the raise infographic of loudspeaker
SaaS companies need to know their North Star to stay relevant to their customers' changing needs.
Date Published:
Ryan McMillan from Atlas Digital
Ryan McMillan

Read: Jo Blundell - Serving Customers in Tough Times

Jo Blundell was one of the first product marketers at Xero during its hyper growth phase in 2015. She then became the Head of Product and Marketing at Timely off the back of its $7m capital raise from Movac in 2017. Under her leadership, Timely eventually exited at $100m+. Jo is a director of climate-tech venture CarbonCrop. She recently launched ArcStudio, an agency developing brand and go-to-market strategies for scale-up-stage companies.

Date Published:
Ryan McMillan from Atlas Digital
Ryan McMillan

No items found.

We spoke with Jo about the impact she made at Timely, a booking platform for the hair, beauty and wellness industry. During COVID, they doubled down on their customer service and industry advocacy. This paid off once things opened up, with their revenue increasing beyond pre-COVID levels. 

We are no longer in the middle of a pandemic but the cost of living crisis is real. Inflation is making companies scrutinise every purchase. SaaS companies need to know their North Star to stay relevant to their customers' changing needs, whether it's in times of consolidation or times of growth. When things were tough, Jo credits their success to leaning on their values and team culture.

Here are her top five lessons: 

1. “Customers are our Sun” 

Jo credits a collective rallying around their company values at Timely for their success. 

“At Timely, we had a great culture, and it was very much like, here's a big goal, this is what we're going after. It's all about the customer, and making sure that we're delivering a great experience. They were the centre of everything.”

“We had some very well owned values at Timely that weren't just posters on a wall. It was who we were, and what drove us, and what drove our strategy. And everything that we did.” 

“The most important one was that our customers are our Sun and putting them at the centre of everything that we did, and being a real person to whoever that was, whether it was a customer or a partner in our community, or somebody that we're working with. It was like you’re this centre, like you make it possible for us to keep our doors open and have this team, and build this product. So you're very important to us. And I think everyone really embraced that. So that authenticity came through from the whole team into the community who felt recognised, it felt like something tangible.”

2. The power of knowing what your customers stand for

Jo identified their customers at Timely were “people-people,” where trust, peer recommendations and industry reputation mattered. 

“I would say that we started building a community, when I joined in 2017, we probably hadn't articulated it well at that point, but that's what we're doing. But we knew that the market that we're going after were people-people. They relied on each other, they trusted each other, they trusted each other's recommendations and sort of had this weariness of outsiders of the industry. And that was one of the shifts that we made when we went from generic software, or generic booking software to beauty bookings software for the beauty and wellness sector, is that we wanted to be seen as not just this outside of serving the beauty industry, but actually a part of the industry.”

This led their transition from a generic booking software to their brand being an authentic, contributing member of a tight-knit beauty industry. 

While community was a priority, it didn’t distract from the need to help their customers make more money, especially when things got tough during covid. 

“We asked ourselves what can we do that is going to make our customers money when their doors are shut? Like what can we deliver, so they can sell products online? Can we make it easier for them to do that? Can they do online consultations? Like are there ways for us to support them making money virtually? And that really drove a lot of what we delivered? I think we delivered like 400 product updates in eight weeks that were all around how do we quickly add value for our customers.” 

They became known for being online education providers in addition to their software. Timely processed all of the area-specific COVID information and gave it to their customers. 

“We just wanted to take the mental load off them.” 

“Our CEO and co-founder were very much advocating for our community. We were visible, we were responsive, and we helped the individual and the community. And the feedback that we got was incredible. I think we really made our brand known, like it existed before then, but it really kind of shone through during that period.”

“Getting to know the faces of our team, that was when people showed their love for us and for our brand. I think Ryan Baker did a really great job of putting himself out there. He's probably not the guy that you would associate with the beauty and wellness industry if you knew him, but over the course of 10 years, he became like the biggest champion of this specific customer segment and was right there fronting a lot of the columns that we put out there.”

Jo transferred these lessons to her new venture, CarbonCrop. “One of the first lessons that I thought about transferring when I joined CarbonCrop was the value of brand. Particularly when you're in a space, where there's a lot of scepticism, and there's some cynicism over the solutions that are being developed to tackle climate change. Building a trusted brand and being transparent and authentic in how we communicate what we share elevates us.” 

3. The humans behind the brand count 

It was developing an authentic feeling of community amongst the hair, beauty and wellness industry that drove their authority in a crowded market. Earning that position took grit. 

“We're all people, and we respond to real humans. And I think we've got a lot more empathy for another person sitting in front of us, than an anonymous brand. And I think that's when our brand really felt like it fit is when we stopped trying to be a perfect brand voice of like, this is the time the voice and this is how we interact. We would actually use our personal Facebook pages to say, Hi, I'm Joe from Timely. I'm here to help you.” 

“If you're going to build a community, you need to commit to it. Because it's not something that happens overnight. It's the process of 1000s of little building blocks that create this thing that exists as an engaged community. You can probably start a Facebook community page overnight and have tumbleweeds going through it. But if you want a highly engaged audience that becomes brand advocates of yours in an authentic way, it takes patience and time - it's a long game. It's not something that you can do as a campaign for a quarter or something like that. Like it needs to be a core part of your go to market proposition. So patience is the key, and perseverance.”

This isn’t to say though, that a community strategy is built solely on good feelings. Data underpinned their strategy. 

“The data told us that beauty and wellness was the market that we should be going for.  It was the one that paid us the most, on average, had the highest product engagement rate, the lowest churn rate, the most feedback, feature requests, like all of the feedback and engagement really came from this small subset.” 

“One of the things that we had at Timely was data. And sometimes it was quite overwhelming - what are the metrics that are speaking to us? There were a couple that we always championed internally. One was our net promoter score. So that's like, if you've got a community that loves you, they're gonna tell you about it. And if you're able to measure that, I think we had consistently an NPS above 80, for the entire time that I was involved in the company. So a high net promoter score means that you've got people who are your genuine champions.” 

“One of the other metrics that I look at often is the cost to acquire and is this trending down. And if you're doing something well, if you've got a strong brand and market, then people are probably already aware of you, they probably already like you. And when they're ready to buy, they will probably come to you. And if you can turn that interest and awareness into a customer, then you've got a brand strategy that's working.” 

“It's often thousands of little things that you do that drive the ultimate conversion and to be pinning an activity to a particular ad word or web page, I think sometimes there's too much energy put on those things. It's more about what's the overall performance of the strategy that the business has set and backed, and is it working against your goals. If you trust that the thousands of little things that you're doing are building up to the performance that you're achieving, it's a more accurate view than any standalone metric.” 

4. Dedicating energy to your team is key to international expansion

Their values were put to the test as they expanded into the United Kingdom. 

“Entering a new market is hard. entering a new market on the other side of the world, is really hard. Building a team and transporting the culture that you've created in New Zealand and Australia to work on the other side of the world takes time, energy and support.”  

For founders launching overseas, Jo recommends spending as much time as possible on the ground with your team. 

“One of the lessons that I learned was, building a team requires a lot more in person nurturing. If I could have a do over, I would have spent more time in the UK market, working with the team that was there and making sure that everyone felt supported.”  

“A lot happens overnight, especially the pace that Timely worked and the volume of stuff that we were talking about on Slack because we were remote. We would wake up in the morning to this avalanche of information. We would spend the first hour of our day trying to pick through it and understand if decisions have been made. Or establish if we have feedback on this thing, or has it moved past a point where we can contribute?” 

“It was mainly making sure that they felt as much a part of the conversation, decision making, and go to market strategy. It required finding the right people, nurturing them, supporting them and spending some time face to face. To me, it's all about the team and the culture and buy-in to the strategy and understanding strategy, and confidence to execute against that strategy.” 

5. Adapt to the nuance of the United Kingdom

Jo reminds us to lean on local teams as much as possible. Spend time learning and celebrating each other’s differences, then make those work for your customers.

“The main differences that I noticed in the UK were the little things like the formality of how to communicate with a UK business versus New Zealand and Australia. We are very informal and friendly, and we don't err on the side of professionalism often. Whereas in the UK business, including in the beauty and wellness sector, it is much more formal with how they have human interactions or email interactions.” 

“We needed to recognise that UK Timely had its own culture that was of the UK because it was built by people from the UK. And we needed to embrace that as much as our own way of doing things here in New Zealand.” 

Jo’s experience reminds us to connect with the people behind the data. Within a SaaS company, people have all sorts of job titles and key results they need to achieve. By leaning into the humanity of your organisation and adopting the culture of your industry, you’ll move from being a transactional product, into something that makes people’s lives better. In our current economic climate, a human-oriented strategy could deliver more value by meeting people where they are. 

Hear from the best in tech

Read, watch and grow in under 5 minutes a fortnight.