Ep. 25 | Hiten Shah On Why Helpfulness Is Your Best Asset For Competing In SaaS


Hiten Shah, renowned entrepreneur, startup advisor and co-host of The Startup Chat podcast, joins Helping Sells Radio to chat about building a career focused on helping others, and how competing in today's SaaS market requires building remarkable self-service and helping customers help themselves.

The importance of learning for startup leaders

Hiten suggested adopting a beginner's mindset and "always being prepared to learn". If in a position of influence in a company, you realize you're not good at many things, and just great at a few things. Get great at learning. You can help people on your team by asking and learning. 

Child-like curiosity. Build an open mind vs. closed mind. There are few fundamentals. 

Constantly seek customer feedback

Hiten shared an example of adding a feedback box to receive customer input to collect signals and feedback. He said to also look at blogs and social posts to watch for customer feedback, and be there to join in on that conversation.

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Start open-ended, make customers' lives easier by narrowing down what they need

Start open-ended (for example, with a feedback box) and as you learn what people are saying, tweak that open-ended box to be multiple choice AND open-ended. For example, early on you want all of the data (who the customer is, what pages they were on, what plan they're on, how long they've been using the product since signed up) for extra context. From there, the process for a new area of the site: what are people asking about and how can you make it easy for them to get the answer they want plus more context? Hiten might add another dropdown to the field. This is why many customer support tools have things like labels, folders, and tags - to categorize all of the data. The analysis of how to improve customer experience comes from being able to categorize feedback.

Make it so people have to communicate with you less - so they can solve their problems as fast as possible.

"More people, more problems": Offer self-service resources

If you're not solving the most important problems, what are you doing? Hiten intentionally keeps teams small and implements self-service because the fastest way a customer gets help is by helping themselves.

Solving important customer problems: Helping customers understand how to do analytics

Hiten shared examples of how his company, Crazy Egg, inherently took something analytical and turned it into a visual that everyone could understand. This created a strong reaction (we have that button there, but no one is clicking). He said the business was mostly self-service, and they have few support people. The most valuable parts of KISSMetrics are only able to be utilized at scale, when a company is willing to invest in that kind of data. Smaller companies have different hierarchies of problems - how do we do things efficiently? Analytics is almost the antithesis of efficiency. It's reporting that you have to interpret. He said they invented auto-analyzing things, being able to give "actionable insights" which helped, but at the end of the day someone analyzing data is the best way to get insights from data.

As a software person focused on efficiency, it drives him nuts. The tools haven't been built yet to build a better tool to get to the important stuff of solving problems.

"Humans are people too."

Fewer people may be better for your business

If we agree we need more people, we'll have more people. If we agree to make things more efficient, people will be helping, but won't be the reason.

Helping is one of the most inefficient things most people do - so make it more efficient!

Hiten says this is why a lot of people don't help others. If he can help in an email or a quick phone call, why help with coffee? He adopts the same efficiency lens when it comes to helping.

This is why Hiten does AMAs on Product Hunt, do a podcast, etc. By doing it in this way, you can record once and never forget it - and it can reach more people.

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You have no choice: help customers, and at first do things that don't scale

No matter your business, you have customers who pay you and if you're not helping them, and you're taking a hands-off approach, someone will come along and do a better job than you of helping your customers. Bill mentioned Paul Graham's blog post "Do Things That Don't Scale". The caveat Hiten adds: Do things that don't scale until you know how to scale things. Don't come up with a grandiose plan to do things for 10-20K customers, do things that don't scale to get to 10-20 customers before you can dream about 20K customers. That's how you get to scale.

To compete In SaaS, helpfulness is your best asset

With AWS and learning across the SaaS industry has made it easier to build software: which makes it harder to stand out in your category. When it's easier to build software than ever, everyone becomes forced to service the customer. Focus on the customer in order to compete; how well you service customers is how you compete.

Want proof that software is easier than ever to build? There is an app for everything.

Yes: Tree Identification Apps Exist

Yes, we went there. Here's an app called Leafsnap.

Be proactive: ask customers questions to help them succeed

If someone doesn't do something in your software, email them a subject line with a sad face and ask them to reply to the email: "Hey, we noticed you didn't cut down that tree, can you tell us why you didn't cut it down?" 

To follow Hiten online, go to Hitenism.com and subscribe to his SaaS newsletter and The Startup Chat.

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Sarah E. Brown and Bill Cushard

Written by Sarah E. Brown and Bill Cushard

Helping Sells Radio co-hosts, Bill Cushard and Sarah E. Brown, are Rocketeers based in Palo Alto, CA. Reach out to them by emailing marketing@servicerocket.com or on Twitter using the hashtag #HelpingSells.