Founder-led sales: from zero to 100+ clients in a year

Our go-to-market strategy for identity verification

We launched Passbase just weeks before lockdowns began around the world in early 2020. As businesses reopen, we’re reflecting on our go-to-market (GTM) strategy that has helped us grow through a pandemic year. By the end of 2020, Passbase’s identity verification solution was powering over 100 paying client companies around the world. Although I had no experience in sales, with guidance and a go-to-market (GTM) strategy, we established a value proposition that will sell and created effective organizational alignment.

Establishing a value proposition that will sell

A security and authentication solutions chart with trust on the Y-axis and Friction on the X-axis. From the bottom left corner, moving diagonally right and up, the solutions include CAPTCHA, E-mail 2FA, Social and SSO, Phone 2FA, 3rd Party Databases, Knowledge-based authentication, ID checks, and ID and biometric checks. Passbase's services cover 3rd party database, knowledge-based authentication, ID document and biometric checks.

We initially began with product-led sales and wanted to focus on developer experience. We wanted to create a solution that provided developers with the tools to quickly integrate identity verification into their mobile (iOS, Android) or web applications, instead of having to discuss their needs with existing solutions providers that had traditional sales processes. We figured that self-service is not always enough because we were in a high trust and high friction market. We could not take the passive inbound growth approach and needed to actively sell the product.

Without sales experience, I dived in with Georg, our Head of Customer Success, to participate in the sales process. We used these early stages to explore the value propositions that we were making, understand the problems we were solving for potential clients, and building relationships with early clients who became our design partners. Our ease of integration and technical support gave clients a way to build seamless identity verification into their product that hit multiple pain points for companies. French Neobank Binks and fashion rental platform Hurr Collective were able to focus on business development and building a great customer experience for their end users. We validated that our product was valuable with our early clients and with them and with them we refined our understanding of our value proposition to grow.

Becoming Passbase’s first account executive

Our investor, Ted Wang from Cowboy Ventures recommended the book Founding Sales: The Early Stage Go-to-Market Handbook by Pete Kazanjy when I first started selling Passbase and I learned about executing on the basics well myself to get the company from 0-30 paying clients. In the book, you will find chapters covering basic sales materials, early prospecting, prospecting outreach, early in-bound lead capture, and preparing for product demos. This meant that I was building sales decks, doing early prospecting, and preparing product demos. For this early stage, we used Pipedrive as our first CRM to build out sale funnel that got us to the first 15 or so customers. Our calls helped us iterate our communication and understand what we are selling, which ultimately when into our Sales Playbook once Dan, our VP of Sales, joined Passbase.

Formalize the sales process

Once we had the early-stage customers, we began to formalize the process. We worked closely with Passbase’s sales advisor, Meka Asonye, former VP of Sales at Stripe and Mixpanel and now with First Round Capital. I worked with him to structure the sales stages and create good assets.

At this stage, we also migrated to Hubspot for a more robust CRM system. I also read the book Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge on how to structure sales stages and refine supporting assets.

Sales at Passbase is about helping people solve problems. When done well, it should feel like a doctor-patient relationship. You diagnose problems and prescribe medication to make it better. — Passbase Sales Playbook

With validation from paying customers, we were ready to hire our first salesperson. Dan joined us like a player-coach and sold the product with us for the next six months. During this time, we also built out the Passbase Sales Playbook. This playbook is a living document and if you have not started already, start a document now to capture what you are selling, who you are selling it to, and how you sell. As you build out tools and processes, document what an Account Executive (AE) role is, sales assets, tools, and services, FAQs, and experiments so that you have a growing knowledge base.

At this point, we also began scaling marketing efforts and by June, we had a Product Hunt campaign that gave Passbase a huge signal boost. This helped us optimize our efforts around inbound sales calls. When the inbound volume became too much for Dan, myself, and Georg, we began to bring on our account executives and grew the sales team. Between Summer and Fall of 2020, we onboarded our AEs Thomas and Rena, who helped close out the year with December as our strongest month.

Growing sales muscles with effective organizational alignment

To build out our sales pipeline, we have expanded our toolset. Our prospecting flow includes building out lists using tools like Crunchbase Pro with focus sectors and personas. We also used looked for appropriate contacts within target companies and began building out automated sequences. We also began moving upmarket, working with companies in multiple markets that could really make the most of our multilanguage and customization features.

We have built out our sales muscles and focused on generating more sales qualified leads (SQLs), increasing the pipeline, deal size, and conversion rates at every stage of the funnel. This is also where an SDR function becomes important to focus on prospecting, qualification, and consideration and strengthen our sales pipeline and connect more deeply with our marketing team.

Having a solid GTM strategy and structure for a sales team became a foundation for optimizing all parts of our sales cycle, from tightening the sales cycle to growing our deal sizes. This ultimately enabled us to close out 2020 with Q4 as our strongest quarter.

We have seen month-on-month growth and have nearly doubled our client base in the first half of 2021. To continue to grow, we will be demonstrating the value that we are providing to target markets. As we continue to build out the identity layer to power businesses, we will double down on the sectors that we are already providing value to in order to maintain close relationships and develop features that can improve user experiences for them.

By the way, Passbase is hiring in NYC and Berlin!

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Passbase is an identity verification solution that makes facial recognition, liveness detection, ID verification and KYC and AML compliance accessible through a suite of flexible developer tools. A zero-knowledge architecture ensures that companies using Passbase can securely verify users from over 190 countries without having to store their data. Built for developers, it can be integrated with just a few lines of code on iOS, Android, and Web.