Episode No:53

From Product Validation to GTM Motion at Journey.io - A Medium for Storytelling ft.

Brendan Weitz

Co-founder, Journey

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Ep#53: From Product Validation to
GTM Motion at Journey.io – A Medium for Storytelling ft. Brendan Weitz (Co-founder, Journey)
Ep#53: From Product Validation to GTM Motion at Journey.io – A Medium for Storytelling ft. Brendan Weitz (Co-founder, Journey)
  • Ep#53: From Product Validation to GTM Motion at Journey.io – A Medium for Storytelling ft. Brendan Weitz (Co-founder, Journey)

Episode Summary

We had the pleasure of speaking with Brendan Weitz, Co-Founder of Journey, who shared with us his background and the initial challenges that led to the formation of Journey – a storytelling platform. He spoke about his experience with Y Combinator, his reasons for choosing it, and how it helped him grow the company. Brendan took us through his go-to-market strategy and also gave some great advice for startups on how they can overcome the challenges of product-market fit.
Key Takeaways Time
The Formation of Journey
Journey: A Storytelling Platform 8:19
Why Y Combinator? 9:23
Journey’s GTM Strategy 22:14
Brendan’s Advice for Startups 32:58

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Brendan Weitz 0:01 In the early days, if something if you can give something to someone that’s really janky, like not that great, but they actually like it, and they’ll use it and they’ll kind of crawl through broken glass to figure it out, and you probably have something there. Taylor Kenerson 0:15 Welcome to the Hyperengage Podcast. We are so happy to have you along our journey. Here, we uncover bits of knowledge from some of the greatest minds in tech. We unearth the hows, whys and whats that drive the tech of today. Welcome to the movement. Hello, Hyperengage podcast. We have Brendan here from journey. And we are so excited to continue this conversation. Thank you so much, Brendan, for coming on. Brendan Weitz 0:46 Thank you for having me. Happy to be here. Taylor Kenerson 0:48 So can you please walk us through your journey is your journey, no pun intended of Journey is really interesting. So can you take us through like you were at Nike, then you went through a couple different roles. And you were with Facebook, Cora and then you kind of have your own idea. But before we get into Journey, can you walk us through your initial background? And what those growing pains those challenges those lessons were like, before you started your own thing? Brendan Weitz 1:16 Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve been working in technology, startups and larger companies for the better part of I guess, the last 12, 14 years. I mean, you went you went way back with some LinkedIn stalking there with Nike. I actually, I had some good for you. But I had, yeah, I during during college, I just tried to hustle and get really cool jobs. So I did work for the, for the marketing team at at Nike when I was when I was in college on a bunch of different projects, which was awesome. But really my, you know, went to school in the Midwest grew up in grew up in New Jersey, slash Manhattan. And, you know, when I graduated college, when the financial, the credit crisis happened, essentially 2008 2009. All of us coming out at that time wanted to be investment bankers. So those jobs just were not plentiful that year. Like we all you know, my friends, we all apply to Goldman Sachs and Merrill and all these firms. Yeah, of course, I wanted to be, I wanted to be a banker. But like, the year before I had graduated, I think Goldman had hired, you know, hundreds of, of entry level roles in New York. The year I graduated, they hired five, so I wasn’t, I wasn’t a top five candidate. So to say. And so this is like 2009, when startups in on the East Coast, were not necessarily a hot thing, like it was very much a West Coast Silicon Valley thing to go work at startups in New York, the community and the scene here was was very, very nascent, it was very much focused on advertising, fashion, FinTech a little bit. So I kind of got my got my start on the advertising front working for ad tech related early stage startups in BD and sales roles. That’s how I cut my teeth, figuring out how to cold email people and sell them on on things that, you know, even even cold calling back in the day. But that I did pretty well there and learned a ton and it kind of sprung me into working at larger companies like Facebook was like the first, you know, the biggest company I’ve ever worked for, and you know, where I cut my teeth working at a large corporate, but this is, this is Facebook in 2010. So, you know, 13 years ago when I mean Facebook was like 1000 people at the time, I think it’s like 50,000 now so it was still you know, not this huge behemoth that was you know, there were private companies still and I got a role there on the on the sales team fairly early and actually moved to Austin, Texas to to take that role. They were spinning up this new office and hiring people from both coasts. So I did that for a couple years. And then kind of got the bug again to work in startups and went to another ad tech startup telling you BD called ad roll we were one of the first to follow you around the internet with ads after you visit websites. And and then Cora and then you know now now to Journey but happy to kind of go deeper in any one of those areas. But it really it really started with you know wanting to I’m not getting that banking job and then wanting to do something for for, you know, a smaller tech startup. Taylor Kenerson 5:08 That was a really pivotal moment in your journey, not not not getting something that you had in your mind, kind of, I guess initially, it was obviously not the greatest thing ever. But Hindsight is 2020. You look back, you’re like, Wow, that was a true fork in the road that really shaped the trajectory of where you kind of headed. So dive a little bit after Cora. What, how did you even come up with journey? How did you you know, find your team, your other co founders? How did that whole concept come to be talk, walk us through? Like there’s initial early days, like everyone has ideas, but how do you get it off the ground? Brendan Weitz 5:43 Yeah, for sure. So the way so the it’s three of us, co founders, and we all had worked together at AdRoll, which is the company that I joined before Cora, where we followed you around the internet with with ads, one of my co founders lead product, the other one lead engineering, and I lead the business team are part of the business team. So we all kind of had a working experience together and, and one of my co founders had actually sold his company to AdRoll. So that’s how, that’s how I met him. He had, he had been a more of a serial entrepreneur and, and so we we had always kind of talked about starting something at some point. And I actually, after AdRoll, we all kind of went our separate ways. But I went to Cora was leading BD and corporate development there, my co founder is actually the one who had the original idea for journey. And I kind of got to watch for maybe a month or two, while they were kind of conceiving of what this could possibly be and who it’s useful for. And I actually tested like the initial prototype for journey with my team at Cora, as a initial use case, just to see, you know, in the early days, if something if you if you can give something to someone that’s really janky, like not that great, but they actually like it, and they’ll use it, and they’ll kind of crawl through broken glass to figure it out, then you probably have something there. So that was kind of the initial, the initial start of journey, but that but the concept is basically that we had been on the business side and on the buying side of software for a long time. And we just felt like the sales process was pretty broken. You know, you you marketing teams create this beautiful website. And the experience looks awesome. But then once you’re once you’re in the sales process, you kind of are, you know, you’re sent these long emails with lots of links all over the place, lots of attachments. Especially if the deal is pretty big. There’s lots of people on those email threads. And it just got pretty chaotic. We, I felt like I was spending more time on the phone with salespeople than I wanted to. And I just felt like, decisions can be made faster if you created this medium that helped both sides kind of get to a decision faster. And so that’s kind of the the initial concept of of journey. It’s a storytelling product that helps help sales people, close deals. And it only works if it’s a great experience for the person on the other side where they can consume information on their own time they can share it with their team. And, you know, the sales side gets insights on who’s engaged and all that stuff. So that’s kind of the initial, you know, premise premise for journey, I guess, almost almost two years ago. Taylor Kenerson 8:53 I love that you you use the chair, if you’re if your new users are willing to walk through broken or crawl through broken glass, then you know, you kind of have a little something that you could start to shape and iterate around. So can you walk through you use you first use the prototype? And then you were obviously and you liked the idea? And then what kind of came out of that? What was the like, and then I know, we know you went into YC. So why YC? What was that experience like? And then? Brendan Weitz 9:23 Yeah, yeah, so this was like q4 2020. So we’re, like in the, I guess, I don’t know if it’s peak pandemic, but it was, it was definitely you know, inside of the pandemic, where we, we were all kind of doing remote selling and virtual selling and no one was doing in person meetings. So it actually was even more useful. Because, you know, digital channels are are the only channel for these sales conversations and Once I saw that the team at Cora would even use the product, like, like I said, I think, you know, it’s, it’s hard enough if you have a janky kind of prototype, and people are using it, but specifically, sales is a pretty habitual role. And, you know, they have a very specific workflow. So I felt like if we could break into this, it’s just a really, really great, great place to be. And once I saw some initial, like, very early glimmers that this could be something if we spent, you know, time on it, and all went full time, we decided to try it raise money. So that was in December of 2020. And it all just happened really quickly. Like we, we, we were able to get investor interest. And on top of that, my co founder, Peter, who’s, I guess, he’s the CEO, he’s actually my boss, but he, he, he had gone through YC, 10 years ago. So he was actually one of the more pivotal people to, to, to push us in that direction to apply and Taylor Kenerson 11:12 what was the why behind that? Brendan Weitz 11:15 Yeah, I mean, I think for, for us, like myself, and my CTO, we were, it was our first go around to really take the plunge, it was his second, my co Peter. And, you know, we just felt like if, if 99% of startups are going to fail, and you know, we’re, you’re, when you’re going into it, you’re definitely and you know, in that in that camp, in terms of like, that’s most likely that like, what’s going to happen. And if we could do anything possible to give us a chance to be in that 1%, we wanted to do that. So we felt like we needed to raise money, because we wanted to hire, you know, a really good team. And this was a pretty big build. And then on the YC, front, just getting access to the network of other companies within YC, the partners at YC, for future investment interest, and you know, early customers as well, we just felt like, if it could, if it could give us you know, any any few basis points of more likelihood of success, we should do it and take the dilution. So you know what, when we got in, it was actually funny, we got, we got into YC, on the same day that we had a term sheet from a lead investor. So it was actually a pretty big decision, because we were taking a little bit more dilution. A lot of founders might might think they, you know, they need YC, because they have money. But we kind of did it in the reverse fashion, to give ourselves the utmost chance to leverage whatever possible to make this a big company. Taylor Kenerson 12:53 Love is the thinking model behind, obviously, you know, YC would gives you the better opportunity, but at the time, you had a term sheet, which could have, you know, driven you in a completely different direction, and you could have acquired, you know, senior leadership or someone that had more experience using those funds. So, what was those like conversations, like amongst the three of you to decide, because that is such a pivotal role in the shape of where you are now, though, that like decision, and it comes back to the choices you make, and like how you perceive things? And in the moment, yeah, what that was that dynamic? Brendan Weitz 13:28 Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think the way the way we thought about it was, you know, I think it’s important to note for everyone, you know, is listening. We had no, we really didn’t have a product, we really did. We had no users, we had no revenue, we had, you know, virtually nothing. So Taylor Kenerson 13:46 You are pitching the idea, right? You’re pitching? Brendan Weitz 13:50 Exactly. So we felt like it was a, you know, a good, a good way for us to leverage the intelligence from not only, you know, the YC partners who can really help you figure out what to focus on on a week to week basis, you know, hold you accountable, but also just early customers, you know, we while we have networks, you know, when you’re in YC, the community is pretty open to try new things and helping out startups and we felt like, if we could leverage those two things, it’s gonna put us in the best position to raise more money in the future and just drive more traction faster. I think. Another thing is this is obviously in a different time. Like, startup fundraising was a lot easier. In 20, late 2020, early 21. We were able to raise just more money at that time because we had the this YC stamp, and that’s just, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s definitely a credibility layer in the investment community. And, you know, people think that because you’re you are in YC, you’re smarter than you are better looking than you are better dressed than you are stuff like that. That’s just kind of the kind of how it is. And so, it definitely helped us to while we did have that term sheet, we were able to raise, you know, considerably more money once we got into yc. And had that. And then even in the future, when we raise more money, because we had that YC stamp, you know, we could get a get favorable terms. And, you know, it definitely definitely helped us a lot in the first, you know, I guess, a year and a half. Adil Saleh 15:49 Hmm, interesting. Interesting. So talking about, you know, you never had any product in hand, no customer, no revenue, you got to enter YC, first three months, of course, they had some questions, they brainstorm the idea you do, we sort of validate with them, and then you need a team that can test drive it that can, you know, have the real time use cases applied to the operations to make sure, okay, it is something that is, that is a problem for a bigger audience than it has an addressable market. When was that? When did that happen? Brendan Weitz 16:26 Yeah, I mean, we really spent the entirety of the YC batch those three months, building the product, getting some users and, most importantly, hiring, I think that we probably, if I were to go back, I would have focused more on hiring like we we took way too long to hire, that took longer to build. Taylor Kenerson 16:49 What was that process like previously? And then what how did you shape those experiences to reshape what that hiring process looks like? Now, I’m so glad you touched on it, because that is a really big element that sometimes is overlooked, obviously, is like, you know, the idea you have to MVP, you need to get users then you need to build a team. And sometimes this function is what makes or breaks a startup, Adil Saleh 17:14 a lot of fun and games that think that they are like super human, and they can do all of these operations, product development, you know, outreach, you know, all these meetings, all of these sales and advertising and all of that themselves. And for some market, it’s fine, you know, where you have a huge market cap. For some it’s not that that that good of a decision so they can hire somebody on the business Wellman, somebody on customer success from maybe strategic partnerships that can go out have some coffee box, something. So how was it like for you? Brendan Weitz 17:53 Yeah, I mean, it was fully focused on hiring engineers, because we, we needed to build, we need to build a product that couldn’t just be all on our CTO and co founder to do the whole thing. So it was 100% focused on, you know, hiring, hiring engineers. And, and I think for for the time, you know, mind you, it was very while it was easier to raise money from investors was very hard to hire people at that time as a startup, because, you know, when the markets are just booming, like all the big tech companies are paying so much money for engineering. So I think we just, we underestimated how hard it would be to hire engineers, even if they were people that we had worked with in the past. So if I were to do it, again, I would have like really focused on, let’s hire the core team. And like, literally, all of us should spend all of our time for the next two or three weeks recruiting like we’re recruiters and let’s just run the process that way. And I would have focused on making like, a handful of customers really happy for the entire batch. If I were to do it over again. We didn’t do that. So So yeah, that’s that’s my time, say, is 2020 Taylor Kenerson 19:18 Yeah, being like super, super selective. I feel like a lot of it comes down to research, not just for your product market fit for all of that, but researching your the right team members that you want to align yourself with. Because it’s, I mean, in my belief, it’s better to have a small a team than a bunch of be team players that you have to kind of manage and babysit, which doesn’t help especially in startup mode when your resources are so limited. So what does your team look like now? Like? Yeah, what does your team look like now? What is it Who is it made up of? And what are like the functions of the now? Brendan Weitz 19:52 Yeah, absolutely. So we are team of 11 we have 7 on the engineering front, 2 on design, and 2 on the business side. So, my math is right. Yeah, that’s 11. So yeah, that’s the makeup of the team, you know, primarily engineering and design. You know, a, we’re focused on getting to specific milestones to take us, you know, to the next level where we would be in a place to feel comfortable to bring on more team members, although we’re always looking for, you know, potentially another engineer. So I think engineering hiring, it was just always open for us. Great. Adil Saleh 20:43 Great. I was not expecting a team of seven on the engineering side, but that’s really smart. So and also looked at your website. It’s dope. So kudos, your design is very intuitive. Was that built on? Webflow? Brendan Weitz 21:01 It was, in version zero, version one. This is on storyblok. Oh, sure. If you’re familiar with with storyblok. Adil Saleh 21:10 Great. Cool. So Ben, in talking about Go to Market, I’m sure you’re trying to penetrate as fast as you can towards your product market fit. I’m sure when it comes to competition on the sales. Automation side, it’s not that big. Talking about use cases as this one more and more the recruitment side, there’s a lot of competition you have, you have a competitor better proposals. They’re not as big as, as they should be at this point, because they’ve been there for about five years now. However, they’re serving similar cases in the recruitment space to how they do see it fits in in the sales operation, I’m sure I’ve been a salesperson myself, for the longest of times, I know how it can add value towards this process, the entire experience can be transformed. And how do you see it when it comes to scalability of your team operations, and then making them Sujin type in the market? Brendan Weitz 22:14 Yeah, I mean, I think from a, from a competitive standpoint, I mean, honestly, the majority of what people do today is send PDFs and attachments, and lots of links over email. So I really think like, the majority of people just don’t, don’t really use a tool for this, it’s kind of a behavior change. So you’re kind of, it’s interesting, we live in this world of, you have like slide slide tools, you have document tools, you have E Signature Tools, and like proposal tools, like you mentioned. And then you have video tools are kind of like having all of these in in one place, essentially, but very focused on the sales use case, we do have, there’s a we have a free product. So there’s 1000s of you know, small users who do use it for fundraising or use it for recruiting or use it for, you know, onboarding employees, but we we on our go to market like proactively, it’s very much focused on companies that are around 25 to 250 employees, have a sales team of you know, maybe call it 10 to 25. And then it’s important for us that their sales cycle is enterprise like they’re selling larger deals, those deals take longer, there’s more people involved. All of that means like, more chaos in the sales process, more people involved and more content being shared. So unless, you know, I don’t pay too much attention to like the competitive space per se. Although there are a bunch of startups who are starting to do a lot of a lot of similar things. To us. It’s more about just driving behavior changes is always the hardest thing with anything, you know, people already have too many tools or feel like they have too many tools. So I think for us, we just need to fit well with what people use primarily. So you’re you’re talking about the CRM or your sales engagement solution, like outreach or sales loft. And then like, you know, if you use a slide tool, we work well with that you want to use ours, it works well if you use a video tool. You work in Journey, if you want to use ours, that’s great. Adil Saleh 24:33 Cool, so So you have integrations with CRMs is HubSpot Salesforce, Zapier is quite obvious, Slack and segment for product analytics and the drivers. So what about all these mini systems apart from HubSpot, and Salesforce, like their loads, be talking about tasks Management System, you talk about project management systems? Are you thinking along those lines? Brendan Weitz 25:05 Yeah, totally. So we see, you know, Notion works well inside of Journey. If you want to use Notion, click up Monday, you know, pretty much anything will work inside the Journey product. However, you can do a lot of that stuff natively in Journey as well. So it’s just really dependent on what your workflow is like, and how you want things to look, obviously, the more natively you do in Journey, the better it’s going to look on mobile, because it’s homegrown sauce. But But yeah, from a in terms of mailing, like Journey’s are distributed as links in email as links in a Slack channel, you text them. So they work really anywhere where you’re communicating with your customer. And then really, the conversation takes place after that inside of journey, like there’s real time chat, things. So So, yeah, I mean, there’s like a million things we need to probably integrate with, but right now we’re, we’re squarely focused on what helps the seller what helps that account executive, and primarily that’s like, you know, somewhat the CRM, but it’s really mostly their manager that wants that. And then it’s even more, so maybe the sales engagement platform wherever they’re sending. And so that will be an outreach or a Sales Law. Like that. So so yeah. Adil Saleh 26:39 Okay, so I was thinking, this is just my opinion, you can absolutely, you know, discarded is the customer education. So how you guys are looking forward to investing more into customer education, awareness, because there’s a lot that’s needed in this space. In the use case that you’re seeing, quite frankly, I have a product named heartland. So we built it 2019 Yes. And it has a handful of customers. But you know, we are pretty much lacking on the customer education, it’s similar, you know, we are trying to replace a one touch engagements using Dynamic Digital cards. So for sales, seeing customer support team HR, like people, management, people, people’s teams, and recruiters, all the talent acquisition teams, all of these. So we think that there’s a huge gap, educational gap, awareness gap, maybe it’s not, people think businesses think it’s nice to have to, these tools are nice to have there must be. So there’s a huge gap of, you know, education, awareness around these professions and pain. And maybe you can you and some of the platforms that you’re talking about, you can just step the game up. Brendan Weitz 27:49 Yeah, I mean, we definitely need to step our game up in many ways. But I think the, the challenge is real, and the, the, the need for the need to show tangible ROI is just, it’s like, you can’t even really get in the room without showing that these days, especially if you’re depending on what your deal sizes are. And, you know, what your what your strategy is, but, you know, we’ve focused a lot on a few key metrics of what we can help to drive for a sale, a sales organization, whether it’s, you know, we help you close deals faster, and this is how we’ll measure that after a month or after two months, or after three months, or, you know, we will, we will help you, you know, win more deals. And that’s what this means, in actual tangible revenue over time. So I think it’s, it’s about, you know, understanding your prospect, whether it’s a VP of sales or a CRO, if it’s someone else, like what, what do they care about what makes them look good inside of their company? Because it’s tough right now, no one has, like, no one has budget to spend on anything, like all budgets are frozen. It’s, you know, no excuses, but it’s a hard time to sell anything right now. So I think it’s, it’s pretty key to like laser focus in on you know, trying to be a painkiller versus like a vitamin. So, so that’s, and on the customer education front of your, you know, it’s something we’re, we want to invest more in to drive more awareness. A lot of our content has been focused on you know, the different use cases of journey and really trying to like put our customers stories first, you know, like, we we tried to generate as many great customer testimonials organically that we can send out to the market and so they can not hear from us on like, you know what’s happening but hear from like the people that are actually Using the product and how they’re getting value. And so I think, you know, in today’s day, like every customer that you acquire should mean, you know, one or two referrals from them. If you have a good product, it’s just really hard to draw that new net new business right now. So I think that stuff is really important. Adil Saleh 30:22 Do you guys have a community on Facebook or LinkedIn, like close knit community, like people share? You guys do webinars and events? Or? Brendan Weitz 30:31 Yeah, that’s a good question. We, we, we, we always had goals to like build this Slack community. And, you know, we, we never actually, we never actually took it to like, we actually have the slack domain, have the channel, set up all the guidelines, we never invited anyone. The reason is, you need to really, like be intentional be be focused on what the goals are of the community. And, and I think that for, for us, we found that just doing to like individual, all of our customers, a lot of our customers if they want, we have slack connect channels with. So we just found that that was better to have more intimate, you know, smaller conversations, DM customers, versus a separate channel that they’d have to log into. A lot of those get dead pretty quickly. I think at some point, we’ll have something something great. But I’d want someone to, like, be focused on on that. Like, that’s their entire job is like, you’re you’re in charge of the community, or you’re in charge of content. And you know, this is your baby. But like, you know, we haven’t done yet. Adil Saleh 31:50 Okay, cool. So what did what is they think of putting in are taken on a journey. Also that compiles all of your prior experiences. While that made you do this and build a platform, that journey, you had sales, background, business development background, and that’s why you’ve lived this problem in one way or another, all these years, and now you’re trying to solve this problem. So what is the one advice that you have for startups, it can be around hiring people, because a lot of these co founders are not so good at hiring people. You know, there’s so sometimes so good at hiring, not hiring, but finding people great decisions. So in our case, like we like in the past three years, be hired and fired 20 plus people, you know, for a range of like different businesses that we have, you know, Taylor was also a part of some in the past six months. So what was your advice like, as from a business standpoint, from a technology standpoint, and from strategic decisions in terms of investments and all of that, for startups? Because all of these come play a big part. Brendan Weitz 32:58 Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s, it might be what a lot of people say, but like, I would definitely try to sell your thing to people before you have it and get customer interest in it before building anything. So that’s, that’s probably, you know, one of the main things that I learned is that if you if you’re really solving a pain point, a lot of a lot early adopters won’t care how it looks. I would pre sell things before you have anything as you’re figuring out product market fit. And then yeah, I mean, I think Taylor said it earlier but like a handful of A player’s is way better than 20, 30 B players so like have your higher end Barbie be really high. But yeah, Adil Saleh 33:45 yeah, I should your time, very unique personality, the very energetic and breed set. Brendan Weitz 33:52 Thank you so much for having me. All right. Taylor Kenerson 33:55 We’ll talk soon. Peace. Adil Saleh 33:56 Thank you. Likewise. Thank you so very much for staying with us on the episode please share your feedback at adil@hyperengage.io We definitely need it. We will see you next time in another guest on the stage with some concrete tips on how to operate better as a Customer Success leader and how you can empower engagements with some building some meaningful relationships. We qualify people for the episode just to make sure we bring the value to the listeners. Do reach us out if you want to refer CS leader. Until next time, goodbye and have a good rest of your day.

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