To paraphrase former General and US Secretary of State Colin Powell — “There are no secrets to “customer” success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
Oh, and it helps if you’ve done it a few times in stellar environments like Slack, Zendesk and Yammer, which is why we are truly excited to announce that Rav Dhaliwal has joined Crane as a Venture Partner to work closely with our existing portfolio and on new investment opportunities on all things GTM and Customer Success.
We spoke extensively with Rav about his career and the ever evolving profession of Customer Success and he shared some of his favorite learnings from building high performing GTM teams. We’ve summarised some of our favourite bits from the conversation here.
Rav, tell us your startup journey and what first attracted you to work in tech?
I’ve always loved building things and am really attracted to the challenges of starting and scaling a business — like hiring the foundational team and figuring out the best way to go to market and sustain long term customer value. I joined my first Enterprise Software startup back in 2001 (shortly after it had been acquired by IBM). Since then I’ve been lucky enough to have been an early employee at Yammer and Zendesk, where I built and led Customer Success in EMEA, and most recently at Slack where I was the first London employee and helped found the Global Customer Success team in addition to getting the London office up and running.
How do you define Customer Success?
I like to describe Customer Success as being all about building value for your customer and for your own business by bringing your knowledge and expertise to the table. Customer success ensures that the value of your product is realised much faster than would have otherwise happened if the customer was left to it themselves.
Done right, you’ll be creating the conditions for the next (and future) sales with them and have them become public advocates for you and your company.
Why is CS so important in early stage enterprise startups?
In my experience, Customer Success is one of the most effective ways to get to product market fit quicker and from there to go to market fit. Having Customer Success folks in place early and working closely with your early customers gives you some of the most valuable insights on what capability to build and how best to improve your product to ensure it’s being used to drive the maximum value.
The other important and often overlooked reason is that eventually most of your new revenue will come from your existing customer base. Ignore them and you really minimise the chances of new expansion revenue and increase the risks of churn.
Investing in Customer Success early (even if your MRR is a few thousand dollars) will ensure you are laying down a solid foundation for future revenue growth.
What prompted you to move into Venture Capital?
The ability to affect positive change in multiple companies was what appealed most. It’s a very exciting time in European tech, with a wide variety of really compelling Enterprise Software companies being built by exceptionally talented individuals. Having been fortunate enough to have been part of some really successful Enterprise Software companies, my role at Crane allows me to share my operational experience early enough to help these businesses avoid many of the common pitfalls on that journey from product market fit to go-to market fit.
Why did you choose to work with Crane specifically?
The first (and most important) thing I look for when it comes to investing my time is whether there’s a strong alignment around culture and values.
From my earliest interactions, it was immediately clear that everyone at Crane is focused on supporting and nurturing founders so they are set up for long term success. In particular, the commitments that Crane makes to supporting their portfolio beyond just investing capital really impressed me. Crane’s “Lift-off” workshop programme is a great example. It gives founders a huge amount of practical learning and guidance on how to build world-class Sales, Marketing and Customer Success teams quickly. Combined with the experience, expertise, thoughtfulness and empathy the firm demonstrates, it made working at Crane really compelling.
Crane’s investment focus and successful track record was another major draw for me. The team has over 20 years of experience in enterprise software and tremendous expertise with the technologies that are shaping the future of work. Getting a front row seat to the next wave of enterprise innovation and working closely with companies focused on the new enterprise stack, automation, data, machine learning and AI is really exciting.
The early stage at which Crane invests and the types of enterprise software companies it looks at was also another great appeal for me. Having been “first boots on the ground” in Europe for a number of startups, I really love working on the challenges associated with building and scaling a business.
You’ve worked in a number of successful startups. What do you think made them successful?
They all shared an unrelenting focus on the customer experience. This focus went beyond providing great technical support or investing in CS early. It was about empathising with the customer throughout their journey and ensuring the internal decision making process on how to organise or what to build always started with “What’s good for the customer?”, followed by “What’s good for our team?” and then finally “What’s good for the individuals in our team?”
Closely related to this was a really thorough process for hiring that focused as much on behaviours and cultural fit as it did on competency. In any fast moving startup there is always a tug of war between the need to hire fast and hiring well. The most successful companies I’ve worked for always focused on hiring well because the rewards from having a team of high performers that are focused on long term customer value is so huge.
What are some important lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to share with founders?
One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last few years is not to decouple Customer Success from your Go To Market strategy.
It’s common for founders to think in pre and post sales terms, but in a subscription economy there’s really no such thing as “post sales”. I’ve found that a better way to think about it is “the first sale” and the “next sale”, so it’s really important to design your Go To Market to ensure you are maximising the conditions for the next and subsequent sales with a customer. In practical terms it’s about investing in CS early, tightly aligning Sales & Success and positioning CS in the sales cycle as a key differentiator.
My other big learning is resisting the temptation to hire the most senior leader you can find too early. The trick is to time that senior hire so they land once you (as the Founder wearing many hats including early Customer Success) have figured out a basic playbook of how to make your customers successful. An experienced leader will then be able to take that playbook and build a team to refine it and scale it up.
Hiring a senior leader too early runs the risk of them repeating a playbook they’re familiar with from a previous role (and re-hiring some of their previous team). Whilst much of it might be applicable, it won’t be specific or unique to your product, business and culture and you’re likely to run into customer problems further down the line. An easy way to avoid this as a founder is to think “do I need a builder or a scaler?” — a builder is someone who will come in and figure that playbook out for you, whereas a scaler is someone who can take even a basic version of your playbook, refine and then scale it.
And what does the immediate future look like now that you are working in VC?
I’m really excited to work closely with founders and to continue investing in the growth of the exceptional teams that Crane has and continues to invest in.