A solo-founder’s journey to 900 customers: an interview with Nick Franklin of ChartMogul [Podcast]

In this episode of Secrets for Scaling, we talked with Nick Franklin, Founder and CEO of ChartMogul, a product offering SaaS and subscription reporting, analytics, and metrics. Founded in 2014, ChartMogul now has a team of 21 people with 900 customers and six-figures in monthly recurring revenue.

Like so many of the most-loved companies, ChartMogul was built to solve a problem. Hear their full story and lessons learned on Nick’s solo-founder growth journey in the full episode below.


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Episode Highlights

The CEO’s job is to hire right. Once you’ve proven people want to buy your product, 90% of your job as CEO is to hire the right people and make sure they’re working well together. Hire people you know can do the job better than you. Take your time with hiring and never make a hire if you have any doubt about it.

Know on day one that you’ll need a management team. Having team leadership and structure in place is critical for transitioning from maker to manager.

An established brand name and credibility makes finding quality talent achievable. Because engineering talent is in such high demand, it became easier to attract quality talent as the ChartMogul team grew. However, it took just the first few technical hires to start building that credibility. The better you hire, the higher quality talent you’ll attract. Engineers want peers to learn from.

Promote from within whenever possible. If someone is a natural leader and steps up, promoting them to leadership is a great thing for the company and makes it easier to let go of control because a mutual trust is already built.

Communication is key for team focus. To communicate goals and maintain focus, ChartMogul believes in consistent face-to-face communication. They have quarterly all-hands meetings and bi-weekly standups where each department lead shares what they’re working on and answers any questions. They also have 1:1s between department leads and team members, and between Nick and the management team. The more you repeat your goals and focus, the more they stick. You can’t over communicate your goals, especially in the early days.

Invest in engineering and product early on, marketing and paid advertising later. It’s not always clear what you should be investing in as a first-time founder. Once you start seeing demand, it’s tempting to invest in marketing and paid advertising to scale quickly. But your product needs a lot of love and investment early on. It has to be able to scale with your growth.

Talk to your customers when they cancel. Churn is the number one growth metric ChartMogul is focused on today because as your MRR grows, your churn has a bigger impact. As you scale, churn becomes a major inhibitor to growth. To understand the reason behind their churn, they send NPS surveys and directly ask customers why they cancelled. They’ve found that over 50% of the time, it’s not price or that they’re unhappy - it’s a limitation in the product. As a result, the company is focused on addressing those limitations.

Content is an unpredictable but effective acquisition channel. Content has been ChartMogul’s second most successful acquisition channel after word of mouth referrals. They found that it’s inevitable to have hits and misses with content, but the hits compound and continue to generate leads.

Successful content is timely without being mainstream. In ChartMogul’s experience, the trick to successful content (the hits) is to choose a topic that’s on the rise - that people are starting to talk about but hasn’t reached full mainstream yet. Having a great title helps as well – a punchy one that tells you what the article is about.

For work-life balance, work in a smart way, not an obsessive one. There’s always more work than is possible to do in a day, so you just have to ruthlessly prioritize.

There’s no silver bullet secret to scaling. There are three acquisition strategies for SaaS: viral loopback, inbound, and the traditional outbound sales model. Speaking to inbound growth specifically, Nick says the secret to scaling is to generate leads through word of mouth referrals. That’s always going to be the biggest, most reliable channel but only by investing a lot into your product and brand. That said, scaling will look different for each company.

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