SaaS Founder Interview with Sheila Stafford, Founder & CEO of TeamSense
Andy Halko 0:03
Oh, hey, well, we’re live right away.
Sheila Stafford 0:06
All right, no problem. No countdown.
Andy Halko 0:09
Tony knows the magic, and I must not. So there was no countdown at all. And we are just right into it. So, Sheila, thank you so much for joining our, you know, SaaS Founder Show. We’ve had some amazing founders. And I’m excited to hear about your story today. And how you’re growing team sense.
Sheila Stafford 0:30
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be
Andy Halko 0:33
here. Yeah. So just to start out, can you tell us a little bit about team sense? And you know, your your background?
Sheila Stafford 0:44
Yeah, absolutely. So team sense is a digital communications platform, geared for hourly workers, we do really well, specifically in the manufacturing, construction, warehousing and logistics space, there’s some unique attributes that we can get into about those workers. But the secret sauce to Team sense is that we do all of this integration and connection with their workers without an app. So a lot of times these workers do not have a corporate email address, they do not have a company phone. And because of that, they’re often you know, left out in the dark from corporate communications. And so we actually got started during COVID. And we’re like, our first go to market was on COVID. And we can jump into that, and just helping these workers like get back into get back into work safely. Um, and so team senses then expanded beyond, you know, just helping companies with the COVID applications into a variety of other use cases utilizing the same technology.
Andy Halko 1:43
Wow! So can you talk about that origin? It sounds like it’s pretty recent, but the story of how you, you know, how did you get here?
Sheila Stafford 1:52
Yeah, it’s been crazy. So I’ll talk a little bit about my background and kind of weave that in. And so, you know, I grew up in large corporations, I had spent, I first came out, I was an engineer, I worked at General Motors, my job was to go into factories and bring all of the equipment that it requires to produce the new models into the factory and get that up and running. So I spent lots of time on the factory floor and understanding, you know, the operations there, especially related to, you know, the workers and like both, you know, the maintenance teams, as well as what you know, required for the workers on the line themselves. And I quickly pivoted out of that role and decided that as much as I wanted to be an engineer and build things, like, I wanted to be part of the vision on how to build things. And so I decided to go back and get my MBA, and focus on entrepreneurship and marketing. And so I did start a business when I was in business school, I want a business, my competition, like got funded, and didn’t work out for a couple of reasons. One is like that aha moment of, like, at some point, I need to pay back my student loans, and like, the loan company is not going to take some early equity in my company, is payment. And so I then got this idea of like, Hey, I’ve got a lot of bandwidth, like, I can do everything. I took a job at Whirlpool Corporation, which is just north of where I was living. So it’s about an hour’s drive. And I decided that I would like to continue to run the business and work at Whirlpool all at the same time like you can do this. Well, turns out, you can’t. There are only so many, so many hours in the day. And as I’ve learned now and relearned so many times is that you know, just like dedicating yourself to your career to advance. And so I made the tough decision to close that business and really focus on you know, Whirpool.
Andy Halko 3:46
Do you mind sharing a little bit about what that was?
Sheila Stafford 3:48
Yeah. So this was back in 2007 2008. And so some things have kind of changed since then. But basically, I learned the fact that and this is still the case, to some extent, although they’re better is that like hospital systems in the United States, they utilize surgical kits when somebody goes into surgery like so say you have an appendectomy, the doctor grabs like an appendectomy kit. And during surgery, they open this thing up. And inside, there are multiples of everything that you might need during the actual surgery. And so the result is they only use like 20 to 30% of the actual kit. And so you still have you know, like, like, say sutures, for example, there might be five different types of sutures in the kit on the ready, but the doctor only needs one. And so at the time, what was happening was the United States and hospitals, in general, were just throwing that kid out, because it was too expensive to make sure that it was sanitized and there was an insurance risk plus the insurance companies like already paid for it. 100% And so there’s no incentive to really keep that around. And so what our company did was we collected all of those pieces of medical consumables. We brought them into a big warehouse, we sorted them in more generic terms. So instead of like sutures ABC and D, we just said sutures. And then we look to like resell those to like second and third-tier countries abroad. Because, you know, people in other countries were taking like gauze and rinsing and reusing it just because they don’t have access to the supplies. Yeah. And so we set up the business to do that. The problem was, was that, you know, I wasn’t as keen on the supply chain. And you know what, to make it work, like, you can’t just send a single box, right? Like, there’s no efficiency in sending a single box. So then you had to send an entire C container for the business model to work. But entire C container, even at drastically reduced prices, ate up nearly 100% of the budget of these individual hospitals in these countries because a lot of them are not networked like they are in the US. And so then you’re a new company, you’re selling this stuff at a discount. The people on the other side are like, Am I really gonna spend like 99% of my budget with you, like, I get that, like, you got this online thing that’s showing me the inventory, but like, they’re really. And so it was just so hard to like, close that transaction and build that trust up from nothing. And so it was just really hard from a cash flow perspective, even though we, you know, acquired the goods that we’re selling for free. And so the irony of the whole situation is, is that I ended up deciding to close the business. And then it was literally like, not even six months, I think it was just a matter of weeks after I closed the business, the Haiti earthquake happened. And what dawned on me was all of these people, especially at like, like local groups, and church groups were like, hey, we want to donate. And we want to send medical supplies down to Haiti, like, can you help? And at that point, I had already like, offloaded all of this stuff to another will say, a medical group that was doing missions in Africa, and I had no supplies. And so it’s like, oh, man, talk about being caught in a bad situation, right? Like, now all of a sudden, it like dawned on me was like, oh, like, I’ve been trying to get the money from abroad to pay for it, where there could have been a market to get folks here to sponsor it, right. So like all these, like, if you’re a church group, and you want to help like you don’t know where to start on how to get medical supplies, and how to get them to where you needed to go. But at that point, it was already too late. And, and we didn’t have any supplies to be able to send.
Andy Halko 7:28
That’s a shift in business model, you know, donation, that side fundraising, if you will,
Sheila Stafford 7:35
Yeah, you know, and I set it up as for-profit, for sure, and there was a lot of like, oh, you could do like triple bottom line, because it’s socially good and, and stuff like that. And so we did think long and hard about it, but then afterward, like, like, Huh, I wonder if I made the right decision. But I mean, hindsight is 2020, right? Yep. And so
Andy Halko 7:56
Our Whirlpool and your
Sheila Stafford 7:59
Whirlpool, yeah. And I joined in sales. And so I had an opportunity to start with one of their smaller brands. So they have a variety of people who don’t know like Whirlpool owns Whirlpool, Kitchenaid, Maytag, Amana, Jenn Air. And so they have a whole suite of brands, which, you know, is, but think about, like, where I was really kind of form as a leader. And as like a product. We’ll say a product creator, for lack of a better term, it was really at Whirlpool. And I joined in sales, but quickly, like joined a rotational program, and you know, kind of two things that really stick out from my time at Whirlpool. The first is, you know when you’re creating products, so like, one of my roles was to always be in charge of dishwashers, right? And so if you think about dishwashers, your opening persona dishwashers is like $299 on the Amana brand, in your highest price point. And dishwashers are like a generic dishwasher that sells for like $3,200. Right. And so the dishwasher itself performs the same function, regardless of whether it’s an Amana or whether it’s generic. And so as the leader of the product organization, like you really need to understand your customers, you really need to understand customer segmentation, you really need to understand, like what’s driving the customers to choose, first and foremost, one brand or another. But then once you get into a brand, like if you think about the product steps, so like, you know, you have your entry-level Kitchenaid dishwasher, and so how do you convince that consumer that came in at the entry-level to then like buy the next level up, right? And so, in that microcosm, where you have just minor details among the customers, like, you have to pay really close attention, and you have to understand your customers well. And so I think that trained me, you know, as a product and in really understanding the customers that was then able to leverage you know, throughout my career and what we do at TeamSense every day.
Andy Halko 9:52
And I just, you know, interject just a tiny bit because it is our audience. That’s like, really important is understanding the customer. Were there any, like kind of lightbulb moments of, you know, this is how we do it. This is what’s really impactful in, you know, trying to understand customers?
Sheila Stafford 10:12
Yeah, so you know, it’s interesting, because I would say my perception of that exact thing has changed over time, like, as I’ve grown as a leader, right, so I would say have more pool, you know, you’re making these decisions, you have to make the decisions, you know, at least 18 months out if you’re running a really fast program. And so, and a lot of these decisions are like high dollar value like you’re putting in tons of capital into the factory, you have to update the factory to produce the new item. And so their level of risk of you being wrong is very, very high. Right. And so, you know, when you’re conducting your consumer research, you’re doing it with a high degree of certainty, right. And so you’re looking at, you know, by metro area, have you covered the United States, by demographics, by all sorts of different metrics to make sure that like, what you believe is to be true, and there’s a variety of ways that you can kind of up your research, kind of, to ensure that so you start very, like low fidelity, low cost, and then you slowly, you know, increase the fidelity as you get sure, more sure mature till eventually, like, we were showing these products that, like, look like they worked, right. Like they had the finish the same like you they felt like they could take this thing home, and plug it in, and as this thing will work like up to that level of fidelity, over time, right? Once you get more and more confident in what you’re bringing to the market. Yeah. And so I used to always think that, like, you needed to have that level of certainty. But then after I left for pool and went to forgive, in a fluke, where I had a much smaller business, and a much will say, a much smaller, or much higher risk tolerance, like the decisions making was not going to, you know, be that much capital investment or be that risk level for the company, then that kind of change in my mind was like, oh, man, like, I guess we don’t really need like a nationally representative population, like, so what is the right amount? And I think it’s gone even further. So like, when I was a fluke, it went from like, national representative, you know, 1000s of folks involved down to like, hey, maybe we talked to like, 30 folks down to like, TeamSense. I’m like, Okay, we get 10 customers on the line, if they’re all raving about it, like we go, like, we don’t have time to waste. So it was funny, just my own, like, personal understanding of like, how accurate you need to be, but also, you know, taking into account like, what’s at stake, like TeamSense and new brands, like, you know, we’re building the brand, and I care a ton about our brand, but at the same time, it’s not like, you know, want to work with brands, where it’s a couple of billion dollars that you’ve got on the line, if you’re gonna make a mistake, right? And so it’s just a matter of scale. But yeah, it’s been super helpful.
Andy Halko 12:56
Yeah, I find that interesting of like, statistical confidence, you know, and how many people do you need to gain that? And maybe it’s, you know, is it based on your startup on, you just need a small number that have some statistical confidence. But as you get into those billion dollar organizations, that changes
Sheila Stafford 13:13
Yeah, there’s just more at risk, right. And so it’s, it’s understandable, but it took me a little while to like, get my head wrapped around that and like, be comfortable with it, I think it’s, it’s easier on both ends, right? So like, at Whirlpool, it’s easier to say like, Okay, I need to have high confidence, because this decision, you know, could impact the company in it will say a really large, large factor, versus like, Fluke is kind of in the middle. And that one is the hardest, right? Because you’re like, Ah, we’re like Team sciences on the other spectrum. So if you’re on either side, like I think it’s fairly straightforward, but it’s the middle ground, which is huge. Of like, okay, what, is really right. And I think that really depends also on the folks that you’re working with, who you’re reporting to, who’s the decision-makers, and really understanding what they need to feel competent about the decision.
Andy Halko 14:04
Yeah, that’s really interesting. And so you were at Fluke Fortive. And and so now, we’re almost getting back to the origin story of TeamSense, that come together.
Sheila Stafford 14:16
Yeah, so I had left Whirlpool, after 11 years there. And there’s some like various reasons. The main one was like, I wanted to run like a full business like full p&l. And we were both set up financially, like that doesn’t really happen until you’re really high up and you’re like God, $18 billion with the business and I was like, okay, like that, like my career projection. And what I think I want and the timing of when that could happen at Whirlpool was just not in line. And so, I decided to jump over to fluke, which if you know, fluke, is a testing measurement company. It’s owned by Fortive Corporation. And so I decided to join Fluke in which I ran their industrial imaging business segment. So kind of top to bottom, I launched the new II 900, which is an acoustic imager, which was fun, it was new to the world technology that could do really cool things on, you know, finding air leaks. And in factories, which is a, it’s wasteful. And this tool, kind of, like, revolutionize the way that you do that. And so that was a ton of fun. And then I also had the thermography business, so all of your, you know, asset management with, with heat-sensing cameras and things like that, okay, and so I joined them for about a year and lead that business, we had to do a little bit of a turnaround, because of some supply chain issues. And there are not too many thermal suppliers in the world. And so led that turnaround and bring kind of all the new supply chain in. And then after about a year, Fortive decided that they were going to figure out and like typically have Fortive grows, if I back up, they’re like an industrial conglomerate. They look at, you know, various technologies, and they make acquisitions. And so Fortive has been, you know, buying various acquisitions throughout the years. And that’s how they, they generally ground they do a little bit organic growth, but mostly inorganic. And so you know, the CEO and kind of the leadership team are looking at the markets right now, with s packs and everything else, like some of the multiples for, you know, just buying companies are crazy. And so like, okay, is this really sustainable for us as a long-term business? In some cases, yes. But at the same time, they felt that they needed to diversify. And so they’re like, we should think about doing a startup ourselves. And what’s so fun about the Fortive leadership team is, they’re really humble. They’re like, I’ve never done a startup as a fortune 500 CEO and fortune 500 leadership team. And so what they did has they sought out Pioneer Square Labs, which is a Seattle-like startup studio and venture firm. And so they inked a deal with them too, you know, create startups and do a studio, together with Fortive. And so then Fortive looked around and said, Hey, we need somebody to come and like join the studio and like build the first company. And so they tapped me and this other person, Ellison writing, who’s amazing on the shoulder, and said, hey, well, you guys go and like, go figure out a company that you can build that would sort of fit into, you know, the longer-term Fortive strategy.
Andy Halko 17:23
What is? I think that sounds like such an opportunity. So many folks are probably a little bit jealous of that.
Sheila Stafford 17:32
Yeah, you know, it’s, it’s nice because it kind of is my need to, like, want to be entrepreneur, like I had that experience. I’ve done some innovation at Whirlpool like new to the world products in that time there. And at the same time, like where I was in my career, like, I wasn’t ready for that full-on risks, like I’m the sole like income earner for my family, I’ve got two small kids and all of those, like living things that happen. And so I was like, this is like, I couldn’t write a better job description to, to go and do this. And so I was like, yeah. And they’re like, We don’t know what we’re doing. So like, you’re gonna have to help figure it out. Like, okay, like, what better place to go then, you know, with folks that are just willing to learn and willing to experiment and, and continually improve. And so, we went into it is, like, April of 2020. So obviously, April 2020. Was Right, as all the lockdowns were happening, right. So, you know, we have in front of has a focus on, you know, manufacturing workers and manufacturing technology. And so with my background, and even when I was at Whirlpool, and producing the new products like you have to interface with manufacturing, because you have to build what you spec out, right. And so I had a lot of experience in manufacturing. And we quickly understood that you know, one is these folks have to get back to work, right, they’ll be deemed essential, and they have to be safe. But it also represents, like this incredible market opportunity, right? There’s, there’s a solution that everybody knows that they need. And there are zero incumbents, right. And like everybody in the world is looking for a solution for this. And it’s just like an all-out foot race. And so we pitched that we could run faster, and smarter, more so than smarter than, you know, Google and Amazon, Microsoft, all these other folks that had already started down the path of like COVID contact tracing. And what was interesting is we knew all along that this was going to be something that we’d have to pivot off of, right. And so we knew that like this would be an expiring go to market strategy, right at the same time pitch this opportunity of like, Hey, I believe that the way that these workers work every day and the way that they get communicated, communications from the company, the way they interact with their managers is going to be disrupted forever. Right? Like you’re not thinking about how they do training like they jam all these people into like a little training cell in manufacturing. Is that going to be okay? Like, when are people going to feel comfortable like jamming, you know, 50 people into a tiny room to go through there, you know, annual OSHA training? Or like, Wait, do they, they communicate, they do these daily stand-ups where everybody stands around the board and they look at, you know, what’s going on with the factory, you know, across all of their different KPIs and elements. And so if you thought about like, Okay, how are they working today? Like, that’s not gonna be okay in the future. And so we pitch like, we can go to market with a COVID screening tool that’s not app-based, because we firmly believe that these folks are not going to accept an app, especially one that they believe is, is tracking them. So we go to market with a COVID symptom tool. And then over time, we pivot it to meet these other use cases around communication and connecting this workforce, and digitizing this workforce, all without an app. And so the Fortive team was like, I mean, they gave us the money, and they’re like, alright, like, let’s go, like, we’re gonna give this a shot. And, you know
Andy Halko 20:58
Just want to, you know, one thing I want to point out, and I had this conversation with a past founder was like, you know, chaos and kind of disruption, drive innovation. And although people you know, we’re really worried about COVID, how can affect people in jobs? I think you’re an example like other founders that we’ve had, of how innovations, you know, can come out of it and create new opportunities.
Sheila Stafford 21:25
Oh, yeah, for sure. I think anytime there’s a huge disruption, there’s just a ton of opportunity that goes with it. And so yeah, we were able to capitalize on that. And I don’t know, like are we formed the company, May 15, is when we got the investment. By June 1, we had signed our first customer and had a basic MVP, we started getting revenue, June 30. And I think, I know with Pioneer Square Labs, I always joke, they’re like, you guys were like, the fastest out of the gate to revenue that we’ve had. And like the fun part about if I back up a little bit on the studio model, so like Team sense, was, and I’ll get there eventually was a separate entity. So like Fortive was an investor in a TeamSense. We were a separate company, registered state of Delaware, all of that stuff. So it wasn’t like, you know, we were starting it within the fortune 500 at all. We were just, you know, a startup that they had invested in, right, then as of a couple of weeks ago, they acquired us. And so we’ve since been acquired, and now we’re part of Fortive 100%. So we could eventually get there. I if you’re if your users or listeners are interested in that. Well,
Andy Halko 22:38
Well, what is something that you mentioned, and I maybe want to unpack now? Or maybe it makes sense a little bit later, but the speed, you know, talking about 15 to revenue, June 30? You know, I think everybody struggles with that. So what can you tell me how or why or what you think drove that?
Sheila Stafford 22:59
Yeah, I think I mean, the market, we knew it was like on a time constraint, right. So like, time is of the essence. And speed is so so, so important. And so we kind of leaned in a bit on, like our marketing messaging. The other thing is that’s really unique is that like, because we were a COVID symptom tracking tool, Google had also locked down like you couldn’t buy Google AdWords, like, there’s no way you’re going to rank an SEO on COVID terms at that point. And so like, our only avenue was LinkedIn. And so we had some, you know, targeted advertisements. So we started really targeted, we knew that we’re going after manufacturing, I knew that those folks don’t accept apps as readily as other types of hourly workers. So like, foodservice hospitality tends to be a little bit younger. And so they’re more open to having company-sponsored apps on their phone, where manufacturing workers tend to be older, and they’re not okay. And so we had this kind of unique knowledge that we just decided to leverage and exploit. And so we went to market with this kind of no app approach. And then we were super targeted in our LinkedIn advertisements, and we’d get somebody on the phone and ask them, right, like, Hey, this is what we’ve got. And like, meanwhile, the engineers in the back, like putting all the pipes together. And then what we did was really, something similar to what I picked up the kind of at Whirlpool was when we got our first customer on board, we’re like, hey, like, we’d love to hear how it’s going and get your feedback. And we set up a weekly meeting with them for 30 minutes. So every week we’d get on the phone, we’d say how’s it going? What do you like, what do you not like, and then we got our second customer and we set them up with 30 minutes and we got our third customer we set them up for 30 minutes and so over time, like our product team is talking to our customers every week, you know for 30 minutes and still to this day like we still talk to a lot of our customers either because they’re super innovative right? So if we find somebody that is a smaller company will say it’s not that much like from a financial perspective, but like They’re people are super innovative and bleeding edge, like, you bet we’re gonna be on the phone with them weekly, or if the customer is, is really important, and we want to build the relationship. So we’ve got some, you know, enterprise-level customers, then we’ll get them on the phone just from an engagement standpoint. And so what we found is, you know, as you’re building the product, like the things that they asked for are things that apply to everyone. And so we were able to leapfrog and keep kind of pushing the envelope of what they needed to be successful really quickly, because they’re on the phone, like telling us, right, like, hey, like, this is part of your product, like, really sucks, like, it would be awesome if you could, you know, do X, Y, or Z. And then I got the phone, I’m like, Hey, engineers, like we need to do XY and Z. And the next week, they’re like, Oh, my God, like you delivered what I want. And, and it’s almost magical, because a lot of these, these folks don’t get that opportunity. Like a lot of times, you know, these manufacturing companies are with these big software, like you think about like SAP and, you know, Oracle, like, they don’t get that type of attention. And so it was this awesome flywheel where they’re like, they love feeling like they’re part of the product, we love their feedback, and we just kind of grew really quickly, and then had a really nice robust product pretty quickly after the first customer.
Andy Halko 26:13
And I’ve heard that trend, you know, and I love it is the idea. You know, I think successful founders I’ve talked to have a level of intimacy with their clients, especially in the early stages, where they’re really have a, you know, tight feedback loop. And, you know, for other founders that are out there, I think that that’s just the key component is, you know, you could put an MVP out to the market. But if you’re, you’re not having that intimacy or that tight feedback loop, you’re probably losing out on a lot of opportunity or ability to pivot in the right direction.
Sheila Stafford 26:46
For sure. I think that is by far and away from the key to our success, I would say, in my view, like advanced and say, okay, like, what was the next thing that you guys came out with, right after COVID? We came out with this like attendance program. So like, right now, if somebody has to call off sick, at a factory, they call this like, one 800 Number, they leave a long-winded message of like, hey, like, my kid is kind of sick. And I don’t know if I want to send them in and like, and then that message sometimes goes into like a bank, where all the managers need to listen to every single message and like, figure out which one is their employees. If they’re lucky, I get sent to like, pretty dated, it’s terrible, right? Like it gets if they’re lucky, it gets sent to their desk, but they still like, already have the negative impact, which is, they’ve already got the lineup and running and had to deal with the absent person that just didn’t show. Yeah, by the time they get back to the desk. So listen to the message. And once you listen to the message, then you’re like, Okay, was that Sheila was that Shelly, I can hear There was noise in the background, like, do I code this as you know, this form of absence or that form of absence? And so like TeamSense itself, from a system perspective is really like a branching survey, right. And so once you get to the branching survey, you can then get to like, different endpoints. And so the endpoints that we have now are all related to like the absences for that particular use case. And so, you know, you ask them like is this for a future absence or current absence, like, okay, it’s a current absence, great, like which one and you keep, like, depending on the absence policy of the company, you can just keep winnowing down into a single, a single status. And then immediately, as soon as they hit send, you send a text message to the manager that says, Hey, she’s not going to be in today, I also send it to the email address, so that they can take care of whatever they need to on the line immediately. And then they know that when they come back to their desks that they can then you know, open up and read the details and kind of do what they need to do in the payroll system to get that rolling. And so the funny part is, is like it kind of meshes really well, with COVID, right? Because with COVID, when they go into alert status, you know, generally they need to be out for 10 to 14 days, depending on the various quarantine rules. And so like that’s like, their attendance and so like, you need to tell the managers, you know, that they’re going to be out and so our customers were like, hey, like, we’re already kind of using this as like, a supplementary attendance, like, it would be awesome. If like, we could have other like, attendance statuses, like, you know, somebody’s car broke down, it’d be great to understand that they’re going to be arriving late, or somebody has a, you know, a sick, not COVID sick, you know, incidents like can you help us with that. And so then we started floating that around for other customers and on our sales calls. And, you know, realized and kind of validated that idea, like, wow, this attendance thing and like, learn about that voicemail process. You’re like, this is terrible. Welcome to the 21st century. And so we launched that and that has been a huge success for us and helped us kind of continue that momentum.
Andy Halko 29:44
You can really hear in that story, how it goes from like, the, you know, this micro piece to now I hear communications app that really solves a big challenge of where or don’t want apps And I can see it, you know, really has come clear, which is amazing. And like you said that problem of it goes into a general voicemail with technology, you know, the phone number, it can route it in the right way
Sheila Stafford 30:11
You know exactly who they are, who the manager is, I mean, some other things. So like, of course, you know, now we’ve got everybody’s contact information, which is not a given in these manufacturing settings, right? Like they go into HR when they’re hired. And then this population tends to turn phone numbers a lot more frequently than like, I would say, the average population. And so over time, you know, they don’t have the most updated contact information. And so one of the things that they asked us to do was like, hey, you’ve got everyone’s contact information like you can send out messages. I would love like a mass messaging and communication tool. And so we’re like, oh, yeah, like, we can do that. And so then, you know, we immediately send out a mass notification tool, which has been used for a variety of things, like it’s fun to see, like the different use cases. And so of course, you can imagine, like, the factory is closed, like, you know, we’ve had snowstorms, tornado warnings, and things like that kind of go out on our messaging system. But we’ve also seen some interesting ones, where some folks are using it for engagement, right? So somebody sent out messages around like, national pet day, and they’re like, hey, today’s national pet day, like tell your coworker about your four-legged friend, and sort of use it from an engagement standpoint. The other use case that we see it is like from a safety standpoint, so you know, a lot of these companies are all about safety naturally. And so they’ll have their EHS manager come in, and they’ll send out and like, you could schedule messages to go out in our system. And so what they’ll do is they’ll log in on Monday morning, and they’ll schedule messages to go out for a first shift, second shift, third shift at an appropriate time, was like a safety tip of the day, right? And they’ll have like, it’s for truck Safety Week. And so like, day one is like, be sure to use the mirrors as you’re going through the cross, right? They too are like a fork truck can’t see you if you’re within you know, two feet, etc, etc. And so now like they’re starting to use it for safety tips. And so like, we’ve started to branch out, and now they’re coming back to us and like, oh, it’d be amazing. Like, can we use your system for like, make yourself safe for you know, a fiery back situation? Because we’ve got so many buildings, and our teams are constantly traveling between buildings? Or can we use your system to, you know, do our safety checks on our fire extinguishers? Just have them go through? Like, I’m at fire extinguisher one like, yes, yes, yes. And so like the use cases, just keep coming, which has been a ton of fun. And like, now our hardest, you know, the problem is like, okay, these are all great ideas. All of our customers love these ideas, like, which ones do we do next? And what or
Andy Halko 32:32
I was gonna put them up and ask you about that, because that’s a common trend on our show is, you know, you get ideas from everywhere mentors, and, you know, customers, family and friends. How have you managed all those ideas coming in and evaluated? Whether those go into a roadmap?
Sheila Stafford 32:51
Yeah, that’s a great question. And so I think there’s a couple of different things. One is like, what value are you providing to the customer? And like, can that be quantifiable? And so if it’s a little bit softer, then it’s it goes a little bit further out on the roadmap, right? Because it’s like, okay, I need to sell this, and we need to continue to grow. And so if I can’t easily point to the value that I’m providing to the customer, then, like, great idea, maybe we can do it, but not right now. The other is like real ease of implementation. And so how much effort is on our side? Is it to implement it? And I’ll tell you, a funny story. You know, like, if you think about where we were from our product like we knew we were going kind of in this direction from day one. But like speed was so important that like, we took on some tech debt, right of like, how did we do our surveys, and like, we started, we started which this is crazy. And I think about I’m like, Oh, why don’t we do this. But like, we started off putting people into like, groups of like, when the surveys would go out. So like our surveys would send out automatically every morning. And so we should start off putting them into like you’re the ADM group, or your the 545 groups, or whatever. And then we started getting more and more time zones, so then it got even more complex. And then like, those groups span like multiple companies of like, oh, like we can put them in that group because that’s when their surveys go out. And so eventually, that became, unsustainable, right? Yeah. Like, that’s not right. Like, every individual should have their own time. So we had a revamp for that. The other big like, revamp we had was, you know, with COVID, you kind of ended up in two statuses. You were like, sick or not sick. And so our entire system was kind of predicated on this idea of like, the sick or not sick. But then when we started doing the attendance like you’re still sick, but you’re like, you’re not COVID sick, right? And so like being able to kind of expand those endpoints took another revamp of the way that our surveys are kind of formatted and treated in the database that was an interesting ride, to say the least.
Andy Halko 34:50
Yeah, I can imagine. So. You’ve been you’ve been doing this for over a year now. Right? Yeah. What? Tell me a little bit about what You think has been the biggest challenge that you’ve kind of had to overcome through this journey so far?
Sheila Stafford 35:07
Yeah, you know, it’s kind of a mix, right? So I think hiring in this market, like right now is so, so, so hard. And like, we are particular with our hiring, like we have a very diverse team, we’re committed to diversity, and we’ve committed specifically diversity in tech. And so we have a really high bar on what we’re holding ourselves accountable to especially being founded in 2020. Right. And so there are no excuses for us not to get this right. And so hiring has been incredibly difficult and just growing at the rate that we need to grow. I think the other thing is, is really like when to take on or like when to tackle that tech debt. So like one of the things we’re working on right now. And we’ve got nearly all hands on deck from a Deaf side is we’re working on integrations, right. So like, from an HR standpoint, you figure if I go back to that attendance product, once that attendance status comes out, and you say like, okay, they’re going to take this, you know, PTO, there’s then right now like, we hand that off to the manager and say, Hey, we took over that step to understand what they’re going to do and who they are and give you that information in advance. But they still have a step right now where they have to go and put that into their payroll system. And so they say, okay, Sheila is going to take PTO, and then the payroll system, you know, kind of modifies the bank. And so right now, we’re focusing on connecting to, you know, the big companies that everybody knows, you know, like, Ceridian, and Kronos, and ADP, and Paylocity, and all those guys. So that like that can happen automatically. But from a company standpoint, it’s at a, we’re at a tough spot in that like, that doesn’t add that much incremental value, like for sure, it’s just like, close the enterprise sales, but it’s not a new feature, right? It’s like, it’s a little bit, but it’s so important for those enterprise sales that were like, alright, like, we got to bite the bullet right now. And like get these integrations done. So then like that can help kind of like, we’re going to go slow to go fast, kind of on the growth perspective. And so knowing when to take those, those big kind of steps of like, we’re not going to deliver new features to our end users for a matter of weeks. Because, you know, we’re, we’re focused on this other stuff. I think it’s been the artist’s decision and like when to do that from a company growth standpoint.
Andy Halko 37:22
Yeah, and I’ve heard with integration, specifically, just talking to a lot of software founders of, you know, how do you do it making those decisions of Who do you integrate with because it’s become such a complex space? Yeah. And so, have you had that challenge to have, you know, how do we make these decisions about what we do and how we do it from an integration standpoint?
Sheila Stafford 37:44
We have and I think, you know, we look to our customers, right? Like thankfully our customers have a fairly limited number of sets that we could choose from and so from there, it’s like okay, there’s like three or four that we just have to do. I think the complexity is like the integrations on the other side like if you take Cronos for example like a lot of our customers like hey we use Kronos Okay, great. So you’re like looking at Kronos well Kronos has grown by acquisition, and they’ve never done the work on their back end to like make that all the same. So they have different products of Kronos that are all labeled Kronos, you’ve got ultipro and dimensions and all these other ones. And so in reality and integration with us, for Kronos is really like probably like 30. Right. And so, it’s more of like the nuances within that’s freedom, frustrating from our end, like Kronos doesn’t care about us, but at the same time, you know, like trying to make and do the right decision for our customers.
Andy Halko 38:38
So I’d love to talk about people, because you touched on that the challenge of hiring, but just generally people and some topics around that, you know, what, what was the team? As you started, obviously, you mentioned, I think there was a co-founder, right, or someone else that was with, you know, how did it start? And how has your team evolved over this period of time?
Sheila Stafford 38:59
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we started to like the two of us from that came out of Fortive and jumped into the studio, where myself and Allison writing Allison is an incredible leader young, but so so talented. And so she heads up our product. And then our first hire was our CTO, we hired Jeremy Wozzeck. And so what’s unique about Jeremy is you know, I was looking for somebody that was in many ways opposite of what I am, right? So it took a lot of self-reflection and introspection to say like, okay, like, what are my worst qualities? And how do I hire for somebody that’s the exact opposite to make sure that like, the two of us just don’t like to continue to amp up one another and we end up making really bad decisions? So if I think about my worst quality in some respects, you know, from running a company or I like to make decisions fast right? And so I contend to like, be like up this decision. Let’s go like we need to move and so I was looking for somebody that like spent a lot more considered in their decision making specifically. And so we found that in Jeremy. And I think about, like, the way that we hire is, I’m constantly looking one for the diversity of thought, diversity of experience, our team, you know, has a ton of different, like, both professional experience, but as well as like life experience that helps, and it helps us relate to our customer base as well. And so if we think about every new hire, especially in the early stage, like, we’re almost like plotting them on a scale of like, where do you come in on a variety of factors, right, so like, are you like, overly, I don’t know, like, overly demanding, are you You know, somebody that’s more soft Are you like, and like, we’re constantly trying to get the team to be on either side of this kind of middle such that the team doesn’t move one way or the other. And we end up having to kind of counter-correct the culture. And so, you know, I view every new hire as like a little, you know, a piece that needs to fit. And it’s hard because I can’t hire the next person until that person is in right. Like, I don’t know, that exact puzzle piece of right, we’re looking for from a culture perspective, because it matters, you know, until we get to the next piece, because diversity is so important. There isn’t just one single mold of like, oh, you know, you’re a team sense person. And so I think we put that on ourselves. But man, has it been worth it. Like, we’ve avoided so many disasters just because of like the team that we’ve built, and you know, the diversity of their experience, like we’ve got folks that have spent a long time in their career as an hourly worker, right. And so, like, that’s helpful when you’re trying to build for these folks. And so, you know, I think our process is, is pretty robust, but in my opinion, needs to be there’s not anything more important to our job than then how do we grow this team and grow it in the right way?
Andy Halko 41:56
Is there anything that you do the like, manage the culture, because the thing that came to my mind is the puzzle pieces make sense. But, you know, everybody’s complex, and there’s all these things that you, you know, are the surface of under the surface? You know, have you had any issues where those people that you feel like, compliment, end up, not complimenting each other? And then, you know, as you learn these things, how do you manage or, you know, work around building the culture of the company?
Sheila Stafford 42:25
Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So we have had that, we’ve had had a couple of folks that came in, and, you know, they just like, our team moves fast, like we run weekly sprints, which most software companies are running like a two-week sprint. And so we’re moving quickly, because we’re taking that feedback from our customers and directly inputting it, you know, back, and it also goes to the weekly meetings that we had with the customers, right. And so we’re kind of built that way. And some folks just can’t keep up. And it is it can get overwhelming, or they’re coming from, you know, corporate where you’re not in startup mode, where like, we need to run because it’s a matter of survival. And so we’ve had a little bit of that sort of mitigating that we’ve actually invited, you know, potential new hires to our sprint planning, like, hey, come see what the team has delivered in the last week, and what we’re going to plan to deliver in the next week, and then like, let me know, like, do you feel this, this works for you? Right, so we’ve invited folks to sprint planning, we’ve done a ton. And this is something that we do standard now is we do either a homework assignment or a working session for the functional area, right. And so we’ve got, you know, for instance, we’re hiring our customer success engineer right now. And sometimes our customers give us you know, data uploads that have all kinds of data errors in them, right. And so the team created a fake set of data that has a bunch of different errors in it, and we send it out and we say, okay, you know, spend 20 minutes on this, send it back, let’s see what you can do. And we look for those errors, just to see as real life, like, this is a real-life problem that we have, like similar with marketing, you know, we’ll pull kind of our ad spend, like, this is what we’re seeing, like, here’s the different groups, these are the different targets, like, how would you do this differently? Right. And so we found it super, super helpful, where, you know, you’re starting, when you’re talking about candidates, you’re starting to get down to like, the data and the nitty-gritty of like, Can they do the job or not? As opposed to like, Hey, do I like them? Or do I like them? Not? I think the second thing is like, okay, like, yes, they can do the job, then, you know, are they going to impact the team positively or negatively? And in some cases, you know, we might say, like, hey, the team is getting a little bit like, lacks, like, we need somebody to come in, that’s just like a little bit further to the side. That’s like, going to push them like, Hey, guys, we need to run or maybe it’s the opposite. Like, the team has been running like crazy. And we need somebody that’s going to pull them back a little bit so that we don’t burn our team out in six months. And so I think once we figure out that they can do the job, then, you know, we start getting into like, where they fit on kind of the spectrum and whether that’s the right move for us. Culturally,
Andy Halko 45:01
I’m a big believer in, you know, developing a clear vision and mission. And we actually use our core values to really evaluate and, you know, decide on the right people. Do you use those types of things, the vision mission and other pieces and and how do you use them in your organization?
Sheila Stafford 45:20
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think if you learned anything from the discussion today is like how core our customer is to what we do. And so somebody that doesn’t have, you know, the ability to have sympathy or empathy for both the hourly workers and the people that manage them is just not for us at all. Somebody that doesn’t want to mentor, like I said, like, we are fully committed to helping to diversify tech. And so to do that, like we have to take risks on, you know, more junior folks, or folks that otherwise don’t have a tech background that maybe came out of a tech boot camp. That’s why we do these homework assignments, right? Like, okay, like, let me see what you can do. Like, if you can do it, like, that’s what we’re asking for, I don’t care if you have a degree in it or not, like if you can do the job, like come on. And so like we do all these different things. And that all kind of further like builds up our values of who we are as a company, you know, I think we have I’m originally from Buffalo, we talked before it started Buffalo, New York, and I’ll call that Midwest, but like, we’re very Midwestern values, right? Like, even when it relates to our customers, when I’m on a call, like, I like our contracts are month to month, like, we’re not adding value to you, you can cancel at any time, no problem, like, you have to earn your keep every month by keep, you know, pushing whatever, you’re pushing out your factory door like I’m gonna earn my keep every month, it makes sure that I’m delivering value. And if you’re not happy, then that’s fine. We can part ways and like, that’s just kind of how we are we’re transparent were like, very forward. And very honest people, you know, like, obviously, in our, in our existence, like, we’ve also made mistakes, right? Like we, at one point, we had a welcome message go out to one of our big customers, they had a factory of just under 1000 people. And there was an error in our code. And we spam them, we sent like 45 different text messages in, like 18 minutes. And so I had to call the headquarters and be like, Hey, I made a mistake. Like this was the air this is, you know, our process on how we find these things. This is what we’ve changed to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And then say, like, I made a mistake, like, I’m gonna give you a discount for this month, I didn’t ask for it. Like, we just did it. And so like, if you don’t have those types of values, if you’re not concerned about our customer, if you’re not there, like understanding what they’re going through and how their life is then you’re not for us.
Andy Halko 47:41
Yeah, that makes sense. How about you personally, how has your role changed? As a founder from let’s say, you know, right, before you started to now, like, what is your what is your day look like comparatively over that time?
Sheila Stafford 47:57
Oh, great question. I would say, you know, it’s really gone from, like, surviving day to day to more like, what investments do I need to make today to enable the growth that we need to get, you know, in three months, in six months, and so it’s really just the time horizon, as one of the things like I mentioned early on, was when we first started, like we couldn’t use Google was pretty much off the table for anything COVID because you’re not going to rank and they weren’t allowing, you know, ads to come in, to buy off COVID terms. And so like, we were 100% on LinkedIn, well, since then, like, we’ve moved to Google. And I know that SEO is going to be really important for us in the long run. But SEO is an investment, right? Like you have to start now. You have to build up your content, you have to, you know, be thoughtful and like, what are those people looking for? Like? How can I get them the answer, and start becoming, you know, a thought leader like in your space in their eyes? And so one of the things that we’ve been investing in lately is a lot of content creation and SEO. Similarly, like looking at our overall marketing spend, right? Like, we were heavy on LinkedIn. And now we’ve got these other channels. So like, there’s plenty that we can do from marketing spend, but that’s not going to pay out tomorrow, that’s not going to get us the next lead. And so I think I went from 100% focused on like, I need to get the next one in the door, I need to get more revenue, and just, you know, doing managing all the sales to more saying like, okay, from a user growth standpoint, we’re sitting pretty good. On a month-over-month growth rate on a year-over-year growth rate, I’ve got some ability to really make those investments in the future so that we can continue on that same growth path.
Andy Halko 49:36
It’s pretty exciting. Was there anything you know, our audience of founders are always looking for? But you mentioned LinkedIn early on, you’ve talked about SEO and these other things. Was there any like one aspect that was a catalyst for growth, whether it’s marketing, or a growth hack, but something that really helped, I guess, change the game of acquiring customers?
Sheila Stafford 49:58
Yeah, I think we’re still kind of reinventing ourselves a bit from the change from COVID to the change into now like this long-term thing, right? So I think the biggest difference that we’ve seen is just the sense of urgency, like, obviously, like, I’d be on the phone with somebody during the time in which they’re looking for a symptom screening solution. And like, they’d be in the customer database in 48 hours, we’re now where you’re like an HR tech, you know, it’s more of like a 90-day sales cycle is roughly what we’re seeing. And so it just requires different tactics, I would say, coming out of corporate and everybody else will probably laugh, I did feel like a dinosaur, right. Like, I don’t know, if you guys know, like intent data, like Bombora, sick, like that blew my mind, I was like, wait, what, like, this stuff exists. And so like, the ability to use that type of stuff and they use that targeting and like, understand intent, like, we’ve been able to get some great enterprise-level customers, you know, leveraging that intent data. We also level love, love, love Pendo. So we added Pendo, to our tech stack, and like, so now that our customer base has grown, like, obviously, we have touch bases with these folks, as I said, that is super innovative, or on the bleeding edge of their kind of field, or if they’re super important to us as a company, but then like, how do we get those others? And how do we scale that customer intimacy? And so that’s where we’re leveraging, you know, tools like Pendo. And so we can understand, you know, like, when they’re using it, what features are they using, and then play that back into our sales track of it. But I would say I’m still, you know, looking, reading, following blogs, like looking for those growth hacks. But you know, I think, I don’t know, there’s, there’s no hack too, to hard work, and in time, in some cases
Andy Halko 51:46
No, it’s great. So what’s the future look like for the product for the company for you? You know, what do you see happening in the next, you know, 12 to 18 months?
Sheila Stafford 51:57
Yeah, so the great question, I think, you know we are required by Fortive, which is great. So that gives us a really nice, stable financial backing, we fit well with their strategy and moving into more software, SaaS business models. And so from that standpoint, I’m super happy that I don’t need to spend my time going around and pitching VCs. And so that’s great. That gives us nice stability to work off of. But it’s really like continuing to expand this ability to connect this workforce without an app, like we’re 100% committed to no app, but still doing really cool things. And so we’ve expanded into engagement surveys, a lot of times, you know, like towers, Watson, and these big monster engagement survey companies are all tied to your corporate email address, which these people don’t have. And so a lot of times they don’t have an engagement survey. So we’re doing, you know, engagement surveys, we’re doing exit surveys coming up on the horizon are, you know, there’s a huge labor shortage, which everybody probably knows about not giving any, any new news? And so how do we help our customers? One is like, attract that talent. So can we make their processes because, again, we’re not an app, but they have all these processes to hire new folks, like, can we make those much more streamlined? So that company comes off as being you know, very innovative, very forward-thinking, like with our product? And then at the same time, can we help them retain I know that you know, a lot of their churn of new employees happens in the first 90 days? And so can we use our tool to help engage and understand and give them kind of these pre warnings before somebody might churn where you need to have human intervention. And so lots of lots of cool ideas and ways to use the system. The other unique thing is, again, like this, no AP thing ends up being so magical, because then they’re like, Oh, interesting, like, here’s another outdated process on like, how my customers submit orders to me, is terrible. Like, I make them go through my portal and make them do this, like, can you automate that for us, you know, and I don’t need to ask my vendors to download a special, like, just our app, like, I can do that through you. And so like, they keep coming with these ideas. And so we’re at that moment of like, okay, like, where’s the greatest value for our time right now? And then like, when could we possibly get there, just continue to expand the footprint?
Andy Halko 54:14
That’s really cool. So before I jump into, like, a kind of final question, yeah, tell people you know, where can they find you? Where can they learn more? You know, what would be valuable for you from our audience?
Sheila Stafford 54:30
Yeah, so I love to connect and network and understand and learn more. So the best way to do it is to reach out on LinkedIn, I think I know if you can put a link to to my LinkedIn there. And then also, if you go to teamsense.com, and you hit up contact or [email protected], that actually still comes to me. So feel free to to shoot me a message and we can find time to connect for sure.
Andy Halko 54:53
That’s amazing. So my my final question that I asked all of our SaaS founders is, you know, If you could go back in time to right before you started the company and meet with yourself, what what advice would you give?
Sheila Stafford 55:10
Oh, man, great question. I think it would be to have more confidence in myself, right? Like, there’s so many times where you’re like, Oh, my God, like, are we going to make payroll? Are we going to and like, it works out. And you know, coming from corporate, I think I had a chip on my shoulder of like, I don’t know how to do this startup thing. Like, I’ve been tucked away in corporate for 15 years, like, as I said, Bombora blew my mind. And like, that’s probably been for 10 years, or something, I don’t know. And so I was unsure of my ability to be a CEO and my ability to drive this team to success. And so, you know, looking back at what we’ve been able to do, I think, you know, the approach we take is just like, one day at a time, like, I’m super honest to my team, like, I’ve never been a CEO today, or before, like, I’m gonna promise you is that like, I’m going to be better today than I was yesterday. And tomorrow, I’m going to be better than I was today. And that’s kind of the mantra that we take as a team. It’s just this continuous improvement. And so, you know, I think I would tell myself to like to calm down, have faith and get to work.
Andy Halko 56:17
That’s great. That’s fantastic. I just want to thank you so much. I think we had some amazing, you know, discussion and topics very helpful for the crew. And I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk about your journey.
Sheila Stafford 56:31
Yeah, absolutely. It was my pleasure. And thank you so much for having me. This is a ton of fun.
Andy Halko 56:36
Awesome. Well, thank you again, and thanks, everybody for joining. We’ll see you next week and have a great day.
Sheila Stafford 56:43
Have a great day. Take care