In part one of my conversation with John Jahnke, the co-founder and CEO of Tackle, he talked about his commerce platform for software companies seeking cloud-based revenue streams.
In this second part of our conversation, John tells us about his unlikely journey from being a college dropout to leading a technology startup—and he delivers some essential tips on the importance of understanding the people on the other end of the product.
More information: https://tackle.io/
John Jahnke was an early investor and advisor in Tackle and now serves as the CEO. John has spent the last 20 years in executive leadership roles with B2B technology companies like Pivotal, Greenplum, EMC and Cognizant. John is passionate about remote work and helping software companies with their go-to-market strategy. He leads Tackle from Buffalo, NY where he lives with his wife and 3 children.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
John Jahnke 0:00
Identify your ideal customer profile as early as possible, even if possible before you start building and then build towards them, and then find a way to get them to use your products as soon as possible.
Alexander Ferguson 0:20
John, I’m excited to continue our conversation now as to hear your journey as as a as a leader, and now being able to CEO of tackle. Talk to me, how, how did you get to where you are today,
John Jahnke 0:33
I ended up in tech pretty early, I actually dropped out of college and got a job in it in the late 90s. And kind of, I grown up pretty technical, just like as a computer kid. And, you know, tech came really naturally to me. And that started my career. And then fast forward a few years, I found myself on the vendor side of business at a big tech company called the MC and found my way back to school and went to business school and always with this pursuit of one wanting to be an entrepreneur to wanting to stay on the frontlines of how technology can change the way businesses operate. And, you know, I spent a fair amount of time in large tech, helping both, you know, in, in sales, in technical sales in professional services, helping customers solve problems. And, and that was really the part of tech that I love the most it was the APA it wasn’t that creation, it was the application of technology and staying close to customers was really inspiring. I ended up I was thinking about joining, starting a cloud migration services company at the time, and one of my career mentors was like, hey, there’s a really great opportunity, you should go work for Greenplum and help them scale. And at the time, it made a ton of sense to me and my wife and I had a young family and I joined the Greenplum team. And that’s where I met the founders, co founders at tackle. So Dylan and Brian and I came together at that point. And that was where our relationship journey started. And originally with tackle, I was an investor in tackle. And then I was on the board and was an active advisor of the company through product market fit. And then I officially joined a CEO in 2018. And there were lots and lots of steps along the way. And when I say I was an investor, I’m not an investor, I wanted to become an investor. And I thought it was a great chance to invest with people that I really enjoyed working with and thought were super smart and had a really interesting idea. So it’s like, yeah, this is a place that feels right. And it’s a place I feel like maybe I could add some value. And then it just happened to turn into what it’s become.
Alexander Ferguson 2:43
Whether it’s in the past two years with tackle or your previous ventures, are there any tactics that you found have worked well for earlier start startups. Or maybe they’re doing fairly well to get the first couple customers and then to be able to scale from there any tactics that you can share?
John Jahnke 3:04
Yeah, I mean, lean startup thinking, and just the idea of MVP, and how do you build for your target persona? I think that there’s a million different ways to execute on that. But just the basics of that thinking, I think are so important. And a lot of times people will have an idea, but they won’t understand who’s really going to use it. And they’ll spend a fair amount of time trying to build out the idea before they can really answer the that can be, it can be successful and people have been successful that way. But oftentimes, you will find that there’s a big pivot along the way once you get products in the hands of the users. So I would say try to I identify your ideal customer profile as early as possible, even if possible before you start building and then build towards them, and then find a way to get them to use your products as soon as possible. In I was, as I talked to entrepreneurs, whether it’s early stage companies or people thinking about going on this journey, I really try to break the customer journey down into you have the zero to one, like zero product to first customer. That is a very, very distinct problem statement. Then you have the one to 10. And in the one to 10 phase, you’re trying to figure out how repeatable is the solution that you created? Can you get to 10 people using your product the same way? And this is an area where a lot of entrepreneurs fail because they’ll find their zero to one and then they’ll find number two who wants to do something kind of like what one did but it’s not the same. And you’re so you want to grow and you want to delight customers. So Sometimes you’ll you’ll say yes to that, when in reality that can be super dangerous if if to get to then the next phase is going from 10 to 50, and 50 to 100. And like in the zero to 10, the one to 10 phase, that’s where you figure out repeatability in 10 to 50, you start to figure out value and 50 to 100, you start to figure out scale, and 100 and beyond, it’s really optimization.
Alexander Ferguson 5:28
What kind of challenges do you see you’re going to need to overcome and maybe even others in order to grow?
John Jahnke 5:36
Yeah, it’s a great question. So we were born and built remote. So from 2016, we’ve always operated remote zoom and slack make up the backbone of the company. And you have to create very intentional internal communication infrastructure to succeed remote. So we had that in place when the pandemic hit, which we did not design the company that way to avoid a pandemic, it was a like, great, great use case for the way we rebuilt. But when you look at the business community of cloud, the business community of cloud is centered very heavily on these big events like AWS, reinvent, Microsoft inspire, and Microsoft build. And all these big events are kind of these rallying cries for the SAS and cloud industry. And those have gone away. And I still don’t think anyone knows what a world without reinvent will look like. And everyone’s trying to figure it out. And everyone’s pivoting towards more digital based engagement. And I think this is going to really help product lead growth companies, because if, if you’re, if you’re opera, if you’re building your product to be consumed easily by your target user persona, then you should be able to continue to grow through these times. And you really have to lean into like that content based style. How do I how do I build value added content that will help people engage with the company understand the problems we can help them solve, and then make it really easy for them to get access to our products. So we’re, we we’ve made that that pretty hard pivot, we used to spend a lot of time at the big cloud events. And we’ve we’ve shifted full on to a content based strategy and doing a lot of like, online content that delivers value to our customers. And we’ve seen good success
Alexander Ferguson 7:30
there for you as as a leader, any books, podcasts, sites that you frequent or have enjoyed or read in the past.
John Jahnke 7:40
I’m a huge Jason Lemkin fan from Sastre so if you’re in SAS, and you want to think about growth, I feel like every time I search a question, I find a Jason Lemkin article. So that’s great. And then Bessemer is our lead investor. And they do a lot to publish the state of cloud report, which is something I’ve read, I’ve read for years, and have always found it super fascinating. So they put out a lot of great content that I really love.
Alexander Ferguson 8:12
Looking forward in the near term, and long term, what kind of technology innovations do you predict we will see, so the next year, so then in five or 10 years, what
John Jahnke 8:22
do you think? I think that I think that movement, as you think about going from 175,000, software companies to a billion software companies, everything that’s repeatable, will be automated with software. And I think that will change the way people work similar to how like the PC and Microsoft Office change the way you work. And then you think about the iPhone and everything that the iPhone and smart devices consolidated. Like I think there’s b2b evolution with software, we’ll have a similar kind of shift in the way that people work. And I think another chapter of that is going to be those companies are trying to take that innovation that they use for themselves and apply it to their industries to become software companies. And I think you’ll see more traditional enterprises make up some of that 175,000 software companies and almost the same way that Amazon created AWS. AWS was a service provider for Amazon and then they brought that to market as their cloud provider. I think you’re gonna see an acceleration of that as we move further into the digital transformation world.
Alexander Ferguson 9:35
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