“The problem here: a) making a business that didn’t give us money early on, and b) not giving up; we kept putting money into the business without knowing we were already dead.”
The special guest of this Startups Live session, Caya, has some great stories to tell. “Started my first business in 2011 (I was 22) and it failed terribly. I ended up with $15K in credit card debt that I just finished paying up last year. The problem here: a) making a business that didn’t give us money early on, and b) not giving up; we kept putting money into the business without knowing we were already dead.”
Well, this may not sound ‘great’, but even this painful experience, which Caya freely shares, comes with silver linings. You might say that he has a knack for finding and holding on to the positives in difficult circumstances. He makes for delightful company. As bold and enlivening as a cup of coffee from his native Costa Rica, Caya takes us on tour through his entrepreneurial journey, passing along beans of wisdom that just might sprout other successful ventures.
“Thanks Eileen! So yeah, I work at https://slidebean.com, which is a super easy and intuitive presentation tool. We started this because nobody really likes making PPT presentations, it’s just a cumbersome experience. And that’s what we’ve tried to solve for the past 4 years with an approach that takes your content and automatically formats it into slides.”
Caya: “We have a team of 20 people, a close to profitable operation and we were part of 500 Startups a couple years ago. Beyond CEO stuff, I handle marketing and growth, so please *AMA (Ask me Anything)*.”
Eileen: “Nice! I heard you just went through a total rebranding process? How was that?”
Caya: “We did, or we are going through it. As designers, it took a big effort to accept that our previous branding sucked, and hire an external team to take care of it. That outside view of who we were as a company was fundamental.”
“Have you noticed an obvious difference in the way your customers now perceive Slidebean after the rebranding process?” asked Ankit Khanna. “Also, have you noticed a tangible difference in other KPIs as a result?”
“The new branding is VERY colorful, so CTRs have gone through the roof compared to our older metrics. We have only soft-launched a new app and the new branding in certain countries while we define the final details (example here: http://es.slidebean.com). Sorry, Spanish version for now – just so you can get a glimpse of the new branding” responded Caya.
Michael Kassing, who acknowledged just before the chat began that his team at Tundra uses Slidebean (and has “made some rocking decks with your service”) wanted to know about pricing. “How did you decide on what you priced the service at?”
Caya: “Oh that’s been such a process. We’ve iterated in all ranges of the spectrum. The lowest we had was an entry plan at $5/mo at the very beginning, and the highest we had was $49/mo for the entry plan, a few weeks ago.”
“That’s quite the range!” noted Steph Newton.
“A few variables that affect pricing”:
– WHO subscribes: $5/mo plans bring end users and occasional presenters, while $49/mo brought businesses that really valued their design and the look of their decks – but it was still too steep, causing some extra price sensitivity, churn and lower NPS scores.”
“Did you find you had the best success with the lower end of the price spectrum or the higher?” asked Eileen.
“Again, it all depends on the customer. At the very beginning we were working with end users/occasional presenters and even $5/mo caused sensitivity. We’ve landed at $12/mo for our starter plan now, with a large discount if you choose the yearly option.”
“As an aside,” Steph shared, “At a previous startup I worked at, our team actually got rid of our lower tier – the basic plan. We affectionately called these customers ‘Basic Bagels’ that thought they were everything bagels. But, we were a luxury service, and they wanted the world (often more picky than our top tier clients!”
The two examples underscore just how tricky it can be to learn who your customers are and to find out what they are willing to pay for your service (or product).
“And those lines,” Caya added, “Another challenge we’ve had to face is the fact that we compete against free [options], (Google Slides for example), so we need to make sure that the perceived value of the product, over our competitors, is enough to keep people around.”
“What is the competitive edge you have that allows you to prevail over free competition?” inquired Dr. Deborah Hecker.
“It’s the time that we save our users. (BTW this is one thing that you should be able to answer for any business, in one sentence). Their time is more valuable than the ~$12/mo that they pay us, so it becomes almost a no-brainer.”
“For higher-end plans, our core differentiator is a premium-care-support and even design assistance. Emailing Microsoft to get help with your PPT slides is unthinkable, but we’ve established our team as an extension of theirs, to help them out with anything they need – and people really appreciate that.”
“As you look at the Product Roadmap,” wondered Wil Schroter, “what do you envision as a game changer in the product?”
“We’re really excited about a new product called Advocado, that uses the technology we’ve developed for Slidebean and applies it to the design of banners and display ads.”
“How will that change things for you?”
“There’s an intersection of users that need both Advocado and Slidebean. But there are also many users that will want one product or the other. We are launching it as a separate product/website but with similar branding, as a way to reach a brand new audience with totally different strategies.”
“Oh, gonna put you in the hot-seat, Caya.” Steph issued a friendly threat. “But do you want to tell us what you and your team at Slidebean are doing to give back? I only ask because I know you guys are doing some awesome stuff.”
“Yeah, that was part of this rebranding process: we wanted the brand to go beyond ‘being pretty’. Solving the frustrating PowerPoint experience was literally applying better (UX) design to save hundreds of millions of hours for people and companies.”
“But our passion for design goes beyond that – we believe good design can be applied to anything and make a difference. So we introduced CONTRAST along with our new branding, an initiative that gives out 1% out of our monthly subscription to organizations that are using design to create impact in their communities.”
“We handpick a new organization every month – the last one is a company called Bureo, that uses abandoned fishnets they salvage from the Chilean ocean, to create skateboards, frisbees, sunglasses, etc…”
“That’s so awesome to hear Caya!” said Eileen (echoing comments made by numerous members). “Was that initiative there from the start? Or was it something that was baked in over time?”
“It came up as a crazy idea during one of our brainstorms, actually. The idea was to tie our users more strongly to our brand, to make them feel part of a community – and we felt that making them aware of they good they were directly doing was a great way to do it.”
“In the spirit of Tom’s shoes?” followed up Dr. Hecker.
“Exactly, you still buy Tom’s shoes cuz you like them, but knowing that you are very directly helping other people makes a whole lot of difference.”
“Against the crowded presentation space, we differentiate ourselves by being human, not only with our level of support or our brand, but by being transparent about who we are.”
“I should note that a large part of our team is in our Costa Rican office, so we come from a very different background than your regular Silicon Valley startup, and we’re very proud of it.”
“What is your top piece of advice for new entrepreneurs?” Steph had asked Caya.
“Your first, second and third focus should be revenue. Make a profitable business first, avoid depending on future rounds of funding. Once you make money and you can pay yourself and your team, start seeking ways to grow (venture capital being the most direct one).”
“You’ll always have the Instagrams and the Snapchats, that can afford to raise money with no profitability in sight, but you can’t build a business expecting you’ll have access to such capital.”
“As I like stories, can you tell us about yours?” asked Ankit. “I’d be very interested to know about your humble beginnings and how you went from there.”
To which Caya answered, “Some random facts about my story”–
“Weren’t you also nominated as like person of the year? And invited to speak in TedX? prodded Steph. “You’re terrible at bragging about yourself. Oh, and I heard a rumor that Slidebean is one of the most valuable internet startups in Costa Rica.”
Caya: “Haha I did do a TEDx talk just between that bridge between going out of business on my first company and starting Slidebean. I’m a big TED fan and it was so exciting to get invited. But the background story there was that I was invited to talk about this business that I started that everyone thought was going great but really wasn’t.“
Steph: “How was your experience speaking, then?”
Caya: “Ha, I actually used the opportunity to understand how Slidebean (which was already on my mind) could be a fit for the other speakers.”
“It blew my mind that these other amazing people that got invited to speak at the TEDx event had to get help to do their slides. It was the last confirmation that there was a problem to solve.”
There is much to love about this story. For starters, isn’t it reassuring to know that even brilliant people struggle with things, task that other might consider rather ordinary or simple? Also, it pays to always keep your radar up – you never know when you might stumble onto a problem that needs solving or validation for an idea you’ve had bouncing around.
Ankit also expressed his appreciation for Caya’s candid storytelling. He then went on to ask: “And how did you get around to creating Slidebean? Can you tell us what was it that you struggled with the most?”
“One of the biggest challenges has been learning to manage people. Everyone in the company is driven by a different motivation, excited about different things, and respond differently to pressure. So managing each one of them differently is a very exciting challenge for me.”
“The biggest struggle building Slidebean into what it is today was the pivot we made when we first changed the pricing from $5/mo to $149/yr (without a monthly option) – for us, it meant shutting the door on 10,000 people that had been with us for the first couple years,but it absolutely saved our business. This is the full story BTW.”
“It’s imperative as a company to measure the success of a pivot in order to accurately know if the path chosen was the right one. Slidebean has gone through two major pivots in the past year, the first took place during 500 Startups and the second one was more recently.”
Startups Live chats race through their hour allotment as a general rule, but, by any standard, this hour had whizzed to an end – faster then the 52 species of hummingbird that call Costa Rica home.
Somehow it was already the moment for Steph to ask, “if there is anything as a community that we could do for you &/or for Slidebean?”
“This has been amazing. Some stuff that would be amazingly useful”:
– We released a new video series called ‘Startups & Spirits’. It consists of brief conversations with other founders and startup people, with questions that *should* only be asked over drinks:
It’s a very rough experiment, but I’d love to hear the community’s opinions.
– Also, If you are into early/beta stuff, we have the beta of our new app ready for testing here: https://3.slidebean.com.
If anyone has any follow-up questions (or wants to give feedback on his experiment), just tweet Caya at @caya_c137 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keith Liles is a freelance writer who loves travel, music, wine, hiking, poetry, and just about everything. He practices saying “yes” to life vigorously, rehearsing for the phone call when he’s asked to tour with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Follow Keith on Twitter @KPLiles.