Lisa Calhoun

I’m Lisa Calhoun, a Managing Partner at Valor Ventures. I’m really excited to have a conversation today with a founder of a fairly significant national repute, Godard Abel of G2. Godard, I’m so glad to see you. Thanks for making time for this conversation.

Godard Abel

Wonderful to be with you, Lisa, and to see you again.

Lisa Calhoun

Thank you for hosting that great holiday party here in Atlanta where we met. That was one of the most amazing parties and right after the heart of COVID, everyone was so ready to connect. Thank you for setting that table. I would like to make sure everyone gets a chance to know you and your story as a serial founder. In your own words, could you tell us a little bit more about how you got started in software?

Godard Abel

Yes, I got started in software way back in 1998. I’ve been at it for a long time.  When I got involved, I was out in the Silicon Valley at the time going to business school at Stanford, and I started helping a startup then. My joke is always, “Too bad, it wasn’t Larry and Sergey.” Because they were starting Google at Stanford at that same time. That was a very exciting time. It was the first internet boom, which led to later they call the .com bubble but there’s so much excitement and so much investment happening in the internet and new companies. I got caught up in that. I started helping these two Stanford Computer Science students, Felipe and Mike. They were building something more mundane. It was a time and expense software for professional service firms. I’d worked as a consultant so I thought I knew something about and I wanted to learn how to build a startup so I started helping them but I’ve been building enterprise software startups ever since. That startup was called Alyanza was acquired by bigger startup Niki. They went public in March 2000. I thought the perfect time to start my own company and start my first company Big Machines really to help my father sell his pumps online.

Lisa Calhoun

Okay, full pause right there. Selling pumps online? Did you grow up in a family business?

Godard Abel

Yes, I did. My father was running a company was called Abel Pumps that had actually been started by my grandfather in Germany right after World War II. I still admire my grandfather. He’s a true bootstrapper in that because he had zero capital. Frankly, after the war, my father was born on a farm,  in the countryside. That’s where they lived for a few years because really, the country was in rubble. My father tells me a story, I think until he was nine, he only ate potatoes. I think his favorite thing was potato pancakes. I think he’s still proud he could eat like 12 potato pancakes. We’re hearing a lot of stories about that. But my grandfather during that time had a great idea to develop a better pump designed to pump slurries out of the coal mines in the Ruhr Valley that were being restarted after the war. I grew up around that, my father took over the business many years later, and actually moved us to America ultimately, to start a US subsidiary. My whole life was growing up around business and entrepreneurship.

Lisa Calhoun

I think that makes such a difference. A lot of my favorite founders grew up in entrepreneurial environments and saw business developing firsthand. But you were at Stanford and you studied business?

Godard Abel

I was. I was born in Germany, lived there for nine years, grew up in Pittsburgh, and I went to MIT to study Mechanical Engineering. I think part of that was, my father wanted me to go to business, I thought I didn’t want to be nepotism. I’m like, “Okay, I’m just gonna keep Engineering.” I worked as a consultant at McKinsey to help consult large manufacturers. The final step was going to be to go to Stanford and learn the rest of our business so that I would be really good at the job. But then I got diverted by the Internet.

Lisa Calhoun

Thank goodness you did. What happened with your first company, the timekeeping for professional services?

Godard Abel

That company was acquired by a bigger startup called Niku. Actually their founder, Farzad de Bachi, I learned a lot from. He was the co-founder of Niku, he’d worked for Larry Ellison at Oracle, building the new media division of their first internet divisions way back in the 90s. He was a very flamboyant, experienced leader in Silicon Valley. I remember the time he raised like $200 million to a company public all in two years.

Lisa Calhoun

Wow, that’s a big deal even today. In two years? I think we’re averaging like 8.5 to nine. That’s really an impressive ride that you got to see firsthand.

Godard Abel

Although I think what was missing back then, in that first internet wave, figured the business probably didn’t have enough substance to be a public company. I think you might remember that era. It struggled for a few years, but it was certainly exciting to see. I think that’s true today.  The company wasn’t quite ready for it. But I certainly felt like I learned a lot. Just how do you tell a big story? How do you raise money? If you’re just great at marketing and building a big story very quickly, I decided that he made it look easy. I’m like, “Okay, I got, I got to go try to do this myself.”

Lisa Calhoun

Awesome, what happened next?

Godard Abel

Big Machines, and unlike Farzad, I did not take it public in two years, like frankly, and partly what happened was the.com bubble then burst. All that investor enthusiasm evaporated very quickly. By the end of 2000, all these startups started blowing up, the NASDAQ crashed, like 70%. All these VCs who have been piling money in internet startups all of a sudden said, “Well, my portfolios failing, I’m not gonna invest in anything new.” I remember then, we did manage to raise more money. We raised $20 million that first year. But then I started missing my projections very badly.

Lisa Calhoun

If you don’t mind I feel like our audience is, for the most part, founders. This is not CBS. This is YouTube and Atlanta Startup Podcast. I’d love to dive into why you were missing projections and what that taught you. I mean, we’ve all missed projections. I’ve missed projections. The thing is year after year of planning as a founder myself there’s this internal tension. Do you set the go for its projection and share that with your team, have your team share back with you, and then disappoint yourself as you fail to miss that incredible everything goes perfect mark. Even the art of setting a goal, I think is something that even at the stage of myself as a founder, fourth-generation entrepreneur, I’ve had plenty of even family stories about how not to miss but it’s an art, right? Do you have any lessons learned you could share with other founders out there?

Godard Abel

That first startup, Big Machine, I was 28 years old and in hindsight, I was naive and clueless. I was full of adrenaline and energy but it was my first startup. I didn’t really know how to plan. I just set very ambitious goals. Venture capitalists, at that time, wanted big, bold bets on the internet. I gave him a big bold bet. Honestly, I just didn’t have enough experience to know, was it feasible or not? But I said, why not? Let’s go for it. It got the team excited, right? It kind of worked to get things going. But then I did set a bar I couldn’t meet at all. Frankly, some of the things also happened outside of my control. That’s also the problem with planning and projections because the.com bubble burst. Remember, our first-tier manufacturers were very much willing to talk to us because they’re like, “Oh, we got to learn this internet thing, how else can we get .com, or maybe Amazon.” There’s a lot of excitement and fear I have to learn, so talk to us. By year two, they’re like, “Oh, the internet was a fad.” I remember 2001, there were also these credit analysts speculating Amazon was going to go bankrupt.

Lisa Calhoun

Right? Oh, I remember that. All of the techs has been a fascinating journey, it still is, I mean, the story is still unwinding page by page. But what happened? Did you wind it down?

Godard Abel

Well, almost, because we did then I made these projections. I think it said like that second year, it’s like 50 customers, I think this was 2001. Then also, 911 happened in 2001 then which led to a broader recession, and we were trying to sell to manufacturers. First of all, they’re like, “Well, the internet was a fad. Second of all, we’re now in a deep recession. We’re not investing in anything.” They might take a meeting. But at the end of the meeting, they’re always like, “Well, you’re .com. It was interesting, but you’re going to go out of business. Thank you, but I’m not buying your software.” That was how most of our meetings went, which was very depressing. I think we only did three or four deals instead of 50. That continued in 2002 and 2003. Then in 2003, we only had about a dozen customers, I’d miss projections every quarter 2001, 2002, 2003, and then my co-founder, Chris, we sat down, we’re like, “What do we do with a million dollars left?” Either we just give that back to our investors and go try to be consultants and engineers, again. Hopefully, somebody will employ us. We also knew we weren’t gonna raise any more money because, after three years of missing projections, investors weren’t really interested. It was but ultimately decided, let’s go into organic growth mode, and let’s persevere. I think the reason we did that was one dozen early manufacturer customers were actually having success with us.

Lisa Calhoun

They loved you, right? You stayed for the customers who love you, that’s always the case, they become your lighthouse.

Godard Abel

Indeed. We thought that eventually, and I think that customers were at that time, they were very innovative thinkers are leading manufacturers, they’re moving their distribution online with big machine software. We’re like, “Okay, this can happen.” I think we just believed in each other. Chris and I went to MIT together, we were best friends. We also didn’t wanna let each other down and our team down. We said, “Let’s persevere. But we did that to scale the company down. The first year, we had up to 70. Then a couple of rounds, we scaled all the way back to 20. We came up with a plan, we said, “Hey, in a year, we got to sell enough deals, so we can get to cashflow positive in a year. That’s our only way out of this. The only way to keep payroll.” It was scary because honestly at the time, it felt like, at best, a coin flip. Are we gonna be able to do it or not? But we also just said, we trust each other, we want to make this happen. We persevered. Then we did make that happen. We were lucky. Well, 2004 is still a struggle, but then by especially 2007, I remember it being a turning point. We partnered with Salesforce, and all of a sudden, thanks to Marc Benioff, all of a sudden the cloud did start getting popular and people wanted their selling tools online in the cloud. Luckily we already had one. We’ve been working on one for seven years. All of a sudden. Salesforce needs a partner for a lot of their big customers. I remember Rico actually in Atlanta visiting them in their US headquarters, but Salesforce was competing with Siebel. Siebel had coding and configuration tools, but Salesforce didn’t. We became their go-to partner for SaaS and cloud for their big customers that needed sales configuration quoting tools. Seven years later, we’re in the right place, right time. We really grew with them and eventually, the company was acquired by Oracle and turned into tremendous success. After many years of struggle, I just remember being overwhelmed by fear and anxiety during those years because I kept thinking, I’m gonna ruin my own career, lose my dad’s money. My dad became my first investor and customer. And ruin all my friends’ careers and lose all my investors’ money. It just felt like this overwhelming burden of fear and anxiety that I had for many years. It just felt like such a struggle and a grind.

Lisa Calhoun

Congratulations on your sale to Oracle. That’s amazing. Things like that don’t happen if you don’t have the courage to stay with it. A lot of people, as you said, it felt like a coin toss. Then you had to dig deep and decide, well, you can’t make sure you’re successful but you can show up for yourself. That’s really impressive. That’s quite a story you didn’t retire. I mean, a lot of founders going through the gauntlet like that and with such a strong exit, oftentimes, they say, “Okay, got out of here alive.” But what did you say?

Godard Abel

I did. After I stepped down from Big Machines, I had about a year where I didn’t really work much. At the time, I wouldn’t have admitted it, but frankly, I was burned out. I was also lucky, I was at home with my wife. We had three young kids, we had another two sub-three kids, now they’re teenagers. But yeah, at that time, they were young in that sense, it was wonderful to have time with my wife and my kids. But then frankly, I also felt depressed. After a few months, I wasn’t getting out of bed in the morning.

Lisa Calhoun

Why did depression kick in? I mean, if that’s not too much to ask, I’m sure people would be interested.

Godard Abel

I pondered that myself because all my friends were like, “Oh, this is awesome. You sold your company, you can just play golf, hang out with your family.” It sounds wonderful. It was not always. But I think I realized after a few months, I was missing a purpose. I think I only realized then why my company gave me a lot of meaning. I did miss my team, a lot of them became my really good friends. I missed that purpose of building every day with a team, colleagues, and friends, being on a mission together. I just realized that I missed it. And I just came to a realization, I want to do it again. But I was lucky with a successful exit, right? I could do it from a different place of consciousness where the second company, we started G2 then, but we decided for it to be a very different place where it’s like, “Hey, this is a choice.” Big Machines after I started, the beginning was a choice, but then it just became like a burden were like, “I have to do this. I have to make this succeed.” Whereas then I was like, “Oh, let’s choose, and let’s really also be conscious about how we shape the culture, how we impact the world.” I think I still find myself today, I’m still an entrepreneur, I’m still building and some days, it’s still rough. You’ll miss a flight or get stuck somewhere for four hours. You’re like, I wish I was at home with my kids.

Lisa Calhoun

Or team members poached by someone. There’s always someone, There’s a lot of reasons that things get tough.

Godard Abel

But then I always remind myself, no, this is a choice, right? A conscious choice. I love building companies. It’s what I want to do. Yes, there will be hard times. It’s always easier to have that perspective. I think also getting older help, but I think keeping that perspective I think it just makes it feel like it no longer has that constant burden of fear and anxiety. I still have fear. But it’s much more fleeting, and I can get back to joy, connection, and love. I think that’s been a wonderful building again, from just different places of consciousness.

Lisa Calhoun

How did you come up with the idea of G2?

Godard Abel

It was really from our learnings from Big Machines. We were building an enterprise software vendor and one of the key things especially in the early 2000s was getting into Gartner. Gartner Magic Quadrants, they’re still very influential, but back then even more influential. But as an enterprise software vendor, l oh, we have to get a Gartner report. We want to become a leader in one of their quadrants. But remember, it took us nine years to get a Gartner report, took us 12 years to become the leader. Frankly, as an entrepreneur, that was super frustrating. We want something faster. I think as an entrepreneur honestly, I didn’t really like talking very analyst.

Lisa Calhoun

I’ve been in quite a few of those meetings over the years with different software companies. I totally know what you mean. This can be a struggle.

Godard Abel

I did love talking to my customers. That’s where I also thought I got the best advice was from my customers. They could tell us how to make them better, and they always did. But then talking to the search party that was supposed to be the expert, but they couldn’t even use your product. 

Lisa Calhoun

And have never been a customer. Never would be.

Godard Abel

I thought of like as a restaurant critic that can eat the food. As good inspiration, we saw at that time Yelp was really hot and emerging. Yelp had done this for bars, restaurants, where we could use online reviews to discover great bars and restaurants in any city. We just said wow, that makes a lot more sense. Let’s ask the diners aka other users of the software. Let’s ask them if they love their food and what they like about it, what they don’t like, how it could be even better. That was really the inspiration for G2. We wanted to make business software more consumer-like.

Lisa Calhoun

Let’s recap the story. Because Gartner took three years to take you from the bottom of the quadrant to the top, you just did it? Okay, cool. I like that grip.

Godard Abel

Both for ourselves, I do think that this business idea is like, solve your own problem, right? I think I need to solve my father’s problem, which I saw him having, how’s it going to sell online? Then the second company was like, solve our own problems as software entrepreneurs, right? It’s too hard to validate our solutions for our customers to discover both problems we’re passionate about solving. 

Lisa Calhoun

Because, these days, it’s been really framed as the cold start problem. Cool book by Andy Chen frames that up for people who may not be as familiar with it. He’s very familiar with it, he does a good job in that book. But how did you get the first 100 software companies to post for reviews when you didn’t have a legacy of a bunch of software companies there for reviews?

Godard Abel

Lisa, I think you’re right, we had a severe cold start problem. We quickly realized that at G2 we quickly got out of our euphoria phase. We have this great idea. It’s gonna be out for software and got a story in TechCrunch. It’s going to be amazing. We realized, wow, nobody wants to write reviews, right? A review site is only interesting when you have a lot of great authentic review content. That was our struggle the first few years, frankly, but the first thing we did, we went to Dreamforce. I mentioned Big Machines, were a big Salesforce partner. We just put up a booth. We’re handing out $5 Starbucks cards to get our friends in the Salesforce ecosystem to review Salesforce and related products they were using. That was how we started. Then the other tool we used was LinkedIn where we were just literally pulling all-nighters, emailing, or reaching out to all our friends who had skills around CRM software and just be like, “Hey, please do us a favor. Write a review, and then we’d run competitions.”

Lisa Calhoun

Shameless begging, I mean, it works. A proven strategy, especially when the founder’s doing the begging, I agree.

Godard Abel

We all did, right? Me and my co-founders, all would just ping friends and ask them for reviews. Obviously, it’s not scalable, right? But I think also like The Lean Startup, a great book, they talked about the beginning, your methods often aren’t scalable. That’s okay. If you just got to get your MVP, and our MVP was really CRM software and just one category. We have a lot of reviews of Salesforce, Microsoft, we knew what the leading products were. We created this thing called The Grid, which is our version of the quadrant that we said, “Hey, it’s not gonna be someone else’s opinion, on user opinion, but to get on our grid, you had to have at least 10 reviews.” We had to go out and for the Top 20 CRM products, get at least 10 reviews, ideally, a lot more. We finally made that work. That was our MVP. What we discovered is once we had that out there, we have like a continent CRM software, then we did start to rank on Google. Software buyers started coming. Then, we were able to, especially some of the smaller vendors who signed up first because we always said G2 is going to be free. Salesforce, I think, was already number one because it has the most reviews, and that was “freemium”, like they didn’t have to pay us for that. But then we did say, “Hey, let’s create some marketing solutions.” The first ones I remember were like workbook CRM, a small-scale vendor out of England, and they were like, “Oh, we’d actually like to reach more of your audience.” They started licensing our content, becoming one of our first paid customers. That was the MVP that was one category. Eventually, we figured out how to scale that now with over 2000 categories. That was how we got going.

Lisa Calhoun

How many reviews, as we have this conversation, are there on YouTube? I mean, it’s massive.

Godard Abel

Now, I think there are over 1.6 million authentic reviews.

Lisa Calhoun

That’s a lot of current perspective on a lot of current software that’s really adding value back.

Godard Abel

We’re still trying to get a lot more because there are over 100,000 listings on v2. Obviously, some like SalesLoft have thousands of reviews but other products still don’t have any. It’s something we continue working on. The other cool thing about industry software truly is eating the world. Now, we also have over 2000 categories of software, but that just keeps growing because entrepreneurs keep inventing new apps like Calendly, for example. But they create new categories like online scheduling software, and they keep creating new categories and new apps, which is wonderful. As our platform keeps growing, we’re also never done with a culture problem. Because every new software listing has that problem. If there are no reviews, there’s no insight for the software buyers. Our site isn’t interesting. We keep trying to build our community where we can recognize the G2 users that do contribute the most and share their insights because that does then help people find better software. We believe that’s very important. There are a billion knowledge workers in the world. Especially during the pandemic, we all had to rely 100% on digital tools. Right now, we’re on Zoom and Zoom founder, Eric Yuan, also a huge fan of G2, they have over 40,000 reviews. I remember I met him in 2014. He was just getting started and very skeptical of his idea because he’d actually built WebEx at Cisco. There’s GoToMeeting, right? There are a lot of web meeting tools. There’s Google Hangouts, and I’m like, “Why does the world another?”

Lisa Calhoun

No, I know. It didn’t seem like it needed to be solved. I agree, back when he envisioned it. But his product vision of making it more elegant, more usable, really a winner.

Godard Abel

I think his mantra, and he explained this to me at the time in 2014, but he’s like, “Hey, I’m just gonna deliver more happiness.” That’s still his mantra today, like delivering more happiness to Zoom users also to his employees. That’s just his mantra for life. Like I said, I was skeptical. But then he did that so well, that he did make it so much easier. It makes us so much happier. Meetings are so much more reliable, so much better that and then obviously, the pandemic happened, and I would have never expected it to become like such a household tool. They were already winning in the business world before that. 

Lisa Calhoun

I know! I used to Zoom all the time, and I was thrilled that suddenly everybody else got traded. It’s like, okay, Grace.

Godard Abel

We’re already doing it, right? But all of a sudden, like my dad, he’s in Vienna, Austria, right? He, frankly, struggled with technology because most of his work life he didn’t even have a computer but then Zoom, he was able to figure it out quickly. A lot of people during the pandemic, right, we’re having family calls on Zoom, and who would have thought?

Lisa Calhoun

I know, during the pandemic, I had my birthday party on Zoom and invited all the people I wanted to see. If I’d had the real-life party, only half of them would have been available. But on Zoom, they all showed up to talk to each other. It was so much fun.

Godard Abel

That was also cool for G2 because I remember that when the pandemic started in March 2020, our traffic to video conferencing was up like well over 400%. All of a sudden, everyone needs a video conferencing app and then Zoom already had the most reviews. I think we obviously played a small part in it but just to add a resource to help people discover great apps like Zoom get through the pandemic and discovered digital apps. It was cool that has actually eight years after we started the company, but it is becoming an essential utility to a lot of people around the world that now need better software, better digital tools.

Lisa Calhoun

A lot of your background, I mean, multinational for sure, but a lot rooted in the valley. Stanford, MIT, real startup hubs. I want to talk a little bit to the founders here in the south. I mean, huge opportunities in the South for software building, you know how bullish I am on that 40% of the US population is in the south region. And some great universities like Georgia Tech turning out bright young minds that are now post-pandemic are probably not going to be getting on planes to move to go to jobs on the coast. We’re gonna stay and build here. I think the pandemic was a real break event, not a slow move, but a real fast move. Things are different. Would you mind sharing with our founders, how to build a first-class entry on G2, any secrets, any tips, pivot out so that we can then talk about how to get their first 10 reviews?

Godard Abel

I do think we also see tech booming in Atlanta in the South. I’m really excited and that’s where you and I met. We did an event for the Atlanta tech community back in December because we hired our new CMO for G2,  Amanda Malko. She grew up in Atlanta. She lives in Atlanta and she was actually working for MailChimp before she joined us. Obviously, another great Atlanta startup.

Lisa Calhoun

Outstanding marketing organization. Its entire life.

Godard Abel

We’re lucky to have Amanda join us. But also one of the things I agreed with, she’s like, “Hey, I’m not leaving Atlanta.” I’m like, awesome. Let’s build a talent hub there. She’s already recruited over 10 people to join her in Atlanta. I love Atlanta. Actually, we’re in a WeWork right now in Atlanta, but it’s actually in a building with Georgia Tech you mentioned. There’s so much local talent and we also believe we’re also working on improving our diversity or inclusion. Also, Atlanta is unique. There’s so much diverse talent. I think also a lot of people of color are Black people with tremendous talent. I think you find more of that in Atlanta than in a lot of cities. We’re doubly excited for the talent and diverse talent. There are also many great Atlanta founders now, like you and I had Kyle from SalesLoft on our panel. Well, obviously David Cummings who way back when started Pardot. Now, he’s helped launch so many companies, including Calendly. I’ve met Tope, another amazing Atlanta founder. He is a force. I think your original question was how can we help the next entrepreneurs in Atlanta and I think Tope is an actually good story, where, obviously, he’s a bit like Eric Yuan, right? Also pretty similar to when he started Calendly. I’m like, “Well, would this world really need that scheduling app?” 

Lisa Calhoun

I think the world needed a scheduling app, but no one but Tope was brave enough to solve the problem, because that scheduling problem is considered almost unsolvable mathematically.

Godard Abel

And many people have tried, right? I think my favorite one was Zoom, he just made it so much better. I think Tope has done the same thing with Calendly. But now I’m looking at G2 right now. Calendly has 1257 great reviews. I think like over 4.5 stars, just people validating like, “Wow, this one actually really works, right?” They’ve solved the impossible-to-solve scheduling problem. It’s actually much better and I think he also started very early on G2. Now, he’s a leader. But there’s this online appointment scheduling software. We just validated as he had customer success, customer reviews that users do really love this one the most. It does really work. I think now he’s the number one rated app on G2. We’re a small part of that. The focus for any entrepreneur now, like Eric Yuan, like Tope from Calendly, you have to build a better app because there are 100,000 apps out there. It’s hard to really come up with something, I think, totally unique at this point. 

Lisa Calhoun

You’re saying Atlanta has the number one and the number four rated software on this enormous platform with 1.6 million reviews and 2000 categories. Well, thank you so much for the recognition, Godard. 

Godard Abel

There are great entrepreneurs in the Atlanta building. We do see that momentum accelerating because there’s so much talent in Atlanta. I think Lisa, I know you’re a successful entrepreneur yourself, but now also getting venture capital. I think you being there to fund companies, same thing, David Cummings, right? I mentioned he built Pardot. He started funding companies. I think now there’s also the venture momentum building.

Lisa Calhoun

I’m super grateful. Dave is one of our investors. He’s one of our first investors and a great advisor. The venture capital pump is really starting, as you noticed, here in Atlanta, that organic, local. We’ve got advisors, we can connect you to talent, we can connect you to your next round. It hasn’t really had that at any meaningful scale before. It’s a very exciting time.

Godard Abel

I think that is true. It was really only in Silicon Valley where they had all that infrastructure venture capitalists, and then just all the knowledge of how you start a company, but obviously, Atlanta region now you have probably like 5-6 million people and so much talent, and obviously, great universities. You mentioned Georgia Tech, but there are hundreds of really good universities in the south. I also think it’s gonna become a hub, the SEC, right, but the whole Southeast region, where young people want to come there because it’s such a vibrant city. I think you have the talent, even the Bay Area only has 5 million people. But I think what Atlanta was missing was the venture capital and the success stories.

Lisa Calhoun

It is actually not only the largest in the country, but it’s also the fastest-growing. 10 of the fastest-growing cities in the US or in the south. The thing is, we always had some natural poll, and people thought of the region as, “Ooh, it’s a warm place to retire.” Sure. But young people weren’t able to stay and build their family lives here. They could go to college here and many choose to, but they couldn’t build a life in tech. Your response to Amanda. Great, no problem we’ll build up there. That is part of that wave of change. I’m really excited you said that.

Godard Abel

I think, for founders like Kyle at SalesLoft, I remember his first investor emergence capital, they’re also investors in G2, too. But I think traditionally, as the emerging capital of the world, I remember this was true, even 10 years ago. If they’re like, “Hey, Kyle, we’ll fund you, but you have to move out.” That’s what they used to say, even 10 years ago. They’re like, “No, we’ll fund you, but you have to move.” I think that had started changing before the pandemic, but I think now it’s been obliterated. Because I think we’ve all seen, “Wow, you can build software anywhere.” Entrepreneurs’ friends from the valley, betray the trends. They’ve been moving out of the valley all of a sudden because it’s so expensive, so crowded, and free. There’s so much competition there for talent, that I think, as an entrepreneur, I think you’re much better off building in Atlanta. There are more and more amazing startups, more and more unicorns. Still, if you compare it to the same square, there’s a lot less density of it. I think you have a recruiting advantage, right? Where you can get great talent because there are so many people, young people, motivated people, smart people in the south, they want to be part of exciting, high-growth companies.

Lisa Calhoun

I think it’s a customer advantage. I mean, this is a little off-topic for G2 and I want to get back to G2. But I think startups here, I mean, I just got back from LA, flew in last night. It was an amazing summit, I went to an upfront Summit connected with a lot of great friends. I thought, “Wow, this was good synergy and the sun is beautiful. But they don’t have a lot of customers that aren’t other software companies.” That’s great if you’re building for the tech industry., but if you’re building for a little bit of a larger world, the real world, I would even dare to say, Atlanta has various customer segments that you can go after. I mean, there are 50 fortune 1000 headquarters in this region. If you’re going after beverages, restaurants, textiles, recycling, airlines, you can find big key landmark customers here, which is actually harder to get from a West Coast perspective. It’s an interesting advantage and one that founders are now really getting to scale. But are there any tips about building that initial listing? Let’s imagine that the founder, they’ve got a few users, they want to get the word out, they know they’re going to build a listing on G2. Is there anything to optimize that you would recommend?

Godard Abel

I think really, the number one thing is to take great care of your customers. But I do think that’s what like the great founders, Kyle and Tope, that’s what they all do because G2 is just all about a platform for customers’ voices. We do find the companies because it is like people don’t want to write reviews. Everybody’s busy. Obviously, tactically at some point, we’d say once you have 10 customers, go start asking him like, “Hey, will you write a review for me?” Just like a lot of restaurants will do is like, “Hey, Lisa, do you love my meal? Would you write a review for me on Yelp?” You know, I think you can certainly do the same thing. But I think that the customers, if they truly love you, and they felt the love from you, you’ve taken great care of them, that’s also what helped us survive Big Machines. We only had 12 but we knew them all by name. We were personal friends.

Lisa Calhoun

Find you asks first and get that bulk of high-profile reviews? I heard that you didn’t say it that way. But that’s the start. 

Godard Abel

That’s what works best. Usually, in G2, we don’t want to be exclusive. You can be on our site for free with no reviews. But once you have 10, we also include you in our grids, our version of the quadrant, but you only need 10 customers to vouch for you, then you’re already in the G2 reports if you will. You’re in our grids, the first 10. I think if you, as a founder and your team, really deliver a great product to your customers, and then if you personally ask them, you’ll very quickly get those first 10 reviews. I do think that’s important getting on the map, because we actually also have a lot of venture capitalists now, including a lot of the world’s leading venture capitalists actually licensed G2 data, because they’ve also realized this is a great way to discover the next Calendly, the next SalesLoft to see who’s trending on G2 early, right? Who has the happiest customers? Who has the most buyers checking out their wares? I think that’s certainly where I would start.

Lisa Calhoun

Got it. Occasionally, I try a lot of software. I use a lot of software, but I try a whole lot more obviously. I can’t help myself, I love new software. Sometimes some of those founders will once I’ve entered their app universe, say hit me back for review on G2. They do it in so many creative ways. I’m sure you know even more about it than I do. Is there one way that you would say is the best in class, we’re talking past the 10 reviews? I’ve been solicited with cash Venmo high-end sports tickets, cards, charities, and Kiva donations. Kiva donations work really well on me. But what have you seen that impressed you recently as a creative technique for building your review base?

Godard Abel

I think what works best for me, and I think even with a data set is just to get a personalized ask, and obviously founders. As you get bigger, but a lot of vendors are doing like I think the best ask comes from let’s say the Customer Success Manager. It actually works with the emulate like Lisa, if you buy some software, but they sign a CSM that works with you, takes great care of you. Then if they ask you as a personal favor and obviously a very personalized ask, I think you’re most likely to respond to that even with no incentive. We see that something like 27/28% If you are asking with a truly personal relationship and when it’s taking care of you at the vendor, and they ask you at the right time, you’re happy, you can scale that now like if you’re using a CRM system like Salesforce because obviously, you know who your CSM is, hopefully, you’re tracking their adoption, their happiness, they just gave you a 9 NPS. But if at that time, the CSM reaches out to you personally and you know them like, “Hey, Lisa. We love working with you. Glad you’re having success with our software, would you please do me a favor and share your experience with the world on G2?” That gets the best response. The good news is you can actually scale it with CRM and with automation.

Lisa Calhoun

Awesome. Well, those are some super valuable tips. Even that metric is about 27% or with high touch. I mean, that’s really good to know someone who’s getting 30% may feel like they’re failing. No, you’re doing just fine. You know, keep it up. That’s good.

Godard Abel

We also learned from Yelp. I mean, 99% of people never write reviews. To be honest, before I started G2, that’s how I was. I was just a free rider of consumer reviews. Check up bars, restaurants. I’ve used TripAdvisor whenever going to the city. But frankly, I realized I’m like, “Oh, well, I’m gonna give back.” Once I started, I obviously started writing reviews everywhere because I just want to learn how they do it, etc. But that’s a reality. If you’re getting 27/20%, that’s actually really good. I think making that part of your ideal customer success playbook that at some point, you also just train your CSM to make that personalized task. Can you make it easy for them? You can template a lot of it. But the key is that actual genuine personal connection, if there’s somebody you don’t know now, the odds are it will go down to 2%.

Lisa Calhoun

That’s another really sobering stat. Okay, so everyone out there, we have a favor to ask, think of the software that you just started using this year that you love. It’s like changing your day and go leave that founder a review because it’ll make a difference. It’ll help them find more happy customers like you. I know that everyone listening to this is definitely not on the freeloader side of life, you are in this to win. This helps somebody else today. That would be very cool. 

Godard Abel

I would say even if you’re unhappy, it actually helps and I think because actually, we also find that a product that only has 5.0 reviews, actually people don’t trust it. I’d say also, frankly, if you’re upset, and obviously, ideally, you do it in a constructive way but you can also share that feedback. We encourage vendors like Eric Yuan, Zoom founder, true story; he’d actually personally read every negative review. Obviously, most of those were positive, but then he would always take it as product feedback. He’s an engineer. He would go with engineers on Zoom to make it even better to address whatever issue they had. He would also comment to say, “Hey, I’m sorry, you had this problem on your web meeting, Lisa. I’ve pushed this fix to help you.” I think that’s an even bigger opportunity which means they care.

Lisa Calhoun

It does. I mean, that engagement is special, no matter what. I mean, when you get it at any level of service in your life and software can seem very cold, very like, “Oh, they built that over somewhere. I don’t know where and it doesn’t see me.” That’s a really great way of making your software experience personal on the review site. Awesome. Well, listen, you’ve been generous with your time before. Before you go, I want to ask, what’s next? What are you looking forward to? I mean, we’re doing this in March of 2022. We have all of 2022 ahead. What are some big things you’re looking forward to this year and some goals you have?

Godard Abel

I think in G2 we talked about our PEAK culture. PEAK stands for performance, Entrepreneurship, Authenticity, and Kindness. I love living those values. Now we have 600 very talented team members around the world. I’m just enjoying the journey with them. We also say we’d like to choose ambition. Also, PEAK is a metaphor. I’ve never climbed Everest, but what’s our personal Everest? Where do WE want to get perfect as a company? I have more of a three-year ambition for G2. One is to realize our vision, which is, it’s truly the place to go for software. By that, we mean that, like Lisa, if you need software for your work life, we want you not to go to Google but to G2.com. The reality is still most people go to Google first, and then discover G2, but we want to have that mindshare with software buyers in the world. I need a better app, they just think G2, so we want to get there. That’s only gonna be basically the most trusted best insights that really helped us offer to buy or find the best app. I think that’s the number one goal, to realize our vision. Then as an entrepreneur, I want to build a meaningful public company, which I’ve never done. My first two companies were acquired. I want to get to the point, ring the bell with our team, and have that very special moment. Those are the big peaks, striving to climb over the next three years.

Lisa Calhoun

That’s exciting. Those are some amazing goals and thank you for sharing them with me and with everyone who’s watching and listening. Really appreciate your time and wish you all success in 2022. Hope to see you back in Atlanta real soon.

Godard Abel

Me too. Thank you, Lisa. 

Lisa

We’re thrilled to have you as an Atlanta Startup Podcast listener to help you get the most out of the experience. Let me invite you to three insider opportunities from our host Valor Ventures. First, want to be a guest on this amazing show. Reach out to our booking team at atlantastartuppodcast.com. Click on booking, It’s a no-brainer from there. Are you raising a seed round? Valor definitely wants to hear from you. Share your startup story at valor.vc/pitch. Are you a woman or minority-led startup valor sister program? The Startup Runway Foundation gives away grants to promising startups led by underrepresented founders. The mission of the Startup Runway Foundation is connecting underrepresented founders to their first investors. Startup runway finalists have raised over $40 million. See if you qualify for one of these amazing grants at startuprunway.org. You can also sign up for our next showcase for free there. Let me let you go today with a shout-out to Startup Runway presenting sponsor Cox Enterprises and to our founding partners, American Family Institute, Truist, Georgia Power, Avanta Ventures, and Innovators Legal. These great organizations make Startup Runway possible. Thanks for listening today and see you back next week.