Scaling Conversations to Empower Customer Interactions: Elias Torres of Drift


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Elias Torres comes from a background in collaborative software, having been previously employed as a software engineer at IBM. It was here that Torres worked on open-source software that people could use to collaborate and communicate, including chatbots on an internal messaging system at IBM, blog systems, WIKI systems, and more.

This experience would serve Torres well as he began the process of building his own business with a longtime collaborator from his previous jobs. With Drift, Torres and his co-founder, David Cancel, saw an opportunity to help businesses improve their communication with customers, driving more profits, better reviews, and more growth.

Torres and his cofounder don’t represent your typical SaaS startup story, but this distinction has only empowered Drift to achieve even more through unique initiatives and daring perspectives. I got the chance to speak with Elias Torres, and through this discussion, gain a lot of insight into how other SaaS founders can approach building their businesses for lasting success.

What is Drift and how does it work?

I asked Torres to go into a bit more detail on what Drift was and how the platform functions. In his own words, “We are a conversational marketing platform now evolving into a conversational cloud.”

Drift was inspired by shifts in communication for businesses, as people moved from in-person meetings and phone calls to online meetings and online communication such as chat programs. As this shift occurred, Torres and Drift felt that businesses were paying less attention to their website traffic and that the quality of their customer interactions were suffering.

By forming Drift, Torres and Cancel felt that they could address this issue by helping their clients scale their conversations. Drift allows businesses to provide more attention to customers and scale their conversational abilities through the use of technology and without the need for extensive human staff as many businesses would traditionally expect.

What was it like co-founding Drift?

For Torres, he feels that his cofounding experience was greatly supported by joining with a partner who had a lot of experience and could therefore make the journey much smoother. “David and I had worked together already at three companies. This was our fourth. So, you wanna have a co-founder right? You wanna have someone with experience and connection.”

By cofounding with David, he had someone who he already knew he worked well with, who knew the space they wanted to impact, and who had a similar philosophy when it came to approaching the business. For instance, Torres noted, “One of our first principles at Drift is that we put the customer at the center of everything we do. We believe in building a product quickly, right? Creating small teams of engineers that can deliver something directly to the customer as fast as possible.”

It is this approach to forming the business, along with “great marketing ideas and a focus on brand and communicating externally,” that Torres credits as being the driver of their incredible amount of growth in the early years of their company.

How do you reach your target audience early in the formation of the company?

Torres feels that Drift stands out for the unconventional ways in which they do things. A clear example of this is when he mentions the source of a lot of success in finding their audience early on, particularly with the help of a podcast.

“We had a podcast called Seeking Wisdom. As we were in the early stages, there were a lot of businesses that were in there trying to figure out how to learn, how to build their businesses. And so, they were looking for tips. Podcasts were really hot at the time, so people were always looking for a podcast to listen to. And so, we got a podcast that was being downloaded over a 100,000 times a month you know? And we grew from nothing. It was like…In a few short months, it became something that people would listen to.”

On this podcast, Drift wouldn’t even mention their product. They would talk about “learning and meeting people, and the ideas that we were getting in real time to help build our company.” By sharing their story, Drift was helping other companies understand how they could grow, and through this interaction, Torres found that their following would begin to ask more and more about who they were and discover their brand.

In addition to their podcast, they had other unconventional actions that helped push their brand early on, including massive LinkedIn campaigns that would help them generate a lot of visibility and conversation. “The whole company would share…everybody would create a personalized video instead of just like a stale post or something like that…And so, when you have an engagement of hundreds of people in the company talking about it, it just makes an impact that everybody would notice.”

Torres explains that these LinkedIn campaigns would virtually take over LinkedIn, and help the brand go viral with their message.

Case studies of Drift’s success?

Visit Drift’s site, and you will find a ton of case studies featuring various businesses across various industries. But for Torres, the most valuable case study can come from their entire value across all of their customers. “We have generated billions of dollars in pipeline and enclosed revenue for customers, so that’s really the big case study, right?”

By helping businesses interact more effectively with their customers, Drift has been able to contribute to many businesses’ amazing stories of success they might have otherwise missed.

“Some customers will tell us how they closed a $250,000 deal just off chat on their website because Drift was there, and it routed to a rep at night. 11 o’clock at night, that rep was on their couch and it’s just like ‘Hey, I was about to go to bed, and all of a sudden I got a notification’…and we were able to create the meeting that catapulted into a huge, closed business.” As Drift has grown, they have only heard more and more of these amazing stories of success from customers.

Determining a pricing model

Torres works closely with pricing at Drift, and he feels that it is an area that people don’t give enough consideration to. “It’s a special rabbit hole actually, and surprisingly something that I think people don’t give the time that they should be giving it.”

Torres notes the common practice of companies iterating with monthly plans, creating 2 or 3 additional plans, and then looking toward the concept of annual billing. But where it can get difficult for businesses, is knowing when and making the commitment to, increasing prices. “Most people are uncomfortable increasing prices. They’re afraid of doing that and they don’t realize that every time they do, in most cases, it was way overdue.”

Torres feels that many products are undervalued, given the time that they help customers save. So, understanding when to increase prices is important for businesses to grow. “If they have a customer base, they have products, prices can always go up and that’s…one of the easiest and most powerful levers to accelerate revenue growth.”

Now a lot of hesitation with increasing prices is warranted, as wrong moves could turn potential and existing customers away. Torres shared just some of the considerations that go into price changes for businesses. “You really have to have your ears close to the ground… to figure out if the price you came up with is too complicated, how you’re quoting it, what discounting techniques you have, should you do discounts? Should you not do discounts? Should you reveal the price, and should you do custom solutions?”

Torres’ advice for companies is that past 100 or 150 million in revenue, having a dedicated person for this role of understanding and guiding prices is imperative. “You have to be able to get feedback from customers, you have to figure out what’s working, what’s not working.” One person in this role could greatly influence the revenue of a company, with Torres noting the potential of even doubling company revenue if managed correctly.

How to encourage company growth?

Torres’ advice for growth is fairly straightforward and starts on the company level. “I think one of the ways you grow is by growing your team, right?” For Drift, this means putting a lot of emphasis on recruiting, and especially having the founders involved in the recruiting and interviewing process.

By having founders be involved, and putting an intense focus on recruiting, Torres explains how this can help identify the best candidates for your company. “If you don’t have the top recruiters and the company involved, you’re gonna end up with mediocre candidates because you’re not gonna be able to attract the best talent out there despite the economic condition.”

After recruiting, Torres emphasizes the importance of marketing, creating a brand, and having a good strategy. Torres’s advice to SaaS companies is as follows, “Make sure that they split the burden of demand generation early on. So, you gotta have the right mix of channel partners. You gotta have the right mix of sales-created pipeline and you have to have the right mixture of marketing-created pipeline. And so those are things that you can establish early on, so you can maintain the growth as you get bigger and bigger.”

Attracting and supporting more diverse talent for your company

Torres acknowledges how the founders of Drift do not represent the typical story in the tech space. For Drift, this has led to a lot of unique perspectives and approaches being able to guide the business in the right direction. For Torres, the value of diversity is found in the ability to gain new ideas and propose new solutions, to “think completely differently in every decision that we make.”

He would recommend that companies look at promoting diversity at the highest levels of the company, if not a cofounder, then in the C-Suite. This way, these voices at the top can help provide that unique insight for a company’s direction. These changes can promote growth and prosperity, and as evidenced by Drift, are a valuable addition to the space.

At Drift, Torres has promoted the inclusion of diverse voices by focusing on things like ensuring equal pay. “Something I’ve enforced from the very beginning is very good equal pay…We have salary reviews, so we create mechanisms where this stuff is obvious.” Torres wants to promote transparency and honesty amongst companies in their pay decisions and feels that these initiatives are a good start.

When it comes to attracting diverse talent, Torres notes how simply being present in the space attracts a lot of talent who are inspired by them “With a nontraditional background…Latin American, culturally different, we think different, have different principles, we have different values, different experiences and people want to come and work with people like us. And that starts creating a flywheel for attracting much more diverse talent in the team.”

What’s next for Drift?

Drift’s main focus is pretty simple, “There’s no secret–what we’re looking for is growth of the company.”

For Drift, the desire is to grow in every facet of the business. “In terms of our revenue or customer base, or innovation, our position, we are on a mission to change. Evolving from conversational marketing into what we created, now it’s a conversational cloud.”

Right now, the Drift team has Conversation Spaces in, London, Tampa, San Francisco, Boston, and digital-first employees working remotely across many other locations in the United States and Guadalajara, hey want to keep growing the team to maintain their global footprint and expand their possibilities.
To keep up with Drift’s journey and check out their services, you can visit their website to learn more. Drift has already created a lot of exciting opportunities in their space, and in the coming years should only continue to inspire more success.

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