Leveraging Your Network as a Growth Channel (w/ Kris Rudeegraap, CEO and Co-Founder of Sendoso)
Matt Bilotti: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Growth podcast. I'm your host, Matt Bilotti. And I am really excited today to have Kris Rudeegraap, who is the CEO and co- founder of Sendoso. Kris, thanks so much for joining.
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. Thanks, Matt. Excited to be on.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah, absolutely. And today we're going to dig into a topic that I haven't covered before in this podcast. I've never even really considered as a growth channel or growth tactic or strategy. And it's all about leveraging your network as a growth channel. So, Kris has done a ton of work to build his advisor network and all that for Sendoso, in a way that he can leverage it for sales and expansion and connections and all that fun stuff. So I'm excited to dig in. Also, to give a little quick background. Kris comes from a sales background and has been co founder of Sendoso. How long has it been now? Four years, something like that?
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah, a little about four and a half years.
Matt Bilotti: Four and a half years.
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah, and I was in sales about 10 years before that.
Matt Bilotti: Got it. So you got sales running through the veins there, and I'm sure you've built your advisor network to suit that. So, why don't we talk about that first? Maybe give the context for everybody, how's your adviser networks set up today? And we can take it from there.
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. So, I have about 200 advisors right now. Now, these are official advisors to the company. And the breakdown is, I'd say probably about 100 of them are kind of our ICPs, buyer personas. So there's CROs, CMOs, VPs of sales, VPs of marketing. About 50 of those are customers. And then there is some other longer tail advisors, some in products, some in engineering, some in the HR, but the majority of them are targeted towards our ICP.
Matt Bilotti: Got it. And when you were starting up Sendoso, did you intend to have this very vast advisor network? Because most of what I've heard, most companies have five to 10, maybe 15 advisors, but you're in the hundreds there, was this an intentional thing or just what happened over time?
Kris Rudeegraap: No, it was actually very intentional. So, I'd say it goes back to even when I was in college, and I started a University Recognized Club on campus called the Innovation Association. And one of the motivations was really as an excuse to network with other super smart people. And so, I found myself getting advisors to that association. And then, even when I was a sales rep, I found myself asking for mentors and I've always been fascinated with surrounding yourself, by people that are well networked or are smarter than you. And so, when I started Sendoso about four and a half years ago, I really wanted to leverage advisors from day one. And so, my first advisor was my past CEO at the last company I was at. And with a phone call, he got us into 500 startups instantly. So, that was pretty cool. And then I was like," Let's keep building on it." My second advisor, he actually introduced us to a few angels, which put in our first 350K convertible note into the company. So again, that was a much easier pitch coming from a trusted advisor. The third advisor was a VP of sales who made a bunch of intros. Fourth advisor was one of our first customers. And so, I just continued to execute on this advisory strategy thereafter.
Matt Bilotti: Have you been bringing people on as waves? So you're talking about the first few, was it then like," Let's do a wave of series A type advisers. Let's do a wave of people that can get us into new deals." Or was it just smart people along the way, and you just collect them?
Kris Rudeegraap: I would say it's mostly smart people along the way, and I collect them. I don't know, putting it like that doesn't sound right, but I find them and we form mutual valuable relationships. But there is certain scenarios where I did try to grab a bunch at once. I think one time I worked with our customer advocacy manager and said," Hey, who are some of our best customers out there?" And so then I, in a bulk, went of, met with a bunch of our customers. And I do this annual customer roadshow, this year it was virtual. This year I met with about 95 customers. And so as a result of that, about a month and a half of customer meetings, I was able to cherry pick a handful of customers to join this. And then really the only other big grab was when there's a big initiative that we're thinking about where advisors could be better leveraged. So for recently, about six months ago, we wanted to focus a little bit more on international expansion. And so, it was an easy step for me to go out and try to find new advisors who are experts or who were geo located in regions that would be beneficial to us.
Matt Bilotti: And are all of these advisors set up as equity advisors? Are you giving them all a cut or some of them equity crosstalk?
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah, all of them are equity advisors. So I think that equity is something that can oftentimes be a back burner thought for companies and CEOs where they're using it for employees and for investors, but it's super valuable and something that is a just enough extra carrot too at times, for people to feel like they're more bought in than just a helpful mentor, so to speak.
Matt Bilotti: So, you've got... We're not going to use the word collected. You've gathered all of these amazing advisors over the years. Talk to me, the processes that you keep to keep in touch with them. Is it, they all sort of exist and you tap them on the shoulder? Do you send them quarterly newsletters? What does that relationship look like?
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. So I will say for the first, call it three years of this program, it was spreadsheet and mail mergers. And that was the gist of it. It wasn't too extremely processized. One amazing thing happened about six months ago. It was one of our current investors had an epiphany that this was an amazing idea to operationalize micro advisor, so to speak. And actually went out and created some software for me called Cabal. It's getcabal.com, maybe you can include in the show notes. And that has been game- changer, 100 times better for me. It helps me manage all of the different advisors, I can tag and group them now, which is a big win. So, I can have more specific segments of people to ask for things. It handles all of the messaging and updates. So, I can do MailChimp, email updates and systematically to all the advisors. It manages all the equity management. So kind of, you sent. When I invite somebody, it officializes through advisor document and then makes it easy to work with Carta. And then, there's reporting in it now. There's little widgets that integrate into Salesforce or Lever and other ways that it makes it just way easier to manage.
Matt Bilotti: That's awesome. And so, maybe let's talk about you need to leverage an adviser for something, or maybe your team needs to leverage an advisor for something. Can you talk through how... I assume, you'll just go into that platform and you just know their emails and off the top of your head and you'll call them or whatever, but walk us through how your team can leverage the advisor network they built.
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. So, I'd say there's maybe a half dozen different ways that my team is leveraging these advisors through Cabal. So one, is our go to market teams. So I'd say our sales, our marketing, our account management, customer success teams. So, they are able to go in there and get intros to advisors and/ or see who they're connected to through LinkedIn and then ask for advisors that way. So, it might be an expansion opportunity. It might be breaking into a new account or might just be exact level conversation and a current customer where we just want to up- level the conversation. So, it makes it really nice as a tool for... It's almost like a micro LinkedIn, so to speak, in terms of a way that's just a closed loop way for them to see who are all these advisors. We also leverage these advisors from our go to market teams, for speaking at conferences or our panels, shout- outs, social media mentions, video contents. So, there's a lot of different ways that go to market team's using it. We also find it super helpful for some other ways that I didn't think day one was going to be helpful. So, our product team uses it for product research and feedback. Our recruiting team uses it for introductions. And then even our employees use it across the board for career motivation or learning and development has... Maybe someone who's junior person on our marketing team wants to talk to another CMO, and hear that. So I think those are some of the ancillary benefits, but from a growth perspective, having all these advisors and their networks with a few clicks of a button has been tremendous.
Matt Bilotti: Is it baked into the sales rep workflow that it's expected that they'll check that network as part of their out bounding or research?
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. So, I'm glad you mentioned that. I was actually working a couple of weeks ago with our revenue ops team to better processize some of this. And so, I would say some of our best reps are using it in process. It's not something that we have as a step in Salesforce or something where they have to use it. And then the other thing that happens is when an opportunity goes from, say, stage one to stage two, I actually get proactive, a message saying," Hey, here's the account, here's opportunity. Is there advisors that I can work with?" So, to make it more formal for our team, I will spend a little bit more of my effort reminding them saying," Hey, here's four people I can introduce you to for this opportunity." And so that's been helpful in just terms of ingraining it into their process, because I think this is a newer workflow for sales reps, for account managers. Some people were great at team selling and some people just never really got around to learning that skill. And so, I'm trying to be proactive to bake it into their process. But we do track it in Salesforce now too. So, there's campaigns and so we can see attribution on the advisers and stuff.
Matt Bilotti: Okay. I love that because it also tells perfectly into what my next question was going to be, which is, do you look at the advisor network and goal it and measure it, or is it more just like this amplification layer that just sits across everything?
Kris Rudeegraap: That's a great question. I think that historically it's been this amplification and there's been a lot of benefits I can point to in terms of revenue, recruiting and all these other benefits. I haven't necessarily thought of it as a channel yet, although our new CMO and as we look at our longer term strategies later this year, we have thought about how do we actually try to track it as its own channel, so that we can see the results over time. The long answer is that's where we're going, as we can get more sophisticated. And now it's more formalized and everyone's on board. I think in the early years, this was Kris's secret network and it was much harder for me to operationalize through a spreadsheet, but now that we have software to help us do it, it's game changer in terms of how we can actually take this from something the CEO does to something the entire company can leverage.
Matt Bilotti: And so when you think about... You're getting to the point where the full company is leveraging it, it's built into the process. How do you think about the next stages for the network? Is it just keep expanding the advisor network? Do you see a point where there's just a local maximum hit and you're just," 500, is the max value or..." Yeah, talk through that.
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. I hadn't thought about the max value yet. So far, adviser 190 has been just as valuable as advisor 20. I think that there'll be certain areas where I'll ask for things. So outside of just access into new accounts or referrals, I think that is a step stairwell, every new person is going to add more connections. So, that will always benefit when you get to 500, for example. Outside of the referrals, there's also just common challenges and questions as we've scaled from a small company to almost 450 employees now. And so along that way the European expansion I mentioned, there's a certain subset of advisors that can just be super helpful there. And so, I think that there'll be these little pockets of segments where it's like," Okay, how should we think about what are these advisors that are better for us during the series CDE growth of our company and IPO versus the series A growth." And so I do think employees, certain advisors can chime in at different times and provide different expertise.
Matt Bilotti: So, talk me through getting an advisor on board. So, maybe we could use that international expansion as an example. So you're saying, all right, it's a priority for us to think about international. Do you then make a short list of, here are the end number of people that we think can be most useful and then do you just email them and say," Hey, we need your help with this. We'll make you an advisor." Can you just talk through the identification of who, to the point that they sign on?
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah. So I'll typically look for... We'll go try to shortlist advisers, but I'll do it through current advisor connections. So, I'm not going to go cold on any advisors. I don't think I've gone... None of our advisors have ever been reached out to advisors cold, but what I have done is really shortlisted, looked at my current advisors connections and then say," Hey, this person looks like a great advisor. Can you help me?" Or I'll just flat out, have an update to advisors saying," Hey, do you know anyone that's solid in X, Y, Z?" And then I'll get dozens of responses saying," You got to talk to this person, you got to talk to this person." And I'm like," yes." And so, advisors are growing the advisor network, so to speak.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah, that's awesome, right. It starts to pay exponential dividends, not only in the network, but then the ability to expand the network and...
Kris Rudeegraap: Exactly.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah. Okay, let's say I'm listening to this episode and I'm thinking," Well, that sounds cool. I've got my own startup going. Maybe we're a smaller, maybe we're a little bit bigger. Is it too late for me to start building this network? Maybe I'm not the CEO and co- founder, so how can I start to leverage the benefits of it or convince my team?" Can you just talk through a couple of things that people might be thinking as they're listening?
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah, 100%. So I would say it could be beneficial to everybody. I was actually speaking with a CMO who's one of my advisors at a 800 person company. And she was like," Hey, I'm going to work with my CEO to start this here." And so, I think that there is already informal advisors to a lot of companies. There's also investors, angel investors. And so, you already have this network of people that are willing to help. It's just oftentimes not operationalized that well. So, I would say that there's no reason why a non CEO listening or CRO couldn't think," Hey, I'm going to use some s..." And I think software is the key here. If you have some software, it makes it so much easier to formalize. If I was six months ago saying this where I'm like," Yeah, you just take some spreadsheets, you do some mail merges, and you insert first name and this and that. It was much more challenging, but the software has made it 100 times easier. So with that, I think it makes it so CMOs CROs, anyone can bring this to the table as a growth lever. I think there is a component where having the CEO involved is key. So, I don't think an AE can go do this tomorrow on their own with zero effort, especially since there's an equity component in it. But, if an employee brought this to me, I would be super happy that they had this growth idea. And then for another CEO or founder getting started, I don't think there's... I bet most of them have at least an investor or an advisor currently, maybe more. And so, this is more or less just saying," Hey, let's double down on that." And even if you just have six right now, a couple of angels, and maybe an investor and a couple of advisors, you could try to formalize that to get more out of it. And then just slowly chip away at adding more.
Matt Bilotti: And I imagine that the thought is running through some people listening right now which is," Is it really worth me giving away all this equity? Are my investors going to like that? It's a lot of equity." Well, what's your take on that?
Kris Rudeegraap: My thing is, I think equity is this pretty coveted asset that you have that has historically only been used for employees and investors. And so, this unlocks this new channel of people that are willing to help you for equity. And in some cases, they're not trying to say," Hey, I need 5% of your company to be an advisor." Oftentimes it's a micro amount, but it's nice to get give. And a lot of advisors I've found aren't in it to make a gazillion dollars on the equity. The equity is ancillary and a nice way to formalize the relationship, but ultimately there's a lot of successful people out there that are just paying it back, and want to be a part of a growing startup or want to diversify their mental challenges. I think that a lot of people have their nine- to- five, and if they can have a 5: 00 PM to 5: 15, where they can think about something else, it could just add to your wellbeing and your well- roundedness too. So, I don't advocate for giving away 50% of your company to advisors, but what we've done early on is we've allocated a certain percent of our company to advisors from day one. And we just chip away at that.
Matt Bilotti: Cool. Now that you've built a pretty substantial advisor network, anything that if you were to start over again, you would just do a little bit differently or maybe a couple of mishaps along the way that people could look out for?
Kris Rudeegraap: I would think about it as a long- term play. So, I think when I first got started, I actually didn't think I'd have 200 advisers. I thought I'd have a couple dozen. And so, I allocated a pretty substantial share of the pie to the first couple. And when you're a series A or seed company, you're like," Who cares? It's not worth that much." But now those early advisors are billionaires on paper based on this. So while everything is hindsight's 2020, and they were super helpful in getting us to where we are, I think the one thing is, think big and long- term. And think what if you had 200 advisors, can you continue to give out of that percentage or that amount of equity to so many people?
Matt Bilotti: Yeah, it makes sense. Anything else on the adviser network stuff that we haven't had a chance to touch on?
Kris Rudeegraap: I think formalizing it is key too. We talked about that but I think... I talk about it in our all hands. So it's pretty vocal in that we'd know that this exists, that I think up front, like I said, the goal was more of a growth lever, but there's a lot of byproducts from it. We were doing a CMO video series recently and I was able to ping our advisors and get 15 CMOs to create videos in a minute. So, I think that there's extra benefits that maybe you don't think about. So, I think that's one thing. I think it is a little bit of work in effort. So, this is not something that you just... It's not like, turn it on and then it just goes. So I think, I probably commit maybe 30 minutes a week to this and some weeks more, but it's something that will take a little bit of time to continue to engage in and really develop strong advisors that will continue to help.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah. It makes a lot of sense, right. You got to make sure that your team knows that it's there so you can get the maximum value. And the advisors also feel like they're getting levered in the ways that they can be most useful, and they're not just sitting around with a thing on a piece of paper that says they're an advisor, but they're actually being helpful.
Kris Rudeegraap: Exactly.
Matt Bilotti: Yeah, cool. Kris, well, this has been awesome. Any other parting words on this advisor stuff?
Kris Rudeegraap: I would say," Hey, if you're thinking about this, and you still have questions, I'm happy to be an asset." And so in the show notes, you can put my contact information. It's email@example.com So, it does feel a little different than what most people probably do. And so there's like," Hey, what about X, Y, Z?" So if you do have one of those kinds of edge case questions, I'm happy to answer that because I've probably gone through that question in my head, or I've thought about it in the past. So happy to be an asset for others listening that want to get into the specifics on how to actually roll this out too.
Matt Bilotti: Awesome. Well, Kris, thank you again for joining. This has been fantastic.
Kris Rudeegraap: Yeah, you bet. Matt, thanks for having me.
Matt Bilotti: Absolutely. And for those of you listening, if you liked this episode, hit the subscribe button, and check out the others. We have plenty of other amazing guests. Some people have been back on, on a couple of episodes that have been great. Kris, maybe we'll have you back to talk about some other stuff, maybe some executive selling. Again, thank you for listening. I know there are plenty of other things that you can spend your time on. Listening to working on, watching whatever it might be. You're spending here, so I super appreciate it. My email is, matt @ driftt. com. If you've got any feedback or questions or topics or guests ideas or whatever it might be. And I will catch you on the next episode. Thanks.
Most companies have 5-15 advisors. But Sendoso...they've got hundreds! In this episode, Kris Rudeegraap, the CEO and co-founder of Sendoso, explains why he chose to have so many advisors, why they're all equity advisors, how he leverages them as a growth channel, and how he manages such a large network.
The software Kris mentions he uses to manage his advisors in this episode is https://getcabal.com/, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends! You can connect with Matt and Kris on Twitter at @MattBilotti, @rudeegraap, and @DriftPodcasts