GorillaStack - Selling from the bottom up

How one AWS ISV partner built a customer base by going against the grain.
The GorillaStack team

The GorillaStack team

Across Australia, the IT sales conversation is moving up the management chain with partners constantly told to engage in more C-level discussions.

But one partner is bucking that trend in a big way.

Sydney-based Independent Software Vendor (ISV), GorillaStack, has carved out a global customer base by pitching its offering to the individuals who will actually use its product.

An Amazon Web Services (AWS) partner, the company - which was formed in June 2015 - has developed a platform to monitor, optimise and automate AWS instances. Unlike many of its competitors, the company concentrates on developers using AWS.

GorillaStack Co-Founder, Oliver Berger, told ARN that after developing a tool for internal use at his previous company, Co-Founder, Elliott Spira, realised the commercial applications of what he had developed and the two began to develop it further.

“We were in the startup community and we started speaking to a number of people who had the same problem we had,” Berger explained.

“We started to realise there was a bit of a requirement or need there, and then we started building out something we could take to beta. Eventually, we trod that path from beta users to paying users.

“AWS is the main player out there so it was straightforward connecting to AWS users very quickly,” he said.

In those early days the team engaged AWS, and the cloud provider was very supportive of what the team was doing.

“They like to support startups using AWS and we had that duality where not only were we a startup using AWS, but we were also a business that was helping AWS users so we kind of got two channels of support in that respect,” Berger said.

Elliott Spira (GorillaStack) and Oliver Berger (GorillaStack)Credit: GorillaStack
Elliott Spira (GorillaStack) and Oliver Berger (GorillaStack)

Berger added that the relationship has now evolved to a point where GorillaStack are collaborating with AWS on customer projects.

“That involves anything from customer introductions to being featured at re:Invent in 2015 and 2016," he said. “We have regular meetings with them to see what needs we can meet from their customers."

The hustle

Despite having a swag of connections in the business and developer community, and the support of a hyperscale cloud provider like AWS, Berger said getting users on board requires a hard slog from the whole team and plenty of innovation.

“We put out a lot of quite deep and quite technical content which improves the brand and our visibility online and we get a lot of attention in that respect,” he said.

The company has also built a series of open source code which has been featured by Amazon and Atlassian. Berger said this played a big part in growing the brand.

“We built something for Atlassian HipChat and we ended up speaking at their Atlas camp conference in barcelona last year,” he explained. “The tool is a LAMBDA function that connects developers who build for hipchat.”

Berger said that working in the developer community was another useful way, not only to contribute to the community from whence it came, but also to create brand awareness.

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In this, GorillaStack’s goal was to get the brand in front of the people who would actually use it. In a similar strategy to the one Atlassian employs, the company offers its tool direct to developers at a relatively low price per user and then lets the tool sell itself to other users in the organisation.

“We wanted to work very much from the ground up with more technical people,” he said.

Berger described his target market as the “forgotten people” within an organisation.

“These are the guys doing the grunt work and due to the infrastructure we started out with from a business perspective, made a lot more sense to target those individuals.

“We found there were a number of businesses we seeded from the ground up as opposed to the other way. We also think that adoption is much more successful in that direction than having someone at the top dictate which software these guys would have to use," he said.

For GorillaStack, these relationships form the bedrock of the business.

“We know developers well and we know that they are of a certain type, so we know that once they take up a tool, you will generally get that commitment from them," Berger said.

“There is short-term business to be done at the top end, but we felt that adoption would be far more successful if it was of the [developer’s] own volition.

“We also felt that at our stage of product development, it made more sense to be building for the developers. It is a real point of pride for us that we are developers building for developers," he said.

Berger said that, once you get to the top of an organisation, that touch can often, but not always, be removed because you are three or four places removed from what the daily workload looks like, and it becomes harder to make that connection.

No Zealot like a convert

According to Berger, by targeting developers and offering them a tool to make their lives easier, the company is creating that ever elusive stickiness many partners and ISVs strive for but never achieve.

“Developers definitely have their own toolbox, I liken it to chef’s and their knives who can be very precious about them,” he said. “They know what they like to work with and in one organisation you can have 10 developers working on the same project using ten different tool sets.”

For Berger and the rest of the GorillaStack team, creating a sense of ownership amongst the user community is essential.

“When Developers are using those tools they feel really comfortable with but also speak to them and their needs, we see that get pushed up the organisation," Berger said. “When the people at the C-level are seeing the uptake and benefit of these tools, it is a better way for them to understand and for us to drive usage."

GorillaStack still has top end conversations and Berger said that is where all conversations eventually end up, but the company is engaged with its base via various channels.

“We like to support those developers having those conversations within their organisation,” Berger said.

Love for the Slackers

Knowing your user base is key for ongoing success, which is why so many companies spend millions on research to assist with product development, according to Berger. However, GorillaStack knows its base and what they like. Thus, the company went directly to them through a tool used by almost the entire community, Slack.

“Everyone of our users has access to us through a public Slack channel, although they have private rooms. So we are seeing developers getting in touch with questions and suggestions,” Berger explained.

Through this medium, GorillaStack’s users are able to talk to the team directly, ask questions about the platform and suggest improvements, obfuscating the slow and often frustrating process of email communication.

“We have a great little community on [Slack], there is a public channel where everyone can speak to each other but every customer has a private channel where they can get in touch directly,” he said.

For Berger, Slack has become a crucial part of the customer engagement process.

“We have a global customer base and it means we are able to talk to our user base in real time. If we are not available, it is there and logged. It allows us to have two way conversations very quickly and makes customers feel like they are engaged without waiting for an email to come back," Berger said.

“It is also a good channel for us to collate requirements and spread messages to our users. It allows us to engage in conversation without it feeling like it is a stunted email back and forth,” he said.