Welcome to the first episode of Founder's session, which is an interview series with SaaS founders of early-stage SaaS companies.
This session's guest is Florin Tufan, Co-Founder & CEO of Soleadify
Soleadify is a B2B lead generation SaaS startup based in Romania.
Let's get right into the interview.
Hi Florin, Thanks for taking the time to have a chat. Much appreciated. What is Soleadify and what is the problem it solves?
Solidify is a lead generation platform.
It helps B2B companies find leads that match their Ideal Customer Profile, with contact data and everything that’s needed for successful outreach campaigns.
What was the primary motivation behind building Soleadify?
I used to work in sales, and do prospecting manually. I hated it, it took so much of my time. Over time, I used lots of lead generation platforms and very rarely found them helpful and accurate. Instead, manual solutions that we developed worked a lot better. So we decided to turn it into a product and solve it for everybody.
True, lead generation consisting of high-quality leads is a real pain for sales teams. What are the main channels you are promoting the product?
We’re using ads, and content on social media. We’re also seeing a good number of referrals, so we’re working on an affiliate program that we’re going to launch next week.
Tell us about your vision for Soleadify and what are the expansion plans in the next 2 to 3 years?
We’re adding four things that are missing in all other lead generation products:
- Data that’s specific for each industry, to help users customize their outreach, and properly segment their audience. If you’re reaching out to dentists, you need different data than somebody that’s reaching out to high school teachers. Right now there’s no solution for that, but Soleadify will be the first to implement it.
- Real-time sales triggers, for sales-enabling events, such as a company opening a new office, making a new announcement, launching a new product, hiring a new executive, etc.
- The possibility of building custom audiences and lookalikes from inside the tool. So using the same list of leads both for cold outreach and ad audiences, which is still possible right now but we want to make a native integration.
- Outreach management with AI-based help. After we nail the above things, we’re going to build an AI-based outreach platform that helps users with their cold emailing.
Who is your ideal target customer? SMB’s, mid-size marketing agencies or enterprise-level sales team? The reason I am asking is everyone has a use case for your product.
- Digital agencies, whom we help find local businesses with a poor online presence; for example, businesses with slow loading websites, or not mobile-friendly, or using old technologies.
- Lead Generation/sales development agencies, for which we offer the largest SMB database out there, and help them find leads in niches where all other tools are failing. For example, restaurant owners, or executive chefs.
- B2B SaaS companies that are targeting old-school industries, like healthcare, food & beverage, legal, etc.
What are the primary sources of your database? How do you ensure it is up to date and verified?
We source our data by visiting (crawling) a business’ website and use machine learning and algorithms to extract relevant data. We’re using the same process of a human when doing sales research, but automatically. This ensures that the data is as fresh as possible, as opposed to relying on a third-party source that’s updated once a year, if ever.
Moreover, we don’t guess any emails, which is the main source of inaccuracies in other tools. We scan the web and find the email addresses as listed by their respective owners.
This is the main praise we hear from users, on the accuracy of email addresses.
That's interesting. There are some established players in this space. UpLead, LeadFuze, and LimeLeads to name a few. How you plan to differentiate your product?
The weird thing in this market is that most of the other tools offer the same database with a different UI. It’s the same database as scraped from sources like LinkedIn or Crunchbase.
Because we source our data differently, Soleadify has the following advantages:
- Data you can’t find anywhere else – the competitive advantage every sales team aims for. Because we source our data differently, we get unique data. So instead of reaching out to the same contacts as everyone else, by using Soleadify, you can tap into untapped territories!
- Reach markets that you couldn’t before – Want to reach out to high school teachers? Beauty salon owners? Restaurant chefs? It’s all possible in Soleadify.
- The best coverage of SMBs – 90% of our database are SMBs, which you can filter by location and niche. Finding the CTO of Microsoft is easy, but no other tools can help you find the managers of dental clinics in your area!
- The most granular classification – Soleadify allows you to filter restaurants by cuisine, medical clinics by their specialty, or law firms by law area of expertise.
- Full control over data – we keep adding more data, more businesses, more niches 🙂
Bootstrapped or raised capital?
We put €30K of our own money, then raised a €50K angel round, and now we’re raising a bigger seed round. More info on that to come in the next weeks 🙂
If raised, can you explain a bit about how the raising process went through and what are your takeaways or advice from your experience?
The angel round was straight forward - we’re friends with the investor and he just asked if we need any money.
The seed round was a bit more complicated, especially since we’re raising more money than a traditional seed round in Eastern Europe. We talked to tens of investors, and it took about two months to find the right ones.
I’d say these are the main takeaways, from my experience, for anybody that wants to raise:
- Think of everything in advance. Have very good answers for the usual questions - market, product, team, competition.
- Exercise your story-telling. Find ways to explain what you learned, what your premises are and how you plan on validating them, in very short and straightforward sentences.
- VCs are not experts in your field. VCs don’t and can’t have your understanding of acquisition funnels, support, technical implementation, etc. but are good at thinking from first principles, and good critical thinkers. So (a) don’t try to bullshit because you’ll lose your credibility in an instance, and (b) find ways to explain in plain language everything you have in mind
- Have a very good understanding of what you’re going to do with the money, including what you don’t know, what your hypotheses are and how you’re going to test them quickly and cheaply.
- Have their investor brief written for them, well in advance. This is a 10-20 page document with detailed answers to all questions - future plans, market, previous exits in the same niche, team, potential hires, advisors, everything. There are some good examples online, but this is my favorite (page 10) - https://www.shadesofgraylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Viacom-v-YouTube-Botha-Decl-ISO-YouTube-MSJ.pdf
That's some really good information for any Founder planning to raise. I appreciate sharing that. Leads database is quite a tricky area for a SaaS company, particularly based in Europe. How do you deal with GDPR and what are the plans in the future to ensure privacy standards as you scale up?
This is one of our advantages.
All the data featured in Soleadify is publicly available. We just extract it, aggregate it, clean it, and make sure it’s accurate.
We don’t guess any emails and don’t illegally grab data from social media. When the email address disappears from a website, we delete it from our database as well.
Moreover, if you want to just reach out to generic email addresses, that’s entirely possible in Soleadify.
Integrations with other CRM’s and cold emailing tools are very important for such a tool. Do you have plans to build these and what are CRM’s you are considering?
Yes, we’re working on these, going live in May 🙂
First, we’re adding a Zapier integration so anybody can plug into any other tool.
For outreach tools, we want to integrate with Lemlist, Close and Reply
And for CRMs, we want to add Hubspot, Pipedrive, Salesflare, and Salesforce.
Of course, this list is just going to get bigger over time.
What is the major shift in the SaaS industry in your perspective in the past 5 years and how you see it evolve in the next decade?
Personalization. We are customizing everything, tailoring it to the user, adding big data and AI in the equation, and this is just going to get better and better over time.
Your favorite SaaS tool apart from yours and why?
Notion. It’s amazing. We love it. We use it for project management, note-taking, documents, to-do lists, internal wiki, everything 🙂 LOVE it!
Your favorite European SaaS company and the reason for it?
Algolia - I hope we get to integrate it in Soleadify soon.
It’s a non-obvious problem they’re solving. But as part of a team that built on top of other search engines, I’ll tell you that it gets super complicated quickly.
Being based in Romania, tell us something in your experience about the startup scene in Romania and how it compares with the major startup hubs in Europe and the US?
Great tech talent. Super good technical people. The ecosystem is also great, everybody is so helpful. Entrepreneurs with 20 years of experience that you can just reach out to, and they’ll gladly grab a coffee with you and answer all your questions. It’s awesome!
On the other hand, we’re not that good at sales and marketing.
It’s probably easier to raise money in Romania for an early-stage startup than in more established markets. It’s also easier to get noticed, for example by the press. However, valuations are much lower than in the US.
What is the team size currently both on-site and remote, and are there any plans to expand the team in the near future?
We’re now 5 people working full-time, and collaborating on and off with 4-5 others. After closing this seed round we’ll get to 10 people working full time in the next 6 months.
AWS or Azure or GCP? Which would you choose if you are starting a SaaS company today and why?
It depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
For AI, probably Google. For mobile apps, definitely Google.
For regular web infrastructure, probably AWS.
They’re great for shipping a product quickly and not worrying about the infrastructure.
However, they’re insanely expensive if you require a lot of data, or have a freemium or ad-based app used by lots of people.
We use AWS for everything that’s user-facing, but the heavy lifting (ML, crawling) is done on dedicated servers from smaller providers. Otherwise, our costs would be nuts.
That was a great chat, Florin. Thanks for joining us and taking the time to give some fantastic information.
I appreciate having me, Yusuff.