Today’s podcast features Adam Schoenfeld, GM of Drift and former co-founder and CEO of Siftrock. Adam’s recent acquisition experience with Siftrock lends to a great conversation about the emotional side of being acquired and when leaders should acknowledge that it may be time for change. Adam also shares why he took on the role of SDR for two months and why every marketer should do the same.
Read the full Pipeline Podcast transcript below:
Joe: Well welcome to this week’s Pipeline podcast. Today we’re here with Adam Schoenfeld. Adam, as I’m sure everyone on the internet already knows, has had an awesome, awesome background founding Simply Measured which has gone on to be really successful and then recently left to become CEO of Siftrock and now general manager at Drift after they were acquired a couple of weeks ago. Adam welcome and thanks for doing this with us.
Adam: Thanks. Good to be here.
Joe: So Drift…what made you guys want to make the move to work with them?
Adam: Yeah, it was a tough decision. Building your business. You’re growing, you’re cranking along every day and the ideas out there that maybe someday you would be acquired. Potentially, that’s a path that you can go. We didn’t know that something would come up this soon, but we kind of fell in love with Drift in a couple ways. We were a customer and had used the product. We were really excited about this movement they are building around conversational marketing. I guess I should say we. The movement we’re building right. This is a couple weeks on the job so it’s still this transition.
Joe: Still getting assimilated a little bit.
Adam: Exactly. As a customer we were really excited, and then as we got to know the management team there and the people there we’re really excited about the culture and how they put customers at the center of everything they do. It seemed like a really good culture fit there and then as we started to talk to them about how we’d do it. Like, what would this acquisition look like? We felt like it was really complementary, and we could create value together for our customers. So we we signed up to join with those guys just a few weeks ago.
Joe: Just tell everybody real briefly what is Siftrock does as a product. Is that that going to continue under Drift?
Adam: It will continue. What we do is we basically help marketers manage e-mail replies at scale. So if you send out e-mails where you want people to respond back then Siftrock can help you sort through those, find the good ones, rout them to your sales team and keep track of everything. We integrate with things like Marketo and Eloqua and keep everything in sync for you when you’re sending out your email campaigns. So that fits really well with Drift’s vision which is conversational marketing and they basically enable real time conversations on your website. So if you can think of Siftrock as enabling conversations over e-mail and Drift doing this on the website, there’s a lot of complements there in terms of the marketing motion that we help support.
Joe: In a way it’s allowing Drift to expand into an additional channel that they didn’t have access to before, the email inbox. In addition to the stuff they’re already doing with chat on the site.
Adam: Exactly. It gets Drift into e-mail and we’ll be thinking of ways that we can make e-mail and web chat work together really well. Our philosophy at Drift really is about the buyer being in control now and we want to basically remove barriers for people to buy. It’s kind of ridiculous in B2B the length you have to go to just to purchase something.
Joe: Yeah sure you got to sit through an hour-long demo. You have to talk to 10 different people, fill out all these forms.
Adam: I just did one the other day. It was something where I was like, “Can I give you my money please?” I submit the form, I wait an hour for the SDR to call me. I’m like, “I really want to purchase the service.” He’s like well I have a few questions for you, I’m like okay can we bang out the discovery let’s go. You just know it’s coming, the discovery and then he wants to do an onsite in-person. In some scenarios that’s obviously a great process. But in a lot of scenarios the buyer doesn’t need all that. I’m Just thinking of ways to take those barriers out.
Joe: Our VP of Sales, or Head of Sales here Matt always says, “look you know the biggest thing people forget in B2B marketing is that you’re not talking the leads, you’re just talking to people and they just want to be treated like people. They don’t want to be treated like leads.
Adam: It’s such basic insight, but it’s funny because we have what 20 or 30 years of history that is like, “leads and opportunities and funnels and demand units” and we’ve really engineered these systems that make it easy to just forget that hey you are actually selling to another human being.
Joe: Right. This isn’t just a form submit or an MQL. There’s a human behind this. And what do they want? It sounds like you said, lots of products working on all these different little ways to remove the humanity and Drift and now with Siftrock are trying to put it back in.
Adam: Exactly. And I think there’s others thinking from that lens as well, which is a pretty basic idea. If you look at B2C, it’s already gone that way. You walk into the Apple Store, you feel like a human. You walk into the Tesla store, Peloton… If you think of the B2C brands that are really exceptional in terms of their customer experience. It’s happening there. I think that movements happening in B2B now as well. It has removed barriers, it’s helped sales people meet the buyer where they are and help marketers meet the buyer where they are and there’s lots of things we can do under that umbrella. So, no shortage of opportunities.
Joe: Yeah. No shortage of problems to solve. As you guys are going through the acquisition, what was that process like?
Adam: It was hard honestly, it was emotional. I want to write stuff about it. It was a hard process because you’re thinking from a lot of different perspectives. What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my team? What does this mean for my customers? What’s my future going to look like? What is their future going to look like? It was a hard exercise and it was hard to separate the rational process from the emotional stuff that’s going on when you’re you have this company that’s kind of your baby and you’ve done all this work.
Joe: And you’re in total control of it because you guys were bootstrapped also you didn’t have VCs begging you to sell it or pressuring you to sell it or anything.
Adam: Exactly. Which you know well. In some ways that’s a beautiful thing and you’re like wow I want to hold onto this.
Joe: Well you mentioned before we came on, ” hey I have a boss now.” That’s something. You probably haven’t had a boss in years.
Adam: It’s been a while.
Joe: So how has that transition been?
Adam: You know it’s been good, it’s been good. I have a very good boss. I am reporting to the CEO at Drift. He’s a guy I can learn from. That was a big calculus on the deal I think as well for Chris, my co-founder and me. When Chris looked at Elias the CTO and I looked at Dave the CEO, we both said “wow, those are people we can learn from.” Both very different from us as individuals but have a track record and have a model of thinking that we thought we could learn from as we grow our careers. That was a big piece of it. I think there’s probably a lot of “exits”. There are a lot of acquisitions where you’re signing up for something that you don’t want to do to get a check. In this scenario it was the thing that we’re going to do is actually exciting.
Joe: Well that’s like the standard rest and vest model. “Okay I’m going to take this money. I’m going to do a three year earn out. I’m going to hate every minute of my life. I’m going to try to do as little work as possible. If i’m at Facebook or something I’ll probably end up on sabbatical for the last year of it, trying to think of my next startup and as soon as it’s over I’m gone. And for you guys it wasn’t like that.
Adam: No. Look that’s probably a way people approach some acquisitions and that might make sense.
Joe: Sure, it’s a way to it’s a way to do it if that’s the game you want to play.
Adam: But for us that wasn’t and we’re still so early in our journey that we wanted to keep going on what we were doing, and we want to kind of level up. It was it was good in the regard of when you’re getting comfortable with something, sometimes that means it is time for a change. I think we were just reaching the point where we started to be comfortable. Now we’re getting very uncomfortable.
Joe: [Yeah. Broken through the plateau for sure. What advice would you give to other people who are considering doing something like this? Either thinking about, “Hey I’ve got a company I want to sell” or maybe they’re in the process of selling it. What should they be thinking about.?
Adam: It’s a tough one. I think if they’re just like, “oh I want to sell at some point”, I’d give a piece of tactical advice which is go out and network with the five, six, seven companies that you think might buy you in two or three years. I actually connected with David the CEO at Drift over a year before we did the deal. At that point there was no real intent. But I was like, “Hey we like you guys, were kind of in this area. It would be great to stay in touch” and we would message back and forth maybe once a month and eventually had some calls. I would encourage people to do that, just from a tactical perspective if you ever want it to happen.
Joe: Just building that relationship.
Adam: These things can’t happen overnight. There’s no way somebody can get comfortable in a very short amount of time with who you are and what you’re about.
Joe: Well certainly if they don’t know who you are to begin with it’s never going to happen.
Adam: Absolutely. You have to have awareness at some level to even have a chance. We didn’t have intent around that.
Joe: You weren’t you weren’t thinking let me go try to sell this company. You were just thinking this is an interesting product that we use. I’d like to get to know the CEO of a company better.
Adam: Exactly. I think if you take that natural curiosity with the others in your space who aren’t competitive it will probably yield something good. It might not know yield an acquisition but there’s really no harm in that. In terms of going through the process, the advice I would give is to come to terms with the emotional side of it and really check in on that. These things can sometimes get going quickly, you get swept up in it. I think there were times when I’d be cranking on the deal and Chris was still working on the business and we wouldn’t have checked in just on how we’re feeling and what’s are gut and what’s the emotion. We probably could have done a better job surfacing those things, dealing with them, and deciding what it meant.
Joe: Yeah. Being intentional about that ahead of time. Not waiting till okay, we are ready to sign on the dotted line and then how do we actually feel about this.
Adam: I’m pretty analytical and I approached it that way at first. It’s like okay here’s a company that’s interested. OK well let’s think about what this would look like and define the strategy, think of the numbers and what would matter to us. It’s like we’re building a grid of what kind of deal we want. We also have to do the check in, like, would we want to do this? Would we want to give up the things that we like to get other things that we might like more or that are different? How does that feel? I’d encourage people to do that earlier in the process because I think it would help.
Joe: Before you came into this larger organization you were pretty lean company.
Adam: Very lean.
Joe: You were bootstrapped. How many people were on the Siftrock team?
Adam: Just five.
Joe: [What was that process like of running that lean organization and growing as a bootstrap company? Why did you guys make the choice to be bootstrapped?
Adam: I know that you’ve bootstrapped your business and we’ve talked about the model a lot. I think it works really well for certain markets, for certain types of companies, for certain founders. The reason we chose it was because the market we were entering and the product we’re building, we felt like there wasn’t a lot of competition. It was a niche sort of a subsegment of a bigger category like email marketing. We make the world small and we could acquire our customers relatively cheap and we could make the business model work.
Joe: Without a huge amount of cap right.
Adam: Yeah, we didn’t need to go spend a ton of money to build the beta or go acquire the first customer.
Joe: Also, the founder of the business, Chris, had already invested a lot of sweat equity in getting the product there.
Adam: He spent about two years before I joined him, building the product, getting the early customers onboard. It was very intentional. That’s a lot of effort and certainly a big start. That validated the point that we can kind of plod along without a capital and start to see results. Then It was something we wanted to try. We both been in venture backed companies and we were like hey we want to experience this model and see how to it changes our thinking. We found that it brought a lot of focus. A lot of focus on the customer and how you’re going to serve them. That early cohort, you’re like obsessed with their success. You’re like man it was so hard to get them on board and I’m going to try everything I can to listen and to keep them and then to build around them.
Joe: You just can’t bear the thought of one of these customers that you put so much sweat into, not having a great experience.
Joe: You went to great lengths to do that. You actually did this interesting program that you wrote about on LinkedIn and posted about on LinkedIn. Was it CEO to SDR? You actually acted as an SDR for two months. That must’ve been extremely interesting especially in terms of learning about the customer and everything. What did you learn from that?
Adam: It’s funny, some of the best ideas or best learning opportunities come kind of randomly like that. If you went on LinkedIn and just be like who is Adam Schoenfeld people probably wouldn’t say Siftrock or Simply Measured, or Drift. They would probably be like, oh is he that CEO to SDR guy? There are more people who think of me from that then this which wasn’t my intent.
Adam: We were getting to a point where we wanted to find additional growth channels. We were thinking about outbound and possibly hiring an SDR or having our AEs do prospecting and I was like, “Okay well why don’t I go try this for a while before we make an investment.” Bootstrapped actually forces you to do things like that because you’re not going to take the risk of making a couple hires here and having it work.
Joe: You don’t have the million dollars sitting in the bank account.
Adam: Exactly. If you just raised your Series A, no problem you hire three SDR as you are. Maybe you have AEs prospect, you experiment, you see how it works. I just did it myself and I basically did the work of prospecting for about two months, about half my time.
Joe: How did you find that improved your appreciation of the SDR? Did it cause you to change anything about the way you were interacting with customer? What did you learn from it?
Adam: It was as a great experience. I encourage any marketer to do it. When you’re doing an interruption-based approach to asking for attention. You really start to see what can get attention and what does. You have a very high bar. By default, when you cold e-mail or call to reach somebody, they are trying to delete your message right. They’re trying. They’re just looking for a reason to ignore you. If you can overcome that and get them to respond, you found something magical. In fact, really the deck is stacked against you in this game. I thought it helped me in terms of writing and in terms of thinking about attention and really pushing myself to make things relevant for the person that I’m trying to reach out to. Which is just a great way to think if you’re doing any kind of sales or marketing.
Joe: Going back to that conversational marketing or just like treating people like people.
Adam: Absolutely at the end of the day that actually does work.
Joe: Thank you so much for doing this with us.
Adam: Of course.
Joe: I always enjoy every time we get together. Now obviously this is no exception. Well do breakfast again soon and do our regular Denver omelet.
Adam: Do you want to bring the mics over so that your audience can hear how we order our breakfast the same way. They are like, “Am I observing date here or this podcast?”.
Joe: Why can’t it be both?
Adam: We are both big fans of breakfast. My mornings are a thing I love. There is some wisdom or truth or kind of advice for your audience about mornings and breakfast and coffee and some of those rituals that you and I are both aligned on that do help.
Joe: Yeah, I get burned out by 2:00p.m. My brain just doesn’t work after 2:00p.m. I have to cram it in. I like to do the nice things in the morning. You know the help you start the day the right way.
Adam: I think there’s been some research that your mindset at the beginning of the day actually influences the quality of your work and how you engage in the rest of the day. I wish that I was the kind of person that could just quote research and say where it came from. Instead I will just go, “you know I think there was research on this.”
Joe: I know we had Matt Heinz on here in a past podcast recently and this guy you know has just a mind for the research. That’s unbelievable. Always quoting stats left and right. He’s so dialed into that. I’m really envious of that. I just know that I like my Denver omelets. I Don’t need any other data to back that up.
Adam: You have your ritual, you have your routine. You know what works for you. Now I’m definitely listen to Matt because I always learn from him.
Joe: Yeah, he’s a sharp guy. Cool. Well thanks again Adam I appreciate you doing this with us. And tell people how they can connect with you or your company.
Adam: I’m on LinkedIn a lot. Just warning if you do connect with me there, I post a lot. So, you might connect with me and then later get sick of me. It’s unfiltered. I’m @schoeny on Twitter where I post infrequently and then e-mail works to. Just now it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joe: Cool. Great thanks again. We will see you soon