SaaS Founder Interview with David Pawlan, Founder of Aloa
SaaS Founder Interview with David Pawlan, Founder of Aloa
Aloa is an innovative agency that simplifies the complexities of outsourcing from vetting developers to international payments.
David Pawlan started this business with 4 other founders in college. While they were developing software during their time at school, they were trying to expand their development team. It turned out that it was much harder than expected. This roadblock is where the idea behind Aloa started to bloom.
“Our high-level mission is to create a world where anyone can innovate freely. And we saw software as a massive barrier to innovation, especially for non-technical business owners or those who don’t have venture funding.” – David Pawlan
Aloa is focused on a problem-oriented perspective, rather than a solution-oriented perspective. Pawlan describes their service as a 3-pronged system:
1: Their partner network
2: Their platform
3: Their strategists
Aloa pairs clients up with partners that fit their specific needs. Also, Their communication platform is designed for transparency. They work to make their system easy to navigate and understand. The same applies to their payment platform. Next, is the strategists. Many outsourcing groups put a heavy focus on automation. While this can be helpful, it often takes the humanity out of the process thus making some processes less seamless.
Aloa tries to focus more on the human aspect by pairing clients up with a strategist that gets to know their business needs. This person is their main point of contact in order to get matched with the right firm for their company. Once a client is paired with a firm and strategy, then someone from the Aloa team checks in with the firm and conducts audits to ensure performance. Pawlan made an emphasis on Aloa’s process as being proactive instead of reactive.
Andy Halko and Tony Zaya interviewed David Pawlan more about his company and his approach to software development outsourcing.
Automation is good in moderation
Many SaaS startups nowadays look to automation to streamline all of their processes. While this can be extremely helpful, it could be detrimental as well. Pawlan shares his opinion and what he’s experienced in the software development industry:
“There kind of comes that threshold, that point of inflection, where the automation is now actually serving as a detriment, because it’s now pulling out those components that only a human could, you know, really fulfill, such as pairing you up with the right partner firm.”
Part of Aloa’s process requires a personal touch. They work together with their clients to figure out the best solution for each of their unique situations. This is why the audit process Aloa conducts adds that human element to make sure the strategy is going the way that it was initially planned for that particular client.
User stories are essential
Pawlan shares that if you aren’t a tech-savvy business owner, it’s vital that you learn how to write a user story.
A User Story is a non-formal way to communicate the features of your program to a developer.
“Assumptions are the most dangerous thing to make in software, especially with overseas development because you’re not only now kind of combating just general assumptions that people have, but now you’re also intermixing different cultural differences in perspectives,” Pawlan explains.
Establishing a user story and breaking down what your software is all about will make the development process much easier. You want to make sure that you’re clearly communicating your business’s mission and vision so that you can work towards your goals. Aloa helps their non-technical clients learn how to write their own user stories clearly so that it accurately reflects their business goals. This process allows you as the business owner to put yourself in the shoes of your users and the experience you want them to have with your product.
Find your niche for cold outreach
Zayas asked Pawlan to share more about what his initial cold outreach strategy looked like and how it’s evolved to what it is today:
“Advice that was given to us by a mentor was, it’s better to build something that a few people love, rather than a lot of people like. If you build something that a lot of people like you’re getting way too generic, you’re not actually going to find that true product market fit.”
The best thing you can do for your startup business is to cater to a small group of people that you know will 100% love your product and solve a problem for them. This advice shaped Aloa’s outreach strategy. They decided to keep their search narrow and focused on non-funded, pre-seed startups. Then, they expanded from there and currently gain a large amount of business through referrals.
Establishing a niche market for yourself also allows you to become a thought leader in a targeted space. Pawlan shared that Aloa has a blog in order to establish themselves as an expert in software development. If you have an authoritative voice in a niche industry, there’s more of a chance consumers will put their trust in you and your product.
Fail Fast to find your product market fit
Halko asked Pawlan to go more in-depth on how Aloa found their product market fit and what influences that part of the business. Pawlan shares that there are 3 components to finding your product market fit:
1: Have a strong mission
2: Fail Fast
3: if you aren’t embarrassed by your MVP, then it’s not an MVP.
It’s crucial to establish a strong mission for your business. It’s also important that your team and everyone involved are aligned with that mission and the goals you’re looking to achieve.
Something that’s just as important, is to fail fast. Especially for startups, it’s good to experience many failures in the early stages so that you can learn from them. As a result, your business can grow and evolve at a much faster rate than if you tried to execute everything perfectly.
Pawlan also shares that it’s okay to be embarrassed by your MVP. In other words, it’s okay to not be perfect. Pawlan says:
“At the end of the day, you need to focus on iteration. You need to get something out there in the hands of users, and users are pretty forgiving.”
Don’t stray away from your mission and vision
Pawlan shares that at one point in 2019, Aloa started to focus too much on the money aspect of the startup rather than the mission they initially established. This turned out to hurt them more than help them. That’s when they created what’s called an “open compass” session.
“We do an open compass, a reorientation session, where, you know, it just kind of outlines our why, our how, our what, our values, why we’re doing what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, just reassuring everyone and keeping us grounded, no matter what’s going on, making sure we’re all focused on why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
This technique has helped Aloa stay focused on the why behind what they do for their clients. This is a crucial element to growing your startup. Focusing on the revenue sounds like the way to go, but that could potentially lead your business in a direction you don’t want to go toward. Pawlan shares some tools Aloa has used like Notion and Airtable to create tables and playbooks that clearly present their vision for the company. The key is to keep your team aligned with your mission and vision so that everyone is working towards the same goals.
SaaS businesses should stay focused on their mission and vision while setting attainable goals with achievable metrics that measure success. Doing this is what will help your startup stay grounded even when times are tough.
Closing the interview, Tony Zayas asked Pawlan where he sees Aloa progressing in the next few years.
“We want to do whatever it takes to further our mission to take one step closer to create a world where anyone can innovate freely.”
Pawlan goes on to say that they want to focus on expanding their client base and lowering their margin to make Aloa more affordable. He reiterates that in order to do this, Aloa keeps their eyes honed in on their mission and vision to stay aligned with their initial goals.
Overall, Pawlan shared some great insight into the startup world and how to navigate the wins and failures. It’s good to fail fast, as long as you learn from your mistakes. Experimenting and narrowing your efforts toward a certain audience can also help your SaaS business gain traction and conversions with the right customers. And lastly, you don’t have to be an expert on every aspect of your business when you’re just starting out. As long as you try your hardest and remain passionate about your mission, your expertise will grow as you go and you’ll accomplish a lot by providing a valuable solution for your audience.