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Hope Is Not A Strategy

A story of two entrepreneurs who were killing it with SEO. Then, when organic Google love stopped rolling in, they took action.

Image of Manuel Jaffrin in early days at a startup contest.



“Hope is not a strategy!” — said Manuel Jaffrin. Manuel (Manu) was referring to GetApp’s organic traffic. The traffic that fueled GetApp’s rapid growth at one moment, had plateaued the next. Despite all his SEO efforts, Manu needed a new plan and fast.

Jaffrin had decided early on with his business partner Christophe Primault to bootstrap GetApp. That meant no budget for experiments. SEO was a very cost-effective acquisition channel, and it drove most of the revenue until it stopped.

But let’s jump back eight years. The idea of GetApp was born when Manuel worked for Sun Microsystems. Selling infrastructure to startups was a comfortable job. It was a job that Manu did for thirteen years. He was good at selling. But things were about to change.

As the SaaS revolution unfolded in the first decade of the millennium, Manu saw where modern software was heading. Underscoring that belief was a significant shift in the mentality of his prospects. “I realized that the companies were no longer interested in Sun’s products. They were SaaS startups that wanted access to Sun’s clients. They needed to go to market. They were looking for a place to get clients.”

The only platforms available at the time were Salesforce AppExchange, VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace, and Intuit Add-Ons. All three were proprietary ecosystems. Together with Christophe, Manu saw an opportunity of creating a more flexible, non-platform-specific independent marketplace. They both had an in-depth knowledge of B2B space, and they were both great at selling.

They launched GetApp in January 2010. It became a comprehensive database of business applications. Companies were using it to compare SaaS enterprise solutions. Developers & entrepreneurs were using it as a much-needed affordable lead gen channel.

Image of GetApp founders Manuel Jaffrin and Christophe Primault

“In the tech world – timing is everything,” Manu noted. And GetApp’s timing couldn’t be better.

They got their first client a few short weeks after going live. Then the business started to snowball — sign-ups, powered by their SEO strategy started to roll in. Companies flocked to GetApp because the heavy lifting was done for them. Manu knew that they were on to something real.

Manu and Christophe had mastered the art of SEO. They hired a few writers. User-generated software reviews kept rolling in. Their organic traffic was growing at a lively pace. “As long as we had traffic — we’d have no problem scaling the business.”

“We were limited by the amount of traffic we could get, not by the amount of money our clients were willing to spend.”

 

But then it happened. The organic traffic stopped growing. No matter what Manu and Christophe tried, after four months they needed a new plan.

Image of GetApp office in 2011

Around that same time, Manu got introduced to a ‘genius.’ This Berkeley mathematician/statistician was not a marketing expert, but he was a Google AdWords ace. The mathematician looked at GetApp’s account and requested full management access. He then asked for a minimum of $100K/month in media spend. Manu was game — the company had enough money due to its experiment with SEO.

And the bet paid off. In a matter of a few months, GetApp was propelled into a whole new league. By the end of six months, their traffic troubles were over. In fact, it grew 10X. Yes, AdWords could be a pricey channel, especially for startups — but for GetApp, the economics were there.

Their ability to pivot fast, allowed GetApp to keep on growing exponentially. This success led them to be acquired by Gartner.

“When you’re a startup, you control very few things. You control your product, and you control your team. That’s it. You don’t control your clients, you don’t control your competitors, you don’t control your market. If you don’t control your source of acquisition — it’s scary. That’s why I became a big fan of Google AdWords.” — Manu smiled.

 

“When you start to ‘crack the code’ on getting the right traffic at the right cost and nail your messaging — it’s insane. It allows you to forecast more accurately. With SEO it was never the case — it was more like hope. And hope is not a strategy.”

 


 

Manu’s favorite CEO joke is by Ben Horowitz:

“As a startup CEO I slept like a baby. I woke up every 2 hours and cried.”

 


Be on the lookout for Parts II and III of our interview with Manuel Jaffrin!