Steven Benson is the Founder and CEO of Badger Maps. After receiving his MBA from Stanford, Steve worked in Sales at IBM, HP and Google where he was Google Enterprise’s Top Sales Executive in 2009. In 2012 Steve founded Badger Maps, the #1 Sales App in the Apple App Store, which helps Field Salespeople be more successful.
City where you’re from: Chicago
Hobbies: Mountain biking, Camping and Snowboarding
The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of will. – Vince Lombardi
Twitter : @SteveBenson
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I love that running my own business gives me the opportunity to create something. I get to talk to people everyday whose lives are different and better because of the product I envisioned and led the team to build. Entrepreneurship is the only thing that I can think of where you can see a problem, and create a business model around fixing it.
I also love the challenge – when you start a company, it feels like your job is to take off in an airplane, except you are standing at the beginning of the runway with nothing, you have to find the parts and put them together to make a plane that can take off while you’re running down the runway. When it works, there is no feeling like it – it’s hard for me to imagine a greater level of responsibility and accountability in a career than running your own business.
Who were your biggest influences? Was there a defining moment in your life?
My first Sales Manager at Google, Mark Flessel, helped me become a better salesperson by giving me great advice. He told me to focus on understanding my prospect’s and customer’s business, their KPI’s and their business goals. Then I could map my solution to what makes them successful. I have found time and time again in sales, taking the time to ask the right questions to understand my customer’s business drivers has allowed me to differentiate my solution over my competitors.
Another influence for me was Ravi Belani, who runs the Alchemist Accelerator. Badger participated in the accelerator program, and it was a great community to join. Ravi helped us understand the importance and strategy of early monetization, as well as gain insights into the startup capital markets.
I don’t know if there was a single defining moment in my life, but more of a defining period when Badger was a new company and it really seemed impossible to get it off the ground. We couldn’t bring in money fast enough to pay for the resources that we needed to run the product – it really felt like squeezing water from a rock and we were dying of thirst. Over a period of about two years, I worked as hard as I could and really gave it my all. That process changed me a lot and shaped who I am as a person and as a leader today.
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
I am the founder and CEO at Badger Maps, which is a solution that helps field salespeople optimize their routes and schedules to get more meetings and sales. My job includes mostly managing Sales, Marketing, HR and Recruiting.
I came up with the idea when I was frustrated by having a problem no one was solving. I knew a lot of other people had the same problem, and I believed I knew how to solve it. The way I got into that unique position was that my career has been spent in field sales, and so I understood the challenges faced by field sales people first hand. Also, when I was working on the Google Maps team, I got to know how powerful mobile mapping could be, and had first hand experience with the types of solutions and apps that mobile was capable of enabling.
I knew I could improve my performance at my job as a field sales rep if I could combine my customer data with a mobile mapping system, and I could envision a solution that could schedule and plan my time selling in the field in a more efficient way. Looking back at it, it was a combination of my role in sales and the industry background with software and mapping that made me well positioned to launch a company to solve the problems of field sales based on a mobile mapping platform.
How is your product/service different and unique? What has been your favorite moment with it? What’s the vision?
The Badger map is focused on one particular type of salesperson – the Field Sales Rep. A Field Sales Rep does business with customers face to face. We believe that this particular type of salesperson has been overlooked by other sales solutions in the marketplace, so we created Badger to help them become more successful. Field Sales People are special because they’re always on the move. They need mobile solutions more than anyone. As a result, Badger prioritizes a great mobile experience via iPhone, Android, and tablet – not just a desktop.
Badger Maps is a sales routing app that provides automatic territory management for Field Sales Reps. It helps them take action on their customer data by visualizing it on a map. Badger focuses on solving their daily problems in minutes rather than hours, and showing the best opportunities along the way. Sales Reps using Badger save time and gain focus, spending less time on driving and busy work and more time on what matters – Sales. Badger reduces driving time by 20% and creates 25% more daily meetings.
Our vision is to make our customers who are field salespeople more successful, do busy work for them automatically, and make their lives better. There are a lot of field sales people in the world, and we plan on continuing to solve more and more of their problems and challenges, to make their job easier and make them more successful. We’re looking to continue to serve our customers, and treat our employees well, to solve real problems that field salespeople have everyday.
If you do Facebook ads, what types of creatives/campaigns do you use (we like specifics)? If you don’t, what untapped marketing channels do you take advantage of?
We have experimented with Facebook ads, but haven’t been able to make them profitable. It’s potentially user error, or perhaps it’s just hard to nail down our demographic on there, because ‘Field Salesperson’ is not the type of demographic data they allow you to target by.
LinkedIn does let us target down to title, but we haven’t been able to get that to pencil out economically either. Google Ads, on the other hand, are profitable for us and we use them a lot. The most important channel for us remains referrals from customers who enjoy using our product and experience more success in their field sales job because of it.
Did you experience failure along the way? What did you learn from it?
My background is in Sales, so I’ve failed a lot over the years – it goes with the territory. One of the best parts about starting your career in Sales is that it gives you a thick skin and an attitude that you can press things to overcome objections and obstacles. That certainly helped to prepare me to start a company, which is essentially overcoming a series of impossible obstacles.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
The first question that someone considering the path of entrepreneurship should ask is “Am I a planner?”. If you are going to run your own business, you have to get used to thinking a couple of steps ahead. It’s also important to have the basic blocking and tackling in each area of business – Sales, Marketing, Technology, Accounting, Finance etc. A big surprise to a lot of people who start companies is how much time they need to spend selling to be successful. You need to be a jack of all trades, because a big miss in any of these areas can be company killing.
Teach us something about sales funnels. Can you recommend any favorite websites to learn that topic?
My best advice is to think about your sales and marketing funnel as one big lifecycle, and to break it up into as many steps as you can think of that make sense. The people who are exposed to your business are the top of the funnel, the next step would be an engaged lead, then a trial user, then an opportunity, then a sale, then a customer to support and make successful.
As you look at every stage in the funnel, evaluate how many people go into this stage and how many people exit it. Look for ways to make that percentage higher. In my experience, people tend to over-optimize the top of the funnel “number of leads”, and the point of the funnel where “opportunities go to closed business”. But there are often big opportunities in the middle and at the bottom of the funnel (customer success) that are overlooked.
A great website on entrepreneurship that covers not only the sales and marketing funnel but many other aspects of entrepreneurship with a focus on SaaS Software is www.SaaStr.com.
While working on your project, have you come across any interesting bit of knowledge that you’d like to share? (i.e. any new research finding, any new platforms, some novel management technique, etc)
One of the biggest learnings of my career is that companies in America today, in my opinion, underinvest in their relationship with their employees. Companies try to squeeze everything out of them and they don’t invest much in training or making them better. They operate with very little transparency, focus on the short term and not the long term, and in general, they treat the relationship like the employee is replaceable.
As a result, employees switch jobs a lot, searching for something that is a little less miserable. Companies therefore end up with a short term relationship with many of their employees. But creating a company and culture of long term employment can be really beneficial to companies. Someone who has been around for 5 years is a huge asset to a company because they are experts in the company and its business processes. They have the internal relationships and knowledge to get things done far more effectively than someone who is new to a role. I believe that companies should work to foster an environment where they have a healthy, mutually beneficial, long term relationship with more of their employees.
What daily habits do you have that allow you to perform at your peak?
First of all, I block out distractions. Turn off notifications, put your phone on silent, no vibrating messages, stay off facebook, snapchat, IM, etc. We think that we can multi-task, but we cannot. By turning off everything you will accomplish way more in life.
I also sort all my tasks by importance and due date. That way in the busy times, I don’t forget to get back to important customers or investors. There are a lot of great productivity apps out there, but I’ve always been a fan of the personalization and simplicity of a spreadsheet. I put my to do list into a spreadsheet and regularly sort by what’s important, what’s due and highlight things that are important but not urgent. This helps me stay organized and on top of my tasks throughout the day.
Besides, I have focused quiet time every day and spend it on the most important things that I need to accomplish that day. Every day, I go home from work around 8:30 and have dinner and hang out with my wife till around 10:30, when she goes to sleep. Then I go back to work till around 3am, then I go to bed. This quiet time is absolutely critical to my productivity.
Lastly, coffee is my secret weapon (cold brew is my latest passion). Without coffee and tea and chocolate, I truly believe I would have accomplished less than 50% of what I have in life.
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
Focus on maximizing monetization because money is your lifeblood when starting a business. There are a lot of ways to monetize from the beginning on. Look to have key high value employees do small consulting engagements. Charge customers for features that they request as a consulting engagement. Early on you can even find a big company to fund the building of your product if saying something like “I’d love to get you on-board here, and as an early adopter, you’re paying 1/10th of what people are going to be paying in a year, because we’re going to be doing so much more so much better. And your price will be locked in now. Also, you get to have a hand in shaping the direction of the product to solve your exact problems first.” That makes it feel a lot more reasonable for your prospects to buy early.
This combines customer development and monetization. A key thing that we did early on was get companies who were early adopters of our technology to pay for multiple years of the service up front. This is a pure arbitrage play. A big company doesn’t choose your solution if they don’t want it for years. And they have a low cost of capital. You need money to pay engineers to make the product better that they want to be better. And you have a high cost of capital. There are plenty of ways to negotiate to a win-win here.
Walk us step-by-step through the process that you had to go through to get from the early stages to where you are today.
The first questions to ask yourself when starting a business are all about money. Do you have access to money? How much money do you need to live? How long can you live on the amount of money you have. Money is the lifeblood of businesses, and businesses take awhile to get going – usually things take longer than you think. You always have to keep your eye on your runway – how long your business can survive (pay the bills and the payroll) without additional capital.
If you have access to money from savings, that is good. If you don’t you’ll need to get investors to support you and your business. If you aren’t bringing on investors, you’ll need to bootstrap the business. People say this is “impossible”, but Badger and lots of other companies prove that it’s not. The 3 key qualities that allowed us to bootstrap Badger Maps were:
- Keeping cost down
- Focus on maximizing monetization
- Solving a problem that people were willing to pay to solve
When starting to hire people, there is so much to learn when you are a small company. You can’t afford to hire people who already know how to do things. This is why the most important thing you can be as a business leader is an educator. Educate your customers and employees about everything, and enable your team to educate each other.
To grow the company, we found the referral and the ‘land and expand strategy’ to be most successful for Badger.
Referrals are where people that are currently using your product tell their friends, colleagues, ex-co-workers, new co-workers, etc about your product. Why would they do this? Because they love you. People don’t tell their friends about you unless you are so great that they are willing to associate their own ‘personal brand’ with you.
The ‘land and expand strategy’ is related to the referral strategy, but it’s a little different. You get one person at a company to use your product, and because you make them successful, their coworkers and management find out about you and you spread around the organization. Some of our biggest customers have been acquired this way. One person finds out about you, then their manager sees their success and wants it for the rest of his or her team. Then the regional manager sees that one manager’s team doing well, so then all the regions get it, then the division, etc.
Really though, our true secret to getting where we are today is creating an environment where our team can thrive and grow and where everyone is happy. An organization is made up of its people and by coaching them to be successful at their job, I help my company perform at its best while increasing employee satisfaction, productivity and profitability.
What are some of your favorite books?
My favorite book that I would recommend all entrepreneurs to read is ‘Smart People Should Build Things’, by Andrew Yang. The premise of the book is that instead of going on the traditional path that successful students take – management consulting, finance, big companies, medicine, law, graduate school, etc, top students should start or join small businesses.
I also like ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries. You don’t have to join the cult or anything, but it’s worth understanding why there is a cult in the startup community surrounding the philosophies outlined in this book.
If you’re starting a SaaS business, read ‘Impossible to Inevitable’ by Jason Lemkin.
Where do you see yourself and your product in a couple years?
My goal is to build a business that enables the people that work for it to grow and have a satisfying and happy work experience and that it helps make its customers lives better in a meaningful way. As the company has grown, I feel a greater and greater amount of responsibility to my employees. It’s so important that I work as hard as I can to keep the business successful, and every time one of my employees has a child, or another life event, I’m reminded of that time and time again.
Badger Maps is growing so fast, and it’s hard to even know what problems we are going to be able to solve for field sales teams over the next few years. Our objective for the future is to be the best technology for field salespeople to do their jobs better. There are so many ways we plan on helping salespeople be more successful in the next few years, but my dream is to keep coming up with new problems that we can solve for them.