How Holded improves longterm retention with a “Constant Onboarding” approach.
VP of Growth
Today on the show we have Adelina Peltea, VP of Growth at Holded.
In this episode, we talked about the biggest differences between different growth stages of a startup, why you should always stay true to your startup’s DNA, how to iterate your way to product-market fit at the Seed stage and why Adelina believes you should never get feedback from free users.
We also discussed Adelina’s responsibilities as VP of Growth at Holded, how she reshuffled her team to be more cross-functional and structured around each stage of the user journey, and how the growth team at Holded works together to improve activation rates.
Is ReadingThe Buddha and the Badass: The Secret Spiritual Art of Succeeding at Work
Andrew Michael: [00:00:00] Hey Adelina. Welcome to the show.
Adelina Peltea: [00:00:02] Hi, Andrew. Thanks for having me.
Andrew Michael: [00:00:04] It's a pleasure for the listeners Adelina is the VP of growth at Holded, a business operating system for SMBs to manage invoicing, accounting projects, inventory databases, and more in a single place.
prior to Holded Adelina was the director of marketing ops and interim VP of marketing at Typeform, VP of marketing at Tradegecko and co-founder of splinted.me. So my first question for you, Adelina is. Having started your own startup from the ground up and having worked at a seed series a and series B startup, what would you say is the biggest difference between each stage of growth? And what would you say is the common thread between them.
Adelina Peltea: [00:00:45] that's a very good question. I'm actually noticing quite a lot of, startup people that, with listen to podcasts like this, and get all sorts of, ideas, about we should do this and I should have that, but it's very important to know at what stage you are and like do one [00:01:00] thing at a time and do it well.
because as a startup, there will always be lots of things to tackle. so I think when you start and, around, seed stage as well, like the most important part is to make sure to have a product market fit. that's hugely, and sometimes it may look like you have it, but you don't actually wrote a book about this.
It's called the customer seduction. What I interviewed quite a lot of startups that were either past this stage or during this stage, we're just starting to get there. And, I explore different angles of how to understand if you're there and how to assess it and so on. so there is a lot of, research that goes into that.
And a lot of feedback that is needed you as a founder, need to be very close to your customers at that stage and understand what is a common pattern for which people would pay money and not just get to. Into too many use cases in too many segments. At series a or to even get to series there. I would say it's to prove that you can have [00:02:00] some sort of acquisition and retention.
typically you would want to have at least a channel that looks really promising and to have a very good, retention. and then from series a to series B, it's a matter of really being in the growth stage. So I'm seeing that things do start to pile out that you have any more opportunities on the table that you validated.
And then it's just the question of raising more money to really scale on all those opening, more channels, more markets. They're actually launching some new products and so on. hope this answers your question, but this is truly like one of the most important for any person working in a startup to understand really clearly the stage you are at and what you need to do.
there is one more stage you want beyond that, like beyond growth stage, which can kick in. At different stages. So not necessarily post series B, but it's the next in terms of how things evolve, which is more, not just the growth stage, but the kind of inflection point where [00:03:00] you just need a new strategy or any of the innovation.
To keep going. And companies that have been in the market for longer times usually have to reinvent themselves. so all in all the journeys are quite interesting and this is like what fascinates me the most. And I like to explore this, different stages in different companies.
Andrew Michael: [00:03:20] Very cool. Would you say that there's something that all stages have in common with one another? Like one thing that's holds true, no matter what stage you are when it comes to maybe marketing specifically. Something that's equally as important throughout each stage.
Adelina Peltea: [00:03:37] Not necessarily things like marketing specific or whatever, but I think what, should stay true at all times. It's the DNA of the company, like really understand. How you want to be in your unique way and stick to that. if it's excellence, if it's, something specific about how you want to reinvent the market, you've started disrupting with your startup or anything like that.
So like stay [00:04:00] true to your core values. I would say that's the most important I would have fingers about was productivity strategies of all marketing evolves. It's ongoing. . And many times maybe we forget to be customer centric. I think that's also like something that it's an obvious one and maybe many companies say they do that, but it's actually easy to lose sight of that. So like constantly going back to that center.
Andrew Michael: [00:04:25] Yeah, absolutely. I think that's something I was guilty of in one of my earliest startups was early days, a lot of customer research, speaking to customers all the time and then just put my head down and we started building and slowly over time, you start to touching yourself from the customer and then you get to the point where you built a Frankenstein that nobody wants, It's super critical to continuously iterating continuously speaking and being exposed to them. you mentioned something then as well on product market fits and having written a book as well, customer seduction, which we'll leave in the notes as well for the show. this is definitely, I think like a concept as well in my mind.
And having heard from a few [00:05:00] others on this, I think hidden, Shar mentioned this too as well, Product market fit, being this moving target. And if you think about the way markets are evolving today at you're constantly, always in search of it and you have varying degrees of it as well.
But what is your framework look like at the early stage, at the seed stage, really trying to prove that product market fits like, what are some of the things you think startups should be thinking about should be doing during this phase in order to iterate their way towards a, at least some variation or version of product market fit.
Adelina Peltea: [00:05:32] you really want to make sure that you are vital for, for your customers that can actually take many shapes and forms. you can ask them, I see questions. if this product exists, how difficult would your life be and stuff like that, then how many would say they will go back to.
Oh a world without your product, but that really can vary. So some, for example, in hold its case, we are vital for small [00:06:00] businesses to manage their entire, business pretty much. as you said, we cover everything from financial to project management and inventory and so on. and it's all this automation and having your data in there, and we can see that people are really sticky.
but, for example, a tool like Typeform would also be that, and it's not necessarily that, you would think also forms are something that, there are so many out there, but like actually it is a, when you stay true to your value. So in that first case, it was about this beautiful designing.
If you are a company that wants to impress. your users in your respondents, then you do want to, I have that. And for some people, this was a while for others might be nice to have. So what I'm trying to say is basically that you need to identify. A very specific segment that you're serving and why you're vital to them.
And you need to ask the right questions. And of course there will be segments that don't need it and don't value it. And that's perfectly fine. It's just you finding your segment. And then of course, how [00:07:00] big is the segment? I'm just making sure you're not in a too small niche. and then from there you go, like, how is it there to find them, can you actually find them and can you monetize it and so on.
and speaking of monetization it's, it was super important for all my life and everything I've done. Never get feedback from free users. so only people that pay regardless of what they pay. That's like an indication of, there is some commitment there and the reason to that, if you're just trying to like, yeah, you can play around in my product.
That's nice, but it might not be the same, if they would pay, so there's that, and then you said it's a moving target and that's true because productivity, then customers evolve. And, many times you don't just completely jump, to different categories and so on. So it's just like adjustments and, Is that's where customer centricity comes in because you constantly have to adjust.
but sometimes it can be like, make bigger changes. As I said, the world might evolve quite drastically in five, 10 years. [00:08:00] you might have you could get to these inflection points and it's like, how do you reinvent yourself? but again, like staying true to what you wanted to do in the first place.
Yeah. I guess at some point, Companies also buy more into your brand rather than just your products, your product starts adding this other layers of, content and what you stand for and your values and everything that you do as a company, becomes like a concept that then people start adopting.
So it becomes more than just the product.
Andrew Michael: [00:08:31] Nice. and then now, you're at a Holded, you're VP of growth. what are you responsible for at the company? Exactly. And what does your team look like that you lead?
Adelina Peltea: [00:08:42] So when I started, it looked quite classic. Like I had the, marketing sales and customer success teams, so everything that was, customer facing, and of course, very good connection to what we do in terms of, everything else, like products and finance and so on.
And I was responsible [00:09:00] for, acquisition like scanning acquisition, re. Then she'll look good, but pretty much skinning acquisition in a way in which we can keep this kind of retention, expansion for us, it's quite high. and it's like, how do we, yeah. Then that then increase it and so on. and then other growth levers, like monetization and yeah, everything that goes into increasing, I are pretty much, however, I didn't know, like this kind of silos.
So in a few, months I, re shuffled the teams to be more cross functional and we just look directly at what's the user journey and how we can split that into different teams so that everyone has a bit of ownership on. Very specific things, but then inside the team, they have different resources to be as autonomous as possible.
in some cases there is a mix of different specialties in a team when some cases, we're still a startup. We don't have that many employees. So in some cases, some resources are moving in different teams, depending on the things that we do at different stages. [00:10:00] And, in the beginning, Even before actually joining the company I was interviewing, I just looked at a lot of the data and listened to the people and their insights and what they think are, should build, and made the point.
And unlike in which order we should address all this. Because again, as I said in the beginning as a startup, there is always a lot to do, but if you try to boil the ocean and that's going to be quite, Complicated. So basically we, we made the plan in which order we started addressing the challenges and why in that order, how does that make sense? In terms of, data, low hanging fruit, financials, and strategy, and lots of different things.
Andrew Michael: [00:10:37] Very cool. And these stages of the user journey, what stages have you highlighted and structured the teams around?
Adelina Peltea: [00:10:46] so the direct to customer, we only split it in two teams and, the first one was just still the moment.
So being a software as a service, we divided it at the moment of the first subscription. So it's a very interesting [00:11:00] journey. How you, as a potential customer, get to commit to your first payment. and then the next thing is beyond this first subscription, where we want to make sure that, you activate and you expand and you have longterm retention with us.
Ah, so these are the two different teams. And then there is an third team, indirect to customer for partners, program in our case, external accountants that are, kind of resellers for what we do. And that's a very different approach as well.
Andrew Michael: [00:11:29] Very cool. And I'm going to make an assumption here, and I'm guessing like the majority of your churn is most likely short churn and potentially due to activation.
I think probably once you have somebody sticking in, I think the store value and the switching costs become very high for companies. Is this the case? And, like which area when it comes to churn and retention, do you see the biggest opportunity for improvement?
Adelina Peltea: [00:11:52] Yeah, you are almost right. There is just the one other thing, like when you serve a small businesses, some of them would also [00:12:00] go out of business.
So there's also of that, and it's a very typical one. At the same time you have new companies being founded and using gear. So we have, companies that times just building their websites and so on. So there is always this, but it's still quite small. And indeed, like when people really get the value of Holden, then they really stick.
Like our churns are really low. And, also if you look at cohorts in terms of like, How does the revenue look in a year later for each cohort, we are actually at, way above a hundred percent. So if you take out churn and add expansion, we are actually on plus, and that's actually quite rare in the world of SAaS.
Andrew Michael: [00:12:39] yeah, so
Adelina Peltea: [00:12:41] indeed, and, that's really excellent. Yes, indeed. At the moment we focus more on the initial stages, like people getting the value of Holded. So we focus much more on activation, because, once they get that, they are surely quite sticky. And now during Corona times as well, we [00:13:00] noticed that, it was an interesting test to save where that vital for these businesses.
And we were actually our churn degrees, even further during Corona.
Andrew Michael: [00:13:09] Very interesting. Yeah. I think that's like a similar pattern. I think we've talked about this quite a bit recently, but, just accelerated the inevitable. So if you had the churn problem, you were going to just see that accentuated and see more of it immediately.
But, for the, that, I really like solving a painful problem for their customers. you see the inverse as well, and really people sticking around most.
Adelina Peltea: [00:13:30] Corona the ultimate accelerator.
Andrew Michael: [00:13:35] I'm interested as well though. Then in terms of this activation period and the way you've structured the team as well, up until the first, subscription.
So with this in mind and having this cross functional team, like what are some of the initiatives activities that the team is working on? How are they working together? and like having these silos broken down of marketing CS and sales, like. How are they viewing this [00:14:00] activation period? And how do they work together to improve the activation rates?
Adelina Peltea: [00:14:05] So in terms of working on this, I guess that goes back to what we were talking about being customer centric, when you have these typical silos in a company like marketing and so on, it's like self centered. And I think most of these teams are not able to do much by themselves. They there's always some collaboration.
And, these kind of structures usually lead to all sorts of politics and so on because you rely on, lobbying from Cynthia and other team to get things done. While in this case, they are as much as possible, self sufficient and, We just focused on the customer. So it's not a matter of what specialty you are and like what things you want to do, because that's what you're used to, but like really looking at data and insights and things like that, and just doing the best.
And it's very interesting to see people coming together from different specialties. And, for example, putting marketing and sales together, how, sales learns more from marketing on how to automate stuff. So we don't have to scale [00:15:00] the sales team as we scale the customer base. And the other way around marketing has constant access to insights on a daily basis.
And they understand, when people are confused about something, maybe we need to change something on our website communications and so on. So there are lots of benefits. it takes a while to get things going and, there is a lot of, habits on how we used to work in these different structures before.
But it's worth it. and then specifically for activation, as you asked, We just started defining the stages after we did the organization. And so for this team beyond the first, subscription, and we divided it into these three stages. Okay. We have, the moment, the activation, the moment, like the whole expansion part.
And then what is longterm retention? And we sat down together in between, some people, especially from customer success and, they data. And define what the stages are, what his milestones are like exactly in terms of our product and use usage, like what are the events that we use [00:16:00] and all these things like being very specific, then having that in all our systems for automation and for CRM.
And, then at that point, we, the customer success team was actually mostly support. and then we added another team, that was proactive customer success. So at least one person dedicated to each stage and really looking at the data and driving forward. Okay. What we could do at each different stages.
To get this going at the same time as a company, we also set priorities. So while there is someone that owns each part of the journey, so it's not just like beyond first subscription, it's all the same. So as I said, it's, activation expansion and retention through different stages, but at the same time as a company, we define.
what's the priority overall because otherwise people would try again to do everything at once. So maybe there is no point for us to do something now in longterm retention where you can do something or activation and invest more resources, like more, data and so on.
[00:17:00] Andrew Michael: [00:17:01] And that the scale is on size. I think it makes sense as well to get that focus.
Adelina Peltea: [00:17:06] When you have everything together, because he said that I'm mostly responsible for, like our parts and other growth lever. it's interesting too. To play with all these levers and to understand the impact as also, for example, now we are just going through a pricing change. there was a lot of repackaging and repositioning going into it.
And, we're looking now at how does it impact pretty much everything from the impact on acquisition, because if you can restart, but you can also increase your cash. your acquisition might look very different. But also for activation or expansion, what does it mean and how do we right now?
So all this, things just go in tandem pretty much. And it's, good to have people dedicated to each stage is good on top of that to have a company priority so that, you don't get to conflict of resources. And then on top of that, it's good to understand how all the metrics play together and, it's just the [00:18:00] balance and which side do you want to incline it?
Andrew Michael: [00:18:03] How does product align themselves to this? like you saying, you'd fit in with the customer facing teams, like from a product perspective, are they arranging and organizing themselves in a similar fashion? do you ever see this becoming just the way the company is structured?
Adelina Peltea: [00:18:19] we collaborate quite nicely there because the founders are pretty much into growth experiments.
so there is a product roadmap that we know what we need in now and in the longterm at the same time, from a growth perspective, we come up with, things that are. potentially having a, an opportunity for us to do better in terms of all these different metrics. And, we just organize different projects at different times.
Prioritization is like hyper important. Cause again, as a startup, you want to do a million things. but usually, growth projects that need a lot of product involvement are quite prioritized.
Andrew Michael: [00:18:59] Yeah. [00:19:00] Interesting. cause I think this is definitely something as well, like even at Hotjar where I'm now, we've definitely moved more into this user centric focused structure of teams.
Like all our product squads are structured in this way. I think eventually it probably makes sense to have, these multifunctional teams at each phase of the user journey, which include People from product from marketing sales, the full sort of suite of skillsets and that the company has.
Adelina Peltea: [00:19:25] Yep.
Andrew Michael: [00:19:26] So another question I'm interested as well as like a, having had experience coming from Typeform now at Holded. Is there something that you had learned at Typerform form that you believe to be true about churn and retention that coming to Holded it has now, like proven that belief from, or you've seen something different to what you had learned previously?
Adelina Peltea: [00:19:52] Need to think about this, but I would say they are miles apart because. At Typeform. we had a whole different challenge when it [00:20:00] comes to this. the most known use case for time for him was, surveys research in general. And the thing with this is that's not something permanent, right? Like you have a need for a few months and then you don't need it for a few months and you might need it again.
So we actually had this category called happy churners. That completely loved the product, but they just don't need it all the time. And that's baked in into what you are as a product and as a strategy. And actually we're working, quite a lot on strategy on identifying use cases that are more permanent and promoting more of that and stuff like this.
at Holded, the challenge again is very different because when you manage your entire business with Holded and you have all your data in there, you tend to be stickier. But at the same time, we, Don't want to just, get comfortable. So actually, yes. Are we better than other ERPs out there?
Yes. like we invested a lot in design because an SMB needs much more user-friendliness than an enterprise in most cases, but, We never got comfortable. Like we're constantly, trying to see how we can [00:21:00] improve. We call it the constant onboarding. so it's not just about like how you spend your first days with the product, but how you're constantly discovering new things and improving your business processes with us in discovering new things that we're doing and things like that.
Yeah. although our, it looks good, the approach is totally different. And it's we know that we constantly want to have an amazing UX and we constantly invest in that. And that's why I said it's like staying true to your core values for the entire journey.
Andrew Michael: [00:21:29] Yeah, it's interesting as well.
Like you see like vast differences, even though you're going after a similar segment SMB, just having the fact that the use case is vastly different. One is like an ongoing continuous versus the other one, like a once off the strategies and tactics that you need to employ and do the focus where you need to be, like putting your energy into improving churn and retention is obviously totally different.
okay. The next question I wanted to ask hypothetically. Now let's imagine you joined a new company and arrive in this [00:22:00] company as doing good with tryna retention at all. the CEO comes to you and says, we'd like to turn things around and we want to put you in charge. we have 90 days to try and get some results. What would you want to be doing with your time in those first 90 days to try and make a dense on general attention at the company?
Adelina Peltea: [00:22:19] it depends a lot on the data analysis and the insights. there can be so many reasons. most of the times you can just improve things very easily just by looking into, cards that expire, then they must don't go through. That's usually quite a bit of percentage on that. And sometimes you can, save some of that.
So there are like little things that could probably save you some percentages. But ultimately you want to boil down to like, where is the actual problem? and that's why it depends. did you really get the product market fit? Are you before and after it? So the. Things could look like completely different.
Are you going for very different segments and maybe it's working for a segment, but not working for others. So [00:23:00] don't look at the average, but start like segmenting things in different ways. so find your two segments. is it the. Very fundamental product and strategy issue that you have to complete it like a reshuffle things.
Is it a monetization thing? Like it's like identifying the reasons and seeing what percentage is for what reason and how serious that reason is and how easily it can be addressed. and if you have a foundational issue, yeah, you can work on, for example, what I said, fell payments, but ultimately.
It doesn't matter because you still have a bigger fish and in some cases you don't have financial problem and it's just like a bunch of different reasons that then you prioritize them and work towards.
Andrew Michael: [00:23:44] Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. There are like underlying, maybe quick wins normally in a company.
And, but those, like you said, we'll be have like a smaller impact, not just, move the needle slightly, but. Unless you really get to the bottom of the problem, understand the root cause. you're not really able to effectively [00:24:00] strategize and improve it.
Adelina Peltea: [00:24:01] Yeah. Yeah. So it's very important to look at the data and talk to customers and try to understand that and, just light yourself and be very, really try to understand and try to address it.
Andrew Michael: [00:24:13] Absolutely. Cool. let's see. We're running up on time. So I'm going to have one last question, is, What's one thing that you know about churn and retention today that you wish you knew when you got started
Adelina Peltea: [00:24:25] That's a hard one. I think it just goes back to this working cross functionally. I was in companies where, I was leading marketing as someone else was, leading the part that, takes care of retention. And there was a disconnect and we always knew that, like one hand impacts the other, but pretty much How to really work together and understand the impact of each activity, like how you're trying to send some what happens and how you focus first on some retention campaigns. And that could help you more with, with marketing and so on. So this, symbiosis it's [00:25:00] very powerful and, I think more companies have to put these things together, really be customer centric and, look at it together and how one impacts the other and prioritize things at the company level based on this, rather than have everyone just pull in different directions.
it's not necessarily that you don't know this, but it's more on like how you do your day to day.
Andrew Michael: [00:25:20] Very cool. Adelina, it's been a pleasure chatting to you today. is there any sort of final thoughts you want to leave the listeners with anything they should be aware of or keep up to date with what you're working on?
Maybe yourself personally or at Holded.
Adelina Peltea: [00:25:32] yeah, I would say like just generally, truly be customer centric. That means make sure you have a. As good retention as possible before you invest in different things, look at how everything is. All the metrics are working together. How you can turn your team into being cross functional, to look at all these items, break down stages of the user journey, or is look at different segments on how they're performing.
Don't get fooled by the averages and, never forget who you truly are and why [00:26:00] you're there. as I said, that whole, that for. Being a sort of ERP, but dedicated to small businesses for us, even if we have a very good retention on the long term, there's so much that we want to invest into like still being an amazing experience for users.
Andrew Michael: [00:26:16] Awesome. it's been a pleasure, like I said, having you wish you best of luck now as well. And, it sounds definitely like you've got an interesting road ahead, a lot of work to do, and, look forward to see what comes out of Holded in the future.
Adelina Peltea: [00:26:30] Thanks a lot. this was a very interesting chat, very hard questions.
And, I hope the listeners had, some, some good takeaways.
Andrew Michael: [00:26:37] Absolutely. And if you're still listening now, thank you very much. hope you enjoyed this episode.
A new episode every week
We’ll send you one episode every Wednesday from a subscription economy pro with insights to help you grow.
My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.
In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros working in product, marketing, customer success, support, and operations roles across different stages of company growth, who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.