How a “killer feature” can substitute an entire sales team – SMSBump Case Study
Mihail Stoychev and Georgi Petrov’s stunning debut on the first cover of Forbes Bulgaria for 2023 couldn’t have gone unnoticed. Without making much noise and in just a couple of years, the duo managed to build SMSBump as a category-leading product, resulting in the acquisition by Yotpo. This marked an important moment for us as a fund and a vital step for the local ecosystem. Now, three years later, the two founders are fully devoting themselves to NitroPack and taking the web performance world by storm.
Numerous times after the acquisition of SMSBump, in internal discussions with the founders, we have been mapping out the key decisions and factors, driving their rapid growth and helping them get an edge over the competitors. Following Mihail and Georgi’s debut on the cover of Forbes, we thought that it might be a good occasion to share with you some of our findings and take a trip down memory lane together. We will talk about “killer features”, the crucial role of customers in a product-led company, and what the founders are taking with them into their new venture.
The early days of SMSBump
Mihail and Georgi first launched SMSBump as a product in 2015 and the truth is that it wasn’t a success. There were two main reasons – first, they didn’t put enough effort and resources into it and left it on autopilot, and second – the world wasn’t ready for it. Initially, the two founders launched the product on four marketplaces and had no focus. They were trying to solve a problem for e-commerce merchants but didn’t realize that they are very different from one another, so trying to launch one product for different user personas wouldn’t work. Another major mistake was that they were trying to battle SMS with email, aiming to prove that SMS is much better. With time, they realized that it was not a game of black and white and shifted the narrative. The founders re-launched the product in 2017 and this time did it on only one marketplace – Shopify. This put focus and structure, as they were solving a problem for Shopify sellers, not all ecommerce merchants out there.
Discovering the power of “killer features”
Shortly after, comes the story of the first successful feature, which they released – the abandoned cart (inspired by the good old email). Over and over again, they saw different use cases when abandoned cart messages work extremely well for the merchants. When their customers show interest to buy something but for some reason they don’t, sending a sequence of messages about the product running out of stock, giving additional discounts or free shipping, worked extremely well. It is worth mentioning that this was an automation, hence a “set and forget about” feature as Mihail calls it, working on autopilot. This feature gave great value to the merchants on Shopify and became a rocket launcher for SMSBump – it was helping store owners to earn more while being very reasonably priced. It was clear to the founders that this is a strong value proposition for merchants so they needed to position it well, it had to be the first thing they see when logging into the app. This is how the second “killer feature” was born – the analytics. It was allowing merchants to track the performance of each sent SMS, monitor important metrics, measure the result of their campaigns, and get actionable insights. Soon enough, Georgi and Mihail started seeing in multiple groups and communities, people sharing how great the app is and how it is helping merchants sell and earn more.
The fundamental value of “killer features”
These two features got people in the industry to talk about SMSBump and sell the product as ambassadors, substituting a lot of resources that would have otherwise been directed in sales or marketing. The result? 30 to 60x growth for the company. Of course, a lot more iterations and improvements were made, but these first features at the very beginning of SMSBump’s story were the ones that got people to talk and spread the message.
Here it is important to note that who you are selling to plays a key role in the equation. For startups operating in the SME market, you don’t necessarily need to hire sales people to land your first sales. But in some cases, when selling to big corporations for instance, a salesperson would be better. The first encounter with salespeople for SMSBump was post the acquisition by Yotpo because having a strong sales team is the best strategy for attracting larger customers.
The guiding principle for the two founders when building “killer features” is starting with the problem. As soon as you find and understand the problem inside-out, you validate whether there are any solutions currently on the market. Once you do that, you create a simple table with the pros and cons of each one of them and your proposed solution, to see where you can bring your unique selling proposition forward. When it comes to the process of building “killer features”, the founders share their low-risk approach used at SMSBump:
- Find a good ecosystem or a marketplace you can join.
- Find a successful product that is already available, which you understand and know the value it brings.
- Answer the question: can you make it 10 times better or at least 5 times better and how much would it cost you?
Then you just roll up your sleeves and start working – it is all about building, validating, testing out, launching, and working hard to make it the best one.
The learnings that are here to stay
The biggest lesson from Georgi and Mihail’s experience in SMSBump is that digging deeper and working hard on the product is not enough.
And there is an easy way to do this – going to ecosystems, which already have a developed marketplace. This way you are not trying to fish in the middle of the ocean, hoping to catch a big fish. Rather, you are fishing in the sea. You have some constraints but you know the perfect spot where the different varieties of fish reside, and can predict when they will be there, to get a good catch. Before even trying to figure out what is a feature that will sell like crazy, you have to put your product out in the market first – not by spending thousands in ads or by hiring, but by using ecosystems, which already exist.
After putting the product on the right shelf, founders have to make sure that if the customers decide to take it out, it is good enough and satisfies their needs. It means testing it, getting feedback from them, and validating the viability of the features as soon as possible. If you don’t have any customers yet, try to give your product for free just so you can get some feedback. Before expanding or working on pricing, founders need to have some basic idea about what people like or don’t like, and whether they are willing to use your product.
Looking back, Mihail and Georgi are sharing three takeaways from their journey at SMSBump that have guided their success, and hope other founders can also apply to their startups.
- Listen to your customers. “We came to realize that we don’t need to be geniuses and that the ideas for product features should be coming from the customers or adjacent product categories.” (Georgi)
- The time to market of a feature is crucial. “You cannot be too late, but you cannot be too early either. It requires adaptability, learning quickly, and resilience.” (Mihail)
- Community leadership is powerful. “What made SMSBump go viral is that many of those “salespeople” already had their communities – they were not selling to friends but to people who were following them for a specific reason.” (Mihail)
In conclusion, Mihail and Georgi’s experience at SMSBump illustrates the power of listening to customers, timing your product launches, and fostering a strong community. Their achievements are not only a testament to their own hard work and dedication, but also to the value of these key principles in building a thriving startup. As they move forward with their new venture, NitroPack, they will undoubtedly continue to apply these lessons and pave the way for even greater growth.