10x growth from one customer
How Brandon landed a multi-million dollar deal with a $5B global powerhouse (and got acquired in the process)
Can a 48-person startup land a multi-million dollar deal from a global powerhouse with 33,000 employees? That's precisely what Brandon Metcalf did. And let me tell you, the story of how he nailed that deal is a really interesting one.
Before we dive into the details, let me introduce the founder. Brandon is the CEO and founder of Place, a SaaS platform that helps companies with finance and revenue management in the Salesforce ecosystem.
Before launching Place, Brandon founded Talent Rover, an operating system for recruiting agencies ranked by Inc. 500 as a top 10 fastest-growing software company in America in 2017.
After expanding to nine offices in eight countries and serving customers in over 40 countries, Talent Rover was acquired by its biggest competitor in 2018. A huge part of this success came from that one big deal. Let's dive into the story…
10x growth with one customer
It all started with Brandon giving a speech at a staffing conference in Hong Kong. He explains that "the founder being out publicly speaking is where you make all of your sales. When I go speak somewhere, I almost always get at least one deal done.”
Following the speech, Brandon was introduced to Adecco's regional CMO. This led to a discussion with the Managing Director about their search for new staffing software.
At the time, Talent Rover had around 2,000 users. Adding 30,000 Adecco users would have had a significant impact on their growth. However, landing a deal with a global corporation like Adecco is not an easy task.
Brandon recalls, "I personally flew from San Francisco to Singapore for every meeting, demonstrating how deeply we understood the challenge they faced and how strongly we believed our platform could solve it. Our competitors didn't do this.”
However, the challenge of winning the deal was not just flying from San Francisco to Singapore (as often as four times a month). Adecco's regional manager aimed to consolidate eight different countries that reported to him into one unique software. This use case required a custom solution and significant training for Adecco's employees—a ton of work for Brandon and the Talent Rover team.
Brandon thought, "If every resource in the company is consumed on winning this deal and we don't win it, we won't have a company.”
To avoid putting all their eggs in one basket, Brandon split the company into two separate teams. One team focused on Adecco, while the other focused on the rest of the company.
In the end, Talent Rover won the deal. Brandon still remembers that moment vividly. He was at a happy hour with the regional manager when the latter pulled him aside and said, "Listen, I've decided to make a big bet on you. Not so much on your company. I'm making a big bet on you. If this works, it will be great for both of us.”
The Talent Rover team worked tirelessly to deliver the promised results. Within three months, they had unified eight countries into a single system. This success led to the Managing Director's promotion to a global role and to the adoption of Talent Rover by Adecco’s global team. This is a powerful example of going the extra mile for your customers. Their wins are your wins! And both Brandon and Adecco’s regional director were big winners!
Little did they know that winning Adecco's trust was just the beginning of an incredible ripple effect. Brandon recalls, "There was a big press release that talked about Talent Rover, Salesforce, and Accenture all partnering together to deliver Adecco. It was super exciting."
This significantly boosted their credibility in the industry, leading to further successes such as landing another multibillion-dollar giant, TrueBlue. These achievements caught the attention of Bullhorn, ultimately leading to Talent Rover's acquisition by their biggest competitor.
Thoughtful geographic expansion
Working with multinational corporations compelled Talent Rover to expand geographically. As Brandon puts it, "The decision to expand was driven by customer demand rather than being a proactive choice. As we won enterprise business, we strategically placed teams in specific regions to support those clients."
Although Talent Rover expanded into over 40 countries, not all geographies were successful. For example, Australia proved to be very challenging.
Brandon explains, "Our largest enterprise client had offices in Australia, and we were supporting them there. We decided to expand there, but after trying for six months, we realized that it wasn't the right fit. If we had talked to more potential customers, we would have realized that they were mostly small and midsize businesses, and our price point wasn't going to work."
Expanding into new markets requires careful due diligence, considering market dynamics and cultural differences. This was a key lesson for Brandon. He comments, "I now take more calculated bets rather than relying solely on spending money to figure things out."
Navigating the Metrics Maze
Talent Rover has been a success story, but it wasn't without its "oh shit" moments. Brandon still vividly remembers the biggest one: "I remember the day when accounting told us we had no money to cover payroll, and we had to figure out how to immediately get $300k."
That moment sparked Brandon's obsession with understanding the company's financial metrics and numbers. As he explains, "That really set the stage and the foundation of why I wanted to create Place. You should never be in that position."
The key lessons here—firstly, make sure you’re focused on the right metrics. And secondly, make sure you have an accurate (enough) view of where they are.
A game-changing pivot
And that's where Brandon found the inspiration to start Place. Initially, the idea was simple: bring financial forecasting to the Salesforce ecosystem. This eliminates a huge pain point for finance professionals, as they no longer need to extract data from Salesforce and use third-party software for financial forecasting.
Place was doing fine, but the pivotal moment arrived when the CEO of one of their clients contacted Brandon, pointing out that their revenue numbers were incorrect. As the founder of a financial forecasting SaaS, is there a worse nightmare than a customer informing you that "your numbers are incorrect!?"
Brandon explains, "We immediately investigated the issue and found that their reports were accurate based on the data from their accounting system." But it turned out they were talking about different numbers! Their customer was looking for contracted revenue while Place was pulling numbers for recognized revenue.
Brandon recalls, "That was a big aha moment for us.” That was the exact moment when Place transitioned from being a simple financial forecasting tool to a much more comprehensive tool that manages SaaS subscriptions, and all the processes and metrics associated with them.
As Brandon puts it, "It pivoted the whole company and actually opened up a much bigger opportunity for us." As Paul Graham says in Do Things that Don't Scale, the feedback you get from engaging directly with your earliest users will be the best you ever get.
Messaging and positioning
Another "aha" moment for Place occurred when Brandon began interviewing inbound prospects who didn't buy their product. Through these interviews, he realized that many of the prospects who engaged with their sales team had incorrect expectations about what Place was really about.
To address this issue, they underwent a significant website refresh, improving their messaging and positioning based on the feedback received.
They shifted their focus towards educating potential customers before engaging in conversations with their sales team. As a result, prospects became more informed, leading to more qualified leads and a higher closing ratio.
The key lesson here is that in addition to talking to your customers to inform product decisions, talking to prospects who didn’t buy your product is equally important to determine whether your messaging truly resonates with your target audience.