The Work Before the Work

How we got to Series A as a Slack-first company

Two years ago, the thought that we’d raise almost $10M to work on a bot seemed out of the question. At the time, we were huddled around a desk on 60th and Madison in New York City, dreaming of a future in which you could talk to your CRM. We felt the pain points of CRMs first-hand having worked at fast growing companies a few years prior.

What were those pain points, exactly? Doing the job of sales and, on top of that, doing administrative functions like tracking activities, updating the CRM and spreadsheets, and getting consumed with pure grunt work, instead of doing the fun stuff…

Closing deals!

Today, hundreds of companies are using Troops to bring their sales, customer success and CRM workflows into Slack. Here are some things we learned along the way to closing a Series A round as a Slack-first company.

Messaging alone isn’t enough

Troops, at its core, is an intelligent sales assistant that helps sales teams update their CRM’s frequent and valuable information, so they can make better decisions.

Towards the end of 2015, we started to prototype the first version of a product that we thought would make CRM easier. We believed that messaging interfaces and conversational platforms were going to be how all people did work. At that time, six of the top ten most popular mobile apps were consumer-facing messaging apps; it seemed perfectly reasonable that the enterprise would not be far behind.

My cofounders and I set out to prove people preferred to engage with a bot instead of logging in to a heavy interface.

We put together an experiment:

A sales rep in the field would be able to text a Troops phone number (thanks, Twilio!) and the Troops bot would respond (thanks, Scott!). That’s right, my co-founder and I were the first Troops bots that facilitated everything — from logging field notes into a CRM, to surfacing important reports.

We learned three critical things:

1. People need guidance.

Salespeople often have cognitive overload. To take action, they first needed to remember what the action was, and how to do it. What do I need to record again? What do I type to Troops? Do I need to say update or change for it to work?

We realized that we would need to alert people to perform important functions. Automated intelligence was much more compelling than giving someone a blank canvas.

For example, here’s an Opportunity Stage Change Alert that’s prompted a conversation and specific action items between a manager and her rep:

2. People want information and action in real-time.

If you don’t have a real-time feedback loop, your product doesn’t work. Everything we did needed to be lightning fast.

We needed a messaging interface that had a greater degree of structure and functionality than SMS. Better yet, it needed quick ways to interact and respond to messages — like buttons or emojis.

3. People expect to have ubiquity across all screens and devices.

Text messaging was relegated to phones-only, and that was a problem for a large majority of people that still do work in front of computers.

We learned we needed a solution ASAP that could facilitate messaging-first work on any screen or device.

At this point, you might see why Slack was attractive to us.

Bots require proactive intelligence

When we built a Slack app, we knew customers needed help triaging and driving actions around CRM data. Our early experiments with the human “Troops Bot” had helped us understand what worked, and what didn’t.

In our experiment, we found our users needed an easier way to do a whole host of things, including…

  • After specific meetings, getting reminders to keep track of how prospective customers progressing through the pipeline: Was a contract sent to the customer?
  • Getting reminders based on certain activities to log specific information in their CRM: Were there agreed-upon next steps with the customer? What were they and when do they need to happen by?
  • Sharing key wins easily with their team and without cluttering everyone’s inbox:

We’d experienced this ourselves, but seeing it across hundreds of companies was much more informative for product development. Building product for yourself only goes so far.

So we built a real-time infrastructure that would detect important changes or inconsistencies from Salesforce, and would let us notify the end user and prompt them to take action. Many companies were building custom reports to help them figure out which Salesforce reports were broken or needed action — which still requires thinking after the report is complete.

Instead, people needed high-signal pushes that they could immediately take action on, versus running a report in a database. It looks more like “Google assistant” than a true human assistant.

Technically speaking, this is not an easy undertaking, but it’s what customers are looking for.

It’s about doing the thinking for that person.

People want the quickest experience possible

Early on, we realized that purely conversational exchanges don’t necessarily mean a good bot experience. This is especially true for our target personas who are incredibly busy and want things “to just work.” We had to figure out how to dramatically reduce the friction to taking a core, high-value action.

When it comes to sales teams, looking up information is one of those actions. In the early version of Troops, an end user could simply text the Troops bot and ask something like, “What is going on with Microsoft?” But did the end user mean the Microsoft opportunity? The account? The lead?

You could see how painful a purely conversational experience could easily get. By this point, it might have been easier for the end user to log in to Salesforce.

Instead, it is often much faster for the end user to take the action they want, without switching context. So we deployed an enhanced search feature that let users quickly access all within Slack.

Equally as important, we also use sophisticated analysis to look at the underlying data to determine what specific information the end user is looking for.

Over time, if the end user is looking for more specific information on a repeatable basis, they can go into the Troops dashboard and override the Troops search recommendations on their own.

This interaction gives the end user further control so they can fine-tune their experience around the information they care about.

Make it come to life

We learned early on to ship fast, and show customers. Even if the product was half-baked, we would only be able to get real feedback if we put something into our customers hands. It turns out, showing real, tangible product also helps with investor conversations — sometimes more so than metrics or other KPIs.

Last fall, I was in San Francisco for a meeting with Felicis Ventures. We began discussing where we thought the world of enterprise software was headed with regards to CRM. About 20 minutes into the conversation, the investor Sundeep and I started debating some aspects of how the future of ‘conversational bots’ would work.

I asked him, “Why don’t I just show you where we think the world is going?”

I took out my computer and demoed our product along with some new proof of concepts.

His first response was, “My partner Aydin has to see this.”

(And don’t worry, soon enough you will see them too. 😊 )

After some back-and-forth, it was clear we both shared the same vision for where the world was headed.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and we ended up doing a $7m Series A round of financing, earlier than we anticipated, with Felicis Ventures as our lead investor.

What’s next for Troops

Today, we’re seeing firsthand how companies are reorienting their workflows around the most human (digital) behavior on earth: messaging.

We’re investing heavily in product our customers are asking us for: data science for intelligent alerts, great product design for enjoyable messaging experiences, and incredible engineering to build and scale it all.

Slack is one of the companies leading the charge, and so for now, we are a Slack-first company continuing to figure out new ways to help our customers.

If you use Salesforce and Slack, click here to install our bot so you can be one of the first to get your hands on the latest new products we are working on.

Dan Reich, Co-Founder & CEO, Troops