Jon Ferrara, Founder and CEO, Nimble
Back in the Game
How Nimble’s Jon Ferrara returned to the startup world to revolutionize customer relationships for a second time, all while maintaining a life he loves.
Jon Ferrara was frustrated.
As a young computer software salesman and son of an entrepreneur, he firmly believed that one of the most vital aspects of business was relationship building. But in the 1980s, managing those relationships was a giant pain. He was stuck fumbling with paper leads, appointment calendars, spreadsheet forecasts, and no great way to keep or share records. He wanted to fix the problem, and thought he might just be able to.
Of course, he could have stayed content where he was and raked in a sweet $200,000 a year, while waiting for someone else to solve the problem. But surrounded by aging coworkers who regularly lamented the shots they didn’t take, Ferrara didn’t want to be just another guy with a good idea who didn’t chase his dream.
So at 28, he quit his job to see what he could create.
Three decades and two successful companies later, Ferrara changed the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) game—and then changed it again! Through his work in founding GoldMine and Nimble, Ferrara strives to boost the R in CRM by improving the way salespeople relate to each other and to their customers, first by integrating email, contacts, and calendar, and then by drawing in social media.
“As I went into my career and struggled to sell in the technology arena, I found it hard to scale connections and relationships and pipeline and marketing, and I looked for a tool to do it,” he says. “I couldn’t find it, so I built it. And it turned into a gold mine for me.”
The path Ferrara has traveled has not been a straight line. But thanks to a willingness to pivot, seek partnerships with high-profile businesses, and put relationships before profit, he has built businesses, and a life, he is very proud of.
With no Windows, Outlook, or Salesforce, the life of a salesperson in the 1980s was an endless wilderness of loose scraps of paper.
The salesperson was handed a lead that they would cold call, making notes on the piece of paper and scheduling further meetings in a separate-but-also-paper appointment calendar.
If the paper was lost, so were the notes. Forget about other team members sharing information to build well-rounded relationships with a client. And the bigger the company got, so grew the problem.
This was the root of Ferrara’s frustration.
“What I wanted was a tool that integrated contacts and email and calendar with sales and marketing automation, not just for me, but for the whole team,” he says.
No matter how hard he looked, he could only find pieces of the tool he sought. A marketing tool here. A calendar there. A pipeline tool way over there. But nothing that brought it all together. So, he set out to create it himself.
Ferrara sketched out the idea for GoldMine, and Elan Susser, a friend from college, made it into a reality. Using the money in their savings accounts, Ferrara and Susser created a CRM that integrated every tool a sales team would need and designed it to be accessible across a network.
They had created something revolutionary, and that filled a prevalent need, but they had no money to advertise and no real connections to reach out to.
“There we were, two kids in an apartment with $5,000 in the bank with basically Outlook and Salesforce before either existed,” he says. “So, how do you sell that?”
They say our struggles become our greatest strengths. And it’s in his past sales struggles that Ferrara found the key to GoldMine’s success. During his two-year stint as a software salesman with Banyan, Ferrara was often beaten to the punch by the local resellers of a competing company, Novell.
“The Novell resellers used to kick my butt as the enterprise Banyan sales rep because I had to sell at the top level, the enterprise, all the way down to everybody in the company, and that took months if not years,” he says. “Whereas the Novell guys sold into work groups.”
Rather than focusing on the top dogs at well established companies, Ferrara’s competitors got to know the small groups in coffee shops that would one day form successful startups and eventually large corporations.
With their bottom-up approach, Novell representatives were becoming the trusted go-to software salespeople of small workgroups, allowing them to spread more quickly and eventually become the corporate standard in a fraction of the time it took for top-level executives to make decisions.
So when Ferrara wanted to spread the word about GoldMine, he sought out his former competition. He called top Novell sellers and showed them what a difference GoldMine would make in their own businesses.
As they fell in love with the software, the trusted, local reps recommended it to their customers. Ferrara says that this proto-influencer marketing tactic was the secret sauce that allowed them to reach their first $100,000 in sales.
But as the business grew, so did the needs of the GoldMine customers. While Ferrara’s company initially targeted solopreneurs and small teams, they were rapidly being asked to cater to the needs of organizations with as many as 5,500 people. They needed a more scalable model.
So, when Microsoft approached Ferrara with a deal, he knew it would be mutually beneficial.
“They said, ‘Well, we just built NT Server, SQL Server and Exchange Server, and we want an independent software vendor to help us drive adoption because nobody’s going to buy SQL Server without a business application that calls for it and makes it sticky,’” he says.
As Microsoft created new servers, the company needed to find a way to sell them to business owners who were reluctant to leave the comfortable. By partnering with up and coming business applications that would run only using their newest servers, they drove sales of both products.
Ferrara decided to create a new version of GoldMine that supported the needs of larger corporations by relying on the tools provided by the Microsoft servers. In turn, Microsoft pushed GoldMine to its customers.
“We became corporate standard at 50 of the Fortune 500 companies, and that’s what propelled us to $100 million a year in revenue,” Ferrara says.
But as he stood on the mountaintop of success and looked down at what he had built, he began to question whether he wanted to keep climbing or if it might be time to take another path.
The life of an entrepreneur can be tough. Building a company, particularly a large one, requires high levels of dedication, brainpower, and time.
“Ten years of scaling a company to $100 million in revenue took everything I had,” Ferrara says, “and it cost me time and moments with everyone around me.”
He started searching for his exit.
It was 2000, the stock market was soaring, and Ferrara suspected it wouldn’t last, so when he was offered $125 million in cash to sell GoldMine, he took the deal.
Four months later, Ferrara says, the dotcom bubble burst, sending stocks plummeting. But even as he sighed with the relief of a bullet dodged and settled into the stay-at-home husband and father life, another much more insidious threat was already growing. One year after Ferrara sold GoldMine, doctors found a tumor in his brain.
“Life is going to hand you blessings, and it’s also going to smack you, and you can’t control that,” he says. “The only thing you can control is how you react to it.”
Ferrara chose to react in the way he knew best: through research and relationships. He visited a variety of doctors while also learning about Eastern medicine, and through a combination of these treatments, he says he healed his body while also taking a deeper look at his soul.
“I came to a simple conclusion about my purpose in life,” he says. “I think we are on this planet to grow our souls by helping other people grow theirs. Rinse and repeat. That’s it.”
Even though he had only planned to be away from the business world for a short period, his brush with mortality caused him to reevaluate where he invested his limited time.
“They don’t write on your grave, ‘kickass entrepreneur,’” Ferrara says with a laugh. “They say, ‘beloved father, friend, husband.’ So I decided to dedicate time to being a present father, husband, and contributor to my community…and to be able to do that at 40 years old was priceless. It was precious.”
So for nearly a decade, Ferrara was almost entirely absent from the world of technology. Then in 2009, as his 50th birthday approached, the rise of a new technological power caught his attention: social media.
Still with an eye for relationship building, Ferrara recognized that social media was about to reshape the way people related to one another and also how consumers related to businesses. He also knew that the current CRM options weren’t built to integrate with social media.
With contacts spread across CRM software, company software, and every kind of social media platform imaginable, salespeople were once again as overwhelmed trying to manage contacts as they were in the days of pen and paper.
“So I said to myself, ‘Imagine if you could build a CRM that worked for you by building itself from the disparate data you already have in your business—the email, contacts, and calendars that you have in GSuite, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn,’ and I built it,” he says.
In 2010, Ferrara built an exploratory team. In 2011, he launched a beta test. In 2013, the paywall went up, and so Ferrara returned to the entrepreneurial world with the creation of the social CRM, Nimble.
Back in the Game
It was like déjà vu. Once again, Ferrara felt he had a valuable piece of software, and once again, he had no easy avenue to market it.
“I’d been out of technology for 10 years,” he says. “Most people in technology have only been in technology for 10 years, let alone out of it.”
No one remembered who he was, or even what GoldMine had done. But while he may have lost name recognition and connections during his absence, there is one thing that had only continued to flourish in his time away: his ability to build relationships.
So, Ferrara dove into social media, sharing and commenting on the posts of thought leaders in the entrepreneurial space.
“Rather than me having to go out and write my own content, I shared content that resonated with me in and around the value that my product provided, which generated eyeballs to my brand,” he says.
Over time, this led to moments of interaction with the influencers whose content he shared. But he avoided diving right into a pitch for Nimble. Instead, he would hop on a call with them and ask them questions based on research about their lives and businesses.
“If you let somebody talk, you’ll learn what you need to learn to add value, and they’ll love you because people love to be heard,” he says.
As the connections grew, he would offer them meaningful introductions or even business ideas. Only when he was asked would he share his current venture, Nimble. And as he shared, some of those he spoke with decided to give it a try. Then those happy customers shared their experiences with their followings.
And while this approach to marketing took time, Ferrara believes you can’t put a price on authenticity.
“Real, solid relationships are one to one,” he says. “They’re heart to heart. They’re relevant and authentic. And when you blast, people feel it.”
His patient methodology led to over 100,000 Nimble subscribers and such high-profile investors as Mark Cuban and Google Ventures, all without a single cent spent on marketing. And, after partnering with Microsoft once again, Ferrara sees explosive growth in Nimble’s future.
With the rise of cloud computing, he has his eye on which businesses are finding the most success in that arena. And Ferrara points out that, according to the numbers, it’s undoubtedly Microsoft. He says that while G Suite has about 7 million users, Office 365 has 175 million.
“Essentially it’s really game over in the cloud productivity wars, and Microsoft dominates and will grow from here. “Most businesses that use Microsoft products rely on their local reseller to facilitate their adoption and implementation. Microsoft has hundreds of thousands of them around the world, and nobody has that.”
With Nimble’s status as the simple CRM for Office 365, Ferrara says they’ve signed up 30 of the 50 top Microsoft distributors and over 1,000 Microsoft resellers in just the last six months. And it’s only onward and upward from there.
But even though lightning has struck not once but twice in Ferrara’s journey as a tech entrepreneur, he feels that his greatest achievements are those he has made as a husband, father, and member of his community.
“Life isn’t about money,” he says. “It’s really more about the moments that create the memories. All you leave are the moments you’ve been truly present with the universe around you—with other human beings—and the ripples that you leave behind.”
Interview by Nathan Chan, feature article reprinted from Foundr Magazine, by Erica Comitalo
- Why Ferrara believes in valuing relationships over everything else
- How Ferrara pioneered the world of CRM with his first company GoldMine
- Why you should avoid the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” mindset
- The 10-year journey to scaling GoldMine and selling it for $125 million in cash
- How a serious illness shifted Ferrara’s perspective and led to his current life’s mission
- The transition from 10 years out of the tech game to building leading social CRM platform Nimble
- How Ferrara rebuilt his personal brand and Nimble’s brand
- His best advice when it comes to building strategic, high-level partnerships
- Why Ferrara recommends focusing on moments, not money
Full Transcript of Podcast with Jon Ferrara
Nathan: The first question I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Jon: I created my job. I think I was born into my job. The thing that we do at Nimble, and at my previous startup, GoldMine, is we build technology that powers relationships. I was really born into valuing relationships by watching my dad, as an entrepreneur, build his own company and using relationships in order to be able to do that. As I went into my career and struggled to sell in the technology arena, I found it hard to scale connections and relationships and pipeline and marketing, and I looked for a tool to do it. I couldn’t find it, so I built it. And, it turned into a gold mine for me.
Nathan: Interesting. So, take me back. Your first company was GoldMine. You’re currently focused on Nimble, which is a social CRM service for small businesses. Talk to me around GoldMine. You started it like bootstraps with $5,000. Never took any VC funding. Was that your first company?
Jon: Yeah, it was definitely my first company. The GoldMine story goes like this. Back when I started GoldMine, it was DOS days. There was no Windows and Outlook didn’t exist. There was no Salesforce. There was no term CRM. People managed relationships with something called a Day-Timer. Essentially a paper based calendar and to-do list and contacts. They did their forecasting in spreadsheets and there actually wasn’t a programme that integrated email, contact, and calendar in sales and marketing automation together. Didn’t exist. I was in sales for a startup out of Boston in a field sales office in Dallas. They gave me leads, which weren’t really even qualified leads. They were a piece of paper and phone numbers of IT people in large corporations. And they said go get them. So, I’d cold call those people, put the notes of the conversation on that piece of paper, put my appointments in my paper based calendar, and I’d go out and have conversations with them. Once a month, I’d put my forecast together and I’d send that to corporate. That was basically the life of a salesperson, and my process didn’t differ from millions of other people around the world. I thought to myself there’s got to be a better way to do this.
I wanted was a tool that integrated contacts and email and calendar with sales and marketing automation. Not just for me, but for the whole team. Because there was a team of people touching the customer. And, it wasn’t just salespeople. There were pre-imposed sales engineers, there was sales managers, there was product people, et cetera. I looked around for a tool and I found bits of it. I found a telemarketing tool, I found a pipeline tool, I found a marketing tool, I found an email and calendar tool. But, I didn’t really find something that blended it all together. Because I had a computer science background and worked my way through college in a computer store, I knew every software programme on the market and I knew it didn’t exist. So, one of the things, Nathan, that I learned in my first job at an aerospace company was I never want to say should’ve, could’ve, would’ve because there was old guys that had been there for 30, 40 years and they’d tell me well, my friend left and started Rocketdyne or TRW or Linton and I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve myself.
So, I was 28 years old. I didn’t have any kids, I wasn’t married. I was making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, but I knew I could always go out and get a job. So, I quit my job and got together with a college friend of mine. I laid out the screen design and concepts of what GoldMine would be. He wrote it, and there we were. Two kids in an apartment with $5,000 in the bank, with basically Outlook and Salesforce before either existed. How do you sell that? That was my struggle. What came to me was learnings from my jobs. I was a selling enterprise network operating system software to large corporations, but I used to get my butt kicked by the Novell resellers. You’ve probably never heard of Novell, but you definitely have heard of Gmail and G Suite. Today, if you ask an entrepreneur how are you going to tie PCs together in your office, you tell them oh yeah, you just go get G Suite or Office 365 and you connect the PCs together through wireless connection, and you basically have shared email, contact, and calendar and shared file storage and productivity apps. But, back in the day, if you wanted to do that, you had to hook up wires and servers and Novell or Banyan, that was the network for enterprises.
The Novell resellers used to kick my butt as the enterprise Banyan sales rep because I had to sell at the top level of the enterprise all the way down to everybody in the company, and that took months if not years. Whereas, the Novell guys sold into work groups. They basically sold into small teams, and they were local guys and people liked buying from somebody local. And they liked to buy in small work groups to get started, but eventually those work groups would become the corporate standard. So, I said to myself as I sat in this apartment in Canoga Park, how can I access millions of customers that need a networked business solution? Well, they got who their trusted advisor is, and the trusted advisor was the Novell reseller. They sold them the network, and I had the business application to ride on top of it, so I picked up the phone and I called every top Novell reseller in the country and I got them to use GoldMine, because people sell what they know and they know what they use. And then, they started to recommend and resell it to their basic customers, and every single one of those resellers had hundreds if not thousands of customers they sold networks to. That’s how we got to our first $100,000 a month in revenue.
Nathan: Wow, interesting. So, you guys were like one of the first contact management apps back in the early ’90s, right?
Nathan: Yep. And then, you ended up going off to sell GoldMine for, I’ve got here $125 million. That correct?
Jon: Yeah, yeah. But, before we get to selling it, I want to talk to you about a pivot.
Nathan: Yes, please.
Jon: We started out by accessing the influencer of our prospect. That was like early influencer marketing, if you will. We turned those Novell resellers into users and evangelists and resellers. But, what happened was Microsoft doesn’t innovate, they iterate. They wait for somebody else to build the market and they come in when it’s big enough, and they use their muscle to dominate. And their muscle is billions of users and hundreds of thousands of barbs. Interesting enough, Microsoft hired my former boss at Banyan, who basically built the Banyan network operating system and he built NQ server, which was Microsoft’s network operating system, and they ate Novell. So, right around that time period, my customers were coming to me and saying that they needed a more scalable backend database and more secure email transport and more scalable operating system, because we started out with solo printers in teams of 2 to 5 and eventually went to 5 to 25, and then 5 to 50, and then 5,500 as far as number of seats at our accounts.
So, the customers needed a more scalable backend, and our backend was something called dBase, which back in the day was sort of a database standard for small businesses. Our email transport was POP and IMAP and the operating system was Novell. So, our customers needed a more scalable version of GoldMine, our partners wanted to make more revenue on product and services beyond the GoldMine licence, and Microsoft came to me and they said well, we just built NT Server, SQL Server, and Exchange Server and we want a independent software vendor to help us drive adoption of it because nobody is going to buy SQL Server without a business application that calls for it and makes it sticky. So, we built GoldMine Enterprise CRM, which required NT Server, SQL Server, and Exchange Server seats for every GoldMine seat, solving the need for our customers to scale, solving the need for our partners to make $10 on every GoldMine dollar and product and services on top, solving the need for Microsoft to sell their crown jewels. We became Microsoft’s number one ISV and we became corporate standard at 50 of the Fortune 500 companies. And, that’s what propelled us to $100 million a year in revenue.
Nathan: Ah, I see. So, you kind of ditched Novell.
Jon: Well, we didn’t ditch Novell because we still had a simple solution. We still sold the less expensive version. We rode both horses, if you will.
Nathan: Yes, yes. To minimise risk.
Jon: Yes. 10 years into this whole thing, we’re generating $100 million a year in revenue. Nathan, I don’t know how long you’ve spend as an entrepreneur yourself, but you know how much it requires of you, right? Like, 10 years of scaling a company to $100 million in revenue took everything I had. And it cost me time and moments with everyone around me. Because it really does require everything if you really want to do it. I said to myself how much is enough? How much do you need? At the same time, the soft market valuation in ’99 was just crazy. It was just like companies were just giving outrageous multiples. And I just didn’t see that sustainable. We had an offer to sell GoldMine for cash, and back in the day all the deals were being done with shares. So, we sold it for cash. As you said, $125 million. And I think like four months later the market crashed. That was the dot-com burst and companies were worth a tenth of what they were worth.
Nathan: Wow. So, you chose the right time.
Jon: Timing is everything. And then, I spent 10 years raising a few babies. I didn’t plan on taking that much time off, but a year after I sold GoldMine, I got a head tumour and almost died.
Nathan: Oh. Oh, God.
Jon: I don’t know if you’ve ever been seriously ill, Nathan, but-
Nathan: No, I haven’t.
Jon: … you don’t really understand the value of wellness until you’re ill. I went through the journey of treatments and getting healed, but also did some spiritual work. Through that process, I came to a simple conclusion about my purpose in life, and I think it relates to, really, all of us. I think we’re on this planet to grow our souls by helping other people grow theirs. Rinse and repeat. That’s it. You don’t leave this planet with millions of dollars. You don’t leave this planet with the title of pioneered CRM. They don’t write on your grave kickass entrepreneur. They say blood of the father, friend, husband. So, I decided to dedicate time to being a present father, husband, and contributor to my community. Nathan, most people wait until they’re like 50 or 60 or 70 or whatever to do that, and to be able to do that at 40 years old was priceless. It was precious. It also gave me time to swim in the social river and to see the immense pressure of social media and how it’s going to change that we work, play, buy, and sell.
So, around 2009 and ’10, I started to crystallise an idea that social media was going to cause a renaissance in relationships and that to be effective in business in the future you’re going to need to incorporate social media in your conversations to set yourself up as a trusted advisor so that when your customers want you, they not only pick up the phone and call you but they drag their friends with you. But, the tools that we use aren’t designed for that. The typical CRM system isn’t about relationships, it’s about reporting. The reason they call it Salesforce is they have to force salespeople to use it. Nobody in their right mind would use this CRM if they weren’t beat on to do it. And I know because I invented it. The thing that people may not know is at its core GoldMine, the value of it, was that it was a team relationship manager, and that’s really what’s missing from the tools we use today.
Because, if you’re going to manage email, contact, and calendar today, your choice is iCloud, Gmail, G Suite, or Office and for most people in a team in the business, it’s G Suite and Office, and they suck at contact management because contacts and email and calendars aren’t linked. So, if you go to your Google contacts, which most people never do, the email and calendar history interaction is not linked to the record. And every team member has a separate contact database, so there is no system erected of relationships in the business. In addition, every business has some type of business application or applications, Mailchimp, QuickBooks, Xero, Pipedrive, whatever you’ve got. These are islands of contacts in each of these separate siloed applications. So, what you’re missing from your business is a team relationship manager. And I think the biggest cause of failure of CRM is that you work for it, it doesn’t work for you. You have to go it to use it, so nobody does it. I said to myself imagine if you could build a CRM that works for you by building itself from the disparate data you already have in your business, the email, contact, and calendars that you have in G Suite, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And I built it and basically pioneered social CRM and social selling with Nimble.
Nathan: Interesting. When did you start Nimble? When did you decide to dust off the boots and come back into the game?
Jon: I put together a team to explore it in 2010. We did a beta in 2011. Turned on the payroll in 2013. And basically were able to build a global brand without a dime of marketing, and basically grow to one of the leading CRMs on the market without advertising. The way that I did it … And you can imagine, Nathan. I’d been out of technology for 10 years. Now, most people in technology have only been in technology for 10 years, let alone out of it for 10 years. So, nobody remembered who I was, or maybe even what GoldMine was. So, I had to rebuild my brand and then build the Nimble brand. In fact, I had to go get a domain. I got nimble.com. That’s a story in and of itself, but the way that I was able to build the Nimble brand was through influencer marketing again. But, this time there really weren’t resellers out there that had relationships with large bases of customers because the Gmail and G Suite resellers were just really getting started and the Microsoft resellers were still selling on prem Exchange and Outlook, because there was no Office 365. So, what I did was I identified the influencer of my core prospect, aiming around the areas of promise of my product. So, thought leaders and social, sales, and marketing.
I began to share their content and then attribute their name and hashtag it accordingly. So, I might share content from Tony Robbins and attribute his name and then hashtag it #growth#sales. Or from another thought leader. Brian Solis or Bryan Kramer. You name the thought leader. The idea is, rather than me having to go out and write my own content, I shared content that resonated with me in and around the value that my product provided, which generated eyeballs to my brand, to the Nimble brand, of people interested in learning more about #sales#marketing#social and built relationships with the constituency of the influencer, and with the influencer themselves, who would respond back and say hey, Jon, thanks for sharing that stuff. And I’d respond back and say well, your content really resonated with me, Nathan, and I’d love to connect for a conversation. And then I’d get into a conversation, much like you and I are having right now, on Skype or on GoToMeeting or whatever, and I wouldn’t basically get into a pitch and say how great I am or how great Nimble is. I would have done my homework to learn about them and their journey and their business and I’d ask a few questions. I’d shut up and just let them talk. Because if you let somebody talk, you’ll learn what you need to learn to add value and they’ll love you, because people love to be heard.
Once I’d learned enough about them and their business, I’d then suggest ways I might add value through an introduction or through a business idea, or whatever. Eventually, they would say Jon, tell me about you or tell me about Nimble, and I would do that. Ultimately, they would become a friend, and ultimately a Nimble user, and ultimately a Nimble evangelist and a storyteller for us. That’s how we basically built Nimble up and got over 100,000 subscribers to the platform over time, got investors like Dharmesh Shah, Mark Cuban, Google Ventures, Jason Calacanis, et cetera. All through telling stories, getting other people to tell their stories, and being a pioneer in the evolution and revolution and renaissance of relationships and social.
Nathan: Wow, fascinating. So, you really did things that don’t scale in many ways, right?
Jon: In what way?
Nathan: Like, you went one to one. You didn’t do these massive blasts through email just to random cold outreach to people. You shared great content from other people and you connected with people one on one.
Jon: It was a one to one relationship building conversation, much like the Novell one, the way that we built GoldMine. But, if you think about it, Nathan, real solid relationships are one to one. They’re heart to heart. They’re relevant and authentic. When you blast, people feel it. That’s why I think that sales has become a four letter word. I think service is the new sales and I think tools like Outreach.io and SalesLoft are really giving sales a bad name because they automate and computerise outreach in a way that’s unauthentic. And you feel it. You get those emails every day, don’t you?
Nathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. People want a back link or all sorts of stuff. Want to be featured. We get hundreds of them every day.
Jon: Right. But, when somebody reaches out to you in a relevant and authentic way, it stands out and you feel it. And you respond, don’t you?
Nathan: Depends. It’s just too many.
Jon: But, you know what I mean.
Nathan: Yeah, 100%.
Jon: You know what I mean.
Jon: Yeah, yeah. Especially if they’re not just cold reaching out to you. If they’ve walked in your footprint, added value to your conversation, shared your stories, commented on your stuff … And, you actually might reach out to them. We’ve got probably 20,000 of the top influencers around the world in social sales and marketing as users and evangelists of Nimble. And that does scale, because they then are telling our story. But, there’s a pivot to this story as well.
Nathan: Please. What happened next?
Jon: Well, there’s actually a few stories, one of which is I was able to go up to LinkedIn and get access to all their public and private APIs, which means that Nimble had integrated into it LinkedIn messaging, email lookup, contact enrichment, contact synchronisation, synchronisation of group signals, as well as individual notifications. Basically everything you get in LinkedIn, I had in Nimble. And I had that for Facebook and I had it for Twitter. So, we built this kickass platform that automagically synchronised all your contacts from G Suite, Gmail, iCloud, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and all the signals thereof.
Jon: And it was amazing. But, LinkedIn tried to buy Nimble, didn’t offer me enough money, and eventually cut the API off to everybody and built Sales Navigator. And I had to sort of rethink what the value and purpose of Nimble was going to be. About this time, Microsoft came out with Office 365, and because I know the past, I better understand the present and I could predict the future. I said to myself well, I started out by building a platform that unifies all this stuff and I envision that you’re going to live in Nimble like you might’ve lived in GoldMine. But, the reality is, Nathan, even if I still had access to all the APIs for Facebook and LinkedIn, I couldn’t replicate the evolution of the UIs for those platforms, of them and Gmail and G Suite, and you’d still go over to Gmail or G Suite or Facebook or LinkedIn in order to engage in those platforms.
So, Nimble isn’t going to be the place that you live all day long. I came to that conclusion. Number two is email, contact, and calendar are the most important business signals that you ever have, and ever will, potentially. Even though we like to poo-poo on email and contacts and calendar, it’s the heart of every business. And the APIs for those things will never go away. Finally, I saw the parallels between G Suite and Microsoft and Novell and Microsoft. Because, if you think about it, Novell was the G Suite of its era. If you bought PCs and a business and you wanted to tie them together, you bought Novell. 10 years ago, if you bought PCs and you wanted to tie them together, you bought G Suite. Is that true?
Nathan: Oh, I wasn’t so much in the game 10 years ago, to be honest, Jon.
Jon: Let’s say five years ago. Or today.
Nathan: Well, yeah. We use Google apps for business right now.
Jon: Okay. So, if you don’t have wires connected to PCs, connected to servers, you basically have a router someplace and you have PCs and they use G Suite as its cloud productivity. Email, contact, and calendar and word processes and spreadsheets. Right?
Nathan: Yep, correct.
Jon: Okay. The thing is, Microsoft doesn’t innovate, they iterate. They wait for somebody else to build the market and they come in when it’s big enough and use their muscle. Billions of users in hundreds of thousands of bars. Today, there’s 175 million Office 365 customers. There’s 7 million G Suite customers.
Nathan: Wow. Isn’t that because they’re taking most of enterprise, though?
Jon: No. No. Essentially, it’s really game over in the cloud productivity wars and Microsoft dominates, and it will grow from here because there still are people with on prem Exchange servers and Outlook and they will move to the cloud and they’ll move to Office 365. But really, the future is when people start moving the rest of their servers. Now, you don’t have any servers in your office, Nathan, but the bulk of businesses in the world still have servers in closets that IT people manage, believe it or not.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Jon: They’re going to have to move those to the cloud, and they’re going to start with Office. But ultimately, they’re going to move into something called Azure. You may think Azure is a colour-
Nathan: Oh, Azul.
Jon: … Yeah. Or you may think it’s a competitor AWS, but really it’s a place where people are going to build their servers in the future. I’ll tell you why. Because most businesses that use Microsoft products rely on their local reseller to facilitate their adoption and implementation and Microsoft has hundreds of thousands of them around the world, and nobody has that. AWS doesn’t have all those resellers. They’re find, try, buy. Google doesn’t have that many resellers. They’re find, try, buy. Nimble has evolved into the simple CRM for Office 365. Microsoft has signed a resell agreement with us, where they’re globally pushing Nimble through their distributors and resellers. They’re personally walking us into their largest distributors worldwide and paying their distributors to push us to their resellers. We’ve signed up 30 of their top 50 Microsoft distributors and over 1,000 resellers in the past six months.
Nathan: I see. What I’m hearing, Jon, is you’re very, very strong. Both from your previous business, GoldMine, and now also Nimble. You’re very strong on strategic high level partnerships that can be basically massive game changers and can really be a strong kind of turning point to really grow your company.
Jon: That’s exactly it, Nathan. If you think about the typical SaaS company, they do whatever they can to generate eyeballs to drive into a market automation system to lead qualify them so that their SDRs can engage with them to close them. That’s the typical cycle. And, the eyeballs, for most of those SaaS companies, involve adspend. Right?
Nathan: Yeah, 100%. That’s the game. You have an earn back period.
Jon: Right. The problem with that, especially if you’re in a competitive segment, is that it’s a race to the bottom with the cost of all those ad words and there’s only so many hours in the day that your SDRs can sell, so you can only scale to a certain amount. I’ll argue that most SaaS companies only can scale to, say, $5 million to $50 million. In that model. Which isn’t chump change. I mean, it’s good money, right? It’s a nice lifestyle business.
Nathan: Yeah, evaluation … Ooh, I probably wouldn’t call it a lifestyle business, in terms of like if you could build a company, in my perspective, to a $50 million a year annual recurring revenue business, there’s good valuations there.
Jon: Yes, of course there is. I’m being facetious.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. All right.
Jon: But, the reality is that if you can get tens of thousands of resellers around the world selling you for 24 hours a day, and each of those resellers has between 1,000 and 5,000 customers, and those customers range between 50 and 500 user potential seats and your current seats are 3 to 5 and you’re generating, let’s say, 50,000 uniques per month on your website, which is roughly where we’re at, through guerilla content social media … We don’t spend money on eyeballs, we do it through influencer marketing and guerilla PR. That’s not a bad number, but the thing is that that pales in comparison to what the channel can do for you. That’s the beauty of our model, is that it’s not just reliant on the touchless model, that we’ve got that channel model that we’re beginning to scale. That’s our unique differentiator.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s really interesting how you can really change the game. We’re talking adding potentially tens of millions of dollars in annual recurring revenue to your business from just one strategic partnership. That’s essentially what it sounds like you’ve done with GoldMine and now you’re doing it with Nimble. It’s very, very smart. And it’s very, very smart from a leverage standpoint. Me myself, personally, I’ve never had much experience on the partnership side. I’m not strong at it. My strength is in the marketing/product side and more kind of B2C side. I’m curious, what advice would you have for anyone that’s listening to this and thinking wow, from a high level strategic thinking standpoint, that’s genius. If I could find the right strategic partner, it could be like a massive game changer for my business. What advice would you have, from your experience?
Jon: Well, I think the key, Nathan, is to be able to add value to that partner to help them achieve their goals. If you’re not able to add value to that partner, then you won’t be significant to them and they won’t push you.
Nathan: I see. And, did you say that Microsoft wanted to acquire you but you weren’t happy with the valuation they were giving you?
Nathan: LinkedIn. Sorry. LinkedIn. What happened there? Why weren’t you happy with the valuation?
Jon: Well, when LinkedIn was first looking at building LinkedIn Sales Navigator, Nimble had sort of pioneered that space. One route would’ve been to just acquire Nimble and my experience and have me go and build it for them, but acquisitions require their proper package.
Nathan: What does that mean? Sorry.
Jon: The numbers weren’t big enough.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, we have to work towards wrapping up. A few last questions that I wrote down. You mentioned the story on the Nimble domain. What happened there? Because I went through a journey acquiring the Foundr domain, so I’m curious to hear your story.
Jon: GoldMine was a great brand name, because the amount of work you put into your relationships determines the amount of gold you bring out of it. So, in coming up with the idea of Nimble, I thought to myself everybody talks about small businesses being nimble and everybody thinks about being more nimble. We all want to lose weight, be in shape, be more effective. So, the old concept of being more nimble in your business and your relationships was really straightforward, as far as the concept and the brand. I found that Nimble Technologies was sold for $300 million to Actuate, which is a data analytics company in the Bay area. I contacted their VP of marketing and their webmaster, and really got nowhere. So, I identified their CEO through a little bit of Google research. I found a little bit about his background, some of the things that we have in common, and I reached out to him with an authentic one to one message about our shared commonalities and my vision for building a relationship manager to power millions of people to achieve their dreams, and asked for his help. 30 days later, I owned it for $5,000.
Nathan: Wow, that’s a steal.
Jon: Yes, sir.
Nathan: Master sales guy. Tell me about the tumour and what happened there, and how did you overcome that? That sounds like a tremendous journey.
Jon: Yeah, getting sick is not easy. You know, Nathan, one of the things I’ve learned about life is it’s full of ups and downs. Life is like a Beethoven symphony, there’s high and there’s low notes. And you can’t have one without the other. You can’t appreciate or value one without the other. Life is going to hand you blessings and it’s also going to smack you, and you can’t control that. It’s just life. The only thing you can control is how you react to it. So, the first thing you do, if you do get ill, is do your homework. Understand the problem and evaluate solutions, because you have to be your own advocate in the medical industry. So, I did that. I went to all the top doctors, all the top hospitals, and chose a treatment. And, I didn’t just choose the Western medical treatment, but also did some Eastern things, like acupuncture and teas and homoeopathic things, and some guided visualisation and meditation.
It was really through those alternative things that I really came to the spiritual awareness that life isn’t about money. It’s really more about the moments that create the memories. All you leave are the moments you’ve been truly present with the universe around you, with other human beings, and with the ripples you leave behind. That’s why mindfulness and meditation are so critical to my practise on a daily basis, is because all you leave this planet with are those moments you’ve been truly present with other people. And, if you are truly present with the people who love you, they’ll reflect your shit back at you. And, if you’re willing to look at your shit and work on it in life, you can grow as a human being, which circles back to my early idea that that’s our purpose on the planet, is to grow our souls in the small amount of time that we’re here.
Nathan: Amazing, man. Well, look, thank you so much for sharing everything around your story and your experiences as a successful founder, and your ups and downs throughout life. I have one last question to ask, and that is where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Jon: Well, I believe that your network is your net worth and your brand and your network can help you achieve your dreams in life, which hopefully is all about helping other people grow. So, google me. It’s easy. J-O-N F-E-R-R-A-R-A. You’ll find me. And google yourself. If you don’t show up on that first page, start working on that, because your brand is critical to your future success. And then connect with me on whatever channel is comfortable for you. I’ll make it super easy. My email is [email protected]
Nathan: Amazing. Well, look, thank you so much for your time, Jon. I really appreciate it and it was great to connect.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Jon Ferrara
- Connect with Ferrara directly at [email protected]
- Visit the Nimble website and check out their great resources
- Want to try Nimble? Get 40% off the first three months with the discount code: JON40