Founders rely heavily on mentorship from others in getting off the ground, and are best served by talking to others who are or have tried.
In our case, we continually encountered predecessors who held bitter views towards the personal/relationship oriented CRM. As most companies had failed, most founders held the personal belief that it will never work.
While most indicators point to Contactually being a successful venture in the space, we, of course, ran into numerous challenges that I still feel “scarred” from. It’s a really hard concept, and my co-founder and I have noted to each other that our outcome wasn’t just limited by the quality of execution, but the inherent challenges of doing what we did.
It would be easy to take that scar tissue and dismiss any further attempts at solving the “Personal CRM” challenge as never going to work – because we didn’t succeed as much as we could. I remain, however, a firm believe in this space, and hope to see others lap us and succeed here. I wouldn’t rule out that I take another swing of the bat at some point.
I’ve mentored a number of founders prior to and post the Contactually acquisition who are investigating this space. I’ve noticed some of the same questions – and responses – arise. In order to hopefully help others succeed, I’ve documented some of the bigger icebergs that we faced. I don’t want to prescribe solutions here – that’s your journey! If you’re tinkering in this space, reach out!
Important vs Urgent
Referencing the Eisenhower Matrix, we are generally pretty good at completing Urgent/Important tasks, far less so with Not Urgent/Important routines. Nurturing a hot lead or working with an active prospect will always beat out investing time in relationships that might yield something, maybe, some point in the future. Our biggest churn reason was “I just got busy” – working the opportunities you have in front of you, vs the farming the field for next year’s crops. How do you get around this? Hack their behavior, a la Nir Eyal/B.J. Fogg/Charles Duhigg? Automate as much as possible, and risk the downside? Help them outsource it?
Value of Relationships
While there is enough canon out there to convince you that your network as a whole is a tremendous asset, individual relationships are of indeterminate value (and not just varied by industry). Is the lifetime value for that one person $500? $5,000,000? $0? And for many (myself included) the fact that we’re associating value to people makes me sound like a sociopath – another barrier to work around.
The Three Questions
The root problem that users of a Personal CRM face centers around three questions, that all must be answered at once. Who should I be spending time on? When should I engage? What is the best engagement that will help me achieve what I want to do? That last prompt elicits a fourth question applicable to all three, that is often skipped over. What is the user trying to achieve? Money? Fame? A Job? “Just staying in touch?”
This is one of the areas where delivering value to the user has regressed since ~2011. In the height of the Web 2.0 era, everything had an API. The first version of Contactually could pretty effectively track (most of) personal email communications, calendar feeds, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. While Gmail, GSuite, and Office365 have made email/calendar much easier to retrieve, social media remains closed off – one cannot authorize any third party service to aggregate your communications and contacts. The proliferation of major networks such as WhatsApp and Instagram are no better. A Personal CRM faces significant trouble programmatically understanding who you know, and who you’re engaging with.
Should come in as no surprise, but there is significant gray area between truly personal and authentic communication and overzealous spamming of contacts who have no recollection of you. What does it mean to be personal and authentic? How do you induce that behavior? How can you put guardrails in place that make sense for most of your users?
Narrow vs Generic
Contactually was founded as an industry-agnostic CRM. There were many product decisions that would have yielded different outcomes had we instead focused our product on a narrow market/use case. I have no regrets over this decision, but it’s a decision one should actively make.
Hope this helps. I believe in you!