GE 252: How Will Anderson Uses Classic Inbound Marketing to Grow His SaaS Risk Management Business (podcast) With Will Anderson

Will Anderson the CEO of Resolver

Hey, everyone! In today’s episode, I share the mic with Will Anderson, CEO of Resolver, a SaaS risk management company to Fortune 100 companies.
Tune in to hear Will share how their first deals were closed by old-school pounding the pavement, what their specific approach to SaaS risk management entails, and how Resolver is similar to a police department.

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Will Anderson Uses Classic Inbound Marketing to Grow His SaaS Risk Management Business TRANSCRIPT PDF

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • [00:46] Before we jump into today’s interview, please leave a review and rating and subscribe to the Growth Everywhere Podcast!
  • [01:24] Resolver provides SaaS risk management, which ranges from compliance software, internal audit, business continuity, disaster recovery, incident management, and cyber incident management.
  • [01:50] Resolver runs like a police system: when an issue arises, they send a team to assess the problem and follow through with potential changes in policy.
  • [02:20] They also run workflow for compliance activities.
  • [03:06] Will previously worked as an exec on the investment side.
  • [03:41] Risk management in an organization today requires 10, 20, or even 30 software systems. Will aims to pull all of those together so they are under one platform (sort of like what an SAP did to bring together ERP).
  • [04:10] The goal of resolver is to streamline risk management systems.
  • [05:22] Essentially, Resolver pitches themselves, rather than having clients come to them.
  • [06:05] They operate like old-school cold-calling sales pitches.
  • [06:30] Sometimes, Will will call people out of the blue and tends to cut to the chase when he’s buying businesses.
  • [06:59] Resolver is a typical SaaS business, so they sell to Fortune 100 companies.
  • [07:14] They are at the “easier-to-work-with end of enterprise, because our technology is so new.”
  • [07:45] Resolver likes to sell one product or service at a time.
  • [07:55] Fortune 100 companies end up spending $100,000-$150,000 on Resolvers services.
  • [08:24] Resolver released their newest products in beta over a year ago and only started aggressively selling in Q3 of this past year.
  • [09:25] They use SEO, Pay Per Click, Capterra, blog posting, and social media posts to gain popularity, enhance searches, and bring in more business.
  • [10:24] Their first deals were all closed by pounding the pavement and inbound marketing.
  • [10:44] Since they bought the brand, they never had to start from zero.
  • [11:25] Will thinks they are good at classic, inbound marketing, even though they are not innovating or trying new tactics; however, they will try any new tool.
  • [13:40] Corporate finance is not something you learn overnight.
  • [14:12] The challenge at Resolver is that they are going after a really big market.
  • [14:30] They struggle with focus.
  • [14:45] Instead of doing 10% of everything, try doing one thing 100%.
  • [16:10] Will tends to bounce around a lot and his job seems very cyclical.
  • [16:23] He tries to schedule his 1:1 meetings on Monday or Friday and in between is at the beck and call of customers.
  • [16:41] Will uses his mornings to do any work that requires deep focus in the mornings, when he is fresh.
  • [17:20] He only spends half a day per week on management issues.
  • [17:35] He prefers to spend the most time dealing with customers.
  • [18:02] Will’s favorite new tool is an app called Pocket. It stores tweets for later, so you can build up a reading list.
  • [18:58] Will is selective in what he saves for later in Pocket, so he doesn’t get overwhelmed.
  • [20:00] Will recommends the book The Effective Executive. He gives it to all of his new managers.

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Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
And we started out with the thesis of, you know managing risk management in an organization today requires 10, 20, 30, or even more software systems, and that looked to me a little bit crazy, and so what we want to do is pull all of those together into one platform, sort of like what a SAP did 30 years ago or 20 years ago to bring together ERP. We wanna do something similar with risk. And so instead of having to have an internal audit system, and a different incident system, and a different IT security system, and a different threat vulnerability system, we wanna bring that into one pot. And that was the initial thesis and we've been working at that since.

Eric Siu: Got it. Okay, so you had this initial kind of model, let's call that, I don't know if it's an MNA model, but you had, okay you're like, "I'm gonna take this $20 million and I know exactly what I'm looking for and then we're gonna follow this model," and it basically worked out, right?

Will Anderson: Yeah so I mean, we use MNA but we're not, like a typical private equity roll up. So when we buy things, we're usually trying to buy expertise around a category, because to build what we wanna build, it's a lot of different use cases and nobody could possibly know them all. So we us acquisition as an accelerator. We tend to buy more mature businesses. We're not buying the sleekest and sexiest SaaS product. We buy something with older technology and we often migrate it to our technology. There's exceptions to that. Sometimes we buy some stuff that's pretty good, but more or less we're using it to gain the expertise so that we can bring somebody a full solution.
So for us, MNA's a bit of an accelerator as opposed to, we're not like a financial buyer of any sort.

Eric Siu: Got it, and I'm assuming, I mean looking for deals like this, and maybe I'm over complicating it in my head, but I mean, how do you go about getting this deal flow, and finding these kind of regulatory companies?

Will Anderson: We I mean it's relatively easy. The process would look like really anybody's sort of marketing engine. You know we have email programs, we have calling programs. At the end of the day, there's probably somewhere around 500 targets for me, and then they're actually relatively easy to call. The advantage that we have is when we call them, they usually kind of know who we are, because we compete somewhere adjacent to them or we could be a partner.
And the CEO, if he gets a call from me as a CEO, as opposed to trying to sell him something, we can have an interesting conversation. So even if they're not for sale, we can build a relationship, and if they are, we tend to be a more interesting buyer to them, because we typically keep all the people, we wanna do well by the customer, and so we tend to keep their business going forward, so that makes it a little bit easier to make those relationships. But it looks identical to an old school, cold calling, sort of effort.

Eric Siu: Got it, and I'm not gonna go too deep into this, but I'm just curious, how do you ... you talked about the conversation could go in different directions, right, it's either a partnership or a potential acquisition. So how do you, from CEO to CEO, what's your process for going about opening that conversation?

Will Anderson: They come through all regards. Some actually, I see a lot of flow myself now. People know that I buy this kind of stuff, and so they'll come to us. Sometimes I'll just call them out of the blue and, "Hey, how's your funding going?" You know, "Is this something you would consider?" I'm usually pretty up front about that. Sometimes I'm calling to be a partner, and I'll say, "Hey, I wanna be a partner." If I'm calling to buy them, I don't tend to beat around the bush. "Hey, would you consider selling?"
I haven't really had to do it in the last year, because I probably have a backlog of about 10 deals we could do. We just need the capacity to do them.

Eric Siu: Got it. Okay, well let's dive into the business. I mean how do you guys make money?

Will Anderson: You know we're a typical SaaS business. We're probably a little more towards the enterprise side of things, so we sell a lot to Fortune 100, large customers that you would know. And we are using the typical sort of unbound marketing machine. We use partnerships, we use all the kind of classical pieces. But we are probably at the easier to work with end of enterprise, because our technology is so new that we can go in and set somebody up for tens of thousands of dollars as opposed to some of our competitors where the starting point is 100 or 200 or $500,000. So we tend to be the easier to use, lower end of the enterprise, but we are being used by some of the biggest companies in the world.

Eric Siu: Got it, and with these Fortune 100s, how does price, what does the average kind of deal size look like I guess?

Will Anderson: Today, because we tend to still sell not the entire platform at once, so we'll sell them one thing, we'll sell them cyber incident management or we'll sell them IT risk, or vendor risk, incident management. One application with us for a Fortune 100 can range anywhere from say, $30,000 for like a smaller entity, like maybe a hospital. For a Fortune 100, it's usually going to be $100 or $150,000. Our biggest account is a government agency for over a million. So we run pretty wide, like we have customers that pay us $5,000 and we have a customer that pays us a million.

Eric Siu: Got it. So is the way it work, sounds like you guys have multiple things obviously, so is it kind of a land and expand deal, where your sales people are just trying to get one thing, kind of foot in the door, and then you expand into that account?

Will Anderson: So we're at the very edge of that, the beginning of that, because again our platform is very new. We released it Beta, the newest stuff we released in Beta a little over a year ago, and really we're only aggressively selling it starting in Q3. So we're really selling our first use cases, but that is the goal. Like when you buy stuff from us, you actually get the whole platform. If you buy Instant Manage from me, you'll see an option, just turn on internal audit. But you might need more users for it, but if you're a user and you use everything we use, I'm not gonna charge you more per module in general. There's a few things that are kind of additional, but for the most part you get the whole platform.

Eric Siu: Great, and you talked about the inbound marketing machine for you guys, so how does that work? 'Cause I imagine not many people are searching for this stuff and so I'm curious what you guys are doing right now.

Will Anderson: No a lot of people are searching for it. So internal audit's a keyword, physical security's a keyword, command center is a keyword, financial compliance. They're usually kind of micro targets, so you're not seeing a massive volume. It's not like somebody searching for CRM, but when you add them all together it's a fair amount, so we do search engine optimization, we do pay per click, we use like classical stuff like Capterra, we do our own sort of blog posting to generate stuff. We're on social media. All the typical things that you would see from a business to business SaaS company.

Eric Siu: Right, so what I'm hearing is, the volume might not be that big, but the people that are searching for it, these are the big wells you're aiming for.

Will Anderson: Yeah I mean you get all kinds of stuff. You get students, you get all the buy catch that anyone else would get. But the people are generally looking for it and you know, there's a lot of word of mouth, and people bought us here, and so they buy us here. Like all the classical stuff you see in enterprise. But we do get, every week we'll see some sort of say, Fortune 500 show up, and you're like, "I know those guys." And suddenly you're demoing to a very big organization just by inbound.

Eric Siu: Great. How did you go about acquiring, let's just say the first 100 customers?

Will Anderson: Well I mean we literally acquired them so in our world, I mean again so I started out and had the benefit-

Eric Siu: Oh you bought the deal and the customers were there?

Will Anderson: Yeah I bought the company and we had the customers.

Eric Siu: Got it.

Will Anderson: Now on the new product, it's all that stuff, like we basically have some older, I wouldn't say legacy but mature businesses. Underneath of that we're building a start up, and those first deals were almost all like pounding the pavement, getting inbound marketing, but I mean again, we had the brand because we bought the brand, so we've had to refresh it and do some things to make it a bit more modern, but we've had the benefit of not having to start one day looking at zero customers. That was not where we were. We skipped that stage by buying a few companies.

Eric Siu: I love that. I love that. We should just do a complete episode on buying companies maybe another time. That'd be really keen on that. But anyway, you have this marketing machine, you're buying other companies, I guess what's one kind of unique thing you're doing today you think, in terms of customer acquisition?

Will Anderson: You know what, I would say that the acquisition is probably the unique thing, because most people in the acquisition world are usually trying to do roll ups and it's rare for somebody like us to be a growth company, you know we're not making a bunch of money to go out and be buying things to go and replace the tech. I think that's about the only thing that we do that's really rare.
I think we do a really good job of kind of classic inbound marketing, but we're not blazing a new trail with any of it. We're using best practice, we're using the tools, we follow up with our friends at Sales Force for all the products we use, and we go and we really do benchmark heavily against what other best SaaS companies do, because we're not there yet. If we did everything as well as Sales Force, we'd be doing quite well. So that's the way we think about it.
We are willing to try any new tool. That tends to be something, we're software people so we love software, so if someone comes with a new tool, we're very willing to kind of take risks and try stuff like that. I mean I think that's most SaaS companies, but that is something unique to us and our culture.

Eric Siu: Fantastic, okay. I mean let's say you're looking at a company. How do you decide, I guess how do you structure your deals? How do you evaluate a company?

Will Anderson: For us it's a little bit old school. I grew up in a classic sort of mature acquisition, so we're doing just kind of cash flow, using Excel, modeling net revenues, and using net pressing value to come up with it. It's maybe not the most sexy way to do it, people are running around with multiples and throwing that stuff out there, but that stuff to me is not real, and typically we're not buying things that we expect to grow through the roof. We're buying usually pretty mature businesses that are growing, say 15%, 10%. They're profitable, so you can run a classic capital budgeting process and really figure out, what are they gonna make?
That's also my background. I'm a corporate finance guy by training so it would really alter me to use multiples. So we kind of use that to have the conversation about their perception of value, but when we come up with our number, it's a great big Excel model with a net pressing value.

Eric Siu: Got it, so if people, I mean obviously I'm sure what you're saying is kind of, could probably get a lot of confusion to people, so if people wanted to learn more about how all this stuff works, how you'd kind of value a company, what kind of phrases would they Google?

Will Anderson: I think you're basically just gonna go pick up like classic corporate finance documents, and I would say if you're not from that background, it's probably not the right way to do it. Anyone coming from a PE background, they're gonna know that kind of stuff cold, but it's a discipline. It would be like saying, "I wanna learn accounting today." You kind of have to start from first principles. Corporate finance is the same thing. You're not gonna read a book and immediately get it. It's a discipline you would have to learn over time.
But if you want to, I mean you just look up corporate finance books and there's plenty of textbooks. You look at first year. You don't really need much more than like a first year business degree finance textbook. That'll get you pretty much where you need to go for what we do. We don't sit there and worry about tax and some of those things in immense detail. We pay other people for that. So, the basic is like first year business school corporate finance.

Eric Siu: There you go guys, don't try to do this at home by yourself. Learn it. Anyway, talk about some of the struggles growing Resolver, or maybe any business you've had in the past. I'm just interested in what you've learned, kind of the big shit you had to deal with.

Will Anderson: Yeah so I mean our challenge at Resolver is that, you know we're going after a really big market and there are a lot of different facets to it. It's not one big thing, it's a hundred little things, and so what we have had to learn and probably haven't fully learned yet is focus. So I think one of the biggest things that entrepreneurs struggle with, and I certainly did, is we wanna take every deal and we wanna do everything, and I think that there's a lot of people out there like Lean Startup and a few others that have really started to get people, you know, "Let's focus, instead of doing 10% of everything, just do one thing to 100%."
So I think that really picking your target market and actually starting with one that's smaller. I know VC's all wanna see something that's got a billion dollar potential, but you really have to start with something small that you can get your hands around and dominate and then go wider. And so I think that's something that we've had to learn is, we are now narrowing in to the things that we're really good at and not taking kind of deals on the side, or going into geographies that we haven't been in before. Let's dominate the stuff that we're really good at first.

Eric Siu: I love that, so was there any kind of just one scenario where it's just like, "Okay, I just need to stop, and I really need to focus," 'cause there's always that one point where things almost kind of are about to fall apart completely, right?

Will Anderson: Yeah I mean again because we buy stuff, I don't think anything's like, we never really had that moment where it's like, everything's on fire. I've been through the growth stages where that's happened, but even then, if you're growing at 100% and everything is on fire, everything is supposed to be on fire. You're growing 100% and that's amazing, so I don't think there's been a moment where we really slipped off, but there's definitely moments where we've gone too slow, because we're chasing a deal in the middle of Africa or, we had a partner recently, that wanted to do business in Nigeria. We started it, we're like we shouldn't be doing this, this isn't a good use of our time right now.

Eric Siu: Great. Okay, I'm curious. How do you structure your day?

Will Anderson: Yeah I wish I was better at it. Especially because we're coming off a bunch of acquisitions, my job tends to bounce around a lot, so I'm very cyclical. I'll start looking for deals and there's that process, and then you get in, you're negotiating them, and then you're in integration mode. Generally speaking, I tend to not think of things in a day. I usually think in terms of a week, and so I travel a bunch so I try to get a bunch of my one to one meetings, I do a lot of those on either a Friday or a Monday to catch up. And in between, I'm really just at the beck and call.
If I'm out that week seeing customers, then I'm all day just meeting customers or meeting partners. If I'm in the office, I try to use my mornings to do thinking type work, 'cause I know that's the point in time that I'm freshest. I know after lunch, if I'm trying to do something on my own, I know my focus isn't there, so I try to do more meetings at that time 'cause I get a bit more energy from doing that. But my business is not the one where I can really say, "Hey I'm gonna go do this," because it's just so variable.

Eric Siu: Right, so at a high level it sounds like there's a lot of strategy, meeting with clients, and then management right? One on ones.

Will Anderson: Yeah so I mean, I would say that if you go to the higher level, I would spend the bulk of my time, either I'll pick a special project, or it might be an acquisition. Right now for me it's figuring out our partnership strategy and I'll spend a bunch of time on that. I don't spend a huge amount of time on management. It's probably half a day a week just to kind of touch base with people. I tend to like the team to do their own thing. And so I try to spend all my time either on that special project or talking to customers.
I think the most important thing that I can do is, I can kind of be above the fray and I can go and hear what customers think, and bring that back into the org. So I try to spend more time with customers. And it's part of our vision/mission statement. It's being big, being great, being loved by customers. It's impossible to be loved by customers if your CEO doesn't love the customers and talk to them all the time.

Eric Siu: Got it, makes sense. Couple more questions as we rap towards wrapping up. What is one new tool that you've added in the last year that's added a lot of value to your life. So it could be like a Peloton bike or it could be like Evernote.

Will Anderson: My favorite right now is an app called Pocket. I don't know if you know it.

Eric Siu: Yep.

Will Anderson: It's just the greatest thing ever because I like Twitter, I'm standing in airport lines a ton, and I'm kind of scrolling through Twitter, and I see this article, and I'm interested in that but I'm about to walk through security, I don't have time to read it, and so I'll just click on the thing, send it to pocket, and then later on when I got time, I can sit down and bang through a bunch of stuff. It's great for tagging stuff for later. I've tried to use Evernote, I've tried to use other things for that, and just Pocket does it so perfectly. So I really build a reading list, and it's made a huge difference. And I think I bought it maybe six months ago, and it's my favorite app by far.

Eric Siu: Yeah, you know what's funny about it. I've been using it for a couple of years, and my struggle with it has always been, you end up saving so much stuff, so I have three or four gigs of stuff saved, and I just don't know what to come back to 'cause it's all good stuff you save, right, 'cause you follow good people on Twitter. So how do you deal with that?

Will Anderson: I'm a little more picky. I've kind of eventually learned that, I kind of know how much I can do, so I know that if I'm going through Twitter and I've saved two or three things, it's gotta be really top end for me to do it. And actually I find just the whole internet is just a deluge of the same thing over and over again. There's actually not that much really. There's a lot of great content out there, but it's just like one percent of the internet. So I actually find it a little harder to find the really great things, that's not just kind of rehashing it, or it's the content farm For somebody that's just getting stuff out there for clicks.
So I tend to be very, very picky and I'll go through it probably once a week and be like, not reading, not reading, file if I'm ... there's some stuff that I just file, because I know that, that's gonna be a project for me at some point, and I'll go and deal with it later, so I just tag it and throw it over there, and I'll come back at it later. So actually right now I have a giant thing of anything about people running partnership. Anything I saw over the last six months I threw into that, and I have probably about 30 articles to go through.

Eric Siu: Got it, love it. Okay, well what's one must read book you'd recommend to everyone?

Will Anderson: Without question, Drucker's The Effective Executive. So not sure if you've read it but I think for any of these especially new managers, I run a lot of my life by it, and actually when I give it to one of our new managers, they kind of laugh, they're like, "This is exactly what you do." I'm like, "Yes." I've outsourced my approach to management to Drucker and I'm like, "If I do that, I will be probably pretty good." It made a massive difference in my career so I cannot recommend it enough.

Eric Siu: I love that, let's look at Jeff Bezos, right? He makes people read The Goal. So there's required reading for my managers too, but it's like I'm wondering if there should be a process built in on making sure that they actually go through it. So how do you actually make sure that they're aligned with those principles from Drucker?

Will Anderson: So it depends on the managers. I have a few senior people, a couple of my C level managers, I honestly don't care if they've read it or not. It's really, they have their own style and they do their own thing, and I'm very hands off with that. I usually am giving it to new managers that are asking me, "Like how do I do this, how do I run effective meetings, how do I manage these one to ones?" And I'll say, "Well I can tell you everything but, it really came outta this." But it's down to them, and I would always tell them, "If it doesn't resonate with you, then it's the wrong thing."
Everyone's gonna have to have their approach, you don't have to do it like me, so I don't tend to force that stuff down. I tell people, "Read that." I tell people to read, Thinking Fast and Slow, I tell people to read Christianson's stuff, but take from it what you will. Some of it we layer more into our strategy, especially Clayton Christianson's stuff. But most of the rest of it, if it's a better approach, it's much more personal.

Eric Siu: Love it. Okay well Will, this has been fantastic. What's the best way for our people to find you online?

Will Anderson: I am a Twitter person so if you ever wanna reach out, it's @WillAAnderson. So there's two As in there. That's my middle name. Unfortunately I had Will Anderson but I left it at some point and someone scooped it on me.

Eric Siu: Awe, that sucks. Okay, well Will thanks so much for doing this.

Will Anderson: Absolutely, thank you.

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