In this interview, we sat down with Tim Sadler, the co-founder of Tessian to discuss their initial GTM strategy. This Q&A is relevant for any founders building products for the enterprise.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
I’m Tim, co-founder and CEO of Tessian. My co-founder and Tessian’s Chief Technology Officer Ed Bishop and I founded the company in 2013, with a goal of building the “Human Layer Security Platform” for the enterprise so that we could empower people to do their best work without security getting in the way. And we started by focusing on securing email. Why? Because it’s the lifeblood of the enterprise, and also its most vulnerable channel.
Before Tessian, there were lots of ways to secure infrastructure but no layer to secure people’s digital interactions on channels like email, so we built a machine intelligent platform to prevent threats like misdirected emails, data exfiltration and advanced phishing.
And where is Tessian now in its go-to-market journey?
We’re a growth stage company and completed our Series C in May 2021, bringing us to raise a total of $120m in funding. Regarding our go-to-market journey, we have just over 75 people in the sales function, with more than half of them carrying a quota.
Building a GTM strategy can be overwhelming, especially for founders who have never sold before. What were some of the things you found were important when taking Tessian to market?
One of the most important skills I think for founders to master, and one of the very first things I did, even before we had a website, is getting used to writing cold emails to complete strangers.
This is an important skill to master, especially if you’re selling to enterprise customers as it really forces you to succinctly communicate what you’re selling, and more importantly, it helps you to learn what resonates with them enough to meet with you.
So even though it can feel like a tedious task, I’d really encourage founders to A/B test different cold email templates, remembering that everything that’s boring is usually a barrier to entry – other founders might not be open to doing it.
For founders that are not from a sales background like me, attending as many pitches as possible is also incredibly important. It’s the best way to learn what’s important to be successful. One of our angel investors joined me on a lot of early sales pitches and gave me really valuable feedback and coaching and we always got the technical co-founders to attend too.
This was so instrumental to our success; I’d recommend every founder complete at least 10 successful closed/won deals – I was the one closing those early deals and I feel it went a long way in our journey.
With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything about your go-to-market journey you would have done differently?
I definitely would’ve built the sales function to scale from day one. Our first few sales hires were amazing and in the early days this worked perfectly, but as the business grew we started to hit roadblocks. So I’d recommend founders to think very early on about what a repeatable sales motion is, who deals with it, what the KPIs should be and how to drive continuous improvement.
And make sure you invest dollars as well as people into that structure so it scales. A big part of that is making sure the right sales leadership is in place at every stage of your go-to-market journey at the right time.
What’s been your biggest go-to-market challenge to date?
Not being able to replicate a lot of the institutional knowledge from our brilliant early hires was definitely a big challenge. In the early days you’re generally hiring young, hungry but less experienced people and there’s an appealing family culture which gets harder and harder to maintain as you grow because you have to layer in processes and structure. At that point, a lot of the early hires move on so what I’d do differently is to manage their expectations better and paint a picture of what the company may look like in a year’s time.
How has Crane helped you and the team on your go-to-market journey?
Funnily enough I met Scott (GP, and co-founder of Crane) when I was still in college and he was on the jury for the VC challenge that my team won, so I actually got to know him way before Crane even existed as a fund.
The Crane team has taught me so much about lead generation and building a sales funnel. What really sticks out to me most was working with me on “reverse planning” or how to work backwards from your revenue plan. How much ARR do I need in a year? How many leads do we need to achieve the ARR and how many sales reps do I need to convert those leads?
The Crane team were the first ones to show me how to do this and the importance of it.
What’s the top go-to-market book that you’d recommend to other founders?
For series A founders and beyond that are thinking about scaling and building urgency, Amp It Up is an amazingly useful read. For more of a tactical read I’d recommend Predictable revenue which was the book we had all our early sales hires read before joining.
And finally, any last pieces of advice to our founders embarking on their GTM adventure?
I would suggest to founders to think very deliberately about what kind of company they want to lead and then what product they want to sell so as to be more intentional about what go-to-market model would work best.
Should I go bottom-up or would top-down work better? Some models are harder than others, but they each have different challenges. For example, with a bottom-up motion you wake up every morning with 50 new customers!
So, if I was starting a new company today, I’d definitely put more focus on building the product and company with go-to-market in mind.