From Idea to Acquisition: A Conversation with CRMCulture’s Steve Roch [Part 2]

On how he got the idea for ActionGrid and the eventual acquisition by Conga

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part blog series on Steve Roch’s journey with CRMCulture. Be sure to mark your calendar for a live webinar on April 18th (register here) where Steve will share more tips and lessons learned.

In my last post, we learned about Steve’s background and why he chose to join the Salesforce ecosystem. In this installment, we dive deeper into how Steve built ActionGrid, grew the business, and was acquired by Conga.

So to recap, you’ve decided to place your bet on the Salesforce ecosystem. How did you get started?

Once I decided to invest in the Salesforce ecosystem, I hired a consultant who was previously a Salesforce partner, and he gave us a playbook to get started — we actually started off by purchasing Salesforce and Pardot to use as our CRM and marketing automation. I figured if I’m consulting my clients on this product, I should use it myself and have a system that was a model example of effective CRM’ing.

As I was configuring and building out our own Salesforce org, I noticed a couple pieces of functionality that could be optimized. I looked on the AppExchange to see if there was a solution. There were a few apps that did a little bit of what I was trying to do and what we had done with our other on-premise app, but didn’t see anything that I liked.

We had years of experience with CRM and knew how to build a solution for this need. I figured that there would be other people who would value this product and, to be honest, we first built the app as a way to stand out as a consulting partner — essentially we built ActionGrid to show off what we could do. We wanted prospective clients to think, “Woah you guys are the badasses that built ActionGrid? What could you build for us?”

In July 2014, we started with a prototype and launched just in time for Dreamforce 2014. This was incredibly fast — in fact, we did it in about a fourth of the time it took us to build a similar app on our previous .NET based platform.

So you built ActionGrid to compliment your consulting business, but it grew to more than that. Why do you think it got so popular so quickly, and how did that influence your business direction?

It was successful because we had deep experience in optimizing CRM processes, so we were able to build a product that was simple, easy-to-use, and intuitive to a CRM user. Growth came quickly because it was clear that the market was waiting for something like this.

For our ActionGrid launch, we made sure we had a booth at Dreamforce and saw huge success from this investment. We got a ton of leads and even our first deal while we were still at the conference.

After we developed the ActionGrid prototype and launch at Dreamforce, I poured all of my personal energy into ActionGrid. We rapidly improved the product and rolled out a new release every month that first year. I took all the profit from the consulting business and put it into our app. I saw it as taking “risks” to grow the business, but it was so easy to see the return. Double down on Dreamforce, see exponentially more leads. Participate in AMP (AppExchange Marketing Program) to drive more business. The choice to invest more was pretty simple at that point.

Ok, so you made this commitment to the Salesforce ecosystem as an SI partner, built an ISV app to get more visibility, which evolved into a popular app on its own. Looking back on the beginning when you decided to join, what concerns did you have?

Initially I had two concerns.

My first concern was, am I too late? There were a lot of companies in the ecosystem, but I strongly believed that we were the CRM experts — no matter the CRM, we stuck to our core belief that our strength in business process design would make up for our inexperience in the Salesforce platform. We had experience working with different much-harder-to-learn platforms and Salesforce was so much more robust and easier to implement, I felt like we would have an advantage — and I was right. We were able to grow like crazy. I learned that the Salesforce ecosystem is a meritocracy. If you deliver on customer success and build good products you will get noticed.

My second concern gave me a ton of heartburn: my team was 100% .NET developers. Would they all jump ship when I told them we were now focusing on the Salesforce platform? But to my surprise, they embraced the platform like I never imagined, especially as they moved from an on-premise environment into the cloud. It’s like they had been using a slide rule and were just shown a computer. Their enthusiasm and ability to pick it up quickly was a huge factor in why we were able to develop so much functionality into ActionGrid and deliver monthly releases in the first year. It also helped that we paid $1,000 bounties per Salesforce certification so that they knew we were all in with Salesforce and that we were investing in their own personal growth.

We grew astronomically in 2015, and started to make a name for ourselves within the Salesforce ecosystem.

So tell me about the acquisition. How did you get started talking with Conga?

Conga approached us, initially asking if we wanted to partner deeper as we already had integrations between ActionGrid and Conga Composer. A lot of the partners within the Salesforce ecosystem actually partner with each other to drive more comprehensive solutions together, so this was normal. But, based on the questions they were asking, it sounded like they were more than just interested in partnering.

A month later they called us and explained their vision on how we could fit into their portfolio. They acquired us in 2016 — and the rest is history.

Postscript: After helping with the transition at Conga, Steve still has the AppExchange bug and recently became the General Manager of Americas at SMS-Magic, a text messaging solution for Salesforce that facilitates one-on-one conversations as well as communication automation with workflow rules. He plans to use the same playbook that drove such rapid success with ActionGrid, so stay tuned for the next chapter in Steve’s AppExchange journey.

Ready to learn more? Don’t miss our upcoming webinar at 10:00 AM PST/1:00 PM EST on Tuesday, April 18th. Steve will be joining us live for, “Winning in the $70 Billion Ecosystem,” where I’ll talk with two additional Salesforce partners to hear about their experience in the Salesforce ecosystem. Register for the webinar here.