We had an interesting chat with Mr. “Ryan Mattock”, Co-Founder (CMO) at the Edinburgh, United Kingdom based start-up “CommissionCrowd”
Below is the interview we conducted with him:
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
CommissionCrowd is an online SaaS (software as a service) platform that connects companies and self-employed (commission-only) sales professionals, also gives both parties innovative functionality to easily manage their remote working partnerships.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
We launched CommissionCrowd in private-beta in May 2015 after two years of research and development. We’re currently live in private beta and have many companies and sales agents using our platform globally while providing feedback and feature requests.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
CommissionCrowd connects a two sided Marketplace consisting of companies who are looking to build an independent (commission-only) sales team to increase sales or expand into new territories and Self-employed sales professionals who wish to expand their sales portfolios by connecting with companies whose products or services fit their requirements.
After a company and sales rep meet on CommissionCrowd and decide to work together, elements of their accounts become collaborative. Companies can give sales agents access to structured training programs to help them learn their new product lines quickly, both parties can securely host and share important files such as sales and Marketing materials, we also provide a super simple yet powerful CRM and sales pipeline management functionality that’s been designed to make managing sales leads and contacts effortless. Features such as in-lead emailing, calling and instant chat are also provided.
Essentially we’ve combined and simplified the best from sales job boards, sales-force automation, sales/pipeline CRM, modern productivity and management tools to bring the world an affordable, beautifully designed web application that’s entirely dedicated to the self-employed (commission-based) sales industry.
While CommissionCrowd is entirely free for sales agents to join, we’re currently running a lifetime membership program during our private-beta that offers companies a membership for life for a small one off fee.
Once we hit our public launch our model will then change to charging companies a small monthly fee to gain access to the platform. We will however, remain free for sales agents.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
We met at a Mashable meetup that my fellow Co-Founder Laura McGregor had organised in Edinburgh a few years back. I happened to see her Tweet and went along to the event where I found myself sitting opposite her and her partner Alistair. We all became friends and started working together a short while later.
Laura is CEO… Ali CTO…. Ryan
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We’re actually first to Market with an online SaaS platform dedicated entirely to the self-employed sales industry so, while there are basic job boards and websites that allow companies to pay to advertise their opportunities, CommissionCrowd goes a big step beyond simply facilitating connections. We took our vast experience of how difficult it was to also manage a remote working sales team and built functionality to also provide everything both parties need to then easily manage their remote working relationships long after a connection is made.
As well as the connection element, CommissionCrowd also provides CRM, Sales Pipeline and lead management functionality, communication, file hosting and sharing, training, lead generation and much more. Essentially we provide everything needed to successfully manage remote working relationships in the long term which other companies in our space simply don’t provide.
Another big difference that sets us apart is the fact that we seem to be the only company who refuse to take money from companies who either aren’t a good fit for working with self-employed sales agents, or aren’t interested in learning from us if it’s their first time. What many of our competitors fail to realise that you have to sometimes sacrifice money to ensure quality. By not vetting the people who want to use your platform you dilute your value proposition.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
Our growth has been incredible actually. We have been launched in private-beta since May 2015 (it’s now November 2015) and have over 180 paying companies and nearly a thousand independent sales agents taking part in our private beta and making connections.
The really exciting thing for us however, is the quality of sales agents registering with us. We have been careful to vet the companies we’ve allowed into our beta and this has resulted in high levels of trust from sales reps. 75% have over ten years experience being self-employed and 60% have very focused networks of contacts they sell into – which is a truly huge milestone for us.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
While there are a few companies sitting within the same space as us and offering basic sales job matching services, we don’t actually have any direct competition currently. We are first to Market with a full end-to-end solution entirely dedicated to the independent sales industry so we can’t really compare ourselves to other companies at the moment.
Our biggest advantage over our competitors is having the skillset to have been able to develop CommissionCrowd in-house. We’ve been able to move faster and disrupt an industry that has laid stagnant for a long long time.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
There have been a number of challenges we’ve faced and overcome along the way. One of our biggest challenges by far was funding a two year development period where there was no income coming in during much of that time.
While we consider ourselves a bootstrapped startup, we still had significant outgoings and expenses that need to be taken care of during the development phase. Laura came up with a brilliant plan to offer our early adopters lifetime memberships in exchange for a small one off fee. We were lucky that we had such a loyal and warm following and many companies that had been patiently waiting for our launch took us up on that offer.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
A great question! There’s a huge educational piece involved in our business and not only are we helping companies and freelance sales agents to connect and work together more easily, but we’re also working hard to change outsider’s perception of the pay-on-performance industry as a whole.
While there is a thriving and highly professional global independent sales industry that currently exists, it has sometimes suffered from negative stereotypes in the past. This has been mainly due to stereotyping of commission-only sales agents holding clipboards in the street or selling poor quality products from unscrupulous companies door-to-door.
The reality is hugely different however. Many experienced self-employed sales agents have come from a long and successful background of employment prior to making the decision to break away and work for themselves independently. These salespeople have typically built large networks of contacts in their industry and now have the goal of creating personal portfolios of companies whose products or services compliment their networks. Independent sales reps work within every industry you can imagine.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We’re going to succeed because first and foremost we’re highly passionate about improving the independent sales industry which has laid stagnant for far too long. We are acutely aware that money is simply a by-product of success and building any company purely to make money, especially during the challenging early days is near impossible without a greater vision.
In fact, even though we’re a bootstrapped startup and have relied on the income generated by our lifetime membership program to fund our journey, we’ve actually turned down companies who have wanted to pay and join us for the simple reason that their opportunities are not suited to the calibre of sales agents that we have on-board. For us it’s all about quality which is where our competitors fall down.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
It’s difficult to answer this question because we have many ideas for the near future and most are still top secret while in development. I think ultimately we hope to open up the commission-only sales industry and eventually have a strong enough platform and Marketplace to give employed sales agents a reason to leave their current jobs and find bigger and better opportunities by becoming independent contractors.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
CommissionCrowd was born out of our own frustrations as business owners who were trying to build and manage a pay on performance sales team. We grew tired of generic job websites and so called job-boards who were quite happy to take our money for the most basic of services.
Eventually we managed to find a way to build a remote working sales team without having to use those services however, the next problem that presented itself was managing multiple relationships with salespeople that lived in different parts of the world. We quickly realised that not only was our time being entirely taken up with running the team, but our sales agents were becoming frustrated at the inefficient manual methods we were using. And so it was back to the drawing board.
Up until this point the commission-only sales industry has only been served by companies that haven’t quite managed to break into the new ‘Cloud-based’ SaaS generation we’re lucky to now live in. We believed that with our experience of the industry and technical ability to build the solution that we ourselves had been so desperate for, it was up to us to be the ones to move the industry forward.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
We’ve learned that although you might think you have all the answers and are on a clear road to producing something that people need, without speaking to your users you’ll never truly know. We spent the first two years of development in very close contact with hundreds of companies and sales agents and without their input we could have easily missed the mark.
We also learned that looking after your first customers exceptionally well is by far one of the most important things you can do. These are the people who will help steer you in the right direction and without their support and feedback you’ll find it much harder to get to where you need to be.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
This is a difficult question to answer. The biggest challenge we face currently is growing a two sided Marketplace simultaneously while introducing new technology that, although greatly improves the user experience, is a fairly new concept. Although we’re seeing fast adoption and growth, I think in six months we’ll still face the challenges that we do today – balancing the marketplace while introducing new technology to an age old industry.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
Aside from making quality and meaningful connections, the main benefit to our users is being able to easily manage multiple remote working relationships. Our main priority is to eliminate the time consuming daily tasks associated with managing remote working partnerships so that sales agents can focus their time and energy on selling.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
The majority of our traffic has come predominantly from organic search results online however, we are finding that more and more of our users are being referred via word of mouth recommendation due to their great experiences on CommissionCrowd.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our current users are comprised of both companies who are actively seeking to grow the sales function of their business and sales agents who are looking to add quality companies to their sales portfolios. As we start to scale we will work to attract sales agents who are currently in employment and now have the tools to break away and become freelancers while managing their entire business on CommissionCrowd with ease.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
CommissionCrowd (although a UK based business) is a global enterprise. Our customers come from all over the world and seek to forge partnerships either with companies and sales agents in their own countries or overseas depending on their objectives. Feedback has been that people try CommissionCrowd due to the lack of available services currently as well as the experience and value our team bring to people who maybe haven’t considered using this sales channel before.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
Feedback has been incredible and we love hearing from our members. Here are what a couple of our members have said:
“We’re in talks with four sales agents at the moment and we’ve been on the platform for less than a week!” – Dennis Antoneloss, Littlefoot CEO
“The way you bring both companies and freelance sales people together in such a united and structured way is visionary!” – Keith Crispin, Self-employed Sales Agent, 3o years experience
“This will not only work, but will thrive and be a world beating business!” – Paul Atherton, UK Sales Coach of the year
20. How are you going to scale?
We’re already a global platform however, in the near future we will be seeking funding and expanding our team to help us penetrate new Markets. We have many plans for the future including a clever referral program and new features which unfortunately I can’t discuss currently.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
To rephrase that question slightly, there are many features that we plan to roll out in the near future but it’s important to focus on getting our core product right first. The ability for companies to pay their freelance sales reps their commissions is coming soon which is a feature we’ve been asked for fairly consistently.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Yes we already have a presence in many countries across the world. One of the next things on our list is to ensure that CommissionCrowd is translated and offered in multiple languages for our international, non-English speaking users.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We won’t stop until we have become the home of commission-only sales globally. We made the decision to step up and take the industry forward and we take that job very seriously. We already use ‘bleeding edge’ technologies to ensure we are one step ahead of potential competitors and work with a highly focused and dedicated team of professionals who all share our passion for changing the independent sales industry.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are always looking to work and partner with talented people who share our vision for the pay-on-performance sales industry. We are not currently hiring although we would be interested to hear from potential partners or anyone who feels they can offer something extraordinary.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We’re currently successfully bootstrapped and are financially sound, although we will be seeking series A funding very soon. We are always open to hearing from potential VC’s and investors and I can be contacted at Ryan@commissioncrowd.com
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
I’d have to say that going into business has many highs and lows and it can take a very strong individual or team to keep going during the hard times. Money is simply a by-product of success and the reality is that it can take many years to turn a profit so you have to have some higher purpose than simply becoming wealthy. Be willing to live an unconventional lifestyle, don’t follow trends and make sacrifices to follow your dreams.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I’d like to say a huge thank you to our early members who have trusted us and believed in our vision for the future of the commission-only sales industry. We will continue to work day and night to ensure their success.