Small Business Spotlight: How SteelBrick Built a Brand on Customer Success

Godard Abel, CEO, SteelBrick


In the latest edition of Small Business Spotlight, we talk with SteelBrick’s CEO, Godard Abel, about his top priorities, how he and his team built the SteelBrick brand, and his most important piece of advice for every small business.

What made you decide to start/make the jump to your company today?

In January 2014, I decided to team up with SteelBrick founder/CTO Max Rudman because I was amazed by the next generation CPQ (configure, price, quote) software application he had developed and launched on the Salesforce AppExchange. Max had been able to successfully bootstrap the company and build a base of more than 100 customers. Since I had built another company in the CPQ space (BigMachines), I could see that SteelBrick was positioned to deliver tremendous value to high-growth companies.

How do you balance the multiple hats you’re required to wear?

I am usually driving a top-priority initiative, such as winning a new customer, establishing a partnership, or closing a financing round. I put that at the top of the list and then slot in other activities.

What are the top three company priorities that you focus on?

1. Customer success. Our goal is to delight customers and to turn them into evangelists. We have many great customers such as Cloudera and Nimble Storage who will advocate for us, which helps drive our growth.

2. Employee success. We have talented team members who work very hard every day to develop our leading-edge product, and to win and take great care of customers and partners. We want to inspire them and help them grow.

3. Investor success. We have committed investors, including Emergence Capital, Salesforce Ventures, and Shasta Ventures. We not only want to deliver a great return for them, but we also want to do things the right way so they are proud to be invested in our company.

How do you prioritize initiatives? Walk us through how you determine where you invest time, people, and dollars.

We prioritize initiatives based on the company priorities I defined above (customer success, employee success, and investor success). If a customer needs something urgently, then that becomes our immediate priority. We pride ourselves on rapid, customer-driven, agile software development and best-in-class customer services and support. We also define our long-term product and innovation roadmap based on what we believe will deliver the most value for our customers, both in terms of features for which they are already asking and next generation solutions they have not yet imagined.

After we take care of our customers’ needs, we then focus on our team to make sure it is in a place to be productive. This includes simple things such as providing our team with lunches, drinks and snacks every day, and bigger things, such as providing stock options, career growth opportunities, and recognition.

For our investors, we make sure we plan and run the business prudently and strive to deliver on our plans while communicating openly.

How have you built your brand with the AppExchange?

SteelBrick has built its brand and business on the AppExchange. We have optimized our AppExchange listing with beautiful branding and demos, but most importantly we have well over 100 enthusiastic, authentic customer reviews, validating how we help our customers revolutionize selling with our SteelBrick CPQ application.

What advice do you have for small businesses looking to build their brand with a partner ecosystem?

As a small business, leveraging a larger partner’s ecosystem (Salesforce in our case) is a fantastic way to go to market. Since customers already trust the Salesforce brand and technology platform, it gave us immediate credibility to be Salesforce-certified on the AppExchange. Also, our customers know that their data is safe with all of the Salesforce Trust and Security measures. In addition, we did not have to invest the capital in building our own hosting and software infrastructure, and so our founder, Max, was able to deliver value-added features much faster.

Walk us through the characteristics that you look for when hiring top talent.

At SteelBrick, we have a very disciplined recruiting and hiring process. Most of the time this starts with an existing team member referring a friend or former colleague that they know are great to work with. We provide a $3,000 incentive for successful referrals. We love to hire people that our team members have worked with already, because they know them to be great. We then have all candidates go through online assessments to gauge their fit for the job and to ensure mutual fit prior to bringing them in to meet our team. Sales candidates are expected to present, and developers to write some code during the interview process to further vet their fit. As a result, we have grown from five to nearly 100 great people in the past 15 months with minimal attrition. And the team keeps getting stronger.

What are the keys to your company’s successful growth?

In 2014, SteelBrick grew its revenues dramatically by more than 330% and grew the team by 16 times, from five to 80. The keys to this growth:

1. Focusing on a large, growing market (CPQ for Salesforce customers) in a winning ecosystem (Salesforce AppExchange). It is always much easier to grow in a growing market.

2. Delighting our customers. Most of our new business comes from customer and partner referrals. All prospective customers check our reputation via online reviews on the AppExchange and new Yelp-like sites for enterprise software, such as G2 Crowd where we have more than 100 real customer reviews validated by people’s LinkedIn profiles. Everyone wants to hear from real customers.

3. Driving rapid product innovation. Our development and engineering teams deliver three major new releases of our cloud and mobile applications every year. This past year, this included delivering a fully Salesforce1-enabled mobile application, as well as delivering all the features our customers need to close quickly in the cloud..

What is the one piece of advice that you want to share with executives of other small businesses?

Ultimately, building a business is about your heart and soul, which will be reflected in your company’s culture. Be authentic and let your true spirit shine through and other people will naturally want to help you.

Our founder, Max Rudman, did an amazing job engaging our customers and partners authentically and built many supporters who went above and beyond for him. We strive to keep this genuine authenticity as we grow.

Our positive SteelBrick culture really differentiates us, and building an authentic culture and brand can do the same for any small business entrepreneur. You can’t always outsmart the competition, but you can overwhelm the market with caring and passion. Few companies really do that.

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