Ep 024 - Does AppSumo Work? with Leo Bassam, Founder & CEO at Plutio

June 15, 2021

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In this episode, Leo Bassam, Founder & CEO at Plutio joins Tom to share more about their AppSumo experience... how much did they make and was it worth it?

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Episode transcript

If you didn't tell them where the products is going, they would just think, okay, this is the product. Doesn't have anything. It's crap. I'm out. But if it doesn't, here's what we have. Here's how we started and here's where we gonna go. Like, oh, this sounds awesome. Iron in, take my money. You know what I mean?

And that's what we did.

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Confessions of a B2B mark to podcast. And today we have an awesome interview for you. We are interviewing. Ba Sam, who is the co-founder and creator of Pluto, came out into the world through a lifetime deal, just like we did with B Carson. Since then, Leo has been taking the business forward, so we're gonna jump into that in a second.

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Leo, welcome to show. Thanks for having me. It's really great to have you here. We're actually not that far away from each other. Liz in Waterloo in London, and I'm in hack. So let explain the background to this interview and a little bit to Leo. Then I'll hand over. We wrote an article about PTO a few weeks back, specifically about how they launched on AppSu and how they dealt with what the, the avalanche, I guess, of sales that you made.

So what we're gonna be focusing on this episode is like you're gonna dive deep into that, why we decided to do it, what happened afterwards, and how you dealt with that. But before that, it would be great to get like a little bit of perspective about you later about what you're doing and then we'll get into things.

Sounds good. So

over to. Well, my name is Leo. I'm 26, and I started my first business when I was 15. I was in Dubai and my first paying client was Dubai International Airport, which really Oh,

that's a big

one. Yeah, it helped. It really helped. Well, it was through the Wix Arena, so I was one of the very first people to join in the Wick Arena.

It was a platform that wix.com launched back and it basically connected designers who used w with clients who are looking for designers who use to build the website on, and that's how I acquired my first client. So a bit of luck and yeah, the but managed to get it , which was. And I tried to grow my design business when I was in college, and I, as much as I tried, I struggled because I didn't find it difficult to find clients, but I found it difficult to manage the load, the workload.

So the more clients you have, the more admin work you have, and it just become very overwhelming, especially if you're solo, if you work by yourself. And so I tried to find a tool that allowed me to sort of, or help me to manage the business or streamline the business and take some of the weight of my should.

I couldn't find anything that was designed for us freelancers, digital nomads, and you know, solar entrepreneurs. All the tools were designed for teams and team collaboration like Trello, slack, Asana, everything. You see team everywhere. It's for teams. Nothing was for us. I then decided to build, click. Which is an

all in one business.

Just which year did you then

decide? Three years ago. Just over three years ago. So I started to build, obviously I didn't have any development experience on the front end, so css, I was, I believe I'm a good designer, so I used that skills to try and build the prototypes or build the vision of how I envisioned Pluto to be.

Mm-hmm. and yeah, that's where it started.

So you didn't have, like, you have a divine background. From what you're doing before the previous business, but you didn't have the development skills, the backend? Yeah. Correct. Still at these like glorious wire frames. And then did you then start to learn the backend stuff or did you find some?

I tried,

but it was extremely overwhelming. It was just too much for me to learn in a very short period of time, and I just couldn't get my head around it. It was just too much. So I had to find a way to

do. Cool. So you then found someone else, you either paid a freelancer to build or you brought

on that, that's, that's correct.

Yeah. I did, um, I would say wasted about 7, 8, 8 months with the first company that I hired. So it was a CDO that I hired in London, and they turned out not to be who they said they are. So they didn't deliver anything for seven months and they took all my money. So it'd been a, and I had to take claim back through the courts, so I.

Yeah, it was a very rollercoaster at the start of, you know, the start of the development process, but I managed to pick it up again and it failed up again and it worked and then managed to find an actual good developer who's really into it as much as I am. Um, but lucky. Yeah. It

said developer, freelancer or they like a co-founder or employee or, yeah.

Yeah. Answer. Cool. Okay, great. Okay. And so when was the, which day did you first have like, people coming onto the

product? Good question. . I think it's about two years ago. Yeah, about two years ago. I can't remember exactly the date, but one of the very first users who signed up is actually with us today as well.

That's nice. Yeah, it's pretty amazing. Yeah. I actually met him last month in Houston. He drove down when I went there and we met for the first time. How? It's amazing. It was fantastic. Yeah. Really good. Yeah.

Okay. And then when did Appo come onto the.

2017. So this was the same year you launched? Yeah, because we soft launched with them.

Oh, interesting. So you didn't have any customers before AB Sumo? We

did not know. We didn't actually. No, we did not. Yeah. Oh, sorry. No, we did have customers just before the app sum, but just a few, not much because it was just, we just launched our payment system and billing system, so we just start charging for it.

It was completely free before and just before the app sum launched, we actually implemented our payment system.

Yeah. Nice. And how did that come about? Did you go to them or did they find you? We did go to them. Okay, cool. And then you go through the whole process, you like work out the deal and then. You.

Cause actually you can do it in quite a short period of time, right? Like what? From the discussion to actually go to do it was how long? Couple of months. Two months? Yeah. And what was the rationale behind reaching out to them to do it?

I needed money, resources to keep going because I had three jobs. My first design studio, which was the main source of income, I did Airbnb, one of my rooms.

And I also worked part-time for a company, um, called Paddle in London. So that also took the majority of my. I was working around the clock, and I actually mean it around the clock and stop for a few months, about six, seven months to try and develop, afford the developer and keep the progress going. And so I need this cash to afford the developer, but also to keep my sanity and like get back to an one more normal lifestyle.

Mm-hmm. to back a bit and have a more, not relaxed, but not as, I don't wanna kill myself, if that makes sense from. And so, and I also needed to validate the idea. So App Sum seemed a really great idea because one, they had a huge base of users that are always looking for new products to try. The majority are freelances and people who started their own businesses.

It really fitted all the criteria. So you launch with App Sumo, you push the new product to as many people as possible and see what happens. See if they're actually interested in it and we. And the results were actually more than what we expected because Bluetooth at the time, barely worked. It didn't have anything apart from like a couple of task management systems, like it didn't have the features that we currently have.

So it was very basic, but the vision behind it. Really helped us sell it to everybody. And it sort of became rather buying a tool, it became investing into a tool. Mm-hmm. . So everyone on App Sumo throughout term to use is, they've invested in the future of, and the vision of, and that's how I sold it to them.

And that's what made it a successful launch.

I think that's a great lesson for any like bootstraps person. Like, cause when you're boots strap a software product. They are, they're doing exactly that. And if you don't tell 'em they're doing it, they figure product's, shits. This is rubbish. Yeah,

exactly. When you launch it, they expect to have, you know, if you didn't tell them where the products is going, they would just think, okay, this is the product.

Doesn't have anything. It's crap. I'm out. But if it doesn't, here's what we have. Here's how we started and here's where we gonna go. Like, oh, this sounds awesome. I in take my money. You know what I mean? And that's

what we did. I just quickly wanna rewrite into the decision point because me and my, I, we had a SaaS business in 2016, the Shopify application, and we had the opportunity to work without Sumo.

I was like super pro. I wanted to do it. I was like, there was me and my co-founder who was like technical. He was No. And I was, yes. And in the end we didn't do it. Then we shut it down maybe because we didn't have enough money. Right. And so I'm like, So pro, like you learn so much, you're making the money you need, like essentially a feed round, giving away no equity.

The downside though, and we'll talk about that in a second actually before we get onto it, the actual results, my article, I tried to use some i I pieced together pieces of information and got to a figure of about 5,000 units sold. Is that about. Yes. That's pretty amazing, isn't it? Yes, it was great. Yeah.

there's 5,000 times, could be the number you said online is there on two $50,000. Right. So 5,000 times like 70, forgot my right. $45. Yeah. That's amazing. So that came over like a period of a few days. Yeah. Cool. That must have been a pretty good feeling. It

was really good. It was amazing. It just overwhelming at the same time because I did not expect it to be this big, but it was a feeling of satisfaction and like you've achieved something after.

So much hard work. You sort of finally found people who appreciated what you've done, and it wasn't a couple of people, it was thousands of people from all around the world actually appreciated your hard work and what you've achieved so far. And that felt, I can't describe it. It just felt, yeah. Amazing.

However, you had a handful of customers or use it. Yeah, A handful of customers. Sorry. You now have, in two days later you have 5,000. Yeah.

Yeah. What happened next? Support . It was extremely painful. Few weeks. Trying to reply to everybody but the community. So were you doing,

sorry? Were you and the developer doing that?

No. Only mean No, I couldn't get a developer involved. Otherwise it became, it would've been a disaster. Yeah. He had to focus on what he's good at, and I couldn't push him to do anything that he's not good at or wanted to do. He hates customer service, so he likes to be back in a ca. Working on developing p not talking to anybody.

Yeah. And

so at that point, did you then leave the part-time job and stop working on the design business? Cause you were like, I have to do support 23 hours a

day. Yeah. All the three shops gone. One job is my and my full

time, which, um, take things we're using to do

the support I was using, actually I started with Intercom, became expensive.

I moved to a different, And I tried a third one and then I settled with Crisp Chat. However, now we've built our own, so. Oh, very nice. I mean, our goal is to run completely by, and I mean completely. And that's when we, that's when we know that we've developed a full suite of products. Mm-hmm. awesome.

Okay, so you have these 5,000 people on the platform.

There's obviously now like a base support cost. I don't know that could, well you, you can tell me the ticket volume, right? But potentially enough to have a full time customer support agent or multiple.

Actually, no, no, no. Not at all. Not at all, because. You see, it was very difficult initially, but that's because Pluto was not optimized in terms of onboarding.

Things were not quite clear, and so what I did is obviously I helped people to figure out where things are and answered their questions, helped them resolve issues or find where things are. But I also took note of all their feedback and all the struggles that they've gone through and over the past couple of years I tried and make Pluto as simple and as easy as possible.

To reduce the learning curve and make you sort of figure it out without even having to go to a help center or need a video to learn it. And it took a while, but it really, we managed to get it to that level. We're not there yet. Like it's not like a hundred percent. We also, you get a couple years from time to time who dunno where things are, but improved significantly since we've launched and so the support messages has dropped as well.

Mm-hmm. so. It's just basically we used to get like 200 a day, 200 to 300 a day. Now it's about 10 20 a day and they mainly just bugs and little bit, you know, little issues or people can't set things up. It's no more about where can I find this or where is that? Do you know what I mean? Yeah. So once we resolve these bugs and get it into a more reliable state, I'm hoping we won't need support at all.

Really. Yeah.

Fantastic. And the point we made in the article and the thing that I found quite clever is the community that you built specifically on Facebook where I, I mean it's not gonna eradicate support, but do you think that's had an impact on reducing the amount of time you have to spend significant impact?

Yeah. So, and I, but there's also other benefit, or actually the question is, do you think there are other benefits to having that community there, apart from just reducing support? But have you experienced any of that?

Absolutely. It's a great way of keeping in touch with your customers a great way of showing them that you're actually on top of things.

You're there, you're a human, you're not a machine. Because if you think about it, when you talk, like if you pull up your phone and ring version or BT or whatever big organization, you wouldn't treat them the same way you would with someone or with a company that has a face behind it. A team that you sort of know, if that makes sense.

So, and that's what we're trying to do with the community. We're trying to get them as involved as possible into how Pluto works and, sorry, into the shape, into the future of, so they have a vote in where Pluto's going and having them as involved as they currently are, helps reduce churn and helps keep satisfaction, you know, a higher level.

So it's not only a channel of support, it can help with retention as. And most importantly, referrals. If they're happy and if they love what you're doing, and if you build that personal connection with them, they will talk to you and they will basically spread the world. Mm-hmm. .

Cause you actually call them these people something, right?

They have a name.

Ethiopians, could you not have gone for Plutons or would that stand for someone from the planet Pluto?

Yeah, that's a bit more alien. I mean to honest. So I just gone with it. They start callings. I

actually originated from the community. That's the best way. Cause sometimes you try and give them a name and that no one takes it.

Yeah. Now, if I was to try and push you on a, a number of the amount of hours that you have saved, From having the community or even a dollar number of reduced churn or referrals. I know it's a very hard question to ask, so you don't have to give one if you don't think it's possible, but what kind of impact in terms the time saved and increased revenue slash reduced churn do you think it had?

So I have no data whatsoever to ACC the amount of support, sorry, the amount of time. But if we look at. I'm just trying to think how we could calculate that from how much support we used to have and how much support we have now. But the thing is, there are other elements that affected that reduction in support, for example, um, optimizing to be a more user friendly and a better onboarding flow.

So I can't really tell for sure to be honest.

Mm-hmm. . So it definitely benefits there. It's quite hard to make them like measurable, but the cost of actually doing it was pretty low, right? You created a Facebook group and probably invited a few people and then they started calling themselves.

Spend any on.

Fantastic. My final question about this is you are happy to allow someone to buy a lifetime access for like $45 because A, you needed the cash. B is great for feedback, it's great for word of mouth, but the other thing that would be super awesome is if they were using that product like when I go and use Proto or a lifetime deal, I start using it in a year's time.

Do anything that I do. In my workflow, spread the word about prettier, like natively to the experience. Like if I invite a freelancer to come and work with me in my like project area, I assume they get exposed to prettier, right? Not

necessarily because we have white label. So you can white, yeah, we can completely white label it, which allow you to hide from anywhere.

So did

the people that bought the lifetime deal, they bought a white label solution or they had the option to, they

had the option to subscribe to a white label solution, not by a white label.

So were they buying the white label solution or they .

One off. Yes. Subscription

based. Oh, okay. Cool. So if I just didn't subscribe, I just bought the one off.

Yeah. I would be spreading the word as I used Pluto. Yeah. Correct.

That's amazing. However, we don't go crazy by saying Powered by Pluto, you know Pluto? No. It's very, very, very subtle and all in very specific places. Sure.

Cool. And it either great viral loop there because the people they're inviting would also.

By definition, quite good. Customers appreciate themselves. Yeah, it's lovely.

We had quite a lot of people who are like clients of our customers who were invited, Tolu and then must just saying, I was just invited to a business to work as a client and I really like what I see, so how can I sign up? Or how can I create my own business?

Cause they're part of a business. You don't necessarily know how to create one. So yeah, we get quite a lot of people loving the experience and so signing up for the. And

then there's the lovely up self subscription for the White label. Fantastic. And so plans going forward for that community, I guess you're just gonna keep pushing people in there, keep it going, keep people engaged.


of course, but we have plans to take it to the next level. Oh,

you allowed to share these,

I guess. I mean, there's no harm. So we are building our own built in community within Pluto. So Pluto is not only going to be a platform that offers you the suite of tools, It's gonna be a whole world where you can log in and there will be a community where you can see everyone involved in freelancers from all around the world.

You can ask any questions, you can hire them. You can submit proposals to get bids from other freelancers. So we want to connect everyone who is in, we basically turn it into an ecosystem for the built in. So it's not only gonna be for support, but it's gonna be supporting them as well by finding new.

Getting help from other freelancers, but all built in, they don't have to go to any third

place. It's a great vision. So we are taking the SA tool and then kind of building a marketplace around. Yes sir. Cause if we look at what Upwork have done, they kind of had a marketplace and then now they've built this like SA layer inside.

So you are basically doing what they did, but flipping it the other way. Yeah. With a better brand and better mission. . Sweet. So many insights. Let's move on to the final three questions, and I know you've got good answers for these layer favorite marketing or growth

book? I've not read any .

No, that's fine.

That's a great answer. Yeah. So where have. There's been a few things that you've said today that have been like God, like especially the setting the vision, like is that just something that you built from first principles or that you've seen in like blog posts?

It's something I've developed. It's a skills, uh, that I've developed over the past 10 years.

I've been trying, being a freelance from a very young age, I needed to teach myself how to find clients, how to sell my services, how to market my services. So over the past 10 years, I managed to build these skills and it really helped now to grow to where it's right now. But it was all basically just failing, picking up again and experiencing it for.

Not seeing someone else or getting someone else's advice or reading someone else's book. I just had to go through it myself, especially in Dubai because I didn't even realize there was resources like that. Didn't realize there were influences or books or, do you know what I mean? Or schools that teach you these things.

So I had to do it all by myself. And um, although it took a longer time, I believe I was able to, to grasp the, the basic fundamentals of marketing, selling community. All that sort of stuff. Yeah. Got it.

And favorite SaaS business?

T .

Um, you had to choose one that wasn't Pluto? Uh

hmm. No. Can't think of anything of the top of my head really.

What do you used the most? Used the most? Yeah.

It, it, Peter

and then, cause as I said, we use, I use to run from support. Exactly. So it's

a whole freelancer universe. Exactly. And for three, I actually think I have the answer to this already. The person who's taught you the most about grave, is it your. I believe


Yeah. I mean, I support myself. .

Okay, there we have it. Leo. Some absolute gems. Here's the two things. Selling the vision, they're like, they're not buying your product, they're buying the vision and then building the community, allowing people to self-organize around your mission and around your product. The two things I think you've done fantastically well.

Among many others, including the whole decision to go on app. And I found like it. It worked hard, like amazing. Well, thank you so much for coming on.

Thank you for your time and for this awesome episode. I can't wait to actually hear it.

All right. Thank you so much for tuning in. I hope the interview illuminated a little bit about the early days of a SaaS company and how to grow them. My name's Tom Hand. I wanna thank you for the listening coming up. We'll have another episode dropping in a week or. If you have any comments, questions, or feedback, you can hear me at the tomhunt.io and of course, do feel free to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcast because that gives us your feedback and also boost our ranking in Apple.

Thank you so much for listening.

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