In this interview with Founder Jens Dressler, he talks about how he prioritises customer feedback, learns from their early adopters, and shapes his SaaS product development based on customer needs and preferences. The focus on being customer-centric is a key aspect of GraphApi’s SaaS growth strategy.
Introduction to Customer-Focused SaaS Growth
[00:00:04.490] – Peter
Okay, so I’m here today live speaking with Jens Dressler, the founder of GraphApi . Hi Jens, thanks for speaking with me today. Would you like to tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
The Journey of Jens Dressler and GraphApi
[00:00:14.690] – Jens
Hi Peter, thanks for having me. Yeah, I’m Jens Dressler. I’m the founder of GraphApi, which is a local platform which enables small teams to compete with unicorns. So how do we do this? It’s basically a local backend database that allows teams to build app software. And it has a spreadsheet-like user interface, as you know, from potentially Airtable, which makes it easy to collaborate also with business people.
[00:00:41.070] – Peter
Okay, great stuff. And what kind of structure do you have for your team? Are you a solo founder or do you have co-founders?
[00:00:49.310] – Jens
I am a solo founder. I have a partner from a previous startup which I’m working with pretty closely because I’m more the tech guy. And I started to be that’s the first time that I’m starting to be the CEO in a startup journey, only before I was the CTO always. So basically he’s working like a mentor and helping me to really kind of understand or doing the right things on the business side as well.
Then, we have a small team, a developer, business outreach, marketing and sales, and do a little bit like SEO and content as well.
[00:01:24.650] – Peter
Okay, great. And you’ve been bootstrapping the product and business so far. So can you tell us a bit about your experiences with that and what you’ve learned and what it’s been like for you?
[00:01:35.070] – Jens
Yeah, initially it was all about making sure that we keep the runway. So at the very beginning when we’re still working on the product, developing the product, didn’t have any customers, any revenues. Basically I try to basically get the revenues from other sources. So what I did is on the site did consulting gigs because I worked as a CTO for a long time, have 20 plus years of software development experience.
There’s a lot of startups that I could help with setting up the right structure for a product development team and that’s what I was doing on the site. And then basically the rest of the time and weekends you work on the product. The biggest thing is to try to really be as efficient as possible and really focus on the things that really create value. So really kind of look at everything like, okay, is this valuable at this point in time and only have these three things that are most important and everything else you just ignore.
Bootstrapping and efficiency
[00:02:36.130] – Peter
Okay, right, that sounds great. And you’ve also been finding some customers and working with customers at an early stage in your business. So how has that been going and what have been your learnings and outcomes working with your first early adopters?
[00:02:51.990] – Jens
Yeah, we really try to be super customer focused. Maybe we stole this from Amazon or something. But I think it really works because at the beginning you need to understand what are the problems that your customers have and you really try to help them. And maybe your product at the stage that it is in doesn’t yet solve these issues.
If you really work closely with them, you can basically understand what really bugs them and at the same time you can feed these learnings into your product development. And that’s why we try to really make regular sessions with customers. We make outreach, we do really zoom meetings sometimes where they just work with the product and tell us what issues they have. At the moment. We also kind of see how they had to integrate this into their standard workflows and only try to always ask, okay, what are the things that currently don’t work for you? And it’s sort of like an informal but very regular process that we try to run there.
[00:03:50.190] – Peter
Yeah. And have you learned much about your sales process as well with these customers?
Early adopters and feedback
[00:03:55.690] – Jens
Yeah, I mean, sales process is still something that we’re trying to, let’s say, improve to a point where we really understand where is the perfect, the ideal customer profile. For us, we started working with CTOs because I’m sort of the developer CTO myself, so it was pretty natural to me to talk to these people. But over time we figured out that potentially they are not the best ideal first customer or initial customers for us.
[00:04:23.700] – Jens
So while I was really happy because we talked the same language, I understand their problems because I’ve been there as well and so that was pretty easy for us. But at the same time, the CTOs have a tendency, especially when they have bigger teams, they have a tendency to say like you know what, I want to have more control, I want to keep control about everything. And I remember me being this type of CTO in the beginning as well.
Later I really tried to kind of make everything about speed. So from a sales point of view, we figured for us, a lot of times the business people are the ones who really have bigger issues. So they’re the ones who get roadmaps all the time, they’re the ones who have feature requests which don’t get built because packed backlogs and whatever, the next three months is already full with development.
[00:05:12.200] – Jens
The development team is full. So we figured like, okay, actually they have a bigger issue, a bigger need. And so we shifted a little bit our focus to them. It’s like business, local developers, citizen developers, people who really want to do something internally in their companies or organisations, but can because the development team basically blocks them away.
[00:05:35.290] – Peter
Yeah, I see. So you’ve prioritised certain types of customers and is that shaping the direction of your product?
Shifting customer focus
[00:05:42.910] – Jens
It does 100% because we built this product really with sort of our experience and background. So even like the terminology that we’re using, the user interface wordings and everything is completely tailored towards what we understand and what we thought makes sense now. We did so many onboarding tests with non developers and basically repeatedly it showed like they didn’t understand what this means. Right. It’s like simple things which kind of sound totally obvious to us. They are like, I have no idea what this means or what do I need to do now? We were like, wow, this is crazy. Isn’t that super clear? But for them it wasn’t clear.
So for us, what we tried is to really change the wording, change the positioning, make it super simple and intuitive so that people don’t really have to think and first of all, look up documentation pages or anything to figure out what these things mean. So it’s really kind of shaping the product development quite a lot.
But at the end of the day, the good thing is the end result makes the product it’s much more simple to use. So simplicity for us has been a key driver because of that experience.
Shaping the product based on feedback
[00:07:03.430] – Peter
So it’s getting simpler because you’re learning from your customers and what they need to understand and get the most out of the product and it’s helping you to understand how to simplify it best.
[00:07:15.850] – Jens
Yeah, I mean, a lot of times, especially, they ask really nice and good questions. A lot of times they say something like, okay, but why do I have to set this now? I don’t understand. Why is that important? And then you’re just thinking like, you’re right, actually it’s not important at this point in time.
We could either kind of make a sensible default decision what to do, because that really doesn’t matter to most people or most customers, and only if you really have a need to do it, then it still is possible in the settings somewhere. But it’s not really kind of at the forefront of setting up, for example, a local back end stack. And that’s something which really shaped the product in a big way and made it a lot better and a lot easier to use.
[00:07:58.490] – Peter
Okay, I see that’s good. So you mentioned a little bit about you being knowing this problem and your experiences that led towards you building the product. So can you tell us a bit about how that informed the problem you were solving and what kind of product you created?
Personal experiences and product development
[00:08:16.790] – Jens
Yeah, great question because I actually went through this multiple times either myself being a founder, I co founded my first company in 2012, a company called Vamos. We did like an event discovery platform and I was like the sole developer initially and then later we grew the team a little bit, but we started basically from scratch, building the whole back end, the cloud, infrastructure, everything from scratch. Then this company got acquired by another company and they had an external development team. So we kind of in sourced everything, created a new development team. I became the CTO, we built up a team and then we did this again. We really started from scratch again.
After that, I did some consulting for startups. Same story, we always start from scratch. And I was thinking, you know what, this is really kind of a waste of time. We’re just doing the same thing. All this bootstrapping, it’s basically a lot of undifferentiated tasks. It doesn’t really help the business. These things need to be done for sure, but I think we can automate them. That’s how the idea with GraphApi came.
We basically did this or built this in a way that the whole cloud backend infrastructure is automated and you just define have an interface, let’s say on top of it, which make it easy for everyone to just build it from a model first or like a data model perspective or business logic perspective.
Benefits of automation
[00:09:42.800] – Peter
Okay, yeah, that’s really interesting because then you built that from your own experiences and then when you take that to customers you’re learning what they need and their use cases and how to simplify and adapt it for their purposes. Another thing that you mentioned is having a small bootstraps team that you’ve been working with a lot of automation and systems to make things easier or faster and more efficient. Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve been benefiting from that as a small team to enable you to do more?
[00:10:13.490] – Jens
Yeah, first what we try to do is everything we build for our customers. We try to use ourselves and we try to automate this. When it comes to any piece of cloud infrastructure, any piece of testing, CI/CD, publishing or deployment, everything is automated. Normally the approach we take is to automate first. So when there is something that we can build for our customers, we anyway have to automate it. So now how we do it, we have to automate it ourselves, then we test it on our own platform.
Basically, GraphApi.com as a platform is built on the same principles and the same stack and the same automation infrastructure that our customer stacks are built on. And that first of all helps us to kind of find or figure out the pain first. I mean, if there’s any issues we would kind of feel it ourselves and make sure that we just then roll it out to our customers as well. That’s number one.
But also we try to do this from things which are not product related or development or tech related. Even when something like outreach, I don’t know, outreach to users, to potential customers, lead generation, et cetera.
[00:11:25.440] – Jens
So we try to really automate everything we can because that simply allows us to do more.
[00:11:33.760] – Peter
Yeah, that’s great. So you’re working as a really effective small team. You’ve bootstrapped to build a product, then, you know, solves a problem that you’ve had and you’re adapting it and working closely with early customers to refine that product as well. That sounds really great. Jens, everything you’ve been doing, can you tell us how people can check out the product and learn a little bit more about what it does and how they can use it?
[00:11:59.030] – Jens
Yeah, I mean, first of all, you can always look me up on LinkedIn. For example, I can give you a demo as well, no problem. And apart from that, you can just go to GraphApi.com and check the documentation. Normally there’s a get started button on the website and you can just sign up. It’s a free account that you can create. And then the first step is normally just create a project, create your data model with a no code schema builder, basically. And then you can publish the API.
At the moment, everything comes with a two weeks free trial, so you can always try. And if you feel like it doesn’t really help, then first of all get in touch with us. Make sure that you address what is missing and if you feel it works for you, then obviously also we are there to help you with everything. With the setup initially, but also while you go, if you kind of have new ideas and stuff that you need, we built this in a very extensible way. So you can do this as complete self service, but you can also kind of get to us and we help you to make it easy to start.
Trying out GraphApi
[00:13:08.380] – Peter
Okay, that’s great. So connect with Jens Dressler on LinkedIn and also check out GraphApi.com to check out the product. Hey Jens, it’s been great speaking with you today. Thanks for sharing a lot about your journey and the product and the business that you’re building with us.
[00:13:24.390] – Jens
Thanks Peter, for having me. It was amazing. And thanks for all your work. It’s really insightful. So I’m following it with great interest.
[00:13:32.480] – Peter
Oh, great, great. Glad to hear it. Thanks Jens.
[00:13:35.330] – Jens
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