Bastin Gerald of 5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS

Fotis Georgiadis
Nov 30, 2020 · 11 min read

Launch & Learn attitude: Speed to market is critical. It is important to not get stuck in “Analysis Paralysis.” SaaS startups need to have engineering agility and plan rapid releases. Study the customer usage patterns, learn, refine and release again. This iterative process will help you to get to product/market fit fast and scaled-up.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bastin Gerald.

Bastin has a proven track record of taking initiatives and turning them into market-leading products. For the past two decades, he has worked with startups, as well as major technology brands like Oracle in Silicon Valley, and has established product strategy, recruited top talent and led international development teams that delivered profitable multimillion-dollar new business applications. He authored a well-received book on supply chain management titled Oracle E-Business Suite Manufacturing & Supply Chain Management.

Furthermore, Bastin founded two cloud app startups — Apptivo & — where he stays in close connection with his customers, from reviewing support emails to taking customer calls — ensuring he is focused on the entirety of the company and their customers’ needs for ultimate success.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started my career as a process consultant, re-engineering business processes to achieve dramatic improvement in performance. In my first job, I led the re-engineering of the warranty settlement business process and reduced the lead-time from 210 days to 7 days. This project propelled the company to receive the prestigious Deming Prize.

With this background I moved into Silicon Valley where I joined Oracle and worked in multiple roles — implementing ERPs for Fortune 1000 customers and developing product strategy, GTM plans and strategic alliances with partners like Deloitte and Bearing Point. From there, I joined a fintech startup called CashEdge, now part of Fiserv.

After leaving CashEdge, I started my first cloud app venture called in 2011, a mid-market CRM solution that today has grown to over 200,000+ customers globally. I have been using OKRs for nearly two decades and have seen both large companies and startups alike struggle with spreadsheets over the years, while Silicon Valley has been practicing OKRs for some time. In 2018, I met a few of my friends working in large companies. I heard their challenges in implementing OKRs using spreadsheets first-hand, and it was then I saw the opportunity to simplify OKRs and created the minimum viable product (MVP) as proof of concept for in two months, which launched at an event in New York in 2018.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

In the summer of 2018, I had gone on a trek with a group of my friends from all over the US. These were guys with some of the leading American companies. With them, I learned more about the problem and gap between “strategy” and “execution” that plagues many companies.

In one iconic communication company, I learned that the corporate teams and the many departments within an organization were totally disconnected. People had no idea how their work contributed to the overarching company goals. No one knew what the other teams were working on. During an audit, three different teams were found to be working on the same research problem unaware of each other’s efforts. Meanwhile the strategy team was bemoaning the lack of resources to execute its vision. One of my friends from Silicon Valley quipped that OKRs would solve the “strategy execution” gap. I knew that OKR was a deceptively simple but powerful framework that can help companies bridge the “strategy execution” gap, but people were still using spreadsheets to implement OKRs. This was causing chaos as people were maintaining different versions, overwriting each other’s work, all with no ability to provide reports or dashboards — just overall creating a bad user experience across the board. OKRs were getting a bad rap with spreadsheet users hating the cumbersome execution. I saw an opportunity for a user-friendly SaaS app to implement OKRs — thus was born.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The MVP was done in two months and I wanted to launch the product at an enterprise product event in NYC. However, the reception was not exactly warm. One of my friends with extensive enterprise software experience offered to review my MVP and provided valuable feedback on the user experience. As he detailed his feedback, I took extensive notes. On the flight back to San Francisco, I did a UX redesign exercise for five hours straight. By the time I landed, the new design was ready, and I was raring to go. The redesigned, optimized product was launched in the next four weeks and there was no turning back. This has been our operating principle: Listen to customers, adopt agile engineering practices and keep delivering product and service experiences that “wow” customers.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success? is doing great. We have customers all over the world. Our customers include Fortune 500 enterprises, multinationals, government agencies, and startups, across the globe and from key industries including technology, manufacturing, financials, among other verticals. We have gathered deep expertise on OKRs and publish our best practices on OKR implementations regularly. Our customers love us and show that through their feedback and reviews in Capterra and G2 and by referring their friends to us. We have a mature OKR coaching program to help customers adopt OKRs.

COVID 19, with its unpredictable series of lock-downs, created some demand uncertainty. But we have stood steadfast with our principle of listening to customers and acting fast on their feedback and requirements. In the last two quarters we have added hundreds of customers. We intend to continue to listen and act on our customers’’ requests with agility.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

During the early days we used to rely on Google Translate for translation. One of our East Asian partners called us and in the politest way possible complained about the translation. Apparently, wherever we mentioned relationship and partnership in an article, it was translated to a phrase meaning “marriage-based relationships” and sounded very off for a business article extolling partnerships. While I had a hard time controlling my laughter in front of the very serious looking partner, we took the feedback earnestly and enhanced our quality control for translation, bringing in qualified partners to do the job.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our ability to listen to customers and act rapidly on their feedback coupled with engineering agility really sets us apart. To share an example, we were working on a deal with a CHRO of a mid-tier tech company. The CEO was challenging the CHRO about the time taken to implement the product. He was thinking of the years it would take for ERP-like products to be implemented and was wary of approving any new initiative during the uncertainty of COVID-19. The CHRO knew that implementing OKRs with was the exact need of the hour and came to us with a request on a Friday afternoon as he was scheduled to have a meeting with the CEO the following Monday afternoon. He was expected to share his vision for the organizational structure for one department with 50 users. We asked for the entire organization chart of 650 users inside the company. Our team worked over the weekend and had the entire organization set-up in in advance of the meeting. The CEO watched the demonstration of the app with all his 650 employees already set-up with their department and reporting details included. The implementation plan to train OKR champions and the entire organization over a period of six weeks was presented as well. The CEO was blown away and the CHRO became the hero in the company.

Our focus on the customer and the solid technological architecture of the product helps us to move rapidly similarly in various situations.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Recently I read that Dropbox has limited meetings to only four hours a day, with all meetings need to be scheduled only between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The remaining hours are for the employees to schedule their work according to their own needs. This is a great way to improve deep work and productivity and more importantly avoid burn-out. Continuous meetings can wear people out.

I recommend my colleagues to manage their work and team based on “outcomes and not on the activity and time spent.” This means having a culture that revolves around trust, teamwork and collaboration. I encourage my colleagues to delegate and not micro-manage. This helps us to develop leaders and avoid burn-out of key leaders. It’s a win-win for everyone.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I would like to thank one of my earliest enterprise customers in the East Coast. The senior executive knew me as “a dependable guy” and batted for my company in his large organization selflessly, expecting nothing in return. I cannot name him or the company for obvious reasons, but we are immensely grateful for his encouragement and guidance all these years. We strive a little extra hard to make him proud about his decision to support every day.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have 1,100 + companies using, worldwide. The three most important steps that we have taken that contribute to our success are:

Focus on Customer Success: We believe that our long-term success is directly dependent on the extent to which customers derive value from our product. We take customer success seriously and have regular conversations with customers, track adoption frequently and don’t wait for “service inquiries” from customers. We encourage customers to make use of our customer success “weekly office hours” to learn about OKRs and implementation best practices. Our customer community is a passionate bunch. We encourage them to share their experiences with each other as we believe it adds value to the community.

Provide High-Quality Content: We provide the most detailed and practical content on every aspect of OKR implementation on our website. Our customers love this content and find it highly useful. These are practical insights on implementing OKRs based on our experience of working with hundreds of customers across the globe. Check out our YouTube channel, where you will find some of the most amazing content on OKRs including demos based on user roles, customer interviews, product guides and best practices.

Use OKRs to Help Execute: We practice OKRs sincerely. We practice full transparency where every team member has access to all the OKRs. The planning process at the beginning of the quarter is done in a bottom-up manner with teams aligning their OKRs to the company OKRs. This provides a great sense of purpose as teams know exactly how their work contributes to the company goals. Weekly check-ins and reviews are done diligently. Dependencies on other teams are discussed out in the open. Employee engagement and development happen as part of the OKR implementation. Overall, OKRs have helped us execute with extreme agility.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We sell our offering on a subscription-based model, where we keep it simple and remove barriers to adoption with services such as OKR coaching for customers who need additional help.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

Launch & Learn attitude: Speed to market is critical. It is important to not get stuck in “Analysis Paralysis.” SaaS startups need to have engineering agility and plan rapid releases. Study the customer usage patterns, learn, refine and release again. This iterative process will help you to get to product/market fit fast and scaled-up.

UX is king — test, test, test and keep iterating: Develop the user personas that you would like to target. Invest significant time in Interface testing. A/B testing with select groups can help you in refining your interface over time. Time-based user tasks should be done to check if the users are able to complete specific tasks and the time taken.

Customer feedback influenced roadmap, but owned and controlled by the product group: Listen to customer feedback intently. Feedback comes from multiple channels — sales calls, onboarding sessions, training meetings, support emails and chats, social media and sustomer feedback sessions. Make sure that you listen to the feedback. Your content generation strategy should take inputs from all these channels. The product roadmap should be influenced by customer voice, but the product management team should still own and control the process.

Use OKRs to execute: OKRs are secret sauce of Silicon Valley. From startups that just got their series A funding to market leaders like Google, many successful companies’ credit OKRs for their success in execution and reaching their goals. OKRs ensure that you focus only on the top goals that matter, stay aligned at every level, target stretch goals and achieve them through collaboration and teamwork. The weekly check-ins and reviews ensure that progress is made regularly, and problems are identified and brought to the surface early. The transparent score board ensures that everyone is on the same page and people are motivated by the high achievers. Teams that are lagging get help on resources after the weekly reviews.

It’s not always the product: In B2B, along with the product, having a great website with helpful content for improving user adoption is a must. A solid services team that can help customers with onboarding and the hand holding for customers is required in most cases. A great customer success function can help your customers to derive value from your product and convert them into customer advocates.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

“A mentor for every child.” Many children with disadvantaged backgrounds need positive role models and mentors to help them. Ideally, we can use digital technology to safely connect children with mentors and help them grow. I believe that mentors will also be benefited by giving — bringing us as a little closer as a society.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook. Please follow us and I promise to share the most useful and practical content on OKRs, performance management and more.

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Fotis Georgiadis

Written by

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.