback as possible in that new market segment, keep on evolving, like, let’s say 20% of our time, product time, R&D time. We do that as soon as we have the traction. We can basically use that to accelerate in the next funding round and build that new market segment and go-to-market motion with that investment.
[00:16:52.270] – Peter
Yeah, I love it. I find it really interesting hearing you talk about that because you’re kind of working and creating your playbooks that are right for your unique situation as you go, taking best Practises from here, but really you’re creating something unique as you do with your processes. Hey, Frie, I know you’ve got to hop off so thank you for talking with me. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been awesome hearing about your journey with Qollabi and everything so far. How can people check out information or follow you or check out Qollabi? Where would you point them to?
[00:17:21.770] – Frie
Yeah, I would say, just follow me on LinkedIn. Frie, F-R-I-E, Pétré. You can always obviously go to our website, qollabi.com. Feel free to send me an email email@example.com as well. There are different ways to find me, but I thank you so much, Peter, for having me. I enjoy the conversation, the way you set this up, the way you organise it, the way you ask the question, it’s thumbs up, man. And keep it up with the community because it’s a hell of a job to keep that going. So I’m really impressed with that.
[00:17:52.270] – Peter
Awesome. Thank you, Frie. And thanks for being a part of it. I’ll see you around.
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