SaaS Founder Interview with Erica Hakonson, Co-Founder & CMO of Orchestry
Orchestry is a balanced platform composed of adoption tools, engaging templates, controlled provisioning, and empowering self-service to drive usage and adoption success in Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, and SharePoint Online Sites.
Tony Zayas 0:05
Hey, everybody, welcome to the SaaS founders show! Back for another episode. This shows where we have fascinating conversations with successful SaaS founders who share everything about their journey, their learnings, their insights along the way. And as usual, I’m joined by Insivia’s founder Mr. Andy Halko. How you doing, Andy?
Andy Halko 0:28
I’m fantastic. It’s a lovely day. Weather’s coming out nicely. Can’t complain about that. How about you?
Tony Zayas 0:36
I’m doing great. Yeah, I was just took my dog for a pre-show walk. That’s usually part of my routine here. And yes, spring is in bloom and exciting. So.
Andy Halko 0:48
Very cool. Well, I’m excited to hear about our show today and who we’ve got. And we’re Yeah,
Tony Zayas 0:54
Yeah. So we’re talking to Erica Hakonson . She’s the co founder and CMO of Orchestry. And that is a platform and we’ll have her tell us a lot more. But it’s work Made Simple in office 365, and Microsoft Teams. So with that, I will bring Erica on.
Erica Hakonson 1:13
Tony Zayas 1:16
Hey, Erica! Welcome!
Erica Hakonson 1:18
Hi, nice to see you guys. Nice to meet you, Andy and Tony. Thanks for having me.
Tony Zayas 1:23
Yeah, so before we get started, I want to hear the story about the guitars and that way that’s awesome.
Erica Hakonson 1:32
Yeah, yeah. So I this is my kind of sanity zone here. This is if I get a couple breaks between calls and you know, get get a little too worked up about something if I can pick up one of these. It calms me right down puts me in a different headspace. So I keep them close. And my daughter’s just starting to learn the ukulele which is awesome. I’m happy to start sharing that with her. And then yeah, the banjo really is my most recent endeavor, and it’s a heck of a lot harder than playing the guitar.
Tony Zayas 2:04
So hey, I have to tell you so I play guitar. I played in bands in college and stuff. And I’m not very good. But we were in my my wife’s daughter and I were in Dollywood a couple weeks ago on spring break.
Bluegrass wedding band, and the guy playing the banjo like blew me away. That’s pretty awesome. So
Erica Hakonson 2:24
Andy Halko 2:25
Erica Hakonson 2:25
Andy Halko 2:26
Maybe some outro music today.
Erica Hakonson 2:31
We can put something together for the SaaS Founders, some kind of theme song. It’s definitely the banjo. Banjo and cowbell, I think. I think they’re both all ready.
Tony Zayas 2:45
So cool. Tell us about Orchestry. We love to hear and learn all about it. But just give us the overview.
Erica Hakonson 2:52
Yeah, so you gave a nice background of really, the simplicity of it is that we developed Orchestry to help organizations of various sizes in many industries to help simplify the Microsoft 365 suite for them. So, you know, when, probably back when we started using them, the office suite, we were talking about Word and PowerPoint and Excel and like maybe if you’re really advanced, you used access. And now we’re talking about dozens of applications that every user can get their hands on, you know, should they be allowed per organization basis? And it’s it’s created a lot of confusion, a lot of questions like what do I use when? You know when I want to set up a collaborative environments where we can talk about a project? Do I do that in SharePoint? Do I do that in Teams? If I want to create something that requires deadlines for that project? Did I do that in Planner? Do I do that in To do do i do that in Microsoft Lists? Do they do with that outlook list, there’s some apologies. There’s just so many different applications. So Orchestry really started with a research project of us trying to understand how big organizations were going to make the jump into Teams. And then what the hurdles were that they were going to encounter along the way based on people that have already started or the hesitancies of really going into adoption. And those common themes came up. What to use when, you know, governance were really, really relied on strength provisioning and SharePoint. Why does this look so different in teams? And what do I do about it? Do I just lock it down? Or do I open it up and give it a free for all? And finally, when you think about people, you know, building things really up to a custom basis in SharePoint and then going into teams and it’s very vanilla, then they’re thinking, Okay, how much time is this going to take me or how much is this going to cost me to get this to work for me like everything else I’ve customized in my environment. And so orchestrate takes all those themes, and delivers answers to really simplify the experience and then deliver enablement, adoption, governance, you know, transparent governance so that that control is visible to your end users. And they can also participate in building those workspaces with you. So it’s not all on it just is the reason teams was born is to kind of get people more in the collaborative environment and participating. And so we’re able to do that with Orchestry.
Tony Zayas 5:29
That’s cool. So I, I used to work in an organization a couple years back that was a Microsoft organization. But it’s funny, because it felt like people didn’t realize the different tools that were available through like 365. And so people ended up, you know, use the basic. Use Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, but then, for other things, people are looking for other like, third party solutions when there’s so much there. So I certainly get, you know, maximizing understanding. All that is seems very much like a need. But you said this was born out of a research project. Did I hear that correctly.
Erica Hakonson 6:09
Yeah! Yeah. So two of my co founders and I, we used to, we used to be a part of Bonzai intranet, which is a SharePoint intranet in a box vendor, and was sold off in 2018. And we were working all together there. And when teams was released in 2017, and we kind of just left it to the corner. You know, it wasn’t SharePoint, it was limited feature set. We didn’t know how it was going to be adopted. I mean, I worked at Microsoft. I’m going to date myself, I worked at Microsoft when they released the Zune. I don’t know if you guys ever heard about the Zune. It was Microsoft’s answer to the iPad, right. And there was so much fanfare, and every employee got a Zune, and it was gonna be the next big thing and, you know, ask anyone if they’ve heard of the Zune today, and you have to be a certain age demographic to even know it existed. It was also brown, which I’m not sure on the color choice. So we lifted teams with a healthy amount of skepticism. And we didn’t really think much about it. But by the time we sold in 2018, there were so many extra added features that we knew Microsoft was gonna push hard, and they kept putting so many things through teams. So a lot of people if you have use teams in your work environment, often say, well, do I use teams or SharePoint and you know, what’s a huge fallacy is that actually SharePoint sits on the back of teams, every time you have a team, you have a SharePoint site. And so it isn’t either or it’s actually how do you, how do you work better with both because they both give you really different tools and different ways to collaborate. And so we had to start paying attention, but having not, you know, really went to market with teams before. That’s where that research project came from. And luckily, having the previous company we had a lot of friendly, fortune 500 companies and companies and different industries that we could reach out to and say, you know, what are you going to do about this? What’s your approach? Have you already started rolling it out? Since last we spoke? What does that look like? What challenges are you facing? And like I said, that common theme kept coming up of like, we don’t know what to use? We spend so much time trying to get our employees to the right tool, you know, they’re not really being productive in the suite that we bought. And so, you know, how do we do that better? And how are we going to afford doing what we did in SharePoint and teams? What does that look like? How heavily do we customize? Do we do it for every team? And how do you do that from the provisioning perspective? And then it was really like our IT administrators going like, Oh, god, this is gonna be such a mess. Let’s lock it down and lock it down. And then you had startups that were going like, Oh, yeah, everybody can control their own work environments. This is fantastic. But then when you started talking to people, and then you started looking at their teams, and it was like, ‘Don’t invite john to this team’. You knew, oh, man, these guys need to get some governance in place. You got to figure out how to get this sorted quickly, because you all of a sudden have 3000 teams, and most of them are being used.
Andy Halko 9:13
Wow. So how did it go from, you know, this research project and finding out this information to, you know, becoming a real product? What’s kind of that that origin story there?
Erica Hakonson 9:26
Yeah, so luckily, um…You know, I have been in this entrepreneurship venture before solely and this time I’ve, I’ve been able to do it with partners, which is such a different ride and really been a learning experience for me, but luckily, I was partnered with with the right team and Michael Masaryk, our CEO, he’s a multi year Microsoft MVP and really has a mind for product. So once those themes started coming out, he started formulating ‘Okay, here are the core capabilities that need to be a part of a product that we’re going to release Code-name Teams. Oh, thank God, we, you know, found a better name to Orchestry. But we we worked through that. And he kept coming up with different ideas is this going to work with, you know, what should be really our MVP versus what we want to expand into? We bounce those ideas off again that organizations we had already interviewed saying, would this work for you, if we did something like this, we put together some, you know, really early stage user graphics to kind of show what it would look like within the team’s platform. And, you know, spoke with enough people in the industry, just having the background of you know, already had been in a SharePoint intranet in a box vendor that we were able to get enough confidence to say, yeah, this is this is really going somewhere, there was no one that we talked to, in this time that we were formulating what work history was going to look like that said it was a bad idea. Everyone was saying, I’ll be your first customer, or, you know, can we sell this? And so we got enough yeses and enough positive reviews of the idea that we were going with that we just started going, Alright, we got to find the fourth piece of the puzzle, which wasn’t someone we worked with at bonsai, we had to find the architect that could architect this thing for us, and make it scalable. And luckily, after many months of not finding the right fit, we were able to find our very incredibly talented CTO, Sarah Wilson, who also herself had previously built an intranet in a box product for SharePoint. Phenomenal, I mean, she can code faster than 10 developers, and just make it built to last and built right the first time, she’s just been a wonderful addition to complete our founding family.
Andy Halko 11:46
I’m kind of curious, you know, I want to hear more about you know, that story of how the product was built. But, you know, one of the things I hear a lot from early founders is finding that CTO, how did you? You said, you found someone great, you know, what did it take to find someone that was the right fit for the team and could do the job?
Erica Hakonson 12:08
Yeah, so we were, we were looking for a while, I mean, it was this, the biggest hole to fill. Because Michael Denise, who’s our CEO, Denise Chang, and our staff, and myself, we had worked together previously, and we had in that previous environment, owned different roles that really fit and melded well together, that CTO was really someone that we hadn’t figured out. And we talked to a lot of other Microsoft partners to see if there was a fit for us to do this together, which would have been so much more complex. We looked back at, you know, previous developers that we worked with. And again, it had to be someone that had enough of experience building something that could scale, it couldn’t just be someone that knew how to code, it had to be someone that really knew infrastructure and architecture really well. So they could think, five years down the road, what’s the potential problem, we would run into coding it this way. And Sarah actually worked for a previous bonzai, intranet partner. So we had met her years ago, during the training of her, you know, being able to implement bonzai intranet, and she impressed the hell out of both Denise and Michael, and just cut it stuck in their minds. And after having a few conversations with her and me being on a trip, business trip to Toronto, and me being able to meet with her in person and talk things out. And her, she just has just an incredible mind for infrastructure and product, but it’s also comes up with really great marketing ideas. So she’s great to collaborate with. Yeah,
Andy Halko 13:43
yeah, that’s a challenging piece for a lot of founders is, you know, if they’ve found the idea, or looking to solve the problem finding that technical resource to really help, you know, it come to life. Yeah. Did you in that process? Was it? You know, did you raise funds and hire a team? Or did you bring everybody on as partners and kind of, you know, sweat equity through that initial creation of the product?
Erica Hakonson 14:12
Yeah, we, we, of course, as founders talks about this a couple of different ways. And having had a hand and, you know, being an entrepreneur and having had a hand and in bonsai, we all really recognize the value in being able to control the vision, and us having a strong idea of how we wanted to go to market and what we wanted to bring to the market. We weren’t willing to give up equity or, you know, willing to kind of play with other parties because it becomes so much more complex, the more people you involve, so we decided self fund, and we decided to do sweat equity, and it’s and it’s been a journey, but yeah, we were able to become revenue positive in the first six months, which you know, if you’ve ever if you’ve ever ever tried to hand out it yourself, it’s pretty impossible. But luckily, I think just with the connections that we had, and the way we were able to bring on orchestra partners to help resell with us, which we’re at 30 orchestra partners, officially now. We’ve been able to scale, you know, better than expected. And, of course, the adoption of Microsoft Teams from, you know, the rest of the remote work has escalated at a rate that we couldn’t even have expected.
Tony Zayas 15:28
So what did what did that look like last year as the pandemic hit, and everyone needed to be, you know, managing remote teams communicating all of that? How did that impact you guys?
Erica Hakonson 15:40
Yeah, so we really started writing our first lines of code, January 2020, we had, you know, spent a lot of 2019, doing the research project, formulating what the product would look like then finding a CTO that can really get behind what we were doing, and look at it from a technical perspective and tell us what we thought would work, may, may not or here’s how we should be configuring or thinking about the architecture in a different way. So we really got to work January 2020. And of course, at that time, you know, no one saw that everyone was going to be at remote working by December 2020. The number for Microsoft Teams, daily active users at that point was 35 million daily active users. What we thought was very healthy, and that we were going into a really interesting markets. And that, you know that number just kept ticking up at a slower pace. By March and just seeing that while a lot of major organizations were flipping to working remotely, and they were going to have to solve that technology challenge first? We figured we’d see a little bit more of a spike. And we launched August 3 of 2020. And the official number from Microsoft, last one that I think they’ve really released publicly was 115 million daily active users on Microsoft Teams by October. So it was definitely a rush to get it out once we realized how many people were flooding into teams and nd we had to make some decisions of what was going to go in MVP and what wasn’t and what we were going to come to market with later on the you know, same on the product launch side. We were scrambling to get everything ready so that we can get out there while people were still making that transition into working from home. It took a little longer, of course than it anyone ever expects. But yeah, we’ve been extremely lucky, just in a timing perspective to be going into the market that we went into.
Tony Zayas 17:47
So if I heard those numbers correctly, they essentially tripled. Right?
Erica Hakonson 17:51
They did. Yeah, in 10 months. Yeah.
Tony Zayas 17:55
Andy Halko 17:55
I’m always interested, you talked about your MVP, I’m always interested in how found founders and companies decide what features go into their MVP. And what waits? How did you guys go through that process and thinking about your roadmap to develop the product?
Erica Hakonson 18:15
Yeah, so we, again, went back to the organizations we’d worked with before and the other Microsoft network that we had cultivated and begged and pleaded for them to test our product and give us feedback before we were really solid on what what was all going to be included in the MVP. And so that was extremely helpful. I mean, we had very knowledgeable Microsoft experts that were telling us, you know, what, what was working well, and what wasn’t, of course, on the back burner, we had a few other core capabilities that we wanted to fit in to the MVP, but we we had to also think about it from a development perspective and a timing perspective. You know, we wish we would have launched a couple months earlier, it took us a little longer both on the new development, and that’s, you know, go to market side. And then also, we had to recognize what organizations needed first. And so while we had a few others on the backburner, like, really sexy things like IAA and you know, something that could really give you advice and recommendations on, on how to curb usage and drive adoption and those types of things that was going to take us a heck of a lot longer to get there. So we decided ‘Okay, we really need to solve back to those core themes really not need to solve the question of what to use when we need to solve the governance issue, and we need to solve the timely costs and customization issues. What we launched with it’s not too different than what we have today. Definitely on a different scale was workspace templates, we prebuilt worksite templates and that solid was the timely customization for the time and costly customization piece because you actually could carbon copy and exact team say a project management template that we built and port that over to your team’s environment and replicate, replicate, replicate all the way through to like exactly what’s the plan or is there. Then we included Of course transparent governance, because that really needed to happen both from an administrative perspective down to an end user perspective. And then workplace provisioning had to get so much easier than making a request to the IT department to get back to you. So we put in workplace provisioning, that was really a step by step wizard that then had automated workflows that would go to the administrators and to any of the owners that would have to approve these types of workspaces being built. We put a naming conventions to then, you know, create the find ability of different teams, workspaces and groups. And finally, we gave them a directory. So one of the big complaints is how many teams are in their environment that have the exact same name, somebody creates a global marketing team, but it was private. So then somebody else creates a global marketing team that’s public, and somebody else calls it an international marketing team. And all of a sudden, you have eight teams with the same name. So that directory really gives them the ‘before you go into making a team, let’s make sure it doesn’t exist already’. And you just don’t know about it or haven’t seen it for some.
Andy Halko 21:19
While it’s really cool, I think, in that, you know, in that first six months that you guys were getting launched, what did you see as the biggest challenge that you faced in bringing the product to market?
Erica Hakonson 21:37
Quite so many. So many…
Andy Halko 21:43
Maybe limit it to 50.
Erica Hakonson 21:46
Okay, well, 50, top 50. So being a Microsoft partner, it’s interesting, because you’re really building upon a platform that already exists. And you have to add extra value to what Microsoft is already delivering, and they’re delivering a whole hell of a lot. And so you’re going into a market that has already bought a product, and you’re saying, but wait, you need one more? Because this product doesn’t do this. Right. So if we think about those things that go to market, what’s your USP? How are you different? Why should people be paying attention? And it becomes incredibly important, because you can sound just like Microsoft, and then people can say, oh, there’s already something on the market for this. We don’t, we don’t need you. And so that component was really complex to get right. We really wanted to be able to get some market with a message that resonated and a tool that was actually useful and sticky. So we had to put things in the tool that were repeatable. Lots of people can get you launched in Microsoft Teams, but how do you make it useful over the duration of someone using it? So one example would be, you really need this product to be able to implement teams successfully. And then once it’s implemented, do you still need it anymore? Well, one of the next things we’re doing in Orchestry, the release that we have coming in next month, is Lifecycle Management throughout workspaces. So it’s not just the creation, it’s the management. It’s the sunsetting. It’s the archiving. It’s the full duration or arc of how you use a work environment. And some work environments are very quick, you have a 30 day project, you no longer need it, it shouldn’t be taking up space, and people shouldn’t continue to be collaborating there. And so you need to think of that arc and how that’s going to be preserved for compliance and regulatory issues, etc. And so I think it was twofold for us, like, what were the hardest parts? We were trying to figure out what should go in the product first, and then you know, now that we’re in market, we can see, hey, what we thought was really important. Actually, there’s this other thing that became way more important that people need more. And so how do we then pivot our roadmap to address that issue? Before you know kind of getting into what we thought the direction we thought we were going, but having built that partner community so quickly, where we have 30 organizations that, you know, vote on features, and give us feedback and collaborate with us at all times. They often have Microsoft and BTS on their own team that are really deep and product knowledge that can share with us some ideas that has helped us continue to kind of propel us in the right direction of where we want to go next. From a roadmapping perspective and and that’s meant making some hard choices about things that we thought we’d be delivering but now we’re delaying and then really communicating from zero. Nobody knows about us, an obscure-named product called Orchestry. What does that mean? Interesting name. How does it relate to what I have to getting the market presence and getting the contact list and getting the brand awareness so that we can actually show up in the right places when people are experiencing these challenges.
Tony Zayas 25:11
I would like to ask a little bit about that, since you’re the CMO, kind of what does that look like from a marketing standpoint? You know, starting with a new brand, taking it to market? What are some of the learning lessons you’ve had along the way? Some of the tactics and channels you guys have used?
Erica Hakonson 25:30
Yeah, so that’s, that’s my forte. That’s, that’s why they keep me around. We, we actually, so one of the that my background is strongly in SEO and search engine optimization. So one of my biggest hurdles is starting a new domain. It’s got absolutely no authority. It’s got nothing linking to it. And you want to take that from zero to 60 upon launch. Oh, my gosh, that’s very, that’s a very big ask. So again, we have a CEO who is known in the Microsoft space, Michael Pisarek. And we were able to set up at Michaelpisarek.com while we were building up Orchestry and what we would do on Michaelpisarek.com. This seems like such an odd thing to talk about now. But it’s important, I will get to the point. We were blogging over there about all of the different educational materials that we would be blogging about Orchestry, and some of the challenges too that we were seeing in teams and how to overcome them from the platform more more of a long, you know, manual process. But you know, here’s, here’s how you work around these challenges. One is Orchestry launch, we took all of that traffic that we build up for Michaelpisarek.com over the year, and we redirected it to Orchestry. So we instantly had traffic on all of those blogs that we had migrated from Michaelpisarek.com, who, you know, we had built up a pretty good web traffic over the months, and were able to get traffic to work history immediately. We also had quite friendly organizations and partners that we had been talking to through the process of building Orchestry. And so we had, you know, somewhat of a mailing list to start with, which is great. So we planned a ton of events we did we’ve done, oh, man 50? 50 virtual events? Since launch. And whether that’s contributing on a conference perspective, so more people can know about us, or us specifically hosting with other MVP than Microsoft partners. We were for a cadence of about three months last year, running on every single week, with a different partner on a different topic to solve a different challenge that people were facing, whether it was really complex and specific, like sensitivity labels, and Microsoft 365, or more end user focus, like what’s, you know, best practice etiquettes for communicating and teams and channels and in a meeting, and so we’ve, we’ve covered the gamut of a lot of topics, and built a really healthy marketing lists that were able to market to, not even a year later, that’s, you know, more than 1500 contacts that we’ve been able to build up at that time. So that’s a couple of a couple of things that have brought us quite a bit of success, and that we’re building upon.
Tony Zayas 28:15
That’s great. Just to go back to the Michael’s blog that you guys had set up what type of content was being published there?
Erica Hakonson 28:27
So content that we would talk about on Orchestry was specifically picked. It was content around SharePoint. So as SharePoint would come out with new features that people didn’t know much about or how to use or you know, when to use it, we would blog about. So SharePoint anchor links, like what how do you use them? How do you apply them to a page? Why are they important, really, you know, dry stuff in some places, and then a lot around Microsoft Teams. So channel moderation. What’s your responsibility as a channel moderator? What does that look like? Or more high level things? You’re just getting started in Microsoft Teams? What are the 10 tips that we could give you to kind of get off and running to a success as an end user. From an IT administrator, we created guides that would help you look at Microsoft Teams and kind of apply your knowledge from SharePoint into how to use Microsoft Teams, lots of around governance and how to govern teams. It was much around most of the applications in the Microsoft 365 space but heavily around SharePoint and teams which Orchestry addresses.
Tony Zayas 29:32
Yeah, so I’m guessing you’re providing a ton of value, answering questions, showing people how to do the things that ultimately Orchestry would certainly help with. But yeah, that’s great. And you know, for you, that’s probably obvious, but you know, we’ve seen so much success in that space as well from an SEO standpoint, that if you can really create content that helps, you know, helps people out you’re establishing that authority and that trust people are going to keep coming back and looking to you as a resource. That’s fantastic.
Erica Hakonson 30:05
Yeah, and we’ve had really great success, getting Michael out to speaking opportunities like Commsverse or Teams day online or places where people are going to fill that knowledge gap. And he’s an outstanding speaker, but also just has that depth of knowledge that really gives people kind of practical advice to come out of the surveys from those things are always just like, this is the most practically, you know, designed presentation I’ve ever seen. Like, ‘I can actually go and do something within my environment. Thank you so much’. So we love delivering stuff like that. And hearing that anything that we participated in, people can actually tangibly take something away and go, ‘I’m gonna go try this right now.’ Yeah,
Tony Zayas 30:46
Andy Halko 30:47
We are massive believers in, you know, being able to articulate what makes you unique in building a strong brand around that you kind of mentioned USP and different ways that you could approach the market. So how did you really approach that challenge of how do you articulate who you are and what makes you unique and why people should buy?
Erica Hakonson 31:14
Yeah, and I turmoil over the USP for at least three months. That was many, many different iterations, and many different conversations, and iterations of the ones that I thought I was going to go with initially. What ultimately helps us make a decision of Work Made Simple in Microsoft Teams, SharePoint Online, and across Microsoft 365 was a lot of other competitors. We were seeing come on the market, which interestingly, were similar to the competitors that we were going against when we did have bonzai. It was, you know, powerful software pivoting into teams with power teams, it was they low intranet, pivoting into teams with vallo teamworks, it was. I’ve points like, highly regarded consulting, service and product, company to date, again, to give a Microsoft team solution heavily based on governance, when we were looking at them. Most of them are focused solely on teams, teams collaboration, and really not on the other part of the Microsoft 365 suite, that teams is really heavily it’s just intertwined throughout Microsoft 365, it touches everything, you can send a message from teams into Outlook, or a message from your SMS into teams. Like it’s just, it’s connected everywhere, right? So quickly, I was able to identify, we’re very unique. And it’s not just in teams, and very few of our competitors, were even touching SharePoint, which is, you know, a backbone of sites and teams. And coming from a SharePoint space, we knew how to touch SharePoint and be able to integrate it into templates and various other things. So being able to do a lot of competitive research, which when we started this project, that there was nobody in the space that we could quickly identify. I mean, there were people that were doing kind of a product that was someone on top of something else that they did, but there was nothing fully baked, really. But as we got closer to launch, and as our launch pushed a little bit, we did see a few other gargantuan companies compared to us. Three other gorillas come to market, and take a look at them, and go, Oh, interesting, like they really took took it as a team’s only problem. And we didn’t look at as teams only problem, we looked at it, really Microsoft 365, I would say avepoint would be the the outlier to that, because they really looked at as a governance problem in Microsoft 365, which they do really well, but they do so well. It can be overkill, for some organizations, you have to be a certain size and need that level, to really afford that point and and to be able to implement it effectively. So that’s really what brought us back to the USP is, is that, you know, our competitors really weren’t touching all of the same areas in Microsoft 365. And what was most important for our clients was getting their end users to the tool they need when they need it and knowing confidently which tool that they needed to get to use whether it was teams, whether SharePoint was the planner, and the other side was, you know, the governance side of things. How are they going to make sure that the wild wild west could become a little more reformed? And also how could they let go of the reins a little bit so that it wasn’t holding all the cards and slowing people down? And that’s really where we focus and that’s kind of where the Work Made Simple came from across the entire organization.
Andy Halko 34:52
Um, I’m kind of curious from the CMO perspective, you know, how much do you, evolved messaging, change and adapt. I think for a lot of founders, there’s that, you know, a lot of them aren’t, you know, marketing savvy. And so, you know, they may come up with here’s how I’m going to talk about my, my company and I do it for the next year, how often are you thinking about that, the change and how you have to talk about the business and the product?
Erica Hakonson 35:23
Yeah, a lot. Probably much like you, probably much like you. We look at it with every release. So we do minor and major releases, we’ve actually done quite a few since launch. And so with every release comes a new opportunity to pivot and expand the way that we’re marketing ourselves. And also, obviously, we’re adding different feature sets that people care about. And so with every release that, you know, our USP doesn’t definitively change, but it does bend and flex to include the the various things that we’ve added, we just did a really large compliance release, where we really went into a space where the compliance we’re now delivering is unparalleled with the other products that we’ve looked at in the market. And it’s giving really important access to things like sensitivity labels, which organization, especially heavily regulated, organizations really need that surface up to the top and have that control for sharing options, etc. And so that has helped us become, you know, a little bit more of a nuanced product that we offer these types of compliance things that obviously bigger, more heavily regulated organizations are looking for, which makes us less of a like scrappy, little startup and more of a ‘Whoa, these guys are in the market to play with, with larger organizations’, as we have in the past and actually know, you know, the business purpose behind these things and why they’re important, and from a regulatory perspective, why we need to keep track of them. So technically, in on the business side, we’re, we’re always balancing the messaging from just catering to it but showing that we understand why you need this as a business. And here’s why we’ve included this in the product. And here’s how you use it effectively.
Andy Halko 37:11
Yeah, I’d love to. Yeah, and I’d love to pick your brain more on the marketing side. You talked about you had a background in SEO, were there other tactics that you looked at? Like, advertising? How much did you leverage social, and all the other different opportunities? Because I think, again, a lot of product founders struggle in, you know, ‘where should I start with marketing? When I when I’m starting at zero, really,
Erica Hakonson 37:39
Mm hmm. So social, we’re heavily heavily leveraged in social. We haven’t paid to play it. And that’s more because we are a self-funded startup and, and we need, you know, a few more big wins to be able to have that reliable budget from a paid perspective and have me having run so many paid campaigns, it’s not like a stop start initiative, you really need a good three months to kind of learn, alright. These were my ideas in the beginning that I thought were gonna work really well. And here’s what I’ve learned. And so we need to pivot that we need to refine it, we need to tweak it, we need to keep going, okay, okay. And by the time you’re at that three month period, like you’ve kind of nailed where you want that CTR to be and that conversion to be. And you can kind of get that flowing on a more ongoing basis. So I’m, I’m happy to looking forward to that budget, where we’re working on getting a nest egg so that we can get that running. But again, I don’t want to kind of stop start so that we’re not actually learning with every campaign that we’re launching. But social has been a really big part of our campaign, both because as we built our partner community, we got more people involved with talking about Orchestry, but also our CEO, Michael is very active both on Twitter and LinkedIn. And that’s where we play from a B2B space. So that’s where we’ve been building up our brand, as we do live events with other Microsoft MVPs that have dedicated followers, because they’re very knowledgeable about their subject matters. We’ve been able to, you know, promote and, and gain some audience following through the people that we’ve been collaborating with. So that’s been very organic. I wouldn’t say that we’ve grown exponentially. And it’s so amazing what we’ve done on social but from a B2B perspective, like we’ve healthy, healthily grown, we’ve hopefully we got recognized. One of our early successes has been, we have partnered with Microsoft and Microsoft has actually been really interested in Orchestry. Both where we are on the Canadian side of the border, and in the US. So we were able to be the first Microsoft partner listed in this team’s adoptions partner solution gallery, both internally for Microsoft global Field Sales Team, so they saw Orchestry as a way for customer success and customer adoption and engagement. Usage of Microsoft Teams in the long term. And then upon release of that, from a customer facing perspective, we were also the first partner listed in the in the customer solution adopted or the sorry, the partner solution adoption gallery for Microsoft Teams. And I actually can credit that back when I worked at Microsoft, so many years ago, we ended up, stay connected, don’t burn bridges, keep throwing people because we actually ended up having our partner manager at Microsoft, a guy I used to work with when we worked there. And that was his project. So he said, Well, I’m gonna work with Orchestry on this circuit, give me all the things that you need. And that was amazing to be able to kind of have that relationship. So many years later, that benefited us from an Orchestry side mixer, that’s a shout out. And then on the Canadian side, we’ve been really well supported from our Canadian Partner Manager, that we’ve been able to be featured in startup Canada podcast. And we also were in the financial post alongside Microsoft for a third party tool that helps organizations during the pandemic build resiliency, drive productivity, and deliver an enhanced customer experience during a difficult time.
Andy Halko 41:15
That’s really cool. I was one other piece of the the initial mark, and we talked about, like hacking all the time. And for new products, you know, are there unique, maybe channels that other people aren’t thinking of, and aren’t typically used for marketing that you can leverage? You know, we’ve talked with HR products about leveraging job boards in a unique way to get the word out and things like that, did you you know, is that anything that you’ve thought of, in your kind of marketing repertoire is, you know, maybe turning something in on its head and, and leveraging?
Erica Hakonson 41:55
Yeah, we we’ve heavily leveraged all of the different features LinkedIn has come out with over the past year. And, again, we’re Microsoft partner, so we’re probably paying attention to Microsoft technologies. And more than most, so we’ve, we’ve had great success within mail campaigns, I know, as a person that constantly gets asked by in mail to do things, and be a part of things and just go to one more demo how annoying those. Absolutely. And that’s not really the way that we approach it, we’re very targeted. So especially with our Microsoft, or orchestra partners, we want orchestra partners that have experience in a certain sector, that have the right people to be able to deliver Orchestry, so the right background and being able to implement those types of things and create a service solution package around it. So we’re selective, but they have been very receptive when they hear from us through an inmail, about this new product that could help them, you know, generate further revenue through their teams and Microsoft 365. Practice. So that’s been really fruitful for us. And then leveraging things like they released a new product page that you can now have alongside your company page, and that product page, actually, if you have a technology product, your contacts can say that they’re proficient in this product, and then you’re starting to show up on all of these different profiles as a product that people can get, you know, certified for, or proficient data or those types of things. So that’s been another interesting, more recent evolution that’s kind of spread around awareness.
Andy Halko 43:33
That’s a great tactic.
Tony Zayas 43:35
Erica Hakonson 43:36
And podcasts like this one.
Tony Zayas 43:42
Shifting gears just a little bit, Erica. I believe you mentioned that you been down the founder path before, but on your own. And in this venture, you have co founders. So I think you said that you, you know you’ve had some great things that you’ve learned and figured out this time down, down the path, I would love to hear about that. And kind of how the founders all work together and their place in organization.
Erica Hakonson 44:09
Yeah, so it’s been a different experience. I mean, if you’ve ever been a sole entrepreneur yourself, you’re used to making all the decisions not checking with anyone and at the end of the day, not wanting anyone to ask you to make a decision about weight tab for dinner or any of those things. You’re kind of just here when it’s just me. What’s been really nice to have co founders has been is really spreading the amount of labor that’s required to successfully run operate a company like, like Denise our CEO. She is got legal down nailed to a science. It is in pretty impressive that she can turn things around really fast. She’s great at negotiation. She’s fantastic at managing finance and getting the resources there that we need. You know, I can’t even fathom what I would try to do and Sarah, our CTOs role, I’d probably be staring at a blank screen often. And she just has such an incredible mind for problem solving, especially as you know, bugs will come in and problems will come up and and she doesn’t get stressed and she works around it and she’s able to problem solve. One of the big things that we did recently, as we’ve onboard more customers and partners is that we had to look at the scalability performance and data sovereignty of the different regions that we’re serving. So we have customers and partners in New Zealand and Australia, in Sweden and South Africa. Of course, across North America. And running that from North America wasn’t practical and didn’t solve some of again, like the data sovereignty issues from a multinational corporation or even if we were partnering with an Australian company, why would they want their data in the US. So we’ve gone back reengineered, our Orchestry product so that it does, you know, data lives locally, the performances run on a local basis, and then, you know, backed up so that we have failover, and, and all of these things that you know, going into a product where you’re just hoping that the market loves what you’ve put together. You can’t eat a can’t afford to build. And so we’ve gone back and done that. And that’s again, all to the credit of Sarah, you can ask me to do any of that. And so what’s been really nice having co founders is that we are all specialties. And in the area that we play, except for Michael, because he is the CEO, and he has to burn, you know, has to take the fires and put them out all the time, just as any CEO does. But it’s been really nice for people to be able to collaborate when we need to collaborate, but also know that even if you’re not responsible for that part of the business, it’s gonna be done just as well or better than you can even think about doing it. We’re all pretty over the top with expectations of ourselves, which could be better good. But in a founder situation, you couldn’t ask for better founders that there’s nobody that ever thinks, anyone else is slacking off. If anything, we’re constantly saying like, ‘Hey, get offline, you know, maybe take the weekend off, you know, maybe don’t get up at 5am and start your meetings, maybe just sleep on one day.’ And so it’s been, it’s been really nice to just have other people that are very reliable and extremely talented. And I respect any opinion or feedback that they can give to me because it all comes from a place of where we all want to collectively succeed.
Tony Zayas 47:41
We kind of sounds like similar to others that we’ve talked to one the code, you know, when there are co founders that dynamic of having people in different areas of expertise, it’s sometimes a little bit of overlap, but really being able to rely on one another. And not too many cooks in the kitchen, but more of a team approach where we’re focusing on what she’s amazing, and so on and so forth. So it sounds like you guys got that down, which is fantastic.
Erica Hakonson 48:09
We know, we do I mean, Michael has to wear all the hats, so I don’t envy him. But he’s that he’s very good at participating in every part of the business as well.
Tony Zayas 48:19
Andy Halko 48:21
How have you guys looked at culture, building the culture and thinking about as you grow the team, you know, how you want to define the types of people you bring on? And what type of organization it is? Have you been very purposeful about it or organic? What’s your thought with culture?
Erica Hakonson 48:38
So we, it’s been organic in a sense that, you know, the founding team has been working together since the beginning. And it really was initially just the four of us. And so that organically happened, and those relationships organically happen. What I think is really unique about us specifically in the tech space, is that we’re 75% female founded in a highly dominant male domain, especially, you know, I’ve worked with Microsoft partners and with Microsoft for the past 15 years there, there aren’t many calls I take where I’m talking to a female founder. And and I’m delighted when I do and there’s so many different people that we work with that have incredible staff and that do have some females there. Other times there isn’t. And so I think that makes us quite unique. And it also brings a different flavor from a culture perspective, because we, as women tend to bring a little bit something to the table that is somewhat different than what males do. And Michael has definitely loved the environment and at the same time, I’m sure he doesn’t always want to be the only man in the room with It’s really funny to me because I’m doing this Award nomination for a startup award for Orchestry right now is they asked us for a team photo of the founding team. And I recognize, Oh, great, we’ve never all been in the same room together because of the pandemic. So we actually don’t have a founding photo. Isn’t that interesting? from a company perspective that we’ve never, we’ve had plenty of teams calls together. But we’ve, we don’t have a photo of all four of us together. So that’s been an interesting culture shift. Definitely in banzai. We were always in person and always in conference rooms and traveling for conferences together and going to customers, sites and things. So it that’s been an interesting shift. And I think a lot of companies are seeing that right now. And, and it’s sometimes hard to stay as well connected when you’re not having that chit chat, water chit chat, you know, the coffee room banter type of thing. So we, we have different teams that do take care of some of the getting, getting in the personal side of hearing about each other’s day, and being able to have those those moments as well. And as we brought on new team members, we’ve also integrated them into that. Unfortunately, right now, virtually, you know, getting to know each other and having some of the personal side of everyone’s environment and making sure that we know what’s going on in each other’s lives when things are stressful outside of work. To of the founders, so Denise and Michael are actually married. So Denise and Michael have moved, Sarah has moved, and I’m selling my house right now. So we’ve all been under some stress in the last six months. And we all have kids. So those types of things come up in conversations. And we and we, we talk about the stress of the things that are happening outside of what we’re doing together. And I think that helps from a cultural perspective to just have that open and honest communication. And we love that we have that type of relationship with ourselves. And as we grow the team.
Tony Zayas 52:14
Andy Halko 52:16
With a lot of help from, you know, we’ve got a great team member Rasha that’s really driven us to do a lot of interviews of female software founders. And so we’ve had a great series of folks. But you know, to your point that you just mentioned, what do you think the opportunity is for, especially those female founders out there that are thinking about starting a software company or just getting started? And what, what are your kind of, I guess, thoughts or advice for, for those types of folks?
Erica Hakonson 52:49
Yeah, that’s a really good question. And I have noticed that your podcast has quite a few SaaS female founders, and it’s been really enjoyable to hear from them and see that you guys are invested in and trying to have, you know, equal showcase for people. So I appreciate that about your show, thanks for making that a focus for us. And I, I would say I have two friends right now that are raising funds. And it’s been incredibly hard for them to get the same face time as other people that they see are in the same stage that they’re at, in, in trying to get in front of investors and trying to get in front of different Angel capital companies. So I think, you know, it’s, it’s not that people don’t talk about that there is a different dynamic for women in the tech space. And I think we’re doing a really good job of calling that out and people paying attention and, and organizations trying to be more mindful of the fact that Yeah, for every 10 males, you see, you maybe see one SaaS female founder that that’s making a pitch. And I think the more that we can support each other and do the things like you’re asking right now what what are the things that you would share? You know, the things I would share is, it’s really easy to get caught in fear and doubt. And there are not going to be 100% of people that think your idea is great. But if you believe in it, and you believe in yourself, and then you continue to put yourself forward, you’re going to find that audience that is going to believe and that is going to want to invest with you. And so as many doors that can get slammed on I mean, I just I just spoke with another female founder that ended up partnering with a venture capital bank in New York because she couldn’t get in the door as a woman to some of the places that she needed for for financing. And so that’s the approach that she is taken now. I haven’t had the experience of raising funds myself. Like I said, we were lucky enough to be self funded that helped that we had a previous business that sold I also worked for a previous business that was part of the buyout before that one. So we’ve been lucky to be a part of some situations that has given us the opportunity to stay independent. But I know that that’s not the option for all women. And I would say, just keep on knocking, ladies, like there are going to be someone there for you that believes in you just as much as you believe in yourself. So don’t stop.
Andy Halko 55:22
Awesome. Thank you.
Tony Zayas 55:23
Great. Uhm, so, Erica, what, What’s in store for Orchestry for, you know, the rest of the year here?
Erica Hakonson 55:32
Yeah. Well, we’re very excited. I mean, we’re, we’re going to have our one year anniversary in August, which is crazy. When you’re an entrepreneur, it feels like it’s been five years in two months. So it’s only gonna be one year in August. But the most of 2021 is going to be dedicated to that next release. So we’re going to do the lifecycle management in workspaces released, that’s slowly going to roll out to our partners over the next month, we’re going to start to do it, release to existing customers following that, and then do a lot of educational events and a huge launch. After that to the public market to really talk about some how this is going to really create a further gap between orchestra and its competitors by really solving that solution of workspace management, and workspace. Creation through archiving and sunsetting. From the first time you’re provisioning, which we already have in the product now to one of the best practices for archiving, and being able to retain sensitive and important information again, for, you know, regulatory audits, all of those different types of things. So it’s, it’s a major release, it’s the biggest release we’ve done yet. We’re very excited about it. But we’re still taking on some feedback from, you know, early testers on what else could we do to improve it, so we’re nearly there. And then that’s going to shift us from the market perspective, who we serve. It kind of shift us from marketing and sales perspective, and certainly from a product perspective. So that’s, that’s our big goal for 2021 to get that rolled out successfully, and, and just keep learning the horn about what Orchestry can do to really help drive, you know, enablement and adoption and governance in Microsoft 365.
Tony Zayas 57:21
Awesome, super exciting.
Erica Hakonson 57:24
Andy Halko 57:25
So before your musical outro, you know, I have the question that I asked everyone. You know, if you were able to go back in time before you started the business, and have coffee with yourself, what advice would you give to, you know, prelaunch Erica.
Erica Hakonson 57:51
So like July 2020? I would, I would tell Erica, that COVID’s still gonna be here in April, and it’s still here. Be patient, and try to get outside more, as much as you can. No, I would tell Erica about the business. There are going to be things that go wrong, and they are going to seem very stressful at the time. Phenomenally stressful things that you feel, from an owner perspective and the part of the business that you really run are going to be important over your head important that you’re going to completely take too sensitively and then you’re going to come out the other side and be just fine. And I think, I think that I can continue to just know that the certainly a product company has peaks and valleys as every entrepreneurship venture does, it’s really a lot nicer to ride those with co founders than it is solely on your own. So I continue to tell myself to to, to feel the love and be supported by the founder family we’ve created because it’s it’s a more enjoyable ride when you’re able to share in that.
Tony Zayas 59:07
That’s awesome. Well, where can our viewers find out more about you, about Orchestry, pay attention to you know what you guys are doing?
Erica Hakonson 59:17
Yeah, Orchestry. So it’s a weird word. Here’s how you spell it. It’s o r c h e s t r y Orchestry.com that’s where you can find us. And I mentioned before that we do like to do educational events. We do one pretty much bi-weekly on different, with different Microsoft MVPs. The next one we have coming up which will be really interesting is with Matt Wade, who will be doing rock star team events. So how do you conduct and host a rock star team event and Michael Passaic will be joining him both MVPs both outstanding speakers. Love it when we do events with Matt Wade. So tune in to those. We also have guides on Microsoft Teams best practices on governance in Microsoft 365. So you might find some really cool tools there and templates for your team’s background. We have those things. You can also find us on LinkedIn. I mentioned we’re just Orchestry is our name there. And on Twitter where Orchestrysoft s o f t. those are those are the general challenge, channels, but you can also find me Erica Hakonson. I think my name is here. That’s pretty much my handle everywhere. So I’m happy to talk with you about Orchestry to talk with you about marketing. Let’s connect.
Tony Zayas 1:00:35
Awesome. Well, Erica, thank you so much. This has been fantastic. And to our viewers. Thank you guys. We will see you next time. Everyone. Take care.
Erica Hakonson 1:00:45
Thank you so much for having me.
Andy Halko 1:00:46
Thank you. Yeah.