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Growing a SAAS Startup from Zero-to-One and Beyond

February 11, 2022
Company Building

Sleek, a Jungle portfolio company, streamlines, automates & integrates company setup, financials, regulatory reporting & bookkeeping. It now even includes banking services too in a single platform, live in 4 markets, that has now unburdened over 5,000 aspiring founders of the boring stuff, as they look to get their business off the ground.

Adrien Barthel & co-founder Julien Labruyere now employ 200 people but Sleek itself was a start-up once. Not very long ago in fact. In the back end of 2017 the two friends were forging their own path from ‘Zero to One’. Looking to create something special & achieve the intensive growth necessary to prove the Sleek model, gain traction in the market & attract the attention of investors.

Now, in theory, growth is easy. Attract new MRR, grow that MRR & prevent churn. Done. The reality is, of course, harder. Getting that first 100 clients requires graft, tenacity & a little lateral thinking, and that’s exactly what Sleek did


How Sleek grew MMR starting close to home

Adrien & Julien made the smart decision to capitalize on the relationships they had built during the development of the Sleek product. Before launching they had interviewed over 150 people who had experienced the same pain they had. Other ‘frustrated clients’. Entrepreneurs who had laboured through the company set-up process & found it sucked precious energy.

These 150 people were Adrien & Julien’s first calls once the Sleek platform was live. They knew their names, their faces, their frustrations & their needs. They knew whether a beer or a coffee was the best way to close the deal! These were the people whose experiences & ideas had helped shape the service offering & sure enough, years later, about 80% of these people are still Sleek customers.

Once they had exhausted these relationships it was time to establish new relationships. They didn’t have the budget to buy attention — they had to earn it. This meant doing the hard yards on platforms like LinkedIn. Finding those people whose profile fit the bill, pitching the Sleek concept than working hard to get them over the line. During this period content marketing was critical. Authoritative, valuable assets on Sleek’s website & social platforms lent the business credibility & earned the trust of new customers.

It wasn’t until about 6 months into the Sleek adventure that Adrien, also operating as CMO for the business, got any budget at all to invest in paid media. But even as those budgets have grown, the expectation Adrien places on every marketing dollar has not lessened. Every investment has to earn its keep. The KPIs are rigorously monitored, the tech stack is relentlessly optimised & every stage in the funnel is sweated. From Awareness to Nurture to Conversion the team work tirelessly to turn a Visitor into a Lead, a Lead into an MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) & an MQL into a Customer — all in pursuit of lowering the Cost per Acquisition.


How Sleek expanded existing MMR by adding new services

Sleek is a great example of how an early stage business can stretch its legs without overextending itself by doing one thing really well then working with actual customers to shape any new services.

In the beginning Adrien & Julien were committed to keeping it simple & delivering an awesome company registration service, but soon it became apparent there was a market for a more holistic service with integrated accounting. So, they engaged in another round of research. An email went out to their current customers asking ‘Who’s in?’ & the response was clear. They were eager to see what more Sleek could offer. Adrien & Julien spent a lot of time talking to customers to learn what services they would value & how they would want to access them.

In that way the development of a more integrated offering was a collaboration. An open, iterative process of testing & learning. The fact that they made a lot of basic errors in the process of launching up the beta service internally didn’t matter because this was a shared journey towards a shared goal.


How Sleek responded to each lost customer

The team at Sleek is quite circumspect about Churn. To them, it is a natural part of the business. No one ever wants to lose a customer but Sleek was never going to be able to provide every answer for every customer every time.

The key was to learn from every departure. To seek an exit interview & really understand what had gone wrong & how Sleek could improve. The team was rigorous in analysing how Sleek had fallen short & putting in place the necessary corrective measures.

Every founder’s journey from Zero To One is special, but Adrien & Julien have done a phenomenal job. They have built an efficient, sustainable business that has earned the trust of its customers by being exceptionally collaborative every step of the way. Building relationships that define & redefine the business to keep it fresh. Perhaps this could be called Zero to One via the Many.

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